Thursday, January 31, 2013

Waste Not...Conserve Joy

Last night I had some Operation Christmas Child joy when I came home with 22 pairs of nice shoes for a total of $31.00.  Getting a great bargain brings me such joy.

Conversely, nothing threatens to steal my joy as much as waste.  I hate it when I waste--time or money.  Not that I don't do plenty of it, but it always makes me feel awful.

Today seems full of waste.  It was my morning to run, but the winds were high so I wimped out and wasted the opportunity.  At the school I was at today it was "Catholic Schools Week" and I wasn't able to get any screening exams done.  More waste.

After school I went to look at the portraits I had taken two weeks ago.  After I picked a pose I was fascinated with watching the photographer edit and do touch-ups.  Carried away in the moment, I shelled out over a hundred bucks for a disk with four various sized images of the same photo pose.   As I left I wondered what possessed me to do that?!  More waste.

I have been blessed with $226 in Office Max Perks that I need to use by today.  I've been considering the best use of this reward money for a month and waiting for the right sale.  Pencils were on sale last week but I thought I'd wait and see if I could find a better deal.  Well, no better deal came and now the pencils aren't on sale either.  I don't know what to buy that won't be wasting the money but I only have four and a half hours to order online or lose out.

And all day I've watched the wind blow the snow into white-outs and prayed about whether my flight to Baltimore for the OCC Area Coordinators' retreat will even take off.  If it doesn't, will I waste the money for that ticket?  Even worse, will I waste one of my precious personal days?  (not to mention missing the fun and fellowship.)

In the midst of all this, I'm trying to talk myself down and conserve joy because I've definitely been letting that leak out all day.

What a waste.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Retro--Sweatin' It--1998

(Here's another retrospective account of a shoebox miracle in 1998--It's good to remember how God's provided over the years.)

Sweating It Out -- 1998

            The windshield wipers thrash, trying to outgun the relentless snow.  Above their loud swishing, I hear a shrill sound.  Sounds almost like a siren, but with the heater blasting and the radio’s bass thumping, it’s hard to be sure. 
            “Our God is an awesome God,” I sing along to the praise music pulsing through the car.  How appropriate that this should be playing right now as I ride the crest of another shoebox miracle and think about what just happened.

            Only half an hour ago I stopped at Value City, a local discount store, to see if they had any good clothing items on sale that I could save for shoeboxes next fall.   In the children’s department, I found a rack of attractive little girls’ Christmas sweat suits.  The two-piece red or green outfits had various glittered motifs such as wreaths or bells on the front, and each one came with an attached matching hair ornament.  Best of all, when I checked the price tags I found they were on sale for $2.50.  I decided to buy ten of them and sorted through the styles to choose my favorites.  Piling them in my shopping cart, I headed to the check-out counter with a smile, thinking about how happy they would make the little girls who received them.
            There was no wait at the cash register, so I speed-wrestled the stack of outfits from my cart onto the counter and checked my watch.  In just twenty minutes I needed to be downtown to pick my daughter up from her dance lesson, and it looked like I would just make it.  The cashier scanned the tag on the first outfit, and I watched the price come up on the cash register—it read 62 cents.  “Wait!” I said, as she reached for the second tag.  “Something’s wrong.  The price tag says $2.50, and it only rang up as 62 cents.” 
            “Oh,” the cashier said with a smile, “all the Christmas merchandise is 75% off the lowest price now.” 
            “You mean these are only 62 cents each?”
            “Looks like it,” she said, watching the price come up after scanning the second tag.
            “Uh, can I run back and get more?” my voice was nearly squeaking.
            “Sure.  I’ll just finish ringing these up while you go back there.”
            I grabbed my empty cart, dashed back to the rack, scooped all the rest of the sweat suits up without even counting them, and trotted on to the cashier within less than two minutes.  Another cashier came to help bag the suits as they were rung up, and soon my shopping cart overflowed with huge white bags.  Finally, the last price tag was scanned, and the cashier hit the total button, and then inspected the register receipt.  “So your total is $25.42, and that’s for 41 all together.”
            “Wow, that’s great!” I said, handing over my credit card.  “That’s less than I was planning to pay for 10 of them.”
            “It sure is a great deal,” she agreed.  “What are you going to do with all these?”
            “Oh, our church packs shoeboxes to send to kids in other countries.  These fancy suits will really make some little girls happy.”
            “That’s nice,” she smiled, pushing the last bag toward me.  “Now you be careful driving out there.”
            “I will.  Thanks again.”  I ran to the car, stowed my treasures in the back seat, and brushed the snow from the front and back windshields.  Checking my watch, I realized I had only ten minutes before my daughter’s class ended, so I scraped the ice from just a small area so I could see out, jumped in and started the car, and pulled out to the intersection where the light was red.  I looked and saw no other cars at all on the street, so I went ahead and made the right hand turn.

