Sunday, March 31, 2013

No Fooling--6 Months & Counting

We're twenty minutes out of Easter and into April Fools' Day.  I'm so grateful that we're not in school on this April 1st.  By the grace of God, the full moon and April 1st this year both fell during spring break.

But as I lay in bed tonight trying to fall asleep I remembered that I missed the 6 month countdown day for our Operation Christmas Child Community-Wide Packing Party.

This year's party will be held on September 27 & 28 so 6 months from today it will be another memorial stone of God's victory.

As I lay awake tonight I was praying for 20,000 stuffed animals and all the soap and toothbrushes and toothpaste.  We have almost enough pencils but no pens yet.  God's been blessing with clothing items at good prices but we still need more fillers.  And, God, will You please let us find those 24-count boxes of Crayola crayons on sale for 25 cents each at back-to-school time this summer?

We have a lot of ground to cover in the next 6 months.  Lots of praying and shopping and storing and hauling and organizing and recruiting.

If you live near Erie, will you save the date and join us?  If not, will you pray with us that our faithful God will once again do what only He can do?

Because if He doesn't show up these boxes will not get packed.

No fooling.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Retro--All Wrapped Up--2007

Here's a story of God's provision for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes just before Easter in 2007--

Retro--All Wrapped Up—2007

            A few weeks ago I was eyeballing our paper supply. Hmm—I’ll bet we’re going to run out of wrapping paper pretty soon I thought.  It looked like we had about 40 rolls left.  That sounds like a lot, but there’s not much paper on each of those rolls.  We can only wrap about 30 box lids from each one and now that we’re collecting up to 200 shoeboxes every week, I was concerned about not having enough.  I didn’t stop to pray about the need then, but I remember thinking that it could soon become a problem. 
            About a week later, I got an e-mail from Elizabeth Randolph, our church Family Ministries Director who also serves on our Operation Christmas Child team.  She wrote,

Steve Heitzenrater called the church office and left a message that he has access to a large roll of birthday wrapping paper that he would like to donate to the church.  I figured that it really doesn’t matter what type of paper we use to wrap shoeboxes, since they are not necessarily delivered at Christmas time.  So I called him today to let him know that we could use the paper.  After accepting the donation, I began getting a few more details and I hope I haven’t made a mistake!  It seems that he will need to call some men from his small group to help him unload it and carry it down the stairs.  I didn’t realize that when the message said large, it really meant large!  Sorry if I messed up on this!  I guess we could also use some of it for other things too!!

            I called Elizabeth to tell her I thought the donation of paper was a real blessing, since I had just noticed that we might be running out of it soon.  When I got to church a few days later and saw the roll sitting under the coat rack by the back door of the church I started to laugh.  The thing is three feet in diameter and I couldn’t even budge it even when throwing all my weight against it.  The paper itself is perfect—a black background with all types of sports balls in fluorescent colors, but how will we ever move the roll?
            Two weeks later, on Easter Sunday, it was still sitting there in the same spot, flanked by the winter coats of churchgoers.   Later that day when the lobby area finally stood empty, my daughter, my husband, and I all threw our weight against the mammoth roll at one time, and we still couldn’t get it to move.  “I think we could wrap the whole church with this paper and still have half a roll left,” I said.  We all chuckled.  “Maybe I’ll just have to unwrap the paper and rewrap it onto other cardboard rolls a little at a time.” 
            Meanwhile it stands guard near the back door of the church as a silent monument to God’s provision for our project.  On Easter Sunday alone I probably gave the explanation 15 different times to church members who wanted to know about the giant roll. “Now we know God’s answering our prayers for Operation Christmas Child before we even pray them,” I told each of them. “I noticed that our wrapping paper supplies were getting low and look what He sent us.” 
            When it comes to meeting our needs, there’s no doubt about it—God has it all wrapped up.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Week 'Ad'-Visors

I knew I would be off school this week so it was the perfect time to schedule the delivery of a blessed shipment for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  What better gift could I want for Easter?

By God's grace I was able to purchase 7,072 nice sturdy visors for our boxes from a wholesaler who gave me a good price on all he had.  This is a great answer to my prayers for God to provide a clothing item for every one of our boxes this year.  This delivery brings us to over 14,150 clothing items so I'm praying for another 7,850.

I'm praising God for stopping the snow we've been having to allow us to get these stashed in the container fairly easily.  I'm also grateful for my dear husband who helped with the toting and also with the logistics of trying to figure out where to put them in the container.  I was especially blessed when this vendor willingly donated 600 packs of silly bandz and about 1000 medium-sized balls printed with superhero characters that will bless so many children with a fun toy.

