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 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. 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 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, 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. 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.