Jodie
SO... This is gonna be fun.

A lot of you know the story of my story, and if you don't, you can read it here.

A year ago, when I was starting to get knee-deep into the story, Samantha (who is the main character... everybody say, "Hi, Sam!") let me know she was in public relations for a NASCAR team. I sort of fought on that one. I mean, really? I like NASCAR. I think Mark Martin pure ol' rocks in every way. I don't like Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch (which, I think, makes me a REAL fan... just kidding). And I really wish Michael Waltrip could catch a break. I'm an old-school racing kind of girl, who misses Dale Jarrett and Terry Labonte, loves the fact that Jeff Burton is still going strong, and wishes the powers that be would ease up and let the boys race.

But, I digress. I like NASCAR, but writing a novel with a main character on the "carpet" side of the sport? Well, it just smacked of writing for a niche. I figured I'd get laughed at when I got around to making proposals. Still, God (and Samantha) wouldn't leave me alone. So, a PR rep for a NASCAR team Sam is.

Guess how much research info there is out there about public relations mangers in NASCAR? Just about zilch. I found nothing. So I thought I'd email a few race teams to see if they'd answer my questions. I aimed for the lower tier, figuring they'd give me the time of day since I'm pretty much "nobody." The whole time I'm emailing them, God has Jeff Burton's name running around in my head. It was like when you get a song stuck up there that just won't go away. I tried to ignore it because, in case you don't know, Jeff Burton drives for Richard Childress Racing. And if you don't know who Richard Childress is, then... uhm, we'll just say he's one of the big dogs in the racing world. The late Dale Earnhardt drove for him.

And that is why I kept saying, "God, I will not call RCR. That's crazy talk, God. You don't know what you're saying." (Ha ha) Four or five non-answers later, I sat down at my desk one day and argued with God about this whole RCR thing. And then I caved and said, "FINE! I'll email them, alright?" Uhm, no. He made me CALL. I, little bitty nobody Jodie Bailey had to pick up the phone and dial up Richard Childress Racing. Uh, yeah. This is so gonna work, God. They're too busy. There is no way they'll help me out. Just... none.

Well, lo, and behold, God knew what He was talking about. (Who knew?) The nicest lady took me seriously and patched me through to the voicemail of their director of communciations. And he called me back.

God bless that sweet man, he has spent a year walking me through my Sam's job via email. I have tried not to be a nuisance and to limit my questions to less than once a month, because racing is a seriously busy job, especially when you are at RCR. But he has been wonderful and quick to respond to my queries and has made my story ring true. I am beyond grateful for his time and I owe him tons for the help I couldn't have gotten anywhere else. That's humbling beyond belief, to have someone take the time to help you out when they don't have to.

And now, God bless him yet again, after a year of putting up with my questions, he is working to allow me to observe one of his PR managers during the Atlanta race this fall! Folks, I'm beside myself. I thought it was past awesome that someone who does my Sam's job would take the time to answer my questions. But to let me observe someone doing the job in person? That. Rocks. I get to watch a real live Samantha in action. I get to follow in my character's footsteps.

Now that? THAT is awesome.

God blows my mind...

JB
Jodie
Ooh! It's time for a new segment here on the blog that as yet has no name (anybody want to get creative for me?). I read way more than I should (although now that I'm writing, I get to call it "reserach," and I feel less guilty about that), so why not share the awesome stuff I get to lay eyes on every day?

Now, I don't know the "rules" for posting book reviews, so I'm just going to tell y'all what I liked about it. Does that work? If it doesn't you can quit reading now. I won't know you quit, so it won't hurt my feelings. (Unless you tell me, and then it might hurt my feelings. So don't tell me.)

Well, I just finished Kaye Dacus's latest, Menu for Romance. It's the second book in her Brides of Bonneterre series.

And I hated to see it end. I know that's cliche', but it's true.

I read the first book, Stand in Groom a couple of months ago, and I was thrilled to see Anne and George from that book make some hefty appearances in this one. While this is not a sequel, it did continue the previous story in some of the subplots. I loved that, since I always hate to put down a good book and wish I'd seen more of what happened after the ending. Kaye Dacus gave us a bit of a sneak peek into the continuing lives of her previous protagonists. Nice.

