Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Personal Stories (page 1 of 4)

Personal stories

I, Daniel Blake

I’ve just watched a disturbing film I, Daniel Blake.

It’s based on true stories, and reminded me of things I’ve seen and heard – and experienced personally to a certain extent.

My brief synopsis is that Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old skilled carpenter who has worked all his life until having a heart attack. Despite doctors telling him he’s not ready to go back to work, he falls into the black hole that sometimes (often?) exists in our flawed benefits system. He spirals down through frustration, unfair sanctions, and trying to get his appeal heard. Through all of this he meets Katie, mother of two, who is new to the area. She too falls foul of the system through no fault of her own and ends up being unfairly sanctioned. After starving herself to feed her kids and having no electricity or heating, she eventually turns to sex work out of sheer desperation.

I heard similar stories so many times when volunteering at Grace Church’s food bank. I meet women through the Jericho Road Project who feel they have no alternative to provide for their families. These are good people. They are not monsters. They are not undeserving poor. They are people. Just like me.

Me in ChiChiI’ve learned that anyone can end up on the street. Everyone has a story to tell. I’ve met people who were well-off and had their own business, but through various circumstances – including sudden serious illness – have found themselves needing to be referred for a food parcel.

I was briefly in the benefits system myself and although my experience was largely good (a safety net), it was still a scary place to be. What came out tonight was that people on benefits are treated as guilty until proven innocent. That was true in my case, though quickly resolved.

I, Daniel Blake reminded those of us watching tonight of the harsh reality faced by thousands in our country. We were uncomfortable inside. It made some angry. There was emotional pain. We wanted to do something. Because how can such things happen in the UK in 2017? How?

God used the film to reopen my eyes to what I’ve forgotten or become used to.

At the entrance to the car park sat a man wrapped in a grey blanket. He’d given up asking for money. He just sat. And my heart broke for him. I only had 27 p on me. But I couldn’t walk past and do nothing. As I looked into his eyes and touched his dirt-grimed fingers, I saw someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s grandson.

My God has a big heart for the poor. Jesus was adored by the homeless people and sex workers of His day. May God break my heart with what breaks His until His streams of living water flow out through me and make a difference.

Have

What do I have?

A magnificent friend who adores me and can do anything.

Since knowing Him, my life has changed almost beyond recognition. I’m not the woman I was a few years ago.

Then, I didn’t think God was willing to heal today.

Then, I wasn’t sure what He had to offer other people. I wasn’t even sure what He had offered me.

Then, I had little confidence in myself and amoeba-sized faith in God if you squinted very hard through a microscope.

I’m thankful to say that that is changing 🙂

God has healed me from cerebellar ataxia and ME/chronic fatigue. I had one significant breakthrough when friends prayed for me ten months into the illness, and Jesus completed the healing four months after that, just me and Him in my living room. I have confidence that God is willing to heal today.

I know my God offers Himself to other people, just as He has done to me. That gives me confidence in telling them about my wonderful friend.

My faith is now fractionally bigger than amoeba-sized. I’m trying things I’ve never done before. Let me tell you a story.

When I started helping at my church’s food bank three years ago, I was too scared to offer to pray with clients if they were ill or in pain or feeling low. My team leader gently encouraged me and for weeks I longed to offer but was too scared. Then one afternoon with my team leader eye-balling me across the room, I finally plucked up the courage to offer prayer. The client accepted and I prayed. Probably not well, but I did it. From then, offering to pray into difficult situations became more normal for me.

Right up to this afternoon at our church’s community Easter Party in the local pub. I prayed for healing for a lady with a chronic illness. She sensed God’s peace as I prayed. We’ll wait to see the outcome.

It feels good, taking baby steps of faith and going on an adventure with Jesus.

All because I have a magnificent friend who adores me and can do anything.

 

Heal

For years I didn’t believe God healed today. Now I do.

For years, I didn’t see miracles so I didn’t think God did them any more. But stories like the one I’m about to tell changed my mind.

About a year ago, a man visited our church one Sunday. During the worship time, an invitation was given for anyone needing healing to go forward for ministry. This man had a damaged knee. It was painful and he’d been struggling for months. He was due to have major surgery that week. He decided to go forward for prayer. Adi went to him, laid hands on his knee and prayed for healing. The man said it felt better and they both went back to their seats.

