Saturday, March 17, 2018

In A Pit With A Lion...

Yes, the weeks have been flying by again.  Our city is still in the grip of winter and we're nearing a record 200 inches of snow for this season.  You know, there's something exciting about breaking a record--even if it is for the largest amount of snow.

I'm reading a book this morning by Mark Batterson: In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day.  I'm only two chapters in but I recently read a sermon by Ray Stedman on the same subject.  It's based on the story in 1 Chronicles 11:22-24 about how David's bodyguard, Benaiah, took great risks for God and had amazing victories--even killing a lion in a pit on a snowy day.

As I read about people who have overcome fear and trusted our big God to do amazing things I'm thinking of our packing party journey. God graciously knows my weak faith and has only led us in this journey step by step--each year allowing us to do a bit more.

I'm thinking of this year's upcoming packing party where God's led us to trust Him for 30,000 boxes. Sometime in the past couple of years an acquaintance referred to our packing party in a Facebook post and said 'they pack like 30,000 boxes'.  I laughed because I believe we'd actually packed around 25,000 boxes at that time--and 30,000 seemed, well, laughable.

Last year, by God's grace, we packed 28,032 boxes, and I always try to raise our goal by at least 500 boxes each year.  A nice modest, incremental goal.

A few months back when I met with Amanda and Pam for some preliminary talks about our 2018 packing party, Amanda suggested we should make our goal 30,000 boxes.  Pam and I looked at each other, and I said, "Umm, that's a pretty big jump."  Nothing more was said, but over the days and weeks, because of Amanda's faith-filled suggestion, that number of 30,000 started to settle into our hearts.

 Two months ago when our area team coordinators met we prayerfully decided to trust God for that "big jump" of 30,000 boxes.

And now the work of faith continues.  On February 14th we got the shipping window dates from Operation Christmas Child headquarters and were told arrangements had to be submitted by March 29th.  We made a request that day to use the church building for a packing party on September 15th, thinking we'd know pretty quickly whether our request would be granted.

Unfortunately, the church calendar runs from September to August so the church had not scheduled their own events for fall and were unable to confirm our request.  We kept praying as the weeks rolled by without an answer.  More and more people joined us in prayer.  I began to ask God if He was calling us out to another venue and spent some time thinking about alternative locations.  Then, day before yesterday we got that long-awaited go-ahead to hold our packing party on September 15th at our usual location--Grace Church.

Also, over the past weeks we've been praying and seeing God answer with needed items for the boxes. We prayed for 50,000 pencils and two weeks ago God answered and we were able to get the price down to a manageable level and order them.  He also allowed us to get a lower price on thousands of small plastic toys for filler items.

Meanwhile, we were blessed last Monday when a mission team of students from the Chi Alpha college ministry at a college in Texas worked to put together some of our jump ropes.

They completed well over 2,000 that night so we may have about 4,000 completed now with another 23,000 or so to go.

Last weekend Amanda, Pam and I drove to Baltimore for the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference.  God answered prayer again by giving us a safe drive despite the snow in our area.  I have some good notes from the conference but am waiting to post them until after the Phoenix conference next weekend.  So stay tuned for those.

In his book, Mark Batterson says, "Our biggest problems can be traced back to an inadequate understanding of who God is...The issue is this: How big is your God?"

This week as I was praying again for a confirmation on our packing party date, I read Joel 5:8,9 and just had to memorize it. "As for me, I would seek God and to God would I commit my cause, Who does great things and unsearchable wondrous things without number."

We serve a transcendent God who is like nothing we can begin to imagine. He wants to do great, unsearchable, marvelous things in us that only He can do--things like truly loving people who irritate us or serving when we don't feel like it or maybe even packing 30,000 shoeboxes.  There's nothing in life as exciting as watching in amazement as God does what you know only HE can do!

Batterson writes, "I've got to think that nothing brings God greater joy then when one of His children defies the odds...Lion chasers defy the odds--and make their Father proud."

