I have a question, and I want you to stop and think about it for a sec. Ready? Have you ever been raked over the coals by God? I have spent the past week getting an earful from Him and getting dragged across those coals.

Because I still battle pride. And surrender. Yep, there's more to come about surrender.

And it does not matter if you write, paint, crunch numbers, dig ditches, or build houses for a living, God wants to have control of that. Yeah, we know that, but really, do we give it to God and let Him have total control? Total control?

I think it was Monday of last week when I got the song "Lord, Reign in Me" stuck in my head. It's not that I've heard it recently and it got stuck; it just showed up one day. I've always kind of liked the song, so here I was be-bopping around the house singing it whenever it spun up in my skull.

So here I was in la-la land, singing away, when I got tripped up on the line, "Lord, reign in me... over all my dreams." Oh, yeah. Got it God. You reign over all my dreams. I dream to write these books that glorify you and, yep, you can take them wherever you want, publish them or not, I'm good with whatever. It's all yours. Yep. All yours. Uh-huh. Thumbs up. Gotcha.

And this is what He said: Uh, no. You are not okay with that. You think you are, but you aren't. Because what if I took your book and I picked it up and I put it down somewhere you don't like. What if I put your book out there but it's somewhere you've never even thought of going? What if it goes somewhere that seems contrary to everything I've shown you? (Not that He's doing that, He just got me thinking on it...)

Well, uh, okay? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized... I've got book dreams. Not necessarily to be published, but when I say, "God, take this book wherever you want it to go" I have ideas of where that might be. And what if I'm wrong?

I got a little 'tude. I wondered why He was asking me all of these things. And when I was cleaning the bathroom on Saturday (Yep, chores!), I threw down the rag I was cleaning the sink with and said, "Know what, God? This book, and Nate and Samantha in this book, are my babies. Shouldn't you ask for my approval?"

And do you know what He said? "Isaac."

He threw Abraham in my face. (Sort of.) Abraham had to take His son up on Mt. Moriah and tie him to an altar and pick up a knife and come within inches of that unthinkable sacrifice. This book is not my child in that flesh and blood sense, but God asked me if I was willing to lay it down on the altar and sacrifice it to Him. Wherever, whenever, whatever, however... Is it really and truly His to work with? Or does my mouth just like to say pretty words and pretend that it is?

As of Saturday afternoon, Going in Circles is truly on the altar. God can do whatever He wants with it, whether it is published or not, where it is published or not... It is not for my glory or my fame or my finances or even for my ministry... It belongs to God. Wherever, whenever, whatever, however He decides, that decision will be perfect, and He doesn't need me tainting it.

So, yes, "Lord, reign in me, reign in Your power over all my dreams, in my darkest hour. You are the Lord of all I am, so won't you reign in me again..."
Two things have converged for me this week. Once again, God is whomping me upside the head. He likes to do that. Maybe it's His idea of a holy pillow fight?

We're taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Again. We did it right before Paul deployed a few years ago, managed to get within a few thousand dollars of being debt free... Then we temporarily lost our sanity and backslid with two new cars. Oops.

This is one of those "get honest" kind of posts. We do great on one income in this family. We even manage to save some. But here I am, working Dave's "Debt Snowball" and looking at the job I used to have where I earned a regular paycheck. And I'm thinking, "Man. If I still had that job, in three years we'd have enough money saved to buy a house free and clear."

Oh, don't get me wrong. I love writing. I love that God is letting me do this. But there are those moments when I get my focus on what I'm missing instead of what I'm doing. Big mistake.

So, our Bible study at church is Beth Moore's Beloved Disciple. It was the first Beth Moore I did, back in 2005. (Hmm... Another repeat thing for me. Think God's up to something?) This week, most of the lessons have revolved in some way around dying to self, dying to the world, taking up your cross, sacrifice...

Uh, wait a second. God? "You talkin' to me?" (Moments like this make me wonder if God ever says, "Duh" to me.)

Being able to spend my time writing is an awesome gift. But I've been focusing too much on the gift part. It's also a huge sacrifice. It never hit me until this week that God has asked me to give something up for Him. He asked me to give up things like being able to buy a house in three years. New cars whenever I want. Spur of the moment flights to Hawaii. Because we can live comfortably on one income, two would allow us to do crazy fun things and still grow up a huge savings account.

But that's not God's plan. And it is, once again, not His definition of success. He wants me right here, butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard, working for Him. Know what? He'll take care of the rest. If I'm firmly in His will, He'll take care of the house and the savings and all of the rest. And if he wants me to fly to Hawaii on the spur of the moment, guess what? He'll provide the ticket. (But only if He wants me to go...) Because He is God and He can do that.

