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.