Thursday, December 25, 2014

God With Us

Here it is Christmas night already.  So....Merry Christmas.  This is the little tree in my home that holds all the Operation Christmas Child ornaments I have received since 2004.  I love the memories they give me.

Memories kind of define Christmas and I hope you made some good ones this year.

I'm starting a new tradition.  For the second year in a row I built an Operation Christmas Child box online with my Christmas dinner guests.  It's such a great way to enjoy the holiday.

This morning my husband and I joined some younger friends at a local homeless shelter where we served breakfast and sang some Christmas carols.  I was especially blessed by a man who came up to sing with us and passionately gave glory to God as he sang traditional carols that are really praise songs.  That guy sang with his heart as well as his hearty bass voice.

While we were singing, my husband was listening to a man who just wanted to talk.  Later, I listened to him for a while also.  This gentleman didn't always make sense.  His ramblings seemed to indicate some mental health problems.  But his whole countenance changed when someone was listening to him.

I thought a lot today about the incarnation and how blessed we are to live in the age of grace.  What a blessing to have free access to the Father through Jesus the Son.

Emmanuel.  God with us.  Jesus was born to die to satisfy the wrath of God so we could come near to Him by faith.  And now, Jesus is making intercession for us with the Father.

God with us.  Listening to us.

Lord, help me learn to listen, too.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Finish Line

It's hard to believe our time at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Baltimore is over.  We knew today would be the last day, but after being here three weeks it still doesn't seem real that we're leaving.

This picture was taken this morning as our team stacked our hands for the last time to give our usual morning cheer--1,2,3...TEAM.  We truly came to love and support one another, and it's sad to realize I may never see most of these folks again.

Coordinating Gifts In Kind has been a challenge.  I started out thinking we had way too many filler items, then swung to wondering if we'd have enough, and went back and forth frequently thereafter.  I trust that each of the boxes we inspected and processed left the center pleasantly filled and ready to bless children in Jesus' name.

Here's how my area looked at the beginning of the season

and here's how it looked this morning

The treasures in those cartons were transferred into precious shoe boxes.  And when the processing was over the next step was to inventory and pack the leftover items.

After the saga of bagging all that soap and wondering if we had too much or not we finally emptied the gaylord of soap and celebrated with a loud cheer.  Here's my associate, Linda, with the empty gaylord.  Sadly, even though all that soap got out to bins on the processing stations not all of it actually made it into boxes.

We worked hard over the last few days to inventory and remove from the floor the items we did not need.  I thought we were doing a good job and that clean up would be pretty uncomplicated.

I was wrong.

As each station finished processing boxes they brought their bins of leftover filler items to us.  Four bins on each of 16 stations added up to 64 bins of jumbled items to sort and prepare for storage.

I was determined we would not heap everything into miscellaneous cartons and leave the mess for someone to sort out next year.  I remembered those cartons we opened this year that were a muddled mess of stickers and small rings and key chains and didn't want to inflict that on someone else.

After a couple of hours of sorting piles of unused soap (approximately 150 bars--yikes!) and Christmas cards (too many piles to count) and small plastic toys and bookmarks and craft kits and socks, etc. etc.... I started to get bleary eyed.  I did make sure that every small plastic trinket and ring was corralled in a plastic bag.  Unless those bags open I will not be the one responsible for a carton mess next year.

I did take a few minutes out to watch the ceremonial processing of the last shoe box.  Two women from Jamestown, NY did the honors.  They've been friends for over 30 years and one of them is 87 and and other 92 years old, and they lobbied for this well-deserved honor.  Here is Leigh Fisher, PC manager and the OCC Mid-Atlantic Regional Director holding that last box...

And here is the box being processed...

One by one all my new friends and co-workers left, but I still hadn't finished my sorting so I convinced my husband to take the shuttle back to our hotel and then drive back for me.  I tried to be meticulous and finish the job but I have to confess I did throw away a few stray Christmas cards along the way.

Mesfin, our team leader and one of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Managers,  promised me they would finish the job tomorrow.  I'm hoping my sorted piles don't get thrown back into mixed cartons.

In the chaos I never did get the picture of Jim and me in our red and green shirts in front of the Christmas tree that I'd planned on getting.  But I did remember to get a picture of the tote board that shows the countries we are sending boxes to and the total for each day.

We didn't get the final total yet...but trying to picture over half a million children receiving boxes that all came through this processing center is a bit overwhelming.

It's been three weeks of some of the hardest and most satisfying work I've ever done.  That's my kind of vacation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Great Day

Today was a great day.  Because of my work at the processing center I thought I wouldn't be able to attend today's airlift of 60,000 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes to northern Iraq.

We were surprised a few days ago when Leigh Fisher, our pc manager, told us she needed two people to shuttle trucks back and forth for the airlift and asked if we'd be willing to do that.  At first she suggested I could drive one of the 26 ft. trucks, but I figured that would be tempting God.  Upon reconsideration the plan was made for me to drive our van behind my husband to shuttle him back after each trip with the truck.

As I considered this plan I started to wonder if it would be wiser to send someone else with my husband.  I thought I might be more useful staying at the pc to do my job.  So I prayed for God's direction and began to feel a true peace about going to the airlift.

Yesterday and today we split our time between being at the pc and shuttling vehicles.

Today was a great day--not because we got to see the airlift program or because we got to speak briefly with Franklin Graham and Greta VanSusteren and tell them about all the volunteers who make our packing party happen.

