The ache to belong rests in such a young part of our hearts. It is a tender thing, holding so many other questions like “Can I come?” “Am I welcome?” “Am I ok?” “Am I wanted?” “Do you love me?”.
I was ten the year we moved to Phoenix, and Halloween fell on a Sunday. We started attending a new church and my brother and I had made a few friends so we asked my mom if we could have a Halloween party Sunday afternoon after church. She enthusiastically said “yes!” and we sent out our invites and started the party ideas.
The day of the party arrived and after church we readied the house, which was already decorated with my mom’s classic “witchy-poo”….a funky witch made from an old stand up sewing form, a big black sheet for her dress and a broom handle for arms, with the final touch of a giant orange pumpkin head topped off with one of my mom’s long haired wigs and witch hat. We LOVED her! We had popcorn balls, candy corn, apples for bobbing and games planned.
And, no one came. None of the good church folk thought our Sunday afternoon Halloween party was appropriate. That was the year I learned that there were rules to the church community we had landed in.
In the realm of “trick or treat” I felt tricked, I think my mom felt judged.
My parents were good rule keepers and witchy-poo went away, along with their nightly glass of sherry and other things that were outside the rules. I remember feeling the loss as some parts of who we had been as a family were sacrificed in the name of “what was right.”
When Mark and I started leading the young adult ministry in San Antonio we brought back dressing up for Halloween, carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples because it’s all super fun, and we knew the young adults would love it. We took some flak from more conservative members of the congregation, but we were reaching so many young adults that the leadership agreed to call this event an “outreach” to the community and the “All Fall Call Ball” actually made it into the church bulletin a few times and became a favorite amongst our tribe of young adults. Everyone came, costumed and toting pumpkins for the carving contest. What had left me feeling that I didn’t belong as a kid was transformed into something that said “everyone belongs” if they want to come.
The “All Call Fall Ball” became a favorite amongst our tribe of children as well. The kids wanted to come, and they wanted to dress up. An infamous year was 2004, just a couple of months after I had Libby, Steven wanted a “family” costume that included Mark and I. “ The Incredibles” was the hot new Disney film and that was his choice. I remember how thrilled he was with our costumes. He must have thanked us a hundred times. And I wondered what in the world I had agreed to in wearing spandex at 40 after having had a c-section.
We warmly welcomed a lot of people into our home and into our hearts; somehow we communicated that you weren’t likely to be judged by us, and we didn’t have a set of rules to be obeyed.
Recently, I attended the “Belong Tour” for women, and as part of the weekend we were given the opportunity to work on a purpose statement, built on our story, passions and gifts. I am still fine tuning mine, but this emerged pretty quickly,
I am called to create and nurture communities where every story belongs and people experience healing, hope and celebration.
It is grounding for my heart to see and name the threads that run consistently through my life, not only the themes of things that were harmful, but the themes of goodness as well. Belonging is a theme in my story; it runs through frequently moving as a child, my place in my family of origin, friendships, ministry and in my family today.
Back when we were on a church staff we probably looked like the typical nice, conservative, churchy family. Today, we look less like that family. That “nice churchy” image has been stripped away as my older children have grown into adults and their unique journeys of suffering, hope and healing, along with their pursuit of God have shaped them. My family is now a living testimony that what was true for those young adults in San Antonio is also true for my own children. And the truth is there are churches where we no longer belong. That breaks my heart and fuels my passion.
Red Tent Living is the current expression of my passion and calling, and there will be more expressions to come in the years ahead.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 29 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.
I can only like this once, but I want to like it lots and lots of times, if for no other reason than your Incredibles picture. You rocked that spandex! Thank you for sharing your expression of passion here and for inviting us to join you. Thank you for helping me to experience healing, hope, and celebration and for being a beacon of light on the journey. Every blessing, Friend.
Thanks Julie…I know you appreciate that post 40 baby belly 😉 It is so fun to have you in this community.
“And the truth is there are churches where we no longer belong. That breaks my heart and fuels my passion.” I have found this to be painfully true for us too. Right now, it leaves us feeling lost and wandering though with no sense of belonging. It is lonely. Todd and I are forever marked by The Call and your ministry here. It has shaped how we love others and do life and invite others in to our home and what ministry looks like for us. Your calling has collided with ours, inspired ours, and we aren’t the only ones. (o:
Oh Jenn….you and Todd are so dear to us, and I love watching how you are building belonging in your tribe. I hope a day is coming when we might get to build together again 😘.
Hope healing and celebration. You do this with a flair. I feel so sad for that girl waiting at the party. Grateful you remember her with compassion. Enjoy today.
You always the girl inside of me my friend. Thank you.
Boom. The weaving of Halloween with the theme of Belonging and your Purpose Statement in this post is gorgeous and moving. Did you know the “Belong” tour would take place during this month of “Can I Come?” That’s a pretty cool overlap. I remember that photo, too. It’s pretty bad ass that you rocked that costume just a few months post-partum. Thanks for sharing this. A community where every story belongs and celebration is encouraged is a rare blessing. xoxo
The overlap was a sweet a surprise Lib! Thanks for dreaming with me way back then about that kind of community for women. So grateful then and now.
Dear Tracy, I loved these photos! All of them. It made me so sad thinking of the awesome Halloween party and no one coming. That just hurts. It makes me sad to think of churches, etc. We got a new principal at the Christian school I was at. Halloween was always a blast and then he came….and made everyone feel horrible and no costumes. What the new policy conveyed made me sad…and other’s sad too. Belonging and Can I Come…..AWESOME!
It was indeed so sad along with what it conveyed. Thanks for feeling it with me and for joining in the fight to create belonging. ❤️
Yes! This was so good. I felt sadness at the loss of some of things that made you all unique in the name of being “right”. The fight back has created such beauty and life for all those your life touches. Your purpose statement is perfect and I am looking forward how you continue to express yourself!
Me too B….me too. ❤️❤️
I hate that as soon as I read in your story how excited you were about the party, and sending out the invitations…I anticipated the coming rejection. Hearing stories like this for so long, we know too much. And yet, you continue to hold space for people for those stories to unfold and watch God redeem them. And that is sweet redemption of your story.
I love that intuitive part of you that hones in on the coming disappointment and brings compassion. Holding space together with you for stories to unfold is a sweet joy.
I love this post on so many levels.
I can hear your mom’s voice in my head as she helped create her classic “witchy-poo”. I found myself saying …. What?!?!? No jewelry on “witchy-poo” ?!?!?
I can also see her face – eyes filled with tears and her lip-stick ready smile filled with pain as you share about her feeling judged in the name of “what was right”.
Team Orlow wore “The Incredibles” costumes one year too — although thankfully there is no photo to prove it.
At one time our family too “looked like the typical nice, conservative churchy family. Today, not so much. That “nice churchy” image has been stripped away as my older children have grown into adults and their unique journeys of suffering, hope and healing, along with their pursuit of God have shaped them.”
“That breaks my heart and fuels my passion.” AMEN Tracy! Me too my friend. Me too.
I love how well you know my mom, and the places where our family’s are similar Brenda. Most of all it’s good to know I am not alone. ❤️