Friday, July 22, 2016

Penney's Provisions Part 2

You may remember a few months ago my media coordinator, Pam, and I were both blessed with a $100 coupon from Penney's that allowed us to buy 54 items to put into boxes at our upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party on September 17th.

Yesterday Pam called to give me the 'heads up' that Penney's was going to be distributing coupons again on Friday and Saturday--coupons would be for $10 off $10, $20 off $20, or, for the lucky few, $100 off $100.  Pam wasn't able to go this morning but I was prayed up and ready in the parking lot when the doors opened.

And...guess what?  God blessed me with another $100 coupon!

I browsed around the first floor men's and women's departments but didn't find anything really cheap. Next I headed for the children's department and found some shirts for $2.97.  I started pulling them off the rack and counting them.

BUT, then I remembered looking at the Penney's sale flyer this morning and seeing that their nice quality bath towels (regular price $10) were on sale for $3.00.  I moved to that department and asked the cashier if there was a limit on the towels.  She assured me there wasn't, and I told her I'd been blessed with a $100 coupon.  Then I explained Operation Christmas Child to her and told her the story of Ted Foreman who had to share a towel with 20 other children in his orphanage.  He was blessed to receive a simple washcloth in his box because it seemed like his own personal towel.  "Just imagine how excited he would have been by a real bath towel," I told her.

She helped me count and stack the towels on the counter--33 of them!  I got a pair of slippers to fill in the extra amount and ended up paying a total of $1.05 to haul out 34 items.  What a blessing!

When I got home I folded one to fit the length of a GO box and tightly rolled and rubber banded it.  As you can see, there's still plenty of room for more extra treasures.

As I understand it they'll be doing another coupon distribution on Saturday morning so you might want to head to a nearby Penney's.  Each coupon also has another $10 off $10 coupon that's good from July 25th through September 5th.

So I'll be back for more blessings later.

This has been a banner week for answered prayer.  After praying for months God blessed our team with a Prayer Coordinator today.  This means that for the FIRST time since our team was formed in 2007 we have all our coordinator positions filled.

Praise Jesus!  Showers of blessings for sure!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Walking Each Other Home

I enjoy Tuesdays because I often meet with two friends--one a quarter century younger than I and one a couple of decades older than I.

Mentoring is fashionable these days, but I don't think of these as mentoring relationships, though they do have elements of that.  These women are not accountability partners, though they sometimes hold that function.

They are simply friends.

I'm an introvert by nature, so I don't use the word 'friend' lightly.  The label is reserved for those with whom I have a close and honest relationship and the number who receive that label is not large so they are very dear.

My older friend and I meet in late afternoon and generally read through and ponder a book together chapter by chapter--something that draws us deeper together into the heart of God.  Sometimes she offers her perspective from a different season of life, but mostly we share our souls as equals--co-heirs of the grace of God. Together we turn our eyes to Him and try to know Him better.  When I enter her home I breathe in the peace and find a respite from the hurry of life.

Then there's the mornings at Panera with my younger friend.  She has a young family and an extremely busy schedule, but she's willing to share part of her every-other-week one day alone with me.  We just talk.  You might think that sounds unfulfilling, superfluous, and non-productive.  But you would be wrong.

After exchanging quick pleasantries our kindred souls dive deep very quickly into the puzzles and pleasures and plights of living and loving our Lord.  Yesterday as we shared mutual spiritual struggles there were tears that are rare for us--a catharsis that was gentle and brutal all at once.  We confessed to one another that in the midst of the fight we cling to what we know--that God pursues us and loves us and He is faithful.  Wiping her eyes, my friend said something deeply profound, "I just want to know that I'm not alone."

Yes. That's it.  When Paul instructs us in Galatians 6:2 to "bear one another's burdens" this is the burden-bearing I desire most of all.  To know I am not alone.

Later that afternoon I talked about this with my older friend and she was reminded of a beautiful quote, "We're all just walking each other home."  She couldn't recall the source but knew it wasn't a Christian quote and quipped, "He might not be talking about the same home."

She's right.  I googled it and it's attributed to Ram Dass--a Hindu spiritualist.  Nevertheless, the truth and beauty remain.

"We're all just walking each other home," and it's worth taking the time for the walk.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Soap Saga

And...the soap saga...

