Author and speaker Carol Kent discusses the emotional struggles she experienced and the spiritual lessons she learned when her son was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for murder. (Part 2 of 2)
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Mrs. Carol Kent: 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.
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John Fuller: Today, you’ll hear how one family’s walk with God was strengthened even though they went through a very difficult circumstance. One that actually continues to this day.
Your host is Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today we’re continuing a gripping message from Carol Kent. And if you missed part one of her presentation last time, you really need to hear it. There’s going to be somebody in your sphere of influence, that this will really touch and minister to. Uh, we can send you the entire message on CD, or audio download, so that you can listen again or share it with that person that is in that spot of despair.
John: Yeah, the download is at focusonthefamily.com/radio. You can also order the CD there, or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: As we said last time, Carol Kent is an accomplished author and speaker, and her book related to this content is called Waiting Together: Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners.
John: And here, now, is Carol Kent speaking in Lynchburg, Virginia at an ‘Extraordinary Women’ event. And we’re going to start with a brief recap, and then get right in to the content for today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Carol: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.” My son had pulled the trigger and a man had died.
And I was sitting at my desk and the phone rang. 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. And finally, our eyes met 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.”
The next thing we learned was the power of heartache and I knew the story of Abraham. I had gone to Genesis 22 and that passage always seemed a little bizarre to me, that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son on an altar! Why would God ask for that? And then I read a little further. It said, “Abraham got up early the next morning to make the trip to Mount Moriah.” Well, if it had been me, I would have waited until at least noon, hoping God would change His mind. Let’s have a “do-over” here.
And then I realized, Abraham has history with his God. Abraham had so much history with his God, he knew even if his son died on the altar, God had the ability to bring him back to life and God said, “Carol, you have history with Me. You’ve known Me since you were 5-years-old. Will you trust Me with your son? I love him more than you do.” It was a hard concept.
What is your Isaac today? Maybe it’s struggling with infertility. Maybe it’s a husband who’s betrayed you for somebody else. Maybe it’s a financial crisis of gigantic magnitude. Maybe it’s never having a dream fulfilled or watching your son or your daughter go in exactly the opposite direction from what you anticipated, or the word from the doctor that it’s cancer. Will you relinquish what you cannot control to the God who loves you more?
The power of heartache was a tough one for me. Joni Eareckson Tada says, “Heartache forces us to embrace God out of desperate, urgent need. God is never closer than when your heart is aching.”
Mother’s Day came that first year of Jason’s arrest. And Gene is a happy guy. He said, “Carol, I’ll take you out for dinner today.” I said, “Gene Kent, that’s a bad idea. You think I want to go out for dinner with happy families celebrating their moms all around us? That would make me depressed.” We got to church. They were passing out long-stemmed carnations to all of the mothers. That made me realize, I’d been a really bad one somehow.
And we got home and Gene thought, it would good to just leave Carol alone and he backed out of the room. I looked over at the sofa and my mother had hand crocheted an afghan for me. Mother lived her life to raise six kids to love Jesus and she did it well. With any knitted or crocheted item from Mamma, you got a note. And that afghan came with this note, “Dear Carol, I prayed for you with every stitch. Love, Mom.”
There was something in that reminder that made me miss my mother so much. And I was so desperate, and I wrapped myself in it from my neck to my toes and I said, “Jesus, would You just climb down inside here with me. I’m so lonesome and I’m so afraid for my boy. He’s with all those maximum-security inmates and they could rape him and do terrible things to him. Please, Jesus.” (Weeping)
And then I remembered that my mother always read from Psalm 91. “You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow, say this, ‘God, You’re my Refuge. I trust in You and I’m safe.” If you’ll hold on to Me for dear life,” says, God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust Me.”
And then I turned back to Psalm 51:17. “I learned God worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”
We then learned the power of community in a middle of a dark house—Christian community. Someone once said, “A friend hears the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.” I was dealing with depression for the first time in my life. And my doorbell rang. It was the florist. He said, “Hello, Lady, are you Carol Kent?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “Well, it’s your lucky day.”
Well, I wanted to tell him, “Please go make someone else’s day lucky; I am not in the mood.” But when you’re depressed, about all you can do is receive. And he handed me one dozen, long-stemmed yellow roses—the most beautiful I had ever seen. I opened the card. It was from two of my sisters. It said, “Dear Carol, you once gave us some decorating advice. You told us that yellow flowers will brighten any room. We thought you needed a little yellow in your life right now. Love, Bonnie and Joy.”
It was like God pulled the plug on my tears. I had never been so needy, but I had never felt so loved. When God seems the most absent, He is the most present.
And then friends came together and they said, “Carol, we want to be your stretcher bearers.” One of my friends had heard Pastor Michael Slater speak on being a stretcher bearer and bearing each other’s burdens. And they began sending out monthly e-mail updates on how people could pray for our family. And they listed tangible needs of our family. They did not know they were signing up for 2 ½ years and seven postponements of Jason’s trial. Talk about amazing men and women of God, who bore our burdens in the middle of our pain.
