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payphone with graffiti written on the handset "tell her you love her"
From Surviving to Living
(12) LAST CALL: Abuse, Alienation, and Spiritual Growth

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It was spring 2014 and I found myself trying to adjust to a new normal, again. My youngest son had been put in foster care the previous fall, taken from my husband due to neglect and abuse. I struggled to navigate the legal system and social services from inside prison walls. Each time I found myself experiencing hope, it would be crushed by a new pain.

I didn’t know it, but this would be the last year I would have contact with my daughter, my husband lashing out in anger to destroy my relationship with her. Are you struggling with co-parenting or worse, parental alienation? This is a difficult episode to share, a difficult episode to listen to, but there is hope! This is another step in my journey towards lasting spiritual growth and transformation. Join me!


Have you experienced emotional abuse, legal system challenges or parental alienation? Are you hurting and in need of real help?

In 2014 I was three years into my 8 year prison sentence. I would face all of these painful issues and more as I sought to remain connected to my family. Discover with me the secret of peace in any circumstance, and the issues that stand in our way.

While this episode discusses difficult subjects, it points us to real hope for our future. Listen until the end – you won’t want to miss a word. This is Last Call.

“Mommy? Do you still love us?” Vivi’s little voice sang out across the phone lines. It was the summer of 2014. Timmy, under supervision of Child Protective Services, was in foster care. My heart ached as each month new reports from Social Services arrived documenting their life.

“Yes I do, Vivi!” I answered, surprised at her question.

“I thought so,” she mused. “Brian visited and said you didn’t love us anymore, but I thought, ‘That can’t be true, or why would you send me new bracelets you made every week?’”

Brian was Timmy’s social worker. Pride over Vivi’s critical thinking skills was drowned by outrage at Brian. How could any adult tell children their mother doesn’t love them anymore? I was shocked.

“Vivi, I am so proud of you! You are so smart and I love you so much, yes I do. Thank you for asking me that question,” I reassured her. Privately I wondered how to stick it to Brian.

Have you ever been confronted with uncomfortable questions at an unexpected moment? Have you ever wanted to resolve a painful issue but felt unsure how to proceed? Do you struggle with conflict in relationships today?

I’d been incarcerated for 3 years and called my children daily.

“Do you know why I answer the phone for you?” My husband snarled one afternoon. I did not know. We rarely spoke. My husband’s phone was my only connection to our young children. I called and usually they would answer. Occasionally my husband would answer silently, passing the phone over.

I paid for all phone calls, so money was not on his mind. He didn’t wait for my response as he rushed on, “I answer this phone for you because our sons are old enough to remember you. They would be mad at me if I didn’t.” He sucked in a breath. “They want to talk to you,” he spit out angrily.

Eerily his voice dropped, a man finding control. His next question was almost sing song, “But you know what?” This time he waited for my response. Frozen, I didn’t answer. I was almost afraid to. He snickered into the silence. Feeling more powerful he pressed, “Vivi was only 4 years old when you went to prison. Too young to remember you. It’s my mission to make her hate you as much as I do!” His voice had risen in volume as he spoke, ending at a near shout, shaking with hatred.

I listened horrified, disbelieving. He swallowed a hysteric, manic giggle, continuing. “If I can’t make her hate you, I’ll make her forget you completely!!” He erupted into laughter.

My husband was expressing intentional harm, describing a world without gravity, earth without a sun, things that do not happen. I said something stupid, “But that’s wrong!”

Laughter roared out of the phone. “I know! It’s great!” He waited for me to respond. Speechless again I said nothing. A minute then, instantly calm he hissed, “And no one’s going to stop me.” Click.

Prior to incarceration my family attended church together occasionally. I remember one sermon the pastor told this story: “I asked my wife to name something I could do to make her feel more loved. She answered, ‘Say I love you more.’

“For the next year,” the pastor continued, “ I said ‘I love you,’ more often. The following year I asked her again, ‘Name one thing I can do to make you feel more loved.’

She responded again, ‘Say I love you more.’ The pastor finished his story saying “I was flabbergasted! I knew I had already said ‘I love you’ more than she had. Yet she still wanted it more.”

This story stuck with me and I determined to ask my children this question often. They would usually answer with a shrug or a smile, unsure what to ask for. In June 2014 Tim’s answer was specific. Lonely, in foster care 6 months, he replied – “Mom, write me more letters, write me three times a week. Three times a week!”

