Saturday, January 25, 2014

Counting Blessings

Yeah, I know I should probably be better organized than this.  I do record my Operation Christmas Child shoebox items purchased in a notebook throughout the year, but when it comes to the receipts I just shove them into an Operation Christmas Child GO box until it's income tax time.

On this cold and snowy Saturday I decided it was time to tackle the tabulation chore.  As I sorted through the stacks, circling the total on each receipt I was reminded of the blessings God provided...

Every pencil.  Every pair of shoes.  Every box of crayons.

I try to save every receipt, so there were many with a total of $1.06--from those trips to the cash register with 4 boxes of crayons for .25 each.  I was reminded of all the helpful cashiers and store personnel and all the friends on Facebook and the OCC Extranet who provided tips for where to find bargains.

Then I went to the Oriental Trading, Office Max and Dollar Days websites and checked my accounts to print receipts I was missing.  Again I saw how God used so many different avenues to bless me through the year.

I'm glad for the chance to work on this project today because I so needed the reminder of God's goodness.  The God who provided so well for these boxes in 2013 is the same One who will provide all we need for 2014.

Because He is faithful.  He is good.  He is more than enough.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

That's Hats

I've been lamenting not being able to find many nice items for this year's Operation Christmas Child party.  Today I got a tip from an Operation Christmas Child project leader in my area about hats on sale at Children's Place in our local mall.

I then checked online and found a 25% off printable coupon from Children's Place and tucked it into my pocket when my husband and I went to walk at the mall tonight.

Well, along with a little exercise we also got some upper body workout when we carried home the three bags containing 118 of these cute hats.  They were marked with retail prices of up to $12.95 each (there are quite a few different varieties) and are selling for .99 each.  With the extra 25% off coupon they were only .74 each and I got an extra 5% off for using my Children's Place credit card.

Even better was the wonderful conversation I had with the cashier who was excited to hear about Operation Christmas Child.  She openly shared about her stay at a faith-based rehab facility and we praised God together for her 8 months of being clean from a heroin addiction.

Hats off to a great night!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goals Surpassed / New Vision Cast

Yesterday we had an amazing online celebration via Simulcast from Operation Christmas Child headquarters in Blowing Rock, NC.  The big reveal of the 2013 totals left no doubt that God did immeasurably more last year.

The basic shoe box goal for the United States was set at 7,200,000 boxes with a challenge to pray for a "God-sized" goal of 7,400,000 boxes.  We prayed for that 7.4 million boxes countless times over the year but I was over-the-moon amazed to hear that total of 7,541,468 boxes.  WOW!

The international goal we lifted up to the Lord throughout 2013 was 9.8 million but our God moved again beyond our prayers to give over 9,950,000 boxes worldwide.

After the shouts of praise ended and the tears of joy were wiped away, it was time to think about our new shoe box goal for 2014 here in Northwestern PA.

In 2013 our goal was 45,000 boxes and God surpassed that and gave us 47,604--a 17% increase over the 40,376 from 2012.

In yesterday's Simulcast,  Randy Riddle, Domestic Director for OCC, encouraged our teams to think of at least a 10% increase which would be just under 52,500 boxes.  I gulped as I thought of that huge number.

Then last night as I prepared the agenda for tonight's Operation Christmas Child area team meeting I calculated what our total would be if God blessed us with a 12% increase (53,316) or even a 15% increase (54,745).  And I gulped harder.

Fast forward to tonight's team meeting.  With wind chills hovering near zero degrees, there were only four of us at tonight's meeting.

We did a Bible study on how to live a life characterized by 'breakthrough' by looking at David's life and listened to part of an online message by Chip Ingram.  Then we looked at what God has done for our team over the past seven years as we discussed our 2014 shoe box goal.

Terri pointed out that God gave us a 17% increase both in 2012 and in 2013.  She pulled out her calculator and quickly pronounced that another 17% increase in 2014 would yield a total of 55,697 boxes in 2014.

