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From Surviving to Living
From Surviving to Living
(22) Journey Through Betrayal: Faith Tested in the Prison of Family Dysfunction

For many, forgiveness may feel invalidating, a minimizing of our pain. Have you been hurt by someone? Do you struggle to forgive?

God does not ignore our pain nor minimize our experiences. Forgiveness through Him is more than just letting go. Listen today and learn how God sees forgiveness and explore the powerful work only God can do in the lives of everyone involved in a painful experience!


Are you wounded by betrayal? Do you feel abandoned and alone?

While I was in prison in 2016, I sought to heal my family relationships. Satan, meanwhile, used this time to remind me of every hurt. Is it possible to truly forgive those who have harmed us? Is it possible not just to forgive, but to love? Discover with me the path to healing in painful relationships.

We’ll uncover the secret to dependence on God and letting go of co-dependency and pain. Listen until the end, you don’t want to miss a word! This is Journey Through Betrayal!

Filing into the prison visiting room with the rest of the ABE students, I found a seat and dropped into it. It was September 2016, and the quarterly education meeting was about to begin. The visiting room furniture had been re-arranged. Now blue plastic chairs faced a projection screen and podium. Students from every class filled the room to receive awards.

Mr. Frye, a math teacher, and Ms. Schaibley, my boss, co-hosted the event. “We’re going to have a spelling bee six weeks from now,” Ms. Schaibley announced as the room settled. “If you’d like to participate, we’ll have sign-up forms in your classroom.” The room rumbled with voices, excited students whispering to each other. “Everyone will be permitted to attend,” Ms. Schaibley continued, “and prizes will be awarded.”

My co-worker Sylvia sat in her wheelchair nearby. A fellow inmate, she was 68 years old and a former English professor from a Boston University. We first met in the mental health unit in 2011. The years had seen her change from a very depressed and isolating woman to a helpful co-worker in the ABE English department. They had also ravaged her mind and body; dementia slowly claimed her brilliance and pain forced her into a wheelchair.

I appreciated her, although we couldn’t be more different. Sylvia was often my personal tutor as I drafted and polished essays for my college classes.

Returning to class later that day, we all settled in for the afternoon studies. Nyachoul, a very dark-skinned woman from the Sudan, approached me with a question. I noticed Shefa also heading towards our table. Shefa was also an ESL (English as a Second Language) student. Originally from Ethiopia she’d first learned English when she arrived to prison. English was her fourth language; she became fluent almost immediately and was very dedicated to all things American.

Noticing Silvia was the only tutor available, Shefa made a beeline for her desk. Silvia, grading papers, didn’t notice. Silvia was also hard of hearing, and she often failed to wear her hearing aids.

Settling herself at Sylvia’s desk, Shefa set down her work. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Shefa sat back and shouted, “I need help with question 3!!” Sylvia reeled back as if slapped, shocked at the noise.

“Quiet down!” Sylvia hissed, “women are studying!”

Giggles had begun and I struggled to keep a straight face as Shefa now appeared surprised. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well you sometimes don’t wear your hearing aids, you know.” Sylvia appeared not to know, inspiring more giggles as I returned to my work.

The laughter helped ease the stress I felt in the face of the looming trial. Soon I’d be fighting in court to keep my parental rights with my youngest son Tim. The trial would come just days after my daughter’s 10th birthday. I hadn’t spoken with her in a year and half, didn’t even know where she was.

I think of 2016 as the most devastating year of my life while simultaneously being the best year of my life. The trial of my parental rights wasn’t a singular bad event. It was rather the climax of many. The months leading up to it brought intensity to past conflicts I’d tried to forget.

“Mom, Tim’s caseworker said if I lose my parental rights, you will also lose the ability to have any contact with Tim,” I explained. I wanted to make sure everyone understood the possible outcomes of this trial. I’d been told if I lost no one in my family would be allowed contact with Tim.

Ignoring my assertion that Tim might soon be off-limits to all, she replied, “We are retired. This is our special time. We want to enjoy it. This is our time!” Silence followed. She had not addressed the issue of contact with Tim, leaving me confused. Over the next several months, despite my repeated attempts to share the information that termination of my parental rights would affect all family, I was always met with silence.

I began to wonder if my family knew something I didn’t about their ability to remain in contact with Tim. To this day, I don’t know the answer to that. Were they told something different by social services? Did they wish to keep it a secret? Or did they not care one way or the other? I have no idea.

