Sunday, July 26, 2009

Under Grace

It took a real clear leading to get us to leave our former church--Wesley Church--last November. We'd been talking about the need to leave for some time but I kept dragging my feet and wondering how I could keep packing large numbers of shoe boxes in a new church.

I remember my OCC Mid-Atlantic director, Leigh, telling me, "You have to do what God's telling you to do." So we started attending Grace Church--a church with more than 1,000 attending on the weekend--a mega church by Erie standards. I continued packing boxes at my old church and no one has asked me to stop yet, even though I feel like I'm trespassing as I work quietly in the church basement.

Some weeks ago Grace Church offered me a huge storage space and this week I had a second meeting with staff members to discuss involving Grace in Operation Christmas Child. Really, all I wanted was for them to give me space in their facility to hold a one-day community packing party.

Instead, God went so far beyond my expectations in that meeting. They fully embraced the project and ideas bounced around that table like hyperactive toddlers. They'll be asking church attenders to donate items for packing boxes and then host a huge packing party with the goal of packing more than 4,000 shoe boxes in one day.

Now I'm calculating and making lists and waiting on God to provide all the items to make it happen. Can't wait to see Him do it.

There's nothing like being under His grace at Grace.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Full Circle and Small Beginnings

I've been praying for almost two years for God to provide a Prayer Coordinator for our NW PA Operation Christmas Child team. On Thursday we had a team meeting and a guest named Linda came. She's been wanting to come for a year now but just made it. Actually, she almost didn't make the meeting this week. She lives in Albion (almost an hour away) and when she went out to get in her car she found her husband had taken her keys. But I called another team member who lives near her and graciously offered her a ride.

The cool thing is that Linda was responsible for first bringing OCC to Erie County back in 1994. Her small church served as a 'relay center' before that term even came into being. They collected boxes from around our county and trucked them two hours away to the nearest collection point.

At the end of our meeting we had a time of group prayer and as Linda started to pray I knew why Satan had tried to keep her from coming. Her prayer went something like this, "God, in Your Word you say that we shouldn't 'despise the day of small beginnings' and I remember all those years ago sitting on my living room floor and watching a TV program that mentioned Operation Christmas Child. I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with and now all these years later there's this team here..."

As Linda continued to pray, tears rolled down my cheeks and I thought, God, I think this is our Prayer Coordinator--coming back to us after starting OCC in Erie 15 years ago.

When the meeting ended I asked Linda if she'd consider signing on to be Prayer Coordinator and she answered, "I'll pray about it." Just the reply I wanted.

Not able to sleep that night, I checked that reference to the 'day of small beginnings.' It's from Zechariah 4:10. I began reading the book of Zechariah and with the help of a commentary I learned that the book is full of God's assurances that Zerubbabel would finish rebuilding the temple, even though he'd made only a 'small beginning'. In an earlier verse (4:6) God reminds him (and us) that it's "not by might nor by power but my Spirit."

I thought of God bringing Linda back in a full circle from the small beginnings of OCC in our area to our growing team. And I thought of how small our team's beginnings seem even now. And I thought of God who is always faithful to His promises and will 'bring it to pass'--by His Spirit.

In His time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Thankful

Today is my mother's 96th birthday. A few years back one of my daughters asked her, "Gma, what's a secret for living so long?" and my mother answered, "Don't worry."

The Bible has direct commands that tell us not to worry and the only way I've found to keep from falling into that sin is to focus on God's promises. I also have been praying lately day by day that God will help me to recognize His goodness and praise and thank Him for it. Worry doesn't exist very well in the company of praise, as Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6,7.

Lately, though, I've found myself 'concerned' (euphemism for worry) about how God will provide enough clothing items for my Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes this year. Though it's not required, I like to put some item of clothing in my boxes--a shirt, shorts, etc. So I'll need more than 6,000 more. And the sales where I usually find these items haven't materialized this year so far. I've been 'thinking' (euphemism for concerned) about this quite a lot.

At Grace Church yesterday Pastor Al preached about financial freedom. One of his teaching points was the importance of being financially free in order to avoid worry. As I was following his text and turned to Matthew 6, my eyes fell instantly to verse 28 and I read, "And why do you worry about clothes?"

Yes, Lord.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Power of Hope

I watch the Operation Christmas Child DVD and see those beautiful smiling children while the background song lyrics proclaim, “It’s the gift. It’s the power of hope.” I’ve been so in need of that hope.

Yesterday I stood in the church basement packing shoeboxes by myself. Negative thoughts started to throw their weight around like WWE wrestlers. Maybe I should forget about packing boxes. I could just buy stuff on sale and send it to the Processing Center for fillers. And next: why not forget about OCC entirely? I could lie in the hammock and read books

I contemplated the way I’d been procrastinating about making phone calls—a dreaded task for me—and mourned about how the expected sale to give me clothing to put into the boxes at a low price never materialized. I thought of how little help I’ve had with packing. I sank lower in the quicksand of self-pity. Hopeless.

Then a woman who has committed to pray for me phoned to see if I was okay and asked for a list of updated prayer requests. Her call brought a sliver of hope. My phone chirped again bringing news that a church in a neighboring county will be a relay center and collect shoeboxes in their area. The sliver widened.

And today another call brought the potential of doing a large packing party this year—an idea I’d abandoned as being logistically impossible. Maybe I won’t have to spend so many lonely hours in the church basement after all. The light is starting to shine again.

Hope does have power.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I'm weary. I used to laugh at my mother for saying that but now I know how she felt. Maybe it's from working over the past few days to help Grace Church landscape the neighborhood around the Extreme Makeover home in Erie combined with donating blood. Maybe I'm just getting old.

I'm also feeling overwhelmed about Operation Christmas Child. I drove over to my old church on Thursday and Friday and packed another 166 boxes to bring the total to 2,761--about on pace with last year at this time. It takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to pack one round of 75-90 boxes by myself. I need more help.

And it's my job to get it. People always say, "Call me and I'll come help you pack." But I don't want to call them. I want them to call me. It doesn't work that way, though. I'm supposed to be out there casting vision and motivating and stimulating people to join in the effort. Instead, I'm packing boxes by myself in the basement. Weary.

I've been reading in Exodus and noticed that when God brought His people out of Egypt He told them He would give them the promised land "little by little" so they wouldn't be frightened and want to return to Egypt. Well, of course they still wanted to go back to Egypt and He ended up making them wander around for 40 years. But that concept of "little by little" is one I'm going to stand on.

The goal of 10,000 boxes seems impossible today, but I'm going to keep packing "little by little". Because it's always one box at a time--one box to bless one child in Jesus' name.

And a friend reminded me of Jesus' invitation in Matthew 11:28 "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

I'm coming.