Sunday, March 1, 2015

Faith & Works & Shoe Boxes


This past Wednesday evening I lived out the dream of every Operation Christmas Child shoe box packer.  I attended a shoe box distribution...

Well, sort of.

We had our monthly OCC area team meeting and after some necessary preliminaries I informed the five team members who attended that they'd been invited to go to a special meeting at a local church to receive a shoe box.

They obediently lined up and we marched to another area of my home.  I'd hung crepe paper decorations to make it more festive, and after everyone was seated I welcomed them to the event and started the DVD of an actual shoe box distribution in the Dominican Republic in 2009.

I prepared a special shoe box gift for each team member and my plan was to have them open their boxes right along with the children who opened their boxes on the DVD.  Unfortunately, my DVD drive malfunctioned and kind of ruined the moment.

But...we did eventually get to see the majority of the distribution video and the team members seemed to enjoy their boxes (my adaptation of the "Sur-thriv-al Kit" shoe boxes that our regional director, Leigh Fisher, prepares for us at our retreat each year.)

The idea of the distribution activity was to help us all refocus on the goal of our team--to promote OCC in our area so more children around the world will get a chance to have a "gospel opportunity" and learn of God's love.

We talked about how to recruit more members for our team.  Our team is very focused on prayer, so as we discussed recruitment, one member said, "God is our recruiter."  We agreed to continue asking God to build our team.

I'll confess--after the meeting I wondered if I did enough to "translate the cause" for why we all need to do the hard work of recruitment. Prayer is definitely important, but we also need to ask God to give us opportunities and boldness to invite others to join us.

As Leigh Fisher reminded me on the phone a few days later, "If you want to run a marathon, you can't just pray about it.  You have to go out and train for it."

She's right.

As I think about it, this struggle about how to recruit reminds me of the tension between faith and works in our spiritual life.  We can't live without faith, but our faith without our works is dead.

I don't ever want us to recruit in our own power, yet, God is also asking us to "get out of the boat."

Or else we'll never get out of this box.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Storage Wars


We had a heat wave today and it was 14 degrees.  And I really needed to get some stuff stashed in our Operation Christmas Child storage container.  I haven't been able to get into it for weeks now, and since I was headed to church for a Bible study this morning anyway I decided to take along a shovel. My wise husband gave me a heavy metal shovel instead of the plastic snow shovel.

That was a good decision.

Here's a picture of the 4-foot tall mass of ice-infused snow that blocked the container when I got there.  I shoveled for about 20 minutes and got the right side door clear.

The next challenge was getting the combination lock open.  After being encased in snow for weeks it was reluctant to move at all.  I prayed hard, took off my gloves and held it in my hand until--victory--it opened!

Finally, I was able to yank open the metal supports...


And, for the first time in weeks...


I could finally pull open the door.  I took into the container the full boxes that had been sitting in my car for two weeks.

Then I loaded my car with 12 cases of paper for a volunteer to staple into packets, 12 cartons of jump rope handles so that more volunteers can assemble jump ropes, and a couple dozen flattened empty cartons so I can box up the washcloths and get them out of my living room.

What an achievement!

Ah, but the fun wasn't over yet.  I was able to get the door of the container shut, but I could not get the latch fastened so I could attempt to put the lock back on.


I pushed it.  I turned my back to it and put my weight to it.  I tried kicking it (my usual method of closing the latch) but found that kicking with rubber-soled boots isn't very effective.

I called my husband, but he didn't have any fresh ideas.

I prayed.

I held the latch in place with my knee and, using both my hands, tried using the end of the shovel handle as a battering ram.

Twenty minutes later I was still no closer to getting it shut.


So, I simply stuck the lock in my pocket, got in my car, and drove away.  If some thief is desperate enough to steal 23,000+ sets of jump rope handles.

Well...


