Coming into the Fellows Program, I thought I was professionally skilled at living in community. Been there, done that. I’m great at celebrating life, having fun, exploring cities and eating tacos.

Which is what community is about, right?

I could go on and on about how incredibly thankful I am for the sixteen individuals in the Nashville Fellows Program. We laugh, dance, eat, and play together. We are all so different, yet we fiercely love each other. My heart is so happy when I tell people about my new friends. I am honored to be able to walk beside them in this season of life and pray that our lives will be intertwined for years to come. But, it has been a daily fight to be completely honest and vulnerable with these same people.

It has been a fight to let people know the real me; not the Emily who is fun and joyful, but the real, critical, scared, and stubborn Emily. I am not a feeler. I have trained myself to keep emotions close to my chest just like a poker player holds their most valuable cards. I live life through the lens of, "as long as I hold the cards, I am in control of the game." When I hold onto my fears, vulnerabilities, and desires I have control of them. No one is able to know, disrupt, or challenge them. I view emotional investment as a risk and I see risk as pain. I try to control circumstances to live with a pain-free heart.

This community has challenged me in many ways I don’t wish to be challenged. I’m continually being asked intentional and genuine questions from people who want to dig deep into the core of who I am. My friends are teaching me to be aware and okay with my vulnerabilities. Through the love and grace of this community I have learned that I am enough despite my fears of imperfection. I’m slowly grasping onto the concept of living everyday as Christ’s beloved. God doesn’t want me to hoard my emotions, thoughts, and desires inside. It is not only unfair to myself, but also the people who desire to live life with me.

Jesus was described as, “a man of sorrows, familiar with pain” in Isaiah 53:3. Even the church calendar encourages us to deeply feel emotions: grief, affliction, joy and triumph. Feeling does not equal weakness. Jesus wept for the world, but also laughed with friends. Feeling opens the door to experiencing the beauty of grace, hope, and pain. Feeling doesn’t mean I will never experience pain or suffering, but it does allow me to step into a space where I can meet Jesus with whatever emotion and not fear rejection. There is freedom to be felt in feeling. I am beginning to fold my hand of cards - giving up the control and holding my desires, vulnerabilities, and dreams loosely, yet somehow much more dearly.