Tell Your Own Story

Once we got through the shocking reality of the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of our son, we had a big decision to make. Would we hide as much of the story as possible, hoping no one in our work, church, and social circles would hear about it? Or would we bring up the subject honestly, admitting the truth of what happened and discussing what we’ve learned in the process of this unwanted and unexpected situation?

Over the past few years, I’ve received many comments and questions on this issue:

  • “I’m afraid my neighbors wouldn’t allow their children to play with my kids if they knew my oldest son is in prison for molesting a child.”
  • “Hearing you tell your story helped me to move forward, but I’m too afraid to tell mine. I live in a constant state of anxiety, wondering if people in my building have heard rumors about my wife’s incarceration for fraud.”
  • “I actually moved my family to a different state, hoping to start over in a place where no one had heard about my husband’s arrest for armed robbery.”

Your story is different from mine, but you might have wondered:  What will the repercussions be if I “go public” with my story? But that’s a scary way to live our lives, never knowing when the truth will be revealed to destroy that invisible, protective bubble we’ve tried to place around ourselves.

***

I’ve discovered the benefits of telling our story far outweigh the liabilities, if we can just find the courage to move forward. You may not tell your story from a public platform like I do, but you’ll have many opportunities to speak to individuals or small groups in an open and honest way. Here are some practical ideas for preparing your story, whether in spoken or written form:

  1. Pray first. Ask God for the courage to proceed and for wisdom about what to include.
  2. Determine your aim. What is your goal in telling your story? If you’re a Christian, it will no doubt be to give other people hope—the hope that God will also work in the midst of their hard circumstances too. Part of your goal might be to lead people to the point of choosing to follow Jesus.
  3. Be alert to the right timing. Before my son’s trial, I needed to be very careful about saying anything publicly that could affect the legal process. One-on-one or in small groups I would say, “We are in the middle of a gigantic family crisis. I’m not free to share the details at this time, but I would appreciate your prayers.” That way, people who had heard rumors about our son’s arrest knew I was honestly addressing the fact that something bad had happened. I wasn’t hiding it.
  4. Talk about your life before your crisis.
  5. Explain the emotional, spiritual, financial, and physical challenges you’ve experienced as a result of your journey.
  6. Speak and write about what you’ve learned as a result of this life detour. What unexpected benefits have you discovered? What Bible verses helped you hold on to hope?
  7. Decide what action step you want your listeners to take. People usually follow through when they know what to do.
  8. Finish with a hope-filled thought, challenge, or quotation. I like to highlight what Christine Caine said: “God is able to take the mess of our past and turn it into a message. He takes the trials and tests and turns them into a testimony.”

Paul wrote this while he was in prison: “I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News” (Philippians 1:12 NLT). If God is nudging you to write or speak about your journey, consider attending the Speak Up Conference. You’ll find information here.

His Words over You

“When it comes to presenting a message of hope to others, you may feel like the least qualified, but I will see to it that you are equipped. Lean on me and I will do more through your story than you could ever imagine or request in your wildest dreams. I do this not by pushing you around, but by working within you, deeply and gently, by my Spirit.”

Based on Ephesians 3:7–8, 20–21

Question:  What have you learned through the hard experiences in your life that could give others hope?

36 comments to Tell Your Own Story

  • Lynette Aserappa

    Hi Carol I have been trying to write an email to you after reading your story in a daily b read dated 2016. When i read this my heart leapt with hope because a similar thing happened to my family in 2011 and it was heartening to hear your story because all these years I thought these kinds of situations do not happen to people who are entrenched in God and doing his work.

    In August 2011 my only son who had a prognosis of mental illness and holidaying with his girl friend killed her. The way I got to know about it was watching the evening news it has been 7 years now and he was in a psychiatric hospital in another country and in the last few months been transferred to Australia. Getting him here has been a fight and a challenge but the grace of God has kept me going. I would like to share the full story with you but I do not know whether this site will get to you.

