Monday, November 28, 2016

Not Over Yet?



National Collection Week is over...and I am done with the 2016 shoebox packing.  We ended up with 1,271 boxes packed in our home since the packing party in September and they're all safely on their way.

I did some totals this weekend and was, as always, amazed by God's goodness.  Because of generous donations from a few people this year I ended up spending $309.85 less than I spent in 2015 while packing, by God's grace, 1,131 more boxes.  God math is always so incredible.

All year long we've prayed toward our goal of 51,500 boxes here in Northwestern PA.  We didn't quite make it to the goal but we are rejoicing that God provided 50,306 boxes--3,010 more than last year.  I'm trying to give myself some time to just enjoy that but it's hard to stop wondering what God wants our goal to be for 2017.

I'm feeling sad about not being at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Baltimore to work this season.  On the other hand, it was good to be home through the end of National Collection Week--to be at some of the sites to visit volunteers and to rejoice and pray with those who were bringing their boxes.

I spent some time on Thanksgiving morning looking up churches that have Facebook pages and writing thank you messages to them for their boxes.  In the past two years while I was at the PC I didn't even have my drop-off logs to look at until I got home.

I feel I've been in some sort of shoebox-induced fog for the past few months.  I've managed to miss a lot of important messages.  I somehow missed an email with hotel information for volunteering at the PC and also never saw any information about signing up to volunteer as a Prayer Walker at the PC.  I don't even know what else I may have missed.

Today my collection center coordinator who lives 1.5 hours away drove to pick up 14 leftover shoeboxes from one of her relay centers and brought them to me.  We arranged to meet for lunch with our husbands and had a great time.  As they were getting ready to drive away I looked in my car, saw the 9 straggling shoeboxes I'd been given at church yesterday, and realized I never got the shoeboxes from her!  Fortunately we caught them in time.  A real 'senior moment' for all of us.  Yes--the leftover shoebox count is up to 23.

And that's after getting those final stragglers at the end of National Collection Week.  We had all the paper work completed by late Monday afternoon and the truck was ready to be pulled early Tuesday morning.  Then on Monday evening I got a call that one of the relay centers had accepted 115 boxes.  The poor relay center coordinator couldn't fit them in her car so my husband and I ended up making the hour drive to get them.  On the way, two deer suddenly appeared in the highway in front of us but God allowed Jim to drive right between them.  We had some thumps and fur on both sides of the car but, praise God, no damage.  We got those 115 boxes safely stowed at the collection center waiting for early morning light, then got another call at 8:30 pm from someone who had 83 boxes and missed the collection hours.  She brought her boxes in the morning and we got them on the truck with 10 minutes to spare.  Just think of all that fun we would have missed if we'd been at the processing center.

Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday gave me a chance to do some shoebox shopping and I came home with bags of towels--17 bath towels and 68 hand towels for 2017 shoeboxes.  The bath towels rolled up tightly will fit in a GO box with plenty of extra room.

I thought I'd try making the hand towels into little bears but I lack crafting talent...


Someone graciously offered to make the bears for me but I ended up deciding it might be better to just put them in the box as is so the child can actually use the towel.

Well, I just got a text message that another relay center coordinator has 11 leftover boxes waiting to go to the processing center.  We're still praying for our regional, national, and international goals...

And...it's not over yet...



Saturday, November 19, 2016

All Is Bright...


Can't. Stop. Packing.  I thought I was done with all my boxes a week ago...and then I got more donations on Monday and Tuesday of this week and started in on packing again.

Before long I ran out of boxes and began scouring the house for any I could find.  I pulled out 'old school' GO boxes that I'd used as sample boxes, one that held prayer requests, a few from 'surthrival' kits I received at area coordinators' retreats, and ones that had held rubber bands and crayons.  EVERY box I could find was filled.  I even hit up a few stores and got half a dozen more.

Once those were all filled I contacted the project leader for our church who'd ordered a large number of GO boxes.  She had extra and I was able to get another carton from her this evening.

So...tonight it was back to packing again.  I completed another 48 and I think I might be able to eke out another 6-9 nicely packed boxes yet tomorrow.  I feel such an urgency to get every box possible packed.

Meanwhile, the record high 75 degree temperature from yesterday dropped drastically today, accompanied by cold, driving rain that turned into snow.

