Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Clearance Capers

Yeah, I know the bottom picture isn't rotated but after an almost-six-hour Operation Christmas Child shopping trip with very little to show for it--I deserve some grace.

The bottom photo shows a sample of what I got at our Target this morning.  They had 70% off on the dollar spot items with yellow circles on the tags.  I got about 10 little fleece blankets and 12 bags of building blocks for .75 each.  I got a few other items like this ping pong set but, all in all, not more than 30 items.  Not stellar by a long shot.

Then I decided to check Wal-Mart and found they had 75% off on Christmas items, except not all Christmas items were ringing up at 75% off--some of them were at 50%--but the associates said they were all supposed to be 75% off and the cashiers were overriding the prices so all Christmas (except for apparel) had the 75% reduction.

I got that fluffy blanket for $1.25, the sock money for .75, Christmas plastic cups for .37 and a few little hairbrushes and sets of nail clippers for .25 each.

I was so excited I decided to make the 11 mile drive to the Edinboro Wal-Mart. The only problem was that I forgot to get off I-90 and onto I-79 so before I knew it I was at the Ohio state line trying to figure out how to get to where I needed to go.  I pulled over and tried to figure out how to use the direction capability on my new iPhone but I wasn't even successful at that.

So I ended up backtracking and never did get to the Edinboro Wal-Mart.  Instead, I went to the Wal-Mart store at 23rd and Asbury.  I found a great amount of plastic Christmas cups, blankets, and stocking stuffer toys.  When I checked the prices, though, they were still coming up at only 50% off.  So I took my full cart to the cash register, waited in line, and then explained to the cashier that at the Peach St. store they were overriding the prices because all Christmas items were 75% off.

The cashier called the customer service rep who said, "All Christmas is 50% off."  I got out of line and waited in another line at the customer service desk to see if I could talk with a manger.

After 15 minutes I got to the customer service desk and  I politely told them that there were signs up indicating 75% off and the clerk said she'd check with the manager.   After waiting for a call from the manager, she nodded at me and said, "Yes, all the Christmas items except for candy and apparel are 75% off.  Just go through the cash register line and tell the cashier that."

As I turned to go I was approached by a woman I recognized as a project leader of Operation Christmas Child at a small church near my home.  They did the project for the first time in 2010 but I'd noticed they didn't bring any boxes in to the collection center this year.  She apologized and said, "Our church board wouldn't let us do shoeboxes this year because OCC is associated with Sarah Palin."  She insisted on giving me a $20 bill to help buy items for shoeboxes and I thanked her.

So I pushed my cart to a line and waited another 15 minutes.  I had just finished putting my 200 plastic cups on the belt and had given my tax exempt info to the cashier when the customer service manager rushed over and said, "I got another call from the manager and he says only certain ornaments and decorations are 75% off so the stuff you have there is only 50% off."

I took my cart and dutifully put away most of its contents.  I'll be patient and wait to see what's left when they eventually go to 75% off.  Meanwhile, I did get about 100 more nail clippers and brushes at that store for .25 each so it wasn't a total waste.

6 hours/ $100/ Lessons in patience--priceless

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Starting Over

A new year of the Operation Christmas Child journey is beginning.  I've been praying already about the goals God wants us to pray toward for next year and, of course, I've been purchasing items for our 2012 shoeboxes.

I'm still waiting for the after-Christmas sales to go to at least 75% off, but here's a picture of a few things I found yesterday.  Four pairs of nice new toddler boys' sneakers for $1.40 each at a discount store named Gabriel Brothers and a sweet doll and new stuffed bear at the local Goodwill store.

By this time next year they'll be on their way, Lord willing, to the children God has destined to receive them.

As I think of starting over for Operation Christmas Child I think of God's goodness in giving us so many new starts.  On one hand, starting over is hard.  You're at the bottom of the mountain looking up at that long, ascending trail again.

But on the other hand, new starts are new chances to, by God's grace, do better and go further and higher than you ever have before.

This morning, before I started reading Jeremiah chapter 48, I asked God to speak to me through His Word.  The entire chapter was about the impending destruction of Moab, but then I came to the last verse--verse 47, and it reads, "Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come," declares the Lord.

Spending time with my grown children at Christmas made me reflect on all the ways I failed as a parent.  Instead of exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, I was so often judgmental and critical and I see that reflected now.  As I cry out to God for forgiveness again, I am comforted to read once more in His Word that He is a restorer.

Thank You, God, for Jeremiah 48:47.  Thank You, God, for the promise of restoration.

Thank You, God, for starting over.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I Believe

Today on this Christmas Eve I've been meditating on the verse that comes in Luke 1:45, right before the start of what we call The Magnificat.  In this verse Elizabeth says to Mary, "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."

Wow!  God places so much value on us believing that He will do what He says he will do--believing in His integrity and His power.   That belief will be rewarded with His blessing.

As I look back on 2011 in this Operation Christmas Child journey,  I see answered prayer at every turn.  I am especially in awe as I read this latest word from Jim Harrelson, head of Operation Christmas Child:

Good News of Great Joy! 6,035,032 (and counting!) shoe box gifts and Gospel Opportunities from the USA in 2011 (5,800,000 goal)! WOW! 8,620,009 (and counting) shoe box gifts internationally (8,500,000 goal)! We will not have final numbers until early January, 2012. What an incredible blessing. The Lord has again faithfully provided! The Gospel is being advanced around the world. For such a time as this we are part of a worldwide movement of the Holy Spirit of God to gather children to Jesus so they may hear about and respond to His love and forgiveness, and be sent out to share with others. We are right in the middle of taking the most powerful truth, the Gospel, to the most receptive hearts, the children. Such is our opportunity and privilege!

I don't recall ever seeing such growth in shoebox numbers in just one year.  God blew way past the goals I prayed for this year.  I think of Mary who BELIEVED that what the Lord said to her would be accomplished.  I want that kind of faith.  As we look forward to a new year of ministry and prepare to set goals, I'm praying that I will hear God clearly say what He wants to accomplish in 2012 and that I will believe Him.