This second book focuses on Anne's cousin Meredith and family friend/employee Chef Major O'Hara. (And truly, the only problem I had with the whole book was the name Major. Because of my proximity to the Army, I kept picturing him as military, crew cut and all. There's a reason for his name, so don't let my mental images throw you off...) Folks, these two love each other but things--namely things within themselves--are keeping them apart. (Oh, and handsome contractor Ward Breaux isn't helping matters any.) Yes, it's a classic romance plot. But there is a reason that plot is classic: it works. And Kaye Dacus makes it work here. I cared a whole lot about Major and Meredith, and I found myself sympathizing a lot with Major, which made me like him all the more. His mother is a doozie of a woman who made me laugh and want to cry, sometimes all in the same sentence. She came awfully close to being my favorite character. But it was her son that ultimately "stole my heart."

To me, this is Major's story. Here's a man who is staring into the face of his dream job, his dream woman, and even his dream kitchen... and something stands in the way of all of it. Actually, one single thing stands in the way of all of it. But, Major? Are you sure the "one thing" is what you think it is?

The climax of the novel comes from a direction I did not expect at all. In fact, Ms. Dacus made me suspect I knew what was coming... then she threw me a curveball. I think I fell in love with her for doing that. I was doing a mental sigh thinking I could see the cliche' coming a mile away, but the cliche' never came. That rocked, and may well have been my favorite thing about the book. I actually set the book down, looked at my husband and said, "She just didn't do the thing I thought she was going to do, and it was so cool!"

So, yes. I say, spend some time with Major and Meredith. (Who I only just realized have the same first initial.) It's a wonderful trip to Louisiana.

And, after all, who doesn't love a man who cooks?

Jodie
I reckon when it comes to losing people, I've been extraordinarily blessed. It's been twelve years since I lost anyone close to me. Wednesday, July 8, that changed. Around 6:30, my uncle called to tell me my grandmother was gone. It's news that still hasn't become real, even though it's nearly two weeks later. All of us always figured she'd live to be a hundred or more, still going strong. You had to know her to understand that. She was forming and installing kitchen countertops until she was pushing seventy years old. She worked at our regional theater costuming huge shows for the last twenty or so years of her life. That involved running up and down three flights of industrial stairs and climbing ladders in the costume "closet" that's bigger than my apartment and working from dawn 'til long into the night for weeks on end. She kept up a yard that measured in at an acre--by herself. In fact, the day before she died of a heart attack--a heart attack she was having the whole time--she painted shutters and picked up pine cones and washed gutters.

My grandmother helped my dad raise my brother and me. It seems like we were at her house more than we were at our own. When I think of home, it's her house that jumps to mind. Off the school bus at her house when we were little, summers in that huge back yard sliding on a makeshift slip and slide made from huge sheets of plastic that had once covered kitchen counters during shipment. She sewed our clothes. And could she ever sew! She made my wedding dress. At the theater, she whipped out everything from Victorian dresses to petticoats to P.T. Barnum's ringmaster outfit to Sharpay's over-the-top costumes for High School Musical. One of my favorite pictures of her ever is when she costumed Abe Benrubi for Of Mice and Men probably ten years ago:



I spoke to her on the phone just about every day, sometimes three or four times if her cat (which was once my cat) was being particularly cute that day. She mothered me like no one else. Between her and my Aunt Shirley, I was covered.

My brother and I (and probably a few dozen other people) called her Bopum. (The "p" is silent.) It's a strange name, I know, and one I came up with when I was a baby. It stuck. And it was fitting. She was so much more than a grandmother. I spoke to her on the phone just about every day, sometimes three or four times if her cat (which was once my cat) was being particularly cute that day. When I married my Army husband and we moved away to Michigan for three years, she visited eight times. The first time was less than two months after I moved away.

She made caramel cake for me every birthday. And if we were stationed out of town, she'd send one with the first person coming to visit me after my birthday, or she'd have one waiting when I stepped into her house. One of the last things we did together was make caramel cake this past Easter.

She bought me a typewriter when I was eleven. My biggest fan from the get-go, she encouraged me to write and write and write and write, even when she didn't exactly like what I was writing. (I went through a "there's no such thing as a happy ending" phase that she wasn't too happy about.)

She hated it when I wore baseball caps. H-A-T-E-D I-T. I think she'd have sooner seen me bald than in a baseball cap. :-)

She went to Egypt, Spain, Scotland, England (twice), and road-tripped across the country in her seventies.

