When Strangers Become Family
Last month, I was a featured author at the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta. What an experience that was. The highlight was not speaking to an audience, signing books, or taking pictures with readers. What was an afterthought has remained in the forefront of my memory.
While in line to check into the hotel, I took an interest in a conversation being had by the ladies waiting next to me. Due to booking issues, the check-in process was time consuming. People were exhausted and frustrated, especially after long travels. The ladies seemed okay with my occasional head nod and acknowledgment of listening to their conversation, however, no introductions were made. At some point, I tipped out of line to find the restroom. On my way back, one of the ladies–who had also left the line–stopped me. She wanted to know if I traveled alone.
“Yes, I came alone.”
“Are you with a book club?” was her next question.
I leaned in for a whisper. “I’m actually one of the featured authors.” Not sure why I treated it as such a big secret. (I’m still learning that I need to exude pride about my accomplishments as a writer.)
We chatted for a few about their travel craziness. It was quite shocking all they had gone through to attend the conference: flat tires to speeding tickets to missed flights. This woman confessed, “Even through all of that, yet will I trust You. God is still good.”
We were in the midst of revival in the middle of the hotel lobby when my ringing phone cut us short. As the rest of her book club members rejoined her, she said she would be sure to come to my session as they headed toward the elevators. Her message of God’s goodness even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty replayed in my head the entire time at the conference.
That woman’s name is Sheila. I briefly saw her in passing the next morning where she reminded me that she would see me at my session the next day. After a few sessions that morning, we were dismissed for lunch. I noticed Sheila heading out of the hotel’s door with a few other ladies. I didn’t recognize all of them, but I saw her and proceeded out behind them to ask if they were going somewhere for lunch. “Yes,” was the answer and I asked to join them. I heard another “Yes.”
No one knew where we were going to eat. Almost everyone was on their phones looking up nearby restaurants. One of the ladies mentioned a restaurant they had gone to the night before. I shared that I was going that night with some friends for a birthday dinner because, hey, “Today’s my birthday,” I said. Each lady told me “Happy Birthday” and gave me a hug, which was a special gesture for me from complete strangers.
We decided on a restaurant across the street but when two ladies walked by with Chick-fil-A bags, we decided to head there. That was right up my budget alley; I knew I could afford that. Sometime between getting directions to the fast-food restaurant and crossing the street, a decision was made to eat at the initial place on the other side of the street instead.
Inside, the place was fancy. Even its name spoke expensive. But hey, it was my birthday. I would pay whatever I needed to pay to enjoy my day of birth. We ordered our food and conversed. We got to know each other. Well, they already knew one another; I was the outsider. They were able to learn a little bit about me and my journey, and I became acquainted with Tangie, Cheryln, Yolanda, Denise, and of course, Sheila, the members of Afterthoughts Book Club.
As the waiter collected our empty plates, he leaned over and told me, “I have a special birthday treat coming out for you.”
Wait, who told him it was my birthday?! One of the ladies pulled a sneaky move while I jibber-jabbered around the table. The funny thing is I am super observant, but somehow I let that one get past me. It caught me by total surprise. But what caught my surprise all the more was when Cheryln said, “Miss Julia, since today is your birthday, we would like to cover your meal.”
What? Did I just hear correctly? Complete strangers were going to pay for my meal. Wow. The gesture brought tears to my eyes. I was about to ball but Cheryln told me to stop. LOL. You see, what they didn’t know was my financial situation. Yes, I had enough to cover my meal, but money was tight on my end. I wasn’t quite sure how I would be able to move funds around to pay for another hotel room for the extra night I was staying in town. (I booked my ticket to travel home on Monday because it was a little cheaper and a friend would let me stay at her place. Unfortunately, with her work schedule and location, transportation to get me to the airport wasn’t feasible.) As my mom says, “When something changes, something changes.”
Their gesture was also a sign to me that God listened to my prayer. Again, what Sheila said the night before rang true: “Yet will I trust You.” I’d told my mom the night prior after realizing the hotel would put a $100 hold on my credit card for each night booked that I trusted God would work things out. There was no need for me to worry. Though I booked my room for three nights and that practically maxed out my credit card, I would be all right. So when these ladies covered my meal, I knew everything else would work itself out.
The ladies and I spent the rest of the day together until we parted ways at the end of the day’s sessions. The next morning, I received a text from one of the members asking for my email address. What was sent over was a template to a flyer for my session that day. She wanted to know if I approved. Heck yes. Like seriously. Another answered prayer–not the flyers itself, but someone looking out for me for once. The fact that people I barely knew took out the time to create flyers to be handed out for people to attend my session blew my mind. I’m forever looking for a team, but these ladies showed up when I wasn’t even looking and showed me that what you seek is seeking you. What you put out comes back around. Be good to people and people will be good to you. God was once again saying, “I got you, Julia. Just trust Me.”
“Okay, God. I Trust You.”
These ladies passed around the flyers, sat in the front row during my session, supported me the entire time. One even recorded it on her phone and emailed it to me. I can go on and on about the blessing these women–Tangie, Cheryln, Yolanda, Denise, and Sheila–were to my soul that weekend, and honestly, still are today. Not a week goes by that I go without communicating with at least one of them.
It amazes me how strangers can be more and do more for us than the people we consider friends. I may never know the totality of why God brought these women into my life and vice versa. I’m just glad He did. Thank you to the ladies of Afterthoughts Book Club for a birthday weekend I will never forget! It’s hard going through life alone and these ladies made me feel everything but alone.
I went to the book conference alone, but I walked away with family.