From bad choices.
From all that’s wrong with the world.
It feels really good.
For the moment.
But I know it’s not good.
For their hearts.
Because when I am their savior,
I am also “saving” them…
From good choices.
From all that’s right with the world.
Doesn’t sound like much saving in the end.
Then what’s the point of this motherhood gig?
If it’s not for saving?
Hang on a minute.
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
What’s that still small voice whispering inside?
What’s that “aha moment” I can’t deny?
Has motherhood saved me?
bringing me JOY that I’ve never known before
revealing PATIENCE as I stumble along in the unknown
breathing HOPE when I need it the most
reminding me of BEAUTY in the ordinary moments
granting KINDNESS when I can’t find any in myself
allowing me to experience unconditional LOVE
opening my heart to see the tenderness of good good GOD
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!
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
building and maintaining a tribe
a room decorating project
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):
“Conflict creates the fire of affects and emotions; and like every fire it has two aspects: that of burning and that of giving light.” (Carl Jung)
Allen and I have our fair share of FIGHTS (the seventh F in the series). We are certainly NOT the couple who can say, “We never argue. We agree on everything.” Nor do we want to be (well, Allen wants to be secretly).
Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and I like to say, discerning (others may call me a bit judgmental). Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive. As you can see, blending our personalities lends itself to conflict. It is inevitable.
We bicker about (super important things like) how to pack the car, load the dishwasher, and fold the laundry. I hear myself saying just last night, “I’ve told you not to fold my dresses. They just go on a hanger. You are wasting your time.” (I know, ladies. The man was folding the laundry and I still had something to say about it.)
We argue about more serious things like where to spend our money, how to handle the latest “children issue” and what to fill our calendars with, the things of life that have big implications. There’s just no way around it.
We also have more tender “discussions” about how we’ve been hurt, misunderstood, and disrespected by the other. These stem from places of abandonment and shame, and our lack of the ability to “stay with the uncomfortable” parts of ourselves. Allen has an especially hard time with this, deeply desiring the absence of conflict. It does not make him feel safe inside or out. On the other hand, I love exposing all our shadowy parts (or maybe just his if I’m truthful) and bringing them out into the open for the gaping wound to sometimes fester and other times heal. Allen tends to be the avoider. I am the chaser. I fight and he flees when we feel threatened.
For many years, we had no idea that all this conflict CAN actually lead to intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved). But it CAN also lead to disconnection. The trick is knowing HOW to argue, how to fight fair. Allen’s calm and quiet during our times of conflict appears like marital harmony, but without resolution, the problem just brews beneath the surface. My love of “getting it out into the open” many times degenerates into insults and harm. This breeds the perfect environment for disconnection.
Dr. Gottman, the expert marriage researcher, says that how a couple handles conflict is directly related to how likely they are to have a happy marriage. There are four disastrous ways of interacting that will cripple attempts to resolve conflict, one feeding into the next (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse): criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. They are the FIRE that destroys.
Complaining (not to be confused with endless nagging – Allen likes the idea of challenging the status quo) is a healthy marital activity. It’s not pleasant, but it brings things into the light. Many times, and this is where I personally struggle, it crosses the line to CRITICISM. Criticism involves attacking someone’s person, rather than their behavior. Complaints usually start with the word “I” and criticism with the word “you.” For example, “I wish we spent more time together” is a complaint. “You never spend time with me” is a criticism. Criticism produces blame and multiplies shame, never resulting in closeness.
CONTEMPT brings criticism to a whole new level. Many times, criticism, as bad as it is, is born from a place of frustration. It tends to be a “crime” of passion. Contempt is a clear “premeditated” attempt to harm your partner. Its aim is to cause pain. No matter if you have been married for four days or forty years, this monster sucks away every positive feeling spouses have for one another. It appears in the form of name-calling, hostile humor (sarcasm) and straight up mockery. I always associate it with the “rolling of the eyes.” This is the most dangerous “horseman.”
Once contempt has entered the picture, each of us has a natural inclination to defend ourselves. In fact, DEFENSIVENESS can result even from proper forms of communication like complaining, especially if there is unresolved shame in either party. However, it is completely natural to resort to this place when there is CRITICISM and especially when CONTEMPT has taken hold. This being said, defensiveness only escalates a conflict instead of resolving it. Denying responsibility and making excuses only separates a couple further.