She bought probably 75% of the clothes I own. Good sales were among her favorite things, and she'd always call me to tell me about the $150 shirt she bought for $2.99 at Belk's. Oh, and she had more shoes than Imelda Marcos, I think. I heard about every single sale at John Allen shoes back home. Oh, and funky socks. Don't get me started on the funky socks.

She loved hummingbirds. In fact, when she first got email, her address was hummingbird inspired.

And my Bopum could tell a story. "Did I tell you about the snake I saw in the yard? Well, I went out to change the filter in the pump house, because that has to be done every three months. The last time I changed it was the day that big storm blew up and knocked the tree over onto the Jones's garage. That was a horrible storm. We all thought they'd have to tear the garage down, but they didn't. They got by with re-roofing it. Anyway, the pump filter had to be changed and I had to run to town to get a new one, because I forgot I put the last one in last month. Have you seen what color the Smiths painted their house? I had to pass it on the way to town and it looks horrible. I hope that's just the base coat..." And twenty minutes later, you'd get to how she killed the snake with the hoe in the back yard. I'm gonna miss those stories. Of course, my husband says I tell them the same way, so...

I talked to her on the phone about six hours before she died. It was a short conversation, because she told me she had food poisoning. She knew the truth, that it was a heart attack. Only two things really scared my grandmother (although she worried about a million others, I think): Alzheimer's and being an invalid. We found out she knew all along about the heart attack and didn't tell any of us. She was pushed into going to the doctor for her stomach and died in that office. The doctor stepped out for about thirty seconds to grab her chart off of the wall and my Bopum was gone when she came back in. She'd have chosen that. Quick. And she loved her doctor, so she was certainly not alone.

I could write books about her (And who knows? Someday, I might.) but I'll stop here. She'd have fussed at me for saying this much already.

Today would have been her 81st birthday, but she never got old.

Jodie
Got the Newsboys song "I Surrender All" running around in my head today.

Surrender. When I hear the word, I think of those old black and white movies where aliens invaded the earth. Aside from being taken to our leader, they typically wanted us to surrender. Don’t know why, but that’s the first thing that pops into my head.

Surrendering to aliens? That’s scary. Surrendering to God? That’s scarier. At least we could see the aliens with our eyes and, hey, typically, we knew exactly what they were up to.

It’s not so with God, is it? We don’t always know what He is doing. He doesn’t clue us in; He doesn’t have to clue us in. And that’s what makes the idea of surrender so scary to us. Believe me, the devil loves nothing more to manipulate that fear so that we try to handle everything in our lives right by ourselves instead of giving it over to God to take care of for us. The devil convinces us that we won’t like what God does, that if we surrender to God, He will take control and lead us down paths of destruction and pain.

I well remember the first time I faced surrender. I was 27 years old. It was just after September 11, 2001. Family life at Fort Bragg was really uncertain. Nobody knew who was leaving when or for where or for how long. Most of the Special Forces soldiers had already pulled a vanishing act, and it was anybody’s guess when the rest would be wheels up for parts unknown. Like most military wives, I wrapped my (literal and figurative) arms around my man and held on tight. My prayers were mostly me screaming at God to not send Paul anywhere, because I just couldn’t handle it. In my mind, a deployment was the absolute worst possible thing that could ever happen.
And in the midst of all of that, God started telling me to let go. In Bible study, we talked about surrender. It felt like every sermon I heard was about surrender. Every song on the radio? You got it… surrender. I am almost certain God would have resorted to billboards if I hadn’t gotten the picture, He was firing that word at me so heavily. There just was no peace anywhere.

Then came that pre-dawn October morning. To this day, I can see it, smell it, taste it, feel it… I was on my knees in our living room and staring at a crossroads. I knew with everything in my spirit that I had to place my life (including my husband) squarely in God’s hands and stop trying to do it myself. But my mind didn’t agree. The devil had full control, telling me to hold on, that I couldn’t protect Paul if I let him go…

And that is when the devil went one step too far, because it hit me that I couldn’t protect Paul or myself at all. The fact was, that I didn’t hold him anyway, even though I had this illusion that I did. I felt like Saul on the Damascus road, when the blinding light appeared. (Maybe it was just the lightbulb over my head?) God is the only one who is with me and with Paul--and now with our daughter—everywhere we go. As long as I was trying to hold on to Paul, God couldn’t. That was the scariest thought of all.

