Saturday, April 30, 2016

Penney's Provisions

Day by day we pray for God to provide all the items we need to bless as many children as possible through our Operation Christmas Child packing party.  I've been especially praying this year for the quality of our boxes to be even better.  I'm asking God to make each box a blessing for the child who receives it--a worthy representation of His love.

It always amazes me to see how God provides, and today He really surprised me.

After breakfast at our local Chick-fil-A, my media coordinator, Pam, and I decided to stop at Penney's.  They advertised they'd be handing out coupons at the door for $10, $20, or $100 off. Now, we weren't sure if those coupons were to be used on a larger purchase or if they'd be the coveted ones that could be used almost as cash to buy items for the entire amount.

We drove to Penney's in our separate vehicles, and I arrived first, hurried into the store and got my coupon.  When I opened it, I was stunned to find it was for $100 off $100 or more!  I went back to the store employee who handed it to me and she excitedly called her supervisor to say, "We have a winner!"  I could hardly wait to get started on our shopping spree.

But, gets better!

When Pam got her coupon, hers was also for $100!  Only 2 out of 100 coupons were $100 ones and, by God's provision, we each got one.

We started looking for the best bargains possible so we could bless as many children as we could.  We started in the children's department and scoured every sale rack.  Unfortunately we couldn't find many low-priced sale items, but we did find some cute fleece pajama pants for $2.97 and a few shirts that were $3.59.

We checked the washcloths--too expensive at $5.99--and then headed down to the men's and women's departments.  It took us nearly two hours to complete our search of all the sale racks in every department.  Finally we found a great sale area in the misses' department with racks of nice brand name sweaters--including some Liz Claiborne--for $3.97 each.

Then it was off to the checkout.

Strategically, we worked together and used one coupon first, then regrouped and recounted and went to another register with the second coupon.  We watched carefully to be sure all the sale prices rang up properly.

Ultimately, God allowed us to walk out with high quality clothing items to bless another 56 children--

and, thanks to Penney's, we only paid a couple of hundred pennies (well, we didn't really give them pennies I was just trying to be clever.)

Thank You, God, for answering our prayers in such a unique (and FUN) way.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Packing & Planting

Today I was watching the Exponential Conference via live stream and listening to Mark Batterson, Brian Houston, and Matt Chandler speak to church planters.  As I listened to the vision being cast for taking Jesus to those who don't know Him, I started to feel sad and a little guilty that I'm not involved in church planting.

I attend a church that believes in a multi-site structure and has started two satellite churches.  I guess that qualifies as church planting.  But I'm not really involved in that, and, truthfully, my involvement with Operation Christmas Child keeps me so busy I don't serve much in my local church.

But as those sneaky thoughts of guilt played around in my brain, I suddenly realized the precious shoeboxes we're blessed to pack through Operation Christmas Child are the very tools often used to plant seeds that grow into church plants around the world in many different countries.

These sweet kiddos in the picture are some of the 70 graduates from The Greatest Journey discipleship course at a church in Colombia.  I was blessed to be there last May to see them get their diplomas and New Testaments.  The pastor told us they'd planted the church six years ago and never had more than four children in their children's program until they had an Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution last spring followed by the discipleship course.  Now these 70 children brought their families to their graduation ceremony and that Sunday morning 25 people made decisions to follow Jesus.

Since I was a child I've had a heart for missions and as I was growing up I affirmed I would be a missionary nurse to Nepal.  Instead, I struggled with clinical nursing--only working three years full-time after graduation--and got married and had three children.  I never went to the mission field and after struggling on several short-term mission trips it's pretty clear to me I don't have gifting in cross-cultural ministry.  I've always felt a sense of failure about that.

Then along came Operation Christmas Child and our merciful God was able to marry my love for missions with my love for bargain shopping and allow me to come alongside Him to minister to children around the world without leaving my own city.  How great is that!

I read a great quote by Craig Greenfield this week: "I have found that if I pray for God to move a mountain, I must be prepared to wake up next to a shovel."  I've prayed for decades for God to move the mountains and turn people's hearts to Jesus and now, through Operation Christmas Child, God handed me a shovel.  Isn't it marvelous that He invites us into this work with Him?

In 1 Corinthians 3:6,7 Paul wrote, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything but God who causes the growth."