It wasn't even getting to see that big plane loaded with 60,000 precious 'gospel opportunities'

Or seeing the beautiful clear weather God provided and hearing the sweet children's choir

Or getting to sign a greeting from our Northwestern PA OCC area team to the children in Iraq.

It was a great day because, in my husband's words, "it was like a family reunion."  I got to introduce him to so many OCC friends of mine whom he had never met.  I got to hug the people I pray for and rarely get to see.

Another reason it was a great day was that I saw just a glimpse of God's great tapestry.  Because I was going to be out of the pc on Tuesday and Wednesday, they called in another young woman to work and several of us at the pc got the chance to talk with her a little bit on Tuesday.  We learned that her first daughter was born on Halloween but has been in the NICU ever since.  The baby was full-term but has been struggling with breathing and swallowing and was scheduled for surgery today to insert a trach and a G-tube.   We were able to give her a donation to help with expenses, offer her encouragement, and pray with her today.  None of that would have happened if I had not gone to the airlift.  (would you say a prayer for healing for baby Kalina?)

Oh, and as a great end to the day my husband and I got to have dinner with John and Dawn from Samaritan's Purse donor services.  We loved sharing with them about how God has been working in all of our lives.

There's nothing like sharing God's goodness to make it a great day.

Monday, December 8, 2014

400,000 and Counting

Yea!  Today we passed the mark of processing 400,000 Operation Christmas Child boxes at the Baltimore processing center.   Today's boxes are bound for Panama and Namibia.

It was another busy day but I was grateful that God sent Jeff Mauler to work for a few hours sorting another load of donated filler items when I was feeling overwhelmed.  This was the biggest day yet for donations received as I logged in 49 cartons of filler items.  I love to see how God is providing for every need for these boxes.

I don't often get distracted when sorting, but today I just had to stop and take a few pictures of this box full of gorgeous handmade items.

Amazing designs on knitted sweaters and hats and this lovely blanket--

I can just imagine how much joy these will bring to the children who are blessed to receive them.

We also found the 101 boxes I packed in memory of my mother were being processed today (picture above) and it made me a little teary to see them go through the line.

Some of the boxes from Erie Christian Fellowship were processed today also and are on their way to Namibia.

I'm getting more and more curious about how we will end up with these filler items.  Volunteers worked hard at bagging rings today, but we have fewer than 8,000 bags left now.  So...will we have too many filler items and have to return some?  Or...will we run out?

Stay tuned, because we have 200,000 more boxes to inspect before we find out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Appreciating The Sabbath

A six-day work week is a good way to make one appreciate observing the sabbath.  I have to say, though, that even with six days in a row of work this second week of working at the Operation Christmas Child processing center has been a bit easier than the first.

Even before the work day actually began (we always get there about a half hour early) I started sorting donated GIK (Gifts In Kind--the technical name for donated filler items.)  In the first carton I found this very cute but inappropriately large cuddly animal.  The cool thing is that all the items that are inappropriate for shoe boxes are donated to local charities so I know this guy will make some child happy right here in the US.

Here's another thing we found in the same box--

Technically, these items are not inappropriate, but it's not really cool to donate your OCC volunteer appreciation gifts as shoe box fillers.  I guess we'll give that volunteer the benefit and say they were just being truly selfless.

The day started with devotions and then some of us got to go out to the loading dock to pray for the three sea containers of shoe boxes ready to ship to Panama.

I returned to sorting incoming donations and found two carefully bundled towels with my brother and sister-in-law's names embroidered on them.  I think it's safe to say this box of GIK came from our processing center in Erie and it was nice to see a piece of home.

A few minutes later my husband came over to excitedly tell me he'd found some boxes from East Lake Rd. Alliance Church on line 9 but I never did get to see them.  So, friends from ELRAC--at least some of your boxes are on the way to Panama.

At 10:00 I was delighted to see the crowd from Jim Urban's area in North Pittsburgh come in for their work shift.  My friend and OCC team media coordinator, Pam Niedhammer, was with them and I drafted her to work on some projects for me.  I forgot to get a picture of Pam as she worked for over two hours doing a detailed inventory of a random carton of GIK.

Meanwhile I put 30 volunteers to work putting cute plastic rings into bags to make more filler items.   (Okay that was just one sentence but the work involved in that project means hauling supplies, trying to anticipate needs, and responding to repeated requests for "more bags", "more rings", "more stickers" or "another empty box" when you can't keep up with the needs.)

Pam and I also completed a crude inventory of remaining filler items and they are dwindling quickly.  There are still about a half million (I mean that literally because I actually inventoried them) of those adorable plastic rings.  If only they would put themselves into bags to make more substantial filler items.

The highlight of the day that puts all the stuff of the last few paragraphs into perspective was hearing from a young woman who grew up in orphanages in Honduras and received a shoe box when she was six years old.  (pictured below--second from the left)

She eloquently described what it meant to receive simple items that belonged only to her, since the orphans had to share all their belongings, including 25 sharing one toothbrush.  More than the items, though, she cherished the hope that came from knowing that a "little girl in America" whose picture she found in her box had packed it especially for her.  She kept that picture and years later when she faced despair as a teenager God used the picture to remind her that He cared for her.  She was later adopted and came to America where she was able to finish her education, graduate from college, and now works with Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  What a wonderful reminder of the power of a simple gift.

