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.

Abraham trusted God so completely that he was willing to surrender what he loved most deeply, even unto death. And through the blackest vale, Carol learned to trust like Abraham. Almost immediately after learning of her son's devastating plight, she made a critical decision to choose faith in unthinkable circumstances. In a letter to her family, she wrote: "Included in this walk through the valley of what feels like death is an awareness of God's presence I have never experienced before."

A Declaration of Hope

When Carol finally saw Jason, it was through a thick Plexiglas barrier. "He was beaten and bruised, his two front teeth were jagged pieces. He was broken, hurt, and sad. And so was I," she writes. "As I looked at my son, I knew that there was nothing I could do about the circumstances that brought Jason to that place. There was no way to bring Douglas Miller back to life, to fix things and make life as it was."

p>Yet she trusted. Carol prayed and interceded for two-and-a-half years before her son's trial. On seven different occasions, the court date was postponed. Each time, she circled the prison in a Jericho-style prayer walk, petitioning God for His will. And when God's will did not offer the mercy and hope she had expected, it was Jason's faith that shielded her from despair.

Once the judge pronounced the verdict, Jason returned to his cell in the faith-based area of the prison. A crowd of inmates gathered around him—murderers, child molesters, robbers, multiple offenders who had become Christians—and wept, "If a man like you got a sentence like this, Jason, there's no hope for us."

After more than two years of incarceration, Jason had become a leader in his cellblock. He preached, "Men, whether we walk in freedom in this lifetime or the next, one day we will walk in freedom because we know Jesus, and this life is not all there is."

The Kents spent Easter with Jason following his trial. They sat together in the prison courtyard and determined they would allow God to use their tragedy as a platform upon which to proclaim His goodness to a world in need, to declare that there is hope even in the most hopeless circumstances. A part of that declaration is Carol's book, which offers real hope to weary pilgrims.

Having walked on the dark side of the penal system, Carol has become an advocate for prisoners and their families. As Jason serves his penalty, she, too, lives out a life sentence of hope deferred. But with the loss of former expectations comes the possibility of new dreams, she says. Dreams forged by fire, heartache, and suffering that are made of strong metals. And in The Alchemist's hand she finds redemption.

Tonya Stoneman is editor of InTouch Magazine. Read more of Carol Kent's story in When I Lay My Isaac Down (NavPress).Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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