Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Thoughts (page 2 of 5)

Personal devotional thoughts

Keep Reflecting The Son

A minute felt like an hour, an hour like a day. A day seemed like an eternity. The nights were even longer – dark, lonely, slightly alien.

When I was ill, time seemed never-ending. By lunchtime, I had completely forgotten breakfast, and by mid afternoon, the morning seemed to belong to another day in the far distant past. And night was another creature entirely. The night had a strange feeling all of its own, as I wandered aimlessly from room to room in the darkness, peering out of windows – was anyone else awake at this unearthly hour? Oh, the relief when dawn finally began to break in silver streaks across the sky!

Through it all, I don’t recall losing sight of the fact that God was with me and that He was in control. He was the One who, on my weakest days, gave me strength to breathe and faith to keep trusting that He was working it all out for my good. I didn’t think I would ever get better; I assumed I would always need a wheelchair when out and about, and was accepting my ‘new normal’ of being physically and mentally restricted. As my body and mind disintegrated, my hope in God grew stronger. He was my strength. There were tough moments when I felt I couldn’t go on, times of sobbing out the pain and distress to Him, of grieving for the life I’d lost, but He never let me go.

I didn’t know when the night-time of my illness would end but I trusted God to keep working in me, using the circumstances to make me more like Jesus. And then one wonderful day, dawn began to break in my life as God broke through and dispelled the illness.

As the moon reflects the sun, God promises the same for His children. It is the Father’s deep desire for us to become more and more like Jesus. He often uses the night-time circumstances of our lives to do extensive work in us. I look back over my life and see how I grew in God through various horrible things happening that I would never have chosen for myself but which my loving Creator used for my good.

ClockThe endless wait of a life-saving organ transplant for my dad who was slowly dying before my eyes.

The heartbreak of a close relationship ending.

The news that we could never have children.

Long-term illness.

Maybe you can identify with some of these.

Perhaps it feels that dawn will never come, that your night – whatever that means for you – is never going to end. But it will end and dawn will come. The darkest hour is just before dawn, but dawn is coming. The moon shines most clearly and brightly against a dark sky. It keeps reflecting the sun, even during the longest night (which is coming up in a few nights’ time). Be encouraged to keep trusting God. It is a choice and one that only you can make. Keep trusting Him so that all His loveliness can be reflected in your life.

Keep reflecting the Son.

Linking up with The Sunday Community.

 

Clock picture credit: freedigitalphotos.net and Suat Eman.

Not Ashamed

Hood up and head down, he quickly checked the sign. Yes, he was in the right place. He slipped inside the double doors, hoping no one had seen him. Despite the friendly ‘hello’ from the lady at the reception desk, he would not make eye contact. He handed over his form and was directed through the inner doors where the smell of toasting bread and fresh coffee wafted over him. Without looking at anyone, he perched on the edge of the nearest chair and prayed his parcel would arrive quickly. But what was this? A friendly face approached and sat beside him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he blurted, ‘I’ve never used a food bank before. I’ve worked all my life. I’m not sponging. I lost my job…’

‘It’s okay.’ The face smiled.

Twenty minutes later he left with his head up. He had enjoyed homemade cake and hot coffee, he hadn’t been judged or criticised, and had an invitation to pop back anytime for a drink and chat, maybe even join the game of Scrabble at one of the tables. There was no need to be ashamed of his situation.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

She eyed the white van with lilac butterflies and Jesus is Lord printed on its side in dismay. She’d heard of these people. She kept her head well down and hoped she hadn’t been noticed. But the van stopped across from her and two friendly-looking women jumped out.

‘Hi there! Are you okay? Would you like some hot chocolate or a cheese roll?’

‘I’m not working y’know!’

Who was she kidding? Why else would she be loitering on a street corner at one in the morning? She was in her twenties but could pass for forty. That’s what a life of alcohol and drug addiction will do for you. She was too ashamed to admit she was working, too ashamed to accept their offer of friendship and sanctuary on the back of the van. Just plain ashamed.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

ASHAMED: the dictionary gives two definitions – ’embarrassed or guilty because of one’s actions, characteristics, or associations’ and ‘reluctant to do something through fear of embarrassment or humiliation’.

I guess we’ve all been in situations or done things that make us want to curl up and die of shame. I have. Times when I’ve said the wrong thing, or been manipulative, or indulged in something I wouldn’t want anyone to find out about.