Writing. This is my blessing. It is also my sacrifice. Funny how God can do that, huh?

How about, today, we take a trip back to 2005. When Kelly Clarkson had the #1 song, when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith ruled the box office, and when Siri Mitchell debuted with Kissing Adrien. (I make it sound like 2005 was so long ago, don't I?

Why am I bouncing back four years? Yesterday, I went to one of my many bookshelves looking for something when my eyes found Kissing Adrien. I have read the book once or twice a year since it was released. I never get tired of it. Yes, I know how it ends. In fact, I can probably tell you every step it takes to get to the end, but boy, it gets me and shakes me every single time.

The heroine, Claire Le Noyer, takes a leave of absence from her nice, stable job and her nice, predictable boyfriend to fly to Paris after the death of a cousin she's never heard of. And she lands smack in the presence of her very nice, very unpredictable childhood friend-she-used-to-wish-was-her-boyfriend, Adrien. I love the line chosen for the back cover of the book: "The French are always up for romance, so when the crowd saw Adrien striding through the Paris airport toward me, I'm sure they were hoping for a good kiss... I was too." And, uh, by the end of the book, Jodie was too!

Siri Mitchell has a gift for description that defies, well, description. Paris is a character in this book, folks. Thanks to the narrative you can see it, you can most definitely taste it, and you can feel the enchantment in the air of the "City of Love." It may sound cliche', but to read Kissing Adrien is to buy a plane ticket to the Paris that the locals know and love. I could see it all to well. And boy, could I taste it all too well. Thanks a lot, Siri Mitchell. Your book made me gain five pounds just reading it. And then it made me want to move to Paris. Food represented a lot of things in this book and seemed to flow with the changes in Claire.

Claire has a dark raspberry chocolate and filet mignon heart, but she's living in a dry toast life. (Great. Now even my metaphors are in food.) The problem is, she's convinced herself she likes dry toast more than dark raspberry chocolate. She has even condensed her relationship with God down to bread and water. What will it take to bring the real Claire out of hiding?

Oh, yes. Meet Adrien, who is all dark raspberry chocolate and filet mignon. He challenges her ideas about faith and life and living. And Claire's heart begins to remember. Under Adrien's tutelage, she begins to awaken to her old passions: art and food and history... and Adrien himself. As she and Adrien dance the dance in their relationship, the tension between them had me sitting straight up to read it. (I started to say something cliche' like, "It would have taken a steak knife to cut the tension between them," but really, did we need any more food metaphors from me today?) I couldn't wait to see what happened, and the payoff? Oh my word. Siri Mitchell wrapped her story around me and had me totally invested in what happened between these two. I will say something cliche' here: She played me like a violin. And I loved it.

Whenever my romance writer soul is feeling a little dry, I pick up Kissing Adrien and let Siri Mitchell remind me what it's all about and how to do it perfectly. This is one of my very, very favorite books for a reason. If you've got a yen for a good romance, find a copy of this book, curl up in a chair with a good cup of coffee, and be prepared to stay until you turn the last page. You won't want to get up before that.

I'm sure most of you have at least heard about the Station Fire burning near Los Angeles over the past few weeks. MSN had a Reuters shot of it on their Week in Pictures page last week, and it actually stopped me cold for a minute. It made me think of this:

Mark 9:43 (AMP)--And if your hand puts a stumbling block before you and causes you to sin, cut it off! It is more profitable and wholesome for you to go into life [that is really worthwhile] maimed than with two hands to go to hell (Gehenna), into the fire that cannot be put out.

Matthew 10:28 (AMP)--And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).

The Valley of Hinnom (also referred to as Gehenna) was one awful place in biblical times. In the Old Testament, it is where children were sacrificed to Molech (II Chronicles 28:3). By New Testament times, it had become the giant trash incinerator for Jerusalem. And they didn't just throw garbage out there, either. Dead animals and criminals were pitched into the fire that burned constantly in the valley. The place was so horrible that hell itself was referred to as Gehenna (see the references above). It was so bad that Christians weren't the only ones using it to refer to hell. The Qur'an names hell Jahannam, which is closely related to the Hebrew Gehinnom.

What does that have to do with the Station Fire? You have to wonder if Gehenna looked anything like this (you can click on it to get a larger view):

As usual, September 11 makes me stop and remember. I doubt any of us who were alive that day can hear the date or write 9/11 and not think about it. Every time I look at a clock and see the time is 9:11 I think of it. And I remember how it felt. Oddly enough, there was no fear for me that day (and if you know me, you know how I struggled with fear back then.) There was only this overwhelming feeling that nothing would ever be the same again, of putting one foot in front of the other only because we had to do it or drop where we stood. It was one of those moments Beth Moore talks about, when you wish you had a rewind button. You will forever remember where you were standing, what you were doing, how that instant felt.

