(Now, from the outset, I'm going to tell you not every word of this song works, okay? Just go with me on this one...)

If you've been reading here long, you know I've been downright lost without a church in our new town. It's been three months and six or seven different churches and tears and frustration and loneliness and anger and disappointment and blue funk and homesickness trying to find a church. I think it was last week or the week before when I mentioned how much I miss the hugs I get at church back home. I just miss having a church family. We found a wonderful church with an amazing pastor and went for a month, but something about it didn't soothe my soul. Wonderful church, just not "home."

Well, today, I set out to go to one church, but I wound up at a different one. It just sort of happened that way. We went in and sat down and basked in good old-fashioned traditional worship with the Apostles' Creed and the Gloria Patri. (Which is odd, because I am usually a contemporary service kind of girl.) It was nice. I felt quiet and peaceful and like I could breathe.

And then it happened. During the last song, I glanced behind me and saw a woman who could be the twin sister of my best friend's mother. (Think Paula Deen in every way, y'all. I love Miss Peggy and miss her so much!) Something in me told me to walk up to this precious stranger and tell her she reminded me of Miss Peggy. So, I gathered up my courage, walked back there, and told her that. Know what she did? She threw her arms around my neck and squeezed me in the best hug I've had in months and said, "That's the sweetest thing anybody's ever said to me." Then she proceeded to take me by the arm and introduce us to the entire church, give us her phone number, and invite us to lunch. That Ms. Wanda is one awesome lady. When we walked out of church, our daughter said, "I like it here."

But here's the kicker. I got in the car, flipped on the A/C, and turned on the satellite radio. There's a Jimmy Buffett station on there, and I just programmed it in yesterday. I hit that Jimmy Buffett preset, put the car in gear, and heard the words, "The smilin' eyes match the smilin' faces, and I have found me a home. I have found me a home. You can have the rest of everything I own, 'cause I have found me a home."

Well, dadgummit, God went and made me cry.

Generally, reminders are good things. And sometimes reminders are needed. (To be honest, sometimes knocks upside the head are needed too.)

A couple of nights ago, I was talking to a friend about how I couldn't seem to get out of the desert. I prayed, I sat still, I read my Bible... and yet I couldn't seem to connect with God. Frustrating. Lonely. Empty. Yucky. I hate the desert.

Know what she had the nerve to say to me. "Sometimes, God puts us in the desert. And sometimes, we go there ourselves." So? Then she said, "How much of this is God teaching you something, and how much of this is you being lazy?"

So, after I slammed the phone down in here ear... Okay, really, I didn't do that. She didn't make me mad, because this particular friend is quite well known for telling me the truth with a big dose of love. She was telling me the truth the other night. I'd forgotten.

What had I forgotten? You and I were made to worship. Yep, it brought to mind the Chris Tomlin song. Worship is something we were created to do. We can worship God with our lives and our acts by doing them for His glory, true, but we are missing out on something basic to our being when we don't take time to give God focused worship that is all about Him. When we don't worship--and I don't just mean in church--we are denying ourselves the opportunity to bless God and denying a core part of our very selves. That's why I felt so empty and drained. Part of me wasn't active.

How 'bout you? Walking through your own desert? Why not stop now and take the time to bless God? It may not cure you, but I'll guarantee it'll help.

In June 2007, I missed my beloved cousin's wedding. Ben and I have been oddly matched cousin-friends since we were tiny kids catching fireflies in the backyard. We believe polar opposite about, well, everything, but we still manage to get along.

I was so excited to get his wedding invite in the mail. Travel from NC to Maryland? You bet, let's go. Right now. All over it.

Until I figured out that was the very weekend I had agreed to speak in church. Come on, God. Really? I can postpone the speaking in church thing, right? Surely you don't want me to miss such an amazing thing as my cousin's wedding. This is huge! I have to be there! Yes, I spent a few days whining to God. But He told me I couldn't go. There was something I had to do for Him, and that was stand up in front of church on that Sunday and speak. So, I did. And God did an amazing thing in me and in someone else because of it. Of course, He was right, even though I missed out on something else.

I'm facing that again with some plans for this fall. In staring down that decision, I am reminded that sometimes, when it comes to ministry for Him, God asks us to sacrifice. Sometimes, what seems like the oddest or least fun choice is the one where God shows up and knocks my socks off. Wonder how this one will pan out? Will He give me both of the desires I have? Or will He make me choose? After all, I highly doubt He'll let me be in two places (virtually) at once. All I can do is stay tuned...

