Mrs. Carol Kent: I said, ”Honey, does life get any better than this?” And I truly believed we were entering the best season of our lives. And little did I know that in less than two weeks, everything about our future would change.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Today, on Focus on the Family, you’ll hear how Carol Kent dealt with some devastating circumstances, and how she found God’s strength in those tough times. Your r host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we have a powerful, two-part message to share with everyone today, and I know you’re all going to find a lot of encouragement in the experiences of author and speaker, Carol Kent. She’s been on the broadcast a few times in the past, and she’s written over a dozen books, including Waiting Together: Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners.
John: And here now is Carol Kent speaking at an “Extraordinary Women” event in Lynchburg, Virginia as we begin Focus on the Family.
Carol: Well, I want you to take a good look up and down your row. Check out those noses, those eyes, those smiles, both chins. If you could look like anybody on your row today, who would you pick? A couple of you have just decided you don’t look too bad after all. (Laughter) Now I want you to take another look around. This time you can look at the whole group that came with your group—the whole bus load or van load. If you could be like anybody you know at this conference today, who would that be? This time, we’re talking about inner posture, inner beauty, that would set you apart spiritually as being different than anybody else…. And you’re probably thinking of somebody you’ve known for a long time, probably somebody who was there for you when it felt like you need to pick up the pieces of your life, because life had just fallen apart. That’s a pretty special person to know.
Now on a count of three, I want you to take a deep breath. Are you ready for this? One, two three, inhale. If you could smell like anyone on your row today (Laughter), who would you pick? We all have our certain scents. There’s that cologne or perfume that you’re used to, because the people around you wear it. And then, there’s the scent of a child who’s been hard at play. You know what I’m talking about.
But I want you to know that there is a special scent we have when we know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. And when life falls apart as we know it, the fragrance of who He is can be evident to everyone in our sphere of influence.
Well, I want you to know that my life was pretty happy. I’m the oldest of six preacher’s kids. I have four incredible sisters and a red-headed brother. And I got married to wonderful Gene Kent, two months after we graduated from college and we didn’t have two dimes to rub together. Is there anybody here who was that dumb? You … you (Laughter) got married on love. You just knew you could make it.
Well, five years later, I gave birth to Jason Paul Kent and he was a delightful little boy to raise. He had a sparkle in his eye and … and he just would get his eye on a goal and he would go for it. And then he grew a little bit older and he was in Little League. And we went to those games and he would strike once, strike twice, strike three times and he would go back to the bench. And we tried to talk to him about the fact that it wasn’t whether or not you won the game that mattered, it was how you played the game and the relationships you developed along the way.
Well, he got into high school and he made his parents very proud. He became president of the National Honor Society during those years and I remember feeling like I was such a successful mamma.
And then he went off to camp. And he came home with renewed spiritual zeal. And I came by his room. He had been reading his Bible and he said, “Mom, God’s really been speaking to my heart. He said, “I really think God wants to use me in political or military leadership. And I believe the very best place I could get equipped to do that would be at the United States Naval Academy.” And he set his sights on getting into Annapolis and he got the appointment. And we were there in May of 1997, when all those midshipmen tossed their hats in the air. And once again, we celebrated our young son’s successes.
Well, as you can imagine, we were looking forward to some wonderful times ahead, meeting him at ports of call across the world. And he went off to Orlando and he was in nuclear engineering school. And he joined a large church there and it had a very large singles’ program and there were women in that singles program. a
And I was in Denver speaking at an arena event in August of that year and we called home for messages. Well, J.P.—his name is Jason Paul, but we call him J.P.—was on the phone and the message said, “Mom and Dad, some things are comin’ down. We have to talk.”
Well, it’s in a moment like that when you as a parent, wish that your child would say a few more things about what happens to be comin’ down. (Laughter) And a few hours later we were able to get through to him and he said, “Mom and Dad, uh … April and I are in love. And my orders have changed. I have to be at Surface Warfare Officers’ School in Newport, RI on September 8 and we want to go together. And we’d like to get married next Friday.” (Laughter)
My only child was asking to marry a woman I had never met next Friday. (Laughter) Not only was he asking to marry a woman I had never met next Friday, he was asking to marry a previously married woman, who had two children, next Friday and that was not on my agenda for my son’s life. a
We had a choice. We could cause a rift that just might last a lifetime, or we could get on board. And we decided to invite them to be married in our hometown with the accountability of family and friends around them. And a week and a half later, April came into our lives.
It did not take me long to love April. She had been married at the age of 16 to a man 10 years her senior. She had been through more of the tough stuff of life than anybody deserves in a lifetime. And behind them, in came 6-year-old Chelsea and 3-year-old, Hannah. And these little girls were so much fun.
