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 www.rluskyphoto.com

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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Packing Party Problems

Today we were back at the church this morning to set up for tonight's Operation Christmas Child youth packing party.  My husband was set to camp out at the church as he waited for the trailer to be delivered and for a large truck delivery of 10,500 water bottles I ordered two weeks ago.

After a bit of set-up work, Linda and Pam (my team's prayer coordinator and media coordinator) and I decided to do a Jericho prayer walk.  We walked around the church property seven times while we prayed for all the aspects of the packing party and claimed God's victory.

After praying, the challenges started.  First we got a call from the dispatcher for the OCC trailer who confessed he'd forgotten to order the truck to be dropped today.  He's a sweet brother in Christ who made calls and arranged to get it dropped tomorrow morning and then prayed over the phone with me for our packing party.

Then I checked the tracking info on the order of water bottles and discovered they aren't scheduled to be delivered until next Monday--two days after the packing party.  I spent two hours trying to reach someone in the company's customer service department and when I finally reached them they told me I needed to fill out an online form.

I know this is not a surprise to God but I'm not sure yet what kind of good He's going to bring out of this.  We're still short over 6,000 stuffed animals and the water bottles were planned to fill in that lack.

As soon as the packing party started tonight it began to rain in earnest making it a wet trek for the guys trying to load the truck tonight (the truck that is still placed in the wrong spot because no driver arrived to move it today.)

We had fewer youth there for this year's packing party and we ended the evening with 4,000 boxes in the truck (compared to 6,917 at this time last year.)

Maybe God has plans for us to do fewer boxes this year?

I took great care to be sure we had sufficient truck space and cartons this year.  Will we now not fill those cartons and that space?

I looked forward to packing at least 22,011 boxes to get to that 100,000 goal tomorrow.  Maybe God is telling me not to focus on the number of boxes--even though each of them represents a child waiting to know God's love.

And maybe God has someone planned to walk in tomorrow with a donation of 7,000 stuffed animals.  Or a miracle delivery.


On The Brink

Like children excited to open their boxes at an Operation Christmas Child shoe box distribution, we wait...

Lord, here we are again on the brink of another miracle.  All year long we have prayed and waited and shopped and waited and hauled and waited.  We have loaded and unloaded and waited.  We cried to You in the night and sought You in the morning.

We asked for wisdom about whether to have a large packing party this year and we waited.  You answered us.  You directed us.  You challenged us.

And so...here we are again on the brink of another miracle.

Father, we put each of the treasures You have provided back into Your hand and ask You to put each one into the box where it belongs.

Jehovah Jireh give us full hands and full boxes and full hearts that spill over onto all the people who come from our community to pack these boxes with us.

We're on the brink and we look to You, Father.

We wait.

We pray according to Ephesians 3:20 in the same power that raised Jesus from the dead for immeasurably more.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Packing Party Prepping

This is packing party prepping week for our Operation Christmas Child packing party and God is already doing great things for us.

The cartons, boxes and labels were delivered on Monday and volunteers were soon hard at work getting those labels attached to the boxes so they'll be ready for filling.  As of last night we have all but 5600 of those boxes labeled.  Amazing!

And we've been hard at working putting soap into bags and have fewer than 6000 more to bag.

We're so far ahead this year that we have at least one packing line completely set up and waiting for 21 students coming on a field trip from a Christian school to pack boxes today.

I can't believe how neat everything looks this year.  Frankly, that scares me a a little.

I was disappointed last night when I opened a few bales of the washcloths we bought and found they were literally a balled-up mess and had some that were stained or had holes in them.  We are laying them out as flat as possible and praying they'll still be a blessing to the kids who receive them.  Should have checked them out earlier.

Now I'm strategizing about how much labeling and soap bagging to leave for the actual day of the party so we have sit-down jobs available for those who can't walk around and fill boxes.

I'm also, as always, looking at lists and wondering if we will really have enough items to fill 23,000 boxes.  We don't have many miscellaneous filler items at all and I'm not sure how they will hold out.

So I have to put the lists aside and pray.  Lord, you are sovereign.  Use these simple items we've collected.  Multiply them and use them to bless children around the world for Your glory.