Thursday, July 20, 2017

Waiting For Small Things

This morning as I prayed I started thinking about waiting.  In actuality, we spend a lot of our lives waiting, and sometimes we don't even know what we're waiting for.

This picture was taken back in 2003.  We prayed to pack 1,200 boxes that year and God ended up giving us 1,234 (love that number.)  If you'd told me then that fourteen years later I'd be praying for 27,000 boxes I might have run away screaming.  I didn't know what I was waiting for; but God did.

For the past couple months I've been 'meeting' in a Bible study with younger women in Maryland. I'm the only one who attends remotely via FaceTime.  I hope some day I get to give each of them a hug, but I'm enjoying seeing them from afar and talking about women of the Bible.

Last night we talked about Sarah and how the biblical account of her life doesn't really begin until she's 65 years old.  She lived for 65 years doing her daily routines--serving her husband and never knowing that hundreds of years later a group of women would be studying her life and passing judgment on her decisions.  She spent years waiting on God's promise.  I can't begin to imagine her emotions when that baby moved inside her for the first time!

People I love are waiting and I was praying for some of them this morning: waiting to marry; waiting to hold a baby of their own; waiting to be healed.  Waiting for God to do big things in their lives that only He can do.  And I, too, am waiting with them.

But there's also the faithful waiting for the small things.  We have been praying week by week for stuffed animals for our packing party and, WOW, has God been blessing us.  Last week He brought us 941 and this week so far 681.  Now we're waiting for Him to provide more places to store all those blessings.

The past few days have brought more opportunities to wait.  My email isn't working properly, despite spending more than five hours on the phone with support technicians.  My oven hasn't worked for a few weeks now and the washer won't stop leaking.  You know the drill.

Then yesterday I got a text from the manager at Walmart who ordered 9,000 boxes of crayons for us three weeks ago.  He said the "home office" dropped the ball and never placed the order.  They have 2,800 boxes for us and are scrambling to find more. I start hitting all the stores around me to amass hundreds of boxes as I have in years past...or do I wait?

Father, we are waiting on You--in the big things and in the small things.  We wait for You to show Your glory.  We wait for You to refine and purify us in the waiting.  And we trust You for the blessing as we wait.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Night Watch

Okay, so...I can't seem to keep up with anything these days.  I feel kind of like this nondescript thing pictured here that came in a bag of donated stuffed animals.  Out of shape.  Out of sorts.  Out of synch.

Unable to sleep, I decided to check my blog and was stunned to find I haven't written in three weeks again.  I alternate between feeling overwhelmed and feeling foolish for feeling overwhelmed.

We've been praying week by week for stuffed animals and God keeps providing--maybe we're not seeing all we've prayed for but I believe God's providing them.  Last week we prayed for 1,000 and have 528 in hand.  Week before last, though, we got 1,451 in just one week!

This week we're praying for 1,000 again.  Today I spent 7 hours at yard sales and managed to snag 213.  I know I'll be picking up more at church tomorrow.  It'll be interesting to see where the total lies. We still need a total of 11,300 more before September 23rd.  

Meanwhile, we're finally having our first packing party planning meeting tomorrow.  I've never been a great planner, so I can't seem to get a firm agenda in line for tomorrow's meeting.  To make matters worse, I double booked tomorrow afternoon.  I scheduled the meeting for 3:00 and at 4:00 I'm supposed to be at a training for the day camp where I'll be volunteering this coming week.  I definitely need a firm agenda for this meeting, and I don't have one.  Oh, and I need to get the house cleaned before tomorrow afternoon, too.

And, I promised to get a plan for regional prayer calls set up and I haven't done that yet.  I did finally get my winter clothes put away this week, though.

On a high note, I can finally announce our exciting family news--we're going to be first-time grandparents right around Christmas time.  This is a true blessing after a few miscarriages over the past year and a half. To say we're full of anticipation is a gross understatement.

As I sit here and watch the full moon tonight I'm thanking God for His amazing answers to prayer.  I want to recognize them more often.  Today I talked with a woman at a yard sale who said she packed four boxes for Operation Christmas Child for the first time last year.  I asked her how she heard about the project and she said she saw it on someone's Facebook page.  As I walked back to my car I thanked God for using social media to bring gospel opportunities to more children.  You just never know how something simple like hitting the 'share' button on a Facebook post can be used by God to answer prayer--your prayers, my prayers, or the prayers of children on the other side of the world.

