Monday, July 27, 2015

T Minus 52 Days

In just 52 more days it will be Packing Party Eve and that's got me feeling a tad overwhelmed from time to time.  The capable volunteer who recruited and organized the volunteers to staff the packing party is unavailable this year.  So....where do we go from here?

I actually took a course when I was working on my master's degree that taught me how to plan events like this.  Unfortunately,  I've never applied that knowledge when it comes to the packing party.

Every year we end up doing things differently.  The one thing I know, the one thing that brings me comfort, is that God has ALWAYS come through for us.

I was especially comforted when I looked back at my journal from 2010.  Wow--if there was ever a year for panic, that would have been it.  With only a week before the packing party I still lacked 3000 boxes of crayons and had no paper to put in the boxes (thank goodness we had a supply of coloring books.)  We didn't have any designated or trained volunteers.  We had to make a trip a few days before the party to pick up more boxes and I also found out just a few days before the event that a film crew from Samaritan's Purse was coming.  I had no idea how those boxes would get packed.

When I read those journal entries and remembered God's goodness I was encouraged.

And, just when I needed encouragement, the 'community' of this community-wide packing party started getting bigger.

Last Wednesday two large boxes arrived at our church.  When I hauled them home I found them filled with beautiful stuffed animals, over 300 filler jewelry items, and 122 new baseball hats--all from an OCC friend in Indiana.

Several times in the past week I've been given donations of cash from people who just want to be part of sending these boxes to children around the world.

Then a few days ago I was contacted by a blog reader from Canada who was going to be traveling through Erie today with her family on their way to vacation.  She asked if we could meet so she could bring some stuffed animals for our packing party.  So, today I got to meet Cathy and her family for lunch.  The picture at the top of this blog shows some of the 133 brand new stuffed animals she brought--along with a tote full of flip-flops and some great filler items also.  It's crazy to think we're going international.  

When I got home from lunch there was a package at my front door.  What a nice surprise from another blog reader from California--eight of the cutest Webkins she found at a yard sale.  How sweet of her to invest in packing them and paying to mail them to me just so the children who receive our boxes could be blessed.  Thanks, C.!

(This area would contain a picture of the Webkins, but I just spent 10 minutes trying to download it and even though it's been imported I can't find it--I have such a love/hate relationship with computers.)

So...the only things standing between us and 25,000 Operation Christmas Child boxes being packed on September 19th is 17,800 stuffed animals, 16,152 more soaps to be bagged, 3,000 more boxes of crayons to be bought and 25,000 bags filled with them, 15,000 more jump ropes to be assembled, and at least 500 or 600 volunteers to pull off the actual packing party with 75 or so of them to take point positions for the day.  That's all.

But, hey, if God could take us beyond our goal in the chaos of 2010, then I know He can do it again in 2015.  And He will...

in just 52 days...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Crayons and Double Bounce Backs

Yes--there's been another long pause in my blog posts.  I took a week to unplug right after the July 4th holiday (I'll have to write about that another time) and last week was busy with out-of-town guests and volunteering at a day camp with our local Erie City Mission.

But now I'm back on the trail hunting stuffed animals and crayons.

I was on stuffed animal safari yesterday and at one sale I overheard a mother talking to her little blonde-haired boy as he sat on a tiny two-wheeler bike with training wheels.  She was explaining to him that she didn't have $15.00 and couldn't buy the bike, even though it was just what they'd been looking for.  She looked tired and care-worn.

I just don't get enough chances to "pay it forward" and, because of God's abundant blessing in my life, I wouldn't miss $15.00.  So, I asked her if it would be okay if I paid for the bike.  Her eyes filled as she told me how life had been hard and that they'd been looking for a bike for her son for a while.  She made the little guy thank me--awkward for both of us--and then I was on my way.

Fast forward to this afternoon where I stood in Walmart stacking boxes of crayons in my cart in easy-to-count rows of twenty.  For years I've been a crayon snob who would only put Crayola crayons in my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, but I've been unable to find any good price-matching deals on Crayola in the past two years.  So now I'm collecting CraZArt crayons for .25 a box at Walmart.  The thing is, they won't order them for me and don't always have them in stock at every store.  I'm stalking Walmarts these days.

I was elated to find 600 boxes today at one store (bringing my total to 2,300 out of the 8,334 boxes I need this year.  But even better was the many chances I had to share with people about Operation Christmas Child as they walked by my cart.

Best of all was my talk with a woman named Pat.  She saw my Operation Christmas Child T-shirt, looked at the crayon-stuffed cart, and said, "I bet you're doing what I'm doing."  She was buying Crayola crayons for her boxes and talked animatedly about how she started a few years ago with a few boxes and was up to packing 24 this year.  She sure loves the ministry!

I was able to share some stories with her, and I was blessed to hear she attends a church I tried to recruit for OCC a few years ago.  The church declined to participate because of other commitments, so I was super excited to hear that at least one of their members is packing boxes on her own.

Before we parted ways, she pulled out her wallet, said, "Will you let me help you buy your crayons?"  and handed me $25.00.

