Sunday, June 24, 2018

Energy of Encouragement

Encouragement is difficult to quantify. Sometimes the smallest word can give encouragement beyond what you'd imagine, and God can bring encouragement from the most unlikely places.

Personally, this week I feel God's been giving me amazing gifts of encouragement.  It started last Monday with an encouraging one-on-one call with my Operation Christmas Child regional manager, Bill.  Later that day another boost came with a Facebook message that offered the possibility of a busload of local public high school students coming to help assemble boxes the week of our packing party. I mean, sometimes in the middle of the night I wonder how we're going to fold 30,000 boxes in four days so even the possibility of a large group to help got my heart beating faster. (Keep praying this works out.)

I wrote on Tuesday about how a couple came to my door with four boxes of beanie babies, and on Wednesday we had a terrific packing party work day.  Over 60 people from the community came out and worked together to assemble 4500 jump ropes, 2550 bags of crayons, and hundreds of packs of folded paper in bags.  When you're wondering how all the work will get done, this is a huge encouragement.  Not only that, 269 more stuffed animals were brought to the work day pushing our stuffed animal total for the week to a crazy 1,584!

On Thursday we got a call we'd been praying about for several months giving confirmation that the church that served as our Central Drop-Off Site will continue this year. Yahoo!  Praise God! Now to pray in a Central Drop-Off Team Leader.   Jim and I were blessed to have dinner that night at Presque Isle State Park on nearby Lake Erie with Steve, our friend from Samaritan's Purse donor ministries.  To know their whole staff has been praying for our need for a Central Drop-Off Site was a great encouragement.  I can't think of anything that's a greater boost than knowing that others in the Family of God are interceding for you.  You can tell in this picture we were having a great time...

Friday's yard sale safari yielded only three stuffed animals--a long way from the 1,500 we're praying for.  I was encouraged, though, as I did some cleaning and saw evidences of all God's faithfulness in answered prayer from past months and years while I filed old meeting agendas and read through notes from past Connect conferences...well, yeah, my cleaning gets derailed a lot, I'm afraid...but sometimes you need the encouragement more than the order.

I thought I'd be the only one on safari on Saturday but was encouraged with an early-morning phone call from Donna telling me she'd be on the hunt after all.  She faithfully searched and found 300 stuffed animals.  Meanwhile, I only bagged 161.

Late on Saturday afternoon I got a surprise colossal dose of encouragement with a call from my fellow-area coordinator friends, Cliff and Sheryl Hartsfield.  Turns out they were driving to Canada from Maryland and were going to be just a couple of miles from me. We made plans to meet for a quick dinner at Chick-fil-A.

It's hard not to be encouraged when you share with other OCC friends about all God is doing for your teams and in the ministry as a whole.  We talked about how most of us who are leaders in OCC aren't high-powered executive types with strong leadership skills.  Some are, but most of us are just bumbling along while we trust God to do things we never imagined He could do in us and through us. And, in our weakness He gets the glory. Wow!  It's so encouraging to know it's HIM and not us getting the job done.

Cliff and Sheryl topped it off with another surprise--they brought me 50 brand new stuffed animals to add to the week's total.  It's not easy to give to another what you really need for your own packing party, so they blessed me incredibly with this sacrificial gift.

As I left Cliff and Sheryl I headed to Pam's house for a mini work day with our team.  Only Pam, Amanda, and I were able to get together but we had some much-needed laughs while we completed (well, almost completed) about a thousand school packs for our boxes.

That brings me to this morning. Not only did I have the encouragement of receiving Donna's haul of stuffed animals that brought us to 516 for the weekend (keep praying for another 984 by Friday) but Charles the Walmart manager who attends our church approached me and asked how many boxes of crayons I want to order.  Guys, whenever someone approaches me so I don't have to make a phone call it's a glorious day!

But, gets better. We've been praying for God to enlarge our OCC team.  So there I was in the women's a stall...when I heard the familiar voice of a newly-retired missionary call my name and tell me she wanted to talk to me.  A minute later we met at the sinks and she said, "People have been asking me what I'm going to do now that I'm retired and I'd really like to work with Operation Christmas Child." Wow!