  • Paula Holmes

    I can’t wait to share this with my son, who will be released from prison on July 12th. He is a Christian but has a hard time telling people why he was incarcerated. I have always told him, he has a story to tell. He went in a child of God but is coming out a man of God. I pray that God will touch his heart.

  • Barb

    Thank you, Carol! This article so divinely timed. We are experiencing a giant family crisis and just last night, I had to send out notes via email about the crisis to my pastor as well as friends. While the situation has been ongoing for 10 years, the crisis is now coming to a head. Usually, I’m a good sleeper but I will cup this morning with an overwhelming pain of knowing that we have to face what we will face. I dropped to my knees and surrendered the situation to God and then took my dog for a walk – I read your post during the walk and I am so grateful for your candor, wisdom and hope.

  • Pamela Schoen

    I have learned through all my life experiences that the one constant in life is change. GOD has always been there and always meets my needs. I have learned to TRUST HIM no matter what.

  • Margaretann

    I bought your book he holds my hand I read it every day it’s such an encouragement thank you Carol

  • Thank you, Carol and Gene, for your vulnerable honesty.

  • Yvonne Thayer

    We are three years since our son’s arrest and two years into a 12 year sentence (of which we are told he will likely only serve nine) and then 12 years of probation. He in in the Florida DOC. We are in Pennsylvania. It is difficult to see him. We have also spent a lifetime in Christian ministry as has he (and he is currently serving as Prison chapel music leader and pianist). His charges are sexual offenses with his daughter under 12, of a minor nature in many people’s books, but major according to the law (2 felonies). He was facing 25 years. We have told our story to a few, but our biggest hurdle is the grief and embarrassment and being unable to have contact with his two children, and being denied the chance to reestablish contact with his x-wife, not to mention keeping it a secret from the other grandchildren of which their are 7, 5 of whom could understand, but three of those whose mom could make it difficult for their dad, our other son (they are divorced), and by extension, us, to see them. The grandchildren continually ask to see their Florida cousins. We are sure that the Florida ex-wife does not want us or them to know anything about the children that could get back to our son in prison. It is a mess. We are both angry and incredibly sad.

  • Good morning,

    I’ve learned that God is always there with you. He’s aware of everything that’s going on. Nothing is hidden from Him. Hallelujah! I know this from my own personal life. God’s grace and mercy is sufficient and it’s real! The Word of God is Life! It’s the essence of who Jesus is. I’ve experienced first hand that know weapon formed against me can prosper… Prayer really does change things. It can and does change the very atmosphere. Psalm 91 says that,” He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways!” This has been true in my life all of my life…

  • Michael Bradley

    My prayers continue for you & Gene for strength and for Jason in his ordeal for safety & protection. Also maybe someday for his release. I know some do get release. Love your blogs. I’ll keep praying.God bless.

  • Lana Wallace

    Thank you so much for your blog on sharing your own story. Yes I have tried to keep my sons incarceration hidden from her family and friends. We are going to another state to see a lot of my family next month and I didn’t know whether to share. Since our son is adopted and biracial sometimes he was never excepted by the family so I wasn’t sure how they would take this. I think I must let them know! I had sent you some private messages when I heard your story on James Dobson’s show on the radio. Not sure if you ever saw them or not. It explains what happened with my son. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Thank you for the encouragement to tell our stories. I just started a new part of my ministry called, “In The Midst of The Journey.” We will be videotaping women’s stories starting with myself on Tuesday, June 12th.

    I love the quote from “He Holds My Hand” on June 3rd. “We have a God of the second chance. He not only restores us but recycles our failures, using them for his purpose….Failure can be the best preparation for this kind of success if we submit ourselves to its lessons while we wait for another chance.” – Elisa Morgan

    I have felt unqualified but more determined than ever to walk in God’s will for my life.

    When we face obstacles, our negative declaration can slow down what God wants to do in the midst of our journeys.

    Pray for God to use your story, and He always will find a way.

