Last year on a chilly summer Michigan morning I was standing in my closet, contemplating which pair of jeans would be most comfortable and facing down the reality that none of them seemed to qualify as a “well-worn, favorite pair of jeans” when my phone rang.

“Hey Mom, I’ve got an idea for the conference name.  What do you think about “Brave On”. 

My first thought was the summer of 2005 when Nichole Nordeman’s new song “Brave” often played in my SUV.  I had a one year old, two middle schoolers and Katy had just turned 16. I felt like I was in the weeds in every possible area of my life and nothing about it felt status quo.

So long status quo, I think I’ll just let go…

You make me want to be brave
The way it always was
Is no longer good enough
You make me want to be brave

Brave On is perfect, I love it Katy.”

A few days later a package arrived in the mail from my friend Ellen.  I opened up the box and a handwritten note fell out, “T, Jesus told me to buy this for you when we were at Nichole’s concert this past weekend.”  I unfolded the paper and there was a t-shirt with the word “BRAVE” written across the front.

Ok Jesus, I am listening.

My journey has been marked by Nichole’s music for nearly twenty years. I remember one night when I sat on the floor in our bedroom staring at my vacant eyes in photographs taken during years when I felt desperate and alone. It was the night when I started walking into the brokenness of my own story with greater honesty. Nichole’s music was on and “Small Enough” began play. I wept and cried out to God. That night her music was part of what told me I wasn’t alone and that God did hear me.

For me, watershed moments of joy and goodness, loss and devastation, confusion and desperation, gratitude and hope all have songs that go with them.  Music helps me mark and hold the transformation that has taken place in my life.

The heart of what it means for me to Brave On feels interwoven with Nichole’s music.

The Brave On Lead Team met in December to share our dreams for the conference and I put words to my desire for Nichole to play a part in the day. I was quick to douse my hope with the practicality of it not happening, knowing she was part of The Belong tour and the dates might conflict.  Still, the team agreed she felt like a perfect fit.  So, I reached out in January to see if she might be available. For a couple of weeks it felt like it might happen and then the dates for Belong were set and we got the news that she wouldn’t be free to join us.

The news about the cancellation of Belong broke a little over a week ago.  My heart sank for the women whom I have watched dream and play together so beautifully, Nichole, Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist.  I know well the investment required to plan, prepare and hope for traveling together with friends you love to bring something God has planted in your hearts.  The shock and disappointment of it all suddenly coming to a halt hits deep inside and leaves you shaken. And, at the same time I wondered…

So, I reached out again and on Friday it became official, Nichole is joining us for Brave On.

Last night I had the chance to share a few minutes with Nichole and I can tell you connecting with her was pure joy.  God’s goodness and the surprising sweetness of this door opening up has left me hopeful and smiling for what is unfolding.

September 15th in Grand Rapids something truly special is going to happen and you can be part of it with us.  Come and share in a day filled with story telling, laughter, connection, likely some tears and definitely the sweetness of knowing you and your story have a place to be embraced.


DSC_0512Tracy 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 30 years, she is mother to five kids.  After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.  She writes about her life and her work here.
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