Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: illness

Love

Seven years ago, I had a chronic illness that was worsening despite the best efforts of the medical profession. I wondered if I was in the valley of the shadow of death. It felt like my body was beginning to shut down and there was little hope, physically speaking.

But then I had a significant breakthrough healing, followed a few months later by Jesus meeting with me and completing what He’d started. It was just me and Him in my living room, when He restored my health.

I’d made the decision to follow Jesus as a child but I didn’t really begin to comprehend His love for me until He healed me. I was stuck in a hopeless and, at times, very dark situation that I couldn’t get out of. My best efforts on my ‘good’ days got me nowhere and mostly made me worse. No one was able to help.

But Jesus came to my rescue.

I will always be so thankful to Him. He gave me back my life – and this time with a new sparkle in my eyes because I know He loves me. I no longer just believe it with my mind. It has become a reality in my heart, something I experience.

For me, the illness and healing are a physical picture of what Jesus had already done for me spiritually.

My soul wasn’t dying, it was dead. I was alienated from God. I was a good child, but just like a corpse can’t help itself, I couldn’t help myself. I was in a hopeless situation.

But the Father loves me. In fact, He loves me the same way He loves Jesus. I was dead, but He brought me to life. He dealt with the baggage that I’ve collected since conception: bad thoughts, wrong reactions, rebellion, white lies, etc, etc. 2,000 years ago Jesus took all my baggage on Himself when He died on the cross, paying the full price for my wrongdoing and in exchange giving me His goodness instead.

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
1 John 4:10

What is love?

Love looks like a King dying for His rebellious subjects so that they don’t have to pay for their wrong thoughts and actions, and to make them royal sons and daughters.

I love this song, written and performed by a friend, Chris Barton: This is Love

It’s Winter…

Six years ago this autumn, I received a termination letter from my (then) employers.

The letter wasn’t a shock. I’d spent most of the previous ten months off work ill and was showing no signs of being able to resume my job in the foreseeable future. They had discussed it with me. Their tone was kind and I knew they would continue praying for my healing.

But…. [read more]

Joy

Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped by terrorists and held in the Philippine jungle for more than a year. Hours before their captivity ended, they chatted about Psalm 100, knowing that they may not leave the jungle alive but wanting to serve the Lord with gladness and come into His presence with singing.

Joy: the ability to praise God in a dark place.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s different to happiness because that’s dependent on circumstances. Joy is supernatural, given by God.

I first discovered joy during my illness six years ago. Like Martin and Gracia, I wondered how to serve God when simply breathing took the majority of my energy and concentration. The Holy Spirit brought these verses to my attention:

‘Count in all joy’ when you go through trials. Why? Because there is a reward if you do.

I was so comforted, knowing I could still serve God when I couldn’t do anything. Each afternoon, I breathily and tunelessly sang praises to God for a few seconds. That was my sole activity for the day. Yet I knew that God heard me and valued my sacrifice of praise.

The seed of joy that God planted in my heart has grown as I’ve cultivated it by practicing joy.

That’s not to say I always feel like praising God. I have days when I’m more miserable than joyful, when patients get on my nerves, things go wrong, or I’m hormonal and tired. Sometimes I text my friend Ali to let her know I’m struggling. She always texts back that she’s praying and reminds me to get back to praising God. I do the same for her. We both find that we usually feel tonnes better if we take a few minutes to praise God in tongues if we can’t find the words in English.

Jesus knew all about joy in dark places too. He urged people who are persecuted for their faith to ‘rejoice’ and ‘leap for joy’. What? Sounds heartless. But Jesus saw things from an eternal perspective and He thinks it’s worth it for the reward. God the Son promised a great reward for those who are persecuted because they love Him.

Jesus Himself went through the crucifixion because of the joy He was looking forward to afterwards: the joy of having you and me as His friends.

Linking up with Little Things Thursday.

 

Who are you?

If I asked: ‘Who are you?’ how would you respond?

I could give different answers depending on who I was talking to. I remember one Christmas when I was being interviewed as part of a church service: ‘Hi, I’m Mandy, son of Don and Janet,’ I proudly announced. There was a silence before laughter erupted from the congregation, while I wondered what I’d said to cause such amusement.

Later on, I defined myself according to my job or my church ministry:  medical secretary, mobiliser, Sunday school teacher, youth leader. My security was in who I was but since I defined myself by what I did, I only felt secure as long as I had a job or ministry.

But then in 2010, I became ill and ended up losing my job. We had recently moved to a new church, so I had no ministry and the illness kept us from getting involved. I also lost long-term memories as a result of being ill. It was a scary and bewildering time. When you lose your memories, you’re not sure who you are anymore. Thankfully, God stepped in and healed me. But I still had no job or ministry and since I’d always used what I did to define who I was, I went through a confused period of feeling precious and loved because God had healed me while also feeling insignificant and without worth because I had no idea who I actually was.

This was highlighted to me when I volunteered to be part of the small reception team in the church office. Julie the team leader organised a ‘getting to know you’ lunch and suggested that we went round the circle to introduce ourselves. I panicked. The other volunteers were mostly students and all younger than me, and I didn’t want to look a middle-aged numpty in front of them. But I was completely blank. Who was I? It was getting closer and closer to me. My palms were sweating. Then the young woman sitting next to me said that she was a housewife. Oh the relief, because I fit that category too. Without looking at anyone, I softly said: ‘I’m Mandy and I’m a housewife.’ Ordeal over.

Who am IA few months after God healed me, I began working as a medical secretary again. But there was an uneasiness deep inside. I was more than a medical secretary. But who was I?

It wasn’t until last year when Penny, my pastor’s wife, gave me a sheet of statements entitled: Who I am in Christ, that I began to have any idea who I was. Penny advised me to read that sheet aloud every day.

A quick glance told me that it didn’t reveal anything new. It was all things like:

I have been made right with God.

I am a child of God.

I am tenderly loved by God.

I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved.

These were all truths I had been taught from birth. Ordinarily, I might have cast that sheet aside thinking that I knew it. But God was dealing with some deep issues and consequently I felt fragile. So I read those statements aloud each morning.

Right from the first reading I realised I only believed about half the truths listed on that sheet. Head knowledge of many years had never dropped into my heart. The words I am tenderly loved by God and I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved were just words, nothing more. Did God love me? Had He chosen me? He loved and chose other people, but surely He didn’t mean me?

During the following weeks and months as I read those statements of truth aloud daily and looked up the Bible verses from which they were taken, the Holy Spirit gradually dropped head knowledge into my heart.

But it wasn’t an easy process. There were tears (lots) and doubts, I was angry, I even thought I’d lost my faith for a couple of weeks. It was hard to accept that God loved me. It was a huge struggle in fact.

I was learning the hard way that if your identity is in what you do or what you have, then that sense of who you are is pretty fragile and can be lost – as was mine through the illness. Our identity must be anchored in something more secure, in something that can never fail or be lost, in Someone bigger than us.

Image used courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net.

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