AshamedOr maybe something has been done to you that has made you ashamed, even though it’s not your fault. For years, I was ashamed of the fact I couldn’t have children. It’s no one’s fault, but I still felt ashamed.

The great news is that we don’t have to stay ashamed and guilty over what we’ve done or of the situation in which we find ourselves. Regardless of what is causing us to feel ashamed, there’s a way to be rid of it. That way is a person: Jesus. When He died, He took ALL of our shame – every single bit – on Himself and it died with Him. He took our shame, and in return He gives us His purity and right-standing before God. There is nothing left for us to pay. When we accept His gift of peace and joy and righteousness, He sets us free from sin and shame. That sounds like a fabulous deal to me!

When He was a man on earth, Jesus was nicknamed the ‘friend of sinners’. He was friends with poor people. He fed those who were hungry. He healed the sick. He laid His hands on people with disfiguring skin conditions. He hung out with prostitutes. I don’t know if there were drug addicts in first century Palestine, but if there were, you can guarantee Jesus was their friend. He welcomed those who were outcasts and downtrodden, and showed unconditional love. He took their shame away because He loved them.

I love that He loves the little people like me!

God doesn’t want us bowed down with shame there is no need for us to bear. Jesus came to give us abundant life. If you know Jesus, He has already set you free from sin and shame. So believe what He says about you and say thank you!

Jesus is not ashamed of you:
He calls you brother or sister.

God is not ashamed of you:
He calls Himself ‘our God’ and He has prepared a safe, secure place for us.

I love that when I’ve screwed up yet again, God isn’t ashamed of me. He will never wish He hadn’t bothered with me, will never wonder if He made a mistake in loving me. He still calls me His child and exults in the fact that He is my God. WOO HOOO!

Linking up with Fellowship Fridays and

Womanhood With Purpose

 

Photo credit

Bunny Hops

I love looking after my friends’ rabbits and guinea pigs when they go on holiday. Truffles the rabbit is a regular visitor at Hotel Mandy and stays for a few weeks every summer. We are good friends now though it takes him a couple of days to settle in. At first, he is hesitant and clings to the familiar safety of his hutch. I open the door and try to coax him out, longing to fuss over him and have a game. He stares at me. Then, with all four paws firmly rooted in the sawdust, he stretches his head towards me, ready to withdraw immediately if I make a sudden movement. Soon, his front paws appear on the edge of the door and then I know it won’t be long before he jumps out and submits to having his ears and cheeks stroked (which he loves). For me, the best part is when Truffles suddenly starts racing around the carpet bunny hopping for sheer joy at his freedom.

Truffles reminds me of my friendship with God. I chose to follow Jesus while still in junior school. I quickly began serving in the church and in a Christian youth group, but I experienced no real joy or peace. If you had asked me what I believed, I would have said that God loved me and that He’d sent Jesus to die for me to take the punishment for the wrong things I had done. But what I actually believed in my heart was more: Jesus felt sorry for me and died for me but God was still angry with me so I had to work my socks off to try and earn His favour. I made life all about me rather than all about Jesus. The problem was that I didn’t really believe that God was who He said He was, or that I was who He said I was.

Thank God He loved me far too much to leave me in that state. In 2009, God led Adi and me to Grace Church where we were baptised in the Spirit. Things slowly began to change until last summer Bible truths I’d never understood before finally began to click. God has always loved me. He created me because He wanted me to be part of His Family. He isn’t angry with me. Jesus died for me so that His Dad could adopt me. I’ve been rescued out of the enemy’s domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son Jesus. (Woo hooo hooo!!!)

Truffles in hutchMy life with God began with me stuck in a hutch, imprisoned by the enemy’s lies. God had opened my hutch door and beckoned me out to freedom. It took thirty-odd years of me looking at God and wondering if He really was who He said He was and if I was who He said I was. For three decades it looked attractive – oh desperately attractive – but unattainable. Then I started craning my neck for a better look. Could God be trusted?

To experience God and all that He has for me, I had to make that leap out of the hutch. As soon as I believed that He is who He says He is and that I am who He says I am – that I’m His adopted daughter, a princess in His Kingdom, a joint heir of spiritual blessings with Jesus, someone He delights in and ‘woo hoos!’ over – I began to know increasing peace and joy in my life.

As I laugh aloud and love to see Truffles bunny hopping for sheer joy in his freedom, I am positive that God laughs with me and rejoices over me as I enjoy more and more of the freedom Jesus paid such a high price to give me. I relish my friendship with God and the complete security I have in Him.

