Friday, June 29, 2012

Blight to Blessing

I guess you'd call it a blighted neighborhood.  I don't usually go to yard sales in this area but there weren't many listed today and I'm determined to do all I can to get to that goal of 5000 more stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes by June 30th (that would be tomorrow).

I was blessed this morning by finding 90 animals at a rummage sale.  Then I stopped for a haircut and when my regular barber was busy his niece cut my hair and told me she has a bin of Beanie Babies she's willing to donate.  Blessed again.

So I didn't have many expectations when I pulled up in front of the house on East 8th St. with the peeling paint and the rotting window trim.  I said a silent prayer that somehow I could bless the owner as I focused on the gorgeous hydrangea bush in front of the ramshackle house.

I wound my way across the narrow patch of dry grass to the back yard where the sale was set up.  I didn't see any stuffed animals but they had a box with several pairs of new soccer shoes.  The woman explained she'd bought them for her grandsons and then they couldn't use them.

I told her about Operation Christmas Child and explained how many of these children didn't have shoes.  "Well, then, you can have whatever you want for $4.00 a pair.  They cost $20.00 new."  Normally I don't pay even $4.00 for a shoebox item but I carefully picked out the four pairs and paid her for them.  She was so happy to help.

As I got ready to leave I complimented her on the gorgeous hydrangea bush.  She lit up and spent a few minutes carefully detailing the process she follows to make the bush thrive.  I told her that I generally kill plants but that I was blessed just to look at her bush.

"Do you want me to cut some for you?" she offered.  I told her that would truly bless me and she answered, "Well, you bless other people, so you should be blessed."  She disappeared into the house and returned with scissors and a length of wet paper towels.

I would have been happy with a couple of stems but she continued to carefully cut and choose the fullest blossoms.  "Wow, you just can't stop giving," I said, and she replied, "No, I can't stop giving because God's given so much to me."

With my treasured bouquet in hand, I thanked her again for blessing me and gave her a hug.

As I walked over the cracked sidewalk to my car I thought of how I prayed that I'd be able to bless her.  God, forgive me for my pride and thank you for using her to bless me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Relay Races

My daughter Jen works with Hosanna Industries--a Christian non-profit that works to rehab and build homes for needy persons.  She's on the right in this picture and she and some volunteers put a roof on a home today.

And what did I do today?  Not any kind of practical ministry.  I spent a lot of time sitting in a chair with a map and my Operation Christmas Child shoebox drop-off logs from last year trying to prayerfully figure out where we can find some churches to be additional relay centers this year.

Our Mid-Atlantic region Operation Christmas Child area coordinators have been praying for "by faith"goals and by June 30th I've been trusting God for 2 new team members, 1 new relay center, and 5000 more stuffed animals.

Two more days and I'm still praying for 1 team member, 1 relay center, and 807 stuffed animals (this morning that was 924 but God provided 117 today from two of my team members).

I'm still praying but I'm also asking myself if I've done all I can toward these goals.  I've made contacts with several potential team members and I've contacted two churches about becoming relay centers but haven't heard back from either of them.

Today I stared at that map and cross-referenced with areas where shoeboxes have come from in the past.  Two of the small towns that look good geographically are in very rural areas and that have only 2 churches.  Do we need more relay centers in this area or am I just trying to add them for the sake of adding more?  I considered calling a church or two in these smaller towns but I was unsure about proceeding.  

On the other hand, our team prayerfully set this ministry plan months ago and agreed to ask God to give us 3 more relay centers.

God, please give me some wisdom here so this doesn't just become a relay race.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

At Least I'm Not Addicted To Shoes

I'm going to have to start tipping the UPS delivery guy.  Yesterday he delivered my new Operation Christmas Child brochures and kits.  Today it was the 10 cases of soap--5,000 bars.

I saw a news item about a guy who is suing his celebrity wife in divorce court because he says he deserves a cut of the value of her collection of 1,200 pairs of designer shoes.

When I posted on Facebook that I never needed to worry about my husband suing me over my shoe collection, a friend wrote back and reminded me about my ark of stuffed animals.  It gave me a laugh but, really, there's no comparison.  My shopping compulsion is limited to items like soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and school supplies.

Part of today was spent sorting more bling that was the redemption of Mardi Gras.   An acquaintance of my daughter was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and remembered that I collect small items for shoeboxes.  She collected all these necklaces and when I sorted them out I got 161.  When I added that to the other two bags of bling I got, I ended up bagging a total of 797 nice shiny jewelry items at no cost--a real answer to prayer

Speaking of prayer--it's time to step it up in praying for the "by faith" goals for June 30th.  In the next 4 days I'm praying for 1 more team member, 1 relay center, and 924 more stuffed animals.

Have I mentioned that I'm addicted to seeing God do what only He can do?

