Thursday, May 29, 2014

Too Much--1997

Sometimes I forget how it all started...

Too Much--1997

            “This is too much,” I grumble to myself as I struggle up the ladder to the attic carrying four heavy shoeboxes filled with gifts.  I heave myself up the last step and use my arm to wipe the perspiration from my face before placing the last box on top of the neatly stacked piles.  I’m finished.  I’ve toted all eighty shoeboxes up—four at a time.  After making my last descent I push up the folding stairs.  Twenty trips up.  Twenty trips down.  Me snarling all the way.
            For the past week the shoeboxes had a nice cozy home in the bedroom that belonged to my oldest daughter before she went to college.  We don’t use that room for anything.  It’s empty--the perfect place to store a resplendent array of eighty shoeboxes that are waiting to be shipped off to children in other countries for Operation Christmas Child.
            But my husband didn’t see it that way.  “Can’t you get rid of these shoeboxes?” he complained.  “They’re all over the place.”
            “They’re hardly all over,” I defended myself.  “I have them stacked up nice and neat on Amy’s dresser and bedroom floor.  They’re not bothering you.” 
            But it seems they did bother him.
            So after he mentioned it for the third time, I harrumphed to the attic opening, yanked down the stairs, and hauled up all eighty boxes.  I had to maneuver the rest of the assorted attic treasures to make room.  And I wasn’t nice about it.
            Last year I packed only five shoeboxes, but then I started thinking that if I collected items on sale throughout the year I could do more.  The number forty kept running through my mind, so I decided to set a goal of filling forty shoeboxes.  Then I started shopping.  The problem was, God led me to so many bargains the items started piling up.  For example, using double coupons I netted sixty free tubes of toothpaste and several hundred free bars of soap.  I stashed all my finds in the attic, and in the summer I collected and wrapped forty shoeboxes so they’d be ready to fill when fall arrived.
            In October I began the happy task of stuffing the shoeboxes, and I soon felt like the widow in the Bible whose oil never ran out.  I filled all forty boxes and still had piles of items left.  So I made several trips back to the shoe stores begging for more boxes. 
            Finally, I had whittled the piles down to only a few lonely leftover items.  The boxes were all wrapped and filled, and I counted the stacks to get a final tally, “seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty,” I whispered.  Exactly twice the number I had trusted God to provide.  I was excited.
            Then my husband, Jim, the omnipresent Voice Of Reason, looked up and down the rows and said, “See, you never plan ahead.  Now how are you going to pay for the donation for shipping these?” 
            “I don’t know,” I said with a near-moan.  “I know it’s a lot.”   Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that spearheads Operation Christmas Child, requests a five dollar donation to cover the shipping costs for each shoebox.  I hadn’t budgeted for that. 
            My joy hissed out, and the stacked boxes began to form a wall of resentment.  A wall that I just transported to the attic with a disgruntled attitude.  Now that Jim doesn’t have to look at the problem, maybe it will go away. 
            Over the next few days, I realize the problem isn’t going to disappear.  I trek to the attic and see that the bright Christmas wrapping on the shoeboxes is crinkling in the heat, making them look as wrinkled as I feel.  “What can I do about this, God?” I pray. 
            A plan forms in my mind.  Maybe there are people at church who aren’t packing shoeboxes themselves who would like to contribute to help pay for the shipping.  I suggest this to Jim, and he says, “That’s a good idea.”  Well—a positive comment.  Of course, he’s not offering to be the one to ask someone at church about this. 
            I hate asking for help.  I vow never to get into this needy situation again.  Next time I’ll plan ahead and not do too much. 
            It takes three weeks and a lot of prayer before I grab all of my miniscule supply of courage, wipe my perspiring palms on my jumper, and approach our pastor, David, with my request. 
            “That’s no problem,” he says.  Why was I so afraid to ask?  A few minutes later he stands up to give the morning announcements before church starts and says, “Kathy Schriefer packed more shoeboxes than she expected.  And now she can’t afford to pay for the shipping unless she sells one of her children or something.”  Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.  Then he continues, “So if you want to contribute to help with this, put your contribution in an envelope and mark it for shoeboxes.” 
            Two weeks later I write a letter to Samaritan’s Purse, enclose my church’s check for $400, slap on a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox.  Easy.
            God, you are too much.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Letter

