Tuesday, December 29, 2015

His Answers Are Better

We're on the brink of a new year so why not have a new adventure?  Maybe dumpster surfing would qualify?

Yesterday I spent the day waiting for a truck delivery of three pallets containing 44 cartons of nice baseball hats for our 2016 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Waiting.  All.  Day.

I was praying for all the details of this delivery.  I knew the church office was closed, so I was very specific in telling the trucking company the driver needed to call me before arriving at the church.  I didn't let anyone at the church know in advance because...the office was closed.   I was also praying for the weather and that I'd have help to be able to get the hats stored properly.

I hoped the delivery would come in the morning before the sleet was scheduled to arrive, and I had my trusty sidekick Pam on alert to meet me there when I got the call from the truck driver.  Alas, the call never came.

Finally, at 4:30 pm I called the trucking company who told me they'd already delivered and had a signature on the delivery.  My husband and I quickly drove to the church but it was locked up tight with no sign of the pallets of hats outside.

After some investigation I discovered the church custodian had signed for the delivery and had the pallets put inside in a loading area at the back of the church.  Let me say, I would never consider having pallets put inside the church.

My next problem was trying to figure out how to get into the church to move them to the storage container.  Did I mention the church office is closed?

This morning I was able to reach someone who agreed to meet me and open door.  I located the pallets, got a hand truck from the container, and set to work.

Since I had to move them through the gym I figured why not place them there and use the benefit of a warm area to inventory and consolidate them so I could store fewer boxes in the container.

Not one, but TWO team members arrived to assist.  When I went into the storage container I found several stacks of cartons filled with donations of new filler items I'd received right before leaving for Maryland so we decided to sort them at the same time.  Soon the gym became a sea of cardboard.

 Terri worked on sorting donations

Boxes were all opened and hats taken out of their inner packaging to save space.  Last year we did this step the week before the packing party so we're really ahead this year.

I got to the church at 11:00 am and it was 5:30 pm by the time we finished.  As we lost all daylight on this cloudy day it became interesting trying to get those boxes hefted into the container.  It took two of us to get the top box onto the four-carton-high stacks.  Those things were heavy!

Yesterday I wondered if God was hearing my prayers, but today I can see His answers were better.   It was a lot of work, but the hats are stored, the donations sorted and boxed and stored as well, and the dumpster surfed upon to tamp down the plethora of cardboard.

And, though we dealt with some drizzling rain the temps were in the 40s.  With snow forecast over the next few days it was the perfect time to get this job finished.

Thank You, Lord, for your better answers.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Gone In A Blur

I have to say the last two weeks have gone by in a blur.  It seems impossible that it's been nearly two weeks since I wrote on this blog, but...

The Operation Christmas Child processing season at the Baltmore (BWI) Processing Center came to a quick end on Wednesday evening, December 16th.  We'd been wondering all day when the last box would be finished, and I'm glad Jim and I decided to go back on Wednesday evening to volunteer so we were there to see that last box processed.

Here's the guy who got the honor of processing the last box (yes, he is really 13.)

 Our friend and first shift floor manager, Tiffanie Wells, was excited (then started to cry a minute later.)
Second shift Quality Control manager, Jeff Berger, led the "last box ceremony" and I was blessed to be asked to join second shift chaplain Richmond Laney in praying over this last box.

Even as we volunteers were processing those last cartons of boxes, the staff and associates were efficiently working to break down the stations that were not being used so clean up would be accomplished as smoothly as possible.  As much as I wanted to go home it was still a little sad to watch everything come down.

 The walls of cartons were taken down and all the boxes processed.
 And these were waiting to be loaded onto the last of the sea containers.
 My husband actually looks pretty happy in the role of volunteer for the evening.
 One by one each station finished the last of their boxes
 While on the other side of the warehouse it's looking pretty empty and forlorn
and all those carefully selected filler items are destined to get piled into "miscellaneous" cartons

We were able to return for first shift the next morning, and I was blessed to be able to lead devotions with the associates one more time.  I talked about how we're so prone to think our satisfaction lies in that thing we're waiting for--a marriage or a better job or a nicer home--when really we can never be satisfied except in Jesus.  He is always and only Enough.  I offered a "Steps To Peace With God" booklet to anyone who wanted one and many took them.  I'm praying God continues His work in all of our lives as well as in the lives of the more than 679,000 children who will receive the boxes we processed at BWI this year.