If God goes with me (and He promises He will) I'm ready.  Let's go chase a lion!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Roping It In

Yes, it arrived today--two pallets of beautiful rope.  That's 162,000 feet, and that should make 23,142 jump ropes.  Added to the 3,675 ropes already cut, we're looking at a grand total of 26,817 or so lengths of rope.

We made about 1800 of them at our last work day and a local campus ministry at Edinboro University--Chi Alpha--is itching to get working on more.

My husband and I waited for the call from the trucking company.  It started raining just as we got to the church to unload those 135 spools, but, by God's grace it stopped long enough for us to get them transferred into the storage container.  The shrink wrap plastic that wrapped the pallets made a great walkway over the mud.

Now it's 1:00 am and I'm sitting, as I often do, looking at tally sheets of items we have so far, comparing it to previous years, and praying.

We had some answered prayer today with favor on some lowered prices on an order we placed for some fillers.

Still...we're praying for at least 50,000 pencils, 24,500 stuffed animals, 1,200 more clothing items, and a truckload of nice filler items.

When I couldn't sleep on Saturday night I worked on memorizing Deuteronomy 31:8--"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."

I'm roping in that promise...

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Faith Means You Always Take The Cart

These days most of my shoebox shopping is done by buying large quantities of items online from various wholesale suppliers.  There's usually not enough available in stores.

It's still fun, though, to track down those fantabulous after-season sales to get great deals.  So Tuesday morning found me heading into our one local Target store. I'd heard some stores had reduced their Valentine's Day merchandise to 90% off on Monday, but our store was still at 70% when I checked. I scoped out the whole store and found only ONE stuffed animal--this sweet bear and a couple of baby bibs I wanted to buy at 90% off.

When I rushed into the store on Tuesday I was just coming from meeting with one friend and had just a half hour before I was scheduled to meet to pray with another.  I breezed through the door right past the shopping carts since I was only buying one bear and a couple of bibs.

Imagine my amazement when I found the end cap in the Valentine aisle full of these cute bears--18 of them!  I didn't want to chance leaving them to run all the way back to the front of the store for a shopping cart, so I hiked over a few aisles and found a small red shopping basket.  I managed to stuff all 18 bears into it.

But...then I saw more stuffed toys and another end cap full of fuzzy slipper socks for .10 each.  I ran to get another red basket and quickly filled that.  Then I asked a store employee if I could have the cardboard box he'd just emptied.

I checked my phone for the time and knew I was going to be late for my prayer appointment if I didn't hurry.  Just then my phone rang.  A Samaritan's Purse staffer called just to encourage me. It was a blessing, but ill-timed.  I don't know why it's so hard for me to just ask if I can call someone back. We chatted for a few minutes while I stuffed the last of those darling fuzzy socks into the box.

The call ended, I stashed my phone in my pocket and made a quick mental plan for how to get everything to the cash registers on the other end of the store.  I put one basket on each wrist and then managed to get my hands on the top of the box to lift it.  Praying step by step, I finally made it to the front with shaking arms.  (no pictures of this available, but I'm sure they would have been amusing)

I praise God for the 84 pairs of fuzzy socks and 32 stuffed animals I got--along with the baby bibs and a few outfits.

The moral of the story is:  Faith means I should ALWAYS take the cart and be ready to receive God's blessings.

PS--On Thursday I got 11 stuffed animals at Walmart and some pencil sharpeners at Walgreens.  On Friday God blessed me with 31 stuffed animals 90% off at Kmart (.39 each) and 406 decorated pencils that were in Valentines.

These may not seem like much in the face of a large goal, but every one means one more child who will be blessed with a cuddly animal or pair of socks.

I'm learning, God, that You're always ready to bless.  I'm learning to take the cart.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Working it Out

If there's one thing we've learned it's that it takes a lot of prep work to get ready for a large shoebox packing party.  The earlier you start the better.

Today was our first work day to prepare for the upcoming packing party (hopefully to be held in September--still waiting for confirmation on availability of the site.)

