Silence of the Soul.

Where do you find quietness? Are you in a season of life where the noise is actively around you, in the shape and constant hum of small children? Or maybe your season lacks quietness because it’s nothing but work work work? Or perhaps your season of life finds your home more, perhaps with actual quiet, but no less busy.

Moments of quietness for me are rare, like a rainbow colored unicorn with wings; the times when two kids are in school and my littlest is playing alone, the dog isn’t barking, someone isn’t ringing the doorbell, my phone isn’t beeping, I’m not trying to make a meal, or put in another load of laundry. So I try to seize the moment, to start practicing the art and discipline of being still before Jesus. But then, in that perfect quiet comes a different noise; the noise and distractions in my head, and I feel disappointed and frustrated that while my surroundings are momentarily silent, my head is not. 

So I sit, and I wait.

I wade through what’s stressing me out about the upcoming day, then what I need from the store, next I think of all the things I could be doing right now, then someone pops to mind. In the middle of all that, noise, I try to find Jesus. I close my eyes, I open them. I sit down, I lay down, I kneel, I stretch my hands up. I turn music on, then I turn it off. I try to find a place and position that will usher me into a quiet moment with Him. I think about a verse I found the day before, saying it from memory as best I can, hoping that will help. Maybe I should just read the Bible, this sitting quiet doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much. I feel like I’m putting too much pressure on myself, I’m forcing the issue. (It’s been like 3 minutes).

And then two things occur to me. First, this is a habit and discipline I’ve fallen out of, so, I believe it will take a little practice to figure it out. The not doing, the not talking, the not journaling, the not devotionaling, the not worshiping. Listening. Because, secondly: 

“His voice demands the silence of the soul”

That quote is from an amazing little book called ‘Streams in the Desert’, by Mrs. Cowman. It’s about Isaac in a passage in Genesis we’ll look at in just a moment, “God spoke when there was no inward storm, He could not speak when the mind was fretted, His voice demands the silence of the soul. Only in the hush of the spirit could Isaac hear the garments of his God sweep by. Be still and know.”

There you have it. I need to learn how to be still.

No wonder it can be so hard to hear from Him sometimes, I’ve lost the ability to be quiet; in my surroundings, my mind, my heart, and my soul. 

You wanna know the rest of that passage, the first part of the story about Isaac and what was happening? There was a quarrel over water and wells, and Isaac chose the hard work of breaking down his tent, for the 3rd time, (anyone who has camped, ever, knows how unpleasant that process is) and found another location, away from everyone and drama, and the noise, and found a new spot. And God again gave him water, this time free of arguing since it was so far from everyone, and the verse says, “And the Lord appeared to Isaac that same night”. 

I don’t think that was a coincidence. 

He kept moving away, to get to some quiet. To get to some peace. His surroundings were filled with fighting and arguing over water, and the guy was just plain worn out. He didn’t want to move, again, to dig another well, and have someone lay claim to it, again. But he did, and in that final and last act of exhaustion, the Lord came. He met him there.

I know we are exhausted. Life is full, busy, not quiet. No matter who we are, where we live, what our jobs are, what our home life is like, life is not quiet. Too many things grab and pull for our attention, affection, concentration. 

I’m convinced quiet will not come find me, I have to seek it out. And guard it. Protect it. Nourish it. And invite Jesus into it. And I know, I believe, I have seen, God to be faithful; so that when He sees us trying to make a quiet space, He will meet us there. We can learn to be still, and we can know God better and more fully through that stillness. 

So I will not give up. I will keep looking for that sparkly rainbow unicorn, stillness of my soul, and hope that the more I look for it, the more I seek it out, the more I guard it, and feed it and make time for it, the more it will appear. 

Is my sin controlling me?

I came across a verse the other day that caught my attention. “Those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.” Dang. That feels pretty clear and direct in a way that feels sort of harsh. But also simple. Here’s the whole passage:

Romans 8:5-8.

“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God…That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.”

It’s that last line that really hit me. “Jess, if you are under the control of your sinful nature, you can never please God.”

Let’s break that down a bit. I don’t believe it’s talking about having sin in your life, or messing up. It’s speaking directly to being under the control of sin.

Is my sin controlling me?

