Monday, December 27, 2010

Post Christmas?

Today is December 27th and that means, I guess, that this is the Post-Christmas season. I don't think I ever fully got into the Pre-Christmas season and I'm hoping that's because Operation Christmas Child makes me 'think Christmas' all year long. Today I packed up two more straggler shoeboxes to mail to Operation Christmas Child headquarters in Boone. When my husband helped a friend move recently they found 2 boxes their children had packed and forgotten to turn in by the deadline. So I'm putting them in the mail today because that means 2 more children will have a gospel opportunity.

Yesterday morning I went shopping at 6:00 am looking for after-Christmas sales. I went to 4 stores and didn't find anything cheap enough to buy for shoeboxes. I came home with only a box of mac and cheese and a damaged tire. In a parking lot my car slid and hit a curb. So now it's at the tire store getting a new rim and new tires and finding out if the tie rods are damaged. It was an expensive trip with nothing to show for it. But we'd been procrastinating about putting the needed tires on the car so I'm taking that as one of God's "working together for good" activities.

Yesterday I looked back over my journal for January and February of 2010 and started dreaming about goals to set for Operation Christmas Child this year. What does God want to give us this year as far as shoebox numbers? What ministry goals does He want us to prayerfully pursue? Each year as I look back and see what God did for us I stand amazed, yet I still want more. I want new territory and bigger victories by His grace.

When we finished with the community-wide packing party this year (if you missed the video you can go to and search for "Erie, PA packing party") I asked our team what they thought the maximum was we could pack in a day at Grace Church. This year we packed 12,670 in 6 hours and they felt that maximum would be 15,000 in one day. So should that be our goal this year? God, You can do anything, but what are we ready to receive?

We received 27,444 boxes in Northwestern PA this year--a bit under the goal of 30,333 we prayed for. So how do we set a goal this year? I'm praying about that and asking for God's direction.

So, really, this isn't Post-Christmas at's just Pre-Christmas 2011.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Best Friend's Birthday

I'm trying to get into the Christmas spirit. I don't know why that's so hard for me. Maybe it's because I kind of 'do Christmas' all year-round with Operation Christmas Child. I just don't feel any enthusiasm for the holiday.

My children are all coming home this weekend to celebrate an early family Christmas. Julie, my youngest, is doing her residency in OB/GYN and has to work at the hospital on Christmas weekend, so she's flying in for this weekend. My oldest, Amy, and her husband, Greg, will be driving from New York City and middle daughter, Jen, will drive in from the Pittsbugh area. I'm trying to get final details ready but it just doesn't seem like it's really Christmas.

So this morning while I was running I started to wonder how I would feel and how I would prepare for my best friend's birthday (this is assuming I actually had a best friend--which I don't). If Jesus is my friend then how do I get ready for His birthday? How do I honor Him?

Let me say that I have a real problem saying that Jesus is "my best friend". I honestly don't feel I have a very friend-like relationship with Him. I've been struggling for several years with trying to get this right. I know, I know--every relationship is different and there isn't any real right, but still, I struggle.

Do I pray to God or to Jesus? Do I seek to have a close relationship with God the Father or with Jesus? How does this really flesh out when one of the persons in the relationship is a spirit? I want to put my head in God's lap but He doesn't have one. So I still struggle to define my growing spirituality and can't bring myself to say Jesus is my best friend.

Still, I think about preparing for a friend's birthday. If I had a best friend I would know what she wanted, I'd be happy to give it to her, and I'd spare no expense or time in helping her celebrate.

So as I get ready for Jesus' birthday I think about what He would want. I know He said that whatever we do to "the least of these" we do to Him. So I think I'm going to go online to and use the new Build-A-Box feature to pack ONE MORE box for Operation Christmas Child. I'll bet Jesus would be happy with that birthday gift.

And maybe the joy that one box will bring will stimulate my joy in the season.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I've been writing cards and stuffing envelopes and sticking on stamps, which isn't unusual for this time of year. But I'm not sending Christmas cards; instead, I've been writing thank you notes to all the churches in our area who brought in shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

Last year I wrote out 47 of them and this year I've done 110 so far and still have more to do. Some I can't even do yet because I don't have copies of the shoe box drop-off logs from a few of the relay centers.

As I write each note and look at the number of shoe boxes collected by that church, I mentally subtract that number from our total. This reminds me of the impact of each gift and helps me visualize that each box is a part of our goal. If a church brought in 8 boxes, I realize that without them our total would have been only 27,436 instead of 27,444.

I am so full of thanks to God as I look at the totals of boxes that have been processed here in the US at the 7 Processing Centers. Right now that total stands at 4,665,099 boxes.

God, we pray still for that goal of 5.5 million boxes to bless children around the world. The harvest is here and you have abundantly provided. Please move those who could still participate by packing and mailing their gifts to Boone or by using the Build-A-Box online packing to contribute. Move in hearts, Father, to bring in these gifts.

And we'll respond with gratitude for Your glory.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Smell of Hope

On Monday, November 22nd our Operation Christmas Child Northwestern PA area team gathered at Chick-fil-A to celebrate all God's done for us in this collection season. Our final total came in at 27,444 (not counting the 8 boxes that came in after the trucks were sent off). This is 5100 more boxes than we collected last year for a 23% increase.

This isn't the 30,333 we were praying for, but I believe it's what God knew we could handle. Our trucks were full and the Warren collection center ran out of cartons long before the boxes were all cartonized. Now we can make better logistics plans for next year and be ready to receive an even larger harvest of boxes.

I took a couple of lazy days over the Thanksgiving holiday and now I'm getting back at it. By God's grace I got letters to the editors off to 8 newspapers in our area of NW PA and now I'm working on writing thank-you notes to the churches who contributed boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

Truthfully I'm not a fan of writing by hand. I feel like those days in school when the class was punished by having to write 100 times "I will not talk when the teacher is talking." But I know it's important to thank and encourage the donors so I'm asking God to help me push through it and persevere instead of quitting so often. I have 30 done so far and it wouldn't take long if I could stay motivated.

It was such a joy to watch the Community Celebration live via streaming video from the Charlotte, NC Processing Center this morning. But it made me miss being there even more.

There's a particular smell at the processing center--kind of a combination of the smell of soap and crayons and candy and rubber bands and tape. It's hard to describe but for me it's a smell of coming home. And, when you get right down to it, it's really the smell of hope and joy.

I'm remembering that smell right now and I'm smiling, filled with hope and joy.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I am praising God for all He has done this year and this collection week. I read this morning in 2Chronicles 15:7 these words that are an encouragement. "But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded." God is rewarding our work in wonderful ways.

I hope to see all of you who can come at Chick-fil-A tonight at 6:00 to celebrate God's harvest. I want our time at CFA to be completely exciting and to that end, while we don't know the final total yet, I wanted to share some thoughts God has been working through in me. First of all, while we don't have final numbers and we know God can do ANYTHING today, it seems to me that outside of a miracle we won't reach the goal of 30,333.