I was teaching a ninth grade Civics class that was to end at 10:10. It was about 9:50 when the knock came on my classroom door and I opened it. The science teacher pulled me into the hall, and very teacher from my floor was standing there. I'm ashamed to say my first thought flew to one of our students. We had a kid I'll call Johnny who had made quite a name for himself already that year. I couldn't fathom what he'd done to get all of us called out of class at the same time.

The science teacher looked at all of us and simply said, "We've been attacked." Who's we? Fort Bragg? The school? It was early and rumors were flying, and I'll never forget her saying, "The World Trade Center's been hit by a plane. The Pentagon's been hit. There was a car bomb at the Mall in Washington. They think the Capitol has been blown up. And there's a plane missing."

I don't know how long we all stood there and stared at her before one of the English teachers said, "You're lying." But we knew she wasn't. The other English teacher wanted to know if we should tell the students. That's when I looked up and realized that my kids could see me through the window on the door and every single one of them was staring silently. (Twenty-three ninth graders are never silent when the teacher is not in the room.) The decision was made for us. We had to tell the high schoolers.

When I walked back in the room, they all watched me and didn't say a word. I stood there and looked at them with my fingers against my lips, trying to figure out how to do this. The only thing that ran through my mind was, "How do I shatter then innocence of twenty-three kids? What do I say?" It may be the worst position I've ever been in, especially since no less than half of the kids had fathers in the military.

Their reaction was initial silence followed by dozens of questions I couldn't answer. When the bell rang, they left for homeroom and I went outside to try to reach my husband on post, wondering if I'd see him again anytime soon or if he'd be yanked up and sent to who knows where before I could talk to him. I couldn't reach him, so I called my dad and my grandmother. The kids were all outside on cell phones and nobody tried to stop them. They wanted to hear their parents' voices. Who was going to deny them that?

I stood in the parking lot and waited for a few minutes. I honestly thought Jesus was going to crack the sky that day and take us all home.

I can still see my homeroom students, the junior class. They had gone into my closet (usually a no-no) and pulled out my radio to listen to the news. It seems they knew I wouldn't mind that day, and I didn't. We sat in a circle around it and held each other and listened and waited for who knows what. They finally let us into the auditorium to watch the news live, and it wasn't until that moment that I understood that this was no small plane that had hit the towers. I pictured a Cessna. Oh, that it had been a Cessna. We were in the auditorium when the first tower fell and the principal cut the feed so the kids wouldn't be able to see anymore.

That day is like a slideshow of images to me. I was in a bubble at the school and had no idea what I would see on the drive across town to go home. Would the world look the same? Or would there be chaos? It looked the same except for the flags... they were everywhere. Everywhere. And it looked the same except for the sky. Our city is home to a military airfield and is on a major air route, so there are planes in the sky and contrails behind them all of the time. That plane-free silence was the strangest sound I've ever heard. And that perfectly cloudless sky without a single plane in it... I cannot describe how out of reality it made me feel. I stood in my yard for nearly an hour and just looked up. It was the biggest indicator to me that everything was suddenly wrong.

May we never forget. May we never forget that day and what we felt. May we never forget that nearly everyone acknowledged God that day: some cried out to Him and some shouted angrily at Him, but His existence was not questioned, was it?

May we never forget that this is why our Soldiers, our Airmen, our Marines, and our Sailors sacrifice.

May we never, ever forget.

So, yesterday I went to look up something on RCR's website while I was doing revision, and I came across this. Near the top in the center, white shirt, is me. That was a great ending to my workday, finding that.

Post driver introductions, Casey was whisked away in a Corvette convertible for his parade lap, circling the track to wave to the fans. Tim and I walked back to the car on pit road to wait for him. (I have to tell you the funny part here. I saw a million and one cool things on Sunday. And the only thing my six-year-old daughter cared about was the fact that Casey Mears was lined up right behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road. All she wanted to know was if I took a picture of Junior. For some reason we can't break her of, she calls him Junior Busch. If you're a race fan, you know that's, uhm... BAD.)

And the waiting began. We stood by the car and waited for other drivers to be introduced and to take their parade laps and for whatever else was happening up on the stage to wrap up. We had no idea what was going on because we couldn't hear a thing except the crowd cheering (or booing) since the stage faced away from us and so did the speakers.

