We learn many fears in childhood. The sources are not readily apparent and over time get buried in the emotional trash heap we tend to keep rather than discard. I learned one fear at a picturesque white clapboard church my grandparents attended. No one set out to install this fear in me. In just happened.

teresa grade 4

I remember the big oak tree in front of the church that stood like a sentinel, guardian, protector. I had found memories of it. It served as shade for primary Sunday School classes Grandma taught wearing her store-bought black and white dress with her pearls and small black and white hat. She was a large woman which just made it better to melt into her lap. Still, I always wanted to laugh seeing her sitting in her nice dress in a little folding chair under the trees.

I loved going to church with my grandparents. During the Christmas holidays the children would put on a “program,” as Grandma always called it. Various groups of children would perform songs, skits or dramas. Some would read poems or scripture readings.

Christmas in Pieces

Even though I didn’t live there, every year Grandma would pick out a “piece” for me to memorize and recite. The year I was 12, she decided that since I did such a good job learning the pieces, she would have me learn two that year.

Problem was, when I got up to speak, the two got jumbled up in my mind. I recited five verses of the first six-verse poem and then stopped. There were words in my head, but I was sure they were from the other poem.

I stood frozen center stage in my black and red plaid dress with black patent leather shoes and white socks. Grandma was in the front row trying to tell me the next line, but she didn’t have the poem and I knew what she was telling me was not right.

As a sea of faces stared back, I ran off the stage, out the back door to the safety of the huge oak tree. It was freezing and I hadn’t taken my coat. Tears streamed down my cheeks. All I could remember was the shocked look on Grandma’s face as I ran down the aisle past her.

She did not come to find me. Eventually, I went back inside and sat on the back row. After church, Grandma apologized for making me learn two pieces. Other well-meaning folks lied and told me I did a good job and that everyone forgets things. It only made me commit more solidly to the oath I swore at the oak tree:  I will never speak in front of an audience again.


So, for years I was afraid of speaking in front of people. I would want to do it and be fine until I got on stage. Then I would begin shaking, perspiring and feeling like I would throw up. I would get through it, but always knew I had done a horrible job and had forgotten most of what I wanted to say.

In 1994 I went to a workshop that changed my life in many ways. I share some of that in Sweet Grace. One exercise we did was to memorize and lip-sing a song in front of the group. We were “judged” by those in the seminar standing when they experienced us being real.

I watched as others went through and had to do their song over. My fear of being in performance mode was heightened. Not only would I be in front of people and parading all 430 pounds of myself, but I was going to be judged.

Nothing about this appealed to me. The 12-year old girl wanted to find the oak tree really quickly. Up until that point I had felt public speaking was just not in the cards for me. I never asked God to deliver me from that fear. I just accepted it as part of me. I am a writer, not a speaker.

You Light Up My Life

My time came and the song started. “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. At the end of the first verse and into the chorus I was still shaking and they were still sitting.

At the chorus the words are simple, “You light up my life, you give me hope to carry on. You light up my days and fill my nights with song.” As I sang the words, I started pointing to each person, looking them in the eyes. As I did, they began to stand.

The trainers, though, still weren’t standing. Through the next verse and into the chorus I pointed to each training assistant and they began standing. At the final chorus, the group began pointing back at me. It was then I lifted my hands pointing to the One who really lights up my life. I sang the rest of the song through a veil of tears, their tears joining with mine.

I looked up to see the workshop director standing on top of a table joining me as tears streamed down his face. And somehow I knew, public spaaking would never again be a problem.

God had taken that fear and replaced it with a group of people showing me God’s perfect love. However, I still hadn’t accepted the fact that the title, “speaker” would ever be attached to my name.

Author, Speaker, Coach

It only goes to show that oaths sworn on oak trees don’t last. Either that or God has a sense of humor or both. Today my tagline on my bio says author, speaker, coach.

The first time I truly tested my lack of fear of speaking was at the Sweet Grace Book Launch, Oct. 20, 2013. When I stood up to speak, I shared my story without the notes on my ipad. I loved every moment of sharing. I knew I had discovered another way God had set me free for His use.

The first TV show I did was a little disconcerting. It was a secular morning TV news program. The spot was only five minutes. It was a great introduction for me into the very exciting world of TV talk shows. Since then I’ve been on at least seven television shows and numerous radio programs.

Setting the Little Girl Free

For many years I had left the little girl version of me crying at the oak tree on that cold December day. She remembered that she couldn’t count on adults to help her when she was in a bind. She was scared, alone and embarrassed on stage with what seemed like the whole world watching.

Although Grandma did not set me up for failure and did apologize for giving me two poems to learn, the fear was still very real.  Sure I was an adult and knew those fears were childish and ridiculous. But the little girl inside had experienced them emotionally. She needed to be acknowledged, loved and accepted.

Experiencing honest, perfect love from that seminar group of 23 participants, six training assistants and one director, orchestrated by my heavenly Father broke that particular bondage of fear from my life.

I was only scratching the surface of the power of God to deliver me from bondages of fear from sources that began in childhood. In the years to come, I would learn that His power would set me free from bondages that ran much deeper.

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Teresa Shields Parker
Teresa Shields Parker is a Christian weight loss author, coach and speaker, who has lost more than 250 pounds. Her book, "Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds and Stopped Trying to Earn God's Favor", is the number 1 Christian Weight Loss Memoir on Amazon. Her other books include: "Sweet Journey to Transformation: Practical Steps to Lose Weight and Live Healthy", "Sweet Freedom: Losing Weight and Keeping It Off With God's Help", "Sweet Change: True Stories of Transformation" and "Sweet Hunger: Developing an Appetite for God".

She also offers Overcomers Christian Weight Loss Academy and VIP one-on-one coaching program, both available under the weight loss tab. To book Teresa for your next event, check the Speaking tab on her website. Also check out her blog and Sweet Grace for Your Journey podcast under the tabs by those names.