So, like my GPS tells me, I'm 'recalculating'. My new goal is that God would give us at least 26,815 boxes--which would be a 20% increase over last year. As I looked at the numbers yesterday I was, at first, somewhat disappointed. We prayed hard over what goal to set last winter and I felt God was leading us to set the goal of 30,333. It seems like it would be in His will to grant that.

Yesterday I listened to a CD about the life of George Mueller who said that if God doesn't answer your prayer it's because He wants to give us something better. He believed that our GOOD God always does the best for us, even when it doesn't seem so to us. So how does that apply to our shoebox goal? At first I couldn't figure that out but then last night I looked at the truck at Covenant which is very nearly full. If God miraculously blesses us with another 3500 boxes today, what will we do with them? Are we prepared to handle that? We need to do some tweaking with our collection system and some re-evaluating in order to receive larger numbers, I believe.

On the other hand, everyone be on alert in case we have to put out an "all hands on deck call" today to process thousands of boxes!!!!!! It's not over yet but I wanted you to know my thinking before we get to CFA tonight. God has done GREAT things among us. To go from 11,999 boxes in 2007 in our first year as a team to whatever God brings to us by tonight is nothing short of miraculous.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Caught In The Middle

Here we are caught in the middle of National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child. I am eager to find out how many boxes have been collected so far in Northwestern PA but I don't really know. I've had reports from a few collection sites, but not all of them.

I love what's happening, though. I love watching the boxes pile up--knowing that each of them will be a 'gospel opportunity' for a child in another country. A child like little Mario in the picture above. We met Mario at an Operation Christmas Child distribution in the Dominican Republic and in this picture he's sharing a huge hug with my good friend, Kim Wilkins. The thing Mario found in his box that he liked the most was a picture of my friend, Sherry, who gave him the box. Try to include a picture in your box because the children truly cherish the pictures they receive.

Last night I worked at the Operation Christmas Child relay center at The Federated Church. A precious group of folks from McLane Church brought in 365 boxes and we were able to get them loaded into cartons. Some of them were so full (closed with multiple rubber bands) that they looked like round balls.

Then I stood in awe as a hoard of youth ran up and down the stairs carrying armloads of boxes that Pat and a few friends had packed all through last year--1043 of them.

The harvest is coming and we're caught in the middle. We don't know the end yet and, of course, we won't really know until we get to heaven. But there's nowhere else I'd rather be than standing in the field watching it happen.

And, like little Mario, I want to throw my arms around everyone who has packed a box, and give each of them a huge hug for making it happen.

There's nothing like being caught in the middle of such love.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

National Collection Week Eve--Thoughts on 1/2 Box

(click 'here' to see a wonderful 1-minute video about Operation Christmas Child)

This is it! Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week starts tomorrow. Hundreds of people around the globe have committed to pray during this week for the collection and tomorrow at 2:00 PM will mark the National Moment of Prayer when people around the country will stop to ask God's blessing on the week.

This morning I had a blessed time speaking at Fellowship Baptist Church about Operation Christmas Child, then I packed a few more boxes. Yesterday I packed 92 to get the total packed for the year to 13,106 but I really liked the idea of the number 13,113, so I packed 7 more today to get to that grand total.

Then this evening I had a time of training with our new prayer team member. The eve of National Collection Week is the perfect time to get a new prayer team member started. When I got home I called some of our relay center coordinators to check in and see if everyone's ready for the week. The excitement sure is building.

Recently Randy Riddle sent an e-mail reminder that last year we missed our national goal by an average of 1/2 shoe box per collection site in the US. That got me thinking about the need for each of us to do our very best to get more people involved in packing boxes for OCC. With over 300 million people in the US, if we could get just 1 in every 30 to pack a box we'd have 10 million boxes.

Let's pray about that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prayer Worrier

An Operation Christmas Child friend of mine, referring to me in an e-mail, called me a 'prayer worrier'. I'm hoping that was just a typing error but it got me to thinking of how often I am guilty of praying but not truly releasing my burdens to the Lord. On the one hand, Jesus talked about the importance of continuing in prayer, of being importunate, as the King James Version puts it.

On the other hand, we need to pray in faith, believing that we have the requests we ask of Him. It's a balance, but I want to learn to trust even as I pray that God is hearing and answering.

And the answers to prayer for Operation Christmas Child just keep coming lately. I am blown away by God's goodness. For a few years I've been praying off and one for a larger church in our area, McLane Church, to pack boxes again for OCC. Last year their college group did about 50 boxes but this year, because one of our team members gave them a call, they decided to spontaneously distribute boxes at their service on November 7th. Pat Carter, the team member who originally contacted them, gave them 262 boxes. Rose Dobson, another member of our team, checked in at the church after the 9:00 service on the 7th and found all the boxes had been taken so she gave them 100 more. Those were all taken also. This is a direct answer to those of us who were praying for those boxes to be distributed FAST. Now people are using their own boxes and they're thinking they may collect close to 600!

We've been praying consistently all year long for God to give us 30,333 boxes from Northwestern PA. We couldn't see where they would come from but now He's starting to reveal it to us. On November 2nd we distributed boxes at Chick-fil-A. The deal was that anyone who brought in a filled box on November 9th would get a free chicken sandwich. I was disappointed on November 2nd when we only gave out 30 boxes but then I was elated on November 9th when God gave us a harvest of 100 boxes AND a spot on three news shows. Only You, God!

Though it's out of our area, God allowed me to hear of an Operation Christmas Child packing party organized by Christi Rupp, the wife of a player on the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, for wives and girlfriends of team members. They packed over 100 boxes on November 10th and in addition to blessing those children who will receive their boxes in big ways, they may also bring some added media attention to OCC.

Heather Rogers, our team's Church Relations Coordinator, works at Behrend College--the local branch of Penn State University. She said the other day in the cafeteria she saw a table set up where several campus organizations had banded together to collect items for Operation Christmas Child.

We're only 4 days away from the start of National Collection Week and I can't wait to see the harvest start rolling in. Those 30,333 boxes that have been objects of our prayer will now materialize and we'll see the evidence again of God's goodness.

I'm not worried.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

God Did It For Amaya!

I'm so excited that my six-year-old friend, Amaya, made the goal of selling 100 homemade Christmas ornaments for Operation Christmas Child. She had a big dream and a big faith in our Big God that made her unstoppable.

She took what she had and gave it to God, trusting Him to multiply it into more than she could imagine. Now she'll use the profits to finance the packing of gift-filled shoeboxes to bless needy children in other countries.

I'll try to post a picture later of the hand-drawn letter than accompanied the ornament I purchased. If you'd like to join in the project you can see my last blog posting for a link to her mom's blog.

If you want to learn more about Operarion Christmas Child, go to

I'm cheering for you, Amaya, and waiting expectantly to see what God's going to do through you next.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Amaya's Operation Christmas Child Dream

There's nothing like having a big dream from God and then seeing Him do what only He can do. This week I had a special blessing in my Operation Christmas Child life. I was able to meet a new online friend--a six-year-old named Amaya who has one of those big dreams.

