facing crazy, paralyzing fears: a fun story

i had a really fun adventure yesterday.  i got to fly to san diego for the day with one of my dear friends, the lovely & brave sharla jackson.  it wasn’t just an ordinary trip.  it was actually 10 years–yes, 10 years–in the making.  you see, sharla has been terrified of flying (i have known her for 10 years but it’s been 16 years since her last flight!).  she doesn’t have the “oh, it freaks me out a little bit” fear of flying.  she has the extremely-nauseous-and-anxious-just-thinking-about-it,  even i-don’t-want-to-drive-near-the-airport-unless-absolutely-necessary thoughts.   sharla first shared her fear when she was in a beth moore breaking free bible study i facilitated about 10 years ago.   her fear kept her from life.  she’d miss family vacations, adventures, all kinds of things that she longed to be part of but just couldn’t push through her fear to get there. i told her then, a decade ago, “when you are ready to try to face this fear, i’ll do it with you.” 

so for all these years we talk about it now and then.  she just hasn’t been ready.  but in this past season she’s gone though some painful losses & has begun to face some other deep fears that have absolutely nothing to do with flying.  she’s started to live more, experience more, press out of the box more.  so about 6 months ago she said “i think i’m ready to try…this will be the biggest fear i’ve ever faced on my own”.  because jose’s a pilot i have the luxury of weird things like flying somewhere for one day so we set a date, got some serious prayer coverage and a prescription for valium, and went for it. 

we just took it one step at a time.  all of the united airlines people were so helpful and great cheerleaders, too.   we took pictures.  we practiced breathing.  i held her hand.  she asked me to tell her what each of the sounds probably was, to relieve her anxiety and remind her what was normal.   and two hours later we landed in san diego and both breathed a big sigh of relief.  after 20 years of never seeing the ocean, she was able to feel the sand between her toes and hear the splash of waves again.  

a few hours later we headed back to the airport for round 2.  she was so much different the second time, so much free-er.  the anxiety wasn’t gone but it definitely had dissipated.    but of course it is never as easy as we want it to be and as we got closer to denver, the turbulence kicked in.  lots and lots of bumps, the dips that make your stomach tip and your hands clench the armrests.  and guess what?  she did it.  i actually think that was icing on the cake for her, making it an even bigger victory. 

this day she and i had talked about for 10 years finally arrived.   when our fears are robbing us of life, they are worth facing.  and usually facing one of them helps us face some others, too.   the ripples are always good. thanks, sharla, for showing what it means to be brave.  portland, here you come!

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Oh that is so awesome!
    Lucky is the person who has such a friend, and such an awesome God to lean on. That is one of the best parts is feeling so close to the heavens. BUT I have to admit that I’m no big fan of flying!

  • That’s so good, Kathy! Wow. What a friend. And Sharla is coming to Portland? Details, please.

  • WOW, this story brings tears to me…you are an awesome friend, 10 yrs is a long time to journey with another. Sharla for the courage to face her fears. And the best part, feeling the sand between your toes for the first time. What a gift the two of you shared.

  • This story made me think of fear factor kathy I could hear the host yelling to sharla *fear is no longer a factor for you!!!!!* and the crowd goes wild whoeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! I hate to fly myself and took an amtrak once from chicago to LA so i wouldn’t have to fly lol You are truly, as proverbs says , a friend who sticks closer than a sister, and you and sharla both are so inspiring. Any chance you will make it to portland sometime cathy??? 🙂

  • hey all, thanks for all the great comments and “go sharla” encouragement!

    erin – i will find out where she’s going in portland. her parents live near there so it’ll be so fun that she actually got there in 2 hours instead of 24.

    john – it was so fun to see you at the emerging church for the existing church conference. i hope we can catch up and have a real conversation soon.

    robert – i hope to get up to portland one of these days because i love my friends at the bridge. where are you there?

  • Tell Sharla she has inspired me to face the fears in my life. It’s encouraging to think that, every day, people like her are out there overcoming the “impossible.” God bless you both!

  • kathy- I am in milwaukie, a suburb right outside portland. I just met your buddies erin and pam a week ago. You and sharla definitely do inspire!!! Whenever you do make it out here will have to go to starbucks again even though i dont drink coffee lol keep *leading with a limp* kathy!!!

  • Wow! Go, Sharla! I’m really proud of you. I had no idea….. You seem like an adventuresome person to me. I’ll keep you in my prayers to be able to conquer whatever fears you have in the future.

  • wow, kath…felt tears in my eyes as I read this….it all seems so surreal. is that ME who you were talking about? did I really face (and conquer!) the biggest fear in my life…one that has had SUCH a stronghold on me for so long?! Woo Hoo! I am so honored and so humbled to have a precious friend like you…and I am so touched by the responses of all of you who commented. THANK YOU for your encouragement! And thank you GOD for parting that Red Sea once again!!!

  • “after 20 years of never seeing the ocean, she was able to feel the sand between her toes and hear the splash of waves again.”

    What an image.

    It’s funny how we dream of things that seem so distant and never likely to happen, then one day the dream comes true and we wonder what took us so long.

    Great reminder. Now I’m off to find a parachute . . .


  • And since I just saw her comment, I want to congratulate Sharla for taking this leap. Be thankful you have such a good friend to hold your hand.

    Some of us men crave that as well, but often have to jump in alone . . .


  • rachel – thanks for stopping by, i am so glad it encouraged you, too. i’ve been thinking a lot about it, too, that somehow it gives me a little more freedom to say “ah, what the hell, this is a fear worth facing!” keep us posted!

    robert – oh that is fun, i love pam and erin and donna and deborah and ken and angie and todd and the heart of the bridge. one of these days i’ll get back up there and hopefully i’ll get to meet you too.

    grandma karen – you are a fear-facer, too! i’ll never forget when you jumped off that pier in el salvador (readers, this is my mommy, btw, she was 65 years old and the first one to say “i’m going to go for it because i’m never coming back!”)

    brian – yeah, it’s pretty cool, eh? and i do hope some boys can do this for each other, too. i definitely know other guys who crave that, too.

    sharla – yes, dear friend, this is YOU i am talking about. the red sea did part. love ya and see you sunday, glad you are coming to hang out with us!


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