My media coordinator, Pam, and I headed out to visit three more drop-off sites today and covering another 100 plus miles.  The sky was dark but the day was bright.

As I think about the goal we've prayed for all year--51,500 boxes--it seems pretty unreachable at this point.  I've looked at the drop-off logs at the sites as I've visited and seen the number of boxes packed drop at many of the churches.  We have a couple new churches packing but still not really high numbers.

But, it's not over yet.  And, as several people reminded me today, God will give us the number of boxes He wants us to have.

Still, I keep praying people will be moved to pack up the GO boxes that are sitting in their homes waiting to be filled.  One new participating church distributed 700 GO boxes and only 125 have been returned so far.  I'm praying those folks will not be able to rest until they fill those boxes and return them tomorrow.  We have a big God who can overcome the predicted snow accumulation and our seeming low numbers.

So, I'll do what I can do today...pray and pack...and ponder the truth that...all IS bright.

Friday, November 18, 2016

All Is Calm...


It's already Friday of National Collection Week. That's crazy. For the past two years I would already be at the Processing Center in Baltimore right now. This year we decided not to work there for the season and as I looked at pictures of the PC on Facebook yesterday I felt waves of sadness.

I wish I was there. But, on the other hand, I'm glad I'm here.

We've enjoyed visiting Operation Christmas Child drop-off sites this week and cramming in a last-minute flurry of shoebox packing.  Each time I visit one of our sites I want to do three things: pray with them; take a picture; talk about recruiting prayer partners.  Yet, at not one place have I remember to do all three of those.  As I talk with our amazing coordinators I get excited and forget those basic things, usually remembering only one or two at each spot.

It's been a bustling time with plenty to do this week.  Still, in a strange way, all is calm.  I've been sleeping great this week.  This week's a respite from my ongoing leadership angst.  This week the focus is on watching the harvest come in.

National Collection Week is a prime time for recruiting new prayer partners and team members...but I mostly have to trust that to others who are at the sites.  I'm just traveling around and soaking it all in-- the Jenga-like tangle of boxes being put into cartons, the excitement of little children who are bringing their carefully chosen gifts, the thrill of seeing cars packed to the roof with gospel opportunities.

Next week I'll start evaluating again. I'll be scouring the drop-off logs and wondering about churches who didn't participate this year.  Even as I make Christmas plans I'll have goals for our 2017 ministry plan running through my head.

Ahh, but not this week. This week, though I'm bustling on the outside, on the inside...all is calm.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Collection Week Eve


Woke up at 4:30 on this Saturday morning and my mind kicked into high gear.  Being on the verge of Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week is akin to Christmas Eve.  On the one hand there are still so many details to think about...

And...on the other hand...it feels like it's time to shift from cultivating to harvesting.

This afternoon a member of our team is hosting a packing party for adolescents who have special needs.  We're hoping to pack another 200 boxes or more so my car is loaded with stuffed animals, clothing, fillers and the last of our precious supply of GO boxes.  My dream is to get all those items actually packed into boxes so I don't have to bring anything back into my house.  We'll see.

Tomorrow I'm speaking at a church where they've already collected all their boxes.  And I have the whole sermon time.  And I don't know what I'm going to talk to them about.  Well...shoeboxes...but what about them?  More to think about.

So last night instead of praying or planning as I should have been I amused myself by writing a rhyme about Collection Week Eve.  I hope you can relate...

The Week Before National Collection Week

‘Tis the eve of collection and all through the land
Those OCC volunteers take their last stand.
The dollar store registers ring up those sales
Of toothbrushes, bars of soap, hammers and nails.
Determined that every GO box be filled
With items that make sure each child will be thrilled,
They shop and they pack and they pray as they go
For hearts to be open so God’s love they’ll know.
And then there are drop-off sites being prepared
To collect every box that so soon will be shared.
Those missional centers will be bathed in prayer
So donors feel welcomed and see Jesus there.
The Processing Centers are in final prep
With set-up and details in the last step.
All ready for volunteers waiting to come
To check all those boxes—each one, not just some.
And into the midst of this feverish hustle—
The scurrying, hurrying last-minute bustle--
Comes One who reminds us that He is our Peace
We pray and we work but He gives the increase,
And we hear His sure promise our plans to exceed,
“I’m more than enough. I’m all that you need.”








Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Vote for Hump Day


The days have been zipping by so fast I haven't taken time to do any blogging for a while.  I've been packing boxes at home and now have 1,084 of them stashed in spare spaces.  

