I just need a reminder today of all the ways God has blessed our Operation Christmas Child project in the past, so here's a story from 2006--
Whispers -- 2006
Maybe you should scale back this year. You prayed for all that toothpaste, and now you’re overloaded with tubes of it and you probably won’t have enough clothing items.
Whispers of doubt about the Operation Christmas Child project creep over my soul almost every day. Today is no exception. The sidewalk sale is going on again at Gabriel’s and I’m concerned, as always, that I’ll miss their bag sale. A few days ago my husband said to me, “What’s the big deal if you miss one?”
“The big deal,” I replied, “is that I’d miss out on several hundred high-quality brand name clothing items at dirt cheap prices.”
The bag sale shouldn’t happen until this weekend—most of them are on Sundays—but what if they have it this Saturday? We’ll be at a church growth group retreat on that day. My mind spinning, I stare out the window and pray, “God, I don’t want to miss this sale. If it’s Your will, please help me to be there when it starts, and somehow I pray that this will bring glory to You.”
Putting aside my bag sale obsessions, I boot up the computer and open an e-mail from Heather Rowley. Heather’s a fellow shoebox fanatic from Iowa who shared about Operation Christmas Child during her recent appearance on the national TV game show Wheel of Fortune, and we’ve been corresponding for a few weeks now. I wrote to congratulate her on the article I just read about her on the Operation Christmas Child website, and I sent her the piece I wrote about how God provided for the shoeboxes we packed in 2005 after the tsunami in South Asia.
Heather writes “I am AMAZED at your stories. The Tsunami one I think was my favorite so far.” Her comment makes me decide to read that piece again, so I click open that file and read of all the ways God worked to allow us to put together over 400 shoeboxes in just a few weeks. How quickly I can forget that God is the one in control of this project. Thanks to Heather, I have the reminder I need this morning.
Buoyed by memories of God’s grace, I drive out to Gabriel’s to do my daily check of the sidewalk sale. It’s only 9:00 on this already-sweltering August morning, so I have plenty of time to scope things out and then make it to church by 10:00 to meet another Heather—Heather Rogers—so we can organize our shoebox storage room.
I feel the heat of the pavement through my soles already as I cross the parking lot and approach the racks of clothing lined up on the sidewalk. There is no cashier outside yet—only a lone male employee whom I’ve never seen before. He isn’t even wearing the usual Gabriel Brothers’ blue employee vest.
I inspect some of the shirts that are already starting to get fade lines on the shoulders from days of hanging in direct sunlight. “I wish there was some way they could shade these clothes,” I comment to the man. “It’s a shame that they get ruined from the sun by the end of the sale.”
“I know,” he answers. “I keep tellin’ ‘em they oughta get a roll-out awning to cover the sidewalk so we don’t haveta take all the stuff in every time it rains. But they don’t listen to me.” He shakes his head.
“Well, our church packs shoeboxes of gifts to send to kids in other countries, so I’m always waiting for the bag sale to start. We get lots of good deals that way.”
He nods his head and moves off toward the store. There’s still no cash register or cashier in sight out here, so I go into the store to look for bargains. A few minutes later, as I’m perusing a rack of children’s clearance items, the employee I met outside ambles up, leans near my ear, and whispers, “Just so’s you know. There’s gonna be a bag sale today. All you can stuff in a bag for $10.00—just for today.”
“Wow! Thanks!” I say, but he’s already walked on. I rush toward the front of the store, grab a shopping cart, and head outside. With frenzied movements I start yanking little girls’ shorts from their hangers, and in less than a minute I’ve cleared a whole rack of them. Next I start grabbing shirts with the hangers still attached and tossing them into my cart. I can always get the hangers off later. I’m alone out here right now, but you never know when someone might come to challenge me for these treasures.
Now I spot the cashier getting set up at her table, even though no cash register has appeared as yet. My cart is already whispering groans under its burden of several hundred items. I still don’t see any signs confirming that there’s a bag sale, so I stride to the cashier and ask, “Is there a bag sale today?”
“Oh, no,” she says, “it’s still just half off whatever price it’s marked. They’ll probably have it at half off all week and then have the bag sale on Sunday.”
I glance at my load, heart sinking, and reply, “But someone inside told me there was a bag sale today.”
She shakes her head, “Not that I know of.”
Disheartened, I begin the daunting task of replacing all this stuff. It only takes a few minutes to get all the shirts that are still on hangers returned to their racks. Then I cringe when I see the hundred or so pairs of shorts mounded in my cart that will have to be reattached to the hangers I left swinging on their racks only minutes ago. Sighing, I pick up the first pair. Might as well get started.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the manager walking up to the cashier with papers in his hand. Whispers of hope flutter around me like August fireflies. Then I hear him utter those magic words, “There’s a bag sale today.”
A bag sale on a Tuesday. Amazing. And I didn’t miss it. Incredible.
I feel that familiar adrenaline surge, and I turn to yank those shirts off the racks again. There is still no one else here, and within fifteen minutes I have gleaned all useable items and reaped a bountiful harvest of ripe bargains. Leaving my cart by the cashier, I sprint to the pay phone to call Heather Rogers and tell her I’ll be late for our meeting at church, then I hurry back to claim my treasure.
A half hour later the cashier finishes putting clothing into the last of the eight filled bags. “That’ll be eighty dollars,” she says. And when I hand her the money, she continues, “Sorry about the mix-up. I really didn’t know there would be a bag sale today.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I pray every day that God will help me to be here when these sales start, and He answered my prayers again.” She smiles and starts to pile the bags into my cart.
Two hours later, Heather Rogers and I stand in the church basement where we have just finished sorting, folding, and counting the clothing in those eight bags. The grand total is 465 wonderful clothing items. “Just look at all this stuff,” Heather says. “Calvin Klein, Guess, and Aeropostale shirts and all these nice shorts. What a haul. And just think—you almost missed this sale.”
“Yeah. If that man hadn’t whispered to me about it when I was inside the store, I would have just walked out and drove over to church. I mean, there was no sign of a bag sale outside, and they’ve never had one on a Tuesday.”
“And if you hadn’t pulled all those shorts off the hangers and felt you had to put them back the way you found them, you would have been gone before the manager even came out with the bag sale signs,” Heather reminds me.
She pulls out a calculator so we can check the ‘per item’ cost for these piles of clothing. Her fingers move over the keys, and then she proclaims, “Only seventeen cents each!”
I shake my head and hear new whispers—memorial stones to mark God’s goodness being quietly placed on the altar of my heart. And a still, small voice that reminds me, “I will never leave you. Even on a Tuesday morning at Gabriel’s.”