 

Umm, Should I Be Here?

Do you ever wonder if something is meant for you, whether you are important enough?

I do.

To give you an example, my church usually offers a ministry time during or after a meeting when people can go to the front for prayer. It’s one of the many things I love about Grace Church. But a few weeks ago, I responded hesitantly to the invitation to go forward for prayer wondering as I did so whether this was really meant for me. It clearly was, because I had an amazing and powerful encounter with God that dropped me to the floor and changed my life.

So you would think that when a similar invitation was issued last Sunday I would race confidently to the front, wouldn’t you? Ha!

At least this time I didn’t dither and hesitate. Much. I arrived at the front pulling a ‘should I really be doing this’ sort of face and fighting the urge to dart back into my seat. Was I important enough? Was this meant for someone else? Should I really be here?

Once again as someone prayed over me, I couldn’t stay upright. But instead of enjoying God, I found myself assailed with doubts. Had anyone noticed I was on the floor again? Was this blessing meant for me or had I made a mistake? But then I made a decision.

Lord, I really want more of You. Thank You for meeting with me. Please show me more of who You are, and do whatever You want.

All the doubts disappeared, the fear of what other people may or may not be thinking receded, and God was amazingly gracious in showing me a glimpse of His compassionate, missional heart – and almost bursting mine in the process.

Clearly, as far as God was concerned, I was right where I was meant to be.

What started me off thinking this was reading Beth Moore’s ‘Jesus, the One and Only’ and her insights into the account in Luke’s Gospel of the woman who’d suffered with a gynae problem for twelve years.

There were huge crowds around Jesus when Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, came to Him and asked Him to heal his young daughter who was dying. It was clearly an urgent case – life and death. But the suffering woman managed to sneak up behind Jesus and touch the very edge of His garments. He was her last hope. Despite spending a tonne of money on healthcare, no one could make her better. But she had faith in Jesus. As soon as she touched his clothes, she was healed, and began to slip away into the crowd. Jesus knew at once that power had left Him and asked who had touched Him. The disciples pointed out the obvious, that He was being jostled by people on every side. Yet Jesus knew that wasn’t it. Eventually, this woman stepped forward, trembling, and explained what she had done. Did she feel as if she shouldn’t be there? Worried she might be in trouble and criticised? Maybe. Jesus was so gentle with her. He reassured her and told her to be at peace. Beth Moore points out that Jesus wanted her to enjoy her healing and encounter with Him rather than sneak away like a guilty thief.

Perhaps the woman felt unimportant beside the ruler of the synagogue. Maybe she felt invisible. Maybe she felt herself to be unworthy. Jesus was in the middle of a life and death situation and perhaps she worried that she was in the way. Can you identify with her? I certainly can! One thing is definite, that is not how Jesus saw her. To Him, she was important. He willingly met her need – not just her physical need, but also her emotional and spiritual needs. And that is how He sees you – as precious and worthy of His attention. He delights in you and longs to bless you, far more than you realise.

Thank You God that You see me. Thank You for being so gracious to me even when I come hesitantly and wonder if I should even be there. Thank you for lavishing blessing on me and for meeting all my needs. There is no God like You!

Photo used by kind permission of freedigitalphotos.net and phasinphotos.

I’m Grateful!

I’ve been working this evening on the book I’m writing about my illness and healing/deliverance; I’m always amazed at how horrible the illness was and how the goodness and kindness of God shone through. It often feels as though it all happened to someone else, not me.

This evening, I wrote about going to Sara and Nathaniel’s wedding. They’d asked Adi and me to pray for them during the service and we were chuffed to be asked. Sometimes I would get confused and forget how to speak or muddle up my words, so I wrote my prayer on a card which I gave to Adi so that he could read it out for me if needed. But it all went horribly wrong. When we got up to pray, my whole body began shaking uncontrollably, I forgot how to speak, I lurched to the side and would have fallen if Adi hadn’t been holding onto me, and it took an age for him to help me shuffle back to our seat – which was only on the third or fourth row. It was an utterly mortifying experience over which I had absolutely no control.

At first I was angry with God. Why had He allowed me to be so humiliated? I chuntered in a one-sided rant at Him in my heart. But gradually I realised that He would never have allowed such humiliation unless He had a very good reason for it. I didn’t have to know the reason, it was enough that He did. It was hard. But He had been teaching me that summer that to know Him even though I was ill was far better than not knowing Him and being in perfect health.

