Category Archives: Book Club

CGB Book Club: Good Morning, Good Life #2

This book club is being run by my friend, Cindy Guentert-Baldo, on her Facebook group: Llamas Love Lettering. She will be doing livestreams every Saturday at 9 am PST (12 pm EST), and will send out an email the prior Tuesday, so you know what to read.

Week 2! I just received the email notice for Week 3 this Saturday, which reminded me to post for Week 2. Last Saturday, I was at an all-day planner event getting set up for the new year.

Good Morning, Good Life: 5 Simple Habits to Master Your Mornings and Upgrade Your Life

Our assignment this week is to read Chapter 1: Decide. Here are the questions that Cindy gave us to think about while we read:

  1. What is your “why”? Only share what you are comfortable sharing.
    I think I’m still working this out, but I want my life to matter, to have a positive influence on others.
  2. How did you feel when Amy shared what her “why” was? Did you feel a little judgy, or maybe relieved that her why wasn’t some Pinterest-worthy altruistic concoction?
    I guess I was a little surprised that she was so blunt about it, but it’s not a bad thing. She has a vision for her life and decided that acquiring the resources to make it happen is her motivation. Good for her. I just know for myself that acquiring wealth is *not* a motivator.
  3. What is it you truly need out of your mornings (really, out of your days)? Not what your family needs or your boss needs or your significant other needs… what is it YOU need?
    To be able to end my day with a sense of accomplishment, or to know that my day had meaning and purpose? I probably need more time to reflect upon this.

“The more you beat down your belief in your ability to know what is right for you, the more you start to think you don’t actually know.”

Pg. 28

Amy suggests removing some decision fatigue from your life, so you can concentrate on the important decisions. Some ways she suggests are to lay out your clothes for the next day at bedtime, creating a “usual order” for your morning beverage, and scheduling your exercise time.

She provides an interview with someone about his morning routine. My biggest take-away from that was when he was asked what helps him the most to get a productive start to the day. He replied that it was gratitude. “Think about the things that you are grateful for and you’ll be more motivated to do the things that you need to do.”

At the end of the chapter, Amy gives us 5 questions to help us discover our Why:

  1. What’s a moment that you remember being truly excited about something?
    I seem to be the most excited about interacting with others. It sounds silly, but I am a true extrovert at heart. Nothing makes me happier than being around others and sharing our experiences. Take this weekend for example: I went to Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village. It was super cute and there was a lot to do and see; however, it was made 1000x better because I was there with friends. I could really feel all of the joy, awe, and wonder of Christmas because I was sharing the experience. This is probably also why I blog, photograph, and post on social media: not for attention, but to be able to connect with others.
  2. Think of something that has sparked passion in you, what was it?
    My goddaughter and her sisters, photography, blogging, reading, being a part of the Planners Gone Wild community…
  3. What do you need more of in your life that you’re a little (or a lot) afraid to say out loud?
    Focus? I picked that for my “word of the year” since I allow myself to get distracted and sidelined a lot in my personal life.
  4. What’s the real reason you need more of those things in your life?
    We only have so much time. I’d rather fill my life with things that are truly important than with filler. I want to have made an impact and a difference (for the better) in other people’s lives.
  5. At the end of your life, what would you like to be able to say about how you spent your time?
    That I loved God, I loved others, and I gave 100% of myself every day.

My question to myself right now is:

If I had a lousy day and were sick and feeling miserable, what would it take for me to feel good about my day in spite of that? I think some part of that is to give myself the grace to not be on top of my game every day, but I think there is also some room to redefine what a “good day” looks like.

This reminds me of the concept of redemptive suffering. Even when you feel useless and powerless, you truly are not. See also: On Passivity vs Activity in Suffering.

See you soon for Part #3!

CGB Book Club: Good Morning, Good Life #1

This book club is being run by my friend, Cindy Guentert-Baldo, on her Facebook group: Llamas Love Lettering. She will be doing livestreams every Saturday at 9 am PST (12 pm EST), and will send out an email the prior Tuesday, so you know what to read.