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I was just watching a TV show called "Secret Millionaire" where a very rich guy was investigating three charities in a city with the goal of deciding how much money to donate to each.  One charity was blessed to receive $50,000.

My first thought was, "Wow, I could sure pack a lot of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with $50,000."  But then I realized that I have as my benefactor the God of the universe who owns everything and lacks nothing and promises, "Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24)  Who needs a secret millionaire?

Case in point.  Our Operation Christmas Child Mid-Atlantic region area coordinators have been praying for one another.  We each stated "by faith" requests that we're trusting God to provide.

By the end of June (that would be 6 days from now) I've been trusting God for 5,000 more stuffed animals, 2 team members and 1 new relay center.

This weekend I was concerned about the stuffed animal safari because one of my usual hunters was out of town and another was also unavailable.  There weren't as many sales as usual and I also needed to be at my mother's house by 10:00 am to care for her.  I was praying for 824 animals to make the week's goal of 1250 and it seemed impossible.

God, however, allowed my out-of-town safari hunter, Terri, to get 330 stuffed animals and I got 331 in only a few hours of hunting.   Also, because I went to sales near my mother's home--further east than I usually would travel--I made contact with a woman who works at a local university.  She took my card and said she'd make some contacts for us with student groups there.  The weekend ended with 1121 animals--just 129 away from our goal.  Another 1100 in the next week and our June "by faith" goal will be met.

Then today I interviewed and added a new member to our prayer team and spoke with another potential team member who promised to complete her application soon.  I'm praying that will happen in the next 6 days.   Next I need to get busy and make some calls to potential new relay centers.

I've also been praying for good filler items for our Operation Christmas Child boxes and yesterday my daughter came home for a visit and presented me with two huge shopping bags full of new tangled jewelry that had been donated to the Christian non-profit organization she works for and could not be used by them.

I'm now in the fun process of untangling them and have 150 items so far and I'm only half-way through the first bag.

Leave it to God to answer our prayers and throw in some bling just because He can.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Equally Yoked

Today my husband and I are celebrating our 38th wedding anniversary.  So what does this have to do with my Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry?  Well, pretty much everything.

When my husband made those vows 38 years ago today he held my hands and said, "I promise to love you as Christ loves the church and to cherish you as part of myself.  I will honor you, protect you, comfort you, provide for you, and lead you.  My love for you is unconditional, and I promise, through Christ's power, to remain true through good times and bad times, through sorrow and through joy, and to treasure you in my heart, second only to God, unless He breaks our unity through death."

As he stood there in that classy white 1970s tuxedo he had no idea that 38 years in the future he would come home many days to find his living room invaded by piles of clothing or stuffed animals.  He didn't know then that his promise to "provide for me" included providing for items for multiple shoebox gifts.

He didn't know any of that but year by year he kept every promise.  Because we are equally yoked together under God's leadership he supports me in every way.  He protects me by carrying the heaviest boxes and comforts me when I feel like I missed the best deal and he's willing to give me his opinion and smart enough to wait until I ask for it.  Together we do better ministry for the Lord than either of us would alone.

And that's my prayer for the 8 single Christian women for whom I pray almost  daily.  I'm praying for God to bring them Christian husbands and I almost always pray, "Lord, bring _______ a husband who will love her as Christ loves the church but who will always love You more; someone with whom she can serve You better than she could alone.  And help her to recognize him when you send him."

Because being equally yoked over the years can make the life and death difference not only for a marriage but for a ministry.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thirty One

Last evening I attended a Thirty One party.  If you're not familiar with the company (I wasn't) they sell various purses, totes, and organizational items.  The products are nice, to be sure, but I didn't buy anything.  I tend to carry my stuff in plastic bags or totes purchased from rummage sales.

I started wondering what it would be like if we could present Operation Christmas Child in this type of party format.  We could have people invite groups into their homes and we'd give them a presentation about the ministry of Operation Christmas Child and maybe do a mini packing party.  Instead of buying something, each person could contribute $35 to help us ship 5 shoeboxes to needy children.  Of course, there wouldn't be any hostess gifts--except some sort of eternal reward.

I can waste money with the best of them at times, but Operation Christmas Child has decidedly changed my view of how I spend money.  Right now, for example, I'm considering making an online purchase of thousands of pencils and they'll cost about 4 cents each.  In years past I tried to hold out for a maximum price of 2 cents for each pencil but now that I need so many more I'm not sure I can get enough at the lower prices.

So as I looked at that catalog last night I realized that I could spend $35 to buy a pretty tote bag to haul my stuff or I could use that money to buy 875 pencils to put into Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

This week I heard from some of my Operation Christmas Child friends who recently went to Uganda to distribute shoeboxes that the primary reason for absence from school in that country is the lack of a pencil.

How to spend my money?  It's a no brainer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Heart of High Impact

We had our monthly Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child Area Team meeting tonight and spent some time working through the "Discovering the Heart of High Impact" training session.

