26 November 2013

So Far, So Good

I only have FIVE minutes to write this post. That is kind of ridiculous, but I am very determined to stick to this curfew. It has been a week, I think, and it's transformed my life. It has transformed my family's life. I am not being dramatic. 

It is frustrating, though. I want to keep working. I want to search for recipes. I want to play Scrabble. I want to check the weather, watch the news, catch-up on "Lark Rise at Candleford."

I want to do several things that I cannot.

However, I am getting to do more other things. Like sleeping. Working. Talking. Reading. 

It's been good. I really cannot complain. My lists are not getting shorter, and I do not know if I am more productive (first guess would be that it hasn't made an impact there), however, I am not doing this to increase my productivity. I am doing this to improve the quality of my life and relationships.

So far, so good.

I do miss my friends on Facebook, though. And, my blogging friends. I figure I will get better at using my time online eventually.

I am worried about some projects that are computer-based, but, well, it's only been a week! 

So far, so good. 


19 November 2013

Making Time to Listen

A friend did a kind thing for us recently. He committed to making us get away to to his family's cabin. It wasn't until Thursday night that I actually believed it would happen, and because of car troubles we didn't actually get to leave until Saturday, but we did it. We got away. Three nights. 

Do you know that our daughter was still in diapers the last time we were away for more than two nights? And, the last time we were away at all for any kind of holiday? Well, let's just not go there. What matters is that it was a long time coming, and I am grateful for our friend's persistence. We needed this time in a serious way. We needed a chance to be quiet, to meditate. To listen. 

You see, we do not normally have a day off. Sometimes, we get hours off during the day, but it's more common for us to work from the time we wake-up until the we go to bed. There is almost always an email waiting for a reply, a document to create, a newsletter to write, text messages to send, studying or planning. Inevitably, there is a phone call. It's not good. And, it's gotten worse since I've been working more. Heading into our new year of ministry, we knew we needed to spend some time seeking the Lord, and searching our hearts. 

And, now, we are home. We still are seeking and searching, but we know some have some direction and some answers. We aren't sure how we will schedule a day off each week, but we know that needs to happen. We also are committing to putting away phone and computers by 10 p.m. We must make more time to listen. To each other, and to the Lord.  

We also know I need to be in the jail more, and Doug needs to be in the jail more. So, yeah. Figure that one out. Work more and work less, at the same time. That is one for the Lord to resolve!

One of my earliest memories as a child is sneaking out of bed and creeping into the hallway, so I could hear what I was missing. I don't know how we're going to make all the changes we need to make, but I know they are God's will. And, that's not something I'm willing to miss. 

18 November 2013

The Rest Is History

It was one of those moments you never forget. You don't know how it's going to change your life, you just know things will change.

We had been living in Haverhill for just over two months. Doug had been working as the chaplain's assistant for the Essex County Correctional Facility in Middleton, Massachusetts and the Lawrence Correctional Alternative Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I say working, but it was an unofficial, unpaid position. We were now existing on the fumes of his last unemployment check.

It was November 16, 2004. Doug had been laid-off from a well-paid position at Verizon Information Services. Well-paid, but rather soul-numbing. He had always served God in church, but he had a desire to serve more. So, I urged him to just make himself "available" to God, as he searched for his new position. He received a generous severance, and as he had always gone from one good position to a better one his entire working life, I was completely confidant that would be the case once again. Jobs were hard to find, though. The last thing he wanted to do was another I.T. gig, but no one wanted to hire him to do anything else. By the end of the upcoming 12 months, he would have submitted many rejected job applications.

Back to November 2003 first.

Doug and some much-loved, much-talented musician friends had been rehearsing for a couple of years, gigging locally at Christian events. It began, because Doug wanted to work through the songs the Lord had given him over the previous 12 years. He had been working on notating the music, working to make them freely available, and in the process they began taking gigs. It was all free, of course. Everyone had a paying job. This was ministry. Ministry we do for free, because it's not ours. God gives it freely to us. At least that was always our conviction, and the rest of the band was in agreement. 

