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From Surviving to Living
(15) Breaking Bias: Challenging Preconceptions, Finding Faith
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In this episode of ‘From Surviving to Living,’ it’s the beginning of 2016, and I discuss the challenge of special occasions like birthdays behind bars, and my journey towards spiritual awakening through reading the Bible. I touch on the difficulties of sharing my newfound faith with my family and the rejection I faced from them. In this episode I also dive deep into how scripture challenged my existing beliefs and led me to understand the concept of being chosen and loved by God. I encourages listeners to seek a real relationship with Jesus, and share how questioning and seeking answers from God led me to a profound sense of His Presence and understanding.

Holly’s story is a testament to the belief that transformation is possible for everyone through a relationship with Jesus and highlights the alive and active nature of God’s word.

00:00 Welcome to From Surviving to Living
00:53 The Power of Transformation and Faith
02:17 Breaking Free: A Journey of Faith Behind Bars
03:15 Discovering the Bible: A New Perspective
08:05 The Challenge of Sharing New Beliefs
13:09 A Deep Dive into Spiritual Understanding
15:02 Experiencing God’s Presence and Lessons
21:08 Closing Thoughts: Your Story is Never Over

TRANSCRIPT

Do you seek solace through spiritual beliefs? Does this method of comfort leave you resistant to questioning those beliefs?

Early in 2016 God would begin to change everything in me. Despite these positive changes my family would soon reject and abandon me, offended by my new beliefs. Through it all, I would discover the secret to solace, which transcends mere belief, finding peace in an actual relationship with Jesus.

We’ll explore the experience of knowing Jesus and uncover the secret to real relationship with Him. Listen until the end, you don’t want to miss a word! This is Breaking Bias.

February 2016 and another birthday in prison for me. When I first arrived at prison it had been the month of March. Since my birthday is in February, I’d had an entire year before my first birthday there; I had watched other women celebrate birthdays all year, trying 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 in prison. I saw this was not easy for them. I vowed to make my birthday special but just like them, it never turned out the way I wished.

Is there a time of year that’s very special for you? How do you observe it? Have you experienced loss that makes holidays more difficult to enjoy?

For the past month I had been reading the Bible constantly, everywhere. I didn’t jump in at the beginning. Instead, I began towards the end, hesitant and unsure. As I came to a teaching in the book of I Peter, I read a verse I remembered hearing when I was young:

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

I also found something in the book of Hebrews I’d heard before at church but had never felt was explained 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 however 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, however, God would explain this concept to me. I was about to be surprised and delighted.

I quit reading when I got to the last book, 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 to read the Bible I’d been granted wouldn’t get me through it.

God had given me a supernatural desire to read His Word, that was more than obvious to me. I was used to experiencing my own instability and unreliability, however. All my life I rarely completed anything I started. I suppose I feared this experience would be no different, so I was cautious about doing anything I feared might ruin it.

My parents had taken me to church. I’d listened to many pastors. Maybe I believed I’d been told everything necessary, and whatever I didn’t know I’d be fed by some pastor or teacher eventually, so I’d felt no urgency for God or the Bible.

I didn’t enjoy church, the people there. What I had enjoyed was being a know-it-all. My church upbringing gave me knowledge, but I wasn’t eager for more back then. Now I thrilled to just to read the Bible!

I know my situation was not unique. In years since I have heard many similar stories from others. Like them, I had 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 – me talking at God as well as hearing about Him from others. Similar to writing a Hollywood star and following their life in the news, I was a fan, not an actual friend, of God. I urge you to evaluate your own situation today!

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 incarcerated almost 5 years. My parents, who lived nearby, visited me weekly. Retired, they had turned into snowbirds. Deciding Minnesota was no place to be when it’s cold, 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 to my growing excitement about Jesus soon.

By the end of January I had read much of the New Testament. 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 of it right away. I believed I did understand spiritual things because other people had shared THEIR understanding. It never occurred to me I had not been personally taught by the Spirit – only men had taught me. I also had no way of knowing if what I had been taught by these men was really from God. It never occurred to me that there was a way to know the difference. I was about to discover many new exciting things!