Full-Circle Saturday is my favorite day of the week...and a great way to begin a sabbath.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mary and Martha at the PC

Here comes Susie Shoebox...ready to tell anyone who will listen all about Operation Christmas Child.  You've got to admit that Operation Christmas Child fanatics are, well--fanatics--when it comes to promoting this project.

Being at the processing center this season is shaking up my life a bit.  It challenges me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Today made me do some soul searching as I thought again about Jesus' tale of two sisters--Mary and Martha.   I've been pondering the lives of those two women for years now and seeing myself alternately in each of them.  In fact, a book I love and highly recommend is "Having A Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy With God in the Busyness of Life" by Joanna Weaver.

I'm no Martha Stewart for sure, so I'm not neglecting relationships in favor of homemaking or decor,  but  I am definitely task-oriented and struggle to find intimacy with God and others. does this relate to the OCC processing center?

We have a task--inspecting and processing shoe boxes--and I want to complete the task quickly and efficiently.  The problem is that this involves people--people who have needs that don't always fit into my program.

There are volunteers and co-workers who have life stories and needs that sometimes collide with the job at hand.

Today my supervisor mentioned to me that for several staff members the highlight of the day yesterday came when an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease was wheeled into the processing center and spent some time bagging soap.

I'm chagrined to admit this was not a highlight of my day.   I knew she was there and interacted with her briefly but for most of the time she was there I was running around the sweet woman without really seeing her.  I was worrying about which fillers to move where and what I needed to prepare for the next shift.

How did Jesus do it?  He always managed to prioritize people without losing sight of the big picture in any way.

Lord, will You give me Your eyes more often and help me have a Mary heart?

ps--We are still not half way to our goal of processing 600,000 shoe boxes yet (sorry, Lord--I do think about that) and we are still processing boxes for Ukraine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Boxes--What Else?

Another day here at the PC in Baltimore.  As we planned this trip to work for several weeks at the Operation Christmas Child processing center my husband kept wondering what we would do every evening.  The answer has been--nothing--except eat, watch TV with our legs up, and fall asleep by 9:30.  Our hotel is about a mile away from a huge shopping mall here in Columbia, MD but we have been way too tired every night to try going shopping.  I suggested the possibility tonight and my husband asked if I thought they had motorized senior citizen carts.

The picture above shows the area of the PC referred to as "the city" and those large cardboard bins are called gaylords.  It's amazing just how many new things I have learned through my involvement with OCC over the years.  Now add 'gaylord' to the list.  The gaylords hold the filler items and we fill bins with items from the gaylords.  Four bins with assorted filler items are placed at each of the 16 stations where volunteers work to inspect the boxes, and when they use up those fillers they are supposed to return the empty bin for a full one.  Of course, those tricky volunteers will often decide they want more of a particular item and try to wheedle it out of us gift-in-kind folks--but we don't fall for that. No sir.

One of my duties is to find projects for the volunteers who are not able to stand to do the processing duties.  We only have about 2,000 bars of soap left to bag and all the socks have been divided so I was scurrying around to find some projects today.  I had the volunteers work on a pallet of donated items that needed to be removed from their packages.  The problem was that it was more labor intensive for me to drag the boxes to the volunteers and then haul them back to a pallet for storage than it would have been for me to just rip the bags open and throw them into a gaylord.  I definitely need to figure out how to work smarter and come up with better projects.

The funniest story from today came from my husband who supervises volunteers as they inspect the boxes.  In one of the boxes today they found a blank check (not filled out at all) and four written but unaddressed thank you notes for baby shower gifts.  Oh my soul, I feel so sorry for the poor pregnant or new mom who packed that box.  I'm sure she's been going crazy trying to figure out what she did with those thank you notes and why that check is missing.  Bless. Her. Heart.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Back At It

When I woke up I hit the fitness center this morning to run 3 miles on the treadmill, then before I left for another day at the Operation Christmas Child processing center I read these verses in Isaiah 66:19,20--"I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem." -- reading this reminds me of all the ways our offerings of shoe boxes are brought for God's glory.  Thinking of all those precious boxes being delivered by any means possible made me eager to get back among them at the processing center. 

I had a plan for how my day would go today but, as usual, those plans changed even as the day started.  I got a new associate to work with me today and needed to do some training with her this morning. became the day to do a random inventory on a carton of donated filler items.  So I spent more than an hour counting, recording, and tallying those items on a report list.  

The day started with a few loyal volunteers bagging soap but before I knew it the word came that we had "overflow volunteers" and I had to set up for more folks to sort socks.  That overflow just kept flowing and soon we had six tables of people working on projects.

Thankfully, the new associate was able to direct volunteers in getting bins of fillers filled for the lines because I spent most of my time lifting and hauling cartons of socks and soap and bags and finding boxes to contain all the sorted socks.  

My husband says I need to quit lifting so much stuff, but when the person assigned to help with heavy lifting is stationed on the other side of the warehouse it's just a lot easier to do it myself than to run and get him.  Fortunately, I think most of the really heavy cartons have been emptied now--at 
least until the next pallets of donations arrive.

We're down to 2.5 pallets of soap left to bag and 4 cartons of socks to sort.  The next suggestion is to get bags so we can have volunteers bag the thousands of cute plastic rings we have.  