Amaya wants to pack more boxes for needy children through Operation Christmas Child and in order to finance that project she is creating and selling homemade Christmas ornaments. Her goal is to sell 100 and as of last night the count was at 72. Won't you invest just $5.00 (plus $1.50 shipping) and help her reach her goal?

click here to see Amaya's project

You can pay on her site via PayPal by clicking on the button, but if you don't have PayPal, e-mail me at for the address to mail in your payment. And when you hang Amaya's ornament on your tree this year you'll have a tangible reminder of how a mighty God can take our small dreams and use them for His glory.

Oh, by the way, Amaya's original goal was to raise $10,000 for Operation Christmas Child. I would love to see God do that just because He can.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

99% Is Not Enough

Check out this boy from Uganda and the joy he gets from his Operation Christmas Child shoebox BEFORE he even opens it. No wonder I love this ministry so much!

Things are really kicking into high gear as we're only 18 days away from National Collection Week--the time when we harvest all the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for the year. Life is busy and I wonder constantly if I'm doing the right things with my time.

God has provided great sales on summer clearance items over the past two weeks and I've amassed more than 1100 pieces of clothing for next year's boxes as well as a lot of summer toys. It takes a lot of time to buy it and record it and store it all and I worry that that's taking too much time away from the things I'm supposed to be doing as Area Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child here in Northwestern PA.

This week God blessed us with an application for a prospective team member and now I need to call her and begin the interview process. We don't have any members on our team to take care of media so I have a lot of press releases to send out also. And I need to contact our collection center coordinator in Erie to see about getting training done for our new relay centers.

The most fun part of this season of the Operation Christmas Child year, though, is seeing God answering prayer right and left and up and down. Last weekend our Area Coordinators from the five states in the Mid-Atlantic Region all submitted prayer requests for events happening in our areas over the weekend. What a joy it's been this week to hear of all God's doing all around. There's nothing I'd rather be doing.

And as I wonder if I'm doing enough to promote Operation Christmas Child, I wonder what could ever be enough. If we could reach 99% of the children around the world, that would be pretty amazing. But I've been thinking how even an amazing 99% wouldn't be enough.

99% wasn't enough for Jesus who told of a shepherd who would leave 99 sheep to go and find that ONE who was lost. Jesus Himself is that good shepherd and He calls us to follow Him to find even ONE.

So no matter how large the ministry of Operation Christmas Child becomes, as long as there is ONE child left on earth who doesn't personally know God's love our work cannot be done.

As hard and tiring and sometimes frustrating as it can be, we need to get into that 'easy yoke' with Jesus and keep on looking for ONE MORE box for ONE MORE child.

Even 99% is not enough.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Multiplying Miracles

I am so amazed by all God is doing here for Operation Christmas Child in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Two years ago in 2008 we had a total of 15,015 boxes from our three counties at the end of National Collection Week. This year, we have just about that many packed already and collection week hasn't even begun. This is a blessing we never anticipated--a multiplication mystery we can't explain.

We're also learning that God's answers to prayer come in His time, not ours. In 2009 one of our ministry goals was to make contact with the Boy Scout and Girl Scout councils in our area to inform them about Operation Christmas Child. Though we prayed for this last year, we never saw it happen. This year, however, our new prayer team member, Priscila Mirone, is involved with the local Girl Scout council and presented the program to them. We had about 100 Girl Scouts come out to help at the packing party and some of them are now packing boxes in their own troops.

Our new community relations team member, Tracey Berger, is involved with the Boy Scouts. Two days ago she went to their local council and asked if it would be possible to distribute information about Operation Christmas Child to all the local troops. They told her it would have to be approved at a meeting which wouldn't be held until the beginning of November--too late for them to get involved before National Collection Week. Well, God had other plans and by His grace the Boy Scout council sent out an e-mail yesterday to all troop leaders encouraging them to get involved in Operation Christmas Child. Now we're praying that God will multiply this opportunity and bring in many more 'gospel opportunities'.

I think of all the children around the world who are waiting for shoeboxes and pray that God will move multiple people to pack boxes and multiply our harvest beyond 8.5 million this year.

I can't wait for the miracle.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Operation Christmas Child Packing Party Video

The video of our Operation Christmas Child packing party here in Erie on September 25th that was produced by a crew from Samaritan's Purse is up on YouTube. We packed 12,670 boxes that day and the video perfectly portrays the energy and chaos of the day juxtaposed with the calm and peace of the meaning in what we were doing. I especially like the scenes of us praying around the truck for the boxes.

Meanwhile, God's using the packing party in ways I didn't expect. Yesterday I had a phone call from Jeannie in Colorado. I've never met her but she saw the video of the packing party and looked up my number online. Jeannie's sweet daughter Aubry drowned in 2009 when she was 3 & 1/2 years old. In her memory Jeannie is planning a shoebox packing party on November 18th (Aubry's birthday) and wondered if I had any ideas for her. I really didn't--except to say that God provides for every person in different ways. We were able to pray together and I KNOW God has great plans for the boxes she'll pack in Aubry's name.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Planning Ahead

On Tuesday I made my first major purchase for next year's Operation Christmas Child giant packing party. I bought 12,000 small tubes of toothpaste and 12,000 toothbrushes just like the ones shown above. I figured I needed to get them while they were still available from the warehouse dealer in my town who offered to sell them to me.

Last night I had a casual meeting at Panera Bread with Heather Rogers, Elizabeth Randolph and Kristin Hesch from the OCC Area Team to debrief about this year's packing party. I reminisced with Heather and Elizabeth, who've been working with me on OCC since 2004, about those first meetings of our Wesley Church OCC team then and how we worked all year to pack 1,780 boxes. This year we did more than 7 times that many (such a perfect number). It's probably a good thing God didn't reveal to us then how far He would take the project or we'd likely have been terrified. He is so gracious to lead us step by step.

We talked about some of the things we need to do to improve the packing party for next year--having assigned supervisors for areas of responsibility; designating key volunteers in advance and having a training session; developing a video that we can show on a loop to orient new guests about how to pack boxes. But even as we talked about needed changes I couldn't get over how amazingly well God blessed us that day despite our lack of human planning and preparation.

While we want to make things better for next year, we always face the unknown because every year brings different challenges. For example, we don't know now what kind of boxes we can get for next year so it's hard to plan for labels and how to pack the cartons more efficiently. We don't know how many items God will bless us with and how many boxes we'll be able to fill.

I never want to come to the point where I think I have everything planned adequately in advance. I want to always be in a place of dependence upon God to make it happen. I don't want to see what we as humans can accomplish. I want to see God do what only He can do and stand in amazement.

Last night I interviewed a new relay center coordinator for our team and today I will interview another. We prayed for three new relay centers this year and God provided them through prayer alone. He gave the contacts in wonderful ways and our Operation Christmas Child collection network in Northwestern PA is growing because of His goodness and provision.

So what am I planning for next year? I'm planning ahead to see God show up and amaze us again.

What a plan!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On the Samaritan's Purse Website

If you want to know more details about the Operation Christmas Child giant shoebox packing party, here's a link to an article on the Samaritan's Purse website. Valerie Davis did a great job of capturing the essence of that wonderful day.

