Sunday, January 29, 2012

Save The Date (only 8 months from today!)

It almost makes me 'have a cow' when I realize how fast time is passing.  Our 2011 Operation Christmas Child Community-Wide Packing Party was four months ago--ancient history in the age of instant updates.  Because of the work done on that day, 16,145 needy children will receive a gift to treasure and a gospel opportunity.

But, guess what?  Millions are still waiting, so...

2012 Community-Wide Operation Christmas Child Packing Party
September 29, 2012
Grace Church
7300 Grubb Rd.
McKean, PA   16426

Maybe the Chick-fil-A cow will join us again.   Based on last year we realize we need to recruit more volunteers, so pass this along to your friends, your church, your youth group, your service organization, your co-workers, your scout troop.

It's hard to imagine constructing and filling and loading 20,000 boxes.  We're still trusting God for all of the items to fill them and the volunteers and the logistics.

And while you're spreading the word and waiting....


A Couponing First

I've been using coupons faithfully for over a quarter century, but I think this is a first.  While in Maryland for our Operation Christmas Child area coordinators' planning retreat, we stopped at a Chick-fil-A restaurant to eat.

I noticed a nearby Wal-Mart and my companions were nice enough to let me stop to see if I could use any of my coupons (Bic $1.00 off on any item) to get some more pens for my Operation Christmas Child 2012 shoeboxes.

I was excited to be able to pick up 30 ten-packs (300 pens) at .97 per pack.  I wondered if they'd give me a problem about using the $1.00 off coupons as some cashiers won't override them.

Well, I needn't have worried.  Not only did the nice young man (is it wrong to reveal that I always try to find young male cashiers when I'm using coupons?) use all the $1.00 coupons but he called over the front-end head cashier and asked him, "Should I give her back the 15 cents difference?  At the last store I worked at we didn't do that?"

To my shock, the head cashier said, "Yeah, of course, give her back the extra 15 cents.  Good for her for using coupons."    I probably should have set them straight and not accepted the dime and nickel....

but like I said--I was in shock.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thinking Of Heaven

I can't fall asleep tonight.  I'm just too excited about my flight to Maryland tomorrow for our annual Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinators' retreat.  Guess I'll be running on adrenaline this weekend, but that's okay.

As I lay awake after watching the memorial service for Joe Paterno I couldn't stop thinking about heaven.  Watching those video montages of the coach's life with musical accompaniment got me to thinking that maybe that's what it will be like for each of us when we get to the judgment seat in heaven.

The moment-by-moment reel of each of our lives will play out in totality.  Every good thing that we allowed God to do in us will be on display and fully revealed so we can revel in the majesty of all He has done.  Likewise, each sin (the good we failed to do and the wrongs we did) will be exposed.  That part will be so hard--seeing the disappointment of our failures.

But only as all that ugliness is uncovered and brought to light will we know true forgiveness.  All the wrongs that are covered in the blood of the Lamb for all eternity will be known and we will be totally free of them.  In that light we can fully claim reconciliation and healing.

You know, just thinking about it makes me wish I could go to heaven right now.  Sometimes it's just so hard to wait.

On the other hand, the goal of life is not only to get to heaven but to take as many precious souls as possible with me.  So tomorrow I'm going to get on a plane and travel to Maryland to meet with other Operation Christmas Child volunteers.   We'll encourage one another and share ideas and make plans and dream of how much more God has for us in 2012.

And we'll ask God to show us how we can share His gospel opportunity with thousands (and, yes, millions) more children around the world.

Ahhh, heaven!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Pen Is Mightier

Today our trusty UPS man delivered another 9,000 pens for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  If you follow this blog you know that buying items to fill thousands of gift-filled boxes for Operation Christmas Child involves year-round bargain hunting.

One of the staffers at my church, Grace Church, was kind enough to send me a message last week to let me know that has the Office Max store brand of pens for only 20 cents for a pack of 12.  Unfortunately, I missed the 20% off on everything on the site sale by a couple of days.  I spent some time trying to find coupon codes that I could use to get the price down lower to no avail.

Still, this gets the per-pen price down below 2 cents each--not bad.  These pens are not the best quality and don't write as well as I wished they did.  I generally put two pens in each box, though, so I'm thinking I'll include one of these and one of higher quality.

