Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Personal Stories (page 2 of 4)

Personal stories

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.

How Not To Write Poetry

Adrian and I are going through old paperwork at the moment, looking through cards and letters we’ve sent each other as well those other people have sent to us, trying to decide what has true sentimental value and needs to be kept and what should be recycled.

More than ten years ago, I went on holiday to the Isle of Wight with my family, acting as chauffeur for my parents because my dad broke his ankle a few days beforehand. I missed Adrian and decided to write him a poem which I sent him on a postcard (see picture). With the benefit of hindsight, the postcard was a great idea. The poem maybe not quite so much.

Here I am on the Isle of Wight,
But you are out of my sight.
It’s a nice place to be –
All surrounded by sea.
Although I’m sitting in a nice bay,
My thoughts are far away.
I’m thinking of Bilbo and Jack*;
Can’t wait to come back.
But even more, I miss my man,
So I’ll come back when I’ve got a tan.

Once I recovered from hysterics over my awful attempt at poetry, I wasn’t sure which disturbed me more: the fact that I composed it in the first place or that I wrote it on a card for the postman to see!

*Bilbo and Jack were my pet guinea pig and rabbit at the time.

Happy New Year!

I love New Year.  I love that there are are 365 fresh new days ahead of me.  For me, it’s a time to pause and take stock, before breathing in deep and jumping into the year ahead.  How about you?  Are you making any New Year resolutions?  I don’t tend to make them, although in 2013 I am aiming to write for at least 15 minutes every day….

2012 has been a year of lows and highs.  It began with changing from a frustrating job where I was a square peg in a round hole to working for myself as a medical secretary from home.  A bit of a dream come true!  Then there was a series of quite serious misunderstandings that I suspect God allowed into my life to teach me the necessity of pleasing God rather than man and the importance of forgiveness.  The Lord stripped away key friends who would have helped to clear up the misunderstandings, forcing me to lean on Him.  And by doing so, somehow showed me something of my worth and the value He has put on me.  When I know I am precious to God, misunderstandings – though deeply hurtful – begin to fade into insignificance.

I lived in a happy dream bubble during the Jubilee and the Olympics, revelling in all the pomp and ceremony that we Brits do so well.  I was glued to the television at certain times….  I’m sure I’m not the only person who forgot to breathe during Louis Smith’s near-perfect pommel horse routine.  I screamed when Beth Tweddle won bronze on bars and leaped around the lounge when Andy Murray won gold.  I even yelled encouragement for athletes when I had no idea who they were, but they were wearing British colours and that was good enough for me.

Our church weekend away in June was an amazing time of connecting with God in a deeper way than ever before, enjoying chilling with friends and laughing till it hurt at our crazy church cabaret.

And then in September, the Lord restored to me the final thing that had been taken from me by the illness two years ago – my work with a mission organisation.  It’s as though He has now drawn a line under that period of illness and said ‘no more’, leaving me to simply enjoy and build on all the benefits I received from that time.

And this brings me onto a verse that I’m going to take with me into 2013 from Psalm 90:

Satisfy me each morning with your unfailing love,
so I may sing for joy to the end of my life.

I love that I have a history with Jesus.  I love that I have special memories of our times together (like when I was between healings and kept saying to Him, ‘I love You’ but worried in case I was being irreverent or something.  I still remember tears welling up when He whispered to my heart, ‘I died to hear you say that’).  I love that when I was drowning in shame over the misunderstandings last spring, He had a prophetic word for me in church which replaced the feeling of shame with one of hope and comfort.  I love that recently when I’d fallen into a particular temptation yet again and was beating myself up over it, I told Jesus in despair that He could do anything He wanted with me to get this wrong thing out of my life.  That Sunday, He had another prophetic word in church for me telling me not to fix my attention on the sin but to concentrate on Him.  Always grace and gentleness and understanding.  Even when He has to be stern, He is incredibly gentle with me.  He knows how easy it would be to break me.  I love that I’m loved like that.  He is my protector against demons in the night and nightmares.  He is my healer and the one who is working tirelessly to make me whole.  I love Him.