We talked briefly and I sent her the application information this afternoon. At the risk of "poisoning the process" and falling even lower on the high-impact-scale I promise not to get too excited yet. Still, it was certainly a banner way to end an energy-filled week of encouragement.

God, you really are so good to me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Series of Miracles

When you think about it, life is just a series of miracles...every breath, every beat of the heart...miracles every one.

And my Operation Christmas Child life, too, has been a story of miracles.  Sometimes it's just kind of crazy how God answers prayer in the most intricate ways.

My continual prayer this year has been for God to provide enough items to adequately fill 30,000 boxes to bless 30,000 children.  I don't know what each of those things will be but I'm always keeping my eyes open for them.

For some weeks now I've had my eye on some nice fleece blankets at a local store.  I've also been doing everything I can to earn reward points to spend at that store that will allow me to get extra items for free.  A few weeks ago the price of the blankets dropped to $1.59 and I got 15 of them but by the time I had more reward points they'd raised the price of the blankets back up to $3.00.

This past Saturday I had $11.86 in points that were expiring and I also had a special coupon for $30 off a $50 purchase.  I wanted to buy a certain Fisher Price toy to take to my grandson on Sunday, so I figured I'd spend my points on that.  By God's grace, though, I found that toy (brand new and in the packaging) for $1.00 at one of the yard sales on Saturday. Miraculous.

So I headed to the store with my coupon and my points, loaded 17 blankets in my cart and took them to the service desk to check the price.  I expected them to be $3.00 and was surprised when the clerk conferred with a manager and said the price would be .79 for each blanket. Another miracle.

I hurried back and filled my cart with the 13 remaining blankets and got seven 6-packs of wiffle balls to get my total over $50 so I could use my $30 coupon. Back at the service desk the clerk began to ring up the blankets and said, "Huh, they're ringing up at .47."  I ran back and got three more packs of balls and ended up with a total of 30 blankets and 60 balls for just $22 of my free points.

Week by week we've been praying for stuffed animals and seeing God bring them to us in some miraculous ways.  I was talking to my OCC regional director yesterday about this, and he asked, "Well, how does God provide them. Does He drop them off at your door?"  Yes, sometimes He does!

This morning a couple came to my door with four boxes filled with brand new beanie babies--170 of them.  Their donation brought our total to 1,307 for this week.  We're still praying for 193 more by this Friday and waiting to see how He provides.

Just because he's so stinking cute I have to include a picture of our sweet miracle grandson, Sam.

 And because we have a God who always goes above and beyond, let me share with you the exciting news that Sam is getting two cousins in October.  Our youngest daughter is pregnant with miracle twin boys!

Just another in a long series of miracles.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sometimes You Know

Well, we still haven't received that last inch of snow we need to put us into first place for the snowiest winter...but you just never know.  It could still happen. God's been doing some crazy things up here in Erie.

Each week I've been posting on Facebook and asking those who read the post to join us in praying for a weekly goal for stuffed animals.

Last week we prayed for 1,000 and God blessed us with 1,093.  This week on Friday evening I gave the challenge to pray for 1,500 and now, just two days later, God's answered with 1,260 already.

Sometimes you just KNOW God is on the move.  On Saturday when I headed out on safari I left earlier than usual because one sale in my area had a starting time of 7:00 am.  That sale didn't have any animals but that listing is what got me out early and led me to be the first shopper at another sale. At that house the woman who was arranging toys on a table said, "Aren't you the lady who collects stuffed animals?"

"Yep, that's me," I answered.  Then she moved closer to me and dropped her voice to a whisper.  It seems she had four large garbage bags of stuffed toys hidden in her husband's truck.  She wanted to donate them to me but didn't want her children to know it.  So we made clandestine plans for me to drive to a spot two blocks away where I met up with her husband and transferred the bags to my van. It was all comically 'cloak and dagger' but I got 200 more beautiful animals because God put me at that particular place.

Incidentally, one of those four bags also had a baby toy I'd been trying to find for my grandson and had not been able to locate at a good price.  I mean, you can't beat free.  (Just to be clear, it's not something that would fit in a shoebox.)

