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.