Skip to main content

How Controlling Are You?

Life is like Mario Kart. In the early levels, you're driving through Moo Moo Meadows and the grass is green and there's cows and fields and it's lovely. There's an occasional banana peel that gets tossed in the path, and sometimes the cows walk in the road so you try not to hit them. But overall the driving is pretty mellow. 

Then later after you've unlocked other levels, there's stuff like Bowser's Castle. It's a maze with lava on both sides of the path, there's fire and brimstone all around, there's stone columns that try to smash you at random intervals. Just to know where to go and how to steer and stay on the path is complicated.

Some stages of life are like Moo Moo Meadows. The details are easy-peasy and you just keep moving right along. And then there are years like Bowser's Castle where it's pretty intense and you pray a lot because the fire around you is pretty hot and you're trying not to fall in the lava pit. 

During years like this, things might feel a bit out of control. When I was 34, we had three kids and I somehow felt like it was a good idea to add another one to the mix. I remember praying that spring and saying something like, "Dear Heavenly Father. I think it's a good idea to have another little baby. We've decided to go right ahead because I'm not getting any younger. Will you please let me know if I need to change this plan?" And within weeks of that prayer, heaven had pretty much sent a telegram in all caps. "STOP. This is not a good idea. You need to fix a bunch of your own crap first." It's just so fun when you pray for something you think you want, and the answer is No.

It was a year like Bowsers Castle. That summer I worked with a doctor to figure out my brain and to unravel some of the anxiety and insomnia and depression and stress. There was stress in our marriage, and we each chose to keep forgiving each other for being dumb, for being blind and proud. We worked with a counselor who gave us some great insights and advice. If we had had a baby that year, it would have been disastrous. I didn't know that at the time, of course. But in hindsight it's pretty clear. 

One day when I was working with my own counselor, he asked this little nugget: "How controlling are you?" And because I liked him, I didn't kill him for such an impertinent question. How dare he? I'm not controlling at all. In fact, I think I retorted something like "NOT AT ALL," much too quickly. It took about three weeks for me to start seeing that I might actually be just a tiny bit controlling. And then it took a few more months to realize that power is a funny thing. In my need to manage all the chaos, I was actually very controlling and completely unaware of it.

So what does this have to do with Mario Kart? Well, when life has too many banana peels and turtle shells and too much chaos or trauma, we sometimes respond by trying to control other people or details that are not ours to manage. A book that's helped me a lot is "Codependent No More," by Melodie Beatty. One of my favorite quotes: "Not my circus, not my monkeys." In other words, I had to realize that when other people have problems it's not my job to fix them. I can just watch the circus and not interfere. One of the best parts of being human is having problems. Why? Because problems help us to grow and get smarter. If I have a best friend that makes a terrible mistake, of course I love her and listen and encourage. But it's not my job to fix her stuff. If I do, I'm robbing her of the growth that would come as she learns to work through her own difficulties.

As a mom, this is super hard. When babies are small, of course their problems are mine. But as kids grow, they get to make choices and screw up and then there's pain and suffering which leads to growth. But ultimately, I don't own my kids. God does. It's HIS job to help them through the super difficult stuff. It's not my job to control all the details and keep them from making mistakes. 

One cool thing about the latest version of Mario Kart is the little feature where a cloud picks up the drivers who fall off the road. When you crash into something or accidentally drive off the path, there's a little help that comes automatically. Maybe there's a metaphor in here too. When life gets too crazy, help comes from heaven. That's probably a blog post for another day.

But let's talk about video games for a minute. If I'm holding the controller, then I have the power and my character does what I want her to do. But in life, I don't have a magic controller that helps my characters to do the stuff I want them to do. I'm in charge of me, and that's it. I keep teaching my kids that they can't change other people, but they're in charge of how they respond. 

I guess this is where I finish the story about 34. By the end of the summer we'd learned some important lessons and decided to stay married and to keep working together. It had been the most difficult season of our entire lives. And then something terrible happened. One of our neighbors had a tragedy that made us realize how lucky we really were. One evening just after dark, the husband took his life. I don't know all the reasons, and I can't begin to understand the pain and grief. But I will always remember the reality check, from realizing that we were still alive. We still had time to fix all the stuff that was broken, and we still had health and strength and ... everything. We still had everything.