Of course, I’m coming into this a tad late. No surprise there. The first livestream went up yesterday, so I watched the first few minutes of it, then paused the video so I could read the Intro (our homework), then follow along with the replay. And, I started writing this blog. Because I love to distract myself.

Good Morning, Good Life: 5 Simple Habits to Master Your Mornings and Upgrade Your Life

Here are the three questions that Cindy provided for us to reflect upon while we read the Intro:

  1. Do you consider yourself a morning person? Why or why not?
    I do consider myself to be a morning person. This is when I am most productive and have the most energy. When on vacation, my roommates can attest that I’m generally one of the first people out of bed and out the door (and typically on my way to Starbucks…). I’m actually one of those *annoying* morning people who is super cheerful upon waking up. Unfortunately for me, I don’t generally have time to do all the things around the house before I need to go to work; and then don’t feel like doing them when I get home. #messyhouse #thankgodformymom
  2. What is it you’d like to get out of a morning routine?
    It would be nice to not have to run around stressed out in the mornings, and probably better for me if I have a routine of taking my meds, having more coffee at home ($tarbuck$), and in general, feeling more prepared for my day.
  3. Which of the five habits Amy discusses in the Introduction do you think is going to be the most difficult for you to incorporate?
    Rise. LOL! I’m notorious for setting a bunch of alarms, then justifying sleeping in longer. I even set my alarm to require me to do high-level math problems to get it to shut off. Turns out, they were too easy. *sigh* Plus, who wants to get out of bed when the house is cold??

“…To build the life I wanted, I had to do more than just show up for everyone else… I have to show up and choose myself.”

Pg. xii

Amy gives an example of jumping out of bed and immediately rushing to work, something which I do all too frequently. Mostly, because I only allot myself about 4-5 hours of sleep per night. 🙂

“What if the first task of the day was to make myself happy?”

This is an interesting question. I’m not particularly motivated by seeking out my own happiness. In “The Four Tendencies” language, I’m an Obliger and am primarily motivated by what I can do for others, and am best at keeping external vs. internal commitments.

The 5 Habits:

  1. Decide: Choose for yourself what you want your mornings to look like. A good “why” will help keep you motivated.
  2. Defy: Combat your personal obstacles.
  3. Rise: Actually get up. (LOL!)
  4. Shine: Build the morning of your dreams.
  5. Thrive: “We are here to live a life. Not just a morning.”

See you soon for Part #2!

St. Anastasia Book Club: The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria


We picked this book to read for April for the St. Anastasia Book Club mostly because I had just seen the movie “Of Gods and Men,” which was excellent. The book is great for giving additional information to support the movie. It spends a lot of time speaking of the political atmosphere in Algeria, of the various factions and of the religious aspect to the conflict. This made for some dry reading, but it was useful, if you were looking for a comprehensive understanding of the situation the monks were in.

Personally, I wasn’t as interested in that part so much as the lives of the monks themselves. While the majority of the attention seemed to be on Christian, the elected prior, each of the monks was revealed in the book. By the end, you really knew them: their personalities, likes, struggles, and a little bit of what Tibhirine and the Islamic community around them meant to them.

Throughout the book were passages which are worthy of copying down and praying with. The lives of these monks teach us so much about community, love, living the faith, dealing with people with different viewpoints with love, and courage.

The book was well-written in that it showed these men as real people: not paragons of virtue, but men with strengths and faults. I think it is precisely in the accurateness of their presentation that we can come to identify with them and learn from them. They did not present an unattainable ideal, but a very human response to the world around them. An excerpt written by Paul, one of the monks, states this beautifully, “A monk is simply a sinner who joins a community of sinners who are confident in God’s mercy and who strive to recognize their weaknesses in the presence of their brothers.”

Below, I’ll quote some of the passages I found particularly inspiring. I’m sorry that I don’t have page numbers for you, as I read the e-book, but if you have the Amazon Kindle version, I’ll cite the location code.

