Monday, October 17, 2016

Praise In The Temple

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful weekend in NYC.  We enjoyed spending time with our daughter and experiencing her neighborhood--especially all its culinary delights.  The view from the roof of her apartment building was magnificent.

On Sunday morning we went to the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  I've wanted to visit there for a long time and it was more than I imagined.  It might even top the list of all the worship experiences I've had.

It was a great start to see the announcement of Brooklyn Tabernacle's participation in Operation Christmas Child.  There's nothing like that to put me in the mood to worship.

What I liked best was being in the midst of such a diverse group of believers all worshipping together. The singing was praise-filled and strong and the voices weren't overpowered by the instruments.

The worship time was extended in a time of extemporaneous Spirit-led praise that was simply amazing. I'll admit it--I usually get a bit freaked out when people speak in tongues around me, but in that service it felt perfectly natural.  I generally find it hard to participate when worship leaders ask us to vocalize extemporaneous praise but that flowed easily, too.  God's presence was nearly palpable.

Jim Cymbala's message reminded us we are God's temple--His dwelling place and His place of rest.  His sermon was clear and simply conveyed.  Our voices joined together loud and strong as we all lifted our joined hands and sang, "Oh the glory of Your presence; we Your temple give you reverence; so arise from Your rest and be blessed by our praise as we glory in Your embrace, as Your presence now fills this place."

Jim Cymbala said when the Brooklyn Tabernacle was being built he leaned against one of the posts and cried out to God that he never wanted to have a famous choir or be known for the preaching but asked that when people left this church they would know that God was there.  And on Sunday, oh, yes--He was!

One of the blessings I've had is the chance to pray for several people around the country who are having large packing parties for the first time.  One of those packing parties took place on Saturday in Florida.  I remember praying with Christy over the phone several months ago and giving her the only advice I have--trust God and see Him do what only He can do.

Christy and her team got to see God work in amazing ways this Saturday.  They'd planned to pack 6,000 boxes but Christy realized as she did final preparations for their party that God had provided enough items to pack way more boxes.  They changed their goal to 9,500 and had to prayerfully get extra boxes from around the state.  God provided a wonderful new camp to host their party and they had 400 volunteers throughout the day.  Best of all, during their gospel presentation and invitation 40 youth made decisions for Christ.  Now that's something to get excited about!  Who can have more fun than we do?!

Our trip came to an end too soon.  While we were in NYC I got a call from a trucking company and made a delivery appointment for Monday morning to have a pallet of pens delivered. 10:30 on this bright, sunny fall day we received another pallet of praises.

We sorted the rest of the hats today and moved things around to receive a truck load of donated cases of paper this evening.  This evening we made a second trip back to get the 40 cases of paper loaded into that already-filling container.

That container is, itself, a temple of sorts--filled with answers to prayer and "the glory of Your embrace."

We Your temple give You reverence...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

11,976 Visors On The Wall...

The past week has been filled with the joy of cardboard...and the treasures that come in it.  A wholesale dealer I've worked with before was able to get me a deal on nice quality baseball hats and visors for our 2017 shoebox packing party and I purchased 12,000 visors and nearly 8,000 hats.

The first truck delivery came last Wednesday.  It was schedule to come sometime between noon and 5 pm.  My right-hand shoebox packer, Pam, and I decided to work on packing items left over from our September packing party into boxes.  We packed 44 of them before we finally got a call at 3:30pm that the truck would arrive in an hour.  Judging it would be too late to do any work on them at that hour, we parted ways and my husband and I went up to meet the truck and stash the 16 cartons in the storage container.

On Monday of this week I'd taken my sister to a doctor appointment and while in the office I got a text from my contact at the church office telling me a delivery had arrived unannounced.  I call my husband who agreed to go move those cartons also.  He ended up moving all but two of the 55 cartons of visors by himself--2000 pounds in all.

Three team members and I decided today would be the best day weather-wise to open some of those cartons, remove the hats from the inner boxes they are packed in, and work to consolidate and move them.  It was even better when we learned another delivery truck with the final shipment of hats was scheduled to come this afternoon between 12-4 pm.  The trucking company official who made the appointment promised they'd call an hour before delivery.

