Distractions

When I think of the word “distraction,” my mind instantly goes to when I was three and riding in our faux-wood paneled station wagon, probably heading to my grandparents’ house in Illinois. I was sitting behind the driver’s seat, unbuckled, of course, because this was the 1970’s and the slow-motion car crash scenes of the Crash Test Dummy commercials hadn’t reached us yet. I was coloring a picture of Snow White and I wanted to show my brilliant artwork to my father—the one who was driving. I stood up and slid the picture right in front of his face, proudly proclaiming, “Look, daddy!” With a swerve and a shout, I was firmly encouraged to sit down and NEVER DO THAT AGAIN.

 

As harmless as my motivation was, my Snow White picture had been a dangerous (albeit beautifully colored) distraction. My poor father didn’t see it coming. He was focused on the road and nearby cars, never thinking a coloring book would suddenly appear in his line of vision.

 

I am constantly battling distractions. Whether it’s cell phone beeps or hearing the word “snow” on the radio or my children needing me to look for the thing they can’t find (which, by the way, is always under something else. Moms are apparently the only living creatures who know to look under piles of papers, sofas, etc. to find stuff). Just completing a thought without a distraction is…Oh, sorry. What was I just saying? I stepped away to find my son’s soccer cleats under his bed, help my daughter with a math problem (and Google “multiplying polynomials”), and take a casserole out of the oven.

 

We learn early on to filter out the unnecessary but, in spite of years of practice, it continues to be difficult. Of course, I can try to be intentional: I can turn off the radio and silence my cell phone. I can tell my children to give me an hour alone and shut my bedroom door. But even with complete silence, my mind tends to drift.

 

When I wake up in the morning, I try to pray about our day. “Lord, be with my kids at school…wait, did I sign that permission slip? Focus. And be with me as I get things done around the house…Oh, I’ve got to mop today. Why is the kitchen floor always so sticky? Come on, Abby, concentrate!” You get the point.

 

The “Filter and Focus” plan isn’t working, so I’m going to try something new. My new plan is to stop and inspect the distractions as they pop up. There are certain things I have to get done every day as a part of being a mom and a wife and a co-worker, but I need to be open to the idea that some distractions may actually be important, too. I’m going to try to be more flexible so that when something interrupts my schedule, I can stop and refocus, if necessary.

 

When I get a text from a friend asking for prayers for a sick family member just as I’m constructing an important email, I need to value that text and pursue how I can be useful. During the sermon at church, when a toddler in the pew in front of me dumps out his cupful of goldfish crackers and grounds them into the carpet, it’s distracting. But instead of silently fussing at the boy’s mother, I will thank God for children (and vacuums).

 

Some distractions are just that—intrusions into my life that pull my focus away from what really matters. But I have to be humble enough to admit that some distractions offer the redirection I didn’t know I needed. So I hereby pledge to try to keep my eyes on the road, all the while staying open to the possibilities just down the unbeaten path.

Be Still

Since he was four years old, my son has suffered from migraine headaches. When he has an episode, the sequence of events is usually the same: He comes into our room around 3:00 a.m. He sidles up to my side of the bed and tells me his head hurts. I try to shake the fuzziness from my sleepy brain and focus on his dark silhouette and whispered words. After a minute, I get up and walk him to the kitchen where I dispense a dose of Motrin despite the fact that he will vomit it and everything else an hour or so later.

 

Early on, we took him to specialists. He was tested and scanned and given a clean bill of health. Nothing to worry about but nothing much we can do for him.

 

His headaches have decreased in the last year, and for this we are grateful. But when he does get one, my number one priority—in fact my only purpose for being awake in the wee hours of the morning—is to help him sleep. I know if I can only get him to fall asleep he will feel better. Two hours of uninterrupted, shut-eye is the best medicine for his headache to go from a pulsing, puking nightmare to a dull thud.

 

So I make his room as dark as possible. I adjust his ceiling fan and blankets to be sure he’s not too hot and not too cold. I try to create the most relaxing environment possible but, in the end, he has to will himself to sleep. He must choose to breathe deeply, stop grinding his teeth, and relax his scrunched up eyes and clenched fists. I can’t do it for him.

 

His distress reminds me of my own misery. Mine isn’t usually the physical kind, but it often involves fist-clenching and teeth-grinding, and if it goes on too long, some eye-twitching. My affliction is stress. I take on too much and bottle it up, owning the deadlines and commitments and failures until they wind me up like a tightly coiled spring—until they own me.

 

But I have a Heavenly Father who sits alongside me as I stew over my to-do list (and my shouldn’t-do list and my what-if list and my do-better list). He brushes the stray hairs from my face and rubs his thumb along my wrinkled forehead. Then he whispers, “Be still. I’m God, not you. I’m your ever-present help in times of trouble. Even if the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, I’ll still be here. So just be still.”

 

When I finally listen, I can feel his presence. My playlist of “Self-Reproach and Impending Disaster: Volume 101” stops repeating in my head. Well, let’s be honest, the words are still there but they move (maybe temporarily) into the background. Then I breathe deeply of His Spirit, and I unclench my fists so my hands are ready to accept His offerings of peace. I relax my scrunched up eyes so I can rest, so I can at last be still.