And as these boxes are still on their way to the children who will receive them this year, I'm praying and believing that God will use each one to let a child, a family, a community have believing faith in Him.

Lord, I believe.  Please help my unbelief.

PS--There is still time to go online and pack ONE MORE shoebox through the Build-A-Box program that closes this evening.  Give a gift that will keep giving for eternity at

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oh, My Soul

Whenever I hear that phrase, "Oh my soul" I can't help but think of Leigh Fisher.  Leigh is our Operation Christmas Child Mid-Atlantic Regional Director and a good friend, and that phrase is a signature one for her.

Speaking of Leigh, I got a great e-mail from her today telling us that the Mid-Atlantic region has definitely surpassed the prayed-for goal of 700,000 shoeboxes!  We won't know the final total until the end of January but this is a  huge victory representing thousands and maybe millions of answered prayers.  We couldn't believe it when God blessed us with 640,778 boxes last year and to have Him give us this increase is astounding.

I've been meditating a lot this week on the passage from the first chapter of Luke that we call "the Magnificat" when Mary responds to the news that she will be the mother of Jesus.  Here it is from the ESV.

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48  f  For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49  f  For he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50   And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51   He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52  He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53  He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54  He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55  as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

I can't help but think about ways that I can magnify the Lord because He has definitely done great things for me this year. My spirit rejoices to see Him providing all the items for me to be involved in packing 17,777 shoeboxes.

Then He allowed our Northwestern PA area team to collect 34,941 shoeboxes--way beyond the 32,011 we prayed for.

Last Saturday we discovered that we are past the prayed-for goal of 5.8 million shoeboxes nationally.  And now today we know that we are beyond 700,000 regionally.

Now we wait for the grand international total to be released in January--we're praying for 8.5 million. And even as we wait we pray every day for as many boxes as possible to be mailed in to national collection centers or built through the Build-A-Box online--because we know that EVERY box means ONE MORE CHILD who won't have to wait.

He has looked on the humble estate of we, his servants; He has done great things for us; He has shown strength with His arm; He has filled the hungry with good things--

All from the very complex love that comes from the power of a simple gift.

Oh, my soul!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

As We Forgive

I posted two days ago about the concert that the local Shades Of Pink vocal group did at our mall on Friday night in honor of Operation Christmas Child.  But tonight I want to tell you about something else that happened that night.

As I watched the girls sing, my eyes wandered around the periphery of the small crowd and I recognized a couple there who are grandparents of two of the singers.  I taught them 32 years ago in a childbirth education class but more recently knew them from a painful time in our family that occurred almost 18 years ago back in 1994.

My husband was suspended from his teaching job in the midst of false accusations and we went through a lengthy legal battle.  Eventually he was cleared of all charges but it was a tumultuous year of emotional and financial upheaval.

As I looked over at this couple the memories flooded back, because this man and his daughter were two of the primary persons who testified against my husband in that hearing.

I don't believe I've seen him in the past 18 years.

I watched him and his wife as they delighted in their granddaughters' performance.  They glowed with pleasure.  My mind whirled.  I had to speak at the microphone for a few moments that evening and I wondered if they would even remember me.  I felt that I needed to speak directly to them but I had no idea what I would say.

When the performance ended I swallowed the lump in my throat and walked over.  The husband was engaged in another conversation and I never did actually meet his eyes or speak to him.  Did I even really try?

The wife greeted me warmly and asked if I remembered her.  I told her I did and complimented her on her granddaughters' singing.  I reached to shake her hand but it was limp and withered on her lap in the wheelchair where she sat, so I merely stroked it.  I wished her a "Merry Christmas", patted her shoulder, and left.

I struggle with my feelings about this.   I don't even know if they wronged me or my family?  Maybe I wronged them?  Somehow I feel there was unfinished business in my life and that maybe I missed a chance to finish it.  Or maybe a crowded mall wasn't the place.

Was walking to them and extending my hand enough?

God, show me what it means to forgive.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's Official (Unofficially)

Today was like election night.  Well, at least like election night would be if I really cared which candidate won.  I kept checking the Operation Christmas Child tote board on the Extranet that listed the unofficial number of shoeboxes that had been processed.

Yesterday the total went to 5.6 million but we'd been praying for 5.8 million for 11 months and I knew there were still boxes to be processed.  So today I kept clicking in and out and watching the totals change.

When the total jumped to over 5.7 million I started to breathe faster and click more often.  I practiced mental arithmetic, calculating how many more boxes it would take to bring us to the prayed-over 5.8 million mark.  We were still about 65,000 away from the goal as some OCC friends and I bantered back and forth on Facebook, waiting.

On the next click--there it was!  The message from Operation Christmas Child cautioned that the results are still unofficial but praised God for 5.8 million boxes!

I tried to figure out how to throw confetti and set off fireworks in a virtual format.  There were a LOT of capital lettered messages sent out within a few minutes--shouting the news of God's goodness.

What a blessing to see us go beyond the goal already!!!!!  (unofficially, of course)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Shades Of Pink and 5.6 million

Here's a sweet local Erie vocal group of six big-hearted little girls called Shades Of Pink.  They've made Operation Christmas Child their service project for the past few months.  They did a fundraiser to raise money to fill shoeboxes and pay for the shipping fees for them.

Tonight they did a concert at our local Millcreek Mall right next to Santa's throne in honor of Operation Christmas Child.  In addition to beautiful solos and traditional carols they sang an original version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" adapted just for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes by their director, Cathi Mitchell.

I got a chance to talk a little bit about OCC and thank the girls for their participation.    It was sure a great evening!

Then I came home to get onto the laptop and continue clicking on the OCC Extranet site to see what the unofficial totals of processed shoeboxes are.

Right now there have been over 5.6 million shoeboxes processed in the US (unoffically).  That's more than ever before and we're creeping box by box toward the goal of 5.8 million we've been praying for.

