The Next Best Thing: Read Chapter One Now!


Happy Friday and merry Christmas to you!

I have a special treat to share with y'all today, one I hope you enjoy: the first chapter of The Next Best Thing! It seems like just a few weeks ago that I finished this book and, yet, here we are, less than a month away from its release. Emma and her friends are like dear children to me—sometimes even like dear friends—and while I loved writing them, I'm also ready to see them off. For five years, I've carried their stories with me and releasing this final book is like a breath of fresh air in my lungs. I really am like a parent here: excited to see my babies head out into the world and fearful about what will happen after I do.

I guess I'll find out in a few weeks, won't I?

Enjoy!

And, today, you're three.



Listen, guys. I try really hard not to be sappy and fall into a pit of hyperbolic nostalgia every time a significant date goes by, but WHO AM I KIDDING? Hyperbole is my life force (here's looking at you, Jen Hatmaker) and when it comes to my daughter, nostalgia dominates my every waking moment. When she was born, I reminisced on the days I imagined becoming a mother, thinking back to that young woman who wondered what her first child would look like, smell like, feel like. The night before Lucy turned one, I rocked her to sleep and kissed her pretty blonde head as I whispered, "You're not a baby anymore, but you're still my baby." Last year, as she stuck out her pinky and took a sip of her birthday tea, I marveled at the tiny human we'd made who would, sooner rather than later, become a big, grown-up human.

And every year, I cry.

A Few True Things


I'm a little sad that October is over. Fall is so incredibly lovely, and I wish it could stick around forever and ever AMEN. I usually start feeling a little panicky when November rolls around because October went by too fast and it will be December 26th (literally the worst day of the year) before we know it and then I'll start sinking into a seasonal depression because cool weather is the bee's knees but cold, gray weather is AWFUL and I just can't.

You Be The Vine, I'll Be The Branch


I'm kind of a control freak.

On one hand, I love spontaneity and adventure and I hate when vacations or outings are super scheduled. I tend to get really anxious when there is too much pressure on things to "be a certain way." But I also love order and logic and reason, so when it comes to my own life I actually put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything perfect and solve the whole world's problems.

Essentially, I'm a control freak who doesn't like control freaks. I'm, in the words of Sarah Bessey, "a recovering know-it-all." And, during this season in our country, it has often been difficult for me to hold back and refrain from losing my cool. I'm sure you understand what I mean.

In the last few weeks, we've all reached peak election season burnout. Last night was the final—excrutiating—presidential debate and people on Twitter were celebrating its conclusion. We're tired and restless, eager for something to believe in that's bigger than ourselves, and so we've turned two very human, very flawed people into our saviors. We've fought and bickered and raised our fists at each other until families have stopped speaking to one another and friendships have unraveled within the comment sections of Facebook.

We're better than this. We really are. I believe it in my core—in that God-shaped vestibule within my heart—but the reason we don't act like we're better is not because it's not true...it's because it is true and we just don't believe it of ourselves. We don't believe it of each other. We point fingers and use cruel names and shoot words like arrows into the people sitting right across from us.

We have to stop pretending that our words don't mean anything.

We have to stop acting like "words are just words." 

They aren't.

Words create and words destroy. Ever read Genesis? I'm pretty sure God made the whole of the universe with nothing more than the power of His speech.

That's the example we have for what words can do in the mouth of Someone mighty...and it's time we followed it. It's time we hold the people we elect to a standard of creation, restoration, and healing and move away from people who diminish and destroy. 

I have more thoughts about this election and our candidates—Trump in particular—than I have time or energy to voice here. I have felt powerless and desperate. I have shaken my fists in righteous anger and felt the breath knocked out of me by the statements of our leaders. I have cried in the shower and prayed for wisdom. And I know I'm not the only one.

