Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Going with the Flow


Our granddaughter visited us for ten days, earlier this month. Our time together was a gift in many ways—and a challenge in others. For one thing, the ebb and flow of the freelance life means I can do my best to plan around the busy seasons—but the busy seasons fluctuate, according to the whim of my clients, and what I’d hoped would be an ebb tide turned instead into quite a heavy flow. I’m not complaining—when you’re a freelancer, work from ongoing clients forms the core of your business! But it did make for quite a juggling act.

You see, I always want everything to go perfectly when family visits. Henry will tell you that I spend far too much time worrying about getting the house clean, figuring out what to serve, making a long list of possible activities to keep family members engaged and occupied. I also love the desert, and want to show it off to best advantage….

Naturally, our week did not turn out as I had planned. There were days when I took my laptop with us in the car and edited while Henry drove to our destination of the day and our granddaughter plowed through some pretty significant summer reading books. (I don’t recall being assigned summer reading homework and felt rather sorry for her, but at least it meant that, when I was working, so was she!) There was one day when I actually chose to stay home and work while she and Henry went to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum—since we are members there and I can go at any time.

DSC_8684I also had to let go of my worries about whether our granddaughter was enjoying herself. Like her grandpa, she doesn’t easily share what she thinks and feels, nor does she have much opinion about where we go to dinner or what we’ll eat if we stay home. As a natural empathic who is wired to respond appropriately to others’ desires, it was hard to let them both be who they were and proceed to the best of my ability.

I found myself remembering the four lessons from the biblical book of Jonah—the Hebrew prophet who ran away from God’s call to preach to the Ninevites, got swallowed by a whale, and had three days in its belly to ponder the ramifications of his rebelliousness. At the end of the story, when Jonah’s own preaching had resulted in Ninevite repentance, Jonah got angry with God for being merciful. I’ve talked in depth about these four lessons before:

1.      Show up.

2.      Pay attention.

3.      Tell the truth.

4.      Don’t get attached to results.

In this situation, it was the final lesson that I really needed to remember. I can only do my best to be a loving, attentive hostess; how my granddaughter responds to it all is totally out of my control. I also need to recognize that a week with us is not going to irrevocably warp her, one way or the other. God is in charge of her life and her experiences, not I.

I am slowly learning, family visit by family visit, to loosen my grip on my need to control. When I can go with the flow, day by day, I think we all have a better time together. Certainly I can focus on my houseguests, rather than on my performance—and the houseguests are the point of the visit, after all.

What lessons in control, and going with the flow, do you need to ponder?

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Bugs on the Bumper


Earlier this summer, Henry and I traversed this country by car. We drove from Tucson to Boston and Henry returned via the southern US, making a number of genealogy-related stops along the way. It had been years since I’d been on a road trip this long—since we moved from Boston to New Mexico in 2006, in fact.

When I was a child, we took a number of summer road trips: mom and us kids in our blue pickup truck with camper shell, camping our way across most of the contiguous United States over the course of my teen years. This year’s trip was different in a number of ways. For one thing, no one was enforcing seat belt laws when I was a kid, and we bounced around on sleeping bags and a built-in shelf in the back of that covered pickup truck, communicating with our parents through the sliding window in the back of the pickup cab. I find the front seats of our Altima quite restrictive in comparison!

Another thing I don’t remember is all the bugs we killed with our car. Perhaps they were there, and my parents diligently cleaned them off the windshield every time they bought gas, as I did this year. But one night, as we were driving west of Cleveland, I actually thought it was raining because of the volume of bugs hitting the windshield!

DSC_6809One of the songs we heard on the 70s radio station during our trip was “Convoy,” that hilarious song about truckers that includes the reference to cops gathering as thick as “bugs on a bumper.” As you can see here, our car illustrates that image quite well. Henry commented at one point that there might be a blog post in that, and I pulled out my laptop to see what developed.

What initially came to mind is that, if I were Buddhist, I’d be in real trouble, because of their reverence for life and desire to do no harm. Then I thought about how I, as a Christian, prefer to do no harm, either. In fact, reverence for all creatures is behind the robust environmental ministry undertaken by one of my former spiritual directors, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas. She and many others are advocating for the earth because way back in Genesis we were told by God to care for the earth—what Richard Rohr calls “the first Gospel.”

Driving across these United States also really helped to connect me with the states more fully. I had many hours of opportunity to admire this land, to appreciate its variety, its many forms of lush greenery, the picturesque old buildings and innovative new ones. I found myself giving thanks, multiple times, for the opportunity to travel and for the beauty of creation.

But that travel comes at a cost. We consumed quite a bit of fossil fuel on this trip and we killed an awful lot of tiny creatures. (We also saw a lot of larger roadkill, ranging from squirrels and raccoons to a startling number of deer.) It reminds me that our impact on our environment is never straightforward. Every choice we make, every pleasure we take, has consequences. I don’t regret our trip…but it does make me think seriously about how we travel, and how I might somehow atone for that excess here at home. One way I know I do that is through working at home. At least I have a zero-emissions commute!

When have you taken a road trip? What did you notice? Did you remember to give thanks? How might you give thanks for creation by making conscious choices to atone for your use of fossil fuels?