Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Corona of Miracles


Webster's second definition of corona is "something suggesting a crown" and the shoebox miracles we've experienced over the past few weeks have been a crown of new life.

Doubts about our team and our packing party are nothing new. As I look back over old journals I see that pattern repeated over and over again as the years go by. It's a constant battle, but over the past few months that battle's taken a new direction that made us go to concentrated prayer.

God has answered recently with several affirmations that are astonishing to me. I've seen God work in amazing ways so many times. I guess I should be used to His goodness, yet I still find it mind-blowing that the God of the UNIVERSE stoops to hear and answer our prayers.

The first miracle came in the form of confirmation about storage--a very pressing issue. Our Central Drop-Off Team Leader, Kit, has been a blessing in so many ways. She has unique connections in our community and she uses them, by God's grace, "for such a time as this." One of her connections is with the owners of a warehouse who are donating space to us for the second year.  At our team meeting two weeks ago Kit told the story of how she and her husband took these owners (one of whom is a prominent Erie realtor and developer) to dinner to thank them for the use of their space. She talked extensively to them about Operation Christmas Child (she's passionate, after all) and told them she understands that if the warehouse is sold we will need to move our pallets of items. Kit reports that prominent developer looked her in the eye and said, "You will always have a place for your stuff." What an amazing God-given assurance.

Then...a couple of weeks ago another team member, Ellen, who's a tenacious pursuer of beanie babies and often takes road trips a few hours away to purchase huge lots, went on a whim to a sale at a local warehouse. There were lots of items there that were suitable for shoeboxes, but the prices were too high so Ellen left empty handed. On her way out the owner asked, "Couldn't you find anything?" and Ellen explained about our Operation Christmas Child packing party and told him we are looking for items that are priced very low. David, the owner, gave her his card and encouraged her to come back at the end of the sale, but he also said he might have other sales in the future. Ellen didn't really think it was worth making the long drive back to his warehouse. She never gave him her contact information and figured it was a dead end.

Imagine our surprise two weeks later when I got an email from our regional office saying that a warehouse owner had contacted them and was looking for someone in Erie from OCC to come pick up a donation. I was in shock, because normally when I talk to someone about Operation Christmas Child they can't even remember the correct name of the organization. This guy managed to do the research and track down the regional office.

Well, I called Ellen and Ellen called Dave (the warehouse owner) and set up a time to meet him a few days later at his warehouse. I made sure Ellen explained to him that we couldn't receipt him. If he wanted a receipt we'd have to refer him back to the regional office so he could donate directly to Operation Christmas Child. Amazingly, Dave wasn't concerned about a receipt. Ellen asked if I thought we should both drive our vans to the warehouse and I said, "Yes, in faith, let's take two vehicles and pray God will fill them.

When we got there Dave took us into the warehouse that was filled with cartons of beautiful filler items. He'd owned a business that supplied items to schools for the students to purchase for their families at Christmas or for other occasions. Remember how we prayed God would fill our two vans? Well, instead, Dave gave us each some sheets of fluorescent green stickers and told us to put a sticker on any cartons we could use!  Our jaws dropped and we set to work putting stickers on cartons of balls and jewelry and so many other neat items.

We made arrangements to come back with a truck this Tuesday to get everything. God allowed us to borrow a truck, provided faithful Myron (husband of a team member) to drive it, and enough volunteers to go to load the items and then go to the church to sort them. And the church was gracious enough to allow us to use their space even though they are closed because of COVID-19.

Our sorting team was small, we sat far away from each other, and we washed our hands often. But these miracles were worth the time it took to sort them. Six hours later we had almost everything sorted and recorded.  In the end we stored over 28,600 beautiful filler items--over 2,300 balls, several thousand pieces of nice boxed jewelry, toy cars, and glider planes.  There are sunglasses and flashlights and slinkies and novelty pens.

And in addition to all those filler items there were thousands of the pencils we've been praying for. We've prayed for 18,000. We still have one more box of pencils left to count but so far we've counted 6,940 of them!

Today we had another work day with a small team and filled 2,500 water bottles with crayons, pens, pencils, toothbrushes, erasers, and sharpeners. We only have 972 more left to fill.

And...speaking of filling...we're filled with praise for our awesome God who knows exactly when we need a crown of miracles and showers us with His favor. And we thank God for you who pray along with us and praise God beside us as they unfold.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Weaning


"Spirit of God descend upon my heart. Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move." This hymn is stuck in my head these days and I've been thinking a lot about weaning.

I have three little grandsons who have all been weaned in the past few months. Each of them took a different route to that weaning and a different time schedule. Two of them did this pretty much on their own without a lot of fuss. Ah, but the other--he held on for a long time. He did not want to be weaned and it took some special tricks to get the job done.

