Sunday, September 27, 2015

Never Caught Up But Packing On

Last Monday the four trucks from the Operation Christmas Child 2015 packing party were pulled and on their way.  I thought I'd get caught up this week.  That was an unrealistic thought.

I enjoyed Monday--basking in the joy of God's goodness in bringing us through last weekend.

Then on Tuesday that bubble burst as I got reports that some of my team members were offended, hurt, frustrated...from conflicting directions and changing decisions at the packing party.   I've thought about this a lot over the past six days and I realize we need to work on getting a better 'chain of command' so to speak.  We need to delineate who is in charge of which areas and know who will be the decision-maker and defer to that person.   I'm learning it's about more than just getting the job done.

And I'm learning I'll probably never catch up.

On Thursday I opened the messy storage container, looked around, and closed it up again.  Truth is, I don't know where to begin.

On Friday, to make matters worse, I got an e-mail from the vendor who sold me the nice baseball hats  we used in 10,000+ of our boxes this year.  He has another deal for me, and I can't pass it up.  So, of course I said, "Yes" (not to 'the dress' but to 'the hats')  and will need to find space in that container for 12,000+ more of those blessings.

The week brought some other sorrows in family life that are not blog material--at least not now--and as I think and pray about all the week's events I am reminded of Jesus' promise (not one of the more comforting ones, but still a promise) in John 16:33 "In this world you will have trouble."  Thankfully, He doesn't end there and continues, "But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

Today I was blessed to be the guest of Rose Dobson and pack boxes with her and her pastor and his family.  Rose is one of our team members--a remarkable woman who defies illness and continues to pack 2,000 boxes or so out of her own home.  Just being there made me smile.

That packing session at Rose's house got me inspired again.  I decided the best way to clean up my house and my storage container might be to start packing boxes with the items in my attic that were too large to pack in the boxes at the packing party and also to pack some of the larger hard-to-store leftover items from the storage container.

So...this evening I hauled down donated boxes that are a bit on the large side and filled them with sparkly boots and backpacks and big stuffed animals.

Since getting caught up is unrealistic I guess I'll just keep packing on.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

God Showed Up

I never doubted God would show up for this Operation Christmas Child packing party, but our God of immeasurably more did more than I could ask or imagine.

I know so many were praying for us and that gave me peace.  I honestly believe this 7th packing party may have been the best yet.

We started the morning by making the 7th lap of our Jericho march, praying as we walked around the church.  It was great to have Jeff Berger, Operation Christmas Child Regional Manager and also Dawn Ward and Arden Reed from Samaritan's Purse with us.  I sensed then that God was once again hearing and answering.

God gave me grace as I shared my simple testimony in the opening, and I'm praying He'll use that in someone's life.

We started the day with 5,681 boxes already packed and even though we started out a bit slowly we made a few adjustments that got the line moving more quickly.  We ended up adding two more lines to have a total of six lines of folks going through to fill the boxes.  That really got things moving and we hit a new record with 1,150 boxes packed in just fifteen minutes.  Crazy.

We'd prayed much about how to combine the items God had provided for us and He seemed to lead us step by step as we went through the day.

Before 4:00 we used up every box we'd been sent, even taping up the few that had been damaged along the way.  We also used two dozen we had left from last year.  There were so many items left, and I knew we could pack many more boxes.  We made a contact to see if we could use regular GO boxes to pack, but by the time we got permission to do that we'd already lost momentum.  I looked around at all the clean up to be done, talked with my team, and made the decision to stop packing.

And the grand total...25,625 boxes...that's almost three thousand more than we packed in 2014.
We packed up so many leftovers--1800 large plastic travel tumblers, cartons of baseball hats and visors, all the basic items except soap, and many fillers.  If we'd had boxes and energy we could have packed hundreds more.

Just as we began cleaning up, the rain began to fall in torrents.  We all got wet as we trundled hand truck loads into the storage container and tossed all those items in on top of the soggy-still-drying boxes of jump rope handles.

The container is a hot mess but, like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about that tomorrow...

Or maybe later.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to enjoy a good night's sleep while visions of a beautiful day dance in my head.

Packing Party Morning

It's here!  Packing Party Morning.  I've prayed for it and prepared for it for months and, now, it's here.  I am so proud of all who have worked so hard to get us to this day.  Like "The Little Engine That Could" our team has pulled together and it's happening.