My husband has lately become fond of answering, "How was work today?" or "How are you doing?" by saying, "Livin' the dream." A lot of days (because some really, really crazy stuff has been going on with some of the guys he works with), he's being sarcastic. It made us laugh, though, when his aunt (who has never heard him say that) sent me a Mother's Day card with a picture of a woman in curlers, surrounded by five or six kids and soaking her feet in a kiddie pool. The inside of the card said, "Living the dream..." Too funny.

I dealt with an unexpected attack from the enemy this week. I struggled with trusting God with this talent He gave me. I struggled with putting words on the paged because I feared mediocrity. I struggled with not earning any money last year at all. I struggled with every single thing about my writing journey. To be honest, I wanted to delete everything I've ever written and walk away. The only reason I didn't is because I knew, deep in my gut, that God wouldn't want that. He put me here. He set this up. He wants this from me. And if the devil is kicking me that hard, then I must be doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. If I wasn't on the right path, the devil wouldn't bother to try to derail me. In fact, he'd encourage me to keep right on steppin' in the wrong direction.

A dear, wonderful, God-sent writer friend wrote me a note last night. She said, and I quote, "You're living your dream." Know what? Until she said that, I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten the joy of making a character come to life in a world woven of words. I'd forgotten the feeling of filling a blank page with a new world. I forgot the power of creativity, of hearing my fingers dance on the keys, of watching the letters and the words appear as if by magic on the screen. I forgot it all. I lost the childlike wonder of God's gift.

So thanks to that wonderful friend, who unknowingly tossed my husband's words up for me to catch. I needed that reminder. Yep. I truly am livin' the dream.

In late March, I started writing a military suspense. If you know me, you know this is way, way different than anything I've done before. I started the book because my awesome agent asked me to and, after prayer, I truly believed it was the right thing to do. Actually, that sentence shouldn't say "was the right thing," I still fully believe it is the right thing.

I got halfway through the book. That's when it all fell apart. I went back to revise the first half and realized this is the worst work I've ever done. The characters, while alive to me, lay dead on the page. (And not because somebody murdered them. Okay, one of them was murdered, but not the important two.)

What happened?

Because of some pretty intense personal things, I took a couple of days off writing. And in prayer time, God let me know pretty heavy duty why things ran totally off the tracks.

I sat down every day to write a book for my agent, for my audience, for an editor, for my husband (who is pretty excited about this one...). There was not one single day of that writing when I sat down and made God and what He wanted the priority on this book. Not one. With the other two books, I sat down every day and said, "God first, everybody else second." When it came to this manuscript, after He gave me the go-ahead to write it, I never thought of Him at all. God gave me a talent and an idea, and I took off running without Him.

So what do I do? First things first... God and I had a long talk. This is His now. Second, every morning I sit down to write, I talk to Him about it first. This has to be for Him first, and then for Sandra and editors and other readers. If He isn't first, there's no point in starting at all.

"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." -Colossians 3:17 (NASB)

I agonized yesterday morning. I mean cried agonized. Want to know why? Over where to go to church. There is so much going on in my family right now. We are fine as a family, but we are weathering a few storms together. And the worst part of it all is we recently moved and don't have a church family yet. I miss those hugs from people who just know you. I was privileged to grow up in and attend the same church for the first 23 years of my life. Making new church homes is hard.

But that's not what this is about. (And if the above qualified as whining, then you can ignore it...) When we finally stepped into church this morning, I got slapped with "Amazing Grace" right off the bat. Why, oh why, God, do you always hit me with that one when I'm down? Because I want me to remember, "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved." Oh yeah. That's why.

Then they hit me with "Your Grace is Enough." I'm starting to get the message, God.

And then? Matt Redman's "You Never Let Go." Oh, God, do You know how embarrassing it is to break down and weep in a room full of strangers? To cry because, no matter what, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," my God is with me and He never lets go? God knew I needed the embrace of the words, "Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm. Oh now, you never let go, in every high and ever low. Oh no, you never let go. Lord, you never let go of me." No matter what you or I walk through, no matter how far away He seems, he never lets go.

