Saturday, May 5, 2018

Oh How He Loves

I've struggled so much over recent years to understand the height and depth and length and width of God's reckless love for me.  Lately, though, I'm beginning to comprehend just a little more...thanks to this first little grand baby we welcomed four months ago.

Though he lives 100 miles or so away, I've been able to see him at least every two weeks.  Today as we drove the last few miles to this sweet guy's home (well, okay, our daughter and son-in-law live there too) I was amazed by the excitement I felt.

And when I walked through the door and saw his mom carrying him down the hall I could hardly contain my joy.

The beauty of it is...Sam still doesn't really do too much of anything yet.  I mean, he has a killer grin when you can coax it out of him, but he can't tell me he loves me and doesn't give me presents. Mostly he drools and chews on his hand.

That's okay.  Sam doesn't have to do anything at all to earn my love for him. I honestly think I love him more unconditionally than I did my own children.  It's a new and revealing experience for me, and it's given me a clearer revelation of God's love.

Could I dare to believe God loves me the way Jim and I love Sam?  Could it be He adores me and longs just to hold me?  That He, the sovereign God of the universe, waits expectantly to spend time with me?  It's pretty incredible, but I'm starting to believe that in ways I couldn't imagine just a few months ago.  What a gift.

Lately I've been noticing all the special ways God shows me His favor. Because He created me He knows me more intimately than I even know myself. He knows what brings me joy and loves to give me good gifts.

Operation Christmas Child has been one of those good gifts. God knows I love bargain shopping. He understands that I'd honestly rather treasure hunt to find great deals than just receive donations.  So, week by week He gives me the gift of finding those deals.

This week, for example, I had a blast driving from store to store to hunt for the clearance deals. By His grace I got all these pairs of shoes for a penny each.

And all of these items for .25 each...

God's provided 7,000 stuffed animals and we wait expectantly for Him to provide 23,000 more as we pray.  Each one is a gift from His hand...

from our God who loves me (and each child who will receive a shoebox and each one who is still waiting to receive a shoebox) with an incomprehensible love.

Oh, how He loves...

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Egg-stra Great Volunteers

This is Volunteer Appreciation Week, and I just have to give a shout out to all the Egg-stra great volunteers that attend our packing party work days.

Today was our third work day for 2018 and we were blessed with 40+ volunteers again who came to work to get gospel opportunities to children around the world.  A few drove nearly an hour to get here!

The egg-filling saga continues as we stuffed these pre-sorted yellow, purple, and pink eggs with cute rings for girls.  We had 4,896 of these completed going into today's work day and I think we now have nearly 10,000 of them finished.

Meanwhile, our stalwart 7th and 8th grade students from Bethel Christian School worked on helping to un-bag and sort the 675 bags of plastic toys for boys.  10,800 of those are whistles and tops that are small enough to fill the plastic eggs for boys that we'll work on when the ones for girls are completed.   The other 21,600 small frisbees, maze games, plastic planes, and whirly toys will be used as general boys' fillers.  They didn't get all 675 bags sorted today but they got close.

And, of course, the jump rope making continues.  I think these steady volunteers completed over 5,000 more ropes today.  We only need to assemble about 12,000 more, according to my best calculations.

A small team of accurate paper counters and folders got 900 packets of paper folded and carefully stuffed into bags that will be filled later with pencils, pens, crayons, and a toothbrush. I'm not sure how many of those we still need to finish, but it's LOTS.

I'm praising God for these faithful volunteers without whom we couldn't complete all this pre-assembly work.  I felt especially blessed by the team of men (yes, we have MEN working with us now) who hauled all those boxes back into the storage container.

If you missed us today, don't worry.  We'll be back every 3rd Wednesday of the month until our packing party on September 14 & 15.  We're saving a place for you at the table.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Egg-Cellent Answers

A few years ago we discovered the fun of filling plastic Easter eggs with small toys to make a bulkier filler for our Operation Christmas Child packing party boxes.  This came about when I serendipitously found the eggs on the 90% off clearance sale at Target.

Each year since we've looked for more eggs to fill.  Last year I took for granted I'd find them when the Walmart Easter clearance went to 75% off but there were none to be found in our area at either Target or Walmart.  By God's grace, my daughter came to the rescue and found nearly 12,000 at Target stores in her area and God provided the rest from donations and the 90% off sale at Dollar General.

This year I started praying months ago for these Easter eggs--asking God to save some for us so we could buy them when they were reduced to at least 75% off.  Our prayer team was praying about this also.  God provided 29,016 filler toys for the eggs, so we really needed to pray in the eggs.

I was excited this year to find out about inventory checking site that allowed me to find the UPCs for the 48-packs of eggs I wanted and check to see what stores in my area and my daughter's area had a good inventory of them.