  • Hi, Carol! Thanks for this email. My son went to prison at a very young age, 17, to one of the worst prisons in the country–the Santa Fe State pen–which was out of state (we live in Ca)– he got a 15 year sentence in this adult prison, despite the fact that he was a first time juvenile offender of a non-violent crime. I have written and spoken many times over the years about it. I started a support group for mothers, wives, and sisters of inmates (20 years ago) called Beyond the Walls, which has not only helped me, but others–praise God! I also began ministering at Juv Hall 21 years ago, and have led countless youth to faith in Christ, for which I am deeply grateful and thankful. And 5 years ago, I began support group/classes for young children who have parents and family members incarcerated. This has been hugely rewarding. I even had a children’s book published called “The Little House Who Didn’t Lose Hope” which I use in my classes (and others have used individually and in groups). 100% of the proceeds go into this ministry I do for the kids. This weekend I am speaking at a women’s retreat and one of my presentations is “Hope:One Size Fits All”. So, I very much agree that the Lord can take even the most painful and trying situations–such as having a son go to prison–and turn it around for His glory! By the way, my son has been out for several years now, and is serving the Lord wholeheartedly. God is faithful, and truly He IS the God of hope. May He continue to bless you as you reach out to others who are hurting.

    Sincerely,
    Nita Brady
    Founder/Director of Beyond the Walls
    “Beyond the Walls….there is hope”
    http://www.familyinmatesupport.com

  • Norma

    Thanks Carole for writing this. Even though we have moved through this it has an everlasting presence . We didn’t talk to anyone for along time. I found it easier to talk to people we hardly knew about it than to talk to “friends”. I have confided in a few with mixed reactions. I have decided not to bring it up unless it has a real purpose. We think of your family and Jason specifically slot. Having known him it makes it hard to think he will never get out. The fact some states allow release but Florids does not seems so unjust.

  • Over ten years ago I lost my oldest son to suicide. I’ve learned that grief is hard work and lasts longer than I thought. I’m a Christian counselor and have recently started a blog ministering to others out of my pain.

  • Thank you, Carol.
    I attended the Speak Up Conference last year. I am excited that I am coming to the conference this year along with my two daughters and some friends.

    I heard your testimony on the radio recently listening to Focus on the Family. I bought the CD.
    I know that SURELY the Lord is with your family and He is Faithful! Much good will come out of your circumstances.
    I believe in your training and equipping of the Body of Christ as we rise up to write and speak.

    I pray blessings on the 2018 Speak Up Conference.
    Dianne Hall

  • Rhonda

    Thank you Carol for the timing of this blog. I was asked to give my testimony at our Celebrate Recovery soon. It will be the first time besides my small group that I will share.
    I really do want to give hope and encouragement. My story is intertwined with my husband’s. He will eventually be able to give his.
    I will use your suggestions. Again, thank you for your testimony.

  • Susan G.

    Thanks for this today Carol. I think if we live long enough we will have a “story” to tell. It may not seem like a devastating story such as what you and your family is traveling through, but a hard story just the same. And it is the same God who gives us strength each day to endure, and gives us hope and who even gives us joy most days. I received an email this week from my daughter who has lived for the Lord all her life, telling me and her dad that she was recently married…to an unbeliever! To say I am still in shock is an understatement. But I am grieving mostly for my two grandchildren who have been blindsided as well. They are not small, but 14 and 19, but this has shaken their world. Their father passed away 6 years ago, so they have been through a lot already…
    The Lord so graciously opened up another job in a nearby town for my 19 year old granddaughter, and she moved this weekend. Her first time out of the home. This has been a difficult time for her but she is trusting the Lord to lead and guide her.
    My 14 year old grandson has a very strong bond with his mom, so this is going to be extra hard on him. He and I also have a strong bond and he knows Gramma always has his back! I’ve taken him on fishing trip, just he and I, to a neighboring state last year, and he knows I love him dearly. I’m praying the Lord will continue to show Himself to these precious kids and guide their futures. I’ve known the Lord for almost 52 years and He’s never failed me yet!
    I’m praying for you and your family and Jason too!
    I have found God is enough…
    Love and prayers!

