Thursday, February 28, 2013

Begin To Take Possession

Last night I had a meeting with my precious Operation Christmas Child area team.  We even had a prospective new member there!  We spent time reviewing our 2013 Ministry Plan and reminding ourselves of God's faithfulness.

We talked of how our team exemplifies that truth that "His strength is made perfect in weakness."  We rehearsed the goals from last year's ministry plan that were achieved through prayer alone.

But this morning as I read from Deuteronomy 2:24 I was reminded that God calls us to action.  In this passage God is giving the Israelites instructions for getting ready to go into the promised land and he says, "Arise, set out, and pass through the valley of Arnon.  Look!  I have given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land into your hand;  begin to take possession and contend with him in battle."

I was struck by all the action words in this verse--'arise'; 'set out';  'pass through'; 'look'; 'begin to take possession'; 'contend with him in battle'--

Prayer is the foundation of our team but God is also asking us to move in His power and do what He is calling us to do.

And so we begin...

We pick up the phone or put up the display table or plan the celebration event or      prospect for new members.

God is faithful.  He will keep His promises.  He will answer our prayers.  He will never leave us alone.  He will lead us into battle.

This year we will arise, set out, pass through, look....


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Retro--Heads Up--2002

(Here's a neat way God provided for the 796 boxes we packed in 2002)

Heads Up—2002

            My eyes scan the aisles looking for red sale signs as I make a dash toward the children’s department of Gabriel Brothers, a local superdiscount store.  This is one of my regular haunts for finding cheap items to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  I move my eyes in a systematic grid pattern down each row of merchandise, waiting for my sale radar to detect a bargain.  In less than ten minutes I’ll know if there’s anything worth buying.
            I gaze to the left and—there!  Just a flash of red.  Like a birdwatcher who’s just spotted a rare specimen, I turn to get a closer look and see the price on the sign—25 cents.  Now I shift into high gear and move toward it at a near-trot, like I’m following a star from the east.
            “Oh, it’s the hats!” I whisper with reverence.  I’ve been watching this rack of little girls’ hats for over a month now.  Several hundred darling floppy-brimmed hats—some corduroy, some velvet—have been hanging here for weeks, and the supply hasn’t seemed to dwindle much.  I watched their price move from $1.00 each down to 50 cents.  I still considered that too high a price, even though I knew they would be a great hit with little girls.  But at 25 cents, the price is, in the words of Goldilocks, “Just right.”
            Now that my cart is right beside the sale sign I’m a little disappointed, though.  The nicest floppy-brimmed hats are gone.  There are about 75 hats left on the rack, and all of them are velvet baseball hats with rosettes and rhinestones glued to the brim.  They’re cute, but not as practical or versatile as the other styles.  I think about how I prayed this morning again about finding some perfect items for the shoeboxes.  Why didn’t I make time to come here yesterday?
            I decide I might as well stop complaining about missed opportunities and just thank God I found these baseball hats.  I know they’ll make some little girls happy.  I grab them off the rack a row at a time and form piles in my shopping cart, taking care not to crush them.
            “Hey, there.”  A voice startles me, and I turn to see one of the store employees standing next to me, straightening her blue apron.  “I see you’re buying all those hats,” she continues.
            “Yeah,” I say in a sheepish voice, “my church packs shoeboxes to send to kids in other countries at Christmas time.”
            “Well, I was just wondering if you wanted any more.  Did you see the other hats we had out here before?  The ones with the floppy brims?” she asks.
            “Yeah, I really like those even better, but I thought they must be gone already,” I answer, hope rising.
            “Oh, no.  I just took them off the racks to make room for other new stuff coming in.  If you want them, I’ll sell them to you for 25 cents each, too.”
            “Sure I want them!” I am amazed.  “I’ll take all you have.”
            “Great!  Just let me go get them out of the back room,” she says over her shoulder as she walks away.
            In a few minutes she’s back, pushing two shopping carts loaded with hats.  “Here,” she says, “come over to this counter and you can go through them and make sure they’re all what you want.”
            I follow her to one of the vacant check-out counters, and together we start to count and stack the hats.  “My name’s Donna,” she says, “and anytime you come in just look for me and I’ll tell you if I’ve got stuff in my department on sale.  I’ll introduce you to the other department managers, too.”
            “Wow, that’d be really nice,” I tell her.
            We stack and count in silence for a few minutes, and then Donna says, “You know, it’s really lucky I just happened to come along and see you when you were putting those hats in your cart.”
            “Well, Donna,” I reply, “I don’t think it’s luck.  I was just praying this morning for God to help me find stuff for these shoeboxes.  I think when you walked by it was an answer to prayer.”
            “That’s sweet,” she says.  It’s not sweet, it’s God’s providence, I think to myself.  But when I think again, I realize it is pretty sweet, too.
            “Okay,” says Donna as she counts the last hat, “that makes 310.”  As I hand her my credit card I think how close I came to not getting all of these hats.  But when I think again…nah, it wasn’t even close.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Following a tip by another Operation Christmas Child volunteer, I headed to Harbor Freight today.  Even though I have a store just two blocks from my house, I originally tried to buy these 6-packs of screwdrivers online.  I couldn't get my coupon code to work, though, to give me 20% off on the entire order.