            Now I glance in my rearview mirror and through the haze of frost I spot a flashing red light.  Yes, it’s definitely a siren.  This police car must be rushing to an accident.  I slow and move to the inside lane.  Why isn’t he pulling around me?  There’s plenty of room.  I don’t see one other car on this usually busy street.  No one else is stupid enough to be out in this storm.  Another look in my mirror shows he’s slowed down right behind me.  Puzzled, I put my foot on the brake and steer toward the berm.  My euphoric mood deflates like a balloon in a briar patch.
            I turn off the radio, then roll down the window as the burly officer leans over and says, “Ma’am, do you know why I stopped you?”
            “Well, that intersection back there has no right turn on red.”
            “Really?  Oh, I’m so sorry.”  I’m guilty, I know.  I didn’t see the sign, but that’s no excuse. 
            “I’ll need to see your license and registration,” he continues.
            I dig into my wallet, then fish through the glove compartment, and hand him the necessary cards.  He walks back to his car, and I sit and curse my stupidity.  Now I’m going to get a ticket that will probably cost at least several times more than the money I just saved.  And I’m going to be late picking up my daughter.  And why did I ever buy 41 outfits anyway?  Last year I only packed 80 boxes all together.  I’ve already bought way too many things, and it’s only February.  The miracle I was glorying in a few minutes ago seems to have vanished.
            I hear the slam of a door and look in my side mirror to see the officer approaching.  Just how much is the fine for making an illegal right turn on red?  I roll down the window and know that I’ll soon find out. 
            “Ma’am,” he says, holding out my card and registration, “I’m just giving you a warning this time.”
            “A warning?” I say, with a little choking sound followed by a long breath.
            “Yes.  But be more careful next time.”
            “Okay.  Right,” I stammer.  “I will.  Be careful, I mean.  Thank you.”
            “It’s okay,” he says, “Just be careful.”  He walks back to his car, and I wait until he drives off before I pull slowly onto the street.  I accelerate to five miles below the speed limit and hold the gas pedal steady, even though I am still running late.
            A warning.  I can’t believe it. What a gift of mercy I have just received.  I was guilty, but after sweating it out, I was offered grace. 
            I can’t help but think of the far greater grace of God.   When I deserved to die because of my sin, Jesus came and died Himself to take my punishment.  Suddenly I start to laugh.  I am giddy.
            What a miracle.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hope and the Big "D"

There are definitely cycles in our Operation Christmas Child journey and this season is the season of beginnings.  It's the time of year when we ask God for His wisdom in making a ministry plan and setting goals for the new year.

Now it seems like this should be exciting, but, truthfully, I always find it a bit daunting and if there's ever a season when I struggle against discouragement this would be it.

From August until November I'm so busy I hardly have time to think and then God gives us an amazing National Collection Week and I ride high on all those answers to prayer until January.

But then it's time to think about building my area team and strategizing to implement the High Impact process.  And I realize again how "low impact" I really am.  I think I understand these leadership principles fairly well but putting them into practice has always been easier said than done for me.

I stand in my nearly empty storage container and think about how many items we need to be able to pack 21,000 plus boxes at a community-wide packing party in less than 8 months.

Last year at this time I had nearly 19,000 T-shirts and almost that many toothbrushes in the container.  Not this year, though.  This year God is asking me to wait on Him again.  He's asking me to have hope.

This morning on the way to church I heard a preacher on the radio explaining that hope can only be defined in the face of hopelessness.  Truth, that.

So I find myself tilting between discouragement and hope.  I stand at the bottom of the mountain again looking up.  I look at the empty ministry plan template and Satan whispers, "this is really just too hard."