Keep 'em coming--red, green, or Shades Of Pink--bring on the boxes!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Have A Mary Christmas

At Grace Church the theme for the advent season is "Have A Mary Christmas".  It's about preparing our hearts for Christmas and simplifying so we, like Mary, can simply focus on Jesus.

So I'm looking at my not-yet-decorated tree and thinking about how to make this simplification deal work in our household.  I think I still need to decorate the tree, but what things and activities can I reduce or delete to make more room in my heart?

I'm thinking about Christmas cards and realizing that many of the people I used to exchange cards with are now in constant touch with me on Facebook.  So why spend the postage to send a redundant greeting?

Card cost aside, the price of postage alone would be more than what it would cost to go online and "Build A Box" for a needy child on the Operation Christmas Child website.

It just takes a few minutes and the minimal cost of $35,00 to send a gift-filled shoebox that can change the life of a child and maybe even a whole family.  Not sending cards will save me a lot of time and it will save about 75 Christmas letters or cards from going into a landfill.  I can concentrate instead on sending a few hand-written notes to people who need encouragement.

You can click here to find out how you can Build A Box for Operation Christmas Child,.  Maybe taking that step will help you have a Mary Christmas, too.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chick-fil-A Guests

I've been battling some sort of gastrointestinal bug and when I got home from school on Monday I headed for the recliner, covered myself with a blanket and said, "I've been waiting for this all day."

My husband, however, produced coupons for free meals at Chick-fil-A and insisted we should head there for dinner.  It was pouring outside.  I didn't feel like eating more than toast.  Still, we headed into the rain a little before 6:00pm to drive up Peach St.

As we headed into the restaurant I spotted one of our friends, Rodney Snyder and thought, "Wow, they must have gotten some free food coupons, too."  Just as I glanced to my right and saw my 98-year-old mother sitting there, a chorus of voices yelled, "SURPRISE!"

I was bewildered and teary as our friend and Chick-fil-A staffer, Bob Boynton, explained that CFA has a program where they choose a monthly "Guest of Honor" and that our Operation Christmas Child team was being honored that night.  I looked around to see about 20 folks--my family and many of our OCC team members and some church friends--and couldn't believe how blessed I felt.

The orange roses and the tiara-embellished Santa hat were wonderful but just being able to enjoy this amazing dinner with so many friends was a memory that will last a lifetime.
Patti Seth, our Operation Christmas Child collection center coordinator from Warren, and her husband Tom drove an hour and a half to Erie to be with us.  What a blessing that was.

I looked around the room and realized that God used each person there to work the miracle of allowing our Northwestern PA area team to collect 111,743 Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts (aka 'gospel opportunities') since the team was formed in 2007.

So we were guests of honor treated royally by Chick-fil-A last night but the real guests are the thousands of children who are receiving those tokens of God's love because of His grace working through all of us--our team on 'this side of the box' and the National Leadership Teams in each country on 'that side of the box'.

Special thanks go out to our Erie Chick-fil-A owner, Bryan Auton,  CFA marketing director Tina Kociolek (who even picked out roses that matched my sweater) and our friend and CFA employee, Bob Boynton,

You all blessed me in an incredible way by making our team your Guests of Honor.  And if somehow you're reading this blog and you've never had the wonderful pleasure of packing a shoebox to bless a child in Jesus' name--well, go to and find out how you can do just that.

Be our guest.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Leaving Him Behind

Maybe it's because being part of the Operation Christmas Child ministry means that we 'do Christmas' all year long.  Or maybe it's because the energy we expend to get through National Collection Week for OCC leaves us with little left to enjoy the season.  Whatever the reason, I find that in recent years I have a hard time getting really excited about Christmas.

Last night, however, I so enjoyed the children's Christmas musical at Grace Church.  I had lots of laughs and some times of tears--especially when the young soloist sang "Shine On Us"--one of my favorite songs.

The most convicting time for me, though, was when I watched Jesus get left behind in the living nativity scene.  One of my beautiful first-grade school students played the role of Mary.  This animated pixie with gorgeous caramel-colored skin sat on the stage and cradled Baby Jesus in her arms.

Soon, though, she got caught up in the singing.  She put Baby Jesus on the floor and kind of forgot about him while she got involved with doing the motions of the songs.   In fact, he never got picked up for the rest of the program and just lay there on the floor alone.

I think that happens to Him a lot during this season.

I thought about how in the midst of a year-round Operation Christmas Child ministry focused on providing as many gospel opportunities as possible so children can hear about Jesus there is always a danger that I will somehow forget about Him.

Jesus, I don't want to put you aside so I can just go through the motions.  Don't let me ever leave You behind.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Straggler Shipping

I was left with 35 leftover stragglers--Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes that didn't make it onto the truck. That included 29 that were left at Grace Church and 6 at Chick-fil-A. Next year I'm determined to do a better job of letting people know the deadlines and also stressing to them that Chick-fil-A and Grace Church are NOT collection centers and that boxes should be taken to the actual collection center or a relay center.

Having people from different groups dropping boxes off at individual churches instead of relay or collection centers means that we don't get those groups signed in and never are able to affirm them or encourage their further participation. For example, 9 of these boxes that were left at Grace Church came from a local business office but they'll never be officially recognized through Operation Christmas Child channels because they weren't signed in on a collection site drop-off log.

(This is where I climb down from my soapbox and get on to the shoeboxes)

So not knowing anyone from Erie going to the Processing Center this year, I began to make arrangements to mail the boxes. I'd heard from a friend that my OCC regional office might have a special deal with UPS to mail them more cheaply so I contacted them and found that wasn't the case. They were willing to ship them for me via UPS but if I left them in the 4 large boxes I had them packed in, UPS would charge a surcharge for large boxes and the bill would come to $400.00! Even if I put them in smaller boxes it would cost at least $150 to send them UPS.

It was cheaper and easier to leave them in the large cartons and take them to the local post office. It's gratifying to mail large packages and feel like you're getting a deal. My husband helped me haul the 4 boxes (total weight of 126.5 pounds) over to the post office where the clerk got her work-out and I got them all on their way for just $80.00--and that included delivery confirmation of .80 for each carton.