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Snowier Shopping


Is anyone else getting tired of winter?  Except for a little warming trend over the weekend it's been below zero here for days.  Last night while watching the news reports of more school delays and closings for today I wrote this little ode--

An Ode For Febru-weary
Just day after day of two-hour delays
Or school cancellations--what's best, who can say?
Across TV screens those blue notices pan,
As teachers and parents make alternate plans.
Three weeks since the ground hog doled out his bad news
Those 'Frozen' jokes now are all tired and used.
Even the plow trucks have nowhere to go;
We've run out of room for their piles of snow.
Sledding and snow angels kind of wear thin
When frostbite is threatening any bare skin.
We keep breaking records, but can it be done?
'Cause now making history's not any fun.
I hope some warm weather is soon on the way
So crocuses bloom by Memorial Day.
--K. Schriefer

I haven't even felt like going shopping.  Today, though, I was motivated to get out by two things.  First of all, I'd committed to take a friend to an appointment, and, second, I saw a post on Facebook about a potential deal on socks at a local discount store.  

After my friend's appointment I drove to said discount store--Gabes--and made a beeline for the socks.  Unfortunately, they were all marked $3.00 and not $1.00 for a six pack.  A store worker even checked them with her price 'gun' to make sure.  

I strolled over to the children's department where I've been watching some 4-packs of Fruit of the Loom boys' T-shirts that have been marked $3.00 for two weeks.  Guess what?  Today they were all marked down to $1.00, so I started scooping packages into my cart.  I ended up with a tipsy tower of them and even filled the rack underneath.  


I struggled to the check-out, stopping frequently to pick up the packages that kept sliding out of the cart.  I ended up with 127 packages--508 T-shirts--and after using my $5.00 coupon I paid less than .25 for each of them.


I stowed them in the back of my minivan



...and since I had to take the shopping cart back into the store anyway I decided to check out the rest of the store.  Imagine my delight when I found another treasure in the men's department.


These 3-packs of Hanes black T-shirts in men's sizes small and medium were $1.00 per package also. This time I stacked the packages more strategically to save room in the shopping cart and I was able to get all 73 packages in without a problem.  More than 200 more T-shirts made for a great haul.

Next I tried Hobby Lobby where the Valentine's items were priced at 80% off, but I didn't find anything there that I thought was shoe box worthy.  (Maybe I was just spoiled by all those .25 T-shirts.)


I visited two K-Mart locations hoping to find some small stuffed animals, but no luck there.  I did, however, find they had some boxes of Valentines at 90% off that had pencils.  I ended up with 39 boxes that each had 14 pencils for .39 per box.  Even adding in the tax it worked out to .03 per pencil for 576 pencils.




I made one more stop at the Walgreens near my house where I found their Valentine's Day items at 90% off and picked up a fairly good haul of novelty items for .10 or .20 each.  Here's a picture of a sampling of them.  


I hate to admit it, but bargain shopping for shoe boxes is the thing I most love to do...so, today was super fun for me.  And getting clothing items to bless more than 700 children was an added bonus, too.

Now...to get back to working on our Operation Christmas Child team's 2015 ministry plan...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Snow Shopping


This week in Erie we tied the all-time record for the lowest temperature in history with 18 degrees below zero.  Other areas near us were even colder.  This morning it warmed up to a balmy positive 19 degrees but the snow started up again.

Still, even though I checked our one and only Target store a few days ago and found nothing much of interest, I was prompted to haul myself out to brush off the car and drive out on the hunt for bargains for our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.

I'm so glad I did.

I found 206 of those cute Hello Kitty totes pictured above for .30 each (the Target Spot $1.00 items with a red dot were 70% off.)  Some of them were even Christmas designs but they are cute and highly useful nonetheless.


I found 90 of these Transformers totes for the boys in the same area.


These cute felt totes and buckets weren't with the other 70% off merchandise but they looked sort of "Valentiney" so I scanned them and found out they were .30 also.  More cuteness.


Back in the seasonal aisle (and it was only one aisle) the Valentine items were marked 70% off but when I scanned them (not the food, just the plain merchandise) they came up at 90% off.  I grabbed all the boxes of Valentines that had pencils in them--16 pencils for .30 is a good deal.


