Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A family of skunks has taken up residence under our Operation Christmas Child storage container.   An expert has been called, traps have been set, and one greedy guy took the bait so far.

I've been afraid to open the container to store anything for the past two weeks or so--not to mention the fact that said container has about forty plastic bags of stuffed animals lining all remaining available floor space.

Above is a picture of my spare bedroom and I was blessed with hundreds more stuffed animals yesterday.  (My husband, however, wouldn't call them blessings.)  On Wednesday my order of 5,000 bars of soap and 7,200 tubes of toothpaste is also arriving at my home.

Here's the kicker.  I found out late last night that we're getting unexpected out-of-town company this weekend.  I'm so glad to see my brother-in-law and sister-in-law but I really want them to be able to see the floor in my house and have a bed to sleep on.

So I have a strange but important prayer request.  Will you pray with me that these wonderful creatures God made will either fall into the traps or relocate themselves permanently?

Also pray that I can figure out how to reorganize that storage container on Thursday and reclaim some of the area in my home.

And while you're at it, the smell around that container is a vivid reminder that our lives leave an aroma behind them.  Can we pray together that we won't be skunking anyone?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Value of Paper--Lucky 13

So how much is a piece of paper worth to you?  Probably not very much.  But for many of the children who will receive our Operation Christmas Child boxes, paper is a valuable commodity.  Many of them need it for school and it is expensive and hard to attain.

My friend Lejla Allison received a shoebox gift when she was an 11-year-old girl in Bosnia in 1994.  She says that she'd been using the same pages in her little notebook for two years--erasing them with a rubber band wrapped around a stick.  She had to be careful to write around the holes that were rubbed in the paper.

We need another 263 reams (package of 500 sheets) of paper to be able to put a little packet of 10 sheets in each of the 20,000 shoeboxes we're praying to pack at our community-wide packing party on September 29th.

There's a great deal on cases of paper this coming week at Office Max.  You pay $43.99 for the case of paper (10 reams).  Then you will get $34.00 back in Office Max rewards to use for something else in the future.  There is a limit of two offers per person.

You need to have an Office Max Rewards Card (free to apply for this in the store).  You also need to have the money to invest up front and have something you can spend the Office Max rewards on when you get them.  I always use them to buy printer ink cartridges.

If I could get lucky and get 13 people to each buy two cases of paper to donate to this project....

Well there would be 13,000 kids who would be ecstatic to have a little packet of clean, new paper to use.

Don't you think that's a great investment?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teach Me To Number My Days

The heading on Psalm 90 says it is "A prayer of Moses, the man of God."  How wonderful to have that title to sum up your life and as I read through the Psalm this morning I see the heart of Moses yearning to please God.

In verse 12 he prays, "So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom,'" and he goes on to pray in verses 16-17, "Let Your work appear to Your servants and Your majesty to their children.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands."

As summer ebbs away, this is my prayer.  My days are filled, but I wonder if they are filled with the right things.  Am I partnering with God so He can confirm the work of my hands?

I'm not good at organization and rarely have a plan for what I need to do with each day.  So I guess I do need to learn to number my days.

Yesterday morning I was blessed to interview and bring onto our Operation Christmas Child team a new (and first) member of the media relations team.  Then I dropped off donations at the Salvation Army, went to a few stores to buy more pencils and school supplies, and head home to sit and bag some crayons.

Then I spent some great time with a friend and headed to the home of an Operation Christmas Child team member who filled my car with all the filler items for the boxes for our packing party pictured above.  When the day started I had no idea I'd spend some hours unloading these treasures and sorting them.

Before bed I did some online shopping for soap and toothpaste and sent some e-mails.

But I didn't make those phone calls to potential relay centers that seem to daily hang over my head.  I didn't call the team member who came onto the team months ago and still needs to be trained.  I didn't even do the online work of getting the upcoming packing party onto events calendars for local media.

Did God confirm the work of my hands?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

For Want Of A Pencil

I've had trouble finding good deals on pencils for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes this year.  At the same time, I've heard several specific stories about how necessary these simple items are.

A team of Operation Christmas Child volunteers went to Uganda in May to distribute shoebox gifts.  They were told that the greatest reason for school absenteeism is that country is the lack of a pencil.  Can you imagine?  I don't know any children in the US who can't go to school for that reason.  In fact, in my job I daily face the problem of children who have all they need but just don't want to be in school.

