Unshakable faith in unthinkable circumstances
(Originally posted 9/07/05 on my other blog, Notes in the Key of Life)
"...even as I was pounding my fist into his chest saying 'Why, God?' I found myself unable to resist falling into His embrace."--Carol Kent
What do you do when the unthinkable happens? What do you do when your life is turned upside down? I'm sure these are some of the questions that victims of Hurricane Katrina are asking. I was recently able to interview Carol Kent, who knows something about such questions on an intimate level. Carol is the author of When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances. Following is a transcript of portions of our interview.
CINDY: Carol, your life was shaken by some terrible news one night a few years ago. Can you tell me about the phone call that ended up changing your life forever?
CAROL: Most definitely. It had been a wonderful, happy life up until that moment for my husband Gene and I. We raised an only child who was a total delight to have in our family; he had an optimistic attitude, a heart of compassion.
He came home from camp during his high school years and said, "Mom and Dad, I really want to do something that matters with my life, and I believe God wants me to serve in some form of military or political leadership, and I believe the best place that that I can get prepared to do that would be at the U.S. Naval Academy."
And he set his sights on getting into Annapolis, and he received an appointment and graduated in 1997,so we were looking forward to seeing our son thrive in his future, in his career, and with his dreams of serving the Lord effectively. And he met and married a delightful young woman who had been previously married with two little girls...she had been married at the age of 16 to a man ten years her senior, and there were many allegations of abuse.
And we knew that the biological father of Chelsea and Hannah, our new granddaughters, was seeking unsupervised visitation, and we knew this was causing some real stress in our son's life.
A phone call at 12:35 AM
But I had been out of state with my husband at a speaking engagement, and the phone rang after we were in a deep sleep after returning home on a Sunday evening. Gene picked up the receiver; I looked at the clock, it was 12:35 AM, and I saw a look of shock and horror come over my husband's face, and he pulled the receiver away, and he said, "Carol, Jason has just been arrested for the murder of his wife's first husband, and he's in the jail in Orlando, Florida."
And we knew at that moment everything about our future would change.
CINDY: I have two sons myself, and I can only imagine getting a call like that, and how your world was turned upside down in just a matter of minutes. Not only was this news lifechanging for your son, but for you, because you're the director of Speak Up Speaker Services, and you've been making your living as a speaker for quite some time. How did this affect that and, well, basically your whole life in the following months after you got this terrible news?
CAROL: Well, one of the things that we realized immediately was that this was so out of our control to fix or to do anything that would be the norm for us, which is to get the book on the easy ways to pull life back together.
I tried to get out of bed, and my legs wouldn't hold my weight. I had never been in shock before; I had waves of nausea coming over me. And at the same time, we realized that we needed to do something, like get an attorney and pay for an attorney of gigantic magnitude.
"We had no choice but to keep going"
Our livelihood was basically me speaking as a Christian public speaker all over the country and writing Christian books. And my husband had left his profession in the life insurance business after thirty years to go on the road with me and to run Speak Up Speaker Services, a Christian speakers bureau that we have through Speak Up Ministries. And so we had no choice but to keep going. Nor were we allowed legally to talk about what had happened from a public platfrom until after the trial was over.
And so, first, out of knowing that it was the way we made our living, I went to the next speaking engagement. And in my heart I wanted to curl up in the embryo position and just die, I was so sick for my son.
He went through a severe beating when he was attacked by ten inmates just days after he was arrested and placed in a maximum security portion of the jail. His two front teeth were broken off; his ear had a cut in it, he was kicked in the eye. And I remember the call that came from him, and after that 15-minute digitized call clicked off, I sat at my desk and I just wailed. I heard this guttural roar come out of the depths of my being, and I said,"God, I cannot do this journey. I cannot walk this path."
"God ministered to me through my own words"
And then the "Mama" part of me clicked in, and I realized our son needed us more than he ever had. And I went to that speaking engagement, and I stood up and began to speak what I know to be truth out of God's word, and it was as if God ministered to me through my own words, because I was reminded of the fact God was good, and he was trustworthy and that bad things happen to good people even good Christian people in the middle of a fallen world.
