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.


 Photo source

In which I came too close to God (and now I need some space)
In which it's not much fun being The Project
thank you for sharing...
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  • Wendy Douglas

    Oh my goodness friend…this is one of my fears as well and I wrote about it today too. This so spoke to me. Thanks so much for sharing and making me feel a little less alone in doing it scared. Blessings.

  • Kim Sullivan

    I needed this today. Thank you.

  • Sarah Styles Bessey. I am sitting here bawling. This HURTS because it is TRUE. And it is exactly what I needed to read today, and thank God for secret societies to throw people together and get me reading someone’s heart that God intended for mine. That next damn step in front of me is absolutely the hardest step I have ever taken, and it’s not going to pay off. I know that. But I know I have to take it. Oh man.

  • Sarah Bessey, I love you!

  • Jen Hatmaker

    Oh my gah, I love you. I believe you may have summoned the entire Legacy Project by digging your heels in two hours before. And, of course, as you finished your piece to camera, we all looked at each and said, “Nailed it.” So grateful to be there to witness your bravery, which obviously doesn’t mean a lack of fear but obedience through it. And now you won’t have a hatred for orphans hanging over your pretty little head.

  • wendy klassen

    Oh, Sarah, this is truth. It *is* awful sometimes. (Ask me about our church visit in Mozambique!) But you do it, and then you do it again and again and again, and eventually… eventually, you realize that things have changed without you even noticing it. (At least, I hope that’s what happens!!)

  • theblahblahblahger

    I’m proud of you for taking the first step, realizing the importance of it and the Lord at work in you, and for being obedient to take the next step after that!

  • Brilliant post. An amazing story, beautifully told and wonderfully written. I believe God will use you to speak publicly, and one day you won’t be the way you were at the beginning, and you will look back at yourself then and smile with the smile God has already. That smile He has when we refuse to do something and realise God has other plans. I’m like you, I prefer writing. I can do readings up front, or something short and simple. I have no problem speaking in front of people at all and feel comfortable doing it. But sharing a message close to my heart, which means a lot to me, which I poured myself into – that’s more than just speaking. It’s like standing naked in front of people, exposing myself to judgement.

    But the problem is, I have a strong sense God might want me to do that in the future, and keep getting words from people which seem to point that way. I act all confident and excited about it, but deep down I’m a bit afraid – not of speaking in front of thousands of strangers, but of speaking in front of the people who know me best, who know the truth, who will know if I’m not being true, and who will give me feedback on what I say. The people who I can’t hide from.

    Thank you for sharing your struggles so honestly. It’s really encouraging to hear, and very courageous. Thank you.

  • Ugh. I hate it when you’re so right. Because it’s convicting. And I don’t like it.

    • PS. I was asked to preach a sermon on Sunday morning in a small church in Tanzania. I had to do it. I hated every second of it. Those damn last-second invitations…

  • Smoochagator

    “I used to think that conquering my Fears will be a lot more sexy than it really is.”
    I KNOW, RIGHT? Oh, Sarah. You don’t think so, but you are so brave and wonderful and I love you.

  • Oh, I love this. Just gorgeous. Why is it that we think beauty is only found when we do things well? Or that we’re enough only in our areas of giftedness? Beauty and enough come in the offering. Thank you for sharing.

  • JennaDeWitt

    Yes. Thanks, by the way, for giving us courage. Not by inspirational speeches and flashy smiles and on-top-of-the-world masks of perfection, but by admitting your fear, by saying it’s ok to be scared, by doing it anyway, by not trying to sugar coat life or market a recipe for success. Sometimes people try to tell us that doing hard things will be met with medals and popularity and new-found wings. That really hurts, I think, when we discover that no, sometimes doing hard things looks like getting back up, covered in mud, clinging to the hand of the Father in desperation. And that’s where we find our Strength.

  • Ahh, we writers are so much more eloquent on paper, aren’t we? Seriously, in real life I’m all snark and sarcasm, not beautiful words of wisdom. This post reminded me of Ann Voskamp’s struggle with agoraphobia, also.

  • Thank you Sarah for facing your fears and for sharing about the process so openly. I know there will be a lot of readers nodding their heads at this one. I think we chuckle at Moses telling God, “I’m not a good speaker!” but the truth of it is that we can all relate in some way to the terror he must have felt.

  • Good for you, and wonderful post.

  • This is me today, and I needed this, Sarah. Grateful for your tears and your honest encouragement here.

  • … and my eyes begin to fill with tears as I see you with your head on that table … I have been there, too. And I have wept those same tears of exhaustion and fear and feeling absolutely shot and totally spent.
    I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but I can’t. Whenever we are right in the midst of other people’s pain, this is what it looks like.
    And then He pours Himself through the weak, cracked, marred vessel. And we marvel that He was able to do anything of value. But He does … always!