Right now I've ordered a total of 18,000 of these and I have cartons stashed under every bed in my house.  I'm a little afraid of putting them in the storage container because of the freezing temperatures.

If you're interested in buying pens for your shoeboxes at a great discount, then head over to and check them out.  Do a search for ballpoint pens and then click to sort them by price--lowest to highest--and they'll be the first that come up.  They come in black, blue, or a package that has a mix of red, blue and black.

You can get a little bit more of a discount (3%) by going to eBates first, joining there, and then proceeding with your order.  If you want to join eBates you can give credit to my account by clicking here.

I know these simple pens may not seem like much to you and me, but they can allow a child in another country to attend school and receive an education.  My friend Lejla, who received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox in Bosnia when she was a child, tells of 56 children in her class all sharing one pencil.

A simple pen can be a mightier gift than you can imagine.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


There's been a lot of celebrating going on in my Operation Christmas Child life since National Collection Week last November.  God's gifts in an increased harvest of shoeboxes were more than I imagined on every level.

But now the end zone celebration is over and it's time to get back into the game.  This is the time of evaluating last year's season and planning for the new year.  We're 'in the huddle', so to speak.

This week as part of that evaluation process I've been using what's called a SWOT analysis.  S=Strengths; W=Weaknesses; O=Opportunities; T=Threats

With one of those words in each quadrant of a sheet of paper, I've been trying to jot down assessments of each area of our team.  It's enlightening and humbling and exciting and scary all at once.

In many ways our team doesn't fit the typical Operation Christmas Child model.  We spend a lot of our energies planning a huge community-wide shoebox packing party that takes so much planning it actually requires a team all its own.  It's hard to know how to make that part of the team model.

Some of our strengths are also our weaknesses--strange, but true.  For example, our team is quite diverse, which gives us strength but is also a weakness because it makes unity somewhat harder to achieve.

In fact, as I look at these SWOT analysis sheets from both the 2010 and 2011 season I see that team unity is something I really need to work on.  This is difficult to achieve when only a portion of our diverse team attends each meeting.  This is difficult but not hopeless.

I keep reminding myself that despite my weaknesses as a leader and the weaknesses of our team God did bless us with 34,941 shoeboxes in our area.  This year we're praying for 40,000.

Time to huddle up and get in the game.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Playing the Numbers

As I said before, I love playing with numbers and when each of those numbers represents another child who will receive an Operation Christmas Child gift--well, there's nothing better than that.

I've been waiting for this day to arrive for almost a year.  Today is the day when our regional, national, and international totals of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for 2011 were revealed.  All those numbers added up to.......

Drum roll.....................

Mid-Atlantic region--723,327 (don't you LOVE that memorable palindrome?) We prayed all year for 700,000 but God gave us an incredible 12.88% increase over last year.  Stunning!

United States--6,051,799.  We'd been praying for 5,800,000 and never imagined God would give us this increase of almost 10% over last year.

International--8,630,568.  After praying for 8,500,000 our gracious God saw fit to bless more than 1/8th million more children beyond that goal.

After hearing these numbers I went on to my first Operation Christmas Child Northwestern PA Area Team meeting for 2012.  Because of a freak storm (RAIN, not snow in January) with 60 mph winds there were only four of us at the meeting.  We discussed goals and are planning to trust God for 40,000 shoeboxes in our area next year (that would be 14.5% growth over this year's 34,941.)

I sent Leigh Fisher, our Mid-Atlantic regional director a text informing her that if God gives us another 12.88% growth spurt for 2012 our goal should be 816,491 boxes.  Uh......WOW!

Who knows what God has planned for 2012?  These numbers have a huge 'wow factor' but the most wonder-filled fact is that each of them means that thousands and millions of children will have a gospel opportunity.

These numbers aren't playing around.  WOW!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gratitude and Mystery

I've been working on writing thank you notes to churches who brought in shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child this year.  I got 60 done before Christmas and this week God gave me a burst of motivation and I got another 78 written.

 I wanted to do all the ones for the churches in areas that lie outside of our area team but bring their boxes to us.   I'm still waiting for my regional office to mail me copies of the drop-off logs from the Bradford relay center and then I can finish those.  My Church Relations Team will finish the ones for Crawford and Warren counties soon.

