Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Getting Untangled

Yeah, it's been a couple weeks since I posted here.  Everything's fine but life's been a bit tangled up and busy.  Pretty much every day involves some Operation Christmas Child project or another but many of them are pretty repetitive.

Blogging about sorting and counting stuffed animals every day would be about as exciting as blogging about changing diapers. And describing the fun of restacking the boxes in the storage container that toppled over again last week gets old, too.

Of course, in the middle of the animal and storage chores there's been the excitement of bringing on two new team members and watching the team begin to make some new contacts.

Last weekend brought some new tangles that I haven't blogged about in a while--if ever.  A local discount store named Gabe's had a sidewalk sale last Thursday and when I arrived at the store I saw a dozen beautiful cartons of jewelry sitting there.  This jewelry from Express and New York & Company is either tangled, mismatched, or in need of repair.  You can fill a quart sized bag with all you can stuff in it for $5.00.

I spent a few hours combing through the boxes look for bunches of tangled necklaces that would likely be in perfect shape when untangled.  I left with two bags and spent some fun hours over the weekend beginning the untangling process.  It's kind of like doing a puzzle and surprisingly therapeutic.

I have 155 beautiful pieces already untangled and ready to go and there's plenty still to do.  Not bad for a ten dollar investment.

And, my weekend also included a visit from a blog reader from Canada who visited Erie to shop and to bring me a donation of 200 stuffed animals.  This was exciting and helped make up for my less-than-stellar morning at yard sales.  So encouraging!

And...the other weekend entertainment involved preparing for Monday night's team meeting.  We had 13 team members gather last night and enjoyed getting to know each other a bit better and doing some role playing to help us prepare for sharing the mission of Operation Christmas Child with people we meet in checkout lines, at church rummage sales, at yard sales, and in our churches and neighborhoods.

After all, it's going to take each of us doing our part to meet the goals on our ministry plan.

Meanwhile, I'm beginning those summer rituals of lying awake at night thinking about the packing party that's less than four months away...

But...those tangles are old news.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Long Sprint

Can you stand one more racing analogy?  Today I ran (and here I use that term loosely) another 5k race.

I know I've been running markedly slower lately, but today's finish was slower than even my normal runs around the block.  It was the worst finish ever for a 5k--not only marking the longest time but also finishing in tears with my tongue literally sticking to the roof of my mouth.  Sorry, that may fall into the 'too much information' category.

There were a few extenuating circumstances that contributed to making this race tough, but I'll spare you the details.  I asked God to help me learn something about perseverance in this race by not stopping to walk.

But...walk I did.

The first mile went well and was faster than I expected but my mouth was dry already.  By the time I hit the water stop I had to walk so I could drink every drop in my cup.  And, there's something about walking in a race.  It's like giving into temptation; when you do it once it's easier to do it again.

So I kept throwing in some walk breaks and I just couldn't seem to get past my thirst.  I finally stopped to drink at a water fountain I spotted at about the 2 mile mark.

When I saw the 3 mile marker I decided to pull out my best sprint (this time I use the term VERY loosely.)  I knew I could pick up my pace for that last tenth of a mile.

That's where it got tough.  I tried to keep pushing but that last tenth had to be measured WAY longer than it should have been.  Seriously.  And we just seemed to keep running around a curve so I couldn't see the finish line anywhere.

By the time I finally saw it, tears were streaming down my face and all I could think of was WATER. You know, it's very hard to sob and run at the same time.  Somehow I made it over the line.

I was first in my age group. In all honesty, I must tell you I was the only one in my age group.  Still, I feel I earned that participation medal and coupon for a free Arby's sandwich.  Neither of those could compare to the bottle of water I begged for at the end of the race.

As I sat wobbling with my back against a tree guzzling that water, I thought again about how that race compares to life.

Maybe some of you thought you were close to the finish on a really hard season of life but it just won't seem to end.  You keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You try to sprint to get it to go by faster, yet you still can't see the finish.  Your strength is fading and you feel like you're dying of thirst.  And the tears come, followed by the sobs.

Man, I feel for you.  My race this morning ended in just 33 lonnnnggggg minutes, but yours may have been extending for months or years.  I encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Don't try to anticipate the finish line.  Trust that God knows where it is and just keep moving forward step by step in His strength, depending on the Living Water.

That sprint (or crawl) may be much longer than you thought it would be, but there's a prize at the end.  God's pleasure in you when you finish the race will be much better than an Arby's coupon.

And that's a measurement you can count on.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Casual Prayers

Don't you just love this picture of Elias?  His family is blessing me by storing bags of stuffed animals we've purchased for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.  When Elias's mom told me how excited he was about all those animals I suggested she ask him to pray and ask God to match each one with just the right child to receive it in his or her shoebox.  And Elias did just that.

I've been thinking a lot about prayer over the past year or so and wondering at the mystery of it.  How can I make my prayer more 'effectual' and 'fervent' as James 5:16 mentions?

Meanwhile, I'm amazed at how God answers even those casual prayers that seem anything but fervent.  A few days ago I received a Facebook message from Kim who, with her husband and two young children, left a few months ago to serve as missionaries in Cameroon.

Kim wrote, "Really neat! We have friends over here that run a children's home. We have gone out there a few times. Thursday, Andrew and Emily went out for their kids' club. They got to witness the children receiving their Operation Christmas Child gifts. They said it was really neat!"  

Last year Kim and her children faithfully worked to bag soap and make jump ropes for our packing party, and I was excited to hear they got to see shoeboxes being distributed.  But it was hours later when I remembered that some months ago when I heard they were leaving for Cameroon I'd prayed for them to see some connection with Operation Christmas Child.  I prayed a casual prayer-- once--maybe twice--and then never prayed again.  Still, God remembered.  

A few months ago as I was preparing to go speak at a church I realized I didn't own a skirt that could be paired with any of my OCC shirts, so I casually prayed for one.  I forgot about that prayer until this week when I was working at a local clothing pantry and found a perfect skirt and brought it home.  When I tried it on and discovered it fit perfectly I remembered my prayer and thanked God for His answer. 

I was blessed with an email this morning from a young friend and prayer partner who blesses me in so many ways.  Back in August I wrote a blog asking readers to pray for her dad who needed a job.  (you can read that by clicking here.)  Maybe you read that blog and stopped for a few seconds to pray.  If you did, thank you, because in this morning's email my friend shared that after months of waiting and searching her dad just started his new job.  

I have to admit I am not very organized when it comes to my prayer life.  I don't keep a prayer journal to record each request.  There are some heavy burdens I pray about nearly daily and even multiple times during my day.  Some people I pray for regularly and some only when God brings them to mind.  

And there are many of those casual prayers--so many I honestly don't even remember--the ones I pray so often as I scroll through Facebook.  Though I am not always effectual or fervent in prayer, our faithful God still hears, remembers, and blesses more than I could possibly realize.  

Even our casual prayers matter... 

(sorry for this white background on the text...I've tried numerous times to fix it...if someone could tell me why this happens every time I copy and paste into Blogspot I'd be ever so grateful)