Thursday, January 17, 2019

Getting The Point


This is what happens in January and February. I have fantasies of quitting. I lie in bed in the wee hours and think to myself...I'm a volunteer. Nothing says I have to keep doing this job as area coordinator. No one is making my team plan a large shoebox packing party. Really, the sensible thing would be to just quit.

But then, like Reb Tevye in "Fiddler On The Roof" I think..."On the other hand"...  Neither I nor my teammates may get paid for our jobs BUT we have a high calling. If God's still calling me to this I can't quit. I don't dare.

This leads to more prayer and soul searching as I ask God again for His wisdom. Are you calling me to this OCC team? Still? Are you calling us to do a large packing party? Still?

Because if He calls then He'll provide--that I DO KNOW. It's just that things always get a little fuzzy in these bleak months of January and February.

On the other hand...God is already providing. I've been praying for pencils this year. We have 9,000 sets of mechanical pencils donated by a generous team member but we still need about 40,000 more regular pencils and I don't have a source right now.

This week, though, I saw a post about some toys at Walgreens being 90% off. I headed to the Walgreens that's less than a mile from my house. I didn't find any toys but I DID see a rack of discounted pencils. Each pack had 20 pencils for a clearance price of .49.  I loaded them into my cart and went to find a manager to ask if I could get a cheaper price if I bought them all.  The answer to that was "no"...

BUT when they rang up it turns out the school supplies were "Buy 1 get 1 50% off" this week so each pack ended up being 36.5 cents each or about 1.9 cents per pencil.  I try not to pay more than 2 cents for a pencil so that worked out great. I headed to another store later and between the two sites I got a haul of 3,740 pencils.

I have no idea yet what our goal will be for this year's packing party. A lot will depend on what size boxes we'll be given to pack this year and I don't even know when I will know the answer to that question.

I guess the point is I need to follow God one step at a time.  I mean, that's always the point...it's just that sometimes I have trouble even seeing the next step, you know?

I'm still praying for another 36,260 pencils (and a Prayer Ministry Coordinator, and a Community Relations Coordinator, and a Central Drop-Off Team Leader and Central Drop-Off Site and another ten team members would be nice.)

But mostly I'm praying I'll just get the point.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Same Old...


Here we are--2019! It seems crazy we're nearly two decades into this century when it feels like just days ago we waited for the ball to drop on Y2K--fearing all our computers would crash.

It's a day to evaluate the ups and downs of the past year and set new goals. But I'm not feeling it.

I mean I want to get excited about goals and resolutions but somehow it all feels like the same old struggles just to maintain. When I look back to the year 2000 I was praising God for allowing us to pack a perfect 300 shoeboxes. This year, 18 years later, God blessed us with more than 100 times that many. Incredible!

The truck above showed up just a few weeks ago with a delivery of four pallets of shoebox items we'd prayed over. God granted us a lower price on the items and blessed us by having them delivered on a dry and relatively warm day.  God is still moving on our behalf.


But where do we go from here?  Our team hasn't set a formal goal for our packing party or for our team goal for total shoeboxes but the talk seems to be that we are at a plateau or may even need to step back a few thousand or more. Just trying to maintain what we did this year would be a major feat. We don't have the time, the funds, the storage space, or the volunteer base to move forward. Of course God can do anything. So does it show a lack of trust for us to just maintain? What does God want us to do in the face of so many children who need to know God's love?

Maintaining 30,000 boxes or even pulling back a bit would still be no small feat. Only God can achieve that through our small team with our limited resources. Only God can pull another 30,000 stuffed animals out of this area where we've gleaned them all year after year.

But in terms of goal setting a plateau isn't all that exciting.

In some ways my personal life, too, has long-since peaked and I can't even maintain the goals of the past. Taking running, for example--and I use the term 'running' very loosely. I've been running since 1984 with never more than a week off until the past year. Now I've had several injuries that have not only slowed me down but now have stopped me completely for more than a month. I'm going to physical therapy this week for the first time ever and my hope is to run again--even slowly. But that goal is WAY BEHIND past goals.

I need to face it--things change, my physical body is aging. Some of the struggles will only increase. Still, God's mercies are new every morning. Though my physical body is decaying I can still improve it. I can get back to exercise in some form.

And, spiritually, I can move forward by His grace. I can set goals to memorize Scripture and spend time reading His word.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a woman just a couple months older than I. She was a faithful servant of the Lord and He ended her race through the crippling disease of ALS. None of us know how many days/months/years God will extend our race but I do have today.

