Tuesday, November 5, 2019

It's November!

It's November! In two weeks we'll be in the thick of National Collection Week. It always kind of sneaks up on me. As I told Lisa, my regional manager, yesterday on our phone call, "Every November I think--okay, we just need to get through National Collection Week and then next year we'll try to do it better."  Then before I know it we're at the NEXT November and I'm saying the same thing.

I'm a perfectionist by nature. I think my desire to want to do it RIGHT is rooted in pride. I'm praying through that.  The bar is set pretty crazy high in our Operation Christmas Child world with lots of 'things' to work on--encouraging $9 shipping donation for each box; encouraging better quality boxes that are a 'regular size' (not too big and not too small and well-filled); recruiting more drop-off sites; getting those drop-off sites to be missional (with stuff like decorations and refreshments and games and...all while basically LOVING each person who brings in a box AND keeping an accurate count of boxes and getting as many as possible in a carton and loading trucks safely with enough volunteers.

Not to mention recruiting volunteers and equipping them and developing them and leading them. Working to develop team unity (in-here goals) while prayerfully harvesting as many shoeboxes (aka Gospel Opportunities or out-there goals) as possible.

It's a lot.

When I think of it all sometimes I get overwhelmed. Maybe I shouldn't admit that. The big question is: Is God calling me to do this?  Because if He is then He will always make a way. He promises to "equip (me) for every good thing to do His will, working in (me) that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ." (Hebrews 13:21 ASV)

I was challenged to pray through that question this week and I am asking Him to make me willing to be obedient whatever the answer.

Because...it's November!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Growing Faith

How quickly I can forget.  This morning I was reading some of the miracles of Jesus and noticed how He focused on faith. "According to your faith will it be done to you," He said to the men who were blind, and their sight was restored.  I thought that over as I prayed afterwards and asked God to build my faith.

But...as I said...how quickly I can forget.

I expected a truck delivery this afternoon with pallets of hats, visors, water bottles and sunglasses for our 2020 shoeboxes. Instead, I was surprised with a call at 7:20 telling me the delivery would arrive at 8:30. By God's grace my husband was still home and offered to delay his work day to go with me to unload.

I wasn't prepared for the amount of cartons we unloaded from those seven pallets, and I wasn't prepared to see how much space they consumed in our storage container.  I forgot my prayer about building faith and started to sink into discouragement.

To make it all worse I realized I can't lift those cartons of baseball hats the way I could even a couple years ago. I've neglected any workouts over the past year (other than walking and slow running) which certainly doesn't help the issue, but I think some of it is just the loss of muscle mass that comes from hitting 67.  Doubt started to sweep in like winter waves as I asked myself, "Can I keep doing this? Can our team of basically old and/or disabled people keep doing this?"

Before long the sides of the container were filled leaving only a narrow path down the middle. The baseball hats need to be taken out of their cartons and re-boxed/consolidated to make more room so they had to stay along the side rather than be stored in the back.

And...what to do with the water bottles?  The cartons they were shipped in are falling apart. That's the problem when you look for the cheapest prices--you get dirty, dilapidated cartons. They also shipped the caps separately so they will need to be put on. Are we going to put something in the water bottles? We could stuff them with beanie babies but we don't have enough of them yet to fill all 3400. Meanwhile, they take up every last inch of storage space in that container. Did I mention we won't be packing them for almost another year?

Then I remembered--I asked God to build my faith. Well, I guess He has plans for that.

We finished getting the cartons shoved into the container and I headed off to meet with Kit, our new Central Drop-Off Team Leader.  Did I mention I am woefully untutored in the needs of the logistics network and lost my Logistics Coordinator this year?  I mean--I have more questions for poor Kit than I have answers.

As we talked I got teary. I felt bad for spilling my emotions on her when she really needs support. But as I prayed through my tears I told God I AM trusting Him--trusting Him to figure out what to do with these water bottles; trusting Him to figure out what else we should buy and when; trusting Him to find the strong arms we need to move these cartons and load these trucks; trusting Him to grow the faith I need to even keep trusting.

"So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ."--Romans 10:17 ESV  Let me hear the word of Christ. Let me listen. Because...I really need to grow faith.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Through It All

As I write this I am listening to Phil Wickham performing on the Dove Awards sing "Jesus Christ our living hope..."  And today I was reminded of that living hope in a poignant and beautiful way as I attended the celebration of life service for Val, the godly husband of one of my high school friends.

