Tuesday, December 27, 2016

You Just Never Know

I've been praying for more than a few weeks about this delivery of eight pallets of shoebox items coming for our 2017 Operation Christmas Child packing party and finally...

Today was the day...

Considering it is December 27 in Erie, PA, God answered our prayers for great weather. It was windy and 34 degrees but the pavement was dry and there was no snow when those eight pallets got dropped this morning.  And God provided an amazing crew of a lucky 13 volunteers to unload those pallets.

But...you just never know.

I was worried those pallets would be open boxes containing the 28,416 pairs of shoelaces and 10,950 belts.  I was prepared to put them into cartons for storage in the container.

As it turns out, the shoelaces not only arrived in individual small boxes but were also packed in even smaller boxes of six inside those outer boxes.  I knew they'd have to be removed from that packaging before the packing party.  I wasn't planning to do that today.

But...you just never know.

While I was opening and inspecting the three pallets of cartons of belts (also surprisingly in individual cartons instead of one big box) I wasn't really paying attention to the volunteers who were toting all those individual boxes of shoelaces into the church gym so they could begin opening them and putting them into larger cartons.

It feels like the storage container is shrinking.  We got the cases of belts stored for future processing.  They are great quality and fun colors but I'm worried that if we take them out of their compact packaging before the packing party they'll take up too much storage room.

Still pondering this belt dilemma, I walked into the gym to find the scene above that made me gulp. This impromptu work day was unanticipated and the piles of hundreds of boxes seemed

But...you just never know.

Those busy volunteers kept working.  After a few hours they'd managed to box up about 10,000 of the 28,416 pairs of laces but it was apparent we couldn't finish this job today.  So we strategized about how to clean up and make plans to complete the job another time. Unopened boxes were toted back to the storage container and lined up against other items that also still need to be processed.  Thankfully, there's still a narrow walkway in the container.

Cardboard was broken down for recycling.  Pam filled her little blue car with cartons of different-sized cartons of purple shoelaces to take home to process.  We filled our van with cardboard and still more cartons of laces.

Those weeks of prayers were answered beyond what I ever anticipated.  Once again I look at the stacks in the storage container and realize there are nine more months until the packing party.  When I find the next big deal what will I do?  It's hard to imagine there's space for much more.

But...you just never know.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Last Minute Gifts

Now, how did I manage to let more than two weeks slip by without posting an update?  You know how busy it gets in this holiday season.

Since the last time I wrote we enjoyed a few days of volunteering at the Baltimore (BWI) Processing Center and even got the chance to inspect some boxes from right here in Northwestern PA.

It was hard to leave there at the end of our three days, but the leaving was soothed by a special gift we were able to pick up on our way home--a donation of over 3,000 new Beanie Babies.  They're not counted yet so I don't have an exact number.  It was wonderful how God worked out every detail of that pick-up.

Today I decided to give myself a last-minute gift.  I can procrastinate with the best of them, so over the years I've found a little trick to help me get motivated when I'm stalled.  I tell myself I'll do that task I've been dreading as a gift to myself.  I tell myself I'll clean the house so I can enjoy it.  I'll finish a project that's been hanging over my head and call it a gift to me.

So today I gave myself the gift of spending some time organizing in our storage container.  It was a bit warmer today (37 degrees) so I was able to make it for three hours.  My loving husband came to help me out for part of the time, and that made the work go much faster.

I feel so much better now that I've made some headway in counting and stashing at least some of the donations we got in early December.  Now I can separate packages of socks and count and store them as a real Christmas gift.

As a bonus, I'm more ready for next Tuesday's upcoming delivery of eight pallets of shoebox fillers.  We've been praying for this one for a few weeks now, and I'm eager to see how God will "part the waters" and bring all the volunteers we need and give us a good weather day to work outside.

Meanwhile, I think about the gift of the birth of our Savior.  It was no surprise to God that His Son was born in uncomfortable circumstances--surrounded by animals and stench.  Some of God's best gifts seem to come that way--out of not only discomfort but often real longing or pain.

So as we wait once more to celebrate that Holiest of nights let's praise Him for the hardships, the unmet expectations, the labor, and the muck of life that draws us to the best gift of all....

Him.  Only Him.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Last Gift

If you knew your life was ebbing away how would you spend your last weeks?  A couple of months ago Mary (not her real name) got some awful, deadly news.  She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She knew that outside of a miracle her life on earth wouldn't last much longer.

For years Mary has been a passionate Operation Christmas Child supporter and shoebox packer.  Each year she uses greeting card and calendar pictures to carefully decorate each of the 100 or so boxes she packs.  She plans them and prays over them.

This year her prayer was that she'd complete her boxes before she completed the race of her life.  Mary's daughter came to be with her in mid-November and tried to help her pack those boxes.  Her daughter grew tired, but Mary persisted.

Our shoebox drop-off logs record that Mary brought her 125 boxes to the relay center on November 16th.  Eight days later, on Thanksgiving Day, Mary went to be with Jesus.

She left behind a legacy of not only hundreds of children who have been touched by her shoeboxes but also a supply of collected items destined for future boxes.  Mary's wish was to donate these items so more boxes could be packed and more children blessed.