I went out to speak in CA and two of those stretcher bearers were there—Orvie and Judy Hampton. And they said, “We’re … we’re taking you to dinner.” And uh … we had a great time with these wonderful friends. Judy is a very humorous Christian public speaker and … and you have to know she has a sense of humor, because she married a guy named Orvie Euclid Hampton Jr. I think you have to have a sense of humor to marry that name.
But the funniest part of the whole story is that, the person who typed her marriage certificate says she is married to “Ovary Euclid Hampton Jr.” (Laughter) At the end of that meal, Judy had a Bible in her hand and she said, “Carol, Orvie and I want you and Gene to have this Bible.” She said, “I have gone through every chapter in this Book and I have highlighted every single verse that has the word ‘hope’ in it. We thought just maybe you would need some of those reminders before the trial.” Wow! What a gift!
And just as the trial was approaching, we learned the power of faith in the middle of a dark hour. Philip Yancey says, “The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in.”
John: You’re listening to Carol Kent on Focus on the Family.
And you can get a CD of this entire message to share with a friend, and Carol’s book, Waiting Together: Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners, when you call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or request those resources and donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio. More now, from Carol Kent.
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Carol: Karen and Betty Jo, dear friends of mine, said, “Carol, we want to take you for a girlfriend’s getaway.” And we went to Karen’s lake home and they had made a beautiful meal for me. The next morning, we stayed in our robes until noon and drank coffee on the deck. By the way, if you stay in your robe until noon, buy a nice one and put get-well cards out at the front door. And that way, people stop by and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry; you’re not feeling well.” (Laughter) It buys you a little bit of time.
But these friends were so dear. That afternoon they said, “We just want to minister to you.” They got out their Bible and read selected passages and then they got out an old-fashioned hymn book and they—a choir of two—sang to me, an audience of one.
And they started singing, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee! Thou changest not! Thy compassions, they fail not! As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness.” They sang all the verses.
They turned another page. They sang “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,” all the verses. They turned another page. They sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Another “Amazing Grace.” For one hour, these women sang to me, the lyrics based on biblical truth that would hold me during this trial and nurture me and encourage me.
Now I have to tell you, Karen and Betty Jo are not trained musicians. Are you hearing me? (Laughter) As an act of obedience to God and out of love for me, their friend, they reminded me of what I needed to know in the middle of that dark hour.
We flew to Florida, now the night before the trial would begin. And we met April at the courthouse. It’s a huge complex and we did a Jericho-style prayer walk around that courthouse. We laid hands on the front door. You should have seen the authorities come running. (Laughter) They soon woun … found out we were those unique Christians who were praying for a trial and they realized we weren’t going to hurt anybody.
And the trial began. On the first three days, Gene, April and I could not be inside the courtroom, because we were witnesses to our son’s mental state prior to the act that took a man’s life. It was torturous. It was a … “not-guilty by reason of temporary insanity plea.”
We have to tell you that during the time we planned for a trial, the father, the stepmother and the sister of the deceased were planning a funeral. Oh, how we grieved for those hurting people. There was enough pain to go around again and again and again. You need to know, we do not justify the actions of our son. What he did was against the laws of God and man. But oh, how our hearts ached for mercy.
On Thursday, we were on the stand. Gene was first; April was second and I was last. I remember walking into the courtroom and I looked over at the jury. I thought, “Ar … are they kind people?” I … I looked over at the judge. I thought, “Is he a father? Does he see my son’s true heart?” I looked at the prosecutor. She had, had 20 years of experience of putting men in the death chamber and … and behind bars for a lifetime. She was articulate; she was educated. She was good!
I looked at Jason and I mouthed, “I love you, Son.” And he mouthed it back. I remember second guessing everything I said on the stand. We knew closing arguments would be read the next day. That’s exactly what happened.
And by noon the jury went into deliberation. We did seven Jericho-style prayer walks around the courthouse during jury deliberation, praying for a miracle of mercy. It was time to go back in. The Court TV cameras were rolling. Some of you may have seen our story on Dateline NBC or more recently on CNN Live or MSNBC.
Jason was asked to stand, and the verdict was read. “We, the members of the jury find Jason Paul Kent guilty of murder in the first degree!” In Florida, there are mandatory minimums. We instantly knew what the sentence would be, because the prosecutor had removed the death penalty earlier in the process, knowing it was his first offense and it would be hard for her to get the death penalty.
So, Jason was again asked to stand, and the judge said, “I sentence you, Jason Paul Kent, to live out the rest of your life in a Florida state penitentiary, without the possibility of parole!” He was 25-years-old at the time of his crime. “Forever” is a long time.
I don’t think I have ever been so broken in my life as I was that night (emotional), as the TV cameras tried to follow us in our agony, trying to catch a piece of news. I worried that my son would commit suicide that night. And oh, how we prayed, but two hours later he called and he said, “Mom and Dad, they brought me back to the faith-based area of the jail.” And he said, “News of my conviction had already gotten to the … the jail.”
