"My daily routines are transactional.
Everything that happens in my day
is a transaction between the external world
and my internal world. Everything is raw material."
I stood at the kitchen sink, and felt a slight rise in the last floorboard near the baseboard. I bent down to look. The rise looked bigger from ground level. I opened the cabinet under the sink. All was dry and quiet, no sound of dripping water or any puddles on the floor. I went back to washing dishes. But every time I walked away from the sink and back again, the twisted board was undeniable.
I called the plumber, feeling crazy because there was no water anywhere. He came right over. He repeated all of my steps and found nothing. Then he popped the kick plate off the dishwasher and started making a lot of noises I did not appreciate. Still no water.
Then he unwrapped the supply hose and tiny drops of water came away with the insulated wrap, a mist really, so fine you had to rub your fingers together to feel the wet. But there it was, a leak so faint it just eased between the floorboards and never left a puddle on the surface.
Mike came home from work that day to a full-on hazmat situation - the kitchen and dining room hardwood floors ripped out, both rooms draped in floor-to-ceiling zippered sheeting and industrial fans blowing so hard and loud, you couldn't hold a conversation even yelling between both hands cupped around your mouth.
By the time the crew uncovered the full extent of the leak, the entire dining room and kitchen had been moved into the living room - furniture, rugs, countertops, sink, stove, base cabinets and their contents and that culprit, the not-that-old dishwasher.
That little leak went far and wide.
In a similar way, the little things you do in a day, your small practices, they matter and they add up. They may be drops in a bucket now, but soon the bucket fills. One way or another, when that bucket overflows those drops water your soul and others around you, or they don't.
Do you ever ask yourself, what history am I writing, not in the sweeping projects, but in the little hours of every day? If my small habits add up to the big vows of my lifetime, what do I want them to be?
I have written much about carving out white space, a whole month of daily writing, and I was thinking then of the purpose for all of that created space.
What will we pour into that white space?
What are the little letters that make up the words that create the paragraphs of our story?
How can we choose the habits in a day that slowly build the life we crave, the life God calls us to?
I am not thinking of our big works. I am homing in on daily habits that are making us while we are not looking. Every small action, all the parts of our day we call ordinary - how we start our day, what we think about, what we say, what we read, how we treat others, how we give or hold back and what we put our hands to.
Here are the daily habits that more often than not keep me on my toes, keep my soul bright, clear and compassionate. These are the habits that help me see my way, listen to others and to my God. If I can only do these small things in a day, even skirt their edges or feel their warmth, then I will have done big things in the end. Just by being faithful, these small things will never remain small.
Fill up with God's Word.
It might seem late in this writing, to mention actually reading the Bible. We are several chapters into POUR: tiny (practical) ways to water your soul and maybe my thoughts have not seemed all that practical to you. You might say,"Finally!" and ask why I didn't just begin here.
But this is not an afterthought. Few believers ever admit that reading the Bible is difficult, but it is for me. It is a living, sharp, cutting blade that needs care and gumption to invite into your heart and your soul. It takes guts and grit and some real unknowing to take it all in, not just the sparkly parts.
So I hoped to get your eyes adjusted to seeing hidden things in everyday life where God's fingerprints are all over the place if you can only dust for them, and then go to Scripture and read about how the God who loves us took on skin and bones.
The Bible is a story, a story of body and blood and unfailing love, not merely a string of verses.
My own faith unfolded with hints of Jesus, tender pangs in my heart of real love from stories like the little boy with fish and loaves, Zaccheaus in that sycamore tree or Jesus always having room for children, not with reading the gilded pages of thick Scripture first. I tried reading my bible back when I was twelve and first walked that church aisle with my own two feet; tried valiantly, determinedly.
But I made the rookie mistake of starting in Genesis and trying to read straight through in Old King James, stumbling over all the Thy's and Thou's. I got bogged down in the begats (quicksand is no place for a twelve-year-old), and then sadly walked through most of high school without the Jesus I had headed down the aisle to meet.
Oh he was there right alongside me, within me even, but I didn't go to Him, didn't seek Him, didn't live out all that He put into my heart when He settled there back when I asked Him in.
If only I had gotten Frederick Buechner's suggestion of never starting at the beginning and trying to plow your way straight through to the end, but instead focusing on the mountains and valleys at first, and then if you are serious about giving God a chance, sticking to the higher elevations or the eyewitness accounts. For me those are the stories of people with names and personalities, and the poetic Psalms and the Gospels.
I guess I didn't want you to go to your Bible as duty, but with all the awe and tender heart of a inquisitive child following her adored Father around his workshop and asking a million why's. A child doesn't start with where you come from, but only who you are when you are with them.
So I try and begin every day with a few simple things - a cup of home-brewed coffee, my open Bible, a few blank pages and a wide awake heart. Between my Bible pages where all the words are moving, alive and razor sharp, I meet God and see what He has done, hear what He said and connect with how He loved across many broken lives and deep scars.
I cannot go in with my mind made up about what He will say or do. I have no idea. I am only getting my mind in sync with His Spirit for the day, before the news, before email or phone calls or work. I guess I am finding my heart's home and starting there. It is an attempt to reframe for a new day and give my firsts to God.
I have always agreed with Anne Lamont on this:
"The hour before the world gets to you is precious and sacred time."