The speakers I heard today had some advice that applies to any ministry.  Brian Houston from Hillsong encouraged his listeners to be themselves and not try to replicate someone else's ministry.  That's so true in our Operation Christmas Child lives also.

God has work for you and He has work for me, and only by His grace He causes growth.  We may not get to see the harvest but we'll keep packing and planting in faith.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Counting Down The Zoo

In my favorite movie "Facing The Giants" the story is told of a farmer who prayed for rain but also prepared his fields to receive it. we pray for God to rain down stuffed animals on us I've been preparing by cleaning my attic to give me more storage space.

We visited our daughter this weekend and picked up the 365 stuffed animals she scored at Walmart after Easter in her area.  I sorted and bagged them last evening.  As close as I can figure, I think we still need about 21,650 more animals.  At this time last year we needed 22,700 so we're actually a little bit further ahead this year.

Still, if our packing party ends up being in September (still don't have that date confirmed now) we have less than five months to collect.  That means collecting over 1,000 animals on average each week.  Or maybe God will provide them all in the last week so we don't have to store them.  We are praying and trusting Him.

This photo from the Samaritan's Purse website illustrates how much these stuffed animals mean to the children who receive them.  This little girl carried her new bear around all day at the recent Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution.  

As I sort and count stuffed animals I often pause over them to pray for each child who will receive them--asking God to begin now to open their hearts and the hearts of their families to receive the love  of Jesus.

Meanwhile, we've also been praying for more members for our prayer team.  Just this weekend God blessed us with another new application and leads on a couple of other potential members.  Please pray with us for a Prayer Mobilization Coordinator and a strong prayer team to intercede for us.

And...all but one person on our team have completed their recommitments to the team for another year.

Now I'm gearing up for tomorrow night's area team meeting where we will hopefully approve our 2016 ministry plan as well as meet as individual teams, spend some time praying together, and celebrate our completed affirmations with pizza.

When we all get crammed into my house a meeting can be a zoo, too, but I'm still counting down to it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sunny Day

Last Saturday we had April snow showers, but this Saturday we were blessed with bright sunshine and temps that climbed into the 60s.  A lot of couples were probably doing yard work or washing their cars, but we ended up at the storage container.

It's kind of a trickle down effect.  I couldn't clear the extra stuff out of the house until we made some room in the storage container.

Jim helped me make a decision about the 40 or so cartons of plastic cups--the most recent delivery that has been causing a bottleneck.  I'd been on the fence about whether to open all the cartons and inspect and count the cups before finally storing them.  After thinking it through, we decided today to just store them until the packing party.  I guess it doesn't make sense to handle them several times--even though I do like to have those sorting jobs done in advance of the packing party if I can.

So with that decision made it didn't take all that long to get things moved around.  Everything's walled in now, though--so I will not be able to share any extra items until after our packing party.

After a few hours it looks much better and I'm feeling relieved--what a gift!

And tonight I did a cursory tally of our stuffed animals.  I think we have nearly 4,000 now, so we just need to pray for another 22,000.  And, while we're at it, we'd better pray for a place to keep them.

I have 14 bags of stuffed animals in spare bedrooms that are going to the basement of one of our gracious team members.  Anyone else want to host a zoo?

Friday, April 15, 2016

April Showers

Maybe there's just something about April in my Operation Christmas Child world.  I remember a few months ago when I got a sweet letter from one of my blog readers who said she'd prayed for me throughout the year "especially in April when you seemed kind of down."

So, yeah...maybe it's just something about April.

I'd been having a lot of angst this week about the packing party that's only five months away--thinking about how I need to get a team together to start planning, but...Who?  When?  Where?
All the same questions.  I struggle enough trying to feebly lead our area team, but another team...

Then I found out yesterday that there are some hitches with the September 17th date we've had set for the packing party.  The same thing happened last year at this time.

So, yeah...maybe it's just something about April.

Now, I wish I could say that I reacted to this news with firm faith that God will work everything out for good.  Unfortunately, my first thought was how easy it would be to just cancel the whole thing.  This is not a new thought.  I frequently toy with this thought--especially when the packing party date is approaching but is still far enough off to make cancellation a possibility.

So, yeah...maybe it's just something about April.

Well, I was already cranky after my routine physical at the doctor.  I had to answer a long series of questions about such things as whether I can get out of bed by myself and dress myself followed by a fifteen minute lecture on living wills and advanced directives.  I've heard this is now routine but it made me feel old.  And the two immunizations I got made me feel sore and feverish.  Next year I won't have a physical in April.