We all dispersed to continue the breakdown and cleanup efforts.  I took down the pictures on the prayer wall and carefully packaged up the 1,064 that had prayers written on the back.  I know that God has heard each of those prayers and will be intervening on behalf of these children around the world.  What a privilege and a miracle we have in prayer.

 The last of the written prayers on the prayer wall

That afternoon we were blessed when Lisa, a blog reader and friend from Virginia, drove in with her husband to drop off her last 100 packed shoeboxes.  It was so great to reconnect with them and to tell a few other people about all the answered prayers God has provided for our families in the past year.  Just more proof of what a good, good Father we have.

It was exciting to get on our way home that afternoon, despite the fog and rain.  As we drove home I spent a lot of time thanking God for His provision in so many ways.

I am so grateful for my personal prayer team of three--my OCC prayer coordinator,  another mentor who is two decades older than I, and a teenager from California who sent me such amazingly wise and encouraging e-mails.  Of course I'm thankful also for every prayer prayed by those I know and those I do not know.  Prayer warriors around the country and even around the world were praying in general for our processing centers and we were blessed to see God answer in specific ways.

I know, also, that God has worked in many ways I have not seen or have not seen yet.  It's all such a glorious mystery and a real cause for awe.

We made it home at 9 pm on Thursday and our daughters arrived on Friday to celebrate our family Christmas.  We didn't care that the tree was hastily purchased at Home Depot, and it was sweet of my daughters to decorate it themselves on Friday night.

We enjoyed Christmas with my extended family on Saturday night and had a Star Wars-themed celebration with our daughters.  We saw the new movie together, assembled a 3D puzzle of a Star Wars vehicle, and did some Star Wars light saber thumb wrestling.

Now I'm back to prepping for our 2016 shoeboxes.  Yesterday and today Jim and I spent 16 hours unpacking and rubber banding 1600 belts.

I wanted to get them ready to store in the container so I can take them tomorrow when I meet the truck that's bringing 6,336 baseball hats.  I'm praying for decent weather tomorrow so we can get them sorted and stored easily.

But that's a story for another day that will be gone in a blur...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Full-Circle Monday

Though I honestly didn't expect we'd still be processing boxes at the BWI Operation Christmas Child Processing Center this week, I have to say it was a pretty good day.

I gave a devotional this morning about how God sometimes uses the trials in our lives to help us know Him better and to help us become more like Jesus.  I think it went pretty well.  I also used Francis Chan's rope illustration to show that our lives are just such a speck in view of eternity.  You can check that out on YouTube if you want to see his video.

The next joy was getting the opportunity to pray over two more shipping containers filled with cartons of boxes ready for the journey to Honduras.  It's always such an exciting time to pray together over these precious treasures.

It took us a while to get the lines all filled today but we seemed to get into the swing of it by afternoon and processed 17,000 boxes by the end of the shift.

And...Santa and his wife showed up to help us get those boxes taken care of today...

And he brought some of the elves with him...

Once again we were processing boxes to be sent to Honduras.  How amazing is it that just at our shift change, when both first and second shift were all there, the director of the OCC National Leadership Team and the OCC Discipleship Director from Honduras unexpectedly stopped in for a visit.  You can see them in the picture at the top of the blog.  God is such a good, good Father to give us this chance to connect.

We were able to come around them and pray for them and for the children who will be receiving these boxes soon.

They were so excited to know their boxes were on the lines being prepared for shipping, and they even went out to the dock to see the shipping containers.

Leigh Fisher with Melvin Villanueva, the OCC National Director from Honduras

Getting a picture in front of the 'tote board' that shows number of boxes sent to Honduras

By God's grace it's like we had our own personal Full-Circle Monday going on.  What could be better than that?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Light in Darkness

Today we had a full house at the Baltimore processing center--praise the Lord!  Hopefully this means more boxes will be processed today.  Last year on this day of the season we were on our way home with the job finished, but not so this year.  There are still many trucks of boxes waiting to be unloaded.

