Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Working it Out

If there's one thing we've learned it's that it takes a lot of prep work to get ready for a large shoebox packing party.  The earlier you start the better.

Today was our first work day to prepare for the upcoming packing party (hopefully to be held in September--still waiting for confirmation on availability of the site.)

We've been praying about this work day--for volunteers to come, for the weather to be good.  This morning my husband said, "You won't get much done today if only five people come."  True, BUT we've been praying.

In the weather department, the day was filled with steady rain that made for lots of mud as we tried to navigate getting things in and out of the storage container.  But...on a February day when we've had over 13 feet of snow this winter...rain is a good thing.  We put down some cardboard and tried to "walk like a penguin" to keep from sliding away...

God answered our prayers in so many wonderful ways.  There were twenty people who came.  One woman came after reading the announcement in our local paper and had never heard of Operation Christmas Child.  It was great to take some time during a break to share with the group about OCC and pray for the children who will receive the items we worked on today.

We started the day by sorting and counting 16,061 plastic cups--checking to be sure there were no inappropriate logos and tossing out the few that were broken.

When the cup-sorting was complete we moved on to removing the packaging from 12,000 cardboard tiaras and unboxing thousands of pens.

Meanwhile, we started constructing jump ropes and completed over 1,800 of them today.

The four hours went by so quickly I didn't even realize when it was time to quit.  That great group of volunteers stayed for clean-up and it was accomplished in record time.

We've also been praying for storage for stuffed animals, and one of our new volunteers offered some space in her home.  We packed her car with bags of beanie babies and that freed up a lot of space in the storage container.

The next step is to order 180,000 more feet of rope so we can continue making more ropes next month.

As always, God is working it out...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

God of Abundance

This year I'm trying to meditate on God's abundance.  I keep reminding myself that our God is not a God of scarcity.  I can have confidence that He will "meet all my needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)

I'm copying a list of Bible verses that confirm this abundance.  Here are a few of those gems--

Psalm 36:8 "They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights."

Psalm 37:19  "They will not be ashamed in the time of evil, and in the days of famine they will have abundance."

Psalm 66:12  "You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, yet you brought us out into a place of abundance."

Isaiah 63:7  "I shall make mention of the lovingkindness of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His lovingkindness."

I mentioned here on January 21st that our team decided to trust God for 30,000 shoeboxes at our packing party this year.  The next morning I picked up my Bible where I'd left off previously and was surprised to read 2 Chronicles 35:7 "Josiah contributed to the lay people...flocks of lambs and young goats, all for the passover offerings, numbering 30,000..."  It was neat to see that 30,000 number in God's Word, and it was a confirmation to me.

I really need to be assured this is God's will for us, because if it's His will I know He will provide all we need.

In his book "The Knowledge of the Holy" A.W. Tozer speaks of God's omnipotence, "Omnipotence is not a name given to the sum of all power, but an attribute of a personal God whom we Christians believe to be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of all who believe on Him to life eternal. The worshiping man finds this knowledge a source of wonderful strength for his inner life. His faith rises to take the great leap upward into the fellowship of Him who can do whatever He wills to do, for whom nothing is hard or difficult because He possesses power absolute."  Wow! -- He is absolute abundance.

We don't have as many items for our boxes at this point as we did at this time last year, and some of my usual outlets for good deals have not yielded much lately.

Still, week by week God encourages me with donations of stuffed animals...or the 7,000+ large heavyweight ziplock bags (16" X 20") that we will roll up and use as fillers for shoebox recipients to store their items.

Just a few days ago we received a donation of 67 new T-shirts (pictured above) from an orthopedic office. They all say "Proud owner of a new knee (or hip) replacement" but they're clean and new.

We don't have our date set yet, but God answered prayer this week as we got the list of shipping dates from the OCC office.  We've chosen our preferred date and sent an email a few days ago to the church that has allowed us to use their facility to see if they can accommodate us.

Now we wait.

We wait for confirmation of a date. And we wait for God to provide at least 50,000 inexpensive pencils, and 27,000 stuffed animals, and 240,000 crayons and maybe 60,000 more good-sized filler items.

Our message in church this morning was about confession.  I have to confess I often struggle with coveting the good deals others get on shoebox items.  I'm so grateful for forgiveness for that.

I'm grateful also for God's mercy in reminding me He will provide for me and our team in the time and the way He knows is best.

