Saturday, November 18, 2017

Finished?!



This morning when I woke up I planned to pack 9 more Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to finish my packing for the year.  I thought I was done a week ago, but God provided a sale that gave me another 400 or so items and I went back into packing mode.

I've always been a fan of nice round numbers in my OCC world, and packing 9 more boxes this morning would put the combined total of packing party boxes and home-packed boxes at an even 28,850 for the year.

But after I got those 9 boxes on the table and started filling them with nice shoes I found a half dozen baseball hats I wanted to pack.  I assembled 6 more boxes.  The total 28,856 isn't as clean, but blessing another 6 children is worth it I figured.

After I finished those 15 boxes I decided to tally the items I still had left--33 tennis balls; 24 jump ropes; 50 plastic cups; lots of shoes and plenty of the basic items.  I folded up 12 boxes and started packing again.

When that round was done I realized packing 12 more would give me 28,880--a great number indeed--so I set up another 12 boxes. One of them had to be a box for a 10-14 year old girl to use up some girl items, and I decided the others would be for 10-14 year old boys.

I went to get shoes from the piles of recent purchases and found there were exactly 11 pairs left for 10-14 year old boys so I cleaned up that category.

After quickly finishing those boxes we loaded our minivan and my husband's truck with the 487 boxes and headed out to our central drop-off site.


We were excited to have 29 members of the Gannon University soccer team there to cartonize the boxes and greet two trucks from drop-off sites and load their 6,000+ boxes into two of the trucks. They polished it all off in less than an hour!

Back home this afternoon I started to clean up my packing supplies and took another little inventory. well...I still had 9 tennis balls and all these cute tennis shoes for 5-9 year olds that take up some significant box space.  If I made a quick trip to the store for some toy cars I could make another 8 nice boxes...and that number 28,888 was really tempting...


So...I went to the store...and...I finished them.  I FINISHED.  I think...

In other news, Jim and I had a date night last night and headed to Warren and Corry to visit our drop-off sites there and enjoy some time at the packing party at Corry.



Under Becky Foster's leadership this packing party has grown every year.  And the boxes were absolutely STUFFED this year with great fillers that will bless the children who receive them.
Just check out these beautiful handmade dolls.  They had 300 of them made by a local sewing group.


When my box packing was finished this afternoon I settled in to watch "Facing The Giants" for a little pick-me-up.  It's crazy when I think that 48 hours from now we'll know the total box number for our area team.  We've prayed for months for 54,321 and I have no idea whether we'll be anywhere close to that number or not.

As soon as I hear of a church whose box numbers are up this year I hear of another whose are down. We'll find out soon, though.  And, taking a line from "Facing The Giants"--we'll praise God if we win and we'll praise Him if we lose...

Because we're almost finished...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Back Packing


Well...last Sunday I thought I'd finished packing Operation Christmas Child boxes for 2017.  Then Tuesday brought a surprise sale at Dollar General that bagged nearly 400 more quality shoebox items--sandals, clothing, jewelry.



What could I do but start packing it up?  My sweet husband headed back to the storage container today and brought me more stuffed animals and more boxes.

He also picked up the cartons I needed for storing the hundreds of items to use for next year's packing party.  One problem, though.  He inadvertently brought home ones with the top flaps cut off that were being saved to put things on the tables at next year's party.  Not much help for storage, so we'll have to head back there to get more.

In between packing we've been making some visits to our drop-off sites.  It was fun to visit our Walnut Creek site on Tuesday and last night we made the trek to Meadville, Conneaut Lake, and Edinboro.  It rained, of course.  It always seems to rain when I drive to Meadville during National Collection Week.

Tonight we were out in North East visiting with a new drop-off team leader there.  She showed us a big bag of these neat hand-crocheted frisbees that were donated as filler items for the Processing Center.  Of course I had to test them.  They fly really well and fold up neatly.  What a cool idea!


We've been to our new Central Drop-Off site a few times this week.  I'm pretty disappointed the church insists on having the trucks dropped clear across the parking lot from their building.



 They have donors drop the boxes at the trucks and cartonize them in the trucks to keep from transporting the cartons such a long distance.  It's becoming kind of a mobile drop-off--not easy to minister to people that way.  So...we keep praying...

and packing...


Monday, November 13, 2017

And...We're Off!


Yes, I know. It's been almost three weeks again since I've written on this blog. Oy vey. Life just keeps happening...