I had the privilege of being chosen to steward these items.  Mary's daughter predicted we would need a box truck to transport everything.  I had my doubts.  After all, if you're packing 100 or so boxes a year...well...how much space could the leftovers consume?

My husband and I made the hour drive in our minivan last Saturday.  Mary's daughter wasn't kidding.  She'd moved all the items to the garage so they'd all be together.  We were amazed at the stacks.

We filled our van and promised to return later with a larger vehicle.  On our way home we discussed Mary's legacy and decided this first load should go to a woman in our area about Mary's age who packs several thousand boxes in her home.  It seemed fitting.

So we dropped that first load off in Rose's garage.  Bags of socks and boxes of notebooks and toothbrushes and purses and toy cars and crayons.  Enough to get Rose started on her 2017 boxes.

Over the weekend we made arrangements to borrow a truck and recruited Bob and Myron to volunteer to go with us.  On Monday we made the trip again and hauled everything back to our storage container.

There's still a lot to sort through but I know God has good plans for each item.  Boxes that Mary has already carefully decorated are going to the processing center to be used at the Shoebox Hospital.  Some boxes of coloring books, jump ropes, and stuffed animals are headed to a last-minute packing party in Maryland.  And there will be plenty saved for our 2017 packing party, too.

As I sifted through a box of Mary's shoebox records for the past years--written on scrap envelopes--I saw her legacy carried out as she planned the contents of her boxes...

When she wrote those lists she had no idea how many shoebox packing seasons God would give her. When she bought all the items that filled those boxes she didn't know her time would be shortened.

But Mary was faithful.  She planned and purchased and prayed.  And though her earthly shoebox packing is completed her legacy continues...in the hearts of those who knew her and in the hearts of the children who never knew her but owe her so much.

The box pictured above was found in the middle of Mary's shoebox stash.  We're not sure when it was completed but even as she packed it God knew it would be her last.  I'm taking it to the Baltimore Processing Center tomorrow.  I know God has a special girl already picked out to receive it.

What a gift...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Not Over Yet?

National Collection Week is over...and I am done with the 2016 shoebox packing.  We ended up with 1,271 boxes packed in our home since the packing party in September and they're all safely on their way.

I did some totals this weekend and was, as always, amazed by God's goodness.  Because of generous donations from a few people this year I ended up spending $309.85 less than I spent in 2015 while packing, by God's grace, 1,131 more boxes.  God math is always so incredible.

All year long we've prayed toward our goal of 51,500 boxes here in Northwestern PA.  We didn't quite make it to the goal but we are rejoicing that God provided 50,306 boxes--3,010 more than last year.  I'm trying to give myself some time to just enjoy that but it's hard to stop wondering what God wants our goal to be for 2017.

I'm feeling sad about not being at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Baltimore to work this season.  On the other hand, it was good to be home through the end of National Collection Week--to be at some of the sites to visit volunteers and to rejoice and pray with those who were bringing their boxes.

I spent some time on Thanksgiving morning looking up churches that have Facebook pages and writing thank you messages to them for their boxes.  In the past two years while I was at the PC I didn't even have my drop-off logs to look at until I got home.

I feel I've been in some sort of shoebox-induced fog for the past few months.  I've managed to miss a lot of important messages.  I somehow missed an email with hotel information for volunteering at the PC and also never saw any information about signing up to volunteer as a Prayer Walker at the PC.  I don't even know what else I may have missed.

Today my collection center coordinator who lives 1.5 hours away drove to pick up 14 leftover shoeboxes from one of her relay centers and brought them to me.  We arranged to meet for lunch with our husbands and had a great time.  As they were getting ready to drive away I looked in my car, saw the 9 straggling shoeboxes I'd been given at church yesterday, and realized I never got the shoeboxes from her!  Fortunately we caught them in time.  A real 'senior moment' for all of us.  Yes--the leftover shoebox count is up to 23.

And that's after getting those final stragglers at the end of National Collection Week.  We had all the paper work completed by late Monday afternoon and the truck was ready to be pulled early Tuesday morning.  Then on Monday evening I got a call that one of the relay centers had accepted 115 boxes.  The poor relay center coordinator couldn't fit them in her car so my husband and I ended up making the hour drive to get them.  On the way, two deer suddenly appeared in the highway in front of us but God allowed Jim to drive right between them.  We had some thumps and fur on both sides of the car but, praise God, no damage.  We got those 115 boxes safely stowed at the collection center waiting for early morning light, then got another call at 8:30 pm from someone who had 83 boxes and missed the collection hours.  She brought her boxes in the morning and we got them on the truck with 10 minutes to spare.  Just think of all that fun we would have missed if we'd been at the processing center.

Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday gave me a chance to do some shoebox shopping and I came home with bags of towels--17 bath towels and 68 hand towels for 2017 shoeboxes.  The bath towels rolled up tightly will fit in a GO box with plenty of extra room.

I thought I'd try making the hand towels into little bears but I lack crafting talent...

Someone graciously offered to make the bears for me but I ended up deciding it might be better to just put them in the box as is so the child can actually use the towel.

Well, I just got a text message that another relay center coordinator has 11 leftover boxes waiting to go to the processing center.  We're still praying for our regional, national, and international goals...

