Sunday, January 14, 2018

Unusual Answers to Prayer

 Sometimes the answers to prayer come in unusual ways.  Praying for stuffed animals has been the saga of my life for more than a decade, and it's always amazing to see the way God answers.

On Tuesday we were shoveling out from the latest round of snow when the call came from a generous donor who wanted to bring 1100 stuffed animals over.  I was scheduled to volunteer at a local clothing pantry, so we made arrangements for them to bring the animals in late afternoon.

This donation--a wonderful answer to prayer--should have made me deliriously happy.  Instead, as I hauled the bags into my living room I felt a cloud of resentment settle over me.  I didn't want my living room filled with bags--even if they did hold treasured blessings.  Furthermore, I didn't want to tackle the job of sorting and bagging those animals.  So I shoved the bags into spare bedrooms and sulked around the house for a few hours, knowing that wouldn't really solve anything.

The next morning I was honest with God and confessed me lack of gratitude for His good gifts. I asked him to change my attitude because I felt powerless to do that myself.

Within an hour I was on my way to pray with a friend when I realized God was answering my prayer. My spirit felt more buoyant.  At the same time, I kept feeling an urge to call a fellow team member and ask her to help me.  I pulled the car over, sent a text, and her quick response told me she'd be glad to join the sorting adventure.

A few hours later we spent some time in prayer together before we we tackled the stuffed animals. What a great time of fellowship and prayer we enjoyed.  It turns out that was something we both needed.

By the next day the animal sorting was nearly finished.  The weather was a balmy 59 degrees but the weather prediction called for a sudden drop in temperatures and an ice storm within a few hours.  I was desperate to get the animals out of the house and my husband was kind enough to quickly help me finish bagging them.  Just as we got them loaded into the car the cold rain started.  Despite that, we got to the container, shoveled the remnants of snow from the door, and got them stashed.

God's grace astounds me as He answers my prayers again and again--first with His provision of my material needs and then His amazing grace over my helplessness to change my sinful attitudes.  And in the middle of it all He grants this sweet fellowship with other believers and, most especially, with Him.

And while I was trying to motivate myself to complete my little task, a steadfast servant on the other side of town was tirelessly cutting rope to make jump ropes.  By the end of the weekend he'd cut 21 rolls of rope into 3,675 pieces.  Now we're ready to make them into ropes on our first work day on February 21st.

Thank You, Lord, for answering prayer in ways I never could imagine.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Cups--Empty, Full or Half-Full

The holiday respite is over and it's time to start more concentrated strategizing for our 2018 Operation Christmas Child packing party.  We don't even know when it will be yet, because we have to wait for OCC to set the shipping windows before we can plan a date.

Still, the buying has been going on for months already.  See these Hello Kitty crowns? I love them, but many of the packers at our 2017 packing party had problems fitting them into the boxes. Nevertheless, I made the decision to buy 12,000 of them for this year's boxes because they are inexpensive and fun.

We pray all the time and struggle over when to buy items and when to wait for a better deal to come along.  It seems like when I pray for direction I should always make the right decision, but it doesn't always work that way--at least from my limited human perspective.

Case in point--cups.  In 2017 we had 10,000 plastic cups left over from 2016 and we just about used them up.  When I saw a deal on them some weeks ago I prayed about whether to buy them and how many to buy. I checked with other core team members and said that since we have thousands more visors than baseball hats this year I felt we'd need more cups to fill boxes.  I prayed, but maybe not enough, before I decided to purchase 4 pallets of them--about 16,000 cups.  This week the price on them dropped.  I could have saved $176.00 if I'd waited.  Was it my mistake?

On the other hand, there were times when I delayed buying as I waited for a price to drop only to have the stock of the item deplete and lose the bargain entirely. It's hard to tell if the cups are empty or full, you know?

Then there are the washcloths.  Last year there were 18-packs of washcloths on sale at holiday clearance prices at Walmart.  I saw the same ones in the store this year and started praying a few weeks before Christmas about whether to buy them at 50% off right after Christmas or wait for them to be reduced to 75% off.