By the way, do you think any of them are praying for the thing in this picture?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Same Old...

photo credit: Tiffanie Wells

Well, it's happened again.  One of my sweet blog readers messaged me to see if I'm okay since it's been so long since I posted an update. 

Life just seems to move faster and faster and if God grants me another thirty or so years I'm afraid they'll be gone in a flash.  As I age and get closer to eternity the things that mattered so much to me decades ago have paled in importance.  I find I want to be investing in things that have real significance.

 I need to "translate the cause" to myself more and more these days.  Is it worth the time to drive around town hunting stuffed animals and sorting and washing them?  Should we be spending so much money and energy preparing for a large packing party or focus on recruiting new churches?  The questions aren't new and the answers aren't easy to find.

Meanwhile I keep praying for wisdom...and I keep driving and sorting and washing.  I was so blessed when my friend Tiffanie posted the picture above of a little boy she met on her recent Operation Christmas Child distribution trip to Rwanda.  His precious face is enough 'cause'.

Last Saturday night I'd just finished sorting and bagging stuffed animals when a knock came at my door and more donations arrived.  I was glad to get them, of course, but the room I'd just tidied was a mess again.  I started to sort then took a break to check email and found a message from my Community Relations Coordinator telling me she is stepping down from the team.  I looked around at the mess and felt discouragement start to close in.  Then, abruptly, I felt my spirits lift as I reminded myself that God is in charge of our team and He will provide.  Someone must have been praying.

Each of the past several weeks we've prayed for 500 stuffed animals and God has provided them.  This week I knew I wouldn't be able to go on my normal Saturday safari hunt for animals because of a commitment to volunteer at a middle school day camp through our local Erie City Mission. So I traveled to a few thrift stores through the week and by Saturday I was only 65 away from that goal of 500.  Imagine my surprise today when several people brought donations to church--a total of 355 precious animals!  As near as I can estimate, we only need 13,500 more to be able to put a stuffed animals in each of the 27,000 boxes we're praying to pack at the packing party.

And God is blessing us in other ways, too.  We had good, WARM fellowship (must have been 95 degrees in our house) at our team meeting last Monday and we added a new member to our Church Relations Team.  We're gearing up for another packing party work day this Thursday, and I'm praying for wisdom about another decision.  A vendor I work with has offered to sell me 20,000 or more cloth visors at a lower price if I buy them now.  I don't need them for this year's packing party so he will hold them in his warehouse until September.  Should I invest in these now or does God have something better for us later?  Just praying for an answer. 

Driving, sorting, cleaning, praying...just the same old...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Filling Spaces

It's been another wonderful Operation Christmas Child week. On Thursday we had a work day to prepare for our September packing party.  We woke to lots of rain.  I'd been praying all week for good weather and on the way to the church I modified my prayer and just asked God to give us a break in the rain so we could move the items we needed out of the storage container without them being soaked.

God blessed and allowed us to do that.  We had 19 people come to help us fill MORE Easter eggs with stickers, fold and rubber band tote bags, and construct jump ropes (we probably only have 17,000 of those to go!)

The egg story is nuts.  At first I didn't think we'd find any eggs at all for the 8,000 fillers I'd purchased.   Then God provided 11,748 eggs--too many for the fillers.  THEN we got a huge donation of stickers and needed more eggs to fill...and God provided another 5,000.  On Thursday we finished filling eggs with all the donated stickers and still have almost 2,000 eggs left. we wait for God to provide more fillers, and I know He will because He never wastes anything so stay tuned. Crazy!

To make it even better, one of our local TV stations unexpectedly sent a crew to film at our work day and we got three more media hits with more exposure for OCC.  We're so blessed by Pam, our faithful media coordinator, who works to get every opportunity for more people in our community to hear about shoeboxes.

More stuffed animal donations came in on Thursday and yesterday, Saturday, found me out on the safari for animals again.  I was praying for 300 and only found 147 but I know there were some other 'hunters' on our team who found more so we don't have a final weekend count yet.

Meanwhile, I'm running out of space in my house again.  On Thursday I noticed there was some space at the top of the stack of boxes in the container and thought it would be enough to place some thin bags of stuffed animals.

So this morning I loaded the car with 16 bags and headed into the storage container after the morning service was over.  I have always had a problem with spatial relationships and today was no exception. I got up on the ladder with a bag in my hands, looked at the space (see picture above) and realized it was only about six inches high--not nearly enough to fit the bags I had.

I figured if I could untie the tight knots in the bags and spread the animals out over a larger surface I'd have a chance to shove some in.

I could only find one pen in the whole storage container and used that to push and loosen the knot.  Unfortunately, it soon broke and had to be rigged together in order to work.

