Today is the Day

Nicole Starbuck:

My thoughts exactly!

Originally posted on adoptingjames:

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Good morning.

Today is an unusual day; a day you don’t get very often.

Today you get to start over.

Today is the day that starts with many of your Yes’s being No’s and many of your No’s being Yes’s.

Today is the day you begin breaking habits, and creating new ones.

Don’t underestimate the importance of today.

If you’ve resolved to read a chapter in a book every day, today is the day to start.

If you’ve resolved to pray every day this year, then do it. Today.

Five years from now, you have the chance to look back and see a clear line drawn in the sand of time and you can say, “I haven’t smoked since the last day of 2013. 2014 was the start of my best year ever.”

If you’ve resolved to exercise this year, today is the day to start.

Because if you don’t…

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Vows

Vows_Blog

“…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.”

I have to admit that when I took  my wedding vows, I didn’t really understand what they meant. Sure, I understood the meaning of the words–better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, and health are all fairly standard words in the English language–but I didn’t know what actually living them out would entail. After three and a half years of marriage, I’m just now starting to understand.

“To have and to hold” — I belong to my husband, and he belongs to me. We don’t belong to anyone else. Nobody else can touch us or enter our hearts. While this may seem very limiting, it’s actually empowering. There’s a special connection between a husband and wife that can’t be replicated in any other type of relationship. We’re meant to support each other, to hold each other in our arms.

“For better or for worse” — Here is the straightforward acknowledgement that being married isn’t always going to be blissful and rosy. There’s going to be tough times. Really tough times. Times when you feel like giving up. But with that harsh reality is also the promise of balance. As hopeless as a particular rough patch may seem, things usually get better. It’s just a matter of pushing through the difficulty to get there. It’s the “better” that makes the “worse” bearable. A bit of a challenge is not a reason to abandon ship.

“For richer, for poorer” — Sometimes I think about how much easier my life would be if my husband and I were rich. At least half of my worries would be irrelevant with more money in the picture. But where would the opportunity for growth be if all of my problems were so easily solved, or better yet, nonexistent? The true test of my character comes with having my budget stretched to its limits. Unfortunately, this scenario often brings out the worst in me. It’s hard to remain hopeful and optimistic when in today’s cruel world, money is required for virtually everything. But the lesson to be learned from this phrase, “for richer, for poorer,” is that ultimately, money doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, or if you’re poor. What matters is how you treat each other.

“In sickness and in health” — I always thought that “sickness” meant being in a debilitating accident or lying on your deathbed. I never imagined that it entailed something as seemingly benign as day to day ups and downs. “Sickness” refers to anything that isn’t healthy–addiction, mental illness, and hormonal imbalance included. Depression can be just as deadly as any other sickness. In denying my own “sickness,” it spread like a cancer and infiltrated nearly every aspect of my life. While my husband has been steadfast in his commitment to staying with me “in sickness and in health,” I have a responsibility to my marriage and to myself to seek help for my afflictions.

“To love and to cherish” — There’s a big difference between being in love and loving. Being in love is being blissfully blind to all of the other person’s imperfections. Loving that person means accepting them as they are–imperfections and all. But as the vows suggest, this doesn’t mean resentfully putting up with all of their idiosyncrasies. To “cherish” is to love each and every part of them, even the annoying parts.

“Until death do us part” —  Marriage is meant to last a lifetime. Sometimes it’s hard not to look at this length of time like a sentence and feel trapped. There should be peace in knowing that there’s safety and security in a lifetime commitment. Despite the ups and downs, good times and bad, that solid foundation is always there to fall back on.

My husband always talks about having a vow renewal for our first milestone anniversary (five years). I’ve always resisted the idea in an effort to avoid all of the pomp and circumstance. But now, with a fresh new year ahead of me, why wait another year and a half to restate my commitment? I’ll say my vows with a much better understanding of what they mean:

 “I, Nicole, take Raleigh to be my husband, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.”

Win a FREE Autographed Copy of The Man in the Box

Nicole Starbuck:

Can’t wait to read this book from my fellow blogger Andrew Toy. If his book is anywhere as near as good as his blog content, I’m in for a real treat!

Originally posted on adoptingjames:

My book, The Man in the Box has maintained a near-perfect star rating on Amazon.com and I was 1 of 100 Kentucky-based authors to showcase it at the prestigious  Kentucky Book Fair last month (alongside mystery writer Sue Grafton, and Cardinal’s coach Rick Pitino).

Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.

The second edition will be available to buy early next year.

And ten lucky people will receive a free autographed copy before its big re-release. Here’s how you can win:

…Wait. You’re probably wondering what it’s about.

Fair enough. It’s a suspense-charged story about an average family man who discovers a new world inside a cardboard box. The more he ventures into this world, the more he neglects his wife and kids. The question is: which life will he choose in the end? (It’s not as obvious as you think.)