When I leave one sale I always pray about where to go next.  After all, God knows where those animals are hiding.  So as I prayerfully drove away from one sale heading in the direction of another, I saw a sale that wasn't in the newspaper listing.  They had a blanket on the ground in front of the house (sometimes a place people place their stuffed animals) so I turned around and went back.  Well, they had a lot of animals priced very low.  I ended up with three bags full for only a few dollars.

By the end of the day I'd accumulated over 400 by God's grace.  My other safari hunters were blessed also, and I left church this morning with 15 more bags of animals and sorted this afternoon to get that total of 1,260.  It will be interesting to see how God brings the other 240 we're still praying in this week.

I managed to get all the animals cleared out and the house cleaned before tonight's OCC area team meeting.  Eight of us prayed and talked and prayed some more.

There's a lot up in the air right now. We're still lacking a confirmed Central Drop-Off Site for shoeboxes from our area this year.  I'm not sure where it will be but God knows we need it and I'm praying the promise of Phil. 4:19 over it.

Our team has dwindled, we lack coordinators, and I'm having a hard time keeping up with all I know I should be doing but so often lack the will to do.  And when I do actually try to accomplish something that condemning enemy loudly whispers my failures--"If you didn't procrastinate so much you wouldn't always be hurrying," or "If you'd just do the work of recruiting, selecting, equipping, and developing leaders then everything else would be EASY," because, of course "It's all your fault."

And...just like's winter again in my heart.

But I'm talking truth to myself again.  Because despite my myriad of weaknesses compounded by the sin that "so easily besets me" I really do KNOW God has called me to this. And I know He is hearing my prayers and those of so many others who pray day by day for 11 million shoeboxes to be packed worldwide in 2018.

Sometimes when there's so much you don't know you just have to remember what you do know.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Surprised But Not Surprised...

Yowzers...25 days since I've updated here.  So sorry that life just keeps sliding by without documentation. But I'm not surprised.

My usual morning routine is to start the day with kneeling by our couch to pray. Even though I love it, I also have to make myself do it sometimes. The pull of the computer and jumping into the day can be so strong, but I know how much I need that time of prayer, how much it blesses me, and how easy it is to let it slip away if it isn't the FIRST thing in my day.

As a retiree who isn't great about planning and scheduling, when I start my day I'm often not sure exactly what it will hold. But I know God knows, so I ask Him to fulfill His promise to work in me to "will and to do His good pleasure." Some days seem routine, and some, like today, are just downright amazing.

I was expecting a delivery of a donation of 70 cartons of jump rope handles today.  I've been praying about this delivery for several weeks and when I found out it was scheduled for Wednesday I had a few conflicts.  After lots of prayer, though, God cleared my schedule so I could be there for the delivery.  Thunderstorms were predicted today, but they never materialized. God cleared the weather, too.  My husband cleared his schedule to help and the servant-hearted man who drove the truck helped us unload also.  Best of all, God cleared a place for us to store them in an alternate warehouse space.

Right after the delivery I headed out for a 20-mile drive to a thrift store.  By God's grace I got a donation of 188 stuffed animals.  We've been praying for stuffed animals week by week.  Last week we prayed for 500 and God blessed us with 1,150.  This week we've been praying for 750 and with today's haul God's provided a total of 822 already.  We're still about 5,000-6,000 animals behind where we were at this time last year, but God's faithfully bringing them in--two (hundred) by two (hundred).  We need about 20,300 more before September 15th, I think.

I got home to start the animal sorting process and got a text message from a new team member.  She made a previous contact with a local screen printing company about possibly donating some items for our packing party.  Well, it seems she was surprised today when FOUR PALLETS of items were brought to her business.

Wow!  I have no idea what all these boxes hold, but I know they are prayed-for blessings.  My constant prayer is that God will give us all the items we need to adequately fill 30,000 boxes at our packing party and that each one will bless the child who receives it.  It's always a surprise how they come but never a surprise that He provides.  It's going to be fun investigating these! good is God to allow them to be delivered and stored (at least temporarily) in another space.  Exceedingly, abundantly beyond what I could ask or think.

