Saturday, September 29, 2012

Again, Of Course

God did it again.  There's no question that these Operation Christmas Child packing parties have stretched my faith in ways like no other, but year by year I'm learning to trust Him more and more.  I don't want to ever take these miracles for granted but I want to expect them more and more.

Last night we had our first youth packing party and 70 teens joined by about 30 adults finished packing 3,483 boxes in about 2 and 1/2 hours.  It was a time of blessing and a good chance to get ready for the larger crowd this morning.

Here is George, the truck driver who came to deliver our second truck this morning.  He was scheduled to arrive around noon but instead he came at 10:30 and decided to wait until the first truck was more full before he pulled it.

When I talked to him at 11:30 there were 379 cartons on the truck with over 8500 boxes.  George told me there was no way we would need a second truck.  He said we'd never get enough boxes completed to fill the truck by 4:00.  I respectfully told him he was wrong.

And he was.  By 1:20 the truck was filled with 675 cartons containing 15,525 boxes.  I told you so, George.  And we were on to the second truck.

We had several visitors who drove quite a distance to our packing party and I was totally (and pleasantly) shocked when Will and Amy Shaw, my fellow Mid-Atlantic OCC Area Coordinators, drove in from Philadelphia!  They left at 3:30 am and were leaving after the packing party to drive back home.
I am amazed by their sacrifice and only wish I could have spent more quality time with them.  I was also blessed by a visit from Dennis Henry, OCC Prayer Coordinator, who drove from Columbus, OH to be here and spent some time praying with our team's Prayer Coordinator, Linda Bennett.

Amy Gibson drove in from Cleveland and even brought over 100 great balls to use as filler items.  This was a great blessing, because I spent much of the day trying to ration the filler items and wondering if we would run out of them before we got to 20,000 boxes.

All day I sensed the prayers of the many that I knew were supporting us from around our region and even from around the country.

God sent us more volunteers than ever before--about 650 without counting team members and volunteers who didn't sign in at registration.   The line moved steadily all day at an even pace and I actually enjoyed myself as I floated around from box folding to stocking tables to opening boxes.

Ironically, the only thing I didn't do all day was pack a shoe box.

I thought I had ordered 22,000 boxes, but I'm ashamed to admit that when the pallets arrived I never actually counted the cases to see if I received them all. I just assumed I had them.

When I was informed that we only had 14 cases of boxes left I told the volunteers to stop folding them because I assumed that meant we had 20,600 boxes folded and I didn't want to have folded boxes remaining when we ran out of items.

Imagine my surprise 15 minutes later when they told me the lines had stopped because there were no more folded boxes.  How could that be when we'd only packed 18,500 boxes.  I was totally confused but told them to quickly start folding boxes again.

It was only 3:00 and we had only packed fewer than 19,950 boxes when we ran out of white boxes.  Now what?

I got the attention of all the volunteers and asked them if they wanted to stop or try to use our red and green GO boxes and they began chanting, "Red and green.  Red and green."

So we grabbed some cartons of GO boxes and started wildly folding again.  Meanwhile we scoured around for every plain shoebox we could find and pack.  It was the crazy chaos I'd been hoping to avoid by ordering extra boxes in the first place.

Still, the volunteers hung in there and the crazy thing was that now we had tons of filler items that never seemed to diminish.  The boxes were better filled than ever.

We'd scheduled the packing party to end at 4:00 pm and when that time came we still had boxes full of T-shirts, plenty of all the basic items (except soap) and many, many fillers.  We did run out of stuffed animals but had enough teeny Beanie Babies to keep going.

But we made the decision to stop at God's amazing total of 21,106.  I did feel bad about putting all those items back into the container when there were still boxes to fold and room on the truck but...

We stopped and held out our hands toward the truck to pray together over those boxes.

There were some "if onlys"--if only I'd counted the boxes when we received them was the biggest one of those.  If I had, then maybe we would have had at least a few hundred more boxes on that truck.

Still, it was the greatest packing party of all.  And still the wonder of God's goodness was just as fresh and marvelous.

