Thursday, December 28, 2017

His Story & History

There were two big events in our lives this week--one in our family and one in our city.

The family event has been years in the making.  My mother was 39-years-old when I was born, and when I gave birth to my first daughter at age 25 I felt a bit sad that her grandmother was already old. (I had a different perspective then--lol)  Funny thing is--my mother lived to age 101, was pretty vibrant up until her last few months and made decades of memories with my daughters.

I was approaching my 65th birthday when I heard the joyful news that our daughter was pregnant again.  After years of prayer, two miscarriages, and babies only in heaven, she waited for some months to make that joyful but sensitive announcement.  She did it by displaying a hand-printed onesie on Facebook with this reference from 1 Samuel 1:27 "For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him."

Jen and her husband, Jeremy, decided not to learn the gender of their baby until birth and our excitement grew month by month.  Jen purchased Christmas outfits for her baby--one for a boy and one for a girl. She was showered with many gender-neutral gifts and we looked toward celebrating with a new baby for Christmas. They refused to give any hints of potential names.

Her December 22nd due date came and went.  We made plans to go visit Jen and Jeremy for Christmas dinner since they couldn't travel to be with Jeremy's family.

But Christmas Eve marked the start of this week's history-making event in our city.  The snow began with just a few inches on Christmas Eve, and by the time we planned to leave for Jen's home in Ellwood City on Christmas morning we could barely see across the street and driving was too dangerous.

The snow didn't stop, and by Christmas night a record 34 inches had fallen.  We shoveled and ran the snow blower only to get hit with another 19 inches in early morning hours of December 26th.

On the morning of December 26th we were out trying to clear that latest accumulation when we got a call from Jen telling us they were inducing her labor at 1:00 pm.  We hurried to complete the snow removal as best we could, packed a bag, and took off.

The front of our house in the midst of snow removal.

These are pictures taken from other areas in our city. It was a crazy mess!

The streets were mostly unplowed and rutted.  It was like driving over moon craters, but once we got to the main highway we could safely and SLOWLY make our way.  We drove about 35 mph on the interstate (they'd lowered the speed limit to 45 mph but we couldn't get up to that.)

Amazingly, once we got about 15 miles away from Erie the highway was perfectly clear and we made good time.

I'd been praying over every detail of this baby's birth for months--years really--and it was such a blessing to see how God answered in every way.

The baby's heart rate had some decelerations so they had to stop the induction from time to time and monitor the baby continuously.

We'd been waiting for hours in the waiting room with Jeremy's parents when I got a text a little before 11 pm with the report that Jen was at 5 cm. and contractions were getting harder. I replied that if Jeremy wanted a break I could come in.  When I got the answer "You can come in anytime," I was down the hall pronto.

In my pre-shoebox life I taught childbirth education classes for 19 years, and I was so proud and impressed at how well Jeremy and Jen worked together to labor as a team.  Jeremy was a tireless coach, she breathed like a champ, and I got to cheer them on and offer some support with cool cloths and counter pressure on her back.  And she did this without an epidural, which I later learned is pretty rare these days.

Three hours later she was able to push and in just half an hour our beautiful grandson burst into the world. It turns out the umbilical cord was around his neck and that was causing the drops in his heart rate throughout the day.  Thank You, Lord for protecting him through that rigorous journey of birth.
He needed some extra suctioning to get started in life but was soon crying and weighed in at 6 pounds, 11 ounces.  I took some pictures then headed back to the waiting room.  I'd been sworn to secrecy so Jeremy could come and make the announcement to all the grandparents at once. And they still refused to tell me the baby's name.

Back in the waiting room the other grandparents threatened to torture me but ended up waiting patiently until Jeremy came to make the announcement, "It's a boy. And his name is Samuel James."

Hannah named her son Samuel, which means "God has heard".  God heard Hannah's prayers and God heard Jen and Jeremy's prayers and the prayers of countless family and friends who have prayed for this baby.  I pray our Samuel, like Hannah's Samuel, will hear God call him at a young age and will serve Him faithfully.

Meanwhile, by noon on Wednesday our city measured a total of 65.1 inches of snow since Sunday night.  And they're predicting another foot or so this weekend.  Once you get past FIVE FEET what's another foot?

It just makes the story better.

Peaceful Processing Procrastination

Well...the procrastination part is the fact that I waited so long to get this blog entry posted. time somehow rolled on.

We were blessed to be able to volunteer at the Baltimore Processing Center from December 4th - 9th this year. We've been there two seasons as full-time employees but I have to say volunteering is a lot more fun.  It's great to be able to try different areas and have the luxury of talking to so many interesting people.

We arrived on December 4th and went over to the PC just to drop off the 61straggler boxes we'd brought from our area, but...they had spaces available and so we just had to stay for five hours--lol.

On Tuesday morning we were blessed to work with Kati Sturgis and her friend who'd traveled from our area to volunteer for the first time.  One of the boxes Kati inspected that day had a digital camera in it!  We're praying it goes to just the right child...

We took a break in the afternoon and went back to rest at our hotel before returning from 6-10 that evening. By the time Tuesday night came my feet and legs hurt so much from standing I was worried I wouldn't be able to make it through the week.  Thankfully, my prayers and Ibuprofen helped me turn the corner on Wednesday--or maybe I just got numb?

We came across some really interesting boxes--some had unusual shapes and some had unusual items like this set of some sort of blocks in a plastic bag that only filled half of the large cardboard box they were packed in.  We found a bunch of fun items to fill it up.