As you can see, the space is filling up.  It takes a lot of thinking to figure out how to use every inch so that we'll have room for the 200 bags filled with 20,000 stuffed animals that we're praying for...and the 22,000 tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes and bars of soap and crayons.

I'm sure glad God promises to provide all we need...

and to be our best advisor.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Great Gift

Today I got a great gift for my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  My daughter's best friend, Joy (who is like another daughter for me) brought me 108 boxes of cute character bandages to include in the boxes at our packing party on September 28, 2013.

Joy had the coolest idea.  Because God blessed her with good health in 2012 she had money remaining in her Flexible Spending Account at the end of the year.

She chose to use that money to buy bandages for our shoeboxes!  (And as a school nurse I can tell you that kids LOVE bandages.)

I know the children who receive them will be sharing them and that God will use these to bring love and healing to many children around the world.

Thanks, Joy, for sharing the joy!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How To Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Top 'o the evenin', friends.  Because of our Pennsylvania state 'blue laws' which prevent selling alcohol and cars on Sunday (interesting combination, huh?) the bars here in Erie, PA are in full St. Patrick's Day mode today.  I hear the reveling began at 7:30 am in local pubs.

But what do Operation Christmas Child fans do on St. Patrick's Day in Erie in 2013?  Our team had a table at the MOPS indoor garage sale to raise some funds for items for our shoebox packing party as well as to raise some awareness about Operation Christmas Child.

With God's blessing (and maybe a little luck o' the Irish) were able to raise a total of $108.50 and that will buy 434 boxes of crayons when the back-to-school sales come.

I think maybe St. Patrick would be pleased.

I especially think this after reading the excellent blog written by my pastor, Derek Sanford, about the life and mission of the real St. Patrick.  You can read it by clicking the link here.

Please take a few minutes to read it.  When you do, you will realize that this day would more appropriately be spent in prayer than in drinking green beer.

Have a happy (and holy) St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In The Balance

Sometimes I can get pretty confused on this Operation Christmas Child journey.  Just what is balance and how do I find it?  How do I balance the need of getting the gospel to children around the world with the demands of work and family life?  How should I spend my resources--time, money, energy?

I believe God has given me enough of all I need to do His will.

The question is--how do I know what His will is in each of the situations I face?

Our second daughter recently got engaged and is planning a wedding in October.  When my husband and I got married we had our reception in the church basement with food prepared by the ladies in the church.  That was the norm in our circle of friends and it was what we wanted.

Our daughter and her fiance have different wants, though, and are looking at a venue with prices that would pack a lot of shoeboxes.  My husband asked me if I'm willing to give up packing so many boxes to finance this.  Am I?

So I've been praying a lot about this and asking God what His will is for our shoebox journey this year.  My daughter has worked sacrificially for years for a non-profit organization that builds and repairs homes for low-income persons and she cannot afford the wedding of her dreams on her own.  Does God want to bless her through us?  

Jesus attended a wedding and made it the scene of his first miracle--a miracle where He provided something that was not a necessity of life.  You could argue that turning water into wine was an extravagance in a world where some did not even have water.  But Jesus did it.

God can provide for these shoeboxes in any way He chooses and I'm eager to see how He does it this year.  In the meantime, I'm still hanging in the balance about what He wants us to do with our checkbook balance.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Retro--Tangled Treasures II--2006

(here's a story of one of the ways God provided for the 3100 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes we packed in 2006)

