Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

February 2016 and another birthday in prison. When I first arrived to prison it had been March. I’d had an entire year before my first birthday there and I had watched all year, interested as other women celebrated birthdays and tried to make them special.

Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays, the hardest times in prison. They are typically spent with family and friends, happy, but can be stark reminders of loss when one is away from loved ones. Most women tried to make the best of it. I saw it was not easy. I vowed to make mine special but it never turned out.

Is there a time of year that’s very special for you? How do you observe it?

Either God can do god-like things or He is not a god, not worth worshiping.

For the past month I had read the Bible constantly, everywhere. I didn’t jump in at the beginning. Instead, I began in the middle, hesitant and unsure. As I came to a teaching in I Peter, it confirmed something I’d heard:

20 knowing this first: that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in olden times by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. II Peter 1:20-21

I didn’t completely understand but it did make sense that if God wanted to write a book, He could. We think of authors like Stephen King having a good editor and publisher. We take for granted their books are as intended. Why think human authors have superior abilities? Either God can do god-like things or He is not a god, not worth worshiping.

I found something in the book of Hebrews I’d seen before but had never heard explained to me well:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Now I wondered, ‘How is the word of God alive? How can it be active? It’s a book! It’s been the same for thousands of years.’ Soon God would explain it to me.

I quit reading before the book of Revelation. While I was engaged from the start, I didn’t feel confident reading that unusual book. Secretly I worried whatever new enthusiasm I’d been granted wouldn’t get me through it.

My parents had taken me to church. I’d listened to many pastors. I think I believed I’d been told everything, and whatever I didn’t know I’d be fed eventually.

My “relationship” with Jesus until this point was an infrequent monologue, if anything at all – me talking at God, hearing about Him from others.

I do know I didn’t enjoy church, the people there. What I did enjoy was being a know-it-all. My church upbringing gave me some of that, but I wasn’t eager for more. Now, however, I thrilled to just to read it!

I tell you these things as I know my situation is not unique. In years since I have heard many similar stories.

I had before heard of a personal relationship with God, with Jesus, but I’d never understood the mechanics of it. My “relationship” with Jesus until this point had been an infrequent monologue, if anything at all – me talking at God and hearing about Him from others. It was no more real than one might have with a Hollywood star one writes and learns about from second-hand sources. I urge you to evaluate your own situation today!

You have a right to be consciously aware of meeting God.

A.W. Tozer says in his book Voice of a Prophet, “You have a right to be consciously aware of meeting God…

“I charge that in the modern evangelical church we are not consciously aware of a Presence. We are not consciously aware of God. We do not hear His voice; we hear only a recording of His voice. We do not see God’s face; we see only a painting of His face. We hear not the sound of His voice; we hear but an echo of that sound. We are always once removed from God. When we stop looking at a picture of God and begin looking at God; when we stop hearing the echo and hear God’s voice itself; when instead of having God in history we have Him in experience, we will begin to know what Abram knew when he fell on his face before God.”

By early 2016 I had been in prison almost 5 years. My parents, who lived nearby, visited weekly. Retired, they turned into snowbirds. Deciding Minnesota was no place to be they had chosen Florida as their new winter home the previous year.

Reluctant to leave me without company, they asked church friends to visit me in their absence. Two wonderful women agreed. I enjoyed getting to know them. My new reading left me excited to share what I was learning! It would not go as I expected. In fact, I would experience many unusual responses soon.

Lulled into a false sense of security by second-hand knowledge, I believed I understood spiritual things because other people had shared THEIR understanding.

I was so encouraged by my reading that I started over again. I came to this verse a second time:

14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” I Corinthians 2:14

I thought nothing. Lulled into a false sense of security by second-hand knowledge, I believed I understood spiritual things because other people had shared THEIR understanding. It never occurred to me I had not been personally taught by the Spirit – men taught me. I also had no way of knowing if what I had been taught by these men was really from God.

As I read now, I thought verse 14 must describe an unsaved person, certainly not me. Confirmation bias – an unconscious behavior where a person pays attention to information that confirms their existing beliefs and ignores evidence that points to a different belief, probably prevented me from seeing the truth. I would come to read many things that would challenge my existing beliefs.

Growing up I often heard about “the will of God” and “God’s will for your life.”

Later, I read the verse below. I sat and thought. I was going through a process of learning. It began to dawn on me that I could ask God Himself to teach me, in fact I should. I began to ask Him questions often.

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” I John 2:27

I began taking notes as I read. Growing up I often heard about “the will of God” and “God’s will for your life.” I found verses that mentioned God’s will and I didn’t want to forget. I also thought my children might be eager to know!

