8: When I Lay My Isaac Down
About the Guest
- When I Lay My Isaac Down by Carol Kent. https://www.amazon.com/When-Lay-Isaac-Down-Circumstances/dp/161291442X
- Carol Kent talks to Dennis Rainey about her son’s sentence to life in prison, and how Carol and her husband are planting hope in the midst of despair. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/series/when-i-lay-my-issac-down/
Carol Kent’s son was every mother’s dream, a graduate of West Point, an officer, a gentleman, and now – a murderer? When the face of evil is our own son, how do we grieve?
8: When I Lay My Isaac Down
Kim: Several years ago, you got a phone call in the middle of the night that would literally change your family’s life forever. Who was it from, and what did they have to say?
Carol: Gene and I had been on a ministry trip in St. Louis. We were sound asleep after getting home; and in the middle of the night at 12:35 A.M. the phone rang. I just remember looking over at my husband––not knowing who was on the other end of the line––and I saw a look of shock and horror come over his face. He pulled the receiver away from his ear and said, “Carol, Jason has just been arrested for the murder of his wife’s first husband. He’s in the jail in Orlando.”
That call was from our son’s wife, and we were stunned and shocked beyond description. Nausea swept over me. I tried to get out of bed. My legs would not hold my weight.
First, I thought I must be living in the middle of a horrific dream, and I crawled my way into my office and, still on the floor, grabbed a phone and got the number for the Orlando jail. When someone finally answered and I asked about my son, a rude voice on the other end of the line said, “Lady, we ain’t got nobody by that name, Jason Kent, in here. Lady, your son ain’t here.” Kim, for a split second, my hopes returned thinking this was only a dream.
As hour followed hour, the facts of the case were confirmed. Our son had pulled a trigger in a public parking lot, and a man had died. We began our journey into what we call our new kind of normal. Life would never be what we once dreamed it would be––it would be different.
Kim: From the FamilyLife podcast network, this is Unfavorable Odds. I’m Kim Anthony.
Unfavorable Odds is all about finding hope and help in those seasons of life when things get pretty hard. Now, Jesus has promised that we never have to go through those dark places alone––He is always with us. On each episode of this podcast, we’ll be talking with people who have done just that––they’ve navigated those places––and they draw their strength from Jesus.
When I told a friend of mine, Kathy Bloom, that I was doing a podcast and what we were going to be talking about, she said, “You absolutely have to talk to Carol Kent.” Carol Kent is a popular speaker and author of over 20 books, and one of her most powerful books is called When I Lay My Isaac Down. The book tells the story of the choice her son made that landed him in prison for life.
Carol: The backstory on this is that our son––a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy––was in nuclear engineering school. He joined a great church, and he met a wonderful girl at Bible study. She had been previously married and had two little girls, and Jason’s orders changed. That very abruptly meant that he had to make a choice: Was he going to get married quickly and take this little family with him or wait? Their choice was to get married soon.
We talked them into waiting for three weeks and to come to our, then, hometown of Port Huron, Michigan to be married with the accountability of family and friends around them. They agreed. A week and a half later, April came into our lives and behind them, came six-year-old Chelsea and three-year-old Hannah. These little girls were precious. Within a half hour, little Chelsea came rushing up, grabbed my hand in her two hands, kissed all over it, and said, “Your my new favorite Grammie.”
Kim: Oh, sweet.
Carol: It was adorable. Little Hannah would sit at my kitchen counter every morning and sing songs about how much she loved Jesus. We had a beautiful wedding on a picture-perfect day, and we were looking forward to seeing this young family thrive. But during that first year, Jason was hearing more and more about the allegations of abuse involving the biological father—abuse against his wife, abuse involving the little girls. In retrospect, he began to unravel mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
We never fully understood the kind of pressure he was living under with all of these military schools. Then, about a year into their marriage, Jason realized their first military orders would be to go to Hawaii. The father of the girls had only been given supervised visitation, but he had been behaving very well under supervision; and it appeared the judge was going to give unsupervised visitation.
Carol: Jason knew if they were in Hawaii that would mean six week visits for the girls with their biological father in the summertime when they did not have school––and he began to obsess with his fears for those girls. He would tell you today, “I began to make an idol out of my own ability to protect my girls instead of entrusting in God alone to be their protector––instead of teaching them to dial 9-1-1 and scream and yell.” He said, “I was wrong, and I am paying a very severe price for that wrong choice.”
We went through two and half years and seven postponements of Jason’s case before he was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Kim: Carol, tell me a little bit about Jason’s relationship with the girls. It seems like it was a very special one.