Think dinosaurs, giant panthers, zombie-like monsters, rebellious kids, daddy…

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Gentle Whisper

Image“After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
- 1 Kings 19:12, NIV

Have you been waiting for something huge and exciting to happen? Something as strong, powerful, and life changing as an earthquake or fire? I have. I’ve been on the hunt for a new job since I quit my previous position about two months ago. I was waiting to hear back after interviewing for an exciting new job as a social media marketer, when I received a phone call from a representative from another company that had advertised a much more lucrative position. Big news for someone whose bank account had run down to zero.

The man, who was impressed with my resume and its long list of achievements, was very interested in having me join his team as a customer service and sales associate. The job paid much better than the other position that I was interested in, and as an enthusiastic agent for the reputable automotive facility, the man excelled at  describing all of the perks. But as he launched into a ten minute description of the various sales objectives, training tiers, and possibilities for advancement, all I could think about was how much the job reminded me of the previous positions that I’ve held. It became clear that God wasn’t in the passionate speech that filled my ears, but in the gentle whisper in my heart.

The whole point of my new job search was to get away from all of that stress and pressure, not to jump right back into it. I couldn’t let the increasing pay scale tempt me, especially when God had just brought my body back to its previously healthy state. When the man finished his pitch, he asked me how everything sounded and if I was still interested in joining his team. I had to be honest–I wasn’t. I thanked him for his time, but informed him that he deserved to have a candidate that was as excited about the position as he was. The job wasn’t going to be a good fit for me after all. He was surprised by my candid reply, but wished me luck on my job search.

Later that week, I received an email from the other company about the social media position. My patience and unwillingness to deviate from my path paid off. I got the job.

Overflow of the Heart

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“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
- Excerpt, Matthew 12:34, NIV

As a teenager, I developed an affinity for melancholy music. Initially I appreciated such music and lyrics for its sheer beauty and ability to elicit profound emotion. Unfortunately, the more I listed to sad songs, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I needed the compositions to comfort me. Hence, a sick cycle ensued. Negativity bred negativity. It was only by recognizing the downward spiral, and taking action to correct it, did I finally recover. 

This isn’t just a contemporary issue. People have been struggling for centuries to overcome the powerful grip of negative influences. The Bible attests to the pervasiveness of external influences by pointing out their startling impact on behavior. Matthew 12:34-35 reads:

“‘For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.’” 

Here, Jesus asserts that our words and actions will reflect what we fill our hearts with. We embody our environment. Therefore, we must be careful about the types of music, movies, and even people on which we choose to spend our time. 

In a world run by media masterminds and corporate conspirators, external influence is inevitable. But that isn’t to say that we don’t have some control over what we decide to fill our hearts, minds, and homes with.  We’re not sponges, and we don’t have to soak up the rampant consumerism that favors sex, drugs, and violence. God blessed us with discerning minds to act as filters. We can fill our iPods with uplifting music, turn away from explicit movies and television programming, and surround ourselves with encouraging friends and family. We can fill our hearts with good things so that the overflow of our hearts may also be good.

 

Fixed by Faith

Image“‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’”
- Excerpt, Matthew 9:22, NIV

My mother doesn’t miss a beat. When she called recently to  see how I was doing, she immediately noted the change in my voice. After quitting work and taking a much-needed vacation, I was feeling healthier than I had in months. The cheerful tone of my voice reflected my renewed sense of energy.

“What’s changed?” my mother asked. “You haven’t sounded this good in years.”

It was true. I’d been plagued by one calamity after another for what seemed like a lifetime. I didn’t think that there would ever be an end to my suffering. Sure, self-inflicted unemployment helped my body to heal, but the financial implications of such drastic measures caused its own concerns. Flying out to visit my family, however beneficial to my sanity, certainly didn’t help money matters either. What really helped me to heal was giving my worries to God.

In the midst of all of my sickness, I’d tried just about everything. Chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, aromatherapy, prescription medications, diet, exercise, meditation…I stopped just short of surgery. I can’t tell you how many doctors I’d visited or how many health questions went unanswered. In this past year, I’ve spent nearly a third of my income on medical expenses. But nothing helped. I now realize that there was a reason for that.

Medicine certainly has its place in society, but doctors can only do so much. Their ability to be effective is incapacitated by the inextricable link between psychological stress and physical damage. Yes, I was in pain, and yes, I was suffering, but much of the problem was in my mind. The more I sought out answers, the more elusive they became, and the more I tried to heal myself, the worse I felt. It was only by giving myself over to God did the healing process finally begin.

The healing came quickly. While I had spent the past few years trying to figure out what was wrong with me, God healed my broken mind and body in just a matter of days. Was such a miraculous recovery even possible? The Bible certainly says so. This morning as I was going through the Book of Matthew, I read about a sick woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. After suffering for so long, she could have understandably given up hope. Instead, she remained faithful. She knew that Jesus could heal her. Matthew 9:22 shares how the woman’s faith fixed her condition:

“Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment.”

If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s that God is in control. He is Almighty. He is Powerful. But there is also power in acknowledging His omnipotence. Nothing is too strong, too debilitating, or too pervasive that He can’t overcome it. Never underestimate the power of faith.