Me in ChiChi

Before that incident I’d sometimes wondered if I would ever get back to ‘normal’ life or ever do any public speaking. That incident showed me that life would never be ‘normal’ again unless God intervened miraculously. The specialists tried hard but couldn’t help me, and they were fast running out of options. Only God could help.

I am so grateful that God did intervene miraculously and heal me. So very grateful! (THANK YOU LORD!)

Likewise, I used to be bogged down with guilt and with striving to be acceptable. I was trapped in certain addictions that dragged me down and which I hated doing but couldn’t keep myself from doing them. I made excuses that it wasn’t really wrong, that I could stop if I wanted to, that this would be the last time. But it was a lie really, I couldn’t do anything to help myself.

But Jesus died so that I could know true freedom. God’s plan is for me to be completely free so that I can enjoy Him. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has the power to break any addiction and set us free. And that is what He has done for me. Because He paid the full price for every single thing I have done and ever will do wrong, there is nothing left for me to feel guilty about. In place of guilt, Jesus has given me His peace. I don’t have to strive to make myself acceptable any more. God accepts me as His beloved daughter, and that makes me absolutely secure.

This God who spoke the universe into existence and holds it together by His powerful word has forgiven me, set me free, and given me peace, hope, security. And He is my healer and deliverer. He is incredibly generous and lavish with His love. Knowing Him is utterly life-changing and I am so grateful to Him!

A Father’s Love

A few evenings ago I finally caught up with the Call the Midwife Christmas Special while simultaneously catching up with my (huge) ironing pile. It was good: plenty of drama with an interesting storyline.

Call the Midwife

But what really caught my attention was Dr Turner’s reaction on learning that his only son Timothy was dangerously ill with polio. He burst through the hospital doors and tore up the ward – I got the impression he would have moved heaven and earth to get to his son if he had to.

That led me to pondering another father and only son…. Jesus is the beloved only Son of His Father. They have always delighted in each other’s company, they’ve never had an argument or fallen out, they love each other with a perfect love.

Yet when Jesus was bullied, beaten up, mocked and – in a massive miscarriage of justice – hung on a cross to die, a father’s natural instincts did not kick in. You would have expected the Father to race to Him, scoop Him up in His arms and rescue Him before destroying the enemies who’d put Him there. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Father turned out the lights of the universe and turned His back on His beloved Son.

Why?

The reason was so that Jesus’ Dad could adopt you and me as His children, and Jesus’ death was the only way that that could happen.

The Father chose not to run and rescue His hurting Son so that He could rush to deliver us in our need. In Psalm 18, it says (in poetic language) that God virtually tears apart the universe in His hurry to rescue and comfort His hurting children.

I love that I have a perfect Dad in heaven who loves me this much and who planned to adopt me even before I was born!

Being Seen

We all want to be seen. No one enjoys being invisible. Even if you are an introvert, I guarantee you want to be noticed by someone. When you do a good job at work, it’s nice if a manager praises you.  When you visit the doctor, it’s important that they listen to you instead of giving you scant attention with their mind already on the next patient. We girlies appreciate it when someone compliments us on a new hairdo. (When I was walking through the city centre a few months ago, on my way to meet friends, a complete stranger stopped me and told me how much she liked my hair. She followed it up with an apology and explained that she wasn’t weird or anything. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside!)

No one is invisible or unimportant to God. He notices us. In the first book of the Bible (Genesis), a pregnant servant ran away from a harsh mistress into the desert. Miserable, hopeless and desperate, she was sitting by a spring of water when God appeared to her. He called her by name, talked with her, and gave her a wonderful prophecy about the illegitimate son she was carrying. Hagar’s life was transformed by this encounter with God and she called Him: ‘God-who-sees-me’ (El Roi). Her testimony was so powerful that from then on, everyone called that spring: ‘The-well-of-the-Living-One-who-sees-me’ (Beer Lahai Roi).

Hundreds of years later, Jesus looked up and saw a short man sitting in a tree. This man was a tax collector, much-despised because of his dishonesty and thievery. Yet he wanted to see Jesus, which is why he had climbed the tree. Maybe he was curious. Maybe he was desperate because he was realising more-and-more that a successful career and being rich didn’t give lasting satisfaction or bring true happiness. But more importantly, Jesus saw Zacchaeus. They had a meal together. The tax collector’s life was transformed through that encounter with the Son of God. He joyfully paid back everything he had stolen and then some. Old Testament laws said thieves should pay back four times the amount they had stolen (restitution) and this is what Zacchaeus did, as well as giving away half of his possessions to the poor.

