Friday, July 29, 2016

Hauling and Hand-Offs

A few decades ago I threatened the next time I had to complete a form and list my occupation I was going to write "picking up".  All I did was pick up kids, pick up toys, pick up my husband.

Fast forward to these retirement days and I think I'd now list my occupation as "hauling".  I move things around from place to place and hand them off from person to person.

Today, for example, I loaded the car with 31 bags of stuffed animals and a mix of assorted cartons of clothing and shoebox filler items.  After doing some Operation Christmas Child team paper work and sending off a few emails, I spent time gathering and packing items for an OCC display table at an event on Sunday.

Then I headed to Christine's house.  Bless her heart--she and her family have graciously become the repository for stuffed animals.  I handed off the 31 bags of animals and the bags of supplies for the event table.  The back of the van wasn't clear for more than a few minutes. Then she handed-off to me the leftover boxes and items from a small shoebox packing event she spearheaded at a local Christian camp this week.

Next I headed for the storage container.  Upon opening it I found a lovely little pile of crushed soap boxes that had toppled over, got them restacked, and starting hauling the rest of the cartons from the car.

What a blessing when several people arrived in answer to my Facebook plea to take cartons of soap home to bag...and not 1 or 2 each, mind you.  One saint alone took 23 cartons of 116 bars each.  Another took 15 and another 14.  We had to calculate the number of bags to give each person and do a quick instruction on how to stack the bagged soap so it will all fit back into the cartons for easier storage.

I also loaded five cases of crayons for another faithful 'bagger'.

Finally I stashed another 20 cartons of soap in my car so I wouldn't have to drive all the way to the container the next time someone wants it.  (by the way, there are still 160 cartons left to be bagged--hint, hint)

Moving 72 cartons of soap (total of 8,352 bars) and 31 bags of stuffies (total of 1,675 animals) filled out my hand-off and hauling quota for the day.

Really glad we decided to stick with the minivan.

He Is Always Enough

Okay.  It's 3:06 am and my mind is spinning.  I can't complain.  I've had a solid week or more of good nights of sleep.

But now it's almost August.  The packing party date of September 17th is looming nearer, and, just like other years, I don't have any real organization in place for recruiting volunteers.

A few days ago I saw a great post on Facebook.  Another avid shoebox family who is praying and planning for a 20,000 box packing party the week before ours got a wonderful donation.  They received 16 pallets of donated school supplies.  They were also blessed to have a trucking company come forward to pick up the donation and give them a trailer for storage.

I'll confess; my very first thought was, "Why haven't I ever had a donation like that?"  But right on the heels of that I felt God asking, "Am I not enough for you?"  I had to quickly repent and thank God for the truth that He IS enough.  He has always come through for us and provided for every need for our packing parties.

He provides for each of these precious shoeboxes in His own way.  Maybe you've been reading this blog for some time now and, as I've written about God's provisions, maybe you've wondered why He hasn't given you a $100 gift card...or prompted someone on the other side of the country to send you stuffed animals.

Whatever your situation, you can be sure He is enough.  If He's called you to pack one shoebox, He will provide all you need to do it.  If He's called you to pack 100 shoeboxes, He will provide all you need to do it.  If He's called you to pack 1,000 get the idea.

Just hours after I heard of that 16 pallet donation, I met with a blog reader from Canada who was passing through our city on the way to vacation.  She had the back of her car stuffed with items for our packing party--several hundred stuffed animals and also hundreds of filler items.

She said she spent 40 hours over the past week assembling a few hundred colorful themed 'school kits' in plastic bags.

Her family's generosity is just one of the many ways God provides for our packing party.

If He's called you to pack boxes I'm sure you have stories to share about His provision.  Or, maybe you don't have stories because you are blessed with enough funds to just head for the store and buy whatever you need for your boxes without thinking much about it.  If that's the case, it's still all His provision, right?

So, tonight, as I sit here thinking about all the prep work that still needs to be done... and wondering who will recruit and manage the needed volunteers...and pondering when to begin an online fundraising campaign to raise funds for shipping our boxes...

