Advent DevotionalA 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 SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Stories I ponder: Aunt Lynn

Saturday September 2 2017

Stories I ponder: Aunt Lynn

I was indirectly named for my Aunt Lynn. I say “indirectly” for two reasons. She was actually my great aunt, and her name was Evelyn. My dad, her nephew, called her “Aunt Lynn,” so my brother and I were taught to address her that way.

My dad’s middle name was Lynn, after his aunt, so I was actually named after my dad. My mom added the “e” at the end of my name, because she read in a baby book that the “e” was necessary for a girl. Many times in my childhood I wished she hadn’t bothered with the “e” because people misspelled my name so often.

Aunt Lynn had an exotic life. Born in the mid 1890s, she didn’t marry until she was 40. She worked until she married, and a 20-year working life for women in her generation was quite rare.  Her husband was 20 some years older than she. They lived in Chicago, and he worked as a liaison between movie studios and local theatres. She met movie stars and studio moguls, dressed in a mink coat and looking quite elegant in the photos I’ve seen.

They had a son soon after they married, and Aunt Lynn doted on him. In my childhood, we passed through Chicago twice, and I enjoyed meeting this great aunt who my grandmother talked about a lot. My cousin seemed a bit odd.

When I was 23, I attended a conference in Wisconsin and I decided to take a few days in Chicago to get to know Aunt Lynn as an adult. At that point she was about 80, and I loved her stories about the movie world of the 1930s and 1940s.

She also talked about how lonely she was. She had not been a church attender as an adult, unlike her sister, my grandmother, so she didn’t have any community there. Her husband had been so much older than she, so she had been a widow for several decades. In addition, most of their friends during their married life were his age rather than her age, so all her friends were also gone.

Her son came by to see her once or twice a week, but as far as I could tell, he was almost her only human contact. She talked on the phone occasionally with her sister in Baltimore, but they were both frail enough that they didn’t travel to see each other any longer.

I made it back to Chicago a couple more times before Aunt Lynn died at 94, and in every visit she talked about her loneliness. I’ve thought about Aunt Lynn’s words all my life. Because of those conversations with her, I have made a big effort to build relationships with people of different generations than I am: older people because they might be lonely, and younger people because perhaps they’ll still be my friends when I reach old age.

My great-grandmother lived to be 96, my grandmothers lived to be 89 and 92, my father lived to be 90, and my mother is 92 going on 50. With so much longevity in my background, it’s likely I’ll live to be pretty old. I really, really, really don’t want to be lonely at 80 or 85 or 90 like Aunt Lynn.

Christians have two advantages regarding loneliness. We have the church community, providing us with many opportunities for connection with people across generations. We also have the companionship of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, a gift I appreciate more as I age. Jesus says to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphans; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). He is referring to his presence through the Holy Spirit.

When I have conversations with people who are younger than I am, and when I try to build relationships with younger folks, I don’t view myself as a mentor or a wise older person. I figure by the time I’m 90, and they’re maybe 50 or 60 or 70, they’ll be plenty wise, and I’ll hopefully have the privilege of still knowing them, and I’ll be able to draw on their wisdom.

I want to ignore the age difference and see myself simply as a companion on the journey of life. And, in fact, the people I talk with who are several decades younger than I am are already plenty wise. They enrich my life so much now.

To those of you in my circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances who are younger than I am, thank you for being in my life. I am so grateful that my Aunt Lynn’s loneliness motivated me to look to people of all ages as companions on the journey of life.

(Next week: A tale of two grandmothers. Photo: Aunt Lynn reading to our son Jonathan in a 1984 visit to Chicago. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Happy News! Last week I received an award from the Australian Religious Press Association for the best social justice article. It’s an article about listening to people who are different than we are, and you can read it here.

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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