Someone even sent this giant dump truck and taped an open GO box over it. Showing their dedication to "the integrity of the box" the staff found a box to fit it and tucked a few other items in with it.  Only God knows the story behind that one!

Several boxes came through that were so pretty--decorated with pictures covered with decoupage on the lid and the rest of the box covered with decorative duct tape.

My favorite part of our week at the PC, though, was meeting some new friends.
Mary and Sharon work as church relations volunteers in my region. I hope I get to see them again at the Connect Conference.  While we inspected boxes we chatted about the struggle to get churches involved and to keep them involved in packing boxes.  

We also enjoyed working on two days with this family who flew in from Michigan to volunteer. Their youngest daughter had a real knack for carbonizing boxes and my husband loved mentoring her in that process.

Stephanie is a fairly new area coordinator from Brooklyn.  My daughter lives in Brooklyn so we chatted about that area and the highs and lows of Operation Christmas Child promotion there.

On our last two days there we were blessed to inspect some boxes packed from our area. It was fun to be able to send them pictures and tell them their boxes were going to Colombia and/or Kenya.

On our last day I was able to spend some time in the "Inappropriate" area.  All items that must be removed from boxes as inappropriate are donated to local charities.  We sure gave them a LOT of toothpaste and candy this year--lol.

As we left the PC on Saturday night Jim said, "It's really hard to leave."  My thoughts exactly.  Thankfully, Connie, our Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager who worked as the 2nd shift PC Manager posted a picture of the tote board at the end of the processing season so we could see the countries where all those precious boxes were shipped.

We praise God for all the staff and volunteers who got the job done and continue to pray for the children who will be receiving these boxes in months to come.

Peace to all! 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Catching Up and Sorting and Snipping

Two weeks ago I was wondering if I was finished with my 2017 shoeboxes and now I'm knee deep in preparing for 2018 boxes.  Crazy!

So...back on November 18th I thought I might be done packing. On Sunday morning, November 19th, I woke and decided I needed to pack 9 more boxes to give me 28,888 as the grand total from the packing party boxes and the post-packing-party boxes.  I scrounged up every available item--even dipped into the sample boxes I use when I speak about Operation Christmas Child. I started to clean up the leftover items and left for church feeling I'd done all I could.

But...then...I discovered someone had left donated items in the church office for me.  And someone left nine more nice empty boxes.  Surely that was a sign I wasn't done. So after church I tucked all those items into the boxes and put together another even dozen bringing the total to a nice round

Monday turned out to be a hectic day at our Central Drop-Off site but I could tell we were far from the goal of 54,321 we'd been praying for all year.  When the three trucks were pulled on Tuesday the total came in at 50,388--just 86 more than our 2016 total.  It was only by God's grace and all the extra last-minute donations that we were able to send even that many.

God knows and He has plans to bless all the children who are waiting to hear about His love.

Fast forward to this week.  I thought it would be an easy week of resting up and getting ready to travel to volunteer at the processing center next week.

Instead, I was surprised by a steady stream of donations of stuffed animals. My husband said, "Why are they bringing them now?" Well, why not?

Over the first few days of the week I sorted, washed, and bagged more than 500 animals.  But I wasn't prepared for last night's delivery of 1500 plus!

I lined all the bags up against the couch and waited for morning light this morning to start the sorting.  I worked on them from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm (with a few Facebook breaks, of course.)  I've written before about the cleaning process, but I thought you might like to hear about the sorting.

The donors who brought all these bags said they'd already washed the animals, and that was a huge help.  Still, I had to inspect them. As I look over each animal, I check for any spots, tears, or flaws, and I always look carefully at the tags on them.  You can have a nice clean animal but if the tag is faded or frayed like the one in the picture then of course it doesn't look new.  So, I simply snip off the tag. The trick is to cut it as close to the fabric as possible without cutting the animal.  

Then the animals are thrown into piles around the living room according to size and whether they are for a girl or boy/either.  My sorting has gotten more specific over the past few years. There are piles for Beanie Baby-sized; medium or Webkin-sized; large ones that, in addition to basic items, will pretty much fill up a box for a 2-4 year old and medium-large ones that need only a few additional fillers. 

Here's part of the pile of tags that have been cut off.  I will also cut shirts or costumes off if they are faded or cut witch's hats off Halloween animals and also clip the ends of ribbons so they are fresh.

It's hard to find room in the living room for all the various piles--especially when you add in all the other piles--those that need to be washed, ones that need batteries, ones who need to have hair combed, ones that aren't suitable for special access boxes and are relegated to the Patriotic Praying Pig Pile.  And then there are those that don't make the cut for shoeboxes.  I take piles of them to our city mission's clothing pantry where I volunteer and they are scooped up by local folks.  

Once all the animals are separated into piles it's time to bag them up.  The Beanie-sized ones go 50 in a bag in smaller white trash bags while the medium Webkin-sized ones go 75 to a large black garbage bag.  The really large ones go in big clear trash bags and are hauled to the attic so they don't get mixed in.

My latest quandary is what to do with the medium-large ones because I've run out of places to keep them separate.  Might have to enlist another volunteer for that.  

So...2,000 animals by the beginning of December is a pretty good start.  I'm not sure yet what our goal will be for the 2018 packing party, but we probably only need another 26,500 or so.

We're catching up!

Saturday, November 18, 2017


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?'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.