To my chagrin this year they were not reduced with the rest of the holiday merchandise. I waited until Walmart's prices dropped to 75% off on Christmas merchandise, prayed hard, and talked with the managers at three Walmart stores.  I explained they said "holiday" beside the UPC code and had been reduced with the Christmas merchandise in 2017.  Two stores reduced them to 75% off for me and the other store reduced them by 50%.  God provided 1,476 washcloths for an average of .08 each.  That day my cup was definitely full.

Meanwhile, a donor from our team purchased our pens at what we hope was a good price. We're still praying for a good deal on pencils and all the filler items we will need.

The stuffed animal count stands at about 2,500--fewer than last year at this point.  The team member who stored many of them in her home last year is no longer on our team so they're stuck on the floor of the storage container for now--that cup is kind of half-full.

It's overwhelming to think how many items we need to make boxes good enough and full enough to bless children.

We know, though, that we serve a God who fills our cups to overflowing--no matter how they appear to us.  So we'll keep praying and waiting to be filled.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

His Story & History

There were two big events in our lives this week--one in our family and one in our city.

The family event has been years in the making.  My mother was 39-years-old when I was born, and when I gave birth to my first daughter at age 25 I felt a bit sad that her grandmother was already old. (I had a different perspective then--lol)  Funny thing is--my mother lived to age 101, was pretty vibrant up until her last few months and made decades of memories with my daughters.

I was approaching my 65th birthday when I heard the joyful news that our daughter was pregnant again.  After years of prayer, two miscarriages, and babies only in heaven, she waited for some months to make that joyful but sensitive announcement.  She did it by displaying a hand-printed onesie on Facebook with this reference from 1 Samuel 1:27 "For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him."

Jen and her husband, Jeremy, decided not to learn the gender of their baby until birth and our excitement grew month by month.  Jen purchased Christmas outfits for her baby--one for a boy and one for a girl. She was showered with many gender-neutral gifts and we looked toward celebrating with a new baby for Christmas. They refused to give any hints of potential names.

Her December 22nd due date came and went.  We made plans to go visit Jen and Jeremy for Christmas dinner since they couldn't travel to be with Jeremy's family.

But Christmas Eve marked the start of this week's history-making event in our city.  The snow began with just a few inches on Christmas Eve, and by the time we planned to leave for Jen's home in Ellwood City on Christmas morning we could barely see across the street and driving was too dangerous.

The snow didn't stop, and by Christmas night a record 34 inches had fallen.  We shoveled and ran the snow blower only to get hit with another 19 inches in early morning hours of December 26th.

On the morning of December 26th we were out trying to clear that latest accumulation when we got a call from Jen telling us they were inducing her labor at 1:00 pm.  We hurried to complete the snow removal as best we could, packed a bag, and took off.

The front of our house in the midst of snow removal.

These are pictures taken from other areas in our city. It was a crazy mess!

The streets were mostly unplowed and rutted.  It was like driving over moon craters, but once we got to the main highway we could safely and SLOWLY make our way.  We drove about 35 mph on the interstate (they'd lowered the speed limit to 45 mph but we couldn't get up to that.)

Amazingly, once we got about 15 miles away from Erie the highway was perfectly clear and we made good time.

I'd been praying over every detail of this baby's birth for months--years really--and it was such a blessing to see how God answered in every way.

The baby's heart rate had some decelerations so they had to stop the induction from time to time and monitor the baby continuously.

We'd been waiting for hours in the waiting room with Jeremy's parents when I got a text a little before 11 pm with the report that Jen was at 5 cm. and contractions were getting harder. I replied that if Jeremy wanted a break I could come in.  When I got the answer "You can come in anytime," I was down the hall pronto.

In my pre-shoebox life I taught childbirth education classes for 19 years, and I was so proud and impressed at how well Jeremy and Jen worked together to labor as a team.  Jeremy was a tireless coach, she breathed like a champ, and I got to cheer them on and offer some support with cool cloths and counter pressure on her back.  And she did this without an epidural, which I later learned is pretty rare these days.