It’s a real personal question, and one that can immediately make us feel defensive. Or, possibly worse, we can quickly answer a resounding no. Denial can be think, trust me, I was swimming around in a vat of it for a while. So thick and deep was my denial that I probably would have answered no to that question. Because, I’d sin and mess up, ask for forgiveness, and move on. I was truly sorry. I’d truly ask God for forgiveness. I mostly intend to stay away from it, but I didn’t really put things in place to really root it out. And then I’d keep doing it over and over, I’d go back to the same behavior. I had let sin into my heart and ultimately my mind, I was letting my sin control my mind. I couldn’t have articulated that at the time, but that was indeed the case. And because it was in my mind, it was deep in my heart, and by nature, that meant it was hostile to God.

I think what is confusing about all that is during that time I still chatted with God. I had quiet time with Him. But my actual heart and mind were at war with Him because of my sin, and I was like an ostrich with her head in the ground. I wanted to think that didn’t matter. I wanted to believe I could compartmentalize my sin, like ‘Hey don’t look over there at that trash God, it’s no big deal. I’m taking it out Tuesday. I know it smells, but I’ve got the lid on it. And if it gets worse, well, next Tuesday is coming around soon, and I can just take it out again.’ And God’s probably thinking your trash doesn’t bother me or scare me. Your trash is why I sent my son to die. But you’ve got to let me help you so your trash doesn’t take over your life. Or ruin it. So it doesn’t control you.

So based on that verse, I was not pleasing God. Period. No matter what I was doing, what verse I was reading, who I was helping, where I was serving, how much I was giving. I was not pleasing God.

That statement scares me, because I can see it so clearly now. Over a year later, I can see just how thick my denial was, and just how far from God I really was.

And I guess I wanted to chat about it here, because, well, it’s awkward. And I promised I wouldn’t shy away from the hard and awkward things. And really, a small part of me hopes that if we can talk about it honestly, maybe just maybe, as you read this you can be honest with yourself. Because I wasn’t. I know what it’s like to shrug off your sin, to think it’s not a big deal. For too long. And it wasn’t good.

So I ask you, from a humble position of having been there, is your sin controlling you? If the answer is yes, I encourage you to root it out. Don’t passively ask God to forgive you and stop there. Maybe find a close, close friend who you can share it with. Confess it. Say it out loud. That worked for me. Sin doesn’t like light, it sorts of shrinks back. And so when I put a shit ton of light on my sin, well, it didn’t like that. Of course it was hard, and uncomfortable, and awkward, and embarrassing to confess my sins. But it was, life giving. When we confess, there is no room for shame. There is no condemnation in Christ, and we can begin to taste freedom. We can begin, once again, to please God.

Sigh, a New Year is here.

I want to be excited for a New Year. I do. But I can’t seem to shake the more predominant feeling of, well, exhaustion. The last month has been a lot, amiright? The blissful and yet exhausting non rhythm of no school, the Christmas events and traditions, the decorating, the wrapping and un-wrapping, the cooking, the baking, the assembling of toys, the go go go of traveling, all the togetherness, the eating of all things holiday and glorious, the taking down of decorations, the traffic, the staying up late and not sleeping in. It takes it’s toll. And it doesn’t help that I get email after peppy email about setting goals, and resolutions, and all this annoyingly upbeat talk about the New Year.

My heart isn’t ready yet. I’m tired.

Because, I think through it all, for all of us, a few things get neglected. For me, it’s usually my alone time, and my work out time. And when I go too long without either one of those, well, I’m just not as nice of a person. True statement; I pity the people who have to put up with me when I forgo those life giving choices.

Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you too have had a lovely but full and exhausting last few weeks. And maybe it’s left you wanting to be excited and ready for the new year, but how do we drum up excitement when we’re just plain o’l beat down tired?

(I bet you’re hoping this next line would have 5 simple, get your energy back tips huh? Sorry, I’m looking for the same thing too!!)

So while I don’t have any super secret inside tips or tricks for facing a new year, here’s what I’ve been doing. Not sure if you’ll find it helpful, but maybe it will be an encouragement to keep on, keeping on. To know that you’re not the only one feeling beat down, run down, on the verge of getting sick, plain ol worn out.

~Rest. Nap it up. Go to bed early. Confession: I went to bed last night at 8:30 and it was glorious.

~The whole family took Vit C shots this morning.

