Friday, March 30, 2012

The Best Thing and The Hardest Thing

At the recent Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference the area coordinators were asked to share the best thing about volunteering as an OCC area coordinator and also the hardest thing.

I didn't reply at the time, but as I reflected on the question, my answers are:

The Best Thing:  Seeing God do what only He can do
The Hardest Thing:  Waiting for Him to do it

Thursday, March 29, 2012

T Minus 6 Months

Six months from right now, Lord willing, our 4th major Community-Wide Operation Christmas Child packing party will be over.  It's scheduled for September 29th and our prayer is that God will allow us to pack 20,000 gift-filled shoeboxes for needy children around the world that weekend.  Can you save the date and join us to help make it happen?

I just mentioned the 6 month fact to my husband and he said, "Are you counting the months because you're excited for it to come or because you want it to be over?"

I guess if I'm honest I'd have to admit that I wait every year for it to be over.  On the actual day, however, the excitement builds as I see all the work and prayers culminate in that amazing time of watching God do what only He can do.

In the months leading up to it, though, it's all about walking by faith.  By God's grace He's teaching me to do that day by day but every year brings new challenges and gives new meaning to the truth that we walk by faith not by sight.

Today I was making a pest of myself to God again as I reminded Him of all that we need for these boxes--18,000 tubes of toothpaste and 18,000 stuffed animals and 6,000 toothbrushes and 20,000 bars of soap and 32 cases of paper and 40,000 pencils and enough fun fillers to bless each of the children who will receive these boxes.

I'm reminding myself of His provision year by year and I'm remembering stories of how He's provided for others' needs, too.  Here's a story I love:

In its early days, Dallas Theological Seminary was in critical need of $10,000 to keep the work going. During a prayer meeting, renowned Bible teacher Harry Ironside, a lecturer at the school, prayed, “Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell some of those cattle to help us meet this need.” Shortly after the prayer meeting, a check for $10,000 arrived at the school, sent days earlier by a friend who had no idea of the urgent need or of Ironside’s prayer. The man simply said the money came from the sale of some of his cattle! Today in the Word, MBI, January, 1990, p. 36.

I know He'll provide it all.  He always does.

And six months from now I'm going to have my hands in the air singing His praises again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Yesterday I was in a funk--stewing about things that I was discontent about.  Ironically, I was also preparing to lead our small group today in a study about contentment.

To be honest, I chose contentment as a topic because I thought I had a handle on that in my life.  I'm usually pretty willing to live a frugal lifestyle and I feel like I'm free from a love of material possessions.

But as I studied more about a biblical view of contentment I realized that it's more than just being satisfied with what God's given me financially.  Contentment, as Paul tells us in Phil. 4:11-13, is being satisfied in every circumstance.  It's trusting that God always has my best interest in mind, no matter how it looks to me at the time.

In his book, The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges writes, "The very first temptation in the history of mankind was the temptation to be discontent...that is exactly what discontent(ment) is--a questioning of the goodness of God."  And he then goes on to say, "Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power."

Contentment is not complacency because we know God, though He loves us as we are, is not willing to leave us as we are.  Still, it's important for me to remember that God did create me--even with those things I see as undesirable weaknesses.  George McDonald said, "I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of, for to have been thought about, born in God's thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking."   I can't say I'm where George was in that thinking yet, but I'd like to be.

I'm definitely not as content as I thought I was or as I wish to be.

 God, help me to see myself, my Operation Christmas Child team and ministry life, my professional life, my church life--all with your eyes.  Let me be content in knowing that You have good plans for all of this and will accomplish Your good work in me and in those around me in Your time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

God's Transforming Power

At our Operation Christmas Child Northwestern PA Area Team meeting on Tuesday, our Prayer Coordinator (pictured above) presented a devotional.  Her talk concentrated on the power of God (dunamis) mentioned in Ephesians 1:18,19a.

She showed us a plain unassuming white box.  It didn't look like much of anything.  But Linda explained that when that box is filled with simple items for a needy child, when it is prayed for and sent to that child in another country, when that box is prayerfully distributed by a local church of believers along with a meaningful gospel presentation and when the child who receives it is offered a chance to participate in follow-up discipleship lessons....that box may become something very different.

