On a Mission
|Life… It’s a Choice!|
|Experiencing a “New normal”
By Maddie Jomolca
Growing up in a Christian home, Carol Kent was the eldest of six “preacher’s kids”, and thus, came to know Christ as a child. As a young woman, she was convinced that she wanted to live her life for the things that truly mattered and subsequently pursued university studies, becoming a speech, drama, and English teacher. She soon met and married her husband and life-mate, Gene Kent, and five years later they celebrated the birth of their only child, Jason.
Overcome with familial joy, Carol took time off from teaching and began a home Bible study with several of her neighbors; this spun into a whirlwind of speaking engagements including women’s retreats and conferences. She eventually became director of the women’s ministries at a large church.
Following an unexpected relocation due to her husband’s (Gene) job, she became the teaching leader for the first international class between Canada and the U.S. She also launched in her living room a small Christian speakers workshop, which enabled her to train Christians in communication skills from a Christian perspective. This once-diminutive forum, which gathered weekly in her home, is what evolved into the internationally renowned seminars,“Speak Up with Confidence”, which became a divine gateway for the writing and publication of her first book, “Speak Up with Confidence- a Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders”.
Yes, life was good, familiar… and normal for the Kent’s! It was not long before their son, Jason, sprouted into a young man with a heart for God, a love for people, and—like his mother—a strong desire to do something that mattered with his life, and set his sights on getting into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Yet, as evident as it were, that the Lord was delivering them from glory-to-glory; nothing would prepare them for the unsettling troubles looming just ahead.
In a recent interview, I almost sensed her eyes and heart swelling up as the anguish spilled out of her mouth, when Carol was made to relive that horrifying episode… that pain-staking, early-morning telephone call that every mother and/or parent alike dreads… the news that would change her and her family’s lives forever!
“It was 12:35 a.m. when my husband picked up the receiver. A look of shock and horror came over his face,” she grimly explained. ’Jason has just been arrested for the murder of his wife’s first husband! He’s in jail in Orlando!’ muttered Gene.”
During his first assignment as an officer in the Navy in the nuclear engineering school in Orlando, Fl., Jason had joined a great church, where he met a lovely young divorcee who had two precious little girls. “They almost immediately fell in love and were married, and we were all looking forward to seeing this young family thrive,” said Carol.
Within that first year of marriage, the couple was consumed with issues involving the biological father of the girls. There were multiple allegations of abuse, and a family court judge had temporarily constrained him to supervised visitation with the girls; in other words, there had to be another court-appointed adult present during his visitations.
The girls’ father tirelessly attempted to have this supervision order reversed, while Jason and his wife continued to piece together all of the evidence they had against him to present to their legal counsel. Even so, and much to their disappointment, they were eventually told that the evidence gathered was not enough to keep the supervised visitations intact.
“In retrospect, we began to see our son unravel emotionally, mentally and spiritually as he was overcome with fears for the safety of his step-daughters,” said Carol.
On that gruesome evening, as hour followed hour, the facts of the case were confirmed. Their 25-year-old son had, in fact, shot a man to death in a public parking lot in front of a handful of witnesses.
“Grief consumed us—not just for ourselves, but also for the family of the deceased,” said Carol. During the first week of Jason’s incarceration, Carol received yet another daunting phone call… this time from within the jail. Jason, who could barely move his engorged lips, began to speak slowly and quietly, as he revealed that he had been brutally beaten by several of the inmates. His front teeth were broken off as the inmates kicked him repeatedly in the head. All of his personal belongings were stolen except his Bible. He was then rushed into the faith-based area of the jail.
I was immediately touched when Carol revealed that, yet, instead of dwelling on the severity and pain of the wounds he endured, Jason said, “Mom, the men in the faith-based cell were like Jesus to me. They washed my wounds; they brought me soap and deodorant; they prayed over me.”
Carol, unable to contain says, “I could not help myself…I heard a deep guttural wail come out from the depths of my being!!” For the next two years, Carol and her husband catapulted into a journey of seven trial postponements, numerous jail visits and countless days and holidays without their son Jason. In April, 2002, their fate took a turn for the worse when Jason was finally convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The general voting public of Florida, decided several years ago to tie the hands (figuratively speaking) of criminal court judges by voting for the “ultimate penalties” to be enforced upon any individual whom takes the life of another—whether a first-time offender or not, and despite his/her impeccable previous record, the motive behind the crime, or the probability of this inmate repeating this, and/or other crimes. This election did away with any possibilities of parole for “good behavior” options, as presented and granted in other states.
“In truth”, said Carol, “I probably would not have thought about this or even believed it was an important decision in the voting booth before our family faced unthinkable circumstances.” Despite the profound disbelief and razor-sharp public humiliation, and after asking the age-old question that many believers (and non-believers) ask in times of despair: “Why me Lord?”, Carol did not allow herself to become engulfed in her grieving for too long. She instead chose vulnerability, forgiveness, perseverance in purposeful action and, yes, gratitude! She decided that God was going to use her “best” in her brokenness… and in her “new kind of normal”—a term which not only describes her transformed life, but also the title of her latest book, “A New Kind of Normal: Hope-filled Choices When Life Turns Upside Down.”
Carol was not only determined to tell her family’s story, but also, to encourage and motivate other women to break the chains of silence!
In a dim and chilly prison room, after hours of standing in extended visitation lines, Carol is finally able to sit and waits for her son, Jason, to enter from another room. He is sits and faces his mother, just inches away behind a glass partition.
She slowly raises her right hand to pick up a phone receiver and then reaches toward the glass, with her left one as Jason enthusiastically lifts his hand to meet her there.
After a long-winded sigh and fleeting look at the prison walls around them, she quietly asks her son how he deals with the cloud of depression that threatens to hang over him, when the magnitude and unending nature of his sentence overwhelms him.”
He responds: “Mom, I get out my ‘gratitude list’ and I list everything I have to be thankful for. My wife hasn’t divorced me; I have loving parents who will be my advocates for as long as they are alive; and I have ministry behind the razor wire of this prison. There are 1,700 men here! That’s a big mission field! I have a lot to be thankful for.”
“Gratitude is like a boomerang. You begin to write down or speak aloud about what you are grateful for. And that positive spirit of thanksgiving lifts your spirits and provides an inner joy that can only be explained in the supernatural dimension,” shared Carol.
Carol Kent is hilariously funny, Biblically sound, and heartbreakingly transparent in person and in print. Founder and president of Speak Up for Hope (a prison ministry) and Speak Up speaker Services (a speakers bureau), Carol is an expert on public speaking, writing, and evangelism. She sits on a board of MOPS International and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She travels the world speaking to tens of thousands each year at events such as Praise Gathering, Vision New England Congress, THRIVE, Extraordinary Woman, Women of Joy, and Women of Faith.
AND she is INSPIRED’s woman ”on a Mission” this month.