At least those are easy to carry.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow 'cause we'll be back at it--today we sent out two sea containers full of boxes for Haiti and started filling containers for Ukraine--what joy.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lots and Lotsa Boxes

Okay, so this is the only picture I could find of the Operation Christmas Child processing center for today's blog.  My husband (he's the one on the right) is posing with Uncle Si Robertson.  I took it two days ago and it's the last picture I took there.  I now keep my phone in a locker so I don't take pictures during the day and, besides, I don't have time.

Today the volunteers were processing boxes that were being packed into sea containers bound for the Bahamas and Haiti.  There are lots and lots of boxes all around me but the only time I have touched one is when we stop working to pray for them.  The rest of the time I am prayerfully trying to figure out how to do the job of getting filler items out for the boxes and supervising "overflow" volunteers in bagging soap or sorting socks.
These Thanksgiving weekend days are reported to be the days with the highest number of volunteers at the PC.  Today I had as many as 40 volunteers at a time.  This was a blessing--but one that needed to be managed.

I finally sat down to eat lunch today and after 10 minutes the floor manager came to me and said we were getting another large group of volunteers, so I needed to scoot over to my area to prep more space.  (Note:  This reminded me of getting called out of lunch at school to change wet pants--I think this is a step up from that.)  It's tough to figure out how to keep an area for volunteers to eat lunch while finding space for them to do tasks.

It was great, though, to see pallets filling up with bagged soap ready to bless children.

I'm still trying to figure out the best way to organize my day and all the items.  It's really a matter of prayer because there is no way to know how many boxes will require extra fillers and how the supply will hold out.

I was so blessed that Kathe and Carroll Wagner came today and helped me "uncartonize" filler items and organize them.  God knew I really needed them.  Not sure I would have made it through the day tear-free without their support.

My legs were really failing by the end of the day.  I'm glad for a day off tomorrow and wondering how it will be to keep going for six days in a row next week.  

It seems to get a bit easier each day.  I'm counting on that.

'Cause there are still lots and lotsa boxes waiting to get onto those sea containers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Praise in the Winning and Losing

Today was another great but tiring day at the Operation Christmas Child processing center.  I'm still trying to figure out what I should be doing from hour to hour.  Not having a plan can really make me crazy.

It also makes me crazy when I have a plan that doesn't seem to work out.

After two days of waiting I finally got the message I'd been waiting for this afternoon--the message with the total of boxes shipped out on the trucks for this OCC season from my area of Northwestern PA.

As soon as I read the message I thought of the line from my favorite movie,"Facing The Giants".  On the eve of the big football game the coach says, "If we win we're gonna praise Him and if we lose we're gonna praise Him."

Last year God surprised us when our team collected 47,604 boxes--way beyond our prayed-for goal of 45,000

This year God surprised us when our team collected 43,554 boxes--way, way below our prayed-for goal of 55,700 and 4,150 fewer than we collected last year.  I have to admit that going 22% below our goal was quite a shock.

Still, 43,554 boxes are a real gift from God and we are blessed to be able to partner with God to send a gospel opportunity to so many children.

Now we pray for more boxes to come in from other donors who can still bring them to processing centers, mail them to Boone, NC, or go online to to pay to "build a box" online.

God has a plan to bless children with these boxes and we will keep praying for even more to be blessed and...

We're gonna praise Him!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cardboard Diva

Today was a historic day--the first day for volunteers to process Operation Christmas Child boxes at the new Baltimore processing center.  It was a great day for sure.

My husband is a coach and really enjoyed working with teams of volunteers to inspect boxes.

I spent the day drowning in a sea of cardboard boxes and fillers.

I've been trying to come up with a strategy for managing the fillers.  For example, we have seven pallets of heavy bars of soap.  I don't think we want to ship them back to Boone for storage at the end of the season so I figure we'd better get busy getting some volunteers to bag that soap and get it into boxes.

There are about 12,000 pairs of darling black crocs that need to get into boxes so they can make it to kids around the world, also.  My husband reports, though, that most of the boxes they processed today were already adequately filled.  That's good news, of course, but it leaves me wondering how many fillers we will actually need to use.

Looking at all these cartons and sorting fillers is kind of tempting for a shoe box packing addict.  I'm starting to plan strategies to hide out in the PC some evening and have an all-night packing party.  There's plenty of stuff to make great boxes here.

But (insert large sigh) that's not my job.

It was a special treat at the end of our shift to be greeted by Jim Harrelson and Randy Riddle, both humble leaders of OCC who are amazing models of servant leadership.

 Here Jim is challenging us and sharing briefly from the Word and Randy then prayed over the PC staff.

My husband and I were blessed to speak for a bit with Jim Harrelson and he reminded us of Revelation 7:9,10 and 16,17 -- the scene John describes with people (children and former children!) of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues praising the Lamb and then having that Lamb lead them out as their shepherd "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

I'll wade through a sea of cardboard and more to see that.

Monday, November 24, 2014

(Im)Patiently Waiting

Waiting.  Here are some of the first and second shift crew employees who just completed a joint time of prayer at the new Baltimore Operation Christmas Child processing center.  Training is done and now we are waiting for the first volunteers to arrive tomorrow so we can begin preparing those precious boxes.

Waiting.  I am waiting to see how God will work things out in these next few weeks at the processing center.  We will potentially process 60,000 boxes each day.  This would be the equivalent of more than three times the amount of boxes we pack at our annual packing party in one day with about the same number of volunteers (300) that we had this year.