And...it's not over yet...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

All Is Bright...

Can't. Stop. Packing.  I thought I was done with all my boxes a week ago...and then I got more donations on Monday and Tuesday of this week and started in on packing again.

Before long I ran out of boxes and began scouring the house for any I could find.  I pulled out 'old school' GO boxes that I'd used as sample boxes, one that held prayer requests, a few from 'surthrival' kits I received at area coordinators' retreats, and ones that had held rubber bands and crayons.  EVERY box I could find was filled.  I even hit up a few stores and got half a dozen more.

Once those were all filled I contacted the project leader for our church who'd ordered a large number of GO boxes.  She had extra and I was able to get another carton from her this evening.

So...tonight it was back to packing again.  I completed another 48 and I think I might be able to eke out another 6-9 nicely packed boxes yet tomorrow.  I feel such an urgency to get every box possible packed.

Meanwhile, the record high 75 degree temperature from yesterday dropped drastically today, accompanied by cold, driving rain that turned into snow.

My media coordinator, Pam, and I headed out to visit three more drop-off sites today and covering another 100 plus miles.  The sky was dark but the day was bright.

As I think about the goal we've prayed for all year--51,500 boxes--it seems pretty unreachable at this point.  I've looked at the drop-off logs at the sites as I've visited and seen the number of boxes packed drop at many of the churches.  We have a couple new churches packing but still not really high numbers.

But, it's not over yet.  And, as several people reminded me today, God will give us the number of boxes He wants us to have.

Still, I keep praying people will be moved to pack up the GO boxes that are sitting in their homes waiting to be filled.  One new participating church distributed 700 GO boxes and only 125 have been returned so far.  I'm praying those folks will not be able to rest until they fill those boxes and return them tomorrow.  We have a big God who can overcome the predicted snow accumulation and our seeming low numbers.

So, I'll do what I can do today...pray and pack...and ponder the truth that...all IS bright.

Friday, November 18, 2016

All Is Calm...

It's already Friday of National Collection Week. That's crazy. For the past two years I would already be at the Processing Center in Baltimore right now. This year we decided not to work there for the season and as I looked at pictures of the PC on Facebook yesterday I felt waves of sadness.

I wish I was there. But, on the other hand, I'm glad I'm here.

We've enjoyed visiting Operation Christmas Child drop-off sites this week and cramming in a last-minute flurry of shoebox packing.  Each time I visit one of our sites I want to do three things: pray with them; take a picture; talk about recruiting prayer partners.  Yet, at not one place have I remember to do all three of those.  As I talk with our amazing coordinators I get excited and forget those basic things, usually remembering only one or two at each spot.

It's been a bustling time with plenty to do this week.  Still, in a strange way, all is calm.  I've been sleeping great this week.  This week's a respite from my ongoing leadership angst.  This week the focus is on watching the harvest come in.

National Collection Week is a prime time for recruiting new prayer partners and team members...but I mostly have to trust that to others who are at the sites.  I'm just traveling around and soaking it all in-- the Jenga-like tangle of boxes being put into cartons, the excitement of little children who are bringing their carefully chosen gifts, the thrill of seeing cars packed to the roof with gospel opportunities.

Next week I'll start evaluating again. I'll be scouring the drop-off logs and wondering about churches who didn't participate this year.  Even as I make Christmas plans I'll have goals for our 2017 ministry plan running through my head.

Ahh, but not this week. This week, though I'm bustling on the outside, on the inside...all is calm.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Collection Week Eve

Woke up at 4:30 on this Saturday morning and my mind kicked into high gear.  Being on the verge of Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week is akin to Christmas Eve.  On the one hand there are still so many details to think about...

And...on the other hand...it feels like it's time to shift from cultivating to harvesting.

This afternoon a member of our team is hosting a packing party for adolescents who have special needs.  We're hoping to pack another 200 boxes or more so my car is loaded with stuffed animals, clothing, fillers and the last of our precious supply of GO boxes.  My dream is to get all those items actually packed into boxes so I don't have to bring anything back into my house.  We'll see.

Tomorrow I'm speaking at a church where they've already collected all their boxes.  And I have the whole sermon time.  And I don't know what I'm going to talk to them about.  Well...shoeboxes...but what about them?  More to think about.

So last night instead of praying or planning as I should have been I amused myself by writing a rhyme about Collection Week Eve.  I hope you can relate...

The Week Before National Collection Week

‘Tis the eve of collection and all through the land
Those OCC volunteers take their last stand.
The dollar store registers ring up those sales
Of toothbrushes, bars of soap, hammers and nails.
Determined that every GO box be filled
With items that make sure each child will be thrilled,
They shop and they pack and they pray as they go
For hearts to be open so God’s love they’ll know.
And then there are drop-off sites being prepared
To collect every box that so soon will be shared.
Those missional centers will be bathed in prayer
So donors feel welcomed and see Jesus there.
The Processing Centers are in final prep
With set-up and details in the last step.
All ready for volunteers waiting to come
To check all those boxes—each one, not just some.
And into the midst of this feverish hustle—
The scurrying, hurrying last-minute bustle--
Comes One who reminds us that He is our Peace
We pray and we work but He gives the increase,
And we hear His sure promise our plans to exceed,
“I’m more than enough. I’m all that you need.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Vote for Hump Day

The days have been zipping by so fast I haven't taken time to do any blogging for a while.  I've been packing boxes at home and now have 1,084 of them stashed in spare spaces.  

