Draw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave BaabA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingAdvent Devotional

Lynne's Blog

First post in a new series - Stories I ponder: The tulip

Friday August 18 2017

First post in a new series - Stories I ponder: The tulip

About fifteen years ago we lived in a house in Seattle with a rockery in the front yard. Two big heather plants spread across the rockery with their lovely purple flowers. I decided to get some lavender tulips to go with the heather, and I planted a couple dozen of them one year in the fall.

Spring came, and the tulips broke through the soil and inched their way taller and taller. I couldn’t wait to see how the flowers would look with the heather.

I watched every day, and one by one the tulips bloomed, so lovely. Two beautiful lavender tulips, then four, then six.

The next tulip that bloomed was red and yellow! Instead of smooth petals, the petals were jagged on the edges, like one of those extravagant and amazing tulips in an old Dutch painting. The red and yellow tulip, in the midst of all the green and purple, looked jarring and just plain wrong. I was mad at the person who had mixed up the tulip bulbs at the store, and I was mad that my plan for the garden hadn’t worked out the way I expected.

Maybe I should cut it and bring it inside, I thought, in order to restore harmony to the rockery. The tulip was unexpected and jarring, but so beautiful in itself, that I couldn’t bring myself to cut it.

For about four days, as I came and went from the house, I pondered that extravagant red and yellow tulip in the midst of all the harmonious purple and green. I wondered if God was trying to tell me something about unexpected gifts.

The next day, when I came home from work, the red and yellow tulip was gone. A couple of inches of stem remained, with a straight cut. Evidently someone had cut it off. Why? Because it was beautiful? Because it stuck out in our garden?

I was mad all over again. I had gotten used to the tulip as a sign of God’s unexpectedness and my utter and complete inability to control life. I had gotten used to enjoying that extravagant tulip, so beautiful in itself, but not at all harmonious with its environment.

I had reluctantly come to love that tulip, and it was gone before I could enjoy it for very long. That naked stem was one more reminder of my complete inability to control life. It spoke to me as much as the tulip had spoken: Enjoy each minute! Beauty is fleeting so savor it while you can! Pay attention to God’s gifts because they come and go!

I have a strong need to control and organize things. Over and over, as I have pondered this tulip story for so many years, I am forced to remember that God doesn’t act in predictable ways.

Jesus constantly surprised the people of his time. He chose a tax collector and uneducated fishermen to be his disciples. He allowed a prostitute to follow him. He touched a leper. He repudiated earthly power by rebuking Peter when Peter drew a sword. When I read the Gospels with fresh eyes, I see that he continues to surprise us today.

Truly we belong to an upside-down Kingdom, and the memory of that red and yellow extravagant tulip helps me remember.

(In this new series, I'm writing down stories that I have pondered over and over. Next week: The noisy washing machine. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "subscribe." For those of you reading this post on your cellphone, the left hand colum of the website contains images of all my books. You can access those images by clicking on "books" in the navigation bar. You can also access a couple of dozen articles I've written by clicking on "articles" in the navigation bar.)

Initiative in friendship: Practice!

Friday August 11 2017

Initiative in friendship: Practice!

Imagine a baseball player who stops swinging at pitches because he doesn’t always connect with the ball. Imagine a basketball player who stops attempting to shoot baskets because she sometimes misses. That would be crazy, because no one hits a baseball or swishes a basketball every time. In the same way, every act of relational initiative will not result in a new friendship or make an existing friendship stronger. But some of them will.

We could carry the sports analogy further. It takes time and practice to learn which pitches to swing at and which ones to ignore. It takes time and practice to make good judgments about when to shoot a basket. In the same way, it takes time and practice to learn how to initiate in friendships. Even the most experienced athletes miss a lot of hits and baskets. But as they keep swinging a bat and shooting a ball, they grow in skill.

So many people have talked to me about the fears and obstacles they experience in initiating with friends. They seem frozen, like a baseball player who watches the ball coming and never swings or a basketball player who keeps dribbling and passing, but never shoots. Initiating requires practice, perseverance and willingness to risk. It requires the willingness to fail. Initiating in relationships mirrors the God who initiates with us, and whenever we reflect God, we are clothing ourselves in Christ and clothing ourselves in the love that comes from him.

