Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Emmanuel--God With Us

Lots of Operation Christmas Child questions swirl in my head on this Christmas  Eve morning but I'm trying to put them aside for awhile.

I've been staring at the lighted Christmas tree, pondering what it meant for Jesus to become Emmanuel--God with us.

Are you having family problems this Christmas?  --  Jesus knows about that.  His family thought He was insane.

Are you having leadership problems this Christmas?  --  Jesus knows about that.  His team of twelve had a hard time following Him.  They often didn't understand the crucial concepts He tried to teach them and in His hour of greatest need they abandoned Him.

Are you having financial problems this Christmas?  --  Jesus knows about that.  He didn't have worldly wealth, didn't have a home, didn't have a budget for His ministry.  Yet He understood the sufficiency of full dependence on the Father.

He always had enough.

Emmanuel.  Enough.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


As we gear up for our big family Christmas celebration this weekend, I know time will fly by over the next few days.  My daughters are coming from New York City, Chicago, and the Pittsburgh area to be home for a short holiday visit.

When they leave the actual days of Christmas will be pretty quiet, I think.  My plan is to spend more time reflecting on the incarnation--God becoming man.

A friend reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago.  I can't remember exactly when.  I dug it out and wanted to share it with you.


Just six or seven pounds of baby flesh
Rests whimpering in swaddling clothes this night.
Who could have guessed his wrinkled skin would mesh
Majestic God with frail mankind's plight
Embodied in that tiny God-man there
With pursed lips searching, looking now to feed.
Sufficiency released, He grasps for care
Identifying with our human need.
The voice that first spoke breath into a soul
Now gurgles, swallows with contented sighs.
Almighty, awesome, ageless One still whole
Empties Himself, obediently lies
In human arms, His flesh to ours pressed tight.
Emmanuel--our God with us tonight.

--Kathy Schriefer

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ho, Ho, How?

Tonight we had a meeting of the team that spearheaded our large NWPA Community-Wide Operation Christmas Child Packing Party.

This was the 5th year for our packing party and as we debriefed the event we talked about how each year brings new challenges.  We can make notes about ways to improve for next year and then when next year comes we find out things have changed--different boxes, different items, different volunteers.

So we sat and casually planned a date for next year's party--tentatively October 4, 2014.  We added up the total of boxes packed over the past five years (77,989) and realized that if we pack just 22,011 more we will go over 100,000.

Yet at this point our storage container is nearly empty.  There are some leftover cartons of paddleball games and a few cases of pencils.  Oh, and there are 39 cases of donated paper.

Still, the thought of collecting enough items for 22,011 boxes sounds a bit daunting.  As we looked back over the last five years tonight we saw the changes and the challenges but we focused on the one thing we KNOW.

The only thing we know is that our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God NEVER changes.  He is always good, always faithful, always enough.

He has the next 22,011 boxes already packed.  He knows how.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

13 for More Than Luck

Last week was quite a ride!  We had our Operation Christmas Child celebration on Monday night at Chick-fil-A but our total was only tentative.  As I related in my previous blog we left there on Monday to go receive more boxes at the collection center.

As I was doing my Bible reading on Tuesday morning I began to think about the fact that the truck wasn't pulled yet and that some boxes were still being delivered from an outlying relay center that morning.  Then I thought about some extra shoe box items that had just been donated.  Then I decided to get up and try to fill some more boxes.

I had a half hour before I had to leave for school so I had to move quickly.  I started with 9 boxes and then decided to do 4 more.  And, of course, I had just enough of everything.  Every item I had was used to pack into those boxes.

This year, more than any I can remember in recent history, I feel like I "left it all on the field" when it came to packing boxes.   Every box that could have been made by Tuesday morning was made.  We have lots of paddleball games and pencils left in the container but that's about it, and for that I'm grateful.

I dropped those 13 boxes outside the collection center on my way to work on Tuesday morning.  One of those "drop and run" folks you hate.

It was Wednesday before I got our final total this week.  And the final total is--


We prayed all year for 45,000 and God gave us 47,604.  Just because He can.  This is 7,228 more than last year and a 17.5% increase.

I had some family obligations this year that kept me from giving OCC my full attention.  I don't know if I did all I could have or should have this year in leading our team.

But this I know.  

God is good.  God answers prayer.  God can use us in spite of ourselves.

No luck needed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

An OCC Thanksgiving Story

Last Monday evening our Operation Christmas Child area team met at Chick-fil-A to celebrate the end of National Collection Week.  Little did we know, but God had more boxes to add to that collection.  Before I even got a chance to order my chicken sandwich my phone rang.  It was Cindy, our relay center coordinator in Conneaut Lake, calling to tell me they'd received another load of boxes.  We agreed it was a good problem to have.

After conferring with Seph, our Erie collection center coordinator, it was decided that Cindy and her husband, John, would drive the boxes to Erie and we'd meet her at the collection center at 8:00 PM.

Cindy and John arrived right on time and opened the back of their vehicle.  It was full of stacked GO boxes.  As we started to unload, they told us the story behind them.

That evening they were only scheduled to collect boxes from 5-6 PM, and since they'd already delivered their main load of boxes to the collection center, they were actually hoping for no more than a few stragglers.

Imagine their surprise when a woman arrived with her two daughters and a vehicle full of boxes.  Cindy and John asked her what church the boxes were coming from and the woman explained that these were personal boxes from their family.

She went on to say that they don't have an actual house to live in right now.  They are living in the "milking house" attached to the goat barn.  They had two goats and God blessed them and multiplied their 'herd' (is that what you call a group of goats?) to a total of 53.  Because they'd experienced God's blessing they wanted to give back by packing all 188 of these boxes themselves to bless children around the world.

I'm not farm savvy, but John explained to me that a milking house doesn't have heat and that this family obviously has many needs of their own.   John was so touched and amazed by their gift and said, "This makes it all worthwhile."

I'd say that family knows how to be thankful, wouldn't you?  And their gratitude is being passed along to change the lives of children around the world.

Those children will then be filled with gratitude.  And the gift of thanksgiving goes on....

Monday, November 25, 2013

And the Number Was? Is?...

