Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lots and Lotsa Boxes

Okay, so this is the only picture I could find of the Operation Christmas Child processing center for today's blog.  My husband (he's the one on the right) is posing with Uncle Si Robertson.  I took it two days ago and it's the last picture I took there.  I now keep my phone in a locker so I don't take pictures during the day and, besides, I don't have time.

Today the volunteers were processing boxes that were being packed into sea containers bound for the Bahamas and Haiti.  There are lots and lots of boxes all around me but the only time I have touched one is when we stop working to pray for them.  The rest of the time I am prayerfully trying to figure out how to do the job of getting filler items out for the boxes and supervising "overflow" volunteers in bagging soap or sorting socks.
These Thanksgiving weekend days are reported to be the days with the highest number of volunteers at the PC.  Today I had as many as 40 volunteers at a time.  This was a blessing--but one that needed to be managed.

I finally sat down to eat lunch today and after 10 minutes the floor manager came to me and said we were getting another large group of volunteers, so I needed to scoot over to my area to prep more space.  (Note:  This reminded me of getting called out of lunch at school to change wet pants--I think this is a step up from that.)  It's tough to figure out how to keep an area for volunteers to eat lunch while finding space for them to do tasks.

It was great, though, to see pallets filling up with bagged soap ready to bless children.

I'm still trying to figure out the best way to organize my day and all the items.  It's really a matter of prayer because there is no way to know how many boxes will require extra fillers and how the supply will hold out.

I was so blessed that Kathe and Carroll Wagner came today and helped me "uncartonize" filler items and organize them.  God knew I really needed them.  Not sure I would have made it through the day tear-free without their support.

My legs were really failing by the end of the day.  I'm glad for a day off tomorrow and wondering how it will be to keep going for six days in a row next week.  

It seems to get a bit easier each day.  I'm counting on that.

'Cause there are still lots and lotsa boxes waiting to get onto those sea containers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Praise in the Winning and Losing

Today was another great but tiring day at the Operation Christmas Child processing center.  I'm still trying to figure out what I should be doing from hour to hour.  Not having a plan can really make me crazy.

It also makes me crazy when I have a plan that doesn't seem to work out.

After two days of waiting I finally got the message I'd been waiting for this afternoon--the message with the total of boxes shipped out on the trucks for this OCC season from my area of Northwestern PA.

As soon as I read the message I thought of the line from my favorite movie,"Facing The Giants".  On the eve of the big football game the coach says, "If we win we're gonna praise Him and if we lose we're gonna praise Him."

Last year God surprised us when our team collected 47,604 boxes--way beyond our prayed-for goal of 45,000

This year God surprised us when our team collected 43,554 boxes--way, way below our prayed-for goal of 55,700 and 4,150 fewer than we collected last year.  I have to admit that going 22% below our goal was quite a shock.

Still, 43,554 boxes are a real gift from God and we are blessed to be able to partner with God to send a gospel opportunity to so many children.

Now we pray for more boxes to come in from other donors who can still bring them to processing centers, mail them to Boone, NC, or go online to to pay to "build a box" online.

God has a plan to bless children with these boxes and we will keep praying for even more to be blessed and...

We're gonna praise Him!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cardboard Diva

Today was a historic day--the first day for volunteers to process Operation Christmas Child boxes at the new Baltimore processing center.  It was a great day for sure.

My husband is a coach and really enjoyed working with teams of volunteers to inspect boxes.

I spent the day drowning in a sea of cardboard boxes and fillers.

I've been trying to come up with a strategy for managing the fillers.  For example, we have seven pallets of heavy bars of soap.  I don't think we want to ship them back to Boone for storage at the end of the season so I figure we'd better get busy getting some volunteers to bag that soap and get it into boxes.

There are about 12,000 pairs of darling black crocs that need to get into boxes so they can make it to kids around the world, also.  My husband reports, though, that most of the boxes they processed today were already adequately filled.  That's good news, of course, but it leaves me wondering how many fillers we will actually need to use.

Looking at all these cartons and sorting fillers is kind of tempting for a shoe box packing addict.  I'm starting to plan strategies to hide out in the PC some evening and have an all-night packing party.  There's plenty of stuff to make great boxes here.

But (insert large sigh) that's not my job.

It was a special treat at the end of our shift to be greeted by Jim Harrelson and Randy Riddle, both humble leaders of OCC who are amazing models of servant leadership.

 Here Jim is challenging us and sharing briefly from the Word and Randy then prayed over the PC staff.