Seeing God do what only HE could do on September 25th was just another fleshing out of what God told Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." God proved that again. I stand in awe.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Packing Party Praises

I'm praising God that HE gave us an amazing time at our Operation Christmas Child packing party on Saturday, September 25th. I'm calling it the Mid-Atlantic Family Packing Party because I truly believe it was a joint effort among all of us. Sure, it took place here in Erie but the glory goes to God and the resulting gospel opportunities are shared by all who prayed and supported this effort over the last months.

God moved in so many ways over the packing party on Saturday. Last year when we had our first large packing party I was so blown away by God's provision. This year I worried that I wouldn't have that same sense of wonder. I thought I knew what to expect and that I wouldn't have that same awe and surprise. Well, I was wrong.

The week of preparation was full of miracles. Last Tuesday Jim & Joline Urban's team from an hour away down in New Wilmington came together to get more than 6000 boxes onto our vehicles. It was a miracle. On Thursday the prayed-for crayons from Wal-Mart came in. Another miracle that was helped along by Pam Hatchell's call to Wal-Mart's corporate office and the prayers of many.

Last Monday I ordered 3" packing tape dispensers to be sent by UPS from the Staples store in Meadville--a city about an hour's drive from Erie. They stil hadn't arrived by the time I returned home from school on Friday so I called the Staples store to check on them and found they had never been sent. The only way to get them would be to drive a two-hour round trip to Meadville. I tried to think of someone I knew from that area who could pick them up and then I realized that Leigh Fisher, my Regional Director for Operation Christmas Child, was driving up from Baltimore to come for the packing party. I called her cell phone but didn't reach her and left a voice mail. About 5 minutes later my phone rang and Leigh said, "Kathy, I'm in Meadville. I got a late start because I had problems with my rental car this morning." I asked her if she'd received my voice mail and she hadm't. But she was just 2 miles from the Staples store and went to pick up the tape dispensers with no problem. It was a God thing that she was delayed in the morning and thus was in just the right spot at the right time to pick them up.

The prayed-for paper finally arrived on Friday but it turned out to be just three small cartons. Now I know why God allowed us to get all those free coloring books (because of a tip from Sherry McFaden--OCC Area Coord. in Lynchburg, VA.) We had some notebooks and filler paper but not enough for all the boxes.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights we worked on set-up. At times I thought it would never come together but by 11:00 pm on Friday night we were set up and ready. Leigh and her mom were here and God knew I needed that support so much. I also felt the prayers of everyone all week long. I didn't know what to expect on Saturday but I knew God had to be the one in control since I knew I wasn't.

We started at 9:00 with an opening in the gym with maybe 50-75 volunteers. What I didn't know was that there were more volunteers backing up into the hall. And they kept coming. My two favorite volunteers were Bob and Annette Poff who SURPRISED me by coming on the way back from their vacation to Indiana. What a joy to have them there for support. I also knew there were many more of you who would have absolutely been here if you could have been and though you weren't here physically you were definitely here in spirit and supporting us in prayer.

The volunteers kept coming and in the end there were 500 of them throughout the day from 25 different churches and organizations. There were over 100 Girl Scouts alone as well as JROTC members from a local high school and other students, senior adults, and families. The bad thing is that we weren't prepared for so many volunteers and it got a bit congested and people had to wait in line. The good thing is that I believe many of them weren't 'church folks' and it was a great outreach.

By about 9:30 we started cranking out the boxes and by 10:19 we'd reached 2000! For a while we were doing about 1000 every 20 minutes. I couldn't believe it. We were at 9000 at just before 1:00 when we took a lunch break. Our goal was 10,000 boxes and we hit that at 1:49 but the items were still holding out so we kept packing and packing. We ran out of all the Crest Spinbrush boxes and then the white Roy Grove boxes. It was a blessing that Jim Urban's team gave us so many extra boxes because God knew we needed them all. Then we started using plain shoeboxes that people had donated. The funny thing is that I had wanted to break down those boxes before we started because they were in the way and I thought we'd never need them. How wrong I was.

We ran out of toothpaste and then pens but kept packing until finally we couldn't do adequate boxes and knew we had to stop. We did 12,381 at the party and I'd packed 289 prior to the party for a total of 12,670. By 3:30 pm we were done and the volunteers circled around the truck and laid hands on it to pray for the boxes. Clean up was over by 5:00 pm and I was ready to head out to speak about OCC at a missions conference.

I'm just praising God for your partnership to bring together these 12,670 gospel opportunities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Last Leg

There are only two days left until the Giant Operation Christmas Child 10,000 shoebox packing party. It's really the last leg now. As a veteran of 5 marathons (years ago!) I realize that many runners divide the marathon into two halves. The first half is the first 20 miles and the second half is the last 6.2 miles. Now it would seem that after you've run the first 20 miles the last 6.2 would be easier. Not so.

There's a physiological reaction when your glycogen stores are depleted that runners call "hitting the wall" and it often happens at about 20 miles into the race. Your energy is gone, your body protests, and you can't imagine making it for another 6.2 miles. If you're like me in this Shoebox Race, you might feel like you're "hitting the wall".

What do you do when you come to that point in the race? One thing that always helped me was to take the rest of the race step by step. When I couldn't imagine running even one more mile, let alone 6.2 miles, I would concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I would refuse to let myself walk. I would take one step at a time, and hold on to the next tenth of a mile. Then I'd do it again for the next tenth.

I need to do that step-by-step thing now. There are so many details to come together in just 2 days. Still don't know if the 3000 crayons will come in. We still don't know if or when we'll be getting any paper donated. I still have carloads of stuff to move from my old church. But if I can keep taking one step at a time there's a hope of making it.

The other thing that helped enormously is the encouragement of others. When someone comes up beside you and runs with you it makes a huge difference. When the crowd lining the course is cheering for you, there's a burst of energy that bubbles up and gives you renewed strength. We can cheer for each other and run alongside one another and, together, we'll get to the finish line.

On Tuesday night my husband and I drove to New Wilmington to pick up boxes from my fellow Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinators, Jim and Joline Urban. When we got there, eight members of Jim and Joline's team were there to help us load those boxes into our truck and minivan and with their sweat and ingenuity we were able to do a miracle and get 6000 boxes into our vehicles. I never thought it would happen! Their servant hearts and willing work are unrivaled.

I am so grateful for the prayers and encouragement I'm receiving this week. When God brings the victory at this packing party on Saturday it will be because all of you in places all around the country joined together with us here in Erie to make it happen.

Let's run the last leg together.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Moving On

Today starts the big pre-packing-party-prep for our Operation Christmas Child 10,000 shoebox packing event on September 25th. A bunch of youth and adult volunteers unloaded the 40 ft. storage container next to the church today and moved all the boxes and bags inside. There's lots of organizing to be done this week but at least the first stage is completed.

Friday and Saturday proved interesting. On Friday morning I call Wal-Mart to check (again) on the 3000 crayons I ordered on August 31st. I was told they wouldn't be arriving since the store is moving to a new location and isn't receiving any shipments. They suggested I call and order them through another Wal-Mart, which I did. The second store, however, said they couldn't guarantee the crayons would come in by Saturday for the packing party.