God, will you help me focus on Your hope? Will you help me affirm Your word to Isaiah (43:19) "Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" Will You help me perceive that "new thing" you want to do in my life and in our team in 2019?

Because I think You want more than "Same. Old."


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Chastened but Cleansed


At heart I'm really a Pharisee. I love rules and really try to follow them (except when I think they're not logical) and I believe everyone should follow them too--no matter what. By His grace, God has been revealing my Pharisaical heart to me lately and gently nudging me toward love--a painful process to be sure.

Last night was our first night working at the Baltimore Processing Center for Operation Christmas Child. We'll be here until Saturday and our job is to inspect the gifts that have been given and make sure each leaves the PC ready to bless a child.  Now this may sound simple but, in fact, it can get pretty complex.

Operation Christmas Child is committed to the "integrity of the box".  This means you only take out what is on the list of inappropriate items and you replace the items you take out and add items to the box if (and only if) the box is not full.

Sometimes that simple rule and logic collide.

Last night at 9:45 pm the associate employee leading my line handed me a LARGE box--about the size of TWO boot boxes--that had just been returned to the line from the 'shoebox hospital' where gifts that are damaged go to be repaired. The associate said I needed to inspect the box and send it on.

It had a "Follow Your Box" label on it and the top of the HUGE box (did I mention it was big) was wrapped. Inside were three items--a very large but obviously dirty stuffed animal, an oversized used art kit, and a dirty purple purse.  When I removed the used items I was left with a BIG empty box.

Logic says that this box is too big and filling it will take up too many of the filler items meant for boxes that need just a little help.  Why not take the "Follow Your Box" label off and put it on a regular size shoebox before filling it?  I asked that question but was told that box needed to be filled to maintain its integrity.

I grumbled as I looked for larger items to fill that GIANT box that I knew was too big anyway.  I did, however, have the presence of mind to pray--asking God to help me find items that would bless the child who would receive it.  I got the box filled just before all the volunteers left the PC for the night.

Last night as I tried to fall asleep I couldn't quit thinking about that box and what nonsense it seemed to fill it. Finally, I fell asleep.

Because I have a gracious God who continues His good work in me even when I am a resistant Pharisee, my very first thought when I opened my eyes this morning was an amazing epiphany.

I kid you not--just as I awoke it was as if Jesus was speaking right to me.  And He said,

"Kathy, that's what I do for you. You bring me your pathetic gifts. Oh, on the outside they are big and wrapped in beautifully decorative paper.  But on the inside they are so often dirty, used, bedraggled, unworthy.

Yet, I accept them with love and I replace those unusable offerings with something that will bless people.  Don't you see, Kathy, I'm doing it now.

I am taking your bad attitude, your Pharisaical, rule-following and unloving heart, and I am making something new there."

Thank You, Jesus. Will you use that box to bless a child and a family. Thank you for chastening me and for cleansing me and for giving me another chance to see Your love.

Give me another chance today to follow your one BIG rule--to love God and to love others.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Joy Lest


Over and over the Bible commands me to not only rejoice but to rejoice always. Can you hear me sighing?

My life experience seems to be that joy is hardest for me to find when it should be easy.  I've seen God answer so many prayers lately--the healthy delivery of twin grandsons, the collection of our shoeboxes that brought our area total to 50,793 (pretty far under our 54,321 goal but still 405 more than we collected in 2017.) And just last week I got a great deal on an order of four pallets of items for next year's packing party.  Still, I struggle to rejoice.

And when you want to be an obedient believer but can't seem to find the joy--well, then you add guilt to the fight.

And, truthfully, I'm writing this blog so I can at least say I got one written during the month of November.

Yesterday, fighting recurring feelings of failure, I decided to go donate blood. I figured that would help me feel better.  Wouldn't you know--for the first time in my life the blood flow slowed to a near trickle at only half a pint and they had to work to get it flowing again to finish the donation. I mean, who fails at donating blood?

Apparently I'm an over-achiever in the failure department this week.  Today I was trying to feverishly finish the OCC monthly team reports I've procrastinated about for the past few months and couldn't even figure out how to input the figures into the spreadsheet.  I was out of town helping my daughter with her new twins during National Collection Week so today our new Central Drop-Off Team Leader came over to complete the paper work that should have been mailed in days ago.  We discovered we didn't have the drop-off logs/closure packet from one of our drop-off sites!  They're going to scan and send them to us (41 sheets to print off on our home printer) and they are going to be submitted late. And in a matter of days it will be time to send the OCC prayer requests to the prayer partners again. Why do I always dread trying to figure out how to do that every month?