When they gave the shoeboxes to the children at one distribution in Uganda, a little boy was asked what his favorite gift in his shoebox was, and he replied emphatically, "a pencil!"  Not the candy or the toys--A PENCIL was his most valued gift.

I used to use the benchmark of 2 cents for a pencil and wouldn't pay more than that, but this year I've had trouble finding any online deals for less than 5 cents. So today I went to our local Target and bought 140 packs of 24 pencils.  They were $1.00 each--a little more than 4 cents per pencil.

That's less than 1/10th of the number we need to put two in each of our boxes at our packing party, though.  So I'd appreciate your prayers for God's leading in getting enough of these important school supplies that can make the difference in whether or not a child goes to school.

We're getting some help this week from Hill Memorial United Methodist Church in Bradford, PA.  The children in their "Pirates of the Galilean" VBS are bringing in money to buy pencils for our packing party--arrgghh!  They'll be my 'mateys' forever.

Join me in praying, too, that God will provide at least 9.1 million of these precious Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes around the world in 2012....and that no child will be in want of a pencil

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Color My World

The past week has been full of color in my Operation Christmas Child world.  Last Sunday I learned through a great tip from Jessica at Clip With Purpose that Toys R Us had Crayola crayons on sale (4 packs of 24 crayons for $1.00).

I spent a good half hour trying to track down their sale ad because I couldn't find one in my Sunday paper.  Finally I called the store and learned the ad was only published online.  I really wanted to price match the crayons at Walmart where they had more inventory, but after carefully reading Walmart's online price matching policy I was still confused.  The policy states they wouldn't match "Internet pricing" but this deal was an in-store only deal.

So I went to Toys R Us on Sunday evening and bought 80 boxes of crayons.  Armed with a copy of the ad from the computer and the cash register tape from Toys R Us and lots of prayer, I headed to 2 different Walmart stores.  Praise God that both had no problem matching the price and I ended the day on Sunday with 1208 boxes.

The next afternoon when my volunteer stint at an inner-city day camp was done I headed to the other side of the city and nabbed 725 boxes at 2 more Walmarts (still no price matching problems).

On Tuesday, Pam, a dear woman who loves Operation Christmas Child, blessed me by checking another Walmart 15 miles away and coming home with 617 more boxes.  Also got a text from our church's administrative assistant whose neighbor works at Toys R Us and said she could get me a large quantity.  So I ran up to the store and got 340 more boxes.  What a blessing!  I was even able to take a few thousand boxes of crayons to our evening Operation Christmas Child area team meeting and send them home with team members to get ready to bag them when the bags I ordered online arrive.

Checked a few stores on Wednesday and Thursday but found not much stock on the shelves.  (hmm, wonder why that could be?--lol)

On Friday when I was done with camp, things heated up again.  Got another text that 240 more boxes were available at Toys R Us.  I had just over two hours before I had to be back at camp for the evening program so I headed up Peach St. to Walmart but got caught in slow-moving traffic.  I was able to get 300 boxes of crayons there but it seemed to take forever to get them all counted, checked out, and then put them into bags myself before loading them into the car.

Wendy, my connection at Toys R Us, was getting off work at 3:15 and after sweating through more slow traffic I rushed into TRU at 3:14 only to have Wendy tell me that another one of my team members had come in and picked up the crayons already.  Whew!  That meant I had time to cruise down to the West 26th Street Walmart where I snagged another 360 boxes before making it back to camp just in the nick of time.

After Saturday morning yard sale safaris I drove back to the Harborcreek Walmart and loaded my cart with 500 more boxes.  I was praising God as I hauled them to the car and shoved them all into bags.  Then Pam called and told me she bagged another 164 at West 26th St. Walmart.

Saturday evening was my last chance, so after we used our free coupons to get chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A I begged my husband to make one more stop at the Peach St. Walmart.  No more crayons there, though.

So my week ended with 4,754 boxes of Crayola crayons all together for 25 cents each--a true blessing.  I put 260 miles on my car this week but it was well worth it--especially since I was using gas I got for free with my gas points from the grocery store (but that's another story of God's blessings.)

