Tuesday, December 27, 2016

You Just Never Know

I've been praying for more than a few weeks about this delivery of eight pallets of shoebox items coming for our 2017 Operation Christmas Child packing party and finally...

Today was the day...

Considering it is December 27 in Erie, PA, God answered our prayers for great weather. It was windy and 34 degrees but the pavement was dry and there was no snow when those eight pallets got dropped this morning.  And God provided an amazing crew of a lucky 13 volunteers to unload those pallets.

But...you just never know.

I was worried those pallets would be open boxes containing the 28,416 pairs of shoelaces and 10,950 belts.  I was prepared to put them into cartons for storage in the container.

As it turns out, the shoelaces not only arrived in individual small boxes but were also packed in even smaller boxes of six inside those outer boxes.  I knew they'd have to be removed from that packaging before the packing party.  I wasn't planning to do that today.

But...you just never know.

While I was opening and inspecting the three pallets of cartons of belts (also surprisingly in individual cartons instead of one big box) I wasn't really paying attention to the volunteers who were toting all those individual boxes of shoelaces into the church gym so they could begin opening them and putting them into larger cartons.

It feels like the storage container is shrinking.  We got the cases of belts stored for future processing.  They are great quality and fun colors but I'm worried that if we take them out of their compact packaging before the packing party they'll take up too much storage room.

Still pondering this belt dilemma, I walked into the gym to find the scene above that made me gulp. This impromptu work day was unanticipated and the piles of hundreds of boxes seemed

But...you just never know.

Those busy volunteers kept working.  After a few hours they'd managed to box up about 10,000 of the 28,416 pairs of laces but it was apparent we couldn't finish this job today.  So we strategized about how to clean up and make plans to complete the job another time. Unopened boxes were toted back to the storage container and lined up against other items that also still need to be processed.  Thankfully, there's still a narrow walkway in the container.

Cardboard was broken down for recycling.  Pam filled her little blue car with cartons of different-sized cartons of purple shoelaces to take home to process.  We filled our van with cardboard and still more cartons of laces.

Those weeks of prayers were answered beyond what I ever anticipated.  Once again I look at the stacks in the storage container and realize there are nine more months until the packing party.  When I find the next big deal what will I do?  It's hard to imagine there's space for much more.

But...you just never know.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Last Minute Gifts

Now, how did I manage to let more than two weeks slip by without posting an update?  You know how busy it gets in this holiday season.

Since the last time I wrote we enjoyed a few days of volunteering at the Baltimore (BWI) Processing Center and even got the chance to inspect some boxes from right here in Northwestern PA.

It was hard to leave there at the end of our three days, but the leaving was soothed by a special gift we were able to pick up on our way home--a donation of over 3,000 new Beanie Babies.  They're not counted yet so I don't have an exact number.  It was wonderful how God worked out every detail of that pick-up.

Today I decided to give myself a last-minute gift.  I can procrastinate with the best of them, so over the years I've found a little trick to help me get motivated when I'm stalled.  I tell myself I'll do that task I've been dreading as a gift to myself.  I tell myself I'll clean the house so I can enjoy it.  I'll finish a project that's been hanging over my head and call it a gift to me.

So today I gave myself the gift of spending some time organizing in our storage container.  It was a bit warmer today (37 degrees) so I was able to make it for three hours.  My loving husband came to help me out for part of the time, and that made the work go much faster.

I feel so much better now that I've made some headway in counting and stashing at least some of the donations we got in early December.  Now I can separate packages of socks and count and store them as a real Christmas gift.

As a bonus, I'm more ready for next Tuesday's upcoming delivery of eight pallets of shoebox fillers.  We've been praying for this one for a few weeks now, and I'm eager to see how God will "part the waters" and bring all the volunteers we need and give us a good weather day to work outside.

Meanwhile, I think about the gift of the birth of our Savior.  It was no surprise to God that His Son was born in uncomfortable circumstances--surrounded by animals and stench.  Some of God's best gifts seem to come that way--out of not only discomfort but often real longing or pain.

So as we wait once more to celebrate that Holiest of nights let's praise Him for the hardships, the unmet expectations, the labor, and the muck of life that draws us to the best gift of all....

Him.  Only Him.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Last Gift

If you knew your life was ebbing away how would you spend your last weeks?  A couple of months ago Mary (not her real name) got some awful, deadly news.  She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She knew that outside of a miracle her life on earth wouldn't last much longer.

For years Mary has been a passionate Operation Christmas Child supporter and shoebox packer.  Each year she uses greeting card and calendar pictures to carefully decorate each of the 100 or so boxes she packs.  She plans them and prays over them.

This year her prayer was that she'd complete her boxes before she completed the race of her life.  Mary's daughter came to be with her in mid-November and tried to help her pack those boxes.  Her daughter grew tired, but Mary persisted.

Our shoebox drop-off logs record that Mary brought her 125 boxes to the relay center on November 16th.  Eight days later, on Thanksgiving Day, Mary went to be with Jesus.

She left behind a legacy of not only hundreds of children who have been touched by her shoeboxes but also a supply of collected items destined for future boxes.  Mary's wish was to donate these items so more boxes could be packed and more children blessed.

I had the privilege of being chosen to steward these items.  Mary's daughter predicted we would need a box truck to transport everything.  I had my doubts.  After all, if you're packing 100 or so boxes a year...well...how much space could the leftovers consume?

My husband and I made the hour drive in our minivan last Saturday.  Mary's daughter wasn't kidding.  She'd moved all the items to the garage so they'd all be together.  We were amazed at the stacks.

We filled our van and promised to return later with a larger vehicle.  On our way home we discussed Mary's legacy and decided this first load should go to a woman in our area about Mary's age who packs several thousand boxes in her home.  It seemed fitting.

So we dropped that first load off in Rose's garage.  Bags of socks and boxes of notebooks and toothbrushes and purses and toy cars and crayons.  Enough to get Rose started on her 2017 boxes.

Over the weekend we made arrangements to borrow a truck and recruited Bob and Myron to volunteer to go with us.  On Monday we made the trip again and hauled everything back to our storage container.

There's still a lot to sort through but I know God has good plans for each item.  Boxes that Mary has already carefully decorated are going to the processing center to be used at the Shoebox Hospital.  Some boxes of coloring books, jump ropes, and stuffed animals are headed to a last-minute packing party in Maryland.  And there will be plenty saved for our 2017 packing party, too.

As I sifted through a box of Mary's shoebox records for the past years--written on scrap envelopes--I saw her legacy carried out as she planned the contents of her boxes...

When she wrote those lists she had no idea how many shoebox packing seasons God would give her. When she bought all the items that filled those boxes she didn't know her time would be shortened.

But Mary was faithful.  She planned and purchased and prayed.  And though her earthly shoebox packing is completed her legacy continues...in the hearts of those who knew her and in the hearts of the children who never knew her but owe her so much.

The box pictured above was found in the middle of Mary's shoebox stash.  We're not sure when it was completed but even as she packed it God knew it would be her last.  I'm taking it to the Baltimore Processing Center tomorrow.  I know God has a special girl already picked out to receive it.

What a gift...