And so, my desire and prayer for 2013 is that He will satisfy me every single morning with His unfailing love.  Because then I will sing for joy, and I want to be a joyful person for the rest of my days.  Do you know the best thing about knowing Jesus?  It will never end!  This relationship that is gradually deepening in intimacy will just get better and better and better.

What’s your New Year resolution?  I hope part of it will be to get to know Jesus better.

‘I Have Not Been Afraid To Speak Out…’

I have told all your people about your justice.
I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O Lord, well know.
I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart;
I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power.
I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness.
Psalm 40:9-10 (New Living Translation)

Telling others what God has done for us flows out of a full and grateful heart.  For years, I had a vague idea that if I could just get excited enough about God, my love for Him would overflow naturally to other people.  But it was just a vague idea.  When I did pluck up the courage to mention God in everyday conversation, it was stilted and awkward.

The breakthrough happened when I was ill.  Jesus’s presence was so tangible to me during those months I was ill, that He became precious to me.  I could no more have denied what Adrian did for me in looking after me physically as deny what Jesus did for me – physically (keeping me safe on the stairs and giving me strength when I literally had none), spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  And then when He healed me, I really had something to shout about.  As I’d always suspected, geniune passion for God does spill over into everyday conversations in a non-awkward way.  Of course, I am still shy and don’t always find talking about someone so special and personal easy, but it certainly comes a lot more naturally than it used to.

What did David in this Psalm get excited about?  What words did he use to describe what God had done?

*  Justice
*  Good news
*  Faithfulness
*  Saving power
*  Unfailing love.

There is a lot of injustice in our world and in our society.  I sometimes get angry about unjust and unfair things – war where there are all too many innocent victims, abortion, rapists walking free, a school massacre, paparazzi hounding famous people, etc, etc.  But God is just.  He is so just that even though we choose to reject Him, ignore Him, even refuse – in some cases – to believe He exists, Jesus died to take the punishment we deserve.  A helpful way to think about this is:  imagine you’re in a court room.  A woman is in the dock and the judge has just pronounced her guilty and passed sentence.  But a door opens and a young man comes in, moves the woman out of the dock and takes her place.  The guard then puts the handcuffs on the man and leads him away, leaving the woman to go free.  In this scenario, the judge is God, the prisoner is us, and the young man taking her place is Jesus.  This is a picture of what Jesus has done.  This is good news!

God is faithful.  He never lets us down, never gets in a mood, will never desert us.  We may not always understand what He’s up to, but we can rest assured that He knows what He’s doing, and that He’s faithful.

Because of what Jesus did by dying on the cross and taking God’s punishment for us, He has saving power.  There is nothing and no one more powerful than God.  He is the only one who has overcome all the evil powers of darkness, and can rescue people from the power of the occult.  He put all those powers to shame when He died on the cross, and they have no control over Him at all.

The Bible says God is love.  That doesn’t mean He’s wimpy and wishy-washy (who would want a God like that?!  Eugh!).  His love and justice met at the cross.  Because God loves us, Jesus bore the brunt of His justice when He took the punishment we deserve.  Without Jesus dying in our place, we could never have a relationship with God because even our best efforts at being good and pleasing Him fall well short of His perfect standards.

Do you know the good news of Jesus’s saving power, love and faithfulness for yourself?  Would you like to?  If so, please get in touch.  I would love to share more about it, and try to answer your questions.

If you do know this good news, are you excited about it?  Does your love and passion for Jesus spill out of your life to others?  If not, ask the Holy Spirit to make Him more real and more precious to you.  It’s a prayer I think He loves to answer with a big, fat YES.

Renew Your Joy And Wonder

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.
Psalm 40:4-5 (New Living Translation)

Is there joy in your heart?  I pray that if you are low on joy today, God will fill you with joy by the time you get to the end of this post.