I'm praying for their safe arrival because I think there may have been checks in some of those boxes. Of course, these had to be some of the largest and heaviest boxes of the season but an average of $2.61 for mailing heavy shoeboxes isn't bad. It's a lot less painful than mailing a little package of chocolate sponge candy to Denver and paying $13.00.

The stragglers are shipped and I'm praying the 35 children who receive them will be blessed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Just When I Thought

It's sure been an exciting Operation Christmas Child week. It's hard to believe that just a week ago we were still working hard to load boxes onto that truck.

Then on Monday we learned that God had blown us away again by giving us 34,941 shoeboxes--way over our prayed-for goal of 32,011.

So why am I here on this post-National Collection Week Sunday feeling so irrationally irritated? I keep thinking of Elijah who reacted to the great victory God gave him with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Not that I'm feeling THAT bad, but I do feel emotionally strung out and somewhat adrift when I should still be deliriously grateful.

I'm irritated that we spent money this week I didn't plan on spending--the new iPhone is nice, but charges and the insurance and all the extras sure added up. And, of course, we face the holiday gift-buying season now and I'm not so well prepared for that.

I had been going back and forth on whether to buy pens for next year's boxes now while the wholesaler is offering 20% off but then decided maybe I'd better not be storing them in the cold container over the winter. So as we handed over the credit card at the Verizon store all I could think of was that I could have bought all the pens I needed for next year's boxes with what we were forking over for phones. So irritating.

Then today I went to church and saw the pile of leftover Operation Christmas Child boxes that didn't make it onto the truck. There's a picture of some of them above. 29 and counting. I hear there are more at Chick-fil-A and another church.

I don't know anyone nearby going to an OCC Processing Center so they'll all have to be sent via US Mail. And, of course, they're all big and heavy.

Maybe if I could really see the kids who will get them I wouldn't resent mailing them so much. And someone at church took pity on me and handed me some money to help with the cost of postage.

I need an attitude adjustment. God has done so many GREAT things this week. I should be nothing but grateful.

Really, I should.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On the Eighth Day

(singing) On the eighth day of National Collection Week my good team gave to me...Eight empty relay centers; seven perfect totals; six singing spirits; FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS; four wide rolls of tape; three carton pallets; two trucks of boxes; and an OCC Collection VICTORY!

And what a victory it's been. After a crazy day of doing hearing tests on 300 first, second, and third graders at school punctuated by phone calls and waiting to get correct totals, I finally got that long-awaited number--the one we've been praying toward for nearly a whole year. After praying for all these months for our goal of 32,011 gospel opportunities.....Grand Total of Shoebox
Our grand total of Operation Christmas Child Gospel Opportunities for 2011 is


I am still just in awe of all God's answers to prayer. This is definitely once again exceedingly abundantly beyond all we could ask or think. This is a 27.3% increase over last year and 7,497 more boxes than last year--the greatest increase ever--bigger even than the year we first added Warren to our totals. Each of you had a part in this.
Since our team began in 2007 we have had 5 collection seasons and the total of those seasons is 111,743 shoeboxes. We could fill Penn State's Beaver Stadium with the children who've received those boxes and still have a few thousand on the field. We can't even imagine the impact of what God is doing through these simple boxes. Please keep praying for our Mid-Atlantic regional goal of 700,000, our national goal of 5.8 million and our international goal of 8.5 million boxes. To God be the glory!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the Seventh Day

(singing) On the seventh day of National Collection Week my good team gave to perfect totals; six singing spirits; FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS; four wide rolls of tape; three carton pallets; two trucks of boxes; and an OCC collection victory.

Yeah, this is an old picture. We're not using those stickers on the Operation Christmas Child cartons this year, but you get the idea. It was another day of watching the truck fill up--what could be sweeter?

Most of our relay centers brought their cartons to our Erie collection center this afternoon and it was so much fun to talk to everyone and watch the totals climb. I've been using my calculator all day and trying to 'crunch' the numbers but I still don't have totals from the Warren collection center so the mystery continues.

This is definitely worse than waiting on Christmas Eve.

Still, there are some great stories of increases. My favorite came in Corry. Last year was Becky Foster's first year as a relay center coordinator and they took in a great total of 462 boxes, but THIS year their total was an astonishing 1,002--a 217% increase!

My favorite story of the day came when I took a plastic container out of a car that I assumed was a shoebox gift. When I looked more closely I realized it was kitty litter! Whew--that was a close one. Can you imagine the stir that would have caused at the processing center?

On this perfect seventh day I'm still waiting (im)patiently.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On the Sixth Day

(singing) On the sixth day of National Collection Week my good team gave to me...six spirits singing, FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS, four wide rolls of tape, three carton pallets, two trucks of boxes, and an OCC collection victory.

I left my house at 8:30 am this morning and didn't get home until 5:15 pm. I traveled 150 miles to visit four relay/collection centers for our Operation Christmas Child collection week. What a blessing it was to see so many volunteers united to bring in these simple shoeboxes.

When I got to Waterford, relay center coordinator Kim Kinnear and her team had run out of stuffed animals and fillers for the boxes they were packing. Well, I had several bags of those in the car and left them there. They quickly got back to packing.

I drove on to Corry where Becky Foster is the relay center coordinator. They had a packing party last night but stopped packing with 335 packed because they ran out of soap and toothpaste. Their original goal had only been 250 for their packing party but they had TONS of great stuff still left! I told them it's okay to pack a box without toothpaste and soap as long as you have a good variety of items and can fill the boxes. They were low on boxes but I had some of them in the car, too. So we set to work and packed another 49 boxes. Last year they did 462 boxes and this year they have 894 already! Needless to say, they are out of cartons--isn't that great!

I drove on to Warren, where one truck is 3/4 full and Patti Seth is doing a great job and then to North East relay where coordinator Bryon Switala was working and his wife, Joy, had everything under control It was great to talk with her and pray over the cartons there.

