Posted in Faith, Guest

The Pots in My Head

I am so excited about my guest this week, Sandi Piazza!  You are in for a treat!  Sandi is married to Gerry, and is currently on her third career as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to Emilio (10) and Ana (8).  She is passionate, strong, wise and gentle.  Her heart comes alive when fighting for equality and social justice, diving into literature of all kinds, and providing the much-needed love and care for her foster dogs.  Welcome, Sandi!

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A few years ago, I heard someone preach that men’s brains are like waffles (compartmentalized) and women’s brains are more like spaghetti (highly intertwined).  For many in the audience, this really resonated.  Not for me.  I have pots in my head.

As a perfectionist.  I always have a lot going on AND never really learned how to outline and organize big projects, I tend to procrastinate until I must focus fully on the task at hand and get it done.  To juggle several divergent tasks, I developed a system where I envision my brain as a cooktop covered with pots during a large holiday meal.  Those who know me well may have heard me say, “OK. I need to get a new pot going in my head.” (In fact, that proclamation to my curious friend Esther is the origin of this post!)

When any project comes up, I add a pot on my brain’s stovetop.  I carefully consider the core (main ingredient) of that task?  What else needs to be added (some side elements) in order to accomplish this?  How long do I have to complete (cook) this undertaking?  Each item on my “to do” list gets a dedicated pot–something akin to the discrete little compartments in waffles, but oftentimes things are related and work together and it’s not quite the jumbled mess of spaghetti.  Every so often, I sit down and think, “OK, POT CHECK!  Let’s give things a stir.”

This process was crucial to my success as an undergraduate student.  I was pursuing a degree in English Literature, which meant multiple books and essays assigned at any given moment.  I was an officer in a club.  I had an almost-full-time job.  I was active in a church community (and most of us know what that means for good and bad).  I was fortunate enough to have scholarships covering a huge chunk of my tuition, but room and board simply weren’t in the budget for the Rodriguez family. This meant LOTS of time spent in transit on the subway, commuting from the northernmost tip of Manhattan all the way down to Greenwich Village, in the days before internet, laptops, and smartphones. What was a student to do?  CHECK MY POTS!

Typical POT CHECK, sitting on the subway riding home from school:

POT ONE:  Paper due later this week on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

“I loved the book, even though it took me a while to understand the first chapter, with its stream-of-consciousness descriptions and odd details like Cassie’s white underpants as she climbs a tree. WTH is that about? Interesting that the main character of the book never actually gets to speak for herself…her brothers and the family servant do all the talking. Can I emphasize this in my paper somehow? Hmm… OK, I’ll put it aside to revisit later, but it’s due soon so best not to wait too long.”

POT TWO:  Paper two comparing Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.

“Ugh.  May as well be comparing liver and okra. Blaaah. That one isn’t due for a few weeks. Back burner for sure.”

POT THREE:  Leading Bible study next week.

“What’s the verse again? ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…’  OK, how can I make this super-familiar verse seem fresh? There’s the whole Iran Contra-gate thing in the news…weapons of warfare… Too much of a stretch?  Should I just read it and leave it hanging there, hoping everyone can apply it to their own life?  Hmm… I have some time on this.  Let it simmer on low.”

POT FOUR:  Choir Christmas service.

“It’s coming up soon.  I have the lyrics and harmonies of the songs memorized.  I have the white shirt I need and I have that black skirt I can wear.  I haven’t worn it in a while.  I hope it fits…I might need to add some girdle-y (is that even a word? girdle-like?) underwear to make it fit better… Stir that pot when I get home.  Wait…”

WEIRD TRANSITION BACK TO POT ONE:

“Underwear, again.  That’s in a couple of my pots.  Back to the paper.  There was that thing in where Benji notices Cassie’s underwear.  Weird for a brother to notice that about his sister.  Wait, now that I think of it, didn’t that happen with more than one narrator?  Where’s that book?”

By the time I got home from school, I had figured out that there were three different characters in The Sound and the Fury who noticed the central character’s underpants, and that the underwear reflected what they thought of her in that.  The paper practically wrote itself, which was a blessing in the pre-word-processor 1980s!

