On Influence & A Good Influence Named Linda

Two women smiling, Linda and author, influence

You cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.

Let’s talk about influence.

Dr. Pepper seltzer, Tim Hawkins, the ragged copy of My Utmost in her WC twenty years ago that led to one in mine; the elegance of Hedgehog and Goudge and countless other good books, whole cream in coffee, radish slices not Ruffles, and those flexible plastic cutting boards. Oh, those blessed chopping mats!

How could possibly forget that legendary Swiss vinaigrette, something like this but on the exact recipe, I’ve vowed secrecy.

Those things are not the half of it. They’re only a fraction of the ways Linda has influenced me.

On Linda’s Influence

You went to Peoria again last weekend? my friends ask. Why’d you go down this time?

It’s alway the same reason: Linda. Linda and John, and their five vibrant kids—remember that long, non-looping trip?— and their beloved “urban family” who have become our friends too.

And Linda. Linda is my husband’s sister, my sister-in-law. But more, she is my friend.

Turns out, my first memory of Linda is my first memory of my husband Jim. I was 14 when my family spent two August weeks at their grandparents’ campground. Jim and Linda would bound and bounce around the deck then spring into that little Meadowlark Acres pool. Vivacious, friendly, bright—I loved the life in them. Thirty-one years after we met at the pool, I still do.

Linda is a good influence—a joyful, faithful, cheerful influence. But you cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.

Linda and her crew are why we go to Peoria. Because we want to know them more. I want them to influence me.

Think About These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7

What do you think about when your mind is “resting”? Because the teacher wrote, as you think, so you are.

Lovely people think about lovely things, Alistair Begg said in a message on Philippians 4:8. By extension, truthful people think true thoughts, pure people think pure thoughts, and just people think just thoughts.

But the only way we can get those good thoughts a-thinkin’ is to place ourselves with them in the first place. That means we seek out good influences—influences that build our strength, our faith, our joy.

Do you see why all the three-hour drives to Peoria and all the time spent in the Word? In a word: influence.

Because thoughts stick around. For better and worse, they loop.

There’s a sign on a gravel road in Alaska that reads, Choose your rut carefully. You will be in it for the next 25 miles.

We have a say in what tracks we choose. As Christians, we’re called to choose an excellent and praiseworthy groove. Which means I must wisely choose my influencers. I must make an effort to spend time with people like Linda who affect me for good.

And I must set the Lord always before me.

There Are No Ordinary People (So Be A Good Influence)

God created us to be influenced. Over and over, Scripture calls us to imitate, to be influenced for good. First, by the Spirit applying God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But then by the fellow image-bearers with whom we rub shoulders.

But God also created us as influencers.

This bit from Lewis is often quoted, and for good reason. Because we are all in process. We are all heading one direction or the other. We are all influenced and influencers.

It is a serious thing […] to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. 

From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis delivered this sermon at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on June 8, 1941.

All day long, we are influencing each other in one direction or another. Influence is never neutral.

You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are.

We are influenced—for good or for ill—by who we know and by what we know. This knowledge base directly impacts our thoughts. As we think, so we are.

Which brings us back to the top. Find yourself some good influences. Latch on to a Linda. And set the Lord always before you.

Because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

You Have Been My Friend: When A Friend Moves Away

Two friends moving day
My friend Cathe and me.

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.

-E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

She writes fiction very well. I write nonfiction not so well.

My Friend Cathe

But my friend Cathe is the one who called me up after reading a post one summer dayand said, “Abigail, there’s something wrong.”

I braced for the worst. Because one thing I love about Cathe is that she speaks the truth. She’s gracious and discrete. And direct and sincere.

So I prepared to hear, “You’re too long-winded, dear. Your message gets lost in your words.” Both true, still true.

But that’s not what I head. Instead Cathe said, “That post you just wrote was good. More people need should see this. I think you need a website.”

But my friend didn’t stop there. Cathe hooked me up with her website host, then took time from her writing with real deadlines to walk me through the nuts and bolts of my little website design.