Within a half hour, little Chelsea came running up to me, grabbed my hand in her two hands and kissed all over it (Sound of smack, smack, smack). You’re my new favorite “Grammy.” (Laughter) Oh, that was working. (Laughter)
Little Hannah would sit at my kitchen counter every morning and she would eat her cereal. And she would sing in between bites of cereal (Sound of crunch), “I love Jesus; He loves me.” (Sound of crunch, crunch) “I love Jesus; He loves me.” I loved these little girls.
It was now the day before the wedding rehearsal, the day before all of the relatives were coming into town. And it was 4:30 in the morning. At that time, we lived in Port Huron, MI, along the St Clair River. And there’s about a two-mile stretch of boardwalk there. And I was out there in that early morning fog, walking and talking to God.
And as I was out there, I saw a figure coming toward me. And I soon realized, it was April. She couldn’t sleep either. We embraced each other and through tears she said, “I realize I’m probably not what you were looking for in a daughter-in-law, but I want you to know how much I love your son and how much he loves me. And we will do everything we can to raise our children to love and serve the Lord.”
In that moment, I embraced her back and I said, “Oh, April, I have been praying for you for so long. I didn’t know your name, but God did.” And she said, “Through the worst of what I went through, I felt a protection around me. It … it must have been your prayers.” You see, I had been praying for my son’s future wife since he was in my womb. She’d had a lot of prayer. I realized in that moment that God did, indeed, give me the daughter-in-law I prayed for. She just came wrapped in a different package than I was expecting.
Gene and I were looking forward to seeing this young family thrive. We were so excited. Their wedding day was spectacular! And I’m here to tell you, you can put together a wedding in three weeks if you have the help of family and friends.
Chelsea and Hannah were their mamma’s attendants. And you can see something about Hannah’s personality in the photographs. She got tired of standing up for pictures, so she just sat down. (Laughter) On a recent run to the Taco Bell on a Thanksgiving weekend, we were tired of turkey and Hannah went with me. And she was sitting in the front seat and I thought this will be my moment to have spiritual input into my granddaughters’ life.
And I said, “Hannah, what do you want to be when you grow up?” She said, “Oh, Grammy, I want to be a movie star, so I can make a million bucks.” (Laughter) I said, “Well, Honey, what would you do with that much money?” She said, “I’m buy me a Hummer.” (Laughter). I said, “Well, Hannah, what would you do with the Hummer?” She said, “Oh, Grammy, I would pick up all of the lost and hurt dogs and take care of them.” (Applause)
Well, I was rather moved with her compassion for animals. But I thought, I want to go deeper in Hannah’s life with Christianity. And I said, “Well, Hannah, what do you want to do for God when you grow up?” Well, this little girl put her arms together in a crossed fashion. She said, “Hm, I think I’d like to be Him when I grow up,” (Laughter) “because then I could be the boss of me.” (Laughter)
Now I fully expect God is going to do a powerful work in Hannah’s life. She … she may head a global organization of some sort, feeding the poor worldwide. I’m not sure what it is. It’ll have something to do with animals, too. But God is going to have to break that strong will first, but oh, what a delight those girls have been to us.
About a year following Jason and April’s marriage, we realized that there were some issues that had come up involving the visitation rights of the biological father. He had only been granted supervised visitation, due to allegations of abuse. And he was trying to get unsupervised visitation.
Jason and April put all of the paperwork they had together on abuse issues. They took it to an attorney and he told them, on a scale of 1 to 10, you have about an 8 in provable abuse and that probably will not be enough to keep supervision intact.
In retrospect, I began to see my son unwind emotionally. He felt a desperate need to protect the girls and to do something that would keep them in any way from being hurt in the future. And yet, day followed day. It was now October of the year following their wedding. And Gene and I were hand in hand along the St. Clair River, looking at the changing beauty of the season.
And I looked up at my husband and in … on that day and I said, “Honey, does life get any better than this?” And I truly believed we were entering the best season of our lives. And little did I know that in less than two weeks, everything about our future would change.
John: Carol Kent on Focus on the Family. And a quick reminder that you can get a CD of this entire program to share with a friend, as well as Carol’s book, Waiting Together: Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners, when you call 800-A-FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459. You can also donate and request those resources at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let’s return now to Carol Kent.
End of Program Note
Carol: I had been on an out-of-state speaking trip and Gene and I had gotten home late on a Sunday night. We were sound asleep in bed and the phone rang. I looked at the clock. It said 12:35 a.m. I looked over at Gene. He grabbed the receiver of the phone and he had it up to his ear. I saw a sudden look of shock and horror come over my husband’s face. He pulled the receiver away and he said, “Carol, Jason has just been arrested for the murder of his wife’s first husband. He’s in the jail in Orlando.”