The following week, our pastor had an email from the man. He had gone to see his orthopaedic surgeon as planned but when they did pre-operative scans, they could find no damage at all. In fact, the surgeon was astonished to see that the knee was in such good condition, it looked as if it belonged to someone twenty years younger.

One of the names God uses for Himself is: God your Healer (Jehovah Rophi). He hasn’t changed. He is still able and willing to heal, far more than we are willing to ask.

Rights

Face down on the dusty carpet while Adi prayed for me to be freed from a spirit of hatred I realised I had no rights.

I’d always known hating was wrong but I’d metaphorically shrugged my shoulders at God anyway and chosen to please myself. And now I was in a desperate situation, longing to be free, and not entirely sure I would ever rid my life of hatred.

In that awful moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me that God loves me with an everlasting love and is determinedly faithful to me. Years before, I’d chosen to hate even though I knew it was wrong. With my face in the carpet, I knew I had created the problem and that I didn’t deserve to ever be free of it. Jesus knew all about my sinful choice. He was well aware of my rebellion against Him. Yet He chose to die for me – to take away my sin and to pay the full price of committing it – so that He could set me free from the consequences of my wilful wrong choice.

LoveFor many people in our society, ‘Jesus’ is just a swear word. But God has given an invitation that anyone who believes in Jesus’ name has the right to become a Child of God. To believe in Jesus’ name is to believe that He is who He says He is – and He says He is God the Son. Some 2,000 years ago, the Son of God became a human being. He knew all about the restrictions of having a body. He felt hungry, thirsty, tired and probably was desperate for the loo on occasions. Just like us. Jesus experienced rejection, pain and death. He did it because it was the only way we could know who God is, and so that we could have true freedom and abundant life – to enjoy peace, love, security, acceptance.

John, the man who wrote about God’s invitation to believe in Jesus’ name, also wrote about God being light and shining in the darkness. When God’s light shines into situations, there is nowhere for darkness to hide. When you walk into a dark room, you don’t waste time chasing the darkness out of the room, you simply switch on the light. That is what happens in our lives when we accept God’s invitation to turn to Him and live to please Him. Darkness goes and God fills us with His light.

God’s light versus darkness and God’s love versus hatred seemed to be a theme of John’s life after He had met Jesus and become a follower. John wrote that we can have assurance that we have eternal life – eternal life is simply to know Jesus and the abundant life He gives that is full of joy, peace and hope – if we believe in Jesus’ name.

As people who deliberately choose to please ourselves and don’t really give a toss what God thinks or wants, we have no rights. Yet God is so bursting with love for us that He gives us the right to become His children if we believe in the name of Jesus.

Jesus: there is no other name through which to know God and to experience real freedom.

Linking up with:

Renewed Daily - Recommendation Saturday

Facebook Fast

This is my last post for six weeks. My church is having a forty day fast and depriving myself of social media, among other things, is my way of joining in. Facebook will be a tough one because I check in at least once a day. But I am looking forward to the break. Let me tell you why.

A couple of years ago, Adi and I were visiting the south of France. While there, the Holy Spirit highlighted to me that I was addicted to Facebook and Twitter and my smartphone. I had had some prayer counselling and deliverance ministry in the couple of months prior to this where it felt like God had been having a good rummage in my life and bringing unhealthy stuff and dark secrets to the surface. So in some ways the revelation that I had an addiction wasn’t a surprise, but at the same time it was. I hadn’t seen that one coming.

But when I thought about it, I had to agree with God that there was a problem. Most nights, I would check email, Facebook and Twitter on my smartphone over and over again compulsively. Word game apps were also a big downfall for me. Nothing wrong with them if you have self-control, but between the apps and the social media/email it could easily take me sixty to ninety minutes to put the smartphone down long enough to get to bed. I hadn’t seen the issue, but God had – and He wanted so much more for me than being chained to a bit of plastic technology.

And so I told God I was sorry and renounced my unhealthy dependence on the technology. He set me free from a spirit of addiction and filled me with His own Spirit. I deleted all the word game apps from my smartphone and took steps to not allow myself quite such easy access to Facebook and Twitter.

During that period of prayer counselling and deliverance, Jesus set me free from so many things that were like heavy chains weighing me down. I am so grateful to Him for what He has done. He is one amazing Saviour! WOO HOO HOO – HE’S BRILLIANT!