A few years later, eventually the timing was right and we were really lucky to add Baby 4 to our family. But it wasn't the way I'd originally planned. It was better. I thought I knew what was best, but I didn't. Isaiah 55:8-9 says it beautifully. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

If you're in a season like Bowser's Castle, don't be afraid. God wastes nothing. Every tear and every sorrow, every painful detail is actually working for your good. Maybe you've noticed that I'm telling the story about the summer when I was 34 an entire decade later. It wasn't a pretty story at the time. But all these years later I can look back and see God's hand in my life. I can see how a patient and wise Father in Heaven was guiding our family, and helping us in ways we couldn't even see.

I can also see now, how one of the lessons I needed to learn was to let go. I can't control all of the details, and thank goodness for that. It's not my job to fix things that aren't mine to fix. It's a very slow unraveling process, because I still have a tendency to try and "help" or control or manage or arrange. I still want to think I'm right all the time, or that my way is better. I am still learning to trust God, and to surrender my pride. This process takes time. If I used to be super controlling and now I'm less so, then that's progress. Yay for moving in the right direction.


Popular posts from this blog

2021 Christmas Card

December 2021  Dear Friends and Family, We love you and and miss y'all that are far away in WA and UT and other places!! This year we skipped our tradition of sending a Thanksgiving card and opted for a virtual Christmas card instead. It saved a ton of stamps and envelopes, but I definitely miss the glitter and sparkle. We hope you can feel our love even through a simple email or blog post. One tradition we couldn't skip was our gratitude tree, where the little leaves are a list of blessings. We are so thankful for God's goodness and mercy every day. Here's the highlight reel:  Cade graduated, made lots of Domino's pizza, read probably a thousand books, and is currently living in Provo, UT as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's heading to Helsinki, Finland in January. We are so proud of him and his hard work, we miss him but are excited for his opportunity to learn and serve. Shad spent a zillion hours with Marcus Ban

Happy Fall Y'all

Over the past year I've noticed a lot of fun and interesting things about Texas.  Call it culture shock or assimilation, but here's an outsider's view of my new home. Obviously I like saying "y'all," and I find it quite handy. From the vocabulary to the climate, from the school traditions to the local hotspots, I'm enjoying this new land even if I poke a little fun at some of the quirks. One of my favorite things about Texas is the people.  They are  nice.  The general default mode is to show kindness, warmth and hospitality. People go out of their way to help each other. I've seen this over and over again. The foundation of this town is built on people who are genuinely decent and friendly.  Language:  I love the west Texas drawl (or is it east Texas?).   At the elementary school, the sweet secretary lady is the nicest. When my son delivered something to his sister one day, she said, "Thank you baby," in a motherly, sweet way.

Twenty + One Month

You know how life gets kinda messy sometimes? My version of messy looks like this: Four kids including a teenager learning to drive; a kindergartner learning to get herself ready in the morning; a senior learning about adulting; a middle schooler learning to ride her bike to electives every other day, a mortgage husband's career VIRTUAL PLUS church service pandemic, civil unrest, election year my own personal need for friends and connection even when my schedule looks like a revolving door Our big anniversary was last month and we were lucky enough to celebrate together this past weekend. We managed to sneak away for 24 hours. First I need to give credit where credit is due. There was a very generous friend who volunteered to parent the children during our 'Nelson marriage offsite.' And there was a generous benefactor who donated Marriott points to spring for the fancy room. I won't mention either party by name, but thanks to their generosity we had a great time. I'

Be There at the Crossroads

  Last week I was looking through an old box, searching for letters that Norm and I wrote to each other before we got married. I didn't find the letters but instead found an old journal from 1987. Look below and see my handwriting when I was a ten year old girl living in San Diego. We’d just moved there from Grand Junction, and I talked about missing our cat, about making new friends, going to Disneyland with my dad and my brother. It was really fun to read through this old journal. I'm glad I wrote that stuff down!  In the middle of these memories from 1987, I was also searching for a quote about mothers and their great influence on their kids. And the quote was something like “be there at the crossroads” when your children are coming and going. Turns out that the quote I was searching for also came from the late 80's. A brilliant church leader and prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, talked to the women and spent time encouraging and reminding us why motherhood is impor