Now I'm praying for a repeat sale in the coming weeks so I can bag another 2500 boxes.

Yep, my world this week was definitely colorful.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

99 and Counting

Here I am with my siblings today as we celebrated my mother's 99th birthday.  It's interesting how God weaves the stories of our lives and puts us into families  so we can ideally learn to love in a safe and caring environment.

That was certainly true in my case.  My mother was suddenly widowed at age 34 when her first husband died in his sleep the night the family moved into a new home.  My mother was left with 4 children ranging in age from 4 to 12 years old.  It was a great tragedy for sure, but without that tragedy I would not have been born.

A few years later my mother remarried and then I came along--the adored baby sister to four older siblings who fought to take care of me.  Eighteen months to the day after my birth, my mother gave birth to my little sister.  But, in God's plan, she lived only 10 weeks and then died from an undiagnosed congenital heart condition.  So I am left as the youngest and only child from my parents' marriage.

My birth and my survival are a mystery to me, as God's plans probably are to each of us.  For some reason, though, He willed to breathe me into being and continues to give me breath each day.  Likewise, He has given my mother breath day by day into what I call her "last year in double digits."

Why?  I don't know.  But I do know that I want to please Him.  I want to fulfill His purpose.  Whether it's continuing to minister through Operation Christmas Child or cleaning my house, I want to be obedient.  I want to make God smile.

I haven't yet had 99 years to do God's will like my mother has had, but I've already had 59 more years than my sister had.

Whether I have 99 more seconds to please God or 99 years, I'll say with the psalmist, "My times are in Your hand." Psalm 31:15

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Car Shopping

Boys of any age love cars.  And they're a great item to include in our Operation Christmas Child boxes.  I still have a few thousand of the cars I got a great deal on two years ago but they're still not enough for all our boy boxes.

So I was really excited when I saw these new cars at a yard sale today priced at 3/$1.00.  When I explained Operation Christmas Child to the seller and his wife, he ended up selling me 73 of them for $20.00.  I left my card because he said he has hundreds more and will consider selling more to me.

I went back at the end of the day as they were cleaning up and he sold the rest of  the cars he had out--62 more for $15.00.  I left them an OCC special report magazine and a brochure.  His wife is interested in volunteering at the community-wide packing party on September 29th and he promised again to sell me more cars when he goes through the rest of his collection.

I explained to them how toy cars are one of the most coveted items by the boys who receive the shoeboxes and that many of them have never owned a toy of their own.

When I came home I was excited to store my treasures--135 new cars for only $35.00.  Can't even pay the annual registration fee on one car in Pennsylvania for that.

What a ride!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Cut Above

It's my favorite season of the year--time for back-to-school shopping.  Not that I have any children returning to school and not that I'm looking forward to going back to work at school myself.  But this is the time to buy school supplies for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

On vacation last week I went to IKEA for the first time.  I spent 3 hours wandering through that vast morass of 'stuff' and all I could find to buy was these 3-packs of scissors.  At three pair for $1.99 these will be a great addition to our shoeboxes.

Today I made the first run of the year to Staples for their back-to-school sales and I was pretty disappointed.  Because I work as a school nurse I have a 'teacher's card' that has always allowed me to buy 25 of the "one cent" featured items that usually have a limit of 2.

This year, though, they changed the rules on this.  I can still buy 25 of each of these items but I have to pay regular price for 23 of them and then will get my money refunded at a later date in Staples rewards.

Today I bought 2 reams of paper, 25 boxes of 24-count RoseArt crayons, 25 packs of 8 Bic pens, and 4 packs of 5 Bic mechanical pencils.   The shock was that I paid $70.24.  Well, I actually paid $80.24 because I bought a back-to-school savings pass for $10 to give me 15% off on school supplies this season.

I should get a refund of $11.38 into my PayPal account for the paper and $54.85 in Staples rewards eventually for the rest of the stuff.  But I'll have to use those rewards only on Staples items and once the school sales are over there's not much I want there.

I'm not sure paying $10 for the savings pass was a good idea since they won't refund the 15% I save by using the card.  On the other hand, it helps me pay less out of pocket but I still don't know if it was $10 well spent.  Time will tell, I guess.