Because He did it again, of course.

Friday, September 28, 2012

'Twas The Night Before The Packing Party

The Night Before The Packing Party

It’s the night before the packing party and all through the church
Our team scurries onward in desperate search
Of folks to fold boxes and set up the line,
To get items ready and make things look fine
So we will be ready for each volunteer
Who comes to pack boxes and spread lots of cheer.
Elizabeth’s working to organize all,
With lists that she’s checking for needs big and small.
While Kristin’s strategic in getting the youth
Excited in serving and spreading God’s truth.
There’s Terri who’s working to make things look good
And pushing herself more than anyone should.
While Heather shares years of experience here
And digs in to ‘bring it’ for still one more year.
And Kathy feels like she’s relaxing in bed
While visions of shoeboxes dance in her head.
Like a well-oiled machine, the team moves in synch,
And then comes the pause when we all stop to think
Of what God has done for us all through the year
That’s brought us to this point as we all stand here
And ponder His goodness and pray for His will
And wait now, expecting,  for miracles still.
Surrounded by prayer we are ready to move,
To pack all those boxes and once again prove
That He is enough to supply every need,
To fill every box and to grow every seed.
And now we’re prepared to just trust in His might,
We’ll see you tomorrow.  For now, it’s  goodnight.

ps--and if you're coming to join us tomorrow, won't you consider bringing a donation to help pay for shipping our boxes?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ready to Move

By God's grace I think we're ready for tomorrow night's Operation Christmas Child youth packing party.  We have 6600 boxes assembled and lining the halls of Grace Church.

The gym is lined with tables filled with the basic items for the boxes and the adjoining Commons area holds the clothing, stuffed animals and filler items.

I've received wonderful Facebook messages and e-mails, a great e-card, and an over-the-phone prayer time with my precious friend Lynnette.  And for the first time in packing party history, I've been sleeping well every night in this pre-packing-party week.

Over 800 more stuffed animals have come in over the past few days and I think we have just over 20,000 now.

My concern is that we won't have enough filler items to adequately fill the boxes.  Loaves and fishes, please, God--loaves and fishes.

Bring on the volunteers, cause we're ready to move.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Preparing for Rain

I may have mentioned before that "Facing The Giants" is my favorite inspirational movie.  I watch it often to give me a boost on this Operation Christmas Child journey.

In the movie, the wise elder Mr. Bridges advises the young coach to "prepare for rain"--the rain of God's blessing.  And so I, too, have been preparing for rain.  I know people are praying because I have peace and a supernatural excitement to see what God will do this week as we prepare for our giant packing party.

On the subject of rain, though....

This morning I sat in the 9:15 church service and listened to the rain beating down.  We were set to unload the contents of the storage container next to the church in 20 minutes using volunteers recruited after the church service.

For a brief minute I tried to think of an alternative way to move those items if the torrential downpour continued, but I honestly couldn't think of one.  So I prayed, "God, You've got this one," and fully expected it to stop.

And stop it did.

We had a crowd of volunteers show up to help and the job was accomplished in about an hour.

This afternoon Donna, my local Facebook friend, photographed this rainbow in a neighboring community.  I didn't see it, but it made me smile to know it was there.

I'm trusting the promises represented by that rainbow and I'm preparing for rain.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Making A Mountain

Just a week from tomorrow night we'll be starting the box packing for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.

We were blessed to get our boxes this week and I was hoping to have more folded by now  Tonight was our third night of box folding.

We assembled 300 the first night at youth group, 600 the second night with just 5 incredibly hard-working volunteers, and 800 tonight for a grand total of 1700 boxes.

The happy/sad thing is that at last year' packing party we were packing 1000 boxes in 20 minutes when we got rolling.  Those 1700 boxes won't last long.

We have just 17,300 left to assemble and I think this will take more than the 8 volunteers we had tonight.

It takes a team to make a mountain.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It Takes A Team To Move A Mountain

This is my packing party team.  These four women stepped forward just two months before the 2011 Operation Christmas Child Community-Wide Packing Party to help plan the event and the brave souls have continued to spearhead the planning this year.

