A Mother's Life Sentence

By Tonya Stoneman, Copyright Christianity Today International

Though it's been more than five years, Carol Kent still chokes on her words as she recounts those terrible, irrevocable moments in the courtroom galley, watching her only child, just 27, face a verdict on his life. Dusty blond hair neatly combed, prison uniform tidy, back straight, blue eyes calm, Jason P. Kent, former U.S. Navy Officer, awaited sentencing for the murder of Douglas Miller Jr.

The jury handed the judge their decision, and Jason stood. Carol wondered at her son's composure, more proud of him than she had ever been as he accepted with pure grace his sentence: life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

"Jason received the punishment with quietness and almost reverent respect," she says. "He didn't break down. He didn't show anger. He was much more at peace than the rest of us." As he left the courtroom, Jason glanced back at his mother and mouthed the words "I love you."

Carol, a popular Christian writer and speaker, doesn't want to give anybody the impression her son—who shot and killed a man—is a hero. Instead, she wants to share her painfulpassage of faith. Her journey began on the morning of October 24, 1999: A telephone call at 12:35 a.m. informed her and her husband that their son had been arrested for the murder of his wife's ex-husband. Carol went into shock.

"As I looked at my son, I knew that there was nothing I could do. There was no way to fix things and make life as it was."—Carol Kent

The Kents desperately wanted to believe there had been a mistake, but it was true. Their son—who loved Christ, lettered in sports, was president of the National Honor Society, donated his time, his money, even his blood to help others, and graduated from the United States Naval Academy—had become so obsessed with the safety of his two step-daughters that he followed their father to a busy restaurant and shot him in plain view of passers-by.

Six days after Jason's arrest, Carol received another call, this time from a federal institution. Jason wept into the phone, "Mom, I've just been beaten up by ten guys. My two front teeth are broken and they stole all my stuff … They just kept kicking me in the head." Eleven hundred miles apart, they cried together, embarking on an odyssey of anguish, strife, and prayer.

Learning to Let Go

What Carol learned during her ordeal is the subject of her latest book, When I Lay My Isaac Down. Her story is one of grief and healing, but it is primarily a story of relinquishment. When her first conversation with Jason was cut short by the institutional telephone system, she sat motionless at her desk as a shroud of grief and fear engulfed her. Whether through her training as a pastor's daughter, her prayer life, the years she spent reading Scripture, or God's mercy, Carol found a path to redemption when she opened her Bible to the story of Abraham and Isaac.

"God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey … Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, '… Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' Abraham said, 'God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together" (Gen. 22:1-3, 7-8, NASB).

Carol realizes that Jason is not a mirror of Isaac, who was blameless. She knows his actions would not have been God's plan for his life. Yet Jason is her personal "Isaac." God enabled her to lay down her claim to him with complete trust and submission, even while her mother's heart recoiled at letting go. In doing so, she sacrificed on the altar her own desires: prideful ambition for her child, longings for grandchildren and memorable family holidays, dreams of an idyllic future.

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