Shades of pink stretched across the horizon and the air was thick and warm. Mark and I had a plate of nachos between us and had chosen to sit outside despite the heat. Her text dropped onto my phone around 6 p.m., “Thinking of you today, and holding this day 18 years ago.” As I read her words, I easily pictured her on that evening standing near my hospital bed, long past visiting hours, holding the baby girl we had nearly lost earlier in the day.
More than any other story in my life, that day was and is a both/and balancing act for me—my body holding the trauma that unfolded, threatening to give us a tragic ending, and my heart full of gratitude for the miracle that left us holding Elizabeth Hope safe and sound that evening. In one day I felt the fullness of what it is to hold life and death in your body and the unknown of how it will end.
As women we all know that story to some extent. Our bodies are made to birth life, and we know a monthly cycle that sheds blood. That blood—its presence or absence—can be a source of joy or other times it can bring grief. It can signal new life or the reality of death. In our bodies we feel ache, longing, emptiness, joy, possibility, hope, and grief. This is the core of womanhood.
I am culling through memories as part of the process in discerning how we will honor the 10-year anniversary of Red Tent Living. My journals sit on the second shelf from the bottom in a bookcase on the landing of the second story. It’s a hodgepodge grouping–some hardcover, some soft, various sizes, often with a few blank pages at the end. Recently, I pulled them all out, reading them over several mornings as I sipped my coffee.
As a pastor’s wife in a conservative evangelical free church, I began my journey of recovery and returning. Returning for the girl I left behind, returning to find the woman deep inside of me, recovering more of the original beauty of how God made me. I began to be curious about my life, choosing to notice and listen instead of moving on and declaring healing. The process was messy, and to those around me, it didn’t always feel like what was happening was good or helpful. In fact, there were people who wished I would continue as I was…disciplined and dutiful.
The work of returning surfaced desires for more in my relationships with women. Church Bible studies and “Bunko” groups weren’t nurturing the conversations and connections I needed. And so I took a risk. I sent an invitation for dinner in my home to eight women, hoping perhaps four or five would come. Surprisingly, they all said yes.
Something magical happened around my table that night. We laughed, we cried, and we talked about our fear of vulnerability and how risky it felt for several of them to accept the invitation. The stories told were both similar and different. Each woman brought what she felt comfortable sharing, and we held the stories in balance with one another. No comparing, no judging, just listening and connecting as we found common ground in what was provoked in our hearts for one another.
All of the memories in my journals are not comfortable to read because the space of this Red Tent mirrors our lives, holding both birth and loss. Women have come and stayed, and women have come and gone. We’ve held the birthing of new life, the beauty of friendships and love deepened, and the glory of freedom where there was once shame. And we have grieved dreams unfulfilled, irreparable relational ruptures, and lives tragically lost.
Every moment of beauty in our lives comes dipped in glory and loss.
I believe true celebration occurs when we embrace both the glory and the loss, and it is something we have to choose. Celebration for me is when I am awake and aware of God’s faithfulness woven throughout the tapestry of my life.
This week I will help my fourth child pack up and head out for college. Nearly every day I can feel the invitation to choose. A season is ending, and change is on the horizon. There is glory in it, and I will feel the loss of her presence each day in our home. The celebration of graduation is now punctuated with the shift of her leaving. It is good, and there is sadness running right alongside the feelings of joy and gratitude.
This year will mark the end of a season for Red Tent Living, a decade in which much has changed in our world and our individual lives. We will be celebrating, remembering, and marking God’s faithfulness woven throughout the tapestry of this sacred space for women.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 35 years, she is mother to five kids, two son in laws and is 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.