Another person who Jesus encountered in first century Palestine was a woman with constant vaginal bleeding. She’d had the condition for twelve long years. During that time, she was classed as ‘unclean’ by society. She was part of a large, jostling crowd around Jesus. There was an air of anticipated excitement: the ruler of the synagogue had asked Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter, and they were on their way to Jairus’ house. This woman was certain that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she would be healed, and then she could slip away through the crowd, unnoticed. The medics of her day had tried lots of painful treatments, none of which had helped. As soon as she touched His robe He knew healing power had left Him. Despite the urgency of Jairus’ request, Jesus stopped the crowd and made enquiries. Trembling, the woman confessed what she had done. Jesus reassured her and spoke peace over her. Jairus might well be hopping from foot-to-foot, the crowd impatient at the hold-up, but Jesus took time to see a woman who dared to come to Him for help.

During the summer, I have had my own encounters with Jesus. I’ve been a Christian for thirty-one years but God saw things in my life He didn’t like. He wanted to change some of my thought-patterns and attitudes so that I would better reflect His Son’s loving, gracious nature. It isn’t an easy or pleasant process, but I’m so thankful that God is determined to pursue and change me, bringing  to completion the work He is doing in me because He loves me so much. Praying and counselling me through this period were two wise friends from church. As I was walking to meet them for my second prayer counselling appointment, I saw a Big Issue seller. To my amazement, I found myself crossing the road and rummaging in my purse for change to buy a newspaper. I must have walked past Big Issue sellers hundreds of times, but I had never seen them before; they weren’t on my radar. But one encounter with God has changed that for good. I now find myself making sure I have extra coins in my purse when I go into the city centre in order to buy a copy of the Big Issue.

Jesus is the God who sees me. And as His Spirit transforms my life to make me more like Jesus, I am beginning to see individuals too. How about you? Do you believe God sees and cares about you – just because you are you? And are you ready to let Him use you to show His love to others?

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 Much Do You Really Want It?

Adrian and I saw Ludovic Einaudi at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham yesterday evening.  It was excellent.  I’d surprised Adrian with tickets for his birthday but, to be honest, I was expecting to be a little bit bored.  I enjoy listening to music, but prefer it to be in the background while I’m doing something else like reading or writing.  But to hear such great music live was a good experience.  The small orchestra was multi-talented with different instruments and the symphony and harmonies (forgive me if I get the terms wrong, I enjoy music but am not particularly musical!) were exquisite.  The music was relaxing, uplifting, exciting and dramatic in turn.  I got completely lost in it and found my heart full of worship to God as I listened.

Ludovic Einaudi

Einaudi bowed at the end of the concert, along with his orchestra, and they disappeared off stage.  The audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.  Some whistled and shouted to show their appreciation.  But, on the whole, we remained very British and simply clapped.  Loudly.

We kept clapping and the stage remained empty.  Adrian leaned down to me and whispered:  ‘Do you think he’s going to come back?’  I replied:  ‘Surely, he can’t resist the pressure!’ because the several hundred-strong audience was clapping in unison.  The clapping got quicker and quicker, louder and louder.  Still no sign of Einaudi.  I wondered if, like Beethoven, he might be deaf and couldn’t hear how much we wanted him to come back and delight us with his music.

At that point, I sensed God asking me:  ‘How much do you want this?’  He wasn’t asking me how much I wanted to hear Einaudi again.  He was looking into my heart, asking how much I wanted Him to answer a particular prayer request (well, two actually) for which I had been praying all the way through the concert.  How much did I really want Him to work?  Was I prepared to persevere until there is breakthrough?

Even while I pondered these things, a great roar went up.  Einaudi and his orchestra came back on stage.  We all settled back down in our seats and enjoyed more beautiful music.

Jesus taught that when it comes to prayer, the Father yearns to bless us with good things.  His ears are open to our cries.  He is generous and compassionate and concerned to give us the very best.  Jesus encouraged us to ask, seek and knock in our praying.  He promises that for those who ask, it will be given.  For those who seek, we will find.  For those who knock, it will be opened to us.  God isn’t interested in being (indeed, He isn’t!) a heavenly slot machine whereby we recite a prayer and blessing immediately comes out.  Oh no.  Often when we pray for things, God is interested in changing and sanctifying our hearts through our prayers.  His desire for us is that we delight ourselves in Him so that He can give us the desires of our hearts, because it’s when we delight ourselves in Him that our desires change to be more in line with His.