Christian obedience required intelligence and discernment; it could not be simply mechanical. It was never permitted a Christian to commit an evil act, even if commanded to do so by a superior. (1252-55)

How important is this for us to remember, especially as Catholics whose liturgies, with minor deviations, follow a certain formula. It is easy for our participation in Mass, and even our prayers and devotions, to become rote and mechanical — lacking in true feeling and the engagement of our spirit. How necessary is it that we focus and really pay attention to what it is that we are doing.

Old and New Testament…. It’s like a set of teeth. You need the uppers and the lowers or you can’t chew. We can never be content to read a text in isolation, but only within the total context…which is the only hope for understanding the word of God. We need to search for the truth that comes from living, from meeting people, and from love—truths that bring us forward, not those that just titillate the intellect.” (1770-71)

They believed that preaching, education, social work, and good example were the best medicine, the way of da’wa. Da’wa stimulates and promotes regeneration from within by instructing Islamic morality, respect for Islam, and good behavior. (2014-15)

Christian understood perfectly well the importance of the violence in the psalms. He called them a cry that says, “God be just, so I don’t take justice into my own hands. I know I can’t be just when I am angry.” The psalms reminded him of the violence in himself, something he believed was at the core of every person. Nevertheless, Christian thought it was insensitive to be singing psalms of violence when violence was increasing all around them. (2078)

God’s law is not an à la carte menu from which to choose the easy bits, or the agreeable portions. All of it must be consumed, chewed over, and digested. The Koran has a literal meaning and an inner meaning. True understanding, the Prophet said, comes only from grasping both. (2368-70)

With the help of divine inspiration, a scholar of the law will discover the harmony that exists between the ambiguous and the clear. And this will serve to strengthen his faith further. For it is only through study, reflection, and prayer of the heart that one can attain knowledge of God and His unity. (2444-60)

I love this: “prayer of the heart.” It has been pointed out to me that studying faith without having faith yourself is merely “religious studies.” If you truly want to be a theologian, you must live the faith. Mind, body and soul. There is no disunity in the Body of Christ.

My favorite:
“Let’s talk about the cross,” the Sufi said.
“Which one?” I asked him.
“The cross of Jesus, obviously.”
“Yes, but which? When you look at the cross, you see an image of Jesus—but how many crosses do you see?”
“Perhaps three, certainly two,” the Sufi replied, thinking a bit.
“There is one in front and one behind.”
“Which comes from God?” I asked him.
“The one in front,” he said.
“Which comes from men?”
“The one behind.”
“Which is the oldest?”
“The one in front…. God had to create the first one before man could make the second one.”
“What is the meaning of the cross in front, of the man with his arms extended?”
“When I extend my arms, he said, “its for embracing, for loving.”
“And the other?” I asked.
“The other cross is an instrument of hatred, for disfiguring love.”
“My Sufi friend had said, “Perhaps three.” This third cross—isn’t it perhaps he and I and this common effort we are making to loosen ourselves from the cross of evil and sin behind, so we can bind ourselves to the cross of love in front? Isn’t this just what is happening when a Jew, Yitzhak Rabin and a Muslim, Yasir Arafat, yesterday committed themselves by their revolutionary handshake to renounce finally the sword and to plow together in peace the hard soil they share? Isn’t that gesture, the struggle of moving from hatred toward love, a third cross?” (2497)

This was just beautiful. I don’t think I’ll be able to look at a crucifix in quite the same way again. I don’t think that this in any way should lessen our reverence for the cross [thinking of the way we kiss the wood of the cross during Good Friday devotions], but rather be thankful for it. God was there for us all along, with His arms outstretched, waiting for us to walk into the embrace which was being freely offered to us. However, we were unable to see His posture of love until the cross brought this into relief. It is because of the cross that we are able to see the love of God.