So, one of Doug's goals after he was laid off was to find more gigs for the worship band. That was how he ended up meeting Chaplin Ray Perez. A friend suggested he call him, so they met for breakfast and Doug shared that he had a worship band he wanted to make available to go into the jail. There had always been a desire in Doug's heart to bring worship into jail, even though he had never served in prison ministry.

Chaplain Ray listened to Doug and invited him to go through orientation and visit a service. Doug says the first time he went into prison he fell in love, and I guess we could say the rest is history. 

Except, the rest is why I remember November 17, 2004 so well. The rest is why I am speaking into my phone and trying to write a blog post with my fingertip. :/ The rest is my story.

Doug began to lead worship services for Chaplain Ray, and soon offered to help with administrative tasks in the office. Over time, Chaplin Ray would ask Doug to share a testimony, teach a Bible study, and eventually cover services for him. In the summer of 2004, Doug covered for Chaplain Ray for an extended period of time, and this was when I began to see that this was more than just a way for him to pass time until his next job.

That August, we learned we would need to move and began looking for a new home. Through the prison ministry, an arts education program we developed for homeschoolers, and a compassion effort called The Keeper Project, we were already in the Haverhill community almost daily. Yet, Haverhill was the last place I wanted to live. I couldn't tell you why. I just know I looked everywhere else, until Haverhill was the only option left. So, over the Labor Day weekend of 2004, family and friends helped us move most of our belongings into storage and a few things into our new apartment. 

Apartment. Yes. This was challenging for me. Doug and I had built a very nice life. I didn't have a single complaint. Going from a small town in New Hampshire to the inner city was not a step-up for me. I remember really struggling, even suffering, in my very pampered-middle class way. Talk about First World problems. But, the Lord meets us where we are, even in our silliness and selfishness. He takes us by the hand and slowly shows us our sinful willfulness, and His divine, perfect will. For me, The Lord did this through the internet site eBay. 

I had 'discovered' eBay the year before, when I started selling Hannah's old homeschooling curriculum. When I began The Keeper Project, I used eBay to find cheap Tupperware Sandwich Keepers. And, that August the Lord used eBay to minister His will to my heart. Following a Mary Engelbreit rabbit trail one day, I found this: 

It is a green, Mary Engelbreit fabric, with "Bloom Where You're Planted" printed all over it. I love M.E., so I frequently went down eBay rabbit trails to find M.E. products. I may have seen this theme of hers before that day in August, but it was on that day that the Holy Spirit used it to begin speaking His peace and will to my heart. I sat at my desk (in my wonderful, spacious office), and cried my heart out. 

Bloom where you're planted, Caroline, He spoke to my heart. 

"I don't want to, Lord. I want to stay here!" 

Bloom where you're planted, Caroline.

"But, God, I don't want to!"

Bloom where you're planted, Caroline.

Resistance was futile, because I knew in that instant it was His hand that had closed every other door. I knew in that instant this was His will. I knew in that instant that this was His promise to me. He was planting me here, and if I was there I would grow.

So, I bought the fabric. No surprise that the seller was a Titus 2 Sister, with whom I was able to share my heart, and share that I would be using this fabric for the curtains in our new apartment. They would serve as a constant reminder to me that I was there by God's choosing, and meant to bloom. This was not a punishment or failure. This was His will, and His will was what I truly desired most.  

Yet, it was not as easy as making new curtains. By the time November arrived, I was becoming very stressed. Our lifestyle and living conditions dramatically changed. Friends didn't want to visit our ghetto apartment - yes, that's right. We were a block away from a porn den in one direction, the prime spot for prostitution in another direction, and the center for drug deals in another. The fourth direction took us to the post office, which was a blessing, because my little eBay business had now become our only source of income.

