Thirty minutes later and I'm still sitting on the bench. The driver tells me he'll take me to another shuttle. He walks me around a block and points me to the shuttle area. I say, "You think I can push that cart of 150 pounds of luggage okay?" and he smiles and says, "Oh yeah, no problem." I look at him skeptically. I can just see the top bag falling off in the road I have to cross where the shuttles all go by. He says, "How about if I push it across the road?"
He gets it over the curb and I push it on down to the shuttle area and they point me toward a full van. Actually there is a seat left and I get on. Four women of the 6 people are all going to ICRS. Yeah! Girlfriends! I recognize the publications they say they are from and a couple of faces. The woman beside me has an Atlanta accent and is darling and she says, oh yes, she's from Atlanta, but now she lives in Texas. She's an author.
"Oh," I ask. "What do you write about?"
"I write about Proverbs 31 women: books on being an organized woman, an organized mom."
"I just listened to your podcast!" I exclaim. She says here name is Lane Jordan. Definitely a "God-incident."
She asks about my ministry. She has fibromyalgia but (like I did for years) she says that she doesn't really want to admit it to herself. I understand. The stigma of it can't really help a career--unless you have a chronic illness ministry like I do. Then it's credentials.
As the van drives towards Atlanta all the women pull off their shoes and share about how badly their feet are cracked from living in places like Phoenix and wearing sandals all the time. The topic of the frequency of pedicures is discussed as well as topical ointments. I am not only among friends, but SISTERS. (If you saw my feet, you'd know why.)
5:30 pm: Arrive at the hotel. Suddenly those 3 hours I lost have made me LATE! I'm staying about 1 mile from the other hotel where the meeting is. I run up to my room and impatiently wait for the bags to arrive. Dinner and the opening meeting is at 6 p.m. and I don't even know exactly where I am going. As soon as bags arrive I open them and dig. Remember, nothing is packed in an organized fashion. It came down to sizes of items and weight. I start throwing things out and getting them on! Nylons, jewelry, hairspray (the bigger your hair, the closer to God you are you know... that's the title of a new AWSA sister's book). I grab books for the freebie book table, room key, phone, and a taxi.
I walk into the hotel and ask for where AWSA is meeting. "On floor 7. Just go up the escalator."
"Okay," I smile. "Where is the elevator?"
"You don't want to use the escalator?"
"I have bad knees," I say. "I don't feel comfortable risking it."
"I could hold you," he says.
Seriously? Uh... no thanks. So he takes me around a dark curtain to the employee elevators where one gal is holding her dinner plate and another guy has a bin of laundry. "Okay," he says, "If you get on this one it will stop at floor 5 and then you can take the customer elevator up to 7. If you get on this one," he point to the other one, "it will stop at floor 12 and then you can take the customer elevator down to 7."
All-righty then. I'm never going to find them, I think. "Now the quiz" he says, and asks "where does this one stop?" When I've answered it correctly and the employees are even confused he leaves. So much for handicapped accessibility.
I finally get to the room and they are only eating salads and the one free seat is at the front table. But a friend I met last year greets me with a smile beside the empty chair. At just 23 Stacie Ruth Stoelting make me look like I've just been sitting on my hands the last ten years. Her ministry, Bright Light Ministry, encompasses her books, singing (unbelievable - please take a moment to listen to her sing Amazing Grace on her web site - wow!) and speaking. She has sung for famous people (including the President of the United States), written books, recorded with Grammy-winners, and been selected as a columnist for The 700 Club. It was a delight to meet her mom too, who attended with her. It was a little moment God gave me because my mom was supposed to be here with me this year. She is having a difficult time with diabetes and had a stroke just 2 weeks ago or she would have been.
Worship, prayer time, and a hilariously "presentation" by Anita Renfroe. She's on the Women of Faith circuit right now who describers her as “'be careful or Diet Coke will come out your nose'” funny, Anita takes ‘normal’ and turns it upside down." Are you a mom? PLEEEASE take a couple minutes to listen to her song she sang for all of us which is here on her web site. Be ready to laugh - she sings about all the things moms say to their kids - very fast!