And I found 21 of these cute stuffies for .49 each.  The ones that had a small bag of candy attached were still ringing up at only 50% off so I had to leave them there.

As long as I was out I hit Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ollie's, Michaels, Ross, Old Navy and A.C. Moore with no luck.

But I found some good items at Children's Place.  Their winter hats, gloves, and socks were .99 each. I didn't buy any socks because they just don't fill the space in the box well enough but I scooped up these cute hats.


I had a promo code for 20% off (YO1703 -- I think the code is good until 2/23/15) and I used my Children's Place credit card to get an extra 5% off.  So they ended up being .75 each.  Besides, I couldn't resist them when I thought of how adorable they'd look on those little heads.

Finally, I checked out their sale shoes.


These shoes that had a retail price of $27.95 were on sale for just $3.99 a pair.  Again, I used that code and my credit card to bring the price down to $3.08 per pair.

The sun's still not shining but that shoe box shopping adrenaline rush carried me through when I returned home as I shoveled snow and even slogged through a run.

As a winter activity, shopping beats skiing any day.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#tbt -- The Beauty of Praying Hands


(For this "throw back Thursday" -- another blog post from the past.  This was published on the Samaritan's Purse blog on October 28, 2008)

Isaiah 52:7 reminds us, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news," but I like to think that the hands of those who bring good news are beautiful as well.

All those hands help each box on its way--from the donor who wraps and fills it to the volunteer who ultimately hands it to the child God ordained to receive it.  And behind all these hands are the most important of all: hands folded in prayer.

I picture the hands of the child who receives the box, stroking the stuffed bear or feeling the warmth of a small hat.  My friend traveled to Burkina Faso and visited a boy who was given an Operation Christmas Child shoe box several years ago and treasures it so much he has used nothing in it but the toothpaste.  He keeps it beside his bed, amazed to know someone cared enough to pack it just for him.

And the chain continues.  In the hundreds of letters sent to our church from families that have received our boxes, many of them promise they're praying for us.

Prayer is the reason we've been able to pack 6,000 shoe boxes this year.  My mother asked if I'll stop packing now that we've reached our goal, and I immediately responded, "No--not as long as God gives us items to pack."

And He just keeps on giving.  Because a meeting ended early I recently made a spontaneous trip to a local discount store.  They had racks of merchandise outside and were having a 'sidewalk bag sale.'  No other shoppers were there, and I was able to stuff six huge bags with brand-name clothes.  As soon as I finished, they took the racks inside and ended the sale.

Because of that God-shaped window of opportunity, I got 640 gorgeous new pieces of clothing for 13 cents each.  He must want us to keep packing, and someone must be praying.

Only God knows how many of the miracles that sustain this project come as a result of the hands of people around the world we've never met--clasped in prayer.

How beautiful.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Washcloths In General


This morning I was reading in Ezekiel (probably not the greatest book of the Bible to be reading on these cold and dreary days) when I happened on Ezekiel 34:26--"I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing.  And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing."

I could really use some of those showers of blessing (as long as they don't involve snow.)

I've been praying so long for God to bless our Operation Christmas Child area team and expand our territory.  Our team is filled with women "of a certain age", so I've specifically been asking God to bring more diversity to our team and give us some men and some younger members.

Today I learned that a MAN from our area has completed a volunteer application, but he won't submit it unless my husband submits his application also.   I'm thinking I should suggest to my husband that his completed application would make a great Valentine's Day gift for me...

So as I ride the ebb and flow of hope and get ready for the next onslaught of below zero temperatures, I take pleasure in the blessings God brought me today.

I've never considered a washcloth a basic necessity in every shoe box.  Last year, though, I was blessed to have an OCC friend find a good deal on buying them in bulk so we were able to put one in almost every one of our boxes.  It was also heartwarming last year to hear the testimony of Ted, a young man who received a shoe box as a child.  Ted lived in an orphanage and shared one towel with 20 other children.  He says that when he received his shoe box he was especially excited to get a washcloth.  To him it was his own personal little towel.