So I thought I'd take my chances at the store.  I wanted to buy $100 worth of these 6-piece Pittsburgh screwdriver sets and fretted they wouldn't have enough stock.  They're on sale for just 99 cents per set until March 4th.

I needn't have worried, though, as the store had nearly 1,000.

I only bought 102 packs (a total of 612 screwdrivers) and used a coupons to get 20% off.  You can print the coupon by clicking on the link here.

You can also get 15% off on a $65 purchase or 10% off on a $50 purchase.

The helpful employee even loaded the boxes into my car.

Bottom line--612 sturdy screwdrivers for less than 14 cents each.

Not a screw-up at all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Retro--Day For A Miracle--2005

(Here's a piece I wrote about one way God provided for our 2,240 boxes in 2005)

Day For A Miracle--2005
            It’s a day meant for a miracle.  January 13, 2005 proves to be a lucky day for us in Erie, PA--a balmy reprieve from our usual winter weather with a record high temperature of 70 degrees. 
            I feel blessedly light wearing only shorts and a t-shirt during my early evening run, and when the run ends I soak in a hot bath, and then curl up on the couch for a quiet night at home.  Snuggling into my comfortable robe, I open the newspaper and flip through the pages.  In the bottom corner of one page, an advertisement for the Millcreek Mall’s January Sidewalk Sales catches my eye.  The sale began today, and I wonder if they have any bargains.  It seems doubtful, since I rarely find anything in the mall stores inexpensive enough to buy in quantities for the shoeboxes.  Besides, I’m all ready for bed, and it seems silly to get dressed to make the trip.
            I finish scanning the rest of the newspaper, but I can’t stop thinking about the sales at the mall.  Finally, I haul myself off the couch and get dressed, knowing I’ll never be satisfied until I’m positive I’m not missing any great deals.
            By the time I reach the mall it’s just a half hour before closing time.  Only a few stores have tables of sale items displayed in front of them, and after glancing at a few of those, I’m disappointed.  Still, I decide to venture farther down the main concourse to Claire’s—a store specializing in jewelry and accessories for children and teen girls.  I walk into the small store and head for the back where I see a red sale sign on a table that’s overflowing with hats, slippers, and even boots. 
            “Welcome to Claire’s,” the cheerful salesperson greets me.  Then she continues, “Everything on that table’s on sale.  You can buy any ten items for $5.00.” 
            My eyes scan the cute suede boots with an original price of $19.50.  “Even these boots and slippers?” I ask.
             “Yep. As long as you buy ten items, it’s just $5.00.” 
            My excitement is mounting.  “Can I buy as many as I want?”
            “Well,” I say, launching into my stock explanation, “our church packs shoeboxes filled with gifts for kids in other countries.  I pray all the time to find stuff like this.  I’ll probably just take it ALL.” 
            “Great.  My name is Courtney.  So just let me know if I can help you,” she says as she moves to straighten the jewelry on a nearby rack.   I start to grab sets of matching hats and gloves, fluffy slippers, and the half dozen pair of boots and stack them into piles.
            “I want all of these,” I say. 
            Then Courtney strolls over.  “Here, let me help you.  You can just put them into piles of all one thing.  Like stack all the slippers together, then all the hats together, and all the boots together, and then we can just count them.  Do you want any more boots?  I think there’s more in the back.” 
            “Absolutely.  I’ll take whatever you want to sell me.”
            “That’s great, because we really need to make some space here.  I’ll just go in back and bring out more boots.”  A few minutes later she returns, hauling several large cartons filled with pink, blue, or tan suede boots in all sizes from little girls’ to ladies.  “Just count these,” she instructs, “and I’ll go look for more stuff.”  Before I finish counting the boots, Courtney comes back with her arms loaded full of more slippers, hat and glove sets, and even cute little ponchos. 
            “Here we go,” she says, dropping her load on the floor.  “Now I’ll help you put these in piles.”  We start to sort them out, working in silence for a moment until Courtney muses, “It’s really nice of your church to do this.”
            “Well, it’s actually a lot of fun—especially seeing the way God provides these things for us.  Like me being here tonight to get these great deals.”
            “My friend says I should go to church,” Courtney blurts out.  “She thinks I need some peace.”
            “Well, we all need peace.”
            “I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life,” she confesses.  “I got divorced from my first husband and I’m getting divorced from my second.  I always wanted kids, but I don’t think I’ll ever have any.”
            “But you’re still young, Courtney.”
            “Not really.  I’m thirty-four.  Besides I wouldn’t want to inflict my life on any kids.” Another customer is ready to make a purchase, and Courtney excuses herself.  I keep sorting.  A few minutes later, Courtney comes back and hands me a small notebook.  “Here.  Just count up how many there are of each item and put the stock number beside it.  It’s the number right here,” she says, pointing to a tag.  “I’ll go look for more stuff.”
