when full rooms make your knees shake

The room is packed to the corners with women, every round table nearly full with familiar faces. She introduces me quickly and I stand at the microphone, perusing the room.

Those girls were at our wedding. That one back there volunteers in our youth group. This one works at my kid’s school. There’s our pastor’s wife, my mother-in-law, the women who drove from Raleigh. There’s some friends who go to a different church, some girls I went to college with, a few women who work at LifeWay, college students home for summer. Surely they can’t be ready to graduate? Aren’t they still 16?

I begin to talk the way I do, hands moving too much, eyebrows raised to the ceiling, open. I am nothing if not open. And that is why I will later come home and close up in a ball, tightly sealed, quiet.

My hands shake remembering. I knew it would be a bit more difficult to speak in a room full of women I know. But I wasn’t prepared for the emotion of it. I didn’t cry, although a few times I felt like I might. It was a little like heaven, all those women gathered in one place, women I knew or used to know. Women I wished I knew better.

It also felt like something else, something of fear and self-awareness, of hiding under a big round table. Something of running away.

Three weeks ago I stood in front of a room filled with writers and speakers and strangers. I had fun there, felt sure of my calling there, spoke words and didn’t replay them.

But last week when I shared stories with a room made up of friends at my very own church in my very own neighborhood, well. I haven’t yet recovered. Being in the right place doesn’t always feel that great. Sometimes it feels terrifying, unsure, small. But small is a gift I haven’t stopped giving thanks for. I have tasted the miracles that come from weakness, from inadequacy, from a hard leaning into a source outside of myself.

This morning I read in the book of John, right there in the beginning, how the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. I know this Word is Jesus, that the Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him and through Him. And then John 1:16 sings truth in black and white, lifts off the page and colors my whole kitchen with light.

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”

We aren’t the only ones who lean. This word grace means favor. A kindness. God, freely extending Himself to us, giving Himself away, leaning toward us. He leans toward us. 

I would still prefer to speak to a room filled with strangers. Isn’t it obvious why? It is easier to manage their opinions, to control what they see, to stay distant. To speak among friends is to risk rejection, fingers pointing, exposure. But this risk is worth it if we want to grow in community and be challenged to live what we say we believe. Is Christ really sufficient? Have you really received His fullness? Does grace really multiply?

My earthly eyes see full rooms that push me to my introverted knees. The Spirit begs me to see a different kind of full — fullness of heart, fullness of spirits made one with God, fullness of Emmanuel. We are not alone. Grace upon grace.

I close my Bible, consider the gifts, stare out the window three minutes too long. The words fullness and lean are still on my mind. I don’t have neat conclusions. I will carry these words with me into the day.


  1. Marcy says

    So true that a room full of strangers feels much safer than one filled with friends. Thank you for voicing that there are no tidy conclusions.

  2. says

    Friend. I wish I could’ve been in that room. I bet it was lovely and that you were too. Stay small and brave, leaning and receiving. These are good, hard things.

  3. says

    You can be used so greatly in those awkward moments! The intensity of it for you was probably loads more than what others perceived. Blessings through grace, over and over. The gift that keeps giving!

  4. says

    It was wonderful.

    I’m a stranger! I wanted to butt in and introduce myself to you but I figured it was a bit much.

    Thank you so much for hosting that evening. It WAS worth the three hours in the car alone – with all the fears that come along with that – and walking in to a room full of women I don’t know.

    I love your heart, Emily.

  5. says

    oh gosh! I think it’s so important to lay out our thoughts to our friends. It is scary and hard, but it keeps us honest and real. They know the truth. They know when we’re faking it. My friends read my blog. My family reads it. If they didn’t, then I shouldn’t do it, right? If only strangers could tolerate what we wrote, then it is a huge sign that we are not being authentic. We should start where we are, then spread out from there. Like light. Like peanut butter. Like water. We should not shoot so far away from ourselves like we are bombs.

  6. says

    I know this, too. I worry and fret about how my writing might be received among “friends” in my community and friends far away…friends who are so silent that it’s like shouting at me and I worry I’m misunderstood or thought to be too much. But…this living out of our authentic selves, it’s our worship. And we must trust. That’s how fear skitters away and glory is revealed. Amen, friend. Amen.