We got started around 10:30 this morning and it wasn't long before those cardboard boxes were flying.  We counted and repacked and hauled for hours...and still no call regarding the delivery.  Amanda and Christine had to leave mid-afternoon, but Pam and I kept wielding those box cutters, re-boxing hats, and breaking down unneeded cardboard.  Where in the world was that truck?

Finally, at almost 3:30 pm the truck arrived with no prior notice.  There was a catch when the driver wasn't able to move the second pallet from the back of the truck.  I was able to give him the hand truck we keep in the container to use to haul them to the lift gate manually.  Eventually he managed to get all 39 cartons dropped to the ground.

We could have stopped for the day but Pam just wouldn't quit wielding that knife...

So we kept sorting and moving through them until we had two-thirds of the cartons emptied.  Our energy flagged at 6:00 pm and we moved into clean-up mode--putting the rest of the cartons into the container and organizing those four extra cartons filled with discarded cardboard.  We're saving it to take to our homes later for future recycling pick-ups.

According to our calculations so far we're missing 7 hats and 24 visors.  So...that makes 11,976 visors on the wall...Believe me, we're counting.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Chimps, Chumps & Challenges

This morning's rainbow--a reminder of God's promise that He won't destroy the earth (at least by flood) again.  I've been reading Numbers lately and twice God has threatened to destroy the complaining nation of Israel and start over with Moses.  To his credit as an amazing leader, Moses twice begs God to relent for the sake of His glory.  I wonder how many times Moses regretted that?

It's been a tough couple of weeks in the aftermath of the packing party.  As I look at my journals from past years I see that as a pattern.  The victory is a high followed by a bit of a slump.

And there've been other challenges, too.  One of our main team coordinators stepped down from her position and we also haven't found a replacement for a relay center coordinator who quit.

Sometimes even simple things turn out to be more challenging than I could imagine.  Now that I'm temporarily stepping into the Church Coordinator role I wanted to send an email to all our past participating churches.  I tried to contact the one remaining person on the church relations team to get the current list of emails but she never got back to me.

So I decided to use an old list I had.  I spent time constructing a nice email with pictures then copied my email list and confidently hit the 'send' button.  A few minutes later I got an error message telling me the email addresses weren't recognized.  Because the list of emails was so long I wasn't able to scroll down to the bottom to take any action on the message nor could I get to the original email to copy it.  After an hour of fiddling around with it I didn't even care that I couldn't save the message--I just wanted to get rid of it so I could start over.  I turned the computer off and left to do some errands.

I returned a few hours later, turned on my laptop, and there was the same stupid message front and center on the computer.

At the suggestion of Facebook friends I finally got signed up with a free email service called Mail Chimp.  It looked easy.  But, chump that I am, it wasn't easy for me.  It took me 2.5 hours to get an email list made and figure out how to compose and send the email.  But send it I did.

Meanwhile we're trying to make some sense of the leftover items that are hanging out in the storage container.  Pam, my trusty sidekick, helped Jim and me do some reorganizing in the container on Wednesday.  It looks better--not perfect, but better.  Good thing since we snagged a deal and bought another 7,800 some baseball hats for our 2017 boxes and have another donation of paper coming soon.

I dragged two carloads of stuff home and started to pack some of the miscellaneous stuff into the various odd-sized shoeboxes that were stored in my attic.  I'm up to 84 boxes so far, and it's been fun to pack some special ones with items we couldn't use at the packing party like this fancy Holiday Barbie--

Still, I struggle with leadership details and leftover emotions.  Maybe the sun will come out tomorrow and in the meantime there's always the chance of a rainbow.  And I got to take a break from thinking today to go to Rose's house and work with a group to help her pack some boxes in her garage.  Rose is a long-time member of our Northwestern PA OCC area team and as of today she's packed 1,900 boxes this year in her basement and garage.

I can be a real chump as a leader and our team has some challenges.  We aren't always great at making contacts with new churches or adding new relay centers or getting as many prayer partners as we'd like.

But one thing we do know how to do is pack lots of shoeboxes...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Riding High

Holy High! No, really.  I pity the poor disillusioned people who think partnering in God's work is anything less than a miracle.  I am so high right now.