Amazingly, I didn't freak out. I had a peace that God had a plan but I posted the problem on facebook. Pam Hatchell, my dear fellow-OCC-Area Coordinator from northern Virginia, suggested I call Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters. I wrote back that I never would have thought of that and didn't have the courage to do it. So Pam, bless her heart, called them for me. The Regional Manager, Mindy, is making some calls and doesn't see any reason we won't have 3,000 boxes by the 25th. I'm still praying.

Then on Saturday (yesterday) I got a message that the 10,000 pads of paper that had been promised as a donation can't be delivered until September 28th--3 days after the packing party. Again, God kept me calm and peaceful. Maybe this is why we got 8,000 free coloring books this year? We're investigating options and maybe God will provide the promised paper on time after all. Won't you please pray for this situation?

Last night I went to hear Lejla Allison speak. Lejla received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox in Bosnia in 1993, the first year boxes were sent from the United States. Listening to hear speak about her desperation as an 11-year-old girl in a war-torn country and hearing how God used that simple box which contained a pair of shoes she needed so badly to bring her to faith in Jesus, reminded me again that these are GOD'S boxes.

He knows which child will receive each one and whether they need paper or not. He can and will provide for every need for each of them. So I'm continuing to pray and waiting to see how the rest of the week unfolds.

God is on the move and, because of His grace, I'm tagging along.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Single Digit Details

Only 9 more days until our giant Operation Christmas Child packing party. We're praying God will send us close to 200 volunteers to make this project happen, but there will be many more volunteers around the country who won't be there in person on that day and will still be a huge part of it nonetheless. Over the past year I've received packages in the mail from Colorado and Iowa with donations of items.

In the past few days I've sensed God's peace in new ways and I know this comes as a result of prayer from my extended OCC family. My fellow volunteers in the Mid-Atlantic region have sent reassuring messages that they're praying for us.

One of the wisest pieces of advice came from Pam Hatchell, my sister in the Lord and Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinator in Northern VA / Wash. DC. Pam's facebook message said, "How can God handle the details if you won't let go of them?" So I'm trying to let go.

Last night we had our Northwestern PA OCC Area Team meeting. There were only 5 of us there but I was able to share some of the burden of decisions and also recruited some volunteers to bag soap over the next 9 days.

I've said this before, but a few years ago when I headed an OCC team only at my church it was so much easier. We all saw each other at church each week and I felt like I had lots of people to help with decisions and the work load. Now it's harder to get help with the day-to-day tasks and decision making. The packing party isn't really an Area Team event totally and it isn't a Grace Church event totally. I often feel like I'm stuck in the middle by myself.

But yesterday God blessed me with a wonderful meeting with Mike Watson, a pastor at Grace Church, who assured me everything will work out fine in 9 days (yes, 9 days). And I know it will because our God of the Details has His "to do list" all set. He knows the soap that has to be bagged and the 3,000 boxes of crayons that need to come in at Wal-Mart and the 10,000 pads of paper that need to be delivered and the 5,000 boxes that need to be hauled from Jim Urban's area (an hour's drive away). He knows and He cares.

God's care for the details was evident yesterday. A week ago I ordered OCC Prayer Bracelets and wanted them to arrive in time for the packing party. The shipping date, however, was September 27th. I've been praying they'd arrive by the 25th and yesterday afternoon as I sat at my computer typing that out as a prayer request on my meeting agenda there was a knock at the door. It was a delivery and in the package were the prayer bracelets.

He knows about the details and He is on the move.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

T Minus 16 Days

In just 16 days we'll be nearing the end of our 10,000 box shoebox packing party for Operation Christmas Child. But right now I'm wallowing in details and I'm praying that God will show me which ones need to be addressed and which will work themselves out that day.

I think about things like tape discpensers and rolls of Scotch tape and signage and rubber bands. I think about moving hundreds of thousands of items out of our 40 foot storage container and into the church.

I think about all the items still stored and my old church and wonder if they should all be moved or whether we'll just have to cart them back across town unused. I try to add all the items I've purchased and those donated and get some idea of whether we'll run short on certain things.

I think about whether we'll have enough volunteers or too many. How will we accomplish our goal of using this event as a springboard to get more churches involved. Can we schedule a meeting that day to talk with prospective project leaders? When? How?

How can we efficiently stage the event so that we can get items onto the tables quickly as they run low? You'd think I would have figured this out after doing a packing party last year but we're doubling the numbers this year so we have twice the amount of items to manage.

I checked the shipping of cartons and the truck arrangements with the folks in Boone and everything seems set on their end.

So, God of all details, who created everything to minute specifications, will you take over these details that threaten to overwhelm me. Impress upon me those that need to be considered and removed from my mind the ones that You've already worked out.

And in 16 days I'll know that, once again, it was Only You who could have made it happen.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stumbling Over Jesus

A local service organization was interested in packing gift-filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and set a goal of packing 50 at their meeting at the end of the month. But then they realized that Jesus is literally at the center of the program. As Franklin Graham said at last year's media events, the project is Operation CHRISTmas Child.

The service club said they were fine with packing boxes for a Christian organization. They pray at their meetings. But when they heard the name Jesus--well, that was just going too far.

Jesus does that to people. In one of his songs, Michael Card calls Him, "the Rock that makes men stumble." Jesus stands there and forces a choice.; you have to do something about Him. People will listen to prayers to what they think of as a benign heavenly one-faith-fits-all Father. But Jesus? He's just too offensive.

Jesus, who came to earth to take on humanity and become sin for us, we lift you up as the rightful center of Operation Christmas Child--The Greatest Gift of all. These boxes filled to the brim with toys and school supplies and candy and clothing are empty without You. Jesus, be the center not only of this project, not only of each of these millions of boxes, but of my life.

I stumble today over fear and doubt and worry and insecurity because in too many moments I've lost my Center.

Jesus, I stumble back to You.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting Into The Boat

I've concentrated a lot over the past few years on asking God to help me get OUT of the boat and walk to Him on the water as He calls me--to not be afraid to follow where He leads. But yesterday's sermon based on Jesus' calling of Peter, James and John in Luke 5 made me realize that sometimes I need to get INTO the boat.

Jesus used Peter's boat to get out onto the water to speak to the crowd. Peter was done with his work for the day. He'd worked all night and hadn't caught any fish. He was cleaning the nets and finishing up his work--ready to go rest.

Then Jesus said, "Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch." Peter was tired and his equipment was cleaned. He wasn't ready to go back out to work again. Despite that, though, he simply obeyed and said to Jesus, "But (I love that word) because you say so, I will let down the nets."

And because Peter obeyed they caught such a large number of fish their nets started to break.

God used this to speak to me so clearly yesterday. We've been talking about the possibility of having a second large packing party in the Albion/ west county area after our large packing party at Grace Church this fall. I've been reluctant, though. All I can think of is getting through this packing party on September 25th and the thought of facing another one after that just seems too daunting.

On September 25th my nets would be cleaned and I'd be done packing for the year. But yesterday I started feeling that God may be calling us to let down the nets again. Boy, I sure don't want to miss a huge catch of 'gospel opportunities' just because I'm tired and don't want to do another packing party.