When God's dunamis power infuses that box it can be transformed from a simple gift to.....

something as amazing as a newly-planted church where new believers can be nurtured in their growing faith.

Don't you love seeing God show His power?  Don't you love that He lets us come alongside Him in this ministry of Operation Christmas Child?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hats Off for Connect Conference

I suppose in some ways trying to decide which Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference you like best would be akin to trying to choose which of your children is your favorite.   God has used each of these conferences in my life in a unique way.

I arrived at the 2011 conference very discouraged and left with a sense that I'd been set free.  It's hard to beat that.

This year, though, was exceptional in other ways.

Just two weeks before the conference Linda Bennett, my OCC team Prayer Coordinator, felt God was moving her to attend Connect.  That alone was amazing.  Just two days before we left I had no idea what our plans should be.  Should we leave Wednesday evening and divide the 7 & 1/2 hour trip over 2 days or should we leave at 4:00 am on Thursday morning?

Then Linda let me know that her husband was willing to use his travel points to secure a hotel room for us on Wednesday night and suddenly the trip became more of a vacation than a mad rush to get to Philly by noon on Thursday.

To add to the fun, we stopped at several Walmarts on the drive down and netted over 450 hats for shoeboxes for only 25 cents each.

The travel was blessedly easy and the hotel lobby was crowded when we arrived at 11:30 am.  There were definitely more attendees taking advantage of the early pre-conference sessions this year, and those sessions were a blessing.

I hugged and greeted friend after friend--sharing a sense of connection that went beyond words and, right in stride with the conference theme, I was "Getting Plugged In."

When the evening session came, Wendy Newell and the rest of the team led us in anointed worship.  Our theme verses from Ephesians 1:18-19 started to come alive.  The sense of family continued as we heard astounding stories of God's goodness on "this side of the box".  Hearing Randy Riddle give a vision of our goals and initiatives for 2013 was nearly breathtaking.  This work that God is doing is beyond measure and we are so blessed that He uses us in the process.

On Friday morning we launched into Al Newell's powerful presentation of High Impact Volunteer Ministry.  I thought I knew a lot about this process but this biblical interpretation was completely unique and "the eyes of my heart WERE enlightened" in brand new ways.

This call to leadership still feels a bit overwhelming  (and Al's reminder that David's poor leadership decision to go against God's will and take a census resulted in the deaths of 70,000 people gave me pause.)  But knowing the biblical roots of these principles makes me realize anew that God will give the POWER to maintain what He has ordained.

Friday evening's session with the Ukrainian National Leadership Team was humbling.  To hear about their faithfulness in volunteering to be responsible for the distribution of 640,000 shoeboxes and the development of The Greatest Journey discipleship program made our large shoebox packing party look like a child's play date.  But the idea of being connected with our brothers and sisters across the world was electric.

Saturday's sessions arrived way too quickly.  In the morning Livia Satterfield (pictured above)  blessed us with the story of how her Operation Christmas Child shoebox brought her the love of God and a new family.  I was so touched by her story and am praying that God will open a door for her to come to our packing party in September.

The regional reflection session was probably the most moving time of the conference for me.  We met as a Mid-Atlantic family to cast our vision for 2012.  But more than that, we shared our hurts and our convictions and our hopes.  As a family, we came together to "know the hope to which He has called (us), the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe."  Ephesians 1:18,19a

In our closing session we shared the body and blood of Christ together and the power of worship flowed again.  We each made and sealed commitments for the year ahead.

Plugged in, we left to take His power to the world around us--a much more fitting celebration of St. Patrick's legacy on this March 17th than many around our country.

Thank you, OCC staff, for another unparalleled and POWERFUL  Connect Conference.   Hats off to you all!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Prayer for Connect

Father, as we near the start of the first Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference of the season we pray that You will do a new work in our hearts.  We're not content with last year's blessings or yesterday's anointing.

You tell us in Lamentations that Your mercies are "new every morning" and so we give you these days to come and ask, Holy Spirit, for a fresh touch from You for each volunteer and staff member.

Jesus, give us ears to hear You in the loud celebration and in the quiet moments.  Gives us eyes to see You in the huge vision of an international explosion of evangelism and in the smile of a new friend.