And I'm really glad we're over the hump of the election.  Maybe now we can all regroup and learn to be nice, civil people again.  I'm also happy I didn't stay up to wait out the results last night because I needed to be rested for hump day today.  

Our local Christian radio station, WCTL, celebrates hump day every Wednesday by having camel trivia with 'Fred' the camel.  Our OCC media coordinator, Pam, and I took our camels and headed to the studio this morning for an interview about our upcoming National Collection Week.  Pam even packed a shirt with a picture of a camel in the sample OCC shoebox we took with us.

It was great to talk about Operation Christmas Child with Lori and Dan and after we left and headed to breakfast they were still talking on the air about packing shoeboxes.

Next we were on the way to Rose's house to help her cartonize the 2000 plus shoeboxes she packed in her home over the past year.  She already had some of them finished and five of us were able to complete the job in three hours and get them ready for the next step on their journey.

We anticipated a call from a truck driver because they'd scheduled a delivery of 2,880 stuffed animals for next year's boxes sometime between 12-4 this afternoon, so we headed to a local pizza/sub shop for lunch.  We were waiting for our order when the call from the truck driver came so we grabbed the subs and headed to the church.

You never know what to expect when a truck pulls in.  This one was supposed to have five pallets for us.  Instead, there were only three VERY tall pallets with 120 cartons.  Though some of the boxes were dirty or crushed, they were thankfully light and easy to move--a blessing.

Only an hour and a half later they were all stored with hopes of multiplying in the container over the winter months.  It's a special joy when the boxes stack easily and neatly and reach to the top of the container.  I think we have enough WOW items for almost 25,000 boxes for 2017 already.

After resting a bit at home, Jim and I headed back to church for a wonderful class--the first in a series of five about grace, faith, and works.  A perfect ending to a blessed day.

This hump day has my vote for sure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dollars In General

There's always the basics of shoebox economics--how to prayerfully pack the best boxes possible while packing as many as possible all for the purpose of blessing as many children as possible.

This is what sends shoebox packers on year-round treasure hunts to find bargains.  I spoke this week at a local Kiwanis Club meeting.  When I was finished one of the members who had attended our packing party said, "I have a question.  How do you get the volume of items you need for all those boxes?"  I quickly replied with the truth, "Every one of them is an answer to prayer."

And they come in so many different ways--for our packing parties, our personal boxes, and for those of each shoebox packer around the world.

The past several weeks have been filled with those answers to prayer.  First there was the load of baseball hats and visors.  Then we received the delivery of our pens for next year.  As our packing party has grown larger we depend more on getting those large quantities of items.

But it's also fun to get great deals that allow us to choose individual items, and that's what's been happening this week.  First, JC Penney repeated their coupon deal last Friday and Saturday.  We didn't get a $100 coupon this time, but we did have fun choosing items for the $10 coupons we were gifted.  Combining strategy with Pam, my faithful shopping buddy, allowed us to find six high quality items for a total of 35 cents.  Now that's just plain fun!

Then on Tuesday the Dollar General stores started a sale of their "white dot" and "yellow dot" summer clothing and shoes for only 25 cents each! Between us, Pam and I have been to 14 local Dollar General stores in the past two days and scored close to 350 clothing items and shoes.

Many of the items have already been scooped up, but if you have a Dollar General near you it's worth taking a look.  Look for the white  or yellow dots on the tag...  (also, the $1.00 regular flip-flops are excluded from the sale)

Now I'm trying to figure out how and where to store all this stuff for 2017 even as I continue to pack boxes for 2016.  I'm up to 624 boxes packed at home since the packing party and I still have so much left that I could pack.  Just ordered another 3 cartons of "GO" boxes so I can keep going.  I'm trying to figure out new places to store the stacks of finished boxes while working around the cartons full of items to be packed.  Isn't that a great problem?

And some of those nice athletic shoes are pretty big.  They'll fill up a GO box so I need to find something maybe just a teeny bit bigger (need some grace there)...but I just couldn't pass up nice shoes for 25 cents.  I'm praying God will direct them to the right person who can wear a size 11... I mean, kids' feet keep getting bigger, right?

I'm probably spending too much time buying and storing and packing instead of calling and training and leading...

But, in general, I... just. can't. stop. packing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Praise In The Temple

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful weekend in NYC.  We enjoyed spending time with our daughter and experiencing her neighborhood--especially all its culinary delights.  The view from the roof of her apartment building was magnificent.

On Sunday morning we went to the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  I've wanted to visit there for a long time and it was more than I imagined.  It might even top the list of all the worship experiences I've had.

It was a great start to see the announcement of Brooklyn Tabernacle's participation in Operation Christmas Child.  There's nothing like that to put me in the mood to worship.

What I liked best was being in the midst of such a diverse group of believers all worshipping together. The singing was praise-filled and strong and the voices weren't overpowered by the instruments.