What a crazy day of Operation Christmas Child blessings.  I haven't really been keeping a running tally of our shoe box numbers and though I knew our numbers were up at our collection centers I wasn't sure how close we were to the goal of 45,000 boxes we've been praying for all year.

I got a text late this morning with an update from our Erie Collection Center with good numbers but still hadn't heard from the Warren Collection Center.

Then I got distracted with a couple of live lice I found in someone's head and kind of forgot about shoe boxes for an hour or so.

But near the end of my work day the call came from Warren and I did a little rejoicing there in my school nurse's office as I knew God had answered our prayers.

I went home and was ready to make posters to announce the total at our Chick-fil-A celebration when I got a call that more boxes were on the way to the collection center.  Another call confirmed that 298 boxes were added to the total so I made the posters, went to Chick-fil-A, ate a great meal (including the free yummy cookies CFA blessed us with) and then, according to our tradition, opened the folders showing the last digit first (9), then the fourth digit (6), then the third (2)----and then after the count of three--revealed the first and second digits (4) and (7)

But that's not all---

A call came in while were were at Chick-fil-A that one of our relay centers just received another load of boxes.  They were nearly an hour away and had already dropped off all their boxes and cartons. But they graciously drove the boxes to Erie.

Our Erie collection coordinator, Seph, and my husband and I left CFA and headed back to the collection center.  When Cindy and John Catlin came with the load of boxes they were nice enough to stay to help us cartonize them and get them on the truck--all 226 of them.

So the revised total now stands at--

47, 495

And the truck hasn't left yet.

WOW!  We stand amazed!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


OTRA--On the road again--this morning.  I should have left my house earlier, but there were a few morning chores to accomplish.

First I had to hit the grocery store and do some coupon shopping to net me enough gas points for 30 gallons of free gas.  Then I put gas in the car, lugged the 3 extra 5-gallon cans of gas home and to the garage, and headed out to visit Operation Christmas Child relay centers (after putting all the extra GO boxes I had in my car.)

On the way I stopped at Staples to use a coupon to get a deal on toilet paper (you might think that wasn't necessary, but, yes, it was) and then at our storage container where I loaded left over shoe box items into my minivan.  My plan was to take those items to the relay centers so they could pack extra boxes.

I was surprised, though, to find that the relay centers had all their boxes done and in cartons and one had them all loaded into their truck already.  No one needed GO boxes or leftover items.

So after my little 60 mile jaunt I headed to our collection center in Erie to help unload a truck coming in from our relay center in Meadville.  Well, I didn't actually help unload--I just wrote numbers on cartons in the truck while I watched the snow fall.

At 1:30 I headed home with a plan to have a private LOPP (Left Over Packing Party) because I didn't want to haul all that extra stuff back to the storage container.

My faithful OCC team member, Pam Niedhammer, called to give a report on the relay centers she visited and offered to come join the impromptu packing party.  She even brought her own extra items.

So we started packing with no real plan except to make as many boxes as we could.  We kept folding boxes and circling them on my table and filling and labeling and stacking...and before we knew it several hours had passed and we had 60 boxes finished.

When Pam left I kept packing--determined to make every box I possibly could. I took a break to carve the turkey I roasted and throw a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven.

The count right now stands at 121 for this LOPP but I think I might be able to make more in the morning before the day cranks into full gear and I get OTRA.

It's scary when I realize there are so few hours left in National Collection Week.

Because the time is short...and so many children are waiting.

....ps--as of 2:00 am on 11/24--final count at 139 boxes with every possible box made...every stuffed animal and clothing item used.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cry Out to the Lord and Raise the War Cry

We're all neck deep in boxes and cartons during this National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child.  But you know what?  This is WAR!

As we get these boxes on trucks to the processing centers and as they are inspected and shipped out to receiving countries to fulfill their destiny as "gospel opportunities"--we are in a battle for the souls of children and families around the world.

I read in 2 Chronicles 13 this morning about King Abijah and godly Judah in their war against King Jeroboam and Israel that had forsaken God.
Abijah said:

12 Now behold, God is with us at our head and His priests with the signal trumpets to sound the alarm against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord God of your fathers, for you will not succeed.”
13 But Jeroboam had set an ambush to come from the rear, so that Israel was in front of Judah and the ambush was behind them. 14 When Judah turned around, behold, [a]they were attacked both front and rear; so they cried to the Lord, and the priests blew the trumpets. 15 Then the men of Judah raised a war cry, and when the men of Judah raised the war cry, then it was that God[b]routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. 16 When the sons of Israel fled before Judah, God gave them into their hand. 17 Abijah and his people defeated them with a great slaughter, so that 500,000 chosen men of Israel fell slain. 18 Thus the sons of Israel were subdued at that time, and the sons of Judah [c]conquered because they trusted in the Lord, the God of their fathers.

It's time for us to CRY OUT to the Lord!

It's time for us to RAISE THE WAR CRY!

It's time to pray like never before that God will open a door for the gospel and go before these boxes to prepare the way.

Because it's about more than trucks and tabulating totals.

This is WAR!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ted E. Bear

In the midst of National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child we are all busy tallying numbers and comparing them to the big goals we've been praying for during the entire year.

We measure our progress by cartons packed and trucks sent.

But it's good to step back and remember the meaning of ONE BOX.

Pictured above is one of the 100 boxes I packed at home this week, and its anchor toy is a cute stuffed bear that has special significance.

Back in June our local newspaper published an article about our hunt for new stuffed animals for shoe boxes.  It resulted in a flurry of calls that sent us running all over town collecting donations.  It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.

Many of the calls came from older folks who had just a few precious animals they'd collected.  It was tough to make long drives to pick up one or two at a time, but these folks were excited to donate.

The bear in the box above came to us as the result of one of those phone calls.  The donor called and asked us to pick up her donation at the golf course where her husband works.  One of our team members made the trip there, persisted in finding the employee, and drove the long drive to a maintenance office where this lone bear sat in a bag with a tag on it that read, "Ted E. Bear -- to be picked up"

So he was picked up.

And he sat on the microwave stand in my kitchen for 5 months.  He missed the big packing party in September and somehow was still sitting there this week, patiently waiting his turn.

