This is how my first big speaking engagement went

Last week Friday I had my first big speaking engagement, which is a fancy way of saying that a church asked me to share at their women’s retreat.  

And guys, I was nervous, I started shaking about 12:30 in the afternoon and still all hopped up until I fell asleep that night, honestly just writing about it is exhilarating and nerve wracking… in the best of ways.  

But so many friends texted, tweeted and Facebooked me encouragement, let me know that they believed in me…. that I didn’t go into that room alone.

just before...

Also I bought red power lipstick, this helped too.  
Also Also my friend Anne sent me a gorgeous shirt for the occasion, this also helped because I could stop worrying about what I was wearing and worry about what I would say. 

And it went well, it went so well.  As I gazed out over the faces of all those women (a little over 100!) I felt more energized than nervous, more impassioned than afraid.  In short…. I think I sort of loved it.

The evening was under the umbrella of a winter storm and when I went to park in the ramp in downtown Holland, the van slid on ice and I had to carefully back it down.

I immediately realized that if I can survive THAT, I can talk to a roomful of women for 45 minutes.  After all, it won’t kill me or total my main source of transportation so how bad can it be?

When I walked in, the smiles of the organizers put me at ease. We walked to the room across the street where the conference would be held that evening as we chatted about the weather and having thick hair all while the wind did it’s best to whip the hood off my head.

Something I haven’t yet mentioned:  The church who asked me to come speak is the church I attended as an adolescent, the church both my parents attended when they died, the church where we held their funerals.

This was both comforting and extremely intimidating, because while they knew my story... they also knew me as a 14 year old girl.

There was a bit of downtime in-between arrival  and speaking in which we did sound and tech checks that provided ample time for freaking out, suddenly my wire-bound set of notecards looked like they were written in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

There was a deep breath moment as retreat leaders prayed with me and then I walked around a bit and prayed for myself, I prayed something that is fast becoming my safe place when I get scared about writing, my shelter in a storm of self doubt.

“For as the sky soars high above earth,so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.” Isaiah 55:10-11, Msg Translation
Thank you to my new friend Natalia for this truth 

Because as a writer, I don’t believe that my words are akin to the bible, but I have to, HAVE TO believe that at least on a good day they are Spirit led and useful to him for watering and loving and achieving his gorgeous purposes.

And then suddenly, it was time. I walked to the front of the room, the speakers protested when my wireless mic passed and then I breathed and said something like: “Hi.”

Because that’s how you start all good conversations, right?

And then I spoke, no I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I preached… for close to 40 minutes, my eyes flipping confidently and excitedly between the eyes of the audience (some of who knew me as an awkward teenager) and my notecards.

And what did I say?

I said that as women, as people we are obsessed with self-sufficiency which is in fact, a myth and a lie because if we take it back to Eden we realize that perfect living is living with God and people in a vulnerable but beautiful rhythm of daily relationship.  We have fooled ourselves into believing that we as Christians need to serve and take care of ourselves when the truth is that we need to be on both ends of helping, both giving and receiving.  We need to be honest with ourselves, our God and our friends about how we are really doing and where we’re really struggling.  We shouldn’t feel guilty or less than when we can’t do it alone, we should feel basically human.  And we can’t always wait for code Red moments in our lives to feel okay accepting the help of others, we should be honest about our daily struggles. Because life is hard and we need each other, we belong to each other on a daily basis. I told the story of my family falling apart, I talked about the feelings and the funerals and I ended with something like: I am here because of the daily miracles of God’s people, showing up and those moments when I decided to open the door.  Thank you.

I stepped aside and breathed and wanted to do a breakfast club fist pump and hide in a corner all at the same time.

Then came the Q & A, can I say that this was my favorite part? There were women who braved asking me the toughest questions and I loved LOVED being able to dialogue with them over my take on the hard questions.

Things like:
“You directed your vulnerable, hard times into something good, into sharing your story, what would you tell someone who went the other direction with their pain?”

“How do you still believe that “God is love” after everything you’ve been through?”

And talking through those questions with those women made me feel alive, excited and on fire.  This is why I tell my story, this is the whole reason for all of this because I want God to take all that my family has been through and do what he does with pain:

Turn it into glory, into beauty, into another way to administer his love to the hurting.

And even though the act of writing this out makes me shake like I just got done speaking a few minutes ago, I really want to do it all over again.

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  • Chris Theule-VanDam

    Yes! Keep going!

    • Leanne Penny

      I’ll do my darndest 😉

  • Caris Adel

    I knew it!!!!! Yaaaay!!!!!!

    • Leanne Penny

      Thanks, friends like you were wind behind my back!

  • Mark Allman

    I am proud of you! Go Leanne!
    Brokenness into Beauty. God does this so well. Making it more beautiful than it was before the brokenness.

    • Leanne Penny

      It’s so true! Thank you for stating it so eloquently.

  • Julia Woodwyk Szymanski

    I was one of the women who was extremely blessed to hear your story last weekend. I must say that you spoke to SO many of our hearts that evening. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story and for allowing God’s words to pour out of you. You have inspired, encouraged, and blessed us more than you know! (Fyi….I never would have guessed that was your first time speaking. You are a natural! :)

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you Julia! This comment means SO much to me and I think you may have just popped my heart on a gray afternoon.

  • John Backman

    Leanne, you’ve brought back fond memories of my (very similar) experience: in my case, the surprise that came when an introverted and recovering shy person discovered that he actually loved public speaking. Or, maybe more accurately, loved the feedback and insight that others reflected back to me–and the lessons I learned from them. Each time I speak, it reminds me just how cool people are.

  • Tanya Marlow

    Yay yay YAY!!! Love all of this. You spoke for 45 minutes to 100 people!! And what a preach. Awesome. May this be the first of many. And I LOVE that lipstick.

  • Jess LaMer

    I was one of the women at the conference and not only did I assume that you spoke to groups like ours all the time, but I was so blessed by your story. Because there were so many people and we had to go to small groups right after the talk (and, honestly, because I, too, was shaking with nerves about being part of the improv team later in the night because I had never done improv in front of people and it was way out of my comfort zone), I wasn’t able to thank you. So, thank you now. Even a couple weeks later, I’m still ruminating over your words, specifically, “I told my friends that I couldn’t go get a drink with them. I told them I had to feel everything now or I wouldn’t make it.” At a time when feeling everything feels awful, those words with your story give me courage and hope. So, thanks.