It started with a mix-up over the starting time of the Women of Faith conference I was planning to attend. Turns out it started on Friday morning, not Friday evening as I had thought. I'd planned to ride out with my friend Cindy, but she couldn't get off work on Friday, so I had to scramble to find another ride. After a flurry of emails, I arranged a ride with an acquaintance, Tonya, and her lovely daughter Cassi. They even picked me up so I didn't have to leave my car somewhere overnight. All the time that I was enjoying their conversation, on the way there and at lunch, I kept thinking, "Thank you, God! You are so good to me."
God had blessed them, too, and they were thrilled to be there; they couldn't have gone had a friend not given them two tickets.
On that first day at the conference, I had the pleasure of hearing Sheila Walsh for the first time. What a delightful woman! She has a catchy sense of humor and a lovely Scottish accent that reminds me of my mother-in-law's friend Aggie, to whom I could listen all day long. More importantly, Sheila speaks from her heart to mine. I lost track of how many tears I shed, both happy and sorrowful. It was a good thing I'd been in a hurry that morning and hadn't bothered with any makeup.
Tonya and Cassi had to leave on the afternoon break, at 3:30, and I needed to make my way to Hotel Indigo, where a friend had booked a room for me. The hotel shuttle pulled away just as I arrived, and my nervousness mounted as I waited in the sweltering heat. The crowd swelled with each passing minute, but I felt painfully alone amid the swirl of conversation and laughter. Sweat trickled down the back of my knees and down my sides, but I was afraid to back into the shade of the giant silver boot that marked the pickup spot because I didn't want to lose my spot at the front.
When the second shuttle arrived, about 15 agonizing minutes later, I pressed forward but then held back. I was pretty sure I was one of the first ones there, but I felt guilty to put myself ahead of all the other women who were waiting. A cool breeze from the air-conditioned interior finally tipped the scale, and I climbed in.
There was just one sort-of-empty seat left, on the back row. Three other women were already crowded onto the bench seat, and there was a small space left for me, but no place for my little suitcase. I stumbled down the side of the van anyway, set my suitcase down in front of the seat, and sort of vaulted over it, plopping down next to a blonde woman who looked about my age.
I'm not sure why I struck up a conversation with her, probably to distract myself from my embarrassment. "Are you here alone?" I asked hopefully.
She pointed to the front of the van. "No, I'm here with a group of women, and a couple of them are here in the shuttle."
"Oh," I said, a stab of guilt piercing me since I'd probably denied one of her friends this seat.
"How about you?" she asked.
I explained that I was alone at the hotel but that my friend Cindy would be at the conference that night and the next day. We chatted easily for several blocks, and I learned that she lived just 20 minutes away from me and also that she'd been at the hotel the night before. Just as we arrived, I screwed up my courage and gave voice to my biggest worry. "Do you know what there is to eat around here? Is the hotel food expensive?"
"I don't know about the hotel food," she answered, "but my friends and I are going to walk to a restaurant. Do you have anyone to eat with?"
I told her I might be meeting up with Amber, who'd booked the rooms, but I wasn't sure where she was or what her plans were.
"Well, we're in room 807," the woman said. "You're welcome to join us if you'd like."
"What's your name again?" I asked sheepishly. "I'm terrible with names."
I settled into my empty room and thought about a nap, but there wasn't really enough time, and I was afraid if I dropped into bed after the prior night's insomnia I might not wake up in time for the evening session, or I might miss dinner, which might be even worse.
I sat with my hand on the phone for several seconds while I hemmed and hawed. Was Lorrie just being nice, or did she really want me to come along? What if I went along and I didn't like her? Sighing with exasperation at my own indecision, I finally phoned room 807. Thankfully, Lorrie answered. "Come on over," she urged. "We're still figuring out where to go."
There were about six women in the room, plus four or five more from the room across the hall. They welcomed me warmly, and one of the women shocked me by handing me a gift bag clear full thoughtful little items. I didn't have time to go through it at first, but I carried that yellow bag to the Mexican restaurant, back onto the shuttle, and to the conference.
