Monday, June 27, 2016

This Is The Stuff...

Today was one of those days.  You know the kind.  The one that makes you think you should have stayed in bed.

My schedule was pretty light.  All I needed to do was prepare my house for our Operation Christmas Child area team meeting tonight, make strawberry shortcake, get two packages ready to mail, and meet a friend for lunch.  Easy.

I wanted to get the shortcake baked early in the morning because we've had temperatures in the 90s and our house isn't air conditioned.  I headed out to get strawberries and biscuit mix but had to hit a total of five stores before I snagged both of those.

I came home, set the oven to preheat, mixed the dough, plopped clumps of it on the baking sheet, and popped it into the oven.  When the timer went off 15 minutes later I opened the over door and found the dough still white and thinned to pancake shapes.  Then I noticed the oven wasn't very warm.  I tried turning it off and starting over, but after several tries a half hour later the oven was still not hot.
I resigned myself to going back to the store to buy biscuits.

Next I began the task of wrapping two packages.  Each contained a gift and a recognition certificate.  Somehow I ended up with the certificate in each box not matching the name on the gift.  I also confused the mailing labels.  I'm grateful I figured this out before actually mailing them, but I had to cut the tape on both of them and start over.  By God's grace I was able to preserve the prepaid mailing labels.

There is a bright lining in these small annoyances, though.  I was amazed at how calm I felt in the midst of my few little hours of craziness.  I got to see the Spirit working in me in a way I wouldn't have seen without those menial trials.  It made me hum that Francesca Battistelli song, "This Is The Stuff You Use."  Because, really, it is this little stuff God uses to refine us.

Amazingly, after I returned from a relaxing lunch with my friend, the oven worked fine.  I baked what ended up being flatbread shortbread and still had the angel food cakes I bought at the grocery store for those who didn't want crispy.

And the meeting tonight went well.  A dozen team members + a 90 degree day with no air conditioning = warm fellowship.  But with my media coordinator, Pam, leading the meeting I was able to sit and listen to the banter of a team that's enjoying each other's company while making plans to bless children around the world.  Everyone brought items to fill a shoebox for a 10-14 year old boy and we took a picture of our team to put in the box.

So, in the end, it was one of those days.  You know the kind.  The one that makes you glad God gave you another day to enjoy His grace.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Blogging Beats Logging

Today's "show and tell"-- here are the boards I broke in my Tae Kwon Do class today.  It's been a busy week of volunteering at a day camp for inner city middle schoolers called Bonkers 4 Jesus.  And, yeah, it's been a little bit bonkers.

In addition to my 'minor' class in martial arts I've been assisting with a group of four students who are learning to blog.  It's been fun getting to know them and seeing them work hard to learn something they've never attempted.  Come to think of it, while I've been blogging for some time I've never tried my hand (or feet) at martial arts--so we've all been working at something new.

They got a real kick out of looking at the stats on their blog and discovering that someone from Cameroon was following them.  So, today I wrote them these limericks--

Our followers from Cameroon
Are reading our blog night and noon.
Next people from Yonkers 
Will read about Bonkers
And they'll all be signing up soon.

With pens and computers we wrote
And kept our idea afloat.
We all learned that blogging 
Is more fun than logging.
It's simply a short online note.

They would love to know folks from different areas are checking out their blog, so if you have a moment will you please view their site by going to to give them a 'hit'? It would mean a lot.

Meanwhile, this evening we had our first meeting of the core team for our upcoming packing party.  We are making initial plans and talking out logistics for September 17th.  Yikes--when did it get so close?

I had the stuffed animals cleaned out of the living room yesterday but another ten bags of donations arrived tonight.  Back to sorting.

But first I need to get to bed because boards and blogging are on the agenda again tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Bondage of Answered Prayer

Well, it's been ten days since I've written anything.  What have I been doing? I have been a captive of my answered prayers.  All those prayers for stuffed animals have resulted in 800 or more of them coming into my home since Saturday.

Like the poor bear pictured above (when I found this one in a bag of donations I really had to laugh), I've been in bondage to the process of sorting and cleaning and re-sorting and bagging and lugging get the picture.

Most of this process takes place in my living room and try as I have the glimpses of animal-free carpet have been fleeting these days.

But I'm not complaining.  Really.

I told my husband I think I deserve a degree or at least some type of certificate for animal maintenance.  The tools of my trade litter the end tables.  There's the dispenser of packing tape (I roll off strips of tape to lift lint from the animal surfaces)--the sturdy comb used to untangle doll's hair, pony's tails, and lion's manes--the scissors for cutting off faded labels or tags and trimming the ends of ribbons--the all-purpose cleaner and nail polish remover to remove marks from vinyl faces or hands.

My triage system seems to get more elaborate.  I hate to see things end up in land fills so I try to give most of the animals a chance at a new life somewhere. If they don't pass muster for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes I can take them to the mission clothing pantry where I volunteer or donate them to a thrift store.

I did end up with one garbage bag of land-fill-destined ones this weekend, though.  Sometimes donations like grubby, matted, once-fuzzy dice are just beyond saving.