Carol: It was precious. I think because he chose to be their stepdaddy and realized that these girls were coming with the woman he had fallen in love with, there was a very special closeness. I remember in some of his subsequent letters, he said, “I remember one day when Chelsea had tried on my military boots, and she put on my oversized military jacket. She walked into the room stomping in those big boots, and she saluted and said, ‘I’m in the Army just like Daddy.’”
Carol: There was a sweetness to that relationship, and he was very protective over them. I look back on all of that, realizing how sweet it was to see the love they had between them; and it was startling to realize that none of the future would be as Jason once thought it might be or as we might have envisioned with our dear family around our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. We were definitely going to face a future that involved a whole lot of stress and uncertainty and flat out fear.
Kim: Carol, Jason—he was an only child.
Carol: That’s right.
Kim: So, it had to be so difficult to watch him being charged with the murder of his wife’s ex-husband. Walk me through the emotions that you felt, as you mentioned before, as you watched the dreams that you somehow had for him and for grandkids and the future. What were those emotions like?
Carol: It was so unexpected and so shocking. Jason had never been in trouble with the law. He had been a stellar student. He was involved in his church youth group and was a young man who did compassionate acts of kindness for others. I could not believe that he could have done this. So, the shock that my husband Gene and I felt initially—I don’t even have words for. We would sometimes say, “Breathe. Do the next thing.”
I’m a first-born of six preacher’s kids. Kim, that means I’m bossy. [Laughter]
Carol: I can juggle a whole of activities at one time and somehow maintain balance at least that was the story of my life before Jason’s arrest. Suddenly, I felt incapable of even keeping one thought in my head at a time. It was so startling. I think, for me, there were moments when I just didn’t even know what to do. Gene said, “Carol, I think we missed something. I’m going to start reading the Bible over again beginning in Genesis.”
He came rushing out to the room I was in a couple of days later, and he said, “I’m in Genesis 28. It’s that passage where Jacob is in a dream. There is a ladder from earth to heaven, and angels are going up and down on that ladder.” He said, “Suddenly, Jacob awakens more alert than he’s ever been before because he realizes there is so much more going on in the visible and in the invisible worlds than he’s ever been aware of before.” Then Gene read Genesis 28:16 to me: “Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
We began to understand that when God seems the most absent, He is still present everywhere. We started to realize that we needed to lean on our friends, and we were used to being on the giving ends of compassion—not the receiving ends. It was hard to humble ourselves enough to receive the kindnesses and love of precious people who were reaching out to us.
I remembered feeling so unknowing about what steps to take next, and two precious friends—one from Dallas and one from Phoenix—neither one knew each other; but they knew us. Within in a two week period, they contacted us and said, “Gene and Carol, we would like to start an email update for people who want to pray for you.”
Carol: Then my dear friend Kathy Bloom from Anderson, Indiana—
Carol: —called. She said, “Carol, I want to be a part of this as well.” These three women began what they called our stretcher bearers—people who would carry us when we could not carry ourselves. They were so wonderful about telling people how they could pray and what our specific needs were. You can imagine. It was criminal defense of gigantic magnitude so, we were feeling financially needy—we were emotionally and spiritually needy.
One day, a box arrived on my porch, and it was a frozen dinner of ribs from the State of Florida from one of the people on stretcher bearer list. She said, “Carol, it is the habit in our church to provide dinner—a hot dinner—for people who are going through hard times, and I can’t physically do that for you from here––but I can send you dinner in a box. I hope you’ll warm up these Texas ribs and know that there is a family who is praying for you every single day.” Kim, we were just covered with the love of Jesus.
One day, the doorbell rang, and it was the florist. He said, “Hello lady, are you Carol Kent?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “Well, lady, it’s your lucky day”, and he handed me one dozen long-stemmed, yellow roses—the most beautiful I had ever seen. I opened the card, and it was from two of my sisters. It said, “Dear Carol, you once gave us some decorating advice. You told us that yellow flowers would brighten any room. We thought you needed a little yellow in your life right now.”
I realized that God was blessing me in these precious ways. Yellow became my color of hope, and the stretcher bearers let our friends know that they could send cards in yellow envelopes or gifts in yellow packages––I called those the sweet surprises of God’s people in the middle of this journey that was so heart-wrenching.
Sometimes, Gene and I would just hold each other and cry, and we would just say, “We don’t know if we will get through this.” I’m sure we have some listeners right now who don’t know if they’ll get through what they are going through.