Because...He is a God of abundance.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Prayer Tokens

I've been a little distracted from my shoebox life lately by this sweet blessing packed in the shoebox picture above. I was blessed this week to spend a few days with him and will return this week to do the same.

There's something about holding a miracle for a few hours while you pray that takes your focus from fears and doubts miracles!

While I prayed over this little guy in recent days I thought about all the prayers we prayed over the past few years.  And I looked at the bassinet he sleeps in that I bought as a prayer token.

Over the years there have been a dozen or so items I've purchased as prayer tokens--things I bought in faith that would be used when my prayers were answered.

More than 40 years ago I bought a little girls' necklace as I prayed for my friend to conceive a child. As we prayed, she and her husband felt called to adopt and when they went to the airport in New York City to meet their little girl arriving from Korea they took the necklace with them to give to her as a first gift.  Interestingly, by that time she was also pregnant with their first biological child--also a girl.

Decades later I gave another baby necklace to  a mother praying for a baby, and she also conceived and gave birth to a beautiful girl.

In the past decade I've also given a number of brides' Bibles to young women as I prayed for God to bring them Christian husbands.  Some of them have become brides and some have not. Still, the prayers continue.

By the summer of 2016 my daughter had already suffered the pain of two miscarriages, and, of course, I was praying. At a yard sale I spotted this bassinet at a great price.  It was the largest prayer token I'd ever bought, but I brought it home, took it to the attic, and prayed over it.

And a year a half later, God filled it...

with our "Rainbow Baby"

There are tokens out there still being prayed over, and there are also prayers being prayed daily with no tokens in sight.  Whether my prayers are answered the way I want them to be, I know they are always answered. I know God is always good.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sharpening the Deal

Our Operation Christmas Child team coordinators met today and did some preliminary planning for the 2018 packing party.  I prayed hard about this meeting--wanting it to be a time of unity in making some productive decisions.

We talked about a goal for this year and decided to trust God for 30,000 boxes.  This is a big jump over last year's 28,032.  That's 2,000 more boxes to fold and 2,000 more boxes to fill with items and 2,000 more boxes for which we need to pray in the shipping funds. 

At the same time I realize we have fewer items now than we did at this point last year.  Last year in addition to the anchor items of hats and visors I already had over 10,000 nice belts and 30,000 packages of shoelaces along with nearly 3,000 nice, new, large stuffed bunnies. 

This year we have almost enough visors but are pretty lean in the filler department.  Part of the time I think God is just waiting until the weather gets better to bless us with the items He knows we need and....well, the rest of the time I just wonder. 

I do know our God is well able to supply every need if He wants us to pack 30,000 boxes.  And if He doesn't want us to pack that many then I don't want to pack them either. 

Being a bit desperate for SOME sort of filler item, I saw these pencil sharpeners from Oriental Trading.  I know the quality's not the greatest with the caps likely to keep falling off.  In the past when we used them we had to tape the dome lids on them, and I don't want to bother with that!  I generally stay away from small items that don't take up much room in the box, but I thought about putting these into plastic Easter eggs.  They'd be more useful than the small rings or stickers we often use. 

The sharpeners were listed at $2.97 for a lot of 72--over 4 cents each--which is way too much for a small item. 

So, I decided to sharpen the deal.  I found a promo code that would give me free shipping and $10 off on a $49 order.  Then I found a site where I could buy Oriental Trading gift cards at a slightly reduced price and used a special deal going on to get another $10 off.  I also went through eBates to save another $3.15. 

In the end, I got the price down to 2.9 cents each and bought 3,816 of the sharpeners.  That will at least give us a start on egg-fillers.  Now all we have to do is pray we can find the eggs in the after-Easter sales! 

Item by item we're trusting God for the deals...oh, and sharpen up your prayer skills because we're asking you to join us again to pray for 27,000 more stuffed animals...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Unusual Answers to Prayer

 Sometimes the answers to prayer come in unusual ways.  Praying for stuffed animals has been the saga of my life for more than a decade, and it's always amazing to see the way God answers.

On Tuesday we were shoveling out from the latest round of snow when the call came from a generous donor who wanted to bring 1100 stuffed animals over.  I was scheduled to volunteer at a local clothing pantry, so we made arrangements for them to bring the animals in late afternoon.