May we be able to say, "And there will be an end to these troubles, but until that day comes, still I will praise you..."

The volcano in Iceland, Eyjafjallajokull (don't even joke about asking me how to say that) continues to spew ash into the air as I type this. When I was thinking about this blog, I did a search for the spelling and found some amazing, horrifying pictures of the volcano at the Boston Globe's website.

Aside from thinking a couple of weeks ago that the thing looks like the gates of hell, I haven't given much thought to it. I'm not a world traveler trapped by airport closings, and I have that human tendency not to think a whole lot about things I don't see every day.

But today, that volcano personally affected me. Not a single person in my corner of the world ever dreamed it would have anything to do with us, but it suddenly does. Out of nowhere, it has had a direct, personal impact on my family, even though I hadn't thought about its existence in days.

And it's exceptionally convicting. So many times, we forget to pray (or we neglect to pray) for what we don't see. There is so much pain in the world, so many people hurting, so many things falling apart, but as long as we are safe, we walk along with this illusion that all is right with the world.

Until it affects us.

It would be impossible to pray for the entire world, but what prayer burden does God have specifically for you? Is it a friend who's hurting? A foreign mission group you read about? A news story that pricked your heart? Who does God keep bringing to mind for you?

Perhaps it's time to hit our knees and bring it to His throne... because we are the body. And every single person and event in the world ripples to us all.

There is something happening on the web this week. It's a quiet little something, unless you're there. Then it's exceptionally loud. It's something you may never have heard of before. And if you haven't...

I pity you.

And I am about to enlighten you.

It is a thing that will change your life forever. Or, at the very least, it will make you snort milk (coffee, tea, water, or whatever beverage you are drinking at the moment) out your nose. I do believe that would give you the benefit of clear sinuses if you are in a pollen-plagued area.

Would that make the man behind this amazing event a miracle worker?

Are you ready? Can you handle it? Are you sure? Then point your web browser to the 2010 Bad Poetry Contest, held annually in honor of Chip MacGregor's birthday.

I promise, you will not be disappointed.

Okay, whining probably doesn't make you old, but it might make you feel that way. Over the course of the past three days, I have earned a black belt in whining. I won't go through the list here--because that would lead to whining--but it seems like anything and everything is whine-worthy in my house this week. I can feel it wrapping around my emotions and squeezing, because this perpetual attitude of self-pity is beginning to take hold.

Self-pity is arrogance, folks. Plain and simple. It's all about me (or you or whoever is whining and pitying at the moment).

I started not to blog today, because the whining felt like it would spill over onto the page, but then the news came on. There are very few places in central and western Tennessee that aren't waterfront (or water on) property this morning. An oil slick threatens the Gulf, and people who depend on it for their livelihood are facing that slimy threat. I just heard of a family near us who lost the father and daughter in one terrible instant (please pray for the Quall family).

As it turns out, I have nothing to whine about.

Maybe it's time to count blessings instead of letting the devil turn my petty problems into perceived disasters?

Need some good reads? Here's the list of ACFW new releases for May...

1. A Quiet Place; A Tabor Heights Novel by Michelle Levigne -- A Romance from Desert Breeze. Tabor Heights -- A friendly little town on Ohio's North Coast, where the members of one church help each other in their journeys of faith, learning, and love.

2. Betsey's Return; Book 2 in the Brides of Lehigh Canal series by Wanda E. Brunstetter -- An Historical from Barbour. After being left once at the altar, Pastor William vowed to serve the Lord alone. But that was before Betsy's Return.

3. Black Hills Blessing; A 3-in-1 Collection by Mary Connealy -- Three Contemporary Romances from from Barbour. Buffalo owner butts heads with an ornery cattleman; a lady rancher has a cantankerous neighbor; A doormat wife stands up to her tyrant husband. Who will survive when worlds collide?

4. Clara and the Cowboy by Erica Vetsch -- A Romance from Heartsong Presents. Alec takes on robbers, rustlers, and kidnappers, but his greatest challenge will be taking on Clara, his boss's daughter.

5. Finding Jeena; Book 2, Homecoming Series by Miralee Ferrell -- Women's Fiction from Kregel. Shaken to the core at the threat of losing everything, Jeena is confronted with her prejudices and with a God she had long forgotten.

