21 Feb

“Isaac” Study Guide Just Released

Published by Carol

Yesterday I opened my e-mail and read cries for help from twelve different people who never expected to have a family crisis that involved the incarceration of a loved one, a child addicted to drugs, a spouse who betrayed them, or the diagnosis of a debilitating disease.  All of the notes had one common denominator.  How can I survive what’s happened and cling to unshakable faith in the middle of unthinkable circumstances?

In 2004 NavPress released my book on our journey with our son titled, When I Lay My Isaac Down.  Now over 126,000 readers have purchased that book for themselves or for someone they know who is living in a new kind of normal.  NavPress later released a DVD curriculum study, but many people requested a study guide, so they could more easily use the material in small group studies.  That study guide has just been released and can be ordered on my web site, along with the DVD series.

The book outlines eight life-changing principles that help people to embrace unshakable faith when their lives have turned out differently from their dream.  Those principles include:

  1. The Power of Unthinkable Circumstances
  2. The Power of Relinquishment
  3. The Power of Heartache
  4. The Power of Community
  5. The Power of Hope
  6. The Power of Faith
  7. The Power of Joy
  8. The Power of Speaking Up

Gene and I have discovered that when God seems the most absent, He is the most present.  Each person’s “Isaac experience” will look different, but the challenge is for us to do what Abraham did.  We need to relinquish the person, event, or situation to our God who sees the end from the beginning and trust that everything that happens to us can be a platform upon which we proclaim to the world that His is still good and He is still trustworthy.

How do we survive each day?  How do we simply, “Do the next thing?”  What will our response to God be when challenges come into our lives that make no sense at all?  Will we curl up in the embryo position and try to escape life, or will we embrace our faith and move in the direction of hope, purpose, and even joy in the face of our difficulties?

Each part of the study guide has two parts:  The first is for individual reflection and journaling, for you to process your thoughts, questions, prayers, and responses.  The second part is for you to go through with a small group who is reading the book and/or viewing the DVD teaching segments.  It is best if each member of the group has a copy of the book and the study guide, but the participant’s guide can be used alone with the DVD series if your time is limited and you need a less in-depth study.

It’s my prayer that God will use this study guide to comfort you, challenge you, and bring you closer to Him. Remember what Eric Liddell once said:  “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins.”

Question:  What is the most challenging experience you are facing right now and what have you learned about your faith in this situation?

19 Nov

Between a Rock and a Grace Place

Published by Carol

The new book is finally here and I pray it will be an encouragement to you.  I was asked to respond to several questions about the new release for a blog tour and I thought you might enjoy reading answers to several questions about this project:

Tell us about the Christmas gift you received. How did it help you to find grace in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation?

Two weeks before Christmas our doorbell rang at 9:15 p.m. It was dark outside and by the time my husband, Gene, joined me at the front door, we were surprised to find no one there. It was already dark, but my eyes fell on a large, exquisitely wrapped gift. The card on top said, “Mom.” Initially, it felt like a bad joke. Nine years earlier our son, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy had been arrested for murdering his wife’s first husband and he was in prison serving a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence.

However, I am a “Mom” and the package was left on my doorstep, so I opened it. The note appeared to be in my son’s unique handwriting. The note expressed his deep love for me and his gratefulness for what I had done to help him since his arrest. He said a “friend” had helped him deliver the surprise. Opening the box, I discovered a gorgeous russet-colored silk jacket—and it fit me perfectly.

That night I discovered something new about God and something I had forgotten about myself. He loves to interject divine surprises into our lives. His timing is always perfect, but it had been a while since I had been surprised by joy, wonder, and grace in the middle of one of the tight spots of life.

What are “grace places,” and how can hurting people in need find them?