We knew this was God's will, though on Labor Day we were still not exactly sure what God had in mind, besides our continuing what He had given us to do: Keepers, LAM Arts Ed, and Doug serving as the Chaplain's unofficial assistant.

On November 6th we attended our first Volunteer Appreciation event, and it was just what we needed. We returned home very encouraged and inspired. The next morning we were awakened by neighbors at 5:00 a.m., alerting us that our car had been vandalized. We handled that crisis well, sitting together to pray for the offender, but our CD player (our primary source of spiritual food) was gone and the $250 we had gathered towards our late rent had to be used to repair the broken car window. A week later, when Doug came to me with this 'new ministry' idea Chaplain Ray had shared with him, through clenched teeth I told him: "The last thing I want to hear about is MINISTRY!" I was at the end if my rope.

That same day I took Hannah to her homeschool group. As we pulled into the parking lot, the Holy Spirit just opened my eyes. I just instantly knew this 'new ministry' was actually exactly what my heart desired. The Holy Spirit reminded me of the first time I attended a chapel service, and the question that had filled my heart as I watched my Brothers worship God: "What happens when they leave prison?" This ministry was the answer to that need. I called Doug immediately and cried into the phone, repenting for my wrong spirit. 

Friends, we've learned a lot over the past nine years on this mission field, and on November 16, 2004 I learned that when you are walking by faith, and you come to the end of your rope, you let go.

So, the next day, nine years ago yesterday, we met with Chaplain Ray and began a new life of full-time ministry as full-time missionaries. 

And, here is where I will say: the rest is history.

10 November 2013

Day Ten

I am doing a Graitude Challenge on Facebook. As I began writing today's, it started to get a little long. I decided I would move it over here. 

GRATITUDE CHALLENGE, Day 10 (11/10): My heart fills to bursting with gratitude, when I hear my husband preach. And, I am reminded of a time when his preaching was the last thing I wanted.

Once upon a time, when Hannah was just born, my Mother prayed for my husband and prophesied over him. She told him the Lord was going to use him to minister the Word of God. 

Now, you need to understand that I did not want to be in ministry. I grew-up a minister's kid. I knew what that life was like, and I wanted nothing to do with it. The ministry life is hard. I married Doug thinking I was marrying a normal guy who would make a decent living and provide a stable and secure life for me and our children. Financial security was what I wanted most.

So, when my Mother spoke that prophecy over my husband, I wasn't exactly excited. I wanted Doug to obey and serve God, and if that included ministering the Word, that was fine, but as a layman. On Sundays and Wednesdays. Not as a career. After all, he was a saxophone player. A musician; not a preacher. Let him play on the worship band; teach Sunday school. Wasn't that enough?

The Lord is funny, isn't He? He really does give us our heart's desire. Our head just doesn't clue-in sometimes. Silly us, we think we know what's best. I'm so glad the Lord overrules our plans, and protects us from our best intentions.

The Saxophone Player at the prison chapel recently, where he is the Protestant Chaplain. Doug is also the Director of New Brothers Fellowship, which is a ministry that serves and supports men post-release.
Financial security? Ha! Who needs it? 

06 November 2013

This Is The World

I read this story today:

It is a horrific story. It is an act of wild beasts, creatures without a conscience; without compassion. These were girls and boys—youth—who viciously attacked their classmate. They beat her, terrorized her, and violated her. She will likely suffer the trauma of this wicked cruelty for the rest of her life. 

And, they were her friends.

As the words is this report were assaulting my mind and soul, I heard these words in my spirit: 
"This is the world."
Immediately, the passage of scripture that says, "friendship with the world is enmity with God" came to mind. Here is the whole verse:
"Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4, NKJV)
It's pretty clear what is being said here, but a scene began to fill my head as I considered this article and these words from James. Imagine it with me. Our heroine, let's call her Caroline, has just been enjoying a picnic of tuna fish sandwiches with her coworkers. Their Boss, who is really more like a Friend, invited them to lunch with Him. We shall call Him Jesus.