I might not get an hour in before little feet hit the floor and it may not be dramatic in the moment, but I start with the One who made it all - our universe, this sky, these bright stars I see sometimes and sometimes they are hidden, all these people walking around my town with names and hearts, including me - all with such fine detail, a good purpose and so much generosity it breaks my heart.
Maybe you naturally tend toward a bigger soul, but I have to dive into waters way over my head, otherwise I will not think bigger and broader than my own self.
I need more life than I can imagine in my small soul, more kind thought than I can wrap my brain around and more generous love than my heart knows it can hold.
I find all that in Trinity God, whose history with and love for us humans lives among the pages of Holy Scripture, in the faithful ways of God, life of Jesus and gift of His sacrifice, the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who was there when God created the world and then entered that same world, becoming dear and close friends with twelve men, and at least as many women, all who did their flawed best to follow hard after him.
Jesus, kind and tough and true, a real challenge to my scarcity noggin' and selfish heart. Plain and simple, I need him.
If you want to try reading the Bible as a novel (authentic to Scripture) rather than snippets here and there, often out of context, try The Book of God. I only found this shining gem about seven years ago and it still amazes me what a well-kept secret it is. It will bring the story alive and send you back to your Bible to see what you missed.
So here I am sitting in a chair with my fingers around a white cup alternately looking out my window and reading my Bible, filling up with Jesus. It is the only way I know to go out into my day - pouring out what has been given to me. I come back again and again everyday to that well and fill to the brim, to love better, to forgive more quickly and more often, to acknowledge my flaws, to find the way, to follow the truth and live in some small and significant way, the resurrected life.
Trust me on this one. This is no substitute for being in Scripture. Every. Single. Day.
Of course, we can't just read and walk away unchanged. We have to let our hearts be rearranged and we must take the love of Jesus with us when we hit the sidewalks.
Get outside and see your Maker's hand.
If I can take a walk, sit in a porch swing, go for a run, pick up acorns, plant a flowerpot, go to a farmers' market, visit a friend or even open my window to the birdsong, I am refreshed and filled up.
Have you ever thought we are living on a living thing? The earth is alive, humming and breathing with all of her seasons, mountains, oceans, fig trees, hummingbirds, mama foxes, blue hours and butterflies?
Be kind and true.
If I am honest with you, I will admit I am easily hurt and then retreat into withholding my heart, but that is not who I want to be. And I don't just want a thicker skin. I want a thicker skin about myself and a softer heart toward others. So everyday is an opportunity for me to practice being kind and true. I think Jesus practiced the two together, kindness first and truth always there and coming in close on her heels.
Kindness is like that leak in my kitchen or better yet a light rain, small drops that can water bigger things wherever they fall.
Kindness can always go first.
We like going first until it comes to kindness. But let's be the first ones to bring kindness wherever we go - first to smile or first to make eye contact. I read an article once about suicide and that many survivors told stories of being on the way to carry out their despair and because of the simple kindness of a stranger, a small smile or a moment of being seen changed their minds.
Kindness is powerful and engaging. Don't believe for a second that it is weak.
May we be the first to offer a kind word, first to say thank you, first to offer compassion, first to fulfill our part of an agreement, regardless of whether the other party does. Simple kindness, especially in the face of so much unkindness in the world today, may not always be easy, but it will be brave.
Kindness is full of respect for every soul. A kind heart pays close attention, noticing welling tears or that faint flicker across the face of another that tells us something is tender there. We may have wounded them unintentionally, something I always told my kids to look for when joking around, or they may feel safe enough to really feel in your presence. A kindhearted soul will see the hidden truth, if not in the moment, at least upon reflection for a kind heart is thoughtful.
We can be first to include someone new or overlooked or struggling. Kindheartedness takes time to listen, to notice hearts, to learn names and to say hello.
I was visiting my mama recently and we took two plump autumn pumpkins, the ones with the best stems, to a new widow in her neighborhood. My mama loves to leave pumpkins on the doorstep of her friends or box them up and send them in the mail. Kindness can be small and simple and make you happy just to do it.
Pray Mama Bird prayers.
Prayer is a collaborative act. When we pray, we are joining our hearts and minds and dreams to God's own. There are as many ways to do it as there are people in this world, but just to do it is the thing.
My most recent loves are one line prayers that I can come back to all day long and so bring God to bear at many points during my day.
Here are two tiny prayers, little birds, I came across in my Sacred Ordinary Days planner -
"Root us in your word, O Lord: in the soil of your field."
"Let your justice roll down like waters, Lord: but float us on your grace."
Aren't those sweet and powerful?
Henri Nouwen reminds me this kind of praying is not magic. He describes these short nurturing prayers as "slowly building a little nest for themselves in our heart and staying there for the rest of our busy day."
I like that idea of me as a Mama Bird praying over her nest cradling little speckled eggs under her wing and watchful eye. Her nest can hold life and that is the point of my prayers in the little hours.
What we are thinking about here is what we are filling up with day-to-day, drop by drop. If it is all we can accomplish, may it be what keeps us and others afloat in a beautiful, shipwrecked world.
So tiny way #6 to water your soul (and others around you) is to fill up with a few simple things: coffee face-to-face with Jesus, getting outside, being kind and Mama Bird prayers, even when it seems these drops can't possibly be enough to make a big difference.
Don't measure these daily drops. Just work them into the soil of your day and see what grows over time.