I pictured finding Tim a home in Minnesota as rescue from his difficult foster care experiences.  I also saw it as a path for Tim to learning about God through godly caretakers, which is desirable.

It was during this year, 2016, that God had begun a new work in me. An important part of that work was in my relationships with others, especially my parents. I became committed to honoring and respecting them. I began to ask God frequently for help in doing this. I think Satan hated it.

As the looming trial intensified my stress, Satan tried to remind me of past conflicts with them. He wanted our relationship to remain in tatters instead of healing. Sitting in my room, old resentments and past hurts would rise to the surface.

“You know your mom likes to tell everyone how awful you are, don’t you?” my cousin asked me. The year was 1998, and I was in my twenties at the time.

In fact, I did not know. I had thought my teenage days of conflict with my parents were long past. My face must have shown it, so she explained, “I was at a baby shower and your mom was there. She pulled a letter out of her purse she said you’d written when you were 15 years old. She passed the letter around and said it demonstrated how horrible a daughter you are.”

I couldn’t remember writing the letter. I had no idea what it contained. I was hurt. I did not understand, but my relationship with my mother didn’t improve.

Years later in 2010, while I was in jail, my husband came alone with my daughter, 3 years old at the time, for a special visit with me.

Vivianne’s beautiful blonde hair had grown into beautiful long curls. By the age of three she had never experienced a haircut. Her long hair was precious, cherubic. I waited at the video visiting booth, phone in hand so we could talk. The screen lit up and I gasped. Vivianne’s hair had been chopped off into a very unflattering bob with bangs. I burst into tears.

“What happened?!?” I choked out, upset. My husband explained that my mother had agreed to watch Vivianne recently. When he returned to pick her up, he found Vivi with a new haircut. I felt sick, weak, hurt. Tears continued to flow as I tried to understand.

I felt terrible as poor Vivi, who was not having a nice special visit with me, watched as I cried and cried. The challenges of living in jail had left me with little emotional resources to deal with this type of betrayal. I ended the visit shortly after it began, unable to rebound.

Calling my mother afterwards I asked her about this. She stiffly rebuffed my question with the retort, “Well if someone has to watch her, we shouldn’t have to comb that long hair of hers.”

“Why didn’t you ask me first?” I asked.

My mom choked out a laugh that wasn’t a laugh at all, as if I were ridiculous. More – as if I were irrelevant. While I cried her hostility was palpable over the phone.

More time passed, and our relationship got even worse.

After I was sent to prison in 2011, my dad reassured me that they would care for my children. “We’ll keep them until they’re 18,” my dad asserted and repeated, and I felt better. My relief would quickly dissolve into fear and outrage. My parents’ decision just a month later was shocking.

“Your husband came and asked to have the kids back,” my dad informed me over the phone. “We thought that was the best plan,” he finished.

“Where??” I gasped. “Where did they go to live?” I asked. I knew my husband had no job, no money. I was unable to imagine this as “the best plan.”

“In the home you were renting,” my dad explained, sounding very practical.

“There’s no running water! No heat, no electricity! The utilities have all been shut off!” I stammered out, utterly shocked.

“I’m certain everything will be fine,” my dad reassured me. “We think it’s the best idea,” he reiterated.

The following fall, I’d be dealt yet another shocking blow. On a Thursday afternoon my husband delivered our children to my parents, stating he would be moving to the state of Washington the following Monday and would be taking our kids with him. He needed the weekend to get ready.

My dad calmly explained all of this to me on the phone that night as if it were a good plan.

“He cannot take them! My restraining order against him is still in effect. He has no custody of them!” I rushed out.

“I don’t believe you; I don’t believe that’s true,” my dad responded.

“It is true,” I countered, “and it would be illegal to give them to him,” I finished. I waited for a reply. I was shocked by the force of it.

“Well if he can’t have them, they will have to go somewhere else, because we don’t want them here. In fact, you had better find a new home for them immediately. I don’t want them here even another day,” my dad stormed angrily.

Frantic, I asked the prison for help, and was put in touch with a staff member whose job was to help incarcerated mothers. Entering her office in an area of the prison I’d never seen, she allowed me to use the phone to call social services.

“I am in prison and need a foster home for my children,” I told her.

“Where are they now?” she asked, to which I explained they were with my parents.

“We only put children in foster care who don’t have a place to stay,” she responded slowly, clearly confused. “Why do you want them in foster care if they stay with your parents?”