Altogether there will be about 220 churches and groups who donated the shoeboxes that God used to give us that amazing total of 34,941 shoeboxes.

As I wrote these notes--one by one--I thought of and prayed for those churches.  Some brought in a few boxes and some brought in a few hundred but most were in the range of 30-50 boxes.  I thought of how they'll all likely be meeting tomorrow to worship God--each of those 220 churches in their own building and  with their own leaders.

But all of them are parts of our Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child total of 34,941 shoeboxes.  And, more important, all of them are part of the Body of Christ.

My mind wanders and I think of those churches multiplied by the thousands of drop-off centers where shoeboxes were collected in 12 (I hope that's right) countries around the world.  

Thousands of churches and groups coming together to collect millions of boxes--each destined to touch ONE CHILD with a gospel opportunity.  What a great picture of His Body coming together to do His work.

A mystery, indeed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Musings On Life and Death

As I think about Operation Christmas Child details and work on writing more thank you notes to participating churches and groups (up to 74 and counting), I'm also thinking a lot about life and death tonight.

 My friend Sarah's baby, Mila, had surgery today to drain fluid from around her heart.  Mila has Down Syndrome and was adopted by Sarah and her husband Shawn a few months ago from Eastern Europe.  She had open heart surgery right before Christmas and is suffering some complications.  She likely would not have survived if God hadn't moved in miraculous ways for her to be adopted by Shawn and Sarah.  Mila means 'miracle' in the language of her birth country and she is already living up to her name.  You can read Sarah's blog by clicking here at "A Hopeful Heart".

I'm also praying and thinking of my brother-in-law Brian who is fighting lung cancer and dealing with pain and breathing difficulty.  He and his wife Brenda (my husband's youngest sister) and their six children are praying for a complete healing for Brian--a miracle of life.

These physical needs are so immediate and so compelling.  But it's easy to forget that spiritual death threatens all around us.  Our neighbors, coworkers, and, yes, billions of children around the world are all facing spiritual death day by day.

These simple shoeboxes we pack and send through Operation Christmas Child bring life to so many.  And so, every little note we write, every call, every effort that brings one more box to one more child can mean life for one more.

Will you join me in praying that we can redouble our efforts to bring life to all those around us?  And will you join me in praying for Brian and for Mila?

It's a matter of life and death.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Revisiting the Ark

Yesterday my husband and I spent a couple of hours in the Operation Christmas Child storage container (the Ark) doing some inventory and reorganizing.  It amazes me that God's already provided almost 15,000 clothing items, 14,500 toothbrushes (leftovers from last year) and 4500 filler items.  There's enough paper for 4100 boxes, but only 360 bars of soap and 900 bags of crayons.  We're still a long way from the goal and even the goal is still unofficial, but we're off and running.

Already the stuffed animals have been arriving.  There are 600 in The Ark now. Today I got another donation with 105 more usable animals.  So now we have 700 ready to go and about another 100 or so waiting to be washed and readied.

Sometimes I wonder how many stuffed animals there are in our city.  Have we come close to tapping out our sources?  I think not.  I think there are still thousands of lonely stuffed toys waiting on shelves for the chance to be sent to children who will love them--children who may have never owned a toy of their own.

I work in elementary schools and I dream about having stuffed animal drives in my school district so students could all contribute, if they desire.  Although, it seems like this might be more successful in middle schools or high schools because elementary-aged children have so much trouble parting with stuffed animals.

So I dream and wait and wonder how God will fill The Ark this year, because I have no doubt He will.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Candy Cane Withdrawal

At this time last year this is what my dining area looked like as I prayed for and collected candy canes for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  This year, though, I'm in candy cane withdrawal.

Because the boxes we pack for our large Operation Christmas Child packing parties are going to countries where it can be tricky to get the boxes through customs, OCC asked us not to put candy in our boxes.

So this year, instead of loading my shopping carts and my car with cartons of candy canes, I've wandered the aisles of Christmas clearances items at the stores and only picked up a few small things (other than plastic cups, and I found fewer than 1500 of those this year).

It feels very strange to not be shuttling cartons of candy canes and working on taking them out of their packages.  In fact, I feel like I'm not doing very much of anything in the shoebox packing realm right now.  Well, I did wash a few loads of stuffed animals yesterday, but....

