Wait. What just happened? I know today was the first day of school, but I feel so unprepared. It’s like I went from tortoise to hare overnight. I remember we were slowly creeping through Gilmore Girls: Season 1 with my mom, I was doing laps in my dad’s pool, going to daily Mass and frequenting Adoration… Then we went away for a week of not having to do anything; and came back to summer’s-over-get-busy!
I want to reflect on the season gone by in order to let it go and clear my head, making space for direction to come. I pray for clarity and the ability to focus on what’s important now.
This summer was enjoyable, but arguably the shortest one ever. Looking through my photos reminds me of some highlights. Hugh Jackman!! I’m so grateful I got to see him perform as Harold Hill. It was a fun weekend with Bobby, Joseph, Hannah, and Mary. Then there was the impromptu weekend in NYC with my father. I took him to Central Park and he took me to Yankee Stadium. I was surprised that he didn’t mind subways. We tired ourselves out climbing stairs, and walking, and we ordered a feast at an Italian restaurant that we ate for days. It was an unexpected blast!
The girls and I attended some summer concerts at a local park, I started decluttering the dreaded basement, there was a trimming the bushes weekend, and last week in the Poconos. It was relaxing, but it’s good to be back home.
Writing this out has helped me. It was a good summer. I’m realizing that I just did too much in the past few days. Once again, I want to slow down. Fall is a great time to get back to routines. I love order. It may take a little time to get there, so I won’t expect it to happen in one day. Slow and steady.
Summer is in full swing now. I wanna get back into blogging, but I’m not sure what I want to write about yet, so I’ll start with an update post.
Yesterday… I was spreading mulch. The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be. I was moving very slowly. Pushing that yellow wheelbarrow and using Bobby’s pitchfork was like lifting weights for me. Because we are having a triple birthday party on Saturday, and Bobby had to go to Canada, I said I would do what I can.
I think we’re in the midst of a party season. There was Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, and Sarah‘s birthday, and Fourth of July, and the Fourth of July Eve, then the triple birthday party and Hannah’s birthday. This year, Mother’s Day was my best ever. We played tennis and got Chinese food. Of course, not cooking is a great present to me, but we topped that with a double feature. We watched Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (including a Sing-along with enthusiastic family participation).
One Saturday, Bobby and I picked up a bathroom vanity cabinet that I had ordered in February. We took out the old one, and since we needed a plumber, we decided to hire someone to install it. He hasn’t come over yet, so it’s just sitting there. I have plans to paint and update the room as soon as he comes.
I took a day trip with my mom and her dog, Rosie, to visit my uncle and his wife and daughter in Rhode Island. Then the kids and I went to New York with Bobby for one night. We slept in the apartment and visited the American Museum of Natural History.
I’m in the process of planning out the next homeschool year. Mary, most likely my last homeschooler, will be in the sixth grade. I felt emotional as I was sorting through her fifth grade books. I used to take the Saxon math textbooks and solutions manuals and pack them away for the next kid. But there was no next kid. We don’t need the books anymore. And the fifth grade Faith and Life text, Credo… I remember buying that when little Matthew (now 23) was going into fifth grade. It was one of those days when life appears to be passing by too quickly.
But today I am grateful. During one of my late night YouTube scrolling sessions, I saw a thumbnail about getting rid of belly fat and I checked it out. The video was by a very likable woman whose theory seemed sound. I watched a few of her videos about food. The next day I was texting with my friend who told me she was watching videos about light calisthenics. I sent her a link to the belly fat woman and it turned out that we were both watching videos by the same Pahla B. Does my phone have the ability to send videos that my friends are watching to my YouTube feed? Or was it just meant to be? Anyway, from that day on I’ve been practicing her 5-0 Method, and my friend and I have been sharing our experiences through texts. I’ve been feeling very happy that I am taking care of my body, albeit, imperfectly.
Before this post gets too crazy long, I’ll share one last thing. While I was mulching yesterday, I listened to MP3 talks by Fr. John Hardon. They were recordings from 1996 about the Real Presence. I’ve listened to five of the 18 parts, and plan to continue. It’s given me a desire to read Mysterium Fidei (and to attend daily Mass and get to Adoration more frequently). If time permits, I may write more about this or any of these topics again. Surely not this week, however, as I will be busy with party prep.
