Monday, September 29, 2014

When The Sun's Shining Down

The past few days have been soaked in sun--both literally (with blue skies and temps in the 70s) and spiritually with answered prayers and blessings abounding.

Let me count just a few of the blessings in the past 48 hours--

1)  Rock The Lakes Erie--Three years ago our Operation Christmas Child Regional Director, Leigh Fisher, called to say she was contacted by a representative from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to ask about churches in Erie that participated in OCC.  Leigh told me she referred them to me and I received a call asking me to compile a list of leading pastors in our area.  The list was created, a meeting was planned, and I had the privilege of being there when the idea of inviting Franklin Graham to Erie for a festival was proposed.  I never became part of the planning for the event but I've been praying through these years just the same.

This weekend I was able to watch hundreds of people from my community make a decision for Christ.  Pretty amazing stuff to witness.  My personal favorite answer to prayer this weekend came when one of my blog readers made  the long trip from her home in Virginia to Erie to bring me 400+ stuffed animals AND to invite some relatives she'd been praying for to come to Rock The Lakes.  Two of her aunts attended with her and one of them prayed to give her life to Jesus.  That's the ultimate highlight.

2)  Getting our OCC storage container unloaded for the upcoming packing party.   Our pastor made an unexpected announcement in the church service asking for volunteers to help and we even had some new friends from donor ministries with Samaritan's Purse and BGEA who came to serve.  We had the container unloaded in under an hour and the organization of the items in the church is phenomenal.  That sun was sure shining.

3)  Amazing deliveries -- Today our first truck for the packing party was scheduled to be dropped at the church sometime after noon.  When I arrived this  morning a bit after 9:00 am the truck was already sitting there--in the wrong spot.  By God's grace, though, it's actually positioned in a place that's more accessible for offloading the 11 pallets of supplies by hand more conveniently.  And my husband figured out they can move it to the right spot when they drop the second truck on Friday.

An hour later there we were at the church with two male volunteers in addition to my husband (this never happens) when the ABF truck with four tall pallets from Maryland containing donated filler items arrived.

I expected we'd have to unload them by hand but I was delighted to find the truck had a lift gate and the servant-hearted driver was willing to use his pallet jack to move them into the places we needed them.  (Note:  a few years ago I'd never heard of a lift gate or a pallet jack--the things I've learned through OCC.) Best of all, those tall pallets just made it through the church door.

4) Packing party prep hours-- A handful of volunteers also bagged hundreds more bars of soap and got labels affixed to 600 boxes so far.

5) Presents in Packages--It's not my birthday or Christmas but presents keep arriving for me.  When I got to the church today there were FOUR boxes sent from Cheryl in Indiana filled with gorgeous filler items and stuffed animals--including a whole box of the sweetest little stuffed hamsters ever.

Then there was another box of stuffed animals and wonderful balls from Diane in Colorado

And another box from Courtney in Lancaster, PA with a sweet note, more animals, adorable socks, more cute fillers, and even 200 pens.

There were also several bags of stuffed animals left at my back door today

And a very special card was tucked inside the back door that had a tremendously encouraging note along with a cash donation of $250 that will go a long way to bless more children.

Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

First Five Miracle Countdowns

We are on a countdown to our community-wide Operation Christmas Child packing party--one week from today!

For the past five days I've been posting a "miracle a day" as a way to count down the days on my personal Facebook page so I thought I'd post the first five here.

MIRACLE COUNTDOWN--DAY 10 -- only 10 days until the Erie, PA Community-Wide Shoe Box Packing Party. Today's miracle is the donation of paper for each of our boxes by McCarty Printing. If you'd told me a few years ago all our paper would be donated I never would have believed it. Praising God for Chuck and Lorelei Fournier Millet who coordinated this and for Rose Dobson, Kathy Peters Cuneo, and Ann Cuneo Fluegel who stapled it all into packets.

MIRACLE COUNTDOWN--DAY 9--only 9 days until the Erie, PA Community-Wide Shoe Box Packing Party. Today's miracle is washcloths and pencils. Last year I struggled to get enough pencils to put two in each box but this year I have plenty thanks to OCC friend Loretta Tharp who found a great deal on them and bought enough to share. Loretta also found a wonderful deal on washcloths and picked up a few (21,000) for us, too. Problem is--she lives in Waynesboro, PA--hours away from Erie. We prayed for five months about how to get them and God answered when Don and Debbie Foster Sweatman volunteered to drive to pick them up and borrowed the Pavkov's trailer to do it. What a miracle!

