When Deborah Clark received the call from Angel Tree® Christmas last December, she decided to keep the news to herself. Her granddaughters Emma, Meygan, and Kaylee had experienced enough disappointment already. Why risk even more?
Christmas gifts from her incarcerated daughter Leigh* would be great—Deborah knew how much the girls missed their mom. Walmart gift cards from Leigh, just for them? It sounded almost too good to be true.
But it wasn't. A few months earlier, Leigh learned about Angel Tree Christmas from a friend. Angel Tree Christmas equips churches and other organizations to serve incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for restoring and strengthening their relationships with their children and families. Most years, local churches deliver gifts to families’ homes, but that year, due to COVID-19, many children would receive a gift card in the mail instead.
Serving a nine-year sentence in federal prison, Leigh signed up right away. She filled out an application with her daughters' names and a personal message for each one.
Most years, local churches deliver gifts to families' homes, but that year, due to COVID-19, many children would receive a gift card in the mail instead.
A BUMPY RIDE
Emma, Meygan, and Kaylee have lived with their grandparents in a small Texas town most of the time since they were babies. Their mom Leigh has struggled in ways that strained family relationships. When Kaylee's father died in a motorcycle accident in 2011, Leigh's life began to spiral. She was arrested on drug charges in 2017.
Now their primary caregiver, Deborah takes her granddaughters to church, where they memorize the Bible and go on mission trips.
"My main focus is trying to get them involved with other people in our church to form friendships and be able to confide in them," Deborah says.
But of course, nothing can replace their mom.
"It has been a bumpy ride with Kaylee because she was older," Deborah says. "She knew what her mom should be doing and wasn't. Their relationship was strained before Leigh went to prison. And when Leigh went to prison, it was hard on all of them. They didn't understand why their mom chose that route or why things happened the way they did."
But now, Deborah says, that has changed.
'When Leigh went to prison, it was hard on all of them. They didn't understand why their mom chose that route.'
A MOM'S FRESH START
Leigh and her girls speak on the phone as often as possible. They regularly visited her until COVID-19 prevented it.
"They all have good relationships with their mom now," Deborah says.
That's due, in part, to a life change in Leigh. Deborah remembers Leigh's childhood enthusiasm for church, the worship team, and Christian camp. Then things went wrong in Leigh's life, and she did not handle the losses well. Her faith dwindled as she made self-destructive choices.
"But now in prison, Leigh has picked it all back up," Deborah says. "She reads the Bible and will write Scriptures on things she sends us. Every time I'm tired or weary, there will be a short Scripture from Leigh that lifts me up."
Leigh is doing her best to use the remainder of her prison sentence productively. She is proud of her UNICOR job within the correctional facility, and she keeps her eyes open for chances like Angel Tree to make up for lost time with her daughters.
'She reads the Bible and will write Scriptures on things she sends us. Every time I'm tired or weary, there will be a short Scripture from Leigh that lifts me up.'
A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
Even though Deborah had decided not to tell the girls about the call from Angel Tree, she couldn't help dropping a hint.
"Wouldn't it be great if you got a gift from your mom at Christmas?" Deborah asked the girls soon after the call from Angel Tree Christmas.
"But how could that happen?" the girls wanted to know.
"God can perform miracles," Deborah replied. "You never know what might happen."
And then one morning, three envelopes from Angel Tree Christmas arrived in the mail.
"My heart lit up, and I said, 'Thank you, Lord,'" Deborah recalls. She tucked them away to give the girls after school.
Meanwhile, Leigh worried that the cards might not come in time. She wanted so badly to connect with her girls this way—but maybe something would go wrong. She called Deborah at work later that day. When Deborah told her the cards had just arrived, Leigh was overjoyed. They planned for a call with the girls later that evening.
Deborah put the cards on the table for the girls to find. Ten-year-old Emma found them first. She picked up her envelope and asked who it was from. Deborah told her to open it. Emma did—and began screaming with joy.
"Nana, you were right!" she shouted. "Mommy didn't forget us! Look, she got me a gift card!"
Deborah replied, "Remember God can do all things, and He helped your mommy."
Each girl read her personal message from Leigh and was reminded that their mom loves them, misses them, and hopes to see them soon.
That evening when Leigh called, there were more happy exclamations and a few tears of joy.
But the story doesn't end there.
'Mommy didn't forget us! Look, she got me a gift card!'
Deborah replied, 'Remember God can do all things, and He helped your mommy.'
AN EXTRA BLESSING
Last year, Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™ also sent gift cards to some caregivers. Deborah's arrived in February 2021—right in the middle of a huge snowstorm and deep freeze that ruined the Clarks' pipes.
"All our pipes were broken under our house, and we had no water for three or four days," Deborah recalls. "We were waiting for the next paycheck because of the expense of the pipes. That card helped so much! We got it and were just saying, 'Thank you God!' I was so overwhelmed and blessed."
The whole experience had a profound impact on Emma, Meygan (age 12), and Kaylee (age 16). They were floored by the way God came through for their grandparents, and they experienced His care firsthand through the gift cards from their mom.
"It taught my granddaughters not to ever give up or stop believing," Deborah says. "The day those envelopes came was one of the best days that we have had in a long time. None of us will ever forget it."
'We were waiting for the next paycheck because of the expense of the pipes. That card helped so much! We got it and were just saying, 'Thank you God!''
*Name changed to protect privacy.