We're trying to juggle cartons from one place to another and don't know where we stand BUT we know our sovereign God has great plans for ALL of us. We are so, so blessed.

There are more than SIX singing spirits in the Northwestern PA OCC world.

PS--I was determined to take real updated pictures today but I forgot my camera (sigh)

Friday, November 18, 2011

On The Fifth Day

(singing) On the fifth day of National Collection Week my good team gave to me--Five answered prayers; four wide rolls of tape, three carton pallets, two trucks of boxes and an OCC collection victory.

For the past several years this is the night in Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week when I wish I were more organized. I'm not very good at keeping records and even worse at knowing where I put the records I do keep.

So I start wondering---how many boxes did this relay center bring in last year? And what were our numbers at the collection center on this day in 2010?

The truth is, I don't know. I know what our area team goal is and I know how many boxes God gave us last year and the year before that. But I don't know the markers along the way, and, anyway, when you think about it every year is different. We add new relay centers and it changes the dynamics of collection week.

I do have records of what individual churches and groups brought in last year and most have been up in their shoebox numbers. That's an encouraging sign.

Tomorrow I'm going to drive around and visit a few more relay centers. I'm praying for God's direction to keep me from getting lost. Maybe tomorrow's tour will give me more of an idea of where we stand compared to last year.

I do know that the first truck left from Erie today with 4,474 boxes on it. Do I know how many were on the first truck last year? Sadly, no.

But we're trusting God that we'll have all those numbers figured out by Monday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On the Fourth Day

(singing) On the fourth day of National Collection Week my good team gave to me four rolls of wide tape, three carton pallets, two trucks of boxes and an OCC collection victory.

This has been such a short and a long week all at the same time. I was thinking today of all the distractions and unusual events that have made this week challenging in addition to Operation Christmas Child. For example, one of my schools was one of two in the whole county to be randomly selected to have the Health Department audit my immunization records--and of course it was this week. There have been several unusual accidents at school and a heavy load of health screenings to conquer.

In the midst of it, though, God has made every challenge work out so well. I can almost sense the answered prayer all around me.

After work today I rushed up to the storage container to load as many shoeboxes as I could into my minivan to get them to the collection center to fill the truck before it's pulled tomorrow. It was snowing and windy and I was fighting to load my car when our Chick-fil-A owner drove up and asked if he could help. What a difference it made to get those boxes loaded so quickly.

Came home to do a radio interview and had it delayed by half an hour which gave me time to do some laundry and make dinner. Then my husband offered to go to the collection center with me to drop off the 300 or so boxes in my car.

We ended up helping with the cartonizing and loading the truck. AND we RAN OUT OF CARTONS already tonight! It's a great problem but still another challenge as we put out an SOS to relay centers for extras to return and started packing shoeboxes into egg cartons so we could get that truck filled.

Ahh, what a great fourth day!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On The Third Day

(singing) On the third day of National Collection Week my good team gave to me three carton pallets, two trucks of boxes, and an OCC collection victory.

On this third day of Operation Christmas Child's collection week I was going to visit our collection center in East Springfield but the coordinator, Pat Carter, told me they wouldn't have many boxes to cartonize until tomorrow (why does my spell check not recognize the word 'cartonize'?)

So I went and hung out with three volunteers at the Erie Collection Center for an hour or so and then came home and made some calls.

I heard some tragic news from Dianne Oschman, relay center coordinator at Heckathorn UM Church in Seneca, PA. Their pastor's wife died unexpectedly yesterday which has, of course, thrown things into confusion. They could understandably have asked us to move the relay center held in their church, but instead they will keep the center open--even during the funeral. A neighboring church has offered to allow their social hall to be used for the funeral dinner so the relay center can remain open. Please pray for this faithful church during this difficult time.

The Corry relay center had a packing party with kids from their children's ministry and packed 50 boxes. They're at nearly 400 boxes now.

Rose Dobson, a team member from Edinboro, brought in 87 cartons filled with 1737 shoeboxes--most of which she packed by herself. What an amazing ministry. Pat Carter also packed over 1,000 boxes by herself this year.

At the Erie collection center 348 boxes were brought in by Fellowship Baptist Church--they've been participating in Operation Christmas Child since 1994, and though their church attendance is fewer than 20 people they packed more boxes than ever this year.

On this third day we're seeing so many examples of individuals and small churches being empowered by God to rise up and pack unbelievable numbers of boxes.

Rising up--a fitting theme for this third day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On The Second Day

(singing here) On the second day of National Collection Week my good team gave to me...two trucks of boxes and an OCC collection victory.

Well, there aren't 12 days of National Collection Week but we already have two trucks filling up with boxes--one in Erie and one in Warren--and it's definitely already an OCC collection victory.

Every relay and collection center is manifesting God's glory in great ways. Here are some highlights from the first two days.

In Erie-- yesterday two girls from Mercyhurst College brought in 35 filled boxes. Our team has wanted to get the project onto this campus but had no connections. These students said they started a "Christmas Club" to get students involved in Christmas-oriented service projects. They'd heard about OCC in their home churches in Ohio and brought the project to their campus this year. This is a total God thing that we didn't have any hand in trying to orchestrate.

In Corry--they collected 307 boxes on Monday alone. Last year they collected just under 500 for the whole week.

In Bradford--the relay already collected 487 boxes by Tuesday--more than half of what they did all week last year. a friend who's church got involved in OCC for the first time this year wrote to me on facebook, "

  • One gal said she had all her box items on the counter at Dollar Tree and the cashier said, "Well, do you have enough to finish off your OCC shoebox?" Nancy was stunned. "How did you know?" The cashier said, "There are so many people packing boxes in Bradford that after awhile you just 'know'".

    The Bradford Collection Center Church packed 200 of their own, 117 from another church, our church had 50,more expected from churches around the area and it was only Monday! Our gal who transported the boxes said when you walked in the door they greeted you with such joy and enthusiasm that it was pure pleasure to deliver them.

    God is blessing our collection sites with His grace and favor.