Right then and there, I literally shoved my hands out in front of me and said, “Take it. Take it all, take us all… I’m yours. Send me where you want. Send Paul where you want… because being out of Your will is the worst place to be of all.”
Paul did not go to Iraq until nearly five years later. And when he did, both of us were ready because God had made us ready. I thought it would be the worst thing that could ever happen, but to be quite honest, it was the best. We’ve never walked closer to God or to each other than we have during or since that deployment. I didn’t say it was easy, but it sure was easier knowing that God had it.

And lest you think surrendering is a one-time thing… nope. Sometimes we take what we lay on God’s altar right back. We pick it up again. Sometimes, especially during deployment, I had to put myself and Paul back in God’s hands dozens of times a day. At one point, right after three of our soldiers disappeared, I nearly physically exhausted myself trying so hard to “keep him safe.” Somewhere, I got the idea that if I quit praying for an instant or he was off of my mind for an instant, I’d lose him. (I think we all know who that idea came from, huh?) It took me nearly a month to figure out that I was trying to protect him myself… an impossible task.

Surrender is something we all need to do. We all need to give our lives over to God and let Him have control. In all honesty, when we “give” our husbands or our children or our writing to Him, we are really giving over ourselves and our control over our lives. Tough, but necessary and, in the end, easier.

It is all about trust. God says that He will never leave us or forsake us. He will never do anything to hurt us. Do we trust and believe that in our heart of hearts? Do we believe that no matter what—good or bad—God is always always always operating in our best interest? Failure to believe that is what makes surrender hard. No, life isn’t always easy or fair, and we don’t always get what we want. But God makes sure we always get what we need… if we let Him.

JB

Jodie
"Hey, hey, hey! Wait a minute, wait a minute..." If your name is Laura, you can finish that quote--in private. :-) The rest of you are saying that because, if you've read this blog for long, you know one of the first posts on here (maybe even THE first post on here) was about this song. Hey, with me, songs can do double duty quite a bit.

In a lot of ways, I think God let Brandon Heath record "I'm Not Who I Was" just for me. A lot has come up in my life since the first time I heard this song. A lot of things that remind me of the past. A lot of things that let me know I'm not who I was back then anymore. For one thing, I wrote a book that dealt with some spiritual issues in my past. And before God would let me write the book, He took me back through a lot of it (inside of me) and made me let it go. I was holding onto some bad stuff sort of like a security blanket.

If you follow me on Twitter or have friended me on Facebook (and if not, why haven't you?), you may have seen a status update this past week: "Tripped on memory lane last night. Ouch. Thankfully, I didn't break my neck."

You should know this is one of those posts that's not for the squeamish. It's one of those "get real because somebody else may need to hear this" kind of posts. Let's just say you were warned. :-)

So... there are people in your past who should stay in your past. It's not necessarily that they are bad people, it's that you become a different person--a person you don't need to be--when you are with them. You become the person God delivered you from. I got a big ol' kick in the pants reminder of that this weekend.

It all started Sunday afternoon, when I was having a little bit of quiet time. For some reason, I wound up in my past (not for real, y'all. I'm not Marty McFly...) for a bit. God reminded me of something I did when I was much younger, something bad that He is now using for His glory. It's God's prerogative to use our bad for His good. He's God. He's good at that. Nothing gets wasted in His economy. But using something for His good does not mean the original something is no longer bad.

At any rate, sometime during God's using my Very Bad Thing, I sort of forgot how bad it was. God reminded me that it was bad. It was very, very bad and not to be taken lightly. I'm forgiven forever, but I should never take forgiveness for granted and I should never look back lightly on a sin. Ever.

Well, not four hours later, I logged onto my computer and there was that sin. It was right there. It was out of the blue and shocking and there. I had the opportunity to shake hands with it. And in truth, that handshake would have been perfectly innocent.

So, would I?

I'm forgiven, right? It's the past, right? I'm a different person, right? Right? I can wave a greeting at a sin and not get into trouble, right?

Uhm, wrong. Dancing with the devil is dancing with the devil, folks. You don't do it. At all. You don't smile at sin. You don't flirt with sin. You don't hold your hands up to your face and peek through your fingers at sin. You don't. You see it coming and you run the other way.

And you thank God for the people He has put in your life "for such a time as this," the ones who who know what you are going through and remind you of how hot the top of that stove is.

Know what? By the grace and the strength of God, I looked the other way.

And, why? Because, by the grace and the strength of God... I'm not who I was.

JB