Some 30 years later, my perfectionism has waned, but I still organize my thoughts and projects in this way.  The pots bubbling away in my mind these days tend to be more abstract than project-based, and currently include things like:

  • what walking with Jesus looks like after deconstructing some toxic doctrines from my fundamentalist upbringing
  • having a successful marriage, almost 14 years in, without an example in my life to emulate
  • parenting a child—possibly two—with autism
  • navigating family relationships successfully and in a healthy way when members struggle with mental illness, addiction, & codependency
  • homeschooling
  • building and maintaining a tribe
  • a room decorating project
  • volunteer responsibilities
  • rescue dogs, old dogs, and how to keep them both healthy/calm

You get the idea.  Lysa TerKeurst says, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.  What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”  That rings true.  This is the stuff of my life…the things that nourish me, sustain me, and keep me going.

Doing an occasional pot check helps me to realize what I know a lot about and what I need to research further.  And, much as it did when I was in college, it often allows me to draw parallels and to see how something in one pot relates to another, helping me make sense out of a vexing problem and integrate the various parts of my life.

I also cook a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and something invaluable I’ve come to know is that there is one ingredient that improves every dish I cook.  GARLIC! Just kidding.  It’s SALT!

Salt is amazing. It has so many uses! It preserves.  It melts ice.  It kills weeds, and, relevant to the topic at hand, it seasons food and enhances the flavor of almost everything.

Author and activist Mariama Bâ has said that “The flavor of life is love. The salt of life is also love.”  That rings so true!  Much as every dish I cook improves with a bit of salt, every pot in my head is better when I add some love.

Sound like a stretch?  See for yourself!

Parenting?  Add love.

Marriage?  Add love.

Faith?  Family?  Tribe?  Yes, yes, yes…more love.

Re-examining my faith?  Definitely needs more love.

And so on…

However, unlike salt, I have yet to see a “pot” where too much love ruined it.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, the kids are occupied for the moment, leaving me a few moments to sit and reflect.  Perfect time for a pot check.  No thanks on the waffles and spaghetti, but…can you please pass the salt?


A final word from the Dolly Mama.  It’s been a pleasure having Sandi come and share with us.  She’s exceptional.  If you’d like to see some of my favorite blog posts, take a look at these (and please follow me if you like what you read and don’t want to miss another post):

Not the Boss of Me

The Goetz Family Law

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

Shattered Shalom (restoring it in my home and in our world)

Redeeming Hypnopompia

Posted in Charity, Childhood, Faith, Health, Third Culture Kid

My Childhood Jesuses (What are Yours?)

“If Jesus was Jewish, did He believe in Himself?”  (Josh Goetz – 6)

It all started with “Get-Out-of-Hell Free” Jesus, the earliest one I can remember.  This Jesus gets “asked into your heart” and then when you die, you get saved from the fiery torment of an eternal damnation in a very literal place called hell.

Before you click away because you are worried that I am going to be marching down the path to preach a hell, fire and brimstone blog post, calm your hearts.  We’re just taking a little ride together.  🙂

I am reading a very light-hearted, yet serious-at-the-same-time book called Stolen Jesus.  One day, the author, Jami Amerine, notices that the portrait of Jesus at her local YMCA lobby is gone.  Finding out that He is now relegated to “behind the filing cabinet,” she sneaks Him out and hangs Him over her mantel at home, thus the title of the book.  She goes on to unpack all of her Jesuses (including Mormon Jesus, High School Jesus and Michigan Jesus), filling my mind with all of my own Jesuses.

Two weeks ago, I would have told you that I know Jesus pretty well.  I’ve got a pretty good handle on who and what He is and who and what He is not.  I’ve spent a lifetime figuring Him out.  After spending some much-needed time with Jami Amerine delving into all my different Jesuses, I’m thinking, “Maybe not.”  After all, the Jesus I believed in when I was three, eight, 12, 19, 28, 41 and 50ish are all completely different and some even contradictory.  Is He none of them?  Perhaps.