Waiting.  I am waiting to see how the filler items will be distributed.  It's impossible to know how many of the boxes coming in will require filler items to be added and how the supply will last.

And, on this last day of National Collection Week, I am still waiting for a total of the number of boxes collected this year in Northwestern PA.  Because of ice on the roads on Saturday the trucking company was not able to send another truck until this evening and it will be loaded tomorrow and final tabulations made.  And so I keep


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Let The Training Begin

Today I started training for my short-lived dream job--working at the Operation Christmas Child processing center near Baltimore.

I am totally overwhelmed by the amazing job the staff has done over the past few weeks in transforming a bare warehouse into a warm and inviting collection center (well, it's not literally warm--the place is downright chilly and I never took my coat off all day.)

It's interesting how perspective changes when you're looking at things from a new angle.  A few days ago I was advising relay center volunteers who were lamenting about over-filled boxes to "rubber band them tightly and send them on to the processing center."

Now I'm at the processing center where the final decision has to be made about those over-filled boxes.  Our supervisor reminded us again about maintaining the integrity of the box and said that if the box absolutely will not close it will need to be sent to the Shoe Box Hospital area where the items will be transferred to a larger box.  It would be so much easier if every box arrived at a relay or collection center being filled "just right" but, of course, we don't live in a perfect shoe box world.

Even though I got the chance to practice processing boxes, my actual job this year is to help manage the Gifts-In Kind--donated items used as fillers if inappropriate items need to be removed from boxes.

As I looked at these rows of cartons donated by companies, trying to memorize which stacks of boxes contained which items, it was like looking at my storage container times four.  These have to last until all the boxes are processed, so I will be praying for wisdom in how to manage the stock.

As cartons of donated filled items arrive from relay and collection centers I will need to make sure they are inspected and, in some cases, itemized for receipt purposes.

Another one of my duties is to supervise volunteers who will be serving to prepare fillers (bagging the soap, opening packages, etc.)

It's like taking shoe box packing to another level entirely.  Let the training begin.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One More Box

My friend, Pam Hatchell, put out a challenge in a Facebook group for all of us to pack "one more" Operation Christmas Child shoe box in honor of Mary Damron.

Mary is affectionately known as "The Shoe Box Lady" and she has an amazing story.  Back when Operation Christmas Child had barely begun in the United States, Mary felt a calling from the Lord to collect 300 gift-filled shoe boxes from her neighbors in her 'holler' in West Virginia. (note: I believe this was her initial goal but I can't find confirmation of that anywhere right now.)

I wish you could hear her tell the story.  Her daughter had typed up some flyers to take around to her neighbors telling them of her goal to collect 300 boxes.  That night as she lay in bed Mary says Satan "came against me" and told her she would fail...that "no one will listen to you."

In faith, Mary got up and crossed out the number 300 on every flyer and changed it to 1,000.  She ended up collecting 1,256 boxes which she loaded into a borrowed truck and, with her family, delivered to Boone, North Carolina.

Since that first delivery in 1994 Mary has became a national spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child and the Lord has used her to recruit millions of boxes for children around the world.

Whenever Mary speaks, she always encourages us to trust God to do more.  By God's grace we can always do one more box.

So, here it is, Mary--one more box packed this morning for a 10-14 year old girl--ready to bless her in the name of Jesus.

Will you pack one more today?  Do it in honor of Mary but do it for Jesus.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pack and Burn

A few days ago I thought I was nearly done with packing Operation Christmas Child boxes at home.  I love to put a few tool kit boxes together every year, and this year I got most of the tools for free at Harbor Freight.  When I got them assembled my total for home packing was at 555 boxes, and my items were just about gone.

Then on Monday I went to Walmart and found over 400 cute small notebooks and 38 pairs of adorable sandals.

Then I stopped at a local thrift store and chose 120 stuffed animals.  I waited in line to pay for them (they usually sell them to me for .10 each) and the cashier ended up giving them to me at no charge.  Hmm--I could see more shoe boxes in my future.

On Tuesday afternoon a kind woman stopped by with two bags of pristine Webkins.

And, so, the packing continued...

By late afternoon yesterday I was at 667 boxes when I ran out of crayons and toothbrushes.  We were going to church for an all-church worship night last night, so I took a flashlight with me and my husband and I ventured into that dark storage container and dragged out more crayons, paper, toothbrushes, water bottles, and some baseball hats.

During one portion of worship last night we kept singing over and over and over and over again the phrase "Our hearts burn for You" or maybe it was "My heart burns for You"--I can't really recall even though we sang it so many times.

The entire time I kept asking God if this was really true in my life.  Does my heart burn for You, Lord?  I want it to.  I am praying that it will.  I don't want my life to be so caught up in even something as good as packing Operation Christmas Child boxes that I don't love Him as I should.

I am trusting the promise in Philippians 1:6 that "He who began a good work in you (me) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

Meanwhile, here's what I woke up to this morning.

It's a perfect day for this retiree to snuggle in and pack shoe boxes...and pray for my heart to burn.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Clucking and Clicking

Well, this picture wasn't taken at Chick-fil-A yesterday--although it was warm enough for us to be outside yesterday.

We were inside collecting Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  Each person who brought in a box was given a coupon for a free chicken sandwich.