Do you struggle to understand spiritual things – the things of God and the Bible? Are you eager to know God’s will?

My letters to them grew longer. Now, in addition to my usual conversation I began to add all that I was learning, excited to have their lives enriched. Almost immediately, my son Tom stopped talking to me, without explanation.

My entire experience of craving the Bible was so strange, though, I was willing to rethink things.

I also called my mom, to tell her my exciting news. “Mom! I’ve read the New Testament! I read it in like three weeks,” I raced out, “and now I’m reading it again!” My mom didn’t tell me then, but she didn’t believe me. I was a known liar and prone to exaggeration, an attention seeker. She thought I was making things up. I didn’t notice her hesitancy. She would also stop talking to me soon.

I grew increasingly curious about what the Bible said. I started again, this time at the book of Matthew. The recent weeks had been very unusual.

I encountered the book of Ephesians again and almost skipped chapter one. I had been unconsciously skipping much, probably because of confirmation bias. My entire experience of craving the Bible was so strange, though, I was willing to rethink things. I stopped myself. ‘What am I doing?’ I thought. I re-read:

3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” Ephesians 1:3-5

My church had taught that humans have free will, choosing God. These verses appeared to say the opposite. ‘God chose who to save before He created the world?’ I questioned, stunned. This rocked my world. I was afraid to wonder what it meant.

I remember this moment very well. An alertness, God’s immediate Presence, arrived.

As I thought, I reviewed the past couple weeks. I was 41. My desire to read this Bible was not my own. I knew myself very well and Someone Else was energizing me. This being true, I must take this Book as well as the Person Who wants me to read it seriously. I sighed.

Deliberately I prayed, “God, I don’t understand. I don’t want to skip anything You wrote. What does this mean?” I read a little further and then…

I remember this moment very well. An alertness, God’s immediate Presence, arrived. I didn’t instantly understand this passage in Ephesians. What I did know, immediately, is that it is Truth, the truth about God’s love for me!

I reeled, with wonder! Time stopped, these words revolving in my mind… “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world” …. “In love He predestined us for adoption.” They sank in, the words made sure and certain by His Presence in the room and my craving for Him and His Word.

It was all undeniable – my life without Him before this year, His Presence in my life now. As the truth sank in I thought, ‘He chose me. He chose me! HE CHOSE ME! I am chosen! I am loved.’

My arms and legs flooded with warmth. Rarely did I ever cry. I was not an emotional person, however tears sprang to my eyes. Again I thought slowly, with wonder, ‘I. Am. Loved.’ I didn’t understand how or why, but I knew it was true.

I had no more expected God’s Presence then I had expected to have a sudden craving for the Bible in January. Everything was new territory!

I doubt the Israelites had expected Pharaoh to release them – throw them out! I doubt afterward, they expected the Red Sea to part, manna from heaven, Jericho falling, the sun standing still in the sky, after, after, after… Israel seemed chronically surprised! Clearly God makes plans and leads man.

I asked God because His Word says to ask Him. Life experience had not prepared me for His arrival, however, His Presence. Awesome! Intimate. Beautiful.

Again in A.W. Tozer’s book, Voice of a Prophet, he says, “I firmly believe that if you are where you are now because of your ingenuity and maneuvering, you are probably not where God wants you to be. The call of God is a diving moment that is impossible to replicate. Elijah, himself, never knew where he was going to be. His life was a constant reaction to the voice of God.”

I had asked God for help because His Word says to ask Him. My life experience had not prepared me for His arrival, however, His Presence. Awesome! Intimate. Beautiful. I realized it was possible there were many ideas new to me! God began to teach me in a whole new way and convict me of my sin in a whole new way.

Can you relate to desiring God’s Presence in your life? God is interested in you! Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 Ask today!

Delighted, I began to realize His Word is alive because God is alive and here! Now I couldn’t stop the questions coming. Sometimes God answered by directing my attention. He showed me this:

“One of those who listened to us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in fabrics dyed in purple. She was already a worshiper of God, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Acts 16:14

Fun! Once I read Jesus saying, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.” It seemed important; I could not understand it. I asked God to show me. Later I went to dinner in the cafeteria.

Dinner trays are distributed to inmates in 3 long lines. Having received my meal, I sat to eat. Suddenly my attention was drawn to the nearest line. Someone didn’t want to wait at the end.

Pushing her way to the front a woman waved to a server and shouted, “Give me the next tray!” Women who had been waiting for ten minutes grew angry. Reaching an arm across the counter the woman snatched a ready tray. Before anyone could react she stormed off towards a table.

