Tag Archives: Fear

A Shadow in the Corner

A Shadow in the Corner

I recently hiked a piece of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont. I’d hiked it before—I’ve done the entire trail—but hadn’t been up that way for years. And I can’t say the Vermont section of the trail is a personal favorite, but I’ve had my moments.

Many years ago, when I hiked that same section of the trail—to the summit of Mt Bromley, a popular ski destination in the winter—I remember having begun late so I did not get to the top until twilight. My guide book had mentioned a ski shelter located near the trail so because several thunderstorms had rolled through during my trip up the mountain, I headed in that direction.

It turned out that the shelter was a large enclosed building. I entered into a spacious common room that was drenched in shadows as the light of day was waning outside. Suddenly, I realized I was not alone. Across the room lurked the shadow of human figure saying not a word. I said hello, not knowing if I was dealing with friend or foe. The figure began moving in my direction, but I did not have enough common sense to fear him. I was apprehensive, but most people on the trail are very friendly and open. My unavoidable “roommate” began telling tales of woe: He had lost his backpack; he had his car stolen; he needed to get off the mountain to attend church the next day.

I absorbed all of this, all the while trying to figure out if I would sleep a wink with my shadowy friend in the room. Ultimately, I decided that the better part of valor was to retreat out the door I had come through earlier and get further up the trail as fast as I could. I felt a little guilty about leaving the young man behind, but when you are alone on the trail it is often better to err on the side of prudence. I will never know what might have happened that night. But perhaps it is enough to know that “the wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way….” (Proverbs 14:8) The “way” in this case was not to stay.

Guest Post: My OWL Story

I met Rachael Hartman last July at a Christian publishing event in Orlando, Florida. Recently she followed up and we met at my offices in New York City. During our conversation she told me her “OWL” story which I felt mirrored my own encounter with God way back in 1987. Rachael has graciously given me permission to post her story on my blog site. I think you will enjoy it.

My OWL Story

By Rachael Hartman


God speaks to each of us in ways we will understand. Sometimes He uses our quirks and imagination to spur His way in our lives. I am thankful God knows how to speak to me, and I hear the silent messages He speaks into my heart and mind, and are confirmed by His Word.

One of the most significant words I received from the Lord gave me the hope I needed to keep going forward in the midst of depression. It also paved the way for me to receive God’s call on my life to write and publish for His Kingdom.

It began with silliness on my part. I always had a sort of artistic way of looking at the world around me. I thought various people looked a lot like animals. I had a pastor once who truly looked like a turtle, straining his little neck out of his suit and tie shell. I thought one of my bosses looked like the human alternative to a beaver or a nutty squirrel. These were people I truly respected and loved, but I couldn’t deny their animal-like features.

I always wanted to know what kind of animal I would see myself as. I couldn’t think of anything based on my looks, but I figured I was an owl because of my glasses and all the time I spent at the library and in college. Around the time I discovered I was an “owl,” God began to use my silly perspective to speak to me.

It was 2008 and my emotional life was pretty much in shambles. The three years leading to this point, 2005 to 2008, were the hardest of my life. I felt as if I were living in a spiritual wilderness. I was in constant battle—mentally, emotionally, physically, and relationally. It was crushing, and I had to acknowledge some difficult truths. I felt as if my life was falling apart, and it was. Everything I knew to be stable was shaking.

In my quest for healing, I sought the face of God in a church in Texas where I experienced unconditional acceptance, and so my healing journey began.

One night after church and I was driving down a dark, East Texas road. A large owl swooped down to capture its prey in the middle of the road, and sadly flew right into my driver’s side windshield. As I turned around and pulled over to check on the poor bird, my bright headlights beamed into his eyes. He wobbled a little and looked at me, quite confused.

At that moment I heard the still, small voice of God speak to me. “You’ve been hit really hard,” He said, “but you are going to fly again.” At that very moment, the owl flew away. It was a sign from God; I was going to be okay.