Tim’s foster care status made phone calls to him more expensive. Now I struggled to afford 2 or 3 calls with him a month. I agonized over this situation. I worked as a janitor and wanted a better paying job but feared failure. I was learning that consequences here for even minor things were serious. Guards joked to each other about subjecting inmates to “shock and awe.”

My parents were sympathetic. They discussed the matter with their church. The end of July my hopes soared. I was offered a more flexible job with slightly better pay and my parent’s church also agreed to help me afford more phone calls with Tim.

Relief and happiness flooded through me as I shared this good news with Tim’s caseworker Brian. I wished to arrange weekly calls with Tim, perhaps twice weekly. I shared how a church was helping me afford the calls to Tim, and I had a better job!

Tim’s foster family responded to my request by immediately terminating all visitation with me. They just stopped answering the phone when I called. Then, they petitioned the court to officially remove my right to visits altogether.

I cannot say why they really did what they did. I’ve learned that “What it is about, is never really what it is about.” I only know what was told to me. I’ve tried very hard in writing my story to include only facts I can personally confirm, and objectively at that. Sometimes we must come to our own conclusions.

The court petition Tim’s foster family initiated described me as a mother who’s had little contact with her son all his life, a dangerous pedophile. My recent request for more frequent phone calls was attributed not to my new financial resources (or my desire to fix the break in our communication that foster care had caused) but attributed it rather to my crime.

I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was shocked. I’d been a stay at home mom, in constant contact with my children even after I entered prison. The court petition sounded more like a bad movie script and included no actual truth. Timmy told me many years later that this was an abusive home, stuffed with foster kids. I cannot confirm. I do know that Tim was almost 12 years old and made to go bed at 5pm. Perhaps they were afraid of what else he’d say if allowed more phone time with me.

I felt I had the necessary evidence to refute these lies. I compiled all of Tim’s letters to me from the past 3 years. I gathered my programming certificates – parenting classes, sex offender treatment, trauma therapy, and I evidenced my daily calls with my kids, including Tim (prior to foster care). I mailed all of this to my attorney and prepared for court.

Court was held without me, however, as my attorney told me the wrong court date. An oversight I’m sure. My attorney also failed to submit any of the documents I’d sent. I was labeled a “no show,” an uninterested parent who “didn’t care.” My attorney apologized later for giving me the wrong court date. My phone visits were suspended until the matter could be resolved.

I continued to call my other children and In November I spoke again with Vivi. “Hi Holly!” Vivi greeted me. One of my favorite things about calling Vivi was her enthusiasm when answering the phone. When she said, “Mooooom!!!” you felt she’d been waiting for you all day. Her gusto felt so good I’d taken a lesson from her and modeled it, greeting my kids with spirit. The use of my name, however, brought me up short. “Why did you call me ‘Holly’?” I asked.

“Dad says you are not my mom anymore,” Vivi responded. “He says Carey is my mom now. I’m supposed to call her mom, not you.” Carey was a woman who’d had an affair with my husband. While they weren’t together anymore, my husband no longer wanted my daughter, either. He’d sent Vivi away to live with Carey full-time. I was not consulted. I did not know Carey, was not allowed her contact information.

Vivianne was now 8 years old. I took a breath and told her, “No, I’m your mom. Call me mom, please.” Sweetly she agreed. That settled I smiled asking if she had received my letters.

“Yes,” she answered slowly, “But dad decided I couldn’t have them. He said they were…” Vivi paused and struggled to remember the word. “He said they were inappropriate. That’s what he said.” She remembered proudly.

Surprised, I was stunned into silence. I could not imagine what for. I searched my mind, found nothing. “Can you remember the reason?” I dared to ask.

“Yes.” Vivi answered, proud to know. “In the letters you called yourself my mom. Dad says that’s disgusting. Dad says you are not a mom. You do not deserve to be a mom. I should not read letters from you. That’s what he said.” Vivi trailed off slowly, suddenly quiet.

I began to cry, utterly shocked. Tears pouring down my face, I couldn’t manage a word. I felt strangled. These days I rarely had the opportunity to talk with Vivianne. She was rarely with my husband, and when she was, he rarely put her on the phone. I missed her so much!