We've been praying about this work day--for volunteers to come, for the weather to be good.  This morning my husband said, "You won't get much done today if only five people come."  True, BUT we've been praying.

In the weather department, the day was filled with steady rain that made for lots of mud as we tried to navigate getting things in and out of the storage container.  But...on a February day when we've had over 13 feet of snow this winter...rain is a good thing.  We put down some cardboard and tried to "walk like a penguin" to keep from sliding away...

God answered our prayers in so many wonderful ways.  There were twenty people who came.  One woman came after reading the announcement in our local paper and had never heard of Operation Christmas Child.  It was great to take some time during a break to share with the group about OCC and pray for the children who will receive the items we worked on today.

We started the day by sorting and counting 16,061 plastic cups--checking to be sure there were no inappropriate logos and tossing out the few that were broken.

When the cup-sorting was complete we moved on to removing the packaging from 12,000 cardboard tiaras and unboxing thousands of pens.

Meanwhile, we started constructing jump ropes and completed over 1,800 of them today.

The four hours went by so quickly I didn't even realize when it was time to quit.  That great group of volunteers stayed for clean-up and it was accomplished in record time.

We've also been praying for storage for stuffed animals, and one of our new volunteers offered some space in her home.  We packed her car with bags of beanie babies and that freed up a lot of space in the storage container.

The next step is to order 180,000 more feet of rope so we can continue making more ropes next month.

As always, God is working it out...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

God of Abundance

This year I'm trying to meditate on God's abundance.  I keep reminding myself that our God is not a God of scarcity.  I can have confidence that He will "meet all my needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)

I'm copying a list of Bible verses that confirm this abundance.  Here are a few of those gems--

Psalm 36:8 "They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights."

Psalm 37:19  "They will not be ashamed in the time of evil, and in the days of famine they will have abundance."

Psalm 66:12  "You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, yet you brought us out into a place of abundance."

Isaiah 63:7  "I shall make mention of the lovingkindness of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His lovingkindness."

I mentioned here on January 21st that our team decided to trust God for 30,000 shoeboxes at our packing party this year.  The next morning I picked up my Bible where I'd left off previously and was surprised to read 2 Chronicles 35:7 "Josiah contributed to the lay people...flocks of lambs and young goats, all for the passover offerings, numbering 30,000..."  It was neat to see that 30,000 number in God's Word, and it was a confirmation to me.

I really need to be assured this is God's will for us, because if it's His will I know He will provide all we need.

In his book "The Knowledge of the Holy" A.W. Tozer speaks of God's omnipotence, "Omnipotence is not a name given to the sum of all power, but an attribute of a personal God whom we Christians believe to be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of all who believe on Him to life eternal. The worshiping man finds this knowledge a source of wonderful strength for his inner life. His faith rises to take the great leap upward into the fellowship of Him who can do whatever He wills to do, for whom nothing is hard or difficult because He possesses power absolute."  Wow! -- He is absolute abundance.

We don't have as many items for our boxes at this point as we did at this time last year, and some of my usual outlets for good deals have not yielded much lately.

Still, week by week God encourages me with donations of stuffed animals...or the 7,000+ large heavyweight ziplock bags (16" X 20") that we will roll up and use as fillers for shoebox recipients to store their items.

Just a few days ago we received a donation of 67 new T-shirts (pictured above) from an orthopedic office. They all say "Proud owner of a new knee (or hip) replacement" but they're clean and new.

We don't have our date set yet, but God answered prayer this week as we got the list of shipping dates from the OCC office.  We've chosen our preferred date and sent an email a few days ago to the church that has allowed us to use their facility to see if they can accommodate us.

Now we wait.

We wait for confirmation of a date. And we wait for God to provide at least 50,000 inexpensive pencils, and 27,000 stuffed animals, and 240,000 crayons and maybe 60,000 more good-sized filler items.

Our message in church this morning was about confession.  I have to confess I often struggle with coveting the good deals others get on shoebox items.  I'm so grateful for forgiveness for that.