We're going to keep praying about this and asking God for His leading. Please pray that we don't miss getting INTO the boat if that's what He's calling us to do.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


While I was running this morning I had some pretty convicting thoughts. Last night we had our monthly Operation Christmas Child Area Team meeting. We spent some time praising God for all He's done for and in our team since last November. Then we looked at our ministry plan--our goals for the year--to evaluate how we're doing.

Goals are necessary to give us a structure for ministry but as I ran this morning I realized that too often those ministry goals are keeping me sidetracked from the elemental goal, or mission, of my life.

If I were to articulate my personal mission statement it would be "To enjoy and glorify God and to allow Him to work in me to help as many other people as possible to enjoy and glorify Him too."

Here's the confession: I think I've been focusing too much on specific ministry goals (ie: praying for 30,333 shoeboxes in our area this year, begging God to give us 30 new participating churches, obsessing over details for a giant Operation Christmas Child packing party) and not nearly enough on enjoying and glorifying God.

God, You know I'm achievement oriented. You created me so You know my tendency to relentlessness and I believe You want to use it for Your glory. But You really want me to follow You relentlessly. And You're relentless in that pursuit for my life. In the words of the song, "You won't relent until You have it all."

God, I want as many people as possible in this world to enjoy and glorify You with me. That's why I'm asking you to give us more than 30,333 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes--gospel opportunities--from Northwestern PA. And I'm asking for 630,000 from the Mid-Atlantic region. And 5.5 million from the US. And 8.5 million worldwide. But God, will you keep reminding me of the elemental reason for working so hard to get all these shoeboxes?

Because in the midst of the victories--the successful packing parties, the trucks full of shoeboxes, the goals achieved--if I fail to enjoy and glorify You, then I've relentlessly failed.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit--T.D. Jakes--Combustible Passion

Coming into the final session of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit and hoping T.D. Jakes will give more insight on developing combustible passion for Operation Christmas Child.

Bill Hybels says the church is the hope of the world but in order for it to reach its potential it has to be well led. That means people with leadership gifts have to step up and have to step it up. Bill says he does leadership development just out of discipline not because he feels like it. Leaders take responsibility for your leadership development and read more to get better. Ask others to help develop you. Go where leadership is taught. The church would fold if it weren't for marketplace leaders who step up to minister in the church.

T.D. Jakes--how to impassion and motivate those who serve under you--
When people are passionate about what they do they are far more effective at what they do. Church leadership is unique--people don't come to follow you, they come to follow Jesus--and then they get stuck with you.

We cannot be clones when it comes to passion. It's not about mimicking other people.

God used Samuel to bring Israel through transition. Leadership is not just maintaining--it's bringing us from 'here' to 'there'. People follow people who move. God can't use people who don't have a real connection with Him to do His work. Samuel's first job was to make sure the lamp in the temple did not go out. Our job is to make sure the lamp does not go out in our ministry, leaving people serving without passion.

What you envision happening should not be diluted or polluted as it comes down "from the head to the beard to the skirt". The passion and vision should be the same all the way down the line.

Constantly evaluate people to be sure they can do what you're asking them to do. Challenge them without overwhelming them. No one feels passionate if they're defeated. You need to have a good sense of gift assessment. People often recognize giftedness in others better than in themselves.

Make sure the staff under you delivers on the promise you've projected. Being a person of faith is an asset because you have divine assistance. If you do something that's from your heart, for everything that comes up short God will make up the difference.

People are ignited by passion which is more than emotionalism. Passion is the fuel that makes the engine go.

Two different kinds of leaders--builders and bankers. Builders can make a fire out of little or nothing. Joseph was a builder. He prospered in Potiphar's house; he prospered in prison. He could build out of anything. Generally builders are better at building than at maintaining. Builders need bankers to maintain. Banking the fire makes it burn all night without going out. Builders tend to want to hang with other builders instead of bringing some bankers around them. We need both types to build a ministry and keep it going. If you're only surrounding yourself with people like you they compete with you instead of completing you. Builders need bankers. And bankers need builders to create and start the ministry. Jesus started His ministry with 12 people and NONE of them did what He did. Good teams are not teams with people who are good what you're good at. Good teams add to you and accessorize your life. You need people who are assets and not liabilities.

Confidantes are your personal friends and if you have 2-3 in your lifetime you're a rich person. Confidantes are "for you" no matter what.

Constituents are not people who are "for you"; they are people who are "for what you are for". They serve with you because they believe in your mission. They are your scaffolding. Don't try to hold people too tightly who are meant to come and go. (Some people are like the King James Version--they came to pass.)

Comrades are people who are "against what you are against" and are motivated by the fight. You need to keep at least one 'ear cutter' on your team. Joshua was a fighter--not a briefcase carrier. If you don't know how to use them, they will end up fighting you. Handle them to get them to fight for you and not against you.

Good leadership takes the passion of the leader and divides it on the team. You work best with people you read well. If you're going to lead people like Jesus you have to be willing to show them your wounds. Jesus, after his resurrection, showed his wounds to the believers so they learn as much from His struggle as they do from His strength.

You have to fight not just battles but normalcy and mediocrity. It's the long walk between the battles when you have to keep people motivated. You can get tired of encouraging people because they take your courage and you become discouraged.

The Good Samaritan offered a small amount to the innkeeper to take care of the man he found on the road and said he'd pay him when he returned if he owed him anything. And that's what Jesus says to us.

When you find yourself running low and your fuel tanks are blinking and your smile is low and you're tired--you have a God to Whom you can turn and say, "Help me so I can help them and give me fire so I can pass it on."

What do you do when you wish you had someone to encourage you? When my heart is overwhelmed, I go to the Rock that is higher than I. Renew my strength. Increase my faith and send me out there and I'll do it again.

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit--Jack Welch CEO of General Electric

At Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit this afternoon listening to an interview with Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, by Bill Hybels. Hoping to get some tips for leading with Operation Christmas Child.

Leaders have to be authentic. Don't portray yourself as something other than what you are. Be someone they can count on for the truth, for support. Some people come out of the womb with a vest on and try to behave a certain way. People should be comfortable and speak the truth with each other.

(WOW, Willow Creek just had to bleep Jack Welch)--lol

Anyone can be a whirling dervish but you need to learn to energize and excite people about your mission and vision. Don't hustle people to join. Tell them the story. Energizing people is not hyping them; it's getting them to feel this vision. Of course you have to believe it. (Jack says, "If you don't believe in it, why the h--- would you do it?")

Jack met for 10 hours with a group of call center workers. He had no plan for the meeting but had to get them to talk and express themselves. "When you start to see 2 or 3 buy in you keep going..."

Huge emphasis about candor--gives the organization a huge advantage.

Concept of differentiation--ranking of staff where top 20% were identified, then the vital 70% and then the 10% of the lowest performers that were compensated accordingly. Mr. Welch says business is competitive, just like sports and this differentiation is an extension of his candor principle.

No leader should go to work and not have his staff know where he stands. In every organization people know who are performing well. We spend too much time trying to fix the people at the bottom. Don't waste your time on them--try to help them move on to a place that suits them better.

