From Control Freak to Jesus Freak – An Unexpected Journey


I struggle immensely with the shame of the journey our lives took by having my oldest son sentenced to serve time in prison. I realized what it was the other day when texting with a friend about some minor frustrations I was experiencing. She mentioned that situations are frustrating when we feel we do not have control.

That identified me. CONTROL FREAK.

Having control over our circumstances is merely an illusion. Really it is. Now grant it, we do need to have self-control, but that is different. We have control over the choices we make, but we do not have control over other people’s choices.

Jesus Freak

I realize now I must surrender control over circumstances to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I want to be known as a JESUS FREAK, not a control freak.

Therefore, today I decided to not control the outcome of the words I put together for this post, but to merely write and post what I trust the Lord leads me to write. This morning as I sought the Lord in prayer over other issues I’m struggling with, I felt the Holy Spirit impress on my heart that I’m complicating things.

Isn’t that our human response? We tend to make things more complicated than it has to be. And that is what I’ve been doing with these posts Dewey asked me to share about our prison journey. I’ve been trying to control it and package it so it looks all neat and tidy.

But our lives are not neat and tidy. Life is messy. By God’s wild grace, the blood of Jesus covers our messes.

My oldest son, Stephen, was in elementary school when I recommitted my life to Christ. I did everything I believed a good parent was to do…enrolled him in Christian schools in order for him to receive a Christian education. Then I prayed for years for the Lord to allow me to homeschool Stephen and our second son, Chase. Then the Lord opened the door for me to homeschool. I ensured the boys had a Christian education and knew the word of God.

I took the boys to church regularly to reinforce what they learned at home. We celebrated God’s love together in church and in the home. Often for PE we would plug in a Carmen CD, turn it up loud, and danced and danced. Both my boys accepted Christ as their Savior and followed in water baptism as children.

For me, I believed that I was doing all the right things a parent should do to train up their child in the way he should go so when he was old he would not depart from that training. (See Proverbs 22:6)

Stephen grew up and began to make his own choices. At his high school graduation, I said I was done. I thought I had accomplished a big milestone as a parent. I remember the laughter that echoed through the reception hall as I gave my “It is done” speech. Later I realized that I spent more time on my knees after he turned 18 than I did before (and there was lots of prayer time before).

Stephen's Graduation
Stephen’s Graduation Ceremony

Once Stephen lived on his own, I had no control over the choices he made. Most of the time I had no idea what he was even doing. I tried to control him as best as I could, but all my efforts were in vain.

Then one night the phone rang. Tragedy struck. My husband listened to the voice on the other end of the line. On a piece of paper I saw him write the letters — M U R D E R.

My mind wandered all over the place. My body went numb and felt weak. At first I didn’t know if Stephen had been murdered or if my son was arrested for murder. I learned it was the latter. My son was alive, but in jail charged with murder.

We were in a state of shock. Stephen had never been in trouble with the law. At the time, he never even had a traffic ticket and had no prior arrests. Our lives with Stephen jumped from no trouble to serious trouble. There weren’t any encounters with the law in between to buffer the shock.

We did not know the circumstances that led to our son’s arrest. But we knew he was in serious trouble. We knew we had to be there for him. But how? We weren’t allowed to talk to him.

My life felt like it was in a flat tail spin, spiraling out of control. Everything I did, all the checklists I created to make certain we had a perfect life no longer mattered.

In spite of feeling like it is the most over used Scripture in Christian circles, it was the first Scripture that came to mind so I clung to it:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV).

I wrote it on a piece of paper and kept it on my night stand that night and for many nights that followed. I came across that very piece of paper a few weeks ago tucked in a book called A Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare by Quin Sherrer and Ruthanne Garlock.

Romans 8:28
The actual note I wrote myself the night we received the unexpected phone call.

That night, my husband, Eldon, drove to the town where my son was being held to see what he could do for him the next day when the sun came up. I sent a note for Stephen in the event Eldon could pass it along. I wrote, “We love you.” And then I wrote out the scripture from 1 John 1:9:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).

Eldon was allowed to see Stephen the next day and pass the note along to him. Stephen was grateful and he cried. Stephen briefly explained to Eldon the circumstances of the tragedy. Yes, he was there, but he did not do commit the horrible crime that unfolded that night. He witnessed a horrible tragedy.

Another man as well as Stephen both were charged with murder and aggravated assault with a bond set at $1.25 million. One family was left without a son, and another family struggled as their daughter fought for her life in an emergency room.

Our minds struggled to wrap around this. Immediately I began to pray. People from our church gathered around us to pray — for the victims and their families. For Stephen. For us. For everything we could think of though it was incomprehensible.

I began to ask God, “Why God? Why?” I continued to cry out, “I did all the right things. I did what You asked me to do, Lord!” Again, I questioned God about training up a child in the way he should go. “Why didn’t he go the right way? Where did I go wrong? Didn’t I follow all the rules?”

This tragedy was so big. So out of my control. I had no choice but to cry out to God in my pain. I had no choice but to cry out to Jesus. This was not the life I envisioned. This was not the life I had in my “control box.” And it was certainly not the life I wanted for my son.

Through this trial, I have been in the learning process of letting go of being a control freak and becoming more of a Jesus freak.

It’s been a brutal unexpected journey for almost three years now. (The tragedy occurred June 2011; and this post was written in 2014.) I ask you to lift up in prayer to the Lord the victims and their families. God knows who they are. Out of respect for their privacy  and because this column is about our family’s journey with a loved one who is incarcerated, I will refrain from sharing details of the case.

I also ask you to pray for Stephen. He loves the Lord and serves Him from a prison cell at this time.

If you’ve read to the end of this long post, thank you and God bless you.

Additional reading on An Unexpected Journey:

An Unexpected Journey

Sing Hosanna – An Unexpected Journey

The Power of Prayer

How I Survive the Pain of Mother’s Day

Darkness before the Light

© 2014 Shonda Savage Whitworth

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