While we were at a church service in the tent city, Pastor St. Cyr unexpectedly asked me to join him on stage, and share with the congregation. I have no idea why he asked me but he did. And when he said my name, the team told me later they had never seen such terror on a person’s face. I was not kidding around, and I was not being falsely modest: no, I was genuinely, irrationally, scared.
I’ve done millions of marketing presentations, I have presented to retired generals and Fortune 500 execs. But any time that I am asked to share about something that matters to me, something that is personal, pardon the expression, but I lose my crap, and it is not good.
So I demurred in a panic, I was overruled, my legs walked me up to the stage, and I stood in front of the microphone with absolutely no idea what to say. I couldn’t remember my middle name.
I blundered through a few words, then I cried, and I ran off stage, shaking. I shook for another hour. I told St. Cyr that I would never forgive him for putting me on the spot like that, he laughed at me.
I have no idea why this scares me, and I felt like an absolute selfish idiot. Honestly: in the middle of tent city, faced with such brave souls, and the opportunity to speak, and I seize up? I am terrified because of a microphone and a stage? because people asked me to speak in public? Come on.
I was one-part scared, one -part disgusted with my selfishness. I kept mentally kicking myself in an effort to focus my attention off myself, and onto the wonder of this moment. My residual fear and embarrassment was robbing me of being present in the holy moment of that church service.
It was grim. The only bright spot was that there was no evidence of my mortification – no cameras, no video – and I simply slunk off with my tail between my legs.
The next day, we were snarled in a Port-au-Prince traffic jam, and somehow I wound up telling everyone in the van more about this crippling fear of mine. We were chatting about all of their upcoming speaking engagements (yeah, this team is rather popular on the speaking and retreat circuit), and I basically said, “I will never do that.” I have a book coming out, sure, but I’m a writer, not a speaker. I am much bolder in my writing voice than I am in my speaking voice. I certainly can’t do what you people do.
I said to Jennie, “God underestimates my obstinacy on this.” She chuckled. She probably knew what was coming. (She’s smart like that.)
Everyone was kind and encouraging, they spoke a lot of life and grace and wisdom to me. I tucked their words into my heart, and vowed to think it over – when we got home. I considered hiring someone to teach me how to do this without crying, someone to show me how to speak, I contemplated asking for a few small-scale Bible study speaking things at church to practice with my own community and friends first. Go slow, they counselled, take your time, you’ll get there, eventually.
We got out of the van, and less than two hours later, I found myself on camera. I’m pretty sure I heard God laughing in his sleeve the entire time.
Chris Marlow wrote here about what we were doing, and why, and how it developed. Me, I wrote out, long-hand, everything I wanted to say, figuring perhaps I could read it on-camera without losing it. I prayed. I paced. I practiced. I watched everyone else do it. I paced and recited and prayed more. We had time for one-take each, that was it. And I took the last slot, wanting the most time to prepare.
I said, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I’ll write about it, but I can’t do the video part. I can’t.”
Jen said, “If you don’t do this, I’m going to ask you why you hate the orphans.”
I needed that laugh. It pushed me forward. I got up there, I sat in the desk in front of the team, the kids of the school were silent, and I began to speak to the camera.
And I lost it.
I did. I blubbered. I cried. I was sweating. I was red-faced. I kept stopping in the middle to compose myself. I felt like running away. I sobbed. I had to restart three times. I was shaking. It was horrible, ugly. And my voice shook and squeaked, and I barked out sobs a couple of times.
It was one-part true emotion for the work we were undertaking and my passion for the Legacy Project, but it was also the fear choking me at the same time.
But I did it. When I finished, I laid my head on the desk and cried.
It was every bit as awful as I’d imagined, but I did it anyway.
I used to think that conquering my Fears will be a lot more sexy than it really is. I thought I would be rewarded for my efforts by a good experience. I thought that if I said yes to writing a book, that the words will flow easily. I thought that if I got up my courage to try intentional community again, that I would be met with kindred spirits and casseroles and a welcoming committee. I thought that if I said yes to Haiti, that I would not be as wrecked and hurting and powerless, as I feel right now. I thought that if I say yes to speaking on camera or on a stage for a good reason, that I would not lose my crap and cry the entire way through.
But it doesn’t always work that way.
Sometimes the first step is just as awful as you imagined.
But you do it anyway.
And you keep doing it, over and over, until the root of that fear is dug out of the rocky hard soil, and you are free of it at last, and I believe God is making something beautiful out of it all.