For this "Throw Back Thursday" -- a story from 2003

The Letter-2003

            The letter, addressed to our church in artistic block lettering, arrived in a plain white envelope with a foreign stamp.  The language of the return address was indecipherable to me, and even the postmark gave me no clues to its country of origin.  I inspected the stamp, but that didn’t help either.
            This was another one of about thirty letters that was sent to our church last year from children in other countries who received the gift-filled shoeboxes we sent as part of our annual Operation Christmas Child project.  I tore open the envelope and stared at the precise writing marching along on graph paper.  If only I could read it.
            “I could try taking it to school,” my husband, Jim, suggested when I showed it to him.  “We have a lot of kids who are from other countries.”  So the next day Jim took the letter with him to work.  He said he handed it to a student in one of his classes who came here last year from Afghanistan.  “Can you read this?” Jim asked him.
            “Sorry,” he said after glancing at the writing. “I think it might be Russian.  Maybe she can help you.”  He pointed to Maria, a shy girl in the next row. Jim approached Maria, extended the letter to her, and repeated the question, “Can you read this?” 
            She looked down at the letter for a moment, then her head whipped back up and she flashed Jim a huge smile.  “Yes,” she breathed, “this is from near my home.  In Ukraine.”   Here in Erie, Pennsylvania, she was thousands of miles from her birth place, but this simple letter seemed to give her a moment of connection.
            “Can you write the words in English?” Jim asked. 
            “Yes.  I try,” Maria replied through her widening grin.
            The next day Maria brought the letter and proudly handed it to Jim along with her translation written in pencil on notebook paper.  “Hey, thanks. This is really great,” he said, giving her a warm smile. She was so excited to be able to help and seemed less shy as she took her seat in math class.
            Later that night I was finally able to read the letter from a boy named Andrey who wrote, in part, “We got your presents.  Most happy was my brother Serge because with your help his prayer to God was answered.  Serge prayed for a big balloon, and on the next day we got your presents and there were balloons—just the kind he wanted and asked for from God.  Serge right away thanked God for answering his prayers.” 
            I put the letter down and tried to imagine this child in Ukraine praying to God with a simple request for a balloon.  Then I realized that God had anticipated Serge’s desire before he even prayed.  Months before, God had our church packing a shoebox of gifts here in Erie, Pennsylvania, that would travel thousands of miles to be the answer to his childlike prayer.  And giving us the words so that we could understand this miracle made Maria smile, too. 
            God brought a lot of blessings from some balloons in a shoebox.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Not Necessary But Needed

I headed out this morning on a safari for stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.  I was glad God already provided 333 this week because my list of sales was pretty short this morning.

I was still praying for 500 this morning--a goal that definitely fell into the "God-sized" category.

Things were looking pretty lean until I hit one house that had two large garbage bags full of new Beanie Babies.  I ended up with 178 full-sized, 55 teenies, and 2 Barbie dolls for a total of $20.00--praise God.   I never know where God will lead me when I prayerfully make that list and head out.

Total haul for this morning was 281 which makes a total of 614 over the past few days.  I'm proud to say all of them are sorted, washed, and bagged and the living room is freshly cleaned so there's no evidence of their existence (as long as you stay out of the spare bedrooms.)

God also gave me another special gift today.  For a few years I've been wanting a DVD of "It's A Wonderful Life."  I had one in my Amazon cart for a few weeks at Christmas time this year but ended up talking myself out of buying it.  After all, it wasn't a necessity.

Guess what I found today at a sale?  A brand new sealed 2-disc collector's set of that movie for only $2.00.

It still wasn't necessary but today it was just what I needed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Counting On It

Tonight I did the first tabulation of clothing/major anchor items for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.

We're praying for God to supply enough items to pack 23,000 boxes.  If you've followed this blog you know I sought the Lord fervently about whether to do the packing party this year and recently our team made the decision to move ahead.

Last week we fasted and prayed together as a team for God to provide an affordable good-sized clothing or accessory item (like a hat, visor, or water bottle) we can buy as an anchor item for each box.  This should be something useful that also fills space in the box.