All of us experience tight spots when life turns out differently from our dream. When we face the overwhelming obstacles of life, we can experience the last thing we ever expect—the sweet spot of grace. Grace places have a variety of forms, but some include:

·         Receiving love when we don’t deserve it

·         Finding safety in the middle of a fearful and uncertain experience

·         Being comforted by friends and family (people who are extensions of God’s love)

·         Experiencing the embrace of God when we have run out of strength and courage?

 “Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it.”  (R.P.C. Hanson)

How important are contentment and gratitude in finding grace and peace?

My son, Jason, is teaching me that I need to choose contentment and thanksgiving in all things. As an inmate in a maximum-security prison, all of his personal items must fit in one small one-foot-high and one-and a half-feet-deep and two-and-a half feet long steel lockbox. He has learned to live comfortably with very little, which brings him a surprising sense of peace.

When I was visiting him one weekend I asked how he holds on to hope in the middle of a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence. He said, “Mom, I have a gratitude list. Whenever the clouds of depression try to discouragement, I get out a piece of paper and write down everything I have to be thankful for. I’m thankful I have two parents who will be my advocates for as long as they live. The average number of years a lifer gets visits is five years and then no one comes anymore. I’m also thankful I can be a missionary on a compound that houses up to 1,700 men.” I’m learning from Jason that I find contentment when I choose to be thankful and when I invest my time in helping other people.

What are some unexpected gestures of kindness you’ve received in the past, and how did they help you through difficult times?

A couple of years ago Jason’s appendix ruptured and he was rushed from the prison to a civilian hospital. Gene and I were not allowed to know where he was and I prayed for someone to care for him as a mother would. He had two armed guards in his room at all times. Nurse Betty was assigned to Jason’s care. She treated him with respect and extraordinary care—and I knew she was a direct answer to my prayers.

A group of people who called themselves our “Stretcher Bearers” received an e-mailed monthly update on how to help with our needs. We were blessed with meals, cards, and financial gifts, often just before we needed extra funds for the next legal payment. These amazing people waited with us for two and a half years through seven postponements of the trial.

How has your definition of adventure changed over the years, and why is it important to retain adventure in your life, despite your situation?

True adventure is seeing the potential of living for things that matter in the middle of your current circumstances. We had the adventure of launching a nonprofit organization that helps to empower our son to facilitate classes by having books and DVD teaching series sent to the prison. We also have the adventure of reaching out to other people who are in crisis, which brings purpose and deep meaning to our lives.

There is a theme of surprise throughout the book. What is one of the greatest surprises you’ve had?

The powerful story of Tammy Wilson and Matthew Ben Rodriguez is in this book. Tammy contacted me after I spoke at an event she attended because my son is incarcerated in the same prison where Matt, the man who killed her mother thirteen years ago is incarcerated. She had been praying for someone to lead Matt to Christ and asked if Jason would try to meet him. It turned out that Jason and Matt were already friends and this amazing story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration that can only be explained in the supernatural dimension.

Between a Rock and a Grace Place releases 10 years after your son, Jason, was sentenced to life in a maximum security prison and includes excerpts from Jason’s letters. Can you tell us how he’s doing now?

He has just taken his 8th group of men through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Course and he will be facilitating a biblical counseling class on marriage and family this fall. He has a prayer group of twelve inmates who fast and pray for the needs of each other and their families. Prison is a depressing, dark, and sad place, but Jason is living for things that will outlast him.

When you received news about Jason’s clemency hearing being denied, how did you respond?

I wailed like a baby, sobbed, felt angry, hurt, and disappointed in God. Then we saw Jason a day after this devastating news. He was calm and very much at peace. He hugged me as I wept and said, “Mom, this case isn’t about having the best attorney or about having the favor of Florida’s top executive political leaders. If I am ever allowed to walk in freedom in this lifetime, it will be because God miraculously opened a door that was closed.” My son helps me to develop an eternal perspective and that day he comforted me.

What advice do you have for those who are stuck between a rock and a grace place?