            Courtney comes back with still more boots and drops them on the floor.  Then she says, “What about sunglasses?” 
            “Oh the kids love them,” I enthuse.
            She starts pulling sunglasses off a rack.  “Well, I’ll just give you all these and charge you for thirty pair.  Just write it down as thirty.”
            “Are you sure?  There’re a lot of them there.”
            “I’m sure.  We have more than a thousand pair of clearance ones we have to get rid of.”  Courtney’s name tag indicates she’s an assistant manager.  I hope she knows what she’s doing.  She piles the sunglasses into a bag.
            “Where do you live, Courtney?”
            “Down by 5th and Myrtle.”
            “Well, it might be a ways for you to travel, but I’d love to have you come to church with us if you want,” I tell her.  “We’re a block up from Buffalo Rd. and Station Rd. in Wesleyville.”
            “Oh, I know where that is.  I used to live in Lawrence Park,” she says.
            “Really?  Did you go to high school at Iroquois?”
            “No.  I’m from Colorado.  I’m starting to think I should move back home.  My life is such a mess.” 
            Another customer beckons, and Courtney goes to her register.  I glance at my watch and realize the store will be closing in ten minutes.  I have all the items counted and tallied.  Most of them have price tags with retail prices of $14.00 or $16.00, and the 43 pair of suede boots each retailed for almost $20.00.  There must be several thousand dollars worth of merchandise here.  I take the notebook up to Courtney at the cash register and watch as she moves her fingers over the keys, entering all the numbers.  “Okay,” she says at last, “with the tax, that’s $113.42.”
            “That’s ALL,” I marvel, handing her my credit card. 
            “Yeah.  You got a lot of nice stuff, but we needed to clean it all out anyway.”
            “Well, we sure appreciate it.  This is such a blessing.  A real answer to prayer.”
            “Hey,” Courtney says, as we look at the mounds of shopping bags, “if you want, I can help you get this to your car after I close the store.”  Several last-minute customers walk in, and she leaves to help them. 
            I haul four bags in my arms and struggle to the car.  I make two more quick trips, while the customers are still browsing, then come back to the store once more.  It looks like I’ll have to make two more trips, until a male customer sees me struggling and offers to help me.  “She just bought all this for her church,” Courtney tells him. 
            “Well, I’m bored,” he replies, “so I might as well help you.”
            “That’d be so great.”  He stacks two large boxes full of boots, hefts them into his arms, and starts off behind me.  “What’s your name?”  I ask him as we walk out together.
            “Dave.  What’s all this stuff for, anyway?”
            “Well, our church packs shoeboxes full of gifts to send to kids in other countries.  I pray all the time to find bargains like this, and tonight God really answered prayer.  I got all this stuff for fifty cents each.”
            “No way.  Even these boots?”
            “Yeah.  All of it.  This will make a lot of kids really, really happy.”  When we get to the car, I struggle to find the key in my pocket and open the trunk. 
            “Man, your car is FULL!” Dave sounds amazed. 
            “Well, God is really good at answering prayer,” I chuckle.  We wedge the boxes and bags into the trunk and back seat, and I turn to walk back into the mall with Dave.  “I want to thank Courtney again,” I explain to him.
            As we approach the store, Dave’s wife and daughter are walking out to meet him.  “Hey, you’ve got a great guy,” I say with a smile.  They nod and wave.
            I go back into Claire’s and see Courtney cleaning up.  I wish we had more time to talk.  “Courtney, I just wanted to come back to thank you again.  You’ve been such a blessing tonight and a real answer to prayer.”  She smiles.
            “Courtney,” I continue, “I don’t think it was a coincidence that we met tonight.  I just want you to know that God loves you and He has a great plan for your life.  You can start your life again right now.  I’m going to be praying for you, and I’ll have some of my friends praying for you.”  She opens her arms, and we move to embrace. 
            “Thanks,” she whispers into my ear.  After another squeeze, I turn to leave, then pray for Courtney all the way to the car and on my drive home.  I am still praying for her as I count and sort all the things I purchased—257 beautiful clothing items. 
            The next day I write a letter to Courtney telling her all the things I wish I’d had time to say the night before.  I write about how much God loves her, how she can ask Jesus to forgive her and give her a new life, and how she can contact me so that maybe we can get together again.  I seal the letter in a large envelope along with a Bible and some other literature, and then I drive up to the mall and leave it with another employee at Claire’s.  Courtney isn’t there today. 
            I keep praying for Courtney.  I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, but I sense that God will somehow use our meeting to bless her.  After all, it was a day meant for a miracle. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Persistent Perseverance