6. In Harm's Way; Heroes of Quantico, Book 3 by Irene Hannon -- A Romance from Revell. An abducted infant, a tattered Raggedy Ann doll, a terrified woman and a skeptical FBI agent come together in what Publishers Weekly calls "an ever-climactic mystery."

7. It Had to Be You; the third and final novel in the "Weddings by Bella" series by Janice Thompson -- General Fiction from Revell/Baker. Bella couldn't be happier that her long-feuding Aunt Rosa and Uncle Lazarro have finally admitted their love for one another and are getting married. Their forties-style wedding is sure to be a night to remember.

8. Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy; Camp Club Girls Series, Book 5 by Janice Hanna -- General Fiction from Barbour. The Camp Club Girls series introduces young readers to six friends who meet at church camp and solve mysteries together.

9. Legendary Space Pilgrims by Grace Bridges -- A Sci-fi/Fantasy/Futuristic from Splashdown. If Pilgrim's Progress were a space opera, it might look something like this: two young seekers on a journey of discovery, searching for freedom and a planet to call home.

10. Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico by Lena Nelson Dooley -- An Historical Romance from Summerside Press. Heroine in peril becomes a mail-order bride. . .gone awry

11. Love is Monumental; Book 2, A Walk in the Park by Annalisa Daughety -- A Contemporary Romance from Barbour. Finding love has become a feat of monumental proportions for a shy park ranger.

12. Morning for Dove; Book 2, Winds Across the Prairie by Martha Rogers -- An Historical from Realms, a Division of Strang Communications. Luke and Dove struggle against prejudice and a deadly natural disaster for their love.

13. No Other; Protecting the Witnesses LIS continuity series--book #3 by Shawna K. Williams -- An Historical from Desert Breeze. Jakob Wilheimer longs for healing after his family's internment during WWII, but will freeing Meri from the captivity of her upbringing heal them both, or tear them apart?

14. Nowhere Carolina; Book 2, Southern Discomfort Series by Tamara Leigh -- A Romance from Waterbrook. When Maggie Pickwick's teenaged daughter decides it's time she knew the identity of her father, Maggie's carefully balanced world begins to teeter.

15. Seeds of Summer; Book 2, Seasons of the Tall Grass by Deborah Vogts -- A Romance from Zondervan. When a former Miss Rodeo Kansas queen returns home after her father's death to care for the family ranch and her two younger siblings, what follows is a summer full of change, life-lessons and an unexpected romance with the new minister in Diamond Falls

16. So Over My Head; Book 3, Charmed Life Series by Jenny B. Jones -- General Fiction from Thomas Nelson. Newly single, stalked by a killer, and in desperate need of some chic clown shoes,˜ Bella is one mocha frapp away from a total meltdown.

17. The Heiress; New Jersey Historical Series Book 2 by Laurie Alice Eakes -- An Historical from Barbour. Desperate for money, Daire Grassick sells a family heirloom to a lady he doesn't know, only to discover it holds a secret formula for glass without which his family will be ruined.

18. The Narrow Path by Gail Sattler -- A Romance from Abingdon. When they must combine efforts for the most important event in Ted's church's history, can modern Mennonite Miranda Klassen and Old Order Mennointe Ted Wiebe find peace somewhere in the middle?

19. The Wedding Garden; Book 3, Redemption River by Linda Goodnight -- A Romance from Love Inspired. Join RITA and ACFW Award-winning author, Linda Goodnight, in "Redemption River", where healing flows.

20. The Weight of Shadows by Alison Strobel -- Women's Fiction from Zondervan. Kim has found a way to suffer for her sins and ease her guilt--but is her relief more important than her innocent daughter's safety?

21. They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti -- Women's Fiction from Abingdon. He was supposed to go fishing, not missing.

22. To Be a Mother by Ruth Axtell Morren and Cheryl St. John -- Romance from Steeple Hill. Two heartwarming stories of non-traditional families becoming families in a very traditional sense.

23. White Roses by Shannon Taylor VanAtter -- A Romance from Heartsong Presents. Can a heart-broken florist and a widowed pastor reclaim romance after their lives collide among the thorns?

24. Wildflower Bride; Book 2, Montana Marriages by Mary Connealy -- A Romance from Barbour. Glowing Sun, a white woman raised by the Flathead tribe, has never met a man she didn't want to pull a knife on, including the man determined to marry her.