I wish I'd had the opportunity to know Val better in person but I got to know him through his wife Ginny's posts when we reconnected a few years ago on Facebook.  And when Val was diagnosed with multiple myeloma Ginny started a Facebook group called "Through It All" to keep their deep prayer network up-to-date on not only Val's condition but on the progress of what they came to call their 'disease ministry' to other patients.

I have to say I hate visiting at funeral homes. I do it, of course, but I hate it. On the other hand, the older I get the more I enjoy attending homegoing services for brothers and sisters in the Lord who have gone to be with Jesus.  These precious times are reminders of the glorification that awaits each of us who has that "living hope."

This service was especially beautiful. Each person who spoke had one main goal--not to glorify Val's life but to glorify God and to give a clear gospel presentation and invitation to anyone there who needed to make that decision to trust Jesus to forgive their sins and give them assurance of a place in heaven for eternity.

The celebration was held in the same pavilion at Camp Judson where the couple were married 43 years ago.  It's been cold the past few days in Erie but this afternoon was clear, warm, and brushed with a palette of fall colors--a gift from God for sure.  So much like the October day nearly 5 years ago when we celebrated my mother's life.

"Two Hands" by Love Song and "The Wedding Song" by Paul Stookey were performed today with guitar accompaniment--just as they had been at the couple's wedding. Amazingly, the lyrics were perfect for this occasion also.

And the goal remained true through every part of this celebration--always pointing us to Jesus. There were Bibles and "Steps To Peace With God" booklets prominently displayed and we were encouraged to take them for ourselves or to share with someone who needs to know Jesus and His love.

Val and Ginny's four children are all living for Jesus and their testimony of their father's impact on their lives was both challenging and inspiring.  I continue to pray God will give me opportunities to make an impact like that.

It's impossible for me to sit through a service like this and not wonder what kind of legacy God is challenging me to leave when He calls me home.  What can I do now to share God's love and truth with people around me who need to know it?  How can I prepare now to make sure my own funeral will be a celebration that points people to Jesus in every way?

The faithfulness of God was celebrated in a huge way today. There is no doubt that through it all--the mountains and the valleys of life--God is sovereign and good.

So let me ask you the question: if you died today do you know you would be in heaven? There is no more important question and no time like now to be sure of your answer. If you're not sure, please go to peacewithgod.net to learn more...

Because nothing in life is more important than knowing that through it all you have a living hope of living in heaven for eternity.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Mercy not Justice

Mercy vs. justice. Sadly, I admit most of the time I want mercy for myself and my failures while at the same time seeing the mistakes of others with an eye for only justice.

I've been thinking about that a lot over the last two days as I've been praying for mercy. A couple of weeks ago I found out we had out-of-town company arriving the day of the packing party so I decided we needed to replace the mattress in our spare bedroom.

Always looking for the best deal I bought one online through sears.com where I found a deal that offered $150 in Shop Your Way points with a $300 purchase. I chose the mattress and added a few items to make sure my purchase came to $300.  I was to receive the points in 10 installments of $15 each week, and I planned to use those points to purchase the ball pit balls pictured here. We used them in our 2-4 year old Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes at our packing party and even used some as extra fillers for older children when those checking the boxes at the end of the line found empty corners. 

I received my first $15 installment two weeks ago and then...nothing. I did some checking online and found I had only been awarded an offer of $15 for making a $100 purchase instead of the $150 for a $300 purchase.  Confused, I scrutinized the order and saw that when I made the final purchase I used $4 in existing points I had and that took my total just below $300 before tax was added. I decided to call Shop Your Way anyway and see what they said.

And I prayed. I told God I deserved justice. I'd made a mistake. But I asked Him if maybe I could have mercy.

Between yesterday and today I talked with seven different customer service representatives at both Sears and Shop Your Way. The convoluted conversations and run-around I had are too long to detail here, but I see now how God was using all those delays to get me to just the right person.

Today I talked with someone who finally took responsibility to look at my order (while I waited on hold) and then declared, "Yes, I see the problem. You used your points and that made your total fall below the $300." Yes, I did that. Justice meant I wasn't entitled to that $150 in points. That's what I deserved.

BUT then he said, "But don't worry. I will give you the points. I will add them to your account now." MERCY!  I deserved justice but I was blessed with mercy and $135 in points to spend.

I called my sidekick Pam and we strategized the best way to use this mountain of mercy.  I placed the order and now have 1200 ball pit balls coming our way for future shoebox packing. 

I'm so incredibly happy with this paltry little piece of mercy, and that makes me think of the incomprehensible mercy Jesus won for me with His death on the cross and the mountains of mercy poured out on me day after day by God's loving hand. 