We only have one Chick-fil-A store in our area of Northwestern PA and we are incredibly blessed by their partnership.

You could almost hear the happy clucking of the chickens as we clicked off box after box toward our goal of 55,700 boxes this year--each one ready to bless a child in the name of Jesus.

Over 200 boxes were collected yesterday.  That's a new record!

And that's a lot of clucking and clicking.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lord Ask Us How

I'm taking a little break from the evening's work of packing more Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  And I'm sitting in my living room staring at the lettering on a cardboard box.   I know it's probably from a local company called "Lord Corporation" but its message makes me ponder....

Lord, ask us how.

--Lord, ask us how we think we can come up with a better plan than Yours.
--Lord, ask us how we think we can lack anything when You have promised us everything.
--Lord, ask us how we can waste the resources You've given us--time, talents, money--when so many in the world have never heard of Your love.
--Lord, ask us why we aren't "about the Father's business" just like You were.

And when He asks us...what will we say?

Okay...I'm heading back to pack a few more shoe boxes now...

Because every box packed means one more child will have a tangible way to know God's love.

Every one might be an answer to the Lord's questions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting It Together

These last few weeks before Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week are always like a sprint to the finish and today was no exception.

People often ask me, "Do you like retirement?"  I have to say I love it.  I love that I can wake up in the morning with no idea what I will be doing and then come to the end of my day finding it full and fulfilling.

This morning I did an interview on our local Christian radio station at 8 am and then hit Target on the way home.  Their Halloween items went to 90% off this morning and I scored nice socks for .20 a pair, T-shirts and boxer shorts for .59 each and some fun flashlights and stuffed animals.

After returning home I went on an errand with my husband and then got a message that four more large cartons--the remainder of our order of baseball hats--were delivered to our church.   After last Friday's delivery of 48 cartons this one was tiny, but I still needed to deal with it.  The problem was--I'd already made an appointment to get my hair cut on the other side of town and meet someone to give them a supply of OCC boxes at the same time. husband and I passed some fun time together putting caps on another 1000 water bottles and he graciously loaded the cartons into my car.  My trusty cohort Pam and I made plans to meet at the storage container at 3:30 pm, after my appointment.

A few hours later Pam and I stood in front of the container wrestling boxes of hats.  We opened them and found we could save a bunch of space by combining the boxes.  We were able to consolidate four cartons of boxes into two.  This made me wonder how much space we could have saved by opening the other 68 cartons we've already stored and consolidating them?

I will never know.

We finished putting the lids on the rest of the water bottles and got the last of them stacked neatly in the container just as twilight clicked away.  Thank goodness for that flashlight app on my cell phone.  I am so relieved the lids are on all 149 cases of water bottles and Pam worked her storage magic so they are snug and tight (and I do mean tight--like rammed in there with a battering ram tight.)  No wasted space there.

I cruised out of the parking lot just in time to drive to the next event--a youth packing party at Erie Christian Fellowship Church.  Truthfully, I was tired and not excited about going.  But that changed in a hurry when I saw their well-prepared tables lined with wonderful items.

I had such a great time watching the kids pack 144 boxes to bless a dozen dozen children.  It's going to take some strong rubber bands to get those boxes truly closed.

These days are really full but what joy to see the year's work finally coming together.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Interrupted By Heaven

My Operation Christmas Child life was put on hold for a few days--interrupted by heaven.

My 101-year-old mother has been failing over the last few months.  Last Thursday I visited her twice in her nursing home.  When I was there in the morning I put my head on her chest and said, "I love you," and in a weak but understandable voice she replied, "I love you."  That was my last conversation with my mother.  When I came back in the evening she was totally unresponsive and I received a call at 5:00 am on Friday morning with the news that she had, as I wrote in her obituary, "left her frail body behind and danced into her true home in heaven."

The past few days were a whirlwind of preparations for her funeral celebration--locating old pictures, scanning and copying them, and arranging them on display boards; copying and sorting pictures to give to family members; choosing music and pictures for my daughter to assemble into an amazing video which you can view by clicking here;  creating a bulletin for her service and copying it just an hour before the service; preparing comments to share at her service; finding suitable outfits.

In the middle of all that I had to clear my house of the mess created by packing Operation Christmas Child boxes so my family would have a place to stay when they returned home.  All the items I'd dragged out of the attic two weeks ago were toted back up to the attic.

All that activity kept me pretty busy but by God's grace there was still time to think about the wonder of Mom being with Jesus.  It will take some getting used to for me to realize I can't pick up the phone and call to ask her a question.

My father died in 1977 and it's strange to know I'm now an orphan.  But I am holding onto God's promise in Psalm 68:5 that He is "A father of the fatherless."

The weather was glorious for the funeral yesterday, and her service was truly glorifying to God and a fitting tribute for Mom's life.  My brother is a pastor, and many were praying for him as he officiated at the funeral and preached an amazing homily with a clear gospel message.

After the burial, my family and I took a flower from Mom's arrangements and put it on the grave of my sister who died in infancy 50 years ago.  I like to think about them being together again.

This morning my three daughters all left to go home.  I couldn't stop thinking about all the organizing that needs to be done in our storage container, so I called Pam--my faithful right arm OCC team member--and we made arrangements to go to work there.

When I pulled up at the container the Fed Ex truck was there and the first shipment of the 10,395 baseball hats I ordered was being delivered.  I didn't know it was coming; God was so gracious to allow me to be there and to send Pam to help.

