A question from my inbox

by adustyframe ~ July 17th, 2008

I am always blessed when I open my email and find a sweet email from any of you. You have been a blessing to me.

I also love it when someone lets me know they’ve been reading, or that they’ve been encouraged. It means a lot to hear it. I blog because I know that’s what God wants me to do in this situation, but it’s so nice to hear that God is using my writing in the hearts of others.

I received an email last week asking me how to support someone who’s husband is in prison. Here are parts of her question. She said that blogging about it would be great so here goes.

“..her entire life has been turned upside down, her family’s lives etc. I try to be supportive, she is not a Christian and is not handling any of this well. I don’t know how to offer support, I don’t know if I should ask about her visits, not ask. It’s a new chapter and I don’t know if anyone of us is handling it right.”

She also asked,

“What helped you, what hurt you, what got you through it? When did you decide to stand by him, did you waiver in that decision?”

Your friend is blessed to have you in her life. The fact that you care and want to know how to support her is a huge step in the right direction.

1. The very most important thing you can do for her is to pray. I would pray that she would come to know the Lord through this.

One of my friends in this group shared that God used her husband’s incarceration to bring her back to the Lord. Even though she will look at me with tears in her eyes because of the horrible pain she carries, she says every time that she wouldn’t trade her relationship with the Lord for her former life.

You can also pray that God will show you what to do or not do. You can pray that God will give her wisdom and clarity for decisions she has to make. You will know how to pray for her, just pray! God may be up to something big in her life or her husband’s life.

Pray that God will allow her husband to come to know God there. Much is said about “jailhouse conversions”, but the truth is that many chaplains, churches, and volunteers work very hard to bring God’s word to the prisons and jails of our land.

People in prison are raw and hurting and God specializes in mending broken people. Not all jailhouse conversions should be “poo pooed” many of them are very real.

God’s word is powerful and lives–even broken lives worthy of punishment–can be touched and healed through it’s amazing power.

2. Tell her that you’re there and that you care.

If she doesn’t want to talk, you can’t make her! But if she knows that you are willing to listen then at least she has a place to go.

a. If she comes to you to talk, please don’t answer her based on what you would do.

Prison is a surreal world of its own. There is nothing you have ever faced that will help you understand what it’s like to live through it unless you’ve been there.

So, I’d also suggest reading through my prison archives, or perhaps the enduring trials archive. I’ve sprinkled much of our story throughout many categories though, so maybe just read as you have time.

I’ve tried to be honest so some posts are emotional. Having a loved one in prison IS emotional and there’s no way to be honest without sharing that.

Many of the links in the prison blogroll can be helpful for you to start learning what prison is like. Prison Fellowship comes to mind as an excellent link to start with.

b. Don’t assume that you know all there is to know about the case.

(I am not directing this at the person who emailed me! I’m speaking in generalities here.)

Legal cases are very complex and difficult to wade through.

One thing that has greatly disappointed me in this trial is to realize that the legal system isn’t alway honest. Things can be twisted, lies can become facts, and paperwork can be “lost”.

There can be much more to a case than meets the eyes and if you haven’t read every document you really cannot know exactly what is going on.

c. Don’t tell her what she should do about her marriage. This is a decision that she must make on her own. I stayed because I knew that’s what God wanted me to do.

Frankly, I think leaving would have been easier. However, the blessings and lessons I’ve received for staying are so huge that I am thankful to God for giving me the strength to endure.

In Honoring my Covenant, I shared some of the reasons that I stayed.

Her husband could be a horrible pathetic loser in your eyes and most likely in society’s eyes. In God’s eyes, he is an individual that Jesus died for. A person of great worth and value.

If you’re having difficulty talking about him without being angry or bitter, ask God to help you. She won’t want to be supported by you if you are tearing down her husband.

In my situation, Lee is my husband. He was my husband before prison and he’s my husband after. His incarceration did not change that. I did not take kindly to people trying to tell me what to do about him. Especially since I knew that God wanted me to stay with him.

3. Ask her if you can write to him in prison. It doesn’t have to be long epistles. A couple of lines in a note card, a seasonal greeting card, or a note letting him know you’re praying for him will mean a lot to him. It can be every other month, it doesn’t have to be every day.