Last night we met once more to discuss details and at the end of our meeting we moved 220 boxes of cartons (32 pounds each) from their location in the gym to an adjacent room.

5 women and 7040 pounds of boxes.  That's over 1400 pounds each.  But we did it.  These women are experienced mountain movers.

Here's the "after" shot:

Without this team there would likely be no 2012 packing party.  Elizabeth (pictured on the right here) has led the group and worked to recruit volunteers for the actual event.

Just as we worked together to move boxes last night, we'll work together to lead volunteers to assemble and fill and pack into cartons more than 20,000 boxes to bless children in Jesus' name through Operation Christmas Child.

Right now we're still not sure how that will happen.  The list of volunteers looks very lean--especially the list of those willing to be in supervisory positions.

In the next 10 days there are 22,000 boxes to fold and a container to be unloaded and thousands of items to be arranged and readied.

I KNOW God will make this happen for His glory.  He always does.  But in this, as always, "We walk by faith, not by sight."

Many members of our Northwestern PA area prayer team are facing personal and family struggles and we could sure use your prayer support.  This is my greatest concern.  Prayer is the foundation of all we do and if our prayer support is weak...well, we are beyond hope.

In Matthew 17:20 Jesus said, "if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you."

Can you imagine what He can do if we all put our mustard-seed-sized faith together?  Will you pray with us?

Because it takes a team to move a mountain.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hitting The Target

I've been praying for more fillers for our Operation Christmas Child packing party boxes and asking God to provide enough items to make them adequately full to bless children in His name.

Yesterday I went to Target to scope out the clearance prices on back-to-school items.  They were at 70% off which isn't bad, but I was hoping for cheaper prices.

Last year I got 2900 composition books at the end of the season for only 4 cents each.  But this year the original prices were higher (50 cents instead of 40 cents for those with firm covers and 75 cents for the nicer ones with vinyl covers) so I didn't expect prices as good as last year's.

As I scanned the sale prices (15 cents for the hard cover and 22 cents for the vinyl cover) I thought I'd be really happy if I could get them for 10 cents each.

I never like to talk to managers and ask for price deals but I'm getting better at praying and asking.  So they called the manager for me yesterday and he checked the computer and told me they had nearly 400 notebooks.  I knew they had more than that but he insisted the computer was right.

He told me the sale price for the total was $72.00 but if I came back today to pick them all up he'd knock it down to $50.00.  That wasn't the reduction I'd hoped for, but I went for the deal anyway.

Today when I got to Target after work two cashiers were feverishly sorting and ringing up the notebooks.  And there were more than 400.  They had to sort them by color and type and ring them all up individually.

They were ringing up at the regular sale price and I reminded the cashier that the manager said he'd give me a deal on them.  She told me she'd do the reduction later.  I asked her what the price reduction would be, but she said she didn't know.

I went back to the school supply section and found LOTS more of the same notebooks and loaded another cart.  And then half of another.

I was getting nervous as I helped them sort and count the notebooks.  What if the manager only gave me a 10% discount or something?  I couldn't very well tell them I didn't want them when they were all rung up.  I was praying fervently while I wished I'd been more assertive about sealing the price down before we rang all these up.

Just then the manager showed up and said, "I told them to give you 50% off the sale price.  Is that okay?"  I smiled wide and breathed a prayer of thanks as I did the mental math and figured that would make them 85% off.  I told him that was great.

It took over an hour to ring up all the notebooks and then I started worrying about whether they'd all fit in my minivan.  But they did.  And the back end of the car wasn't even near the ground (flashback to the time I loaded 3/4 ton of crayons in my poor vehicle.)

I dreaded the thought of unloading them into the container at Grace Church but then I thought to call Nikki--one of my team members who lives across the street from the church.

Not only was she home and happy to help me, but she's a superb organizer who helped me make room when I was worried there wouldn't be enough.   Together we got them loaded just fine.

"Do you know how many you bought," Nikki asked.  I scanned the receipt and added the various number and guessed at 1700.