Praise God, though, for 800+ animals that are now stored in garbage bags and added to the rest that obscure the surface of the beds and extra carpet space in two spare rooms.  Next project is to find another donated space for them.

Thinking of storage, I realized today that we've had the same storage container since 2010 when we did 12,670 boxes.  We're praying to do more than twice that number this year so it's no wonder our container is nearly filled and we're overflowing into donated basement space.

Meanwhile, since I can't sleep, I'm making a list of all the things I need to discuss with coordinators or team members.  The list keeps growing.

Maybe I'll just go back to reading the new book that arrived in my mailbox today--"Praying Together" by Megan Hill.  Only one chapter in and I know this will be the subject of a blog post all it's own soon.

Because, there's nothing like knowing God hears and answers prayer--even if those answers can be overwhelming.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Season of Weakness

My Operation Christmas Child life has seasons.  As I sat in church this morning I realized I'm entering what I call the season of weakness.  For most of the year I focus on watching God grow our team and enjoy buying items for our upcoming packing party.

When the packing party is still quite a few months away it's fun to shop for things and see how God provides what we will put into those shoeboxes.

Then comes June.  We are nearing T minus three months from the date of our September 17th packing party. It's not a long way off anymore.

Now I spend time thinking of how I should get a team together to plan the I should figure out a way to organize our items I should ramp up our game to make the packing party run more smoothly.  I think of all the things we mentioned in last year's debrief and wonder how to implement improvements.  I. think. too. much.

Meanwhile, I'm praying. I'm telling God I trust Him to make this packing party happen again. I remind myself He always comes through. Still, I think there may be things He wants me to be doing and I don't want to be neglectful.

I was re-reading Exodus chapter 18 this week.  It relates how Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, advises him to recruit more leaders so he won't wear himself out.  It's a great idea, but now Moses had the job of recruiting (and, if he was high-impact, he had to select and equip and lead and develop them all, too.) Yikes!  And he thought being "slow of speech" was a problem...

Now I'm even second guessing the way I sort all these stuffed toysI

Yesterday's seven hours of yard sale shopping only yielded 218 stuffed animals and many of them needed to be washed.  Today as I sorted them I started to worry that just sorting them into 'girls' and 'boys' wasn't enough.

I looked at those cute baby dolls and thought they should go to girls in the 5-9 age group. So...should I keep them in a separate bag?  And if I do, where will I store that?  I'm already keeping some larger stuffed animals in bags in a section of my attic for the 2-4 year old boxes.  For now I guess I'm going to leave them all together and trust God to get them to children who will be blessed by them, regardless of their age.

As I sort toys and clothing items I try to remember to pray that God will lead each one to a child who will be blessed by it.  I want so much for each box to bless a child, and I sometimes long for the days when I carefully packed each box myself...but there's a limit to how many one person can pack.

In some ways it would be easier if each box at our packing party had exactly the same items--or even the same sized items--so I would know each one was full but not too full.  But that's not how God's provided for us, so we take what He provides and pray for ways to make child-blessing combinations in those boxes.

I've attended some fundraising events recently where the signage was magnificent and the organization impeccable.  We don't have that at our packing party, and I don't see it happening this year either.

As I was discussing this with Cathi, my friend and fellow-team-member, the other day, she reminded me, "But really, that's good because it keeps us from boasting.  We always know it could have been better."  She is so right.

I don't really have a life verse, but if I did...I think 2 Corinthians 12:9 would be a top contender.  Paul says, "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."  Somehow, Paul actually heard Jesus say that to him, because in the red letter edition of the Bible--right in the middle of all that black ink--Jesus's words to Paul are in red.  Jesus said it.  Paul heard it.

And I am hearing it, too.  I can't boast in my leadership; we can't boast in our packing party. But we can boast in our weaknesses because on September 17th when those trucks are stacked with cartons full of 26,000 gift-filled boxes, we will see once again the power of Christ.

And for that, I'll embrace this season...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Dope on Soap

A bar of soap might not be the most exciting gift a child could find in her shoebox, but this little girl loved the soap she got.  When you've never had your own bar it can seem like a pretty wonderful gift.

Today I decided I'd better make the call to Clean The World in Orlando to order our soap for the upcoming packing party.  I'm glad I did because it will take them up to six weeks to get it produced and shipped and I really want to have it by July 14th for our packing party work day.

Last year I ordered five pallets of soap and ran out.  This year I upped the order to six pallets--32,712 bars of soap to supply our packing party and several others in our area with some to spare.

Cairra Martin, the Global Health Coordinator for Clean The World, was extremely helpful and familiar with Operation Christmas Child.  The cool thing about this organization is they recycle leftover soap from hotels, heat it and render it down again so any bacteria are killed, and then cut and box it to be distributed by nonprofit organizations.

You can buy a carton of soap (116 bars) for $10 or a pallet of 47 cartons (5,452 total bars) for $275.  Shipping charges are additional.  They have a facility in Orlando, Florida and one in the Arizona/Las Vegas area.

