Sunday, July 18, 2021

Opening The Door

 

Four months without a blog post? What has my life come to? Mostly, it's come to a lot of the same old stuff including truck deliveries and moving stuff from one spot to another and watching God answer prayer for our Operation Christmas Child team. Moving stuff around gets old and doesn't seem very blog-worthy but watching God answer prayer is something else and I really should write those answers down more often, if only for my own benefit.

But today I want to talk about something else. I want to reminisce about answered prayer from decades ago that spills over into the 'now'. It may not be a coincidence that this morning's sermon talked about discipling the next generation. 

This sermon came just days after a little reunion that took place at a local restaurant on Wednesday night. We were blessed to have dinner with three couples and one spouse in each of those couples was part of the senior high youth group Jim and I 'led' (I use that term loosely here) during the first years of our marriage. 

Let me just say that first year of marriage was one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, years of my life. Married just nine days after my college graduation at age 21, I struggled to get my bearings as a wife. As a couple. And I struggled in my new job as a floor nurse on an orthopedic/neurosurgery floor at a local hospital. I felt ill equipped, constantly failing, and perpetually exhausted.

And into my mess came a gaggle of teenagers. They were only 4-6 years younger than I. I had no wisdom for them. I was spiritually drier than I've ever been for most of that year. But God opened a door. 

Jim and I rented a little home (which, by the way, we still live in 47 years later.) Did I mention it was little? But those kids didn't care. They just wanted a place to get together and enjoy each other's company. Many days or nights there were spontaneous knocks on the door. I didn't have the gift of hospitality and I still don't. But those kids didn't care. They didn't care that all I served them were bags of potato chips and commercially made french onion dip. More often than not that dip got ground into our beautiful '70s orange carpet.

They just kept knocking. 

I was spiritually dry. And empty. And woefully lacking in maturity and wisdom. And as non-Martha-Stewart as the day is long. 

But I kept opening the door. And they kept building community.

Fast forward to this Wednesday night in the restaurant. Those kids are now all retirement age but they shared how much those few short years meant in their lives. Their memories of the retreats we attended together and the pranks they pulled and the joy of community are vivid and remembered with fondness. They talked about churches they attend and ministries they are part of and the lives they've lived in the grace of God. Not perfectly, but still filled with grace. And, really, that's what discipling involves--sharing together in His grace. 

A few decades later I did a stint of thirteen years of teaching Sunday school to middle schoolers. I hope there was some discipling going on there also. And how do you ever really measure the effect of teaching the word of God to kids who are so embroiled in adolescent angst that they can barely even listen? 

You don't. But you just keep showing up and opening the door to God's word. You listen. You pray. And you hope that someday maybe one of those verses you paid them to memorize (yes, I PAID them) will make a difference when they need it. 

One of those former students became a successful youth leader in a large church. And two of them became drag queens. I'm not sure about each of them but God knows. 

And He keeps opening the door. 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

God meets our needs in strange ways, too. God meets our needs--for me, for you.





I regularly pray God will meet every financial need of Samaritan's Purse and that no ministry will be left undone for lack of funds. This fervent prayer comes partly from my angst about not seeing the $9 shipping donation for every box we pack at our large Operations Christmas Child packing parties. Last year, for example, we packed 22,697 boxes. The full shipping donation for those would be $204,273. But we didn't see that full contribution. Instead, as far as I know, we had about $11,500 donated for shipping. 
Not. Nearly. Enough.

I also regularly pray for God to tell us clearly if He wants us to scale back and pack fewer boxes (say maybe 3000) so we can send the entire shipping donation. Somehow, though, He keeps providing all these items and we just keep packing. 

Still, I pray both these prayers over and over and over.

I try to think of every way possible to get more funds for shipping these boxes. I've sold things at consignment stores. My husband and I give all we can on a monthly basis. I've done an online fundraiser through Samaritan's Purse each year that has raised as much as $1000 but, truthfully, most of my social media contacts are people who already pack shoeboxes themselves.

Back in the late 1990s when eBay was pretty new I sold items there that I found at yard sales--mostly books and vintage toys. And I did pretty well with all proceeds going to various mission projects. But then eBay became flooded with so many items and fees were charged for listing items each week. If the items didn't sell you could actually lose money.

Over the past few years of yard sale trips I collected some things I thought might earn some money, and when I cleaned out my spare room after the holidays I decided it was time to try again on eBay. To my excitement I found proceeds of my sales on eBay could go directly to Samaritan's Purse and, if they did, I wouldn't have to pay eBay fees. I also discovered eBay now only charges the fee when the item sells (probably had to do that to compete with Facebook marketplace and other platforms.) It was also easier to list the items than it used to be.