The cool thing was the chaplain from MRO who came down the line and prayed with some of the drivers and their families, including Casey Mears and his very sweet fiance. I liked that a lot. James Dobson did the main invocation (which, again, we could only catch snatches of. I had to come home and watch it on the DVR to hear what he said. Pretty cool that it was James Dobson, though!) and Diamond Rio sang the National Anthem while we all stood line up on pit road, hands over our hearts.

And, then... we hustled out of there. It was time for the drivers to buckle in and, as Tim said, his job with Casey was done at that point. Hands off.

As we walked back to the pit box, I learned something interesting about walking in Sam's shoes. They get sticky. Very sticky. Tim warned me, then pointed to a crewmember who was spraying the asphalt with something. Pure Coca-Cola syrup. Yep, as in the soft drink. It makes the pit stall sticky so the guys don't fall when they go over the wall. Out of all of the "trivia" I learned on Sunday, that might have been the neatest little tidbit. It hasn't found it's way into the book yet, but I sure wish I could find a place for it.

The drivers got the command to start engines and it was way cool to hear them all roar to life from that close. And then they pulled out onto the track and that was even cooler. And then they took the green flag and hit full throttle and thatwas the coolest of all! The ground under my feet shook every time the pack sped by. If I tried to drink water out of my water bottle, it vibrated against my lips. Sweet.

Here's the thing about the real-life Tim's job and the fictional Samantha's job: if you want to watch a race, don't be on the team. You can only see about twenty feet of the track in front of you, the bankings in the turns, and part of the backstretch behind you. And the cars go by so fast you can't even tell who they are unless you pop your eyeballs out of your sockets trying to watch them. I actually got a chuckle out of standing in the pits, watching the pit crews watch the race on TV as the cars blew by just about a hundred yards or so from us.

I kept my eye on Tim. His job boiled down to listening to transmissions between Casey and Todd (the crew chief), watching Casey's placement on the board, and generally keeping an eye on what was going on in the pits. Anything of interest, he jotted down in a personal notebook or on a media sheet, then passed the media sheet off to the pit reporters for use during broadcasts. I got video of him talking to some of the media (can't remember if it was MRN or PRN) during one of the pit stops:

That's what Sam would look like. I have to tell you that's kind of exciting, to see up close exactly what your character would be doing.

And the race fan in me loved the pit stops! These guys move in choreography. After two pit stops, I knew right where to stand to be out of the way, because they never went anywhere different; they did the exact same things each time. That was cool, like a weird kind of ballet.

Getting to see pit road up close and to follow a real-life Sam around has to rank up there as one of the coolest things I've ever done. I owe a lot of thanks to Tim and Casey and the others who let me tag along and who answered my questions.

God is pretty awesome to give me a gift like that. Like I said, when I started, my prayer was that He'd provide someone to answer my questions. Who'd have thought He'd do it in such an awesome way?
I have to tell you something about my prayer life. It's a confession of sorts. I am not very good at praying for myself, at asking for great big things from God. There is this rare ability about me to rationalize myself right out of big prayers. Sometimes I forget that God just wants to bless us. Well, last year, I prayed big. And God answered even BIGGER than I prayed. All I wanted was someone to answer a few questions.

For the first part of this story and how I got to be where I got to be, you can click here.

Sunday, I found myself standing outside of Gate 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway waiting for an incredibly gracious man named Tim. He's the communications manager for Casey Mears, who drives for Richard Childress Racing. In other words... he does the same job as my character Samantha. And he was kind enough to let me follow him around for his workday during the Atlanta race. I owe him my undying gratitude. Got no problem telling y'all that. Here I was worried about being in the way, and he made me feel like part of the team. In fact, everyone I met (and I met a lot of RCR people) made me feel like I'd been there all along. It was awesome.

I'm a visual learner. For a year, I've been corresponding by email with David, who has been wonderful and patient about answering my questions. He couldn't be in Atlanta, so he arranged for Tim to help me out. Visual me grew leaps and bounds in knowledge on Sunday. Everything that David had written to me suddenly came to life. I could see it and hear it and experience it. I walked in Sam's shoes.

Not sure how much I want to say here, because I want you to (eventually) buy the book to really get into Sam's job. But an outline of what I got to do would give a good picture.

The first stop of the day was the RCR media coach. Only about four teams have one, so Sam probably won't get that luxury since she's only with a two-car team. It was a nice setup for the PR people though, and I'm sure Sam would be jealous. Tim sat and answered a ton of questions for me about stuff I needed clarifying. Then we went to the garage area to see the 07 getting prepped for the race and to check out the hauler. I got to meet the engineers who work to make the car go, which was awesome. Honestly, you would not believe how many people it takes to keep a Sprint Cup team running smoothly! I was amazed!