That old saying "You can't outgive God" is really true.  My meager attempt to pay it forward bounced back almost double.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Path To Freedom

Happy Fourth of July!  It's a day to celebrate freedom, and I'm across the country celebrating a family wedding.  You'd think I'd be posting a picture of an American flag to celebrate the day.  After all, what do a bunch of little plush bears have to do with freedom?

Well, actually, everything.

These little bears and thousands more like them will be filling Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to give thousands of children a "gospel opportunity."  And, really, freedom can't be found outside of the truth of Jesus.  

In John 8:31,32  we read "31So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Operation Christmas Child is about making disciples and letting children know the truth and setting them free.  So stuffed animals are a perfect picture to celebrate freedom. God's grace those little toys just keep COMING.  I'm missing yet another safari weekend, but in the past two days God blessed me through the generosity of several people.

On Wednesday I came home from my soap-hauling adventure to find a pile of shoeboxes and stuffed toys by my back door.

On Thursday morning a good friend showed up with this haul his wife collected from local yard sales...

And the picture at the top of this blog shows the surprise that arrived in Thursday's mail all the way from California!  A sweet teen who reads this blog sent these 36 bears and three gorgeous scarves to put into our packing party boxes.  Thanks, C., for making my day and helping to bring real freedom to children around the world.

Enjoy this day with your family and friends and rightfully celebrate the freedom we still have in this country.

And thank God for the Truth that sets us free.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bubbling Blessings

I've been waiting for my five pallets of soap (26,880 bars) to arrive, and I thought yesterday would be the day.  I prayed for a clear day, and even though it started out gray and dreary, the sun shone through.  Alas, though, no delivery came.

Yesterday afternoon the trucking company called and scheduled the delivery for "late morning or early afternoon."  I had a volunteer commitment to sort shoes at our Erie City Mission this morning and was concerned about not being available for the delivery.

And, once again, I woke to a wet and dreary day.  I prayed for good weather and good timing for the delivery, but I couldn't shake the possibility of a downpour so I packed up rain ponchos.  Was that a lack of faith?

The shoe sorting went great and yielded a crop of 50 shoeboxes for me to load into my car.  I drove home and just made it into the house when the truck driver called to tell me he was twenty minutes away.  Perfect timing.  Thank You, Lord.  I jumped back into the car and headed out again.  As I drove I called Pam and Terri, two other team members, to head over to help unload the soap.

When I arrived at the church the truck was just pulling in.  I made another quick call to Rose, another team member, to see if she wanted the empty shoeboxes I'd snagged that morning, and she agreed to come pick them up.

The truck driver jumped out of his truck, looked me in the eye, and said, "Do you have help?  This load is 5000 pounds."  I assured him I had reinforcements on the way and told him we'd done this before.  He looked skeptical as he manned the lift gate and dropped the first pallet.

It wasn't a good start (see picture above) as boxes tumbled off the first damaged pallet.  But I started hauling while the driver dropped the second pallet, and soon Terri arrived to lend her muscle.  The driver took pity on us and began to haul some boxes, too.  Rose showed up, and I ran to get the shoeboxes into her car, then ran back to haul soap again.

Somewhere between the second and third pallet, Pam drove in to join the brigade.  The rows in the storage container rose in straight lines.  First we stacked the cartons ten high, but as we realized we were running out of space we went even higher.  Please, Lord--don't let them fall.

The driver had all the pallets dropped and said, reluctantly, "I'm really sorry, but I have to leave."  I thanked him, told him what a blessing he was, and promised we'd pray for safe travels for him.  I signed the delivery paper work, and as he looked at my signature, he said, "Jim Schriefer?"  And I replied, "That's my husband.  Do you know him?"  Well, it turns out the driver and my husband were childhood neighbors.  Small world, eh?   He drove off with a wave and a beep, and we went back to work.

Just then another car drove up.  It was 'Jack'  He'd called while I was at the mission and asked if he could meet me with three bags of new Beanie Babies to donate.  We first met two years ago when he brought me his wife's stuffed animal collection shortly after she died from cancer.  You can read my blog post about our meeting by clicking here.

Near the first anniversary of his wife's death I'd happened to find the memorial card he'd given me, and I sent him a card to tell him I was thinking of him and praying for him.  I was excited to see him again today and told him he'd been in my prayers from time to time.  "Well," he said, "they must be working, because..."  he pulled a paper from his pocket and his face was wreathed in smiles as he showed me a picture of his new fiancee.  I called Pam and Terri over so we could celebrate and hear his whole story together.  What a joy it was to see how our "God of all comfort" has worked in his life.  I told him God has good plans for his life, and I hope someday he'll really accept God's greatest gift.

Soon the last box of soap was stacked and the empty pallets tucked beside the container.  We're hoping a "pallet fairy" will come in the night and take them away.

This container is SO full of blessings.  Now we just have to get 25,000 of these bars put into individual bags.  Help!

We closed the doors and attached the padlock.  Then Terri offered to treat us at Starbuck's.  We sat over sandwiches and talked about how beautifully God orchestrated this day.  It was cooler than yesterday and stayed dry--great weather for lifting and hauling.  Terri was working yesterday, so it was great to have her available today.  Having an accommodating truck driver with delivery timed after my morning commitments was amazing and having us all there to hear 'Jack' tell his story was a bonus.

I'm getting used to these blessings.