4. Draw boundaries I don’t know anything about your friend. I will say that I did meet some people in the visiting lines at the prison that I probably needed to be wary of. If she asks for things that you are uncomfortable with just be honest. Or just say no.

By drawing boundaries however, I don’t mean telling her you don’t want to talk about prison. When Lee was in prison, it consumed our lives. If I needed to talk that is EXACTLY what I needed to talk about.

5. Do something fun with her. Invite her to do “normal” things that you used to do together. If she isn’t up to it, just know that you’re inviting her means a lot. Don’t get frustrated if she says no because she’s going to go on a visit to the prison or she has to wait for her husband to call.

I had to put lots of things aside in order to make Lee a priority. Prison schedules are set in stone. They don’t care that you wanted to do something else. If you don’t go during visiting hours you just don’t go. Phone calls can be limited to certain times as well, so she really may need to be there when he calls.

I understand that some people may read that and think that’s pathetic to set your life around the prison schedule. To them I will say this–

* Outside of my relationship with God, my husband and my marriage are 1st. His needs came before my friends.
* If I told Lee that I would visit on Fri night around 5, and I couldn’t make it, there was no way to let him know. He would sit all day looking forward to the visit and watch the time go past wondering if something bad happened to me. As much as I love my friends, I refused to do that to my husband. If I made plans with him to be there on a certain day I went unless I was sick.
* If you still don’t understand, then you just don’t get it. Maybe admit that to her and still support her anyway. Her life as you said has been turned completely upside down and she probably feels like she’s drowning.

6. Understand that supporting HER doesn’t mean you’re condoning what he did.

You may be very angry or hurt over what he has done. You may be angry that his actions have cost your friend this pain. You may be frightened over what happened. It’s ok to support her, pray for her, bite your tongue about him, and maybe send him a note once in awhile. Doing these things doesn’t say that you think he should go scott free. He may very well deserve every thing that happens to him. You can still be her support system.

Unless she participated in his crime, she’s exactly the same person you knew her to be before. She has a lot more stress, pain, and fears than she ever had before. She will be judged simply because her loved one is incarcerated. She will be tired. She may make some stupid (in your eyes) decisions. She may withdraw. She may go “wild”. It’s hard to say what will happen, but you can still be there for her.

Let her cry. Let her talk. Hug her once in awhile. Let her know that your relationship is the same that it always has been and that you want to help. Then leave it up to her to work out how she will lean on you.

I may go through the archives and link to some of the other posts later on. I also may think of more things to add, but there’s a long answer to your short email.

Thank you for asking and letting me answer it on the blog.


7 Thoughts Shared to A question from my inbox

  1. Lisa

    “Her husband could be a horrible pathetic loser in your eyes and most likely in society’s eyes. In God’s eyes, he is an individual that Jesus died for. A person of great worth and value.”

    What a tremendous reminder to us all. “Judge not…”


  2. Pam

    Lizzie, this is good information for “anyone” who is going thru a tough time….listening, respecting, NOT just saying “I’ll pray for you”….there are lots of people who are “alone” emotionally….for as many reasons as there are people….God bless you and your family, Pam

    Thank you, Pam.

  3. Sarah

    Great advice! A much needed reminder for me! God’s perfect timing for me to read this right now!

  4. Senkyoshi

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post this. It was very helpful. Although, I don’t know anyone in your situation, it hit home about another situation that I face. Your testimony on this blog is a tremendous blessing to me.

    Thank you for letting me know that this was helpful. I really appreciate hearing that. I am blessed that God is able to use our trial to bless and encourage others.

  5. theprincessofquitealot

    FANTASTIC post! I agree with Pam that this is great insight for anyone who is supporting or encouraging someone facing a hard time…..the only other thing that I would add (or emphasize) is don’t treat her any differently than you did before…..most people who are going through a hard time don’t tell everyone about it, they may only tell people they feel they can trust, but a lot of times, when you tell someone, they start treating you differently, or they stop talking to you because they don’t know what to say…..it’s tough when people who used to be your “good friends” don’t talk to you anymore because they are having a tough time with your situation…..the best thing to do (like you said) is keep being their friend and pray for them.

    Thanks. You bring up some good points too!

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