If there's one thing it takes to make it in this Operation Christmas Child journey it is perseverance.  And if that is granted genetically, I'm going to be blessed.

Yesterday I watched my mother, who will turn 100 years old in just 146 more days, work on a jigsaw puzzle.  We started at 1:00 pm and, except for two bathroom and meal breaks, she worked continuously until after 10:00 pm.  I, of course, took some moments to check my phone or walk around the house.

But not Mom.  No breaks for her.

If puzzle working is indicative of persistence in general, then I have persistence to a point.  But I also like success.  When I get stuck on a certain section and can't get ahead I'll move on to another area where I can hopefully get some pieces in and achieve some progress.

But not Mom.  She is tenacious.

She worked on the hardest section--the part of the puzzle that was all green.  And she stared and she picked up pieces and she tried and she tried--I swear she tried every single green piece to fit in that one spot.  And then she tried them all again.

"Don't you want to try something else?"  I suggested.  "Here, maybe you could work on putting together the bridge."

"No," Mom answered,  "I'm going to find this one.  I know it's here somewhere."

And, eventually, she found it.

I have been praying for several years for ministry coordinators for my Operation Christmas Child team--especially a Network Coordinator to manage the relay and collection centers and a Community Relations Coordinator to lead a team to develop the ministry with community groups.

These are key roles and having the right people in these positions could revolutionize our team's impact.

