Book Notes: Things That Matter, Wrap Up

When I first started reading Things That Matter, I said I was going to “study” it. I have a friend who was also planning to read it. A month has come and gone, and my friend and I have not connected. Maybe we’ll discuss these ideas at a later time, but I finished the book last night, and I don’t think I have too much to say about it here. Overall, the book resonated with me. I agree with the ideas the author proposes. The chapters in which I frequently underlined sentences are the ones about the distractions I struggle with most – possessions and technology. Here are some of the highlights:

“Who can go gung-ho after a challenging goal if they’re constantly buying and taking care of a bunch of stuff? Who can invest in things that matter if they’re too busy organizing the garage? We’re drowning in possessions, and all too often our dreams are drowning with us.” (110)

“Look around your home. All that clutter used to be money and time.” (117)

“Minimizing takes effort, but on the other side of that effort is the ongoing payoff of greater freedom to accomplish the things we want.” (119)

“Just imagine what life would look like if you were content with what you had.” (121)

“Do these things promote my purpose?” (125)

“One of the most common excuses for not pursuing one’s goals in life is ‘I don’t have time.’ And every one of the distractions we’ve looked at in this book is a time stealer…. Cut back on your screen time, and you will have taken the single most effective step to opening up more time for meaningful pursuits.” (170)

One night when I was looking at one of my time-stealers (YouTube) in bed, I found videos by a woman named Nena Lavonne that really interested me. I’m testing out some of her practical suggestions. I’ll post about my thoughts on these soon.

Trusting God in Sickness

I recently read the book, The Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence/Alan Vermilye). The Eleventh Letter of Brother Lawrence (pgs. 95-96) got me thinking about my own attitudes toward sickness. Long before Covid 19, Bobby called me a germaphobe. Do I really have a fear of germs? Maybe. I usually go straight to the bathroom to wash my hands when I return home from shopping, (You know – touching carts, hangers, check-out touch screens.) or when I’ve been touching other people; but my fear of germs doesn’t stop me from going out, shaking hands and/or hugging in public. Sometimes I focus too much on wondering if I’m getting sick, or when I know I am, trying to figure out what caused it or what I could have done differently to prevent it. I think things like oh no, my throat feels a little weird or I shouldn’t have stayed up so late the other night.

Here’s the part of Brother Lawrence’s letter that made my eyelids stretch and my mouth hang open: “They see sickness as a pain against nature and not as a favor from God. Seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress. But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of God, out of His mercy and the means He uses for their salvation, commonly find sweetness and consolation in it.” (pg. 95) He was talking about worldly people, who don’t suffer “like Christians”, and it sounded like he was talking about me!

So why do I mildly freak out when I get sick or when there are sick symptoms in my home? I don’t think I’m afraid of dying, or of physical pain. I rarely take medication, I’ve had six natural childbirths, and suffered physically through many oddball ailments over the years. I think the real problem is that sickness ruins my plans. I might have to lie on the couch or in bed while the house falls apart and I don’t get anything done. Not what I want to do anyway. If members of my family are sick I may have to drop what I’m doing to perform unpleasant nursing or waitressing tasks, or sit in a doctor’s office. How ungrateful and selfish am I?

Brother Lawrence continues: “I pray that you see that God is often nearer to us and present within us in sickness than in health. Do not rely completely on another physician because He reserves your cure to Himself. Put all your trust in God. You will soon find the effects in your recovery, which we often delay by putting greater faith in medicine than in God. Whatever remedies you use, they will succeed only as far as He permits. When pains come from God, only He can ultimately cure them. He often sends sickness to the body to cure diseases of the soul. Comfort yourself with the Sovereign Physician of both soul and body.” (pgs. 95-96)

In thinking more on this paragraph (for some reason I was straightening my hair after I read this letter) I realized that this has been my experience. I’ve noticed a pattern where I get sick after times of busyness, such as I’ve written about here many times. I’m usually burning the candle at both ends, trying to do too much, not taking care of my body, less aware of God’s Presence, and feeling stressed out or worried. Then, BOOM! I have symptoms of sickness and I initially try to reason things out. Then, I realize I’m powerless. And it’s like God is saying to me, if you’re not going to slow down and take care of yourself, then I’m going to help you. It seems that sickness has a humbling effect. It reminds me that I’m not as strong as I thought I was. It can be comforting to remember that God is in control of everything, and that He is the one who heals me.