I have so much respect for Al Newell's High Impact Volunteer Training.  This biblical basis for recruiting, selecting, equipping, leading, and developing ministry partners makes so much sense.

It's all about valuing both the volunteers and the ministry.  When you translate the cause and realize that everything we do to get these precious Operation Christmas Child boxes into the hands of children makes an eternal impact, then you grasp the vision that there are no menial tasks in the Kingdom of God.

We don't grovel for volunteers and beg for help because we believe this ministry is a high calling and a privilege.

I loved talking with my team about how these principles should guide the way we invite people to join us in this Operation Christmas Child ministry.

On the other hand, it makes me see that I may need to refocus my efforts on team-building.  If I spent as much time praying and working to cast this vision and recruit team members as I do praying and working to obtain thousands of stuffed animals then maybe my team would be multiplying faster.

It's something to think about because in my heart I really want to have high impact.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


On this Father's Day let me start by saying that I didn't get to choose my father but I got to choose my children's father and that, praise God, was the best choice of all.  My husband is meant to be my greatest encourager.

That being said, sometimes I still lose perspective on this Operation Christmas Child journey and fall for one of the lies Satan really knows works well on me as he whispers, "You're in this all alone."

This weekend has been full of reminders that God has a crowd of people around me whose lives are meant to encourage me.

I was praying for 1250 stuffed animals this week and all my travels to yard sales and rummage sales netted me only 530.  But the story doesn't end there.  A bag of 20 were donated from church and on Thursday one of my former Operation Christmas Child area team members dropped off bags with 76 animals on my patio.  Another team member had 50 for me and a friend from church left 35 in bags attached to my back door on Saturday.  Best of all, I returned from yard sales to find EIGHT garbage bags full of 384 useable animals from my friend Judy Faulhaber (some were just too big).

When I left for church this morning the total stood at 1095 and I knew I needed another 155 to make the goal.  Terri Mouyard, a member of our community relations team and fellow stuffed animal safari hunter, walked up to me after the morning worship service and said, "Hey, I got 160 animals yesterday!" That answer to prayer was surely meant to encourage me.

As another added benefit I was handed a bag with 20 more new animals to give us a grand total of 1275 for the week.  Not only that but 3 other people told me they had bags of animals to bring in and asked where they could drop them off.

Another church member said she's got several people hunting for stuffed animals and Sherry, who leads a small group of high school girls, shared ideas for crafts they could make to donate for shoebox fillers.  How could this not be meant to encourage me?

I got to meet a new friend, Candace, who took home a case of paper for her children to work on stapling into packets for our boxes.  Candace directs the KidPraise children's singing ministry and we discussed the possibility of having the children perform a selection from the Operation Christmas Child musical at our large packing party and even having the children do a packing party of their own.  She may not have meant to encourage me this morning but she surely did.

Person after person spoke truth into my heart that was meant to encourage me.  Every one reminded me that I am not alone.

I Peter 5:7 says, "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you."  And that, my friends, was meant to be the greatest encouragement of all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Burning Bush

From Monday to Tuesday afternoon I went on a 'silent retreat' with a few folks from my church.  It was a blessing to be able to spend time alone with God in a beautiful setting.

On Monday evening I found out that the stone fireplace was powered by gas and could be turned on and off with a simple wall switch.  It was a cool evening so I spent as long as I could sitting in front of that fire wrapped in a blanket.  I have always loved fires but since we have neither a fireplace nor a fire pit I usually don't get to sit by one more than once or twice a year.  And I don't think I've ever sat in front of a fire all alone--ever.  This was my idea of heaven.

As I watched those logs I couldn't stop thinking of Moses and the bush that 'burned but was not consumed'.  So I spent some extended time studying Exodus  chapters 3 & 4.  Here are my thoughts--

3:2,3--Moses saw the bush and then went to look at it further--God, when I see You at work I want to stop and take a closer look.  How many times could I have missed hearing your voice because I didn't stop and pay attention?

3:4--When God saw Moses stop to look, THEN God spoke to him.  God called him by name.  When has God personally called my name?  And moses made himself vulnerable by saying, "Here I am."  He didn't hide, though he didn't realize Who was speaking.

3:5--God warns him not to come close and to take off his shoes.  What is God telling me to take off in the presence of His holiness?  God identifies himself as the God of his father.  Where is my spiritual identity?  When he knew he was before God, then Moses hid his face in fear.  How am I afraid to really see God?  Am I afraid to see Him in the people around me?  Am I afraid of that responsibility?

3:7--God sees the misery;  God hears the crying out;  He is concerned.  I know God does the same for misery and injustice in our world today.

3:8--so He comes to rescue and bring them out into a good and spacious land.  How is God rescuing me?  What land does He want to bring me to?