~Exercise. I went for a run yesterday and barely made it two miles, so I tried again today and just barely walked. At a saunter, on my treadmill, cue the eye roll. But I keep telling myself it’s better than nothing. -right?

~Find some alone time. Beg for it, trade for it, just get it. Use it, gasp, not to accomplish anything, but to just sit. To be alone with your thoughts. Perhaps even with Jesus. Maybe read or work out. I am doing so right now, and even though I feel slightly guilty, I’m doing it. (How do I even feel guilty after we’ve been together 24/7 as a family for like 13 days straight? I don’t know, I’ve got issues.)

~Stop with the holiday eating. Ha. Easier said than done. I ate cookies and more cookies for dinner last night, I’m a real classy lady. (my husband suggested a cleanse, which I want to do yes, but I am also thoroughly enjoying my sugar binge.) Hmmm maybe this excess of sugar isn’t helping this exhaustion…

~Spend time with Jesus. He’s been getting the shaft lately, due to A. me not wanting to bring my heavy Bible while traveling and B. just not making time for Him while out of my routine. So I’m trying. I’m finishing out the Chronological Bible, which I should have finished Dec 31, but alas, I’m a few weeks behind. Keep on, keeping on!

We can do this. We can face this New Year with excitement, energy, and heck, even joy. I think a good start would be taking the time to self reflect. To think about the good and bad of last year, and what we desperately need to change. Adjust. Add. Walk towards. Embrace. Endure. Or, take away. Cut out. Run from.

Just a warning though, it might be hard. It might not be all fun and exciting; this dream making, pruning, changing. It will be hard work. But I do think it will be worth it. Good change always is. It’s almost always a lot of work and heck even scary, but life giving in a way that’s essential. It has the potential to change our day, our week, and ultimately our year. One day at a time, one change at a time. One goal at a time. When we are ready, when we’ve rested, when our minds are clear, and our hearts are better.

We can do this.

And the winner is…

I told you I’d pick a winner December 20th, and then we were traveling for Christmas, and I couldn’t get it together enough to post who won the drawing! Traveling with everyone else near Christmas time is wild, especially with 3 small kids.

In my defense, I did draw a name on December 18th. In the airport. I cut up names and put them in a ziplock bag, and pulled out the lucky winner. I just didn’t have internet the next few days in order to post and let everyone know! So sorry!

So, the winner of the beautiful, floral, stunning 2020 Cultivate Powersheets is…

Drumroll…

ALLISON WILSON !!!

This is a screen shot of the video I took, of my daughter picking the winner! (I can’t post the video here for technical reasons. IE I’m not technically savvy and don’t want to pay more to update my blog to allow me to post videos!)

Congratulations Allison. I will be getting your brand new, floral print, 2020 Cultivate Power Sheets to you very soon! And thank you, so much, for each of the women who entered to win. And thank you, so much, for those of you who referred my blog to friends. I appreciate it SO much!

Also, I’ll be posting some tales about our travels in the travel section. If you are looking for advice/help/what not to do/encouragement whilst traveling with littles, come check it out!!

Two days left to win…!

There are officially TWO days left to get your name entered to win the Cultivate Powersheets (that retail at $60!!!) Simply refer a friend here, and if they sign up to receive emails, your name and their name gets entered to win! (Contest ends December 17th at midnight!)

So here’s how to get your name in the hat:
1.Share this blog, jessicastone.org, with a friend/mother/sister/cousin/co-worker.
2. Encourage them to sign up to receive emails from Jess.
3.WHEN that person signs up to receive emails from my blog,  AND they put YOUR name in the little box that says ‘who told you about this blog” THEIR name AND your name gets put into the hat. (you’ll get an email where you need to confirm your sign up, check your spam folder just in case!)

**BEST PART: If two of your friends sign up, your name goes into the drawing TWICE. Or more…for as many friends as you refer…!!

And it isn’t just pretty on the outside…!!!

Ready…GO. Two days left! Contest ends December 17th at midnight, Nicaraguan time. (hmmm, that’s basically US Central time) and I will announce the winner December 20th!

Let me tell you, I bought this book last year, and absolutely loved it. If you want to read more, directly from the source, just click here.