“If it should happen one day, and that could be tomorrow, that I am a victim of the terrorism which seems now to be engulfing all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, and my family to remember that I gave my life for God and this country.” (2533-37)

When Christian read about Attia in the Algerian press, he decided to become his intercessor. “I felt I was my brother’s keeper, even of the brother in front of me that night. As his keeper, I should be able to find in him more than that which he had become.” At a retreat in Algiers, Christian gave three reasons to justify his intervention before the final judge: “He didn’t slit our throats; he came outside when I asked him and then didn’t return for Luc even when he was wounded; thirdly, he excused himself when I told him he was disturbing our celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.” (2785-91)

What a way to love one’s enemies! In this, Christian isn’t even “loving one’s enemy,” but truly seeing that enemy as not an enemy at all, but a brother.

Christian understood this difficulty with forgiveness. He and Christophe thought much alike. Yet he was upset when he was told by the wali that the bodies of some of the terrorists had been dragged by Jeeps through the streets of Medea. The wali defended the exhibition of the bodies. The terrorists were “filthy beasts.” Christian reproached him. With that kind of thinking, he said, the cycle of violence would never be broken. The wali’s remark was a wound that went to the heart of Christian’s faith. All men are created in God’s image. God is present in all his children, including killers. It is never too late for his children to come home, to become infants of God. Without gratuitous love, the bloody engine of reciprocal murder would never stop. (2791-92)

Without a belief in God’s presence in all his creatures, no matter how dim the spark might seem, men lose their humanity. (2815)

Amen! Just see what is happening in our culture with its widespread secularization.

“What holds us here is not our Christian values, but the relationship to Christ,” (2823-24)

You pulled me out of the grave in order to live by You, with You, and in You. You, Your care, Your anxiety, Your agony—that is now ours.” (2825-26)

“The concept of total war is not Islam. Islam says you can kill only those who threaten you. You never kill women, children, or religious people unless they are themselves in combat.” (3044-46)

I think we need to keep this in mind. There are a lot of people who are quick to demonize all Muslims for the transgressions of a few, who may not be living out the Islamic faith as it is meant to be lived. They cause scandal by their actions. As Catholics, we are far too often guilty of this ourselves. There are many times where our example, our lives, are not consonant with the teachings of the Church and we too give scandal and give a bad impression of what it means to be a Catholic.

“Men never do evil as thoroughly or as joyfully as when they do it in the name of God.” (3511-12, quoting Thomas Merton)

Pride, rearing its ugly head.

How far does one go to save his skin without running the risk of losing his soul? (3536-37)

Would that this passage stay with me during all the times of trial in my life.

when I recognize my weakness, I can accept that of others, and see a way for me to imitate Christ. (3667-68)

Merton’s famous description of monks: “trees that exist in obscure silence, but by their presence purify the air.” (3861-97)