And this week was it.

He was packed into a box with a radio and some fun fillers, school supplies, and hygiene items.  And tonight that box was packed into a carton at the collection center--ready for the next leg of its journey to a 10-14 year old somewhere in the world.

I'm praying Ted E. Bear will be a special emissary of God's love.  Because for that one child it was worth the drive to pick him up.  It was worth the time to finally pack him in a box.  It was worth it to make a $7.00 shipping donation online and it was worth the trouble to drive the box to a collection center.

It's all worth it for ONE MORE CHILD.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Passing It On

It's interesting how God works when we can't see it.  Last March I was so excited to get a deal on 2800 of these radios to use as fillers in our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  They worked fine.  They were only .14 each and I thought they'd make the perfect gift.

The strange thing is that somehow in the chaos of our large packing party we ended up not using very many of them at all.  I was saving them to use when the stuffed animals ran out, but then they never did.

We only used about 500 of the radios and didn't want to let them sit in our cold storage container over the winter.

So today I was able to pass them on to my friend Jim Urban who needs them for packing thousands of boxes this week in the North Pittsburgh area.

As we were filling his minivan to the roof with 2300 of these, I laughingly wondered why I ever bought these when we didn't end up using them.  I quickly corrected myself, though, and said that God must have known Jim would need them.

Jim asked how he could pay me for them, and I told him I'm only trying to "pay it forward" in gratitude for the 22,400 mini frisbees that my friend Jeff donated to me for our packing party.

That's the mystery of how God works.  What He gives to me might really be meant for you.  And what He gives to you might really be meant for me.  When you think about it, it's a whole lot more fun that way.  We each get the blessing of both receiving from God and giving.  It makes sense that our omniscient God would have that figured out, eh?

And speaking of filling minivans,  as soon as I passed the radios to Jim I was able to fill up my own minivan with boxes from the storage container to take to the Operation Christmas Child collection center tomorrow.

This baby has more than 350 shoe boxes in it right now.  Too bad I'll have to drive it to work like this tomorrow since the collection center isn't open yet.

And here's the view from the inside.

Visibility is overrated--both for driving and for seeing God's plan for our lives.

"For we walk (and drive) by faith, not by sight."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not My Plan

This 2013 Operation Christmas Child season has not gone according to plan.  Things seemed to be cruising along pretty well until August and then it started to unravel.

When I returned to school in August I quickly realized this would be the hardest year of my career as a school nurse so far.  Getting through each day has been extremely challenging, leaving me no time during my day to spend a moment even thinking about shoeboxes.

Add to that my daughter's wedding on October 13th, just two weeks after our major packing party, and you can see things have been hectic.

Then came this week--my plans for the Chick-fil-A collection on Tuesday night and a great packing party with a newly-participating church on Wednesday night were interrupted.

My niece (one I was not terribly close to) died suddenly and the viewing and funeral were set for Tuesday afternoon and evening.

Then last Friday my husband was scheduled for an unexpected heart catheterization on Wednesday.

Even though these surprises interrupted MY plans, they were no surprise to God.

For the past few weeks I've been reciting Psalm 23 over throughout my day and reminding myself of God's goodness, and I saw His goodness again this week.

My Operation Christmas Child team stepped up to take care of the Chick-fil-A collection and we collected 179 boxes--immeasurably more.

Meanwhile, the funeral turned out to be a true blessing.  At the viewing I spoke to my nephew's wife who told me she helped my niece pray to receive Christ last May.  What joy!

I'd been praying that the funeral would bring glory to God.  The pastor who conducted the service verified that he was sure my niece is in heaven and that she told him how sorry she was for alienating family members.  He went on to speak about God's forgiveness and the need for reconciliation in families.  Truly a God-glorifying evening.

My husband's heart catheterization on Wednesday had good results but kept us at the hospital until after 5:30 PM.  There was no way I could be at the packing party.

But the folks at Erie Christian Fellowship went to the storage container to pick up the items and set everything up for their packing party.

As you can see, they did a great job.  I especially love the game table full of stuffed animals.

And because of their work, more than 150 more gospel opportunities were packed without me being there.

Not my plan for the week.  Or for the season.  But that's okay.

The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall lack nothing.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Packin' Plenty

I was fighting the blues last weekend by packing some personal shoe boxes with  items I'd been saving for my own Operation Christmas Child boxes.  What a blast!

First there were the five plastic tool boxes I've been slowly buying tools to fill.  Made a few trips to the nearby Harbor Freight to fill them up.

And then there were the 10 soccer balls.  I'd been waiting for two years to find cheap pumps to go with them and finally bought some at Walmart.com for about $2.00 each.

Then there were 10 boxes with full-size basketballs (and pumps) along with all the basic items and stuffed animals and fillers.

Two boxes held hand-knit blankets and another dozen had special dolls or new back packs.

I got the chance to arrange and rearrange items and pray over each box.

Don't get me wrong--it's a real rush to be at a large packing party and watch a 52 foot truck fill up with cartons.  But this one-by-one box packing is so very satisfying--with time to pray and imagine each child who will receive each special box.

I completed 58 boxes and just need to put the follow-your-box labels on them.

Meanwhile...there's still lots of praying and box packing to do.  I'm hoping to be at another packing party tomorrow night with the youth group at a church that's never participated in Operation Christmas Child before.

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Checkin' the Chikin

Last night my Operation Christmas Child media coordinator, Pam Niedhammer, and I were at Chick-fil-A distributing GO boxes (preassembled printed shoe boxes) for folks to fill and return next week.  The donor of each box will receive a coupon for a free chicken sandwich.

We're so grateful for this partnership with Chick-fil-A.  We handed out about 100 boxes yesterday and are praying to get 150 returned by next Tuesday.  I had the most fun explaining the project to first-time shoe box packers who have never heard of Operation Christmas Child.  How wonderful!

Our Chick-fil-A store with owner Casey Hartley and marketing director Tina Kociolek always go way beyond our expectations.  Actually, they spoil us with their amazing hospitality and their excitement about the project.  What joy!