Carol: We decided we needed to make issues only about the big things because we were starting to get a little uptight with each other over small things because we had so much anxiety. I remember one day Gene was in our closet––and I’m a good housekeeper, but I had thrown things around in the closet––and my husband is a neat-nick. He said, “I don’t understand why you don’t get rid of things you haven’t worn in over a year. They are just sitting here.”
I just remember bursting into tears and just saying, “I don’t understand why you’re upset about this.” We both cried, and I just said, “Honey, I’m so sorry that I’ve been making such big issues about nothing. I know you have too, and we need to focus on loving each other. I’m realizing we have a very big thing to handle, and we need to realize that if we don’t do this together, our marriage could fall apart.”
Kim: Wow! Another thing you did together was you decided that you were not going to let the enemy––Satan––win this battle. So you decided that you would reject the lies that he was trying to convince you to believe. What were some of those lies?
Carol: Oh, you hit on a really important point, Kim. One of the lies the enemy would whisper in my ears regularly was, “If you had been a better mother, this would not have happened.” Then he would say, “If you had read your Bible more consistently––if you had prayed more fervently––this would not have happened.” Then he picked on my firstborn tendencies of being in control and being in charge, and he said, “If you had been less busy, you could have fixed this thing before it happened”—lies, lies, lies.
I think all of us who are in a hard place need to first recognize the lie and replace it with God’s truth. We know we are loved. We know nothing can touch us without His permission; and we know, even if we don’t get answers to our challenges in this lifetime, we still know heaven awaits––and there will be a time when Jason Kent walks in freedom and when we have completed joy and when we have restored hope. We know that place is heaven. We will persevere even if we don’t get our answers in this lifetime.
Kim: Wow! That is encouraging for any mother—any person—to hear that in Christ we can have victory even through these dark places. What would you tell the person who is listening to your story who finds themselves in a similar situation—it’s out of their control, there is absolutely nothing they can do about the situation but lean into God? How would you encourage them to walk these next days, weeks, months?
Carol: First of all, give yourself permission to grieve. It’s okay to have tears, and you know God values your tears. I think of the Scripture, Jesus wept—and the Bible tells us our tears are so precious to God He keeps them in bottles. I have a whole pantry of bottled tears up there, Kim.
Kim: You and me, both. [Laughter]
Carol: I’ve wept a lot, and I think we forget that in the Scriptures David cried out his sorrow before the Lord. We can do that too––and God listens. He is not put off by having us express our grief. Then, one of the most important things that we learned was that you need to take time for some self-care.
To me, growing up in a ministry family, that was almost a non-existent phrase. It was like—“We work hard for the kingdom of God, and we wear ourselves out serving Jesus.” I wasn’t used to pulling back and just allowing myself to actually withdraw from some activities to actually be alone with God and to rest in His arms––and that’s so important to not feel like you have to be busy, busy, busy all the time when you’re living in a state of crisis.
Sometimes, it’s really hard to say, “Okay, Lord, I will choose to just rest in your arms––in your presence––in your word.” I had to be very intentional about that because I’m such a doer. I fill my to-do list with everything that needs to be done and take pride in crossing those things off. If I accomplish something of merit during the day that wasn’t on the list, I’m liable to write it down after I do it so I have the thrill of drawing a line through it. [Laughter] So, I—
Kim: That is me, Carol. You are speaking my language.
Carol: I knew we were kindred spirits, Kim! [Laughter]
It was very important for me to do that intentional rest and not feel guilty about it because I’m one of those people who, when I rest, I feel guilty.
Then another really big thing was to choose to be vulnerable and open about our journey because when you are in the middle of a crisis—especially if you’re not used to hanging all of your laundry out––your personal situation out—it’s very hard to tell the truth openly about what you’re going through. Then you always wonder, “Who knows my story? Who knows what’s going on?” You look at the way people raise their eyebrows—“Do they know? Have they heard yet?”
Carol: Or you walk into a church lobby, and you think you see people looking at you who might know what’s happened. Well, if you’re the first one to share, “I need help,” or “I’m in a situation I never dreamed I would be in,”––it gives you ownership of that situation in a way that you can tell your own version of what’s happened instead of wondering what people are gossiping about or saying about you.
Some people are very well-intentioned––but they talk a bit much. So, if you share your own situation, it becomes a much better place where you can control how truth goes out honestly about what you are going through rather than having people add a little bit to your story.
Kim: Yes; it’s interesting how people will kind of throw in their own little two-cents about what—
Kim: —they believe happened. Then, all of the sudden, you have more and more people believing their story versus yours.
Kim: Now, as a national speaker, you found yourself in a situation where you were––literally––having to speak to mothers about raising their children and women about living a godly life. What type of pressure was that for you? What were you thinking as were preparing for this?