  • those last two pics of you…in the midst of your sobs are really beautiful….I just love that it shows YOU, who you are and how you experienced that fear and how brave you were to push on despite the fears. I just love it, and I love this post too. I love the ideas here about how stepping out in the midst of fears IS sometimes, a lot of times, quite ugly. It’s such a wonderful and realistic expectation you are giving us for those of us who still want to publish books or conquer just about anything. Anyway, really appreciate this post.

  • Val

    On the flip side of this phobia/irrational fear is the protection it will provide you if you do become a future speaker – you won’t blather on and start saying really offensive things because you will need to prepare beforehand, and that gives you time to rewrite what you want to say (think Driscoll, et. al. and how many times the foot is in the mouth because they have no fear) and, secondly, you are in good company – Moses was also very afraid (stuttered) and had his brother Aaron do most of the talking, yet he was probably the most powerful leader this Israelites ever had (well, before Jesus came to them). So, yeah, it sucks and I’m sorry, but at least you are in good company.

    I am the opposite, so I don’t speak much (my foot would be in my mouth too soon!).

    • And Paul said he wasn’t a good speaker either. In fact, Paul put someone to sleep who fell out a window and died 😉

  • This is such an important post, Sarah. I think we often misunderstand what faithfulness means. We are faithful to God when we are obedient to Him. He is faithful to us when He is present with us. His faithfulness is not contingent on the outcome of a situation. Things may not always go how we imagine, or hope, or pray. But still, we have to trust that He knows what He is doing. That sometimes our obedience is for our own sake, as He forms something within us, and sometimes it is for the sake of others, as He does something through us. And that sometimes, it is both. And that all times, He is with us in the midst of it.

    So glad you faced this fear. And that you wrote about it so beautifully.

  • Aly Lewis

    Thank you, Sarah. I definitely needed to read this today. You wrote, “God is making something beautiful out of it all.” And He is. Already He’s using your words about fear to drive out fear in others.

  • There is nothing I can say but LOVE. Thank you for speaking..”writing” about fear. So true.

  • pastordt

    Honey. The fear never, ever goes away. And if it does, stop speaking immediately. IMMEDIATELY. I know what you’re describing is beyond fear, creeping close to terror – but when we have the audacity to stand up in front of a group of searching human beings and say that we’ve got a word from the Most High God that we’d like to share – that is some scary stuff. And it ought to be. It ought to be. I can tell you how to script things so it’s easier if you want some practical advice, and I can tell you to hang onto the hem of his garment the entire time. But mostly, you just gotta do it – and trust that God will meet you there, even in the blubbery tears and red face. And also trust that God will use your willing heart in all kinds of ways you cannot possibly anticipate. I do solemnly swear this to be true, true, true.

    (And is there a description yet of this legacy project? Have I missed it??)

    • Diana has spoken. 🙂 (This is so good and so true.)

    • That is what my stepfather (a pastor) told me once when I said I was nervous about giving sermons. He said if you are speaking for God you SHOULD be nervous!

  • As one stage-frighter to another, I’m so nodding. And choking up at those pics b/c I know the fear you’re describing. I started taking the metaphorical “first slot”, not because I didn’t want to prepare (I still do) but because the longer I waited the higher the anxiety and I’m just about having a stroke by the time I’m on the stage or camera. If I can get it over with I’m in a much healthier place.

    I think so often of how the “big” folks in the bible were described as simple people. Flawed, not just in their characters but things like looking simple, stuttering, being bad speakers. I lean into that so much.

    And I say you take up Pastor D on her offer to help. 😉

  • Having experienced this alongside you, I can honestly say that your time on camera was my favorite. You spoke from the heart and you ROCKED it. 🙂

  • PS I’m so glad you don’t hate the orphans.

    • And I miss you I love you I like you I need to visit you.

  • David Styles

    Hey that all sounds familiar 🙂 Been there- done that & bought the tee I think is how it goes! Always good to be out of the boat & on the water………means we can’t take our eyes off of Jesus, a good place to be!! So proud of you Sarah Lynn!!

  • Yes. Not every gift from God feels like a gift, does it? Thanks for sharing the truth of your fear. I’ve got it, too. Can’t wait until your book tour brings you near me so I can sit in the audience while you speak.

  • Erikka Vaughan

    As many have already said, thank you so much for this!

  • “If you don’t do this, I’m going to ask you why you hate the orphans.” oh, my goodness. I laughed at that statement. You are so accurate the way you describe facing your fears. I feel like I’ve had a similar experience. I feel like God takes me, one fear at a time, holds my shoulders, turns me and says, “Ok, now THIS one.” And we stand together and face it. It sucks. But it’s so worth it.

  • Nancy Huggett

    thank you Sara for writing and fearing and flying and loving and writing and speaking and writing and making it all so . . . open. That root will out!

  • Marie

    Hi. Just happened to land here through twitter, & I’m CRYING SO MUCH over what you experienced–& for the way your post spoke to my current season of life. Thank you for being real.