And...we're off!  All year long we measure time in the Operation Christmas Child world by the number of weeks until National Collection Week.  Guess what?! It's here! Today marks the beginning of the week of harvesting these precious Gospel Opportunities.

Are we ready?  Well...it's hard to be ready when you're not sure what God's got planned, but we've prayed and we've recruited drop-off sites (even though we're down three from last year) and now we're waiting for the boxes to come through those doors.

I haven't exactly been slacking over the last three weeks.  Life has been pleasantly filled with good things, including TWO baby showers for our first grandchild, due on December 22nd.


Our daughter and her husband chose not to learn the gender of their baby, but, as you can see from the cake, he or she is already loved as can 'bee' (the shower theme) and we're more than ready to hold that precious miracle.


Well, I'm thinking the baby will be a lot cuter than this, but my husband did do a great job on the fruit basket bassinet.

And, then, of course, there are boxes.  First there were the 116 big boxes of visors (25,000 of them) that we received delivery on two weeks ago for our 2018 boxes. It was a COLD and rainy day, despite my prayers, but we got that delivery in a shiny UPS freight truck that was only a week old and managed to get all the boxes tucked into the storage container in record time.


And, then, I've been packing more boxes at home.  Between the packing party and boxes packed in the aftermath I really wanted to get 1,000 more boxes than last year.  Our team goal for our area this year is 54,321--4,015 more boxes than last year--so I know we need every box.

The 28.032 packed at the packing party put us 263 above last year's complete total. But as of a week ago I'd only packed 300 or so at home, opposed to the 1200 I did last year.  I couldn't imagine packing enough to get 1,000 more than last year's total of 27,769.

I kept praying along the way about how many to pack and just kept going.  Last week I made a few more runs to collect stuffed animals but knew I was running out of good boys' fillers.  When I drove into my driveway after picking up 41 stuffed animals these bags were sitting by my back door.

My neighbor is a tennis coach and sometimes leaves bags of used balls for me.  After I carefully inspect them I usually find only about 1/3 of them are box-worthy. But not this time! Nearly every one of these balls was in new condition.  So...I figured I would keep packing.


My husband kept assembling boxes and I kept filling them with good quality baseball hats and soap and pencils and pens and crayons and paper and coloring books and cups and balls and stuffed animals.  The stacks kept growing.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday I had a precious time with the students at Leadership Christian Academy. I got to speak to them in chapel and then they packed close to 200 shoeboxes at a packing party.



I was especially touched to see children praying over their boxes.  I know God is hearing and will bless the children who get these in extraordinary ways.


On Saturday I calculated I'd packed 305 boxes this past week and added to the 361 I packed previously the total came to 666--nope, couldn't leave it at that.  So, after praying, I decided to grab more leftover baseball hats from the storage container on Sunday and keep packing.

I've been pinch hitting as Project Leader at my church this year--not doing the job well but at least doing something--and Sunday morning was our final box collection.  Last year we collected 423 but this year God gave us 195 so far.


A number of people forgot their boxes and will take them to drop-off site this week, so I'm praying for more. I was especially blessed when our local TV station sent a reporter to do an interview and we got some media hits on the Sunday evening news and early Monday morning news. I'm praying God will use that exposure to bring in more boxes.

Yesterday afternoon found me packing again, and I finished 66 more boxes. I still need to put the finishing touches of hammers and nails and screws in the five tool kits.


I thought a few weeks ago it could never happen, but, by God's grace, it did. Between the 28,032 boxes packed at the packing party and the 737 packed at home the total stands at 28,769--exactly 1,000 more than last year.

Of course, you never know what bargains or donations could still come along so I didn't put the packing supplies away yet.

But now it's time to prayerfully collect all those boxes packed in other living rooms around our area. Because it's NATIONAL COLLECTION WEEK....and...we're off!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Leaving It On The Field


Call me a super slacker.  It's October 25th and this is the first blog I've written this month.  Maybe I've just run out of anything interesting to say.

The weeks roll along, and I can't believe the start of National Collection Week is just a bit over two weeks away.

Meanwhile, I'm praying about our goal of 54,321 boxes here in Northwestern PA and wondering what it means this year to "leave it all on the field."

I'm in the thick of packing boxes with all the miscellaneous items I've been saving through the year that weren't appropriate for our big packing party in September.  When it comes right down to it my passion is shopping for shoeboxes and packing shoeboxes so it's been fun to assemble these special boxes carefully and prayerfully.