Carol: Oh, extreme pressure—and I should backtrack a little, Kim—
Carol: —because the year before Jason was arrested, my husband left his insurance career. He had been successful in business, and he took a Bible study with a group of men—the Experiencing God Bible study.
He came home one day, and he said, “Carol, the whole point of this study is to look around and see where God is at work and join Him.” I see God at work in what you’re doing, and I see your ministry growing so fast that you can no longer take care of every aspect of the administration of what you’re doing. He said, “I believe God wants me to leave the insurance industry and join you in ministry and take over some of the areas that just really need someone to be in charge of managing and administering what you’re doing with speaking and writing.”
So, he had left his long-term career and his prestigious office downtown, moved into a desk in our basement where he began managing ministry. Kim, it was our only income.
Carol: Ministry was all we had to put bread on the table, to pay Jason’s legal bills. So, people say, “Well, how long did you leave speaking and writing while you were in the middle of this crisis?” Literally, five days later, I had a speaking engagement, and we had a large bill for the attorney due. I know I needed to go do what I needed to do.
Kim: Okay; wait a minute.
Carol: I was not—
Kim: Wait a minute. Let me stop you there. Did you say, “Five days after you found out your son was in jail”—
Kim: —“and being charged with murder,” you had a speaking engagement?
Carol: Yes; I did not know if I could get through it. Then the attorney said, “Don’t talk publicly about what is happening until after the trial because anything could be recorded and used against your son in his trial.” So, at that point, I was not able physically, mentally, or spiritually—and certainly not legally—allowed to speak about what had happened.
I remember getting there, and I got there just in time to have dinner with the worship leader. We happened to be at a table alone. She leaned over and said, “Carol, I almost cancelled. My husband and I have been in full-time music ministry for years, and we’re not making it financially. We’re losing our house, and we’re going bankrupt. I can hardly look at my children and say, ‘God is faithful’” but she said, “I’m here.”
I looked at her, and I couldn’t even voice that my son had just been arrested for murder. I put my hand over hers and I said, “We are in the middle of a gigantic family crisis. We are going to be two broken people ministering out of the middle of our brokenness.” She walked over and lead worship in the big banquet hall, and I wept through every song. I got up, Kim, with my Bible in my hand, and I spoke truth—not about our story—but truth from God’s word.
I can tell you that in the middle of speaking out loud about God’s goodness and trustworthiness and that He never fails, I felt an empowerment that I can only explain in the supernatural dimension. It was like I was stomping on the enemy saying, “You lose here! You meant to wipe the parents out with the children. You lose. He wins!” From that point on, even though it was hard––even though there were often tears––I knew that I could make it through a speaking engagement. I did it with more compassion than I had ever had because I had a broken heart.
Kim: Oh. It’s amazing how God—sometimes, it seems that He uses us best when we are broken, because it’s in that space that we are fully surrendered to Him because there is nothing else we can do but to rely on His power, His presence, and His grace.
Carol: Sometimes, we come to that place of saying, “Lord, You are all I have.” When He’s all you have, He’s enough. I can tell you that’s true.
Kim: Amen. Now, six days after Jason’s arrest and April and the girls were about to go visit him––I believe Gene had flown in––and you were about to come in and visit him for the first time as well. You received a phone call and, on the other end, was your son. What was that phone call about?
Carol: Oh, if anyone listening to us has someone who is in jail or prison, they are probably well aware of the fact that you get digitized calls from these correctional institutions asking if you will accept a collect call.
Gene had left the day before because he needed to move April and the girls—where Jason had been involved in a dive school in Panama City, and they were being moved to Orlando where Jason was incarcerated. I was at my desk when this call came, and I accepted the charges and on the other end of the line was my son. He was sobbing. He said, “Mom, I’ve just been jumped by ten inmates. They were kicking me and kicking me in the head.” He said, “My two front teeth are broken off.” He said, “They stole all of my stuff except for my Bible.” He said, “I’m a mess.”
He said, “After the beating, the corrections officers took me to the faith-based part of the jail.” He said, “Mom, those men were like Jesus to me.” He said, “The washed my wounds. They gave me soap and deodorant and a clean t-shirt. They brought me writing materials.” He said, “Mom, they were just like Jesus.” Then the time went so fast. I had 15 minutes. Then there was a click, and he was gone.
Carol: Kim, I sat there in my chair, and I heard this guttural wail come out of the depths of my being. I just lifted my hands, palm-side up. I said, “God, I cannot do this journey. I cannot watch my son suffer like this. Lord, please, please, let me go home to heaven to be with You now. I cannot do this.”
