03 Dec

In Everything Give Thanks

Published by Carol

December 3, 2013

This would be a different Thanksgiving Day.  I carefully selected the clothes I would wear that would meet all regulations for a prison visit—nothing with Spandex in it, no sleeveless blouses, no fabrics that were thin enough to reveal the shirt worn underneath.  The forecast was for cold weather, so I placed my coat in a place where it could easily be accessed on the way out the door.  The wait outside before getting through security could be up to two hours. I set the clock for 5:30 a.m. before falling into bed.  My plan was to get to the prison early enough that my son would be surprised by getting into the visitation room earlier than he expected.

Thanksgiving Day has traditionally been my favorite holiday of the year.  My family has always made a grand occasion out of this special day.  I’m the oldest of six children and all of us are married with children of our own.  Every Thanksgiving Day as many of us as possible gather in Michigan from all over the U.S. to spend time together around a table filled with turkey, mashed potatoes, strawberry delight, sweet potato casserole, freshly baked rolls, and all of the trimmings.  After we celebrate at the table and enjoy the feast, we take a break to clean up the table. Then we gather in the family room with dessert and coffee and spend the next several hours taking turns sharing what we’re thankful for. These testimonials begin with the youngest cousin who is able to talk and move on up to aunts, uncles, and finally to the oldest, which is my 91-year-old Mama.  Some years these testimonies have included highlights of the past year; at other times there have been confessions of failure and requests for prayer.  It is always a deeply meaningful time that bonds our family together in a unique way.  We end with prayer and with singing “To God Be the Glory.”

But this year Gene and I were home, forty miles from the prison.  The plan was for me to spend the morning with Jason.  Gene would come in at 1:00 p.m., and I would then go home to cook our Thanksgiving dinner for our step-granddaughters and for Gene’s 84-year-old mother.

My son was thrilled to see me so early and the time flew by as we caught up on his activities on the “inside” and on our fall ministry in various places around the country.  But on this day, clouding Jason’s usual optimistic attitude I sensed a sadness in his demeanor.  Administrations change at prisons very regularly—and a new warden has made major changes on the compound.  Instead of getting to exercise in the yard three times a day, the inmates are only getting exercise time about twice a week.  They are “locked down” in their cellblocks for much longer periods and many educational and Christian programs have been cancelled or interrupted as newer, harsher restrictions are being put in place in the name of making the prison more “safe.” These changes have been disheartening.

Gene arrived and we enjoyed some time together as a family and then I left through the heavy double doors and started for home.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized the hopelessness of my son’s sentence—life without the possibility of parole.  Then I remembered what my precious Mama always asks me when I am feeling the weight of despair:"Have you thanked Him yet?" Then she points me to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23. “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live…May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.”  That scripture was a good reminder of how much I have to be thankful for.

What do you need to thank God for at this time in your life? 

04 Feb

The Turn-Around Trip

Published by Carol

Carol with the producer of a TV show that will air in the Pacific Rim.It had been an intense season of ministry and I knew I was behind with getting back in touch with meeting planners, e-mail, social media responses, with three endorsements for author friends, and with a writing deadline of my own.  Why had I accepted the invitation to fly across the country from Tampa to Los Angeles for the television interview?  I needed to be at home in my “writing cave” working on my looming deadline.

But it was too late to cancel.  The interview was being taped for a program that would later air in the English speaking countries in the Pacific Rim (I am pictured on the left with the producer of the program).  I had not traveled to that part of the world and at the time I said yes to the invitation, I thought I could squeeze in time for the trip.  I knew this opportunity would give me a chance to minister via television to people I might never have the opportunity of speaking to in person.  It seemed like a wise decision at the time, but I left for the airport reluctantly.  To save time, I opted to get up at 3:30 a.m. for an early flight to Los Angeles, and I planned to return to Tamps on the “red-eye,” the overnight flight that would arrive at 5:30 a.m. the following day.