I think back to the moment, almost three years ago now, when Lucy was first placed in my arms. She was offered to me, held out over my battered body—the body she had just left—and I couldn't believe that, suddenly, there she was. Real and loud and utterly perfect. I clutched her, naked, to my chest and said, breathless with wonder and exhaustion, "Lucy."

And she looked up at me.

She knew her name. She recognized the word and the one who spoke it. 

What we're called by others is what we're named, whether we want those names or not. They might not be the truth, but they're the words we carry with us wherever we go. To pretend otherwise is both dishonest and dangerous because by pretending words are meaningless we render ourselves free of any responsibility towards the people in our lives, towards the people who are impacted by what comes out of our mouths.

I am responsible for Lucy. I am responsible for the words I call her and the words I use in her presence. But this responsibility doesn't extend to her simply because she's my daughter; it extends to her because she—like me—is a human being who was knit together by the hands of a Father who saw her worthy of being created. That is reason enough.

In America, we like to boast about the power of the individual. We like to talk until we're blue in face about personal liberty and the right to choose and the freedom to forge our own paths, but we tense up when confronted with what our choices might mean for others. We don't like to see beyond ourselves. It's uncomfortable and inconvenient.

But when the Body breaks down in one place, it will almost certainly break down in another. Maybe the heart has no control over what the brain does, but it will work in accordance with what it's told, even if what it's told goes against everything it was designed to do.

Lucy will grow up hearing that she's loved, and what we tell her will resonate with everyone she meets because what we tell her will become the voice she uses to speak. It will become the voice she hears that either urges her on towards love...or blinds her with its need to be the one who always has the power.

I don't really want to be in control of everyone. I don't really even want to be in control of myself. I've learned enough about my own humanity, especially since I became a mother, to know that I don't have all the answers. And when I try to act like I do, I usually end up making a mess.

But when I present myself to others—to their pain or joy or suffering—as a witness and nothing more, I learn how to see them better. I learn how to let go of my need to be in control and just be. I learn how to connect in ways that are impossible when I'm simply trying to be right all the time.

This, I think, is one of the many things God wants us to know. Jesus shared these words in John 5:15 near the end of His earthly ministry:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

I only recently noticed that Jesus never distinguishes anyone—any sinner, any Gentile, anyone—as not being a part of Him. He is the Vine, and we are the branches. Our status as His never changes. But it's only in our remaining, only in our commitment to Him and all that He desires for us, that we become capable of being like Him...of living like Him...of loving like Him.

It's only in choosing Christ that we find ourselves able to move past party lines and embrace one another.

It's only in remaining with Him that we are able to see people who don't look like us or vote like us or believe like us as people worth seeing.

It's only in listening to the words of our actual Savior that we will ever become able to speak those words to others.

I don't want to hear anymore callous and calculating verbiage. I don't want to see another friend be diminished for her beliefs or silenced because of her experiences. I don't want to clench my fists to keep from crying when people I love use words I never thought I'd hear from them.

I want to try listening. I want to try praying. I want to try sitting down and talking and remembering, all the while, that what you have to say comes from the filter of your own life. Just as what I have to say comes from mine. 

I want to remain in the Vine and bear the fruit of the One who created so much diversity, so much hope. He is my hope, after all. Not the opinions of others or the words of my peers or even the person who becomes our president. 

Christ, and Christ alone.

Let's remain in Him.

The Next Best Thing: Cover Reveal (And A Surprise!)


A story for you guys before I introduce the cover of my latest novel:

(Or, just keep scrolling and then come back. I trust you.)

Every self-published author has a different tale to tell: how they did it, what channels they used to distribute/market the book, who designed the cover, who formatted the book, etc. All these issues are distinct and personal and that's the beauty of this whole thing.

Now I want to tell you how I got here. Just for fun.

My journey to this place has been different from someone who has only ever self-published because my first novel, The Best Kept Secret, was published by a small press called BookFish Books (which I've written about at length). It was absolutely necessary that the cover of The Next Best Thing paired well with the first book because they're a series and they needed to reflect that. 