Three hours later she was able to push and in just half an hour our beautiful grandson burst into the world. It turns out the umbilical cord was around his neck and that was causing the drops in his heart rate throughout the day.  Thank You, Lord for protecting him through that rigorous journey of birth.
He needed some extra suctioning to get started in life but was soon crying and weighed in at 6 pounds, 11 ounces.  I took some pictures then headed back to the waiting room.  I'd been sworn to secrecy so Jeremy could come and make the announcement to all the grandparents at once. And they still refused to tell me the baby's name.

Back in the waiting room the other grandparents threatened to torture me but ended up waiting patiently until Jeremy came to make the announcement, "It's a boy. And his name is Samuel James."

Hannah named her son Samuel, which means "God has heard".  God heard Hannah's prayers and God heard Jen and Jeremy's prayers and the prayers of countless family and friends who have prayed for this baby.  I pray our Samuel, like Hannah's Samuel, will hear God call him at a young age and will serve Him faithfully.

Meanwhile, by noon on Wednesday our city measured a total of 65.1 inches of snow since Sunday night.  And they're predicting another foot or so this weekend.  Once you get past FIVE FEET what's another foot?

It just makes the story better.

Peaceful Processing Procrastination

Well...the procrastination part is the fact that I waited so long to get this blog entry posted. time somehow rolled on.

We were blessed to be able to volunteer at the Baltimore Processing Center from December 4th - 9th this year. We've been there two seasons as full-time employees but I have to say volunteering is a lot more fun.  It's great to be able to try different areas and have the luxury of talking to so many interesting people.

We arrived on December 4th and went over to the PC just to drop off the 61straggler boxes we'd brought from our area, but...they had spaces available and so we just had to stay for five hours--lol.

On Tuesday morning we were blessed to work with Kati Sturgis and her friend who'd traveled from our area to volunteer for the first time.  One of the boxes Kati inspected that day had a digital camera in it!  We're praying it goes to just the right child...

We took a break in the afternoon and went back to rest at our hotel before returning from 6-10 that evening. By the time Tuesday night came my feet and legs hurt so much from standing I was worried I wouldn't be able to make it through the week.  Thankfully, my prayers and Ibuprofen helped me turn the corner on Wednesday--or maybe I just got numb?

We came across some really interesting boxes--some had unusual shapes and some had unusual items like this set of some sort of blocks in a plastic bag that only filled half of the large cardboard box they were packed in.  We found a bunch of fun items to fill it up.

Someone even sent this giant dump truck and taped an open GO box over it. Showing their dedication to "the integrity of the box" the staff found a box to fit it and tucked a few other items in with it.  Only God knows the story behind that one!

Several boxes came through that were so pretty--decorated with pictures covered with decoupage on the lid and the rest of the box covered with decorative duct tape.

My favorite part of our week at the PC, though, was meeting some new friends.
Mary and Sharon work as church relations volunteers in my region. I hope I get to see them again at the Connect Conference.  While we inspected boxes we chatted about the struggle to get churches involved and to keep them involved in packing boxes.  

We also enjoyed working on two days with this family who flew in from Michigan to volunteer. Their youngest daughter had a real knack for carbonizing boxes and my husband loved mentoring her in that process.

Stephanie is a fairly new area coordinator from Brooklyn.  My daughter lives in Brooklyn so we chatted about that area and the highs and lows of Operation Christmas Child promotion there.

On our last two days there we were blessed to inspect some boxes packed from our area. It was fun to be able to send them pictures and tell them their boxes were going to Colombia and/or Kenya.

On our last day I was able to spend some time in the "Inappropriate" area.  All items that must be removed from boxes as inappropriate are donated to local charities.  We sure gave them a LOT of toothpaste and candy this year--lol.

As we left the PC on Saturday night Jim said, "It's really hard to leave."  My thoughts exactly.  Thankfully, Connie, our Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager who worked as the 2nd shift PC Manager posted a picture of the tote board at the end of the processing season so we could see the countries where all those precious boxes were shipped.