I had high energy for the five and a half hour outbound flight.  Arriving in L.A., I rented a car and drove for an hour to the studio in Simi Valley.  The interview went well and I sensed God’s sweet blessing on the taping with the charming host from Australia.  With the show wrapped up, I said my goodbyes and began driving back to LAX. Ten minutes into the trip, I hit rush hour.  For the next two hours I was in stop-and-go traffic, with rude drivers cutting me off.  I made three wrong turns with the assistance of the GPS I paid extra to rent, and wanted to throw it out the window every time I heard a relaxed female voice say, “Recalculating.”

By the time I dropped the car off on “rental row,” rode the shuttle to the airport, waited in line through the TSA screening, and finally made it to my gate, I was frazzled, and not looking forward to the all night flight ahead of me.  I opened my computer and turned to my Bible reading for the day.  These words jumped off the page:  “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.  (Matt. 11:28-30 MSG)

I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  There was a time in my early years of ministry when doing God’s work was a joy and a privilege.  When did it start feeling like so much work?  When did I start viewing opportunities to share my faith with others as a burden instead of a privilege?  I felt the dichotomy of needing to have the appearance of a Christian on fire with passion for God, but feeling like an ash heap on the inside.  I still believed everything I spoke about to be truth, but the passion I once had for God was starting to feel more like an obligation.  

As I read the scripture again, “…Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace,” I wondered what that would look like.  I bowed my head and talked to God.  “Lord, I’m tired.  I’m about as worn out as I’ve ever been. Help me to get back the passion I once had and to relax in your “unforced rhythms of grace.”  I had come to the fire and I sensed the Holy Spirit breathing fresh oxygen into my flagging passion.

It was finally time to board the plane.  The flight attendant was friendly, a bright and shining light after a long day, and I enjoyed a brief exchange with her before settling into my window seat. Many hours later we landed in Tampa and I headed for home.  That afternoon this note arrived in my e-mail box.

Dear Ms. Kent,

I had the pleasure of being your flight attendant during your flights to and from LAX yesterday. I was surprised to see you back on our evening flight and asked what you had done in the eleven hours we were in LA.  

You told me you had done a TV interview. You radiated such grace and peace, I was compelled to Google you. I was surprised to see the challenges you and your family have been through. I do wish you all the wonderful things God has provided and will continue to provide to your family. I hope to see you on another flight soon.

Debi M.

The note surprised me.  So soon after I had asked God to warm my cold heart and teach me how to experience “the unforced rhythms of grace,” a flight attendant noticed “a little spark of holy fire” on my face and took the time to write her observation.  

I knew in that moment that God uses the people around us to fuel the flame within us, to stoke the fire, and remind us that the journey is worth the effort, and that our decision to be God’s woman in this world really does matter—a lot!

Question:  How has God surprised you when you were tired or discouraged?

04 Nov

New Book Release: Miracle on Hope Hill

Published by Carol

Do you believe that God still works miracles? 

Miracle on Hope Hill is a book of true stories I wrote in partnership with my sister, Jennie Afman Dimkoff about amazing ways that God has worked in the lives of ordinary people.  Life is full of "God Moments," yet amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life we often overlook such moments, perhaps calling them a stroke of good fortune, or taking credit for the unexpected blessing as simply "our due."   Miracle on Hope Hill reveals that when we take the time to learn from these events, we discover how ever-present God is in each of our lives.

Over the past few years I've collected stories about large and small miracles that have happened in the lives of people I’ve met as I travel and speak.  I marvel at the way God reaches down and gives us “His kiss” in the middle of challenging circumstances.  I’ve also realized that some of us don’t get what we would call “the miracle we are praying for" in this lifetime—but because Jesus lives, there will be a day when all tears are wiped away.

Miracle on Hope Hill (Howard Books) is filled with stories of romance, heartache, tragedy and celebration--each pointing to the hope God displays through His love, intervention, and blessings.  Martin DeHaan, of RBC Ministries, and the international publisher of Our Daily Bread said, "When family, friends or congregations can share together the kind of true stories that Carol and Jennie tell in Miracle on Hope Hill, they have found a way of saying together that, even in our darkest moments, there is hope."

This book is written in a devotional style with a key quotation and a significant scripture attached to each story.  If you are looking for a Christmas gift that will provide lasting spiritual value in written form, check out this book.  It is available at all on-line e-tailers or in the shop on my website.

Question:  What is the biggest miracle you have experienced in your life?