I can't honestly say that I've been that persistent in finding those missing pieces for my team.  I'd rather get sidetracked with something that gives more immediate success--like a giant shoebox packing party.

By God's grace, though, I want to have Mom's persistent perseverance.  I want to think about what qualities those candidates need and pray specifically for God to bring the right Spirit-filled people to our team.

Instead of rushing around to do the work that these prospective candidates would be doing, I want to pray with 'importunity'--a good old King James Bible word for persistence--that God will fill these positions.

I'm going to take my inspiration from my tenacious, long-living mother.  I'm going to keep asking and seeking and knocking....

Until God brings me those missing pieces.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Worst 20 Minutes

Today I experienced the worst 20 minutes I've had in a very long time.

This morning I was at one of my private schools and my colleague from my main public school called and told me the principal wanted me to "come over here right away."  I asked if she knew what he wanted and she answered with a short, "No."  I scurried to get my coat and leave.

And on the 20 minute drive to my main school, all I could do was speculate on why my principal would summon me.  I knew it couldn't be for a student's medical need because my staff nurse was there.  All I could imagine was that there was some awful parent complaint or that I made some grave error in judgment.

Lest you think I am insanely paranoid, I should tell you what happened in our family 19 years ago.  My husband was suspended from his teaching job (in the district where I also work) because of false accusations from students who were failing his class.  He was eventually cleared of all charges after a one-year legal battle.

I lost my innocence through that experience and I learned that a normal day can turn very bad, even when you've done nothing wrong.

So as I drove this morning I imagined parent accusations.  I imagined that maybe someone had complained about our Operation Christmas Child stuffed animal collection.  I imagined that I was being reprimanded for sharing with another colleague something very stupid that a parent said in a meeting.

I put in my Matt Redman CD and listened to "Never once did we ever walk alone..." over and over as I prayed.

By the time I got to school I was a wreck.  I rushed into the building and the school secretary said, "They need you in the library."  The library?

I rounded the corner into the library where a faculty meeting was in progress.  I still waited for the other shoe to drop.  When would I learn of the crisis?

I sat down and the principal announced that they were honoring me with a cake because of an award I am receiving.

Really?  I'm too old for this.

I started to cry because I'd just endured the worst 20 minutes I've had in a very long time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cents-ible Provision

God comes up with the most fun ways of providing for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Here's one of the latest in my world.

Our largest household expense is gasoline for our vehicles.  I drive a minivan that gets poor gas mileage but I use it constantly to haul things for shoeboxes so I feel it's worth the extra cost.

It's interesting, though, to see how God has been providing most of our gasoline over the past two years through purchasing items at our local grocery store with coupons.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that God blessed us last September with a great deal on flexible cover notebooks from Target.

Many of them had a page of coupons in the front, and my husband thought I was crazy for taking the time to pull that coupon sheet out of each notebook.  I ended up with a pile of several hundred of them.  One of the coupons on that sheet was good for 75 cents off on any box of Puffs tissues.

Last November that made for a great deal on gasoline points.  By doubling the coupons I was able to buy 6 boxes of Puffs for $4.77 while receiving $15.00 worth of gas for my car.  That was like getting my gas for 70% off.  I bought over 120 boxes of tissues and got enough gas points for 120 gallons of free gas!

That lasted us until mid-January...but that's not all.

Just when the first batch of gas points ran out, the store repeated the exact same deal.  I had plenty of coupons left, so I bought another 120 boxes of tissues.  Now I have enough free gasoline to last until the end of March.

The boxes of tissues were too big for shoeboxes so they went to the local food bank but the money saved at the gas pump over those four months WILL go into shoeboxes for sure.

I still have coupons left and they don't expire until 6/30/13.

God really does come up with the most fun ways of providing for us.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Retro--All Pumped Up--2003

(Here's a piece I wrote about how God provided for our shoeboxes in 2003)

Pumped Up – 2003

            I am home from work at last on Friday afternoon.  I close the car door and take a few steps up the driveway.  Then I see it.  Sitting by the back door of my house is a brown cardboard box about two feet high, one foot wide, and one foot deep.  I hurry to it and check the return address.  Yes.  Just in time.  Another answer to prayer.  I’m pretty pumped up.