Then the momma part of me kicked in, and I realized that our son needed his parents more than he had ever needed us before in his life. I got on that plane the next day, and I flew to Florida. I remember going to the prison, and Gene was not allowed to come with me because he had already had his allowable 15 minute visit as a parent. I went alone, and I waited a long time. I heard this shuffle come down the hallway toward the visitation area. I knew I would be seeing my son behind Plexiglas, but I was not prepared for what hit me.
I was used to seeing Jason in naval uniforms with many medals attached, and he was in jailhouse blues. His hands were in handcuffs attached to a waste-chain. He had on ankle cuffs with a chain between his legs, and the shuffle I heard was because he could only go about six inches with those ankle cuffs on and the chain. Then, as he came toward the little table where we would look at each other through glass, his face was covered with scabs. As he looked at me, I could see both eyes were fully bloodshot. He had a cut in his ear, and then I could see his two front teeth broken off.
All we could do is sit there and weep for several moments. We could not say anything. Finally, I spoke up. I said, “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.” There was a corrections officer behind him listening to everything that was said. So, it was not a really personal call; but once again, after 15 minutes, he was led back out, and I went out to the parking lot. I was crying too hard to drive.
I sat there in the front seat of my car, and I remembered Abraham. I knew that he needed to sacrifice his only—his son—to the God who loved his Isaac more than he did.
Kim, I need to quickly say. My son was no Isaac. Isaac had done nothing wrong to merit this sacrifice. My son had taken the life of a human being, but I identified with Abraham needing to let go––to relinquish his control over his son. I remembered just once again lifting my eyes to the Lord saying, “God, please, please, tell us what to do. Help us. We are in the middle of such a crisis of not knowing what decisions to make or how we can be of assistance. God, we need You. Help us, Father. Help us.”
I think, sometimes, in that cry, we finally come to the end of our ability to fix things—to control things, and we allow ourselves to be open to God’s guidance—through His word, through the inner impression of the heart based on Scripture we’ve meditated on, and through people who we trust who walk closely with the Lord.
Kim: Carol, has relinquishing your son’s life to the Lord gotten easier over the years, or is it still a struggle?
Carol: I want to tell everybody who is in the middle of a crisis: There does come a point when you can breathe again—know that that will happen for you. Do you grieve? Oh, yes—and there will be triggers for your grief.
One of those triggers is the holidays when you know other families are going to be spending Thanksgiving or Christmas with their loved ones, and you see them gathering or you see a neighbor’s house with five cars out in front knowing—“Hey, they are all celebrating together, and I can’t be with my son and his family around my table.” That hurts a lot.
There will be times when you hear a song on the radio, and you might say, “Oh, that was my son’s favorite song”—or in my case, I would walk by a closet and see a naval uniform and remember the life he could have had and what he doesn’t have today. Those things are hard, but I want to encourage each of you to build a new kind of normal and to begin making hope-filled choices.
Kim, after writing When I Lay My Isaac Down, the next book I wrote was A New Kind of Normal because we need to start making choices like choosing life—choose to breathe again. What we need to choose trust—to trust people who want to reach out and help us. We need to choose vulnerability that I talked about earlier. I think of that verse from Psalm 38:9: “All my longings lie open before You, O Lord. My sighing is not hidden from You.” I tell people, “Sigh out loud. God knows everything that is represented by that sigh.”
Then I want to encourage people to choose gratitude. When we start thanking God for the good things in our lives—like in our case, we had people who were supporting us. I needed to thank God for that. Some people don’t have good supporting help, and we needed to thank God that we were still able to work and make a living and that just because my son had committed a murder, I could not believe people wanted me to be on their platforms and to talk about giving hope and finding faith and even raising families to love Jesus.
Carol: It was a shock to me that I still had a message, and that was something to give thanks for.
One thing I’ve been very intentional about is to encourage people to look around and find someone who needs help worse than they do and reach out with a hand of tangible of love and compassion. I like to remind people, you don’t have to have a lot of money to do that. Sometimes, it is offering to babysit for a woman whose husband is incarcerated so that she can have time alone with her husband at visitation without two young children at tables who need to be entertained.
Sometimes, it’s texting a prayer to somebody or emailing them a word of hope. I often will pick up the phone and pray with someone on the phone. It only takes a few minutes, but it means so much to people. I tell people when you’re in the grocery store, buy an extra sack of groceries for a single-parent family and leave them on their doorstep with a note saying, “We love you, and we’re praying for you. We hope as you eat this food you’ll know we are in your corner cheering for you, and we’re proud of you.”