  • Judy Cunningham

    My son’s story of incarceration has not ended the tragedy for us. I have not seen him since November because he is afraid to come home. I would love to write and share my story but have to work full time at 71 years old because I emptied my savings to pay lawyers who did nothing.

  • PJ BUTTS

    Hi Carol …. you are an inspiration to many because of The Good Lord. Its amazing what can bring a strong person down to their knees; and even more amazing Who lifts us back to our feet. I wished I would have documented my daily walk beginning with the death of my son`S daddy through today with visits to a prison. Our visits will soon be at home …. his release is very near; his co-defendant, Hazel, and I have become extremely close through this journey. Her mom passed along the same time as my son`s daddy. I believe ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD. If you are near Augusta or Savannah Georgia let me know…. I would love to lift someone up.

  • Joy

    My experience echoes most of the comments. My son. Unspeakable situations while an addict. The fallout for me? I wore a mask while I screamed inside. Helped run a moms group, homeschooled, helped with sports teams, got distant from my husband, then lost him to an affair. More screaming- when I wouldn’t even realize it. The Lord was my only true companion. I have entire years locked out and lost of my precious children who survived my withdrawal from my life. I had multiple chronic conditions, eventually causing a spinal damage that almost crippled me. I ha e a relationship with my son again. Not what I’d dreamed of, but I do. My marriage and my life are ebbing back to me. And my sweet Savior hasn’t left my side.

  • Monika Copeland

    Carol, Thank you so much for this encouragement! My daughter has been in prison for 7 years, we have 6 more to go. I have prayed since the beginning of this chapter that God would use me/us to help others. I have been scared to be open about this but he is nudging me more each day. I know there are people out there who need this message of hope so I am going to take that leap of faith and start sharing my story more. It’s going to be okay! Thanks for all you do!

  • Cheryl Banks

    We have learned too much to put in a blog. It will be a book before too long. Our stories have many common strands so I cried all the way thru Isaac book because it was like reliving the nightmare which seems like will never end. I realized in this trial, perhaps for the first time even though I’m a preachers daughter and have worked for ministers, that I loved Jesus more than my son and I love my son beyond words. I had to give my son to God. I could do nothing. Oh what a terrible wonderful place to be! To have to trust God because He’s the only hope I had. His was the cleft in the rock I crawled in to… still do. How does anyone manage without Christ?!

  • Trena D Peebles

    Carol , your words are so uplifting. I have followed how you have managed , with Gods help, to have a loved one in prison. It is very difficult. I speak with first hand knowledge. My daughter was incarcerated for 3 years. I would like to send your son a card of encouragement for his “work” while he goes about his life locked up. I pray for you, your husband and your son. is it possible to get his address?

  • Phyllis Nuttley

    Carol every time I read what you have posted, my heart goes out to you and your husband . I don’t know what we would do without God in our lives !! Bless you and your hubby ❤

  • Helen

    What I’m going through right now is so hard for me to deal with …but all l have is god.l need help but don’t know what next to do .. please pray for me and my family.

  • Thank you Carol for these encouraging words! It can be scary to share your story! But I have learned that God not only ALWAYS provides and restores, He uses our stories to encourage others in the storms of life!

  • Thanks Carol! I agree—the benefits of being open (at least to some extent) far exceed hiding.

    I have learned through trials that I am not in control, but God most certainly is!

  • Tish Elizalde

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have prayed for you and your son often. I am the mom of two boys. Please keep us posted regularly on the well being of your son. He is an inspiration to us. He is behind bars and his demeanor is that of a free man. It appears God has used him in a mighty way and touched the lives of men who may have been forgotten. We will continue to lift you up in prayer. Thank you.