The Father also wants us to learn persistence and perseverence in our praying.  Jesus told a parable about a persistent widow, to show that God isn’t hard-hearted and tight-fisted but that He longs that we develop faith in Him.  A faith that says no matter how long it takes or how things turn out, we will trust Him.  When Jesus met a Canaanite woman during His time as a man on earth, He gently tested her faith.  She cried after Him, asking Him to have mercy on her daughter who was severely oppressed by an evil spirit.  He questioned her, testing her:  how much did she really want what He dearly wanted to give?  The end result was that Jesus praised her great faith, granted her desires and healed her daughter.

If you are longing for God to act in your life, in the life of someone you love, or in a particular situation, may I encourage you to persevere in prayer until you see a breakthrough.  It may not be what you expect – God delights in surprising us and doing over and above our expectations – but He will answer.  Keep asking, seeking and knocking.

Growing Pains

Did you see Penguins – Spy in the Huddle on BBC1 recently?  For three consecutive Monday evenings, I was mesmerised by these entertaining creatures.  The documentary put spy cameras disguised as penguins into the middle of three colonies:  stately emporer penguins in Antarctica, funny rockhopper penguins in the Falkland Islands, and shy humboldt penguins in Peru.  I have to admit to a bias towards emporer penguins.

Both mum and dad are committed to hatching their precious chick.  Mum must pass the egg to dad before she can return to the sea to feed.  The parents practice this tricky maneouvre a few times so that the egg is not exposed to the freezing cold air for too long.  (It’s easy to tell the old hands from the new parents at this stage, and my heart was in my mouth while I watched.)  With egg safely tucked in dad’s pouch, it’s time for mum to return to the sea so she can feast on fish.  The dads stay behind, huddling together for warmth against the bitter Antarctic winds.  I mused on the fact that we can learn a lot from the animal kingdom at times.  No chance among penguins of the male getting the female pregnant and then disappearing without any sign of commitment….

Dad is in charge of hatching the chick, which he feeds from his own meagre resources.  He is literally starving by the time mum returns, looking plump and well-fed.  For all that he is desperate to get to the sea and a good feed himself, he is most reluctant to leave his chick.  In some cases, mum had to resort to pecking him to force him to go.  Such is the emporer dad’s commitment.  There I go again with that word ‘commitment’!

Mum cares for the chick, feeding it on regurgitated fish (yuck!) and endeavouring to shelter it from the ferocious storms for the next few weeks until dad returns from the sea to share the task of bringing up their little one.

The chicks in the colony become more and more independent as they grow bigger and stronger, until one day the majority of the parents leave for the sea for the last time.  After a while the chicks sense the call of the sea themselves, and start the long journey over the ice.

In the process, the chicks find areas where the ice has melted into piles of slush.  They have never before encountered a non-solid surface and falling into the icy water takes them by surprise.  They flap in a flustered sort of way, trying to get back onto solid snow.  It’s a shock to them, but it’s a good thing because it teaches them to swim so that when they finally reach the sea itself, they can confidently throw themselves into it.

Life is a bit like that.  When things are going well, we can feel all cosy and settled.  But then something happens that takes us by surprise, stretching us.  It can feel like we’ve just fallen into icy water sometimes and it’s not pleasant.  Like when Adrian was made redundant a few years ago.  I remember that cold feeling gripping my stomach as we sat in the lounge in complete silence, just looking at each other.  Or like when we were informed we could never – humanly-speaking – have children of our own, the day after my dad had died.  Or when my neighbour drives me mad with her loud television!  But these are vital growing times in our lives.   Without the tough episodes, we would end up pretty spineless and pathetic.  Redundancy taught us more than we’d ever known before of trusting God, comprehending a little more of His sovereignty, and experiencing His provision.  Losing my dad and being unable to have children has enabled me to experience at a deeper level God’s emotional healing and comfort – and now I can comfort others in the same position, understanding what they’re going through because I’ve been there.  And I’m painfully learning some patience through the trial of the television….

With God’s help, it’s possible to accept the trials (even though we don’t enjoy them at the time because they’re painful and hard) and to grow through the experience.  God is able to turn our sorrow into joy (Isaiah 61, Psalm 126, James 1, 2 Corinthians 1).

 

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