I had never been in shock before. I tried to get up and my legs would not hold my weight. Nausea swept over me. I literally crawled to the bathroom. My first thought was, I am living in the middle of a horrific nightmare. I will soon wake up and everything will be okay.
I finally crawled my way into my office and I got a number for the Orlando jail. And when I called, a rude voice on the other end of the line answered when I asked about my son. She said, “Lady! We ain’t go nobody by that name, Jason Kent, in here. Lady, your son ain’t here!” And for a moment, my hopes returned.
But as hour followed hour, the facts of the case were confirmed. My son had pulled the trigger and a man had died. And we began a journey like none we ever thought we would live through.
For the first few hours, all Gene and I did was hold each other and weep. We started making lists of people who needed to be contacted. I found myself saying, “Breathe; do the next thing. Breathe; do the next thing.”
It certainly did not take me long to realize that there is a Power when you are living in the middle of unthinkable circumstances. And I want to give to you this morning the principles that my husband, Gene, and I learned in the middle of a dark hour. And I pray that if you are living in the middle of your own challenging circumstances today, that these will be very meaningful principles for you.
One thing I know for sure is that, every person in this auditorium has a friend, a relative, a coworker or a neighbor who needs hope and help, because they’re living in their own difficult circumstances. What is the power of unthinkable circumstances?
Well, it’s a whole lot like knowing you can’t even breathe, but because you have a God and He is God, you have hope. Eric Liddell, the Olympian, once said, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins.”
As I quickly realized, I … I couldn’t even see to read the Bible. It was a blur to me, because of the tears. And I found out, it’s the Scripture you memorize before your crisis that comes to you when you are in the middle of such circumstances.
And God brought to mind, James 1:5 and 6. ”If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get His help. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who worry, their prayers are like wind-whipped waves.”
And that morning, my prayers were desperate.
A day later, I had a long-awaited gynecological exam appointment. I was getting absolutely nothing done at home and I needed to have a prescription filled. I figured a woman in my condition should not be without hormones. This was an important appointment.
And I thought, I’ll just slip in there, get this prescription filled and … and I’ll … I’ll be home again. And I got to the doctor’s office and I had that very surreal experience of being on the edge of the real world, observing it, but not really being in it. And I … I watched a woman bouncing a 2-year-old in one corner. I thought, that child is as innocent as my son used to be. And I saw two women watching a soap opera and I thought, how … how can they just act like everything is fine. My entire world has just fallen apart.
And I looked at the door. I thought, if anyone I know comes through that door, I will burst into tears. I should not be here. This was a bad idea. And just as I was ready to leap for the door, the nurse called my name. And she was a particularly compassionate woman. She led me back to the examination room and I donned that lovely paper gown, where you have to figure out which hole your arms go in and what the front side is and the back side. And I was a bit confused.
And she took my blood pressure. She said, “My, we … we’re a little high today.” I thought, “Lady, if you only knew why.” And then, with the kindest gesture, she patted my arm again and I burst into tears. And this dear nurse said, “Oh, Honey, the exam won’t be that painful.” (Laughter)
How many of you are in the health care professions or you have been at some point in your lives? Look around and hug those women. They are the best people. I really believe that God used one like you as my angel of mercy on a day when I thought my life was falling apart and I’m so grateful for you.
I got back home and I found out Gene’s way to cope was to journal. And he wrote, “October 25 we received the news that J.P. was arrested, cried, found an attorney. October 26, coped poorly, cried. I’m so afraid for my son. October 27, Carol and I go through the motions of being alive, but inside we are dying.”
And then, my mind flashed to the invisible world. And I could almost see Satan and his little cadre of demons saying, “Hey, guys! We … we got to the son. Why don’t we get to the parents, too? Let’s just wipe the whole family out.”
And then he came at me with his nasty little eyes. And he said, “If you had been a better parent, this would not have happened.” And then he attacked my spiritual life. And he said, “If you had read your Bible more consistently, if you had prayed more intensely, this would not have happened.”
And then he attacked my personality type, firstborn, obsessive-compulsive, workaholic, driven perfectionist. Anybody identify? (Laughter) ”If you had been less busy, you could have prevented this problem before it took place.” Lies, lies, lies. But he’s very good at them. a
As Gene and I moved through the next couple of days, Gene thought, you know, “I … I really should read more of the Bible.” And he said, “I’m gonna start in Genesis again. I might have missed something.” And he came rushing out to the room I was in and he said, “Carol, I’m in Genesis 28 and it’s that passage where Jacob falls asleep and he’s in a dream. And … and he sees a ladder that goes from earth to heaven and there are angels going up and down on that ladder. And suddenly, he awakens more alert than he’s ever been before, because he … he realizes there is so much more going on in the visible and in the invisible world than he had ever been aware of before.”