I fear my heart is in that 'hard to wean' category. I cling so firmly to things of this earth--not so much to possessions but to achievement, to trying to earn my way to heaven (an impossibility, I know) and to my addiction for approval.  I've been praying about that and I think God may be answering my prayers in ways I don't even fully recognize.

Psalm 131:1-2 "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me."

The notes in my ESV study Bible point out the psalmist is saying that like a weaned child is content to just be in his mother's presence the psalmist is content to just be with God even when there are things he wishes God would explain that he can't understand.

The psalmist says he doesn't occupy himself with what he can't figure out. He just rests in God's presence.

I guess babies and children who are not weaned often have an ulterior motive when snuggling into their mothers' chests. Just being near her mother makes her root around and look for the milk mommy can give her.

Am I like that with God? Am I always just looking for His provision and not His presence? That's a heavy thought but one I don't want to turn away from.

And I'm sensing another weaning that may be happening. One that makes me really uncomfortable because I hate change.  I mean, I've only lived in two houses my entire life--the one I grew up in and the one we've lived in for all of our 45 years of marriage. I've lived in the same community all my life. I've attended only two churches and it took a clear act of God to move me out of the first one after 56 years. And I've been doing this Operation Christmas Child ministry since 1995.

I always thought I would pack shoeboxes until I died. And maybe I will. But what if God has some other plan for me in His kingdom? Am I willing to trust Him and move on if He calls in a different direction?

"Spirit of God descend upon my heart. Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move."

Monday, February 17, 2020

Burning Question


The burning question for my year has been: How do you discern between God's leading and the enemy's work of discouragement? When God intentionally reduced Gideon's army to only 300 God was merciful enough to give Gideon really clear guidance about that (I mean, AFTER the fleece incident--lol) But when you're constantly praying for guidance and get these zingers and God doesn't write His will on the wall for you, then it's challenging to know where those zingers come from and whether they have meaning.

This picture is from our packing party in 2010. That was our second packing party and we packed 12,600 boxes that year. Samaritan's Purse even sent a crew to film it. There were about 500 volunteers there that day. Lots of help. At that time the packing party got a lot of support from Grace Church and many volunteers came from Grace. It also got a lot of support from OCC. We'd actually had the first packing party in 2009 in response to a direct invitation from OCC so that made sense.

Now, almost 10 years later, things look much different. The packing party is not directly supported by Grace Church. They are gracious to offer us the use of their building, which is a HUGE investment, and they provide us with a storage container next to the church and a dumpster for our use the week of the packing party. I'm so grateful for these, believe me. But there is no direct effort to recruit volunteers from those Grace attendees, and despite doing all we could to recruit from the community we had fewer than 300 volunteers on the Saturday packing day this year.

And, little by little, I've been getting the message that maybe OCC would rather we didn't do this packing party either. This year there have been several reminders that packing parties are not the function of our area teams. And of course there's always the issue we've had of not seeing the $9 shipping donation for each of our boxes. So, if you don't have support from a church or from an OCC area team, then you're left with the option of organizing your packing party with an independent team. And that's fine--I mean, with God, even ONE is a majority. But that's the rub--are we "with God"?

I am constantly praying for God's guidance about whether to continue this large packing party. Year by year this is my prayer and the prayer of my team. Because, believe me, the LAST thing I want to do is attempt something this huge outside of the favor of the Lord.

So now I'm back to the question of guidance. Our storage container and extra warehouse space are full of items God has already provided and the beanie babies are literally raining in. I think it's safe to say God wants us to go ahead with this 2020 packing party. At least that makes sense to me.

But is He trying to tell us something for the future? Sometimes I wish God's guidance came in ways that were easier to discern. I'm pretty sure ending our large packing party will not result in more churches and groups being contacted or more team participation. Maybe I'm wrong about that, though.

Only God knows, and I really wish He would tell me.
PS--When I wrote this I completely forgot about the dream I had last night. I woke this morning from a dream in which we had our packing party in the basement fellowship hall of the church that used to be our central drop-off. I couldn't get an accurate total of the boxes we'd packed because each carton had a different number of boxes and no one had properly recorded the numbers.  I did know we were WAY below our goal and had tons of items left over. I kept trying to find someone to see if we could leave everything out and pack boxes the next day but I couldn't find anyone to ask. When I got back to the fellowship hall they were setting up for a craft fair. I woke up with a sense of doom and failure. And that was just the start of the day.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Hands and Feet


I can't sleep. And I don't have anything Operation Christmas Child shoebox related to write about at the moment.

So let me share a little pet peeve of mine. Oh, believe me, I can be the queen of peeves and they're the only pets I have so sometimes I hang onto them pretty tight.

This one's just a little one but it has to do with what I call Christianese. Sometimes it seems we followers of Christ have our own language. It must seem like a secret code to those who aren't part of the group.