The top people are filled with energy, likable, have good values, and they have a gene that makes them love to see people grow and be rewarded. They're not mean-spirited or stingy. They're not afraid to have great people around them. The mean-spirited leader hides good people.

The vital 70% (V people)--are hard-working but maybe not as gifted as the top group. Identifying the top 20% runs the risk of demoralizing those who are very near to making it into that group.

The bottom 10% are low-energy, acidic, not team-players. Nothing is worse than taking the energy from an organization. They can be disrupters.

Boss-haters may have brains and should be listened to sometimes. The hallway whisperer is more dangerous than the one who disagrees openly.

Do everything you can to stop the meeting after the meeting. Talk about it at the meeting instead of griping about it afterwards.

Top 20% need to be rewarded in any way possible. If you can't do this you'll lose your best people. In regard to churches, people CHOOSE to join for the work. But they still need to be rewarded. Sometimes non-profit means non-performance.

Jack says "You never move fast enough. You might make some mistakes but go. Do. Don't ponder." Have the confidence to do it (act) when you think you have the answer and that builds more confidence to do it the next time.

How do you pass the baton on to the next leadership generation? Jack started planning 8 years before his retirement. The last 3 in the running for the position had been longshots 8 years before. You don't always know how someone will behave at the next level.

If a leader isn't celebrating even small victories they're missing opportunities.

Global Leadership Summit--Daniel Pink--What Motivates Us?

Daniel Pink comes to talk to us at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit about human motivation. What motivates people to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child? Hoping to find out how to motivate more.

human motivations--
Biological drive--hunger, etc.
Reward & Punishment drive
Relationship & Meaning drive (routinely neglected in organizations)

50 years of research in the science of motivation can shed light on this.
One study in rewards done in Cambridge, MA with MIT students. Tasks were given increasing rewards and when the tasks were mechanical the higher the pay the better the performance but when tasks called for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to worse performance.

if / then motivators work well for simple tasks but they don't work well for complex conceptual tasks that demand creativity because they give you tunnel vision.

Red Gate Software company had a sales force with commissions and the employees started gating the system. The company decided to eliminate commissions and instead raised the base salary and gave them profit-sharing at the end of the year.

One of the problems is that we make the wrong assumptions about people. Two false assumptions are:
1) Human beings are machines (complicated but mechanistic)--not true and 50 years of science verifies this
2) Human beings are blobs (passive and inert)--not true--our nature is to be active and engaged (I defy you to find me a child who is NOT active and engaged--that is our default setting)

Three keys to human motivation: Autonomy; Mastery; Purpose

Autonomy--compare to 'management'. Management is technology from the 1850s designed to get compliance. Management does not lead to direction; self-direction leads to engagement. This works better than giving out carrots, especially in the church where we don't even have many carrots to give out. We need to give autonomy in time, team task, technique.
Australian software company gives each Friday to intense undiluted autonomy where employees can work on anything as long as it's not related to their job and they have something to show everyone at the end of the day (called Fed Ex Days). It worked so well that now employees can spend 20% of their employees working on their own on whatever they want. Google does this in the US. "Just about all the good ideas here have bubbled up from 20% time"
How to apply this in a non-profit situation?--need to go slow in implementing this. Need to provide some scaffolding to help people get there. Try some Fed Ex days to train people. Or start out with 10% time.

Mastery--Playing the bassoon on the weekend doesn't fulfill biological or economical needs but it provides meaning. Large study of motivation showed the largest work motivator was making progress. (No wonder I struggle in my job as a school nurse.) More likely to have this in work rather than leisure.
To achieve mastery you have to have feedback. The workplace is one of the most feedback deprived places. An annual review is not much feedback. You need to set your own goals and self-evaluate.

Purpose--There's a sense that a page is turning. We're seeing the limits of the profit motive. There's a rise in the purpose motive. Concentrating on profits can lead to mediocrity. Businesses are now starting to follow the lead of the non-profit sector to focus on meaning rather than profits.
Listen to the pronouns used when people describe their organization. Is it 'we' or 'they'. The 'we' organizations are high-performing.

How do we change things? You can't change your organization. One person can't do that. The question should be--can I change what I do tomorrow? And the answer to that is YES.

Anything good in life begins with a conversation. That's what changes the world. The more we have conversations about this the more change we can bring.

Global Leadership Summit--Terri Kelly from W.L. Gore

Here at Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit we're getting ready to listen to Terri Kelly from W.L. Gore--a company that's never experienced a loss in 50 years. She has 4 daughters from ages 5-13 and that qualifies her for leadership in my book. Excited to see how this will apply to leadership with Operation Christmas Child.

The Gores cared deeply about the kind of organization they were going to create in their business. They wanted a collaborative environment and worked to foster that.

The power of small teams helps employees stay connected even in a large corporation.

Peer-based organization. Everyone's job is to make everyone else successful.

On-demand hierarchy--power shifts depending on who has the knowledge to make a particular decision.

They are a lattice organization (connected to one another) rather than a ladder organization. Everyone needs to connect within the network.
"We don't tell people what to do and we don't tell them what projects to work on." Leaders influence other employees and share the ownership.

When you join Gore you buy into their core values (respect of the individual; power of small teams; we're all in the same boat; taking a long-term view of success and not based on finances alone)

Every associate (their term for employee) needs to influence others to get on board with their ideas which are subject to peer-review so the teams can choose which projects are best to work on. Associates are rewarded by peer review. Those who are making the greatest contribution get paid accordingly. (I'm wondering how this relates to volunteers in ministry.)

To have the leader responsible for mentoring all in the organization is very limiting. Instead, each of their associates has their own 'sponsor' or mentor to help them be successful. This is separate from the supervisory role.

They try to keep each of their plants small enough to have only 200-250 associates in each, even though they have a total of 9,000 workers in all. This leads to greater ownership. (I wonder how this applies to size of churches?)

To protect their culture at Gore they're very careful in hiring to make sure they hire persons who are 'on board' with their core values.

The water line principle means they don't have a lot of manuals to guide practices but they caution associates not to "drill holes below the water line" which means they're not to take risks that can harm the entire organization.

Leadership is defined by followership. You're only a leader if someone wants to follow you. Leaders take a lot of time explaining the reasoning for their decisions.

Trying to stay true to their values while changing to stay relevant as culture changes.

They believe that it's better for more associates to consider themselves as leaders and by survey 50% of their employees do think they are leaders.

---In the church, everyone is responsible for making a contribution. The team equips the individual as the individual contributes to the team. This is the ideal model for the church. This is the kind of church Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against.

Global Leadership Summit -- The Land Between

I'm sitting at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit via satellite and God just used a session called The Land Between to touch my heart and remind me that I need to evict complaining from my life and ministry with Operation Christmas Child and replace it with trust.

Moses and the people of Israel were in the desert in the Land Between and they turned away from trusting to complaining in a way that bordered on rebellion against God. I, too, find myself complaining too often as I wait for God to do what I'm praying for.

God raised up 70 leaders to help Moses bear his leadership load and I know God will raise up partners for me as well. It's this waiting in the land between starting this area team for Operation Christmas Child in Northwestern PA and seeing it become complete and functioning that sometimes leaves me fearful and frustrated. Four points by Jeff Manion who wrote the book The Land Between.