I was so surprised my hand wavered, fork suspended halfway to my mouth. I set my fork down, thoughtful. This woman had just been first, no doubt. It was a dramatic presentation of arrogance.

I turned my attention to the women at the end of the line. I supposed this was the opposite then – humility. I remembered:

“You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.” Psalm 18:27

Smiling, I remembered to say a prayer for my own meal. “Dear Jesus, thank you for answer to prayer, and the lesson you just gave. Thank you for this food. Amen.”

I had not yet learned about pride as it related to me. I was a very insecure person who acted very defensively and arrogantly to overcompensate.

I was unteachable, obnoxious. Hard lessons were in my future. Thankfully, God is a gentle Teacher.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Navigating Challenges: Can you recall a time in your life when you faced a difficult situation during a special occasion or holiday? How did you navigate through it, and what insights did you gain from the experience?
  2. Embracing New Beginnings: Have you ever felt hesitant or uncertain about starting something new, similar to the Holly’s initial hesitation in reading the Bible? How did you overcome any reservations, and what positive outcomes emerged from embracing the new experience?
  3. Connections Across Distances: If you’ve ever been away from loved ones during significant moments, how did you maintain a sense of connection? What strategies or practices helped you cope with the distance and find meaning in those moments?
  4. Exploring Beliefs: Reflecting on your beliefs about spirituality or personal growth, are there aspects that you find challenging to understand or accept? How do you approach exploring and deepening your understanding of these beliefs?
  5. Overcoming Bias: Considering the theme of confirmation bias, can you think of a time when your beliefs or perceptions were challenged, and you had to overcome preconceived notions? How did this experience contribute to your personal growth?
  6. Evolution of Beliefs: Have there been significant shifts in your beliefs or perspectives over time? How did these changes impact your sense of self, and what lessons did you learn during this period of personal evolution?
  7. Impact on Relationships: Personal growth can sometimes influence our relationships. Reflect on a time when your evolving beliefs or personal development affected your connections with others. What insights did you gain about yourself and your relationships?
  8. Acknowledging Growth: In your journey of personal and spiritual exploration, have you ever experienced a moment of clarity or insight that left a lasting impact? How did this awareness contribute to your sense of personal growth?
  9. Cultivating Humility: The passage touches on the theme of humility and pride. Can you share a personal experience where humility played a significant role in your interactions with others? How did this experience shape your understanding of humility?
  10. Gentle Self-Reflection: Reflecting on the Holly’s acknowledgment of personal challenges, can you identify aspects of your own journey where self-reflection and gentleness were key to overcoming obstacles? How do you cultivate a compassionate approach to your own growth?

READ MORE

  • Born Bad: Transforming Darkness into Light
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 1 Average: 5]Click to rate this post! [Total: 1 Average: 5] Please leave this field empty From Surviving to Living DON’T MISS AN UPDATE! Be the first to know when a new chapter is published First name * Email Address * We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for… Read more: Born Bad: Transforming Darkness into Light
  • “Passing” Summer: Surrendering To Obedience And Experiencing God
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]
  • Meeting Mr. Bot: A Journey of Unexpected Connections and Spiritual Growth
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]
  • Projecting (Hope): The Journey Through Adversity and Faith
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]
  • LOVE & HATE
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]
  • TASTE AND SEE
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]A battle was on the horizon, one I hoped to avoid. In January 2016 I’d received news about my youngest son, Tim, who had been in foster care for 3 years. Social Services was seeking to terminate our parental rights to make Tim more desirable as a… Read more: TASTE AND SEE
  • BREAKING BIAS
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]February 2016 and another birthday in prison. When I first arrived to prison it had been March. I’d had an entire year before my first birthday there and I had watched all year, interested as other women celebrated birthdays and tried to make them special. Holidays, anniversaries,… Read more: BREAKING BIAS
  • SURPRISED BY JOY
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]I think of this as the beginning. I was asleep, maybe dead all my life, before 2016. I was 40 years old. “Mom, I’m not sure I believe in God anymore,” my oldest son Noel explained on the phone. It was October 2015, and Noel had just… Read more: SURPRISED BY JOY
  • WHERE’S MY SON!
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]“Come work with me!” Jae urged. “We need another tutor.” I shuddered at the thought. “Not a chance,” I threw back. Jae was a tutor in Adult Basic Education (A.B.E). It could be argued prison has neighborhoods – UI (the unemployed) its roughest and Education – UI’s… Read more: WHERE’S MY SON!
Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]