I'm not quite sure how I should spend my days as chaplain here.  What I most enjoy is praying over the pages of prayer requests.  I keep a list of each of the prayer requests that are put into our prayer request boxes, and that list now fills five pages.  I pray over each of them at least once a day.

And, I pray for volunteers and associates as I have the opportunity.  It's easier to talk with the volunteers who are working on extra projects but those who are working on the lines usually need to pay close attention to their jobs so it's not easy to engage them in conversations.

At one point today we had so many extra volunteers we were scrambling to get each of them set up with meaningful jobs.  One of those jobs was folding belts and securing them with rubber bands.  One group spent a few hours doing this job.  We opened one box of belts and found they were printed with camouflage--definitely inappropriate--so they had to be taken to the inappropriate area where the items are donated to local charities.  Every item is used for God's Kingdom in some way.

In the midst of the uncertainty there are some bright spots in the days.  I've had the chance to pray with some volunteers and employees from time to time, and it's been a joy to help out with a few tours for children.  Yesterday we had two tour groups from Arundel Christian School.  I love sharing Operation Christmas Child with children and youth because you never know what impact their lives can have if they really catch the vision for the ministry.

A few days ago USA Today printed the story of a fourth grader in Alabama who had a vision to pack more shoeboxes and spread that vision on social media.  She and her family packed over 5,000 boxes.  Maybe one of these children will lead a charge like that one day.   It's something to pray about.

Which brings me back to that five page list of prayer requests.  Most of them are requests that deal with health, safety, or finances.  This morning as I read the first chapter of Ephesians I realized again that even though God cares about each of our needs He really cares most that we come to know Him or know Him better.

So today, as I prayed for each person's request, I prayed for them to also know God and for His light to shine in their darkness.

That's really what Operation Christmas Child is all about--light shining in darkness.

And I guess praying against the darkness is a pretty good way to spend my day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Generalities and Specifics

Each day lately is so busy.  You'd think I'd have a lot to blog about and yet...

Today I was struck again with the mystery of prayer and wanted to come home and write a blog about it. But I just read again my post from 12 days ago and realized I wrote pretty much the same thing then.  How can that be?

I am watching the prayers fill up our prayer wall.  I've already removed over 500 of these prayers and replaced them with new pictures of children so more people can participate.  Volunteers and staff are encouraged to each take a picture from the prayer wall, turn it over and write a prayer for the child on the back, and pin it back on the wall.

I read these prayers and once again am in awe of that mystery of prayer.  People are writing and praying prayers for children they don't know and most likely will never meet, yet our sovereign God who knows each of them hears and answers.

Again today I marvel at the way God takes my general prayers and answers them specifically.  Today I had the privilege of talking with a volunteer who flew to Baltimore from Massachusetts.  She detailed all the delays and foibles that occurred step by step on her trip and told how God worked for her in each instance.  "It was like God parted the waters for me," she said.

I told her how I'd been praying general prayers for safe travel for volunteers and our gracious God answered her specific needs.  I didn't know her needs.  How could I?  But God knew and answered.

When we stopped to pray over the boxes today I told the story of being in Colombia in May and attending a church service where 70 children graduated from The Greatest Journey--Operation Christmas Child's discipleship program.  Prior to the shoebox distribution last spring this church had never had more than four children in attendance.  On the day of this graduation alone, 25 people (family and friends of the child graduates) gave their lives to Jesus.   I recalled last year when we sent boxes to Colombia from the processing center.  I remember how we prayed that God would draw children to Himself.  Then six months later I was able to see God's answers to those prayers with my own eyes.  How great is our God!

So, today, we all put our hands on those boxes and prayed again--this time for boxes being sent to Honduras.  We prayed in generalities.

But God is already answering in specifics.  Those prayed-over boxes contain answers not only to our prayers but also to the prayers of children and parents and pastors in Honduras.

So I will keep praying my poorly crafted prayers and trusting our detail-oriented faithful God to answer them in His specific way.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Processing The Mystery

If I had the technical ability to edit this meme, I would change it to "Keep Calm and Process Shoeboxes."  But this shoebox processing stuff is not calm at all.  It's pretty crazy.

I remember our first trip to the processing center at Boone, NC in 2006.  It really did seem calm in comparison.  I don't remember feeling pressured.  Well, of course I didn't.  I didn't have any responsibility except to peacefully inspect shoeboxes.

Being the chaplain at the processing center makes me feel like I'm some kind of imposter.  I walk around the PC and pray, and I've had the opportunity to pray with some folks, too.  It still feels weird.  It's one thing to spontaneously pray for people when the Spirit moves, but it's quite another to take it on as a job description.

Prayer is such a mystery.  It's not measurable and doesn't lend itself to evaluation.  Still, I am amazed at how our sovereign God answers our feeble and generalized prayers in specific ways.  I, in my blindness, pray over and over seemingly lame prayers like, "Bless the volunteers and the staff" for every processing center around the country.  I don't even know how to pray, other than praying Scripture--which is my constant default.

God, however, knows each need and in His might and grace He answers.  This was evident to me yesterday when I asked a volunteer on her way out of the PC how her day went.  "It was great," she said with a smile, "and the best part was that I was talking to my brother-in-law on the way here and he received Christ.  I'd been praying for him for so long."  Now there's a specific answer to that general "Bless the volunteers" prayer.  Thank You, Lord.

I'm still trying to find some sort of rhythm to my day.  Last year when I worked on managing and stocking filler items (GIK or gifts-in-kind) I ran around all day.  The two young women who are handling that job this year seem laid back and calm and caught up all the time.  Huh.  I'm thinking I must have missed the ball there, too.

So I walk around the PC praying through a now-specific list of prayer requests that have been written and left by volunteers and staff.  And the mystery continues because I will likely never know how any of these requests that pertain to the personal lives of people I won't see will be answered.

Meanwhile there have been some sweet spots in these first four days.  Today a group of American Heritage Girls (a sort of Christian version of Girl Scouts) came to visit for a family tour.  What joy it was to watch them each choose a picture of a child from the prayer wall, write a prayer on the back, and put it back on the wall.

There's an innocence and simplicity to the prayers of these children.  They, too, will likely never know the answers to their prayers this side of heaven.

Ahh, the sweet mystery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

39 and Counting

Today we took the last load of our Operation Christmas Child boxes to our collection center.  Don't judge me for the larger boxes (insert sound of clearing throat.)  I was desperate--using every single box I could find--and anyway I needed something larger to accommodate those cute backpacks I found on sale at Walmart.

And, in addition to being able to see the carpet in my spare bedrooms for the first time in weeks, there was more good news today.  Last night I had a surprise call from someone offering a donation of new toys and school supplies for filler items for our packing party.  So...today I got a delivery of 24 good-sized cartons full of goodies.

At the same time I am trying to prepare for my husband and me to leave on Thursday to work at the OCC Baltimore Processing Center.  I may not return until the same day my children are coming home to celebrate Christmas so I am doing my usual minimal Christmas decorating and trying to get the house clean while packing for an extended trip and supporting our relay and collection centers.  Oh, and I decided today I should probably get my winter clothes out of the attic.

Not the best time for donations, so they landed in my husband's truck and made a quick trip to the storage container.  I'll enjoy sorting them after the holidays...or maybe when the spring thaw arrives.

By the time we got them to the storage container it was too dark for a picture, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

And you'll also have to take my word for another blessing that arrived today.  Chuck and Lorelei, the couple who have secured donations of paper for us for the past few years, made arrangements to meet me at the storage container with another load at 5:20 pm.  It's a good thing we just had to plop those cases in an empty space by the entrance to the container because we all forgot how early darkness settles in these days.  So, again, there is no picture of this huge pallet of paper cases sitting proudly in the back of their truck.

Here's the neat thing.  I knew this donation was coming so I inventoried the paper we had left after this year's packing party.  There were 13 cases, and I calculated we'd need another 39 cases to be able to put a packet in each of 26,000 boxes for next year.

As we carried the cases from the truck, we stacked them five high with four stacks across.  That made it easy to count 20 cases.  Then we started on the next row, and when we finished unloading the bed of the truck we had 36 cases.  "Wow!"  I said, "That's just a few cases shy of what we need."

"Oh, but I have some in the cab," Chuck said.  One at a time he pulled out three more cases.

Exactly 39.

