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. 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.

" 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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

God's Glory in Weakness

This morning's reading in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 was a balm to my soul.  Each of the past few mornings I've awakened to an immediate sense of failure.  I can't really cite a reason for this, and I've been quoting Romans 8:1 to myself over and over throughout these days.

Today, I was blessed to read I Corinthians 1:7,8 "so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Blameless in Him.  Okay, that's what I want to hang onto.

The rest of the chapter goes on to talk about how God's wisdom is foolishness to the world and also that His weakness is stronger than men.

I've been thinking a lot about weakness these days, too.  A friend and I have been studying again a book we read a few decades ago, "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby.  It's one I highly recommend.  In the chapter we studied yesterday Blackaby reminds us that when the world sees God doing in us what clearly only God can do, they see Him and are attracted to Him.

That made me think about our community-wide packing party and also our Operation Christmas Child area team.  This packing party is clearly something only God can do, but I don't think our community recognizes that.

Because the party is held at a large church, I think most believe that 1,000+ people come together to bring in the items and put the boxes together.  In reality, however, God uses a small team of weak people to make it happen.

We had a visitor at our Operation Christmas Child area team meeting last week, and she was amazed to see our small group.  She said, "I thought you'd have 200 people at a meeting.  I can't believe you do so much with so few people.  We really do have a great God."  Oh, yes, we do!

Our team technically has 29 members but many of them are relay center coordinators in outlying areas who don't often attend our meetings and generally don't participate much outside of National Collection Week.  Our monthly meetings usually have about 10 in attendance.

Additionally, there are five or six who deal with severe chronic illnesses or mobility problems and one whose child has special needs.  We are not healthy, wealthy, or wise in the world's eyes, for sure. But God...

God, in His mercy, has chosen us and called us to be a team.  God equips us.  We pray in our weakness and God answers in His strength.  By His grace He provides all we need year after year.

I don't think the community sees this.  I don't think most understand how great God's power is in our weakness.  But we see.  We know.

God, help me tell of Your goodness every chance I get so others will know, too.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Packing Party Perfection

As the song says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year"--Operation Christmas Child packing party time, that is!  You know, there's almost nothing I would rather do than be at a shoebox packing party.  Some people pay a lot of money to watch a football game or attend a Broadway play, but I'm sure I'd be willing to pay just as much to go to a packing party.

And tonight's was something special.  I first met Pastor Daryl from Flagship Free Will Baptist Church two summers ago at their church rummage sale and since then I've been praying for them to begin participating in Operation Christmas Child.

This year, through the wonders of Facebook, I made contact with the pastor who invited me to speak at their church.  Yeah, it probably would have been easier if I'd called him instead, but considering my aversion to phone calling I have to depend on prayer and a dose of social media.

I had such a great time speaking there and that's where I met Amanda who I learned had been at most of our previous community-wide packing parties with her Girl Scout troop or her family.  You can read my blog post about that day by clicking here.

That day God gave Amanda a vision for a packing party at her church and today, through hard work, prayer, a supportive church family, and God's grace, that vision came to life.

We started the evening upstairs in the church worship area with an OCC video and the pastor's crucial reminder to everyone to pray as they packed.  Then Amanda shared from her heart and gave some brief instructions.

She'd prepared for all the details:  All 200 boxes were folded, signage in place, and items sorted and stacked on tables as the 34 in attendance lined up to begin.   And then it just took off.  The lines moved like a well-oiled machine (well, a machine that prays) and she had volunteers stationed at the end to inspect the boxes and mark the age groups.

The pile of boxes was depleting quickly and I noticed the stuffed animals were, too.  So I offered to make the short one-mile drive to my house to bring some from my stash.  By the time I returned they were down to just two boxes.

I headed to retrieve another carton of GO boxes from my car and we started folding them.  Less than 15 minutes later Amanda was supervising as the last box was packed.

And the final total?  251 amazing gospel opportunities packed by 34 people in just 45 minutes.  How great to see them all pose for a picture by those stacks of precious boxes.

This was the body of Christ at work--young and old and even one special little guy who is battling brain cancer--all praying and giving and working together to send God's love to children around the world.

Tonight, Amanda shared this as a Facebook comment, "I'm speechless, blessed, and overwhelmed. I have a great church family. They didn't question my crazy idea of a packing party. The Operation Christmas Child project is so near and dear to my heart. In the beginning (7 years ago) it was just something fun and great to do with my Girl Scout Troop. This year I started going to church and learning more and more about God and his grace. This year as Kathy Schriefer visited our church, the first thing that came to my mind was a packing party. Second was what the real meaning behind the boxes. The boxes were giving kids hope with teaching the gospel of Jesus. This year I had an opportunity to host a packing party. The results are amazing. I'm so blessed. 
"I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35
Really, what could be more perfect?