A few weeks after my encounter with the owl, I was in Austin for a church conference. I met two ladies who spoke words of encouragement into my life and continued to add to my owl story.

The first lady said, “I don’t know anything about your life, but I feel like you’ve been living in darkness for a long time, and the light of God’s sun is going to start shining into your life.”

The second lady did not hear what the first one said. After a service, she came up to me and said, “Brightness. Brightness. All I see is brightness.”

Driving home through the Piney Woods after the conference there was another “owl confirmation” that God was leading me to better times. Perched on a road sign was an owl, in the brightness of day, eyes wide open. I had never seen an owl out in the day time before.

Later, God told me I had to learn to “see through the darkness” and go after what He was calling me to do.

About a month later, God confirmed my call to write and publish. The silent statement was clear, “I’ve given you everything you need to write and publish books.”

I knew God was calling me to write the stories of people who had lived in darkness and overcome to live in the light through the blood of Jesus. These stories would bring the hope of Christ to people in difficult situations.

The name of my business came next—Our Written Lives of Hope, or OWL of Hope for short.

The name was partially inspired by the history of Isle of Hope in the Savannah, Georgia area. In early days, Isle of Hope was known as a place where all kinds of people lived together despite the treacherous times of slavery and other evils shrouding the old South.

My “owl experience” and call to write and publish occurred during the time I was working for the local newspaper and taking a break from grad school.

When would I find the time to write a book? I knew I was using too much creative energy at the newspaper. I had to change careers if I was going to write for Jesus. The Lord opened the doors, and I relocated to the Fort Hood area for a job. It was there I began to look for the first story God would allow me the honor to write. It would be two years before He brought me the story He chose.

After two layoffs and another move, this time to Fort Polk, Louisiana, God’s timing kicked in. In July 2012, I began writing my first book titled Angel, The True Story of an Undeserved Chance. It was the life testimony of a woman I met at church. Her name was Angel. She had an amazing testimony of deliverance, and I had a desire to write a book for the Lord. God led us to start the project though we had barely met. Eleven months later, in June of 2013, we had the book in hand, and I had officially established Our Written Lives of Hope, LLC.

To date in 2016, I am working with over 20 authors, and have 23 published books in the OWL collection. Back when I received the call, I had no idea God would bless my business so quickly and swiftly. I still don’t know the extent of what He had in mind when He planted the vision to write and publish for His Kingdom into my mind and heart. I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I’m looking forward to learning and sharing the God-stories of our generation.

I’m still an “owl.” I’ve had people call me “the owl lady” and they send me all kinds of owl gifts, (even though I have no desire to collect owls). Just today I came home from a trip to New York City, and waiting for me was an owl tee-shirt a friend sent to me. It seems like every time I have doubt or fear about the future, God sends me an owl of some kind to remind me of where He’s brought me from, and who I am in Him.

He truly does speak to us all in unique and individual ways that align with His Word. We just have to listen.

How One Man Made a Difference

May 20, 1940. The army of the German Reich was sweeping across Northern Europe; four hundred thousand English troops were trapped on the northern coast of France; Neville Chamberlain had just resigned as Prime Minister and Winston Churchill had replaced him.

The English government was torn between fighting on against impossible odds or, perhaps more sensibly, signaling to foreign intermediaries an openness to discuss with Hitler terms of a truce.

Could Churchill, with all the odds stacked against him, make a difference? He himself describes the apparent hopelessness of the situation this way: Europe was sinking into “the abyss of a new dark age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science.”

If some of the leading figures in the British government had their way, including Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, Britain would have winked at the evil they saw for the false security that their trembling hearts demanded.

Churchill saw the nature of the encroaching evil and he decided only a firm “no” was possible. He said he would prefer to die while trying to save the world from falling into a new dark age. “And I am convinced,” he said, “that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

Facing these odds, Churchill’s decision and subsequent actions were heroic by any measure. If he had not been present at that critical moment of history; the darkness of Hitler’s malevolent empire would have, in all probability, spread to all corners of the globe.