I'm still praying and trying to figure out whether this extra-special dress should be marked for a girl in the 5-9 or the 10-14 age range. It's a long size 10. I even polled friends on Facebook and got a divided response.  I'm praying it will bless the girl who receives it.

This box has a Frozen theme and a pretty dress



The other night I finally assembled 40 sewing kits but was blessed with more supplies today and need to get busy making more.

And just when my filler supply was low I got another donation today. It's fun to figure out how to combine things.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking ahead to our 2018 packing party and unexpectedly received the first shipment this week.


It was a beautiful day to unload 12,000 cardboard Hello Kitty tiaras.  What could be more fun? 

But...there's still plenty of work to bring in the harvest of 2017 boxes.  There are two new drop-off sites to be trained, cartons to distribute, and I'm speaking at two churches this Sunday.  And, of course, there's the Chick-fil-A collection, too.  Oh, and the project leader for my church stepped down so I've been trying to kind of pinch hit in that role...

And the question remains: what does it mean to leave it all on the field for 2017?  I'm trying to get all the miscellaneous stuff packed into boxes (I'm up to 315 packed boxes sitting in my house right now) in the next few days, because we have baby showers for my daughter the next two weekends and I really need to free up some space.

After November 4th I need to decide whether to pack more boxes.  Our area team goal is a little more than a 4,000 box increase over 2016.  Right now--between the packing party and boxes packed at home we stand at just about 600 more than last year. Is that enough, Lord?  

I think we have enough items left over from the packing party to pack another few hundred good boxes.  Is that what God wants me to spend time doing?  Packing boxes is what I love to do, but is it what I should do?  

So...I guess I'll ponder that question for a week or so while I take care of what's in front of me now, because the time is short and I really do want to leave it all on the field.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

God Never Even Wastes A Chip


Today I've been reading over some of my journal entries from past months and seeing how many prayers God has answered leading up to our large Operation Christmas Child packing party.

I especially love seeing how He does not waste a thing!  One of our local grocery store chains offers points for free gas for the car when purchasing certain items, and I always try to get some of those good deals to keep the minivan running.

A few months ago they had a good deal on Lay's Stax chips.  Each canister cost $1.25 on sale and when you bought 6 of them (total cost of $7.50) you ended up with $12.50 worth of free gas points.  Never one to miss out, I loaded up with 70 of them and when they repeated the deal two months later I bought even more--planning to use them for snacks at the packing party.

On packing party day I heard the story of how the "blessing of the chips" continued.  It turns out that one of our Drop-Off Sites has already planned out their VBS for next summer, and one of the things they are trying to collect is 125 of these chip canisters for a special craft.

When they saw them at the packing party they dug through the bags of trash and ended up with 63 of the canisters!  Well...we also ended up with 28 of these left over at the end of the day.  Angie, our Drop-Off Team Leader from the church just stopped over to pick them up.

God never wastes anything--not even a chip.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Post Packing Party Prayer--Beyond Asking


They say a picture is worth a thousand words...so to keep this blog short I'm only using one picture (not to mention the fact that the pictures I have are on my phone and not on my laptop.)  This one is my daughter and son-in-law (and my unborn grandchild) who drove in from Ellwood City to volunteer at yesterday's packing party.  I really don't have witty words this morning, so I thought I'd let you listen in while I spend some time thanking God...

Awesome God, I never want to take for granted the miracles You do for me every day because of Your goodness, but I do want to learn to expect them.  I want to expect Your goodness because of Your character--because GOODNESS is Who You are.  This year, Father, I saw Your goodness in ways that are, to use Paul's words from Ephesians 3:20, "exceedingly, abundantly beyond all I could ask or imagine."

And I asked.  Oh, I asked over and over and over...and then I asked some more.  Still, you went beyond the asking.

I asked for 600 volunteers on Saturday.  You gave us 379 volunteers on Saturday but also 155 volunteers Friday night and 75 volunteers on Friday morning from more than 26 different churches and 19 different groups.  And...you knew we needed volunteers through the week to fold those boxes and sent us faithful volunteers day by day, culminating with more than 60 on Thursday night.  You knew our needs beyond my asking.

I asked over and over for enough items to fill 27,000 boxes in a way that would bless each child who receives one.  But You knew there were 28,032 children to be blessed and You provided fillers and wisdom for Amanda and Pam and others who made the decisions on how to use them.  And those boxes were well-filled up until the very last...beyond my asking.