But then I remember God's past faithfulness.  I recall again some of the promises from His Word.  I ask my prayer team to be in prayer for all of us during this season--

To keep us tilting toward hope.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Retro--A Perfect 300

(This is a picture taken at a distribution in Ecuador by an OCC staffer.  This little girl is opening a box I packed--how fun is that!)  I thought I'd share this piece I wrote about "the old days" when I didn't pack quite as many shoeboxes.  The miracles God used to allow us to pack a perfect 300 boxes in the year 2000 were just as great.

A Perfect 300--2000
            There.  Finished.  Putting the lid on the last of the 240 shoe boxes, I taped on the sticker to indicate the box of gifts was for a boy.  Through a project called Operation Christmas Child, two other women and I had spent two days in our church basement filling shoe boxes with gifts to be sent to needy children all around the world.  Each box was fitted with a notebook, crayons, pencils, pens, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, socks, a clothing item, and various small toys.  I stacked the last box and closed the door to the storage room with a sigh.
            During the church service the next morning I handed the usher a slip of paper with a request asking Art, our assistant pastor, to include in his morning prayer praise to God for helping us pack 240 boxes. Art’s one of those optimistic guys, so when he prayed “Thank you, God, for helping us to pack almost 300 shoe boxes,” I smiled.  How like him to exaggerate.  We packed only 240 boxes; nowhere near 300.  But all through the service I kept remembering we had some extra items.  Maybe we could pack more boxes after all. 
            I knew we didn’t have any notebooks left, but that afternoon I found a rain check for notebooks that had been on sale at Quality Markets.  I had made numerous trips to the store but never found them on the shelf.  That Sunday night, though, I made another trip to the store and this time there were three perfect stacks of them.  The rain check was for an unlimited quantity, so I grabbed a stack and began counting.  Then I counted the next stack and the next until I got to the last of them.  I ran my fingers over the last three and counted under my breath, “58, 59, 60.”  There were exactly 60 notebooks. 
            I didn’t have any crayons, either, but two days later I stopped at K-Mart on my way to work and trotted right to the school supply aisle.  There was an unadvertised special on 24-packs of Crayola crayons for 39 cents, so I bought all they had on the shelf.  Guess how many there were?  That’s right—60.  Perfect.
            By the next Saturday we had gathered enough items to pack all 60 extra boxes, except that 12 boxes for little boys had no socks.  When I got home that afternoon and opened my mailbox, I found a package with an unfamiliar return address.  When I opened it, it was full of little boys’ socks and underwear.  The note inside told me they were sent to me by Sharon, a Christian woman who lives half-way across the country and knew about this project from one e-mail contact we had. 
            I hurried to the computer and typed
Thank You! 
10/13/2000 2:00:49 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
Dear Sharon,
            I couldn’t believe it when I opened the package you sent.  I just came from church where we were packing some extra boxes for the Shoe Box project, but we ran short on socks, and we didn’t have any for the last 12 boxes.  Then I came home and found your package in the mail box.  I was blown away when I saw all those socks and underwear in just the sizes we needed.  I shouldn’t be amazed that your package arrived at just the right time, but I am.  What made you decide to send it? 

Still amazed,

Within just a few minutes, my computer chirped in its cheery AOL voice “You’ve Got Mail!” and I

opened Sharon’s reply.

Re: Thank You! 
10/13/2000 2:10:37 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
Hi, Kathy,
  I’m so glad that you’re able to make use of the items!  I knew that God wanted you to have them for your ministry.  As a rule, I don’t shop in the children’s section (and honestly, I don’t care for shopping at all), and if you were not a woman of faith, you would NEVER believe that I found the clothing sale bin in the car care section of the store!  I was on my way to pick up two cans of fix-a-flat to keep in my vehicles for emergencies, and I saw a three-tier bin of clothing marked down to 10 cents.  I thought of your shoe box ministry right away and grabbed whatever nice kids’ stuff they had.
  Of course, we know that God provides exceedingly, and that thought was further reinforced when I found the fix-a-flat on sale for $2.54 a can when I am accustomed to paying nearly $5.00.  It was like getting a bag of sox and undies for free!
  I pity the misinformed and clueless people who think that Christians never have any fun in their lives.  It is SO much fun to serve Him in this way.  It was wonderful to receive your note and be reminded that our God who cares for the sparrows certainly cares about little boys’ feet.