In my book on friendship, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, I explore a variety of habits that foster friendships, but at the base of every friendship, and infused throughout, is this core characteristic of initiative. Long before we experience the joys of friendship, we take actions to be a friend. In fact, without taking the initiative of friending, there can be no friendship.

Questions for Reflection, Journaling, Discussion or Action

What models did you have in childhood for taking initiative in friendships? What are some acts of initiative that friends have taken with you that were particularly meaningful? How do those memories affect you now?

Do you have fears around initiating in friendships? What are some of those fears? How do you typically respond?

What forms of initiative in friendships come most easily to you? Which forms of initiative are hard? In what ways might God be inviting you to grow in this area?

Which love language or languages are most comfortable for you to give and to receive?Analyze your patterns of initiating in friendships through the lens of the love languages. When you take initiative in friendship, do you overuse the languages of love that are more comfortable for you?

This week, take initiative with a friend or potential friend in a way that is new for you. Watch how it feels for you.

Spend time praying about the role of initiative in the way you practice friendship. Ask God for insight to understand why you do what you do, and ask God for help to grow in your ability to initiate wisely and with love.

(Next week I begin a new series: Stories I keep pondering. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Previous posts in this series:

      Initiative in friendships   
      What Mary might have missed   
      Obstacles in taking initiative       
      Overcoming fear         
      Different ways of initiating        
      Some options, including vulnerability         
      A gift given to me by initiative

You may enjoy this article I wrote twenty years ago about my friend Maggie, who had died two years earlier. The article describes how much I missed her then. I still miss her now, and one of the delights of recent years is that I have reconnected with her daughters, now in their twenties.

Initiative in friendships: A gift given to me by initiative

Saturday August 5 2017

Initiative in friendships: A gift given to me by initiative

I am still awed by the gift I received when I took initiative a decade ago to visit a friend named Shelagh (a Scottish name pronounced “Sheila”). I met her when I was twenty-seven and she was twenty-one. My husband, Dave, and I were living in Tel Aviv, Israel, for eighteen months while he was filling in for someone at the university who was on sabbatical. Soon after our arrival, we met Shelagh at church. She was from South Africa and had been posted to her country’s embassy in Tel Aviv as a secretary.

We discovered that Shelagh liked to play tennis just as much as Dave did, so we often met for tennis games. I watched while they played. What a pleasure! Shelagh was the most elegant tennis player I have ever seen. Her mother had played at Wimbledon, so Shelagh had had a tennis racket in her hand since childhood. After Shelagh beat Dave soundly, the three of us would have dinner together and talk.

Shelagh was one of those joyful, radiant Christians whose faith was encouraging and stimulating to me. She had a purity of heart that I admired very much.

When we moved back to Seattle after our time in Israel, Shelagh was posted to the South African Embassy in New York City for three years. We visited her one time there, and she spent a Christmas with us in Seattle. Then she was posted to Italy, where she met an Italian man, got married and had a son. She and I exchanged Christmas cards every year, and when email became common in the 1990s, we began to exchange prayer requests by email from time to time.

In 2006, Dave and I decided to travel to Scandinavia. Dave also wanted to spend a few days with his cousin in Berlin. I didn’t want to go to Berlin, so I thought I might use the time to visit some good friends who live in London. However, the more I thought about those three days, the more I felt nudged to visit Shelagh in Italy. I wrote to her, she was eager for me to come, so we set up the trip.

I hadn’t seen her for twenty-four years, but it was like we had never been apart. Her purity of faith and joy in Christ had remained. I met her husband and son, and she showed me around Milan and cooked fabulous Italian food for me. On one memorable afternoon, we sat in a pew in the lofty and ornate Milan cathedral and prayed at length for our families.

One of the topics of conversation during my visit was Shelagh’s future. Her son was nearing the end of high school. She had devoted herself to being a wife and mother, but she could see that her son would soon fly the nest. What was she going to do with her time after her son left home? We tossed around a few ideas, but nothing seemed to stick in her mind.

Now, looking back on those precious days in 2006, I can see why nothing appealed to Shelagh. God was preparing her for heaven. In 2007, she was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer, and after surgery and two rounds of chemotherapy, she died eighteen months after her diagnosis.

