Saturday, May 28, 2011


As I mentioned in my last post, last Friday night I went to a local church that was having a rummage sale to ask them if I could 'shop' their sale early for stuffed animals since I couldn't be there first thing Saturday morning. When I explained Operation Christmas Child to them, they were happy to help and allowed me to choose a large bag of stuffed animals. I had taken my own mega large and thick garbage bag but it somehow had developed a 3" diameter hole on one side. When I went to pick up my bag and pay for my animals the next morning I noticed that someone had covered the hole with a bumper sticker (see above)

I had to laugh as I wondered if that was a random choice or if they picked it just for me. And as I thought about it I realized that maybe normal people really do worry me. I mean, life with Jesus is anything BUT normal according to the world's standards. And life on this Operation Christmas Child shoebox journey is even more 'out of the box' by being so far 'in the box'.

I know this stuffed animal theme might be getting old but it's the story of my life right now. And, no, it's not normal. This week we were praying for 629 animals by May 31st to answer the prayer goal of 2,000 animals in May.

On Wednesday I got 165 at a thrift store in North East, 29 at the Salvation Army, and 44 donated from last week's yard sales via Kathy Herrmann. So I embarked on my safari this morning needing 391 animals to make the goal.

I stopped at so many sales where, after telling them about Operation Christmas Child, I was given donations of beautiful animals. And the best blessing was that I saw three of my area team members on the yard sale trail also. I really feel like we are in this as a team now.

At the last subdivision sales I met one of my prayer team members, Priscila Mirone, and she'd collected four large bags of animals--many of them donated, too. I'd been keeping a tally sheet all morning and knew that at that point we still lacked 128 animals.

Priscila brought her bags to my car and we began to count them and when the final ones were counted there were 134--God allowed us to meet the goal with SIX to spare! Priscila told me how she'd enjoyed the three early Saturday morning hours as she walked with God to all those sales and prayed for all the people she met or even saw. Excitedly we hugged each other in the street while we prayed and thanked God for His goodness. Not normal, probably, but who cares?

And when I got home there was a Facebook message from Kristin Hesch telling me her neighbor gave her 50 animals so we already have a start on next month's goal. I love this Operation Christmas Child journey.

I never, ever want to be normal again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Training

This morning our pastor talked about the importance of spiritual training. My favorite point was that in addition to equipping ourselves through studying the Bible and imitating the disciplines of Jesus, we grow when God puts us in "need to know and need to grow" situations.

I immediately thought of Operation Christmas Child and how this ministry of packing gift-filled shoeboxes for children around the world has become an amazing spiritual training ground for me and so many others. Through Operation Christmas Child we've taken risks and asked God for things that are impossible without Him showing up, and in the midst of that all of us have learned His love and faithfulness in new ways.

It happened again this week. I calculated that we have 19 weeks until our community-wide Operation Christmas Child packing party and that we need an average of 605 stuffed animals each week to reach our gaol by September 24th. So this week I and my team and others were praying for 600 stuffed animals. This was a huge challenge, especially when I realized I had to teach a class for our local hospital on Saturday morning and would miss prime-time yard sales.

But today, by God's grace, the official weekly total stands at 554 and since I know two other area team members got 'about 30' each I'd say we're beyond the goal. And how did God do it this week?

Well, on Wednesday at our Area Team meeting Elizabeth brought in 56 that had been donated and on Friday one of the teachers at my school brought in 63 from her children. On Friday evening I went to the local church that was hosting a huge rummage sale and asked for permission to shop early because I couldn't be there on Saturday morning. They allowed me to choose a bag of 89 animals and set them aside to pay for on Saturday.

I hit all the yard sales I could on Saturday afternoon and found that when I talked to people about Operation Christmas Child in many cases one of my team members had already been to their home and picked up animals. They must be well trained.

And now the animals are crossing state lines to get here. On Saturday night my friend Judy brought me animals she'd bought at a yard sale in Cincinnati that morning. On Sunday I got a special package that was delivered to my church. It was sent from Cheryl Lawrence in Indiana who reads this blog and was moved to shop for animals and mail them to me.

Getting that package from someone I've never met was like a special hug from God. My OCC Regional Director, Leigh Fisher, had prayed with me on the phone on Monday that God would send me new animals and that's just what Cheryl sent. Cheryl, you encouraged me in unknown ways.

I went through the Operation Christmas Child Area Team training with three new team members in the past few weeks--each of them an answer to prayer. God is training us through these blessings.

And God is training us in the mundane pressures of the day. My husband and daughter are hopefully in Haiti right now working to build two houses this week. They were scheduled to arrive there on Saturday but fog kept their plane circling JFK until they missed their connecting flight. This delay made them arrive in Haiti a full day late. And this trip was already delayed for months when their supply containers could not pass through customs at the port in Haiti. More training.

Today I tried to visit a team member who is with her sick father at the hospital but after struggling to find a parking area I couldn't figure out how to get into the facility. Disgusted, I came home to find my neighbor sweeping up glass from my front step. He did a good deed and mowed our front lawn only to have the glass in the front storm door explode just as he finished. More training.

And so, we praise God for the blessings and we keep praying for 600 more animals to come into the ark this coming week from any state in the union.

But they'd better be trained.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

NPR and Mother's Day

Here are my three daughters, Amy (33), Jen (31) and Julie (29) with my Mom on her 97th birthday last July. I think of the years that span their lives and at myself strung in the middle and marvel at how God made us a family. This week Amy, who works at National Public Radio, did a phone interview with me about my favorite song. She said they were thinking of doing something on-air with this and I was concerned about coming up with an answer that was NPRish enough. I didn't think "I Stuck My Head In A Little Skunk's Hole" (one of our family camp song favorites) would make the cut.