We praise God for all the staff and volunteers who got the job done and continue to pray for the children who will be receiving these boxes in months to come.

Peace to all! 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Catching Up and Sorting and Snipping

Two weeks ago I was wondering if I was finished with my 2017 shoeboxes and now I'm knee deep in preparing for 2018 boxes.  Crazy!

So...back on November 18th I thought I might be done packing. On Sunday morning, November 19th, I woke and decided I needed to pack 9 more boxes to give me 28,888 as the grand total from the packing party boxes and the post-packing-party boxes.  I scrounged up every available item--even dipped into the sample boxes I use when I speak about Operation Christmas Child. I started to clean up the leftover items and left for church feeling I'd done all I could.

But...then...I discovered someone had left donated items in the church office for me.  And someone left nine more nice empty boxes.  Surely that was a sign I wasn't done. So after church I tucked all those items into the boxes and put together another even dozen bringing the total to a nice round

Monday turned out to be a hectic day at our Central Drop-Off site but I could tell we were far from the goal of 54,321 we'd been praying for all year.  When the three trucks were pulled on Tuesday the total came in at 50,388--just 86 more than our 2016 total.  It was only by God's grace and all the extra last-minute donations that we were able to send even that many.

God knows and He has plans to bless all the children who are waiting to hear about His love.

Fast forward to this week.  I thought it would be an easy week of resting up and getting ready to travel to volunteer at the processing center next week.

Instead, I was surprised by a steady stream of donations of stuffed animals. My husband said, "Why are they bringing them now?" Well, why not?

Over the first few days of the week I sorted, washed, and bagged more than 500 animals.  But I wasn't prepared for last night's delivery of 1500 plus!

I lined all the bags up against the couch and waited for morning light this morning to start the sorting.  I worked on them from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm (with a few Facebook breaks, of course.)  I've written before about the cleaning process, but I thought you might like to hear about the sorting.

The donors who brought all these bags said they'd already washed the animals, and that was a huge help.  Still, I had to inspect them. As I look over each animal, I check for any spots, tears, or flaws, and I always look carefully at the tags on them.  You can have a nice clean animal but if the tag is faded or frayed like the one in the picture then of course it doesn't look new.  So, I simply snip off the tag. The trick is to cut it as close to the fabric as possible without cutting the animal.  

Then the animals are thrown into piles around the living room according to size and whether they are for a girl or boy/either.  My sorting has gotten more specific over the past few years. There are piles for Beanie Baby-sized; medium or Webkin-sized; large ones that, in addition to basic items, will pretty much fill up a box for a 2-4 year old and medium-large ones that need only a few additional fillers. 

Here's part of the pile of tags that have been cut off.  I will also cut shirts or costumes off if they are faded or cut witch's hats off Halloween animals and also clip the ends of ribbons so they are fresh.

It's hard to find room in the living room for all the various piles--especially when you add in all the other piles--those that need to be washed, ones that need batteries, ones who need to have hair combed, ones that aren't suitable for special access boxes and are relegated to the Patriotic Praying Pig Pile.  And then there are those that don't make the cut for shoeboxes.  I take piles of them to our city mission's clothing pantry where I volunteer and they are scooped up by local folks.  

Once all the animals are separated into piles it's time to bag them up.  The Beanie-sized ones go 50 in a bag in smaller white trash bags while the medium Webkin-sized ones go 75 to a large black garbage bag.  The really large ones go in big clear trash bags and are hauled to the attic so they don't get mixed in.

My latest quandary is what to do with the medium-large ones because I've run out of places to keep them separate.  Might have to enlist another volunteer for that.  

So...2,000 animals by the beginning of December is a pretty good start.  I'm not sure yet what our goal will be for the 2018 packing party, but we probably only need another 26,500 or so.

We're catching up!

Saturday, November 18, 2017


This morning when I woke up I planned to pack 9 more Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to finish my packing for the year.  I thought I was done a week ago, but God provided a sale that gave me another 400 or so items and I went back into packing mode.