  7. says

    isn’t this the truth–strangers make our heart feel like there is a shield to rebuke the shooting arrows, but with our rawest parts get laid bare. my writing hat off to you, to put yourself ‘out there” amongst those that don’t just know of you, but truly know you is a hard, yet liberating place to be. shovel on the grace for us all…

  8. says

    OK so yesterday, I spoke at our church’s Sunday morning service. 30 minutes of a vulnerability hangover waiting to happen.

    And today I read you. Thank you.

    After it was over yesterday, I knew God was with me, but I went home and holed up for 8 hours doing next to nothing, thinking thoughts like “I hate public speaking.” Hahaha.

    I was in the beginners speaker evaluation groups at She Speaks 2012. Hyperventilating there.

    But God is so big, and they should know about it. So I speak when asked. But I like being alone more. :)

  9. says

    I have never experienced speaking in front of total strangers…bless you for stepping out. I would probably stutter like an old lawnmower. I used to have a hard time speaking in front of my writing group but now they’re watching me metamorph, by God’s grace, into a confident writer.

  10. says

    Your words are so beautiful as always. There’s something about vulnerability that paves the way for other hearts to be vulnerable. It’s scary, but the fruit is SO delicious.

    It is also difficult for me to engage with those I know over those who are strangers. “Being in the right place doesn’t always feel that great.” These words are so true. Yet it is so amazing for my heart to ponder a God who is willing to lean into us, a Mighty Creator of the universe who has mercy enough to care about the panicked hearts of his little clay children.

    Thank you for this truth today :)

  11. says

    This goes well with some of your recent posts that indicate that it’s easier to put things on the internet or in a book than to have to live them, because there is a page or screen to hide behind.

  12. says

    Thank you for sharing this. It is so much easier to talk in front of or write to strangers. That’s why I kept my blog a secret from everyone except my husband for several months. It was so much easier to think about random internet strangers reading my blog than my family and friends and people from church (especially since my husband’s a pastor). But like you said, “this risk is worth it if we want to grow in community and be challenged to live what we say we believe.”

  13. Christine says

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerability; we all feel it, but rarely have the courage to let it fly! You did. You do. And you inspire and bless me.

  14. says

    a few months back my church asked me to write an article on blogging, for a small magazine type thing they put out, and along with it a link to my blog! it took me days of stewing to finally agree… i just wasn’t sure how i felt about having people that REALLY know me, reading!

    so your post just had me nodding my head in understanding where you’re coming from! there IS a different kind of vulnerability that comes with those we actually live and interact with. strangers are easier to escape. 😉

    but your conclusion is beautiful – when we open ourselves up, fear and all, we only discover more grace and the realization we.are.not.alone.

    thankful for those reminders today! :)

    p.s. this reminds me of a quote my 14 year old was telling me she saw on tumblr the other day that i thought was funny – “we used to worry people on the internet would find us in real life. now, we worry people in real life will find us on the internet!” 😉

  15. Rebecca says

    And now i too will carry with me and conside what fullness and lean mean. Those are life giving words straight from the heart of Emmanuel. May God so richly bless you for writing and speaking and seeking grace.
    True community. I want to know what that is. With God and his people. But I must be willing to empty myself for His fullness and allow myself to give up strength and adequacy to lean in.

  16. says


    I was there! We meet at the very end… you signed my book (thank you!), so I was a women you didn’t know, and I thought it was awesome!!! Really, really good!!! Thank you for sharing then and now. Thank you for sharing all you’ve learned so far about grace. I need it. I need to hear about grace, learn about grace, and grow closer to my Lord who gives me grace. So thank you again for doing it – even though it was very scary for you! I LOVED it! :-)

  17. says

    Emily, In September I have been invited to speak at a women’s event at my HOME church, the one I was raised in and my parents still attend. One of my best friends is still there and she has blossomed there. She has invited me to come and speak. I, too speak to groups of strangers weekly. I even speak to my own women’s ministry groups each week. But these women know me as an adult. Some think I’m an expert. (Haha). But back home I’m Louise and Jerry’s daughter, Kay Winton. I’m already shaking in my heels over this. I’d love it if you’d say even one simple prayer for me in regards to this engagement. I’m so glad you voiced or wrote down or typed (there, finally) so many of my own fears.