I wasn't going to be using the same image for the sequel (obviously) and I had no trouble locating one on my own that was free for both personal and commercial use. The tricky part was making sure that my designer, Lindsay—a sweet friend from my small group who has done graphic design for Chick-Fil-A, among many other clients—would be able to duplicate the elements of the first cover as needed. It wasn't a question of skill; it was a question of integrity. Lindsay told me that in order for something to be considered original the design needs to be changed drastically at least five times. Of course, I didn't want a drastic change; I wanted similar covers. So, at Lindsay's suggestion, I emailed the designer for BookFish and found out that she owned the rights to the original design and I would need to purchase them from her in order for Lindsay to use what she needed. It was an easy transaction and she was more than happy to turn the design over to me for a relatively small fee. Now I own the rights and can use them as I please. Always a plus!

In a matter of two days, Lindsay took the photo I selected and the original design for The Best Kept Secret and had more than five options for me to choose from. She knew exactly what I was looking for and she delivered. (Thank you, Lindsay! Love you.)

Now we're at the fun part, y'all.

Behold, the cover of my latest novel, The Next Best Thing!


LOOK AT THOSE COLORS. JUST LOOK AT THEM.

Here's the original photo, in case you're interested:


I like mine better.

And, now, see everything together—the spine, the blurb, etc.—on the print version:


It's my favorite. I'm happy. And I think it captures the story perfectly. 