But let me tell you personally what I love about these Cultivate PowerSheets. Because, well, I just can’t help it. I think they are absolutely amazing, and they have dramatically changed the way I think about an upcoming year, and helped me to get organized to see some goals all the through to fruition. Here are some quick bullet points highlighting their fantasticalness:

~The first 60 pages are incredible. They focus on you. Who you really are. Breaking your identity box, evaluating all areas of your life, naming your fears, lessons you’ve learned, what you’re grateful for, what will matter when you’re 80. These pages help you cultivate what matters, and (bonus!) through all those questions you’ll uncover your goals for the upcoming year.

~Each month has space for planning, dreaming, and making detailed daily, weekly, and monthly lists.

~Every 3 months you stop and reevaluate. You have the space/freedome to drop a goal, adjust it, or move it to another time. (Cause hello, life happens!)

~One of my favorite features I didn’t know would be my favorite feature is the last page of each month. You fill it out at the end of the month, and it’s a time and space to reflect with questions for the month like, “I am especially grateful for…” and “someone I’m grateful for…” favorite memory…” and “a good lesson learned…” also, “what I’m saying yes/no to…” It’s SO good.

I already ordered my new book for 2020, and I cannot wait to get started. And you know what was SO fun about ordering mine this year? Ordering one for somebody else. YOU. One of you. Because, I told you as I am making changes to this blog, I would be giving away some of my favorite things, and so here we go! (I know they aren’t big Ellen Degeneres giveaways, but still pretty fun!) I am so excited to see who wins this very special goal planning book.

Good luck!

It isn't always easy.

“Just because God has a plan doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy…I’m scared”. A quote from Mary, in the kids movie, The Star. A pretty simple and yet profound statement coming from an (amazing) animated movie about Christmas.

Why is it that we tend to think the opposite? Maybe it’s just me, but deep down in my heart, I sometimes think if I’m following God, obeying Him, serving Him, loving on others, that life will be easy. Or easier I guess. After all, there are deep seeded beliefs in my mind, that tell me, if I do all those things, follow God’s plan and direction for my life, it will go well for me. If I’m where God wants me to be, it will be easy, smooth, there will be no doubts, no problems, no hardships, no safety concerns, you name it.

I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore. I don’t know when exactly the shift in my thinking began, but it’s been a slow and gradual shift over several years.

It’s why verses like Acts 14:22 make me feel squirmy. “We must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of heaven.” I don’t like that verse. It’s not very catchy; I have yet to spot that on a banner at any church! Who wants to sign up for something knowing ahead of time that it’s going to be really difficult?

Expect hardships, Jess, when you follow Jesus. Expect suffering. Expect to be let down, to loose, to not understand, to be betrayed, to be hurt, embarrassed…whatever “many hardships” might encompass. I think it might be broad on purpose, so that we are not surprised when it comes. So we don’t turn away, blame God, shut Him out. Cause if we’re being honest, that’s our tendency isn’t it? Or we turn around and think we must be out of His will if hard things come our way. What IS that? Why do we believe that? Why is that our default when things get hard? We should expect that life will get a little harder when we chose to follow Jesus.

I’m pretty sure life wasn’t exactly peachy and perfect for Mary and Joseph. They had clear and direct information from angels. But trying to explain a virgin birth to family, friends, strangers? Mary, knowing she was giving birth to the Messiah and she can’t even get a room or a bed to do that in? Having to flee for their lives, and travel with a newborn, because King Harod wanted to kill Jesus? And that’s just the beginning of their story!

So as I watched the story of Christ’s birth unfold in this children’s version in The Star, it made me feel, well, like a stinker. Cause I was sitting on my couch thinking, oh my goodness, if that was me, and I was pregnant with God’s son knocking on doors to try and find a place to birth His child that is actively trying to come out of me, I think I’d loose it. I’d for sure be questioning God’s plan, why He didn’t seem to be providing, if I heard the angel right in the first place.

But when God told Mary the plan, He didn’t say it was going to be easy.

So I’m thankful for the reminder. I’m thankful to be reminded that God’s plan for the birth of Jesus and the whole amazing Christmas story wasn’t easy. But it was God’s perfect plan. And if His plan for His very own son wasn’t easy, then I need to remember that the plan He has for my life probably isn’t easy either. And the plan He has for your life probably isn’t a skip and hop through easyville. Maybe you’re living smack dab in that not so easy part right now. And that is crappy, and maybe even feels unfair. But, it’s His perfect plan, and it’s what He created you to do. And just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place. It might mean, you’re exactly where God wants you to be.

a

Hot glue.