This packing party was simply amazing and filled with so many blessings.  This was our 8th packing party and each year our team has debriefed and tried to improve, but this year I felt like we made quantum leaps.

Each area of the packing process had a designated team leader or leaders, and that made such a huge difference.  I hardly had to field any questions at all and got to just float around and talk to people and do a few little tasks to fill in.  The hard decisions were made by other people.  Talk about heaven!

On Friday morning our friends from a Christian school 90 minutes away brought 30 students and chaperones to pack boxes and churned out 2,760 of them.  They were such fantastic kids and great workers.

We regrouped for the evening youth packing party where 142 students from 17 different churches and organizations came together to continue the packing and ended the night at a record number of 8,533 boxes.  We had so much fun with the #ipackedashoebox frame that came in the mail just in time.  People loved getting their pictures taken.  Just look at these cutie patooties--

By the time we finished clean up, my husband and I dragged out of there at 10:30.  Silly us--we left Cathi and Pam behind and they ended up staying and working until after 11:00 pm.  I can't remember the last time I was that tired.

This morning I awoke to a hard rain but knew nothing was stopping us.  It was so exciting to assemble for our final Jericho March to kick off the morning. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we did two prayer marches around the church--one in the morning and one in the evening--getting in six before this morning's seventh march.  The power of that united prayer this morning was electrifying.

By God's grace the opening got us off to a good start with a showing of a few OCC videos, an explanation of the day, and the highlight of a presentation by Jane, our Church Relations Coordinator, who told the story of the gospel as it would be taught to children at a shoebox distribution.

The packing started at 9:30 and continued through the day with a good stream of volunteers that came at a smoother pace throughout the day than usual.  We had a total of 360 box packing volunteers plus 50 event volunteers and they came from a total of 51 different churches and organizations to make it happen.  Despite monsoon rains that came and went and some boxes that needed to be repaired, the day moved along quickly.

This is truck loading attire during a downpour.

Lunch came and went and the volunteers stayed!  We were so afraid they'd leave after lunch...

In the afternoon we were at 23,783 when our team Network Coordinator and longtime official emcee got everyone's attention and called Jim and I over to present us with the 150,000th box packed since we started the packing parties in 2009.  That was unexpected and emotional.  Tears sprung up as I quickly reflected on God's goodness and grace that produced every one of those boxes.

There were those moments of doubt--Will we have enough fillers to make it to 26,000?  Will the supply of baseball hats hold out?  Should we label all the boxes or hold some back unlabeled in case we don't make the goal.

One by one, as always, the decisions were made just when we needed to make them--Just keep adding those fillers (and someone shows up with another bag of stuffed animals.)  Just recount those baseball hat cartons (oh, yeah--we only counted the girls' ones and not the boys'--no wonder we thought we'd be short.)  Yes--in faith we WILL label all the boxes.

As the minutes ticked toward 4:00 pm we ran out of boxes labeled for girls just as we ran out of girls' filler items.  Well, what do you know?

We cut the lines down from four to just the two lines for boys and kept packing.  And...almost at the stroke of 4:00...just like that...the last one of those special yellow boxes was packed.

We gathered anxiously together to get the total revealed....and...(drum rollllllllll)

They'd sent us 26,500 boxes so we must have lost two of those casualties along the way.  I looked around at all the items still surrounding me...eight cartons containing at least 1600 baseball hats...three cartons of sunglasses....cases of plastic cups....and more of the basic items.

My instinct was to start folding GO boxes and keep packing.  But my team's warned me before to stop packing at 4:00 so we have volunteers and energy for clean up.  So...stop we did.

Then we gathered around three of the trucks (the fourth was placed in another spot) to pray for the children who will receive these boxes and to praise God for so many answered prayers.

We serve a God of miracles...and I'm still riding that miracle high...

ps--Our team has a fundraising page to help defray the cost of shipping our shoeboxes.  You can make a secure donation at this link directly to Samaritan's Purse to help get these boxes on their way--  click here to make a donation:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 Packing Party Eve Eve

 Can it really be here again?  Once more it's packing party eve eve.  Well, I suppose technically it's really packing party eve since we kick off tomorrow with a morning mini packing party with a Christian school group and going into the evening with our youth packing party.