I anticipated Walmart's Easter clearance would go to 75% off today and their eggs, while a little smaller than those from Target, were a better deal with a package of 48 coming to just .49 at 75% off.  So last night I sent out a last reminder for prayer support and asked the team to pray for 24,000 eggs today.  I also sent a text to the manager of one of our local Walmarts who's always been so supportive of our packing party and asked him if I could get a better price than the 75% off if I bought all the eggs they had left (the inventory checker showed they had 150 packages) and he agreed to check their stock and let me know today.

This egg-cellent day started early when the Walmart manager texted me at 6:45am to tell me they had 150 of the 48-packs of eggs and some miscellaneous smaller packages.  I asked if I could come to get them right away and he agreed.  When I got to Walmart he surprised and blessed me with a gift card to pay for the eggs!  After the three shopping carts full of eggs (7,248 plus) were rung up, the manager and two other employees helped me load them into my car.

When I got home I unloaded them into garbage bags and hauled them into the house.  Then I had to consider my next move.  The two Walmarts that had the largest supplies of eggs were quite a drive away--one was an hour and the other an hour and a half from Erie.  I decided to call the one that supposedly had an inventory of 299 of the 48-packs.

God's favor was in evidence.  Cindy, the helpful Walmart employee, checked the inventory and promised to ask the manager if I could get a discount if I bought them all.  She called back soon to let me know the manager would allow me to purchase them for .40 instead of .49 and they would get them ready for me to pick up.

I was doubly blessed when my husband offered to drive with me without me even asking, and we quickly jumped in the car and took off.  The tricky part is that our first stop would be the store I hadn't contacted.  They reportedly had 176 of the packages but I didn't know how many I really needed in addition to those I was getting from the more distant store.  I also didn't know how many would fit in the car while still leaving room for the other 299 packages.

I did some calculations and finally decided to try to get 85 packages.  I was thrilled when we got into the store to find the packages were on the shelf in large boxes that would be perfect for transporting and storing them.  I made short work of counting them out and loading a box on each of two carts.  I went to customer service and asked to speak to a manager to see about getting a price reduction, but had no luck there.  We got through checkout without a hitch, stowed the boxes in the back of our van, and headed out again.

At the next store we had to wait about a half hour for them to finish counting the eggs. They brought them to the front of the store all packaged in 10 nice, large boxes.  After a quick checkout we attempted to fit them into the van without success. So...we had to open those nicely-packed boxes and put the packages into the van loose so they would all fit.  In the end, we actually ended up with some extra space in the back seat!

The van had a total of 18,528 eggs and, added with the morning haul, the total for the day was 25,776!

Since my daughter lives only a few miles from the last store, we got to go visit and spend a few hours of snuggle and play time.  Actually, that was the best part of the day.  I mean, who couldn't smile at that face...

Praise God we ended the day with 25,776 eggs for an investment of just $161--only .6 cents each.  Now I call that an egg-cellent day!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Kids R Us

We Operation Christmas Child shoebox packers pray all the time for items to put into our shoeboxes. And we pray all the time for God to provide our international and national and regional goals. It's always so exciting to see how He answers day by day.

On some days I miss out on the good deals that God is bringing to someone else in another city, but, in reality, the deals they scoop up are answers to my prayers for more shoeboxes.  So there's no need for SDE (Shoebox Deal Envy) and hearing about the bargains others find may just be the catalyst God uses to bring you some of your own.  That's what happened to me today.

Yesterday my friend Amy posted on Facebook about the great deals she was finding at the liquidation sale at her local Babies R Us.  Because of her post I was spurred to go check our local store also.  Our store announced it was closing months ago and, as often happens with these liquidation sales, the 'sale' prices in the beginning were actually higher.  I'd long ago stopped looking there.

Amy mentioned her store was closing today so I jumped in the car to check ours and found it was on the same timetable.  Surprisingly the store was full of toys for older children--not babies. Those Barbie dolls, trains, and plush animals would be great shoebox items but at 80% off retail they were still too expensive for me.

I did find a few great deals for my grandson, though--a $150 lightweight stroller for $27 and a few other items.

I resolved to be back at the store first thing this morning in hopes of items being reduced to 90% off. My hopes were even higher as I stood in line outside the store before the store's 9:00 am opening in front of the sign that said everything was reduced "up to 90% off".  Yeah, those words "UP TO" make a big difference.

When the doors finally opened we found much of the merchandise that was there the previous afternoon had disappeared and the toys were still at 80% off.  These Barbie dolls were $3

and so were these adorable Masha dolls that are really two dolls in one with the skirt flipping back and forth to change the doll's appearance entirely...