Then I got another message from a dedicated volunteer who wanted to pick up more boxes of items to work on processing for the packing party.  We agreed to meet before our special church worship service tonight and it was wonderful to see 14 more cases of items moved out to be prepped by hard-working hands.

Which brings us to the close of this amazing evening full of stories of God's work in the lives of people in our church interspersed with crazy-great worship.  It was capped with a challenge and invitation for those who want to see God do something new in their lives.

Me! Me! I want new wine in my life. Jesus, do something fresh in my our our ministry through these simple Operation Christmas Child boxes.  Do something unexpected...something extraordinary...something SURPRISING.

I know You will.  And, really, I won't be surprised. Because You are a God who "makes all things new."

Just do it again.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Oh How He Loves

I've struggled so much over recent years to understand the height and depth and length and width of God's reckless love for me.  Lately, though, I'm beginning to comprehend just a little more...thanks to this first little grand baby we welcomed four months ago.

Though he lives 100 miles or so away, I've been able to see him at least every two weeks.  Today as we drove the last few miles to this sweet guy's home (well, okay, our daughter and son-in-law live there too) I was amazed by the excitement I felt.

And when I walked through the door and saw his mom carrying him down the hall I could hardly contain my joy.

The beauty of it is...Sam still doesn't really do too much of anything yet.  I mean, he has a killer grin when you can coax it out of him, but he can't tell me he loves me and doesn't give me presents. Mostly he drools and chews on his hand.

That's okay.  Sam doesn't have to do anything at all to earn my love for him. I honestly think I love him more unconditionally than I did my own children.  It's a new and revealing experience for me, and it's given me a clearer revelation of God's love.

Could I dare to believe God loves me the way Jim and I love Sam?  Could it be He adores me and longs just to hold me?  That He, the sovereign God of the universe, waits expectantly to spend time with me?  It's pretty incredible, but I'm starting to believe that in ways I couldn't imagine just a few months ago.  What a gift.

Lately I've been noticing all the special ways God shows me His favor. Because He created me He knows me more intimately than I even know myself. He knows what brings me joy and loves to give me good gifts.

Operation Christmas Child has been one of those good gifts. God knows I love bargain shopping. He understands that I'd honestly rather treasure hunt to find great deals than just receive donations.  So, week by week He gives me the gift of finding those deals.

This week, for example, I had a blast driving from store to store to hunt for the clearance deals. By His grace I got all these pairs of shoes for a penny each.

And all of these items for .25 each...

God's provided 7,000 stuffed animals and we wait expectantly for Him to provide 23,000 more as we pray.  Each one is a gift from His hand...

from our God who loves me (and each child who will receive a shoebox and each one who is still waiting to receive a shoebox) with an incomprehensible love.

Oh, how He loves...

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Egg-stra Great Volunteers

This is Volunteer Appreciation Week, and I just have to give a shout out to all the Egg-stra great volunteers that attend our packing party work days.

Today was our third work day for 2018 and we were blessed with 40+ volunteers again who came to work to get gospel opportunities to children around the world.  A few drove nearly an hour to get here!

The egg-filling saga continues as we stuffed these pre-sorted yellow, purple, and pink eggs with cute rings for girls.  We had 4,896 of these completed going into today's work day and I think we now have nearly 10,000 of them finished.

Meanwhile, our stalwart 7th and 8th grade students from Bethel Christian School worked on helping to un-bag and sort the 675 bags of plastic toys for boys.  10,800 of those are whistles and tops that are small enough to fill the plastic eggs for boys that we'll work on when the ones for girls are completed.   The other 21,600 small frisbees, maze games, plastic planes, and whirly toys will be used as general boys' fillers.  They didn't get all 675 bags sorted today but they got close.

And, of course, the jump rope making continues.  I think these steady volunteers completed over 5,000 more ropes today.  We only need to assemble about 12,000 more, according to my best calculations.

A small team of accurate paper counters and folders got 900 packets of paper folded and carefully stuffed into bags that will be filled later with pencils, pens, crayons, and a toothbrush. I'm not sure how many of those we still need to finish, but it's LOTS.

I'm praising God for these faithful volunteers without whom we couldn't complete all this pre-assembly work.  I felt especially blessed by the team of men (yes, we have MEN working with us now) who hauled all those boxes back into the storage container.