Christian then described the five pillars of behavior that must be practiced daily to have peace. He began with patience. Saint Benedict had explained its importance: Inside the monastic enclosure, persevering in their calling until death, monks participate through their patience in the sufferings of Christ.” “There is no word for martyr in the Trappist constitution,” Christian elaborated, “nor reference to a bloody death. There is only the demand for patience and endurance in living each day.” After the Christmas visit by the montagnards, Cardinal Duval had counseled Christian with one word—la Constance—“perseverance.” Poverty was the second pillar. “The future belongs to God, not to us. Man does not have the imagination of God, so when we think of the future, we think of it as being like the past.” To want to imagine the future is only wishful thinking. Christian reminded his listeners that, in the Old Testament, God provided the Israelites with manna each day. But if they tried to gather more than they needed, storing it up for the next day, they found that it spoiled. “The future is like a tunnel. You can’t see anything inside, and only a fool would expect it to look the same upon exiting as upon entering it. When it comes to recruiting for our monastery today, we have no one to approach in Algeria. And among the people, whom are we going to ask? We must simply let the Spirit do its work and fish for souls. That is what I call poverty—to have need only for that which You have always given me.” Christian’s third pillar was presence. God is in all his children, and when one kills another, one kills the image of God. In every human being, there is something eternal, something more than a homicidal act. “This is why I cannot kill myself,” Christian recalled the words of the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, whom he admired. “Morality entered the world by the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ The first words a person’s face says to another is, respect me. Killing can take different forms, as all who live in a community know. A contemptuous attitude, a wounding word, phrases that assassinate are other ways to kill.” Christian reminded his audience of John’s words: He who hates his brother is a murderer. “Each person must ask, ‘Have I eradicated all forms of hatred from my heart?’ We cannot live in this country today, wishing for peace, if we don’t go to this extreme of removing hatred from ourselves…and no one can say he has done this. “When I approach my neighbor, I also become his guardian, which means to become his hostage. Justice begins with the other. Take the case of Sayah Attia. I was not only the guardian of my brothers in the monastery but his guardian, too, of this man who stood opposite me and who should have been able to discover within himself something more than what he had become. I think this happened in some small measure, to the degree that he gave way that night, or made an effort to understand me. People say these types are disgusting animals, they are not human, and that you can’t deal with them. I say that if we talk like that, there will never be peace.” Prayer is the fourth pillar. “Do we pray enough for one another, for all people without any limits?” Christian asked. “Saint Paul wrote in Romans, In trying times, persevere in prayer…. We could not keep going if we did not pray and, in our prayers, seek to rid ourselves of the spirit of violence, prejudice, and rejection within us. After the episode with Attia, I wanted to pray for him. What should I pray to God? ‘Kill him?’ No, but I could pray, ‘Disarm him.’ But then I asked myself, Do I have the right to ask God to disarm him if I don’t begin by asking, ‘Disarm me, disarm my brothers.’ That was my prayer each day.” Finally, he spoke of that all-important word, forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We must dig into ourselves to follow the path of forgiveness…to rid ourselves of the tendency to want to choose one side or the other, to give a prize for good and evil—yes, we monks have this instinct, too. So we called the terrorists the “brothers of the mountain” and the army “the brothers of the plain.” The terms are useful for talking on the phone, but it was also a way of maintaining an open, fraternal spirit toward all sides. Coincidentally, Forgiveness is the first name for God in the Muslim litany of ninety-nine names for the divine—Ar Rahman. And the last is Patience—Es Sabur. But God is also poverty, God is presence, and God is prayer. This is the peace that God gives us. It is not as the world gives it.” (4140-42)

On Sunday, May 26, forty thousand churches throughout France tolled their bells for the monks. It was the first time since Pope John Paul I died in 1978 that such a countrywide commemoration had occurred. (4400-4401)

The caskets were placed beside their respective graves. Each one had been dug by people from the village, who had swept the dirt and tidied up the area in preparation for receiving their babas. (4401)

This is a photo of the graves of the kidnapped and murdered monks.

St. Anastasia Book Club: He Leadeth Me


Welcome! St. Anastasia’s Parish Library is sponsoring a book club, which I will be facilitating. In order to encourage greater community participation, I will update which books we will be reading here, and encourage anyone who is unable to make our monthly meetings to read along with us and join us on this online discussion forum by commenting below.

This month’s book will be He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek.

Here is a recommendation for the book by Jennifer Fulwiler, a recent convert to Catholicism, who has an excellent blog at Conversion Diary.

This stunning autobiographical account of Fr. Ciszek’s wrongful imprisonment in Russia is one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. I read it more than a year ago and yet I still find myself thinking about it almost daily.

What was most surprising to me was how applicable the lessons he learned are to modern American life. His insights about everything from suffering to discerning God’s will to trusting God in all things — which he learned the hard way during five years of brutal solitary confinement and fifteen years in a Siberian death camp — are amazingly inspiring, whether you’re experiencing great suffering or just feeling numbed by the daily grind. I particularly loved his thoughts on how to maintain a lively spiritual life even when life feels mundane or boring. I highly, highly recommend this book.