Tag Archives: marriage

Are You a Carrot, An Egg, or a Tea Bag? – on trouble, marriage, reconciliation, and mayonnaise

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You’ve heard this modern parable before, right?  “Are You a Carrot, An Egg, or a Tea Bag?”  My pastor used it for the children’s sermon last Sunday, complete with visuals.   When a carrot gets into hot water, it softens up – and the longer it stays there, the softer it gets.  When you boil an egg, though, it gets harder and harder.   We already use ‘hot water’ as a metaphor for trouble in our lives, so the analogy was pretty easy to follow, even for the kids…. how do you handle difficulty when it comes along?

He asked the kids:  Do you disintegrate under the heat, and fall apart – like a mushy carrot?  Or do you just get tougher, so that you aren’t even palatable any more, like an egg boiled into dry green hardness?

He then offered them the third option; be like a tea bag.  When you’re in hot water, let your innate ability, strength, beauty, and personality come out…and change the water!

A sweet little parable, and an encouraging reminder, but, I couldn’t help thinking, rather naive.  In considering the ups and downs of my life, and the traumas, difficulties, griefs, and scars that are part of it, I know I’ve managed to respond in all three ways (and probably others that don’t fall under the tidy triparate metaphor, either!).  I’ve gone to pieces and left my husband to try to stick things back together.  I’ve responded with grace and sweetness and made beauty out of the ashes.  But most of the time my instinctive reaction to trouble is to put my fists up; to fight it; to get tougher.

I went through childhood abuse, marital distancing, separation, hurt, poverty, physical pain and invisible illness, discrimination, gaslighting, depression – and in most cases I got through with a few more scars, a bit more leather on the outside, and a grim determination not to be hurt again.   Um, yeah, how’s that working for you?

The hot water I frequently got into resulted in someone who was gradually getting more and more hard-boiled.  Less compassion, a grating aggression that thought the way to protect myself was to attack first, and little patience for anyone who didn’t live up to my expectations and standards.  As you can imagine, this didn’t do good things for my relationship with my husband, himself fighting a battle with depression and insecurity, and who responded by protecting his heart with a wall of ice, then upping the ante by shooting back over the ramparts.

We used to do everything together (we even had the same job for years, sharing an office and classroom).  We had strong family traditions, like Danishes and seven-minute boiled eggs for Sunday breakfast, before church.  We travelled widely, wrote and edited and went to conferences together, shared household chores.  We saw communication breaking down in other friends’ marriages and smugly congratulated ourselves on how that was a common strength and we’d always keep talking to solve our issues.

But when talking became nagging and critique, mutual sniping and layered negative connotations, and then froze into monosyllabic minimalism, those shared experiences, values, and loves got buried deeper and deeper, and the space between us became scorched and frosted earth.  Eventually there was a DMZ so wide we were on the brink of divorce.

Egg Salad copy

What saved my marriage – and brought me to where I am now –

was a painful process whereby the Holy Spirit made egg salad out of me.

  Guys, stick with this crazy little metaphor, because it works.  It meant I had to have my ‘shell’ smashed, my hardened ‘white’ macerated, and the dry ‘yolk’ of my heart remoistened.  I needed salt to become tasty again, I needed smoothening and softening holy oil, I needed an infusion of sweetness and compassion – a mayonnaise of loving-kindness – so that I could be palatable once again.

And it wasn’t just prayer – sorry, War Room, but ya know, faith without works is dead – it was literal years of reading, counselling, studying, self-examination, practising changed behaviour from a changed heart, and persevering in the face of disbelief, resistance, and serious antagonism.  Thankfully, the Sophia-Spirit has plenty of mayo to go around, and she did a remix on my husband as well.

That’s the short version of a long story, but I’m thankful to say that once again we’re the most important people in each other’s lives.  We discovered how tasty we could be all over again.  We’ll be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary next year.  We commune, communicate, share, work together to build each other up, support mutual decisions, and parent our DD consistently.  And on Sundays we still have Danishes and soft-boiled eggs.

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The Hearts of Fish

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The Hearts of Fish

A headline on npr.org caught my eye; I didn’t listen to the program (click the image if you’d like to be redirected there) but found the headline itself not only told the whole environmental story, but my own emotional story as well.

Our hearts still bear scars
from toxic events
that happened years ago.

Emotions that overflowed, inappropriate actions we failed to control, harsh and angry words which spilled out of our mouths or those of the people closest to us ….
And like petroleum oil, so hard to clean up, so bad for our environment, so staining and scarring. Everyone in the vicinity suffers.