This donation--a wonderful answer to prayer--should have made me deliriously happy.  Instead, as I hauled the bags into my living room I felt a cloud of resentment settle over me.  I didn't want my living room filled with bags--even if they did hold treasured blessings.  Furthermore, I didn't want to tackle the job of sorting and bagging those animals.  So I shoved the bags into spare bedrooms and sulked around the house for a few hours, knowing that wouldn't really solve anything.

The next morning I was honest with God and confessed me lack of gratitude for His good gifts. I asked him to change my attitude because I felt powerless to do that myself.

Within an hour I was on my way to pray with a friend when I realized God was answering my prayer. My spirit felt more buoyant.  At the same time, I kept feeling an urge to call a fellow team member and ask her to help me.  I pulled the car over, sent a text, and her quick response told me she'd be glad to join the sorting adventure.

A few hours later we spent some time in prayer together before we we tackled the stuffed animals. What a great time of fellowship and prayer we enjoyed.  It turns out that was something we both needed.

By the next day the animal sorting was nearly finished.  The weather was a balmy 59 degrees but the weather prediction called for a sudden drop in temperatures and an ice storm within a few hours.  I was desperate to get the animals out of the house and my husband was kind enough to quickly help me finish bagging them.  Just as we got them loaded into the car the cold rain started.  Despite that, we got to the container, shoveled the remnants of snow from the door, and got them stashed.

God's grace astounds me as He answers my prayers again and again--first with His provision of my material needs and then His amazing grace over my helplessness to change my sinful attitudes.  And in the middle of it all He grants this sweet fellowship with other believers and, most especially, with Him.

And while I was trying to motivate myself to complete my little task, a steadfast servant on the other side of town was tirelessly cutting rope to make jump ropes.  By the end of the weekend he'd cut 21 rolls of rope into 3,675 pieces.  Now we're ready to make them into ropes on our first work day on February 21st.

Thank You, Lord, for answering prayer in ways I never could imagine.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Cups--Empty, Full or Half-Full

The holiday respite is over and it's time to start more concentrated strategizing for our 2018 Operation Christmas Child packing party.  We don't even know when it will be yet, because we have to wait for OCC to set the shipping windows before we can plan a date.

Still, the buying has been going on for months already.  See these Hello Kitty crowns? I love them, but many of the packers at our 2017 packing party had problems fitting them into the boxes. Nevertheless, I made the decision to buy 12,000 of them for this year's boxes because they are inexpensive and fun.

We pray all the time and struggle over when to buy items and when to wait for a better deal to come along.  It seems like when I pray for direction I should always make the right decision, but it doesn't always work that way--at least from my limited human perspective.

Case in point--cups.  In 2017 we had 10,000 plastic cups left over from 2016 and we just about used them up.  When I saw a deal on them some weeks ago I prayed about whether to buy them and how many to buy. I checked with other core team members and said that since we have thousands more visors than baseball hats this year I felt we'd need more cups to fill boxes.  I prayed, but maybe not enough, before I decided to purchase 4 pallets of them--about 16,000 cups.  This week the price on them dropped.  I could have saved $176.00 if I'd waited.  Was it my mistake?

On the other hand, there were times when I delayed buying as I waited for a price to drop only to have the stock of the item deplete and lose the bargain entirely. It's hard to tell if the cups are empty or full, you know?

Then there are the washcloths.  Last year there were 18-packs of washcloths on sale at holiday clearance prices at Walmart.  I saw the same ones in the store this year and started praying a few weeks before Christmas about whether to buy them at 50% off right after Christmas or wait for them to be reduced to 75% off.

To my chagrin this year they were not reduced with the rest of the holiday merchandise. I waited until Walmart's prices dropped to 75% off on Christmas merchandise, prayed hard, and talked with the managers at three Walmart stores.  I explained they said "holiday" beside the UPC code and had been reduced with the Christmas merchandise in 2017.  Two stores reduced them to 75% off for me and the other store reduced them by 50%.  God provided 1,476 washcloths for an average of .08 each.  That day my cup was definitely full.

Meanwhile, a donor from our team purchased our pens at what we hope was a good price. We're still praying for a good deal on pencils and all the filler items we will need.

The stuffed animal count stands at about 2,500--fewer than last year at this point.  The team member who stored many of them in her home last year is no longer on our team so they're stuck on the floor of the storage container for now--that cup is kind of half-full.

It's overwhelming to think how many items we need to make boxes good enough and full enough to bless children.