In the past two months I sold about 20 items and Samaritan's Purse will receive a donation of  $1200. It doesn't seem like much compared to $204,273, and it goes into Samaritan's Purse's general fund. But I am pretending it's a way to help with shipping. 

The thing is--I pretty much depleted my stock of anything salable. Only a few items remain that I keep trying to sell.

Fast forward to this week when I heard about several Dr. Seuss books being removed from publication. That led me to pull down the attic staircase and trudge up into that cold storage to check the two boxes of children's books that are left there. These are the ones my daughters didn't want for our grandchildren--the really old and beat up ones. I have a terrible time parting with old books or these would be gone too.

One copy paper box held old Dr. Seuss books. These are ones I bought at yard sales--probably for no more than .25 each--decades ago when my kids were small. And, voila!--I found two of those now out-of-print books--"If I Ran The Zoo" and "To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street."


So I listed them on eBay. One of the auctions was shut down pretty quickly for "objectionable material" so I relisted it. Later that afternoon I heard about the title of another book "McElligot's Pool". Another search in the attic and I found that one and listed it, too. Trouble is, I made a misspelling in the title and added an extra 't'--spelling it "McElligott's Pool" and eBay would not let me change the title in the listing. This makes it more difficult for people to find it in a search. I was so upset with myself! 



By that night (well, actually, 3:00 am the next morning since I couldn't sleep and kept checking it) the auction on "If I Ran The Zoo" was up to $510! And "...Mulberry Street" was up to $85...while the misspelled "McElligot's Pool" actually had some bids and was up to $81! 

I grabbed a few hours of sleep and when I woke at 8:00 am I had emails telling me the first two auctions had been taken down for "objectionable material". Now I had a dilemma. Should I try relisting them? I decided to relist them at a lower fixed price instead of an auction, hoping they would sell before the listings could be removed. And, success--"If I Ran The Zoo" sold for $150 and "...Mulberry Street" for $69.99 immediately. I've been kicking myself since then thinking I should have asked a higher price but I just wanted them to be sold quickly without auctions being removed. 

The auction for the last book kept going. I think maybe that misspelling was providential. It was more difficult for buyers to find the book but also more difficult for eBay 'checkers' to find. 

I just finished watching the bidding play out to the final second...AND the winning bid was $190.50. Thank you, Lord, for that misspelling error, my failure to purge the attic of all those old books, and a well-timed Dr. Seuss craze. Now, if only I'd tried to put the other two books at a higher price...

Still, that's $410.49 for shipping I didn't have last week. 

God meets our needs in strange ways, too. God meets our needs--for me, for you!


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

What I Learned from the Peppa Pig Play House

 


Originally Written: November, 2020 

This might be long but God has taught me a lot in the past few days through this crazy toy. It started on Wednesday when I got an email giving me the age and gift desires for a 2-year-old foster child to 'adopt' for Christmas (NOT the child, just the gifts!) 

I was SO excited to read she wanted the Peppa Pig Fancy Family Home because I just happened to know it was 50% off (only 29.99) at Target AND I had a $40 coupon to use there. I reasoned I could get nice gifts for this child and spend virtually nothing. (Not a very giving attitude, as God was to convict me later) The thing was--the toy was OUT OF STOCK at Target. No matter how often I checked, it was out of stock. 

So...I did more shopping (I shop like hunters hunt) and got a less spectacular more babyish Peppa Pig model at Kohl's and spent my $40 coupon getting this child other gifts at Target. But God wouldn't let me stop thinking about that Peppa Pig house. I found a similar one at Walmart for $55.50 (almost twice as much) and God kept telling me to be generous and get this child what she wanted. So I ordered it on Thursday.

BUT I couldn't stop looking and on Friday I found a more spectacular one with 5 Peppa figures instead of 3 for a one-day sale on Amazon. It was regularly 79.99 but reduced for ONE DAY to $55.99. It seemed nicer than the Walmart one and that's what returns are for. So I ordered that one, too. This morning I was thanking God for revealing my miserly tendencies and helping me invest more than I wanted to invest in that toy. BUT I couldn't stop looking. This morning I just had to check the Target site once more and it showed they had 'limited quantities' of the $29.99 toy at Target in Erie. Well, I buzzed up there and there were TWO on the shelf. I nearly bought them both, but I restrained myself and bought one. 