Only 81 more days until the release! Mark your calendars...and (SURPRISE!) click here to go ahead and pre-order The Next Best Thing on Kindle for 50% off the release day price! You can also purchase it from iBooks, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

~~~

What do you think of the cover? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Clean(er) Living: Compost Bins, Menstrual Cups, and Other Weird and Wonderful Things

One of the things my husband first loved about me was what he called my "free spirit." When we met, I was a junior in college and still pretty judgmental about things that most young Christian girls are (especially evangelical ones), but I was also silly, spontaneous, and deeply compassionate. Pierce thought those were some of my best qualities. Now, ten years after we started dating and nearly eight years after we got married, my husband still loves my free spirit...only these days it looks, well, different than it did back then.

The Next Best Thing: Blurb Reveal!


(An alternate title to this post is "The Next Best Thing: What The Heck Is Gonna Happen Now, Wendi?")

I've got a little something special for you guys today! If you continue scrolling, you'll be one of the first people to read the official back cover blurb for my latest novel, The Next Best Thing! I included this most-beloved photo of me at my alma mater, Georgia Southern University, because that's where the book is set, OBVS. Did you really think Emma would go to college somewhere else?

Why I'm Self-Publishing This Time Around


Okay, I've completely fallen off the blog wagon. I can't even remember the last time I wasn't writing a script, or editing my book, or working on the magazine. It's been an insane few months. We've been traveling with church, staying busy with friends and family, working a whole lot, and potty training our toddler. All good things, all good things. But it's nice to be back on this space again, if only for myself.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin: A Review

Summer is in full swing and, guys, I know you need a good beach read. Am I right? You might actually need more than one because, if you're anything like me, you're going to sail through Emily Giffin's latest novel First Comes Love in less than two days.

I swear, her books just keep getting better and better.



First Comes Love: A Summary

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.
 
Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first-grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.
 
On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired. 
 
As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.
 
Emotionally honest and utterly enthralling, First Comes Love is a story about family, friendship, and the courage to follow your own heart—wherever that may lead.



First Comes Love: What I Think

I have to note that this novel first delighted me on a kind of superficial level because it's set in Atlanta, and I happen to be an Atlantan. I love my city, and although I spend far less time in Buckhead than Emily's characters do, she did a beautiful job of showcasing the city. Some of my favorite restaurants are mentioned and having the novel take place where I live helped me get a stronger grasp on the setting, which is always a bonus.

That being said, Emily surprised me with this one. I watched an interview with her recently where she said her characters are growing along with her, and that their struggles are becoming more and more complex. With each and every book she releases, Emily has progressively moved away from light-hearted chick lit and into the here and now, where her stories are straight-up messy, complex, and full of the intensity that real life and real families bring. First Comes Love does not tie things up into a pretty bow, although it certainly left me feeling satisfied - if unsettled - and proud(er) to have followed along with Emily's writing journey all these years. She is a damn fine storyteller.

Neither Josie nor Meredith is a very likeable character. In fact, they both showcase some of the uglier parts of myself and there was more than one moment during my reading when I had to stop and digest the story. But what Emily does so beautifully with these sisters is make me root for them, even while I disapprove of their actions or motives. Josie and Meredith are bitter and angry, sometimes for what seems like made-up reasons or even no reason at all, and the undercurrent of loss that flows through the book is what has the biggest impact on their relationship. They've spent over a decade of their lives making choices that reflect the pain of losing their brother. And isn't that what we do? We hold on to what is gone and think, somehow, we can change it all by reliving it over and over? Emily shows us that this is not the way to go. But, like Josie and Meredith, we all have to figure that out for ourselves.

First Comes Love is a tale of two sisters that had me thinking of my own siblings, and realizing that the stuff between families that's never fully settled is just a natural, and perhaps necessary, part of living and loving. For anyone who picks up Emily Giffin's latest thinking (because of the title or cover) that it's going to be reminiscent of Something Borrowed or Something Blue, they might be disappointed. First Comes Love is not that kind of book.

I think it's even better.

If you want to learn more about Emily Giffin or her fabulous novels, please visit her official website here. You can also like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @EmilyGiffin and @EmilyGiffinAuthor.

Please note, I received a free copy of First Comes Love in exchange for an honest review.


Straight, White, Cisgender Seeking Answers


I don't normally comment here on current events, at least not in any definable way. I save that for Twitter or Facebook and even then I limit my opinions, sometimes because it's not appropriate and sometimes because my heart just can't handle the trolling.

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams: A Review

The high today is supposed to reach 86 degrees, so even though we've got a whole month before summer officially begins, it feels like it's already here. And I'm totally okay with that because 1) IT'S SUMMER HELLO and 2) what better time is there to read a book called Invincible Summer?