And this partnership was being repeated last night all around our five state MId-Atlantic region as 200 volunteers distributed about 29,000 boxes at Chick-fil-A stores yesterday.

Will you pray with us that each of these boxes (and even more--since you don't have to have one of the official boxes to participate) will be returned filled by next Tuesday?

Just think of 29,000+ children who will have the joy of opening a special treasure and hearing of God's love--all because of our friends at Chick-fil-A.

On our way to 9.8 million boxes....

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Let's Party!

What a joyous Operation Christmas Child weekend I've had.  I got to go to two great parties.  These are the kind of parties I like best--not Cinderella's ball where you have to dress up in an uncomfortable dress--but shoe box packing parties where you get to fill precious boxes with simple items that are unimaginable treasures for children around the world.

Friday evening I got to spend time with the lovely ladies pictured above at Leigh Fisher's packing party near her hometown.  Her goal was to pack 800 boxes and we finished the evening with 895!  I spent the evening folding GO boxes with Teresa and Ali Morrison (on the right in the picture) and we had such blessed conversations about the Lord's goodness and how He works in OCC.

Because I'm so directionally challenged I got lost on the trip home (with no cell phone, GPS, or map) but that forced me to depend on prayer.  It was a blessing to get home safely and another reminder of God's protection and goodness.

Several friends were having packing parties in various areas of the country on Saturday and though I couldn't attend them I spent time praying for them on Saturday while my husband and I drove to our daughter's home two hours away.

Last night and today the reports of those have been coming in.  What an awesome God we serve!  I love hearing of how He continually does immeasurably more.

In Indiana, my friend Sarah Latello and her church went past their goal of 500 boxes to pack 726.

In Maryland, Jeff Mauler and his team packed over 7,000 boxes on their way to a goal of 25,000 within the next two weeks.

And closer to home the folks at Cambridge Springs Alliance Church, under the leadership of Cheryl French, packed 340 boxes that line their church.

And friends at Albion Church of the Nazarene held their first-ever packing party with a total of 165 boxes.

Today I was on the road again to Bethel Presbyterian Church in Cranesville--the church that actually started OCC in our area in 1994.  Last year they packed 289 boxes and wanted to pack 300 this year.  I absolutely loved packing boxes with them today.

It's amazing at these parties to see the array of items that have been gathered one by one (or 100 by 100) all year long--each one a provision from God's hand with a purpose to show His love.  

And after just a few hours today God had done immeasurably more again with a total of 445 boxes.  The neat thing is that this church is firmly committed to making sure each of the boxes have their $7.00 shipping covered.  They have enough for 400 boxes and are trusting God for the rest.

Every one of these boxes is ONE MORE on the way to the goal of 7.2 million boxes in the US and 9.8 million boxes worldwide.

For this weekend, the party's over...but stay tuned for more reports to come.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Legacy of Giant Slaying

This morning I was reading in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8 where God's people ended up slaying a slew of giants.  Who were these people doing the giant slaying?

They were David's followers and family--the people who had watched him or heard of him slaying giants since boyhood.

What a legacy.

This makes me think of the legacy that each of us is leaving to the people in his or her own sphere of influence.

Someone is watching me (and you).  Someone is listening to family stories about me (and you).  Someone is and will be carrying out my legacy (and yours).

It's a scary thought for this day-after-Halloween.

By God's grace, though, the story of my life (and yours) is not over yet.  God has given me a new chance to let Him make today's story one worth repeating.

Okay, so bring on those giants.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Packin' In The Fun

Ahh, now is my time for oodles of Operation Christmas Child fun.  Our big packing party was on September 27th & 28th, followed two weeks later by my daughter's wedding followed by a week of company.

This past Tuesday we had our last OCC Area Team meeting before National Collection Week hits on November 18th and it was a blessing to pray and enjoy some time of fellowship together.

Sure, we have our Chick-fil-A event coming up and there's still a lot of work to be done to collect all those boxes and get them sent on their way.

But, really, I think this is the most FUN time ever.

Last evening I drove to Meadville, PA to attend a packing party being held in a store--a custom kitchen showroom called Tussey Mountain Kitchens.  Every room of this business was filled with items being readied to pack boxes this morning.

In the picture above you can see the guys who were busy using a drill to wind fishing line onto small pieces of fishing line to be included in the 50 fishing kits they made for 10-14 year old boy boxes.  Here's picture of the completed kits--

I can only imagine what a blessing they will be to the boys who receive them.

Upstairs in another room a group of women were busy assembling sewing kits for the girls.  Barb Kurtz, one of the organizers of the packing party, worked hard to sew small bags to hold these kits that will bless girls with all they need to repair or make clothing or other useful items.

The building was full of piles of treasures to bless children around the world.  I can't wait to hear how many boxes they filled this morning.

Meanwhile, our Mid-Atlantic Operation Christmas Child family was praying for other packing parties being held in our region this weekend and I'm eager to hear reports on those also.

Item by item and box by box God is bringing us nearer and nearer to that goal of 9.8 million boxes we're all praying to reach.

And along the way we're all just packin' in the fun!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Not Just Prayer

Family and work life has been in the way of my OCC life lately.  I haven't been as focused on our team ministry plan as I should be or want to be.  Since school began in August I've felt overwhelmed and ineffective as my goals for Operation Christmas Child kind of fell by the wayside.

This morning I was reading in I Chronicles and posted the following as my status on Facebook--

"...and all who were with them were given into their hand; for they cried out to God in the battle, and He answered their prayers because they trusted in Him."--1 Chronicles 5:20 --God has the victory ready for us if we just cry out to Him and trust Him. I miss that victory so many days because I don't intentionally seek it out.

I was reminded of that tonight as I watched 30 people listen with rapt attention to Pastor Pablo Mora, the National OCC Discipleship Coordinator for the country of Paraguay.    

One of our team goals this year was to organize an OCC event in each of the three counties in our area.  But as personal pressures closed in, it seemed that goal wouldn't be achieved.  

Then a few weeks ago one of our team members who'd been on a mission trip to Paraguay last spring told us Pastor Pablo who works on the OCC National Leadership Team in that country would be coming to our area.  It sounded like a great opportunity to invite people to hear him, but I just didn't have the time or the energy to make it happen.

