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. 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...