Phrases like "I feel led to share..." or "I'm praying a hedge of protection..." sound just a wee bit strange to the uninitiated. I mean, there's nothing wrong with those phrases. They just sound odd when you try to communicate the meaning.

Anyway, one that bothers me a little is when we're planning to do something good (in Christianese we call it ministry) or have done something good we say we are "the hands and feet of Jesus."

Really? My feeble attempt to help my brother (there's another phrase) makes my hands and/or feet synonymous with those nail-pierced ones of Jesus? I don't think so. Jesus doesn't need my help, of course, but because He loves me and is merciful He invites me to come alongside Him in the good He does in the world.  But I still don't think my availability makes my hands and feet worthy of comparison to His.

So it's one of those phrases that kind of makes me cringe a bit. Nothing like the hurt in my heart when I hear a fellow believer misuse God's name. But that's another story.

And...I'm thinking right now the best use of my hands would be to get them off the computer keys and maybe over my mouth.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Greener Pastures


Well, on this blog I completely missed December and throttled right into not only a new year but a new decade. It seems just a short time ago we were all considering the possible problems of Y2K and now here we are TWENTY years later. That just shows me once again how small a blip our lifetimes really are in view of eternity. I need to make every day count for Him as time speeds on.

Today I'm out of my Operation Christmas Child roles and enjoying grammy time with my twin grandsons while their nanny is out of the country. This morning they are reminding me of the very familiar idea of 'the grass being greener on the other side.'

These little guys keep their mom (full-time ob/gyn doctor) and dad (full-time pharmacist) and all their caregivers pretty busy so since they've become mobile they spend most of their time in what is affectionately termed "baby jail"--a large gated area in their living room to keep them safe. Lately, though, they need more room to practice their walking skills so they are sometimes allowed "out and about" with proper supervision. The chairs you see here are set up to keep them from escaping into the non-baby-proofed areas beyond.

When the gate is opened and they are first freed from "baby jail" they exult and chortle with glee and begin to rush around and around the kitchen island on knees or with their walker. But before long they are looking toward the forbidden area beyond--those "greener pastures" that look so inviting.

I find so often in my Operation Christmas Child life I, too, am quick to turn my back on all God has given me and look toward greener pastures.

Our team is going into 2020 absolutely amazed at all God's provided for us already this year. By His grace we've collected over 8,300 stuffed animals and this is unprecedented for this time of year. He's given us favor with purchasing huge quantities of really high quality items (two truckloads full, at least) and also provided us with warehouse space and a safe delivery.  We are SO blessed!

I marvel at His blessings...and I praise Him for His goodness.  But...THEN I look at the blessings of other teams and other large shoebox packers and begin to see grass that is greener.

I start to envy those who are part of a church that makes Operation Christmas Child a priority mission and prays together and trusts God to provide shipping costs and then SEES God provide and meet their shipping donation. I start to long for the deals some get with amazing price reductions at stores. I start to wonder why my team isn't growing and why I only have one ministry coordinator.

I forget God's blessings to me and long for more and different ones. Silly me!  Like my grandsons I lose sight of the joys I've been given and descend into desire.

Lord, help me keep my eyes on You and trust You to meet every need of our team in Your time. Help me thank you with JOY for all you do for me and for my team day by day. Help me trust You for more while not forgetting Your provision for the prayers of the past.

Because You DO make me lie down in green pastures and they are just right for me.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Be astonished!


photo credit to my amazing Central Drop-Off Team Leader--Kit Zinkosky

It's the last day of National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child. All around the country this scene is playing out as filled trucks are getting ready to transport millions of precious shoeboxes to processing centers to be inspected on the next leg of their journey to boys and girls all over the world.

NCW is hard. It's always a hard week--physically, emotionally, spiritually. We who have been through this for years have come to expect that. Even with all the extra prayer support the struggle can be real.

This might seem like a leap, but I was a childbirth educator for 19 years and I find some analogies between NCW and childbirth. Most of the time childbirth is hard. It's exhausting and scary and filled with unknowns and struggle. But...at the end of it you get the prize--a baby!

And when we all watch those trucks pull away we feel a little of that sense of wonder you feel when that baby is placed in your arms. Ahhh...it's amazing to be part of a miracle, isn't it?!

I read this verse this morning and it seems so appropriate for the final day of National Collection Week:  "Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days--You would not believe it if you were told." Habakkuk 1:5

Be astonished! Wonder! God is doing things we may never get to see on earth through these simple but powerful boxes. Yes, it's hard. We get beyond tired but it's not without purpose. It's the good tired that mixes with exhilaration.

God is doing something in our days--and we GET to be a part of it.

Oh, and by the way...we prayed all year for 42,000 boxes and God gave us...

This number includes the 22,048 packed at our packing party in September. We are so blessed!


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!