My husband and I were blessed to speak for a bit with Jim Harrelson and he reminded us of Revelation 7:9,10 and 16,17 -- the scene John describes with people (children and former children!) of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues praising the Lamb and then having that Lamb lead them out as their shepherd "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

I'll wade through a sea of cardboard and more to see that.

Monday, November 24, 2014

(Im)Patiently Waiting

Waiting.  Here are some of the first and second shift crew employees who just completed a joint time of prayer at the new Baltimore Operation Christmas Child processing center.  Training is done and now we are waiting for the first volunteers to arrive tomorrow so we can begin preparing those precious boxes.

Waiting.  I am waiting to see how God will work things out in these next few weeks at the processing center.  We will potentially process 60,000 boxes each day.  This would be the equivalent of more than three times the amount of boxes we pack at our annual packing party in one day with about the same number of volunteers (300) that we had this year.

Waiting.  I am waiting to see how the filler items will be distributed.  It's impossible to know how many of the boxes coming in will require filler items to be added and how the supply will last.

And, on this last day of National Collection Week, I am still waiting for a total of the number of boxes collected this year in Northwestern PA.  Because of ice on the roads on Saturday the trucking company was not able to send another truck until this evening and it will be loaded tomorrow and final tabulations made.  And so I keep


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Let The Training Begin

Today I started training for my short-lived dream job--working at the Operation Christmas Child processing center near Baltimore.

I am totally overwhelmed by the amazing job the staff has done over the past few weeks in transforming a bare warehouse into a warm and inviting collection center (well, it's not literally warm--the place is downright chilly and I never took my coat off all day.)

It's interesting how perspective changes when you're looking at things from a new angle.  A few days ago I was advising relay center volunteers who were lamenting about over-filled boxes to "rubber band them tightly and send them on to the processing center."

Now I'm at the processing center where the final decision has to be made about those over-filled boxes.  Our supervisor reminded us again about maintaining the integrity of the box and said that if the box absolutely will not close it will need to be sent to the Shoe Box Hospital area where the items will be transferred to a larger box.  It would be so much easier if every box arrived at a relay or collection center being filled "just right" but, of course, we don't live in a perfect shoe box world.

Even though I got the chance to practice processing boxes, my actual job this year is to help manage the Gifts-In Kind--donated items used as fillers if inappropriate items need to be removed from boxes.

As I looked at these rows of cartons donated by companies, trying to memorize which stacks of boxes contained which items, it was like looking at my storage container times four.  These have to last until all the boxes are processed, so I will be praying for wisdom in how to manage the stock.

As cartons of donated filled items arrive from relay and collection centers I will need to make sure they are inspected and, in some cases, itemized for receipt purposes.

Another one of my duties is to supervise volunteers who will be serving to prepare fillers (bagging the soap, opening packages, etc.)

It's like taking shoe box packing to another level entirely.  Let the training begin.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One More Box

My friend, Pam Hatchell, put out a challenge in a Facebook group for all of us to pack "one more" Operation Christmas Child shoe box in honor of Mary Damron.

Mary is affectionately known as "The Shoe Box Lady" and she has an amazing story.  Back when Operation Christmas Child had barely begun in the United States, Mary felt a calling from the Lord to collect 300 gift-filled shoe boxes from her neighbors in her 'holler' in West Virginia. (note: I believe this was her initial goal but I can't find confirmation of that anywhere right now.)

I wish you could hear her tell the story.  Her daughter had typed up some flyers to take around to her neighbors telling them of her goal to collect 300 boxes.  That night as she lay in bed Mary says Satan "came against me" and told her she would fail...that "no one will listen to you."

In faith, Mary got up and crossed out the number 300 on every flyer and changed it to 1,000.  She ended up collecting 1,256 boxes which she loaded into a borrowed truck and, with her family, delivered to Boone, North Carolina.

Since that first delivery in 1994 Mary has became a national spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child and the Lord has used her to recruit millions of boxes for children around the world.

Whenever Mary speaks, she always encourages us to trust God to do more.  By God's grace we can always do one more box.

So, here it is, Mary--one more box packed this morning for a 10-14 year old girl--ready to bless her in the name of Jesus.

Will you pack one more today?  Do it in honor of Mary but do it for Jesus.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pack and Burn

A few days ago I thought I was nearly done with packing Operation Christmas Child boxes at home.  I love to put a few tool kit boxes together every year, and this year I got most of the tools for free at Harbor Freight.  When I got them assembled my total for home packing was at 555 boxes, and my items were just about gone.

Then on Monday I went to Walmart and found over 400 cute small notebooks and 38 pairs of adorable sandals.

Then I stopped at a local thrift store and chose 120 stuffed animals.  I waited in line to pay for them (they usually sell them to me for .10 each) and the cashier ended up giving them to me at no charge.  Hmm--I could see more shoe boxes in my future.