  • Lori Horn

    DEAR CAROL,

    I have heard your story recently on two radio talk shows and have viewed Youtube clips for more information.
    Thank you for sharing your distress and heartache with candor and with hope, as well as the blessings God has brought to many through it.

    We have a story of brokenness as well, and are waiting with growing hope to see how God will redeem our sorrows and restore relationships. Our son married a very troubled girl, and because of the divorce and the many troubles which resulted, I do not know if we will ever see our tiny granddaughters again in this life.

    My prayer is that God will bring our son’s ex-wife and her family and the girls to Himself and pour his grace on their lives, and that we will all be together in heaven. I am learning to rest in the goodness and sovereignty of God, and am comforted by the stories of Joseph and Ruth in particular.

    Thanks again!

    Lori

  • Rebecca S. Lober

    I reached out to Carol Kent while I was reading her book “When I Lay my Isaac down” during the trauma of our son’s drug addiction, arrest, indictment, and subsequent life sentence. He has since found his own personal relationship with the Lord. He is sober and accepts the consequences of his actions. He has made great efforts to be God’s servant through his work while in prison & invites other inmates to join him in bible studies, exercise and serves as a teachers aid for GED & literacy classes. He has become actively involved in the KAIROS prison ministry. The prison environment is inhumane. Treatment of inmates is horrendous. Families of inmates are subjected to unreasonable expenses. I FEEL COMPELLED TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT THE PRISON SYSTEM!

  • Naomi Balk

    Thank you for this article which encouraged sharing the unique stories that God has given us. I have a question. Sometimes when I share a story, I feel as if it has become less valuable because it is now less rare. Our stories have traits similar to money. When inflation takes place and money is multiplied it becomes less valuable because it is more common. Sometimes our stories can be the same way. Stories should not be lightly shared. I was wondering how you would address this aspect of sharing stories. The pointers were very helpful as I struggle to know how much of my story to share. I am so thankful for a God who has invited us, as Christians to share in his story that he wants to carry to completion in our lives.

  • Marie Livingston

    After our son went to prison it was hard to talk about but we tried to be honest and open. In doing so, we have had so many opportunities to help, pray with and encourage other families in similar situations. We need each other – need to have others that understand and do not judge us.

  • Terri Braden

    I have also had to adjust to a new normal various times over the last 10 yrs. In 2008 I discovered my son had began using heroin. What others might think prevented me from sharing that for a few years even to family and church friends. My journey with the Lord became stronger until I felt no shame. By 2017 my son suffered a fatal overdose. God was my anchor and I could see and feel His hand through it all. He has since used me to help others. I started a grief support group for loss due to addiction and have been interviewed on local news tv and newspapers. My loss for His glory! I heard you say only the broken can help the broken. I believe that.

  • DENISE HUTTER

    Wow! I’ve written to myself. I’ve told everyone. I believe the Lord has something planned for my son and our family. I reach out at every facility he has been incarcerated in. I ‘surrendered’ him finally after reading your book. I’ve even thought about writing for others to read but not sure if I’m ready. Not because of fear of talking about it, but fear that I’m not where I need to be with the Lord. I often feel as if I’m not doing enough. But I know God’s hand is in this and so I believe and trust His way is the only way. Thank you for your wonderful book. I felt your pain. I understood your doubt. I agree that without the Lord, you and I would be broken and lost.

  • Dawn A.

    Carol, I received ‘the call’ January 2017. I’m a single mom. My son is in another state. I read, “When I Lay My Isaac Down.” All for the glory of the Lord after a living hell (as you well know) God is working His masterpiece in myself and my son. My faith has grown by light years, my son and I are closer and spending more time together now than ever before. I visit my son for two days every month. A blessing in disguise. Rarely do parents on the ‘outside’ have the opportunity to sit with their child for 8 hours straight, for two days, with no distractions and share their thoughts on a regular basis. I am so proud of my son and the young man he has become (32 years old) and he has exceeded all of my expectations. I now wear a fragile veil of ‘peace’ by the grace of the Almighty.

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