I wanted a bunch of them, but I didn't want to spend $3.00, so I asked the manager if he'd reduce the price if I bought all of them.  He said he couldn't do that.  "Everything is up to the liquidation company, and they have a plan."  I hung around until 10:00 walking around the store with my cart and praying for a price reduction.  Finally I went home.

I kept praying and at 12:30 I decided to head back to the store.  Just in time.  As I walked in they were putting up the 90% off signs and I rushed to fill two carts with dolls and Barbies and these cute plush 'Chipmunks' for .90 each.

I had my eye on some other plush toys that were a bit smaller, but I didn't want to pay .80 for them.  I was praying and hoping the price would drop to 95% off but there was no way to predict that.  I took my haul to the car and went back into the store to buy some greeting cards at 90% off.

Again, I walked around and around the store then finally left to do some errands.  Two hours later I made my way back to the store again.

As I walked in I saw the pile of plush 'Floogals' in a cart, and the signs still said 90% off.  I saw the man I believed to be the liquidator and asked if he'd give me a lower price if I bought them all.  He said, "I can't negotiate with you, but they are 95% off you know."

Well, no, I didn't know...but now that I did I started loading my cart and grabbed all 61 of them.  They ended up being .40 each--pretty good for brand new plush.

The day netted me 187 nice dolls and plush toys for a total of $171--not too bad.  That's 187 children who will be blessed because Amy shared on Facebook.  I also got the longest store receipt I've had in several years.  Just like the good old days...

By the way, Amy and her husband, Will, scored many carts full of nice items on their FOUR trips to their store.  That's a LOT of shoebox love! And who knows how many others were prompted to check their stores and found their own shoebox stashes growing because they shared the tip.

If your Babies R Us store is still at 10% off keep following because you may end up with some great shoebox bargains down the road.  Next we need to keep our eyes on the Toys R Us stores as they liquidate, too.

And let's keep sharing those deals because every one is an answer to ALL of our prayers to bless more and more kids--it's all about the kids, right?  Kids R Us!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Adding It Up

When it comes to Operation Christmas Child I always seem to be adding it up.  Always trying to figure out how many filler items we have or how many affirmation notes we still need to write (the answer to both questions is: a lot.)

I've been praying about a delivery I was expecting and today was the day it arrived.  The shipping company called yesterday and made an appointment to deliver between noon and 3:00 pm today.  So imagine my surprise when the driver call at 10:10 am and was already at the church.  My apologies to Sara, my Student Relations Coordinator.  I had to shoo her out of my living room so my husband and I could hurry up to the church where the truck driver was waiting for us.

My prayers were answered when the predicted rain didn't come.  I should have prayed for the mud in front of the container from yesterday's steady rain to dry up.

We systematically hauled our five pallets of treasures into the storage container--50,000 pencils, 58,320 pens, and 675 bags that each held 48 small toys for filler items.  Oh, and there were 2400 packs of bracelets and 2,000+ tote bags.

Every one of those boxes needs some work.  Items need to be removed from inner packaging or sorted or folded or counted.  That means they need to stay accessible and can't be stacked in the back of the container.  And...that means the storage container looks pretty full.

Praise God another church offered us some storage space and we have items stored in a few private homes.  Truthfully, I alternate between praying for more items and praying for places to put those items.

As we were hauling cardboard boxes today I was adding it up again.  If we want to fill four trucks with well-filled boxes it makes sense that we need more than a 40 foot container to store the gifts that will fill them.

So, I keep adding our resources and adding the contacts God gives us--like all the women we spoke with about Operation Christmas Child at last Saturday's WCTL Women's Conference.

In the end, though, I know it never adds up.  We never can humanly explain how our dwindling team with so few resources could even attempt to pack 30,000 boxes.

Yet, week by week God blesses us again and again.  Last week's work day brought 40 volunteers who assembled 5,000 jump ropes and 1,200 packs of paper.  God knows our needs and meets them in His time.

There are wins (like the donation of tennis balls Patti finally picked up after her multiple phone calls to a local tennis club) and there are, well, non-wins (like today when I dressed up in OCC attire and went to a local Credit Union that just changed their name and branding and asked if they'd donate their old promotional items only to be told they discarded them.)

We keep praying...for 24,000 more stuffed animals and for places to store them, for good deals on items and resources to purchase them, for volunteers and for wisdom and grace to manage them.

As I look at totals from previous years I realize it's always a mystery how it happens. On paper it just never adds up.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In A Pit With A Lion...

Yes, the weeks have been flying by again.  Our city is still in the grip of winter and we're nearing a record 200 inches of snow for this season.  You know, there's something exciting about breaking a record--even if it is for the largest amount of snow.