In the middle of your own hurt reach out to someone else who needs help worse than you do. When you involve yourself in meeting the needs of others, you discover an unexpected freedom on the inside. Corrie ten Boom once said, “What did you do today that only a Christian would have done?”

As a result of your journey, you and your husband have founded the nonprofit organization Speak Up for Hope. What are the goals of the organization, and how can people get involved?

Our vision: To help inmates and their families adjust to their new normal.

Our mission: We exist to provide hope to inmates and their families through encouragement and resources.

Please go to www.speakupforhope.org for a list of practical ways individuals, churches, and organizations can help with specific projects. Our goal is to live out the truth of Prov. 31:8-9: “Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice. Stand up for the poor and destitute!”

Where may we connect with you further or to purchase a copy of Between a Rock and a Grace Place?

Use the response form on this web site to connect with me. You can purchase a copy of the book at Amazon.

22 Sep

Update on Jason Kent

Published by Carol

Many of you have asked for an update on our son. On October 25, 2010, Jason will mark his 11th year of incarceration. We have exhausted all of our appeals at both the state and federal levels. Last summer Jason’s paperwork requesting a clemency hearing made it to the top of the pile (a three year process). After reviewing the case, the Florida Parole Commission recommended that Jason’s case receive a waiver hearing before the clemency aides. A waiver is needed before a case can be heard before the governor and his cabinet at a clemency hearing. Clemency does not usually mean that an inmate will immediately walk in freedom. In our case, we were asking for a review of the case, with the hope that Jason would be given an eventual end-of-sentence date, instead of life without the possibility of parole. In the State of Florida, a life sentence means the rest of your natural life will be spent in prison. Our son did a terrible thing, believing he was protecting his two stepdaughters from the potential of abuse, and we know there must be a punishment.

Gene and I were given an hour to present Jason’s case in front of the clemency aides. They asked lots of questions and requested that we gather letters from inmates who had been positively impacted by Jason’s teaching, mentorship, and encouragement, along with letters from the parents and spouses of inmates who observed his influence on the lives of their incarcerated loved ones. It took us two months to gather the materials and letters that were requested and we compiled them into eight two-inch thick notebooks and sent them to Tallahassee for distribution. Three days after they arrived we received word that the attorney to the governor of the state had denied a clemency hearing for Jason. It will be five years before J.P. is allowed to file clemency paperwork again.

It was discouraging, to say the least, and I wish I could tell you we immediately thanked God for what he was teaching us through this exhausting, expensive, and discouraging process. I sobbed and Gene comforted me through his own tears. The next day was a visitation day and Gene gave Jason the news. When I arrived at the prison a couple of hours later, I wept as I greeted my son.

J.P. was totally at peace as he said, “Mom and Dad, if God chooses to allow me to walk in freedom in this lifetime, it won’t be because I received the favor of well-connected politicians and attorneys. It will be because God moved in the hearts of decision makers in a miraculous way. I am content with that. My heart hurts for the family of the deceased and I hope that someday they will be able to forgive me.”

Jason is currently taking his 8th group of inmates through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. He is in the Gavel Club, which is a group of inmates who are working on their public speaking skills. He has reached the 4th level of the Evangelism Explosion program, and he has a group of mighty prayer warriors who fast and pray on behalf of the needs of each other and their families.

Some of you have asked what you can do to help. The workbooks needed for the Financial Peace class are $17 each, so if you are able to donate on our website that amount will cover one inmate’s course material. Additional gifts help us to provide DVD curriculum for chapel programs, inexpensive greeting cards for inmates to send to their families, and Boxes of Hope that are sent to wives and moms of inmates.

Most of all, we are grateful for your prayers—for us and for Jason and for inmates all over the country who are trying to be ambassadors for Christ in a dark place. Thank you for caring. For regular updates on the ministry Gene and I are involved in, please become a friend on Facebook at: Carol Kent, or follow us on twitter.

Be encouraged with these words: “Friends when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 (MSG)