I used to trust God for things, sort of, but I always wanted to get to that place where I could trust Him completely and stop worrying about things.  Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything except a quickened heart rate, sleepless nights and a mammoth-sized headache if you’re not careful.  When I was ill, God took me to a whole new level of dependency on Him.  My regular prayer during the illness was ‘help’ – several times a day I would stand at the top of the stairs knowing I had neither concentation nor adequate control of my body to get down them safely and in one piece.  Same for going up them, I knew there was every likelihood of my body lurching over backwards as I climbed.  But every time, God got me safely up and down the stairs.  Every time.  At the worst of the illness, at my weakest stage, I was unable to get out of a chair by myself.  I would count under my breath, ‘one, two, three, hup’ but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get to my feet.  Only when I prayed, was I able to get out of the chair.   The fact that I counted the Lord in is neither here nor there…. ‘Okay Lord, one, two, three, hup’ – as if He needed help!

When you have that kind of confidence in God – confidence in Him enabling you to do the small, everyday things that we normally take for granted – it brings a real sense of joy in Him.  This is a joy that can’t be manufactured.  It’s an impossible joy that bubbles up inside, despite the circumstances.  We realise on a new level the wonderful deeds God has done for us and know that we could never get to the end of thanking Him for all the things He does.  Do you realise that every breath you take – and the fact that most of the time you’re not even aware of breathing – is a gift from God?  Every time your heart beats – and it usually beats around 80 times per minute – is a gift from God.  It is due to Him entirely that you are able to read this blog post and understand it.  Just a handful of all the wonderful deeds He does for us continuously.  Because He loves us, and because He wants us to enjoy Him and rejoice in Him.

Joy characterised Jesus.  It says of Him that the Father anointed Him with the oil of gladness more than His companions.  Therefore, joy must characterise the life of a Christian.  It’s God who gives the joy; it’s part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?  If you want joy and don’t have it, or you want more joy, just ask God.

While I was ill, my brain was pretty messed up and it was hard (impossible at times) to pray coherently for myself, but I had a handful of wonderful friends who lovingly prayed me through that time (and I’m convinced God shielded me from the worst of that illness because of my praying friends).  So, if you’re needing help but feeling overwhelmed by life just now, please leave a comment on this post and I will pray for you.

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘Many Will See… And Be Amazed’

I’m in Marseille right now meeting with my team-mates and unexpectedly found myself with a free morning so, since I’m leading Prayers on Friday, I thought it would be a good time to prepare.  And now I’m excited about God’s wonderfulness so I thought I’d share it with you.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.
He has set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what He has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
Psalm 40:1-3 (New Living Translation)

Do you feel bogged down with life just now?  Are your circumstances difficult?  Are you stuck in some temptation or situation that you know is wrong and you don’t want to be caught in it but feel you have no power to help yourself?  Are you at the end of your tether?

I have good news.  Jesus specialises in breaking the power of temptation (He really does!), cleaning up horrendous messes, and rescuing hopeless situations.  When we’re at the end of ourselves, all we have to do is tell Him that we need Him and ask Him to rescue us.  And He does.  He is able to forgive, and provide us with a new heart and a positive outlook on life.  He makes everything new, bringing healing and wholeness, as He gradually changes us from the inside out.  The more we understand – really comprehend – what He has done for us, the more we want to sing and praise Him out of a heart overflowing with thankfulness.  And people around us will notice, and want to know why we are different.  They will be attracted to the Jesus they see in us.

Let me show you how this was mirrored in my life a couple of years ago.  As you know, I had a debilitating illness – cerebellar ataxia and chronic fatigue – which meant that most days my brain and mind were exhausted and I had no strength in my body.  I was constantly dizzy, and could only walk by slowly shuffling along, lurching unsteadily from side-to-side.  It felt as though I was drowning in the mud and mire of excessive weakness and confusion.  My body was in a terrible state, some days every ounce of energy and concentration went on simply breathing – in… pause, out… pause, in… pause, out… – and I knew I was in the valley of the shadow.  But praise God, He healed me!  It felt very much as though He had set me on solid ground and steadied me as a I walked along – literally! – by taking away the vertigo and infusing my body with strength.  I soon discovered the power of praising Him (not for nothing did the songwriter pen those words:  ‘His praise shall be our battle cry’).  I felt as if I’d been made new in some way from the illness, and I had a new song to sing of praise to God-my-Healer.  As I tell my story, and as people have witnessed the change His healing power has wrought in my life, they are amazed and built up in their faith.  My prayer is that through my story of the wonderful things Jesus has done for me, many will put their trust in Him.