            Back in August my husband, Jim, and I traveled to Wexford, PA, to attend a volunteer training session so we could learn more about Operation Christmas Child.  For about seven years our church has been involved with sending shoeboxes full of gifts to children in other countries around the world through the Operation Christmas Child project.  At the training session Kelleigh Johnson, the Mid-Atlantic representative for the project, told us, “We always run short of shoeboxes for boys in the 10-14-year-old age group.  Not as many people want to pack boxes for the older kids.”
            “So what kinds of things would be good to put in a box for boys that age?” asks Cindy, another volunteer from Erie.
            “You know,” Kelleigh replied, “they’d be ecstatic to get a deflated soccer ball with a pump.  Or you could fill a sports water bottle with hard candy or give them some simple tools.”
            I remember how my mind started drifting when she talked about soccer balls.  I kept thinking about how neat it would be to get a big bunch of them to put in our shoeboxes this year. 
            When we got home after the training session I booted up the computer and logged onto eBay.  I didn’t find any deals on balls that day, but within a week I found a seller who was offering ninety World Cup soccer balls for $150.  We exchanged e-mails, and he agreed to ship them from Denver for only $25.
            When the huge box of balls arrived, my husband inspected and counted them.  “These are really nice,” Jim said.  “The kids’ll love ‘em.  But how are they going to pump them up?”
            “Well, I’ve been looking on eBay for ball pumps,” I said, “and I’ve been praying every day that I’ll find them, but I haven’t found any cheap enough yet.”  Over the next few weeks my quest expanded.  Since each shoebox goes to a different child and possibly to an entirely different location, every ball would need to have its own pump packed with it.  I did Internet searches for wholesale distributors, but the only ones I could find were located in Taiwan.  I couldn’t even understand their pricing, and who knew if the pumps could be shipped in time?  I made the rounds of sporting good stores, discount stores, and local dollar stores.  I found lots of pumps, but none of them cost less than $4, and I wasn’t willing to spend $360 just for pumps.  So I kept praying.
            A few weeks later, when my searches had still turned up nothing, I asked Jim, “If a kid had an inflating needle to put into the ball and was real persistent, do you think he could blow it up by mouth?”
            Jim laughed and shook his head, “No, I don’t think that’d work.  You’re getting kind of desperate, aren’t you?”  In two weeks we’d start packing the shoeboxes.  I was just a pumped-up breath away from desperate, but I wasn’t there yet.  I kept praying.
            Three days later I did another search on eBay and found a listing for a group of 20 ball pumps for $14.95—only 75 cents each.  Just right.  Now if I could find 70 more.  I breathed another prayer and jotted off an e-mail to the seller.

Soccer Ball Pumps
10/7/2003 2:43:38 PM Eastern Standard Time


I just saw your listing for ball pumps on eBay—a lot of 20 for $14.95—and I purchased them with the “buy it now” option.  Our church is packing shoeboxes to send to kids in other countries.  We were able to get 90 soccer balls, and we’re trying to find pumps to go with them.  Do you have more of these?  If so, it would be a real blessing if you’d sell us 70 more.  Let me know if you have them available and what the cost would be.