My head began to pound, the room spinning. ‘I should end this call,’ I thought desperately, ‘I’m a wreck!’ I couldn’t leave my daughter. My hand squeezed the phone, fingers bloodless. Sobs ripped out of my throat. I bit my lip, blubbering.

Vivi, hearing my distress, attempted to sooth me. I rambled, trying to calm her, calm myself, make this better. I do not remember what I said, what she said, but Vivi began to cry in sympathy. Suddenly the phone was ripped from her tiny hand and a loud voice screamed in my ear, “What did you say to her! Why did you make her cry!” My husband’s angry voice demanded answers. Then the phone slammed down with a click.

After that my husband refused to let me talk with Vivi and November changed to December, then January rang in the New Year of 2015. Again depression had me in a tight grip. My mental health medications were increased again, so high I developed facial spasms. I slept months away, struggling to perform simple work.

Finally “supervised” visits were established for me and Tim, and phone calls resumed. This involved a designated adult listening to the phone call while Tim and I spoke. As I was in prison, all of my phone calls were recorded by the DOC, so I found this odd. At this point who ISN’T listening to and recording our calls? Tim had now been in foster care for more than 1 year, in his 4th foster home.

I also called my other children regularly, and hoped to speak to Vivi again. In February my husband said he would allow me to apologize to her. I was in fact sorry for upsetting her. I was sorry for so many things. Vivi agreed to talk with me and came to the phone. Carefully I started the conversation. I felt like I was blind navigating a mine field. It seemed ok. She sounded fine. Perhaps she was fine. Maybe it was ok.

I don’t know for sure. That was the last time I spoke with Vivi. I didn’t know that then. My understanding was that we would talk again soon. I asked for her whenever I called. In May I learned the truth.

“She’s not here,” my husband spat gleefully. “Even if she was, I’d wouldn’t put her on the phone. You’ll never talk to her again! She hates you.”

Confused, I didn’t answer. This felt like a trick. I wondered what to say.

Power making him feel generous he spoke into the silence, “I guess you can continue to write letters.” Fog lifted, I almost argued. I’d been so depressed I had written the kids less often lately. In fact I hadn’t written in awhile. Guilt slammed into me as he continued, “I can’t STOP you from writing letters, I suppose. Do whatever you want.”

Lights flashed in my head. Something clicked. I realized the truth of his words, this man turned unwitting prophet. That’s right, he can’t stop me! I am responsible for my actions, not his response. If I want to communicate, I will. I did.

I began writing to Vivi every week, making copies of every letter. I kept one, mailed one. I did that every week for the next 5 years.

Determination settled in. I’d passed the halfway mark of my incarceration – four years down. Amazing things were coming. I had no idea.

Dear Listener, This episode delves into challenging topics, including emotional abuse, manipulation, legal system hurdles, and parental alienation. Throughout 2014 and 2015, I grappled with finding balance and clarity amidst these struggles. Perhaps you are too.

Let me ask you a question: Do you truly grasp the concept of eternal life? Previously, I might have defined it simply as immortality or perpetual existence. However, Scripture reveals that every human being will endure for eternity, either in hell or in heaven—our eternal destination is certain.

John’s words in I John 5:13 shed light on the essence of eternal life: “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” Jesus further elucidates in John 17:3:

“And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent.”

Understanding, learning, and comprehending all come through the mind, as Paul explains in Romans 8:6:

“Now the mind of the flesh [which is sense and reason without the Holy Spirit] is death [death that comprises all the miseries arising from sin, both here and hereafter]. But the mind of the [Holy] Spirit is life and [soul] peace [both now and forever].”

Eternal life is not solely a future state after physical death; it begins with spiritual birth. Jesus emphasized this truth to Nicodemus in John 3:

“Jesus answered him, ‘I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.'”

Nicodemus, puzzled, questioned the logistics, prompting Jesus to clarify: “What is born of [from] the flesh is flesh [of the physical is physical]; and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not [do not be surprised, astonished] at My telling you, You must all be born anew (from above).”

How does this rebirth occur? Jesus reveals the path in John 3:16:

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, or be lost) but have eternal life.”

Ultimately, the journey towards resolution begins within our own hearts and minds. Salvation is the key, as it grants us the spiritual life we desperately need.

Dear Jesus, I pray for the person listening right now, and I pray for me – help us to more fully understand our need for You. Show us the life that starts with You, and deepen our relationship with You today. Amen

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