We think of this gigantic hurricane that, well, we just cannot believe the images on our TV screen, and we realize that in this world there will be trouble, there will be problems, but God is still God, and we are not.
CINDY: Can you tell me briefly about some of the principles that you've learned going through this experience that you are now being able to pass along to other people?
CAROL: Well, when I wrote the book I realized that Abraham was an incredible example of a parent who had to release control of his son to the God who loved his Isaac more than he did.
And I began to journal, and my husband did as well, as we learned that there is a hidden power in the middle of unthinkable circumstances. Because when you're a broken person all you can do is look up, and that's not a bad place to be in. We were flat-out needy, and we learned how to let go of let go of our own control in the middle of our unthinkable circumstances.
And we learned the power of relinquishment, realizing that we have to give to God everything about this situation,even if in this lifetime we can't figure out why God allowed these things to happen.
We learned the power of heartache, that God is very close to the broken hearted, and He loves those who are desperately needy, and even as I was pounding my fist into his chest saying "Why, God?" I found myself unable to resist falling into His embrace.
And then we learned the power of Christian community, as God's people came around us in the most miraculous ways, and they put together an e-mail update that we were able to have sent to hundreds of people all over the country, who began praying for Jason, our son, and for his wife and daughters, and for us. And these people supported us in tangible ways when we didn't have the ability to do it ourselves.
And we learned the power of faith in a dark hour; that sometimes there is no "ram in the thicket" that we can visibly see. But in the middle of it all, I realized that Abraham had history with his God, and I had history with my God, and I realized that due to the fact that I knew Him intimately after coming to Him at the age of five at my mother's knee, that I could trust an unknown future to a known God.
And finally, we learned the power of speaking up. That we could chose to never speak of this publicly, that we could chose to crawl in a hole and pretend it didn't happen, or that we could chose, following the trial to speak up honestly and authentically about what our journey had been, and hopefully give other people the opportunity of freeing themselves to speak about the bad things that happened to them and what they have learned in their faith journey.
CINDY: Carol, what you went through was very tragic...and I think that most of us that live this life are going to face, at one time or another, one of those earthshattering, life-turning-upside-down things happening, whether it be in their family life, or whether it be something like Hurricane Katrina or other natural disasters. What do you hope that people who read this book will come away with that could help them such situations?
CAROL: My prayer is that people will find the hope and will realize that the last chapter isn't written yet. Something more is coming, and because we are a family of faith, when we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we know that even in this lifetime we don't know the answers to all of our "Why?" questions, that there is a better day coming.
And one of the ways that God taught this to me, just in living out my journey, is that once I began to speak publicly about our son's trial, and the aftermath of getting, what in prison vernacular is called a "toe-tag" sentence--our son, apart from our miracle, will never leave the Florida state penitentiary until he's dead on a slab with a tag on his toe--it's a hopeless sentence, and I've cried buckets over that--we still have a remarkable son in a very unlikely place. And we do not justify what he did, it was against the laws of God and man, but we know that he believed his legal resources for rescuing two little girls from what he believed to be an abusive father, is the "why" of all of this and what started to spiral him in a psychological downturn.
At the same time, we are now meeting people...I had a woman come up to the book table where I was signing books, and with a whisper she said, "My husband's been incarcerated for the last 18 years, and nobody knows he's getting out in a month."
I said, "Is he coming home to live with you?"
And she said, "Yes, we're going to try to make a go of it." Then she stood to her best posture, and she said with a confident look, "Today you've given me the courage to start telling my story. I'm going to quit hiding in false shame and false guilt and tell people what's happened.
And I want everybody to know, whether your Isaac has been abuse, or a financial reversal, or giving birth to a child with a disability, or or having a spouse betray you and leave you for somebody else, all of us have an Isaac experience. And as we seek help from godly people who can give us Biblical truth, we begin to be able to share with others what God has brought us through, and point them in the direction of renewed hope, fresh faith, and the belief that something more is coming.