So instead of reacting with firm faith, I acted like Jonah sitting under his little twig and pouting.  I decided I would give myself a 'sick day' and stay in bed all day today.  Well, I didn't exactly stay there all day but I did take two naps and spent a lot of time reading and refused to go for a run.  And I actually think it made me feel better (except now I can't fall asleep.)

My prayer team has crumbled this year, and I'm praying for a new Prayer Mobilization Coordinator and some new team members and prayer partners.  The prayer team is the bedrock for our team and I'm feeling insecure without assurance of that prayer support.

Meanwhile, while my faith isn't as firm as I'd like, I do know that God WILL work this out.  He does it every year despite the obstacles.  His track record is perfect.  The God who parted the Red Sea has no problem providing 23,000 more stuffed animals and recruiting a team of volunteers.

And, yeah, He will get me through April.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bin Loadin

Anyone who buys year-round for Operation Christmas Child boxes knows that you need to be strategic about storage.  And you've heard me moan about this plenty of times before.

This weekend my husband strongly encouraged me to complete one job to try to bring some order to the shoebox sprawl that has extended throughout the house lately.

So I decided to do a weekend marathon of stuffing all those plastic eggs I wrote about last week.

When I ran out of rings to put into the eggs I moved on to erasers.  These were a bit more challenging since they are almost too tall for some of the eggs.  It's amazing how much difference there can be in those, even when they come from the same package.

Unfortunately, a third or more of the eggs wouldn't close securely so they needed a smidgen of tape to keep them shut.  (yeah, my apologies in advance to the inspectors at the processing center.)

After two solid days of egg-stuffing, I finally finished at 9:00 tonight--with almost 8,000 total finished.  I ran out of erasers, though, so I have another 2,000 or so eggs to fill another time.  I did my best to finish one project--just didn't quite make it.

Tonight is the night for our weekly trash pick-up so we were able to bundle all this up for recycling.  It's great to finish a project like this on trash night.

Next, came the storage.  About those plastic storage bins...  I originally bought them to store candy canes and candy when we used to pack them in our boxes.   For the past few years it's been tough to know what to do with the bins.  I tried storing beanie babies in them, but when I stacked them the weight caused the lids on the ones on the bottom to break.

Last year I used them to store the ring-filled Easter eggs in my attic and I thought I'd do that again this year.  Except...I found someone who was willing to store completed jump ropes in his barn but they had to be in closed plastic containers because of rodent issues.  So there went all the bins with lids.

I decided to use the lidless bins for storing the eggs.  I covered them with paper to keep the eggs from falling out on the trip up the attic stairs.  By the way, let me tell you a bin full of plastic eggs gets really heavy when you put erasers in those eggs.

But we need to use every bit of storage space, even in the attic...

So we're bin loadin'.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Eggcellent Eggstras

Today was a snowy April day here in Erie, PA--a great day to begin work on all those eggs I bought in my last shopping trip to use as fillers for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Actually, I started my day by getting to Target at 8:00 am.  I was disappointed when their Easter clearance did not drop to 90% on Saturday morning, sending me back for a return visit bright and early today.  Last year I netted over 10,000 eggs at Target alone.  I'm glad I bought the 8,640 at Walmart earlier this week since I only found 1,389 today.  And...there were absolutely NO stuffed animals left at Target.  So sad.

It's a good thing I sorted out my stash of OCC supplies last week leaving space in this room for the bins of eggs.  I feel like I have my very own Walmart end cap! I crawled up into the attic and brought down my supply of plastic rings.  Then I started filling the eggs.

I sorted them into separate bins--one for boys and one for girls.

Although, a friend who served as a missionary in Haiti tells me that in their culture pink is for boys and blue is for girls, so that may not even matter.  The princess rings and Barbie crown rings went in the girls' bin, though.  I made a good start and have almost 1,500 of them finished.

Since all the tubs with lids are being used to store completed jump ropes, I'm using tubs that have no lids for storing the filled eggs that will be resting in my attic until the packing party in September.  I just need some cardboard to put between them so I can still stack the tubs.

Meanwhile, my sweet husband spent the afternoon cutting lengths of rope for jump ropes while watching Nascar on TV...

All in all, it was an eggcellent day.