  • A little over a month ago, you used the phrase “loving fearlessly” in passing in a blog post. And I thought, “Yes, that’s what I want. I want to love, to live fearlessly.” and God asked me if I really wanted that and I paused and said, yes, I do, and He replied that I’m going to spend the next year learning how to be fearless. I figure that means I’m going to spend a year doing things that scare me and, as you put it, being rewarded for my efforts by a good experience. This was a good reality check for me. I’m willing to try whatever He asks me to do, and no matter how it goes, at least I can say I tried. And maybe the next time it will be a tiny bit easier.

  • You are authentic to the core, Sarah. It’s one of the many things I love about you. There are many people who wouldn’t share their struggles as openly as this. But look what’s happened here – God’s getting the glory.

    I agree with Jedi Trautwein; if you ever get over the fear, that is the moment to be truly terrified. Anyone can speak. Only those who are anointed can do it and have their words make a difference. That is where the Spirit lives. And you know Him, and He will use your feeble (as it were) words and your willing heart, just as He is doing here.

  • I have always been afraid of public speaking, and yet, I have been doing it on a consistent basis for the last couple of years. I have noticed how, although I am still nervous each time, over the years I have gone from shaking and stiff to being much more relaxed.

  • Kaity

    I think vulnerability and honesty require great bravery, and you consistently demonstrate those two qualities during both victories and challenges. Bless you for it.

  • You know I love that this happened. And you left out- when I said, ” The world needs to know you. Your sweet Canadian voice that makes everyone want to be your bast friend!”

  • Sarah. Oh. My. You are Me. Well, sorta. Except in my version of your horror story, I simultaneously wet my pants and barf on an interviewer and then run off stage screaming. Knowing I will have to do some of this stuff after my book comes out makes me so terrified. The hard part is that I have an actual history–years ago–of total freakout and panic attack and hanging up 5 minutes into a live hour long interview with two male doctors. I remember calling Dave and crying hysterically, “I just hung up on Denver! 200 stations live! And then I took the phone off the hook so they couldn’t call back!” He couldn’t believe it. But being Dave, he called the station to apologize on my behalf. As you can imagine, what I fear most now is that kind of panic attack. The roaring in my hears so I can’t even hear what people are saying. I felt I had no choice but to hang up–and I still feel horrible about it, years later. It’s such a shame that writers have to speak, too. Don’t worry, I have a plan to cope with this problem before the time comes (don’t tell my publisher). And not drinking before live interviews is part of what will be different. 🙂 But honey, I feel your fear more than words can say. Sometimes, it helps me to go to that worst place scenario–the like puking and peeing one–and then say to myself, “So? Would your husband, your friends, and God still love you? Would the world end? No.” You’re sweet, amazing and honest post here is so good for me. Thank you. Thank you. Someday, I’ll post about my own fiasco, I’m sure. When the time is right, which will probably be when the time draws near…. Hugs, Heather

  • Mar

    It doesn’t get any more real than this …

  • Angel

    I was just talking to Jesus today telling him that how I envisioned him refining me wasn’t going like I had anticipated…much, much less sexy and awesome. I feel like a big weak wimp. Ugh. That’s good, right? Thanks for once again authentically sharing what God is teaching you. It bolsters my confidence that He is good and I’m not alone.

  • awakingsleep

    My husband and I now have a running joke that I’ve found my actual feelings about a topic when my eyes welled up. (I point at their teary fullness for emphasis and we laugh.) I can’t even express my deepest truths out loud without crying. I didn’t realize I wasn’t alone in this. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Thank you. I love that you will be so vulnerable here. Facing fear isn’t easy. I mean, it’s *fear*. But I also know that perfect love (drives out, casts out, expels, banishes, drives away) fear. You didn’t see it completely banished there, but you saw the start– or you would have run, screaming from the camera. I know.
    But thank God for a friend who loved you enough to face you down with love! God use a loving sister as the vehicle to banish my great phobias (spiders and heights; I cannot explain how terrified of them I was). He’d already dealt with my fear of playing music in front of crowds via friends that forced me into it.
    Let that love wrap around you. You certainly wrap love around others. Lord, wrap her up and free her!
    And all of us.

  • Robert

    Sarah-you know how you could just envision God chuckling in HBis sleeve at your having to publicly speak again?? I think He was laughing and beaming with love because He knew how many people you would touch by sharing yourself like this. Thank you so much Sarah for being so courageous. We all face different fears, and God rarely provides a sexy dramatic scenario for staring them down.
    In which an authentic canadian writer inspires others by facing her fears and sharing the entire episode!!! 😀

  • You’re a rock star, Sarah! We were speechless, standing there in that heat watching you do the thing you didn’t want to do. And God took what you had to offer and it was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful! Just like you.

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  • Emily Wierenga

    i’m so proud of you.