If you missed us today, don't worry.  We'll be back every 3rd Wednesday of the month until our packing party on September 14 & 15.  We're saving a place for you at the table.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Egg-Cellent Answers

A few years ago we discovered the fun of filling plastic Easter eggs with small toys to make a bulkier filler for our Operation Christmas Child packing party boxes.  This came about when I serendipitously found the eggs on the 90% off clearance sale at Target.

Each year since we've looked for more eggs to fill.  Last year I took for granted I'd find them when the Walmart Easter clearance went to 75% off but there were none to be found in our area at either Target or Walmart.  By God's grace, my daughter came to the rescue and found nearly 12,000 at Target stores in her area and God provided the rest from donations and the 90% off sale at Dollar General.

This year I started praying months ago for these Easter eggs--asking God to save some for us so we could buy them when they were reduced to at least 75% off.  Our prayer team was praying about this also.  God provided 29,016 filler toys for the eggs, so we really needed to pray in the eggs.

I was excited this year to find out about inventory checking site that allowed me to find the UPCs for the 48-packs of eggs I wanted and check to see what stores in my area and my daughter's area had a good inventory of them.

I anticipated Walmart's Easter clearance would go to 75% off today and their eggs, while a little smaller than those from Target, were a better deal with a package of 48 coming to just .49 at 75% off.  So last night I sent out a last reminder for prayer support and asked the team to pray for 24,000 eggs today.  I also sent a text to the manager of one of our local Walmarts who's always been so supportive of our packing party and asked him if I could get a better price than the 75% off if I bought all the eggs they had left (the inventory checker showed they had 150 packages) and he agreed to check their stock and let me know today.

This egg-cellent day started early when the Walmart manager texted me at 6:45am to tell me they had 150 of the 48-packs of eggs and some miscellaneous smaller packages.  I asked if I could come to get them right away and he agreed.  When I got to Walmart he surprised and blessed me with a gift card to pay for the eggs!  After the three shopping carts full of eggs (7,248 plus) were rung up, the manager and two other employees helped me load them into my car.

When I got home I unloaded them into garbage bags and hauled them into the house.  Then I had to consider my next move.  The two Walmarts that had the largest supplies of eggs were quite a drive away--one was an hour and the other an hour and a half from Erie.  I decided to call the one that supposedly had an inventory of 299 of the 48-packs.

God's favor was in evidence.  Cindy, the helpful Walmart employee, checked the inventory and promised to ask the manager if I could get a discount if I bought them all.  She called back soon to let me know the manager would allow me to purchase them for .40 instead of .49 and they would get them ready for me to pick up.

I was doubly blessed when my husband offered to drive with me without me even asking, and we quickly jumped in the car and took off.  The tricky part is that our first stop would be the store I hadn't contacted.  They reportedly had 176 of the packages but I didn't know how many I really needed in addition to those I was getting from the more distant store.  I also didn't know how many would fit in the car while still leaving room for the other 299 packages.

I did some calculations and finally decided to try to get 85 packages.  I was thrilled when we got into the store to find the packages were on the shelf in large boxes that would be perfect for transporting and storing them.  I made short work of counting them out and loading a box on each of two carts.  I went to customer service and asked to speak to a manager to see about getting a price reduction, but had no luck there.  We got through checkout without a hitch, stowed the boxes in the back of our van, and headed out again.

At the next store we had to wait about a half hour for them to finish counting the eggs. They brought them to the front of the store all packaged in 10 nice, large boxes.  After a quick checkout we attempted to fit them into the van without success. So...we had to open those nicely-packed boxes and put the packages into the van loose so they would all fit.  In the end, we actually ended up with some extra space in the back seat!

The van had a total of 18,528 eggs and, added with the morning haul, the total for the day was 25,776!

Since my daughter lives only a few miles from the last store, we got to go visit and spend a few hours of snuggle and play time.  Actually, that was the best part of the day.  I mean, who couldn't smile at that face...

Praise God we ended the day with 25,776 eggs for an investment of just $161--only .6 cents each.  Now I call that an egg-cellent day!