And I'm really glad we're over the hump of the election.  Maybe now we can all regroup and learn to be nice, civil people again.  I'm also happy I didn't stay up to wait out the results last night because I needed to be rested for hump day today.  

Our local Christian radio station, WCTL, celebrates hump day every Wednesday by having camel trivia with 'Fred' the camel.  Our OCC media coordinator, Pam, and I took our camels and headed to the studio this morning for an interview about our upcoming National Collection Week.  Pam even packed a shirt with a picture of a camel in the sample OCC shoebox we took with us.


It was great to talk about Operation Christmas Child with Lori and Dan and after we left and headed to breakfast they were still talking on the air about packing shoeboxes.


Next we were on the way to Rose's house to help her cartonize the 2000 plus shoeboxes she packed in her home over the past year.  She already had some of them finished and five of us were able to complete the job in three hours and get them ready for the next step on their journey.

We anticipated a call from a truck driver because they'd scheduled a delivery of 2,880 stuffed animals for next year's boxes sometime between 12-4 this afternoon, so we headed to a local pizza/sub shop for lunch.  We were waiting for our order when the call from the truck driver came so we grabbed the subs and headed to the church.

You never know what to expect when a truck pulls in.  This one was supposed to have five pallets for us.  Instead, there were only three VERY tall pallets with 120 cartons.  Though some of the boxes were dirty or crushed, they were thankfully light and easy to move--a blessing.

Only an hour and a half later they were all stored with hopes of multiplying in the container over the winter months.  It's a special joy when the boxes stack easily and neatly and reach to the top of the container.  I think we have enough WOW items for almost 25,000 boxes for 2017 already.


After resting a bit at home, Jim and I headed back to church for a wonderful class--the first in a series of five about grace, faith, and works.  A perfect ending to a blessed day.

This hump day has my vote for sure.



Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dollars In General



There's always the basics of shoebox economics--how to prayerfully pack the best boxes possible while packing as many as possible all for the purpose of blessing as many children as possible.

This is what sends shoebox packers on year-round treasure hunts to find bargains.  I spoke this week at a local Kiwanis Club meeting.  When I was finished one of the members who had attended our packing party said, "I have a question.  How do you get the volume of items you need for all those boxes?"  I quickly replied with the truth, "Every one of them is an answer to prayer."

And they come in so many different ways--for our packing parties, our personal boxes, and for those of each shoebox packer around the world.

The past several weeks have been filled with those answers to prayer.  First there was the load of baseball hats and visors.  Then we received the delivery of our pens for next year.  As our packing party has grown larger we depend more on getting those large quantities of items.

But it's also fun to get great deals that allow us to choose individual items, and that's what's been happening this week.  First, JC Penney repeated their coupon deal last Friday and Saturday.  We didn't get a $100 coupon this time, but we did have fun choosing items for the $10 coupons we were gifted.  Combining strategy with Pam, my faithful shopping buddy, allowed us to find six high quality items for a total of 35 cents.  Now that's just plain fun!

Then on Tuesday the Dollar General stores started a sale of their "white dot" and "yellow dot" summer clothing and shoes for only 25 cents each! Between us, Pam and I have been to 14 local Dollar General stores in the past two days and scored close to 350 clothing items and shoes.

Many of the items have already been scooped up, but if you have a Dollar General near you it's worth taking a look.  Look for the white  or yellow dots on the tag...  (also, the $1.00 regular flip-flops are excluded from the sale)


Now I'm trying to figure out how and where to store all this stuff for 2017 even as I continue to pack boxes for 2016.  I'm up to 624 boxes packed at home since the packing party and I still have so much left that I could pack.  Just ordered another 3 cartons of "GO" boxes so I can keep going.  I'm trying to figure out new places to store the stacks of finished boxes while working around the cartons full of items to be packed.  Isn't that a great problem?



And some of those nice athletic shoes are pretty big.  They'll fill up a GO box so I need to find something maybe just a teeny bit bigger (need some grace there)...but I just couldn't pass up nice shoes for 25 cents.  I'm praying God will direct them to the right person who can wear a size 11... I mean, kids' feet keep getting bigger, right?



I'm probably spending too much time buying and storing and packing instead of calling and training and leading...

But, in general, I... just. can't. stop. packing.

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.  So...at 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...