Though I know it will happen each year, it can be hard to believe when you look at the sheer amount of work that needs to be accomplished.

As always, though, God brought the right people at the right time.  We didn't have huge numbers of volunteers for packing party prep, but those we did have knew how to work hard and were a tenacious bunch for sure.

Late this afternoon as I was still sorting tote bands I wondered if they'd ever all get rolled and rubber banded, but by this evening the task was finished.  All but one pallet of boxes are labeled, also.

This morning I hauled 25 bags of larger stuffed animals for 2-4 year old boxes out of my attic.  It's looking a bit empty up there now.

The four trucks are in place, the first 175 cartons are assembled and taped, and we're ready to...

let the packing begin...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

One Thing At A Time...

Here we's Packing Party Prep Week.  As I thought yesterday about the things I need to accomplish this week it amazed me to think that just a few years ago I was working during these packing party prep times.  This just proves again how faithful God is--He provides just what we need when we need it.

Come to think of it--that's a really good reminder for this week.  I'm also reminding myself to just do the next thing--one thing at a time.

Yesterday brought more answers to prayer when 600 stuffed animals came to me in one day.  Yesterday and today were filled with sorting and washing and bagging.  Sometimes I worry that this isn't a good use of my time...but it needs to be done and I have the system in place.

I had a totally unexpected blessing this morning.  The packing party isn't a church event and our church doesn't make spontaneous announcements, but there must have been divine intervention this morning that moved our lead pastor to decide to have an impromptu announcement made at the end of the service asking for volunteers to help us unload.  With many willing hands we got the job done in just an hour. That one thing is done.

Everything is neatly stacked and ready to be put into boxes.  We just need to prayerfully figure out the right combinations of those items.

So...tomorrow we wait for the call from the trucking company bringing the 13 pallets of cartons and shoeboxes so we can begin the labeling process.  While I wait, I'm going to register to volunteer at the Processing Center in Baltimore (registration opens at 8:00 am tomorrow) and dart to Target to see if school supplies are reduced.  I'm praying the delivery won't interfere with our area coordinator' conference call at noon.

Then I need to get myself and my home ready for our 7:00 pm area team meeting.

Just one thing at a time...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Little Things Add Up

Sometimes it's just the little things.

I am not great when it comes to organization.  This year we have a new team member who is a great organizer and would dearly love to get us on the right track.  The problem is...I have no lists of things that need to be done or a timetable for when they should be accomplished.  I kind of randomly try to accomplish things.  Yeah, I know...not so efficient.

I do have a 'mental list', though, and today one of the things on it was to buy bottles of water for the supervisory volunteers at the packing party.  Somehow we went for years without providing water to the volunteers.  Having no hospitality gifts (nada) I just don't think about things like that.  Last year someone poured cups of water and took them around.  At our last meeting someone suggested we buy bottles of water this year.

Of course, I had to wait for a sale and since I found that sale this week I decided to buy five 24-packs of bottled water.

How hard could that be?

In the interest of not making this blog 3000 words long, I'll skip some of the details that took me to two different stores in search of this bottled water.  When I finally found it, the cashier informed me the packs were 2/$5.00 and had to be purchased in multiples of two.

So...instead of buying five packs, I stacked my miniature shopping cart (honestly it looked like a toy cart) with six 24-packs.  Then the cashier insisted on updating my shopper's card while I (im)patiently waited.

Finally I tugged my cart with the precariously tilting packs of water out of the store.  There was no spot where the curb was ramped to pull the cart down, so....I figured how hard could it be to drag the cart over the curb?

Not hard at all until the whole cart toppled over.  Out spilled all six of those 24-packs.  One of them (only one, thank heaven) split open and sent bottles of water careening across the parking lot.  Just then a car came along and hit one--splash!

Two "Good Samaritans" came to my aid and we chased down all those bottles (sans the one casualty.) Then I drove my car around and they helped me load them.

Now...if you'd like to volunteer to help stock tables ('cause we really DO need volunteers) I can vouch for the fact that you will be offered water.  I can cross that off the list I don't have.

Sometimes it's just the little things.