Slid my feet into Sam's shoes when we left the hauler and went to pick up Casey for an autograph signing. Yes! Now I know firsthand what Sam should be doing while Ryan is busy signing away. I kept an eye on the proceedings, then wandered around in the crowd, people watched, and got some great comments. I'm going to tell you what... when it comes to NASCAR fans, it takes all kinds. When I got back to the golf cart, I was able to talk with Donald, Casey's motor coach driver. A very sweet man who looks out for Casey. You can tell he's a great friend to have around.

It was back to the hauler after that so that Casey and Tim could go to the required drivers' meeting. I wasn't credentialed for that, so I stayed in the media hauler. That was a God thing. There was a great conversation with the head of business development, Rick, who gave me some whole other angles for the story (and talked church with me). Also got to meet Jeff Burton's PR lady, Christine. Sometimes there are busy sponsor appearance days and sometimes there aren't. Casey's was slow on Sunday and Jeff's was packed, so Christine gave me some insight into how crazy it can be to run and run before the race even starts. I couldn't even begin to tell you everyone I met while I was hanging out and how grateful I am to them all.

They had Publix lunch meat in the fridge, so I ate a sandwich and then followed Tim back to the hauler to pick up his radio and get ready for driver introductions.

On the way, I got my first step into Sam's race-time world. We stopped off at the pit box. I got to climb up top where the crew chief and engineers sit during the race. Sadly, that's not Sam's domain, but very cool nonetheless. Back on the ground, Tim showed me where he posts himself during the race and gave me a quick rundown of what he does. Like I said, reading it and seeing it are two different things. Sam came to life for me!

And then we crossed pit road to the grass and it was time for driver introductions. Tim went to get Casey and walked with him up to the stage, sort of being a buffer between the driver and anyone who might keep him from getting where he needed to be. (Missing driver intros is a no-no.) And that, my friends, is where the NASCAR fan in me wanted to come out to play. I didn't let her. :-)

(My camera glitched when I tried to get a picture of Tim and Casey, so that one didn't take. I was pretty mad. It would have been cool. Instead I got several others and this one of Mark Martin...)

Next up... Part two of my walk in Sam's shoes: What happens when it's "go" time.

It's pretty rare for me to cry in public. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two times in the past couple of years when I've pure ol' let the waterworks turn on in front of other people. Both of those times involved the song "Amazing Grace." (That one and "Butterfly Kisses" get me every time.) Yesterday, God got me good.

God's delivered me from several huge things in my life. Debilitating fear was one of them. Anger was another. Last week, I realized I had another thing gripping me. It's been there over half of my life, and I never recognized it. Very long story short, God delivered me. (Boy, that all sounds so easy, doesn't it?) He delivered me from something that kept me shackled to my past and to things I had been trying desperately to let go of. Freedom has never felt as phenomenal as this. There have been moments in the past week when I have literally jumped up my hallway because there was no other way to say thank you. Lots of exuberance in my house. I'm sure the downstairs neighbors are loving it.

And as if that was not enough, He suddenly opened the windows of heaven and poured out on me. For someone who has been walking through the desert for a very long time, the deluge has been overwhelming. It's raining, folks. It's raining, and what a cleansing, blessed rain it is.

Yesterday, I was in a room full of beautiful ladies at PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel, an awesome international organization for Christian women affiliated with the military). A wonderful sister got up and spoke about coming out of the darkest three years of her life. She didn't go into detail, didn't put the focus on the black night... She spoke of the joy that has followed. Of the dancing that has been going on in her house. Of how her husband has had just about enough of hearing Mandisa's "Shackles" over and over and over and over again. And then she played it. Ah, yes. It's a song I know well. I cut my praising God out loud teeth on the Mary Mary version a few years ago when God wiped away my fear.

But it has never, ever smacked me in the head like it did yesterday. Here I was in a room of women, and all I wanted to do was fall on my face on the floor and weep. Not cry... weep. (Some of you know why that's different.) I felt my God from my head to my feet, to the point I couldn't even raise a hand up to Him. Free. Oh my word, do we really grasp what it means to be free? To be free from the power of sin and death and hell? To be free from the past? To be free from the things that have gripped us and nearly choked the life out of us? To be free from the obstacles between us and God so that we can stand before Him? Free to love Him fully. Free to be fully loved by Him. I had no idea until that moment how tied up I had been and how free He had made me.

How many of us can say through the ages that by the power of Almighty God and the blood of Jesus Christ we've "been through the fire and the rain, bound in every kind of way. God has broken every chain, so let me go right now!"

Never forget... He is the God of freedom. Now go dance before the God who set you free!