Saturday, September 17, 2016

Riding High






Holy High! No, really.  I pity the poor disillusioned people who think partnering in God's work is anything less than a miracle.  I am so high right now.

This packing party was simply amazing and filled with so many blessings.  This was our 8th packing party and each year our team has debriefed and tried to improve, but this year I felt like we made quantum leaps.

Each area of the packing process had a designated team leader or leaders, and that made such a huge difference.  I hardly had to field any questions at all and got to just float around and talk to people and do a few little tasks to fill in.  The hard decisions were made by other people.  Talk about heaven!

On Friday morning our friends from a Christian school 90 minutes away brought 30 students and chaperones to pack boxes and churned out 2,760 of them.  They were such fantastic kids and great workers.

We regrouped for the evening youth packing party where 142 students from 17 different churches and organizations came together to continue the packing and ended the night at a record number of 8,533 boxes.  We had so much fun with the #ipackedashoebox frame that came in the mail just in time.  People loved getting their pictures taken.  Just look at these cutie patooties--



By the time we finished clean up, my husband and I dragged out of there at 10:30.  Silly us--we left Cathi and Pam behind and they ended up staying and working until after 11:00 pm.  I can't remember the last time I was that tired.



This morning I awoke to a hard rain but knew nothing was stopping us.  It was so exciting to assemble for our final Jericho March to kick off the morning. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we did two prayer marches around the church--one in the morning and one in the evening--getting in six before this morning's seventh march.  The power of that united prayer this morning was electrifying.

By God's grace the opening got us off to a good start with a showing of a few OCC videos, an explanation of the day, and the highlight of a presentation by Jane, our Church Relations Coordinator, who told the story of the gospel as it would be taught to children at a shoebox distribution.

The packing started at 9:30 and continued through the day with a good stream of volunteers that came at a smoother pace throughout the day than usual.  We had a total of 360 box packing volunteers plus 50 event volunteers and they came from a total of 51 different churches and organizations to make it happen.  Despite monsoon rains that came and went and some boxes that needed to be repaired, the day moved along quickly.



This is truck loading attire during a downpour.

Lunch came and went and the volunteers stayed!  We were so afraid they'd leave after lunch...


In the afternoon we were at 23,783 when our team Network Coordinator and longtime official emcee got everyone's attention and called Jim and I over to present us with the 150,000th box packed since we started the packing parties in 2009.  That was unexpected and emotional.  Tears sprung up as I quickly reflected on God's goodness and grace that produced every one of those boxes.


There were those moments of doubt--Will we have enough fillers to make it to 26,000?  Will the supply of baseball hats hold out?  Should we label all the boxes or hold some back unlabeled in case we don't make the goal.

One by one, as always, the decisions were made just when we needed to make them--Just keep adding those fillers (and someone shows up with another bag of stuffed animals.)  Just recount those baseball hat cartons (oh, yeah--we only counted the girls' ones and not the boys'--no wonder we thought we'd be short.)  Yes--in faith we WILL label all the boxes.

As the minutes ticked toward 4:00 pm we ran out of boxes labeled for girls just as we ran out of girls' filler items.  Well, what do you know?

We cut the lines down from four to just the two lines for boys and kept packing.  And...almost at the stroke of 4:00...just like that...the last one of those special yellow boxes was packed.

We gathered anxiously together to get the total revealed....and...(drum rollllllllll)


They'd sent us 26,500 boxes so we must have lost two of those casualties along the way.  I looked around at all the items still surrounding me...eight cartons containing at least 1600 baseball hats...three cartons of sunglasses....cases of plastic cups....and more of the basic items.

My instinct was to start folding GO boxes and keep packing.  But my team's warned me before to stop packing at 4:00 so we have volunteers and energy for clean up.  So...stop we did.

Then we gathered around three of the trucks (the fourth was placed in another spot) to pray for the children who will receive these boxes and to praise God for so many answered prayers.