When I got home and did a final tally it turned out to be 1686 notebooks for just over $170.00--just a smidge over 10 cents each.

Thank you, God, for once again hitting the Target.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Packed and Paid

Today I went to yard sales in the rain and came home with only 48 animals for our Operation Christmas Child boxes.  Three weeks from right now the packing party will be over and, by God's grace, we'll have 20,000 boxes packed into a truck (trucks?)

My head is full of thoughts of details--Need to get the press releases out and need to make contact with my media team member about that; got a new team application today and I need to call that prospect;  need to see if we can get some volunteers to help my husband move the 8 pallets of boxes and cartons that are coming on September 17th (not to mention getting enough volunteers to assemble 20,000 boxes) and have to figure out the trucking.

BUT beyond those small details I'm praying about two major requests:

1) God, give us enough items to adequately fill these boxes so they will bless children in your name.

2) God, move people to donate for the shipping costs on these boxes.

At $7.00 each, the shipping donation for 20,000 boxes will total $140,000--now there's a God-sized goal.   I'm praying God will bring it in, whether I actually see it or not.

Besides rainy-day yard sales I went to Dollar General today and used my coupon for $5 off on a $25 purchase to buy 224 plastic bowls and cups for less than 10 cents each.

These are great fillers because they're useful and colorful items that also will fill space in the boxes if needed.

Now if I could just get 10,000 more of them.  Oh, and another 2400 stuffed animals.  And $140,000

That's all.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


You shouldn't spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror but sometimes reflecting on the past can be just what you need.  It helps to see those "memorial stones" in the past so we can see how far God has brought us.

A few days ago one of my long-standing Operation Christmas Child area team members posted as her Facebook status an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to the team at the end of Operation Christmas Child National Collection Week in 2007 about the number of gift-filled shoeboxes we packed that year..

"The GRAND TOTAL is ........... 4,753 !!!!!!!!!!!! (4,665 were packed by us as a team and 88 were brought in by others) The 4,665 we packed is a 150% increase over last year's total of 3,100. Who could have imagined that when we finished last year?

Isn't God AWESOME?!?!?!? 

I looked back to my journal entries in July when I was wondering if we'd make it to 4,000. We're just along for the ride as we watch what God does every year."

So here we are 5 years down the road and we're trusting God to allow us to pack 20,000 boxes in a two-day packing party just 22 days from now.  When I think of all the hours our team has spent over those past 5 years to get to this point....well, I guess it makes sense that weariness is creeping in. Seeing God do what only He can do is exhilarating but it doesn't negate the work involved.  So if God wants us to continue on this mega-box journey I'm asking Him to send more folks to come alongside us--folks with strong backs and full pockets and passionate praying hearts.

If you want to know more about our packing party here in Erie, PA, join our Facebook page at "Operation Christmas Child NWPA".  Wherever you are, we need your prayers.

Because at the end of the day, at the end of the 2012 National Collection Week, there will always be millions of children waiting to know God's love.

Lord, help us remember why we've held on so long.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back To School Again

Tomorrow I go back to school.  Again.  I made it through a 5-day week last week and I have to say that whoever decided it would be good to start the school year with a 5-day week ending with a full moon was.....wrong.

After this 3-day holiday weekend it's a little tough to think about returning to the schedule.  I have a list of calls I need to make for Operation Christmas Child, GO boxes that need to be picked up at a church that's an hour drive away, and plans to make for an Operation Christmas Child display table at a 2-day craft fair next weekend that's an hour and a half away in the opposite direction.

And then I think how it's all about children--our future.  Though I have no young children in my personal life right now, my work days are filled with three schools' worth of them.  Why is it that it's so much easier to pray for children on the other side of the world than for the ones who walk into my health room every day--sometimes again and again?

I don't want to be so preoccupied with those who are distant that I don't have time for those in my immediate life right now.

I want to welcome children the way Jesus welcomed them--the ones from my neighborhood and my schools as well as the ones on other continents.

And I have another chance to do that tomorrow.  Because I'm going back to school.