But I and our prayer team have "cried out to God in the battle" over and over this past year.  

And, in His amazing way, He orchestrated three events--one in each county of our area, with this special OCC speaker.  I didn't plan any of these.

I think of how often I tend to minimize prayer by saying, "All I'm doing is praying."  

Yet tonight reminded me again that, as I wrote this morning, "God has the victory ready for us if we just cry out to Him and trust Him."

It's never just prayer.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Back to Roots

Today I went back to my shoe box roots and packed boxes in the basement of my former church--Wesley Church.  Back in 1999 we packed boxes there for the first time and packed 201--our entire total for the year.  That was a dream come true because I'd prayed for two years for that goal.

Then for the next nine years we packed more each year and watched God give us exponential growth.  By 2008 we packed boxes almost every week--totaling 7,272 of them by the time National Collection Week rolled around.

In 2009 we did fewer than 5,000 boxes there and began to do more boxes in our team's large community-wide packing party.

Still, there have been at least one or two packing parties there at Wesley Church every year.  And, truth be told, if this church and its pastor had not been so supportive of Operation Christmas Child over those early years I likely would not have continued to pack larger numbers of boxes.

So today I walked into the damp, cramped little room that was our storage area for all those years.

I dug through bins and pawed through boxes of fillers.  The set-up had already been done by Heather Rogers but as we packed more boxes and got to the end of the prepared piles, I was on a hunt for those things that had been previously overlooked.

In the past few years I'd gotten in the habit of storing here the items that I knew would be too large for the boxes at our big packing party.  A bin held two new deflated basketballs and I located a couple of hand pumps we could pack with them.

I pulled out the fluffy blankets I bought at 2:00 AM at Wal-Mart's after-Christmas clearance last January and matched them up with larger boxes.

And I reveled in the slower pace and the old familiar camaraderie of packing boxes in a smaller setting with people who remembered the earlier days of the project.

Finally, we'd packed all the boxes we could find in every nook and cranny.  Heather, my OCC Church Relations Coordinator, who has been my packing partner for the last decade, packed the last box.

We didn't even keep track of how many boxes we packed along the way, so we were surprised when we counted at the end and found we had 186 of them.  Just about what we packed after saving items all year long in 1999.

There's something sweet about going back.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


God did it.  Again!

Well, of course we knew He would.  That's what faith is.  But it still delights me in a new way each time.

To see God move throughout this Operation Christmas Child packing party weekend leaving His fingerprints on every detail is incredible.

There are too many stories to tell in one blog but so many of them are strange sequels that live over and over each year.

I don't know why it works this way, but it always seems the thing I feel I have plenty of is the first item we run out of.  This year it was pens.  I left extra pens at home this morning because I KNEW we had plenty.  Go ahead and laugh.

And all that angst I had over the past weeks when I couldn't figure out why the records didn't jive and I thought I was short 1,000 boxes of crayons.  Well---there were two large boxes of bagged crayons left over.

Because she read on my blog that I was nervous about running out of soap, Amy Gibson brought extra soap from Cleveland and saved the day on that front.

Oh...and the stuffed animals?  Well, once again I'm not sure how that happened exactly, but even though my last records showed we were short by 3,000-4,000 we had enough right up until the end.

Pam Dumont from Erie Christian Fellowship Church prayed and hunted and eBay-shopped for them right up until last night with a final count of 3,500.  She was washing them through the night last night.

And there were the usual logistics snafus.  We ran out of boxes.  Again.

We ran out of cartons.  Again.

We only had room on the truck because we piled 12 of the stacks of cartons six high.

There were many, many times when I just couldn't get a handle on what was going on.  And there were stretches of time when I hid in the corner praying while I worked on inspecting radios to be put into boxes (another story).

We struggled all day to have enough fillers and then ended up with 2,000 leftover radios and cases of paddleballs.  Again.

Even with all the chaos the whole packing event was finished before 2:30 pm.


The trucks have a grand total of 22,490 precious gift-filled shoe boxes on them.  Oh, and there was one more box that was found late and never made it into the cartons on the truck.  Again.

Thank you all for your encouragement, your messages, and most important of all--your prayers.

In these two days a community of 650-700 volunteers from 39 different churches and 13 community organizations, supported by the prayers of believers around the country,  joined in watching God do what only He could do.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Off and Running

When we billed it as a "youth packing party" I don't think we even anticipated how young they could be.  This little one was SO precious as she chose items for her Operation Christmas child shoeboxes.  What joy!

This morning our intrepid packing party team leader, Elizabeth Randolph, bravely hosted 18 students in 5th through 8th grade from a Christian School in Clarion for a morning packing session.  They packed 1,267 boxes to kick off the day and did a wonderful job.

There were the usual glitches of the day.  The truck was placed in the wrong spot in the night, but, by God's grace, the driver cheerfully moved it when he came to drop the second truck.

I kind of freaked out when I found out that at the morning packing session they could not get 23 boxes in a carton and so packed 22 in each of them instead.  My calculations showed we could possibly run out of both cartons and truck space with only 22 in a carton.  I asked the prayer team to pray that we could get 23 in each carton.

Today, when I got to the church I started working on the cartonizing problem, and I found I could get 23 in a carton.  Then my husband showed up and we had a little "discussion" about this.  He was pretty adamant about putting only 22 in a box.  Finally I walked away from the situation (not sure that counts as submission) and the result was that some cartonizers put 23 in a box but most only put 22 in a box.

I can't wait to see how that works out tomorrow.

Meanwhile, those energetic youth packed 5,650 boxes tonight for a day's grand total of 6,917 in the truck to start the day tomorrow.

My thoughts as I looked around the room--
Wow--this is moving way too fast.  It doesn't look like we have enough stuff left to pack another 15,000 boxes.

Then I made the mistake of counting the cartons of soap we have left and deciding we'll be short 1,000 bars even though I know I ordered 22,000 bars.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story tomorrow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Get Ready, Get Set

Tonight was the end of four evenings of Operation Christmas Child packing party set-up.  Another great crew worked tirelessly (well, they seem tireless even though I'm sure they were tired.)