We serve a God of miracles...and I'm still riding that miracle high...

ps--Our team has a fundraising page to help defray the cost of shipping our shoeboxes.  You can make a secure donation at this link directly to Samaritan's Purse to help get these boxes on their way--  click here to make a donation: https://www.classy.org/fundraise/team?ftid=85003




Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 Packing Party Eve Eve


 Can it really be here again?  Once more it's packing party eve eve.  Well, I suppose technically it's really packing party eve since we kick off tomorrow with a morning mini packing party with a Christian school group and going into the evening with our youth packing party.

Though I know it will happen each year, it can be hard to believe when you look at the sheer amount of work that needs to be accomplished.

As always, though, God brought the right people at the right time.  We didn't have huge numbers of volunteers for packing party prep, but those we did have knew how to work hard and were a tenacious bunch for sure.


Late this afternoon as I was still sorting tote bands I wondered if they'd ever all get rolled and rubber banded, but by this evening the task was finished.  All but one pallet of boxes are labeled, also.


This morning I hauled 25 bags of larger stuffed animals for 2-4 year old boxes out of my attic.  It's looking a bit empty up there now.

The four trucks are in place, the first 175 cartons are assembled and taped, and we're ready to...

let the packing begin...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

One Thing At A Time...


Here we go...it's Packing Party Prep Week.  As I thought yesterday about the things I need to accomplish this week it amazed me to think that just a few years ago I was working during these packing party prep times.  This just proves again how faithful God is--He provides just what we need when we need it.

Come to think of it--that's a really good reminder for this week.  I'm also reminding myself to just do the next thing--one thing at a time.

Yesterday brought more answers to prayer when 600 stuffed animals came to me in one day.  Yesterday and today were filled with sorting and washing and bagging.  Sometimes I worry that this isn't a good use of my time...but it needs to be done and I have the system in place.

I had a totally unexpected blessing this morning.  The packing party isn't a church event and our church doesn't make spontaneous announcements, but there must have been divine intervention this morning that moved our lead pastor to decide to have an impromptu announcement made at the end of the service asking for volunteers to help us unload.  With many willing hands we got the job done in just an hour. That one thing is done.

Everything is neatly stacked and ready to be put into boxes.  We just need to prayerfully figure out the right combinations of those items.

So...tomorrow we wait for the call from the trucking company bringing the 13 pallets of cartons and shoeboxes so we can begin the labeling process.  While I wait, I'm going to register to volunteer at the Processing Center in Baltimore (registration opens at 8:00 am tomorrow) and dart to Target to see if school supplies are reduced.  I'm praying the delivery won't interfere with our area coordinator' conference call at noon.

Then I need to get myself and my home ready for our 7:00 pm area team meeting.

Just one thing at a time...





Friday, September 9, 2016

Little Things Add Up


Sometimes it's just the little things.

I am not great when it comes to organization.  This year we have a new team member who is a great organizer and would dearly love to get us on the right track.  The problem is...I have no lists of things that need to be done or a timetable for when they should be accomplished.  I kind of randomly try to accomplish things.  Yeah, I know...not so efficient.

I do have a 'mental list', though, and today one of the things on it was to buy bottles of water for the supervisory volunteers at the packing party.  Somehow we went for years without providing water to the volunteers.  Having no hospitality gifts (nada) I just don't think about things like that.  Last year someone poured cups of water and took them around.  At our last meeting someone suggested we buy bottles of water this year.

Of course, I had to wait for a sale and since I found that sale this week I decided to buy five 24-packs of bottled water.

How hard could that be?

In the interest of not making this blog 3000 words long, I'll skip some of the details that took me to two different stores in search of this bottled water.  When I finally found it, the cashier informed me the packs were 2/$5.00 and had to be purchased in multiples of two.

So...instead of buying five packs, I stacked my miniature shopping cart (honestly it looked like a toy cart) with six 24-packs.  Then the cashier insisted on updating my shopper's card while I (im)patiently waited.

Finally I tugged my cart with the precariously tilting packs of water out of the store.  There was no spot where the curb was ramped to pull the cart down, so....I figured how hard could it be to drag the cart over the curb?