1) The Land Between is fertile ground for complaints.
2) The Land Between is fertile ground for provision.
3) The Land Between is fertile ground for discipline.
4) The Land Between is fertile ground for transformational hope.

I want to cling to that hope even as I turn my complaints into trust and watch God's provision and see Him refine me with discipline.

I cling to God's promise that He WILL take me from "here" to "there".

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Digging Ditches

Some days the shoebox work for Operation Christmas Child can seem almost like digging ditches. There's a lot of manual labor involved and we joke that we do 'shoebox workouts' as we haul loads of items and sort and stack them into our storage facility. Twice in the past week I loaded 63 cartons of crayons (3024 boxes) into my car at Wal-Mart and then unloaded them again. Today I spent four hours in a hot storage container sorting cartons full of shirts into the proper age and gender groups.

But as I read 2 Kings 3: 17-18 I realized that I want to be digging ditches in another sense, too. "This is what the Lord says: Make this valley full of ditches. For this is what the Lord says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord"

It is an EASY THING for God to fulfill His promises and I won't even be able to figure out how He does it. He promises to meet my every need for every shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. He just wants me to prepare for His blessings in faith--to do the hard work of digging the ditches to contain those blessings.

So when we scour stores for sales and haul and wrap donated shoeboxes and sort and carry and store all the items we're really just digging ditches to prepare to receive the water of God's blessings.

It's an easy thing for Him to fill those boxes with blessings. We just have to dig the ditches to get them ready.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Truly Trusting

I want to learn to truly trust God. Instead of being amazed when God answers prayer, I want to have a grateful nonchalance born of absolute faith that God will keep His word.

But I'm not there yet and so yesterday I was amazed when I was contacted on Facebook by a young woman who knew we were praying for paper for our shoeboxes and called a local printing company to ask for a donation. This company has agreed to supply enough paper for 10,000 boxes! (yes, that exclamation point indicates my lack of absolute faith) God is so good.

I've been praying for 500 stuffed animals each week and last week things were slim. The week before God had provided 1640 in one week but by last Saturday I only had 277 stuffies. I thought it might be the first week that God didn't answer my prayer. But I was surprised (yes, surprised) when I went to church and found a donation of 275 NEW stuffed animals (pictured above). This brought last week's total to 552.

God also answered prayer when I went to Wal-Mart and they allowed me to order a large quantity of crayons. The items are coming in.

I added up shoebox spending a few days ago and found I've already spent almost as much as the total for last year and I still have lots of school supplies to buy, but it didn't worry me. Maybe in some ways God is starting to get His promises more firmly rooted in my too-often-doubting heart.

There's always something to keep trusting God for. Right now I'm trying to figure out what to write for a radio ad for our upcoming packing party. And how to organize volunteers. And how to transport and arrange all the items.

I must have been at the end of the line when God handed out organizational skills so I'm back to trusting. And we know that even our faith comes from God.

So there's nothing to do but trust Him. Truly.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What a Difference a Decade Makes

The other day I was thinking back to the year 2000 and I commented to my husband, "Do you remember how ten years ago I used to lie in the hammock all summer and read books?" He chuckled and nodded, sharing the memory.

Life in the summer was lazy back then. Of course, in the year 2000 I also packed only 300 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. So I guess that's what you get when you spend the summer reading in the backyard.

Now, ten years later, our goal is to pack 12,000 boxes and I spend my days very differently. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss those lazy days but on the other hand there's a lot more meaning to even the mundane sorting and hauling I do now.

I'm amazed at how quickly my emotions can cycle in the midst of these days from high to low, from absolute trust in God's provision to feeling that I'm all alone in all of this.

When I think of the victories of the past, I'm confident that our faithful God will provide all our needs and that I'll come to the worship service on Sunday, September 26th--the day after our giant Operation Christmas Child packing party--with shouts of praise.

But in the meantime I struggle with loneliness in making decisions. Today I've been trying to write up some copy for radio advertising for the packing party and I'm filled with doubts. I don't even know what hours to set for the day of the event. Grace Church is hosting the party but I don't really have a committee to help me there--at least not yet. I know that I'm supposed to be the one who establishes that (insert big sigh here).

But my Operation Christmas Child Northwestern PA Area Team isn't really in charge of the packing party either. I don't feel like I have anyone to come alongside me and help with the organization. I approached two people but neither of them were willing and/or able.

So yesterday my regular Bible reading led me to I Kings 19 where I read the story of God's provision for Elijah when he was depressed following his great victory. An angel tended to Elijah and made sure he was fed and rested. And then God showed Himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper so Elijah would understand that God was with him even when it wasn't so evident.

God was there WITH Elijah in the cave. And then comes my favorite part. In I Kings 19:15-21 God gave Elijah very specific directions of exactly where to go and exactly who to anoint to give him help and protection. God had a plan in place and He made it so, so clear. And then Elisha stepped up to be an amazing apprentice for Elijah. Elisha was so committed he burned all his tools so he couldn't go back to his past occupation. I want that person on my team.

Oh, man, do I want God to give me a plan like that. I'm going to keep listening for His whispers and waiting on His plan and trusting that He'll provide the help I need.

And I'm waiting expectantly to see what 2020 will be like for me if, as we used to say, "the Lord tarries".

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Alexis Challenge

Alexis is seven years old and she loves Operation Christmas Child. She's the grandchild of our pastor, Al Detter, and his wife Marie and last year she worked like a trooper to bag candy for our gift-filled boxes. She was also an enthusiastic volunteer at our huge shoebox packing party and, with her grandmother, she carefully chose the items to fill six boxes of her own.

Touched by the needs of children around the world last year, Alexis wanted to do more to help but "I don't have any money," she said. Then her grandmother suggested that she could save money for the next year. Alexis decided that whatever money she received during the year would go into a special piggy bank to be saved for Operation Christmas Child.

A week or so ago Alexis broke into her piggy bank and they counted her money. Amazed by all her wealth she exclaimed, "I have twenty-eight dollars!" This was a huge sum for Alexis but she was determined to give it all away. With her grandmother she was off to Wal-Mart where she strategically purchased Crayola crayons and spiral bound notebooks on sale to put into shoeboxes.

These may seem like simple gifts, but they will be treasures for the children who receive them. In Uganda, for example, a box of crayons costs the equivalent of $5.00 American--about the same as a weekly wage. Families have to provide their own school supplies for their children to attend school and must often make the hard choice between feeding their families and buying those supplies so they can get an education. Receiving crayons in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox frees up money to buy food.

Lejla Allison who received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox in 1993 in Bosnia tells of using the same notebook over and over again for several years and erasing the writing with a rubber band wrapped around a stick. When she received a notebook in her shoebox she was overjoyed.

These gifts from Alexis are an investment in the Kingdom. She gave everything--just like that little boy gave Jesus his lunch of loaves and fishes--and I believe Jesus is going to multiply her gift and bless thousands in His name.

When's the last time you gave like Alexis? Have you saved strategically to make a sacrifice? Have you dared to open your hand and give it all away?

Take The Alexis Challenge...