I had felt nudged to go to Italy to see Shelagh, and I went. I am so glad. In the planning stages, though, I wasn’t sure I was making the right decision. I wondered if it was crazy to go visit someone I hadn’t seen for twenty-four years. I wondered if three days was too long. I wondered if it was a wise use of money. I wondered if it would be an imposition to her husband and son for me to be there. And, in fact, it was. Her son gave up his bedroom for me and had to sleep on a sofa in the TV room.

I felt nudged, and I went. And I will always be grateful. Shelagh was a bright spirit, a memorable person. Having those days together, less than a year before her cancer diagnosis, feels like a miracle.

When God nudges us to reach out to a friend or potential friend in any way—with a visit, a phone call, a conversation on Skype, a card, an email, a message on social networking website, a gift, a word of affirmation or love, an invitation to come over for a meal or to meet for coffee—we need to pay attention. Yes, we may feel a little or a lot of anxiety that our overture will not be welcome. Some of that anxiety might prove to be justified. The unfortunate reality is that we may receive a less-than-enthusiastic response.

In my experience, however, initiative is never wasted, even if it feels that way. Over time, acts of initiative shape our heart by training us to act in love.

(Illustration: my dear friend Shelagh in 2006, beautiful inside and out. Next week: practicing initiative and reflection questions about initiative. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Previous posts in this series:

      Initiative in friendships   
      What Mary might have missed   
      Obstacles in taking initiative       
      Overcoming fear         
      Different ways of initiating        
      Some options, including vulnerability         

You may enjoy this interview with me after I wrote my book on friendship. It's a written Q and A focused on what I learned as I wrote the book.

Initiative in friendships: Some options, including vulnerability

Thursday July 27 2017

Initiative in friendships: Some options, including vulnerability

My mother, an expert in friendship, takes initiative to reach out in some form to one or more friends almost every day of her life. Initiative however takes many forms, and we need to think creatively about it.

When I think of taking initiative in friendships, I think first of asking people to do things with me: have a meal at a restaurant or at my home, have coffee and talk, go to a movie, go for a walk. I also think of forms of initiative that involve communication: picking up the phone to make a call, sending an email or a Facebook message, or writing a card.

When I asked Clare, eighteen, what she believed to be the best advice about nurturing friendships, she said, “Stay in close touch. Stay connected.” She talked about all the acts of initiative she engages in with her friends. She tries to send frequent text messages, and she interacts often on Facebook by posting comments about her friends’ photos, links and updates. She views those acts of connection as the foundation for good conversations when she sees her friends face-to-face.

Roberta, in her forties, brought up another form of initiative: “I have trouble talking honestly about what I’m thinking and feeling. I know it has had a significant impact on my ability to make friends. I always appreciate it when others show vulnerability in a conversation, because it helps me get over the hurdle of talking honestly.”

I’ve noticed that if I share some small vulnerability with someone I’d like to get to know better, they often respond by sharing something that matters to them as well. I might talk about something that’s making me sad, something that’s worrying me or something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I save my deep feelings of sadness or worry for my husband or my close friends, who I know I can trust to listen with sensitivity to what I’m feeling. With people who I don’t know as well, I share feelings that are real but not particularly deep.

Part of that sharing is a bit of a test. I watch to see how they will respond. If they are able to enter into what I feel, and perhaps later share feelings of their own, I have some optimism that we might become deeper friends. I also see that sharing as an act of love, giving them the unspoken message that I’d be happy to listen to them talk about what they’re thinking and feeling. They may not want me to listen to their inner concerns in that moment, but my openness extends an invitation for later conversations.

Have you ever thought about vulnerability about your own life as a form of initiative? It would be worth spending some time pondering the patterns of vulnerability in conversations that you have observed in your own life:

  • What kinds of vulnerability in conversations did you see modeled in your childhood by your parents and extended family members?
  • Do you think you tend to be too vulnerable or not vulnerable enough in conversations?

