Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hard Changes

I guess my Operation Christmas Child life is really no different than all of life.  There's good and there's bad and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

There have been some crazy good things happening lately--an unprecedented number of new applications and amazing numbers of shoebox items for our 2016 packing party already safely in our storage container.

Just in the past few days one of our team members scored 945 beanie babies on an online sale site and was able to purchase them for the low cost of 3/$1.00.   Yesterday I ordered 180 spools of rope with 1200 ft. on each spool--that's a lot of miles of rope to be made into jump ropes.  And yesterday afternoon I got a delivery of 2,000 plastic cups.  Yes, great things happening.

But, then, right on the heels of last Thursday's news of our longtime Church Relations Coordinator leaving the team I got the news early this morning that my Prayer Team Coordinator feels God's calling her to leave the team also.  This wasn't totally unexpected, but the finality of the news was still a blow.

I got off that call, did an upper body workout in the middle of some tears, and loaded all the cups into my car to take them to the storage container.  When I opened the storage container I forgot we'd left heavy boxes of erasers right in front of the door the last time we were in there because it was cold and we didn't want to deal with them.  Now, in my efforts to move them I tripped, fell and slammed my knee and hand hard on the floor.  I sat and cried for about thirty seconds and then decided that was enough.

Getting to work, I managed to get things moved around, carried the cartons from the car and got them stowed in the back of the container.  Then things got comical when I tried to load 18 empty paper cartons in my car.  I wanted to get them out of the container and take them home to use for storing the donation of beanie babies.  The problem was that it was crazy windy.  I foolishly left the side door of my minivan open so when I put those empty cartons in the back of the car, three of them blew out the side of the car sending me on a chase down the driveway after them.   Yeah, it was just a little inconvenience but sometimes you're just over it, ya know?

I came home and sat for a few moments to regroup before heading out for an afternoon volunteer stint at our local mission.  As I rocked and ate my yogurt God started convicting me of my attitude.  I'd progressed from discouragement to anger.  So I confessed to God and also to a sister in Christ as I happened to be answering an email from her about another matter.  I asked her to pray for me, then I shut down my computer and headed out.  After volunteering I met with my mentor and she prayed for me also.

By the time I got home I realized my anger had dissipated.  Praise God for that answered prayer.  The return email from my sister in Christ sent me a great assurance from Isaiah 43:18,19 "Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?  I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."  What a great word!

Tonight we had our first OCC team meeting for 2016.  As usual, there were quite a few team members who couldn't attend but the eight of us who were there had a blessed time.  I sense God is going to do a new thing this year.

Together we came to unity and set a goal of 51,500 shoeboxes for this year, by God's grace.

Good.  Bad.  Blessed.  Challenging.  Hard changes will give way to a roadway in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Questions In The Night

It's funny how the questions come in the night.  I can barrel through my day going from one thing to the next, effectively pushing thoughts and decisions out of my mind.

But so often when I crawl into bed and pull up the covers my mind loses its inhibitions and bounces like a kid on a trampoline.

This has been a crazy week in my Operation Christmas Child world.  On Monday and into Tuesday we had a snowstorm that might have seemed ho-hum for us at this time most winters (we are the #1 snowiest city right now.)   But we've had a mild winter so far so the 20" or so of snow we got within 24 hours was a bit of a shock.  Then my husband announced he thought his chest felt a little tight while shoveling snow so I pushed him aside and took that job (don't worry, he had a cardiologist appointment this week, too.)

On Tuesday I got a call that we had another truck delivery coming on Wednesday.  I prayed hard again and God blessed--the truck driver called and gave us a half hour notice.  That gave me time to get to the church and get the three foot drift shoveled from the front of the container so we could open the door.  The snow had stopped by then and there was no wind, so even though it was only 13 degrees the weather wasn't a problem and the pallet of items that were delivered were pretty easy to get stashed away.  Whew!

On Wednesday evening I decided to send a Facebook message to someone local whom I've never met outside of social media.  She's been posting some awesome things about her prayer life and I had a prompting to ask her about joining our prayer team.  She quickly responded to my message and at around 9 pm I sent her an e-mail telling her more about our team and sent her an Operation Christmas Child volunteer application.

On Thursday morning I discovered she'd completed the application by midnight.  I called Linda, our Prayer Team Coordinator and asked her if she could do the interview, and before long she had an appointment set up to do the interview at 4 pm that day.  I called to do reference checks and had them completed before 1 pm.  We had everything completed within less than 24 hours--a record for sure!  

That makes three applications in the past two weeks.  That's a miracle only God could accomplish.

On Thursday morning our team Network Coordinators met with our Collection Center Coordinator to do a debriefing, then I spent the afternoon cross-referencing the shoebox drop-off logs with our records from last year.

It was disappointing to see we had a lot of information missing on the logs this year.  We really need to focus with our relay centers on how important that information is.  I'm not sure how we're going to be able to successfully affirm the donating churches with such sketchy drop-off logs.

That leads to Thursday night when I met with Heather, our Church Relations Coordinator, who has been on our team since we started in 2007.  Actually, Heather and I have been packing boxes together since several years before the team even formed.  As we talked she told me she feels it's time for her to step off the team.  It was hard to hear, but she wants to be more involved in local church ministry and I want her to be in the place God wants her to be serving.  Man, I am not a fan of change, and this one is hard.

As I prayed this morning it was one of those times of prayer when there just aren't words.  I told my Father I wanted Him to hold me.  Now, I know God doesn't have a human body but sometimes I still like to picture just lying down and putting my head in His lap--the way I used to do with my mom when I was small.  I'm glad I have a God who holds me.