It's a beautiful day for a picnic, and Caroline has been having a very nice time with Jesus. She always does love His company. But for a moment, just a second, she takes her eyes off Him and looks around at others in the park. She's just curious. What's everyone doing?

Across the greenway from where they are sitting, Caroline spots an attractive, rather mysterious-looking gentleman. She tries not to stare, but there's something about him that's just so...appealing. Caroline looks back at Jesus, and He is saying something about His Father. That's interesting, she thinks. She nods, and tries to focus on His words. She wants to hear; she is interested. Yet, her mind keeps wandering. She is hearing Jesus, but thinking about him. He has captivated her attention. She can't get him out of her mind. 

Just one more peek, she tells herself, as she looks back in his direction, but he's not there. Her eyes dart across the park. Panic rises. Where is he? Did he leave? Then, she sees him. A sigh of relief passes her lips. He's walking across the greenway. He's walking towards her! Her heart beats faster. He's getting closer. She sits up taller, and tucks a stray hair back in place. Her fingers flit up to her ears. Did I remember to wear earrings? He has made his way to her side of the park. She somehow knows he won't come near her circle, but that's OK. He's in a better position now, where can see him without turning her head away. This is perfect. Everyone around her thinks she is looking at Jesus, when in reality her eyes are beholding him

She hasn't realized that Jesus can see her eyes, and He knows where she has cast her focus.

As she catches the eye of her mystery man, he smiles and makes a faint gesture. He beckons her to follow him. Where is he going? She cranes her neck. Now, her coworkers realize something is wrong. She doesn't care what they think. They don't understand. She's tired of being judged. Oh, no! He's getting away!

Caroline is desperate. Thinking quickly, she blurts out, "Lord, I think I'll go throw our trash away." She has interrupted what He was saying, but He isn't angry. He looks at her with concern, and then assures her:

"I can take care of that later, Caroline. Don't worry. Just stay here, and let's enjoy our time together."

"No, no. I need to do this now. Right now. It can't wait, Lord." She tries to control the panic in her voice. She is trying to keep one eye on the Lord, and one on her mystery man. It's not working. She sees him looking back at her, but he doesn't stop. He won't wait for her. I have to go now. He's leaving without me!

Jesus is saying something to her, but she can't hear Him anymore. Hastily grabbing the remains of their meal, Caroline hurries after him. Completely captivated now, she leaves a trail of rubbish behind her. Her paces quickens, and she starts to run. 

"You [are like] unfaithful wives [having illicit love affairs with the world and breaking your marriage vow to God]! Do you not know that being the world's friend is being God's enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world takes his stand as an enemy of God." (James 4:4, Amp.)

02 November 2013

Waiting For Pork Butt To Cool

Hello, Friends. It's Saturday night. I have a few minutes to wait, and thought I'd do a little journaling. 

We are now in November, and for me this is an increasingly challenging time emotionally. As the days so full of grief last year approach again, I am challenged to not hide away until next June. Of course, when sadness threatens to take me out, I imagine what my Mother would say. It sounds something like, "But, I'm in Heaven! I'm supping with the Lord!" 

Imagined conversations do not really heal our sad hearts, though. I think that is just a matter of time. Lots of time. And, then accepting the fact that we never stop missing. Since Mother left this earth, several have been kind enough to share their stories with me, and it doesn't matter how long their loved one has been gone. Their eyes till begin to glisten. Isn't true love worth a glisten two or thirty years down the road? I think so.

I am making this meat as a practice run for Wednesday night's Community Supper at the Ladder House. We have undertaken a big work there, but several are extending their hands to help, and I believe even more are praying. I will not share all that I see in my spirit, but I am grateful for vision. I am grateful for faith to believe for things my hands cannot do.

Pork is pretty tasty. I'm pretty pooped. I think it's time for some tea in my big, Boston mug.