The last horseman is STONEWALLING. Allen struggles with this. Overwhelmed by emotions, his natural inclination is to withdraw, protect himself. Even though it might look on the surface like “peace-making,” it actually is a very powerful act, conveying disapproval. The example that comes to mind is when one of us “stops talking” to the other. When this happens, the ability to connect is seriously thwarted and intimacy is beyond reach.
All this sounds so horrible and hard and probably completely relatable. Even writing this is making me a little discouraged. I need a little good news, how about you?
There is great HOPE! All of those horseman come into every marriage, even happy ones at some point or another, especially when there is intense marital conflict. But they don’t have to be the norm. Just like fires can bring harm and destruction, they can also produce light and warmth.
Conflict in marriage can be the fire that produces light and warmth. It can bring life and vitality into a relationship. It is the price you pay to have deeper intimacy. WE CAN FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE! Here are basic “rules” (not a huge fan of that word) that govern how to move from harm to healing:
Bottling things up and burying them just makes the “cork pop” at some point. The problem hasn’t gone away. Instead, take some time away if you need to with the promise that you will come back together when cooler heads prevail over heated emotions. This has been huge for us. When Allen says “Let’s come back later,” I am able to “let things go for now” knowing there will be resolution.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
This goes back to probably 85% of our arguments about how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, mow the lawn, etc. Allen and I have wasted a lot of time and energy here.
GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, marriage counselors, teach couples the X, Y, Z formula to help them state their true feelings, “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” This gives room for you to state how your partner’s behavior affects your feelings. This is when “I” statements, instead of “you” statements, come into play. This helps to diffuse defensiveness and provide a place of safety.
Never “throw back in their face” something your spouse has shared with you in a place of vulnerability and confidentiality. In the heat of an argument, this is a quick “go-to,” but will break trust and humiliate the other. Nothing enhances feelings of shame more than this.
IS IT THE RIGHT TIME?
This is especially helpful when working through the bigger things that may need to be sorted out over the long-haul. I have had to learn this the hard way. I want to rush through and fix things right away (like the minute it pops into my head). Allen has taught me to be patient and gracious here. Instead of my normal MO (mode of operation), I ask instead, “I have something bothering me. When is a good time to talk about it?”
Be careful to believe the best about the other’s intentions and be open to learning whether or not you are right or wrong. Mind-reading assumes the worst about someone and can be a strategy of self-protection. If I have Allen “all figured out” (and I’m not usually thinking the best), what room is there for him to share his heart? This shuts down communication and blocks intimacy.
STAY ON TOPIC
Stick to the relevant issue that you are discussing. Don’t veer off course, bringing up everything the person has done wrong in the last five years. Refocus when things get off course. Be careful of this slippery slope.
TWO EARS, ONE MOUTH
Listen. Plain and simple. But not that easy. Have the goal of understanding where the other person is coming from. This is so hard. I’m not sure why. We want so desperately to be understood. Give the gift you long for to the other. Hear with your heart. Be careful not to fix. Sometimes, silence is your spouse’s best friend (something super hard for this chatterbox). “I hear you” have been three of the most powerful words I’ve ever said or heard.
ADMIT YOUR PART
I have a huge barrier when it comes to saying I am wrong. I can see so clearly how Allen is “completely in the wrong about everything” (note sarcastic tone here). This comes for me from a place of pride (“I’m better than you”). For Allen, it comes from a place of shame (“You’re better than me”). We both struggle here for different reasons, neither one of them good. Understanding the back story of our own reactions is HUGE here. When we understand that we both have infinite value and worth, “I’m sorry” becomes much easier because we can take responsibility for our actions without blame and shame.
Feeding off the compassion we now have for ourselves (and our spouses) that comes straight from God’s heart for us provides real room for forgiveness, “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.” We all fail. We all need forgiveness. Giving to the other what we will eventually need brings true healing. (This is a huge topic, one to be talked about at a later date.)
I keep coming back to the image of fire. “Keep the fires burning” and “Keep the flame alive” are mantras for good marriage. Fire destroys or gives light. Conflict is the same. Fighting harms or heals, brings intimacy or disconnection. I’m sure another “discussion” is right around the corner for Allen and me. May we fight the FIRES of destruction and harm with the FIRES that bring light and healing!
If you’ve made it this far, can you go back to Social Media and “like” it (but only if you do like it…LOL)!