Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Roping It In

As you can see from this picture, I'm not at the end of my rope.  A generous donor (who shall remain anonymous to keep you all from stalking) donated thousands of jump rope handles so we can make jump ropes for our 2015 Operation Christmas Child packing party boxes.

I still need to order a larger supply of rope, but for right now I've been getting 600 ft. spools at the local Harbor Freight store.  Then I cut 7.5 foot lengths, thread each end into a handle, and tie a knot.  I know these will not only bring lots of fun for the children who receive them but will also undoubtedly be very useful for other purposes as well.

So today I watched a simulcast with six speakers talking about discipleship while I put together 78 jump ropes.

Now if I do this every day from now until the packing party I will only be a few thousand jump ropes short of what we need.

Or...I could get some help from some other folks and get them done even sooner.  I'm hoping that's what will happen.  I already have a family from another church who've volunteered to do this as a family service project and have been working hard on them.

Meanwhile, we had our first Operation Christmas Child area team meeting last week and prayerfully set our goal for our area for 2015.

We decided to set our goal based only on the boxes for Erie, Crawford, and Warren counties--the three counties that comprise the geographic area for our team.  Because of that our goal will be lower than the goal we prayed for last year.

There was a good spirit of unity at the meeting as the eight team members there moved to trust God for 45,000 boxes in 2015 (our area collected 41,210 in 2014.)

We don't know how God will bring in those additional 3,790 boxes but we are praying for them and asking God to rope them in.

ps--I have a prayer request that seems kind of ridiculous but is important to me.  I'll be leaving at 7:00 am on Friday morning to drive to Maryland (about a 7 hour drive) for a retreat with our OCC area coordinators from my region.  I'm not a very brave driver and the weather here in our area of Pennsylvania is unpredictable.  Would you pray for safe travels for all of us as we travel to this retreat and, even more important, that God will have His way in all of us there? Thanks, everyone.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#tbt -- Each Box Filled with Faith

(For this "throw back Thursday"--another blog post from the past.  This was published on the Samaritan's Purse blog on October 21, 2008)

Each Box Filled with Faith

Tonight God allowed me to reach the goal I've prayed for--packing this year's 6,000th shoe box.  And as I stretched to place it on top of the towering stacks of colorful boxes, I reflected on the journey of trust it represents.

In the mid-1990s I participated in several studies designed to help Christians learn to trust God to do something big.  I found the courses frustrating because I couldn't imagine God using me.  At the same time, I got involved in packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  After packing three boxes in 1995 and five in 1996, I decided to purchase items throughout the year with the goal of 40 in 1997;  I ended up with 80 instead.

The project grew slowly, but as I learned to trust God more each year, it continually proved the truth of Ephesians 3:20, that God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine."

At first, watching God meet specific needs left me awestruck.  Once I was at church packing boxes for little boys and ran out of socks to put in them.  When I got home and opened my mailbox, I found a large envelope full of boys' socks and underwear.  It was sent by a woman halfway across the country who found a bin of kids' underwear (priced at 10 cents each) in the middle of the automotive department while looking for a can of Fix-a-Flat.  We'd exchanged only two casual e-mails after an eBay purchase, but she remembered that I needed items for shoe boxes.  I know our Father delights in orchestrating such amazing things.

Those God-sightings soon became so frequent that my faith stretched as I stopped worrying and expected Him to provide.  Last year, for example, I noticed our supply of wrapping paper was low, but a week later we received the donation of a roll so large it had to be moved by a forklift.  Depending on God for each year's shoe box goal also helps me trust Him more in other areas of my life.  Best of all, I'm learning how good He is.

Now I'm hoping for even more of these shoe boxes, which bring the gospel message to children all over the world.  I'm asking God to use the boxes to bring children and adults to faith in Him.  And I'm asking Him for another 8 million boxes or more worldwide.   How about packing a few boxes yourself?  Every box will stretch your faith in new ways.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Great Camo Debate

I was blessed to find fifty 3-packs of these cute boys' briefs for our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes and each 3-pack cost only 50 cents.  It was a wonderful deal for Hanes quality underwear.

As I unpackaged them and folded each pair I mused about the Great Camo Debate that seems to occupy our OCC discussions from time to time.

By the way, these briefs are not camo.  They have an all-over design of printed lizards.  Still, they do look like camo...which led to my musings.