Sometimes the healing doesn’t seem to come fast enough. Brother Lawrence addresses this at the beginning of his letter. “I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray earnestly that God gives you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross. He will loose you when He thinks fit. Happy are those who suffer with Him. Accustom yourself to suffer in that manner and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, and as long, as He judges necessary for you.”

How I would love to receive a letter from a friend, encouraging me in this way. This is obviously something that I struggle with, especially when I fall back into my long-practiced habit of self-reliance rather than to completely surrender to God’s will. I need to pray for the grace to trust God in all things. As St. Ignatius states in his First Principle and Foundation: “…we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short one, and likewise in all other matters.” It seems this attitude would bring much peace in this time when people are angry and afraid of even the possibility of being exposed to sickness. Brother Lawrence advises, “Be satisfied with the condition in which God places you.” I think St. Paul would agree.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This sounds like a prescription for unruffled peace.

Book Notes: Things That Matter, Chapter 2

“Our newer tech- and media-based distractions are actually just add-ons to many of the old diversions that have plagued humanity for countless generations, like having mixed-up priorities or viewing ourselves or other people in unhelpful ways. They’re internal before they’re external.” (pg. 19)

He’s got a point. Sure, there are many new ways to be distracted nowadays, but they don’t seem to be the root of the problem. I can get distracted by my iphone, but why really, am I turning my attention to it? I was thinking of the spiritual battle when I read this chapter and some of the language in it supports this.

“… resisting it is a battle worth fighting.” (pg. 19)

“We wage war every single day to defeat these distractions and align ourselves with greater pursuits.” (pg. 27)

“This can be difficult and requires moments of wrestling within ourselves. But we learn to fight.” (pg. 24)

I (of course) also think of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Discernment of Spirits. Joshua Becker suggests ways to respond when our distractions have become our “masters rather than our servants”. (pg. 24)

One way is through self-examination and frequently sitting quietly with ourselves. This sounds just like the Examen and being within. He says, “Secondly, we can verbally articulate what distractions are keeping us from our best work, keeping us from those we love the most, or keeping us from fulfilling our highest purpose.” (pg. 24) Then a third response is to remove the distractions diligently and intentionally. Identifying and getting rid of inordinate attachments comes to mind.

Here is a list of distractions to be covered in the following chapters of the book:

  1. fear
  2. past mistakes
  3. happiness
  4. money
  5. possessions
  6. applause
  7. leisure
  8. technology

I’m interested in continuing with Chapters 3 & 4 this week.

Book Notes: Things That Matter, Chapter 1

It’s time for another book study. I didn’t think too much about this book choice. I received an email from Joshua Becker, author of Becoming Minimalist and The Minimalist Home, offering me a free six week online course if I purchased the book that day. The words “Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life” made the impulse purchase sound like a good idea.

The first chapter is about living life without regrets. He asks, “If you were to die today, what one thing (or few things) would you be most disappointed that you weren’t able to complete?” My first thoughts were: If I die today, then it would be God’s will, so the things I wasn’t able to complete were not supposed to be completed by me. But I see the ideas behind the question. What might I regret? What things are most important to me right now? Well… I would like to continue to homeschool Mary, and to be a wife to Bobby, mother to my children, daughter to my parents, sister, friend, etc. I might wish I learned to trust God more, worry less, and stop wasting time on those stinkin’ distractions.

He also asks, “Do you know your purpose? Or purposes?” Yes, I know mine. The Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises is a favorite answer to this question.

I could also answer more specifically with my vocation and the works that go along with it, and the sharing of my life experiences with those going through what I’ve been through. Thinking that I know my purposes fairly well, this is the quote from Chapter 1 that caught my attention:

“Why aren’t we focusing on our purposes, which would give us joy and fulfillment day by day, leading to a sense of satisfaction at the end of life?” And the answer is “distractions”. I’m sure we’ll dig into this in later chapters.