Chuck, Lorelei, my husband Jim, and I all put our hands on those precious cases and prayed for the children who will use this paper months from now.  Surely the God who brought just the number of cases we need also knows and will meet their needs.  Exactly.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Down To The Wire

We are down to the wire.  National Collection Week starts in less than 27 hours.  It feels like only a few weeks ago that I was working on my ministry plan for 2015 and now it's almost time to turn the page on the year.

For the past few weeks I've been packing the leftovers from our packing party into shoeboxes at home.  There were two days when I had some help, but mostly I've been working on my own and enjoying filling each box the way I used to before my packing party habit got rolling.

I still have five tool box gifts to finish, but other than those I have filled every box I could find.  Every. Single. One.  And most of the space in my three daughters' old bedrooms is filled with stacks of boxes--each of them prayed over.

The stacks in those bedrooms now number a total of 1,006 boxes.   And...besides the leftover items already nestled in the storage container there are several more stacks of cartons ready to take to store there tomorrow.  If I had boxes and time I could probably do at least a few hundred more.  It's crazy how much God blessed us this year.

Soon my long-suffering husband will help me load these into our minivan (again and again) until they are all safely transported to the collection center.  But we know their journey is only starting.

So many other hands will speed them on their way.  So many other prayers will follow them.  So many precious servants will receive them and distribute them and, hopefully, disciple their recipients.

We may be down to the wire here on this side of the box but those on the other side are gearing up for the most meaningful work of all--the harvest.

"...so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together." --John 4:36b

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is It Half Empty or Half Full?

I admit it.  I am generally a "glass half empty" or, in this case, "box half empty" kind of person.  I'm a people pleaser who also wants to get everything right.  Not that I do--it's just what I want.

Since Operation Christmas Child--both leading a team and packing lots of boxes--comprises a big part of my life, that philosophy spills over into the ministry also.

This week I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Charlotte, NC, attending some training sessions with chaplains who will serve at OCC Processing Centers around the country.  I will be working as the chaplain on first shift at the BWI PC in the Baltimore area.  I prayed extensively about whether to apply for the job and now, months later, I still don't feel a positive sense of calling.  Maybe part of that's because I'm not absolutely sure of much of anything.  What I do know, however, is that I am now hired and because I know Colossians 3:23 tells me, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men," I'm sure God wants me to prayerfully do the best job I can.

The training was held in the Charlotte Processing Center, and the smell of cardboard and joy was already in the air there.  During a break I wandered around the warehouse and found tall stacks of cartons.  A number of those stacks had labels on them that identified them as coming from our packing party.   Then I found cartons at the beginning of processing lines that were left open in the process of being inspected.  They contained our boxes!

I was excited and had to open three of them--two girl boxes and one boy box--to make sure they were ours and snap a few pictures.  

Sadly, though, each of these three boxes was, in my eyes, half empty.  Or maybe they were half full.  But, either way, half is not what I wanted to see.  

Realistically I know not all of our boxes were half empty.  We had a lot of good-sized stuffed animals that filled the boxes nicely.  But we didn't have enough large ones for every box.  I tried to pair the visors we put in many girls' boxes with larger stuffed animals.  Sadly, the supply dwindled near the end. 

The box I opened that was for a 5-9 year old boy also had a lot of space left in it.  It contained one of the large yellow water bottles we combined with a belt when we ran out of stuffed animals.

I've been thinking a lot about this since I saw those boxes.  First of all, why did God allow me to see our boxes at all?  And why did God allow me to see half empty ones?  Why did God allow me to see a boy in Colombia last May who was disappointed in the meager contents of his box?  

I'm wondering if God is sending me another message about the importance of quality in each box.  I feel our quality improved this year over other years, but we still need to improve.  We need to work to be sure we inspect every box more carefully.  We had leftover filler items this year.  We could have filled boxes better.  We should have.

God, I hope the rest of these stacks of cartons contain boxes that will better bless children in Your name.  Forgive our mistakes and help us learn to do better.  We continue to pray that every child who receives one of these boxes will be blessed by what they receive.  Show us Your will as we shop and plan for the future, also.

Because, Lord, we want the heart of each child to be not half empty nor half full but totally filled with joy, with love, and with Your precious truth.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Of Shoes and Sound

On Wednesday morning I kind of had a George Muller moment.  I was sitting in my chair praying for several thousand more boys' clothing items for my friend Shannon's Operation Christmas Child packing party when the phone rang.