Yesterday we hosted two groups of school students in the morning and packed just under 3,000 boxes.  Last night's youth packing party brought us to a total of 5,681 as we go into this day of major packing.

The ground is wet from the rain God sent in the night.  Even the earth around us has taken a bath to get ready for this day.

I, too, am ready.  I am excited at the possibilities I see in each of these items waiting to make its way into a box to bless a child.

For the first time, God has prompted me to share a brief gospel message at our opening this morning. So, most of all, I am excited at the possibility that someone on "this side of the box" might make the life-changing decision to confess his or her sins and received God's offer of eternal life.  It could happen.  How exciting is that!

Because, even though I focus on shoebox 'stuff' all year long, that's not what it's really about.  Beyond the ordering and the truck deliveries and the storage and the oodles of cardboard are the hearts of boys and girls and men and women who need Jesus. we go.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2015 Packing Party Eve Eve

After months of blog posts, our 2015 Operation Christmas Child packing party is almost here.  It's 1:16 am and I'm too excited to sleep's Packing Party Eve Eve.

Tomorrow morning we warm up when two groups of school students come to pack shoeboxes for a few hours in the morning.

It's been a pretty intense week of preparation.

We found out just a week ago that our long-prayed-for delivery of frisbees and jump rope handles (to make our ropes for next year) was coming earlier than expected.  The truck arrived last Saturday amid a bonafide deluge of rain.  A lack of storage forced us to pile them on pallets outside and cover them with a tarp.

In the picture above you can see that didn't work out so well.  When we brought the frisbees in yesterday, the boxes were soggy.  Today we realized the frisbees inside are also wet, so now they are scattered on tables around our shoebox packing party room so they can dry before being put into the boxes.  Oy vey.

On Sunday we were scheduled to unload our storage container.  Generally we start this right after the first service at church when there are plenty of volunteers around.  This year there was a scheduling conflict so we had to wait until 1:00 pm.  Still, God supplied us with 19 people to get the job done in 1.5 hours.

Monday brought the delivery of 13 pallets of supplies to get placed.

The trucking company didn't do a great job of loading the truck and placed pallets on top of pallets.  Quite the challenge.  The guys even had to remove the door closures and replace them later in order to get the pallets into the building.  Again...oy vey.

On Tuesday the box labeling began in earnest.  And in just 2.5 days all but 35 of the 256 cases have been successfully labeled and readied for packing.

Then there was flip-flop sorting and unpacking of baseball hats and visors (both were packed in boxes within boxes that needed to be removed.)  The newly-rented dumpster is already burgeoning with cardboard.

By the end of this Thursday evening, though, we look almost ready.  So much so that I am excited and waiting for good times to begin tomorrow.

I should probably go back to bed.  And sleep.  But...who can sleep when it's Packing Party Eve Eve?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Seeing Fruit

Yes, these Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are about sharing the love of Jesus with children around the world.  But they're also about changing the lives of people on "this side of the box."

This will be our seventh packing party, and for each of the past six packing parties, we've prayed for God to work in our own community.  Each year we've done a Jericho March--walking and praying around the building seven times.  We've prayed specifically for God to bring people from the community into this packing party so they would somehow come closer to Him.  We've never really seen visible results from those prayers.

This past Sunday, though, I was invited to speak at a fairly new church plant in our community--a church that hasn't yet participated in Operation Christmas Child.  That morning I asked God to raise up a project leader in that church who would be excited and want to lead the charge.

Before the service began a young woman came in with her husband and two children.  I watched as she spoke animatedly with the pastor and then he brought her over to introduce her to me.  She told me she and her children had come to each of our past six packing parties--starting when they were only four and five years old.  They all loved being there and packing boxes.  She'd already asked her pastor if she could lead the project in their church and was bubbling with ideas.

We sat together in the pew and after my presentation she leaned over to me with tears in her eyes, and said, "Now I really understand this."

I wasn't sure what she meant until we spoke after the service.  She explained that she'd only begun attending church a few months before.  Her faced glowed as she continued, "I just recently came to know Jesus and got baptized and just now when I watched the video I finally understood what Operation Christmas Child is all about."  

