Here at Home

Sometimes an indefinable longing enters the house my mind calls home.  The sense of void enters like an intruder opening the door we hardly ever use and have forgotten to lock after the grandchildren have left it unfastened.  The impulse sneaks in unwanted like a random thought or an unfounded panic.  The desire does not seem to have an origin.  The uncomfortable need flies in like the stray geese that flirt with landing on the small pond out back and on the rare occasion actually choose to thump down with a splash.  I hear them often, but I’m never quite prepared for them to grace me with their company.  

Drawn and haggard with want, I pursue this longing.  I thirst like the deer crave for water brooks. It is a kind of unsettling in my gut leaving behind a restless famine.  I let it take hold of me.  I leave out to go hunting down this desire.  Like a stranded islander desperate for the meal that will transform his last day into a new day, I stalk the illusive prey.  I strive for the sound of the sizzling meat over the campfire.  My nostrils flare.  I long for the nourishment it translates into wellbeing.  I thirst for the peace it provides – the kind that the Hebrews visualized and tried to capture with the word shalom – that flawless wholeness that includes body, mind, and spirit congealed into a kind of integrity that keeps the soul running forever like a well-oiled machine.  I strive for that emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual flourishing that eradicates every particle of dust that adulterates my soul.  I want the sense of emptiness to dissipate like smoke dissolving into a soft breeze.   

But then, and again, I find that God has been trying to get me to seize the treasure I’ve been seeking since the search began.  It is already in my heart.  It is His healing voice.  Like the prodigal returning to his home, Jesus has been waiting for me (Luke 15).  At the end of my journey, I find I am in possession of what I have to have.  God has been right where I began.  The hunt is over.  All along, His wise Word was right here at home.  

“It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”  (Deuteronomy 30:12-14)

Stephen Williams

Spiritual Orientation

My attention was drawn to a hairy little spider about the size of a black bean.  It effortlessly moved into my field of vision as it slipped out from under the deck rail onto the inside edge of the two by four.  Then it crossed over onto the top and back to the side where it clung on like it was a rock climber on the side of a cliff.  It crossed back underneath where it rested on the surface of the underside of the rail.  It was under it but on it.  It was weightless.  It experienced no inhibition.  It moved freely from one orientation to the other.  

The Bible refers to a spider in Solomon’s palace (Proverbs 30:28 KJV).  It would have eluded the guards and easily entered without detection.  Except for this day.  When Solomon was still and focused enough to notice (Psalm 46:10).  Then the spider entered his meditation.  Uninvited but welcome.  The palace became his study and his meditation became Scripture.  Solomon moved as effortlessly as the spider on my deck from a worldly orientation to a heavenly perspective.  He left gravity behind and everything else that would pull him away and he crossed over into the spirit.  He transitioned from the underside and shed his camouflage.  He slid out of any blind spot that hid God from his vision.  He came into the rays of light.  God could see him on either surface, but Solomon moved into God’s presence so he could see the heavens that declare the mystery of dwelling in the Spirit.  

“Those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5b).

Stephen Williams

Feedback

The walls were marsh green – the kind of shade that would not draw attention to itself unless one had nothing else to glare at.  The hurdle seemed to me to span upward to an unreachable height.  A little window with a narrow shelf extending back into the small room to cover the cinder block wall was cluttered with bottles – probably chemicals for cleaning.  If I could just jump that high!  

This little washroom at the back of my first-grade classroom was where I waited for feedback to be distributed for behaviors that I was sure were perfectly innocent.  Mrs. Irene, my teacher, seemed to bide her time before carrying out the punishment.  The confining wait was apparently worse than the discipline since I cannot remember the outcome.  But the nightmarish chastisement of an unreachable window cut into a marsh green fortification, frustrated me to the extent that the image is deeply engraved into the raw nerves of my brain.  

Corrective evaluations are necessary for our development, but mercy colors every sincere act of positive feedback when that is what is needed.  Years ago, I read in a book on paranoia that the ailment is accentuated by the lack of the feedback that would extinguish the unfounded fears.  To have anxiety is to wrestle with the lack of good information.  When fear rises up into the shoulders bringing tension to the muscles in the neck and the cause of it is not real – just imagined – then accurate feedback is a warm salve that penetrates beneath the thin skin.  It brings relief.  The assurance reveals the absence of a threat.  To hold it back is an act of negligence.  

Actually, the most accessible source of feedback is much more available.  You have the resource within you to dispute the unknown possibility as just that – an unknown future.  You can tell yourself that it is not real.  It is unreal because it does not exist.  You can list the other possibilities — possibilities that will not inflict the fear.  If the worst possibility does come into existence, then convince yourself that you can choose at that time to fear it if necessary for your survival; but it is only a figment of the imagination until then.  There is nothing to fear now.  Like in the book I used to read to my children, it is an imaginary monster fancied to be hiding in the closet.  It has no power.  It cannot destroy you.  To hold this critical feedback back – to withhold it from myself – is an act of negligence.  It is self-destructive.  

