In April, 2015, we were in Arizona for my Mother-in-Law’s memorial. The day we headed out for the drive home, we made an unplanned stop at Uncle R’s house. He and our Aunt have a beautiful garden, and we asked for a tour. On one end of his yard stood a glorious tree, and he excitedly began to tell us about this tree. There was a weightiness to what he was saying, and I felt like I needed to really pay attention.
I’m glad I did.
Uncle R said a lot about that tree, but what stood out was what he had to say about a particular branch. The branch was full of fruit, full of life, but he said, “This branch will have to be cut off.” Doug and I were horrified. Cut off all that life? All that fruit? Why would anyone do that?
He explained the science of it, but I don’t remember all of that. I just remember him looking at us and saying,
“If we don’t cut off the branch, the whole tree will die.” Then he added, almost as an after thought: “That’s prophetic.”
As we drove away from Cottonwood, I asked Doug what he thought Uncle R meant. Doug admitted he hadn’t really taken it to mean anything. I was surprised. To me, it felt like lasers were coming out of his eyes and piercing my soul! I kept thinking about what he said all the way home, but ultimately I filed it away under “In God’s Hands.” If this was a word from the Lord for us, He would make it clear at the right time.
INTO THE FIRE
After a few days on the road, we arrived back home to a season of intense opposition at the jail. By July, we thought a victory had been won on that field, but in September there was a very serious turn of events that eventually led to the most unexpected event. After 12 years of full-time volunteer service, sometimes giving more than 40 hours a week, Doug was unceremoniously relieved of his position as the Protestant Chaplain at the Essex County Correctional Facility and the Lawrence Correctional Alternative Center. The circumstances that led to his dismissal were completely unjust, and blatantly personal.
I don’t think I have ever spoken about this event publicly, and I do not plan to say much now, but I do want to make it clear that there were never legitimate grounds for what happened. While it was within the rights of the administration to make any changes to programming that they liked, barring Doug from ever serving in the jail as a volunteer—or even visiting inmates as a private citizen—is still one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen. Doug’s record at the facility was pristine. He didn’t break rules, or defy authority. He always conducted himself with humility, treating everyone with respect.
And, that is not a wife’s rose-colored-glasses point of view. It’s just the facts. Other volunteers who actually did break rules quite willfully continue to be allowed on the property. My good husband? Nope. He was not even allowed to return to his office to pack-up his belongings. In February, when he attempted to visit an inmate as a private citizen—a tax-paying resident of Essex County—he was refused. Can you imagine?
But, I filed that away in the same file, “In God’s Hands.” We will suffer injustice in this life, but He is the final judge. And, the really great thing about God is that He knows just how to use what the Enemy intended for evil for our good and His glory. In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. Doug would never compare this injustice with the kind of injustice we see around us every day—men being held for months without trial, dragged into a courthouse in shackles just to learn their attorney didn’t bother to show up. That’s injustice.
By the time Doug finally received the call from the administrator who “fired” him, we knew what was coming. He received the news in princely fashion, even thanking the man who was slitting his throat. I sat beside my husband in awe. Nothing about it was easy, but he remained respectful and gracious, as humble as ever.
Yes, I am his biggest fan. It’s true. Maybe, I do wear rose-colored glasses, sometimes. When I watched him change Hannah’s diaper for the first time in the hospital, I did think he was part super-hero, to be sure. Yet, I know he is still human, and I knew this was painful. The ministry in the jail meant a great deal to him personally, and this change came like an earthquake. It was a sudden shaking of everything in our life. I also knew, however, that he was battle-weary. The Enemy had been coming against him with deadly force for a long time—longer than even I knew. So, as hard as this news was to receive, there was also a sense of relief. At the time, we described the feeling as though the General had called him back from the front lines; he’d won a leave of absence.
You know, when we give our life to the Lord and yield control to Him, we are going to find ourselves in situations like this. The opposition Doug faced, the injustice he’s endured, was not God’s will. Yet, because Doug was IN God’s will, the Lord used what the Enemy intended for evil to work His perfect in Doug’s life. The battle at the jail continues. It will always go on, so long as there are men and women willing to fight. For Doug, that fight is over.
I had not thought about that tree in our Uncle’s yard since the drive home, but in January the Holy Spirit pulled it out my files and dropped it in front of me. “Remember this?”
“If we don’t cut off the branch, the whole tree will die.”
In a flash—in an instant—I knew. The Holy Spirit suddenly gave me understanding. I turned to Doug and I told him. I seem to recall that he thought it was interesting, but it didn’t really faze him. Why would it? The Holy Spirit had not spoken the prophecy to him. I did not realize that until today.
I tell ya, the Lord blows my mind. I have been working on this post in my head for many days, and I’ve been putting thoughts into words since yesterday. I thought I knew what I was writing. I thought I knew what the Lord wanted me to say. Silly Caroline.
I never knew until just a few minutes ago why that prophecy was for me. I know now. It makes complete sense! It’s funny how the Lord works.
So, would you like to know the interpretation of that prophecy from the tree in Cottonwood?
I need to first tell you that when I heard Uncle’s words, I felt that it was related to Doug’s ministry. I didn’t understand what it meant, but it made me feel kind of afraid. When Doug said he sensed nothing, I took some comfort. However, as I have already shared, I could not ignore the sense I had in my spirit that the Lord was speaking to us.
When the Lord brought that word back to my memory, eight months later, He also gave me immediate understanding. This is what it meant:
If the Lord had not allowed Doug to be cut off from the prison ministry, it would have cost the health and life of the entire ministry—all of New Brothers Fellowship, every ministry associated with it.
That Satan wants to hinder NBF is not news. He’s risen up against this ministry over and over and over. I won’t begin to speculate on how Doug’s remaining at the jail would have destroyed the whole ministry, but it isn’t hard to see how that could have happened. Various scenarios speed through my head. In order for Doug to have kept his position, he would have had to make a very serious compromise. That alone would have cost him tremendously.
So, why me? Why did the Lord speak that message to me, and not to Doug? Well, that became evident this afternoon. Today, yet again, the facility found a new way to try to attack my husband and hinder the ministry. When Doug called to tell me what had happened, I was really shocked. I could tell Doug was actually annoyed himself—it takes a lot to get under Doug’s skin. After all, it is one thing to suffer the slings and arrows yourself; quite a different thing when someone else is hurt in your name. It was a great injustice towards an inmate, just because of someone’s grudge against Doug.
Right before he called, I had just found my way to my little writing desk to finish this post. Even while we were still on the phone, though, I was plotting my attack. Which newspaper do I contact? Who do we know with some influence? A letter was half-way done in my head. We couldn’t let this pass without some response.
Well, I can assure it did not take long for the Holy Spirit to right my wrong spirit. I realized quickly the error in my thinking. What incredible (divine?) timing that this offense should happen today, just as I am writing about this prophetic word.
That branch had to be cut-off. Let it go.
I hate what happened today, but I don’t want to fight a battle that isn’t ours to fight. People there may still have a fight with Doug, for reasons that truly are beyond me, but we must not respond. Doug’s enemies did not cut off that branch, you see? That is certainly what the Enemy had in mind. He wanted to tear down the whole tree. Satan hacks away, causing death and destruction. The Master Gardner prunes with a skillful hand that does not cause damage, but brings new life. We have seen that in the ministry these past ten months. So much new life! And, who knows? A similar branch may grow again, but when it does it will not take from the health of the tree.