Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Distracted Living

Saturday night, I learned that, Heather Christensen, a woman who had previously been the band director at my children’s school passed away when a bus she was riding back from a band competition in, crashed and rolled over. If you live in Utah, you probably read the story or saw it on the news. When the driver passed out, Heather leaped forward and tried to take the wheel. It was while she was trying to save the children on the bus that she was thrown out the window and killed. Over the last few days hundreds of students, friends, and family have stepped forward to say how much she meant to them, and what a great, friend and teacher she was.

Sunday, a friend of mine was talking about an incident that took place when he was much younger. He was a college student driving down an empty highway on a beautiful day. He had put the car on cruise control and was trying to read a book while driving, since the road was empty and he thought he could do both at the same time. What he didn’t realize was that another driver was also out driving on a road that crossed the highway. Not having cruise control, the other driver had propped a knife against his gas pedal. As he reached the highway, the driver tried to pull out the knife, but it was stuck. My friend was looking at his book when he heard a terrible screech of brakes, and realized what a huge mistake he’d made. It was only sheer luck that the other car and he did not collide directly, killing them both. Instead, the car ripped off the left side of his bumper.

At first blush, these two stories don’t have a lot in common. They both involve car crashes. But in the first case, the driver of the bus appears to have had some kind of medical condition, and Heather was doing all she could to avoid an accident. In the second case, both of the drivers were at fault, doing stupid things that distracted them from safe driving. When I thought about the two of them together, however, it occurred to me how fragile and fleeting life can be. I thought about the dangers of distracted driving and then the phrase “distracted living” came to mind.

Distracted driving involves doing things that take our focus away from what’s important when we are in a car. Changing a radio station, talking on a cell phone, eating, reading, talking, shaving—these are small things, but they can easily take us off course and change what should be a simple trip into a life changing experience. What is distracted living, then? In my mind it is letting small things that are really not important in the long run, take our lives off course.

It occurred to me to ask myself, “If something happened to me today, what would people say about me?” This week, students and families are holding candlelight vigils in honor of Heather. People are saying things like how much Heather enjoyed what she did, how she was a friend to everyone, how much she cared, how much she taught, how much she loved. She focused on what she wanted to do in life and she did it well. From everything I can tell, Heather Christensen didn’t live a distracted life. She did what she loved as well as she could and shared that love with others.

One of the questions I get asked most as an author is how writers find time for writing—especially when they have families, full time jobs, and the rest of life to deal with. The answer isn’t giving up on jobs, families, housework, yard work, etc. (Although I admit, my yard is not Home and Gardens material.) It’s about getting rid of the distractions. There are a ton of reasons people have for not finishing their books,

“I didn’t have time”
“I didn’t know where to go with it”
“My writing was crummy”
“I started something else”
“The idea dried up”
“It didn’t work out”
“My characters weren’t interesting”
“I lost my excitement for it”
“It didn’t go where I wanted it to go”

But in the end, those are all distractions not reasons. If you really want to finish your book, it’s time to put your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and your foot on the gas. The only thing that can keep you from doing what you want to is yourself.

If your goal is writing, start today. Make yourself sit at your desk until you put 1,000 words on paper. If you’ve already written your book, send out ten queries. If you’ve already published your book, contact five stores. And if writing isn’t your thing, ask yourself what you want to be known for when your time finally comes to leave this Earth. Then ask, what kinds of little things are distracting you from doing what you want. There are enough hours in the day to have a family, a job, a yard, a (kind of clean) house, and what you’ve always dreamed of doing IF you just stop getting distracted by the things that don’t matter.

I don’t know how many books I’ll publish in my life, if I’ll hit the New York Times list, or win awards, or even continue to be a full time writer. But I hope that when my life ends, people will be able to say that I lived it fully and that I died doing what I loved. Heather, I know a lot of people will miss you. But I also know that you will continue to live through the lives of those you affected. You did not live a distracted life.


At 10/13/2009 1:32 AM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

A beautiful tribute as well as great advice. Thank you, Jeff. I'll take those words to heart.