We had to move 100 cartons of water bottles that still need to have lids put on them so we could stash the hats in the back of the container.  It's hard to believe how much stuff there is in that container in October.

After an hour and a half of maneuvering boxes all over the place we put lids on 250 water bottles then loaded my car with cartons of them to take home.

This evening I hauled them into my house and my husband and I spent some quality time together putting lids on 900 more bottles.

Now, as I take a little time to sit and think, I'm interrupted again by thoughts of heaven.  I think of children and adults all around the world whose lives still hang in the balance.

God is "not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."  It feels like time is getting short.  No other investment of my time or money should ever interrupt the mission of bringing others to heaven.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Promises--Post Packing Party

photo credit to Rachel Lusky at

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this picture taken on the third day after our recent Operation Christmas Child packing party and just a little over a week after Franklin Graham's Rock The Lakes Erie festival has already made this blog too long.

For several years leading up to Rock The Lakes God has been hearing from His people in Erie.  We've been crying out for change in our city and for revival.  Meanwhile, the poverty rate in our county continues to climb and incidents of gun violence have escalated.

In spite of the bad news that fills our area, it was thrilling on Saturday, September 27th, to have our main arena filled, the overflow theater filled, and another hundred or so folks beyond that moved to the local baseball arena--probably 10,000 or so people to hear the good news of Jesus.  All told--throughout the preparatory training sessions and the nights of the festival--there were more than two thousand people who made a decision for Christ.

Will these decisions change our city?  They should.  They must.  Because there isn't any other hope.

And just a week later on October 4th, despite a myriad of challenges, God allowed us to pack 22,647 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.

Seeing that rainbow over our city on October 7th was a reminder that God will continue to keep His promises--for our city, our country, and our lost world.

And now, nearly two weeks later, I'm claiming still the promise of that rainbow.

Since the packing party I've been packing some boxes at home--88 so far.  But I just did the calculations and realize I still need to pack 368 more boxes just to get to the number I did last year between the major packing party and several smaller packing parties.  So much work just to equal last year with no growth.

And that's only part of the challenge.

Last year we collected 47,604 boxes here in our Northwestern PA area.  This year our goal is 55,700 (a huge 17% increase) and we've been praying for that all year.

The relay center in Seneca, PA will be taking their 2,000+ boxes to a new collection center outside our area this year, and several folks who pack larger numbers of shoe boxes are struggling this year.

Humanly speaking, we don't have any hope of reaching this goal.   Still, I see this rainbow and I remember...

God's promise...

Friday, October 17, 2014


I hate making decisions, but the truth is that every day is a series of decisions.  And what we decide in each of those instances makes a difference.

Last night God blessed us with an unexpected opportunity to see the result of some of my husband's decisions from 42 years ago.

In 1970 my husband made the best decision of his life and asked Jesus to forgive his sins and take control of his life.  At that time he was attending Penn State University's main campus and he made the decision to get involved with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru) and was discipled and trained to share his faith.

After college graduation he returned to Erie and began teaching at Westlake Middle School in 1972.  He made another great decision and started pouring his life into a small group of five high school guys.  He trained them to share their faith in Jesus and they developed a plan to make contact with every 10th grade boy at Harborcreek High School and then McDowell High School and prayerfully attempt to talk with each one about Jesus.

Fast forward 42 years to last night when Jim and I went to our church to meet Mike and Sus Schmitt and hear about their decades-long ministry with Cru.  We discovered that Mike was one of those 10th graders from McDowell High School that guys from Jim's group talked with about Jesus.  Mike made the decision to receive Christ then and now, 42 years later, Jim had the privilege of seeing the fruit from his own long-ago decisions.

What you and I do today matters.  It's sobering to realize that our decisions--good and bad--have eternal consequences.

Meanwhile, I've been wrestling with a decision about whether to buy a lot of 10,590 nice quality baseball hats for our 2015 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  The price is very good, but not great enough to make me jump on it without doubt.

Do I buy these now or wait for a possible better deal?  If I don't buy them now will I be sorry later?  If I DO buy them now will I be sorry later?

My husband doesn't have a firm opinion either way.  I've talked with two team members and asked them to pray.  I've even resorted to taking an informal Facebook poll to ask whether people think shoe box recipients would prefer to receive a baseball hat or a water bottle in their boxes.  I need to let the seller know by today.

I have been praying fervently for God's wisdom and then kind of wondering if He is shaking His head and saying, "Buy them or don't buy them.  I'm going to provide for you either way."

Did I mention I hate making decisions?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Packing Party Postscripts

It's been 11 days since our Operation Christmas Child packing party ended, and I've done a lot of thinking about how the day went.  I wish I would have had the luxury of thinking more during that day, but there wasn't much time for that and that may have resulted in sending fewer boxes on our trucks.

On Monday evening I met with our core packing party team to debrief the event.  I planned to start out discussing the good things about the day, but I only got two things listed on my sheet of paper before the discussion of problems ensued.

Oh, yes...there are many things we'd wish to change.  The problem is...we do this every year.  We plan for ways to improve and then find the next year that so many things change and the challenges are different.  I guess this keeps us depending on God.

With no person to actually take charge of the packing party this year, the leadership fell to me.  And I dropped the ball in so many ways.  We didn't meet together as a team.  I tried to orchestrate everything through e-mails, and this was a big mistake.

