Q & A with Carol Kent: Between a Rock and a Grace Place

Questions/Answers from Carol Kent

Tell us about the Christmas gift you received. How did it help you to find grace in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation?

Two weeks before Christmas our doorbell rang at 9:15 p.m. It was dark outside and by the time my husband, Gene, joined me at the front door, we were surprised to find no one there. It was already dark, but my eyes fell on a large, exquisitely wrapped gift. The card on top said, “Mom.” Initially, it felt like a bad joke. Nine years earlier our son, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy had been arrested for murdering his wife’s first husband and he was in prison serving a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence.

However, I am a “Mom” and the package was left on my doorstep, so I opened it. The note appeared to be in my son’s unique handwriting. The note expressed his deep love for me and his gratefulness for what I had done to help him since his arrest. He said a “friend” had helped him deliver the surprise. Opening the box, I discovered a gorgeous russet-colored silk jacket—and it fit me perfectly.

That night I discovered something new about God and something I had forgotten about myself. He loves to interject divine surprises into our lives. His timing is always perfect, but it had been a while since I had been surprised by joy, wonder, and grace in the middle of one of the tight spots of life.

What are “grace places,” and how can hurting people in need find them?

All of us experience tight spots when life turns out differently from our dream. When we face the overwhelming obstacles of life, we can experience the last thing we ever expect—the sweet spot of grace. Grace places have a variety of forms, but some include:

  • Receiving love when we don’t deserve it
  • Finding safety in the middle of a fearful and uncertain experience
  • Being comforted by friends and family (people who are extensions of God’s love)
  • Experiencing the embrace of God when we have run out of strength and courage

“Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it.” (R.P.C. Hanson)

How important are contentment and gratitude in finding grace and peace?

My son, Jason, is teaching me that I need to choose contentment and thanksgiving in all things. As an inmate in a maximum-security prison, all of his personal items must fit in one small one-foot-high and one-and a half-feet-deep and two-and-a half feet long steel lockbox. He has learned to live comfortably with very little, which brings him a surprising sense of peace.

When I was visiting him one weekend I asked how he holds on to hope in the middle of a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence. He said, “Mom, I have a gratitude list. Whenever the clouds of depression try to discouragement, I get out a piece of paper and write down everything I have to be thankful for. I’m thankful I have two parents who will be my advocates for as long as they live. The average number of years a lifer gets visits is five years and then no one comes anymore. I’m also thankful I can be a missionary on a compound that houses up to 1,700 men.” I’m learning from Jason that I find contentment when I choose to be thankful and when I invest my time in helping other people.

What are some unexpected gestures of kindness you’ve received in the past, and how did they help you through difficult times?

A couple of years ago Jason’s appendix ruptured and he was rushed from the prison to a civilian hospital. Gene and I were not allowed to know where he was and I prayed for someone to care for him as a mother would. He had two armed guards in his room at all times. Nurse Betty was assigned to Jason’s care. She treated him with respect and extraordinary care—and I knew she was a direct answer to my prayers.

A group of people who called themselves our “Stretcher Bearers” received an e-mailed monthly update on how to help with our needs. We were blessed with meals, cards, and financial gifts, often just before we needed extra funds for the next legal payment. These amazing people waited with us for two and a half years through seven postponements of the trial.

How has your definition of adventure changed over the years, and why is it important to retain adventure in your life, despite your situation?

True adventure is seeing the potential of living for things that matter in the middle of your current circumstances. We had the adventure of launching a nonprofit organization that helps to empower our son to facilitate classes by having books and DVD teaching series sent to the prison. We also have the adventure of reaching out to other people who are in crisis, which brings purpose and deep meaning to our lives.

There is a theme of surprise throughout the book. What is one of the greatest surprises you’ve had?

The powerful story of Tammy Wilson and Matthew Ben Rodriguez is in this book. Tammy contacted me after I spoke at an event she attended because my son is incarcerated in the same prison where Matt, the man who killed her mother thirteen years ago is incarcerated. She had been praying for someone to lead Matt to Christ and asked if Jason would try to meet him. It turned out that Jason and Matt were already friends and this amazing story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration that can only be explained in the supernatural dimension.

Between a Rock and a Grace Place releases 10 years after your son, Jason, was sentenced to life in a maximum security prison and includes excerpts from Jason’s letters. Can you tell us how he’s doing now?

He has just taken his 8th group of men through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Course and he will be facilitating a biblical counseling class on marriage and family this fall. He has a prayer group of twelve inmates who fast and pray for the needs of each other and their families. Prison is a depressing, dark, and sad place, but Jason is living for things that will outlast him.

When you received news about Jason’s clemency hearing being denied, how did you respond?

I wailed like a baby, sobbed, felt angry, hurt, and disappointed in God. Then we saw Jason a day after this devastating news. He was calm and very much at peace. He hugged me as I wept and said, “Mom, this case isn’t about having the best attorney or about having the favor of Florida’s top executive political leaders. If I am ever allowed to walk in freedom in this lifetime, it will be because God miraculously opened a door that was closed.” My son helps me to develop an eternal perspective and that day he comforted me.

What advice do you have for those who are stuck between a rock and a grace place?

In the middle of your own hurt reach out to someone else who needs help worse than you do. When you involve yourself in meeting the needs of others, you discover an unexpected freedom on the inside. Corrie ten Boom once said, “What did you do today that only a Christian would have done?”

As a result of your journey, you and your husband have founded the nonprofit organization Speak Up for Hope. What are the goals of the organization, and how can people get involved?

Our vision: To help inmates and their families adjust to their new normal.