It's always hard to know what we should be accomplishing each night and there's always more that could be done.  It's amazing how much packaging needs to be opened and removed to get those treasures ready for easy access.

We now have 14,000 boxes labeled and ready to be filled.

There are always so many unknowns and this year is no exception.

I wonder how these boxes will work out and whether getting them closed properly will cause a bottleneck at the end of the line.

I wonder if the fillers will hold out and the boxes will be full enough.

On the other hand, I wonder if the fillers and stuffed animals may be too large and cause the boxes to bulge.

Tomorrow morning a group of 5th through 8th grade students from a Christian school near Clarion arrive to pack boxes and in the evening we'll host our youth packing party.

So all those questions will soon be answered.

Ready...As set as we can be....GO!

The answers to those questions will soon be revealed.

Memorial Stones

Just as the Israelites set up "memorial stones" to help them remember times of God's goodness and deliverance, I have a journal where I often record those times of deliverance in my life.  And many of those in recent years revolve around Operation Christmas Child.

Last night I couldn't fall asleep so I got up and tracked down my journals from the times of the packing parties in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  What a blessing it was to read how God worked in unique ways in each of those years.

In 2009 I wrote of the night before the party, "I couldn't fall asleep...I kept repeating Psalm 37:5 "Commit your way to the Lord.  Trust also in Him and He will do this."  Then I fell asleep.  I wrote later of the actual packing party day, "Things moved more quickly than I thought.  I ended up sending Jim over to Wesley to get more notebooks which we never ended up needing but he was also able to get candy, which we did need.  The thing I thought we had the most of was toothpaste and we ran out of that first, along with pencils and stuffed animals.  By 1:00 we'd packed 5,577 boxes and we were all cleaned up by 2:00."

Then came 2010:  "This year I thought I couldn't be surprised at the packing party but I was.  About 500 volunteers from 25 different churches and organizations were there and by 3:30 pm we'd packed 12,381 boxes.  We used every single box we had.  It was chaotic and people had to stand in line waiting but it was such a blessing..  I could sense all the prayers going up because I had a peace I knew was beyond myself."

In 2011:  "So many miracles once again.  We got the double shipment of tape and labels (the first shipment was never dropped with the cartons).  They dropped a 28 foot truck on Friday instead of a 53 foot truck but then were able to change it out in the middle of the night.  On Saturday morning we heard that Aaron Crossman who was going to run sound was sick.  When I got to Grace at 7:00 am we weren't sure what to do and then Dustin Craig who runs the worship team at Harborcreek just walked in (at 7:00 in the morning?) and took care of it.  When he turned on the sound "Bless The Lord Oh My Soul" was playing.  Not a coincidence.  ....  the truck was filled with 670 cartons and still we kept packing and filled 16,145 boxes--strange, since we were only supposed to receive 16,000.  Now we have 32 cartons left over than wouldn't fit on the truck and so much stuff left over that we could pack hundreds more boxes."

And then there was last year--when we ran out of white boxes and had to pack GO boxes to get to the goal of 21,106 shoe boxes and still had so many, many items left.

In just a few days I'll be writing about God's blessings on our 2013 packing party.

Because our Faithful God never runs out of miracles to remember.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday To-Dos

Grateful for another wonderful night of work as six team members and ten other volunteers wielded box cutters and filled the dumpster with cardboard.

More items were stacked and sorted.  Packaging was removed so items are ready for the packing lines.

And so far we have the boy/girl labels stuck onto 7,000 boxes.

The Tuesday To-Do list is knocked out and we're looking forward to Wednesday.

Monday, September 23, 2013

So It Begins...

It's the story of my life.  Everything always takes longer than I think it will.  And when it comes to preparing to pack 21,500 or more boxes...well, it takes a long time.

The day started with a true miracle.  My husband got two friends to help him with moving the delivery of boxes and cartons this morning.  While they were doing that, another truck arrived with the delivery of frisbees we thought would be delivered on Tuesday.  What a blessing to get both deliveries at the same time--when volunteers were there to help.

Tonight was the first night of packing party set-up.  A group of six team members, six adult volunteers, and one youth did an amazing job of making a dent in the tasks.

In the picture above you can see some of them hard at work putting labels on the boxes.  They finished 2000 out of the 22,000 tonight.  A good start!

Others worked hard to open boxes of coloring books, soap, and pencils.  The more we can get prepared in advance the better.

Stay tuned to hear of our progress night by night.

We're on the way.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flying High

If you've been following this blog you know I've been praying for God to provide enough nice items to fill at least 21,500 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes at next Saturday's community-wide packing party.

With all the basic items obtained, my team and I have been praying specifically for stuffed toys and filler items--those special little treasures that make the precious boxes complete.

On Friday morning I got a call at work on my cell phone.  I try not to answer my phone at work and I was talking to another staff member at the time, but when I saw the call was from out of state I picked it up.

I'm so glad I did.

The call was from a dear Operation Christmas Child friend who brought a huge answer to those prayers we'd been praying.  He told me a shipment of 22,400 mini frisbees specially designed to fit into our boxes was being sent to us by truck.  He just wanted to confirm the address of the church for the delivery.

When I asked him what I could pay for them, he said "nothing" and told me he and his employers who manufacture these special items were "just being obedient to God."

And, OCC friends, please don't start messaging me to ask where you can get some of these.  I almost didn't blog about this because I don't want to: a) put the donor in a bad spot or: b) make it look like I rate some sort of special deal.

The truth is--God provides for each of these boxes around the world in His own way.

And, yes, I've struggled to remind myself of that when I've heard of others who've received amazing donations.

Today, though, was His time for a miracle right here.  A miracle that came from a special gift from fellow-Christians.  These folks are being obedient and meeting the needs of children around the world.  They're just allowing their gifts to pass through Erie, PA, on the way and bless us, too.

I've been flying pretty high since Friday.

And just think how high I'll be flying by this time next Saturday!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How Many?

Look at this adorable hand-tie-dyed T-shirt.  My new friend Rachel Hillen made 11 of these for our upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party.