Kathy Schriefer

            When I got home from school that afternoon, I fired up the computer to check for a response to my e-mail.  Nothing.  Then I tried making a phone call to the number given in the eBay listing, but I got no response.  I sent another e-mail.  I needed the pumps by Saturday, October 18th, and it was already October 7th.  Even if this seller had what I needed, would it be possible for them to receive my payment and get the pumps mailed back in time?
            Finally, on the next day, Wednesday, October 8th,  the seller responded with good news:  he had 126 pumps and would sell me whatever I wanted to buy.  Unfortunately, he didn’t quote me a price.  I tried to call him again.  Still no answer.  The post office would close soon, and I’d miss my chance to send out a money order that day.  I sent another e-mail telling him I’d take all 126 pumps and begging him to send me a total price right away.
            On Thursday afternoon I raced home, found the e-mail with the price total that I needed, drove up to the automated teller machine, and made it to the post office ten minutes before closing time.  “What, no packages today?” said Bill, my favorite postal clerk. 
            “Not today.  I just need a money order for $117.45.  I’m buying ball pumps.”
            Bill smiled as he handed me the money order and my change.  “I won’t even ask what you’re going to do with ball pumps.  It’s always something with you.” 
            I put the money order in the stamped envelope I had brought with me and handed it back to Bill.  I thought about sending it by express mail, but I’d already missed the 3:00 deadline.  I’d just have to pray it got there by Monday so I could get the pumps back in time.  On the way out of the post office I saw a sign posted on the door—
            Oh, shoot.  I forgot about the holiday.  I really needed those pumps by the 18th.  On Tuesday the 14th I got an e-mail telling me my payment had been received and the pumps had been mailed out that afternoon via Airborne Express.  Well, that sounded fast enough, but when Thursday night came they still hadn’t arrived.  I felt like grumbling until I remembered what a miracle it was to even find those pumps.  I just needed to wait.

            I am home from work at last on Friday afternoon.  I close the car door and take a few steps up the driveway.  Then I see it.  Sitting by the back door of my house is a brown cardboard box about two feet high, one foot wide, and one foot deep.  I hurry to it and check the return address.  Yes.  Just in time.  Another answer to prayer.  I’m pretty pumped up.


Friday, February 8, 2013

God Meant It For Good

I love the story of Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers.   Joseph learned a lot in the crucible of tough times that took him from being an arrogant young dreamer to a mature man who could see life from God's perspective.  In Genesis 50:20 he tells his brothers, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good..."

Joseph's family had a legacy of deceit but there was also a legacy of forgiveness that was displayed by his Uncle Esau.  Joseph's father, Jacob, had deceived his brother Esau and when they met again after years of separation Jacob was afraid Esau would seek revenge.  But in Genesis 33:4 the Bible records, "Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept."  That surely made an impression on young Joseph.

This week I had a rare opportunity to tell someone "God meant it for good."

Let me set the stage a bit.

Back in 1994 my husband was suspended from his teaching job in the face of false accusations of improper conduct brought by several students who were failing his class.  These students were not credible and thus were never brought to testify in the arbitration hearing.  One good student, though, (who I will call Sarah) did testify against my husband, and we were always confused about that because he had a good teacher-student relationship with Sarah.

Many other students testified on my husband's behalf and after a year-long legal battle we won the case on all points.

It's hard to understand why this happened, but over the years we've been able to see some of the good that came from that struggle.

Fast forward to this week when I had to go for a video interview at a small local production company.  I knew in advance that this interview would be conducted by Sarah and I had some weeks to think and pray about this.  I had no idea if Sarah would remember me or if God would give me a chance to talk to her about our past history.

We began the interview and I talked briefly about how God has grown the Operation Christmas Child project locally despite my weaknesses.  Then the camera stopped and the videographer said, "My memory card is full.  I have to change it."  And he left the room.

Sarah and I were left alone.  I thought about my Operation Christmas Child prayer team who were covering this time in prayer and knew I had a God-given opportunity, so I said quickly, "You know, there's something that happened in my past that has a part in allowing me to invest more in this Operation Christmas Child project, and you're a part of it."

She looked at me questioningly and said, "I'm a part of it?"

"Yes.  Back in 1994 my husband was suspended from his teaching job."  I watched Sarah's face pale a little but I kept speaking.  "That was the first year I'd gone back to working full-time and we were looking at more expensive homes.  But the suspension and the legal bills we had caused us to stay in our present home.  Because of that I now have more money available to pack these shoeboxes."

"So you think that suspension was a good thing?" she said.

"No, it wasn't good.  But God made good things come out of it."

"Because," she said, "it was one of the worse things in my life.  There were some bad girls that got it started and they got me to go along with them.  I felt awful about it.  When I saw your name on the list, I wondered if you were related to Mr. Schriefer and I thought it might be really awkward...."