            Why did Art look at the number 240 on that prayer request slip and decide to thank God for “the almost 300 shoe boxes?”  And why did some clerk in a K-Mart in Wisconsin put a bin of reduced-priced children’s underwear in the middle of the automotive section?  Those seemingly inconsequential moments were links in a chain that sent shoeboxes full of gifts to 60 children who might otherwise not have received them.  They were part of God’s plan for a perfect 300.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boyd's Beauty From Ashes

"There is a time to be born and a time to die."  I commented lately that I seem to send more sympathy cards than any other type these days.  I suppose it's my age, but it seems like every week a friend or relative of someone I know has died.

Just this past Sunday morning my friend's mother died, followed by my Operation Christmas Child team Prayer Coordinator's father on Monday morning.  These are answers to prayer--though not always the happy ones we envision.  To be "present with the Lord", though, is surely a blessing.

But God, in His mercy, sometimes brings beauty from ashes to those of us still walking the journey.

Such was the case when a co-worker's mother died unexpectedly a few weeks ago.  This dear woman had a beloved collection of stuffed Boyd's bears.  Some of them were given to her family and friends as a way to remember her and my co-worker called last week and asked if I'd be interested in having the remainder for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Well, of course!

Pictured above are some of the 70 beautiful and new-with-tags high-end collectible stuffed bears that are absolutely adorable.  They represent hundreds of dollars of investment that will now be invested in the lives of needy children who will cherish them.

Another answer to prayer.  Beauty from ashes.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Numbers Are IN

After praying for nearly a year for our goals for the number of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, the totals for 2012 were announced today.  In our Mid-Atlantic region we were praying for 800,000 boxes this year.  God blessed us with:


This is not as cool a number as last year's palindrome of 723,327 but since it represents a 10.36% increase that blesses almost 75,000 more children--I'll praise God for it.

For the United States we were praying for 6,500,000 boxes.  And the total is:


Again,  praise God for this wonderful growth.  He truly has done great things.

I don't have a final total on our international numbers yet, but I believe God took us beyond the 9 million we prayed for.

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul!!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Strengths and Weaknesses

In this Operation Christmas Child journey I've often despaired of my perceived lack of leadership skills but have taken great solace in God's promise "My strength is made perfect in weakness."

As we sat in our first-of-the-year OCC area team meeting on Tuesday evening we rehearsed again God's goodness over the past year and we each affirmed that the increase in shoebox totals certainly didn't come from any brilliantly executed plans or from our great resources.  We know God's strength was shown perfectly in our weakness.

On the other hand, I've been getting an interesting perspective on leadership strengths this week through a survey and reading of the book "Strength Finder 2.0"  by Tom Rath in preparation for our upcoming Area Coordinators' retreat.

The premise of the book and survey is to uncover your strengths and maximize them rather than concentrating on trying to improve your weaknesses.

I'm enjoying mulling over this concept, which only makes sense since the survey I took revealed that my strengths basically lie in thinking.  I've always hated the fact that I feel more like a thinker than a doer.  But it turns out that thinking isn't all bad.

I've also felt very guilty for years because whenever I'm in a meeting where new plans are considered I immediately think of all the problems that could result from them.  I've prayed about my negativity and finally decided that it would be best for me not to voice any of these negative thoughts.

According to this survey and book, my strategic thinking is a strength.   The book suggests that when I share my concerns I also share a way to overcome the potential problems.  Well, that's interesting.

The line between weaknesses and strengths is beginning to blur.

Now that's something to think about.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Stack and Store and Yet....

We were blessed with a balmy January day today in Erie, PA.  The temperature rose to nearly 60 degrees making it a perfect day to do some sorting and organizing in our Operation Christmas Child storage container.

My dear husband willingly came to lend his expertise and worked masterfully from his makeshift step stool constructed of cartons of coloring books.

We need every inch of that storage space so it's a challenge to figure out how to stack those boxes of various sizes and shapes.

The space still looks so empty.  Last year at this time we already had cartons containing more than 17,000 T-shirts neatly stacked but God hasn't provided a deal like that this year.


I estimated the number of leftover notebooks and tried to figure out how many thousand packs of paper are in that stack of boxes.  I counted the leftover toothpaste tubes (291)  and brought the tub of toothbrushes home to count later. I looked at the 4 bags of stuffed animals in there (400 total) and thought about the 200 bags of them (20,000) we still need.