Here's the neat thing.  Before I received this gift from Rachel our clothing items totaled 21,990.  With these shirts from Rachel we now have 22,001.  Isn't that a great number?

While some folks have been spending time on fantasy football I've been spending lots of time fantasizing about how many shoe boxes we will pack on September 27 & 28.

Last year our packing party total was 21,106.  Our team agreed that was pretty much our maximum.  But I couldn't help but believe God could take us just a LITTLE higher.

It was hard to know how to answer when people asked, "What's the goal this year?"  I didn't want to state it too high, so lately I've been saying--21,500.

Still, I ordered 22,000 shoe boxes and purchased 22,000 bars of soap and 44,000 pencils and 44,000 pens and over 22,000 coloring books.

And even though God's brought in over 1200 stuffed animals in the past few days we are still 6,000 short.

Now, with Rachel's help, we have over 22,000 clothing items.

The tricky part is not knowing how the filler items will hold up.  I so want to be sure each of the boxes we pack will be a blessing to a child and not a half-filled disappointment.

What's your guess?  How many boxes will we pack?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Managing Blessings

God has His own timetable--that's for sure.  We've been praying for months for stuffed animals and also for another relay center (or two) for our Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child Area Team.

But no new relay center seemed to be in the works and we started this week 7,000 stuffed animals behind where we were at this time last year.

Now here I am in the busiest time of my year.  The last week at school was the most stressful and busiest ever, and this week isn't looking any better.

So now God decides to open the windows of heaven.

Someone from a local church contacted OCC through the main website with the message that they'd like to be a relay center.  And then today alone I had 850 regular sized stuffed animals and another 100 or more teenie Beanie Babies donated.

Tonight I spent several hours sorting and stowing stuffed animals to clear the living room before our OCC team meeting at my house tomorrow night.

God, help me manage all these blessings.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I love seeing how God works things together in this Operation Christmas Child journey.  In the midst of an exceedingly trying week at work there were plenty of God sightings.

I and others have been praying for God to give us 7,000 more stuffed animals and enough fillers for our packing party on September 28th.

This week a huge box from Oriental Trading arrived full of pencils, filler items, and small stuffed animals.  I didn't order them.  They were sent by Beth, a woman who lives in another state whom I've never met.  She sent them for our packing party and also sent a gift of money through Paypal to help with shipping of our shoeboxes.  What a blessing!

Today I trekked to a few yard sales.  I only found two stuffed animals and one of them I later noticed has a tear in it.  BUT while I was out hunting I got a phone call from a woman who wanted to donate new Beanie Babies.  I met her at 11:45 and picked up 106 animals.  Another God sighting.

Tonight the blessings continued.  Our team has been praying for at least 26 new participating churches for Operation Christmas Child in our area this season.

The phone rang an hour ago and it was the pastor's wife from a local church saying she wants their church to do shoeboxes.  Hallelujah!

What I love most is the intersections behind this call.  This woman attended a gospel sing in Lebanon, PA a week or two ago.  There she talked with an OCC volunteer and was given a packet of materials and a few brochures.   As she was considering getting the project started at her church she picked up a copy of a local free newspaper called Senior News and read an article they printed about our upcoming OCC packing party and got my phone number.

So--the faithfulness of an OCC friend in another part of the state who
 manned a display table combined with the faithfulness of Pam, our media team member, who submitted information to Senior News.

These intersections were used by God to answer our prayers and the prayers of children around the world.

God sightings.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Taking The Mantle

My Bible reading this morning was in 2 Kings and as I read chapter 2, my mind went back to Leigh Fisher, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for Operation Christmas Child, who focused our Area Coordinators' Retreat last January on this passage.  It's the story of Elisha's succession to Elijah's ministry.

Knowing God is going to take him to heaven soon, Elijah tries three times to leave Elisha behind, but Elisha is having none of that and refuses to leave Elijah.  He's just not ready to give up his mentor.

Elijah then takes his 'mantle'--his ordinary but most necessary cloak--and uses it to strike and divide the water and give Elisha one more exhibit of God's power.

Then easing Elisha into the inevitable, Elijah asks him what he can do for him before he goes to heaven.  And Elisha wisely and boldly asks for a double portion of his spirit.  What a gutsy request.  And Elijah promises he will get what he asks if he sees Elijah leave.  Elisha will have to let go of the man who is most precious to him to take hold of his destiny.

"As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them.  And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven."  vs. 11  -- In the midst of the ordinary "going along and talking" came the extraordinary.

"Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen."  And he saw Elijah no more.  Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces."  vs. 12 -- His first response is pure grief.

"He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan." vs. 13 -- In the midst of the grief he TOOK the mantle and STOOD.  

Then...."He TOOK the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and STRUCK the waters and said, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha CROSSED OVER." vs. 14

In his grief over the abrupt change and loss of his mentor, it was all he could do to take the mantle and stand.

Then, looking for God, he actively struck the water--He challenged God to come and meet him and then he crossed over.

What mantle is God asking you to take up today?

I have a friend named Rose who struggles with a chronic illness yet took up the mantle of packing two thousand shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child in her home this year.

I have a friend named Heather who has taken up the mantle of inviting groups from her community into her home to pack shoe boxes regularly--totaling several thousand a year.

I have a friend named Pam who lives on a fixed income but trusts God to provide materials to allow her to crochet adorable stuffed animals for our shoebox packing party.  She's made more than 200 already this year.

God has a mantle for you.  And for me.

Pick it up.  And stand.  And strike.  And cross over.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Prayer Pause

For the past few minutes, while trying to choose a picture for this blog, I scrolled through images of Operation Christmas Child adventures over the past eight years or so.

I wonder how many prayers have been prayed over the years for these boxes?

I thought of all the specific prayers I'd prayed over the years--prayers for ball pumps and shoes; prayers that I'd be there when certain items went on sale; prayers for better prices and favor with store managers; prayers for volunteers and stuffed animals.

And, most of all, prayers that each of these 'gospel opportunities' would bring a harvest for the Kingdom.

When I think of recent months, though, I wonder if my prayer concentration for Operation Christmas Child has been slipping.