“I don’t want them in foster care,” I stated forcefully, trying not to cry. “My parents want them in foster care,” I stressed. “My parents don’t want them.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she answered. I didn’t blame her. I could not convince this caseworker to understand this bizarre situation and act. I gave up, defeated.

The next day, Friday, my parents refused to pick my children up from school. The school principal called the police for help, who in turn called social services. Police and social workers from two different counties arrived. They began to argue over who had jurisdiction, neither wanting responsibility. Finally they left without resolution, convinced it was not their problem. The principal was alone again with my children.

He called my parents for a second time and explained, “The school day has long ended, and I need to go home. You must come pick up these children.” My parents did so.

Frantic, I spent the remainder of the weekend talking to police and trying to convince my parents to obey the restraining order – which the police strongly explained to them was the legal thing to do. Monday found my parents giving my children to my husband, calling the police after he left. My parents would insist in the future that they “did the right thing,” and “did nothing wrong,” and that “it doesn’t matter anyway because it all turned out fine regardless.”

Recently I read an article about “Emotionally Immature Parenting” which hit home for me when it said, “It’s difficult to be vulnerable with them. They rarely introspect about the reasons behind their behaviors, and are dismissive of the emotional needs of others.” The article goes on to say, “An adult child of emotionally immature parents might end up an internalizer, a people-pleaser who self-sacrifices their own needs to take care of others. Or they might become an externalizer, who is reactive, looks to others to self-soothe and can be emotionally disruptive.”

The author of the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Lindsay Gibson, says, “if someone tells us our behavior is hurting or angering them, and we continue to insist that we are right and entitled to treat them that way, then to me, that is emotional immaturity full-force.”

All these hurts and many like them were brought to the fore that year as I began a new journey with God that Satan hated. In past I’d used coping skills such as denial and avoidance when faced with conflict. Now I wanted a genuine relationship with my family.

Satan’s attempts to intensify my hurt, bitterness and resentments drove me to seek answers from God. Jesus is the Source of all Truth. It was His command to love, honor and respect my parents. It must be possible even considering all these experiences! I went to Him for answers.

What struck me as most important was this – before 2016 I had a lot of problems. Many people may have tried to tell me about myself or intervene but that wasn’t the cure. God Himself alone stepped into my prison cell and gave me a supernatural desire to read His word. He taught me what it meant and then gave me the ability to obey it. That being the case, I could trust Him to do the same for others, including my parents.

I also began to understand that I’d been relying too heavily on other human beings for needs only God can fully meet. God was allowing it to become painfully clear that He is the only Person Who can be fully relied upon, so that I would in my heart be certain of the fact. God hates idols, anyone or anything that we believe can meet our need fully other than Himself.

Now that I was learning these lessons about my family, He was about to take away my son.

Listener, have you been hurt by someone you love? I’m so sorry that happened to you. Forgiveness can often feel invalidating, but true forgiveness and healing from God is far from that. God does not minimize your experiences or ignore your feelings.

Psalm 34 speaks to this beautifully:

Psalm 34: 4 I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and delivers them. 8 O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who trusts in Him. 15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. 17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

These verses affirm deliverance from hurt, not denial of pain. God deeply acknowledges the gravity of sin. He hates sin and its consequences. If sin weren’t grievous, we wouldn’t need deliverance from our own sins or those committed against us. God’s recognition of sin’s pain prompted Him to send a savior.

No one is more hurt, angry, or offended by sin than God. All sin ultimately offends Him. David confessed in Psalm 51: “Against You, You only, have I sinned.” He knew his sins of adultery and murder were against God’s will.

When considering forgiveness, ask, “Does God forgive?” The answer is yes, even the most terrible sins. Psalm 41:4 says, “I said, Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.” God acknowledges sin and heals us to restore our relationship with Him.

What does this mean for our relationships? While we cannot heal others as God does, we can place the work of healing in God’s capable hands. Forgiveness involves recognizing that it’s about you, the other person, and God. Trust God to convict and grow you both.

Forgiveness puts our life in surrender to a great God Who works for our good.

Ps 57:2 I will cry to God Most High, Who performs on my behalf and rewards me [Who brings to pass His purposes for me and surely completes them]!

Surrender your relationships to Him and begin healing! Let’s start today!

Dear Jesus, I pray for the person listening right now, and I pray for me. Thank you for Your forgiveness of us. Help us to surrender everything to You, placing our lives in Your hands. Teach us about forgiveness as we learn to trust You with our healing and relationships. Amen

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