It takes a lot of soap and elbow grease and scrubbing to clean up a beach that’s experienced an oil spill. What does it take to clean up a damaged relationship, a scarred heart, a hurting marriage?

No easy answers; forgiveness may be the soap that cleans up, living water the cleansing grace that allows us to get the stains off, unconditional love the motivational force that lets us keep doing the day-by-day work in ourselves and our relationships…but none of it easy. A lot of elbow grease, a lot of scrubbing.

And the hearts of fish may still bear the scars
of that toxin
spilled so many years ago.

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… divorced people were asked what they’d learned about relationships from that experience.

No surprise, they emphasize the importance of “affective affirmation,” which is psych speak for making loving gestures such as kissing, hand-holding, giving compliments, and saying “I love you.” Fact is, people do feel closer to each other when they regularly demonstrate loving feelings.

Orbuch reports that divorced people identified four important ways to show affection:

1. How often a spouse showed love
2. How often a spouse made a person feel good about the kind of person he or she was
3. How often a spouse made a person feel good about having individual ideas and ways of doing things
4. How often a spouse made life interesting or exciting….”

(This is a quote within a quote.  I have to track down the original place I found this yet…but the list itself is so telling and so simple.)

… divorced pe…

Love is a Flavour, Love is a Choice

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A celebrity gives us marital counsel here:

“My wife got sick. She was constantly nervous because of problems at work, personal life, her failures and children. She lost 30 pounds and weighted about 90 pounds. She got very skinny and was constantly crying. She was not a happy woman. She had suffered from continuing headaches, heart pain and jammed nerves in her back and ribs. She did not sleep well, falling asleep only in the mornings and got tired very quickly during the day. Our relationship was on the verge of a break up. Her beauty was leaving her somewhere, she had bags under her eyes, she was poking her head, and stopped taking care of herself. She refused to shoot the films and rejected any role. I lost hope and thought that we’ll get divorced soon… But then I decided to act. After all I’ve got the most beautiful woman on earth. She is the idol of more than half of men and women on earth, and I was the one allowed to fall asleep next to her and to hug her. I began to shower her with flowers, kisses and compliments. I surprised and pleased her every minute. I gave her a lot of gifts and lived just for her. I spoke in public only about her. I incorporated all themes in her direction. I praised her in front of her own and our mutual friends. You won’t believe it, but she blossomed. She became better. She gained weight, was no longer nervous and loved me even more than ever. I had no clue that she CAN love that much.

And then I realized one thing: the woman is the reflection of her man.

If you love her to the point of madness, she will become it.”

-Brad Pitt

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To be unloved is holistically damaging – one’s heart, spirit, and body all suffer from lack of love.  From infants in orphanages who are receiving optimal nutrition but still fail to thrive, to teens struggling with gender definitions, from those in loveless marriages  to seniors who have lost a dear spouse, across the spectrum of humanity this can be observed.   Nerves become strung taut, weight is gained or lost, unhealthy patterns of behaviour are developed, and a constant loneliness seems like your own personal rain cloud following you about.  The heavens are brass and God seems unapproachable.  

Mr. Pitt is to be commended for his perceptive observation of his wife’s symptoms, and for his decision to make love a choice rather than an emotion.  He could have said, as so many Hollywood couples in the heat of the spotlight do, ‘We just don’t have feelings for each other any more…we’ve drifted apart…we’re not compatible’ – or he could have stopped short with his observations and used them as excuses: ‘she’s no longer attractive….she’s not fun to be around….’    But he chose to act; to pour attention and affection into her, to love what seemed unlovely.  And he saw her response and the resulting healing.

Now, while I affirm Mr. Pitt’s loving actions, I do disagree with his rather narcissistic and limited conclusion. Genuine, unconditional love deeply changes both the lover and the one who is loved; it doesn’t change the beloved into the lover, or into a mere reflection of the lover. 

Ms. Jolie, I would argue, in receiving this affection and attention, grew more deeply into herself.  Her wilted spirit was able to revive with the metaphorical sun and rain her husband poured over her, and she bloomed – not into ‘Brangelina Pitt’, if you will, but into a more fully flowering Angelina, a more beautiful self.

One last thought.   We were created with an imperative to love (agape, eros, phileos, and more) so strong that when we suppress it, our souls are damaged.  Pouring out an unconditional love will change you, even if that love is unreturned, unknown, or outright rejected.  I remind myself daily that one of my lifetime tasks is to love in this way.  And I have felt that powerful change in my spirit as I pour out that energy.  Where can you give love, even if you feel unloved yourself?