(How many times can I say "summer" in one paragraph?)

I requested this book from Netgalley a month or so ago, and it's got all the makings of a beach read plus a little more substance. For my complete review, keep reading...

Gorgeous cover!

In Which I Ramble About Writing


I just finished the sequel to The Best Kept Secret, and now it's with my beta readers. It felt incredible to complete the work on those last few chapters, as well as on Emma's story, and despite the work that remains in terms of getting the book ready for publication, I AM SO DONE.

The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke: A Review

Happy Monday! This was a crazy/busy weekend for us, especially since I spent a big part of it prepping to begin my Whole45 today, but it looks like this week is going to be a bit slower. I'm looking forward to a little relaxation!

If you're also in need of a pick-me-up, might I suggest a book? That's my prescription for all the stressful things in life, and today I'm sharing my review of Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke's lovely third novel, The Year We Turned Forty.

Get your wallets ready, guys. You're going to want to head to Amazon when we're done here.


Letters to Lucy: After the Fire


Dear Lucy,

Sometimes being a mama is hard. Sometimes being a human is hard. Loving you is the easy part. But there are days when I want to crawl under the covers and never come out again. Motherhood, in many ways, is synonymous with fear. The responsibility of creating and growing and raising a child is as wonderful as it is frightening, and the heavy weight of these two opposing forces can sometimes take a rather large toll on the psyche.

Crushed by Layne Gray: A Review

Hi friends! It's a new week so, naturally, it's time for a new book review. It's also spring break for a lot of my high school girls and teacher friends, and I think Layne Gray's debut novel Crushed will appeal to anyone who's spending their whole week being lazy on the beach. (Also, I am not jealous of you guys. Nope. Not at all.)



Clean(er) Living // DIY Household Products

A few weeks ago, I started writing about the ways in which our family has shifted our approach to food, purchases, and various products in our home. We are in the process of looking for ways to consume less, use fewer chemicals, and eat cleaner foods, and today I'm going to share a few recipes.

Extraordinary Women of Christian History by Ruth A. Tucker: A Review

Hi friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend! Our church service was downright tear-inducing and I wish I could transport everyone I know back to yesterday morning at 11:15 a.m. It was SO good.

Today's book review feels incredibly relevant as I continue to examine what it means to be a woman of faith, especially in a culture that so often tells us faith can just be a simple addition to our lives, rather than a priority. Every day I'm challenged to go deeper and seek more, and reading this book was a helpful reminder that I don't have to have it all together to love and serve my God.

Clean(er) Living


For a little less than two years now, I have been feeling a strong pull towards less.

Less stuff.

Less junk.

Less mess.

In my heart, in my mind, in my house, and in my body.

The Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller: A Review

Happy Thursday, folks! This hot spring weather is giving me all the feels today, and with my spring uniform in full effect (boyfriend jeans, t-shirt, venti chai latte) I've got everything I need to sit and share a new book review with y'all.

I've been working on a post about our family's quest to live with less (which I've written some about here) and The Year Without a Purchase is a great introduction to why we feel the way we do. It's a quick, easy read and I was super excited to check it out.

People To Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle: A Review

Okay, I know it's Thursday. It's almost the end of the week and you're probably in the mood to watch kittens or something on Youtube rather than read a serious book review, but that's what I've got for you today. And it's a book I think needs to be talked about. It's a book that needs to be read. By everyone.

Let me tell you about it.

A Picture Says A Thousand Words

When I think about our trip to Oahu last summer, there is one day in particular that stands out to me.

It was a Saturday afternoon and things were pretty quiet around my sister's house. We had only been on the island for two days and were still tired from the jet lag and our day on the North Shore. But, since it was Hawaii  - and HELLO how often do you get to go there? - my sister and nieces were antsy to get out of the house. My energy levels weren't quite up to theirs (see: thirty-year old mother of a toddler), but I was anxious, too. My mother graciously offered to watch Lucy so I could take the girls out for an adventure, and with the help of Kati's GPS and my older sister's hatchback we were soon traveling across the island with no real idea about what we would find.

There is something, dare I say, spiritual about going to new places. Nothing much on earth is undiscovered, but if you travel somewhere you've never been before there is an other-worldly element to the experience. People actually live here, you think. They get to see this everyday.

When the five of us searched for amazing beaches on Oahu, mapped a destination, and then hopped in the car to go find it, we had no idea we would stumble upon this:


Kailua had everything our small-town Southern girl minds had imagined a Hawaiian beach would have: turquoise water, volcanic outcroppings, pristine sand the texture of baby powder, and views like no other. It was, quite literally, heaven on earth.

I brought my Nikon with me on the trip to take photos, but this picture was captured with my sister's iPhone. And when I heard that Social Print Studio was challenging people to share their favorite photos from 2015, this snapshot was the first one that came to mind. During our drive home from Kailua, none of us could keep our chill and we droned on and on about how we couldn't wait to back. We certainly weren't the first people to marvel over a beach on a tropical island, nor would we be the last. But it was our first. And I feel so incredibly lucky that I got the chance.

