Tuesday, September 18, 2018

So Many Answers

Our 2018 Operation Christmas Child Community-Wide Shoebox Packing Party is over with 30,590 boxes packed. Wow, that's crazy!

I've been spending some time looking back through my journal at all the prayers God answered throughout this year that brought us to the victory of Saturday. And I can't even begin to know all the prayers that were prayed around our country and even in other countries around the world.

This year especially I am in awe of how God uses His people--the body of Christ--to come together to do things that can never be done by one individual.  People, it's incredible!

If you've read this blog you've followed the progress through the week of God's provision for the boxes and cartons to arrive on time, for the day-by-day box folding, and a host of other details that God orchestrated.

But behind the scenes as we went into the big weekend I was blown away by God's goodness in undertaking for my own deficiencies.

I was so upset with myself for dropping the ball on making contacts for things I wanted to happen to make the environment for this party better.  For one, I wanted to plan meals for the volunteers throughout the week.  I prayed about this, yet I never organized it.  The body of Christ came together, though, as people brought in donations and offered to bring in food without even being asked.  We were gifted with leftovers from a staff dinner on Tuesday night and throughout the week our lunches and dinners were covered all by God's grace.

I'd wanted to arrange for decorations that would give volunteers something to look at while walking through the line, but, again, I never asked anyone to do that. I was amazed on Friday when Donna, who has gifts of creativity, took the OCC pictures I gave her and some posters I printed a few years ago and made attractive wall arrangements and then constructed two trees of folded GO boxes. Then two teens, Korin and Kaytlyn, drew some great art on a white board that was a tremendous focal point.

On the day of the packing party I was sad again that I'd neglected to ask someone to take pictures. Then Jeannie came up to me and said, "I see you don't have anyone by your photo props, do you want me to take some pictures?"  Well, SURE I did!  And she took amazing pictures and videos and posted them on Facebook.

All evening long on Friday and all day long on Saturday God kept leading us step by step.  People made suggestions and we made a few corrections. We tried hard to keep the lines moving.

Still, by 2:00 when we were at 26,000 or so I doubted we would even get to the 28,032 boxes we did last year.  I confess my normal task-orientation went into overdrive as I passed slower people in line in an effort to get more boxes completed.

This was the latest packing party ever as we went right up to 5:10 pm before we ran out of school packs and decided it was time to FINALLY stop.  We are praising God for the 30,590 boxes packed!

On Friday night we had 232 volunteers from 18 different organizations come to pack and on Saturday we had 337 people from 34 different organization come to pack boxes.

As I looked through journal entries--starting back at the beginning of 2018--I found the one pictured above where God confirmed our goal of 30,000.  It seemed like a big jump over last year's 28,032 but God confirmed it and brought it to pass with an extra 590 just for fun.

Still, it was a hard-fought year.  Amanda, who is in charge of organizing and stocking many of the line items, had major surgery in July and had restrictions on lifting.  Pam, who was in charge of all the clothing items and school packs, developed a sore throat and cold the week of the packing party and had to struggle through.

Then on Saturday morning two major leads had a conflict and one walked off the job and left the packing party completely.  I am so sad about all of this, but, again by God's grace, other volunteers took up the slack and we kept going.  This, I KNOW, was a direct result of prayer.

On Sunday I got a message from Christy, my OCC prayer partner friend in Florida who also does a large packing party. Christy told me she was at a Beth Moore simulcast on Saturday morning when she got a strong urge to pray for our packing party.  Since they were in the middle of a worship song she decided to wait until the song was over to pray. But she said she then felt such an urgency that she KNEW she needed to stop and pray right then. So she turned in her pew to face north and held out her arms and prayed.  Praise God for her obedience, because only God knows how her prayers kept us going that morning.

God is sovereign and His plans will not be thwarted.  When we pray for one another--even though miles away--He is faithful and answers.

So...thank YOU friends for praying. Thank you for your faithful prayers for stuffed animals. Several thousand were donated the week and weekend of the packing party and only the last few hundred boxes did not have a stuffed animal (we substituted water bottles in those.)

Thank you to the person named Beth who sent me a package of beautiful fillers for 2-4 year old boxes from New Hampshire and to Cheryl who mailed a big box of new stuffed animals from Indiana.