And now you need to know, by this time, Jason was a cell coordinator in the faith-based area. And several of these maximum-security inmates had come to faith. And he said, “They were weeping, and they gathered around me and they said … they said, ‘Jason, if a man like you got a sentence like this, man, there’s no hope for us! There’s no hope!” And he said, “God gave me the ability to stand up and preach. And I said, ‘Men, if we walk in freedom in this lifetime or in the next, we will still one day walk in freedom if we know Jesus.’” And I knew he was going to be okay.
We learned the power of speaking up in the middle of a dark hour. Proverbs 31 tells us to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. We were standing in line with all the broken people and we were one of ‘em. It was a … a difficult lesson. I’d been used to being a professional and I’d become a mess. I cry easily. I identify with people who hurt. I know what pain feels like. I know what hopelessness feels like. I said, “Jesus, help us.”
And I began sharing our story. On Christmas Day a year ago, I was in the ladies’ room in a stall at the prison. And a woman came in. She was just cussing. She was hyperventilating. She was weeping. She said, ”I hate this place! I hate these people! I think I’m having a nervous breakdown!”
The old professional me would have gotten up. I would have put my arm around her. I would have quoted my five best verses on suffering. And I would have prayed over her and said, “Honey, you’re gonna be okay.”
The “new” me wept with her. I didn’t even quote one Bible verse. She wasn’t ready for my Scripture. She just needed to know one other person cared. God is showing me that broken people minister to broken people. So, if you’re broken, that’s good.
As we continued to live in a very different kind of normal for us, God’s reminded us of 2 Corinthians 4:16. ”So, we’re not giving up! How could we? Even though on the outside, it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.”
John: Amen to that final thought from Carol Kent on this Focus on the Family broadcast.
Jim: John, I so admire Carol Kent for sharing such a heart-wrenching story, so openly and honestly, with us. And as she said a bit earlier in the message, we want to extend our sympathy to the family of the murdered man, of course! And I pray that they know the Lord and have found comfort in Him.
Carol also said, “When God seems the most absent, He is the most present” and that’s especially true through the power of Christian community. Let me urge you: find a Christian group to be a part of. It could be a home group organized by your church, a bible study, or a group like Moms in Prayer, where moms gather to pray for their children and their local schools. But find that community, somehow, somewhere. And then when a trial comes along, those are the people that God will use to help you. They will be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ in your life….and you’ll have the opportunity to ‘be there’ for them at some point, too.
We’ve experienced that with foster care. We’re deeply involved with one family. And that gentleman came out of drug rehab. We are doing all we can to carry that burden, helping him, and it’s been wonderful to see the community here in Colorado Springs come around him, as well. Catholic charities, Protestant groups, they’re all involved in this man’s life, now. And that is a good thing, because Jean and I could not carry that entire burden.
And let me just say there is a special group here at Focus on the Family, too, that you can be a part of, as well. Some of our listeners have ‘banded together’ to become a firm foundation for this ministry, and we call them “Friends of the Family.” These are financial partners, big and small, who are monthly contributors to the ministry. They help us run smoothly, budget correctly, because we can rely on their donations every 30 days. That is a big difference for us. And if you are a Friend of the Family – you know who you are! – and let me say THANK YOU to you for what you do for this ministry and the people that we touch together. We are grateful to you! And, obviously, along with the Lord’s helping hand, you are the reason this radio program is still on the air, and still able to make a big impact every day.
Here’s just one example of that impact of the program from Ryan in Washington. He wrote:
I had a stroke at the age of 38, and had to relearn how to walk, talk, and even think. I was raising three kids, with no income, in a small apartment. It was the darkest time of my life. The Focus on the Family broadcast encouraged me every day, and literally kept me from taking my own life. I still rely on the spiritually edifying content that Focus offers. You guys are an incredible blessing.
And let me just reflect that back to you, the supporters. YOU are the incredible blessing.
John: Mm. What a privilege to be able to walk with somebody through a dark time like that. And to think that he considered suicide but backed off because of the encouragement he heard from these radio programs.
Jim: You know, John, that happens more often than we ever share it on the air. And, literally, saving someone’s life like this man...
Jim: Ryan. And, again, I want to say “thank you” for making that one story possible.
When you make a monthly pledge of any amount today, I want to send you a CD of this complete program from Carol Kent, so you can listen to it again or share it with a friend who’s in need. And let me say, ‘thank you’ for joining our team, when you do.
John: Reach us by calling 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or you can donate online and request the CD at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And if you appreciated today’s program, please tell a friend to listen along. And tune in next time when Brooke McGlothlin shares how busy moms can draw closer to God.
Mrs. Brooke McGlothlin: But the better question is are we pointing them toward Christ? Because that’s really our job. And that’s really our only job.
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Carol KentView Bio
Carol Kent is a popular public speaker who has addressed audiences around the world. She is the founder and director of the Speak Up Conference, an organization that equips speakers and writers, and the co-founder (along with her husband, Gene) of Speak Up for Hope, a ministry for inmates and their families. Carol has been a featured guest in major media outlets and has authored more than 20 books including Waiting Together: Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners, A New Kind of Normal, When I Lay My Isaac Down, and her latest, He Holds My Hand: Experiencing God's Presence and Protection. Learn more about Carol at her website, carolkent.org.