I felt tired, unusually tired. It was early December and I had figured the two trips we had taken in late October and early November plus the holiday schedule were responsible for my lack of energy. Two weeks later that tiredness was accompanied by feelings of nausea when I brushed my teeth in the morning. The week before Christmas I pushed through my resistance and purchased a pregnancy test. I remember laying it carefully on the second shelf of the linen closet in our bathroom. I sat in our glider chair and slowly rocked back and forth wondering if there would be one or two pink lines when I returned to the bathroom. As I rocked my heart was sliding back and forth between fear about what the truth might mean and stunned wonder at what God might be doing.
It was a sacred interruption that waited for me on the second shelf of that cabinet and my life was altered in unexpected ways that have been both glorious and difficult. That was thirteen years ago. I was already mothering four kids ranging from 16 months to 17 years old, I’d lost five babies to miscarriage and I was 41 years old. To say I had a lot of feelings about being pregnant again is an understatement.
When the version of my faith no longer held up under the weight of my actual life’s unbelievable circumstances I began my journey of “deconstruction”. The God I had been introduced to and the Jesus I had been handed were not enough. In that season I questioned, wrestled, wondered and pushed hard against the literal, rule bound, evangelical traditions that had marked my journey. I felt uncomfortable sitting in the pews at church, and the fact that Mark was a pastor amplified the disruption of it all. There were days when I wondered if I might just walk away from Christianity. There was a plea from my soul for God to make himself known to me. Today I can look back at those unbelievable circumstances and call them sacred.
Everything about the nativity story is unexpected, shocking, and disruptive to me.
I think we like to act as if Mary and Joseph were solidly bought in on the idea that they were fulfilling some ancient prophecy, but I don’t think so. I think their faith might just have been somewhat deconstructed by the whole thing. I imagine their feelings were all over the map. Mary was young, 14-16 years old. She was carrying a story too big for her in every way. And on the night we romanticize she was in a cave in Bethlehem, laboring. There was no “Red Tent” for Mary, where she would have been attended to by women caring for her and talking her through what was happening. I imagine she was terrified and asking, “Seriously, God?!” And just a few hours later that cave was filled with men, coming to see her baby. And so, we have a 14 year old girl with a newborn in a cave in Bethlehem surrounded by men and farm animals recovering from giving birth to the savior of the world.
The scene is truly unbelievable.
It is in the midst of the unbelievable that my faith was reconstructed, God came for my heart by disrupting the status quo and blowing up my orderly, obedience driven self-righteous faith. What has been rebuilt is a larger structure, with more rooms, a bigger table and plenty of space for unanswerable questions to belong.
Red Tent Living is a global sisterhood of women. Holding my arms open to welcome, nurture and lead in this space would not have been possible before the deconstruction, before the sacred interruptions.
The nativity scene I am holding close to my heart today sits in a hotel lobby in Bethlehem. The mysterious street artist Bansky has taken a piece of the barrier wall damaged in what appears to be an attempt to destroy it and created this scene he has named “Scar of Bethlehem”.
I can’t help but wonder where the bullet that ripped through the wall finally lodged. The shrapnal pieces creating the image of a starburst, violence from today framing the hope-filled story of the Incarnation. Blonde haired Mary and white baby Jesus feel particularly shocking to me as I consider that this scene is on display in a Palestinian hotel. The tension of this piece invites me to feel, to think, to ponder, and pray. Isn’t this how God comes–fragile and small to the spaces that have known violence, where peace is needed most?
May we be women who are willing to think, in different ways, about the Christmas story and every story. May we be open to the divine interruptions that are inviting us to know God more deeply, to experience him more fully and to carry the gospel more generously into a world aching for the presence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 32 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastors wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.
Tracy – The first thing I saw when I saw the nativity picture was not a star, but a cross. So long ago he came in an unexpected way and he continues coming to us in unexpected, disruptive, holy ways….. Thank you for your forthrightness as you so beautifully write about wrestling with your faith – the deconstruction. And thank you for your beautiful heart that sees and welcomes women from all walks of life who have stories to tell and who long for others to hear – to truly hear what their hearts are longing to say with words – written words – words that have space in Red Tent Living. Thank you beautiful Miss Tracy for sharing your words and your beautiful heart with us and for using your deconstruction to construct and create something beautiful.
May God bless you in this most holy season.
Thank you, Tracy, for this beautiful site that nourishes so many of us. There are so many perspectives and reflections and shared confidences here. I read these posts daily and am always enriched by them.. Blessings.
Love your story, the imagery and the photograph that invite us into the largest story imaginable
Dear Tracy, wow…. I had never pondered the boys and men around her without a woman. Possibly even the text illustrates misogyny that has always been! Certainly that has led to all depictions of the birth of Jesus with Mary surrounded by men. How I hope there were women with her. I think our gender has been written out of so many heroic, mystical and holy settings.
Thank you for sharing your story and also your thoughts on what Mary and Joseph must have been experiencing as newly weds and new parents. I’ve spent my whole life romanticizing (and buying) the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I had a Wow! moment when I read your thoughts on what was more likely the real situation. “A cave filled with men”, and we still live in a similar world today. I’ve often wondered how she managed to go on with her every day life, how she dealt with Joseph’s hesitancy, and whether or not the women in her life ridiculed and ostracized her. And, I’ve never thought the birth of Jesus, the time away in Egypt, the return to a different city every actually erased the “talk behind her back” about her pregnancy before she and Joseph were married. I know today there is often gossip about an unplanned pregnancy for an unwed mother. Why would it have been any different then? In all of scripture, we rarely hear Mary speak; she pondered everything in her heart. Her presence in Jesus life and ministry are prominent, and we get glimpses of the woman, mother, and disciple, Mary. Mary was the only earthly person with Jesus from conception to ascension. Oh, the stories she must have to tell.