Thank you to Pam and Keith who drove 13 hours from Kansas City, MO to be with us and for the group from the Poconos, to Lael and her group from Columbus, OH and to my dear friend Lisa who drove up from Virginia and brought 500+ cute Crayola crayon tins to load up with smaller items.

Thank you to the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people who were part of making this packing party happen in some way.  I may never know your name, but God knows. He sees. And He rewards you with a part of the blessing.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday's First

The morning started with a group of people waiting in the parking lot for the church to be opened. This turned out to be a wonderful thing because we started an impromptu prayer meeting that was a true blessing.

Once in the building the majority of people started in on the box folding while the core team did last minute preparations for the Christian Academy students to start the packing adventure.

The 70 students and adults arrived at 9:30 and before long the packing commenced─▒.  We had the kids circulate only through the Commons area so the carbonizing area was in the same room and that seemed to work out well.  By the time they were ready to leave they'd packed 3,152 boxes (compared to 4,670 at the end of the same time last year.)

The box folding continued through the day but it was impossible to know how many boxes were folded since some were being used as others were being folded.

The evening packing started at 6:00 pm and it was hard to evaluate if having the school packs made much of a difference in the time it took people to go through the line. The registration folks report there were 229 people there tonight, and that's a record.

By the time the packing ended at 9:00 we'd packed 10,419 boxes.  So...we're about a third of the way there.  There are about 1,500 boxes to fold but they are reserving 500 in the storage container to see if they are needed.  I really want to pack every single box we have, but we will see....

And we will see soon....

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday Thrust

Just hours now until the start of our 2018 Operation Christmas Child packing adventure.

Since I knew the day would be getting warmer I started early this morning in the attic to get 115 bags of larger stuffed animals down the pull-down stairs so we could pack them up to take them to the church.  It's easier if I can lower the bags down to Jim, so when he had to leave to go to the church to meet the driver with two of the pup trucks to hold our boxes shoeboxes I had to stop.

A few hours later Jim and Myron made a trip to Donna's house to pick up the large plastic bags she and her husband had folded and stored in their home.  It took four vehicles to hold them all.

When they returned we decided to go back home and fetch the Schriefer Zoo before it got too hot.  I got all the bags hauled down and the guys loaded them--nearly filling the box truck.

By the time we had all those garbage bags unloaded and added to the ones from yesterday our packing party room looks more like a landfill.  The bags might not be aesthetic but they're a practical way for us to store so many thousands of stuffies.

I was excited to have Lisa Seale arrive from Virginia and we set to work filling the 500 cute
Crayola tins she brought us. They'll make really nice fillers.

Of course the box folding went on all day with the size of the crowd fluctuating but peaking in the evening with a large group of middle schoolers.

Our rooms are pretty much ready and we ended the day with 23,210 boxes folded.

Just waiting for the third load of stuffed animals to come out of the dryer...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Wins

Praise God for some big wins today.  We got the trailer of stuffed animals unloaded and in the evening unloaded another trailed full of school packs that were put together and stored in the basement of a team member.

And...the box folding continued with a good group of about 20 people at any given time throughout the day.  We ended the day with over 16,000 folded!

The Commons area (second stage of the line) is nearly set up and tomorrow the set-up will commence in the gym area while box folding moves to the youth rooms.

The couple pictured above, OCC volunteers Pam and Keith, drove in from Kansas City, Missouri (a 13 hour drive) to be with us for the packing party. How amazing!

We also had a precious prayer walk tonight as we thank God again for the wins of the day and the wins yet to come.  Abundance.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuesday Tidings

Despite its busyness today felt like a day of rest.

We were blessed this morning with 27 students from Iroquois High School who came for a 9/11 service day to help us fold boxes. They worked hard all morning and assembled 2400 boxes by themselves.

We had a great group of volunteers today--probably 30-40 different persons throughout the day.  And it felt like a vacation because I got to spend a lot of time sitting and talking to these friends while we labeled and folded boxes together.

Teresa and her mother-in-law drove a few hours from Brockville to partner with us today. It was great to trade stories of God's goodness in our lives.

I spent some time talking with Julie and once again rehearsing His goodness even in the midst of trials she is enduring in her life. Praying together was a special joy.

My friend Dawn Ward from OCC visited this morning and we got to take a prayer walk around the building.  The evening brought another prayer walk as four of us prayed our way around again,  trusted God together and anticipated His victory.

