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'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!


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!