    Definitely (singing) an OCC collection victory!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The First Day

All over the country on this first day of National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child trucks are beginning to fill up with cartons of shoeboxes.

Yesterday I was able to speak about Operation Christmas Child for the sermon time at two churches and then loaded about 200 boxes from the storage container into my minivan. I also packed my last 60 shoeboxes to bring the grand total for the year to 17,777 (such a perfect number).

Today I did hearing tests at school and fielded a few phone calls. After school I was excited to drop boxes off at the Erie Collection Center--my first official glimpse of Collection Week 2011--then headed off to Meadville and Conneaut Lake to visit relay centers there.

Cindy Woolstrum has served for years as the relay center coordinator in Meadville and it was great to see the cartons already lining the halls there and to lay hands on them and pray for them again. Ideally, every box should be prayed over at least several times before it makes it to its destination country.

Cindy Catlin relay center coordinator at our new relay site in Conneaut Lake and they'd already taken in 400 boxes in their FIRST HOUR of operation. Again, we prayed over those gospel opportunities.

The rain started when I left Conneaut Lake and came in driving sheets that made it nearly impossible to see, even with the wipers on their highest speed. I hunched over the wheel and drove through the darkness but I had a strange peace--the result of the prayers of my prayer team, I'm sure.

The rain kept up for the entire hour drive home but fifteen minutes into it I drove up on a truck and blessedly followed those taillights. And as I drove I thought about the results of passing through a storm. God seemed very near.

The storms of the past year in Operation Christmas Child leadership have given me a greater appreciation of not only God's nearness but of the imminent victories of National Collection Week.

Bring on those boxes!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leadership In The Box

All day I've been following the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Blitz in New York City and praying that God will use this creative media effort to "start spreadin' the word" about Operation Christmas Child and get more people involved in packing the 8.5 million boxes we're praying for.

Pictured above are Randy Riddle, OCC Domestic Director, and Jim Harrelson, OCC VP--two of the greatest and most humble servant leaders I've ever known.

Not every ministry leader would appear on the streets of NYC like this just to try to get ONE MORE BOX to a waiting child. This is one of the reasons why I love Operation Christmas Child so much.

This media effort is so important because in order to get more boxes packed we need to "start spreadin' the news". I calculated the other day that if every one of Operation Christmas Child's Facebook page followers (over 1/4 million strong) would pack a box and get 35 of their Facebook friends to pack a box--we'd have more than 9 MILLION boxes. And it doesn't even sound hard.

Click here to see a video of a great leader. If he can do this, then can't you get 35 friends to pack a box?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bevy of Blitzin' Boxes

Here we go--only 5 more days until the start of National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child. When you look at these boxes you need to remember that each of them represents a child somewhere you will have hope and love because of receiving a simple gift.

Tomorrow a crowd of Operation Christmas Child volunteers and staffers will don shoebox costumes and take to the streets of New York City to promote the project. You can tell they're seriously committed or they wouldn't be going to such lengths to get the word out.

Click here to read more about it and follow this bevy of blitzin' boxes. Sure to be worth it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Specially Stacked

Look--our Operation Christmas Child boxes are one step closer to getting to those sweet children around the world. Operation Christmas Child staffer Becky Herdklotz took this picture of the stacked cartons of some of our boxes waiting to be processed at the processing center in Charlotte.

I just love thinking of all the children represented by these boxes--all those stuffed animals and toothbrushes and flip-flops and crayons just waiting to bless the waiting children.

Such special stacks indeed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Go Home

Today I drove 75 miles to a church in Seneca PA to talk about Operation Christmas Child. It was a beautiful day for a drive, I didn't get lost, and the congregation had a great spirit and listened intently to everything I had to say.

Their goal for this year was 75 shoeboxes, but after I talked I ended up giving out every GO box I had in the car--more than 130 of them. I think God has great things in store for their collection this year.

The pastor was nice enough to invite me out to lunch and we had a great time sharing about ministry. But I'd left my house at 8:00 this morning so by the time 2:30 came and I climbed into the car I was really happy to turn on the GPS and hit the button that says "Go Home".

And as I hit that button I thought that is what Operation Christmas Child is about--showing children and adults around the world the way to "Go Home" to Jesus.

And I thought about family and friends who, as far as I know, are not home with Him. To me, there's nothing worse than being lost and there's nothing better than being home.

So as I looked at my GPS today I thought that my prayer for my children and my family and for the children and families around the world is for each of them to run to Jesus and just go home.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ark Update

I thought it was time for an update on "The Ark". Many of you have been faithfully praying for months for stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Back in April when I figured out we needed to get at least 600 every week it seemed like such a monumental task.

But week by week you prayed and week by week God brought those animals in--not two by two but two hundred by two hundred and even two thousand by two thousand.

We've filled 17,582 boxes so far this year and each of them, as far as I know, contains a stuffed animal. And still they are coming.

Two days ago I sent a huge box of stuffed animals to a friend who is having an Operation Christmas Child packing party. She's been praying for stuffed animals and I thought God would want her to have them so they could go in boxes this year and we could trust Him for more.

Well, guess what happened last night? Look at the picture above and you'll see the pile of 268 brand new stuffed animals that were just donated. Like the widow whose oil never ran out, God keeps filling the ark.

This year just about 11,500 animals were donated and I purchased about 6,000 more at the low average price of 17.8 cents each. So many, many answers to your prayers.

God's got us stuffed with blessings again.

The Power of Six

Last evening I sat at a table at Chick-fil-A here in Erie to distribute Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. We have a great partnership with Chick-fil-A and for everyone who brings back a filled shoebox next Tuesday they'll provide a coupon for a free chicken sandwich.

Elizabeth Randolph and I were there from 5-7 pm and during that time we only gave out six boxes.

At first I was disappointed about that, but then I started thinking of the power of those six boxes. If they're filled and returned that will mean SIX children who will have the joy of receiving a gift--possibly for the first time in their lives.

And what if even one of those children comes to trust in Jesus because of that box they receive?

And a friend reminded me that it's possible that those SIX boxes could mean SIX new churches will be planed somewhere in the world.

