Distraction vs. Focus

I’m not a fast reader, never have been. On top of that I need the environment to be just right for me to concentrate. Plop me down in a beach chair under an umbrella with that incomparable sound of the ocean waves in the background, and I can rip through a novel in record time–UNTIL the umbrella next to me gets rented to a couple loud talkers, the family with the small children, or someone wanting to share their radio music with everyone along the beachfront. Forget it, reading time is then over. I will be stuck on the same page rereading the same sentence until either they or I leave.

Distraction and I don’t get along, but we often accompany one another. Distraction likes to send me off course to see how long it can take me to remember what course I was on in the first place. Distraction likes to hide behind the door of the room I’ve just entered, silently giggling and watching me wonder why I walked in there. Distraction jeers as I return to my previous location empty handed but retreats when I reenter with a renewed focus to conquer that original task triumphantly.

Distractions are inevitable, so we have to learn to get along with each other. Last week I found a small picture frame and decided that I would type out the word FOCUS to put inside it. I put the frame on my desk. I’ve just been too distracted to type the word, so for now it sits empty beside the phone and the calendar. I tried to convince myself that its being bare had significance, like an open-ended question or an unused artist’s canvas, full of possibilities. Odd thing is that when I look at the blank frame, I instantly think FOCUS, so I guess it’s working after all.

My oldest sister tells me I’m not good at planning. She is a planning rock star. I tell her that I’m a member of the Linear Sequential Thinkers of America–that is, I’ll get to it when its time comes or somewhere really close to it. I figure I don’t need to have every detail worked out ahead of time for events in the future when so many things need to be handled before then. I’ll get to them, but first things first. That’s focusing, isn’t it?

So tonight’s focus is on reading. I want to finish the novel, Taking Lottie Home by Terry Kay by tomorrow, because I’m attending a writing workshop lead by him tomorrow afternoon. The environment is right. The house is quiet. The dog’s breathing is taking the place of the ocean waves. No one has rented an umbrella next to me in my family room, and the only music I might hear will be my son playing his guitar. That’s music to my ears. No distractions, no excuses, time to read.

God, Thank you for the peaceful quiet moments and the ability to prioritize our lives.

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Just a’swingin’!

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Not this time, not from here. It’s more like: oaks to the left of me, pines to the right, here I am, with Blue Ridge mountains in view.

This swing sitting all alone up above the cabin where I’m retreating gave me a chance to look at something from a different angle. I didn’t know the mountain range was visible from here until I hiked up the hill to the swing. What a view I would have missed too, if I hadn’t ventured a bit out of the comfort zone. Another surprise was a high-speed Internet signal that could be picked up from that spot. I must admit, though, that in order to focus on writing my manuscript, I had to sit on the other side of the cabin so I couldn’t be distracted with FaceBook and my Fox News home page. Production on the north, connection on the south, exercise on the east, and a breath-taking view on the west. All around great things.

Lord, Thank you for the beautiful surroundings and for the opportunities all around me.

One Sip at a Time

Almost a year to the day I find myself back at this cabin somewhere on a hill in the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia with my friend for what is now dubbed our second annual writing retreat. Last year’s get-away looked a little different from this one. The tables overflowed with books on writing. Not a single moment went by in silence as we had about 14 years of life to catch up. We cooked, savored, and shared snippets of our work-in-progress, my one and her ten. I was blown away by her writing style, one very different from my own.

This year we are back at the same location with the same laptops with the same files with the same stories, but neither of us is much further along than we were last year. We can make excuses about how we filled our days with other projects, tasks, and duties, or we can look in the mirror and put some truth on it.

It’s early morning; the sun is shining, I’m warm and sipping coffee from my favorite inspirational mug. It’s white with large black letters that remind me to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. -Thoreau”  Every time I bring the mug to my lips I see those words “Go confidently,” and it pours a little courage into me.

With all of that in mind, it’s time for me to see where my characters will lead me today. They have a story to tell, and I need to be ready to listen to them. Yet, when I sit down to begin with the blank page staring at me, I have to remind myself to exhale and go confidently. It’s time to take a sip.

God, Thank you for simple reminders you put in my path each day that remind me stay on task with the work you’ve made me to do.


Get to or Got to?

Most mornings I hear the coffee beans being freshly ground as the pre-set timer clicks the machine into gear, resulting in a full hot pot of java for my husband and me. This morning the same sound told me he was downstairs making a smoothy in the blender, but I reached out discovering the hubs was still tucked in under the covers.

