Life is not a matter of milestones, but of moments. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

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A New Kind of Normal

Carol Kent

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The phone rang in the middle of the night. I squinted in the direction of the alarm clock as Gene reached for the receiver. It was 12:35 a.m. Who would be calling at this hour? My husband's voice indicated he was receiving dreadful news.

Gene pulled the receiver back and haltingly choked out the words: "Jason has been arrested for the murder of his wife's first husband. He's in jail in Orlando."

My legs buckled as I tried to get out of bed. Thoughts swirled in my head: How? Why? What really happened? This must be a mistake or a cruel joke. Perhaps it's a case of mistaken identity. My son is not capable of a premeditated act of such violence. This is not happening. Jason is a dynamic Christian. He's a United States Naval Academy graduate. He defends American citizens; he doesn't kill them. I must be inside a horrific dream!

But the questions pressed on: What was Jason doing in Orlando, a six-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in Panama City? Was it an accident? Was it self-defense? I will go back to sleep and wake up in reality.

This was reality.

The next few hours were a blur of tears, panic, fear, and erratic, meaningless activity. Gene and I held each other and wept. We were two parents in the grip of a nightmare-a mom and a dad who loved their child deeply, a child who had been a joy to raise. Jason was a focused, disciplined, compassionate, encouraging young man who wanted to live for things that mattered. As a young adult, he dedicated himself to serving his God and country through military service in the U.S. Navy. But that day the unthinkable roared into our lives. Without warning our dreams for our only child came crashing down in a thousand broken pieces. Our whole world was shattered.

As the facts of the case unfolded, we discovered our son believed multiple allegations of abuse about the biological father of his stepdaughters. The father of the girls was only granted supervised visitation with his daughters, but he had been trying to get unsupervised visits. After bringing all of the paperwork on abuse issues to an attorney, Jason and his wife were told on a scale of one to ten they only had an eight in provable abuse, and that would probably not be enough to keep supervision intact. In retrospect, we began to see how our son unraveled until he did the unthinkable-committing murder. How we grieved for the family of the deceased! While we were planning a trial for first-degree murder, they were planning a funeral. There was profound sadness on all fronts.

Our son was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and his sentence was life without the possibility of parole. In prison vernacular, that's "a toe-tag sentence". It means you will never leave a Florida state penitentiary until you are dead on a slab with a tag on your toe. As of this writing, all attempts for appeals at both the state and federal levels have been exhausted. Though devastated by this state of affairs, in the middle of our "new kind of normal", we realized there were many hope-filled choices we needed to make if we were going to bring God glory in circumstances we never expected.

First, we needed to choose life-instead of curling up in the fetal position and dying emotionally and spiritually. We memorized Isaiah 43:19: "See, I am doing a new thing! Even now it springs up. I am making a way in the wasteland and streams in the desert."

Choosing purposeful action in the middle of hopeless circumstances has been our most important step. With over two million people incarcerated in the United States, our family realized we were in a unique position to understand the needs of inmates and their families. One year after Jason's trial, we launched the nonprofit organization, Speak Up for Hope. We began to brainstorm about practical ideas to minister to others when life doesn't turn out as expected.

One of those action steps has been to encourage women's ministries to fill "Boxes of Encouragement" for wives and mothers of inmates. Other organizations were ministering to the children of inmates, so we targeted the adults who needed to find hope in the middle of their own new kind of normal.

As Gene and I began to minister to the needs of others, our own problems seemed far less intense. Instead of allowing depression to squeeze all energy and hope out of us, we were discovering a meaningful life in the middle of our new kind of normal. The greatest surprise of all was discovering the old normal wasn't nearly as fulfilling as our new normal. The more involved we got in helping others, the greater joy we experienced and the more meaning we had in our lives. Choosing purposeful living in the middle of a new kind of normal is the most empowering decision we have ever made.

Of course, any measure of encouragement we can provide is secondary to the hope Christ has won for us all through His death and resurrection. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes that though we experience great difficulties and hardship a believer's "hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5).

It is just this hope then-this everlasting hope-that makes even life's most dire situations-Isaiah's foreboding "wasteland"-tolerable because of the promises and faithfulness of God who neither fails nor forsakes His people (Hebrews 13:5).

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