Earnest Counsel

Proverbs 27 says, Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. It’s true.

As we were loading in the van last night Cathe leaned in- not to talk to me but to my 15-year-old son. “Sam,” she started, “I have some advice about girls. Mind if I share?” We both stared at Cathe, rapt.

Find a girl with a cheerful disposition, she said. I like that. Because the moodier seem to grow moodier still. Sage advice, and kind.

You can see, Cathe doesn’t waste words. She uses them kindly and well.

The Sweetness of a Friend

It was Cathe who broke the ice after a month of estrangement from church, and asked, “Abigail, want to join the Thursday group?” I did. And with 3 week old Gabe in tow I joined the ladies in Cathe’s home over Cathe’s magic carrot nut muffins and spicy sweet tea.

Now 13 years later, I lead “the Thursday group.” It goes on with new faces and a handful of good old, including Cathe, though lately we meet via Zoom.

But after 20 years in our local life, as I write, Cathe is moving away. Last night, Jim, the boys and I got to help fill the U-Haul to its squid-ly brim. Totes, bins, washer, dryer and (Yes, Pat.) even the big brown sofa fit in.

Cathe is candid with herself too. I heard that last night. When she looked toward the sunset, maybe a little wistfully, and said,

“You know, Abigail, heaven is described as a city.

Because Cathe is a country girl, even more than me. So as my friend makes her way to a big city in Minnesota today, I’m back in the country thanking God for her- a friend who goes and chokes me up when she moves.

My tears come, in part and probably a selfish part, because I realize that Cathe is a keeper of my story. She has a valuable perspective on my life that I don’t have. She sees me in a way I can’t.

Friends, the Keepers of Our Stories

While Cathe is a gifted weaver of made-up story threads, she took a few minutes away from loading bins last night to tell some of my own real story threads. Threads that can get all tangled up in my head.

Like the one about how we came for dinner almost 20 years ago. After dinner, her tween son who knew that Jim and had been married a while and still didn’t have kids, leaned in and asked,

Hey mom, are you sure the Wallace’s know how?”

But Cathe also remembers the Sunday in November 2005 when we walked in to church holding our son, fresh from Korea. And how on a Sunday one year later, there was a collective, congregational gasp as my sister announced, “Abigail is expecting in June.”

Then, next June when Gabe was just a baby, Cathe broke silence and breached a tender subject. She broke that ice and welcomed me to the ladies’ study that met in her home.

Cathe has shared some of her precious story threads with me. They’re not mine to tell. But I do want to say, Cathe, that watching you endure with joy spurs me to do the same.

You Have Been My Friend

You know I’ll miss your real hugs and earnest counsel and practical kindness. And, as a keeper of my story, I will miss you because you know- and keep- my story so well.

Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being a keeper of my story the last two decades. I’ll miss you on Sundays and Thursdays and I’m excited to see how God writes this next chapter in yours.

Cathe, you have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing.

Thank you.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Sunset on moving night with friend
Unfiltered view last night

On My Good Dad’s 70th Birthday

Dad and Adult Daughter pedaling paddleboat

Thank you, good daughter, is what my dad said.

He said it last summer as I helped haul hay from the wagon to the mow. That wasn’t the only, but it’s the last time I recall.

Today’s my good dad’s 70th birthday. Let me tell you a few things about him. But in some big ways, if you know me, you already know my dad. For I am my father’s daughter.

A Dad Of Contrast

Let’s start last Sunday. With COVID-19, we worshiped at home. At 9:30 AM, Mom and Dad and my sister showed up with 4 hymnals. Hymnals. Dad and I love singing hymns. We started with Rise Up, O Man Of God. Man, not church, let the record reflect. But dad’s not a musical snob. Not at all.

He loves him some foot-tappin’ Gospel and strong-strummin’ folk. Besides playing the bagpipes- he recorded Danny Boy at dawn on St. Patrick’s Day for my sister to share with her 2nd grade class- he picked up some tin whistle too. He could probably play in a pinch at a session.

