I finished speaking to the crowd, I gathered my bags and boxes of books from backstage, and I made my way out to the lobby, to the half of the merchandise table that would be mine for the morning and afternoon. A break was coming after the next speaker, and I wanted to be ready for what I hoped might be a rush of people who would like to know more about And Life Comes Back.
By the time I got to the table, there was a line of 25 people. Lined up, patiently waiting. They had stepped out of the session early so they could get in line to get a signed copy of the book.
From a marketing standpoint, this is awesome. And many people at the publishing house I work with are delighted by this kind of a response.
From a practical standpoint, I was not ready. I wasn't ready! I didn't have my books set out. I didn't have my cash box ready. My ipad wasn't yet connected to my hotspot since internet in the arena was sketchy, so I couldn't use my software for receiving credit cards. I was all thumbs, I tell you. My thoughts were a mess, my words were jumbled, I couldn't seem to find one thing that would lead to another and rectify this moment.
I shared a table with Jennifer. She sold the book her husband had written, a small group's guide to freedom. Jennifer stepped into help me, immediately receiving payment from cash buyers. And eventually, I found my groove. But I'll tell you: it was a stressful few minutes when all I could think about were the people who waited, the people whom I served with no efficiency whatsoever.
But that's not what they were thinking. Because, I learned, they knew me now. I had just stepped off the stage and shared the shattering of my life, the beginning of redemption that is unfolding in my life.
I had been vulnerable, and my vulnerability gave them permission to speak. My story had triggered something within them, some piece that needed out. So they lined up at my table, and I listened to their stories. They handed me their hidden treasures, their greatest pain, their darkest hours.
A girl whose boyfriend just lost his mom. I later met the boyfriend, too.
The father who celebrated his daughter's 18th birthday, although she died eleven years ago. She slipped away in his arms after a long battle with cancer that should never touch childhood at all.
The woman whose story matches mine; her husband died when she was six months pregnant. But now she is married again with four healthy children, and she thought she was healed and whole. She stood before me, her hands shaking in mine, and she said, "Tricia, I thought I was done. I thought I had finished grieving this. I'm so afraid. I have so much work to do."
The woman who couldn't speak at all, but she simply extended her hands from her heart to mine.
The woman whose neighbor's husband had just died - the very night before - in San Diego's torrential rains.
The woman in public ministry who learned that her husband who has been sexually abusing their daughters, and the problem is, she doesn't hate him. She loves him. And she must leave him in the name of her daughters' safety. And she will do it all in the fishbowl of public ministry.
The young woman who said, "God asked me as I listened to you, 'Do you have what it takes? Would you give everything?'"
The mother whose daughter was born without a cerebellum, and she lived to be eight years old but never progressed out of infancy.
The woman who has written a book about her son's autism, that other families may be set free.
The woman who came to me, telling me about her widowed sister who isn't handling this well at all.
"Of course, she isn't," I said. "Neither did I."
"Stay close to her," I whispered.
I spoke with more than 200 people.
I listened to their stories. I let them cry.
And I gave them permission to feel.
And somewhere along the line, I sold some books...every book I had brought with me. And even when I had no books to give, still they came to me, that I may show them where I find my hope.
I am home now, thinking and remembering the moments, the conversations, the people, the stories, the faces. I prayed for them this morning,
the crowd and the individuals. The many and the ones.
It may seem like a doodled mess, but each one represents a person whom I carry to God today. He knows their names. I call on the Holy Spirit to intercede with sighs too deep for words.
And I am humbled.