Honestly, my favorite song changes from week to week. I did tell Amy that one of my current favorites is "Our God" my Chris Tomlin, but I also told her that the "Hallelujah Chorus" has been a lifetime favorite, too. It was the recessional for our wedding and I'm especially fond of the YouTube flash mob versions. Breaking into a few bars of it has always been my reaction to jubilation over anything from finding a lost item to arriving at the last day of school.

A text copy of some of our banter ended up on the NPR website and you can see it (the second piece down) by clicking HERE

I was comforted as I read through the posts on the website of the other moms' favorite songs. Many of them were not far off from my favorites. When Amy was a baby we used to sing "Once In Love With Amy" to her, much like Robin's mother sang "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin Along" to her as a baby. I remember rocking Amy at night and singing Helen Reddy's "You And Me Against The World", too.

There were so many musical stages we passed through as a family--Sesame Street songs to Kids Praise with Psalty the Singing Songbook to Amy Grant and Sandi Patty (sorry, Sandi if I misspelled your name--I never could remember which had the 'i' and which had the 'y'). Then there was the broadway musical stage, the Simon and Garfunkel stage, and then my kids kind of passed me by and left me in the dust on the way to the alternative rock and classic rock stage.

The songs that are part of our lives--rollicking renditions of Bill Gaither's "I Am A Promise" or even "Jesus Loves Me" are not all timeless classics but they frame moments of beauty and being. Some of those tuneless things we hum just to survive the day are totally our own creations never to be repeated.

Music and motherhood go together and I'm thanking God for both of them today.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Legacy for OCC

In celebration of Mother's Day I want to pay tribute to my Mom, Mabel Tarr, and the legacy of her continuing love that has enabled me to follow God on this Operation Christmas Child journey. My Mom is 97.75 years old. She was born on July 13, 1913 and deserves to count every month of her amazing life.

Mom has seen a lot of changes over nearly ten decades of life and much of that life has not been easy. I believe there were 10 children in her family (only 3 now survive)and because her parents couldn't afford to care for all of them, my mother, in her preteen years, was given to her aunt and uncle to raise. They provided for her materially but she worked hard for them in return.

Mom's biggest 'claim to fame' is that she attended school with Lucille Ball and even acted in plays with her at the Jamestown Little Theater. Our family calls the following picture of Mom her 'Lucille Ball picture' because we think there's a resemblance there.

When Mom was about 35 she and her first husband packed up their four kids (ages 4-12, I think) and left their family in Jamestown, NY to move to Erie, PA. On the night they moved into their new home, my mother's husband died in his sleep. She was left with four children, no family nearby, and no job. She couldn't even drive a car. But she trusted God to get her through, and He, of course, did.

She remarried (to a widower 15 years her senior) a few years later and I was born a year after that. Eighteen months later my younger sister, Patti, was born but she had an undetected congenital heart defect and died at 10 weeks.

Mom learned early and well to move past grief and get on with life. Even at 97 (okay, 97.75) she looks ahead to what's next. She's a two-time cancer survivor (cervical cancer 29 years ago and a 5 hr. surgery for colon cancer at age 95). She does two crossword puzzles every day, does her own laundry, still lives at home with my sister, and knitted many of her Christmas presents last year. She is a staunch supporter of Operation Christmas Child--both financially and with her help in bagging soap and candy.

My Mom taught me and my four siblings a few things over the years that helped shape our lives:

1) If someone needs help and you're in a position to give it, then GIVE. We used to tease my Mom that we were going to put on her grave marker, "Well done good and faithful sucker" because she could never say 'no' to anyone. But I now value the legacy that taught us to be open-handed.

2) If you make a commitment or a promise, keep it. Mom's work ethic is amazing. She has often stayed up all night to finish a sewing project or make favors or bake for a bake sale. Her life has been so full that she's often worked to the last minute but she WILL DO what she promises. One of her trademark sayings is, "Never do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow, 'cause you might die tonight and you won't have to do it." That's just her legacy of humor, though, and that's a story for another time.

3) If you're going to do it, do it well. Mom passed on a legacy of excellence. She is an expert seamstress, having taught herself to sew when her oldest daughter was a baby. Her first project was to make a coat for her daughter out of one of her husband's old costs. Pretty ambitious--and that is classic Mom. She's an accomplished cook who made lavish holiday meals for our large blended family, worked full-time into her 70s at a shoe store, and volunteered as Den Mother, Girl Scout Leader, PTA President, and took the lead in several Masonic organizations. And she did it all well.

Consequently, our family works hard at what they do. My oldest sister became the Supreme Worthy High Priestess (like the international president--don't ask) of a Masonic organization for women and spent an entire year driving around the country with my mother. They gave up their home and lived in hotels, traveling to every state of the union--my sister was 60 and my mother was 82 at the time.

My oldest brother ran 31 marathons and is still working now at age 74. My next oldest brother has bowled a 300 game and is an accomplished golfer. My third brother is a Baptist pastor who works tirelessly in his small congregation and is one of the most humble (and greatest) persons I know. He spends every Saturday morning at an adolscent treatment facility talking with troubled kids and showing them the love of Jesus.

Without Mom's legacy of giving, commitment, and excellence I don't know if I'd be packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes as I now do. And without this involvement in Operation Christmas Child I would have missed the greatest journey of my life.

Thank You, God, for giving me this blessing: Mom.