It’s like that with cooking too. He’ll whip up the most elaborate, marinate all day, ingredient list the length of spatula, simmer all afternoon with fresh rosemary and thyme from his garden dish you’ve ever tried. Then he’ll go a few days on vegetables with bread and cheese or just plain cabbage soup.

Teaches And Learns

Dad’s at home with the most intellectual. He’s reading a new book on redemption from a Greek Orthodox position- and did I mention how he popped open his Greek New Testament on Sunday to show us that the beyond in 2 Cor. 4:17 is hyperbole in Greek.

Dad’s a thinker. But he’s also a teacher and a lifelong learner.

In fact, he’s taught our boys most of the finer points in etiquette and mending relationships with Laurel & Hardy, What About Bob? and Ernest Goes To Africa. Just ask Gabe- or don’t- who taught him to lick last bit of ice cream from his bowl.

Dad’s always reading the farm journals to improve his horticulture. Currently, he’s learning be a champion broccoli sprouter. He’s already taught us how blowing fans on his tender sprouts toughens them for big gusts outside of the house.

Laughs and Serves

Dad can go toe-to-toe with a gifted theologian, and nose-to-nose with a baby. Dad pastored for decades and now he serves with mom in the little church nursery. I wouldn’t say the nursery is his passion, but I think being there brings him joy. Dad knows a real servant does what needs to be done.

I’ve got a lot to learn about being a servant, but what I’ve learned is mostly from watching Dad. Servants are humble. Dad isn’t all wrapped up in himself. For the Christian, that’s called maturity. Others’ focus is spiritual health.

Dad and toddler

I first remember thinking that about Dad when I was five or six. No kidding. We’d stopped off at a park 10 minutes from home. The park had a tunnel slide and Dad carried my down in his lap. I probably had begged him to go. But when we got off, I looked at him and burst into tears. Because blood ran from the top of his head down his face.

Dad was balding even then and the top of his head had scraped the tunnel and I thought he’d soon drop dead. But instead he laughed and grabbed his handkerchief. That was that.

Now fast forward to my 7th grade year. Dad was my science substitute teacher. I don’t remember anything about it except that Brian whispered, in range of my sensitive ears, “He’s a chrome dome.” Aaron laughed. And I about died of embarrassment- for my dad.

Somehow it came out at dinner that night- the outrageous, shaming slur- and guess what? He just laughed and said, Don’t let that bother you, Ab.

Dad and 4 kids

Dad Loves His Friends

Dad definitely loves his family. I’ve never doubted that for a second. But Dad also loves his friends.

For almost two decades now, Dad gets together with his friend Tom early Wednesday mornings, I think, to study and pray over coffee. Sometimes with Baileys Irish Cream. He used to do that with dear Mike, his literary friend.

Then there’s Paul and Robin their movie-swapping, ag-chat friends and Bob and Jane their all-thing-Irish friends. And for decades, until last year, there was Patsy and Jim. And on Tuesday nights, Lord willing, there’s sweet time with Jen and Tim.

My Dad loves his friends. I have a hunch that watching Dad love his friends has made my friendships second nature. We all need friends, and all different sorts of friends.

A Good Dad

But the best thing Dad did is make it easy for his kids to come to Jesus. I’m sorry some of you don’t have a dad like mine. Some fathers make it hard. They lay stumbling blocks instead of sowing gospel seeds.

But a good father lays down his life for his kids. He goes low to love his ownDad feeds his kids what his sweat has grown, potatoes and berries and beans. He laughs with his grandkids, sings hymns with his kids, and, for love, serves us all in love. Where once he preached in the pulpit, now he plays in the nursery. That’s my Dad.

I have good dad. That’s in large part because he has an even better Father. So I’ll leave off with this song my father loves.

It’s about his Father whose name is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Dad, Mom and grandchild in paddleboad

The Solution to Pollution is Dilution

When good speakers prepare, they anticipate the questions their listeners might ask. Last weekend I was blessed to speak at a women’s retreat.