3:10--GO--I am sending you.  Where is God sending me?  Is Operation Christmas Child all of His sending?  Am I missing any other calling?  How is God sending me to my family?

3:11--Moses said, "Who am I?"  I feel this way about my lack of leadership skills.

3:12--God said, "I will be with you," but Moses wouldn't get that confirmation until the job was done.  He had to trust God to keep His promises.  I will know that God has done it on September 29th when the Operation Christmas Child packing party is over but until then I have to trust Him to make it happen.

3:13-20--God tells Moses to use His name--the Lord.  God's name holds great power.  He also gave Moses a plan--Moses should give God's word to the elders and the elders should go with him to the king of Egypt.  Then God would use His mighty wonders to get the people released.  God had a plan and support for Moses; he just had to follow.

3:21,22--God would give them the wealth of their captors as they would "plunder the Egyptians."  How is God allowing me to harvest the riches of my society?  God had a plan to provide all they would need.  They didn't need to DO anything.

Moses' Concerns (and mine, too)--
1)  Who am I?  (how does God see me?)
2)  Who are You?  (how do I see God?)
3)  Who are they?  (who is on my team and will they believe me?)
4)  Who made me?  (is God really in control?)

4:29,30--Moses spread the vision to the elders and they believed and worshiped God.

5:1--only Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and not the elders?  Why?

Moses' Denial -- please send someone else-- brought on God's anger
So God gave him Aaron (plan B) but there were consequences for Moses' lack of trust and obedience.  This may have denied Moses the chance to enter the Promised Land.  God, are there ways where I'm not following Your plan?  What consequences have come in my life because I didn't follow Your leading?

Moses didn't get to enter the Promised Land on earth but he did get into the eternal Promised Land in heaven.  Nothing can ever separate me from God's love eternally.

As I continued to watch that fire I thought of other biblical references like the refiner's fire to burn off the dross of sin in my life, and letting my light shine instead of hiding it under a bushel...

But most of all I thought of that switch on the wall that started and stopped the fire.  God, I'm trusting Your promise to "work in me to will and to do Your good pleasure."  Please keep that switch turned on.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bearing Up

My job as a school nurse is over for the summer and it's a good thing.  I need the extra time to sort and store all the blessings God's been sending in the way of stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

My Operation Christmas Child regional manager, Leigh Fisher, asked each of us area coordinators to come up with a few "by faith" statements of things we are trusting God for in the month of June.  One of mine was "By faith I am trusting God to provide 5000 more stuffed animals by the end of June."

That means at least 1,250 every week starting this past week.  Today, by God's grace, the final total for the week came in at 1,614.

Just look at these cute Boyd's Bears.  Someone spent a lot of money for that collection and now they'll be a blessing to some little girls who I'm sure will be delighted by their fancy hats and dresses.

Someone recently suggested to me that maybe God planned the TY Beanie Baby craze back in the 90s to supply our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in this decade.  That sounds just like God's type of planning.

I've been excited about leaving tomorrow for a one-day silent retreat with a few other folks from church.  I feel like I really need some extended and uninterrupted time with the Lord.

But today when I visited my Mom in the hospital she told me they're thinking of doing surgery because they can't find the cause of her problem.  So do I leave as planned?

I hate not knowing what to do, but I'm asking God to make His will clear to me. And I'm thanking Him for the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13 "...but God is faithful.  He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear."

And I am so grateful that He who provides hundreds of bears will also bear my burdens.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dolled Up and Leaping With Joy

You know we've been praying for another 15,000 stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Well, I'm leaping with joy that God provided 1,381 just since Wednesday.  And that doesn't count a few hundred that were found by friends and haven't made their way to me yet.

Look at this picture of someone's frog collection that was donated.  Believe me, it was no plague to find 31 pristine frogs waiting for me in the church office today.

Yesterday my entire living room was loaded with stuffed animals being sorted--over 1000 of them all at one time.  I just now finished vacuuming and you can see the floor again.  There are still a few more loads of animals that needed a little bath and 1100 got hauled to the storage container today.

Sometimes I get weary of the work of it, but late last night I started thinking of our recent sermon about the "great cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12.  I imagined that Noah heard my mental complaining and said, "Well, at least you don't have to feed, care for, and share your home with LIVE animals like I did." And as I grumbled about the gas my car used as I trekked around on safari yesterday I imagined Paul would say, "How could you complain?  You have a CAR!"

Truly, I'm blessed with all these blessings and so grateful that we have 6,250 animals tucked away in the 'ark' already.  Another team member has 250 stored in her home and I have a couple hundred in process here.  And that doesn't count the 600 or so teeny animals that I can use two-to-a-box.

So I'm guessing we only need to pray for 13,000 more.

Oh, by the way--check out these adorable doll babies God gave us for our boxes this week.   I'm praying the little girls who receive them will know Jesus loves them.