Not hard at all until the whole cart toppled over.  Out spilled all six of those 24-packs.  One of them (only one, thank heaven) split open and sent bottles of water careening across the parking lot.  Just then a car came along and hit one--splash!

Two "Good Samaritans" came to my aid and we chased down all those bottles (sans the one casualty.) Then I drove my car around and they helped me load them.

Now...if you'd like to volunteer to help stock tables ('cause we really DO need volunteers) I can vouch for the fact that you will be offered water.  I can cross that off the list I don't have.

Sometimes it's just the little things.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cease Striving


I did a tally this week of the number of boxes packed at our packing parties from 2009-2015 and by God's grace the grand total is...126,261 -- this makes me smile because all through my shoebox packing journey God has given us interesting totals.  One year is was 1,234 and our first packing party was 5,577.

It's kind of hard to picture 126,621 but this is a picture of Penn State's Beaver Stadium (go blue and white) that holds a bit over 106,000 people so just picture another 20,000 some added to that.

God has always made these packing parties happen and I know He will do it again in 11 days.  Still, I struggle with all the loose ends and details.  I've had a new burden all year to make each of these boxes a blessing to the child who receives it.  I've tried to purchase high quality anchor items and bulkier fillers that will fill boxes better.  Still, it's impossible for me to know what will bless each shoebox recipient.

But we have an omniscient God who does.  As I prayed this morning I told Him how glad I am that He knows every item we have and every child who will receive each box, and I asked Him (again) to make those heavenly matches.

I'm thinking a lot these days about the dichotomy in Scripture of working and resting.  Throughout Scripture we're called to work "heartily as unto the Lord" but we're also called to trust and rest.  The trouble is, I'm not sure how all of this applies to me in these last days before the BIG DAYS.

At last year's packing party we had some conflicts during the day because of indecision about what items to pack next and how to best combine them.  So I've been trying to figure this out.  I've looked at the number of items and feel like we might be short.  Should I make a last-minute purchase of some extra visors to be sure we have enough?  On the other hand, a lot of our items are bulkier this year.  How will that work out?  And how do we distribute them across age and gender?  The possible combinations are vast...

Do I continue prayerfully trying to come up with a plan or do I sink into His rest?  I've been meditating on Psalm 46:10.  Many versions of this verse say, "Be still and know that I am God," but the NASB says, "Cease striving and know that I am God."  Working and striving versus resting and knowing.  I don't believe these are mutually exclusive, so I am asking God to show me His balance as I work and rest.


Meanwhile--here's the pile of nearly free items I got from two store coupons generously gifted to me from one of our team members.  Because of these 16 more children will be blessed.


And on Saturday I collected all the loose school supply items and put them into 297 bags to make nicer fillers.  More blessings.

Yesterday I got a text from my friend Lisa in Virginia who said she was respectfully asking me to quit praying for stuffed animals because she's been inundated with hundreds of them to bring up for our packing party.  More of God's supply through this sweet friend.  We're up to 16,000 stuffed animals now and praying to get to at least 18,000 or 19,000 before the packing party.

God, I KNOW you are God.  I KNOW you have a plan.  Help me learn in new ways what it means to cease striving.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Glory In Weakness


I've been thinking today about all the unexpected things Operation Christmas Child volunteers around the world are doing week by week in God's power--His strength in our weakness.   I found out last week I was getting a shipment of donated frisbees and jump rope handles sometime in the next few days.  My problem was twofold--I wasn't sure when the delivery was coming and my husband and I were going out of town and I had no place to store this delivery.

After some days of concerted prayer the delivery timing fell into place but as of this morning we still had no storage space.  I tried several avenues that seemed blocked. Our prayer team prayed.  Facebook friends prayed.  And within a few hours we had an old truck on the church property available for storage.



The delivery truck arrived promptly as scheduled and the weather was bright and sunny (unlike the driving rain we had last year for this delivery.)  The truck space was just enough to store all the cartons.


And we six stalwart 60-something volunteers got the 150 cartons of frisbees and jump ropes stored and the 207 cartons of soap back into the truck for a return delivery in just an hour.  God's strength for sure. 