Childhood Jesuses formed hard and deep for me.  They continue to be a part of who I am today, some I long to embrace further and others I wish I could banish.  I would imagine you have your own.  Here is a glimpse into some of mine:

Get-Out-of-Hell Free Jesus
I asked Jesus into my heart every night for my whole childhood.  If you didn’t have Him in there, you were going to burn in a “lake of fire” forever and ever.   That was super scary.  Who wants that?  I certainly didn’t.  At the end of most days, I was never sure if I had done it right or meant it based on my troubling behavior earlier in the day, so the cycle continued endlessly.  Poor Jesus.  He was not a lot more than the best fire insurance a very frightened child could muster up.  (Little known fact:  this ended when 12-year old Esther wrote down the “date” I finally meant it in my Bible:  January 25, 1979.  It was for sure this time.  God help me.)

Boarding School Jesus (also known as Verse Group Jesus and Behavior-Management Jesus)
Every morning during my boarding school years, we were wakened and marched downstairs to some room (even before breakfast…but my memory might be a little fuzzy here) to memorize verses.  We got a prize at the end of the semester (lunch out at the local airport…big deal for this “never-eat-out” tot) for memorizing them all.   After all, “hiding these verses in our heart” would ensure that we would “not sin against” God (see Psalm 119:11 to get the picture) or more happily for our dorm parents and teachers, not sin against them.  It was an amazing “behavior management” technique.  (Quiet thought circling in my head:  Little Esther was good at this.  Especially on the outside.  Maybe not so much the inside.)

Aslan Jesus
It’s crazy how you can have simultaneous Jesuses that are nothing alike.  At the same time as Verse Group Jesus, I had another Jesus.  Many nights, after being fed and washed up, I listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother.  Enter Aslan Jesus.  He was a kind and gracious lion who loved and took great care of children, playing with them and even dying for them, even one of them who betrayed Him.  He seemed like the kind of Jesus and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the first two that I had learned about or conjured up in my head.  I wished he was real.  I loved him.  Who wouldn’t?  (Secret:  I still love Aslan Jesus.  He’s a keeper.)

Bible Quiz Team Jesus
When I was a very nerdy high schooler, I belonged to a Bible quiz team.  We would memorize entire books of the Bible and compete with other teams for a chance to go to the National Tournament.  It happened all four years for me.  In fact, I was ranked the “#1 Bible Quizzer in the USA” my senior summer!  It’s probably the only time in my life I was the actual “master of the trade,” not just the “jack.”   I performed superbly.  I was highly rewarded for it.  This Jesus loved me.   I was acceptable in His eyes.  I had finally proved my worth to Him.  (Another secret:  This Jesus has pestered me to this day.  I daily battle with this Jesus.)

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What we believe about Jesus is paramount to how we live and love.   If we believe He’s out to get us, we may be afraid of Him.  If we believe His goal is to keep us in line, we will probably avoid Him (I was the queen avoider for years).  If we believe He accepts us only when we are “good,” we may perform well, but we also may feel like it’s never enough.  On the contrary, if we truly believe He loves and cares for us, and understand that in the core of our souls, we will have safety and freedom to love and respond in kind.

I have a lot more Jesuses that formed during my adult years, some I will speak of in another post.  Again, just like my childhood Jesuses, there are some I long to cling to and dive deeper with and some that don’t describe the Real Jesus at all and that I should run far away from.

I am still on my adventure to get to know the Real Jesus, the One who isn’t bound by all my experiences and thoughts and frailties, the One Who is completely Himself.  I hope you are too.  I do know one thing for sure:  I won’t be disappointed when I know Him fully!  It might take the rest of my life and even into forever for this to happen, but He will be worth it!  I love this journey with Him!

We all have different Jesuses.  Who are your childhood Jesuses?  I really hope you respond here by commenting or let me know on Facebook, Instagram, Linked In or Twitter.  I would love that so much!  Please like my posts out on social media (but only if you like them…LOL).  It helps it to move into people’s newsfeeds and I can get the word out to more folks!

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