The worship time was extended in a time of extemporaneous Spirit-led praise that was simply amazing. I'll admit it--I usually get a bit freaked out when people speak in tongues around me, but in that service it felt perfectly natural.  I generally find it hard to participate when worship leaders ask us to vocalize extemporaneous praise but that flowed easily, too.  God's presence was nearly palpable.

Jim Cymbala's message reminded us we are God's temple--His dwelling place and His place of rest.  His sermon was clear and simply conveyed.  Our voices joined together loud and strong as we all lifted our joined hands and sang, "Oh the glory of Your presence; we Your temple give you reverence; so arise from Your rest and be blessed by our praise as we glory in Your embrace, as Your presence now fills this place."

Jim Cymbala said when the Brooklyn Tabernacle was being built he leaned against one of the posts and cried out to God that he never wanted to have a famous choir or be known for the preaching but asked that when people left this church they would know that God was there.  And on Sunday, oh, yes--He was!

One of the blessings I've had is the chance to pray for several people around the country who are having large packing parties for the first time.  One of those packing parties took place on Saturday in Florida.  I remember praying with Christy over the phone several months ago and giving her the only advice I have--trust God and see Him do what only He can do.

Christy and her team got to see God work in amazing ways this Saturday.  They'd planned to pack 6,000 boxes but Christy realized as she did final preparations for their party that God had provided enough items to pack way more boxes.  They changed their goal to 9,500 and had to prayerfully get extra boxes from around the state.  God provided a wonderful new camp to host their party and they had 400 volunteers throughout the day.  Best of all, during their gospel presentation and invitation 40 youth made decisions for Christ.  Now that's something to get excited about!  Who can have more fun than we do?!

Our trip came to an end too soon.  While we were in NYC I got a call from a trucking company and made a delivery appointment for Monday morning to have a pallet of pens delivered.  So...at 10:30 on this bright, sunny fall day we received another pallet of praises.

We sorted the rest of the hats today and moved things around to receive a truck load of donated cases of paper this evening.  This evening we made a second trip back to get the 40 cases of paper loaded into that already-filling container.

That container is, itself, a temple of sorts--filled with answers to prayer and "the glory of Your embrace."

We Your temple give You reverence...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

11,976 Visors On The Wall...

The past week has been filled with the joy of cardboard...and the treasures that come in it.  A wholesale dealer I've worked with before was able to get me a deal on nice quality baseball hats and visors for our 2017 shoebox packing party and I purchased 12,000 visors and nearly 8,000 hats.

The first truck delivery came last Wednesday.  It was schedule to come sometime between noon and 5 pm.  My right-hand shoebox packer, Pam, and I decided to work on packing items left over from our September packing party into boxes.  We packed 44 of them before we finally got a call at 3:30pm that the truck would arrive in an hour.  Judging it would be too late to do any work on them at that hour, we parted ways and my husband and I went up to meet the truck and stash the 16 cartons in the storage container.

On Monday of this week I'd taken my sister to a doctor appointment and while in the office I got a text from my contact at the church office telling me a delivery had arrived unannounced.  I call my husband who agreed to go move those cartons also.  He ended up moving all but two of the 55 cartons of visors by himself--2000 pounds in all.

Three team members and I decided today would be the best day weather-wise to open some of those cartons, remove the hats from the inner boxes they are packed in, and work to consolidate and move them.  It was even better when we learned another delivery truck with the final shipment of hats was scheduled to come this afternoon between 12-4 pm.  The trucking company official who made the appointment promised they'd call an hour before delivery.

We got started around 10:30 this morning and it wasn't long before those cardboard boxes were flying.  We counted and repacked and hauled for hours...and still no call regarding the delivery.  Amanda and Christine had to leave mid-afternoon, but Pam and I kept wielding those box cutters, re-boxing hats, and breaking down unneeded cardboard.  Where in the world was that truck?

Finally, at almost 3:30 pm the truck arrived with no prior notice.  There was a catch when the driver wasn't able to move the second pallet from the back of the truck.  I was able to give him the hand truck we keep in the container to use to haul them to the lift gate manually.  Eventually he managed to get all 39 cartons dropped to the ground.

We could have stopped for the day but Pam just wouldn't quit wielding that knife...

So we kept sorting and moving through them until we had two-thirds of the cartons emptied.  Our energy flagged at 6:00 pm and we moved into clean-up mode--putting the rest of the cartons into the container and organizing those four extra cartons filled with discarded cardboard.  We're saving it to take to our homes later for future recycling pick-ups.

According to our calculations so far we're missing 7 hats and 24 visors.  So...that makes 11,976 visors on the wall...Believe me, we're counting.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Chimps, Chumps & Challenges

This morning's rainbow--a reminder of God's promise that He won't destroy the earth (at least by flood) again.  I've been reading Numbers lately and twice God has threatened to destroy the complaining nation of Israel and start over with Moses.  To his credit as an amazing leader, Moses twice begs God to relent for the sake of His glory.  I wonder how many times Moses regretted that?

It's been a tough couple of weeks in the aftermath of the packing party.  As I look at my journals from past years I see that as a pattern.  The victory is a high followed by a bit of a slump.