I'm not sure if God will provide enough washcloths for each box we pack this year, but I feel blessed that I was able to purchase 1,784 of them in the past few days.  Dollar General has a coupon for 50% off on housewares right now on their website (you can find it online and print it out or get it on your smart phone by going to www.dollargeneral.com)

I was able to make trips to several stores in our area over the past few days and amassed 99 packs with 18 washcloths in each pack for only $2.00 each (well, $2.12 with tax)

And at one of the stores a manager I know gave me a box of donations.  Great stuff for free--quite a blessing!

I think folding washcloths and storing them into boxes will be a perfect activity for a very chilly weekend.  Maybe I can get my husband to help, if he's not too busy completing his Operation Christmas Child application.  It's only been 12 years since he received his first application so he's had a while to think about it.

When that shower of blessings comes, at least I'll have plenty of washcloths.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Upswing To Blessing


It's no secret I've been dealing with a case of winter blues accompanied by a dose of discouragement. It happens. Even though there are many verses in Scripture that command us to "Rejoice," they can be difficult to obey at times.

Today, though, I feel like God smiled on me--just to remind me He cares. On the way home from a Bible study at church this morning I stopped at Ollie's. A quick trip around the store didn't yield any bargains, and I was on my way out when I looked down and saw a bin of these cute Valentine's stuffed animals that will be perfect for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I've seen them in years past at Walmart for $2.97. These were priced at .99 with a sign on the bin that said Valentine's merchandise was 50% off. The cashier verified they were .49 each so I bought all they had--44 cute little guys.

Then I went next door to a shoe store where I hoped to find a good deal on a pair of black shoes I needed--and I did. A nice pair of Clark's shoes for $40 fit the bill. I checked the RetailMeNot app on my phone and found an online coupon for $10 off on $50 that allowed me to add two pairs of really adorable children's shoes for shoe boxes ($5 each) at no extra cost.  A day brightener for sure.

But things really got good when I went up the road to Gabe's--a local discount store. I headed for the shoe department to look for those red clearance tags.

On the end of the first aisle was a pair of black shoes in my size. They were a comfortable fit, a good brand (Naturalizer) and, best of all, on sale for $12.  So...I figured I could return the shoes I just bought and have $28 extra to spend on shoes for shoe boxes.  My smile widened.

I found these cute pairs first--the yellow ones were $1 and the purple fur-lined Crocs (yes, the actual brand name ones) were only $3.


I kept scanning each row of shoes and checking the price stickers. Check out these cute boys' shoes. I found six pairs of the shiny ones on the left for $1 each. In countries where they dress up for church the boys will really love those and the loafers on the right were $3.


And a couple good deals on girls' styles--both in genuine leather and suitable for school--$1 for the ones on the left and $3 for the ones on the right.


These cute little sneakers for toddler boys were $3 each but I couldn't resist them. They have more of these so I might have to make another trip--


By this time I had just about spent that extra $28 and decided to head to the check-out line. I pushed my cart past a friendly manager, Kim, who was trying to stack boots on a shelf.  I noticed they had $3 clearance tags on them. As I passed her I said, "Well, I found more $1 shoes."  She smiled and asked, "Do you want some more?" then she pointed to the $3 boots and said, "What about these? I'll mark them down if you want them."

Well...they're tall boots and might need some creative packing but they are so cute and sparkly and at $1 a pair how could I resist?  Kim got me another cart and I filled it with 35 pairs in several styles. Here's a sampling of them--


She even accompanied me to the check-out so she could do the markdown on the boots for me.  I was able to use a $5 reward coupon and the sale printed me out another $5 coupon for my next shopping trip.

I hauled the bags to the car and made a stop at the first shoe store where they allowed me to return my original shoe purchase with no problem.

In the end, for only $25 more, I got 49 pairs of shoes to bless children in their Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.

Thank you, Lord. When you're on the upswing rejoicing is easy.