All four of us warmed to the idea of a goal of 55,700 boxes.  How can you not love a goal that has a perfect '7' in it?  That goal's not definite yet but a new vision is certainly cast.

And to think that yesterday I gulped when I thought about 52,500.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Method In Unity

I don't know why writing these Operation Christmas Child thank you notes has been such a chore for me this year.  The last few years I just dived in and got them done, but this year I've had to push and coax myself--and not very effectively either.

I'm so grateful for Heather, our Church Relations Coordinator, who has been writing the bulk of them.   Praise God for her tenacity!

I really am grateful to all these churches and groups.  As I write each note I mentally deduct the number of boxes they contributed from our goal--thinking what it would have been without their participation.

I am also amazed anew as I write these notes that God blessed us with 47,604 boxes...because many of these churches had a total of 30 or fewer boxes.

Which makes me reflect on how God uses each of us and each particular church body in the overall work of His Kingdom.  I think of how many God used to make up our total here in northwestern Pennsylvania alone and then ponder the millions that were used to bring in the harvest nationally and internationally.   It's mind boggling.

God has a method for getting His work done and, by His grace and His design, it involves all of us who call Him Lord.

And it involves us working together in that unity that He so loves.

Speaking of method...and unity...I mailed 78 notes today and 21 of them went to United Methodist churches.  Three of them were for First United Methodist churches in different towns.   To be fair, there were several First Baptist and First Presbyterian churches, too.  Guess they missed that verse that says "the first shall be last," because there weren't any Last United Methodist (or Baptist or Presbyterian) churches.

One of the things I love most about Operation Christmas Child is seeing hundreds of churches in our region working together to bring the gospel to people around the world.

After all, that's God's method.  Unity.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Joy and Strength

I love it when God brings a certain theme into my life.  This morning I was reading Nehemiah Chapter 8.  In this passage Ezra was reading to the people from the law of Moses and as he read (all day!) the people began to mourn and weep when they realized they had not been obedient.

Then Nehemiah said (vs. 10) "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord.  Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

Strength.  How I need and want that.

I love that Nehemiah called the people to celebration of God's goodness.  And he called them to share with those who had nothing.  And he called them to find strength in joy.

This afternoon I went to the Operation Christmas Child volunteer website to read the latest devotional there.  Interestingly, the devotional theme was the same verse: Nehemiah 8:10.

God is calling me anew to learn to rejoice throughout my day and find strength in that joy.  Even as I grieve over my sin, my leadership shortcomings, or my unmet goals, I can rejoice that Jesus' blood covers all those failures.

Operation Christmas Child gives us a chance to share with those who have nothing and to find the joy of the Lord in that.  And in that joy we will find the strength to do this again in 2014.

New year.  New Joy.  New Strength.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Warmth in the Polar Vortex

We are in the midst of what they are calling a Polar Vortex.  Much of the country is dealing with subzero temperatures.  Here in Erie it is -9 degrees this morning with a wind chill of -33 degrees.  So school is canceled!

I get to decide how to spend these hours when I would normally be at work.  I choose to spend them staying warm and also thinking warm.

One of the things that warms me most is thinking about the generosity of so many who contribute to our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  Pictured above is a big bin of Beanie Babies that were donated to me this week by my friend Denise.  It warms me to think of what a blessing they will be and the warmth they will bring to boys and girls who may never have owned toys before.  I'm getting ready to sort them and bask in that warm feeling.

I also decided to check the concordance in the back of my Bible (admittedly it's a scanty concordance) to look for some verses about warmth.  Of course there's the one in Ecclesiastes 4:11 "if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone."  Lots of practical survival wisdom there.

But I also found an interesting verse in Haggai 1:6 that a challenge for us in our materialistic society, "You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to be put into a purse with holes."

The prophet goes on to explain that because the people have had cold hearts and neglected God and His work they can never be warm or satisfied.  He calls them to repentance and a return to the Lord.  Very good warming advice indeed.

The best image of warmth I found are Jesus' words in Luke 13:34 when He says with grief, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!"