We were told this year at the processing center that camo is inappropriate only on clothing items that can make a child look like a soldier--hats, shorts, shirts.  I'm assuming, then, that underwear is acceptable as are flip-flops and items such as notebooks, pencils, etc.

Of course, that didn't stop some folks from removing those items with camo from the boxes.

And as I folded these briefs I wondered to myself how many of them will be removed from boxes when they are inspected.   I smiled as I pictured them being sent to the "inappropriate items" area, then returned to be used as filler items, only to be sent back again to "inappropriates".  Something else to pray about.  And I trust that God will get each of these to the boy He wants to have them.

After all, our sovereign God has a plan for each of these precious boxes, and there's no hiding from that.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

#tbt It's Happening Again

Before I started this blog I had the privilege of submitting a few guest blogs for the Samaritan's Purse blog.  So for the next few traditional Throwback Thursdays I thought I'd share a trip down memory lane with you by resurrecting those old pieces.

They were written during a time when I was attending a smaller church and the boxes were more of a church project.  Our goal in 2008 was 6,000 boxes and our packing was done with smaller groups getting together to pack the boxes all year long.  In October we would have a kind of weekend packing blitz on Saturday and Sunday but, believe me, it was nothing like the large community-wide ones we do now.  This piece was published on the SP blog on October 16, 2008.

It's Happening Again

I have spent months gathering thousands of items and shoe boxes to pack them in, so by October every available storage space is stuffed.  But I just can't wait to see it happen again.  Every year, God miraculously fills all those empty shoe boxes to bless children around the world.

Even though I pack shoe boxes year round, the fall season still brings a last-minute shoe box crunch.  This past weekend, volunteers from our church came together for two four-hour work sessions, and I'm still riding on that post-packing-party high.

Joining hands to pray for God's direction before packing the boxes and watching them stack up hour-by-hour releases a very satisfying adrenaline rush.  The best part is seeing God provide for those boxes in unexpected ways.

This year it happened in a way I can't quite explain.  I always keep careful records of everything I purchase, and I know I bought 5,983 bars of soap and put one in every box.  So after packing 5,858 boxes, there is no logical reason why we would have almost 400 bars of soap left over.  And I also have to ask myself:  why is it that our clothing supplies have not run out even though we've packed more boxes than the number of items we bought?  Just like the biblical story of the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17) I believe the Lord has multiplied what we've offered to His service.

There are also other ways the Lord provided this year.  For example, when we finished packing 653 boxes on Saturday, we'd used every toy car.  Several weeks earlier I'd purchased brand new Hot Wheels cars at a yard sale for a very low price.  When I returned home I had a message from the woman who had sold the cars to me.  Now, just when I needed them, she had more for sale.

In my heart, I can't help but breathe a prayer of wonder:  "God, You did it again!"  And with that wonder comes a longing to see Him do even greater things.  We still have five more weeks until National Collection Week, and I know this year we'll exceed the 6,000 boxes I've been asking God to provide.

I'm already thinking about next year's goal, and I know that the Lord doesn't mind that I'm begging, "God, make it happen again!"

Monday, January 12, 2015

Always Answered

To borrow words from an old Christmas carol, I feel like I'm "in the bleak mid-winter."  I retired from my job as a school nurse last June, but the summer and fall were so busy that I didn't miss my job.

January has brought a slower pace--a little too slow.  There are always closets and drawers to clean but those tasks don't seem appealing or meaningful.

The one thing I do cherish about these slower days is the extra time to pray.  Just being able to linger is such joy.

On Sunday I was blessed to get the news that God said "yes" to something I've been praying for for many months.  I was overjoyed.

But as I sat in the church service thinking about my answered prayer I realized that every prayer is answered.  As believers we have the promise that God hears and answers each of our prayers.

They are not always answered the way we want them to be, of course.  His answer may be "no" or "wait" day after day, but those are answers nonetheless.  Our merciful God is loving enough to give us what is best for us despite our begging.

I read a devotional by John Piper recently that highlights how much we miss when we neglect the gift of prayer, "God can do more in five seconds than we can do in five hours or months or years.  This is one reason the habit of prayer is wise.  Sometimes we do not get the five-second breakthrough because we do not ask."

Sometimes, of course, we don't get the five-second breakthrough for a variety of other reasons, but how sad to think we could miss God's display of power in a situation for failure to ask.