We didn't have any special clothing or name tags to designate official lead volunteers so a sort of anarchy developed where self-appointed leaders jumped in to make decisions that caused problems.

Then there was the problem of the ever-changing items.  I had plans based on getting those 10,500 water bottles.   When they didn't arrive by the morning of the packing party I tried to change gears when it came to what we were using for anchor items.  Not having much time to think, I made some on-the-spot decisions that turned out to be less-than-desirable -- especially when those water bottles miraculously were delivered at 12:30 pm when many of the volunteers were leaving.

God is sovereign, so I believe none of this was a surprise to Him.  Still, as I look back I see things I could have done to get more packed boxes on those trucks.

If only I'd ordered the water bottles more than two weeks in advance
If only we hadn't started using the flip-flops earlier in the day
If only I'd tried to purchase more stuffed animals
If only I'd made up more jump ropes to use as fillers
If only I'd scheduled volunteer meetings or worked harder to recruit volunteers

Every year we have run out of something--cartons and/or boxes or truck space.  This year I was determined that wouldn't happen.  We had plenty of boxes and cartons and truck space this year.

Ironically, we returned four cartons of unused boxes and 70 unused cartons and had half of a truck unfilled.

And the storage container that is usually nearly empty after a packing party looks like this--

So many items still waiting to become treasures to needy children.

Still, despite some tough odds, God allowed us to pack 22,647 boxes and we packed 18,647 of those in 7.5 hours on Saturday (more than we've ever packed in one day) with only 2/3 of the usual number of volunteers.

Because the water bottles were so late in arriving I was able to negotiate a good discount with the company, and I can use that extra money toward the shipping of the boxes.

By God's grace, this postscript isn't finished yet.  God still has good plans that are yet to be revealed.

All my "if onlys" are "yes" in Him.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Do It!

The people who read this blog are pretty terrific.  Yes, that would be you.  I know this for a fact because several of you have taken the time lately to write just to let me know you are reading these posts and praying for me.

Just today I received a letter from a reader on the west coast.  I was so excited to hear that she went from packing one Operation Christmas Child shoe box last year to packing 60+ this year.  What could be more terrific than that?

I think most of us vastly underestimate the effect our lives have on others.  We are all interwoven by God in more ways than we can possibly realize.

The 22,647 boxes packed at last Saturday's packing party here in Erie, PA were not packed only by the hands of those at Grace Church last weekend.  They were packed in part by the hundreds of people who inspired me and the members of my team over the years and by all those who prayed, even once.

The reader whose letter came today wrote, "I've been praying for you throughout the year, especially around April when you sounded discouraged."
This packing party was saved in part by her prayers.

Each of our lives is a series of links that God uses to form a beautiful chain.  Last week's packing party would not have happened without the first link--the newspaper article I read in 1994 that prompted me to pack my first three boxes.

Last week's packing party may not have happened if I had not read an article in an OCC publication a few years later that told of a girl who packed 200 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  I was amazed at that and started to dream and to pray about packing 200 boxes.

Your story can be a link in someone's chain.  Your word of encouragement can be a link in someone's chain.  Your prayer, your letter, your smile, your kindness--each can be a link in someone's chain.

God wants you to make a difference in someone's world today.  It's why He made you.  You may never know on earth how you changed things for that person, but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that you do it.

Do it!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Packing Party Praises

Not gonna lie--this was an especially hard packing party year and packing party day but our sixth Community-Wide Operation Christmas Child packing party is completed.

We didn't make our goal of 23,000 (first time we fell short of the goal) but God miraculously gave us 22,647 hard-won boxes--an increase of 156 over last year.

This morning I thought we'd never come close to the goal as I made all the calls I could to try to locate the 10,500 water bottles that had not arrived.  The company in Erie said they never received the shipment and I left messages but never got an answer from the middleman trucking company or the seller.

So we spent the day trying to constantly re-figure how to combine the items we had to make as many good boxes as possible.  It was crazy and chaotic with boxes backed up and waiting to be checked and closed almost all day long.

At noon, after we'd made several such adjustments, the truck with the water bottles miraculously arrived.  It took a lot of manpower just to get them unloaded from the truck and placed.

When we went to use the water bottles we discovered the lids weren't on them and we had to find those lids (buried in the storage container, of course) and start attaching them.  It was quite a day, and by the end of it I thought if I heard someone call my name one more time I might lose my sanity.

With a lot of strategizing to figure out what to put into the boxes, we finally got to the long-awaited number of 22,011.  That 22,011th box this year was the 100,000th box packed at our packing parties since we started them in 2009.  Here are a few of our team members celebrating that 100,000th box with their head-boppers.

We worked longer than we have for the past few years with only 350 volunteers throughout the day (compared to about 600 last year) and didn't finish until 4:30 pm.   One of our volunteers counted how many boxes she packed (150) by tallying them on her hand.

Finally, every filler was used and we declared the packing completed.  Here is Agnes packing the last four boxes of the day.

Clean up was a tough one this year, too.  We had just a trickle of volunteers left at the end, but our exhausted team worked like troopers.

I was so careful to be sure we ordered plenty of boxes, had plenty of cartons, and had plenty of truck space.  After all that, we had four cartons of leftover boxes, we had leftover cartons, and we had way too much space left on the truck.

Still, 22,647 miracles are a lot for one day.