A couple of years ago, my daughter asked her friend Justin to join her at youth group. Surprisingly, he looked her square in the face and said, "How do you even know He's real?"
That's the universal question isn't it? How do we know Christ is real? I wondered, what would convince people like Justin that Jesus is worth a try? His question haunted me, and I knew I needed to do something about it.
So I took Justin's challenge and embarked on a journey to prove that Christ is real. In a moment of sheer madness I decided to write a book series that would share the testimonies of celebrities. The American culture worships celebrity ... maybe if admired celebrities talked about Jesus people would listen.
I started emailing, sending letters and calling actors, professional and Olympic athletes and musicians - people my research told me were Christians - and asked them to share their faith with me. It was a pretty gutsy move; although writing had always been a passion of mine, it was never my career. In fact, I'd never had a word published. What made me think that any of these stars would give me the time of day?
But they did...and in vast numbers. It amazes me to think how many of them have told me their personal stories - often private things they had never before shared publicly.
This has been a huge, life-changing project. In the beginning, I had precious little time to devote to it while working full-time in a pressure-intensive job that involved a great deal of travel. But then in April of 2004, I lost my job. As I drove home from the office I was panicking - how was I going to pay the bills?
When I walked through the front door of our home that morning, the phone was ringing. It was my dad calling - which was strange for two reasons. First of all, he rarely called me during the day. Secondly, he never called me on my home phone because I knew I would be at work.
Believe it or not, he was calling to offer me a large sum of money. I started to cry...he had no idea I had lost my job; he called to offer financial support completely out of the blue. God had found an immediate way to encourage and sustain me. From that point on, I vowed to concentrate on writing the book.
The doors started opening the very next day. I received an offer for a lucrative consulting job a couple of days a week that would afford me the freedom to write and still keep us on solid financial ground. And celebrities I'd been trying to connect with for months started calling back. It was like magic!
I kept at it, working nights and weekends to get the book written. Although my agent had received a great deal of interest from several publishers, none of them was stepping to the plate with a contract. I couldn't imagine that God had brought me to this point without having a publishing partner in mind. I was frustrated, disillusioned and depressed - I was honestly losing my faith.
I decided to go on a silent retreat to do some soul searching and lick my proverbial wounds. A retreat center called Pacem in Terris in suburban Minnesota offers "hermitages," simple one-room cabins nestled among 240 heavily wooded acres. It is a place where complete silence is observed.
Now, for an overachieving, working mother with a "Type A" personality and a tendency toward anxiety, the concept of being "still" was more than a little frightening. Like so many people, I can be silent and listen to God for oh, about 15 seconds, before the noise of my over-stimulated mind breaks in. So imagine putting me in a place for 36 hours where true silence and isolation are observed? Then consider that this bona fide city girl would have no electricity or indoor plumbing and you'll get an idea of how daunting the whole idea was for me.
The first book I took out was Success God's Way by Charles Stanley. The very first thing I read screamed out to me, Success is refusing to become discouraged, disheartened or dissuaded from God's goals. He was speaking to me already, and we continued our conversation throughout the weekend - it was as if nobody else existed in the world, it was just me and God.
All day Saturday I studied a book called, Let Go and it was as if this 17th century bishop, Francois Fenelon, had written it just for me for that precise moment in time.
On the way to look up one of the referenced Scripture passages in my Bible, The TouchPoint Bible (Guideposts), a sidebar caught my attention. It was titled Perseverance and read in part: Trophies in life are bestowed according to the measure of accomplishment, not the measure of intent. Trophies and medals are the rewards of a job well done, not a job well begun.... what are some of the "races" in your life that began well but in which you now need to make a renewed push to propel you toward the finish line? I had definitely been slowing down in my charge toward the finish line.
As I moved onto the referenced Scripture, 2 Corinthians 8:10-11, I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I suggest that you finish what you started a year ago, for you were the first to propose this idea, and you were the first to begin doing something about it. Now you should carry this project through to completion just as enthusiastically as you began it.
It had been almost exactly one year since I'd been laid off and committed myself to writing this book. Obviously, I needed to see it through to completion; it couldn't have been clearer. The rest of reading struck similar chords - in particular these statements:
You know what God requires of you. The question is, will you do it?
Live in quiet peace, my dear young lady, without any thought for the future. Keep on with the good things you are doing, since you are leaning in these directions, and certainly you will be able to get them done.
Deep down in your heart, I believe you know what God demands of you but you are resisting Him. And this is the cause of all of your distress. You are beginning to think that it is impossible for you to do what God requires. Recognize this for what it is, a temptation to lose hope. Never give up hope in God! He will give you whatever you need according to your faith.
The time I spent alone in the woods that weekend answered my questions and gave me the impetus to carry on. With a renewed sense of purpose, I once again vowed to see the project through.
The next day, I had an offer from a publisher! Yes - I know God is real, He has shown Himself over and over again. I now have three published books, have appeared on TV and radio programs all over the world and speak to congregations on how I know God is real. In my wildest dreams I couldn't have orchestrated this adventure.
In Soul Shine's UNPLUGGED column in the months to come, you'll read inspiring stories of how people from the worlds of sports and entertainment know God is real when they "unplug" from their celebrity life and sit down with me. You'll read accounts of miracles, healings, and amazing transformations by some extraordinary people. So stay tuned...your life will never be the same.
Amy Hammond-Hagberg is an internationally published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in magazines all around the globe. She is also the author of three books: "How Do You Know He's Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God", and "How Do You Know He's Real: God Unplugged" feature the Christian testimonies of famous actors, recording artists and athletes. She also wrote the book, "My Favorite Christmas" (Integrity House, 2006), which shares precious holiday memories by noted celebrities. Find out more on her website, www.amyhagberg.com.
Writer: Amy Hammond-Hagberg