Companions - Notes on Home MTC

November 18, 2021 Most people know that missionaries run around in pairs. Some of my neighbors have seen this version of a companionship lately. Let me explain. During Covid, the church did a pivot and changed the missionary training experience from in-person to virtual. During this process they realized there were a few cool benefits that were worth continuing even after the pandemic. So the new version of missionary training begins  at home  with an Elder or Sister doing full-time training with a companion online. Then they transition to  in person  after a few weeks.  My oldest son began on November 8 with training at home. When they are in class or working together, they are meeting and making friends with other missionaries in their district. My son's cohort has four young women and four other young men, for a total of nine kids all going to Finland in January. BUT when they're not actively working or studying together,  I'm his companion . All of the places I'd no

Hair and random thoughts from a Brunette

Recently I've thought quite seriously about doing this to my hair. It might be so fun to have purple/blue highlights! I never dyed my hair in high school or college. Then when I was 37 the first few grey hairs appeared, ironically enough while I was pregnant. I've spent the last handful of years adding lots of blonde highlights.  Now my hair has a respectable amount of silver. It's kind of annoying. I'm learning to say farewell to being a brunette, because that young girl with the dark hair has grown up. Last month for Christmas, one of my favorite gifts that I GAVE to my little daughter was kinda fun. I spent like 20+ minutes at Target deliberating on which Barbies to buy. Finally I chose this group of friends for their amazing variety in hair!!  And I love each for different reasons. The dogwalking blonde is fun because my daughter really wishes we had a dog. The other three have accessories to be an astronomer, a teacher, etc. Ultimately, each Barbie is different fro


"How are you feeling about your son leaving soon?" has been my favorite question lately. My answer is kinda mixed. During July and August I was surprised and excited. Then on September 14 he flew to and from San Francisco by himself for a day. The purpose was a quick visit to the Finnish consulate for a visa. He had fantastic instructions to get from the airport to the BART to the consulate, but waiting for the interview took longer than planned. Leaving the consulate he had less than an hour until his flight was supposed to take off. That included a 32 minute tram ride, printing a boarding pass, airport security, etc. In all honesty, he should have missed that flight home. But he didn't. Call it a miracle or a test of faith, or whatever you want to call it. But for my boy who loves to be punctual, boarding a flight 7 minutes before take-off was pretty intense. Long story short, I think we all realized a few things that day. There are so.many.details I can't control,

What's the deal with Mormons and the temple?

I have a handful of neighbors and relatives who have asked with genuine curiosity, "What's the deal with Mormons and the temple?" Well, I'm glad y'all asked. Here's your big chance. First, a word about the name of the church. It's not the church of Mormon. It's the church of Jesus Christ. We follow his teachings and we try to be like him. We pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus. He stands as our great Mediator and Redeemer. He is the reason we go to church. Mormon is the name of a great Native American writer, warrior and prophet. He's the man who wrote down the history of his people. What did he write on? How did he make a record that would last hundreds of years? Papyrus? no, he used tools and etched his words into a gold alloy. The records were heavy. If you ever want to read a fascinating history with tons of war chapters, drama, and life lessons, y'all need to check out  The Book of Mormon . It stands with the Bible as another test

Church music, my favorite song by Pink, and thoughts from a recovering perfectionist

A song I've loved for years is, "You are perfect," by Pink, because it rings true for me:  I've chased down all my demons.  Or at least most of them. I've played the organ in Sacrament meeting dozens of times.  Occasionally there's a distinguished visitor or an important somebody sitting on the stand (literally two feet from my organ bench).  Sometimes it makes me nervous, but usually not too bad.  The time that freaked me out the most was when there was music professor in the congregation.  I remember having a little meltdown before church that day.  I told the Bishop, "I got a D in organ when I was in school..." and in his good natured, humorous way, he said, "We won't tell him."  Still, my anxiety was real.  I was worried about the songs, I was worried about the singing, I was worried about a lot of stuff.  Mainly, I was worried that I wasn't good enough and that somehow that music professor would agree. If you