The fall air was crisp, and the leaves on our majestic maple tree were a vivid hue of orange, almost iridescent, as I walked down the winding driveway of our Michigan home. Gathering up the contents of the mailbox, I noticed a small package addressed to me. I recognized the handwriting of a dear friend. Gifts from this friend were always rich with meaning, and my curiosity was high. Stopping on the front porch, I sat in one of the wicker chairs and tore open the brown paper. Inside was a note, “Just a little something to remind you that your Queen is good and strong. I trust you, and I am with you.” I opened the gray velvet pouch to find a sterling silver bracelet with a single charm, an intricately designed crown with the words “queen’s crown” scripted on the back.
I wore that bracelet every day as I walked through the most difficult season of leadership I have ever known. There were some glorious days when hope ran high and I felt confident and called; there were hard days when I felt grateful for my capacity and strength, believing that everything was going to be okay; and there were tragic days when I felt hurt, heartbroken, misunderstood, deeply disappointed, and quite alone. In the end, all I had and my best were not enough to bring about the reconciliation and restoration that was needed for a community that had come to feel like family. As I left the role of Executive Director, too many people who had become precious to me turned their faces, filled with disappointment and disillusionment.
The bracelet from my friend was no longer worn as a reminder of my calling; instead, I slipped it on each day as an act of hope–perhaps this tragic story marked by death and loss was not over. Perhaps my role was that of exiled queen, leading quietly, prayerfully, tending to my own heart, and waiting for what might be restored. One day, months later, my bracelet broke, the scripted crown charm falling to the floor.
I do not believe in coincidences.
My breath caught just a bit in my throat as I stared down at the symbolic queen charm laying on the tile floor. What was I to do now with my broken charm, my broken calling, my broken heart?
From the time I was young, people said I was leader. My Enneagram 8 brings a lot of leadership energy. Leaders want to lead, move ahead, set the direction, and walk towards it. Their energy usually says, “I know the way; follow me.” Some of the most challenging work for a passionate leader with a good heart is to stop and honestly sit with the paradox of their reality and their leadership. I believe this is, in part, how leaders make the transition to queens. Queens must stop, remember, ponder, feel their own ache, and prayerfully discern before moving. Because they have known death and loss, they walk tenderly into it and use their strength to create safety for their kingdom. Their energy says, “All shall be well. All shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).
Today my queen is reluctant, a byproduct of wisdom I think. Integrity inside of me feels like, “I can lead us; I know the way. Death and disappointment will surely be part of this journey. Do you want to come with me?” My own soul is not anxious to be the object of the inevitable envy and projections of blame that come with standing up as the queen for an organization. I have known death again and again, and while I have also tasted the surprise of resurrection, it has never looked like I thought it would because that is the nature of resurrection.
People tend to want guarantees from their leaders; the unknown space of waiting and wondering while holding the agony of death and loss is not a space many are willing to enter alongside a once beloved queen.
As I type those words, I can feel the tender edges of what remains scarred still in my own heart.
My queen is most likely to be found sitting in her turquoise velvet chair, bringing her “all shall be well” energy to clients, helping to create containment that allows them to walk into their own scenes of death and loss. But, in recent months, I have heard the call to lead once again with more risk, to hold my arms out and say, “Yes, let’s build and create again” for the Red Tent community. My reluctant queen is praying, pondering, listening, and discerning. More is coming, and I am choosing to remind myself that all shall be well.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 35 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastor’s 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.