Hugs, conversations, "so good to see you again!" and I'm back to the hotel. Only I can't remember my room number. Was is 1816 or 1618? I go to 1816. No, the placement of the 1814 DOOR looks right. I slide me card key in quietly. Red light. Hmmmm. "Can I help you, ma'am?" (Yes, sadly, I'm a ma'am now, the "Miss" days are over.) "Ummm. I can't remember my room number."
He smiles. "Just call the front desk" he says pointing me toward a phone. The front desk says a security person will have to come check my ID. I haven't taken a visit to the ladies room for 4 hours now and I've drank 4 glasses of ice tea. "Can I just tell you the credit card # it's under?" I ask. I zip off all 16 digits and she tell me my room number. She thinks I'm a bit weird. I can remember my credit card number but not my room number. Sad, but true. It was 1816. I was one door down the whole time.
11:02 p.m. It's only 8:02 at home so I call my husband and son. Josh says, "where are you mommy? Are you close?" I say, "Yes, sweetie, I'm in a hotel but I could get to you quick if I had to." Joel says, "I told him you were as far away as Hawaii." Oh well. They've had a fun day. Josh went to day camp. Joel got off work early and took him to the park. The cat brought in (another!) lizard while I was on the phone and Joel was able to catch it without even putting the phone down. "Mommy misses you. Mommy loves you." I say.
But it feels good. I needed a break and it's so refreshing to be around such amazing Godly women. And the miracle is we are all broken. Ministries are rarely formed out of happy moments, but out of the years of the locusts, those dry, dusty, dirty, droughts in life.
I try to sleep but can't, the adrenaline has kicked in from socializing (or the ice tea maybe?)
I pick up Carol Kent's new book, " A New Kind of Normal" and read until 2 a.m. about the day she found out her godly, wonderful, successful son had killed another man. The former husband of his new wife, who was abusing his daughters - and the court didn't stop it. The grief she is bearing is part of who she is. Just like illness makes all of this traveling and ministry harder, painful, even frustrating, it's a gift because it encourages others.
Knowing nothing but a miracle will get Carol's son out of his life-time sentence is scary, because... if it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone. Once upon a time her son was 4-years-old and she tucked him in saying "I love you. God loves you. God has great plans for your life," just like I do.
Who knows why God works the ways He does? Why He allows things to happen? Arranges some events in our life that seem so ordained by Him, and others that seem like He was busy with something more important at the time than our life?
I don't have answers. But I do believe that in the midst of all of these circumstances God is in control.
I know that some of you will read this and think, "Oh, she doesn't really get me after all. It must be nice to just hop on a plane and go hob-nob with the Christian-istic folks. I can hardly pay my bills. I can barely get out of bed!" You're right. I don't understand the daily life you live. No one does but you--and God. I know how blessed I am.
Despite the physical pain, the extra drugs, the debt and challenges, it is beyond my wildest expectations or dreams that God has allowed me to be in this place (Atlanta) and in this " place" (of ministry.) I know I am not worthy. But I try to shine God's glory for all to see. And I tell your stories. I hope I can be a voice for you. To talk to publishers, editors, pastors, counselors and tell them the chronically ill have needs that aren't being met. Sometimes that need is just being able to serve in your church again and not just be served! I share about how encouraging you are to me. How much you have to give. We don't have to have healthy bodies to have a joyful heart and be able to share that joy with others who are hurting.
So I ask for prayer from you. I'm very loosely adopting the apostle Paul's words from Romans 15:30:
"I urge you, brothers [and sisters], by our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued by the [doubting publishers and booksellers who think chronic illness is "no big deal"] and that my service in [ICRS] may be acceptable to the "saints" there [very loose translation huh?] , so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen."