Thursday, December 25, 2014

God With Us

Here it is Christmas night already.  So....Merry Christmas.  This is the little tree in my home that holds all the Operation Christmas Child ornaments I have received since 2004.  I love the memories they give me.

Memories kind of define Christmas and I hope you made some good ones this year.

I'm starting a new tradition.  For the second year in a row I built an Operation Christmas Child box online with my Christmas dinner guests.  It's such a great way to enjoy the holiday.

This morning my husband and I joined some younger friends at a local homeless shelter where we served breakfast and sang some Christmas carols.  I was especially blessed by a man who came up to sing with us and passionately gave glory to God as he sang traditional carols that are really praise songs.  That guy sang with his heart as well as his hearty bass voice.

While we were singing, my husband was listening to a man who just wanted to talk.  Later, I listened to him for a while also.  This gentleman didn't always make sense.  His ramblings seemed to indicate some mental health problems.  But his whole countenance changed when someone was listening to him.

I thought a lot today about the incarnation and how blessed we are to live in the age of grace.  What a blessing to have free access to the Father through Jesus the Son.

Emmanuel.  God with us.  Jesus was born to die to satisfy the wrath of God so we could come near to Him by faith.  And now, Jesus is making intercession for us with the Father.

God with us.  Listening to us.

Lord, help me learn to listen, too.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Finish Line

It's hard to believe our time at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Baltimore is over.  We knew today would be the last day, but after being here three weeks it still doesn't seem real that we're leaving.

This picture was taken this morning as our team stacked our hands for the last time to give our usual morning cheer--1,2,3...TEAM.  We truly came to love and support one another, and it's sad to realize I may never see most of these folks again.

Coordinating Gifts In Kind has been a challenge.  I started out thinking we had way too many filler items, then swung to wondering if we'd have enough, and went back and forth frequently thereafter.  I trust that each of the boxes we inspected and processed left the center pleasantly filled and ready to bless children in Jesus' name.

Here's how my area looked at the beginning of the season

and here's how it looked this morning

The treasures in those cartons were transferred into precious shoe boxes.  And when the processing was over the next step was to inventory and pack the leftover items.

After the saga of bagging all that soap and wondering if we had too much or not we finally emptied the gaylord of soap and celebrated with a loud cheer.  Here's my associate, Linda, with the empty gaylord.  Sadly, even though all that soap got out to bins on the processing stations not all of it actually made it into boxes.

We worked hard over the last few days to inventory and remove from the floor the items we did not need.  I thought we were doing a good job and that clean up would be pretty uncomplicated.

I was wrong.

As each station finished processing boxes they brought their bins of leftover filler items to us.  Four bins on each of 16 stations added up to 64 bins of jumbled items to sort and prepare for storage.

I was determined we would not heap everything into miscellaneous cartons and leave the mess for someone to sort out next year.  I remembered those cartons we opened this year that were a muddled mess of stickers and small rings and key chains and didn't want to inflict that on someone else.

After a couple of hours of sorting piles of unused soap (approximately 150 bars--yikes!) and Christmas cards (too many piles to count) and small plastic toys and bookmarks and craft kits and socks, etc. etc.... I started to get bleary eyed.  I did make sure that every small plastic trinket and ring was corralled in a plastic bag.  Unless those bags open I will not be the one responsible for a carton mess next year.

I did take a few minutes out to watch the ceremonial processing of the last shoe box.  Two women from Jamestown, NY did the honors.  They've been friends for over 30 years and one of them is 87 and and other 92 years old, and they lobbied for this well-deserved honor.  Here is Leigh Fisher, PC manager and the OCC Mid-Atlantic Regional Director holding that last box...

And here is the box being processed...

One by one all my new friends and co-workers left, but I still hadn't finished my sorting so I convinced my husband to take the shuttle back to our hotel and then drive back for me.  I tried to be meticulous and finish the job but I have to confess I did throw away a few stray Christmas cards along the way.

Mesfin, our team leader and one of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Managers,  promised me they would finish the job tomorrow.  I'm hoping my sorted piles don't get thrown back into mixed cartons.

In the chaos I never did get the picture of Jim and me in our red and green shirts in front of the Christmas tree that I'd planned on getting.  But I did remember to get a picture of the tote board that shows the countries we are sending boxes to and the total for each day.

We didn't get the final total yet...but trying to picture over half a million children receiving boxes that all came through this processing center is a bit overwhelming.

It's been three weeks of some of the hardest and most satisfying work I've ever done.  That's my kind of vacation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Great Day

Today was a great day.  Because of my work at the processing center I thought I wouldn't be able to attend today's airlift of 60,000 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes to northern Iraq.

We were surprised a few days ago when Leigh Fisher, our pc manager, told us she needed two people to shuttle trucks back and forth for the airlift and asked if we'd be willing to do that.  At first she suggested I could drive one of the 26 ft. trucks, but I figured that would be tempting God.  Upon reconsideration the plan was made for me to drive our van behind my husband to shuttle him back after each trip with the truck.

As I considered this plan I started to wonder if it would be wiser to send someone else with my husband.  I thought I might be more useful staying at the pc to do my job.  So I prayed for God's direction and began to feel a true peace about going to the airlift.

Yesterday and today we split our time between being at the pc and shuttling vehicles.

Today was a great day--not because we got to see the airlift program or because we got to speak briefly with Franklin Graham and Greta VanSusteren and tell them about all the volunteers who make our packing party happen.

It wasn't even getting to see that big plane loaded with 60,000 precious 'gospel opportunities'

Or seeing the beautiful clear weather God provided and hearing the sweet children's choir

Or getting to sign a greeting from our Northwestern PA OCC area team to the children in Iraq.

It was a great day because, in my husband's words, "it was like a family reunion."  I got to introduce him to so many OCC friends of mine whom he had never met.  I got to hug the people I pray for and rarely get to see.

Another reason it was a great day was that I saw just a glimpse of God's great tapestry.  Because I was going to be out of the pc on Tuesday and Wednesday, they called in another young woman to work and several of us at the pc got the chance to talk with her a little bit on Tuesday.  We learned that her first daughter was born on Halloween but has been in the NICU ever since.  The baby was full-term but has been struggling with breathing and swallowing and was scheduled for surgery today to insert a trach and a G-tube.   We were able to give her a donation to help with expenses, offer her encouragement, and pray with her today.  None of that would have happened if I had not gone to the airlift.  (would you say a prayer for healing for baby Kalina?)

Oh, and as a great end to the day my husband and I got to have dinner with John and Dawn from Samaritan's Purse donor services.  We loved sharing with them about how God has been working in all of our lives.

There's nothing like sharing God's goodness to make it a great day.

Monday, December 8, 2014

400,000 and Counting

Yea!  Today we passed the mark of processing 400,000 Operation Christmas Child boxes at the Baltimore processing center.   Today's boxes are bound for Panama and Namibia.

It was another busy day but I was grateful that God sent Jeff Mauler to work for a few hours sorting another load of donated filler items when I was feeling overwhelmed.  This was the biggest day yet for donations received as I logged in 49 cartons of filler items.  I love to see how God is providing for every need for these boxes.

I don't often get distracted when sorting, but today I just had to stop and take a few pictures of this box full of gorgeous handmade items.

Amazing designs on knitted sweaters and hats and this lovely blanket--

I can just imagine how much joy these will bring to the children who are blessed to receive them.

We also found the 101 boxes I packed in memory of my mother were being processed today (picture above) and it made me a little teary to see them go through the line.

Some of the boxes from Erie Christian Fellowship were processed today also and are on their way to Namibia.

I'm getting more and more curious about how we will end up with these filler items.  Volunteers worked hard at bagging rings today, but we have fewer than 8,000 bags left now.  So...will we have too many filler items and have to return some?  Or...will we run out?

Stay tuned, because we have 200,000 more boxes to inspect before we find out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Appreciating The Sabbath

A six-day work week is a good way to make one appreciate observing the sabbath.  I have to say, though, that even with six days in a row of work this second week of working at the Operation Christmas Child processing center has been a bit easier than the first.

Even before the work day actually began (we always get there about a half hour early) I started sorting donated GIK (Gifts In Kind--the technical name for donated filler items.)  In the first carton I found this very cute but inappropriately large cuddly animal.  The cool thing is that all the items that are inappropriate for shoe boxes are donated to local charities so I know this guy will make some child happy right here in the US.

Here's another thing we found in the same box--

Technically, these items are not inappropriate, but it's not really cool to donate your OCC volunteer appreciation gifts as shoe box fillers.  I guess we'll give that volunteer the benefit and say they were just being truly selfless.

The day started with devotions and then some of us got to go out to the loading dock to pray for the three sea containers of shoe boxes ready to ship to Panama.

I returned to sorting incoming donations and found two carefully bundled towels with my brother and sister-in-law's names embroidered on them.  I think it's safe to say this box of GIK came from our processing center in Erie and it was nice to see a piece of home.

A few minutes later my husband came over to excitedly tell me he'd found some boxes from East Lake Rd. Alliance Church on line 9 but I never did get to see them.  So, friends from ELRAC--at least some of your boxes are on the way to Panama.

At 10:00 I was delighted to see the crowd from Jim Urban's area in North Pittsburgh come in for their work shift.  My friend and OCC team media coordinator, Pam Niedhammer, was with them and I drafted her to work on some projects for me.  I forgot to get a picture of Pam as she worked for over two hours doing a detailed inventory of a random carton of GIK.

Meanwhile I put 30 volunteers to work putting cute plastic rings into bags to make more filler items.   (Okay that was just one sentence but the work involved in that project means hauling supplies, trying to anticipate needs, and responding to repeated requests for "more bags", "more rings", "more stickers" or "another empty box" when you can't keep up with the needs.)

Pam and I also completed a crude inventory of remaining filler items and they are dwindling quickly.  There are still about a half million (I mean that literally because I actually inventoried them) of those adorable plastic rings.  If only they would put themselves into bags to make more substantial filler items.

The highlight of the day that puts all the stuff of the last few paragraphs into perspective was hearing from a young woman who grew up in orphanages in Honduras and received a shoe box when she was six years old.  (pictured below--second from the left)

She eloquently described what it meant to receive simple items that belonged only to her, since the orphans had to share all their belongings, including 25 sharing one toothbrush.  More than the items, though, she cherished the hope that came from knowing that a "little girl in America" whose picture she found in her box had packed it especially for her.  She kept that picture and years later when she faced despair as a teenager God used the picture to remind her that He cared for her.  She was later adopted and came to America where she was able to finish her education, graduate from college, and now works with Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  What a wonderful reminder of the power of a simple gift.

Full-Circle Saturday is my favorite day of the week...and a great way to begin a sabbath.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mary and Martha at the PC

Here comes Susie Shoebox...ready to tell anyone who will listen all about Operation Christmas Child.  You've got to admit that Operation Christmas Child fanatics are, well--fanatics--when it comes to promoting this project.

Being at the processing center this season is shaking up my life a bit.  It challenges me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Today made me do some soul searching as I thought again about Jesus' tale of two sisters--Mary and Martha.   I've been pondering the lives of those two women for years now and seeing myself alternately in each of them.  In fact, a book I love and highly recommend is "Having A Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy With God in the Busyness of Life" by Joanna Weaver.

I'm no Martha Stewart for sure, so I'm not neglecting relationships in favor of homemaking or decor,  but  I am definitely task-oriented and struggle to find intimacy with God and others. does this relate to the OCC processing center?

We have a task--inspecting and processing shoe boxes--and I want to complete the task quickly and efficiently.  The problem is that this involves people--people who have needs that don't always fit into my program.

There are volunteers and co-workers who have life stories and needs that sometimes collide with the job at hand.

Today my supervisor mentioned to me that for several staff members the highlight of the day yesterday came when an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease was wheeled into the processing center and spent some time bagging soap.