I've always been a fan of nice round numbers in my OCC world, and packing 9 more boxes this morning would put the combined total of packing party boxes and home-packed boxes at an even 28,850 for the year.

But after I got those 9 boxes on the table and started filling them with nice shoes I found a half dozen baseball hats I wanted to pack.  I assembled 6 more boxes.  The total 28,856 isn't as clean, but blessing another 6 children is worth it I figured.

After I finished those 15 boxes I decided to tally the items I still had left--33 tennis balls; 24 jump ropes; 50 plastic cups; lots of shoes and plenty of the basic items.  I folded up 12 boxes and started packing again.

When that round was done I realized packing 12 more would give me 28,880--a great number indeed--so I set up another 12 boxes. One of them had to be a box for a 10-14 year old girl to use up some girl items, and I decided the others would be for 10-14 year old boys.

I went to get shoes from the piles of recent purchases and found there were exactly 11 pairs left for 10-14 year old boys so I cleaned up that category.

After quickly finishing those boxes we loaded our minivan and my husband's truck with the 487 boxes and headed out to our central drop-off site.

We were excited to have 29 members of the Gannon University soccer team there to cartonize the boxes and greet two trucks from drop-off sites and load their 6,000+ boxes into two of the trucks. They polished it all off in less than an hour!

Back home this afternoon I started to clean up my packing supplies and took another little inventory. well...I still had 9 tennis balls and all these cute tennis shoes for 5-9 year olds that take up some significant box space.  If I made a quick trip to the store for some toy cars I could make another 8 nice boxes...and that number 28,888 was really tempting...

So...I went to the store...and...I finished them.  I FINISHED.  I think...

In other news, Jim and I had a date night last night and headed to Warren and Corry to visit our drop-off sites there and enjoy some time at the packing party at Corry.

Under Becky Foster's leadership this packing party has grown every year.  And the boxes were absolutely STUFFED this year with great fillers that will bless the children who receive them.
Just check out these beautiful handmade dolls.  They had 300 of them made by a local sewing group.

When my box packing was finished this afternoon I settled in to watch "Facing The Giants" for a little pick-me-up.  It's crazy when I think that 48 hours from now we'll know the total box number for our area team.  We've prayed for months for 54,321 and I have no idea whether we'll be anywhere close to that number or not.

As soon as I hear of a church whose box numbers are up this year I hear of another whose are down. We'll find out soon, though.  And, taking a line from "Facing The Giants"--we'll praise God if we win and we'll praise Him if we lose...

Because we're almost finished...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Back Packing

Well...last Sunday I thought I'd finished packing Operation Christmas Child boxes for 2017.  Then Tuesday brought a surprise sale at Dollar General that bagged nearly 400 more quality shoebox items--sandals, clothing, jewelry.

What could I do but start packing it up?  My sweet husband headed back to the storage container today and brought me more stuffed animals and more boxes.

He also picked up the cartons I needed for storing the hundreds of items to use for next year's packing party.  One problem, though.  He inadvertently brought home ones with the top flaps cut off that were being saved to put things on the tables at next year's party.  Not much help for storage, so we'll have to head back there to get more.

In between packing we've been making some visits to our drop-off sites.  It was fun to visit our Walnut Creek site on Tuesday and last night we made the trek to Meadville, Conneaut Lake, and Edinboro.  It rained, of course.  It always seems to rain when I drive to Meadville during National Collection Week.

Tonight we were out in North East visiting with a new drop-off team leader there.  She showed us a big bag of these neat hand-crocheted frisbees that were donated as filler items for the Processing Center.  Of course I had to test them.  They fly really well and fold up neatly.  What a cool idea!

We've been to our new Central Drop-Off site a few times this week.  I'm pretty disappointed the church insists on having the trucks dropped clear across the parking lot from their building.

 They have donors drop the boxes at the trucks and cartonize them in the trucks to keep from transporting the cartons such a long distance.  It's becoming kind of a mobile drop-off--not easy to minister to people that way.  So...we keep praying...

and packing...