Last year, for example, I focused on praying for God to supply a goal number of stuffed animals each week.  I shared the goal on Facebook and asked others to pray along.  And God provided week by week in wonderful ways.

This year my life has been a little more complicated with family priorities and the weekly prayer concentration for stuffed animals has fallen off.

When I realize we have only 13,500 stuffed animals with less than four weeks until the packing party I wonder if the lack of prayer has been a part of that.

On the other hand, I actually feel peaceful and am trusting God to work this out and provide all we need to fill the boxes He wants filled at the packing party.

I don't want to presume on God's grace without spending time seeking Him in prayer, though.  After all, He commands us in Thessalonians 5:17 to "Pray continually."  That's pretty clear.

I can't do anything about the past months but I can ask God to renew my focus now.

I know He will hear.  Will you join me?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Month and Counting

Just one month from right now, Lord willing, our 5th annual Operation Christmas Child packing party will be over and the trucks will be filled with 21,000+ gift-filled shoeboxes.

Lord willing.

Because I'm never sure how it will happen.

This is the time when I need to keep reminding myself it's His work.  His way.  His time.

Stay tuned to see Him do it again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

God Gives Us the Brush-On

I love it when God brings people alongside me in this Operation Christmas Child journey.  And one of the sweetest people he's brought back into my life is my friend Ellen.  Ellen's husband and I were in the same youth group as teens and she sang at my wedding.

Now, years later, we reconnected on Facebook and for the past few years she has used our NWPA Operation Christmas Child Packing Party as the mission project for the VBS at her church.

When I told her I needed about 5,000 more toothbrushes for our boxes this year, she decided to make that their goal.  I told her I'd been buying nice ones from an online site for about 15 cents each. 

Last week Ellen sent me a message saying their church would be sending me a check for $505.17.  Even though their VBS had the smallest attendance ever with only 15 regular attendees, their giving was amazing.  The children were especially touched when they heard the story of a shoebox recipient who lived in an orphanage in Russia where 20 children shared the same toothbrush.

Ellen said "we all have long faces because we didn't reach our goal.  I think with the money and the toothbrushes we had donated, it came to 3,426 toothbrushes."  

But that's not the end of the story.  

When I went to the site where I've ordered the toothbrushes, I found the price had risen to 17 cents each.  So I decided to check some other outlets.  Here's the story via my Facebook conversation with Ellen.

  • from me to Ellen: Good news! I searched a website today called Plak Smackers (recommended by some other OCC folks) and found some toothbrushes on clearance and (today only) shipping was free for a $500 order. I spent $511.40 and was able to get 5,040 toothbrushes!!!!! So.....your gift, including the toothbrushes you sent, was closer to 5,100 toothbrushes!!!!! God is SO GOOD to us all, isn't He? I can't wait to see what God does from all this love you have sent. Praising Him for how He lets us come into His plan and be blessed.
  • from Ellen to me:  Oh my goodness Kathy! I can't believe it! What a Savior we serve! I can't wait to tell our Hill kids And my granddaughter Sam who gave me her piggy bank $ when she knew we didn't hit the goal. She said I know God wants those kids to have brushes! Praising God with you and FOR you.

  • from me to Ellen: I love God's timing and His amazing faithfulness. A special hug from me to Sam--God will reward her sweet heartWhen we give and pray--God hears aWhat a Savior we serve, indeed!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Pen Is Mightier

Lately I've been reminiscing about God's great provisions year by year for this Operation Christmas Child journey.  Every year He seems to provide in new and totally different ways.

Sometimes people contact me for tips on how to host a large packing party, assuming I have some secret list of places to obtain low-cost items.  But that's not the case.  Each year we pray and then watch God lead us to wonderful contacts.  And I see the same thing happening all around the country for others who are packing boxes also.  Let's give God credit because whether you are packing one box or thousands of boxes--everything you need always comes from Him.

So today was my birthday and I got a great gift as the 44,000 pens I ordered for our packing party (2 will be put into each box) arrived via 18-wheeler.   The timing was a perfect answer to prayer and my sweet husband and my dear team member, Pam, were both there to help with the unloading.

In only 1.5 hours we got them all opened, inspected, and loaded into the storage container.  These are nice pens at a low cost--a perfect gift from God.

After dealing with the pens we headed to a packing party team meeting.  Excitement is building as we're only 44 days away from our 5th annual event.
In just a bit over 6 weeks these pens and a lot of other treasures will be on their way to bless children around the world.

Now THAT'S something to write about.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thrill Seeking

Yesterday morning we drove 2.5 hours to Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.  Visiting amusement parks is one of the few things my husband and I have always enjoyed doing together and I was excited for this trip.

Our first two rides were on the Magnum--a roller coaster--where the lines were very short.  In 1989 when it was built we stood in line for several hours to ride it.  It was thrilling then, but now not so much.

There is in us a desire to always seek a greater thrill.  I thought of how this applies to our spiritual lives as well.  I don't want to be satisfied with the spiritual thrills I experienced 25 years ago and 25 years from now I don't want to be satisfied with what I know of God today.   My Operation Christmas Child journey of the past 18 years has been used by God to grow me in so many ways, and I'm trusting Him to use whatever means He chooses to continue to draw me closer.

Higher up and deeper in--more of YOU, Lord.

Back to Cedar Point.  The picture above is of our favorite ride--a steel coaster named Millenium Force.  If not for the 1.5 hour wait we would have hopped back in line after our ride.

Here's where the spiritual thrill ride analogy starts to break down.

We intended to stay until the park closed at 10:00 pm and wring every drop of fun out of the day.  By 4:00, though, my husband was sick and tired and had to go to the car to rest while I rode three more rides.  (Truthfully, I was feeling a little sick myself but refused to give in.)

We then reunited to ride the newest ride at the park--The Gatekeeper.  The lines were shorter than earlier in the day but we still waited over an hour for our 2.5 minute ride of ups and downs and twisting and being turned upside down.  When we got off my husband said, "I think that's it for me."

By 7:30 pm I was behind the wheel of the car and we were headed home.  Some thrills are just harder to handle than they used to be.  I guess that's why they give you that senior discount.

Still, God--I'm ready for more thrills with You--higher up and deeper in.