This verse has become my life motto – I want to show and tell the excellencies of the fantastic Father God who called me out of darkness and into His marvellous light. One way of doing this is through writing a book to share the wonderful and exciting story of Him healing me from a horrible illness and then turning my life upside down by setting me free from all kinds of oppression and filling me out to be the woman He always meant me to be. So one of the things I will be doing during my six week fast from social media is to concentrate on the editing of my book. Watch this space!


Picture3

 

God Still Does Miracles!

Four years ago, I didn’t know how to deal with the (completely flat) paving in this photo. The different coloured bricks were confusing: should I step over them? If so, how high did they go? Should I walk round them? I felt as though I was on a tightrope and might fall off at any moment. It was all too much, my brain gave up, and my longsuffering husband had to come and rescue me.

Crazy Paving P&RTwo weeks ago, I parked the car and jumped out, walking briskly across the car park to catch the park and ride bus. In my memory, the bricks were very jazzy and – even four years on – I half blamed the council for laying such a busy pattern. But in reality, the pattern is gentle and not jazzy at all. The pedestrian area is spacious.

I sat on the park and ride bus in a daze. It hit me just how ill I’d been, that I couldn’t cope with such a simple, non-intrusive pattern. And my heart overflowed with thankfulness at God’s kindness and generosity in healing me.

Last Sunday, I had a wonderful opportunity to share the five minute version of my healing testimony at St Mary’s in Leamington Spa. Listen here.

He Rescued Me – Woo Hoo!

I will praise You enthusiastically, O Lord, for You rescued me
and did not let my enemy triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me!
You brought me out of sin and darkness and
transferred me into Your Kingdom of Light.

Sing to the Lord if you know Him!
Gush over Him and give thanks for His name is Wonderful!
He isn’t angry with us, and His favour is forever.
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning – He has promised!

When I was prosperous and arrogant,
I thought nothing could touch me.
But then for a year I was ill – and You showed me
that it’s You who makes me secure and Your favour will never end.

I cried out to You, Lord:
What would be gained if I died?
And You showed me Your faithfulness,
These light troubles are nothing compared with the eternal weight of glory
to come.
You are my helper and my shield and my strength.

You turned my tears of sadness into such joy and gladness!
You called me out of darkness and into Your marvellous light.
How can I not sing and raise my hands to You?
How can I keep from dancing and shouting in Your presence?
I will give thanks to You, my Jesus, forever.
You are my Saviour, my Deliverer, my Hero, my Lord!

Adapted from Psalm 30. This is my testimony.

Fred

The ACW committee had our annual retreat at the weekend.  We converged on a Christian conference centre in Northampton for a full weekend of meetings, discussions, and fun. On Friday evening we relaxed with a light-hearted question and answer game. One of the questions was about a piece of memorabilia from our childhood. I immediately thought of Fred.

Fred

Fred was my best friend. He went everywhere with me, even sharing my bed at night. His tummy and paws split open in several places but my mum always managed to carefully sew him back together. Later, I practiced my own sewing skills on my little furry pal. I rushed home from school at lunchtime and at the end of the day to cuddle and play with Fred.

One day, he went missing and I had to go to school without saying goodbye. Brought up to know Jesus as a friend and as someone I could talk to in my heart, I asked Him desperately that morning to keep Fred safe and bring him back to me. I expected to see Fred when I got home, but no, mum shook her head when I burst through the kitchen door to ask if she’d found him. I sat down in the big armchair to watch Rainbow with a heavy weight in my tummy and a lump in my throat. Tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I gazed at Geoffrey, Bungle, Zippy and George larking about on the television screen. Mum renewed her search. A few minutes later a small, threadbare mouse with no tail and a tattered, chewed up nose dropped into my lap. Fred and I danced and jumped around the lounge. I couldn’t bear to part with him even to eat my lunch, so he sat proudly on the table next to my plate where I could keep my eye on him.

When I was four, my dad took my mum and me youth hostelling in Colwyn Bay with the church youth group. Fred and I loved exploring and playing in the big hostel, and sometimes Fred stayed behind on a windowsill or on the polished wooden stairs to have a little adventure all by himself. The longsuffering warden seemed to spend the entire weekend making sure Fred got back to me safely!

Although Fred will always have a special place in my heart, my first love for him was replaced long ago with more sophisticated toys, books, and human friends. He is now enjoying a quiet retirement with a handful of other tattered, furry friends, sitting on a shelf in the study.