Confused, I said, “What’s that noise?” Strange. I hear it every morning. Why was it different today? From the darkened room I said, “I was being introduced to Mike Huckabee’s wife at a charity event sponsored by my big sister.” I was handing her a professionally made pamphlet outlining the silent auction items when I got interrupted by the blender that was really the coffee mill.

I have no idea why I was dreaming that, or why the older  coiffed woman holding a toddler I saw through the front door’s small window became a younger woman with long tresses when she walked into the room as Mrs. Huckabee. It was good to get a laugh from my husband to start the day anyway, but it did leave me a little groggy making lunches for the boys. I forgot to zip one of the lunch boxes, so when my son picked it up to leave, all its contents splayed out on the floor. Thankfully, even though the lid popped off my “attempt to be green” reusable sandwich container, it landed upright with all the turkey in tact.

Quickly grading three pages of Algebra on one cup of coffee does not a fun morning make. That’s what I get for putting my “get to’s” in front of my “got to’s” like I did last night. In an attempt to get my website and blog running, trying to make sense of programming language when my better language is plain English, I put off grading papers. That’s a definite “got to”––especially Algebra––one of those things I have to do or my son will get penalized for not having it graded. So a quick check of Xs and Ys to the nth power over a little Sumatra bold before we hopped in the Pilot to start the drive to the school where my guys go twice a week. Remember, I said they’re homeschooled, but they still attend a private school part time. It’s all good.

Now on to the next thing: prepping for my writers’ retreat with my longtime gal pal, lunch today with my local homeschool girlfriend, picking up a lamp at the repair shop, children after lab, contacting an agent, reading, dinner plans, and laundry while still fiddling with account numbers, usernames and passwords that all seem way too confuzzling for my noggin. (Don’t tell my health-nut hubby that I haven’t worked out yet!) I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a “got to” or a “get to.”

God, I know you’re a God of order. Please help me get my life in order so that I can accomplish the day’s tasks and make a difference in the world.


Whispering Tracks

This morning the sunshine enticed me to take Checkers, my Golden Retriever, outside for a walk rather than using the treadmill. That way we both benefit from the time spent walking. When I use the treadmill, I can read, but Checkers can only watch me. He never quite mastered the Jetson’s dog Astro’s ability to walk in place. The sunshine was deceiving. Looking through the window did not prepare me for the invisible bitter windchill in the breeze.

Unbeknownst to me, someone had put my dog’s Invisible Fence collar on him, and I hadn’t recognized that when I snapped the strap around his muzzle. When we got to the line where the boundary wire crosses beneath the driveway, Checkers stopped abruptly, even though I had him on his leash. He must have heard the audible warning. Realizing what happened, I reached down to remove the transmitter collar and tossed it aside. Fortunately, Checkers had enough trust in me to proceed over the line with me and the leash, knowing that I would never intentionally trick him. It takes time to build trust, and I never want to do anything to my pet or anyone else to chip away that trust.

From the floppy wool hat and thick coat, I was striking a remarkable resemblance to Paddington Bear as I set out for our jaunt. Taking notice of the sights around me, unspoken words filled my head. A robin flew up to a tree limb from the snow-moistened ground. One house was up for sale; I imagined a family I know who is considering a move living in that house and how different our lives would be if that happened. My dog and I climbed both big hills on the street feeling energized at the top where I usually hit the stop sign as a mark of accomplishment before turning around for the descent home.

Instead we continued on to the main road surprising Checkers with my decision. He glanced up at me, making sure I was really walking beside him. “Let’s keep going, boy.”  Some new sights and smells for him kept the tail wagging as we ventured on.

The snow from a few days ago had melted everywhere except a few stranded snowmen looking out of place on grassy lawns. Left behind lay the soggy, mucky mess of a gravel road that veers off our main road forming a loop and a nice trek off the beaten path on a dry day. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to go ahead and take the dirt road trying to avoid puddles as best I could.

A cute cottage-style house off to the left had a new “for sale” sign in its yard. Again, I thought of my friend’s family and pictured them moving into that house. It looks like it was cut right out of the pages of a lovely story found in the children’s literature section of the library.

As we continued around the turn, my mind raced with images. Looking down I noticed animal tracks in the sandy gravel road, deer tracks, heading in an opposite direction out towards the main road. Beside them, smaller tracks, a young fawn. The tracks were fresh, but no deer was in sight.

As Checkers and I continued on the soggy road, for the first time I looked back. I wondered if we were leaving tracks ourselves. Would someone else come by and see my New Balance prints alongside a dog’s? What story would those tracks tell?