There aren't any crises occurring in my life so why do these little annoyances seem to leave me joyless? I wish I knew.

I met with an older friend/mentor today who confessed to the same struggle lately. She reminded me that joy is one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.  So is a lack of joy a spiritual problem or maybe a result of unconfessed sin (well, there's always that.)

Meanwhile, as I ponder this I'm trusting this is only a season. Just as the sun will one day shine through these winter gray Erie skies (please say it will happen soon) I sincerely believe joy will trickle in


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Doubly Blessed



Again this morning I am searching my journal and recording God's answers to so many prayers. I guess I'll have to pull out journals for the past year or so because the prayers go back that far at least.

And all those streams of prayer flowed into a river of it this week.  Anticipation has been building for months as we waited for our new twin grandsons to be born.  A double blessing in answer to more than a year of prayers.  Week by week I prayed for them to stay safe inside their mom--to grow and develop to full term babies. And I prayed for God's will for their delivery but told God my desire was to avoid a c-section and allow those babies to be born vaginally.

My daughter is an obstetrician and knows all that could go wrong in the process of pregnancy, labor and delivery. She prepared for everything and planned she would probably deliver premature babies. I continued to pray for healthy full-term boys and rejoiced as each week went by that moved her closer to her due date.

And, praise God, she made it to the date planned to induce her labor--just over 38 weeks.  Jim and I drove from Erie to Chicago on Sunday, greeted our daughter and her husband, and then settled into the hospital waiting room with her mother-in-law and father-in-law and our other daughter.

Then...we waited.

We were excited at 11:00 pm when she was 5 cm. dilated.  Now we knew those babies' birth dates would not be 10/21/18 but the doctor predicted they would come by "early morning" on 10/22/18.

Then...we waited.

At 2:00 am she was still 5 cm. then at 4:20 am we got a report she was 6 cm.

Then...we waited.

When she was still 6 cm. at 8:30 am I went to the beautiful hospital chapel (see picture above) to pray and I texted friends who are prayer warriors to pray with me.  By 9:30 she was still 6 cm. and they decided to wait just one more hour before doing a c-section.

Praise God...then there was progress.  By 10:30 am she was at 8.5 cm. (I mean, I'm not sure how you get it measured down to 8.5 cm. but it does sound more encouraging than 8 cm.)  And by 12:30pm she was getting ready to push.

Then...we waited.

Three hours of pushing later and at 3:15 pm they moved her to the operating room where the delivery would take place.  Twins are delivered in the operating room because of the risk of complications.

Then...we waited.

Finally...at 5:28 pm we got a text message with this picture and our joy broke out in the waiting room!


On the right is George Bradford who was born first at about 4:10 pm at 5 lb. 8oz. And on the left is Augustine Shaw who was born next at 7 lb. 1 oz.

It was more than two hours later before I could see my daughter in the recovery room and she recounted more of the story.  It seems that after 3 hours of pushing, George's heart rate decelerated so they needed to use the vacuum extractor to deliver him.

Then...Augustine's heart rate plummeted so he was delivered by emergency c-section. I think my daughter deserves Continuing Education credits for enduring such an array of pregnancy/delivery experiences.

Everyone is recovering now. (I mean, I think I'm almost recovered--lol)  Little George is still in the NICU because he wasn't able to keep his blood sugar level stable, but we hope he'll be out soon.

And so I sit and thumb through my journal and look at so many prayer requests that were answered--not exactly all in the way I'd hoped--but still answered fully and completely by our loving God.

Doubly blessed for sure.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Homecoming


Homecoming. My Facebook newsfeed has been filled with pictures of my friends' children in beautiful dresses ready to attend homecoming dances.  So I, too, decided to post pictures of beautiful dresses. There aren't any children wearing them yet, but they're on their way to share the love of Jesus  with the girls who will one day wear them.  

God blessed me this year with 31 fancy dresses that I've found at rock-bottom sale prices--dresses that would cost many times what I paid for them.  So at tonight's Operation Christmas Child area team meeting we decided to have a mini packing party and put them all into boxes with matching shoes, jewelry, and hair ornaments.  

And, by God's design, I had 31 quality Barbie dolls that I purchased at 90% off when Toys R Us went out of business.  They made the perfect fillers!

After we packed our boxes we talked about homecoming--the ultimate homecoming described in Revelation 7:9-12--"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

I can't wait for that homecoming, and I'm praying the little girls who receive these dresses will be there--around the throne to worship the Lamb.

As you look at these special dresses will you pray for that, too?