I had a really busy week last week and told myself if I could just push through to Sunday night I'd take a day off on Monday.  But that all changed last Friday when a trucking company called and said they'd finally be delivering our six pallets of soap on Monday, June 18th.  (I'd told the company when I ordered six weeks ago that I needed them by June 13th.)  Then they asked if I had a fork lift (guess I should put that on my Christmas list) because they didn't have a lift gate available.  I explained I had neither a fork lift nor a loading dock and that's why I'd specifically requested a lift gate.  We'd have to hand off-load all six pallets.  The helpful trucking company representative reminded me to have plenty of help because the truck would need to get on its way quickly.  Did I mention I'd asked for a lift gate?

So I put out a help request on Facebook and was pleased to get responses from several people who were willing to drive across town to add their muscle.  The problem can never pin down a delivery time.  The trucking company first told me they thought they'd arrive by 11:00 am but agreed to contact me a half hour before delivery and I told my volunteers I'd send a group text when I got a time.

I got to the container before 10:30 this morning and was able to load 50 cases of crayons in my car to take to a volunteer for bagging and move around the rest of the crayons to make room for the soap.

One of those faithful volunteers, Deb, arrived at the 11:00 time but we still hadn't had a call from the trucking company.  So we hauled out some plastic tubs to use for seats and a table and bagged crayons while we waited.  One of the blessings of the day was getting to spend some time talking with her.  At 11:17 the truck driver called and said he'd be there at noon so I put the word out via text.

Volunteers came at noon but the truck didn't make it until 12:20.  I really hate waiting.

I got so caught up in trying to quickly unload the truck that I didn't get pictures of the event.  We had great volunteers, though, and they worked hard to finish the job quickly.

Unfortunately a portion of the boxes arrived in deplorable condition--crushed, with the soap bars spilling out--and a good number more were open and untaped.  This is the third year I've ordered from Clean The World and the first time I've had this problem.

We finally got the soap stashed and the pallets hidden.  We counted 258 cases of soap.  I knew I was getting six pallets of soap and each was supposed to have 5,376 bars, but I foolishly didn't calculate how many cases I should have received.

Since coming home and getting my calculator out I realize we should have had 288 cases.  Did I somehow miscount them or did the trucking company lose them somehow?  I'll need to go back to the container and recount them.  This is one of those things that makes me toss and turn at night.  I thought I'd ordered plenty extra but if I can't find those extra 30 cases I'll be short.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story...

After leaving the container I dropped the 50 cases of crayons off to my volunteer then went to pick up another load of 162 new beanie babies.  Coming home, I spent a few hours sorting stuffed animals.  As I looked at the chaos in the house around me, I just had to stop for a minute and focus on that one stuffed animal I held in my hand...

I put that fluffy koala up to my face and smelled that fresh-from-the-washer scent.  I prayed for the child who will receive him and reminded myself again that each animal, each bar of soap, each bag of crayons will go into the hands of ONE BOY or ONE GIRL who is loved and cherished by God.  I needed to focus again on that ONE.

I took a break to sort some mail and was blessed to read again the note I received a few days ago from a special teen blog reader who lives on the west coast and has become such an encouragement to me.  She sent me another reminder I need to focus on today...

I'm blessed that God brought her into my life as a prayer supporter and long-distance friend.  God always has His ways to encourage me when I need it--sometimes from the most unexpected sources.

We've been praying about this soap delivery for months and God answered.  The delivery that seemed to come late by days and then by hours was in His time.  The grey clouds that hung over the storage container didn't produce rain during the delivery, and one of my great team members volunteered to take a tub of dirty and damaged soap bars home to rehabilitate.  Another blessing.

And now I wait on Him to find those missing soap bars so there will be enough to bless each ONE who needs it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cra-Z Crayoning

Praising God for answers to prayer today.  Tomorrow is a scheduled work day for our upcoming packing party.  Our media coordinator, Pam, has publicized this in every possible venue and our plan was to work on making jump ropes and bagging soap and crayons.

The soap was supposed to be shipped last Thursday but I haven't received any confirmation of shipping.  When I tried to email my contact at Clean The World I got an out-of-office memo telling me she is in Guatemala. soap.  Nope.