You know, it's not that hard to pack six shoeboxes. Even a child can do it. I'll bet you could do it.

There's a lot of potential in SIX simple gift-filled shoeboxes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shirtin' Up

I love how God provides in such neat ways for our Operation Christmas Child boxes. A Christian friend supports his ministry to the poor and homeless by buying and reselling large lots of items. He got a deal on these Old Navy T-shirts and offered to sell me some. All the same color, all adult small, and great for either gender.

As a special blessing, he offered to drop them off at our container on his way back from picking them up in Dayton. And it was a true answer to prayer that they arrived just after my school day was over.

So at 3:15 pm my husband, OCC area team member Nikki Korrell and I met at the storage container. First we moved 294 filled GO boxes from the back of the container to the front to make room for the cartons of T-shirts.

Then the truck arrived and we worked to move all 5 pallets of T-shirts--238 cartons of them--into the back of the truck. When you volunteer for Operation Christmas Child who needs a gym membership?

So we have a great start on next year's boxes with 13, 566 T-shirts in the container already.

After that I headed over to my old church on the other side of town, carted supplies out of my car, and worked with Heather Rogers and her mom to fill another 75 boxes.

I'm thinking I'll sleep well tonight.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Praying for Funding

I was going to take a day off from Operation Christmas Child activity--a sabbath of sorts--but it hasn't worked out that way. First, after church we had to do some work in straightening up the storage container after Friday's packing party. I can't believe how many different sizes of storage containers we had to sort out and match with lids.

Then after lunch I started doing some media work and submitting announcements to radio and TV stations' online calendar events listings. In the midst of that I got an unexpected call from an OCC friend and staff member who just wanted to ask for prayer requests and pray for me. That was like hearing God's voice in my ear coaching me, in the words of my so-frequently-watched movie 'Facing The Giants', "Don't give up! Give me twenty more steps!"

Before I ended my phone conversation with that OCC friend, however, we got onto the topic of praying for God to provide the funds to support these thousands of Operation Christmas Child boxes we're packing.

I pray constantly about this. OCC asks for a 'suggested' donation of $7.00 to cover shipping of the boxes and the cost for the literature and ministry expenses to support them.

Back in 2006 they raised the suggested donation from $5.00 to $7.00 per box. I packed 3,100 boxes that year and it was the first year I couldn't make the full shipping donation--even with help from donations from members of my church.

Ever since then I've been struggling, because as the number of boxes I can pack is rising, the amount of donations for shipping has remained about the same. This year I'll only be able to contribute somewhere between 50 and 75 cents per box for shipping--not nearly enough to cover the costs.

I could scale back to packing 3,500 boxes or so that are fully funded. Is that what God's calling me to do? The OCC staff person I spoke with today challenged me to keep packing thousands of boxes but to pray for someone(s) who are gifted at fundraising to come alongside and partner in that area.

So now that's all I can think about. That's all I keep praying about this afternoon and evening. I joked once with Leigh Fisher that the only way I could think of to subsidize the shipping costs was to take out a life insurance policy and make Samaritan's Purse the beneficiary, but I'm not sure I'm even worth that much.

Doing the math--at $7.00 per box for (so far) 17,508 boxes--adds up to $122,556.00. Whoa--that's almost an eighth of a million. In the words of Bill Hybels, that's a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

But, tell me, what is impossible with God?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Short Again

Fresh from another Operation Christmas Child packing party and I have to wonder when I'll ever learn to figure in God's amazing multiplication when I'm ordering supplies.

When our major packing party ended on September 24th and I realized how many items we had left over, my first thought was to do enough additional boxes to fill the remaining 14 cartons we had--maybe another 300 boxes or so.

Later, though, I found that the wonderful folks at Operation Christmas Child headquarters would send me more boxes and more cartons so I decided 1,000 would be a do-able goal with the amount of items we had (not that I stopped to actually count every item of clothing mind you).

When I talked with Amanda from Boone I said at one point, "Maybe I should order 1,200 boxes just to be sure" but then I ended up just ordering 1,000. I also ordered 50 cartons to ship the 1,000 boxes and the bagged candy that we couldn't use.

I sensed that we had a problem on Wednesday night when the candy filled 28 cartons. I was pretty sure we'd run out of cartons at the packing party and I worried we'd run out of boxes also.

So this morning at 7:15 I drove to my old church and got all the plain shoeboxes I could find. Then at school I managed to get 12 large empty cartons from the cafeteria. I hoped we'd be set to pack around 1,075 boxes.

When I arrived at church tonight for the packing party, Debbie Rimmer from our team, her pastor husband, and her son Gideon were already packing boxes. The rest of the volunteers arrived at 5:30 and we watched the Operation Christmas Child video together and then set to work.

Wow--did things ever start moving fast! Within a little over an hour all the 1,000 white boxes were filled but the supplies to pack boxes were still mounding the tables.

So we broke out the plain shoe boxes and kept packing but they were soon filled, too. The only thing to do was to start packing the pre-printed OCC GO boxes. I knew they couldn't go on the truck with the other boxes for special access countries, but with all these items and all these willing volunteers it seemed like we HAD to keep packing.

So we folded GO boxes and filled them and stacked them in the back of our storage container for National Collection Week.

At the end of the night we'd packed 1,069 'special' boxes and 294 GO boxes for a grand total of

1,363 BOXES

When you add that in with the total from our September 24th packing party that makes 17,508 boxes so far.

And we're going to pack more this coming Wednesday at our "2nd Annual Praying Patriotic Pig Packing Party" (with all the things we couldn't put into our special boxes.

My only regret is that I didn't order more boxes and cartons so the truck could be fuller when we send it on Monday. There we are with a half-empty truck and a container full of boxes.

Well, God has a plan for that, too. Maybe He's trying to teach me to have a bigger vision. Hmm, I wonder how many boxes I should order next year??

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ready Again

So much answered prayer today for our upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party. I didn't know what to expect but God brought just the right number of volunteers and they worked together like a real team.