Father, for those who come with discouraged or burdened hearts, we pray they'll know Your peace and Your comfort.  For those who are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the work to be done, we pray they'll gain a renewed confidence of Your step-by-step leading.

Father, we pray that each of us will hear Your Voice of Truth and turn a deaf ear to Satan, the father of lies.

Holy Spirit, cover us with a spirit of unity, we pray.  Help us to focus on You and put off any negative thoughts or words against this ministry or one another.  By Your grace,  let us lay aside criticism and comparison, self-centered thoughts and selfish pride and be driven by a love for each other that can only come from You.

God, we ask an amazing blessing for those who've worked so unswervingly to make this conference happen.  Let each of them sense Your pleasure in them in a new and particular way this weekend.

Let us infuse this hotel and city with Your light and demonstrate Your love in tangible ways to each person we meet.

Help us to rejoice in all You have done among us in 2011 while we wait on You again for Your new work for 2012.

We pray, most of all, that each of us--whether new to Operation Christmas Child or longtime veteran--will know the height and depth and width and length of Your love in new ways in these days.

For Your glory and for our satisfaction in You,
let it be.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Yesterday we had our first Operation Christmas Child event of the season with a table at our local Christian radio station (WCTL) Women's Conference.  One of our team members, Tracey, is a graphic artist and designed a beautiful new display board for us to use.

Another team member, Terri, helped man the table and put together a stunning gift basket for us to give away.

Getting there a bit after 6:00 am and not leaving until after 4:00 pm made it a long day but God blessed us with some great connections.  We were able to talk with members of several churches that I've been praying for some time would participate in OCC.

Then at lunch I sat next to a staff member from a large local church who participated in OCC in 2010 but not in 2011.  I felt it was a God-designed meeting, and this staff member said she'll broach the topic of involvement in OCC at their upcoming staff retreat.

We also talked with a large number of individuals who've packed shoeboxes and were able to affirm them.  We talked, too, with some who'd never heard of OCC before but seemed excited to get involved.   We even got an invitation to participate with a table at an upcoming community health fair.

And the conference speaker, Carol McLeod, gave us wonderful challenges from the Word and reminded us again of the importance of taking time to draw away from distractions to hear the voice of God.

No other connection means more.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Having A Ball

In the past week or so I've bought 4,452 beach balls from Oriental Trading Company for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Only 4,080 have arrived so far and here they are in the back of our trusty minivan.

Today, even though my husband was packing to leave for a mission trip to help with rebuilding homes in Joplin, MO, he took the time to go to the storage container with me to help with the unloading.

I was able to get a good deal on these balls because they are printed with "Class of 2011" but I honestly don't think the kids who'll be playing with them will care what year is printed on them.   I blew one up to try it out and they hold air well, bounce high, and are great for throwing.

And besides their traditional ball functions, I'm praying they'll do something else.  I'm praying they'll help nearly 4,500 children know that Jesus loves them.

I'm praying that knowing His love will give them a real reason to celebrate.

And I'm praying they'll have a ball.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Did Jesus Have SMART Goals?

A couple of weeks ago my team approved our 2012 Operation Christmas Child ministry plan.  We prayed and worked to construct goals that were SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive.)

I love the training we receive in Operation Christmas Child that teaches us how to do this important work of goal-setting, but I still wonder:  did Jesus have SMART goals?

Jesus had a purpose or mission statement.  He said He "came to do my Father's will."  In Mark 10:45 he further stated his ministry purpose when He said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

But what would SMART goals have looked like for Jesus?

I will heal 50 people this month with 100% accuracy.

I will speak to 75 groups of at least 50 people each in the next three months to cast the vision of my Kingdom principles.

I will draw aside to a solitary place to pray for one hour once per day each day for the next year.

My disciples will demonstrate understanding of at least four parables with 50% accuracy within six months.

Umm, the gospels don't mention anything about a neat, specific, measurable plan.  But Jesus knew the secret to having a successful ministry--He listened to His Father and obeyed Him daily.

I'm happy to have the guideline of a plan for our Operation Christmas Child team, but I recognize that the most important thing is to follow God on a daily basis and wait on Him to lead us step by step.