I'm reading a book this morning by Mark Batterson: In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day.  I'm only two chapters in but I recently read a sermon by Ray Stedman on the same subject.  It's based on the story in 1 Chronicles 11:22-24 about how David's bodyguard, Benaiah, took great risks for God and had amazing victories--even killing a lion in a pit on a snowy day.

As I read about people who have overcome fear and trusted our big God to do amazing things I'm thinking of our packing party journey. God graciously knows my weak faith and has only led us in this journey step by step--each year allowing us to do a bit more.

I'm thinking of this year's upcoming packing party where God's led us to trust Him for 30,000 boxes. Sometime in the past couple of years an acquaintance referred to our packing party in a Facebook post and said 'they pack like 30,000 boxes'.  I laughed because I believe we'd actually packed around 25,000 boxes at that time--and 30,000 seemed, well, laughable.

Last year, by God's grace, we packed 28,032 boxes, and I always try to raise our goal by at least 500 boxes each year.  A nice modest, incremental goal.

A few months back when I met with Amanda and Pam for some preliminary talks about our 2018 packing party, Amanda suggested we should make our goal 30,000 boxes.  Pam and I looked at each other, and I said, "Umm, that's a pretty big jump."  Nothing more was said, but over the days and weeks, because of Amanda's faith-filled suggestion, that number of 30,000 started to settle into our hearts.

 Two months ago when our area team coordinators met we prayerfully decided to trust God for that "big jump" of 30,000 boxes.

And now the work of faith continues.  On February 14th we got the shipping window dates from Operation Christmas Child headquarters and were told arrangements had to be submitted by March 29th.  We made a request that day to use the church building for a packing party on September 15th, thinking we'd know pretty quickly whether our request would be granted.

Unfortunately, the church calendar runs from September to August so the church had not scheduled their own events for fall and were unable to confirm our request.  We kept praying as the weeks rolled by without an answer.  More and more people joined us in prayer.  I began to ask God if He was calling us out to another venue and spent some time thinking about alternative locations.  Then, day before yesterday we got that long-awaited go-ahead to hold our packing party on September 15th at our usual location--Grace Church.

Also, over the past weeks we've been praying and seeing God answer with needed items for the boxes. We prayed for 50,000 pencils and two weeks ago God answered and we were able to get the price down to a manageable level and order them.  He also allowed us to get a lower price on thousands of small plastic toys for filler items.

Meanwhile, we were blessed last Monday when a mission team of students from the Chi Alpha college ministry at a college in Texas worked to put together some of our jump ropes.

They completed well over 2,000 that night so we may have about 4,000 completed now with another 23,000 or so to go.

Last weekend Amanda, Pam and I drove to Baltimore for the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference.  God answered prayer again by giving us a safe drive despite the snow in our area.  I have some good notes from the conference but am waiting to post them until after the Phoenix conference next weekend.  So stay tuned for those.

In his book, Mark Batterson says, "Our biggest problems can be traced back to an inadequate understanding of who God is...The issue is this: How big is your God?"

This week as I was praying again for a confirmation on our packing party date, I read Joel 5:8,9 and just had to memorize it. "As for me, I would seek God and to God would I commit my cause, Who does great things and unsearchable wondrous things without number."

We serve a transcendent God who is like nothing we can begin to imagine. He wants to do great, unsearchable, marvelous things in us that only He can do--things like truly loving people who irritate us or serving when we don't feel like it or maybe even packing 30,000 shoeboxes.  There's nothing in life as exciting as watching in amazement as God does what you know only HE can do!

Batterson writes, "I've got to think that nothing brings God greater joy then when one of His children defies the odds...Lion chasers defy the odds--and make their Father proud."

If God goes with me (and He promises He will) I'm ready.  Let's go chase a lion!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Roping It In

Yes, it arrived today--two pallets of beautiful rope.  That's 162,000 feet, and that should make 23,142 jump ropes.  Added to the 3,675 ropes already cut, we're looking at a grand total of 26,817 or so lengths of rope.

We made about 1800 of them at our last work day and a local campus ministry at Edinboro University--Chi Alpha--is itching to get working on more.

My husband and I waited for the call from the trucking company.  It started raining just as we got to the church to unload those 135 spools, but, by God's grace it stopped long enough for us to get them transferred into the storage container.  The shrink wrap plastic that wrapped the pallets made a great walkway over the mud.

Now it's 1:00 am and I'm sitting, as I often do, looking at tally sheets of items we have so far, comparing it to previous years, and praying.

We had some answered prayer today with favor on some lowered prices on an order we placed for some fillers.

Still...we're praying for at least 50,000 pencils, 24,500 stuffed animals, 1,200 more clothing items, and a truckload of nice filler items.

When I couldn't sleep on Saturday night I worked on memorizing Deuteronomy 31:8--"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."

I'm roping in that promise...