As I spent hours in recent days sorting through more than a decade of Operation Christmas Child memories I was reminded of so many of God's answers to prayers over those years--some were "no" and some were "wait" but there were an overwhelming number of mind-blowing, more-than-I-could-ask-or-think "YES" answers.

We prayed hard throughout 2014 for 55,700 boxes and God blessed us with 43,554.  His answer to our prayer.

Now we are praying for His goal for 2015.  I'm not sure what that goal should be but I know He is.

So we pray and we wait and we trust, for His answers always come.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Memories and a Prayer

As I'm starting to write this post I'm also listening to Charles Stanley on the TV and he just said, "Everything you need God will provide."  Such a simple but profound truth.

I have not left my house for the past three days.  The wind chill has been subzero so I've hunkered down and spent some time (well, lots of time) sorting and organizing years of Operation Christmas Child files and folders and binders.

I've always been easily distractible when I clean and organization is difficult for me because it involves making decisions about each item which I hate.  These days have been no exception as I've spent time reading agendas from team meetings in the past, notes from conference sessions I've attended, and old training manuals.

I just had to save my first training manual from 2003.  Sometimes it's too hard to let go.

Okay, Charles just said, "We should be thinking God's thoughts."  Another truth.   And I've spent a lot of time over these past days remembering how God's thoughts have been over this Operation Christmas Child project since its very beginning.

I also remembered some of MY thoughts along this journey--times of feeling overwhelmed with discouragement along with times of feeling overwhelmed by God's goodness.

My thoughts have vacillated over these months and years but God's never have.

His heart for the children around the world stays firmly loving and He has given us the privilege to share His love in these simple gifts.  This is His project, and, as Charles said, God will provide.

I found this prayer I wrote a few years ago for my team as we started a new year and I thought I'd share it here because it was a good memory--

God, as we look at what you did last year for OCC we realize what a God-thing it was.  Do we have the audacity to ask for more this year?  But we are greedy, Father, for more--more of You and more shoe boxes for Your glory.  We feel as though we have fewer resources than last year but Your resources are unlimited.  God, what is Your goal for this year?  You said, "Ask and you shall receive."  And, so, we ask, God.  We come to You importunately and we beg for more.  Let us see Your glory again.  Let us see You do what only You can do.  We don't want to be afraid of not having enough--money, help, space, stuff.  We want to be courageous and run to the goal--toward Your goal.  Do it again, God. More.  Bigger.  Pressed down, shaken together and running over.  Show us Your glory--in us and through us.  We decry discouragement.  We fall on Your strength to haul boxes and wrap and shop and pack and carry and stack and make calls and speak for You.  God, we are nothing unless You are our vision and our strong tower and our goal.
      You, God.  Only You.  Ever and always.  Amen.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Let's Make A Deal

Our wind chill temperatures here in Erie, PA today are subzero so it was a good day to stay inside.  I'm glad the after-Christmas sales are pretty much over.

I did spend a good deal of time over the past two weeks running around to stores trying to find some good deals for our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.

Sadly, there just didn't seem to be much available in our stores this year.  I found the bowls pictured above and these cups in packs of four for .49.  Not really a great deal as I've been used to paying .24 for a 4-pack before.  But it was the best I could find.

I was able to get 1,064 cups and bowls whereas year before last I got close to 4,000 for half the price of the ones I bought this year.

I found some boys' underwear for .15 to .20 a pair and got about 150 pairs and before Christmas I got about 120 Hello Kitty items at Michaels.  I also found a few dozen cups at Hobby Lobby but nothing really cheap and not many items at all.

I know God will provide for our packing party this year, because He always does, and I'm comforted by the baseball caps and water bottles we bought at the end of 2014 for a head start on this year.

I've been trying to do some cleaning and have been sorting through lots of old OCC files and notes.  God grew our packing party and also our area team shoe box totals remarkably from 2007 to 2013.  But 2014 seemed like a plateau for the packing party and we actually took a pretty good step back in the area team shoe box total.

Where do we go from here?  It's a lot of work just to maintain these huge numbers God has brought us to, but I don't want to just maintain.  I want to see God do new things in our area.

I'm doing a lot of praying right now that God will give our team a new united vision for 2015 and clear goals.  If you're reading right now will you just say a quick prayer for that.  I believe God uses all of our prayers to move His work in the world and when we agree together, there's great power.

So...let's make a deal and keep praying for each other.