I'm just going to breathe in the memories of all His goodness and remind myself again (and again, and again) that He is ALWAYS enough.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Penney's Provisions Part 2

You may remember a few months ago my media coordinator, Pam, and I were both blessed with a $100 coupon from Penney's that allowed us to buy 54 items to put into boxes at our upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party on September 17th.

Yesterday Pam called to give me the 'heads up' that Penney's was going to be distributing coupons again on Friday and Saturday--coupons would be for $10 off $10, $20 off $20, or, for the lucky few, $100 off $100.  Pam wasn't able to go this morning but I was prayed up and ready in the parking lot when the doors opened.

And...guess what?  God blessed me with another $100 coupon!

I browsed around the first floor men's and women's departments but didn't find anything really cheap. Next I headed for the children's department and found some shirts for $2.97.  I started pulling them off the rack and counting them.

BUT, then I remembered looking at the Penney's sale flyer this morning and seeing that their nice quality bath towels (regular price $10) were on sale for $3.00.  I moved to that department and asked the cashier if there was a limit on the towels.  She assured me there wasn't, and I told her I'd been blessed with a $100 coupon.  Then I explained Operation Christmas Child to her and told her the story of Ted Foreman who had to share a towel with 20 other children in his orphanage.  He was blessed to receive a simple washcloth in his box because it seemed like his own personal towel.  "Just imagine how excited he would have been by a real bath towel," I told her.

She helped me count and stack the towels on the counter--33 of them!  I got a pair of slippers to fill in the extra amount and ended up paying a total of $1.05 to haul out 34 items.  What a blessing!

When I got home I folded one to fit the length of a GO box and tightly rolled and rubber banded it.  As you can see, there's still plenty of room for more extra treasures.

As I understand it they'll be doing another coupon distribution on Saturday morning so you might want to head to a nearby Penney's.  Each coupon also has another $10 off $10 coupon that's good from July 25th through September 5th.

So I'll be back for more blessings later.

This has been a banner week for answered prayer.  After praying for months God blessed our team with a Prayer Coordinator today.  This means that for the FIRST time since our team was formed in 2007 we have all our coordinator positions filled.

Praise Jesus!  Showers of blessings for sure!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Walking Each Other Home

I enjoy Tuesdays because I often meet with two friends--one a quarter century younger than I and one a couple of decades older than I.

Mentoring is fashionable these days, but I don't think of these as mentoring relationships, though they do have elements of that.  These women are not accountability partners, though they sometimes hold that function.

They are simply friends.

I'm an introvert by nature, so I don't use the word 'friend' lightly.  The label is reserved for those with whom I have a close and honest relationship and the number who receive that label is not large so they are very dear.

My older friend and I meet in late afternoon and generally read through and ponder a book together chapter by chapter--something that draws us deeper together into the heart of God.  Sometimes she offers her perspective from a different season of life, but mostly we share our souls as equals--co-heirs of the grace of God. Together we turn our eyes to Him and try to know Him better.  When I enter her home I breathe in the peace and find a respite from the hurry of life.

Then there's the mornings at Panera with my younger friend.  She has a young family and an extremely busy schedule, but she's willing to share part of her every-other-week one day alone with me.  We just talk.  You might think that sounds unfulfilling, superfluous, and non-productive.  But you would be wrong.

After exchanging quick pleasantries our kindred souls dive deep very quickly into the puzzles and pleasures and plights of living and loving our Lord.  Yesterday as we shared mutual spiritual struggles there were tears that are rare for us--a catharsis that was gentle and brutal all at once.  We confessed to one another that in the midst of the fight we cling to what we know--that God pursues us and loves us and He is faithful.  Wiping her eyes, my friend said something deeply profound, "I just want to know that I'm not alone."

Yes. That's it.  When Paul instructs us in Galatians 6:2 to "bear one another's burdens" this is the burden-bearing I desire most of all.  To know I am not alone.

Later that afternoon I talked about this with my older friend and she was reminded of a beautiful quote, "We're all just walking each other home."  She couldn't recall the source but knew it wasn't a Christian quote and quipped, "He might not be talking about the same home."

She's right.  I googled it and it's attributed to Ram Dass--a Hindu spiritualist.  Nevertheless, the truth and beauty remain.

"We're all just walking each other home," and it's worth taking the time for the walk.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Soap Saga

And...the soap saga...