MIRACLE COUNTDOWN--DAY 8 -- only 8 days until the Erie, PA Community-Wide Shoe Box Packing Party. Today's miracle is soap. By God's grace we heard of a non-profit called Clean The World and were able to buy soap from them for a lower cost than we have ever purchased it before. This year I tried doing a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo (Community Rocks Inside The Box) to help pay for soap and nearly 1/2 of the cost of the soap was donated through this campaign. I am praising God for each of you who partnered with us in this way. The soap came unwrapped so faithful volunteers are now working to put each bar into a 4" X 4" bag. We will likely have some volunteers at the packing party working on this--so come join us and fill a bag!

MIRACLE COUNTDOWN--DAY 7 -- only 7 days until the Erie, PA Community-Wide Shoe Box Packing Party. Today's miracle is toothbrushes. I thought we'd be buying all our toothbrushes from the same company we purchased from last year but God had other plans. We found a great deal on colorful brushes from a company called Plak Smacker and, by God's grace were given a fluky coupon code that allowed us to get them all for an average cost of 10 cents each. I think of Oxana Nelson who shared about living in an orphanage in Russia where 20 children shared the same toothbrush. Each of these can be a special miracle for the child who receives it. Come help us put them into the boxes on October 4th!

MIRACLE COUNTDOWN--DAY 6 -- only 6 days until the Erie, PA Community-Wide Shoe Box Packing Party. Today's miracle is pens. Did you know the average pencil will write a line 35 miles long while a pen writes only 1.5 - 2 miles? That's why this year we're putting 3 pencils and only 1 pen in our shoe boxes (well, really it's because we got a great deal on pencils.) This year we bought 20,000 really nice misprinted commercial pens and used a 25% off coupon code to get the price down to 3.75 cents per pen. Funny story--the company said they were being shipped by Greyhound. Interesting. We got a call to arrange delivery to the church and when they were actually delivered they were driven up by a guy in a Toyota Celica who picked them up from the Greyhound and transported them. We also got pens locally on sale and using various coupons (love those coupons) -- we might be a few hundred short so if you have unused pens we can use them.

Please pray with us as we count down this last week.  We have several big deliveries coming in the next few days and will need lots of wisdom and volunteers for set-up.

The good news?  God has already accomplished it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Only TEN DAYS until our 2014 Operation Christmas Child packing party (gulp).  Today there were five of us who spent some time bagging soap to get ready.

Meanwhile my husband was trying to strategize how we can move the pallets of boxes and cartons that will be delivered in a truck next Monday without a lift gate.  Can we rent/borrow a pallet jack and skid steer or should we just hand carry the stuff into the church using volunteers throughout the week?

I'm starting to remember how much time it takes to do the set-up work and get labels on those boxes.  And this year we're adding the task of bagging the soap.

Then tonight I did a preliminary tally of items and costs.  It seems I've spent more than 25% over last year's total while having fewer items.  I'm not sure how that happened.

I have enough of the basics, I think, but I'm just not sure the items will adequately fill all the boxes.

It would be better if we could somehow just get people to understand the basic rule of packing--get the box full enough but not over-full.  It should be easy to figure this out and match a smaller clothing item with a larger stuffed animal and vice versa.  But volunteers too often don't seem to get it.

There really isn't anything more for me to do at this point.  I know I've purchased everything God put before me.  With my husband's approval and my team's consensus I even bought those extra water bottles last weekend.

Now we wait on Him to orchestrate this packing party and fill these boxes with items to bless children in His name.

So I'll quit tallying items and close my notebook.

And I'll start another tally--a list of God's promises and His history of being faithful to us in the last five packing parties.

That tally will make the first one inconsequential.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What Is Faith?

What is faith?  How do we know when God answers our prayers?  The Bible tells us in Hebrews, "Without faith it is impossible to please God."  Certainly we all want our lives and our ministries to be based on faith.

But how do we work out these issues of prayer and faith on a day-to-day basis?  It's not always easy.

Today was a case in point.