After five minutes I got the first bag's knot untied, crawled up the ladder, and used a broom my smart husband had put into the car to help push the animals back.

After a half hour I managed to cram five more bags into the space. Then Jim came out and told me I was crazy to work so hard to save a few feet of storage.  Well, yeah, I knew that...but desperate times call for desperate measures and when God keeps sending you blessings you need to preserve every inch.

Thank You, God, for filling our spaces with good things.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Power and PowerPoint

Today we had our first Project Leader Event of the three we have planned for the season.  Yeah, the batteries died on the "O" and "C" of our display sign...and Amanda (our Church Relations Coordinator) had her car battery die also.

Despite the losses of power, I was praising God the PowerPoint ran fine.  I didn't set it up myself, mind you...maybe one of these days.

Anywhoooo...I'm glad to get the event behind us. I mean, I enjoy it when I finally get there. How could you NOT enjoy spending time with other shoebox enthusiasts.  It's the anticipation and the planning (or not enough planning) and assembling all the things you need to take and loading the car. Other than that...

I feel like we did everything we could. We had invitations sent from the regional office. We sent emails to all our churches.  And this week Amanda called all the churches who brought their boxes to the drop-off site where the event was held.

And we had a perfect number of seven guests come.  On the positive side, that's a 40% increase over the five who came to last summer's event.  And when you add in our three team members and four kiddos--it makes a nice fourteen.

The people who came are already passionate shoebox project leaders.  I hope they learned a few new things.  Other than the PowerPoint that OCC developed for the occasion I was able to re-enact the role play I saw at the Connect Conference using the Presentation Brochure to more fully explain Operation Christmas Child to pastors or leaders.  Maybe it will be useful for those who came.

Many of my OCC friends are in Rwanda right now distributing those precious shoeboxes. Those great distributions could not take place without people packing boxes.  And maybe today's event, small as it seemed,  means more children will get a box next year.

We got three new prayer partners today (woohoo!) and maybe these sweet kids will become project leaders themselves in a few decades.

After all, we serve a powerful God.  And you just never know...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

More Egg-Citement

It's been an egg-citing couple of weeks in our Operation Christmas Child world here in Erie.  God provided nearly 12,000 eggs and next it was time to get them filled with rings and mardi gras bead necklaces.

A work day was planned on the evening of April 25th and we were blessed when 46 people gathered to help get those eggs filled.  It was great to see people of all ages coming together to make light work of thousands of eggs.  Unlike other years, we decided to put pieces of tape on the sides of the eggs to keep them together and keep the contents from spilling out. By the end of the night we'd finished all but a few hundred of the eggs.

I was especially glad for those pieces of tape the next day when I was trying to reorganize the bins stored in the back of my van to make more room and had a bin of filled eggs slide out of the car.

I thought we'd have a few thousand eggs left over with nothing to fill them, but God had other plans. One of our team members, Angie, messaged me and said she had a large donation of rolls of stickers--more than her church could use for their packing party.  When she brought them over I was amazed to see roll upon roll of cute heart stickers.  Now we could use MORE eggs and would need more hands to fill them.

The next evening a local church's youth group spent an hour filling more eggs and last week a local Christian school made egg-filling one of their service projects and completed filling all the eggs we had.

The story doesn't end there, though.

Last week the Dollar General stores had their winter clearance items for .25 or .50 each and I was able to get 277 nice clothing items for only $79.00.  Then...on Thursday and Friday they cut the clearance prices in half again.  The Easter clearance ended up being 95% off so a bag of a dozen plastic eggs sold for just 5 cents.  The egg hunt was on again!

Not only did I bag more winter clothing items for only .12 each but trips by several team members and myself to 15 Dollar Generals yielded another 5,000 eggs that are waiting to be filled.

In the midst of all this egg-citement, we got another donation-a load of 37 cases of paper.  This is such a blessing and filled some of the few remaining spaces in the storage container.  (Did I mention we got a delivery of 28 cases containing 4,001 baseball hats week before last?)

Last night we had 11 team members meeting to strategize about how God can use us to collect 54,321 shoeboxes in northwestern Pennsylvania this year.  We talked a little bit about our upcoming packing party on September 23rd.  In preparation for the meeting I added up our stuffed animal totals and...God has already blessed us with just over 10,000 already!  And we have 33,000 clothing/anchor items for our boxes.  Now we're praying for 17,000 more stuffed animals and/or anchor items--asking God to let every one of those 27,000 boxes to be filled with items that will bless the children who receive them.