We know, though, that we serve a God who fills our cups to overflowing--no matter how they appear to us.  So we'll keep praying and waiting to be filled.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

His Story & History

There were two big events in our lives this week--one in our family and one in our city.

The family event has been years in the making.  My mother was 39-years-old when I was born, and when I gave birth to my first daughter at age 25 I felt a bit sad that her grandmother was already old. (I had a different perspective then--lol)  Funny thing is--my mother lived to age 101, was pretty vibrant up until her last few months and made decades of memories with my daughters.

I was approaching my 65th birthday when I heard the joyful news that our daughter was pregnant again.  After years of prayer, two miscarriages, and babies only in heaven, she waited for some months to make that joyful but sensitive announcement.  She did it by displaying a hand-printed onesie on Facebook with this reference from 1 Samuel 1:27 "For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him."

Jen and her husband, Jeremy, decided not to learn the gender of their baby until birth and our excitement grew month by month.  Jen purchased Christmas outfits for her baby--one for a boy and one for a girl. She was showered with many gender-neutral gifts and we looked toward celebrating with a new baby for Christmas. They refused to give any hints of potential names.

Her December 22nd due date came and went.  We made plans to go visit Jen and Jeremy for Christmas dinner since they couldn't travel to be with Jeremy's family.

But Christmas Eve marked the start of this week's history-making event in our city.  The snow began with just a few inches on Christmas Eve, and by the time we planned to leave for Jen's home in Ellwood City on Christmas morning we could barely see across the street and driving was too dangerous.

The snow didn't stop, and by Christmas night a record 34 inches had fallen.  We shoveled and ran the snow blower only to get hit with another 19 inches in early morning hours of December 26th.

On the morning of December 26th we were out trying to clear that latest accumulation when we got a call from Jen telling us they were inducing her labor at 1:00 pm.  We hurried to complete the snow removal as best we could, packed a bag, and took off.

The front of our house in the midst of snow removal.

These are pictures taken from other areas in our city. It was a crazy mess!

The streets were mostly unplowed and rutted.  It was like driving over moon craters, but once we got to the main highway we could safely and SLOWLY make our way.  We drove about 35 mph on the interstate (they'd lowered the speed limit to 45 mph but we couldn't get up to that.)

Amazingly, once we got about 15 miles away from Erie the highway was perfectly clear and we made good time.

I'd been praying over every detail of this baby's birth for months--years really--and it was such a blessing to see how God answered in every way.

The baby's heart rate had some decelerations so they had to stop the induction from time to time and monitor the baby continuously.

We'd been waiting for hours in the waiting room with Jeremy's parents when I got a text a little before 11 pm with the report that Jen was at 5 cm. and contractions were getting harder. I replied that if Jeremy wanted a break I could come in.  When I got the answer "You can come in anytime," I was down the hall pronto.

In my pre-shoebox life I taught childbirth education classes for 19 years, and I was so proud and impressed at how well Jeremy and Jen worked together to labor as a team.  Jeremy was a tireless coach, she breathed like a champ, and I got to cheer them on and offer some support with cool cloths and counter pressure on her back.  And she did this without an epidural, which I later learned is pretty rare these days.

Three hours later she was able to push and in just half an hour our beautiful grandson burst into the world. It turns out the umbilical cord was around his neck and that was causing the drops in his heart rate throughout the day.  Thank You, Lord for protecting him through that rigorous journey of birth.
He needed some extra suctioning to get started in life but was soon crying and weighed in at 6 pounds, 11 ounces.  I took some pictures then headed back to the waiting room.  I'd been sworn to secrecy so Jeremy could come and make the announcement to all the grandparents at once. And they still refused to tell me the baby's name.

Back in the waiting room the other grandparents threatened to torture me but ended up waiting patiently until Jeremy came to make the announcement, "It's a boy. And his name is Samuel James."

Hannah named her son Samuel, which means "God has heard".  God heard Hannah's prayers and God heard Jen and Jeremy's prayers and the prayers of countless family and friends who have prayed for this baby.  I pray our Samuel, like Hannah's Samuel, will hear God call him at a young age and will serve Him faithfully.

Meanwhile, by noon on Wednesday our city measured a total of 65.1 inches of snow since Sunday night.  And they're predicting another foot or so this weekend.  Once you get past FIVE FEET what's another foot?

It just makes the story better.