And there've been other challenges, too.  One of our main team coordinators stepped down from her position and we also haven't found a replacement for a relay center coordinator who quit.

Sometimes even simple things turn out to be more challenging than I could imagine.  Now that I'm temporarily stepping into the Church Coordinator role I wanted to send an email to all our past participating churches.  I tried to contact the one remaining person on the church relations team to get the current list of emails but she never got back to me.

So I decided to use an old list I had.  I spent time constructing a nice email with pictures then copied my email list and confidently hit the 'send' button.  A few minutes later I got an error message telling me the email addresses weren't recognized.  Because the list of emails was so long I wasn't able to scroll down to the bottom to take any action on the message nor could I get to the original email to copy it.  After an hour of fiddling around with it I didn't even care that I couldn't save the message--I just wanted to get rid of it so I could start over.  I turned the computer off and left to do some errands.

I returned a few hours later, turned on my laptop, and there was the same stupid message front and center on the computer.

At the suggestion of Facebook friends I finally got signed up with a free email service called Mail Chimp.  It looked easy.  But, chump that I am, it wasn't easy for me.  It took me 2.5 hours to get an email list made and figure out how to compose and send the email.  But send it I did.

Meanwhile we're trying to make some sense of the leftover items that are hanging out in the storage container.  Pam, my trusty sidekick, helped Jim and me do some reorganizing in the container on Wednesday.  It looks better--not perfect, but better.  Good thing since we snagged a deal and bought another 7,800 some baseball hats for our 2017 boxes and have another donation of paper coming soon.

I dragged two carloads of stuff home and started to pack some of the miscellaneous stuff into the various odd-sized shoeboxes that were stored in my attic.  I'm up to 84 boxes so far, and it's been fun to pack some special ones with items we couldn't use at the packing party like this fancy Holiday Barbie--

Still, I struggle with leadership details and leftover emotions.  Maybe the sun will come out tomorrow and in the meantime there's always the chance of a rainbow.  And I got to take a break from thinking today to go to Rose's house and work with a group to help her pack some boxes in her garage.  Rose is a long-time member of our Northwestern PA OCC area team and as of today she's packed 1,900 boxes this year in her basement and garage.

I can be a real chump as a leader and our team has some challenges.  We aren't always great at making contacts with new churches or adding new relay centers or getting as many prayer partners as we'd like.

But one thing we do know how to do is pack lots of shoeboxes...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Riding High

Holy High! No, really.  I pity the poor disillusioned people who think partnering in God's work is anything less than a miracle.  I am so high right now.

This packing party was simply amazing and filled with so many blessings.  This was our 8th packing party and each year our team has debriefed and tried to improve, but this year I felt like we made quantum leaps.

Each area of the packing process had a designated team leader or leaders, and that made such a huge difference.  I hardly had to field any questions at all and got to just float around and talk to people and do a few little tasks to fill in.  The hard decisions were made by other people.  Talk about heaven!

On Friday morning our friends from a Christian school 90 minutes away brought 30 students and chaperones to pack boxes and churned out 2,760 of them.  They were such fantastic kids and great workers.

We regrouped for the evening youth packing party where 142 students from 17 different churches and organizations came together to continue the packing and ended the night at a record number of 8,533 boxes.  We had so much fun with the #ipackedashoebox frame that came in the mail just in time.  People loved getting their pictures taken.  Just look at these cutie patooties--

By the time we finished clean up, my husband and I dragged out of there at 10:30.  Silly us--we left Cathi and Pam behind and they ended up staying and working until after 11:00 pm.  I can't remember the last time I was that tired.

This morning I awoke to a hard rain but knew nothing was stopping us.  It was so exciting to assemble for our final Jericho March to kick off the morning. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we did two prayer marches around the church--one in the morning and one in the evening--getting in six before this morning's seventh march.  The power of that united prayer this morning was electrifying.

By God's grace the opening got us off to a good start with a showing of a few OCC videos, an explanation of the day, and the highlight of a presentation by Jane, our Church Relations Coordinator, who told the story of the gospel as it would be taught to children at a shoebox distribution.

The packing started at 9:30 and continued through the day with a good stream of volunteers that came at a smoother pace throughout the day than usual.  We had a total of 360 box packing volunteers plus 50 event volunteers and they came from a total of 51 different churches and organizations to make it happen.  Despite monsoon rains that came and went and some boxes that needed to be repaired, the day moved along quickly.

This is truck loading attire during a downpour.

Lunch came and went and the volunteers stayed!  We were so afraid they'd leave after lunch...

In the afternoon we were at 23,783 when our team Network Coordinator and longtime official emcee got everyone's attention and called Jim and I over to present us with the 150,000th box packed since we started the packing parties in 2009.  That was unexpected and emotional.  Tears sprung up as I quickly reflected on God's goodness and grace that produced every one of those boxes.

There were those moments of doubt--Will we have enough fillers to make it to 26,000?  Will the supply of baseball hats hold out?  Should we label all the boxes or hold some back unlabeled in case we don't make the goal.