At 10/13/2009 1:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never let a problem to be solved (or an accomplishment to be earned, a name to be made, or praise to be gotten) become more important than a person to be loved:

What do I want to be known for when I die? Nothing, really. I'd rather save the accolades for after this life. I've got a funny feeling that the heavenly rewards are substantially greater than any earthly ones. And once you've gotten your earthly praise, you pretty much forefit your heavenly reward. In the cost-benefit analysis of eternal economics, postponing the reward is worth taking a pass on all that praise.

In Matthew 6, at least three times, Jesus repeats the warning not to trumpet your position, your accomplishments, or your good works in return for the glory of men. "For verily I say unto you, They have their reward."

I'd rather save it for after this life. I hope Heather has a whole slew of rewards saved up and waiting for her. It would be sweet, wouldn't it? To have hundreds, maybe thousands of unknown accomplishments, good works, talents quietly employed on behalf of others waiting to be cashed in after this life.

I think Heather may be having a great time right now.

At 10/13/2009 11:19 AM, Blogger Kathi Oram Peterson said...

So true! Too often we let distractions take our eyes off what is important. And that includes writing. There must be something in the air or we're both feeling the crunch on our writing time, but I, too, wrote a blog this week on finding time to write. In the end, it's a matter of putting what's important first. Great post, Jeff!

At 10/13/2009 3:42 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Hopefully I can say this on this forum without it coming across wrong, but while I work hard to lay up treasures in Heaven, I LOVE that if something were to happen to me and my mortal life were cut short, my loved ones have 'me' in the legacy I've left. Between books, scrapbooks, memories and basically the results of my daily labors of personal development, I know I will live on. I'm very, very grateful for that. I was talking to my daughter about Heather last night and she was so impressed with all Heather had accomplished. No, those aren't the MOST important things, but, dang, to say you lived your life to the fullest and grew and developed and shared what God gave you is an amazing testament to our belief in the fact that us being here is part of a plan, a plan that will ultimately make us into something great.

Loved the post, Jeff, gave me much food for thought.

At 10/13/2009 5:16 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Great post Jeff. As always, you inspire me to be better and live better.

As Josi said in her comment, I love having a legacy to leave behind. I love knowing that if I died today, my hopes, dreams, and ideas will not die with me. I am so grateful I did something with my life and talents, so that when God asks me what I made of the life he gave me, I don't have to stammer and look at the floor and say, "oh nothing much." I can look him in the eye and say, "That was truly awesome!"

I think Jeff's point was that we let little things distract us. I doubt he considers love as a "little thing of distraction". Knowing Jeff and his beautiful family, I'm pretty sure nothing is higher on his list of importance than his family and friends. Jeff has been a better example of love and friendship than anyone I know. If he died today, I would be giving him accolades right here on earth. In fact, why wait for him to be dead? Why wait for heaven to appreciate friendship?

An acquaintence of mine recently died. She was a writer. She was amazing. She left behind a family with very young children. She also left behind a legacy of her writing so that those little girls of hers have something to cling to over their lives when they wish they had their mother. They can read her thoughts, know how she felt about things, understand what was important to her. I am sure that as those girls grow, they will be forever grateful for that writing, for the fact that their mother took time out from the little distractions to leave something behind that was bigger.

Yes treasures in heaven are important, but I'm pretty sure those treasures come from actually being of some earthly good.

At 10/13/2009 7:40 PM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...


I commented on a thread started by Annette Lyon that the accident involving the school bus in which Heather Christensen was killed happened about seven or eight miles south of my home. My wife and daughter, returning from Wyoming, passed the accident shortly after it happened.

I offer my sympathies to Heather's family and friends in American Fork. As they seek out the Lord they will be comforted during this difficult time. Sudden and unexpected loss is always hard to understand and accept, but faith in Jesus Christ gives us the foundation we need to move on.

I didn't know Heather, but my guess is her greatest talents, the ones she felt were most important, were being a wife, a mother and a daughter of her Heavenly Father.


At 10/14/2009 9:05 PM, Blogger Taffy said...

Jeff, you amaze. You have a great way of creating 'scout master moments'. Thank you for your thoughtful post.


Post a Comment

<< Home