Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kenny Rogers, Toffee & A Hatmaker

Meatloaf poignantly sang that he would do anything for love... but he wouldn't do "that". (For those of you who are part of a generation that is pretty sure that Meatloaf is simply something your grandmother fixes for supper, I refer you to the M&Ms commercial - extended version here! - which is still playing on a regular basis. Or you can simply check out Meatloaf on YouTube and marvel that a very large and very sweaty man with a very big voice somehow became a star.)

I mention this because of one of the things that I chose to do for love (for my wife) is to buy her a Kenny Rogers 20 Greatest Hits CD. I am not a huge country music fan (though I do enjoy Lyle Lovett & some of Brad Paisley's music)... but Kenny is squarely in the 70s/80s "pop country" vein that just drives me up a tree - and this album has (count 'em!) three syrupy ballad duets along with "Lady" (Kenny does his best Lionel Ritchie impression) and the ridiculous "You Decorated My Life".

I will give him credit for "The Gambler" - which, of course, is the song that I'll actually reference here when I eventually get to making my point. I do need, however, to mention his ill-advised cosmetic surgeries - dang, he does NOT look right now.

OK, enough of that. Time to talk about candy.

Specifically, toffee. I am happy to eat candies with toffee in them: Heath Bars, Almond Roca, Skor, Symphony. (Honestly, I'm happy to eat candies of almost any type... though I draw the line at black licorice and/or circus peanuts.)

And while I'm delighted to ingest candy at levels that might be considered toxic to folks less acclimated to high sugar intake, I know very little about candy-making... and even less about the delicate procedures necessary to make the wonderfully sticky bits of yumminess.

So when Jen Hatmaker wrote about her disasters with making toffee earlier this year, I was surprised.
I consulted the interwebs to discover the error of my ways. Let me condense the instruction I received:
Keep stirring. Stir constantly. Stir occasionally. Don’t stir once it boils. The temperature is too hot. It’s not hot enough. Too hot, too fast. Oops, too long. Keep a steady boil. NOT A ROLLING BOIL, YOU MORON. Use a whisk. Use a spatula. Use a wooden spoon. Recalibrate your candy thermometer. Don’t use a candy thermometer. Pour immediate at 285 degrees. Drop toffee into ice water and it should be brittle. Oops, while you were doing that it reached 286 degrees. Dump contents. Don’t cook if there is rain within 500 miles. 12 minutes exactly. 7 and a half minutes. 4 minutes and not a second more. If it separates, add water. If it separates, keep stirring. If it separates, turn the heat down. If it separates, turn the heat up. If it separates, I’m sorry to tell you, but your life is in shambles.
Wow. I just find it easier to go down the street to the Wal-Mart and buy my candy pre-made.

And so does Jen. Her reason for telling the Saga of the Toffee Nightmare is to make the point that sometimes "the juice ain't worth the squeeze."

That's a lovely colloquial way to echo the wisdom of Kenny "I Should Not Have Let the Plastic Surgeon Mess With My Face" Rogers: "You gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em."

And then Jen went on to write as if she was listening to the whispers of my heart in a post entitled When Is It Time to Walk Away?
There is a tipping point when the work becomes exhausting beyond measure, useless. You can’t pour antidote into a vat of poison forever and expect it to transform into something safe, something healthy. In some cases, poison is poison, and the only sane answer is to move on.

Relationships, careers, churches, friendships, expectations, roles, tasks, organizations – these structures and connections can be the most life-giving elements on earth. They can lend meaning and purpose and belonging like nothing else. Within them, we find our tribes and passions, we come to life.

But anything that powerful has a downside, for they are the same things that can drain us dry and leave us for dead. When an endless amount of work and blood and sweat and tears leaves a situation or relationship or even an ambition (Perfect Mom, Size 4 Human, Person Who Has It All Together) as unhealthy as it ever was, when there is virtually no redemption, when the red flags have frantically waved for too long unheeded, the alarm bells receding into white noise after sustained disregard, sometimes the healthiest possible response is to walk away.

Assessing a circumstance as worthy of the toil is a discarded skill. Our culture doesn’t value safe boundaries like it should. We hold private disdain for the one who quit, the one who pulled out, drew a line in the sand, the one who said no more. We secretly wonder if they shouldn’t have tried harder, stayed longer, if this isn’t an indicator of their flimsy loyalty. Surely we would’ve done better in their shoes.

Locked in a toxic relationship or career or ambition or community, the levels of unhealth and spiritual pollution can murder everything tender and Christlike in us, and a watching world is not always privy to those private kill shots. It can destroy our hope, optimism, gentleness. We can lose our heart and lose our way. And here is the key: we can pour an endless amount of energy into the chasm, and it will never matter.

There is a time to put redemption in the hands of God where it belongs and walk away before you destroy your spirit on the altar of Futile Diligence. Not every battle has a winner; sometimes it is all losers, carnage everywhere. When healthy options exist, and there is a safer alternative right…over…there, often the bravest thing we can do is stop fighting for something that will never, ever be well.

Walk away gracefully; we need not fire parting shots over the bow. That only creates more losers, and you're better than that. Take your dignity and self-respect and precious humanity, and be proud of the way you handled yourself one year from now. You don't need to be proven right; much more is at stake than validation. You'll never regret being gracious, but you might deeply regret burning a bridge that might one day be safe enough to venture back over.

It is not ungodly to evaluate critically; it is the wisest thing we can do. Reaching a point where you say “enough” to a toxic environment is not cowardly – it is so very brave. It will free you up to expend your energy in worthy ways, protecting you and maybe even your people from brutal coping mechanisms. (Do we really want to teach our children that “identifying with your captor” is the best way? When all we do is defend our imprisoner, it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror.)

What is the tipping point? There is no formula here and I can’t give one. This requires honest self-evaluation, safe and wise counselors, the close leadership of the Holy Spirit, a sobering assessment of reality. Ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze here?" and sometimes it is. You might discover signs of life and possibility rising up through the efforts, or the task at hand is simply too worthy to abandon, regardless. There may be necessary work left to do, and it’s too soon to assess. Or maybe the Spirit holds you in place for unclear reasons, which you may or may not ever know, but you will find peace in obedience and continue to listen for marching orders.

But the Toffee Doctrine bears adherence too: you got to know when to fold ‘em - for your health, your heart, purpose, family, your precious life. Certain goals are unattainable, and the means will never actually reach the end. And so often if you just turn a quarter degree, you’ll discover a healthier version just within reach. You’ll find the underlying value intact in a context that fits like a glove. You’ll hear yourself say, “Oh! I didn’t know it could be like this!” The toffee is still good elsewhere; maybe just need to rethink how you get it.
The first time I read this, I cried. Jen Hatmaker was speaking into the pain & truth of the situations I had faced... and giving legitimacy to one of the most difficult choices I've ever had to make - to leave the church I had pastored for nine and a half years.

I don't know where this story of toffee-making & walking away hits you today - my prayer is that it's not something you have to face right now. But for those of you who are, for those of you have... I offer this as signpost on a lonely road - a welcome indicator that you didn't make the wrong turn.


Roberta said...

Thank-you, Mark. Words of encouragement, oddly, and of validation, for difficult choices. Usually, I come here for the game banter, but today, gentle wisdom.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks, Roberta... tough post to write and your kind words are a gift.