One by one, as always, the decisions were made just when we needed to make them--Just keep adding those fillers (and someone shows up with another bag of stuffed animals.)  Just recount those baseball hat cartons (oh, yeah--we only counted the girls' ones and not the boys'--no wonder we thought we'd be short.)  Yes--in faith we WILL label all the boxes.

As the minutes ticked toward 4:00 pm we ran out of boxes labeled for girls just as we ran out of girls' filler items.  Well, what do you know?

We cut the lines down from four to just the two lines for boys and kept packing.  And...almost at the stroke of 4:00...just like that...the last one of those special yellow boxes was packed.

We gathered anxiously together to get the total revealed....and...(drum rollllllllll)

They'd sent us 26,500 boxes so we must have lost two of those casualties along the way.  I looked around at all the items still surrounding me...eight cartons containing at least 1600 baseball hats...three cartons of sunglasses....cases of plastic cups....and more of the basic items.

My instinct was to start folding GO boxes and keep packing.  But my team's warned me before to stop packing at 4:00 so we have volunteers and energy for clean up.  So...stop we did.

Then we gathered around three of the trucks (the fourth was placed in another spot) to pray for the children who will receive these boxes and to praise God for so many answered prayers.

We serve a God of miracles...and I'm still riding that miracle high...

ps--Our team has a fundraising page to help defray the cost of shipping our shoeboxes.  You can make a secure donation at this link directly to Samaritan's Purse to help get these boxes on their way--  click here to make a donation: https://www.classy.org/fundraise/team?ftid=85003

Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 Packing Party Eve Eve

 Can it really be here again?  Once more it's packing party eve eve.  Well, I suppose technically it's really packing party eve since we kick off tomorrow with a morning mini packing party with a Christian school group and going into the evening with our youth packing party.

Though I know it will happen each year, it can be hard to believe when you look at the sheer amount of work that needs to be accomplished.

As always, though, God brought the right people at the right time.  We didn't have huge numbers of volunteers for packing party prep, but those we did have knew how to work hard and were a tenacious bunch for sure.

Late this afternoon as I was still sorting tote bands I wondered if they'd ever all get rolled and rubber banded, but by this evening the task was finished.  All but one pallet of boxes are labeled, also.

This morning I hauled 25 bags of larger stuffed animals for 2-4 year old boxes out of my attic.  It's looking a bit empty up there now.

The four trucks are in place, the first 175 cartons are assembled and taped, and we're ready to...

let the packing begin...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

One Thing At A Time...

Here we go...it's Packing Party Prep Week.  As I thought yesterday about the things I need to accomplish this week it amazed me to think that just a few years ago I was working during these packing party prep times.  This just proves again how faithful God is--He provides just what we need when we need it.

Come to think of it--that's a really good reminder for this week.  I'm also reminding myself to just do the next thing--one thing at a time.

Yesterday brought more answers to prayer when 600 stuffed animals came to me in one day.  Yesterday and today were filled with sorting and washing and bagging.  Sometimes I worry that this isn't a good use of my time...but it needs to be done and I have the system in place.

I had a totally unexpected blessing this morning.  The packing party isn't a church event and our church doesn't make spontaneous announcements, but there must have been divine intervention this morning that moved our lead pastor to decide to have an impromptu announcement made at the end of the service asking for volunteers to help us unload.  With many willing hands we got the job done in just an hour. That one thing is done.

Everything is neatly stacked and ready to be put into boxes.  We just need to prayerfully figure out the right combinations of those items.

So...tomorrow we wait for the call from the trucking company bringing the 13 pallets of cartons and shoeboxes so we can begin the labeling process.  While I wait, I'm going to register to volunteer at the Processing Center in Baltimore (registration opens at 8:00 am tomorrow) and dart to Target to see if school supplies are reduced.  I'm praying the delivery won't interfere with our area coordinator' conference call at noon.

Then I need to get myself and my home ready for our 7:00 pm area team meeting.

Just one thing at a time...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Little Things Add Up

Sometimes it's just the little things.

I am not great when it comes to organization.  This year we have a new team member who is a great organizer and would dearly love to get us on the right track.  The problem is...I have no lists of things that need to be done or a timetable for when they should be accomplished.  I kind of randomly try to accomplish things.  Yeah, I know...not so efficient.

I do have a 'mental list', though, and today one of the things on it was to buy bottles of water for the supervisory volunteers at the packing party.  Somehow we went for years without providing water to the volunteers.  Having no hospitality gifts (nada) I just don't think about things like that.  Last year someone poured cups of water and took them around.  At our last meeting someone suggested we buy bottles of water this year.

Of course, I had to wait for a sale and since I found that sale this week I decided to buy five 24-packs of bottled water.

How hard could that be?

In the interest of not making this blog 3000 words long, I'll skip some of the details that took me to two different stores in search of this bottled water.  When I finally found it, the cashier informed me the packs were 2/$5.00 and had to be purchased in multiples of two.

So...instead of buying five packs, I stacked my miniature shopping cart (honestly it looked like a toy cart) with six 24-packs.  Then the cashier insisted on updating my shopper's card while I (im)patiently waited.

Finally I tugged my cart with the precariously tilting packs of water out of the store.  There was no spot where the curb was ramped to pull the cart down, so....I figured how hard could it be to drag the cart over the curb?