Now there is the place of warmth--under the shelter of His wings.  I want to cozy up there today.  Will you join me?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

90% Off and 100% Sure

Well, I think the after-Christmas finds for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes here in Erie, PA are pretty much over.  And pretty pathetic.

Last year I got several thousands cups and bowls at WalMart for about six cents each at the after-holiday sales.  This year?  Nada.  Not one.

Today our one lone Target store finally went to 90% off on Christmas items.  They had some LED flashlights I'd been watching.  A few days ago they had one side of an aisle filled with them.  At 90% off they would have been 30 cents each (with no batteries) but today as I rushed into the Christmas section at Target there were NONE there.

I heaped a bunch of 10-cents-each Christmas stockings in my cart, thinking I could make tote bags out of them as suggested on the Clip With Purpose website.  As I prayed and thought about it I reconsidered and put them all back. I really don't think I would have followed through with the project.

I found only a few items and was in line at the check-out when I saw an acquaintance in front of me had two of these cool NFL tote bags containing fleece blankets in her cart.  I asked her if there were more and she told me where to find them.

At last, Lord--a bargain worth finding!  I got 17 of these sets for $1.69 each and will divide up the tote bag from the blanket to bless two children.  The blanket will need a box that is slightly bigger than a GO box but they will work.

As I wrote in my last post, I really have very little for next year's shoe boxes at this point.  That is really unusual.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I had trouble starting my car this morning.  And when I got to the check-out at Target I discovered my main credit card was missing.  I thought it might have fallen into my cart and searched all my bags for it to no avail.

The neat this about this is that I saw the Holy Spirit at work in my life because I stayed calm.  I reminded myself that car issues and credit card losses are "first world problems" that are really just annoyances.  To see this in my life was a big blessing.

Eventually I realized the last time I used my card was at a restaurant on New Year's Eve and I was able to go there and pick it up.  Praise God!

My husband went to several stores to try to get the car battery checked and decided the lines were too long--so the verdict's still out on whether it starts tomorrow.  It wouldn't start on Thursday morning at all and I had to get a ride to work with my neighbor.  Deep breath.  First world problem.

For years I've watched God provide for these shoe boxes in different ways.  One avenue of provision would end and I'd see God provide something new.

So, the 90% off sales may be disappointing this year but of this I am 100% sure--God has a plan here and He is in control.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ring In The New

The Bible commands us to "rejoice always."  I certainly wasn't perfect at obeying that command in 2013 but there was plenty to rejoice about.

Last night I couldn't fall asleep so I spent some time reading over some of my journal entries from 2013.  By now I should be used to God's provision but I never take it for granted.

On 1/18/13 I wrote, "I was praying again last night as I tried to fall asleep for God's provision for these shoe boxes this year.  Father, I can't see how You'll do it yet, but I'm waiting on You to fill these boxes and do what only You can do."

And, of course, He did.  He provided all the items we needed to pack 22,491 gift-filled shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child at our community-wide packing party.  Then He blew past our area team goal of 45,000 boxes to give us  an unprecedented 47,604.

I have reveled in these miracles for some weeks now and pondered them in my heart.  

I have also rehearsed God's wonderful goodness in my personal life and the lives of my family.  Two of our daughters became engaged this year and one was married.  Our youngest also finished her residency and started private practice as an obstetrician/gynecologist.  We helped my mother celebrate her 100th birthday.  And I watched our faithful God get me through the hardest four months of my work career.

Now, though, it's time to ring in the new.  New year.  New goals.  New faith.

As I look back, I see that at this time in 2013 God had already provided thousands of items for our boxes.

That's not the case this year.  The storage container is nearly empty.  I haven't found any great deals--neither online nor at after-Christmas sales.

So I wait for God to do a new thing.  I don't know how He will provide for our shoe boxes this year--only that He will.

I don't know how many boxes God will give us or even what our goal should be--but I know that our unchanging God has new mercies for us in 2014.

Ring in 2014--a new year of blessings.