As I read this verse in I Corinthians 2 now, I thought verse 14 must describe an unsaved person, which was 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 now that would challenge my existing beliefs.

A few weeks later in February I got to the book of I John again. I read for the second time:

“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 sat and thought. It began to dawn on me that I could ask God Himself to teach me, in fact I should. I began to ask Him direct questions often while I read. I also began taking notes as I read.

Growing up I had often heard about “the will of God” and “God’s will for your life.” God’s will had seemed to me to be like fortune telling, which is also elusive and hard to be certain about. Now I found verses that mentioned God’s will and what it was – exactly. I thought my children might be eager to know so I began sharing these things with them in my letters!

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. This was not unusual but it was upsetting to me. I recalled the previous year when Lukas had done the same, all due to a misunderstanding.

The previous February had been my last phone call with my daughter Vivi, although I didn’t know it at the time. We’d had a nice conversation and I expected to talk with her again soon. My husband, however, had different ideas. He announced to my children that I was not going to talk with Vivianne anymore, he would not allow it. He also told them that I had been informed by him of this change. I knew nothing about it. He never spoke to me.

For the next 3 months I regularly asked to speak with Vivi whenever I called, however I was told she “wasn’t home” or “she was busy.” Finally in May Lukas became frustrated with me and told me to stop asking him to put Vivi on the phone when I knew very well it wasn’t allowed. He further explained that he was sick of me trying to get him in trouble just so I could talk with my daughter. I was stunned. I had no idea what he was talking about.

I asked Luke to explain and when I learned what he thought I tried to reassure him, telling him his dad had not actually spoken to me about this new rule. Despite my reassurances, the situation was too much for Luke. He decided not to talk with me for months afterwards. This is a common example of how our lives went, my children going in and out of my lives, often without me having the slightest clue as to why they were upset.

In addition to sharing the Bible with my children in letters, I also called my mom. “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 this at the time, 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, like Tom, would also stop talking to me soon. By the end of the year all of my family would reject and abandon me except my dad.

Meanwhile, I grew increasingly curious about what the Bible said. I started reading it again for the third time, beginning with the book of Matthew.

When I came to the book of Ephesians for the third time I almost skipped chapter one. I had been unconsciously skipping much of what I read these past weeks, probably because of confirmation bias. My entire experience of craving the Bible was so strange, though, I was now willing to challenge my previous beliefs. I stopped myself from skipping the chapter, asking myself, ‘What am I doing ignoring this?’ I re-read it:

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 it, stunned. This rocked my world. I was afraid to wonder what it meant.

As I thought, I reviewed the past couple weeks. I was 41 now. 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 and 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 chapter mean?” I don’t know what I expected from that prayer. Experience had taught me I should expect nothing. My new experiences suggested I might get an answer. How, I didn’t know. I read a little further and then…

I remember this moment very well. An alertness, God’s immediate Presence, arrived, could be felt. I suddenly understood the author to be in the room, about to explain things to me. While I didn’t instantly understand the complexity of 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 loveHe predestined us for adoption.” I closed my eyes and through the blackness I imagined a time before the creation of the world. Pinpricks of light swam in the darkness and through it I imagined God, at that very moment, knowing and choosing me. This 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 – the comparison of 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! I could now understand why. I’d always thought I was creating my own agenda and carrying it out. I’d planned none of this, however, and never would have. Clearly God makes the plans and leads man through His own agenda.

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 divine 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 now began to teach me in a whole new way and convict me of my sin also 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 verse in Acts:

“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! Another time I read Jesus saying, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.” It seemed important but I could not understand it. I thought and thought and finally I asked God to show me the meaning. Later I went to dinner in the cafeteria, where God gave me an object lesson I didn’t expect.

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 thoughtfully. 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 had been unteachable, obnoxious. Hard lessons were in my future as God removed wrong ideas from me. Thankfully, God is a gentle Teacher.

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