I'm chagrined to admit this was not a highlight of my day.   I knew she was there and interacted with her briefly but for most of the time she was there I was running around the sweet woman without really seeing her.  I was worrying about which fillers to move where and what I needed to prepare for the next shift.

How did Jesus do it?  He always managed to prioritize people without losing sight of the big picture in any way.

Lord, will You give me Your eyes more often and help me have a Mary heart?

ps--We are still not half way to our goal of processing 600,000 shoe boxes yet (sorry, Lord--I do think about that) and we are still processing boxes for Ukraine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Boxes--What Else?

Another day here at the PC in Baltimore.  As we planned this trip to work for several weeks at the Operation Christmas Child processing center my husband kept wondering what we would do every evening.  The answer has been--nothing--except eat, watch TV with our legs up, and fall asleep by 9:30.  Our hotel is about a mile away from a huge shopping mall here in Columbia, MD but we have been way too tired every night to try going shopping.  I suggested the possibility tonight and my husband asked if I thought they had motorized senior citizen carts.

The picture above shows the area of the PC referred to as "the city" and those large cardboard bins are called gaylords.  It's amazing just how many new things I have learned through my involvement with OCC over the years.  Now add 'gaylord' to the list.  The gaylords hold the filler items and we fill bins with items from the gaylords.  Four bins with assorted filler items are placed at each of the 16 stations where volunteers work to inspect the boxes, and when they use up those fillers they are supposed to return the empty bin for a full one.  Of course, those tricky volunteers will often decide they want more of a particular item and try to wheedle it out of us gift-in-kind folks--but we don't fall for that. No sir.

One of my duties is to find projects for the volunteers who are not able to stand to do the processing duties.  We only have about 2,000 bars of soap left to bag and all the socks have been divided so I was scurrying around to find some projects today.  I had the volunteers work on a pallet of donated items that needed to be removed from their packages.  The problem was that it was more labor intensive for me to drag the boxes to the volunteers and then haul them back to a pallet for storage than it would have been for me to just rip the bags open and throw them into a gaylord.  I definitely need to figure out how to work smarter and come up with better projects.

The funniest story from today came from my husband who supervises volunteers as they inspect the boxes.  In one of the boxes today they found a blank check (not filled out at all) and four written but unaddressed thank you notes for baby shower gifts.  Oh my soul, I feel so sorry for the poor pregnant or new mom who packed that box.  I'm sure she's been going crazy trying to figure out what she did with those thank you notes and why that check is missing.  Bless. Her. Heart.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Back At It

When I woke up I hit the fitness center this morning to run 3 miles on the treadmill, then before I left for another day at the Operation Christmas Child processing center I read these verses in Isaiah 66:19,20--"I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem." -- reading this reminds me of all the ways our offerings of shoe boxes are brought for God's glory.  Thinking of all those precious boxes being delivered by any means possible made me eager to get back among them at the processing center. 

I had a plan for how my day would go today but, as usual, those plans changed even as the day started.  I got a new associate to work with me today and needed to do some training with her this morning. became the day to do a random inventory on a carton of donated filler items.  So I spent more than an hour counting, recording, and tallying those items on a report list.  

The day started with a few loyal volunteers bagging soap but before I knew it the word came that we had "overflow volunteers" and I had to set up for more folks to sort socks.  That overflow just kept flowing and soon we had six tables of people working on projects.

Thankfully, the new associate was able to direct volunteers in getting bins of fillers filled for the lines because I spent most of my time lifting and hauling cartons of socks and soap and bags and finding boxes to contain all the sorted socks.  

My husband says I need to quit lifting so much stuff, but when the person assigned to help with heavy lifting is stationed on the other side of the warehouse it's just a lot easier to do it myself than to run and get him.  Fortunately, I think most of the really heavy cartons have been emptied now--at 
least until the next pallets of donations arrive.

We're down to 2.5 pallets of soap left to bag and 4 cartons of socks to sort.  The next suggestion is to get bags so we can have volunteers bag the thousands of cute plastic rings we have.  

At least those are easy to carry.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow 'cause we'll be back at it--today we sent out two sea containers full of boxes for Haiti and started filling containers for Ukraine--what joy.