For people who don’t know their purpose(s), there is an exercise in the back of the book. I did it anyway because I’m funny like that. I listed my passions and abilities. I have loads of them, but I’ll admit they are not very exciting. (Except to me, of course!) They include reading, writing, studying, simplifying, pondering, cleaning, organizing, and more.

I listed some characteristics of the ISTJ personality. Definitely mine: practical, logical, reliable, honest, loyal, responsible, calm, ordered. You can see why “boring” has been used to stereotype ISTJ’s in one word.

I listed others’ needs that I find myself especially touched by, and experiences in my past that give me empathy for others in the same situation. I like how the author recognizes how comforting others gives meaning to suffering and can be a purpose in life.

Lastly, there’s a Venn Diagram made of three overlapping circles for passions, abilities and others’ needs, with the space in the center for your purposes. And there’s a place to list your top three meaningful activities. I expected my purposes to be the ones I currently spend much of my time on, (faith, family, and service work) but I felt led to add another to my list. It’s what I call The Intellectual Life – reading, writing, and studying. I have no idea if I have time for this, or what it might lead me to in the future, but I added it anyway. It’s an activity that I do not spend much time doing currently, but I imagine I could if I am able to remove many of the distractions in my life and have a greater focus on it. I also hope to focus on better fulfilling the first three purposes I mentioned.

I have one more point to share. It’s the idea that our self-focused pursuits might be lesser than our others-focused pursuits. I know there needs to be balance here. It’s good for me to do things alone and just for fun, but it can be overdone; and I don’t want to swing over to the all-work-no-play side either. However, I might regret it on my deathbed if I spend too many hours doing crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and binging shows when there are activities that would benefit others (and myself as well) to pursue.

Dear Me

From a journal entry on 3/4/21

What would I tell my younger self if I could?

Pray and meditate.

Ask for help.


Don’t waste time.

You are beautiful and God loves you.

Do not be afraid to trust in Him.

Allow Him to lead you where He wants you to go. Spend your days with Him.

Let go of your agenda.

Don’t accumulate too many possessions. Keep it simple.

Read spiritual classics.

Do the Spiritual Exercises. The 30 days one.

Find your vocation.

Don’t use a TV or an iPhone.

Go outside.

Go to Mass, confession, and adoration.

Live in reality.

Do not worry.

Give your whole self to God. He will take care of you. He is all you need.

Springtime in New York

(Photos accompanied by a spring vacation meditation.)

Yes, Lord, I am tired of running the show – and tired of running. This has been a particularly long stretch. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy some of it, but how much better everything would be with you. I miss you.

I want to be led – not driven. Please take me. I want to hold your hand. To slow down. To stop. To be still. To be within. To stop the noise and be quiet. I am finally alone with you. I am letting go of my agenda. I surrender. I know that your peace will come. I am yours now. I will do whatever you tell me. Your mother has helped me. Bobby and I prayed the rosary. She took my hands and brought me to you. Thank you, Mary.

There was Easter prep… shopping, cleaning, services, time with family. Vacation planning, a tennis match, a movie. Rushing… Gilmore Girls with Mom, cleaning, shopping for food, TV shows, a shop til you drop day. Preparing for the trip – laundry, cleaning, fixing broken pipes. Trying to make the house perfect. There was anxiety about leaving and coming. Anxiety about being late or early. I took everything into my own hands, and pushed to the limits. I ignored my feelings and my body. I could do more – sleep less – running on empty – running away from the silence. Wanting to control…

Something?? It’s OK. I’m just a human. I do what I don’t want to do – and don’t do what I truly want. I want my way and that will not make me happy. And I run from what will. I don’t need to figure anything out. Only to sit with you and be in your presence. Love you and others and myself. I am a sweet little human. Glad to have you save me Lord. I need you…

We was like peas and carrots again. I was blessed to attend Masses on Saturday and Sunday. And on Sunday afternoon, I walked in pleasant awareness that I was not alone, and not in charge. I walked through Brooklyn, across the Manhattan Bridge, around Chinatown, and back over the Brooklyn Bridge. There was no rush. It was a beautiful mixture of nature and architecture that seemed to be just for me to enjoy. I’ve read that spring is a season of renewal. Yeah, I’d agree with that.

