(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.