Today was scheduled with some fun visits with people I love and ended with our small group meeting tonight.  It was a full week and a good day.

But...when I crawled into bed and pulled up the covers...my mind took off again.

How will we handle these changes on our team?  What can I do to make sure our new team members get a good start in their roles?  How can we become the high-impact team we aspire to be?  We have our first team meeting of 2016 next Tuesday and I have no idea how to make it a good meeting. Several people told me recently they don't like to come to the meetings.

So...how do I plan a meeting that will make people want to go out and drive on a cold, dark night when the wind chill is -2 degrees and there's two feet of snow on the ground?  Maybe we should switch our meetings to daytime?  I'm already thinking we need to alternate days.  Maybe I should have catered meals or dancing elephants?   Sometimes it feels like casting the vision for changing the lives of children for eternity just isn't enough.

Maybe I should rent a trampoline.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Decisions, Decisions

I really don't like making decisions--mostly because I'm generally indecisive.  I want things to be perfect, so I avoid making decisions for fear of making wrong ones.  This is part of the reason why I'm not interested in home redecorating.  Too many decisions!

I find, though, that my Operation Christmas Child shoebox obsession involves constant decisions also.  At least every week, and sometimes even every day, I have to decide whether to buy certain items and, if so, how many.

I don't have a firm budget for our shoeboxes but I have a general idea of what I want to spend.  The thing is--because God has blessed my husband and me the limits are pretty negotiable.  But I've spent my whole life being a frugalista and that habit dies hard.

So when I find a bargain I enter into an arduous internal debate along with prayer.  As I try to decide whether to buy or to wait I take into account a number of factors such as--

  • How often do I see this item at this price?
  • Will the item have some practicality but also bless the child who receives it?
  • Will it fill some space in the box?
  • How good is the quality for the price?
  • Do I have enough room to store it and will it store well?
Asking my husband for help in these decisions usually just frustrates him.  He's prone to ask, "Do you need it?"  But beyond the basic school supplies and hygiene items there are no real needs for the boxes.  It's all about prayerfully stewarding our resources to bless as many children as possible.

Of course, only God knows which items will bless each child, so prayer is always a must.

Still, I'm often left staring at the latest bargain on my computer screen with fingers hovering over the keys in prayerful agony.  

This year God has blessed us already with so many bargains.  Our storage container already holds all the paper, pens, and pencils we need for 2016 and then some.  We have over 23,600 baseball hats and water bottles and over 23,000 fillers.

Still, I have a strong conviction this year that I want the quality of our boxes to be even better.  I'm asking God to help us be sure to bless each child who receives a box packed at our packing party.  

I subscribe to several online sites that give me alerts to bargains and try to scan sites as often as I can.  Today one of those hints involved a company called U.S. Toy.  I found plastic cups and, after all that internal deliberation, bought another couple thousand.  I think colorful plastic cups are both fun and useful.

Small cars were another item I found there.  They won't take up much space but I know boys love cars so I added 540 of them to my cart.  And I threw in 1200 paper party hats just for fun.  

Hmm...I hope I made the right decisions...

ps--for those of you who want an update on last Monday's delivery.  God answered beyond anything I could ask or think.  The truck driver called before delivering and my husband beat the truck to the church.  And, miracle of miracles, instead of using the lift gate the driver opened the pallet on the truck and just handed the light cartons down to my husband.  The driver even keep the pallet on the truck so I don't have to deal with finding a home for it.  That never happens!  So many answers to prayer.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Little Things

When you think about it--most of life is made up of little things.  That's certainly true for our annual Operation Christmas Child packing party, and, in many cases, for our OCC area team also.

We've had a precious few weeks to rejoice in God's goodness in giving us such a great harvest of shoebox gifts in 2015.  But now we're already into the double digit days of January--time to get busy on our 2016 boxes.

As I ponder and pray over goals for the coming year the numbers I am considering seem so large.  Still, those large numbers are all the result of little things done well.

Today's little thing has been sorting six giant bags filled with used bags left over from last year's packing party.  I store the stuffed animals in garbage bags and I like to use the nicer Force Flex ones that seem to hold up better.  They're fairly expensive, so I try to reuse all the bags I can.

Today I dragged those giant bags out of the storage container at church and brought them home where I carefully folded them and divided them into piles according to use.  The leftover white ones were folded to be used for my home trash and the shopping size ones were set aside to take to the local clothing pantry where I volunteer.  The ones that were unusable were set aside to be recycled.

It's a little thing, but it will save me some money to use to buy more things for shoeboxes and is also helping to keep more bags out of our landfills.

I've been called to report for jury duty tomorrow--another little thing.  It's a bit of an annoyance because I'm getting another truck delivery tomorrow.  This one was unexpected and I'm not absolutely sure what will be on it.  I know what I ordered from the company, and I'm kind of surprised it's not coming via Fed Ex as most of my orders do.  Thank goodness my faithful husband has volunteered to be on truck receiving duty in my place.

Of course here in Erie the weather turned blustery today--temps falling 20 degrees and the winds at 20 mph.  The winds and snow are supposed to continue tomorrow.  My greatest fear is that this truck delivery is going to contain a pallet with one giant box containing 1200 pairs of sunglasses that will have to somehow be put into boxes to be stored in the container--all outdoors with 20 mph winds.  I'm praying for God's grace as my husband handles this little matter.

Day by day those little things add up for all of us.  Faithfully doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms and even sorting plastic bags is really what makes up our lives.

Colossians 3:17 reminds us "Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Hmm, I might have to leave that verse on the bathroom mirror for my husband in the morning.