Tuesday, September 18, 2018

So Many Answers


Our 2018 Operation Christmas Child Community-Wide Shoebox Packing Party is over with 30,590 boxes packed. Wow, that's crazy!

I've been spending some time looking back through my journal at all the prayers God answered throughout this year that brought us to the victory of Saturday. And I can't even begin to know all the prayers that were prayed around our country and even in other countries around the world.

This year especially I am in awe of how God uses His people--the body of Christ--to come together to do things that can never be done by one individual.  People, it's incredible!

If you've read this blog you've followed the progress through the week of God's provision for the boxes and cartons to arrive on time, for the day-by-day box folding, and a host of other details that God orchestrated.

But behind the scenes as we went into the big weekend I was blown away by God's goodness in undertaking for my own deficiencies.

I was so upset with myself for dropping the ball on making contacts for things I wanted to happen to make the environment for this party better.  For one, I wanted to plan meals for the volunteers throughout the week.  I prayed about this, yet I never organized it.  The body of Christ came together, though, as people brought in donations and offered to bring in food without even being asked.  We were gifted with leftovers from a staff dinner on Tuesday night and throughout the week our lunches and dinners were covered all by God's grace.

I'd wanted to arrange for decorations that would give volunteers something to look at while walking through the line, but, again, I never asked anyone to do that. I was amazed on Friday when Donna, who has gifts of creativity, took the OCC pictures I gave her and some posters I printed a few years ago and made attractive wall arrangements and then constructed two trees of folded GO boxes. Then two teens, Korin and Kaytlyn, drew some great art on a white board that was a tremendous focal point.

On the day of the packing party I was sad again that I'd neglected to ask someone to take pictures. Then Jeannie came up to me and said, "I see you don't have anyone by your photo props, do you want me to take some pictures?"  Well, SURE I did!  And she took amazing pictures and videos and posted them on Facebook.

All evening long on Friday and all day long on Saturday God kept leading us step by step.  People made suggestions and we made a few corrections. We tried hard to keep the lines moving.

Still, by 2:00 when we were at 26,000 or so I doubted we would even get to the 28,032 boxes we did last year.  I confess my normal task-orientation went into overdrive as I passed slower people in line in an effort to get more boxes completed.

This was the latest packing party ever as we went right up to 5:10 pm before we ran out of school packs and decided it was time to FINALLY stop.  We are praising God for the 30,590 boxes packed!

On Friday night we had 232 volunteers from 18 different organizations come to pack and on Saturday we had 337 people from 34 different organization come to pack boxes.

As I looked through journal entries--starting back at the beginning of 2018--I found the one pictured above where God confirmed our goal of 30,000.  It seemed like a big jump over last year's 28,032 but God confirmed it and brought it to pass with an extra 590 just for fun.

Still, it was a hard-fought year.  Amanda, who is in charge of organizing and stocking many of the line items, had major surgery in July and had restrictions on lifting.  Pam, who was in charge of all the clothing items and school packs, developed a sore throat and cold the week of the packing party and had to struggle through.

Then on Saturday morning two major leads had a conflict and one walked off the job and left the packing party completely.  I am so sad about all of this, but, again by God's grace, other volunteers took up the slack and we kept going.  This, I KNOW, was a direct result of prayer.

On Sunday I got a message from Christy, my OCC prayer partner friend in Florida who also does a large packing party. Christy told me she was at a Beth Moore simulcast on Saturday morning when she got a strong urge to pray for our packing party.  Since they were in the middle of a worship song she decided to wait until the song was over to pray. But she said she then felt such an urgency that she KNEW she needed to stop and pray right then. So she turned in her pew to face north and held out her arms and prayed.  Praise God for her obedience, because only God knows how her prayers kept us going that morning.

God is sovereign and His plans will not be thwarted.  When we pray for one another--even though miles away--He is faithful and answers.

So...thank YOU friends for praying. Thank you for your faithful prayers for stuffed animals. Several thousand were donated the week and weekend of the packing party and only the last few hundred boxes did not have a stuffed animal (we substituted water bottles in those.)

Thank you to the person named Beth who sent me a package of beautiful fillers for 2-4 year old boxes from New Hampshire and to Cheryl who mailed a big box of new stuffed animals from Indiana.

Thank you to Pam and Keith who drove 13 hours from Kansas City, MO to be with us and for the group from the Poconos, to Lael and her group from Columbus, OH and to my dear friend Lisa who drove up from Virginia and brought 500+ cute Crayola crayon tins to load up with smaller items.

Thank you to the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people who were part of making this packing party happen in some way.  I may never know your name, but God knows. He sees. And He rewards you with a part of the blessing.