Imagine if everywhere you went, you were tracked. Would those tracks bring a smile to someone’s face, or would you rush to push the “delete history” button to wipe the road clean? In essence, everywhere you go is tracked and impacts someone or something else. If you think your personal decisions are yours alone, that’s a mighty selfish view of the world. Whether it’s working out alone on a treadmill  (not exercising your dog) or taking the world one hill at a time, (taking in the sights and opportunities around you), you are laying tracks in the history of your life. What about today? Will you be proud of the tracks you make?

God, Thank you for showing us the path to you. May my tracks always be in the center of your will for my life.

Acting Like Jesus?

As I pushed my shopping cart to the floral department inside the grocery store to select a nice bouquet for my neighbors who were returning from a ten-day-trip to Italy, I overheard a loud customer preaching to one of the store’s employees. She spouted off chapter and verse, making it obvious that she knew her Bible inside out, trailing off with a “God bless you” as two mylar balloons followed closely behind. Moments later, a cashier appeared to double-check on the price of the balloons. The customer had told the cashier the price of the balloons was less than they actually cost.

Once outside while loading groceries into my car, I noticed a car parked alongside the yellow curb in the no-parking zone. The store’s sliding door opened, and out popped the balloon-toting Bible preaching woman headed straight for the illegally parked car. Wearing no seatbelt (which is also against the law), she zoomed past me. Hearing her quoting God’s word but disregarding the rules, what kind of a message did she send?

If asked, I’m sure she would have said she was a Christian, but was she acting like Jesus? She could not even humble herself to use a regular parking place only steps away. Jesus never pulled rank and took the curbside parking. Instead, he placed himself in a servant’s position.

He offered his best to others and taught us to love the unlovely.

Many people call themselves Christian, but in today’s terms what they really means is that they’re non-Buddhist, non-Muslim, non-Jewish, etc., viewing Christianity merely as a category as easily as if to check off it they’re right or left handed. They might claim to be Christian because they put up a Christmas tree in December or got a chocolate bunny in the spring. Hey guys, believing in Santa Claus isn’t what it takes, just like wearing a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button on St. Patrick’s Day won’t make you Irish. Many of us have grown up with Christian values, but we stuff them in a box and only pull them out when it’s convenient.

I don’t think God intended for it to be that way, and I’m not talking about organized religion, performing rituals, or attending church. I’m talking about being in an authentic relationship with our lord Jesus Christ. As one 20-year-old male college student said, “There are people who place that [Christian] label on themselves with no intention of pursuing Christ or exemplifying Him in anything they do. I wish everyone who called themselves a Christian knew what it meant to pursue Jesus!” What about you? Are you going to take the curbside parking or walk in the way of Jesus every day?

God, Please help me be in relationship with you and be a walking example of how you intended me to be.


The Southern Snow

I’ve set up a wooden tv tray in my family room and am sitting in a hard wooden chair with a small leopard print pillow against my back. It’s not my normal spot. It’s across the room from the glider where I usually perch with my laptop, but sitting here is giving me a new vantage point. I’m able to see out the front door from here. Right now my husband is outside with our teenage son and few neighbor children. The youngest is an 8-year-old boy who rang the doorbell to see if my husband could come outside to play. The boy wanted to throw a snowball at him. I love that. I love that my hubby is seen as friendly to a child, someone with whom a child would want to play.

We don’t have too much experience building snowmen around here, and when we do get the chance, they’re usually kind of pitiful. They’re either vertically challenged or covered with enough pine straw to make them resemble tumbleweeds rather than snowmen. The sun has been shining all morning taking its toll on the natural frozen ornaments adorning the trees. Chunks of snow are falling off, exploding into blasts of diamonds and crystals highlighted by the sun’s presence. An occasional dusting of new snow tricks us into thinking that it’s coming from the sky again, but it’s actually a final bow before disappearing into the landscape.

A knock on the back door asking for a “carewut” for the snowman’s nose snapped me out of my daze. I offered some blueberries for the snowman’s mouth. I was proud to stand back and watch the two males with a 40-year spread between them add the finishing touches to their icy creation.

The snowfall drew these two unlikely people together, each touched in different ways by their time spent. What will it take to move you outside your comfort zone and into the life of another unlikely person? Maybe it’s as simple as moving into a different chair so you can see the world around you from a new perspective.

God, Thank you for giving me eyes to see the beauty you created around me and for hearing the heart of a child.