So many prayed with me week by week for stuffed animals--enough to put one in every one of 27,000 boxes to bless children in Your name.  And they came...day by day and week by week.  Several thousand came in on Friday, on Saturday morning more bags were at the back door of my home, and even more were brought to the packing party.  Father, in Your abundance You poured them out so, like the 12 baskets of loaves and fishes collected after you fed more than 5,000 people, we had over-abundance.  We put bags and bags of them into our storage container to be sorted to go into boxes yet to be packed. Abundance...beyond my asking.

We did six Jericho marches in the days leading up to the packing party.  You heard us as groups of us walked around the church praying for wisdom, praying for people's hearts on this side of the box to be opened, praying for unity.  And on Saturday morning we did a final Jericho march.  We asked for your blessing.  We asked You to do what only You could do.  Over and over and over we asked.  And, oh, Father...how You answered!  Yes, there were some moments of strain in our team, but for the most part there truly was sweet unity.  At the end of it all we were still laughing and taking silly pictures with kitty tiaras on our heads--making memories that were beyond what we asked.

I kept wondering if I should have ordered more boxes.  I ordered 27,500 but You sent us 28,032.  We prayed on that Jericho march and You made the walls of boxes around the church come down until every one of them was packed and put into one of four trucks that are ready for the next step on their journey--beyond our asking.

We asked you to use Amanda's testimony in the opening of the packing party to draw people to Yourself and we trust in faith that You are answering those prayers.  We thank you for the man who wandered into the church on Wednesday night while we were folding boxes.  He said he has spiritual questions and Jim was able to spend a good portion of time talking with him.  We asked You to do Your work on "this side of the box" and You answered--beyond our asking.

Amazing God--each of these nine packing parties has been filled with gifts from Your hand.  But this one--well, of all of them I believe this one was somehow filled with more abundance than ever.

I stand in awe of You, loving Father, and I wish I had words to give You the praise you deserve.  I pray you will get that praise from the lips of the children who receive these boxes--precious gifts from You to lead them to Jesus, the Greatest Gift Of All, and I pray this in His name.  Amen.





Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Fling


Another l-o-o-ong day but so good.  Thanks to Bethel Christian School we got a good, early start this morning.  They brought 50 hard-working middle and high school students who pitched right in to fold and pack and cartonize boxes.  They had 1,000 boxes done in short order.

An hour or so later our friends from Christian Life Academy's 5th through 8th grades arrived to join the effort.  By the time all the students left at 1:00 we'd already packed a total of 4,760 boxes.

As part of our clean-up effort our team packed another 70 boxes filled with some of the awkward items that require finesse to fit into boxes.  This brought our truck total to 4,830.

The youth packing party started off with a bang with a TV station film crew there just as we began. It didn't take much time at all for everyone to get into the swing.  The box labeling and folding worked well, too.  None of the box wall fell over and we managed to keep up with just using the boxes from the back of the worship center.  We hope taking down 'the wall' will be the very last step.  It's kind of wearying to carry out the boxes we just carried in there yesterday but seeing the truck fill up with cartons makes it worth it.

I hope the students who were exposed to Operation Christmas Child will continue to practice serving others and stay engaged with the needs of children around the world.

We ended the night just a few minutes after 9:00 pm with a grand total of 10,143.  Time to go rest up for tomorrow's push for the last 17,000 boxes.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday's Thrust


Well, Thursday's thrust, of course, was folding shoeboxes.  We had our trusty ten volunteers during the day and made slow but steady progress.

After a few nights of four hours of sleep I was on the edge this morning and took a Jericho prayer walk around the building twice with my trusted friend.  By early afternoon I was kind of over the edge.  We needed to go home anyway to pick up two more carloads of the larger stuffed animals in the attic so Jim and I sneaked away.  I dozed in the recliner for longer than I should have but woke up refreshed enough to venture into the attic that had to be 100 degrees to haul 25 bags of stuffed animals out, toss them down to Jim, then load them in the vehicles.

We were amazed this evening to have over 50 volunteers, including several small groups, come to help us fold boxes.  What an encouragement!



It was crazy just trying to keep everyone stocked with labeled boxes and find places to put all of them after they were folded.



We now have boxes stacked several rows deep on every wall we could find.  We ended the night with an unprecedented 17,617 boxes folded.  That's probably the last time we'll have a count since we start packing with two Christian schools tomorrow and we'll likely be folding more boxes and packing them all at the same time.  

Another load of stuffed animals is in the washer and I need to get them dried, get a regular load of laundry in, and get the sheets on the bed so my daughter who is coming home for the packing party will have a place to sleep.

Get ready, Friday, 'cause we're coming!


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Wins


Wow--I just realized I took no new pictures today.  Ah, well, all those boxes kind of start to look the same after a while anyway.

I was blessed this morning to have some dear OCC friends call to pray with me over the phone.  God has given me so many great people to share this journey with and their texts and emails and prayers hold me up just as surely as Aaron and Hur supported Moses's arms in Exodus 17.

The morning started early when we crammed two roomfuls of stuffed animals from my spare bedrooms into our minivan and my husband's truck. Then Jim took off to meet another team member, grab a borrowed box truck, and head to pick up 12,000 stuffed animals stored in a basement.

I headed to the church to begin the folding.  After getting everyone started I shared the verse God gave me this morning in 1 Chronicles 5:20 "all who were with them were given into their hand; for they cried out to God in battle, and He answered their prayers because they trusted in Him." It was amazing to find this encouragement in the middle of a chapter filled with genealogy.  After sharing this verse with the group I invited anyone who wanted to come to join me in our second "Jericho march" to walk around the outside of the church and pray.  Each year I try to march in prayer six times around the church and then do a seventh march on the morning of the packing party.

My good friend and prayer partner took me up on the offer and we had a powerful time of prayer that brought sweet assurance of God's presence.

We continued folding boxes with about 10 people there off and on through the day.  This crew could really turn out the boxes and we quickly filled both sides of the rest of the hall (it held 6,012 boxes) and had to move to putting the boxes in the church worship center.

Meanwhile, Jim and Myron took the box truck out to Myron's house to pick up a truckful of plastic tubs filled with completed jump ropes they'd been storing.

The crowd thinned out by dinner time, but we were gifted by one of the church's Life Groups who came and brought us dinner then stayed to fold boxes.

Another Life Group brought us lunch day before yesterday, and I realized how much better everyone feels after eating a good meal.  The gifts of those meals contributed greatly to the atmosphere and made volunteering more joyous.  It was a good lesson to me and helped me realize I need to pray about my lack of attention when it comes to food.

Again, a larger crowd appeared for the evening and we fell into a good rhythm.  Each volunteer seemed to find a niche where they worked well.  Some of the children loved stacking the boxes, some enjoyed carrying, and others specialized in labeling the boxes for folding.

Working together, we ended the evening at 9:00 with a total of 10, 665 boxes folded.

Praising God for a Wednesday full of wins!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday Times


What a great Tuesday we had--although I have new respect for people who work 12 hour shifts.

Our morning started out a bit slow but by 10:00 am we had more people drifting in.  One by one we got people trained on the fine art of box labeling and folding and had a crew of around 10 people at any time through the day.



Things slowed down over the dinner hour; still, a faithful few remained to continue the work and then things picked up again.  We ended up with a solid crew of 30 people from all segments of the community.



Not only did we get the tables set with items in the Commons for the second part of the box-filling line but we got the rest of the storage container unloaded.

Best of all, we blew past the goal of 4,000 total boxes folded and ended the evening with 5,100!

Praising God for the best of times.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Moments




So...this is the Monday diary that will remind me next year of where we were on day 1 of prep week. Because we don't have storage space we couldn't have our boxes and cartons delivered until today--four days before we start packing.

The truck came bright and early this morning at 8:30 am and God answered prayer with good weather and a few strong guys to help with moving them through the church to the gym.  Four men pushed each pallet weighing 2,050 pounds on the pallet jack through the hallway.


Meanwhile five of us worked on pulling the tags off those cute fluffy bunnies.  It was a job we didn't want to do but it turned out to be providential because in the process we discovered some of the boxes containing the bunnies (thankfully wrapped in plastic) were damp and moldy.  Unfortunately, a few hundred of those bunnies had a musty smell.  We put them out to air and ultimately took them home to wash.  I'm on the 5th load right now with one more to go and Pam is washing more at her place.  I feel so blessed we found this out before Friday or Saturday.


Finally, around noon, we were able to get to the job of labeling and folding the boxes.  We weren't anticipating starting this today so I guess we're technically ahead, but we only got 6 cartons of boxes folded.  This should be 600, but for some reason we have 613 so far.  God's preparing us for "immeasurably more" I think.

So...tomorrow we are praying for more box-folders because we have 26,887 to go...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What God Can Do


You can never grow tired of seeing God do what only God can do.  It's actually a bit intoxicating.