  18. says

    “My earthly eyes see full rooms that push me to my introverted knees. The Spirit begs me to see a different kind of full — fullness of heart, fullness of spirits made one with God, fullness of Emmanuel. We are not alone. Grace upon grace.” This, my friend is what will go with me. I couldn’t stand not being there Thursday, but I love the picture of it leading you (or leaning you) straight into grace.

  19. says

    Hey Emily, a friend and I planned on going but thought it was on the 4th! I went to your blog to find out what time it started and realized it was the night before! Hope you’ll do another one soon 😉 You should come speak to our group of girls @ Life Community when the new book comes out!

  20. says

    I love this blog, and I loved your book, and I love reading these lovely comments…I’ve found so many like-minded blogger-women on this site! And I longed to be able to go to this event. That closing paragraph about not having “neat conclusions” and “consider[ing] the gifts” and carrying these thoughts into the day…beautifully written. God has given you the voice of a prophet and poet. You show me what it looks like to “taste the miracles that come from weakness, from inadequacy, from a hard leaning into a source outside of myself.” Thank you for your love, Emily.

  21. says

    I feel like when I am speaking in front of others or in a large group that I am wearing a mask, doing something that just isn’t me. What would happen if all the introverts got together? Would we all sit and stare at each other? I know that this is neither here nor there, just a random thought…

  22. says

    I love that you have no conclusions, but will carry the words with you all day. It’s nice to know that sometimes we don’t have all the answers, and that it is okay.


  23. says

    This is the perfect post for my heart this morning as I prepare to speak. Tonight. At my own church. My shaky heart and wobbly knees thank you.

  24. says

    The hardest thing for me has been when I’ve shared with an audience of people I know and received no feedback whatsoever. I’ve learned (the very hard way) to accept silence rather than to drop hints for obligatory praise.

    I’m oh-so-slowly learning that God’s call is “all” I need to hear. “All” I need to do is respond in obedience. The results are up to him. People-pleasing becomes a non-issue when the people aren’t really part of the equation!

  25. nancy says

    ‘ Being in the right place doesn’t always feel that great. Sometimes it feels terrifying, unsure, small. But small is a gift I haven’t stopped giving thanks for. I have tasted the miracles that come from weakness, from inadequacy, from a hard leaning into a source outside of myself.’
    Your words were FBed to me by a friend ( a wise woman) to which I replied ” hey, I know her!” Small resonates with many of us. Then I remember how God even applauds small things. That’s me.

  26. says

    Absolutely beautiful. I so relate to what you’re saying. The vulnerability in front of a stranger is much easier than a woman we know. But God calls us a family for a reason. Our friends need to know we are real even when life hurts and we screw up.

  27. says

    i know that your words touched those women, however unsure it may have made you feel. i think that’s the thing with exposure. it’s risky.

    i have a friend and she is so open and warm and fuzzy. with strangers. there’s not a person who meets her who doesn’t instantly love her. but she is closed to me, someone who knows her, who has known her a lifetime. i think it’s that risk of exposure because i do know her. it crushes me to the core, but i think she feels safe.

    and i try to love her like the strangers.


  28. says

    public speaking make me queasy due to an unfortunate speach in college, something to do with the uterus and endocrines and endorphins, ??, almost 30 years ago. so i do whatever i can to put myself right there. challenges grow us, don’t they?

    the words ‘grace’, and still, ‘hush’ are resonating within me today.

    it’s so good to be back here.

  29. Katie says

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this post! I have recently entered into the world of vocational ministry and speaking in front of people. I have only gotten my feet wet, working with a youth group for the last 6 months, and am loving it. But the rawness of preparing a message or singing on stage leaves me longing to go home and put on my pajamas and crawl all the way under the covers and close my eyes very, very tightly. From the outside, speaking and singing is glamourous. Now that it is my life, it is scary and vulnerable. Thank you for letting me know I am not the only one who feels this way. Your blog helps me breathe. Thank you.

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