Actually, when I think back to 2008--the last intense year when I packed 7,272 boxes at my old church with just a handful of people to help--I don't know how I kept up that pace.  At that point I had to get all my own shoeboxes so I was making several trips a week to TJ Maxx and PayLess to haul home cartons of boxes and then wrap them and haul them back down to our church basement.

Then at least once a week and sometimes more, I'd go to church and pack a hundred boxes or so and haul them to a storage room and stack them.  It was a lot of work and I haven't worked as hard on shoeboxes since, even though, by God's grace, I've been able to see a lot more packed.

I was just thumbing through the book where I keep my old-school handwritten lists of items God's provided for each year.  It's amazing to see how He provides in different ways with unique items each year.

So I'm not buying candy canes.  Instead, I'm waiting to see what God will provide next.  Last year it was more than 17,000 paddleballs from Oriental Trading in February and 1000 water bottles from Celebrate Express in March.

Instead of unboxing candy canes, I'l just wait and pray for the next bargain that will come in His time and with His provision.

I'm feeling the withdrawal from eating the broken candy cane pieces but I'm not missing the sticky fingers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I really love numbers, which is another reason why I love my Operation Christmas Child life.  Since we don't send food items in our shoeboxes, I'm not a literal bean counter, but I sure do enjoy keeping track of how many pencils and cups and stuffed animals God is providing for us.

I also love to see how God is bringing in our shoebox goals years by year and thrive on calculating the percentage growth that we see Him generate.

This is also the time I start to focus heavily on writing goals for our area team for the coming year.  Operation Christmas Child training sessions have taught me that those goals should be SMART--specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive.

But over the past week or so I've been pondering the spiritual goals I want to see God achieve in my life in 2012 and I'm wondering if it's even possible for them to be measurable, and, if so, how do I measure them?

I want to see the fruit of the Spirit growing in my life.  I want to be more humble and I want to know God's love in greater ways.  Are those things measurable?   Can I know that I am 5% more loving at the end of 2012 (oh, if only) ?   Can I say that I know God 12% better than I did in 2011?  Will I be able to see if I am 8% less prideful?

For someone who is motivated by achievement--God made me that way and it has its advantages as well as its pitfalls--it can be frustrating to know how to measure spiritual growth.

God gives us clear markers in His Word of characteristics that reveal growth.  Sometimes I think I catch glimpses of these in my life but much of the time I don't really know how to evaluate them.  I'd say 90% of the time I don't--yeah, that was an attempt at humor, an area at which I fall short 75% of the time.


Sunday, January 1, 2012


Here we go again.  I feel like I just got used to writing 2011 and now I need to remember to write 2012.  This new year is kind of like an empty Operation Christmas Child truck--ready to be filled up with blessings.

Today is the day to start resolutions but I'm not very good at making them.  I have goals in my head but I'm not good at putting them on paper and I'm definitely not good at breaking them down into manageable steps.

I've been listening to an audiobook version of John Piper's book "When I Don't Desire God" and am challenged anew with the need to spend more time reading the Bible and also memorizing Scripture.  I've been dreaming about the possibility of memorizing large chunks of God's Word--like the book of Ephesians--because Piper gives a system for how to do that by memorizing a verse a day.  Yet I'm hesitant to commit to that because I know how weak my resolve can be and how easily I fail.  And I do so hate to fail.

So on this brink of the new year it's easier just to maintain the status quo.  Oh, I'm planning to prayerfully ask God for an increase in Operation Christmas Child shoebox numbers--I refuse to stagnate in that area.  But to make a larger commitment to hard core Bible reading and memory scares me more than asking God for a few thousand more shoeboxes.

Why should I think that He is any less capable of taking my feeble efforts to read His Word and maximizing them than He is to produce greater numbers of shoeboxes when I ask Him to?  As I ponder this, I think it's really about what I consider valuable enough to spend my days seeking from God.

So this year I resolve to not only ask God to produce more Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes here in Northwestern PA but to ask Him to let me know Him better and know His love and love Him in greater ways.

I resolve to call to Him to "show me great and mighty things" not only in the shoebox realm but in a relational way.  I resolve to come to the end of 2012 knowing Him better and loving Him more and being more confident of His love for me.

And I want to memorize at least some of the verses in Ephesians along the way.

I am resolved.