Of course, what God is doing is not always evident to me, yet sometimes it's not only evident but fairly screams of Him.

God is meeting these packing party needs lately in extraordinary ways.  It's wonderful how God provides for each of us who pack boxes in different ways.

I have a number of friends who help host large packing parties and so often we stand in awe of how He brings those parties together in unique ways.

Several of those friends do their packing parties as an official project of their churches.  One of them even has her church print a little donor booklet that allows church members to pledge to provide the items needed for the packing party.

Our packing party, on the other hand, is not a church ministry.  Sometimes I find this frustrating, but lately I'm realizing it gives God a better chance to provide in His own way and get the glory.

Case in point: for the past few years our church has allowed us to have an announcement in the smaller traditional service to ask for donations of cookies for the packing party lunch.  This year, though, because of time constraints this couldn't happen.  We were asked to use social media to make our plea for cookies.

I wondered how that would work out.  I wondered if we'd need to just buy cookies, and one of our team members even offered to do that.  But God had other plans.

Today I got an unsolicited offer from a friend who formerly owned a cookie bakery.  She sent a text to tell me she's baking "at least 50 dozen cookies" for the packing party.  Well, okay.  Thank You, God.  We'll take that miracle.

And on another note:  Yesterday I got a text from someone else who asked "How many stuffed animals do you need?"  Of course this stuffed animal collection has been an ongoing adventure with MANY people praying each week for a goal to take us closer to being able to put an animal in each of 27,000 boxes.

Though it's hard to know exactly where we stand, after a few recent large donations and the promise of a few hundred coming in on packing party weekend, I calculated I needed probably another 500-1,000--typed the text and hit the 'send' button.

The reply quickly came back. "Done! I'll bring you 1,000 on Friday next week."

Done! After months of prayers and safari hunting God provided an amazing 27,000+ stuffed animals. And they weren't collected through a drive done by a large church.  Week by week and prayer by prayer--two by two or two hundred by two hundred...

Now I'm waiting on Him to send the volunteers we need in just that same miraculous way...

What God can do



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Working Prayers to a Good God


"Your prayers are working." For some reason, when I read or hear that I cringe a bit inside. It's well-meaning--a way to thank those who support you in prayer--but for some reason (and this is just my own opinion) it seems to take away from God's glory.

I mean I know, in a sense, our prayers ARE a form of work. It's an old turn of phrase, but we used to say we "labor in prayer."  And I know because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross we who believe in Him have the privilege and power of prayer.

But GOD is the one who is doing the work. He's the One who gets glory for anything good that comes from our praying.

Okay, since I'm on a roll...let me share another cringe-producing phrase--"God is so good." There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's very true and worth repeating and gives Him the glory He deserves.

The thing that bothers me most about both these phrases is they're almost always used when prayers have been answered according to our human desires or when we see God at work in ways WE think are good.  "God is so good," is not often spoken when the medical test results are disappointing or when the car repairs cost more than I expect or when death steals a loved one too soon.

Now...let me jump down from my soapbox to say that this week is a "my prayers are working" and "God is so good" kind of week.

Yesterday I picked up a donation of nearly 1,100 brand new beanie babies.  Not only that, my sweet sister-in-law went with me to pick them up and we were able to separate them into 'boy' and 'girl' bags of 50 so I didn't need to do that again when I got them home.  Not only that--at our OCC prayer team meeting last night Patti offered to take them to her home to store.  They never got into my house!

We prayed for 2,000 stuffed animals this week and in the past FOUR DAYS God has provided 2,010 of them!

Then today we got a delivery of our supply of donated jump rope handles and frisbees. We were 'blessed' (yep, another phrase I use mostly when things go my way) to have Jay drive to Baltimore to pick them up, to have Erie First Church offer us storage for the handles, and to be able to fit the frisbees in the storage container with just inches to spare.  And the rain was falling while we were delivering with the truck inside a garage and the bright sun came out when we had to deliver to the container outside. Pretty remarkable.




Oh, and I forgot we got another donation today of hundreds of pairs of cotton work gloves that will be perfect for the extra boys' fillers we were lacking.

And I found out a situation I've been praying about for months may be close to being favorably settled.

So, today makes me want to shout, "The prayers are working!" and "I'm so blessed!" and "God is SO good," And I want to rejoice.  It's fitting.  Not only with my 'blessings' but with those of others.

