- Joan Lopez
The Un-incarcerated Spouse
My first marriage was to a repeatedly incarcerated spouse for 8 years. During this time my schedule consisted of raising two children and concentrating on making ends meet. Day to day things were normal. The kids went to school, I went to work, and we spent the evenings doing homework, eating dinner, spending some time together and then off to bed to do it all again the next day.
As a single parent, you work to make sure you are getting through the financial part of life paycheck to paycheck and if that was happening, you considered yourself a success. This success was usually only questioned two specific times of the year, summer break and Christmas. These were times when other family units were going places, doing things, and receiving gifts. These were times when your hard work and sacrifice as a lone provider felt like the bank term, “insufficient funds”.
The fear and heartbreak that would set in early to late October only seemed to increase the closer it got to December. When you are the un-incarcerated spouse you routinely run through a gauntlet of emotions daily such as anger, bitterness, sadness, and the overwhelming feeling of being a failure. There is also a nagging sense of shame even though you are not incarcerated, you feel as though you are and that this is how others think of you if they find out you are married to someone in prison. Looking back post-salvation, I can see where God’s hands were during these seasons. I’d like to share one of those moments with you now.
I remember the first time I received a phone call early December from a church who had partnered with an organization founded for the sole purpose of providing gifts to children who had an incarcerated parent. They had partnered together so that children who inevitably felt the segregation from the traditional family structure during a season about joy, hope, and coming salvation could feel connected to other families that looked just like theirs. Initially you are unsure what this call is about. You are so used to empty promises and disappointments. You literally are afraid to believe that other human beings could care about you much less your fatherless children. You run through thoughts of uncertainty, and pure relief all at the same time. They told me they had the age and gender of both children, they just needed to know what items they wanted for Christmas. I told them I would have to ask them and call them back. Let’s be single parent real here for a moment – at this point you didn’t know what they wanted because you had kept from talking about Christmas in case you weren’t able to provide them with gifts to lessen expectations and disappointment for them. How incredibly sad just thinking about that concept is. We are all children of God, a God who is an Almighty provider, Jehovah Jireh, yet we tend to live on our own strength and understanding.
The day we headed to the church for the party, I can’t even describe the happiness and excitement my children felt. The complete comfort they had walking into a celebration where they were not the only children in there who did not have a father present. It has been said having a child is like having your heart walking around outside of your body. I can testify in this moment watching my two hearts smiling, running around playing, laughing with other children who they saw as just good as them washed away all my feelings of shame, guilt and insufficiency caused by the incarcerated parent’s choices. I could never thank these people enough. I am sure they had no idea what a sense of relief and comfort their sacrifice and willingness to help others brought to my small, beautiful family. They will never know completely as it is impossible to put in words how thankful I was that strangers thought that my children were just as important and deserving as I did without having ever laid eyes on them or knowing them in person. This simple act of obedience to the Word of God was a true testimony to unconditional love.
Our family would receive this love two more times while my children were young, and it has always been a dream of mine to give back to other children in the same situation. The Angel Tree is an organization which does this very thing. I am proud and joyful to participate this year on the giving end. God has been beyond good to my little family (which has grown by a husband, two stepsons, and 3 grandchildren). I implore you to consider participating this year, so many have lost and are struggling, won’t you join me in impacting the lives of innocent children with the unconditional love of Jesus?
You can sign up to sponsor a child's Christmas gift through our Angel Tree Ministry. Just click RSVP for Angel Tree Christmas and we will contact you with details. God bless you as you give.