For months we have been praying (and many of you have been praying along with our team here in Northwestern PA) for God to provide all we need to pack 23,000 boxes to bless children at our Community-Wide Operation Christmas Child packing party on October 3rd & 4th.

Last night I calculated that we still lacked 8,500 stuffed animals and 3,600 major clothing or anchor items for our boxes.  We have been trusting God to provide these things.  I have not felt anxious and have been able to rest in His provision.

Two days ago I contacted a wholesale supplier who told me a few months ago he thought he could sell me hats and some stuffed toys for .50 each.  Now he seemed to balk at the deal and wouldn't give me a straight answer when I asked if he was willing to sell the items at that price.

Last night I checked once again for an inexpensive source for water bottles to put into our boxes.  I searched the website of a company I'd previously decided was too expensive and realized I'd been looking at the wrong prices.  I also went into my old e-mail and found that company had sent me a coupon code for 10% off.  If I purchased 10,000 water bottles I could get them for 38.7 cents each--a great price for a useful item.

Then I thought that maybe some of the older boys would be just as blessed by flip-flops and a water bottle as they'd be blessed by flip-flops and a stuffed animal.  We could substitute water bottles as either a major anchor item or in place of a stuffed toy.

After this investigation I couldn't fall asleep, so I started to pray.  I always pray that God will provide items for our boxes that will bless the children who will receive them.  Could this be His answer?  I sent an e-mail to my packing party team asking for their counsel.

This morning I received messages from two of those team members and those messages were almost identical.  While both of them thought the water bottles could be good additions to our boxes, they each had concerns that buying them could mean we didn't have faith in God to provide the stuffed animals and clothing for which we'd prayed.

As I thought about that, I began to ponder what trusting God really means.  Meanwhile, I talked with my husband about purchasing the water bottles and he felt they were a better option than spending .50 per item from the other supplier.

After we talked a bit more, I wanted to be sure he was on board.  Our conversation went like this:

Me:  So, are you okay with me buying 10,000 water bottles?
Husband:  Well...if you need them
Me:  I don't need them.  Kids around the world need them.
Husband: (rolls eyes and chuckles)

Yeah, I need a little work on "translating the cause" but still...he did agree.

And God has blessed us with resources that allow us to make this purchase.

So if I use the money God has provided me to purchase items for the boxes does that mean I'm not trusting Him?  Does that mean He has not provided or answered our prayers?   Does paying for the items make them less of a miracle than having someone appear at my door with them?

I think not.

After e-mailing back with my team members who had responded we came to consensus and I did order those water bottles--red ones with green caps.

I'm calling every one of them a miracle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sons and Daughters of Encouragement

"Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."  --I Thessalonians 5:11  Whenever I think of encouragement I think of Barnabas in the Bible whose name means "Son of Encouragement."  What a great name that would be.

I'm kind of glad our modern tradition doesn't have us giving each other names that define our qualities.  I'm afraid I might be dubbed "Daughter of Criticism" or "She Who Whines."

Life has been challenging for a while.  Really, when you think about it, life is always pretty challenging.  After all, Jesus promised us, "In this world you will have trouble..."  good thing He continued with the promise, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

We so need encouragers in our lives to remind us that we are overcomers.

In the past week our family life has been filled with highs and lows--both of which can be stressful.  The wedding of our daughter this past weekend was followed by my mother's admission to the hospital on Tuesday morning.  We are now praying for a miracle and asking God to give us a nursing home placement by early tomorrow morning.

In the midst of these events, I think about details for the upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party that will be upon us in just 16 days.

What amazes me is how God sends encouragement to me just when I need it.  Monday was a challenging day with several calls from my mother's care home.  She was not adjusting well and I needed to come help with the situation.

Between those calls I received two wonderful pieces of encouragement--a beautiful e-mail from a longtime friend affirming how much our two families' mutual friendship has meant and a long letter from Jill, a blog reader from Florida who told me she read my whole blog (who does that?) and God used it to help push her toward doing more boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

Those well-timed encouragements got me through some rough moments.

Then came Tuesday.  Mom was admitted to the hospital after a fall at her care home.

I sat at her bedside while she rambled in her confusion and prayed.  I told God I know He has these packing party details in His care but I asked Him to let me know if there were things I should be doing that I was missing.