(Next week: a story of a time I took initiative with a friend, and the amazing thing that happened. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Illustration by Dave Baab.This post is excerpted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Previous posts in this series:

      Initiative in friendships   
      What Mary might have missed   
      Obstacles in taking initiative       
      Overcoming fear         
      Different ways of initiating          

Here's article you might enjoy where I wrote about the ways our own agendas can impede our listening, something that impeded vulnerability:
      Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others

Initiative in friendships: Different ways of initiating

Wednesday July 19 2017

Initiative in friendships: Different ways of initiating

Imagine that your friend has been studying part time for several years to get a particular academic degree. Graduation is coming up in a few months, and you want to do something to congratulate your friend for the hard work and strategic juggling that has resulted in this achievement.

Should you buy a gift? Send a card? Offer to take photos at the graduation ceremony? Invite your friend over for a meal? Offer to host a party? Offer to take your friend out to a favorite restaurant to celebrate? Invite your friend out for coffee and offer to be a sounding board for the next steps in his or her life?

What is the best way to initiate? Sometimes our ability to initiate is limited by our circumstances. If you are on a limited budget, you can’t buy a lavish present or invite your friend out to a glitzy restaurant. If you live in a tiny apartment, you can’t offer to host a party in your home. If you’ve listened to your friend talk endlessly about the future, and you’re so fed up with listening that you’ll scream if you do it one minute more, you probably shouldn’t invite your friend out for coffee and another listening session.

Joanne, a hospital human services manager in her forties, believes that observing her friends’ love languages has helped her show love in appropriate and effective ways. She is referring to the many books by Gary D. Chapman about the five love languages. (His first book was The Five Love Languages.) Chapman believes that most of us have favorite ways to give and receive love, and he calls them “love languages.” He identifies five of those languages: gifts, touch, undivided attention, words of affirmation and actions.

More than twenty years ago, my husband and I read an article by Chapman, describing the five love languages, several years before his first book came out. The article stimulated a lot of conversation between my husband and me, and among our married friends at the time. It was easy for me to see that undivided attention—being listened to deeply and carefully—is the primary way I feel loved. I’m also very fond of being touched physically. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, I enjoy receiving compliments and words of praise, and I enjoy being served. But if I don’t feel I’m being listened to, I don’t feel loved, even if I get hugs, gifts, compliments or actions that serve me.

As we talked about these love languages, my husband realized he feels most loved when I do something with him, whether it’s an outing to an art gallery or working alongside him on a home repair. We don’t necessarily need to be talking for him to feel loved in that way, and I don’t really need to do anything other than be there with him. This doesn’t fit into one of Chapman’s five love languages, so we came to believe that companionship, at least in our marriage, is one more language of love.

My friend Joanne believes the love languages are just as relevant to friendship as to marriage. “So much miscommunication comes from not knowing a person’s love language,” she said. She watches her friends, trying to notice the way they give love to her and to others, and she tries to show love to them the same way. “I have a friend whose love language is service. I try to do things for her, help her with household tasks, even though it doesn’t come easily for me.”

I can look back on many friendships and realize that I probably erred by not paying attention to the other person’s love language. I mostly show love to friends by listening to them, because I value being listened to. I can remember someone from back in my thirties who was obviously trying to be my friend. She was always buying me little things, which seemed irrelevant and even a bit pushy to me. I wish I had understood the significance of love languages in friendship back then so that I could have received her kindness and care in the spirit in which it was given. Instead I found myself wishing she would listen to me.

It would have been good if I could have engaged in some reflection like this: Hmmm. She keeps giving me these annoying little gifts of no consequence. I wonder why such a pointless gesture is so captivating to her. Maybe she wishes people would think of her more often when she’s not around? Maybe I should give her a little gift every once in a while, just to show her that she’s in my thoughts.

Or perhaps another kind of initiative would have been appropriate. Hmmm. She seems to miss the point that I want to be paid attention to, but she must like me, because she keeps buying me stuff. Maybe we should have a conversation about this—define the relationship a little more. Taking initiative to ask some questions about patterns of giving and receiving love, and about her hopes for our relationship, would have been a gift to her. I regret that I was not able to give that gift.

(Next week: Vulnerability as initiative. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Illustration by Dave Baab.This post is excerpted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Previous posts in this series:

      Initiative in friendships   
      What Mary might have missed   
      Obstacles in taking initiative       
      Overcoming fear         

Here's article you might enjoy where I wrote about obstacles to listening, a relevant topic in friendship:
      Listening past the noise

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