Together in Spirit
In August of 1996, Diane got the shock of her life. A young woman telephoned to say she was having an affair with Diane's husband, John. The woman provided such detail that Diane instantly knew it was true. Diane telephoned John. He said he would be right home.
But John never set foot in their house again. Diane's next call came from the county jail. Her husband had just shot to death the mistress who had exposed their liaison. Diane and her daughters suddenly faced a world flung upside down.
"With John in jail, I was plunged into an instant nightmare," she says. "Not only was my heart broken and my children very frightened, but I was suddenly a single mother with no means to support our lifestyle. I considered suicide, but I couldn't abandon my children."
A FAMILY SEPARATED
Both girls had "a horrible time adjusting," Diane says. "The oldest was 10 and had been very close to her father. She carried a lot of hatred and pain for what he had done to our family. She was so ashamed to have a father in prison, so it made it difficult for her to function in school and to make friends."
With John sentenced to a prison term of 15 years to life, Diane had to get on with her own life. She moved the family 700 miles away, where they could share a house with her sister.
Diane divorced John and eventually married Bobby, more to provide a father for her children than a husband for herself. But sometime later Diane realized she wasn't in love with Bobby. Instead, she was in deep depression.
Distraught, Diane decided again to end her life. She drew up her will, leaving her daughters to their aunt and uncle. She tucked her children into bed, said a final prayer, and prepared to wash down a bottle of sleeping pills with champagne.
A SPECIAL DAY
But before she could carry out her plan, Diane suddenly fell asleep. And though she spent a fitful night, she awoke the next morning with an inexplicable lightness. "The weight I had been carrying was miraculously gone," she explains. "I felt more at peace and rejuvenated than I ever had before, yet I didn't know where it was coming from. Then a voice whispered to my soul, as clear as if someone were speaking to me face to face. It said, 'Suicide isn't the way to stop the pain. … you must forgive, and then you will be set free.'"
Diane felt exhilarated. "For once, the pain wasn't crushing me. I had no desire to die." She hurried into the children's room, shaking them awake.
"Kids," she announced with a smile, "today is going to be a special day. We are going to the store to pick out a card for Daddy, and we're going to tell him that we forgive him." She told the girls about the voice whispering to her that forgiveness would set them free.
"I love Daddy," said her daughter. "Can he come home now?"
Diane swallowed the lump in her throat as she held her close. "No, baby. He can't come home for a long time, but if we forgive what he did and let all the tears go, things will get a whole lot easier for all of us."
A FATHER FORGIVEN
A few days later, John wept when he received the card from his family and read its message: "As much as you hurt us, it hurts us more to not have you in our lives. … We still love you, and we forgive you."
John fell to his knees in prayer. The whole cell block could hear his sobbing.
During his incarceration, John had turned his life over to Christ and repented of his sin. Now he began to correspond with his family, sending long letters of love to his daughters. To Diane he confessed the dark secret life he had once hidden from her.
Then the family went back for five days to visit John in prison. During that time, Diane realized she was still in love with her former husband. Bobby sensed the same thing and moved out.
One day Diane received a letter from Prison Fellowship® describing the Angel Tree® program. "This is neat," she told her girls. "We can deliver Christmas presents to other children in our community who have a parent in prison. We could share the Gospel with them, pray with them, and remind them that their mommy or daddy still loves them even though they can't be here. What do you think? Should we do it?"
"Yes!" the girls agreed.
Through Angel Tree, Diane and her daughters spent time with local families just like theirs, embracing single parents with their children and grandparents raising grandchildren. "We bonded with each one because we had so much in common. No longer did my children feel different. They could hug other children just like them, who didn't have their parent at home for Christmas—or any other day— because of prison walls."
And Diane discovered that she wasn't alone, either. "There were so many others facing the same thing, and they were in my own neighborhood! There was such joy and comfort in praying together and seeing the wide smiles on the faces of the children once they got their packages."
TOGETHER IN SPIRIT
Diane and her girls have been active in Angel Tree for several years now, and each year is "a blessed experience," she says.
"Having a parent in prison is a heartache that no child should have to bear, but unfortunately, (over) two million children have this hardship forced upon them. By reminding them that their parent is still with them in their heart, and that God loves them and will always watch over them, it helps make the hurt a little easier to handle. Just one simple thing makes such a difference."
In June 2002, behind prison walls, Diane and John—with their daughters by their side—were reunited in marriage by the prison chaplain. "To be a real family and know that nothing will ever tear us apart again made the prison sentence, the concrete walls, the fences, and the coiled barbed wire seem irrelevant," says Diane. "We are together in spirit and bound by our hearts through the grace of a merciful God. That's something nobody can ever take away from us."
That evening Diane and the girls went to an empty field adjacent to the prison and set off a round of fireworks. In the distance they could see the light in a single cell, blinking on and off.
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