Is there a person or an animal in your life that happens to think you’re the best? Who is always sad to see you go? A loyal dog who whines or digs holes when you leave? A feline friend who scratches things they shouldn’t? Perhaps a child who cries or gets upset?  

Lately, my three year old has been hysterical when I leave the house without her.  It feels like it comes from a heart that has a lot of love for her mama. Now, I can’t always see that fact, seeing as how if she takes it up a notch to actually throwing a fit, I’m making that sideways head tilt while trying to remain calm. But there have been moments, several in fact, where she just sits in my lap and cries, begging me not to go. No fit, just tears; because she genuinely just wants to be with me. 

All the time. Every single moment of every single day. 

And that kind of love and attachment is beautiful, when it’s not a little suffocating. 

Sometimes I need the reminder that this is a sweet, sweet thing. That this time of her always wanting to be close to me, at all times, will end. I know it will. I want this time with her before I have to share her with school. And she is equally jealous for my time as well. 

 The last time I drove away with the other two kids in the car, my 6 year old said, “wow mom, she really loves you.” And, well, it got me thinking. Like Holy Spirit convicting me type of thinking, the best and worst kind of thinking.

Do I love Jesus that way?

Do I just want to be with Him? Right next to Him? Like, all the time? Am I genuinely sad when we are not spending time together? 

Well, dang it, not really. And these questions nibble at my heart, because I don’t know what to do with them. It’s probably why I’ve always had a hard time with the Martha and Mary story. I did an entire study on it, “Having a Martha heart in a Mary World” (I’d highly recommend it) but I still struggle with, how do I make Jesus a priority in my life when life is, life. Every single one of us has responsibilities, work, obligations. And so when Martha drops it all to be at Jesus feet, I hate that I can so relate to Mary’s annoyance (and clearly edited out heavy sigh and eye roll) “Lord, tell her to come help me” I get it. There.Is.Work.To.Do. We cannot do all the things we have to do, and sit at Jesus’ feet at the same time.  Just like I cannot possibly sit down with my 3 year old and play with her all day, as she’d have it. But I can invite her to join me. Of course she would rather we played all day, but she’s just as happy to join me in what I’m doing. Chopping veggies? She’s right there. Making lunch, I’ve got my helper. All the things, always together.

So, I had to stop and ask myself, why don’t I always treat my time and my day with Jesus the same? 

We’ve all heard about having a child like faith, but what about having child like love? 

What if I acted a little more like my toddler than the busy adult that I am? What if I saw Jesus the way my toddler sees me? Hmmmm. Strange concept I know. But, I am the world to her. She comes to me for everything. When she is happy, she comes to share it with me. When she gets hurt, or is scared, she runs to me. If I am sitting near her, she automatically comes and sits in my lap. Out in public, she is that child who is clinging like hot glue to her mama’s leg. And, truth be told, sometimes I just wanna shake her right off. (I know, I’m the worst, but you guys, it’s like 1,000 degrees here) But lately, I can see more than the threat of tripping over each other. I see a little girl who trusts me. She knows I am safe, when in her mind, everything and everyone else is unsafe. And being the jaded human being I am, I am okay with her hiding behind me as long as she’d like.

So what if we started living our moments like that? Since we adults know the world to be a rough, unforgiving, scary place, what if we ran to Jesus? What if we starting desiring to spend more and more moments with Him? Not just our quiet time moments, but our natural, living, every single day moments. Sometimes I get stuck sitting in quiet time with Jesus, which is beautiful, essential, life giving,  but I don’t ever just sit with my toddler all day long. (homegirl hardly sits still!) But rather, we walk hand in hand as we do things together. And I feel like Jesus is saying, “sweet daughter, take my hand. I want to be with YOU, all the time. In every moment, in every good thing you encounter, in the scary times, and hard situations, in the temptations, in the questions, in every everything, I am here.” 

So, let’s ask Jesus to show us what following Him around looks like, since it has been a long time since any of us have been toddlers. Because the intimacy He desires with us is unique to us, it will look different for each and every one of us. But if we let it, I think it has the ability to change how we see Jesus. He is our Father who loves us, cherishes us, and delights in us.  And His love is so unconditional, He loves us no matter what, even if sometimes we throw our own adult sized fits.