My husband Jim and Nikki Korrell were joined in the truck by Pastor Rimmer, Dan, and Terry from Bethel Presbyterian Church in Cranesville, PA to get the candy put into cartons on the truck. I couldn't believe we had enough candy to fill 28 cartons. Now I hope we don't run out of cartons for the boxes tomorrow.

Then they loaded the 32 cartons left over from the last packing party into the truck.

We got everything set up and also folded the other 500 boxes. We are ready! I have no idea how many volunteers will show up tomorrow but I'm trusting that once again they will be just who we need.

I think tomorrow I'll get some extra boxes in case we run out....and if we need more cartons....well, I can deal with that on Saturday or Sunday.

We're praying the boys coming from Harborcreek Youth Services will enjoy their time with us tomorrow and that God will be glorifed...

We're ready for Him to show up....again.

Rockin' the Region

Our Operation Christmas Child volunteers nationwide are organized into regions. Our Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child Area Team is part of the Mid-Atlantic region which covers PA, MD, NJ, VA, DE and a part of WV.

I am so blessed to be part of the Mid-Atlantic region where all of us who are involved with Operation Christmas Child are really like a family. Leigh Fisher is our regional director and our two regional managers are Mesfin Abera and Holly Moerer. JoAnn Waters, administrative assistant, keeps everyone together, and seasonal employees Emilia Campoy and Lauren Booher are special blessings for this busiest of OCC times.

Under Leigh's leadership we work together and support one another. The biggest blessing is that we have the chance to see God answer so many prayers we pray for one another and increase the praise we offer.

I just read the most encouraging message from Amy and Will Shaw, area coordinators in the Philadelphia area, about how God is moving in their area. It's nothing short of miraculous.

Jim Urban in the Northern Pittsburgh area saw God work a miracle. Jim tallied up the cost of the items he needed to purchase for their upcoming packing party and calculated it to be $2500. Well, the next day someone came into the church and donated $2500 for Operation Christmas Child. Seeing the provision of our great Jehovah Jireh at every turn is really the definition of living the abundant life.

As we look toward another packing party on Friday I know my OCC Mid-Atlantic family will be praying, and they'll be rejoicing with me when God shows up again.

Our goal for the Mid-Atlantic region this year is 700,000 shoeboxes aka "Gospel Opportunities". Last year our goal was 630,000 and we prayed fervently for it. Well, God in His signature way, went above and beyond and blessed us with 640,778!!!!!!

But so many more children are waiting. Won't you pray with us that the Lord of the Harvest will bless us (and almost a quarter million children) with another over-the-top harvest this year.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sacrifice is Relative

God sure has a sense of humor and also has His ways of trying to use His 'rod and staff' to correct my signature sin of pride. I was feeling pretty self-righteous this morning because I was driving to Union City (35 minutes each way) to talk for 15 minutes about Operation Christmas Child in the church service at First Baptist Church.

When I got there, I was setting up my display table when a man and his wife came in. It turns out he was a volunteer from the Gideons and they had driven 4 hours yesterday and stayed overnight so he also could speak for 15 minutes in that morning service. (okay, Lord, I repent). Oh, and the church was planning on having a sermon by the pastor also! It turns out the pastor cut out his sermon and just gave a testimony about the impact the Gideons made on his life instead (good move, pastor).

It's amazing how God always pulls me up short when I start thinking I'm sacrificing for Him. Pictured above is Oxana Moore who flew all the way to Erie from South Carolina after a full work week to speak for 15 minutes at our Operation Christmas Child packing party last month. That's another reminder of true sacrifice.

God's Kingdom work is impossible to evaluate. The Bible says "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart." God sees not the number of miles we drive nor the number of shoeboxes we generate--He sees the condition of our heart and what we do with the multiple moments during each day when we get to choose whether to focus on Him or to be distracted.

I looked at last year's numbers and realized the church I was speaking to today had done only 15 boxes last year. So I took along 22 boxes to give out and thought that would be plenty. As it turns out those boxes were snapped up within a few minutes and I could have given out many, many more. I need to be more prepared for what God will do.

This coming week is jam-packed full with OCC 'stuff' again. Tomorrow night I drive to Bradford to speak at a missions' conference, Wednesday we have our OCC area team meeting and start folding boxes for the packing party on Friday. Thursday is set-up for the party and Friday evening we're hosting the packing party again and hoping to pack 1000 more boxes.

In the midst of it all, I don't want to lose sight of what's really important. God isn't looking for miles traveled or boxes packed. What He wants is a living sacrifice and a sacrifice of praise.

God, teach me what it means to follow you in sacrifice.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Sometimes in the midst of all the details of my volunteer job with Operation Christmas Child I can lose perspective. As I pray for God to bless us with 32,011 shoebox gifts here in Northwestern PA, with 700,000 in the Mid-Atlantic region, with 5.8 million nationwide, and with 8.5 million worldwide the numbers all blur together in an overwhelming pile of boxes and cartons and trucks and sea containers.

The weeks become a tangle of packing party preparations and speaking engagements and phone calls to return and information to absorb and remember.

But as I sat on the floor today putting stacks of 8 crayons into individual bags I thought once more of this amazing truth: every crayon I touch will go into the hands of a child in another country who will be blessed by it.

This Operation Christmas Child project is vast but it's also vastly personal. Last year we prayed for a goal of 630,000 shoeboxes in the Mid-Atlantic region and God went way beyond our expectations and blessed us with 640,778.

It was neat this week when we heard that in Mexico last year 640,000 boxes were distributed and there were 334,000 recorded decisions made for Christ as a result of them. That's a huge number but each of those children is an individual who God knows and loves intimately. He knows the hopes and dreams and even the number of hairs on the head of each of those children.

I was reminded again today of an Operation Christmas Child motto--

ONE box=ONE child=ONE soul

One box makes a tremendous difference because it's one fewer child who's kept waiting to hear of God's love. So pack a box! If you're not sure how to do that, click here to learn how.

Pack with God's perspective.