Instead, talk yourself into understanding that there are many other possibilities on the horizon.  Be specific with yourself.  List them.  It will take a while to learn that you can succeed in this; but it will be sweet to your soul and healing to your bones (Proverbs 16:24).  It is hard to imagine that friends would withhold encouraging words and essential information; but it is unbelievable that I would withhold them from myself.  If the mind of the wise can instruct his mouth so that he will not say things best unsaid, then I can instruct my mind by disputing unfounded fears. 

The heart of the wise instructs his mouth. And adds persuasiveness to his lips. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:23-24 NASB

Stephen Williams

Little Fly

I am greeted by my little winged buzzing scavenger.  She never misses the chance to show her devotion.  I do not care for her persistence.  She is aways touching my skin to show she likes to be around me.  I confess, I do not return her love.  I brush her off; but she does not seem to mind.  Her dedication is undaunting.  She is relentless.  But in an odd kind of way, I’m glad that she has returned.  I still find her annoying.  I hate the thought of where she has been and what mischief has dirtied her feet; but if warm weather requires her presence then she is welcome.

When the warm ground vanishes Winter’s push to confine me indoors, she rides the wings of the southern wind to open the door to freedom.  When her great great grandmother’s great grand joined her clan and swarmed the enemies who enslaved God’s people, the result was freedom (Exodus 8:24).  If I have to endure her affection in order to lay in the sunshine, then welcome back little nuisance!  If God could purpose your ancestors, I can endure your plague!

When you lite on my shoulder, I will think to gift my praise to God because your presence meant freedom to worship (Exodus 8:20).  Your people praised you by remembering those days (Psalm 78).  So can I, when bothered by a fly.  Anything and everything reminds me to worship — even this pestering pest that tickles the hair on my hand!  “The LORD has prepared everything for his purpose” (Proverbs 16:4a).  One purpose must be, to remind me of Thee.  “Let the fields and everything in them celebrate” (Psalm 96:12a)”, even if there be flies among the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28).  And this little worrisome creature will parcel your words of wisdom as it dances from shoelace to face.  And I will resolve to hear them!

Stephen Williams

Humility on the Line

I saw humility stationed like a sentry guarding its treasure.  It wore no badge and displayed no royal banners.  It did not put on airs nor did it show any sign of feeling awkward.  It was an eagle perched on the white painted line of the highway and finishing its meal of roadkill.  No buzzard dare blunder there!  The white crown was clean, but the image seemed to be marred.  I can’t quite conscience the contradiction imposed on my imagination.  The national bird is not so proud as to humble itself out of necessity.  

It did not shy away into some secret hiding place when it heard my truck coming.  It waited until the last second to make sure it was out of the way.  Hunger erases shame.  Need numbs us to social delicacies.  The world is not inverted when nature buries its kin under the wings of natural forces.  It does not blush at the stateliest of birds intervening on dust to dust.  Every day the natural order of things brings the humble to glory and the glorious to humility.  If we do not self-determine humility, humility will come anyway, one way or the other.  

If choosing humility were so easy and natural as an eagle taking the place of a buzzard, the word could be removed from the dictionary.  It would be unnecessary – like no longer needing a word to distinguish china on the table from paper plates if these things didn’t identify wealth or status.  It would be like not needing a word to distinguish between formal wear or sweats if social occasions did not demand them.  All we would have would be plates of pavement and the feathers we were born to wear.  We would ease into humility on our daily walks and display it as effortlessly as smiles and frowns.  We would not be embarrassed by tears.  We would receive empathy as easily as praise and interruption as easily as an invitation.   We would trust our sense of need for provision outside ourselves and live every moment acknowledging our vulnerability to changing circumstances.  We would just know without ever questioning it, that God is as necessary for our every motion as He is for our survival. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 CSB).

Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:5-6 CSB).  

Stephen Williams

After-Storm

In the night, the wind’s broom of loose twigs bound by strings of rain swept the surfaces with hurried and wild swoops leaving the last of Fall trigs and loosely attached tender Spring fresh green leaves.  Someone will have to come behind it and tidy up with a broom of straw and string.  The soothing breeze that follows the storm is stirring random paths of slightly raised waves across the pond.  They catch the rays of light that breach the lagging clouds and linger from shore to shore glittering as they go.  They bump the tender willows like a friend touching your arm and saying, “May I pass through?”  

The feathered creatures have not ceased to say their peace about the reprieve or even taken a breath from their chattering in relief.  They are happy that its force was muted.  They are singing their ballad about an aftermath invisible.  No one would know about the forceful warnings except that those deep throated frogs must be revealing the secret! It is so still that I must wonder if I were awakened in the night by a dream instead of its howling shouts.  It was just letting off steam.  And I worried for nothing.  This time, “The Lord was not in the wind” (1 Kings 19:11).  He is in the stillness instead (1 Kings 19:12).

And Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. (Mark 4:39)

Stephen Williams