Tangled Treasures II – 2006

            Sequels are tricky, especially when the original story or movie or answer to prayer is so good.
            So when, after praying for weeks for some fun items to fill our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, I pulled up in front of a local discount store and saw those big brown cartons on the sidewalk…well, I had to offer up another silent prayer, “God, do it again.”
            Eyes on those cartons, I speed walked the short distance from the car to the store’s sidewalk where I could see butt-raised women with chains and beads dripping through their fingers.  This had to be another jewelry sale, and by God’s grace I was here for the occasion.
            Last year I wrote about a similar sale where I bought two bags of tangled jewelry for only ten dollars.  After two weeks of hard work I managed to salvage 180 necklaces to be sent in gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children.  That was a miraculous adventure that I thought would never be repeated, but…
            Reaching one of the eight large cartons, I put my hand into the jeweled jumble and gave a tentative tug on one of the necklaces.  A huge mass of sibling strands clung to it, as tight as a West Virginia clan.   There was no way I was going to separate the group.
            I looked up to see the sign on the cash register, “Jewelry—Fill a Bag for $5.00.”  That was just like last year’s sale.  But then I noticed that the woman sitting on the ground by my feet while she tried to match up sets of earrings had a large white bag at her side with the store’s logo on it.  Last year the bags they gave for the jewelry sale were only about six inches by eight inches, but the one she had was at least sixteen by eighteen inches.
            “Hey,” I hissed, “is that the bag you get for $5.00?”
            “Yeah.  I don’t think I can even fill it up it’s so big…”
            I didn’t hear the rest of her reply, because I streaked past her to the cashier and plunked down my five dollar bill, “Give me a bag,” I demanded in a voice usually reserved for would-be convenience store robbers.
            With trembling hands she grabbed my money and passed me a bag.  Then I realized that I had to be home in a half hour.  There was no way I could do a decent job of finding treasures in this mess in that amount of time.  “God, what do I do now?”
            I didn’t hear a thundering voice in reply, but I knew with sudden clarity what I should do.  Just stuff the bag.
            So I found a carton with no marauders around it and started hauling up gushing clumps of jewelry and tossing them into the bag.  Each mass was nearly a foot in diameter and oozed chunky gold and silver chains and beads of various hues.  Price tags and labels stuck out at odd angles and punctured small holes in the bag.  The fourth clump overflowed the top and ruptured the side of the bag causing a hemorrhage. 
            I dragged it to the cashier and gentled my voice as I pleaded, “Could I please have another bag to put this into?” 
            “Sure.  Let me help you.”  She didn’t say anything about the fact that the jewelry mounded over the bag.
            “Uh, do you think I could leave this under your table while I fill another bag?”  I ducked my head a little and handed her another fiver.
            “Yep.  That’s okay.” 
            I shoved that bag under the table to my left and grabbed the new bag she handed me.  Back to another carton, I started the process again.  Within a few minutes I pretty much emptied the remaining contents of three boxes, once again heaping my treasures several inches above the top of the bag and breaking one of its handles.  I considered buying a third bag…heck, why not just throw the rest of the women to the ground and haul off all the cartons?
            Taking a firm hold on myself, I bent my knees, got my arms under my bag, and hefted it up.  I staggered to the car—the thing had to weigh thirty pounds—then went back for my first bag. 
            Minutes later I arrived home and trudged into the house.  Of course, the bag split just as I crossed the threshold, spilling its contents right in front of my husband.  No secrets there.  With a groan he said, “Not again!”
            “But, look,” I hurried to explain, “these are big beaded necklaces.  They won’t be as hard to untangle as those thin chains I got last year.  I bet I’ll have these bags all sorted in a week.”
            “Bags?”  he asked, raising his eyebrows.  “How many bags?”
            “Just two.  It’s nothing.  Really.”
            “Really.”  He shook his head.  “You’d better get ready to go to the funeral home.”
            Drats.  I forgot about going to console a friend who’d lost his father.  I itched to start sorting my treasures.  Reluctantly, I got a big box to hold my beautiful clumps and went to change clothes. 
            Later that night I finally got my chance to tackle the project.  Within minutes I had five nice necklaces spread out on the couch.  “See?  Look how easy these are coming apart,” I bragged.
            From that night I was hooked.  Though it was the busiest time of the year at my job, I wished I could forget going to work.  I didn’t care about sleep.  I embraced the masses with frightening gusto. 
            When my daughter Jen came home four days later to visit, the couch in our family area, one corner of the living room, and the dining table were all completely buried.  “What’s going on?” she asked.
            “Uh, another bag sale on jewelry.”
            “No.  I’m not helping you this time.  Not at all.  Nada.”
            “I didn’t ask you to help.  In fact, I don’t want you to help.  I’m having fun.”
            And I kept having fun all that weekend, until Jen invited her friend Joy for dinner on Labor Day.  Dinner company.  What now? 
            I spent two hours making sense of the mess—laying complete pieces that only needed to be repaired in several large box lids and categorizing the remaining broken parts that showed potential into like piles.  It took some time to get the house in company-order, but I was proud to tell my daughter’s friend that I’d already rescued  76 pieces of jewelry, even though I was still only less than half-way through the first bag.
            “I might even get a few hundred pieces of jewelry out of this,” I boasted. 
            Joy just nodded.
            “I mean this stuff could have all ended up in a land fill,” I continued.  “I’m doing my part for the environment.”
            Jen made a sound that could have been a cough.