You just can't beat this egg-citement.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Egg-cellent Adventures

It started at the 90% off Easter clearance sale at Target in 2015.  I spotted bags and bags of plastic Easter eggs on sale for less than a penny each and decided it would be fun to fill them with plastic rings for the children who receive our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  So...I bought all 10,000 or so of them and God provided great deals on fun items to put into them.

When the 2016 Easter clearance came around there wasn't a very good supply at Target, but Walmart had tons at 75% off and I snapped them up.

I expected the 2017 Easter clearance to be the same, so I stocked up on cute rings and was also delighted to receive a big donation of mardi gras necklaces I knew would be a perfect fit for those eggs when they came my way.  Not if, but when.  I never thought of praying for eggs.  I just assumed they would be there when Walmart's clearance went to 75% off--ready for me to pick them up at a penny each.

Last Wednesday--the day before I knew Walmart's clearance would drop to 75% off--I checked our largest Walmart store and was shocked to find NO eggs.  Feeling nervous, I drove to another store.  Again, NO eggs.  I looked at Target--NO eggs.

A little late, but NOW I decided to pray.  I sent out messages to team members who lived near other stores in outlying areas and asked them to check their Walmarts.  The answers came back--NO eggs.

We have a work day planned for next Tuesday, April 25th.  Our plan was to fill all those plastic eggs with rings and necklaces.  One problem.  We had NO eggs.  I checked online and found I could buy some for 5 cents or 6 cents each, but that was way too expensive.

I prayed.  I asked some team members to pray.  I asked Facebook friends to pray.  But I did one other thing, too.  I started to think about what we would do at the work day with no eggs to fill.  I began to craft a back-up plan.

At the same time, I sent a text message to my daughter, Jen, who lives two hours away and asked her to check stores in her area.  She promised to go on an Easter egg hunt.

On Friday morning I opened a text from Jen who reported she had 3,200 eggs and there were many more to be had when she could get back to the store. WooHoo!  I sent out praise reports and asked for continued prayer.

At 4:15 AM on Saturday morning I awakened from a weird and scary dream.  In the dream I was driving a car and Jen was in the passenger seat behind me.  I stopped the car, went to open her door and saw that her arm was closed in the car door and hanging out. I quickly opened the door and she passed out and fell out of the car. Yikes!  This dream upset me so much I got up--unable to shake off the memory.

I checked my Facebook page and saw Jen posted the picture above a few hours earlier with this message--

Are you willing to be the answer to someone else's prayer? Well, my mother had asked me a couple days ago to look for some clearance Easter eggs in the Pittsburgh area since she could find none in the Erie area. Herself and many others have been praying that she could find 7,500-10,000 plastic Easter eggs for super cheap to put in shoeboxes for OCC. Today, with the help of some super patient cashiers, a willing co-worker, and the generous donations of a few complete strangers in Target; and after five different trips to two different stores I was able to pack my car with more than enough eggs to fulfill their request! In case anyone has ever wondered how many plastic Easter eggs one can shove in the back (I needed to be able to see out of my side mirrors in the front) of a Subaru Forester the number is approximately 11,800 eggs! Not bad! So if you ever wonder if God hears our prayers? He does! And does he answer them? Sure thing, though maybe not always as we hope! And does He provide? Absolutely!! Look for chances to help and serve others, you may just be the answer to their prayers!! And here's to hoping the hubby doesn't kill me for putting that many eggs in my new car!Kathy come get them quick! 

Yahoo!  Praise God!  Since I couldn't go back to sleep, I did what I do best--think.  I began to think about prayer and faith.  I wondered if I showed a lack of faith when I prayed for God to provide eggs yet worked on a back-up plan in case He didn't.

After thinking, I realized I ask for God's will to be done when I pray.  God is sovereign and I can't demand for Him to answer my prayers in a certain way.  I wouldn't want to, because I really want His best.  So I don't think it's a lack of faith when I pray but also prepare as well as I can for God to answer "yes" or "no" to my request.  If I pray for clear weather for an event it's still wise to prepare as well as possible in case God in His sovereignty decides that rain is the best answer for my prayers. That's not a lack of faith; it's wisdom.

Thank You, God, that You are sovereign. Thank You for reminding me in this crazy little egg-cellent adventure that You are the One who gets the glory when Your people pray.  Thank You for showing me again that You use ordinary people in extraordinary and exciting ways to show Your love to children around the world through every detail in these precious shoebox gifts.

Nothing could be more egg-cellent.