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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing so intimately of how our faithful God believes in you and me and NEVER, NEVER gives up on us. I love Him so much!


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