Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Stories I ponder: A tale of two grandmothers

Friday September 8 2017

Stories I ponder: A tale of two grandmothers

Just over thirty years ago, when I was a part time seminary student and stay-at-home mom of a baby and a toddler, the editor of our church newsletter asked me to write an article about grace and truth in the Christian life. I wrote an article about my two grandmothers, and I called it “A Tale of Two Grandmothers.” The editor didn’t seem very pleased with it, but she printed it. I think she was looking for something theological rather than anecdotal.

I don’t have that article anymore, but I remember the gist of it. As I think about it now, I’m not sure that the differences between my grandmothers actually relate to grace and truth. See what you think.

My grandmothers had a few things in common. They were both born in the 1890s, got married in their early 20s and had kids and grandkids. They both attended church and talked to me about their faith. Apart from those facts, they were really different people.

My dad’s mother, who we called Nona, was short and plump. (Nona was the sister of Aunt Lynn from last week's post.) Grandma Katie, my mom’s mother, was tall and slender, and had been known for her beauty as a young woman. Nona was raised with servants, and while she had kids in the house, she had someone helping her with cooking and cleaning. Grandma Katie raised her children on a farm in poverty during the Depression. Her life consisted pretty much of endless work: gardening, canning, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and raising chickens.

Nona had a few favourite dishes she liked to cook, but she always seemed a bit tentative when she cooked. Grandma Katie taught me how to bake cakes and pies, and she also taught me how to crochet and knit.

The two women had a very different approach to their faith as well. Nona was one of the most peaceful and loving people I’ve ever known. She communicated unconditional love to me. Her sense of peace and love resonated when she talked about church. She enjoyed going to church, and I picked up the implication that she enjoyed being loved by God.

Grandma Katie strove for excellence in everything, even her faith. She read the Bible all the way through every year. During the Depression, she tithed on the small amount of money she earned from her chickens and eggs, even though my grandfather was not a churchgoer and probably resisted any commitment to tithing. She always wondered if she should have been a missionary.

Back in my thirties, I thought the difference between them had to do with grace and truth, that Nona lived by grace, and Grandma Katie was consumed by a drive for truth. I still think that’s partly true, but now I think the issue is more about rest versus striving. Both are major themes throughout the Bible.

Ponder this pair of verses: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29).

Then contrast those two verses with these two: “I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “Let us run with endurance the race that is set is before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

It seems to me Nona embodied the first two verses and Grandma Katie embodied the second two. Resting in God and striving to obey are themes with pretty much equal focus in the Bible. Which one comes easier to you? Why? Do you want to change or do you like it that way?

Do you have people in your life who seem to represent different styles of being a Christian?

(Photo: Grandma Katie and Nona at Dave’s and my wedding in 1976. Like many in her generation, Grandma Katie never learned to smile when photos were taken. I think Dave and I were encouraging her to smile as we leaned toward her. Next week: My father-in-law and money. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

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.

Stories I ponder: The noisy washing machine

Thursday August 24 2017

Stories I ponder: The noisy washing machine

About four months ago our washing machine started thumping during the spin cycle. We were going to move and sell our house only two months later, so I wondered if maybe the washing machine could limp along for two months.

One Sunday morning I put a load of laundry in, and it was spinning and thumping as we left for church. The noise was loud enough that I realized we needed to get it fixed as soon as possible. On the way to church I had a bit of a revelation. A couple of weeks earlier I had washed a pair of shoes, and when the wash cycle was finished, one of the shoes was missing a piece of shoelace. I wondered if perhaps that five-inch length of shoelace was somewhere in the machine.

At church, the worship leader shared a little story about how God had worked in his life that week. I thought the story was pretty stupid. I’m generally not a hyper-critical person, but sometimes critical thoughts just jump into my head, and in that instance I was flooded with negativity. How could he think that silly incident showed God’s action in his life?

The worship leader then asked us to share with the person sitting next to us a story about something that had happened to us that week showing God’s hand in our life. Dave, my husband, was on my right, and he turned to the person on his other side. So I turned to the man on my left, who I didn’t know. We told each other our names and we told each other a brief story from the week.

When we finished our stories, other people were still talking, so I asked him what he did for a living.

“I repair appliances,” he said.

“Do you work on washing machines?” I replied, and he said he did. So I asked what company he worked for, fully intending to call the next day to ask for a repair person.

Then I told him I thought perhaps a piece of shoelace had probably gotten into some critical place in our washing machine. Could that cause thumping, I asked. He said yes and that after the service he’d be happy to tell me how to get it out.

And he did. He asked the make of our washing machine, he called up pictures on his phone, and he showed me a little door to open at the bottom of the machine. I would need to drain out water, and he told me the steps to do that, and then I would look inside at a little fan.

That afternoon I drained the machine carefully and found the piece of shoelace wrapped around the little fan. With scissors and tweezers, I got it out, and the machine worked just fine afterwards.

This lovely fellow told me how much it would have cost for a repair person from his company to come to our house, so I knew how much money he saved me. A good sum, but in the light of our upcoming move and all the expenses of moving, it wasn’t really that much money. But it still mattered a great deal. It was a sign to me of two things:

1.  God is involved in the everyday aspects of my life.

2.  Despite my negativity, the worship leader was following God’s guidance in telling his story and asking us to share stories. God wanted to give me a gift, and having a conversation with the guy sitting next to me enabled that gift to happen. Okay, so the story the worship leader told wasn’t a story that resonated with me as a way to illustrate God’s action in our lives. Maybe it touched someone else. Whether it did or didn’t, God gave me a gift initiated by something I thought was stupid.

God is God. I am not. God works in such amazing, unexpected and sometimes seemingly ridiculous ways. I need to curb my criticism and keep my eyes open. In The Message version of Isaiah 55:8, God says, “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

(Next week, another story I ponder, about my Great Aunt Lynn. Illustration by Dave Baab, the view from the back deck of our former house with the noisy washing machine. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

On this blog one year ago: The last post in a series on worshipping God the Creator. The post has links at the end to the previous posts in the series.

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.

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