And while we worked I prayed and thanked God for the ways in which He is going to fill that container this year.   Even though I don't see them.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bare Necessities

I was disappointed when my Office Max store didn't have any of the colored pencils that were on sale this week, but I knew God would come up with some great deal for our Operation Christmas Child boxes.

I was right.

On today's trip to Gabriel Brothers (a local discount store) I found these 6-packs of boy's underwear for just $1.00 a package.  I was able to snag 29 of them, so that makes 174 pairs of bare necessities....

For children who have barely owned anything of their own and maybe never a pair of underwear.

I can barely contain my excitement.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Just One

As we work to prepare for a large Operation Christmas Child packing party each year, I sometimes get discouraged when I don't find large numbers of a certain item.  In my last post, for example, I talked about getting nearly 3,000 cups and bowls.  Still I wished I'd been able to find more.

Sometimes, though, I need to step back and remember that each box goes to ONE CHILD who has individual needs and wants and prayers.

I got a wonderful donation from a friend in my small group at church a few months ago.  Bob is a Vietnam vet who, as a result of an accident, is wheelchair-bound.   When he saw a picture on my Facebook page of people who made makeshift shoes out of empty plastic 2-liter soda bottles, he was moved to make a difference.

I've asked Bob to pray with me that God will give us great deals on shoes so that his donation will buy at least 250 pairs.  He really doesn't want flip-flops, either.  He wants to buy some quality shoes for the children who will receive them in their Operation Christmas Child boxes.

About a week ago I found 10 pairs for a total of $22.00 and I'm prayerfully scouting for more.

On Saturday evening I drove to our local shopping area in search of bargains and I made a stop at Old Navy.  There I found one pair of glittery silver sneakers for only 97 cents!  They're sturdy but also beautiful and fun.  (And though the picture makes them look like they are mismatched sizes, I assure you they aren't.)

I scoured the store for more but, alas, there was only ONE pair.  At first I was disappointed that I couldn't find more but then I realized that blessing ONE child with a nice pair of shoes was worth a shopping trip.

So I pray for this ONE child.  She will not receive these shoes for well over a year, but God knows who she is and will help her to grow into them at just the right time.

God, please answer this ONE prayer.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Carts and The Cross

This is prime shopping time for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and this week brought me another Walmart adventure that netted me almost 3000 plastic cups and bowls.  Today my husband and I took the plastic wrappers off them and decided to get a little artistic.

I suppose I should back up to the start of the adventure.  On Wednesday I spent two hours after school waiting in the church parking lot for a truck to arrive with a delivery of items for our shoeboxes.  It finally came and the cheerful driver backed up expertly right to the container.  My brother and sister-in-law arrived just in time to help me load the 43 big cartons into the storage container and I praised God for the safe arrival of that long-prayed-for delivery.

When I got home I had an e-mail telling me that Walmart holiday items were scheduled to be reduced to 75% off at 12:00 am on Thursday, so even though I was exhausted that night I headed to Walmart at 11:30 pm.   I'd previously scoped out the store that still had hundreds of bowls and cups left on their shelves.

I sauntered around the store when I arrived and found a bunch of fluffy holiday fleece throws that were marked down also but when midnight arrived and I scanned the items they were still coming up at 50% off.  As the minutes ticked by and I kept scanning--the prices remained the same.

In faith, I decided to go fill my carts with all the cups and bowls--

I gingerly guided the carts up to the front of the store and checked the prices one more time--still no mark down.  I asked an employee if they would mark the items down for me ahead of time but he said they weren't able to do that.

I kept  praying and kept standing by those carts in the front of the store for another 15 minutes.  Finally,  the employee told me his manager had said he could start ringing my purchases up and they would do a price override to give me 75% off.

The transaction was complicated because in the middle of it the prices started ringing up at the original prices instead of 50% off.  Then a few minutes later they were coming up at 75% off.  In the confusion I got overcharged $60,00 and it took another 30 minutes to figure out how to make that right.

I finally got my 4 shopping carts full of items out to my car at 1:45 am and when I actually got home I couldn't get to sleep until 3:00 am.  A little loss of sleep is nothing at all when I think of the sacrifice Christ made for us.

It's another reminder that the Cross is in the middle of Operation Christmas Child.  These cups will be put into gift-filled shoeboxes that will be distributed by believers in other countries who will use them to give each child and their family a 'gospel opportunity'.

I may not be able to give each child a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, but at least I can give them the cup.