Couldn't I give JUST a tiny bit more of that mercy to others as I go through my day? 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fighting the Good Fight

It's funny how expectations can frame your experience. Because our packing party goal for this 11th year dropped down to 22,000 from last year's 30,590 I honestly thought this year would be a breeze. I anticipated a nice slow day and was even blessed to be able to have a full-circle speaker, Mariya Snizhko, come to share her story. I even anticipated we'd finish packing boxes early and be cleaned up and ready to leave before 4:00.

But I was wrong...

I should have known it could be more difficult than I thought when the Christian Life Academy students on Friday morning packed only half the number of boxes they packed other years.

I should have known it could be harder than I anticipated when our total at the end of Friday night was....

instead of the 10,400 we'd packed at the end of Friday night last year.  I knew we were packing more slowly (something that was actually one of our goals) but I didn't realize just how slowly.

I have to say I slept better this week than I have during any other packing party week I can remember. On the whole our team was amazing and worked so, so hard.

We ended Friday night with a whopping storm but Saturday morning dawned with clear blue skies. Our final Jericho prayer march around the building at 8:20 that morning was sweet--the easiest part of the day!

When we began our opening in the worship center there were only about 25 people. I prayed early that morning about whether we should have Mariya speak at the 9:00 opening so we didn't have to stop the line at 11:30 as we planned but the decision to wait was made easy when I saw how few people were there. In the opening I talked about Austin Drakulic's life and explained we were dedicating this packing party to his memory. I explained Austin's relationship with the Lord and challenged those who were there to have that saving relationship with Jesus too.

The packing began at 9:20 and by 10:00 we were only at...

When we stopped the line at 11:25 to usher everyone into the worship center to here Mariya speak we'd only packed...

and, truthfully, I was a bit alarmed.  I started praying earnestly for God to somehow bring us across the finish line that day. Mariya did an excellent job of sharing her story and how important that simple shoebox was in her life. At the end of her talk I prayed for her and for us and told God something like this, "You are the One who called us to this. We're trusting You to finish it."

After a short pep talk we started the line moving again. Someone asked me, "What will you do with all these boxes if you don't get them filled?" Good question! And I had no answers.

The lines kept moving around and around. By God's grace we had more volunteers than I ever remember having in the afternoon: many more than in the morning for sure. And I'm sure that's the result of God answering the many prayers of friends.

By 2:30 we were only 1.5 hours away from the official end of the packing party and our total stood at

It was hopeful but still SO FAR AWAY from 22,000. I wondered if it was a lack of faith or wisdom in planning that had my mind spinning with thoughts of what to do with 6,000 assembled but unfilled empty shoeboxes.

At 3:00 with one hour to go our total stood at

Amazingly, we the packing picked up speed in the afternoon. I think once we got to the bags of smaller beanie baby-sized stuffed animals it didn't take so much rearranging to fit things in the boxes. Plus, we still had a good crew of volunteers and that really blew me away. God's goodness was just so evident even as the idea of reaching the goal looked bleak.

When 4:00 came--the scheduled end of our packing party--our total stood at roughly 19,000 boxes. I yelled for the packers to stop for a moment and gave them the news...if we could keep packing for an hour just maybe we could bless another 3,000 children and make our goal. The crowd yelled their desire to "keep packing" and so we did.

My prediction that we could finish in an hour didn't materialize, though. At 5:35, over 1.5 hours AFTER the packing was supposed to be finished our total was at 

and it seemed we would still fall short. I can't praise those hardy volunteers enough, though. It was tempting to just quit at this point, even though the halls were still filled with boxes. But those shoebox packers wouldn't give in!!!  Some of us started cleaning up around them but they just KEPT PACKING!  At one point we ran out of stuffed animals and thought we'd have to stop but then I remembered a few bags of donated ones that were in my car. So volunteers quickly examined them and found they were good to use and KEPT PACKING!

FINALLY, at 6:15--over 2 hours after the scheduled end time--we realized we didn't have enough items to pack good boxes and knew it was time to stop. There were still a hundred or more folded boxes in the hallway and I had no idea if we'd met our goal.

I walked out to the truck and got the total number of cartons on that last one. Thankfully, the last boxes we packed filled a carton. There were 328 cartons on that 4th truck and 350 in each of the first three.

As that group of intrepid, steadfast, never-give-up packers looked on I used my phone's calculator to get the total number packed. I was amazed to see this number come up as our final total...