~~~



Wish you had an easy way to print your favorite Instagram, mobile, or desktop photos? Social Print Studio is now available in the App Store! Check out all of their amazing products here. (I recommend the metal prints!)

This post is in partnership with Social Print Studios.

Current Reads // 02



Happy February!

Here we are, one month into 2016, and I'm doing pretty well at keeping up with my TBR list (that's "to-be read" to you). And since it's been about three months since I shared my previous current reads, I thought starting this month fresh with new reads might be nice. Or not, if you're not one for reading. In which case, WHY ARE YOU HERE?

Okay, here we go.


This book is part memoir (small part), part faith journey (large part), part poetry (very large part). The purpose of Ann's book is to introduce readers to the idea of "eucharisteo" which is a Greek word for thanksgiving that comprises two other words: grace and joy. Ann's story begins with her birth and soon after walks us through the grief she and her family experienced when Ann's younger sister was tragically killed on their farm. It's a beautiful book, which tries to offer insight into and even gratitude for the pain of this world and the tediousness of daily life. There are pieces of it that I love, and pieces that I don't. Ann's blog is a must-read, and it brings me to tears on the regular, but this book is heavy, heavy, HEAVY on metaphor and poetic descriptions. Sometimes I just want her to get to the point. But then she does and I go, "Oh, thanks! That's really amazing." 

Okay, I'm not actually currently reading this at the moment. But I will be later this week. I found it in one of my neighborhood's mini free libraries more than a year ago and never finished it. It's exactly what the cover and title make you think it is, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you like over-the-top, completely unrealistic chick-lit. I promise I'm not being a jerk. I've read lots of over-the-top, completely unrealistic chick lit in my day. In fact, one of my favorite novels to re-read fits that description perfectly. I just got side-tracked by whatever else I was doing or reading at the time and put it on my bookshelf, where I found it again last week whilst purging my house. We'll see how it ends!

This is another book I've had for years (read: TEN) and I've been enjoying it in bits + pieces. I bought Sister Freaks when I was a junior in college and since it's a compilation of different stories, periodically picking it up and putting it down again is easy to do. Essentially, it's a bunch of stories of women - both living and dead, famous and completely unknown - who have, in some way, sacrificed themselves for Jesus. The language is definitely more fitting a young adult audience, but there are some stories in here that will punch you in the gut. It's a beautiful challenge for those of us who long to serve God wherever we are, but aren't certain that what we're doing really "counts". Sister Freaks helps remind us that it does, even if our names don't ever go down in history.

Disclaimer: I know T.C. And by "know" I mean I've never met her in person, but she works for my publisher and she is pretty much the sweetest. Also, I don't actually call her T.C. That's her author name. But none of this really matters; I just thought I'd let you know. 

I bought The Bone Treaty this morning (it's only 0.99 on Amazon!) and I'm really excited to get started on it since I've been staring at that cover on my publisher's website for over a year. Plus, I like to support authors I know and the blurb sounds delightful.

Here are a few more of my recent reads, along with my recommendations:

  • The Red Scarf by Kate Furnivall (Paperback) - Do you like sweeping period romances? Do you like thrillers? Are you interested in post-revolutionary Russia? Then say yes to this one. It's a little long, but worth it.
  • For The Love by Jen Hatmaker (Kindle) - Jen is my spirit animal...if my spirit animal was a gorgeous, hilarious red-head with a gaggle of children and a sense of humor that will have you spitting out your sweet tea. I sped through this with laughter and tears. Just read it, for the love.

Oh, hey, and before you go? All of the books I've listed are available to borrow or keep! I will be happy to loan you the Kindle books for two weeks and ship you the physical books (for free), if you're interested. Just leave a comment and let me know! 

What are you reading this week? Leave your recommendations below!

Maybe Tomorrow by Erin Cawood: A Review

Happy Monday everyone!

We had a snow storm on the east coast over the weekend, and we got about half an inch on Saturday here in Atlanta. Which - of course - means everything was closed and everyone stayed locked up at home (because THE SOUTH). But little did Jonas know that staying home under a cozy blanket is one of my favorite things, and while doing so I got the chance to read Erin Cawood's novel Maybe Tomorrow.

The Simple Life


I've mentioned this to everyone in my inner circle about twenty times now, but I recently took a Myers-Briggs personality test and, as it turns out, I'm an INFJ. Raise your hand if you don't know what that means!