Boris Johnson has recently written a biography of Churchill and describes these dark days of May 1940 as a crucial moment where one man changed the course of history. Here is how Johnson put it:

I don’t know whether it is right to think of history as running on train tracks, but let us think of Hitler’s story as one of those huge and unstoppable double-decker expresses that he had commissioned, howling through the night with its cargo of German settlers. Think of that locomotive, whizzing towards final victory. Then think of some kid climbing the parapet of the railway bridge and dropping the crowbar that jams the points and sends the whole enterprise for a gigantic burton-a mangled, hissing heap of metal. Winston Churchill was the crowbar of destiny. If he hadn’t been where he was, and put up resistance, that Nazi train would have carried right on. It was something of a miracle-given his previous career-that he was there at all. (The Churchill Factor p.30)

Johnson goes on to speculate about what would have happened if Churchill had not become Prime Minister in May 1940. He calls this ‘counterfactual’ history, but it is an interesting question nevertheless. It might seem fruitless to speculate about the world without Winston Churchill standing athwart history, but this particular case, the timely appearance of one man in a certain moment in human history made all the difference in the world.

A Light in the Ruins

An American friend, who lived in Ukraine as a missionary, told me an interesting story about an encounter he had with a young woman during his time there.

She was comfortable living in a godless world. Quote from Light in the RuinsThe story goes that this young woman was giving my friend a tour of the city of Odessa. As they walked from place to place, she began to open up a little and at one point she professed that she couldn’t understand how people believed in something so silly, archaic, and irrational as the existence of God. She was not belligerent; she was merely firm in the belief that her worldview was enlightened and progressive. There was no room in her world for what she considered to be an ancient and discredited myth. She was comfortable living in a godless world.

As they continued, they came to an area of town that starkly revealed the remnant ruins of the devastations of World War ll. The splintered bricks and hollowed out structures were fragments of a once populated and noisy place where families raised their children and lived normal lives. Now this area was nothing more than a wasteland where grass gripped the soil for dear life.

As they gazed on this desolate scene, my friend turned to the young woman and gently said, “Take a look at these shattered buildings. If you want to have an idea of what the world really looks like without God, here it is.” She surveyed the ashes of a city that once was thriving without uttering a word. My friend wondered whether she was linking this picture of the fruits of war with the political and intellectual effort to banish God once and for all. The woman lingered.  Asking herself the same questions many of us would be at that exact moment: Why did this happen? Why is there so much death, disease and suffering in the world? Is this a world without God?

My missionary friend told me that he believed that moment in Odessa touched the heart of this young woman. He did not preach to her, he merely allowed the surroundings to paint a contrasting picture of the fullness and abundance of a world filled with love to a world absent of everything most people consider good.

Man without God is a war zone.

Man without God is a war zone. Quote from Light in the Ruins


Do Not Be Afraid: The Challenges of Following Jesus Christ in a Resistant Culture

Fear can be a legitimate response to an actual danger, but often fear grows out of an overactive imagination. If you stand at the edge of a ledge with a severe drop, you should feel trepidation.  As a boy, I feared the dark and some of that fear carried into my adult years. Fear, though, can bring on the incapacity to act. Action suggests commitment. Commitment may demonstrate belief, but belief may reveal something about one’s identity that you might prefer to keep under wraps.

In the early days of my spiritual awakening, when I began to read Scripture on a daily basis, I would often take a Bible to read while on the commuter train into New York City. In those days, I was acutely aware of being in a public setting. I would discreetly keep my Bible from the view of others. It was a foolish fear, but my desire to keep my Bible hidden bespoke what was taking place then in our culture, particularly in the east where I lived. And it wasn’t just me.

Jesus Walks on Water by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)

Jesus Walks on Water by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)

Whether the message came from the universities, the media, business or the political culture, Christianity in the 1980s had become less respectable among the ruling classes in America. Many important leaders within mainstream denominations had found fortune and notoriety by ridiculing important tenants of the faith. One had to keep one’s faith in Christ Jesus private. Jesus was acceptable if you said nothing about Him, but otherwise He was not very welcome in polite society. The culture was listening more to the words of Jesus’ enemies.