I had a really busy week last week and told myself if I could just push through to Sunday night I'd take a day off on Monday.  But that all changed last Friday when a trucking company called and said they'd finally be delivering our six pallets of soap on Monday, June 18th.  (I'd told the company when I ordered six weeks ago that I needed them by June 13th.)  Then they asked if I had a fork lift (guess I should put that on my Christmas list) because they didn't have a lift gate available.  I explained I had neither a fork lift nor a loading dock and that's why I'd specifically requested a lift gate.  We'd have to hand off-load all six pallets.  The helpful trucking company representative reminded me to have plenty of help because the truck would need to get on its way quickly.  Did I mention I'd asked for a lift gate?

So I put out a help request on Facebook and was pleased to get responses from several people who were willing to drive across town to add their muscle.  The problem can never pin down a delivery time.  The trucking company first told me they thought they'd arrive by 11:00 am but agreed to contact me a half hour before delivery and I told my volunteers I'd send a group text when I got a time.

I got to the container before 10:30 this morning and was able to load 50 cases of crayons in my car to take to a volunteer for bagging and move around the rest of the crayons to make room for the soap.

One of those faithful volunteers, Deb, arrived at the 11:00 time but we still hadn't had a call from the trucking company.  So we hauled out some plastic tubs to use for seats and a table and bagged crayons while we waited.  One of the blessings of the day was getting to spend some time talking with her.  At 11:17 the truck driver called and said he'd be there at noon so I put the word out via text.

Volunteers came at noon but the truck didn't make it until 12:20.  I really hate waiting.

I got so caught up in trying to quickly unload the truck that I didn't get pictures of the event.  We had great volunteers, though, and they worked hard to finish the job quickly.

Unfortunately a portion of the boxes arrived in deplorable condition--crushed, with the soap bars spilling out--and a good number more were open and untaped.  This is the third year I've ordered from Clean The World and the first time I've had this problem.

We finally got the soap stashed and the pallets hidden.  We counted 258 cases of soap.  I knew I was getting six pallets of soap and each was supposed to have 5,376 bars, but I foolishly didn't calculate how many cases I should have received.

Since coming home and getting my calculator out I realize we should have had 288 cases.  Did I somehow miscount them or did the trucking company lose them somehow?  I'll need to go back to the container and recount them.  This is one of those things that makes me toss and turn at night.  I thought I'd ordered plenty extra but if I can't find those extra 30 cases I'll be short.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story...

After leaving the container I dropped the 50 cases of crayons off to my volunteer then went to pick up another load of 162 new beanie babies.  Coming home, I spent a few hours sorting stuffed animals.  As I looked at the chaos in the house around me, I just had to stop for a minute and focus on that one stuffed animal I held in my hand...

I put that fluffy koala up to my face and smelled that fresh-from-the-washer scent.  I prayed for the child who will receive him and reminded myself again that each animal, each bar of soap, each bag of crayons will go into the hands of ONE BOY or ONE GIRL who is loved and cherished by God.  I needed to focus again on that ONE.

I took a break to sort some mail and was blessed to read again the note I received a few days ago from a special teen blog reader who lives on the west coast and has become such an encouragement to me.  She sent me another reminder I need to focus on today...

I'm blessed that God brought her into my life as a prayer supporter and long-distance friend.  God always has His ways to encourage me when I need it--sometimes from the most unexpected sources.

We've been praying about this soap delivery for months and God answered.  The delivery that seemed to come late by days and then by hours was in His time.  The grey clouds that hung over the storage container didn't produce rain during the delivery, and one of my great team members volunteered to take a tub of dirty and damaged soap bars home to rehabilitate.  Another blessing.

And now I wait on Him to find those missing soap bars so there will be enough to bless each ONE who needs it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cra-Z Crayoning

Praising God for answers to prayer today.  Tomorrow is a scheduled work day for our upcoming packing party.  Our media coordinator, Pam, has publicized this in every possible venue and our plan was to work on making jump ropes and bagging soap and crayons.

The soap was supposed to be shipped last Thursday but I haven't received any confirmation of shipping.  When I tried to email my contact at Clean The World I got an out-of-office memo telling me she is in Guatemala. soap.  Nope.