By the end of the day we'd not only made two trips with a truck to pick up many of the items stored offsite BUT we finished the day with 10,008 boxes folded! And, thanks to althea ah=mazing volunteers they were folded in under 36 hours.

The towers of boxes on the pallets are falling but we still have another 20,492 to fold.

What a great day!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Marathon Monday

Doing a nightly blog the week of the Operation Christmas Child packing party is a way to help me remember what we did when next year rolls around.

God answered many prayers today.  We got the call last Friday from the trucking company, and they said they'd deliver our boxes on Tuesday.  I told them I really, really needed them on Monday and they consented to deliver on Monday as long as we could accommodate a tractor trailer.

I prayed all weekend for an early delivery and, praise God, I got the call at 7:30 am this morning that the driver expected to be at the church by 9:15 - 9:20.  Well...he was later than that.  Then when he got the truck into position he couldn't get the lift gate to work.  I put out a call for prayer and after an hour of waiting for him to try to get it to work he called for help. The terminal told him there were only two choices--he could return the load to the terminal or we could offload it by hand--all 305 cartons of boxes and 90 cartons.  We decided to try the hand offload so the driver pulled the truck around to the back gym door.  One of our guys then noticed a sign that explained a key to operating the lift gate and guess what? They got it to work. Answered prayer. So they moved the truck around to the other side of the church again and moved the pallets with our rented pallet jack.

Meanwhile I had a minor panic attack when I realized we only had 90 cartons in which to pack 30,000 plus boxes.  Tried to call my regional manager with no answer so I ended up calling the number from OCC Charlotte that was on the bill of lading and got the word that the remainder of the cartons are on another shipment. Whew! Just trying to keep us on our toes.

Because we didn't know when the boxes would arrive we'd not announced this publicly as a work day so there were only a few team members and a couple of people we could recruit quickly to fold boxes. Still, we worked hard until 5:00 pm and got 912 boxes folded today.

Unfortunately I wore out my right hand and had to switch to just labeling so I could use my left one. I'm dosing up with Ibuprofen and Biofreeze and hoping it heals up some before tomorrow.

I just got back last night from a few days in Chicago for my daughter's baby shower so I missed my normal stuffed animal pick-up at church yesterday. Today I filled my van with bags that had been left there.

After I got home at 6:00 this evening I began the stuffed animal sorting, washing, and bagging process and just finished at 11:40.  It took me that long to sort out over 1,000 animals!  I don't have the exact number, but we must need fewer than 4,000 now.  I still have a partial load to wash but I figure I might as well wait.  Someone is sure to drop off more that need a bath in the next few days.

Man, it's already Tuesday! Onward...

Monday, September 3, 2018

No Business

That's what the little voice in my head keeps telling me today...you have no business leading an Operation Christmas Child team, let alone a large packing party.

I feel like I spend the majority of my time sorting, washing, and processing stuffed animals, and that's not what a leader does. A leader recruits and selects and trains and develops and equips other leaders so they can/will do those jobs.

Meanwhile, I think constantly of all the things I should have done or should be doing. I've dropped so many balls that there are none in the air anymore.

I didn't follow through with a local appliance store who offered to collect stuffed animals for us. I have not contacted our local Chick-fil-A to see if they want to participate with us in November to collect boxes. I haven't sent out the monthly prayer requests to our prayer partners yet. Wait, I'm supposed to have other people doing all those things, right? Yep...and I would if I was recruiting. Sigh.

So why am I writing a blog, you might ask? Yeah, I'm wondering about that too.

Meanwhile...for the moment all the stuffed animals are off the living room floor (including the donation of 180 that came at 5:00 this afternoon.)  We only need 5,213 more to get to 30,000 in case you've been following that journey.  I started the script for the packing party opening but never finished it.

I have notes written for a meeting with the two central packing party leads.

Oh, and I'm ready to go pick up a large donation of crayons tomorrow that I don't need until 2019 and will have to find a place to store. I don't think that's on my OCC job description but then...very little of what I do is.

Every morning I beg God to show me step by step what He wants me to do. Some days I see answers to that prayer and some days I really don't.

Still, I have confidence God's called me to lead our area team and promises, as I've mentioned before, that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

And I know we're on the verge of another victory with this packing party in just 11 days. WAIT! Is it really 11 days?  Stay tuned for more reports as we watch our strong God do what only He can do in the middle of our weakness.

Because, without Him, we definitely have NO BUSINESS doing any of this.