"No, it's all good," I said with a smile.  "God had good plans for us."

"So is your husband okay?  Is he doing well?"

"Great," I answered, just as the videographer came back into the room.

And that was the end of the conversation.  There was no hugging or weeping but, at least in my mind, there was forgiveness...

And God meant it for good.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Write Stuff

Guess what's in the back of my car?  Okay, I'll tell you.  22,032 pencils for our 2013 Operation Christmas Child packing party.

I always have a 'won't-go-above' price in mind for each item we put in our shoeboxes and prayerfully ask God to provide items within that price range.  Until last year that price for a pencil used to be 2 cents, but because of cost increases, I raised that to 4 cents.

I like to put 2 pencils in each box, so we really need 44,000 this year.  This week Office Max has a pack of 72 pencils (pictured above) on sale for $3.00.  This is just 4.1 cents per pencil--a pretty good deal.

The great thing is that they also have these on where you can get larger quantities.  If you spend at least $50, shipping is free and there is a code on the website that's good until Saturday that will give you $30 off on a $175 purchase.

If you sign up for Maxperks Rewards you get points toward future purchases.  And if you work in a school and can get a "teacher rewards card" you get $10 on every $75 purchase.

Oh, and you can also go through and get another 3% off on your order.  If you haven't signed up for eBates, you can click on this link to sign up and I'll get a little credit for referring you.  When you're going to shop online, you go to first and search for the store you want to shop at and they'll tell you how much you'll save.  At Office Max I saved an extra 3% which may not sound like much until you buy 22,032 pencils.  Then it adds up.  You can shop at any of the eBates stores and you'll get a check from them about once a quarter.  I've earned over $100 over the past year on things I was buying anyway.

So, with all of the discounts and finagling, I think I've got the cost of the pencils down to under 3 cents each.

Now that I've bought half of the total pencils I need, I'm trying to figure out how many more to buy.  I pray about this stuff all the time.  There may be some better deals at back-to-school time or from other sources.

On the other hand, I don't want to miss out on buying all I need if this is the best sale of the year.

Still praying and waiting for the 'write' direction.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lay My Mantle Down

This past weekend I had the privilege of being at a 24-hour retreat with the Operation Christmas Child area coordinators from the Mid-Atlantic region.  If you followed my journey on Facebook you know that I had several major travel snafus.

My outgoing flight from Erie was delayed which made me miss my connection in Cleveland which made me spend four more hours in the airport.  It took me 8 hours to get to Baltimore and it's about a 6.5 hour drives in a car.

The flight home was worse, because I got bumped from my flight in Philadelphia and had to spend the night there.  This meant I missed the first 3 hours of work on Monday morning and ended up taking an extra 1/2 personal day.  I only get 3 per year so this was a major disappointment.

But I think it was worth it.

The theme of the retreat started with superheroes and as we discussed superheroes the thinking turned to capes.  We read how Elijah passed his mantle (cloak or cape) to Elisha and we talked about succession planning and how we need to prepare to pass our roles on to others.

We each had the task of decorating our own felt cape with a choice of craft supplies.  Some of them were amazing.  I, however, am woefully uncrafty, so my cape was not photo-worthy.

At the end of the retreat we each took some time to write our thoughts on the following writing prompt, "I am not a superhero but I serve the Almighty God of the Universe..."

Writing with a pen was better than fabric paint for me, and I wrote, "I have been addicted to the approval of others and I have borne the heavy burden of my own expectations and demands.  I have been afraid--my pride has led me to think that I need to be a superhero and sometimes I am just so tired.  I can't keep this team up on my own.  God, I am desperate for You.  I need You to do what only You can do.  I lay my mantle down and I don't want to take it up again."

We then each took our mantle and laid it on the cross at the front of the room.

Every year more of my area coordinator friends lay their mantles down or pass them to another.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about doing that many times during the course of the year.

But I'm not ready yet.

Still, I don't want to wear a cape.  I just want to leave it hanging on the cross.