Nothing can be better than the encouragement God speaks into my life through answered prayer.  Almost immediately I got a text message from Elizabeth who said she was working on recruiting volunteers for the packing party (what could be more encouraging than that?) and asked if I'd made arrangements for tech support.  Thank You, God, for that reminder.  Elizabeth also offered her assistance for other details.

A few seconds later God brought another detail to my mind, reminding me that
I did not check on having an announcement in the church bulletin.  I texted Elizabeth and she said she'd take care of that.

I stared at the view of the lake through my mother's window for a few more minutes and realized we needed to make arrangements to ask for donations of cookies for lunch at the packing party.  Another quick text message to Elizabeth who agreed to make the needed contact.

The Holy Spirit, our great Comforter and Encourager, used three specific obedient people to whisper into my life the hope that I needed this week.

Over the past few days other friends and team members have come alongside me with their prayers and encouragement also.

It is humbling to be on the receiving end of such encouragement and it makes me wonder--am I being obedient to God's command to "encourage one another"?

The few minutes it takes to write an e-mail or a note or a text or a Facebook message or (horror of horrors) actually pick up the phone and call or make a visit could make a huge difference in the life of someone who is struggling today.

Encouragement.  The gift every son or daughter of God should give.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Marriage Feast of the Lamb

It's been a few weeks again since I posted here.  My daughter's upcoming wedding kept me busy and the wedding was day before yesterday.  My baby, the bride, is pictured above.

After more than a year of preparations Julie and her new husband Alex hosted an elegant and lavish celebration.  The venue for the wedding was amazing

 And the candles that lined the aisle reflected the light from the tiffany glass dome above.

After the beautiful ceremony and a time of enjoying hors d'oeuvres, we were invited in to the marriage feast.  We sat in gold chairs at linen-draped tables with fragrant flower centerpieces.

The table settings were magnificent.  As I looked around at the grace and opulence that I am not accustomed to experiencing, I began to think of the symbolism of weddings in Scripture.

I thought of how at the beginning of Jesus' ministry he performed his first miracle at a wedding feast.

Then I thought of the feast described in Revelation 19--the "marriage feast of the Lamb" when Jesus will celebrate with His bride, the Church.  The feast I was blessed to attend on Saturday evening will pale in comparison to that feast where some from every tribe and nation will join together to worship The Lamb.

Revelation 19:7,8 -- "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

I think of all those months of preparation for my daughter's wedding and I wonder how many of us are preparing even that much for that coming "marriage feast"?

Jesus calls us to be ready and to clothe ourselves with "the righteous acts of the saints."

I've already accepted the invitation to that wedding and I'm going to concentrate on preparing for it and bringing as many guests to it as I can.

It's an open invitation.  So be ready.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Giver" becomes "The Getter"

In our 40 years of marriage, this is the first year that no one in our family is going back to school.  Since I retired from my job as a school nurse at the end of last school year, we are all now out of the business of education.

And today was the first day for students in my school district, so I made plans to go see the movie "The Giver" at noon--just because I could.

On the way, I decided to make a quick stop at Michael's craft store to buy a pack of photo corners.  Last year I got a great deal on twelve $2.00 grab bag boxes that contained hundreds of nice fillers for our Operation Christmas Child packing party and I've been hoping to find some again.

Well, today was that day.

I had to bag "The Giver" to become 'the getter' as I filled my minivan with 34 of those $2.00 grab bag cartons.

When I got home and opened the first few boxes I realized there were a lot of items I couldn't use for shoe boxes, so I called my neighbor who helps with the 'holiday store' at her grandson's school.

She was nice enough to come and spend several hours helping me sort.  She was able to fill four large cartons with items usable for her grandson's school.

Out of the 34 boxes I ended up with 115 clothing items (flip-flops, shirts, etc.) and 226 filler items.  My neighbor donated $25 for the items she took, so the things I got for shoe boxes were just a bit over ten cents each.

Now I need to figure out what to do with a houseful of leftovers--expensive large vases and tons of artificial flowers.  You could stock a florist shop with all the stuff hanging out on every horizontal space in my house.

I'm thinking I should have stuck with my schedule and spent the afternoon watching "The Giver" instead of being "the getter" and gorging on grab bag boxes.