Tonight I looked at the number of these items we've had in the past years of the packing party by this point in the year--

2009--we had 3380 items
2010--we had 10,044 items
2011--we had 9,779 items
2012--we had 22,309 items
2013--we had 21,439 items

And right now, this year, we have....646 items.

I did order 156 water bottles tonight so we're at about 800 items.  A long way from 23,000.

But we've made a decision to move ahead with this packing party and we're not going to turn back.

God has a plan for us.  I'm counting on it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day Eve

On this Mother's Day Eve I spent some time with my 100-year-old mother.  She is getting more confused these days but she has not yet lost her love for her children.

Not every mother is a loving mother, of course, but the vast majority of them are.  Most mothers would make and have made huge sacrifices for their children.

I am thinking tonight of my trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009 to help distribute Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  At one site when we were finished giving out boxes I remember how a crowd of mothers from the neighborhood showed up to try to get gifts for their children.  A church leader tried to explain that we had no more boxes, but those mothers were loudly advocating for their children.  The situation became so unsettling that we had to quickly board our van and leave the area.

I remember sitting in the back of the bus as my friend Pam Hatchell said, "I get it.  I understand how those mothers feel."

Yes, as mothers we understand that feeling of wanting to make life better for our children.  But can we really understand what life is like for so many mothers around the world?

I sit in my comfortable living room on this Mother's Day Eve and wonder what it is like....

--to carry water for miles each day just to survive
--to feed my children dried clay just to fill their stomachs and stave off the pain of hunger
--to see my dreams for my child to have an education come crashing down because I can't buy my child a pencil
--to know that my daughter will never have the right to go to school
--to see my child's feet filled with painful 'jiggers' that burrow into the skin of her feet because she doesn't have shoes
--to hold my feverish baby and know that she may die of malaria because we have no access to drugs
--to know when I hold my infant that there is a 50/50 chance she will die before the age of five

No.  I don't get it.
I have never been a "have not."
I don't understand.

But I will keep trying to imagine what it is like and I pray that imagining will keep me praying and fighting for a chance for their children.  Who are really OUR children.

I can't help them all.  But I CAN do something.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

On The Move

Today you get a guided tour of the shoe box stash.  This afternoon my sweet husband sacrificially helped me organize the little we have in our storage container for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.

So, here it is.  On the bottom are the 37 cases of paper--already counted out and lovingly stapled into packets by a wonderful volunteer.

On top of the paper are the clothing items and filler items we have so far--not a lot there yet.

And on the left in the front are the cartons containing the 5,760 toothbrushes ordered from Plak Smackers this week.  They have pretty impressive shipping--since they were ordered late Tuesday night and arrived on Friday. (by the way, if you decide to order from Plak Smackers, tell them Kathy Schriefer sent you and they will give me free shipping on my next order.)

And along the right side are the bags of stuffed animals--19 bags each holding 100 stuffed animals that are waiting to be stacked on top of the other items when God provides them.

And here are the stacks of coloring books that we moved to the front of the container.

We recently learned that the coloring books can't be used for the special boxes we're packing at our large packing party.  So we moved them to the front of the container where they're waiting to be donated to other local Operation Christmas Child packing parties.  

Maybe I can put this on my resume and get a warehouse job during my retirement.

Meanwhile, our Indiegogo campaign is slowly getting on the move, too.  After the first day it stalled a bit, but I was really encouraged to see three more donors today.

We now have $160 contributed toward our goal of $4000.  We're 4% of the way there and have received enough to bless 889 children with soap and a toothbrush.

Moving on.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Indiegogo Going

Look at this little guy--when asked what his favorite thing was in his Operation Christmas Child shoe box, he said, "The soap!"

Millions of children around the world have never owned their own toothbrush and lack something as simple as a bar of soap.

My husband has been urging me to broaden the source of funding for our large packing party.  I'm not a fundraiser, but I've been praying about this.  I decided to try crowdfunding through a site called Indiegogo that lets you share your project and receive donations into your PayPal account.

This site went live on Wednesday morning and a three friends quickly donated but there's been no action since then.

My vision was to get 200 people to each donate $20 to reach the campaign goal of $4000 to give us enough to buy 23,000 bars of soap and 23,000 toothbrushes.

Would you be willing to share this link with your friends or on social media?   It would be great to see a lot of people do just a little to make this happen.