What I Can Control

Seven years ago, I became an armchair expert in adoption law. 

Our attorney gave us printed copies of the relevant California Supreme Court cases, dozens of pages of small-print legalese. I pored over them, highlighter in hand, noting similarities between those cases and ours. I constructed a meticulous timeline of events. I typed up a list of ten specific legal arguments based on the written opinions of the Supreme Court, complete with numerous sub-points, quotes from judges, and relevant case details. It was seven single-spaced pages long.

I don’t know whether I was a dream client, or a nightmare.

I do know that I had an almost insatiable need to read everything I possibly could, to know everything I possibly could. Once I’d read the case law, and then read it again, and again, I scoured the Internet, haunting forums and news sites as I searched for data, for insight, for control.

When I’m honest with myself, that’s what was at the heart of my compulsion: control. At home for long hours each day, with only my baby and my fear for company, I scrabbled for something, anything, I could do, some way, any way, I could influence the outcome. If only I could have all the data, all the facts, I thought, if only I could find the right argument, the right precedent, then we would win this thing and the nightmare would end.

In my own small way, I was making sacrifices to the gods, offering my time and my attention in a kind of twisted hope that such actions would change the future.

An exhaustive (albeit cliched) list of things I can control:


(And that not very well).

Over the course of the past few months, I have become an armchair expert in epidemiology. And economics. And constitutional law.

(Perhaps you have, too? I don’t think I’m the only one.)

I’ve absorbed terms like R-naught and labor force participation rate and emergency order, and the implications behind each. I’ve studied Wuhan and South Korea, Sweden and Italy and New York City. I’ve read op-eds from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and The Sacramento Bee, among others. 

I catch myself scrolling, checking for updates far more often than is reasonable, hungry for new information, new data. It’s that same old impulse, in a situation where the future is murky: a compulsive gathering of knowledge, as though the knowing itself will give me some measure of control.

This isn’t to say that knowledge is bad, of course. Wisdom dictates that I assess the available data, that I stay informed about what is happening in the world, that I think deeply about what my response should be. While good data does not allow me to control the future, it does inform how I control myself.

But there’s a limit, a threshold I must not exceed if I want to maintain my sanity. Information can only take me so far; I must learn to keep it in its place.

Too often, I retreat into the data, hoping that from it, I will find some sense of control and, therefore, peace.

In the past six years, I have learned that very small people often have very big emotions.

I knew this in an intellectual sense, of course, but the last half-decade has made my knowledge experiential. 

No disappointment is trivial when you are six, or three, or one. In the past week alone, tears have been shed over not having been allowed to put a plastic bag over one’s head, over having been given the wrong colored cup, over having been asked to help with a chore. More often than not, those tears give way to anger, to screaming and yelling, to hot words and name-calling and a tongue that will not stop.

She turns into forty pounds of frustration and rage, my girl does, when she feels the world is unjust, when her sense of autonomy is breached, when she thinks she should be able to control someone or something that isn’t hers to control.

When this happens, if I am at my best, if she will allow it, I gather the storm into my arms. I hold her close, in my lap, her head tucked under my chin. I take deep breaths and encourage her to do the same, and I urge her to turn her attention to that which is hers to manage.

“Get control, sweetheart,” I whisper. “Get control.”

And gradually, within the safety and the comfort of my arms, she does.

Seven years ago, in those two weeks between the evidentiary hearing and the day the judge issued his ruling, I was surrounded by a supernatural peace. I’d never experienced such peace before, and I haven’t experienced it since. 

It was a gift, that peace. 

A life-altering decision was coming, one that would have profound implications for myself and for those I loved, but it was completely outside of my control. There was nothing I could do. Nothing but wait. And pray. And trust.

Here I am again. In a very different situation, with very different emotions, very different potential outcomes, and very different available actions. On its face, there’s little comparison between the summer of 2013 and the summer of 2020.

And yet.

I am once again in a situation where the future is very much outside of my control, where the potential for darkness looms on the horizon and there’s nothing I can do but wait, and pray, and trust.

I am (on my good days) an adult, more mature than my daughter. When my world feels as though it’s spiraling out of control, I don’t yell and scream and rage. (Most of the time, anyway). Instead, I turn to the news, to social media, to opinion pieces, searching for that elusive peace, spinning myself into tighter and tighter knots as I seek control.

When, all along, if I will only allow it, He waits to gather the storm into His arms, to hold me close. He urges me to turn my attention to Him and, in so doing, to gain control over that which is mine to control: myself.

And gradually, within the comfort and the safety of His arms, I do.

7 response to "What I Can Control"

  1. By: Karen Wells Posted: May 15, 2020

    Love the idea that Jesus gathers me and my storm into his comforting arms.

    • By: Jenn Posted: May 17, 2020

      Thank you for reading, Karen! I’ve learned so much about my faith and about my God as I’ve been a parent to small kids.

  2. By: Christy hinrichs Posted: May 17, 2020

    Thank you for sharing. He is our peace in the storm of being small and frustrated.

    • By: Jenn Posted: May 18, 2020

      Thank you for reading, Christy. He is our peace, indeed.

  3. By: Bill McQuerry Posted: May 17, 2020

    “…then life happened.” And hasn’t it been ever so. Always fun to read what u write. Well done.

    • By: Jenn Posted: May 18, 2020

      Thank you for reading, Bill!

  4. By: Jamie Watkins Posted: May 28, 2020

    Love the storm metaphor. And I understand the tantrums, although mine are just beginning.

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