Our mission: We exist to provide hope to inmates and their families through encouragement and resources.

Please go to http://www.speakupforhope.org for a list of practical ways individuals, churches, and organizations can help with specific projects. Our goal is to live out the truth of Prov. 31:8-9: “Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice. Stand up for the poor and destitute!”

Where may we connect with you further or to purchase a copy of Between a Rock and a Grace Place?

I would love for you to visit my web site at www.CarolKent.org, browse through the various events and other resources available. You may also join me on my Facebook page, please click here.

If you would like to register for a free book giveaway, please do so at http://www.facebook.com/CSSVBT.CarolKent.BetweenaRockandaGracePlace and http://christianspeakerservices1.wordpress.com/blog/

Q & A with Francine Rivers: Her Daughter’s Dream

How has exploring the relationship between your mother and grandmother helped you understand yourself?

This is a question I would love readers to ask themselves at the end of Her Mother’s Hope. I realized early in the story that I have many of my grandmother and mother’s character traits, both good and bad. They both had tempers. So do I. They both had low self-esteem. I’m always striving to “measure up”. They both chose spouses who respected them. So did I. Both women had strong faith and servants’ hearts, something they encouraged in me. My mother extended grace to others — a trait I want to cultivate to the end of my days. By holding onto her anger, Grandma lacked the peace and joy she could have had in her last years. I tend to relive past hurts. Writing about Marta made me decide to let go, forgive and move on. For whatever reason, Grandma couldn’t and missed out on so much joy in her last years. Sometimes people deeply hurt as children take offense where none was intended. Holding a grudge causes suffering, especially for the one who won’t let go. Jesus said to forgive one another as He has forgiven us. Forgiveness frees us, even if the other person refuses to join in the process of reconciliation. As I examine my own life, I see how much I’ve been forgiven. How can I not extend God’s grace to others? The best way to experience the fullness of God’s presence in my life is to surrender it to Him. And in that surrender, we are made more complete and joy-filled.

Mother-daughter relationships are often complicated and fraught with emotional land mines. What was your approach to exploring the complexity of those relationships in a fictional setting?

Questions, lots of questions! Every time I told someone I was working on a book about mother-daughter relationships, people wanted to share their family stories. As I wrote Her Mother’s Hope, I wanted readers to see through each woman’s eyes, and understand how the past shaped each in the way she responded to her mother. Hildemara doesn’t believe her mother loves her, but it is out of Marta’s pain and loss that tough-love techniques were forged. Marta wants to strengthen her daughter for whatever lies ahead. Sometimes what we view as rejection can actually be an act of sacrificial love. We seldom know the experiences that shaped our mothers, the deep hurts, traumatic events, broken relationships. I hope women who read this book will want to share those things with one another.

Writing a novel is not for the faint of heart. What was the most difficult part of writing this family saga? What came the most naturally to you?

The most difficult part of writing any novel is getting out of my own way. I have to get rid of preconceived notions about themes and characters and plot. The first draft of this novel came in at over 1000 pages and was too biographical. I wanted the story to shift back and forth from present to past, trying to show what happened to create the rifts and valleys between Hildemara, Carolyn and May Flower Dawn. I was too cautious, too afraid to harm to my grandmother and mother’s memory.

A wonderful editor wrote me an insightful letter in which she listed what she wanted to know about each the characters. Her letter got my creative juices flowing. She helped me look at the story in a new way. I set the first manuscript aside and started over. I found it better to move from one generation to the next in a linear story. This time the characters followed my grandmother and mother’s timeline, but took on a life of their own. They became unique individuals rather than the shadow of real people.

After readers finish this series what do you want them to remember? What questions and feelings do you want it to provoke on a spiritual and emotional level?

I hope and pray readers who have had difficult relationships with their mothers or daughters will let go of the pain and anger and allow God to work in their lives. God can work all things together for good for those who trust and love Him. Following Jesus’ example changes the way we see people. It changes the way we relate to one another. Even when the chasm is too deep to cross, we can decide to forgive. Some people wear grievances like a dirty coat. With God’s strength, we can strip it off and be free. When people finish reading Her Daughter’s Dream, I hope they will want to extend God’s grace and forgiveness. I hope they will tear down their walls and use their life experiences to begin building a bridge.

Who do you see as the audience for this story, and does that differ from your previous readership?

I am fortunate to work with Tyndale House. If a writer does well in one genre, publishers encourage the writer to continue in the same genre. Tyndale has given me the freedom to go wherever the story leads. I have done historical as well as contemporary. This two-part saga was intended to be one LONG book. Splitting the story into two parts made it more affordable for readers, and eliminated the need to delete entire sections. Hopefully, both women and men will enjoy Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream. Men play a strong role in the lives of all four primary characters: Marta, Hildemara Rose, Carolyn and May Flower Dawn. And both books have much to do with faith, how it presents itself, how it grows, often under difficult circumstances and in unexpected ways.

Where may we connect with you further or to purchase a copy of HER DAUGHTER’S DREAM?

I would love for you to visit my web site at www.FrancinceRivers.com, browse through the various events and other resources available, as well as sign up for my mailing list. You may also join me on my Facebook page, please click here.

If you would like to enter a drawing for a free copy of this book, you may do so at:

http://www.facebook.com/CSSVBT.FrancineRivers.HerDaughtersDream and http://christianspeakerservices1.wordpress.com/blog/

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me as a blog tour host by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for posting this interview on my blog. Please visit Christian Speaker Services at www.ChristianSpeakerServices.com for more information about blog tour management services.