If you want to order soap, you can contact Cairra by phone at (407) 574-8353 ext. 1009 or via email at --  She will email you a request form to complete.  After you return it to her she will contact you with a shipping quote.  You can then decide if you want to proceed with the order.

Shipping for six pallets of soap from Orlando to Erie was $950, but, hey, soap is heavy.  Even with the shipping it figures out to be about eight cents for a bar that's about three ounces.  It comes unbagged, though, so you will have the extra investment in purchasing bags and the work of bagging them.

So, as we wait for the delivery, we'll move the spools of rope around to maximize the dwindling space in the storage container...

...and we'll pray for delivery on a day with no rain

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Getting Untangled

Yeah, it's been a couple weeks since I posted here.  Everything's fine but life's been a bit tangled up and busy.  Pretty much every day involves some Operation Christmas Child project or another but many of them are pretty repetitive.

Blogging about sorting and counting stuffed animals every day would be about as exciting as blogging about changing diapers. And describing the fun of restacking the boxes in the storage container that toppled over again last week gets old, too.

Of course, in the middle of the animal and storage chores there's been the excitement of bringing on two new team members and watching the team begin to make some new contacts.

Last weekend brought some new tangles that I haven't blogged about in a while--if ever.  A local discount store named Gabe's had a sidewalk sale last Thursday and when I arrived at the store I saw a dozen beautiful cartons of jewelry sitting there.  This jewelry from Express and New York & Company is either tangled, mismatched, or in need of repair.  You can fill a quart sized bag with all you can stuff in it for $5.00.

I spent a few hours combing through the boxes look for bunches of tangled necklaces that would likely be in perfect shape when untangled.  I left with two bags and spent some fun hours over the weekend beginning the untangling process.  It's kind of like doing a puzzle and surprisingly therapeutic.

I have 155 beautiful pieces already untangled and ready to go and there's plenty still to do.  Not bad for a ten dollar investment.

And, my weekend also included a visit from a blog reader from Canada who visited Erie to shop and to bring me a donation of 200 stuffed animals.  This was exciting and helped make up for my less-than-stellar morning at yard sales.  So encouraging!

And...the other weekend entertainment involved preparing for Monday night's team meeting.  We had 13 team members gather last night and enjoyed getting to know each other a bit better and doing some role playing to help us prepare for sharing the mission of Operation Christmas Child with people we meet in checkout lines, at church rummage sales, at yard sales, and in our churches and neighborhoods.

After all, it's going to take each of us doing our part to meet the goals on our ministry plan.

Meanwhile, I'm beginning those summer rituals of lying awake at night thinking about the packing party that's less than four months away...

But...those tangles are old news.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Long Sprint

Can you stand one more racing analogy?  Today I ran (and here I use that term loosely) another 5k race.

I know I've been running markedly slower lately, but today's finish was slower than even my normal runs around the block.  It was the worst finish ever for a 5k--not only marking the longest time but also finishing in tears with my tongue literally sticking to the roof of my mouth.  Sorry, that may fall into the 'too much information' category.

There were a few extenuating circumstances that contributed to making this race tough, but I'll spare you the details.  I asked God to help me learn something about perseverance in this race by not stopping to walk.

But...walk I did.

The first mile went well and was faster than I expected but my mouth was dry already.  By the time I hit the water stop I had to walk so I could drink every drop in my cup.  And, there's something about walking in a race.  It's like giving into temptation; when you do it once it's easier to do it again.

So I kept throwing in some walk breaks and I just couldn't seem to get past my thirst.  I finally stopped to drink at a water fountain I spotted at about the 2 mile mark.

When I saw the 3 mile marker I decided to pull out my best sprint (this time I use the term VERY loosely.)  I knew I could pick up my pace for that last tenth of a mile.

That's where it got tough.  I tried to keep pushing but that last tenth had to be measured WAY longer than it should have been.  Seriously.  And we just seemed to keep running around a curve so I couldn't see the finish line anywhere.

By the time I finally saw it, tears were streaming down my face and all I could think of was WATER. You know, it's very hard to sob and run at the same time.  Somehow I made it over the line.

I was first in my age group. In all honesty, I must tell you I was the only one in my age group.  Still, I feel I earned that participation medal and coupon for a free Arby's sandwich.  Neither of those could compare to the bottle of water I begged for at the end of the race.

As I sat wobbling with my back against a tree guzzling that water, I thought again about how that race compares to life.

Maybe some of you thought you were close to the finish on a really hard season of life but it just won't seem to end.  You keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You try to sprint to get it to go by faster, yet you still can't see the finish.  Your strength is fading and you feel like you're dying of thirst.  And the tears come, followed by the sobs.

Man, I feel for you.  My race this morning ended in just 33 lonnnnggggg minutes, but yours may have been extending for months or years.  I encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Don't try to anticipate the finish line.  Trust that God knows where it is and just keep moving forward step by step in His strength, depending on the Living Water.

That sprint (or crawl) may be much longer than you thought it would be, but there's a prize at the end.  God's pleasure in you when you finish the race will be much better than an Arby's coupon.

And that's a measurement you can count on.