Not hard at all until the whole cart toppled over.  Out spilled all six of those 24-packs.  One of them (only one, thank heaven) split open and sent bottles of water careening across the parking lot.  Just then a car came along and hit one--splash!

Two "Good Samaritans" came to my aid and we chased down all those bottles (sans the one casualty.) Then I drove my car around and they helped me load them.

Now...if you'd like to volunteer to help stock tables ('cause we really DO need volunteers) I can vouch for the fact that you will be offered water.  I can cross that off the list I don't have.

Sometimes it's just the little things.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cease Striving

I did a tally this week of the number of boxes packed at our packing parties from 2009-2015 and by God's grace the grand total is...126,261 -- this makes me smile because all through my shoebox packing journey God has given us interesting totals.  One year is was 1,234 and our first packing party was 5,577.

It's kind of hard to picture 126,621 but this is a picture of Penn State's Beaver Stadium (go blue and white) that holds a bit over 106,000 people so just picture another 20,000 some added to that.

God has always made these packing parties happen and I know He will do it again in 11 days.  Still, I struggle with all the loose ends and details.  I've had a new burden all year to make each of these boxes a blessing to the child who receives it.  I've tried to purchase high quality anchor items and bulkier fillers that will fill boxes better.  Still, it's impossible for me to know what will bless each shoebox recipient.

But we have an omniscient God who does.  As I prayed this morning I told Him how glad I am that He knows every item we have and every child who will receive each box, and I asked Him (again) to make those heavenly matches.

I'm thinking a lot these days about the dichotomy in Scripture of working and resting.  Throughout Scripture we're called to work "heartily as unto the Lord" but we're also called to trust and rest.  The trouble is, I'm not sure how all of this applies to me in these last days before the BIG DAYS.

At last year's packing party we had some conflicts during the day because of indecision about what items to pack next and how to best combine them.  So I've been trying to figure this out.  I've looked at the number of items and feel like we might be short.  Should I make a last-minute purchase of some extra visors to be sure we have enough?  On the other hand, a lot of our items are bulkier this year.  How will that work out?  And how do we distribute them across age and gender?  The possible combinations are vast...

Do I continue prayerfully trying to come up with a plan or do I sink into His rest?  I've been meditating on Psalm 46:10.  Many versions of this verse say, "Be still and know that I am God," but the NASB says, "Cease striving and know that I am God."  Working and striving versus resting and knowing.  I don't believe these are mutually exclusive, so I am asking God to show me His balance as I work and rest.

Meanwhile--here's the pile of nearly free items I got from two store coupons generously gifted to me from one of our team members.  Because of these 16 more children will be blessed.

And on Saturday I collected all the loose school supply items and put them into 297 bags to make nicer fillers.  More blessings.

Yesterday I got a text from my friend Lisa in Virginia who said she was respectfully asking me to quit praying for stuffed animals because she's been inundated with hundreds of them to bring up for our packing party.  More of God's supply through this sweet friend.  We're up to 16,000 stuffed animals now and praying to get to at least 18,000 or 19,000 before the packing party.

God, I KNOW you are God.  I KNOW you have a plan.  Help me learn in new ways what it means to cease striving.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Glory In Weakness

I've been thinking today about all the unexpected things Operation Christmas Child volunteers around the world are doing week by week in God's power--His strength in our weakness.   I found out last week I was getting a shipment of donated frisbees and jump rope handles sometime in the next few days.  My problem was twofold--I wasn't sure when the delivery was coming and my husband and I were going out of town and I had no place to store this delivery.

After some days of concerted prayer the delivery timing fell into place but as of this morning we still had no storage space.  I tried several avenues that seemed blocked. Our prayer team prayed.  Facebook friends prayed.  And within a few hours we had an old truck on the church property available for storage.

The delivery truck arrived promptly as scheduled and the weather was bright and sunny (unlike the driving rain we had last year for this delivery.)  The truck space was just enough to store all the cartons.

And we six stalwart 60-something volunteers got the 150 cartons of frisbees and jump ropes stored and the 207 cartons of soap back into the truck for a return delivery in just an hour.  God's strength for sure. 

You know, my training as a nurse never prepared me to unload a truck and never taught me about lift gates or how to use a pallet jack.  Many Operation Christmas Child volunteers were never prepared for such tasks but still learned to do them and perform them competently.

I remember how scared I was in 2009 when I was invited to speak as a volunteer at the processing centers in Charlotte and Boone.  My itinerary included instructions to rent a car at the Charlotte airport and to later drive myself to Boone.  I was scared.  At the time I'd never rented a car and didn't trust my ability to get to Boone without getting lost.  I prayed.  By God's grace I made it. 

Across the world volunteers are doing new tasks like fundraising or handling trucking logistics or importing shipping containers or completing papers for tax exoneration or figuring out how to store or transport cartons of shoebox gifts to remote areas--things they never expected to do and don't feel equipped to handle.

But with prayer and by God's grace all these tasks that are part of getting these precious shoeboxes filled, transported, and received by children around the world as ambassadors of Jesus' love are completed--day by day and year by year.

God's strength in our weakness.  Over and over again.