Aimee is a busy mom, working full time and raising her four boys alone. But every Christmas season, she calls strangers, plans a party, and ensures gifts make it into the hands of children in her community. Her reason? She just can’t forget that night seven years ago.
ALONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Aimee’s husband Thomas had been sentenced to 17 years in prison the previous month. It was their first Christmas without him. Aimee sat in a rented trailer, playing with her sons, who were 6, 4, 2 and 1. She put on a cheerful face for their sake, but inside, she felt empty and alone.
“You’re suddenly a single parent,” she remembers. “It’s very isolating. People mean well, but there aren’t that many people that are really coming [to help]. You have physical needs, you need help with babysitting, you need help getting more groceries from the store, you need help when the car’s run down—there are so many needs.”
That Christmas, the needs and the isolation pressed so hard against her, Aimee wasn’t sure what to do.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Standing in the falling snow was a group of people from a nearby church. They carried gifts—brightly wrapped presents from Thomas for each of his boys. Each had a label with a special message just from him. Aimee was speechless.
“I felt that I wasn’t forgotten,” she remembers. “It’s amazing that this organization does all this, how it can reach people down some dirt road living in a single wide. It’s just so incredible.”
A LOVE THAT KEEPS TRYING
Aimee never dreamed she’d face this situation when she fell in love with Thomas in California 15 years ago. Thomas was a passionate Christian who wanted to be a pastor. He had been previously incarcerated, which was where he met Christ. When they met, Thomas was in Bible college with plans to get a master’s degree. Aimee—a new believer—shared his passion for God, and it seemed like a match made in heaven. They moved to Idaho so he could serve at a church there.
After a few years, Aimee and Thomas encountered some serious financial hardships. When they found out their fourth baby was on the way, Thomas panicked and went back to some old friends and ways of dealing with stress—and of making money.
Aimee didn’t know what was going on. She had never been around someone using drugs before. She focused on trying to keep her job as a nurse and managing the children, praying fervently that something would change. When Thomas was arrested, Aimee saw it as God’s protection.
Aimee says she considered dissolving the marriage, but she felt the Holy Spirit leading her to stay.
“We’re a family, and I have no clue what the future holds, but I’m just going to have faith,” she says. “And if I look stupid for trying, then I look stupid for trying.”
Thomas is sober and has returned to his faith in Christ. He is studying for a paralegal certification while behind bars so that he can start working as soon as he gets out. Thomas is, as Aimee says, “the best dad he can be from prison.”
'We’re a family, and I have no clue what the future holds, but I’m just going to have faith.'
A FOLLOWER TURNED LEADER
Four years ago, Aimee moved from Idaho to North Carolina so she could be closer to extended family. She joined a new church and was struck by what the pastor would say every Sunday: “Church isn’t over—we are the church. Now go out into the community and be the church for the next week.”
One day, Aimee told her pastor about Prison Fellowship Angel Tree®, how it had blessed her over the years by connecting her boys to their dad and helping her feel less alone. She wondered if he might be open to participating in the program, and he loved the idea. The only catch was that Aimee would have to lead it.
“I’m not really one that spearheads things,” Aimee says. “I’m a really great follower and a great helper, but I am not a leader.”
However, Aimee’s heart for families touched by incarceration overrode her doubts. Because she has been there, she knows how much this program can mean.
“They’re just so alone, and they’re drowning,” she says. “For them to get connected and to come to church, to have a party—who knows what can happen? Ultimately [they might] receive the eternal gift of Jesus.”
'If you’re not part of incarceration, you don’t understand how it affects the families.'
THE POWER OF A PARTY
Aimee’s gifts were delivered to her home that first night, but now, as a volunteer, she loves throwing a party for the Angel Tree families she serves. She works hard to make sure the families know about the party, making calls, mailing “save-the-date” cards, writing emails, and sending texts.
She says that the party itself is nothing complicated—face painting, crafts, cookie decorating—but she knows it has the potential for enormous impact. Aimee remembers positive encounters with a church in her childhood, long before she became a Christian, that planted seeds in her heart of knowing church as a safe and happy place.
At this past year’s party, Aimee watched two children from different families give each other a hug at the party. They knew each other—but neither had known the other had a parent in prison. The party was a place to forge a bond based on shared experience.
Aimee also noticed families being moved by the Gospel presentation.
“The pastor’s message to the kids even spoke to some of the adults there,” she recalls. “You could see that they were listening, and they were intrigued, and they were touched.”
It wasn’t just the families that were touched. Aimee explains that the volunteers were ministered to as well.
“They say they don’t even realize that this world exists,” Aimee says. “If you’re not part of incarceration, you don’t understand how it affects the families. It’s very eye opening, and it lets them know that the need is out there in the community.”
Many of the volunteers thanked Aimee for inviting them to be involved. They were moved by the joy—and in some cases, the tears—of children receiving gifts from their incarcerated parents.
Aimee says she stays strong as a single parent by “sticking with Jesus” and surrounding herself with godly influences. She listens to Christian radio and invests in her church family.
“My faith, that’s my foundation,” she says. “It’s my everything.”
Sometimes she worries for her sons—now 13, 11, 9, and 8—who are growing up without a father at home. She enjoys throwing a baseball or football with them and sometimes takes them on hikes, but they are eager to learn to fish—and Aimee doesn’t know how.
“I have two widowed aunts, and there’s just no male figure in their life,” she says.
But recently, Aimee was reading the Bible to her younger two boys, and she thought of the stories of David and Joseph and Daniel.
“You know what, God?” she prayed. “You gave me all the men in the Bible, and those are the men for my children to look up to. They can look up to the heroes of the Bible.”
Aimee’s boys continue to receive gifts from their dad at Christmas—but now, like their mom, they also spread that joy to other kids. Recently, her 11-year-old went with her to deliver gifts to seven families who couldn’t make it to the party. Like the little group that showed up at her trailer seven years ago, Aimee and her son drove around in the dark, climbed porches, and delivered gifts, with the simple explanation that means more than words can express: “This is from your dad.”
'For them to get connected and to come to church, to have a party—who knows what can happen? Ultimately [they might] receive the eternal gift of Jesus.'