You know, my training as a nurse never prepared me to unload a truck and never taught me about lift gates or how to use a pallet jack.  Many Operation Christmas Child volunteers were never prepared for such tasks but still learned to do them and perform them competently.

I remember how scared I was in 2009 when I was invited to speak as a volunteer at the processing centers in Charlotte and Boone.  My itinerary included instructions to rent a car at the Charlotte airport and to later drive myself to Boone.  I was scared.  At the time I'd never rented a car and didn't trust my ability to get to Boone without getting lost.  I prayed.  By God's grace I made it. 

Across the world volunteers are doing new tasks like fundraising or handling trucking logistics or importing shipping containers or completing papers for tax exoneration or figuring out how to store or transport cartons of shoebox gifts to remote areas--things they never expected to do and don't feel equipped to handle.

But with prayer and by God's grace all these tasks that are part of getting these precious shoeboxes filled, transported, and received by children around the world as ambassadors of Jesus' love are completed--day by day and year by year.

God's strength in our weakness.  Over and over again.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Catching Down


Days just keep sliding by, and I realize as we count down the last weeks toward our packing party I need to do some catching up on the week's activities.

I've been saturated lately with a dual olympics--the one in Rio and and one playing out here as we near the big day.  Between watching olympic TV coverage and the ubiquitous sorting of stuffed animals we've also had some big Operation Christmas Child team events here.

Last Thursday our team hosted a packing party work day.  Pam, our media coordinator, worked her magic and Christine, our community relations coordinator, set up the facility.  We were blessed with about 50 people throughout the day and most of them were folks from the community I'd never met.
Together they bagged crayons and soap and finished the last of the jump ropes.  The soap and ropes were finished by 3:00 or so but a trusty, faithful few hung in there until 5:15 when the last case of crayons were finished.


So...for the first time in packing party history...all the major prep work is done a month before the actual packing party.  Amazing

The next night we hosted a Project Leader Workshop.  Jane, our church relations coordinator, did a lot of prep work.  She made cute centerpieces....


set up and practiced the Power Point presentation, and arranged a scrumptious dessert bar.  We prepared an appropriate/inappropriate game to educate attendees about what to put in their shoe boxes.  It was a fun evening, despite the fact that only seven people came out in addition to several of our team members.

On the plus side, those who attended said they learned things they hadn't known about the broad impact of the Operation Christmas Child project.  If even a few of them are inspired enough to inspire others to pack boxes...well, then, we achieved our goal.

Saturday's safari was a hot one and yielded only 90 stuffed animals, but 40 of them were brand new Beanie Buddies (the oversized ones that will be perfect anchors to fill boxes for the 2-4 year olds.)

Sunday brought perfect weather--sunny, with temperatures in the 70s--something we haven't seen for weeks.  What a day for an outdoor packing party!  Thanks to Rose for setting up this fun event for her church friends.  She was incredibly organized, and in just three hours we packed 325 well-filled boxes.



This week started with more stuffed animal sorting and a bevy of phone calls.  I've been trying to reconcile with Clean The World--the non-profit that sold us our soap.  You may remember I recommended them in a previous blog.  I've had good deliveries from them in the past two years but this year our soap arrived late, had a high percentage of damaged cartons, and we were missing 24 cartons.  I notified Clean The World the next day (July 19) and they promised to send the missing cartons but they never arrived.  At our packing party work day we found some of the soap in pretty terrible condition...


so I called the company again and sent several emails asking for a refund on the soap we never received.  Today Cairra from Clean The World called to say the company will not give a refund.  The best they will do is give me a credit for the missing 24 cases to use if I want to order soap from them next year--no other compensation.

Since I'd recommended them in a past blog I felt I should mention this.  If you order soap (or any other product for that matter) I'd advise you to find out exactly how many cartons you are to receive and refuse to accept the delivery if you don't receive it all.

Meanwhile, as we're preparing to take a mini weekend vacation, I got a call last night saying a delivery of generously donated mini frisbees and jump rope handles may be delivered this weekend.  I don't know when it will arrive or where we will store those cartons...but the prayer team is on it...

And God's got it figured out.