Anti-Procrastination Day

Today I accomplished three tasks that were on the to-do list in my head. One I waited a week to do, one I “should” have done at least a month ago, and the other has been on my mind for over a year. My excitement over overcoming procrastination grew when I realized that today is Wednesday. In the old days, when my children were all pre-teens, and my hair was practically black, the FlyLady was a fun motivator for me. She reminded me to follow routines, to meal plan and cook, and not to whine. And Wednesday was Anti-Procrastination Day.

Nostalgia is the word I’d use here. I spent some time during my lunch break on the website reading her lessons which have not changed at all. This led to my reading posts from My Simple Spot, a place where I blogged from 2009-2010. It was a year when I was particularly focused on simplicity. It started out as a methodical decluttering of possessions, was sidetracked by a miscarriage, led to pondering the reduction of distractions, and ended in my deciding to give up blogging there, and at my other blog, My Thoughtful Spot. I was pregnant with my sixth baby; and decided that as I was adding more to my plate, some things had to be removed from it. Bye-bye blogging.

It was interesting to see how some things haven’t changed. I still spend way too much time reading and researching topics I already know enough about. It’s an idle pastime that doesn’t usually bear fruit. I suppose it reinforces conviction; but without action, it’s really procrastination.

Another thing I noticed; was how I miss being able to express ideas freely as I used to do. I was much more open back then. No time to ponder why right now. Chores and a warm bath are the plan for tonight. Maybe a little reading in bed. A book. No iphone. Abandonment to Divine Providence. Something I don’t already know enough about.

Book Notes: The Discernment of Spirits

No, my tree is not still up. I took that picture in December and I like it.

I love this book! I had no idea so much could be said about St. Ignatius’s rules of discernment. Now I realize that the practical examples are endless. I made myself some old-fashioned index card notes from this book. They are full of ideas I hope to remember. I imagine they will be quick reminders for me as I attempt to put these rules into practice.

So, instead of typing out a blog post, I am going to share with you photos of my notecards.

Christmas Vacation

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Well, well, well… it’s that time of year again! Sitting under a blanket in a comfy living room chair, admiring the cozy lights on the Christmas tree, hearing the sounds of sneezes, coughs, and the clearing of throats… realizing that I have some time to blog now and that it’s been three months since I’ve posted.

I don’t feel interested in reflecting here on what has been, but on looking to what will be. It’s the time of year when I usually begin a new planner. I ponder priorities, not alone, of course. This week I want to pull out the notes from a Spiritual Exercises retreat I went on in October. I wrote down some resolutions that weekend, but they were lost in the sea of busy days, weeks and months that followed.

On Christmas, I received many new books. They have motivated me to finish reading the books I began at the beginning of 2021. Diary of a Country Carmelite: A Year in the Garden of Carmel. Done. The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living. At 46%, but it’s so good. Why did I ever put it down? And The Screwtape Letters. This would not take long to read if I would just keep my iphone out of my bedroom at night.

In the quiet, slowed pace of this Christmas vacation, I am filled with hope. I am out of the mindset of “I have to do this” and “I’ve got to do that” and resting. I am thinking of what I might like to do in the new year. Maybe I’ll post a Book Notes series on St. Augustine’s Confessions. Or the Letters and Instructions of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Maybe I’ll work-out in the basement, or go outside more often. The possibilities make me happy. Living in the present moment and enjoying God’s Presence and direction… these are the things I miss in my rush to get everything done. Today there is no hurry, no agenda, just peace and joy. I am thankful for these gifts.

After Reading Media During Lunch Break

The world is so strange, Lord. Maybe you’ve known this, but I keep on pinching myself (not literally). Why am I surprised about what’s happening? We are under attack as we have always been. This is a spiritual battle. Maybe there are fewer people aware of this fact and fighting back. Maybe I am aware and not doing my part. Looking at my part is what I can do. Praying the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet, loving my family, getting to know people, forming relationships… these are things I can do. I need to have faith, hope, and love before I can give it away. I need to stay in the present moment with you, Lord. To take care of my responsibilities at home. Do not grow faint – Run the race – Read Your Word. Seek the Truth in the places I know I will find it.

“For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:17-18