That's the only really SMART goal.

Monday, March 5, 2012


This picture was taken at least six or seven years ago of a group who helped me pack Operation Christmas Child boxes at my former church.  Two of them are still working with me on our Northwestern PA OCC Area Team.

Packing boxes seemed a lot simpler then.  That stands to reason, I suppose, since we packed about 2,500 boxes instead of praying to pack 20,000.

I hadn't heard of an area team then, let alone thought of leading one.  We just prayed for God to provide items all year and then in October we got together over a weekend and packed boxes.

Now things are so complex in my Operation Christmas Child world and I struggle with that sometimes.

We're gearing up for the OCC Connect Conference starting in just 10 days and every year as I approach that time I can feel the spiritual battle start to threaten.  Most of that battle is one I fight against my own sinful nature.

A friend gave me a book to work through called "The 40 Day Soul Fast" and I'm hoping it will help me get over some of my tendencies to want everyone to approve of me all the time.

After reading the introductory chapters, today I read the first of the 40 daily chapters and it included a series of 24 questions about myself to journal about--just a few of these were--

Who am I outside of the roles I play?
What should I be doing with my life right now?
What is my purpose?
Who should I be partnering with?
After my death, will future generations know I lived?

Holy cow, if this is day ONE I can't imagine getting through the next 39.

In the midst of all this introspection I'm trying to work through my feelings about a disagreement going on among OCC volunteers about whether donated stuffed animals that are not new-from-the-store are okay to put into shoeboxes.  There have been some passionate posts on both sides of the argument.

The thing is--I can't seem to make peace with this.   Why can't I just trust God to lead me in this?  Why does it matter so much to me what other people do or think?

I just spent some time laying out some of my donated stuffed toys and asking myself if they could be distinguished from any I could buy at a store and asking God if using them is harming OCC in any way.  I hate being so preoccupied with this.

Ironically, in the middle of writing this blog, I'm watching a TV program about Haiti.  Seeing their joy in their poverty is phenomenal and it makes me think....

More introspection.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lost and Found

I found 75 of these great hats at WalMart today for 25 cents each and scooped them up for my Operation Christmas Child boxes.  But as the cashier was ringing them up I reached into my pocket for my wallet and it wasn't there.   She was nice enough to suspend the sale for me so I could go look for it and told me to pick the order up at another register when I returned.

I checked the car--no luck.  I'd just driven from a rummage sale in Girard where I'd been looking for stuffed animals.  While there I'd met Linda Bennett, my OCC prayer coordinator and we'd spent some glorious time praying together in her car.

So I called Linda to see if she could find the wallet in her vehicle but it wasn't there either.  She prayed for me on the phone and promised to continue in prayer.

As I drove back to Girard I took the opportunity to practice praising God in all things.  This trial was so small compared to what others face every day, but all my credit cards and ID were in that wallet and I really did want to find it.  I praised God and prayed and trusted and drove at the speed limit so I wouldn't have a chance of getting pulled over and not having my license (well, that last part is ALMOST true).  My gas gauge signaled I was near empty and I wondered what I'd do if I didn't find my wallet and didn't have gas to get back home.

When I got to the rummage sale I walked up to the woman at the bake sale and blurted out, "I lost my wallet."   She smiled and said, "We have it!  Someone found it in the parking lot,"  then came around the table and said, "Let me give you a hug--I'll bet you need it."

She led me into the gymnasium and called for another woman who brought my wallet.  Soon four women surrounded me and told the story of the honest person who brought in the wallet and never left their name.  "They were very protective of it," one lady said, "and didn't even know if they should leave it with us."
All my money was still in it--not that I really cared.

I told the women that I and my praying friend had been praying for the wallet since I'd found it missing and let them know I was praising God for its recovery.  "And," I told them, "I'm praying a special blessing on the honest person God used to return it."

So I drove back to WalMart to buy those hats--praising God all the way.  I told the story of God's goodness to the cashiers at WalMart and rejoiced again over His care for me.

And I think that if I can get this excited about finding a wallet, how much more must God dance with joy when lost children around the world come home to Jesus because they learn of His love in a simple gift-filled Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

Being found is everything.