I can’t seem to stop taking a mental inventory of my backpack and suitcase, the one somewhere in the belly of this plane, not the one still holding some of the contents from my trip to Grand Rapids for Brave On over the weekend. The turn around between trips was too short and leaves me questioning whether I have everything I will need for the next two weeks while I am traveling in Israel and Egypt.
In the past week I have been in the presence of some amazing women and listened to words that have stirred, inspired and confirmed many things in my heart.
The women of Red Tent Living were spectacular at Brave On. I am still relishing the sweetness of exchanging hugs with Beth Bruno and Susan Tucker, whom I met face to face for the first time last Thursday evening. After months and months of emails and stories exchanged via the internet we tasted the fruit of friendship as we gathered around a table on a cool Michigan evening the night before the conference. That table held women from my family, and from my childhood, women once in our young adult group when Mark was on staff at a church in San Antonio, women from Open Hearts Ministry and women I’ve met through Red Tent Living. Such a patchwork collection, and I got to listen and watch as they engaged one another. The goodness was palpable.
The conference day was all we had hoped it would be, not flawless by any means but absolutely beautiful. I was so proud of our team as they stood and shared their hearts with stunning vulnerability. At one point Nichole Nordeman leaned over to me and said, “This is amazing, the variety of women taking the stage and the stories they are sharing, just so good.” She and Sarah Bessey were both fabulous, and we were all changed and blessed from having been there together.
The Red Tent Dinner was intimate as shared we our answers to questions like, “In another life I would…” and “I am brave because…” and “What is a friend?”
We announced the date for next year’s Brave On Conference, September 22 in Austin, Texas. Many of the women who were with us last week are already making plans to join us for next year’s event.
I flew home with my heart full and two days later was at Brene Brown’s book release for Braving the Wilderness at our church in Austin. I met Jen Hatmaker in the lobby and had a few minutes to share my heartfelt gratitude to her for the work she does and the cost she has had to pay. Then I listened as Brene talked about what it means to belong and how change is most likely to occur in our divided and broken country. “It will happen in campfire conversations, not with corporate conversations or political conversations. It will happen because we initiate it and begin to live bravely with one another.”
The convergence of all these things is beyond coincidence. I believe Red Tent Living, the dinners we offer and the Brave On Conference are all venues where those kind of “campfire”conversations are happening. I saw and experienced it as the women poured into the Goei Center in Grand Rapids, there to experience more of what they had tasted from what we are offering.
What if we are part of changing the world, one post, one dinner, one event at a time?
What if each of you stepped out and risked having a dinner this fall where you could help facilitate a “campfire” conversation with some women who don’t all think like you or believe like you? What if it’s really true that it’s hard to hate people up close, and in sharing stories with women who hold different beliefs than you do something can be healed inside all of us and the goodness of Jesus and the gospel will spread in new ways? What if we actively enlarge the table together and begin a movement towards belonging and away from the silo, like-mindless that is tearing apart the church and the fabric of our nation.
I am grateful for women of Red Tent Living who are saying, “yes” and I wonder, “What could happen if we all say yes to Braving On?”
*Special thanks to Amy Paulson for all the gorgeous photographs from the day at Brave On.
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 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.