Junk Drawers

Image“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
- Luke 12:2, ESV

 

 

 

 

Winter is coming and my favorite coat is in need of mending. This morning I set out in search of the missing buttons to make the necessary repairs. The quest resulted in the contents of several drawers being dumped out onto my bedspread, but to no avail. The buttons are lost. 

My coat still needs the buttons replaced, but I’ve come to a startling realization–my drawers are a mess! The number of knicknacks, paddywhacks, chargers, and cords that I’ve amassed is shocking, not to mention disorganized. As I returned the spilled contents back to their appropriate hiding places, I wondered how many other “junk drawers” we have hidden away. There are real junk drawers, like mine, pictured above, but there are also junk drawers of the soul. 

As humans, we compartmentalize, categorize, and organize. But we also stow things away. Secrets, flaws, and bad experiences are hidden from public view as we attempt to avoid our emotional baggage. Stuffing our metaphorical junk drawers with a hodgepodge of unwanted thoughts and feelings may seem like a viable solution, but it only results in a tangled mess. The more we fill the drawers, the more difficult it becomes to clean them out. 

We may try to hide our past, present, or even our future from ourselves and others, but there is no hiding from God. As Luke 12:2 affirms, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” God sees everything, even the worries and widgets in our junk drawers.

Wouldn’t it be better just to come clean? To pour out the junk in our drawers to God and let him help us clean up the mess that we’ve created? He created the heavens and the earth–He’d be a much better organizer than we could ever hope to be.

 

The Art of Acceptance

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace”
- Romans 8:6, ESV

A few days before my husband and I had gotten married, we headed to the bank to deposit the stack of cash given to us by our loved ones to see us off on a prosperous union. When Raleigh removed the envelope from the pocket of his cargo shorts, he was shocked to discover that the money had disappeared. As two college students on a tight budget, the missing $300 was the difference between buying groceries for the summer and subsisting on ramen. We immediately embarked on a frantic search to find the missing money.

Desperate to find the cash, we checked every fathomable hiding spot. The car was scoured, drawers were dumped out, and Raleigh’s dad, who was helping us set up our new apartment, even dove into the dumpster to sift through the trash we had tossed out that morning. Much to our dismay, the money was nowhere to be found.

Raleigh and I were both upset about the mysterious disappearance. But, not wanting for the tragedy to put a damper on our impending wedding, we held hands in the backseat of the car and prayed for peace as we continued with they day’s agenda. We loved each other, and ultimately, that was all that mattered. We could learn to do without the extra $300.

To further recover from the frenzied search, I rested my head between my knees as Raleigh’s dad drove us to our next destination. Much to my surprise, stacked underneath the seat were the elusive $20 bills that we had been searching for. The money must have slipped out of the envelope when Raleigh pulled it out of his pocket. It was only after accepting the loss of the money were we finally able to find it.

Life is funny that way. The more we struggle to attain something, the more challenging it is to do so. It is only by relinquishing control and allowing God to work through us do we finally find peace and stability. I find that this is especially true in terms of health and wellness. The less anxious I try to be, the more anxious I become. My worries and fears are only alleviated by trusting in God.

Shawn T. Smith, a psychologist in private practice, delves into the reasons behind anxiety, depression, and neurotic behavior in his book The User’s Guide to the Human Mind. Offering practical solutions to managing emotional and psychological symptoms, he has this to say about the struggle for acceptance:

“Freeing oneself from low mood is rather like escaping quicksand. The more we struggle, the worse it gets. The secret is to lean into the pain and accept that perhaps the mind is not to be trusted when it is engaged in the business of coloring perception.” (pg. 165)

Here, Dr. Smith acknowledges that the human mind can only do so much. The mind is messy, emotional, and at times overly sensitive. Recognizing negative thoughts, and even bad situations (such as losing $300), is only one part of the solution. True peace comes with acceptance. I would take this a step further to stay that true peace comes with trusting God.

Being Receptive

Having just finished my first novel (*whew*) and now working on finding a suitable publisher, I find myself in a mode of preparation rather than production. I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on some long-awaited studying of some dearly beloved subjects as I recover from my whirlwind of writing. The rest is much needed, as I’ll need my energy to dive into NaNoWriMo in just a couple of weeks!

Needless to say, a trip to the library was in order! I breezed through “She: Understanding Feminine Psychology” by Robert H. Johnson in a matter of hours. An incredible read that provided a lot of insight into my past experiences and present psychological state. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about themselves (the book refers to “feminine” psychology, which is found in both men and women, just in varying proportions).

Here is an excerpt that is startlingly applicable to my current phase of peace and tranquility:

“A woman has a profound capacity to be still, perhaps the most powerful act any human being can make. She is required to go back to a very still inner center every time something profound happens to her. This is a highly creative act but must be done correctly. She is to be receptive, not passive.” (pg. 49)

The excerpt sheds light on my present calling to “be still.” I’m being receptive, not passive. Now is the time for learning, listening, and reading. My next novel awaits!

(If you’re like me, and are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo, please feel free to add me as a writing buddy. I’d love to share support and swap ideas!)