And there was one question I was not ready for.   

Perfectionism, Stagnation, or Growth?

I’ll tell you about the question that stopped my cold in a minute. But let me start here where I started with the group: growth. I don’t take for granted that we all embrace a growth mindset.

But keeping growth as the goal guards against two life-choking dangers: perfectionism and stagnation. Perfectionism says I can’t believe I messed up. How could I have done that? It won’t bend. It demands 100% in ourselves or others- now. And when failure inevitably comes perfectionism crumbles in defeat.

But stagnation is equally stifling. It wallows and argues that change is simply impossible. That’s just the way I am, it reasons, I can’t help it. John Piper calls it spiritual fatalism and says it’s when we feel that genetic forces and family forces and the forces of past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow us to change. 

A focus on growth prevents both perfectionism and spiritual fatalism. To say that we can amend the soil is to embrace growth.

How’s your soil?

“Amending the Soil” was the theme- it was all about how we can change the “pH of our hearts” for greater fruitfulness, productivity and growth.

With that growth groundwork laid, we moved to a list of “faith fertilizers,” found in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Add-ins like patience and love and self-control that change our heart soil so good things- or more good things- can grow. 

Then we landed on verse 8: For if these qualities are yours and are increasingnote: increasing and growing, not perfected and arrived at- they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adding these qualities changes our “soil” for good. 

Now I asked the ladies to describe the current state of their heart soil. Was it muddy, weedy, rocky, or clay? Exhausted, high-yield, wild, or dry? 

The responses were what you expect from hard-working women on a weekend retreat: plenty of exhausted souls, two weedy women and one wild woman. Sharing time was going swimmingly.

Until Shelly chimed in with the question that stopped me cold.

What about contaminated soil?

What about contaminated soil? I’m surrounded by toxic relationships at work and at home. How am I supposed to change those? 

Alrighty then. Easy for me to talk about growth and change and growing in grace. But I was not prepared for this. 

Back to the garden metaphor for a minute. My dad adds coffee grounds to the soil around his blueberries to help the plants grow. But what if there’s a can of paint buried next to the blueberry plants seeping its poisons into the roots? 

What about polluting influences and toxic people we can’t escape? How does growth come then?

The Solution to Pollution? Dilution.

Thankfully, my friend Susanne came to my rescue: The solution to pollution is dilution, she said with a grin.

Susanne’s a nurse and she knows. You can’t always remove toxins from the blood, but you can dilute them. You can insert an IV and dilute with fluids.

To go back to the garden metaphor, it means if you dilute a pollutant enough, the resultant intensity of the pollution is reduced; therefore adding clean material to a contaminated product will reduce the toxicity of the resultant mix…diluting the intensity will reduce the potency of a problematic pollutant with dilution.

Shelly was right. We can’t remove all the corruption around us. Workplaces, families of origin, debilitating diseases- all be out of our control.

But we can “reduce the potency of the problematic pollutant.” We can do that.

Change what you can change.

We can’t always change our circumstances. Our world is polluted. It is contaminated and polluted and we feel it. Little ones get infected and we weep. As much as we’d like to insulate ourselves and those we love from contamination, we just can’t.

But we can change what we can change. We can dilute the toxic influences in our soil with good influences.

We are not spiritual fatalists, so toxic relationships” need not hinder growth. We can phone a friend and say, Help me please or text a group, Please pray. We can open the Bible and let its pure words cleanse our contaminated souls.

It won’t be easy. It will take God’s power energizing our effort to “reduce the potency” of the pollution we can’t escape. But we can–we must- dilute.

But there will come a day. 

But there will come a day when we won’t have to deal with toxic people and debilitating diseases, with polluted water and contaminated land. All mysterious will be bright at last.

All will be healed and clean. There will be no toxins seeping or wounded weeping then. And there will be abundant fruit. 

But while we await that glorious day, the best solution to pollution might just be dilution. 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face…

Revelation 22:1-4a