Those types of things are tangible, and people know that they are loved. When we reach out to others, people reach back to us—and somehow, there’s this circle that gratitude that gives to us that’s a constant flow of renewed joy in our lives.
Kim: Now, you say in your book that you discovered this daily rhythm of grieving. Can you tell me a little bit about that was like for you?
Carol: I would give myself permission to think about the sorrow—think about the losses—not only our losses but my son’s losses—that he would never again live with his wife and family with a life without parole sentence. I think we never need to feel bad about that grieving. Then there were times when I urgently needed to fulfill my obligation for preparing for a speaking engagement or to write an article or a book, and I would need to—I call it—putting Jason in a box.
I would say, “Lord, I’m giving this box to you right now because I know you want me to deal with other things in my life that are important that will further your kingdom agenda, but Lord, will you take care of him while I just set my sorrow aside for a little while and deal with these demands?” Do you know that—to this day—has worked well for me. I allow myself permission still after all of these years—and Jason’s been incarcerated now for 19 years—almost two decades of his life.
Then I will do what’s necessary but allow myself just that ability to be human, and I think we all need to do that and allow other people to do that too. Some people will say, “Well, you know, try to get over it.”
Kim: Right. [Laughter]
Carol: Well, you never get over it. I think of others who are dealing with an autistic child. I talked to a mom just this week who, had a child diagnosed with schizophrenia at seven, and she said, “Carol, my daughter is getting worse. We’ve now gone through several years. She’s not getting better, and we have had to figure out how do we offer a normal life to our children and still love our daughter Anna in the same proper way that we should without destroying our relationship with our other children?”
She said, “One of the things I had to do was to rely on other people. Grandma has offered to watch Anna—and it’s okay if she takes her for a while and gives our family a break for a short vacation or just a mini getaway.”
We find—in our new normal—we discover renewed hope as we learn those new rhythms that you were talking about. It won’t ever be the same but allow yourself in the rhythm to find that comfortable new normal that works for you, your spouse, and your family.
Kim: So encouraging that we can give ourselves permission to grieve those losses—to think about the losses—because, as you mentioned, I think our human nature is to—“Okay, let me find distractions so I don’t have to think about it because if I don’t think about it, then maybe—maybe—it will just go away. Maybe, those emotions won’t come back up”—but you’re saying give yourself permission to think about those losses and grieve—which is so powerful—when you allow God to bring those emotions to the surface so that He can heal them.
Then you talked about putting Jason in a box—and that really stood out for me because a lot of times, in my own deep, dark places—I become obsessed with thinking about this issue that’s going on, and I feel like, maybe if I don’t think about it, then I’m doing it a dishonor. So, I can imagine, maybe there were times when you thought, “If I don’t consume my life with thinking about my son and what I can do to help and encourage him, then I’m not loving him the way I need to”—but yet—you were able to put him in this little box on the shelf and say, “Okay, Lord, can you hold onto this for me because”—
Kim: —“there are some things You have called me to do, and I want to be honoring of Your call on my life?” That’s powerful.
Carol: I think what safer place could there be than asking God to hold him and to be near to him. Sometimes, Kim, I will pray over that little box and say, “God, would you give him a divine encounter on the prison compound with a corrections officer or another inmate or a volunteer. Allow his faith to shine in that place and let the spirit of the Lord be big in a maximum security prison where there are some pretty evil things going on”—
Kim: Oh my.
Carol: —“based on the wrong choices of some of the inmates.” Do you know we have watched God use Jason—I call him my missionary on the inside—and I believe he is changing the landscape of the prison he is in because Christ is in him. It makes the presence of Jesus big in that place.
Kim: It is interesting that you mention Jason’s impact in that prison. Even though he made an unwise decision, God didn’t put him on a shelf and forget about him. God—in His grace and His mercy—says, “Okay, I’m going to use you. I’m going to redeem the time—redeem your life—and even in these prison walls, I’m going to use you to impact the people here.” Perhaps, there are people who are being impacted that would not be if Jason wasn’t there. I know that’s kind of weird to think, but—
Carol: Well, Kim, you’ve brought up a really important point because I have had some people say, “Well, perhaps, it was God’s will for Jason to be in prison so that He could be such a light for good there and such a wonderful evangelist of the Gospel there.” I just want to say that God never ever goes against His word. So, what Jason did in drawing that weapon and in shooting someone and killing someone was an evil, terrible thing to do—a wrong choice.
But I want to tell anybody who has ever made a wrong choice that there is nothing you have ever done that God cannot redeem for His good and for His glory.