I wrote this post at the beginning of June. I don’t know why I didn’t publish it, but I’m posting it now before I begin writing an update for July. Chronology.
Last weekend, my daughter’s boyfriend came over to watch a movie with us for the first time. We ran around picking up the house and putting things back where they belong before he arrived. The next morning, the house looked really neat, and we wondered why it doesn’t look like that more often.
Our quick tidy wasn’t the only thing that got the house to a place of neatness, and my mind to a state of rest.
I linked in my last post, videos by a YouTuber that caught my interest recently. The idea that really got me thinking was one she listed as a reason people have clutter: delayed decisions.
I realized that I have struggled with indecisiveness and avoidance many times in my life. I think my mom used to describe me as a procrastinator when I was a child. She was probably right. I remember starting a whole research paper the day before it was due, and all-nighters were a regular part of my high school and college years. (Those continued during my 5 years of working third shift and my 14 years of nursing babies.) But getting back to delayed decisions… I instantly knew this was why I have not finished decluttering my whole house yet, despite having been trying to get “totally organized” since 1998. And this is likely why the kitchen has been covered with laundry and dishes lately. I have been delaying deciding who does what around here since a failed attempt at changing up an old chore plan.
There’s more. Other videos revealed that the mess and clutter will always come back if I don’t make real substantial changes to my lifestyle (like when I go on a diet, then return to my regular eating habits). She offered practical ideas and inspiration that I acted on right away. And with journaling and prayer, I started thinking… I can do this. I can be decisive. Isn’t this the discernment of spirits? Awareness, understanding, and taking action to accept or reject the inspiration or temptation. (Or in my case, awareness, understanding, and not taking action.). Seriously, one of the things I like about these videos is her emphasis on being gentle with yourself. And one thing I don’t completely agree with is the encouragement to trust myself. I prefer to think of it as trusting God to lead me.
But enough about the videos… What have I been doing? Well, first I went around my home looking at all the material items and writing a list of “Unfinished Business”. This could be: repair my bathroom towel hook, open Rachel’s bank account, finish remodeling the half bath, read such and such a book, and so on. A lot of the items came from my kitchen desk area. It was basically a brain dump. I also added things I didn’t see on my pass through the house that were just in my mind. I eventually processed this list. I put tasks I will do either on a To Do list that resides in my desk drawer, attached to a manila folder holding some of the paperwork, or on my calendar, on the day or month I intend to work on them. I wrote projects on sheets of paper (where I added some of the steps to the projects) and filed them in a binder by the month I intend to work on them. If I don’t get to them in that month, I can move them forward to another month. And some tasks/projects I just crossed out as not necessary right now, or ever. It was a relief to organize the jumbled mess in my mind into a prioritized, doable plan. Order out of chaos.
The next thing I did was to make two lists of things I wished I did daily. The first listed things to keep my house effortlessly cleaned, maintained, and clutter free. The second listed things I can do to take care of myself. (Many were retreat resolutions.) I have chosen three items that I am going to focus on during June. The hope is that they’ll become habits. I usually try to change too many things at once and lose focus. Choosing only three seems, again, doable.
Lastly, I wrote 25 small chores on index cards, laid them out on the dining room table and told my four daughters to each choose 5. I’ll take on the five (least wanted) remaining tasks. I quickly wrote out lists by chore and by person (so ISTJ) for reference. I have been procrastinating doing this all spring and it feels good to have decided who is responsible for what again.
So it kind of sounds like I spend all my time writing lists. I do enjoy writing, but I’ve also been involved in many people oriented activities such as: helping Joseph buy a car, driving Hannah and Rachel around to tennis practices and matches, getting Mary new eyeglasses, spending a weekend with Bobby in Delaware, attending two school spring music concerts, doing laps in my Dad’s pool, playing tennis, tech ring, and corn hole… See I do live quite an exciting life.
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.
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.
“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:
I’m interested in continuing with Chapters 3 & 4 this week.
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.
(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.
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.