Shane's children suffered as the collateral damage of his crimes. Could their relationship be restored?
Shane Rubash lost count of the times he tried to call his children from prison. For more than a year, each attempt went straight to voicemail. He didn't blame his kids for not picking up.
Growing up in Monroe, Washington, Shane had a strained relationship with his own father. Pining for attention, he grappled with low self-esteem as a boy and over-performed at everything just to feel valuable. "All I ever wanted was for [my dad] to come to my games," Shane remembers.
Bitterness seeped in, and with the stresses of early adulthood, drugs quickly became his favorite escape. Over time, Shane would endure an ugly divorce, a painful addiction, and two prison stints. When his two daughters and son wanted nothing to do with him, Shane knew he'd hit rock bottom.
"God, if You're real and You can change my life, come change me," Shane said as he wept in his jail cell.
It was during Shane's second prison term that he enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy® and fully surrendered to Christ. After finding his redemption behind bars, Shane began to see his life restored by Christ as he took ownership of his choices. He was finally on the track to recovery. Still, he wondered if his family would be waiting to meet him at the finish line.
"I started to realize that my children were collateral damage in my life," Shane says of his daughters, Chyanne and Alyssa, and his son, Jared. They were young teenagers when he went to prison. "I loved them, and I never wanted to hurt them, but they were damaged as a result of my addiction."
Shane reached out to his kids, even when they didn't reach back. He even wrote to his ex-wife, apologizing for the ways he'd hurt her. The truth was hard to swallow: His family owed him no response, and he wasn't entitled to their forgiveness. But as calls and letters went unanswered, Shane discovered a bright spot in the midst of his darkness: Angel Tree®.
Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship®, serves incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for restoring and strengthening their relationships with their children and families. Prison Fellowship mobilizes local churches and community organizations to give hundreds of thousands of children a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their incarcerated parent.
Shane's son and daughters would have plenty of gifts from doting grandparents at Christmas, but Angel Tree promised something unique—a gift from dad, delivered by caring volunteers. More than a phone call, this was a tangible reminder that their dad loved them.
"As much as I wanted to tell them I was changing and growing," says Shane, "I knew they had to make that decision [to respond to my communication] for themselves."
For more than a year, Shane's phone calls went unanswered. But with every voicemail, he told his children they didn't have to call. He just wanted to let them know he was thinking of them.
Then one day his firstborn, Chyanne, finally answered the phone.
A SURPRISING CONNECTION
Shane hadn't spoken to Chyanne in three years, but he managed to keep his composure. Somehow, it felt like the long car rides they used to take, with barely a moment of silence. They had lots of catching up to do this time.
"She laid it all out on me—all the hurts and struggles of having her dad in prison," says Shane. "But I got to know she was OK. I got to tell her I loved her."
Those phone calls continued at least once a month. Alyssa was the next to answer Shane's call several weeks later, and the two began speaking every few months. There was laughter. There were tears.
In 2016, Shane left prison an Academy graduate and a new man. He stayed in contact with his daughters, but Jared still wanted nothing to do with him. At 15, Jared was a high school baseball star with a dad of whom he wasn't proud. He'd thrown every letter from Shane in the trash. On Shane's release day, when the family went out for lunch, Jared sat quietly off to the side.
Even so, Shane continued to show his son that he loved him. Shane had permission from Jared's mom to attend his son’s baseball games. He would travel for hours just to sit in the back of the stands and watch Jared play.
LEARNING TO LOVE
Alyssa had been diagnosed with scoliosis and needed surgery, and Shane stayed by her side. Jared noticed. Little by little, the door to their relationship cracked open.
"God used that doctor's appointment to soften Jared's heart," Shane explains.
Jared started answering text messages from his father, and when his car needed repair, Shane jumped at the opportunity to help with the work. The car wasn't the only thing he hoped to start fixing.
Broken relationships take time to heal, but by God's grace, the Rubash family began to mend. Today, Jared and Shane talk and text regularly. All three Rubash siblings are learning to embrace their father again, even spending holidays and dinners together as a family. Shane says, "They get to see how God is working in my life."
And Shane gets to see how efforts like Angel Tree helped glue this family together, even when they were apart:
It was about more than the gift. Even though I wasn't there, it meant a lot to them to have a gift from me. The people who brought the gifts to them were very kind and understanding of the situation. … [In prison] I vividly heard the Holy Spirit saying, 'Continue to focus on Me, and when the time is right, I will restore you to your children.' And that's how God taught me to trust Him.
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