So the days of getting lots of nice school supplies for a penny each are kind of a thing of the past.  It will be interesting to see what God brings my way next, though, because He always provides in the neatest ways.

I've found that every time a great source of deals for our shoeboxes ends, something else comes along that's even better.  That's just the way God is!

While I was driving around paying way too much for reams of paper, my daughter was leading a crew of 42+ volunteers in repairing a retaining wall and putting a new roof on the home of a 93-year-old needy woman.
I'm better with a shopping cart than a hammer, but I kind of wish I could be serving the Lord like she did today.   It would be nice to see a start and an end to a tangible project that meets such a visible need.

But God has a plan for each of us every day and making Him smile is always a cut above.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Though The Mountains May Fall

For nearly a week now I've been surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.  I went a whole lifetime never seeing them and really wasn't interested in seeing them either.  But now that I've seen them I'm so blessed by the opportunity.

Twice this week we drove to the top of the mountains and looked over the vista--one peak after another.  I breathed in the thinner air and thought about our awesome God for whom these mountains are just a footstool.

As we rode a train to the top of Pike's Peak, I couldn't stop thinking of the lyrics written by Dan Schutte, "Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, yet the love of the Lord will stand as a shelter to all who will call on His name.  Sing the praise and the glory of God."

That drove me to search for the Bible verse that was a foundation of those lyrics and I found Psalm 46:1-2, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea"

How wonderful to realize that the God who formed and sustains those mountains loves me, protects me, provides for me, and has eternally saved me.

As I look at these mountains, the needs I pray for so often--things like items for 20,000 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and team members for my team--seem so inconsequential.

Even if these grand mountains turn to gravel--God's love will stand.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"By Faith" Goals

In our Mid-Atlantic region the Operation Christmas Child area coordinators have been praying for God to do some things in our area teams "by faith" by June 30th.  Well, some of the requests are more long-range than that, but I've enjoyed praying for these specifics and can't wait to hear how God has been answering.

For our area, the team prayed for the past month for three goals by June 30th--
1)  two new team members
2)  one new relay center (shoebox drop-off site)
3)  5,000 more stuffed animals

Yesterday, of course, was June 30th.  I went into the day knowing we needed 707 more stuffed animals to get to that goal and I prayed that God would lead me and the other safari-hunters step-by-step to each animal.   It was a joy to see Him do just that.

For example, because my regular barber wasn't available to cut my hair on Friday, his niece filled in.  While cutting my hair we discussed the need for stuffed animals and she offered to donate her collection of new Beanie Babies.  

On Saturday I was excited to see a small article in the editorial section of our local newspaper telling of our need for stuffed animals.  But I didn't get the call I wanted--someone offering me their collection--and things started slowly as I moved around the city from sale to sale adding a few to my total at each place.

 That afternoon I ran into Ruth, an acquaintance who I see at many sales.  She knows I'm on the hunt for animals and asked me how close to the goal we were.  I told her at that point we were probably still a few hundred short.  She said she'd seen the article in the paper and I said, "Well, it only will take one person willing to give up their collection of 400 Beanies."

"I could be that person," she said.  She went on to say she had a collection but was praying and struggling about whether she should donate it.

Several hours later I had my reports from all the other safari hunters on the team and with all animals sorted and counted we were still short.  Just then the phone rang.  It was Ruth.  "How are you doing with your goal?" she asked.  "Well, we're still 155 short," I answered.  She replied, "Not anymore!" and told me she was ready to bring me her collection of 320 mint Beanie Babies.

Last night I sat at my computer rejoicing about the way God gave us 5,000 stuffed animals in just four weekends.  I was excited about the great new prayer team member He provided a week ago, too.

But I thought about how we fell short on getting that second team member and the relay center we were praying for.  As it neared midnight I started doing a Google search about time zones to see how many hours it would still be June 30th somewhere in the world (the answer was 6 more hours).

I believe God always answers prayer.  So when it came to that other team member and the relay center....did He answer "Wait," or was He saying, "You should have been obedient and made a few more phone calls?"

Just past midnight I clicked back to my e-mail and found a new message that came in at 12:01 a.m. on July 1st (but, hey, it was still June 30th in most of the United States.)  It was from a prospective team member and contained her completed application.  Another answer to prayer.

God sure has a sense of humor.