For me, my healing is a picture of salvation.  I was bogged down by the mud and mire of selfishness and pride, in the desperate pit of wanting my own way and of ignoring God.  I couldn’t do anything to help myself.  When I realised I needed someone to rescue me from that, I prayed to Jesus.  He is the only one who can save and bring us into relationship with God.  He forgave my sin, and kept a careful watch on me as I learned to live with Him as my boss.  He keeps me on the right path and hoiks me back when I stray.  The more I understand of what He has done, the more I praise Him out of a deeply grateful heart.  And I trust that my joy spills out so that others notice it and want to know the Source of my joy.

How about you?  If you feel like you’re weighed down by the cares and responsibilities of life, in the pit of despair, tell Jesus about it.  He can and He will help you.  If you’d like me to pray for you, then please leave a comment on this post or contact me using the ‘contact’ page and I will be happy to do so.

Does God Heal Today?

I used to think that people who claimed God healed today were full of emotional hype and was deeply skeptical of any healing stories I heard.  That is, I was skeptical of healing stories in the West.

‘Why would God need to heal us?’  I wondered.  ‘We have the Bible and that’s all the revelation of God that we need.’

For people in other countries, especially those far from any medical aid and who didn’t have much, if any, of the Bible in their own language, it was a different story.  For them, I did believe God healed them, because it was a way of Him revealing Himself to them.  But as soon as they had the Bible, I concluded, God would stop healing them, because they didn’t need Him.

Put like that, it sounds crazy and illogical doesn’t it?  Yet I’m positive I wasn’t alone in believing this.

My other argument for never praying for healing (I was happy to ask God to ‘guide the surgeon’s hands’ and to ‘give wisdom to the doctors’ but not ‘please heal’) was that I had a vague idea that God sends illness and, therefore, we should just accept it and pray for His grace to cope with it.

Again, I was wrong.  Sometimes God does allow illness and He can teach us much through our suffering.  Indeed, often the way to experience a deeper and more intimate knowledge of God’s grace is through suffering.  But that doesn’t mean that we should simply accept it and live with it.  Because sometimes God does want to heal us and give us a precious knowledge of His grace through doing so.

How did I change?

During my time working with a mission agency in the Arab world, I heard stories of Muslims encountering Jesus through dreams and visions and through miraculous healing, and having their lives radically changed as they came to know Him as God.  I rejoiced with them while gradually longing for this kind of revelation from God for myself.  ‘Why does He just reveal Himself to people from other religions?’ I wondered, rather wistfully.

Then in 2010, I became very ill with debilitating cerebellar ataxia and ME.  At first, I was reluctant to ask for healing, believing that God had lessons to teach me through the illness.  I was convinced I would have to live with the reality of using a wheelchair and of being unable to look after myself for the rest of my life.  And God did teach me much through the illness, and I got to know Him more intimately than I had ever imagined possible.  But in the October of that year, good friends fasted and prayed for me along with friends/leaders at church and I had a wonderful breakthrough healing.  From then on, I pursued healing from God every day and in February 2011, He healed me of ME.  Since then, He has gradually restored my confidence, my strength and my memory.

Through my own experience of being healed, the wonderfully compassionate side of God’s nature was personally revealed to me.  Jesus became more real and for the first time, I could wholeheartedly enthuse about my saviour who answers prayer in real and tangible ways and cares deeply for us. I now appreciate that on the cross He was wounded for my transgressions; He was crushed for my iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought me peace, and with His stripes I am healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

God gets the glory in our suffering and He gets the glory when He heals us.  Either way is perfect in His will, because He gets the glory.  I don’t know why He doesn’t always choose to heal miraculously.  I don’t know why He chose to heal me (but I praise Him that He did!).  But I know that you will never know what He wants to do in your life unless you take the plunge and ask Him to actually heal you.

Here is a wonderful testimony to inspire you to seek God for all that He has for you.

Why Didn’t You Abort Your Baby?

Watch this brave mum explain why she didn’t abort her baby.

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