I’m glad God treats us better than I treated Fred. I love that the relationship God offers us will never come to an end; it’ll keep getting better and better. The Father’s plan was always to adopt us simply because that is what He wanted to do, and Jesus made certain of that plan happening by dying on the cross. Although Jesus rose again and has a glorified body, He still has the scars of His brutal death. The permanency of His scars confirm the permanency of our relationship with God – He is never going to change His mind, never going to get tired or bored of us, never going to regret saving us. When we become friends with God, our position in His family is absolutely secure. He doesn’t pencil our names into the Book of Life, they are written there for all eternity!

Tree

Five Minute Friday is where bloggers from around the world write for five minutes flat on a topic chosen by Lisa-Jo Baker without stopping to edit or self-critique our work. The topic for this week is: Tree.

Five Minute Friday

START

I was very ill for the whole of 2010 with cerebellar ataxia caused by severe migraines and ME/chronic fatigue syndrome. I saw several specialists including two neurologists who arranged tests and tried different treatments, but nothing seemed to work. I may as well have been popping Smarties in my mouth for all the good the tablets did me. One Sunday evening that autumn, my pastor prayed for me along with the church elders and some good friends. Breakthrough! The excessive weakness, paralysis and constant vertigo lifted and never returned. But there was still a way to go and over the coming weeks, I had to keep pressing in for complete healing.

One thing that encouraged me to keep going in prayer was a promise God gave me one morning in November of that year. I had just received a letter from my employer confirming that they were letting me go because of the illness. It wasn’t unexpected, but seeing it in black and white hit me hard.

‘Come upstairs,’ I sensed the quiet voice of God speaking to me. ‘I’ve got something to show you.’

I needed to go upstairs anyway, because I had a basket full of washing that needed drying. As I got to the top of the stairs, I sensed that small voice again. ‘Come into the study.’ I walked into the study, still holding my basket of washing.

‘Look out of the window.’ I stepped closer to the window, gazing out over the garden. It was winter, nothing much to see. Then that quiet, reassuring voice again.

Lilac Tree

‘Look at the lilac tree. Do you see how it has no leaves on its branches? It looks dead, as though nothing would ever blossom there again. But come spring, buds will appear and then leaves and flowers will blossom and birds will be able to build their nests in it again. That’s like you. It’s winter for you now, but spring is on its way.’

That word from God kept me going through some difficult weeks, until the next big breakthrough in February 2011 when He healed me from ME/chronic fatigue.

FINISH

(Picture of the tree added in after the time limit!)

 

Rock of Refuge

Life is not the easiest right now; a battle inside me is going on. A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of all my despair and doubt, I glanced out of the living room window. My eyes were drawn to a flowering rockery plant (that has somehow avoided being hoiked up like everything else that is green in our gravel-covered garden). I sensed the Holy Spirit wanted to teach me a valuable lesson using this delicate white flower.

‘What Lord?’ I moaned as I stared at the flower with a heavy heart, a large grey cloud of gloom above my head.

He showed me that although it looks fragile, it is firmly rooted on the rock.

‘That’s nice, but how does this relate to me…?’ I wondered miserably.

He showed me that it hadn’t done anything to deserve being in my garden. Thanks to its (and my) creator, it could enjoy being what it is without worrying about earning its right to have the sun shining on it or the rain watering it. That little white flower does exactly what it’s designed to do, and by doing so brings glory to God.

White Rockery Flower

Every time I read Psalm 31 over the next few days (I’m trying to memorise it…. what a long psalm!), whenever I came across the words ‘be a rock of refuge for me’ and ‘you are my rock’, I kept thinking about that rockery flower. It seemed to me that we had some things in common. Jesus is my rock of refuge; because I am in Christ I don’t need to try to earn His love. I already have it. I am more precious and loved than I can take in right now. But I am beginning to believe it.

Yesterday we had rain and hail and even a bit of thunder. It looked like the heavens had become one huge power shower! But when I checked on my little white rockery plant, it was still there, secure on the rock. Sure, it looked a bit battered and had possibly lost a petal or two, but there was no real damage. And I know that no matter what the enemy may throw at me in the days to come, because my rock of refuge is Christ, I won’t get hurt. He can’t do any real damage to me. Because Jesus has got me safe.

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