Yes! Thank YOU, God! At 11:30 that morning I didn't think it could happen. At 2:00 that afternoon I didn't think it could happen. Even at 5:35 that afternoon I didn't think it could happen. BUT GOD...

We asked people this year to do three things:

1) Pack neatly to show love
2) Pack the boxes full but don't OVERfill
3) Pray over your boxes

I think they listened! And I think we realized doing those three things takes more time. We're praying our goal of 22,000 well-filled boxes was met and, if so, it's because GOD showed up for us.

Our team motto this year was Numbers 11:23 "Is the Lord's arm too short?" and the answer to that rhetorical question is a resounding NO!  Thank You, Lord, for packing these boxes with Your mighty right hand.

I just heard from Patti who was in charge of registration and the donation can that $307.43 was donated toward the cost of shipping these boxes. We've received about $8,700 so far and will keep praying for God to meet that need. Patti said one little girl told her, "I don't have much" but she did give everything she had. We're praying for more willing givers.

We think back to Austin Drakulic who came to every packing party work day, even while going through chemotherapy, and worked tirelessly to make jump ropes and school packs. Austin fought the good fight and we think he would have been proud of all the shoebox packers yesterday who fought the good fight in his memory.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday Fling

Whew! It's after midnight and I'm only half way through checking and sorting some of the stuffed animals that were donated today. A bunch more are still in my car as I listen to the storm raging outside and I likely won't get to them until after the packing party.

Today flew by in a kind of blur. This morning I tried to put the new sheets I'd just washed on the bed as I get ready for out-of-town company to arrive on Saturday only to find the full size sheet set had a twin size fitted sheet in the package (thanks, Kohl's.)  Quickly ordered online for in-store pickup.

This morning we hosted Christian Life Academy students to kick off the shoebox packing. I think this is the 7th year they've made the 1.5 hour trip each way to pack boxes with us. We encouraged the students to slow down and pray as they packed, and they did a great job ending the day with 1,963 boxes packed.

Packing more intentionally and having more items available is, however, slowing down the process. Last year the students packed twice as many boxes in the same amount of time.  Here's the thing: I want it ALL. I want nice, full boxes packed intentionally with thought and prayer...but I also want a LOT of them and I want them FAST. Yeah...I've always had a problem with realism.

In the afternoon we all regrouped a bit. I went home to do more cleaning and when I returned the building looked great. My team may be small but they know how to work!

A group from Allentown arrived around 4:00 and I enjoyed spending some time talking with them. Then we shared a "last supper" together before doing our Jericho prayer march.  Before long the guests for our packing party started arriving and we had a small opening/instruction time in the lobby before commencing the packing.

There was a good, orderly flow to the line. Boxes were certainly well-filled and many were difficult to close and needed to be rearranged--another thing that slowed us down.

We stopped the line at 7:30 to go into the worship center to hear from our full-circle speaker, Mariya Snizchko. What a joy to be reminded how God can use something as simple as a box of crayons to bring an amazing blessing. This is the first time our area has had a full-circle speaker since 2011 and she was worth the wait.

We filled the first truck (5,600 boxes) a bit before 8:30pm and by the time we ended at 9:00 were were at 5,936.  I've been praying this evening as I sort animals and asking God (to borrow a line from "Facing the Giants") to help me "praise Him if we win and praise Him if we lose," because I'm just not sure how we'll get 16,000 more boxes packed tomorrow.

BUT "we walk by faith and not by sight" so I don't have to see how it will happen. I just have to trust it will. Box by full, prayed-over box we'll keep blessing children one by one.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday Throttle

It was full throttle ahead this Thursday as busy workers arrived early to continue folding boxes. This task was finished in record time as the last boxes were folded at 11:30 am simultaneously by Kelly and the team of Rose and Kathy.  The question is: how many boxes do we really have folded? I ordered 22,400 but I THINK we received 22,200.  We were supposed to have 22,500 labels if there were really 500 on each roll, but I counted 398 labels left over when all the boxes were labeled. So...it's still a mystery until Saturday afternoon.

In retrospect, all the volunteers probably should have just gone home after lunch while we regrouped and decided on a game plan for further packing. Instead we ended up having this impromptu mini packing party without being really prepared for it. But boxes did get packed and I guess that's the point after all. 

And there were a few minutes of fun in the middle.

Two of the trucks arrived in the late afternoon and we discovered our truck driver's wife was a shoebox recipient as a child in the Philippines.  How fun!  The other two trucks will be on site tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day and I guess we're ready. Sort of. But ready or not we're full steam ahead again in less than 12 hours.