On the other hand, I'm asking God to give me a level of maturity and knowledge of His character that will let me say, "God is so good" when things don't work according to my plan. I want to remember I am 'blessed' (from the Greek word makarios) when I desire God and His will more than my own. I want to know that God is hearing and answering my prayers even when that answer is 'no' or 'wait'--that He is 'working' even, and maybe most especially, then.

Because He IS good ALL the time--whether it looks like it to me or not.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Three Week Stretch and Oh-Ohs


THREE WEEKS from now another victory will be in the books and our 9th Community-Wide Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Packing Party will be over. But right now I feel kind of like this little girl looks.

There are a lot of "oh-oh" moments in my life these days. I'm spending a lot of time on menial tasks I've managed to avoid all year like sorting and bagging the generic crayons that were donated last December and will be used as extra fillers because the quality of the crayons is not the best.  Two cartons of boxes of 64 crayons (probably from the dollar store) have been sitting in a spare bedroom for eight months...but NOW I have to take care of them.

Another day this week I worked on dolls and stuffed animals I've been putting aside over the past weeks because they need extra attention--changing batteries, combing hair, removing stains.

It's time-consuming stuff and it gives me those "oh-ohs" when I think I probably should be doing something to recruit more volunteers or figuring out some new publicity angles--something besides sorting and washing stuffed animals and finishing projects.

I just did another tally and it looks like we still need 4,666 animals (well, then I found one drying on top of the washer so I guess it's 4,665 which sounds like a better number.)

Maybe I should have recruited more people to pray for volunteers instead of stuffed animals?  Still, it will be nice to have enough animals to put one in each box.  A woman called on Thursday morning and said she has a large collection of new beanie babies and is moving to a smaller home.  She is having an estate sale and wants to sell some of her collection but promised to donate "at least 1,000" to us.  I'm praying God convicts her to give us even more.  Stay tuned for the rest of that story.

Speaking of Thursday, we had our final packing party work day and finished making all the jump ropes and bagged all but 34 cases of crayons.  The remaining 34 were farmed out for volunteers to complete at home.

Another thing we're praying is for God to provide donations to ship our boxes.  We have a fundraising page through Samaritan's Purse but have only raised a bit over $1100 so far. If you'd like to donate (goes directly to Samaritan's Purse) you can click here.https://www.classy.org/fundraiser/1054305

So...in the next 21 days we just have to: retrieve, haul, and stage all the items; pray in 600 volunteers; fold 27,000 boxes...and then pack them.

It's a stretch, but you just watch--God will make it happen.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fed By The Brook


I remember being in a group discussion during my college days where someone said he believed there are things in our spiritual walk with the Lord that are too intimate to share.  I think about that sometimes and wonder if I'm too transparent.  On the other hand, I know God can use that transparency to encourage others and bring glory to Himself.

So...today I will let transparency reign.

I've been hungry for Him lately.  This always tends to happen as we approach that big packing party every year.  It's a risk.  We don't have preregistrations for volunteers.  We aren't guaranteed who will show up to help us fold and pack those boxes.

We don't even know exactly what will go in each box and how God will answer our prayers to bless each child who receives one.

What I do know is that only God can make this happen.  From a human standpoint we are not on track--we never are.

I believe God's called us to pack these boxes.  I believe He can make it happen.  I sometimes just need a little extra reassurance that He WILL make it happen.

This Sunday was the final sermon in a four-week series call "Fire Fall" designed to prepare our church for God to do something new in us.  I challenge you to go to www.whoisgrace.com and listen to those sermons from the life of Elijah.  You won't be sorry.

Today Pastor Derek brought us to the climax of Elijah's battle with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. What amazes me about this story in Elijah's life was how CERTAIN he was that God was going to answer with fire.  He was sure enough to sit there and taunt the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings chapter 18) while they tried to reach their false god.  Man, I long for that kind of assurance!

As the sermon ended there was an invitation to "move" in response to God's call.  We were asked to "just stand or move into the aisle to kneel."  A few people stood and I sensed a prompting to walk down that long aisle to the front of the church and kneel.  Was it God?  Maybe that was me just wanting some attention?

Really--we were just asked to stand.  Standing would be enough, right?  I wrestled. I justified. But, finally, I just got up and walked and knelt.

I didn't see any visions but I knew--I just KNEW God was meeting me.  Just as God fed Elijah by the brook Cherith I sensed Him feeding that hunger in me.  Slowly there was a visceral response that shook me--literally--and released tears that seemed to bathe the dark smudges of fear from my soul.