Lorrie and I talked all through dinner and on the walk back to the hotel, and we discovered that we have a lot in common. Our meeting was starting to feel momentous, and I had the feeling that God was doing what I so often pray He'll do for others: He was surrounding me with little reminders of his love, what a blogging friend calls serendipities. Lorrie felt the same way; she told me in a Facebook message the next night,"I think God set up our encounter.. No doubt."
Despite my anxiety, I arrived at the prescribed meeting place with three minutes to spare and was able to connect with Cindy to hand over her ticket. After all that walking and riding on a crammed shuttle, I was parched, but I didn't want to spend $4.50 on a bottle of water. Cindy bought me one. And then she wrote me a check for both her portion and my portion of the hotel room--this despite the fact that she wouldn't be able to stay overnight after all. "I want to do this," she assured me. I thanked her profusely and thanked God too; He knew how concerned I'd been about all the weekend's expenses.
The evening session was mainly worship. We sang with twins Mary Mary (neither of whom is named Mary, by the way). They made us want to kick the Shackles off our feet so we could dance. After that we heard more from Sheila Walsh, who made me cry again. We ended the evening with a concert from Natalie Grant, who has a phenomenal range.
At 10:00, we hurried out to Cindy's car with two other ladies from Hotel Indigo who would not have to wait for the shuttle. (Okay, so most of my serendipities came as a result of Cindy's kindness!) We made it through the snarled traffic in the lot and safely navigated the one-way streets with only one extra trip around the block.
My roommate still had not arrived when I let myself into the room, so I had plenty of time to relax all by myself, a very rare treat (one more serendipity). I settled onto the comfy queen bed and unpacked my now ratty yellow gift bag. Wow! There was a starter kit from the Beauticontrol skincare line--after I'd just asked God whether I should cut my expensive skincare products out of our budget--along with some aromatherapy foot cream for my cracked heels, some intensive hand cream for my rough hands, and a lip balm/lip peel which I still haven't figured out how to use on my dry lips. There were many other items including lipstick and nail polish in my favorite shades and a little charm bracelet that Allyson later appropriated. And though I wouldn't appreciate the providence of it until the next morning when I unpacked my toiletries, there was even a tube of fragrant deodorant. Slipping between the cool, clean sheets I murmured, "Thank you, God! You are so good to me!"
I slept like a baby despite the city noises and my roommate's arrival around midnight. I woke at 7:00 and headed downstairs for breakfast by 7:30. In the hotel restaurant, I ran into the ladies who'd ridden with us the night before, so I didn't have to eat alone. We had lots of time to talk since it took forever to put in our order and get our breakfast. I was convinced I'd be late to the conference and that Cindy would be worried, but we climbed right on the shuttle at 8:45, and I was back in my seat just as the timer on the giant screen wound down to 0:00. (Cindy wasn't there yet, and I worried about her.)
Cindy arrived about ten minutes later, and we enjoyed another day of inspiring speakers and music that stirred our souls. I can't describe how it felt to stand with hands raised to heaven, singing praises with my dear friend Cindy and 13,000 other women. If you haven't been to Women of Faith, you should definitely try it!
You don't have time to read about all I learned, but here are a few highlights:
- From Sheila Walsh, a story of how God showed her she was holding back a portion of herself from her husband because she was afraid to love anyone enough to make herself vulnerable. This brought tears of recognition.
- From Luci Swindoll: She encouraged us to step out there and do what God has called us to do, not to worry whether we're smart enough or strong enough because God will equip us. She even encouraged us to "write that book" if God has given us the story. That gave me goosebumps!
- From Michelle Aguilar, 2008 winner of The Biggest Loser: "Feel the fear and do it anyway."
Okay, one last "serendipity": On the way home, I discovered that Cindy's car has air conditioned seats! I didn't even know such a luxury existed. It felt so, so good on my sticky thighs. God is so good to me!
Do you have any serendipity stories, ways that God has shown His love to you or someone you know? I'd love to hear them.