On Tuesday afternoon a kind woman stopped by with two bags of pristine Webkins.

And, so, the packing continued...

By late afternoon yesterday I was at 667 boxes when I ran out of crayons and toothbrushes.  We were going to church for an all-church worship night last night, so I took a flashlight with me and my husband and I ventured into that dark storage container and dragged out more crayons, paper, toothbrushes, water bottles, and some baseball hats.

During one portion of worship last night we kept singing over and over and over and over again the phrase "Our hearts burn for You" or maybe it was "My heart burns for You"--I can't really recall even though we sang it so many times.

The entire time I kept asking God if this was really true in my life.  Does my heart burn for You, Lord?  I want it to.  I am praying that it will.  I don't want my life to be so caught up in even something as good as packing Operation Christmas Child boxes that I don't love Him as I should.

I am trusting the promise in Philippians 1:6 that "He who began a good work in you (me) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

Meanwhile, here's what I woke up to this morning.

It's a perfect day for this retiree to snuggle in and pack shoe boxes...and pray for my heart to burn.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Clucking and Clicking

Well, this picture wasn't taken at Chick-fil-A yesterday--although it was warm enough for us to be outside yesterday.

We were inside collecting Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  Each person who brought in a box was given a coupon for a free chicken sandwich.

We only have one Chick-fil-A store in our area of Northwestern PA and we are incredibly blessed by their partnership.

You could almost hear the happy clucking of the chickens as we clicked off box after box toward our goal of 55,700 boxes this year--each one ready to bless a child in the name of Jesus.

Over 200 boxes were collected yesterday.  That's a new record!

And that's a lot of clucking and clicking.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lord Ask Us How

I'm taking a little break from the evening's work of packing more Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  And I'm sitting in my living room staring at the lettering on a cardboard box.   I know it's probably from a local company called "Lord Corporation" but its message makes me ponder....

Lord, ask us how.

--Lord, ask us how we think we can come up with a better plan than Yours.
--Lord, ask us how we think we can lack anything when You have promised us everything.
--Lord, ask us how we can waste the resources You've given us--time, talents, money--when so many in the world have never heard of Your love.
--Lord, ask us why we aren't "about the Father's business" just like You were.

And when He asks us...what will we say?

Okay...I'm heading back to pack a few more shoe boxes now...

Because every box packed means one more child will have a tangible way to know God's love.

Every one might be an answer to the Lord's questions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting It Together

These last few weeks before Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week are always like a sprint to the finish and today was no exception.

People often ask me, "Do you like retirement?"  I have to say I love it.  I love that I can wake up in the morning with no idea what I will be doing and then come to the end of my day finding it full and fulfilling.

This morning I did an interview on our local Christian radio station at 8 am and then hit Target on the way home.  Their Halloween items went to 90% off this morning and I scored nice socks for .20 a pair, T-shirts and boxer shorts for .59 each and some fun flashlights and stuffed animals.

After returning home I went on an errand with my husband and then got a message that four more large cartons--the remainder of our order of baseball hats--were delivered to our church.   After last Friday's delivery of 48 cartons this one was tiny, but I still needed to deal with it.  The problem was--I'd already made an appointment to get my hair cut on the other side of town and meet someone to give them a supply of OCC boxes at the same time. husband and I passed some fun time together putting caps on another 1000 water bottles and he graciously loaded the cartons into my car.  My trusty cohort Pam and I made plans to meet at the storage container at 3:30 pm, after my appointment.

A few hours later Pam and I stood in front of the container wrestling boxes of hats.  We opened them and found we could save a bunch of space by combining the boxes.  We were able to consolidate four cartons of boxes into two.  This made me wonder how much space we could have saved by opening the other 68 cartons we've already stored and consolidating them?

I will never know.

We finished putting the lids on the rest of the water bottles and got the last of them stacked neatly in the container just as twilight clicked away.  Thank goodness for that flashlight app on my cell phone.  I am so relieved the lids are on all 149 cases of water bottles and Pam worked her storage magic so they are snug and tight (and I do mean tight--like rammed in there with a battering ram tight.)  No wasted space there.

I cruised out of the parking lot just in time to drive to the next event--a youth packing party at Erie Christian Fellowship Church.  Truthfully, I was tired and not excited about going.  But that changed in a hurry when I saw their well-prepared tables lined with wonderful items.

I had such a great time watching the kids pack 144 boxes to bless a dozen dozen children.  It's going to take some strong rubber bands to get those boxes truly closed.

These days are really full but what joy to see the year's work finally coming together.