Then on Monday I got a call from the manger at Walmart.  He told me the home office dropped the ball on the ordering and the crayons weren't ordered until Monday.  If they didn't miraculously arrive on Tuesday's truck they wouldn't come until Thursday night after our work day was completed. I told the manager we'd pray for the crayons to be on Tuesday's truck.

I emailed and texted team members to get prayer support.  I posted our prayer need on Facebook.  And on Tuesday afternoon I got the word--the crayons came!  Not only that, Walmart donated $300 toward the cost.  How great is our God!

This afternoon my husband (with his truck) and Pam and I (each with a minivan) met at the Walmart customer service area.  The manager was not working, but he'd made arrangements with the assistant manager for the pick-up.  First the assistant manager got a box of Crayola crayons to use to ring up the sale, but I explained our order was 181 cartons of Cra-Z-Art brand.  

He got the right box and drafted a cashier to begin ringing the sale.  She struggled to use the quantity key while the assistant manager and another associate peered over her shoulder.  After several tries with the quantity key, they decided she'd ring them individually.  Several minutes later she'd managed to swipe that UPC code 154 times and had another 8,534 to go.  I began to wonder how many register tapes it would take to make a receipt for 8,688 items.  Thankfully, they made another phone call and figured out how to use the quantity key to ring 100 items at a time.  Twenty minutes later we were ready for loading.

A troop of strong male Walmart associates offered to load our three vehicles.  This was a true blessing considering it's one of the hottest days of the summer with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.

Two pallets of crayons got loaded into three vehicles in record time and we were off on the drive across town to our storage container.

Jim's truck was loaded first and he was on his way.  Our community relations coordinator, Christine, met him there--coming directly from an appointment and dressed up--and jumped into service, literally.  Soon Pam and I brought our loaded vehicles into the fun.

Some of the cartons were stacked in the church gym waiting for the crayons to be bagged at tomorrow's work day, and the rest now line the side wall of our storage container.

Crazy.  And why did I think I would ever have room for soap?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Praycation 2016

For the past few years all of the Operation Christmas Child area coordinators in our region, at the direction of our regional staff, have taken a "Praycation" where we break from our OCC tasks for a week to pray and spend time seeking the Lord.

Our regional Praycation will actually be next week, but since we'd already scheduled two major team events that week our local area team decided to celebrate ours from June 30th - July 6th.  It was personally challenging for me this year, though.  I found it hard to keep my mind off the details of the upcoming events, and the interruption of the holiday weekend didn't make it any easier.

Still, I tried to get away from my home at least a few days.  The chapel pictured above at Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery was the venue for my Praycation thoughts on Wednesday. On other days I visited Erie Cemetery,  Four Mile Creek, and the beaches of Presque Isle on Lake Erie.

Though concentration was difficult for me this week, I was blessed by doing something simple.  Challenged by the truth that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" I read straight through the gospels to get a big-picture view of Jesus' life.

I was amazed by Jesus' compassion.  Even when He was tired from ministry and intentionally retreated for rest, He put aside His needs for those of the crowd around Him.  No wonder He often got up early in the morning to spend time in prayer.

And Jesus focused on doing the Father's will.  He knew His purpose.  How could my purpose for any day of my life be any less?

In the beginning of Praycation I was blessed with a precious package from my friend and blog reader in California. I can't believe how sweet these teddy bears are.  As I counted them and tucked them into a bag I prayed for each child they will bless.  Father, let each one know Your love.

Now, Praycation over, we head into a busy week.  I'm volunteering at a day camp for inner city elementary students sponsored by our local Erie City Mission, and our team is hosting a work day for the community to help us prepare for our upcoming packing party.

We got a great answer to prayer this week when we got word that our local Walmart is ordering 8,700 boxes of crayons for us in one order.  It will be such a blessing to avoid umpteen trips to multiple Walmarts over the next two months.  The crayons are supposed to arrive at the beginning of next week, and our six pallets of soap is slated for delivery next week also.

Meanwhile, where will all these items fit in our storage container?  I was telling my community relations coordinator, Christine, that I have no idea how these details will all work out, and she said, "That's really kind of liberating."

You know what.  She's right.  As we focus on doing the Father's will, we'll trust Him to do what only He can do.

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...