The caller was offering me a donation of what ended up being over 1,500 pairs of sturdy water shoes for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.

I hopped in the car and drove down to load up this wonderful gift, at first thinking I would store them for our party next year.  Then I realized how crazy that was.  Here I was praying for items for my friend and God had just answered my prayer!  I also thought of another upcoming packing party in my area that is in need of items as well.

As I worked to pack my van with those boxes of precious shoes (and, of course, had to call my husband so we could fill his truck, too) I prayed about how we could get them to Altoona (three hours away) within the next day or so.

God answered again and Shannon found a friend who owns a trucking business who could pick up the shoes in Mercer--only an hour's drive from me.  We made arrangements to meet there on Thursday.

There were some shoes left that didn't fit in our vehicles on Wednesday, so I left my house early Thursday morning and drove to retrieve them.  As I loaded them into my car, I noticed my rear tire was nearly flat.  I figured it was a result of the weight of all those shoes.  Of course, the air pump didn't work at the gas station a block away so I rolled over to a nearby tire store where a sweet guy loaded it with air.

 I drove on to our storage container where we'd put the shoes the night before and loaded my car.  That's where it started to get tricky.  I'd told Shannon I was bringing her 1,000 pairs of shoes, and I was determined to keep my word.  Getting enough shoes into my minivan meant packing it really full and also putting some shoes into bags to stuff them into areas where the cartons wouldn't fit.

I also noticed my tire was getting a little low again.   I wondered if driving this load was plain foolishness, but I put a plea for prayer on social media and took off.  As soon as I got in the car I realized I could only see out of the windshield and the side mirror on the driver's side.  I tried adjusting the boxes in the passenger seat but still could only get a view of the side mirror if I leaned forward in a certain position.

I prayed and drove.  I set the cruise for 65 mph, stayed in the right hand lane, and prayed.  By God's grace I made it--even though my tire was down again when I got there.

Now the fun began again.  I found Harold, the driver who was going to take the shoes on the next leg of their journey, and discovered his short bed truck has less room than my minivan.  So we began the Jenga-like process of fitting those cartons into an even smaller vehicle.

And, there are boxes in the back seat and the front seat.  It was a blessing that the last of the shoes were in bags because that's the only way they made it into the truck.  Next came the laborious process of trying to secure tie-downs on the load.

When we finally finished, Harold and I prayed together over the truck and then gave each other a long, sweaty hug.  Then I was off again to find an air machine.

I enjoyed the record-warm weather and the beautiful drive home, despite the fact that my tire was flat again when I pulled into my driveway.  Thank You, God, for Your protection.

Next I threw my Operation Christmas Child tablecloth into the washer and started to gather and pack up everything I needed for an OCC display at a Passion Tour concert that evening.

This was another neat blessing from the Lord.  When I first heard about this concert with Kristian Stanphill and the Passion Band I thought how great it would be to have an OCC table there.  My next thought was that it would never happen.  I have to admit, I never even prayed about it.

To my surprise, a few weeks later I received an e-mail from IHQ.  By the way, I just learned that means International Headquarters--we have an AFE (acronym for everything.)  Anyway...the e-mail said that OCC was given the opportunity to have a table and give out GO boxes at the concert.  That was crazy amazing.  Sometimes God's blessings just blow me away.

So last evening my husband, my faithful sidekick Pam, and I arrived early and set up our display.  We made some great contacts before the concert even started.  When it was time for the show to begin, we edged inside and stood at the back.  Thankfully.

When the music (sound) and lights started we were almost literally blown away.  We lasted for just a couple of minutes before retreating again to the lobby, away from the thumping bass and the shocks of light.  My husband said he could feel his heart rhythm changing.

It was even loud in the lobby, but, hey, we'll do anything to hand out some GO boxes.  The high decibels seemed to work to our advantage as more and more people retreated to the lobby so that we had a pretty steady stream of people at our table to hear about OCC.

At the end of the concert the promoters even helped us by going into the crowd to distribute GO boxes to anyone we'd missed earlier.  I'm praying each one will be filled...

just as this day was full--of challenges and of blessings.