And then he read to me the Scripture you see on the screen, Genesis 28:16. Will you repeat it with me in unison today? “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.”
As we were living in the middle of our unthinkable circumstances, we realized the world is in a mess. Have you watched the news lately? It’s a mess. We asked for help. We were used to being on the giving end of compassion and suddenly, we were needy—emotionally, spiritually, physically. I didn’t like being in that position. I like to be the giver, not the receiver. We were humbled as never before. We were flat out broken, and we had to affirm or reject our faith.
When I was at … at home alone, I would sometimes stand in the middle of our great room and I would yell at the top of my lungs, “God! You are good! You are trustworthy!” It was like I needed to hear those words reverberate through the house, because I knew that what I had taught others for my entire life to be true about this Book, was still true, but it didn’t feel true for me at that moment.
God taught us the power of relinquishment in the middle of a dark hour. And that’s that second principle I want you to … to understand today. Pastor Richard Exley says, “We can hug our hurts and make a shrine out of our sorrows. Or we can offer them to God as a sacrifice of praise. The choice is ours.”
Gene left for Florida to help April and the girls move from Panama City, where Jason had been in the most intensive dive school the navy has, on mixed gases at low ocean depths. We had heard of hidden government studies that talked about bizarre behavior that can follow those dives. And we were trying to put together how a young man who had always lived his life for the Lord and had never been arrested before, could have done such a heinous crime. And we thought maybe it was those dive gases.
I was at home, pulling the rest of the finances together for what felt like buying another house. And I was sitting at my desk and the phone rang. I’m not at all proud to tell you that prior to Jason’s arrest, I had never been inside a jail or a prison before in my life. When I picked up the phone, it was a digitized message from the jail, asking me if I would accept the charges of an inmate. And when I said yes, it was my boy on the other end of the line.
He was sobbing. He said, “Mom, I’ve just been jumped by 10 inmates. They were kicking me and kicking me in the head. My two front teeth have been broken off.” He said, I have a cut on my ear and I’m … I’ve been kicked in the eyes. I’m really messed up. They stole all my stuff except my Bible, Mom.” …
And then he said, “After the beating, they took me to the faith-based area of the jail.” He said, “Mom, those men were like Jesus to me. They brought me soap. They brought me deodorant.” He said, “They prayed over me. They washed my wounds. They were just like Jesus to me.” …
As that 15-minute phone call came to an end with a sudden click, I sat at my desk and I opened my hands (Weeping) palm side up and I said, “Jesus, oh, help me. I cannot do this journey. I cannot watch my son suffer like this. Oh, take me home right now, please.” And then the mamma part of me kicked in. Are you familiar with the mamma part of a woman!? (Applause)
And suddenly, I knew our son needed us to be his advocates as he had never needed us before in his life. And I got on that plane and I went to FL the next day. Gene had already had his 15-minute visit that was allowable to a parent, so I had to go alone. And I watched my son shuffle with a chain between his legs, just moving inches at a time. I was used to seeing him in his Navy blues with medals. He was in jailhouse blues with chains, a waist chain and handcuffs. …
He was fresh from the beating and we had Plexiglas between us and someone listening to everything we said behind him. And finally, our eyes me through that glass and I said to my son, “Jason Paul Kent, there is nothing you could ever do that would stop my unconditional love for you, son. Your dad and I are here for you.” (Weeping) I don’t remember a whole lot more about that visit. It was so challenging.
John: This is Focus on the Family. With that vivid memory from our guest, Carol Kent, we’re going to have to wrap up today’s broadcast, and you’ll have to join us next time to hear more of this incredible story.
Jim: John, as the father of two boys, this story grips me. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have one of, uh… one of my own sons in prison. What a devastating experience that would be. And we’ll hear the conclusion of Carol’s story next time. And I know you’re not going to want to it.
Let me just quickly remind you that Focus on the Family is here for YOU. If your family is going through a hard time, we have caring Christian counselors who can spend some time with you on the phone and then help you find a like-minded counselor in your area. And if you appreciate radio programs like this one, please remember to support the broadcast, if you can. Uh, we are a listener-supported ministry. And we’re encouraging you to become a valuable member of our team – a real ‘contributor’, so to speak – by becoming a monthly donor. Your consistent, ongoing gift would really mean a lot to us. It’s the best way to give. And when you make a monthly pledge of any amount, we’ll send you a CD of Carol Kent’s entire, two-part message, as our way of saying thank you. So please, do it today. Help continue to minister to people through Focus on the Family.
John: And you can do that by making a phone call on 1-800-232-6459. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or donate online and request the CD at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Please join us next time as we continue Carol Kent’s message, including hearing about the verdict from Jason’s trials and the lessons that Carol learned, like this one:
Carol Kent: When God seems the most absent, He is the most present.
End of Teaser
John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.