            As usual, my predictions for finishing the job in a week proved wrong.  In fact, the job stretched on for weeks.  Every spare minute was spent untangling, sorting, and fixing.  I did the repair jobs on the weekends and after-school hours when the sun shone brightly through the panes of the back door and allowed me to see clearly.  Free evening hours were spent hunched over the table trying to separate strands or sitting in my recliner with a clump in my lap. 
            On one memorable Saturday afternoon I spent five hours untangling six cross necklaces that each had multiple strands.  I finally had to use the jewelry pliers to disconnect some of them to make it possible to get them free.  But in the end, after reconnecting them again, I had six more nice pieces of jewelry.
            “I can’t believe you’re still working on this,” my husband commented about three weeks into the project.  “Why not throw the rest of the stuff away?  You’d still be ahead.”
            “I can’t do that.  There’s more good stuff in here, and every one that I can fix means one more little girl will get a great piece of jewelry that’ll make her feel special.”
            Many of the pieces still had their price tags intact, and prices ranged from $18.50 to $29.50.  As the pieces were finished I put them into shoebox lids—ten pieces in each—and stacked them in a spare bedroom.
            A week later when I updated my count of the pieces I reported to my husband, “I’ve got almost 500 pieces already.  Even if I stopped now, they’d have only cost me two cents each!”
            But I couldn’t stop.
            A week later the tally showed I had almost 800 pieces.  I started fantasizing about making the count reach to an even 1,000 so I could say that each of these nice pieces of jewelry only cost one cent.
            Near the end I cannibalized the remaining components—the clasp from a beyond-hope piece was used to replace the missing clasp on another; a leftover charm turned a bare chain into a pretty necklace.  Piece by piece I kept the count inching toward that magic 1,000 mark. 
            When I hit 984, I had a sickening thought.  I paid sales tax on those two $5.00 bags of jewelry.  I grabbed the calculator, hit the keys to check my mental math, and yelled to my husband, “I just figured something out.”
            “What?  That you’re crazy?” he hollered back.
            “No.  I had to pay tax on this stuff.  It cost me $10.60.  I just realized that I can’t honestly say I got these for a penny each unless I can come up with 1,060 pieces.  I’d need 76 more pieces, and I know I could never make that.”
            My husband walked into the room and just stared at me.
            I kept working.
            Several days later he ambled through the kitchen to the spot where I sat bent over a mass of earring parts on the kitchen table.  “Aren’t you done yet?” he asked.           
            “No.  I just figured out that I can take the dangly parts off these mismatched earrings and put leftover matching beaded pieces on them to make sets.  I’m gonna make a lot more pieces that way.  Do you think they have to have these little plastic thingys on the backs of the wires?  Do you put those plastic parts on when you wear the earrings or are they just for display?” I asked, touching my earlobes that hadn’t seen earrings in months.
            He just gave me one of those how-would-I know stares.
            I couldn’t make myself stop until there were no more combinations to make.  Every possible piece had been used.  At the end of those six weeks when I put the last necklace into the pile and then secured the last pair of earrings to their display card, I stood and looked at my fingers.  My thumb nails were worn down to below the quick from using them to open the small jump-rings on the jewelry.  The tips of my fingers were abraded, and it hurt to even touch them. 
            But that last pair of earrings brought my total number of jewelry pieces to 1,066—a legitimate under-one-cent-each purchase and almost six times the number I got from last year’s jewelry sale.
            Is there a twelve-step program for an addiction like this?  I’d better investigate that before next year in case God blesses me with Tangled Treasures III.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It Gets Personal in the Valley

One of my special Operation Christmas Child colleagues was going through a tough time this week and asked God to give her a special verse.  When he gave her Psalm 23:4 she thought, "Really, God?"  The verse reads:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."

She wasn't too excited about the thought of the valley of the shadow of death, and I can't say that I blame her.

Today, though, I heard a speaker shed some light on this verse that was new to me.  In the first three verses of Psalm 23, David talks of the Lord in the third person--calling Him 'He'--but in verse 4 when he talks of walking through the valley of the shadow of death David refers to the Lord as 'You'.

Something happens in the valley that makes our walk with the Lord very personal.  'Him' becomes 'You'.  

Your rod, God, is the challenge I need.  And Your staff, God, is what you use to put around my neck and gently draw me to You.  They keep me safe and they comfort me.

I see You, God.  I recognize You, God.  I cling to You, God.  I depend on You, God.

In the valley, it all gets personal.