When Jason had been in jail for less than a year, a woman from our church visited him. She said, “Jason, I don’t know you really well, but I felt compelled to travel from Michigan to Florida to tell you something. I am guilty of the same crime you are guilty of—murder. Only I’m on the outside, and you’re on the inside.” She said, “I killed my unborn child.”
She said, “I’m not behind bars, and you are. I just want you to know that I pray for you. I care about what’s happening to you, and I’m as guilty as you are for wrong-doing, but I’ve come to the Lord. I have confessed my sin, and I have been forgiven. I now live as a forgiven woman, and I know you are doing that too. I just needed to tell you that in person.”
Kim: Wow! Do you know how Jason responded to that? What was that like for him? What did it mean to him to have her travel all the way to Orlando to see him?
Carol: He was very moved by it, and I think so many times we categorize sin. We wonder, “Could God really forgive that?”
Carol: The truth is, when we confess our sin, it is forgiven.
Kim, one more very important thing we need to bring up for anybody who has been a victim of a crime and—or maybe has friends or family friends who have been—is that we have such great compassion for the victims. Whenever a crime is committed, there are families on both sides of that crime who are hurting.
Carol: The ripple impact of the wrong done permeates both of those families in a profound way. So, we will never ever stop praying for the father, the stepmother, the sister of the deceased. We pray for God’s blessing in their lives. We know the pain our son’s act caused. Jason has written them a letter—not only of apology—but asking for their forgiveness.
Carol: But we always need to recognize that when a wrong like this is done, there is another family that has been impacted in a profound, life-changing way.
Kim: Thank you for sharing that.
Carol, I can imagine that there could be someone listening who has had a family member whose life has been taken, and they are saying, “Why are we are cheering this person on?” When the truth is—is that no matter what side of the equation you are on—God’s grace and mercy is there, and His forgiveness is something I’ll never really understand. Perhaps, when I get to heaven I’ll have a better understanding of that.
But the fact that you and your son Jason understand God’s grace—God’s love—God’s forgiveness and the wrong that has been done speaks volumes. There is no denial. There’s no trying to escape—trying to blame—but taking responsibility for his own actions and asking for forgiveness for that and knowing that He is forgiven by our King—by our Creator. It’s just powerful.
Now, we’ve talked about your book, When I Lay My Isaac Down, but you’ve done an update. In that update of the book, you include a new chapter on perseverance. Can you tell us about that?
Carol: Yes, I think so many people live in situations that don’t get fixed with a quick prayer and with somehow getting close to Jesus. They may live in situations where someone in their family has had an accident, and the ramifications of that accident have left that person with paralysis—or they may live in a situation where they’re dealing with aging parents who are struggling with dementia—and that’s not going to get better. They’re dealing with long-term situations, and I think perseverance is so important when you’re situation is full of lifetime impact or for many years at least.
I like to remind people that perseverance is not a long race—it is several short races. One thing that’s been very important for me, as we persevere in the middle of our situation, is to say, “What can I do today that will bless other people and will encourage Jason, that will honor the Lord, and would be something that would be step forward instead of step backward?”
As we persevere, if we can ask those questions and do those things every day, we’re going to be building for a better tomorrow. We’re also going to be knowing that we’re going to feel better because we know we are serving the Lord.
One of the things Gene and I did early on was to launch a non-profit organization called Speak Up For Hope based on the Proverbs 31 scripture that says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.” This organization benefits inmates and their families, and it has been such a joy to send books to inmates who are doing biblical, theological studies. It has been a joy to put games and coloring books and crayons in the visitation areas so young children have something that they can do at a table when they are there for a long visit with their incarcerated parent.
We go into the prisons with videotaping equipment, and we have the inmates read children’s books to their children and we put those on DVD and send the DVD and the book to the child. We call it Read Me a Story.
Kim: Oh, I love that.
Carol: On the video, the parent will say, “I made a wrong choice—and I know it has taken me away from you for a long time—but I love you so much, and I want to thank Grandma who is taking care of you right now. I want you to know I can’t wait to be with you, and I hope as you listen to me read this story you’ll know how much I love you.” At the end, they are blowing kisses and sending little hugs on that video.
As we continue to do this ministry, God gives us creativity with how we can use the funds that come in to bless some of the inmates with care packages. We just rejoice in that because it’s something that Jason is blessed with because he designates, often, inmate families that have needs—that also is a part of his ministry on the inside.
Kim: Carol, will you give us an update on Jason’s life right now?
Carol: I would love to. Kim, a lot of people have asked how his marriage is. The national statistics on people who have life sentences is that after six years most marriages fall apart.