Then on Monday I got a call from the manger at Walmart.  He told me the home office dropped the ball on the ordering and the crayons weren't ordered until Monday.  If they didn't miraculously arrive on Tuesday's truck they wouldn't come until Thursday night after our work day was completed. I told the manager we'd pray for the crayons to be on Tuesday's truck.

I emailed and texted team members to get prayer support.  I posted our prayer need on Facebook.  And on Tuesday afternoon I got the word--the crayons came!  Not only that, Walmart donated $300 toward the cost.  How great is our God!

This afternoon my husband (with his truck) and Pam and I (each with a minivan) met at the Walmart customer service area.  The manager was not working, but he'd made arrangements with the assistant manager for the pick-up.  First the assistant manager got a box of Crayola crayons to use to ring up the sale, but I explained our order was 181 cartons of Cra-Z-Art brand.  

He got the right box and drafted a cashier to begin ringing the sale.  She struggled to use the quantity key while the assistant manager and another associate peered over her shoulder.  After several tries with the quantity key, they decided she'd ring them individually.  Several minutes later she'd managed to swipe that UPC code 154 times and had another 8,534 to go.  I began to wonder how many register tapes it would take to make a receipt for 8,688 items.  Thankfully, they made another phone call and figured out how to use the quantity key to ring 100 items at a time.  Twenty minutes later we were ready for loading.

A troop of strong male Walmart associates offered to load our three vehicles.  This was a true blessing considering it's one of the hottest days of the summer with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.

Two pallets of crayons got loaded into three vehicles in record time and we were off on the drive across town to our storage container.

Jim's truck was loaded first and he was on his way.  Our community relations coordinator, Christine, met him there--coming directly from an appointment and dressed up--and jumped into service, literally.  Soon Pam and I brought our loaded vehicles into the fun.

Some of the cartons were stacked in the church gym waiting for the crayons to be bagged at tomorrow's work day, and the rest now line the side wall of our storage container.

Crazy.  And why did I think I would ever have room for soap?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Praycation 2016

For the past few years all of the Operation Christmas Child area coordinators in our region, at the direction of our regional staff, have taken a "Praycation" where we break from our OCC tasks for a week to pray and spend time seeking the Lord.

Our regional Praycation will actually be next week, but since we'd already scheduled two major team events that week our local area team decided to celebrate ours from June 30th - July 6th.  It was personally challenging for me this year, though.  I found it hard to keep my mind off the details of the upcoming events, and the interruption of the holiday weekend didn't make it any easier.

Still, I tried to get away from my home at least a few days.  The chapel pictured above at Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery was the venue for my Praycation thoughts on Wednesday. On other days I visited Erie Cemetery,  Four Mile Creek, and the beaches of Presque Isle on Lake Erie.

Though concentration was difficult for me this week, I was blessed by doing something simple.  Challenged by the truth that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" I read straight through the gospels to get a big-picture view of Jesus' life.

I was amazed by Jesus' compassion.  Even when He was tired from ministry and intentionally retreated for rest, He put aside His needs for those of the crowd around Him.  No wonder He often got up early in the morning to spend time in prayer.

And Jesus focused on doing the Father's will.  He knew His purpose.  How could my purpose for any day of my life be any less?

In the beginning of Praycation I was blessed with a precious package from my friend and blog reader in California. I can't believe how sweet these teddy bears are.  As I counted them and tucked them into a bag I prayed for each child they will bless.  Father, let each one know Your love.

Now, Praycation over, we head into a busy week.  I'm volunteering at a day camp for inner city elementary students sponsored by our local Erie City Mission, and our team is hosting a work day for the community to help us prepare for our upcoming packing party.

We got a great answer to prayer this week when we got word that our local Walmart is ordering 8,700 boxes of crayons for us in one order.  It will be such a blessing to avoid umpteen trips to multiple Walmarts over the next two months.  The crayons are supposed to arrive at the beginning of next week, and our six pallets of soap is slated for delivery next week also.

Meanwhile, where will all these items fit in our storage container?  I was telling my community relations coordinator, Christine, that I have no idea how these details will all work out, and she said, "That's really kind of liberating."

You know what.  She's right.  As we focus on doing the Father's will, we'll trust Him to do what only He can do.