Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Three Steps Toward, Two Steps Away

After such a banner week last week, I don’t have any headlines to report this week. No major steps taken, nothing else proposed—although I did work on a submission of some of my work to a theological journal. But as I pondered what did happen this week, I found myself thinking that it’s not “three steps forward, two steps back” but rather that I’ve consolidated my steps from last week and kept speaking my truth.

Much of the reason that I didn’t write any poetry this week, or work much on my SMART goals or other SCORE work, was because Henry and I traveled to and from Albuquerque this week—a round-trip of almost a thousand miles. We made the journey because my parents are down-sizing to an apartment and were giving us their dining room table and chairs, along with a number of other household items ranging from furniture and garden tools to kitchen gadgets, books, and Native American pottery.

Trips, vacations, and other breaks from routine are usually gifts for us, but they can also throw us off our routines—which can be deadly to the establishment of newly created practices. I know that this has been the case for me in the past. Like I indicated last week, all I can really do is commit myself to moving onward “one day at a time” and recognize that there will be days when that just doesn’t happen. The good news is that I’m now back home, I’ve got plenty of work to do, and I am still managing to put my own creative work first.

Another gift of this past week was a meeting with my spiritual director, who helped me to remember that this desire, this drive to make changes in my life, is rooted in my relationship with God. God called me to this ministry, and all I need to do is keep taking one more step, and then one more step, and then one more…. Some days those steps will feel like I’m not “making progress,” but my sense of the bigger picture is still terribly small.

IMG_1480In fact, I can trust that this journey is much like walking a labyrinth. The path will unfold before me and sometimes it may seem that I’m walking away from my goal, rather than toward it. But the fact remains that there is only one path in the labyrinth, and it leads to the center. Once I start on the path, I just need to keep walking, day by day, to the best of my ability.

Where in your life does it feel like you might be moving away from your goal, or even taking two steps back? Can you trust God, one day at a time, believing that you are indeed on a journey toward the center of your own particular labyrinthine journey?



A Banner Week

This past week has been a red-letter week for me. I have taken some big steps on a couple of important roads in my life, and one of them has already proven fruitful!

The first thing I did is to finally(!) submit my manuscript for Dying With Ada to a publisher. This is the book I excerpted here a while ago, about the year that Henry’s aunt Ada lived and died with us. I’ve put it off for a pile of reasons, most of which were really procrastination, fear of failure, and being overwhelmed with the variety of publishing paths available these days.

The second thing I did was to complete and submit to my SCORE mentor three SMART goals for my professional spiritual work over the next 6-9 months. These goals (and stating them publicly here is part of making them real, and being accountable for their fulfillment!) are launching my website, leading an online spiritual retreat over Advent/Christmas, and publishing my first ebook.

The third thing was actually “forced” upon me, and involved taking a more direct role (and bigger risk) in one of my editing jobs. This is the one for which I’ve already received positive feedback—and it feels great!

But none of this was easy. Dying With Ada was written in 2011–2012, which means I’ve been avoiding “putting it out into the world” for four long years! I’ve owned the domain for more than a year now, and have done very little further with it. My fears about taking on this additional risk with this client literally had me on my back (not just my knees!) in prayer last week, struggling through it all with God….

So…how did this happen? What has enabled me to take these important steps? Part of it was the workshop at Ghost Ranch. I have walked out of so many workshops over the years, determined to follow through—and haven’t. And so I prayed that I would follow through this time. I made a commitment (again!) to putting my own writing life first each weekday—rather than diving into freelance work right away—and I clearly stated that commitment to a couple of my fellow workshop participants. I wrote out my morning routine, step by step, and kept it up on my computer each day so I could check my progress, celebrate my successes, have self-compassion for where I didn’t follow through, and commit “one day at a time” to try again. I’ve written poetry, and sent a couple of them to those workshop participants. I will share more, here and elsewhere. I’m pondering starting a second, poetry blog…but I might choose instead to keep the focus on those SMART goals, and maybe the ebook will be a poetry book!

The other thing that happened last week was that, in my editing work and elsewhere, I was confronted (again!) with the lesson that we learn much more from our failures than our successes. In prayer and reflection, IMG_1556cI realized that there is no ideal path, no 100% success rate. I cannot choose the “perfect” path to publishing because there are so many…and in fact, I ended up writing a poem about that! Instead, I need to choose a road, walk a ways, learn its lessons, then decide if another road might be better for next time.

And so I chose some roads, took some steps, and am—at last!—moving forward. Thanks be to God!

Where in your own life are you stuck—for whatever reasons? It might be that, if you take those things to prayer, you will find that the reasons don’t matter. There is no perfect path; what would happen if you chose one and took a few steps, just to see what you could learn?


Putting God’s Work First

Last week I talked about a major spiritual shift that is occurring in my life. After many months of feeling that my ministry was lying fallow and ideas were scarce (during which time I survived a major move and completed lots of editing work, so it wasn’t as if I was bored!), spring has arrived in my spiritual life and new ideas are sprouting.

IMG_1449 cropBut moving into this season of inspiration doesn’t mean that my “work” is over. Just as with a garden, I must tend these inspirations, nurture them, so that they thrive, grow, manifest and bear fruit. One of the ways I am doing that is with my Lenten commitment to write poetry six days a week (since Sundays are not part of Lent, I’m giving myself that day of rest each week). Giving time and space to inspiration in my life is key to nurturing what is coming forth—especially since my Lenten weeks will also be busy, with lots of editing work, a week-long family visit, and some long-awaited vacation time.

Another inspiration that came to me on Ash Wednesday morning was the return to an old habit of putting spiritual work first in my daily routine. During the fallow months (Is this an excuse? Perhaps….), I would arrive at my computer in the morning and dive right into my editing work for the day. I’d take a break for contemplative prayer later in the day (a chance to sit in the sun and give my body a break), but otherwise, to keep up with demand (I told myself), I would work straight through until dinner time (except for meetings and errands and such).

But I know from experience that the most fruitful time of day for me is morning. It is when I do my best work—and while giving that best time to my clients is good for my perfectionistic tendencies (and editors must, by nature, be detail-oriented perfectionists!), it’s not necessarily good for my spiritual life. So a part of my commitment for Lent (and beyond, I hope) is to put God’s work first each day, so that I am taking best possible advantage of this season of inspiration.

Another way that I am putting God first is by inviting some of you along in this season of inspiration. One of the things I’ve learned in my work with SCORE is the importance of gathering a small group of “customers” who become, in essence, beta-testers for early versions of my product. As readers of my blog, you are already my “customers.” If any of you would be interested in being part of a group that receives, participates in, and honestly responds to, early versions of the online retreat work I mentioned last week, please let me know. I expect it will be a few months before anything reaches that stage, but part of asking others to accompany me on this journey is to create a structure for accountability, to keep me moving forward with what, at moments, feels like a rather daunting task!

And for those who do not feel called to be beta-testers, you are welcome to pray that this work will be fruitful, giving glory to God and grace to everyone who will be fed by it. Thank you.

When in your own lives have you recognized a need to put God first? How did you do that? What were the spiritual fruits of that season?