We discovered that his wife was struggling terribly, and she was so faithful for many years visiting him with those little girls. I mentioned how long those lines can be waiting up to two hours with small children to get through security. It’s hard. Then came the hurricanes of ’04, and that was the year that four major hurricanes hit the state of Florida.
Kim: I was living there at that time.
Carol: Really? Oh my! Three of those hurricanes went right through the city she lived in, causing massive damage to her home—roof damage, wallboard damage, mold set in. She has allergies. She’s a licensed artist and had spent months painting beautiful murals on the walls of her girls’ bedrooms. Now, this house was struggling in every way, and she was struggling.
She came to us, and she said, “I need to give the girls a more normal life. It isn’t normal for little girls to be in a maximum security prison on Saturdays and Sundays. They need soccer. They need church.” She said, “I’ve decided to separate from Jason. If I separate from him, I am also separating from you.”
Kim: Oh my.
Carol: She took the girls out of state. We understood. We are never feeling in any way that we should feel critical toward her. We know her life was very difficult. It’s hard, and anybody who has walked that path knows it. We love her, and we love the girls dearly; but after ten years, they were finally divorced.
Jason’s wife has chosen not to return to our lives. Both of the girls did return as young adults and lived with us for three years. We had some wonderful family times with the girls, but they are now adults. We wish them well and we are just rejoicing that they are such beautiful, young women and just a delight to be around in every way.
As for Jason, we find that he’s having a great time facilitating Bible studies. He’s currently the President of Toastmasters on the Inside. They call it Gavel Club, teaching men how to communicate. Since I lead the Speak Up conferences, I figure he is a chip off the old block in communication skills. He also is a part of organizing so much of what we do through Speak Up For Hope. The last prison he was in has the first accredited theological seminary in all of Florida.
Carol: 52 men involved in seminary studies, and the goal is that they will be moved to prisons all over the state of Florida to pastor inmate-led churches on the inside—and I believe that could bring about a revival in the state of Florida when all of that takes place.
Jason has been very involved with helping them get the resources they need through contacts we have—people who give to Speak Up For Hope and help to supply the needed resources. We supply Bible study books and anything that is needed—sometimes, it’s equipment that they need in the chapel programs—but we find that it brings Jason extreme joy to be involved in helping inmates and their families to have hope.
So, we say, “Thank you, Lord. You’ve given Jason purpose and meaning and restored joy.” We continue to thank the Lord that just because we’ve had the unexpected hit our lives, that doesn’t mean God is not still at work. We want to be overcomers.
Kim: What an incredible ministry from the inside. Is there a possibility for parole for Jason?
Carol: Oh, how I wish that was possible. Currently, there is no parole in the state of Florida. The sentence is the entire length of whatever you get. You can’t have good behavior and get out earlier. In the state of Florida, you can apply for clemency. Now, in Jason’s case, that would not be getting out of prison tomorrow. It would mean an eventual end of sentence date—but in the last several decades, anyone with his crime has not received that level of mercy—so it would be a miracle.
You have to have the Governor plus two of the other three official cabinet members agree to an eventual end of sentence date. It would have to be the Spirit of the Lord nudging those people saying, “This man has been in long enough. Let’s let him do what he does and better society on the outside.” We would really appreciate the prayers of all who are listening that we could receive mercy and just an act of extraordinary kindness on the part of the Governor and his Cabinet.
Kim: I am definitely one of those people who will be joining in prayer for this.
Carol: Thank you.
Kim: Thanks, Carol.
How do you hold onto hope when circumstances say there is no hope? You know I’m sitting here thinking about being a mom with a son in prison, and I can’t imagine the pain that Carol has lived with for the last 20 years. How do you hold on to hope when the situation seems so hopeless? You know what? There is a difference between wishing and hoping. Wishing focuses on what I want to happen—but hoping is believing that—in it all—God is still good.
I just want to loop back around to some things that Carol said. It’s all right to give yourself permission to grieve. It’s also important to make sure you’re exercising self-care and lastly, being vulnerable about your journey. It’s therapeutic. It’s healing. It’s necessary.
Honestly, I needed to hear that again because there have been times when I haven’t given myself permission to grieve because I want to be strong for someone else—but giving yourself permission to grieve is not weakness. It’s allowing yourself the opportunity to lay your head on God’s chest, so to speak, and allow Him to bring comfort and peace to you.
Thanks for listening. If you’d like more information about our guest, Carol Kent, or her book, When I Lay My Isaac Down, you can check it out in our show notes on the Unfavorable Odds page at FamilyLifeToday.com/podcasts.
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I’m Kim Anthony. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unfavorable Odds.
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