It was really such a tiny step of obedience.  I mean, walking down an aisle in a free country isn't like facing a firing squad.  And possibly God would have spoken to me if I'd just been respectable and stood at my seat.  But I really don't think so.

Thank You, God, for meeting me and for that precious KNOWING that You are with me.  Thank You for feeding me.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Calling All Called


Yep, it's 1:00 am and my mind's wide awake and ready to translate the cause.  Translating the cause is one of the high impact principles we use in leadership in Operation Christmas Child.  There are no menial tasks in the Kingdom.  Everything you do for the Lord has eternal value.

And packing parties are full of tasks that might seem menial unless you look at them for the high calling they are.

I mean--what could be a higher calling than bringing God's love to kids around the world.  And how will they get to know that love unless someone tells them? And how will they tell them without a tangible way to show them? (enter those shoebox gifts) And how will they get the gifts unless we pack them?  And how will we pack them without boxes to put them in?  And how will we have boxes to put them in unless someone folds those boxes?

See this hallway filled with boxes?  Well, we're going to be folding these boxes again this year.  We won't get those 27,500 flat boxes that need to be folded until Monday, September 18th and we're praying to have at least 13,000 of them folded by Friday, September 22nd.  These boxes are sturdier than the pop-up ones we've used the last four years and will be better for the children to store the items they receive.

So...we're looking for people who are called to serve God by folding boxes.  And...we're also looking for people who are called to serve God by packing boxes.

Our volunteer numbers have fallen the past two years to about half of what we'd had previously--last year we had just 360 packers compared to 650 in 2012.  God has still allowed us to accomplish the work at the packing parties but with all this folding to do....well, I'm praying He's calling more people in our community to join us.

Will you mark your calendar and ask God to help you clear some time to make a difference for children around the world?

Check out our Facebook event by clicking here or just email me at jschriefer@neo.rr.com to get more details.

You are definitely called...


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Merry-Go-Round Musings


This summer's gone so fast it feels like one turn on the merry-go-round. Five weeks from right now, Lord willing, our 9th Operation Christmas Child packing party will be history and four trucks with 27,000+ boxes will be well-filled and waiting to be pulled.

Lord willing.

The details are starting to niggle away at me at night now.  It always happens--even though I know our sovereign God will make this packing party a reality again.  He always does.

But at this point it's all faith--not sight.  We don't know who the volunteers will be or how many will be there.  We know we'll have to fold boxes this year so more volunteers will be needed to accomplish that task.  Although, I just heard of a packing party this weekend that was sent the easy-open yellow boxes we've used before.  So...chalk that up to the 'who knows' category.

But as I remember past packing parties I know God's accomplished the task in even tougher situations. Most of those years I was working full-time and two of those packing parties fell within a week or two of my daughters' weddings.

We just had another successful packing party work day this Thursday and have one more scheduled in two weeks.  We're on track to have all the prep work completed before packing party week--something that's never happened before.

There are plenty of questions still waiting for answers -- when will we be able to unload the storage container?  When can we schedule work days the week of the packing party for box folding and set-up?  Will we have anyone to run sound for our opening before we begin packing on Saturday?  And, since I just found out these tags need to be removed...how/when will we cut them off the 2,880 bunnies that are buried in the back of the storage container.  Well...we have 34 days to figure it out.


God has been answering prayer and bringing in lots of adorable stuffed animals. Last week He provided 1,070.  I've been sorting and washing them nearly every day.  The living room carpet isn't clear for long.

I did have two offers this week to purchase new stuffed animals for .50 each--I turned them down.  I try to stay at a price point of .25 for each stuffed animal.  I added up the totals of the ones I've obtained myself in the past year and it came to 4,555 at an average cost of 14.5 cents.  Besides, though collecting them this way takes lots of prayer and travel and time, it does involve a lot more people and it also yields a diverse group of stuffed animals of different sizes that keep the boxes from being "cookie cutter" look-alikes and help fill out the space better.

I'm committed to safari expeditions--at least for the foreseeable future.  You never know what God will do next.

I did a tally last Monday of all our clothing/anchor and filler items and our core team strategized before Monday night's area team.  We decided we'll use thousands of extra clothing items that are on the small side (socks, gloves, underwear, and hats) to augment the other filler items.  By God's grace I pray our boxes will be better quality than ever.

Well, when the merry-go-round stops in five weeks we'll find out.