On the other hand, much has happened in the culture since then. Social media, music, certain evangelical leaders and even movies like the Passion of the Christ have stood up against the high tide of secularism and agnosticism.

For me, it has been a long journey from fear of ridicule to a passion and commitment to the Word of God. Most recently that outward expression of my faith has come in the form of my new book, Getting To Know Jesus and the new web site GettingToKnowJesus.com

The book grew out of daily podcasts recorded with Pastor Chuck Davis that we at first called In the Footsteps of Jesus. The intention was to introduce the Jesus of the Gospels in a way that would invite people into a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and why it matters. Our conversations were unrehearsed but focused. We presented the life of Jesus in the context of the entire biblical narrative and we happily depended on the truth and beauty of the story as told by the witnesses to the events that unfolded in Galilee and Judea over two thousand years ago. These conversations continue today as the daily Getting to Know Jesus podcasts.

Jesus Walks on Water by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

The world was hostile to Jesus in His own time. His own family, His closest followers and the leaders of the ruling religious class all either abandoned or attacked Him. Even so, Jesus was not afraid because He knew the Father as the Father knew Him. While He was not afraid, Jesus was alert and vigilant and He constantly prayed to the Father. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter, who, out of fear, had denied the Lord three times, told Jesus’ followers that dangers lurked everywhere and to be on guard: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering.”

Sometimes it is appropriate to experience fear. But Christians are not called to hide. Rather, as Peter counsels, be alert, be strong and be courageous because Jesus promised He would never leave us, even to the very end of time.

Doubt, Faith, and What is Possible with God

2013-11-03 10.34.21Now that I have blogged the story behind the story of the book GETTING TO KNOW JESUS (pub date 12/2/2015), I want to share my sense of trepidation behind this wonderful odyssey.

I am sure you have experienced a sense of doubt and even fear when you are about to set out toward destinations unknown. This is the way I felt right before leaving for Alaska a few weeks ago. I worried about all the bad things that might happen, most of them concoctions of an overactive imagination; if permitted, our minds can transform a tiny sound in the dark into a fearsome attacking grizzly or an intruder in the night.

But launching a book is so much worse than travel because the doubts and fears are reality based. I know this from my years of experience in the book business. Books are published daily that rarely live up to the author’s high hopes. The title comes and goes without creating even the slightest blip on the publishing radar screen and the indifferent world moves relentlessly on.

Doubt creeps in because I do know the facts of publishing life and I know even worthy books may disappoint. So what keeps me going?  Why do I set sail on a sea of troubles despite everything I know about the difficulties of reaching my hoped for destination?

Well, the answer is pretty simple. I see the publication of GETTING TO KNOW JESUS as the next step in a mission that may end up defining the very meaning of my life. Sometimes mission supersedes mere economic or practical calculation. If we all spent our waking hours assessing probabilities, we would never emerge from our shaded bedrooms.

rich_young_ruler_hofmannAnd then I look to the greatest model of all, Jesus, who faced incalculable odds at every turn and used prayer always when faced with a crossroads decision. In several instances in the gospel accounts, Jesus tells us plainly that if we are foolish enough to bank on our own powers, we will undoubtedly realize those fears that inhibit our will to act. He says, referring to the Rich Young Man who would not follow Jesus when invited, “With man this is impossible [to turn from this life to God], but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) (The September 14 podcast is about the story of the Rich Young Man.)

It is not my strength, my writing, my career or anything else I might claim as my own. I proved conclusively in 1989 that my life apart from God was a shipwreck. No, my hope rests not on my own strength; it is on the power of the Holy Spirit that will guide me wherever He wills and by the power of His spirit I will truly follow wherever it might take me. Ultimately, it is faith that neutralizes doubt.