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.