I'm grateful also for God's mercy in reminding me He will provide for me and our team in the time and the way He knows is best.

Because...He is a God of abundance.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Prayer Tokens

I've been a little distracted from my shoebox life lately by this sweet blessing packed in the shoebox picture above. I was blessed this week to spend a few days with him and will return this week to do the same.

There's something about holding a miracle for a few hours while you pray that takes your focus from fears and doubts miracles!

While I prayed over this little guy in recent days I thought about all the prayers we prayed over the past few years.  And I looked at the bassinet he sleeps in that I bought as a prayer token.

Over the years there have been a dozen or so items I've purchased as prayer tokens--things I bought in faith that would be used when my prayers were answered.

More than 40 years ago I bought a little girls' necklace as I prayed for my friend to conceive a child. As we prayed, she and her husband felt called to adopt and when they went to the airport in New York City to meet their little girl arriving from Korea they took the necklace with them to give to her as a first gift.  Interestingly, by that time she was also pregnant with their first biological child--also a girl.

Decades later I gave another baby necklace to  a mother praying for a baby, and she also conceived and gave birth to a beautiful girl.

In the past decade I've also given a number of brides' Bibles to young women as I prayed for God to bring them Christian husbands.  Some of them have become brides and some have not. Still, the prayers continue.

By the summer of 2016 my daughter had already suffered the pain of two miscarriages, and, of course, I was praying. At a yard sale I spotted this bassinet at a great price.  It was the largest prayer token I'd ever bought, but I brought it home, took it to the attic, and prayed over it.

And a year a half later, God filled it...

with our "Rainbow Baby"

There are tokens out there still being prayed over, and there are also prayers being prayed daily with no tokens in sight.  Whether my prayers are answered the way I want them to be, I know they are always answered. I know God is always good.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sharpening the Deal

Our Operation Christmas Child team coordinators met today and did some preliminary planning for the 2018 packing party.  I prayed hard about this meeting--wanting it to be a time of unity in making some productive decisions.

We talked about a goal for this year and decided to trust God for 30,000 boxes.  This is a big jump over last year's 28,032.  That's 2,000 more boxes to fold and 2,000 more boxes to fill with items and 2,000 more boxes for which we need to pray in the shipping funds. 

At the same time I realize we have fewer items now than we did at this point last year.  Last year in addition to the anchor items of hats and visors I already had over 10,000 nice belts and 30,000 packages of shoelaces along with nearly 3,000 nice, new, large stuffed bunnies. 

This year we have almost enough visors but are pretty lean in the filler department.  Part of the time I think God is just waiting until the weather gets better to bless us with the items He knows we need and....well, the rest of the time I just wonder. 

I do know our God is well able to supply every need if He wants us to pack 30,000 boxes.  And if He doesn't want us to pack that many then I don't want to pack them either. 

Being a bit desperate for SOME sort of filler item, I saw these pencil sharpeners from Oriental Trading.  I know the quality's not the greatest with the caps likely to keep falling off.  In the past when we used them we had to tape the dome lids on them, and I don't want to bother with that!  I generally stay away from small items that don't take up much room in the box, but I thought about putting these into plastic Easter eggs.  They'd be more useful than the small rings or stickers we often use. 

The sharpeners were listed at $2.97 for a lot of 72--over 4 cents each--which is way too much for a small item. 

So, I decided to sharpen the deal.  I found a promo code that would give me free shipping and $10 off on a $49 order.  Then I found a site where I could buy Oriental Trading gift cards at a slightly reduced price and used a special deal going on to get another $10 off.  I also went through eBates to save another $3.15. 

In the end, I got the price down to 2.9 cents each and bought 3,816 of the sharpeners.  That will at least give us a start on egg-fillers.  Now all we have to do is pray we can find the eggs in the after-Easter sales! 

Item by item we're trusting God for the deals...oh, and sharpen up your prayer skills because we're asking you to join us again to pray for 27,000 more stuffed animals...