My heart soared because this--seeing God answer our prayers and bring fruit from simple shoeboxes  --really is what it's all about.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pallet Praises

Yes, this picture looks like it could show competing shoppers at some type of sidewalk sale.'s really a picture of servant-hearted volunteers who are working in nearly 90-degree weather to store six pallets of clothing for our Operation Christmas Child packing party...yes, you read that right...SIX pallets.

Yesterday the truck delivery company called to schedule a delivery sometime from 10am - 3pm today.  I always hate those long delivery windows since I live 6.5 miles from my church and have to depend on the truck driver to call me before delivery.

I also had plans for lunch with my siblings today, so I was praying for an early delivery.  Instead, I got the call at 2:30 pm, called my faithful sidekick Pam, and headed for the church.

The truck driver arrived promptly, got the lift gate in place, and started to unload the pallets--first one, then another.  And...then...more.

To my surprise they kept coming until the area in front of our storage container looked like this:

I never realized 2500 assorted fashion accessories (the description said, "may include ponchos, vests, etc.) would take up so much space.  Almost all of these items turned out to be pretty bulky--cable knitted sweater vests, cute beaded boleros, and even satin princess capes.

As you can see, most of these were in large pallet boxes that completely filled each pallet and couldn't be moved into the storage container.  Pam and I sighed.  Then we opened a smaller carton and found some cute hats that Pam couldn't wait to model.

Just as we started to open the pallet boxes and investigate all these goodies, Donna showed up.  She said she'd heard we were having a delivery and wondered if we needed help.  Help might be a "four letter word" in our Operation Christmas Child high-impact training, but we needed HELP.  Yes, we did!  And God knew just when to send Donna.

How would we store these items in the container?  Well...since it was late in the afternoon I called my husband and found he was just leaving his job.  I begged him to stop at home and get the plastic totes I'd taken home to save space in the container, and he agreed.

Fifteen minutes later it was apparent that we'd need more than the storage totes I had at home.  I called him again, caught him before he left our house,  and told him to bring garbage bags.

And then we started moving those 2500 blessings into boxes and totes and bags.  Two hours later, sunburned and exhausted and praising God for avoiding heatstroke, we finally closed the storage container.

I'm praising God for all these items delivered in plenty of time to be packed into boxes at our upcoming packing party to bless children.  I'm praising God for knowing what I needed when I did not and delaying the arrival of that truck so we could have the extra help we needed.  I'm praising God that it all fit into the storage container with about a square yard of space to spare.

And I'm praising God for those empty pallets.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Birthin' Babies

In the movie "Gone With The Wind" Prissy spouts off the famous line, "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, Miz Scarlett."  Well, unlike Prissy, I do know something about that.

In addition to giving birth to three daughters I spent 19 years teaching childbirth education classes.  It was the best job I ever had as I got to share in such joyous times with so many couples.

Birth is usually full of joy.  But labor--well, it's called labor for a reason.  It's hours of hard work and usually involves pain (though in our classes we always like to euphemistically call it 'discomfort'.)  When I was getting ready to leave for Colombia last May, my daughter, who is an obstetrician, said she's learned some Spanish to use with her patients.  "The words I use most," she said, "are the Spanish words for 'push' and 'harder'.

If they are honest, most mothers, at some point in their labor wonder what they were thinking and vow to never do this again.  But when that beautiful-to-you (no matter how wrinkled, screeching, contorted) baby is placed in your arms, you tend to forget a lot of the work that went into it.

That's how I feel each year as I anticipate another Operation Christmas Child packing party.  I get tired of the labor and the wondering and the details.  I find myself muttering under my breath, "This is the last year I'm ever doing this."

But, I know, at the end of the day on September 19th I will stare in awe again at all God has done.  My heart will soar for joy at being part of seeing Him once again do what I know only He could do.
And, for that joy, I will be hooked again for another year.

And while I wait for that day--the day when my 'babies' are all neatly tucked into their cartons on trucks that are ready to roll--I'm thinking of what they will mean for the children and families who will receive them.

The picture above is what a crowd of 25,000 looks like.  Just picture each of those as a child holding a 'gospel opportunity' in a simple shoebox to show him or her God's love.  It's a pretty amazing sight and worth the labor to get those boxes into their hands.

Because our faithful God, who knows everything 'bout birthin' babies, is going to be birthing many new lives into His kingdom because of our labor.