So...now I have one Peppa Pig Fancy Family Home and TWO MORE (plus another model) on the way to me. Wouldn't it be funny if I ended up keeping the most expensive one after all? Meanwhile, God has taught me that I might need to open up my fists once in a while and buy something at regular price for a good cause. He's revealed some pockets of greed and dissatisfaction I didn't want to see. And He helped me buy a lot more gifts for this little peanut than I'd originally planned. Not a bad return for 4 days of shopping. And, hey, if I keep the $29.99 one I will have saved enough to pack another Operation Christmas Child shoebox online. You can pack one, too, at https://build-a-shoebox.samaritanspurse.org


Friday, September 11, 2020

2020 Peculiar Pandemic Packing...All This Abundance...

 

"All this abundance that we have provided for building...comes from your hand and is all your own." 1 Chronicles 29:16

I'm not sure 2020 will be known in most circles as a year of abundance but it certainly has been that for our Operation Christmas Child team here in Northwestern PA.

By God's grace He provided almost all the items we needed to pack 22,000 boxes before the pandemic hit. Had it not been for that it might have been easy to say we'd skip our large shoebox packing party for 2020--our 12th year. But with God's provision so evident we KNEW (and kept reminding one another) that He wanted these boxes to be packed.

It was that assurance that kept us going despite roadblocks along the way. We lost our storage space and had to move most of our items with just a few weeks' notice. On the day we met with the church pastor to confirm plans for our September packing party the governor of PA limited indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people. We knew then we'd have to shift gears to make this packing party happen.

But God went before us to open new doors and happen it did! Granted, we could only have fewer than 25 people practicing social distancing to pack. Only 5-10 people packed at a time at individual stations while others folded boxes, stocked items, or dealt with the mountains of cardboard. 





We packed one truck in August with a total of 5499 boxes in 3 days and today we finished filling 3 more trucks with another 17,198 boxes and it only took us 5 days this time!

As I look back over my journal at prayer requests through these past months I see how God answered us so clearly step by step. We prayed about items to purchase last October and November and God gave us direction. We prayed about a source for balls and whether to even purchase them and God answered (we bought all the wholesaler had so don't even ask me where we got them--lol.)

We prayed over deliveries and trucks and volunteers and God provided in every way at just the right times. 

We hated not being able to involve the whole community this year but we still prayed to make an impact in the lives of people on "this side of the box." And wouldn't you know it--on one night of packing a sweet woman wandered in looking for Celebrate Recovery. It's no longer held at the church but God provided another volunteer there who was packing (the only few hours she was there this week) who was able to offer support to this woman as they packed boxes and promised to take her to a meeting. I'm telling you--pandemic or not--God is ALWAYS up to something! 

Packing was easier and quicker than we imagined possible with so few people. And today, before noon, Donna folded the LAST box. 

After all these months, we filled the last box that was sent. I even found one extra at home from 2 years ago and we filled that one, too.

Since we cleaned each day as we went it was a breeze to get everything stored back in our container. We even had the time and energy for the core packing party team to debrief a bit and celebrate. Something that usually has to wait for a few weeks until we recover.

With this our 12th year of packing parties we just crossed the quarter million mark. This makes a total of 256,126 gospel opportunities packed in a dozen years. 

Our theme verse for this 2020 Peculiar Pandemic Packing Party was from Nehemiah 2:18 "Rise up and build!" It's no coincidence I'm sure that my morning Bible reading was in 1 Chronicles 29--David's prayer as he prepared for his son to build a temple to the Lord. Verse 16 reads "O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own." 

I was able to read that with my team today as we thanked God for His provision for every step and for every box. Great is His faithfulness! 



Sunday, September 6, 2020

Not Feasible

 

I am so glad we don't serve a God of the feasible.

On Friday and Saturday we had our packing party core team doing setup for this week's packing of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. By God's grace we were able to complete setup in record time so we began packing boxes. Praise God we have 2,040 in the truck already!

In the midst of the day of packing I had a little conversation with a young man who is experiencing our packing for the first time. He's a family friend of one of our team members and drove 5.5 hours to come work with us. He asked me what our goal was for the number of shoeboxes to pack this week and when I told him it's 17,000 he answered, "That's not feasible!"

His words have been rolling around in my head so I looked up the definition of the word 'feasible' and it's "possible to do easily or conveniently."

Well, by that definition pretty much anything in our Operation Christmas Child world is not feasible because not much of it is easy or convenient.

This morning I'm thinking how glad I am we don't serve a God of the feasible. 

Is it feasible that God would provide almost all the items we needed to pack 22,000 boxes before the pandemic hit? 

Is it feasible that one casual contact by a team member would result in a donor going online to search out Operation Christmas Child and make contact with our regional office so he could donate a truckload of fillers? 

Is it feasible that a man I barely know would drive across the state with a truck full of clothing items to donate?

Is it feasible that one team member could singlehandedly find and purchase more than 13,000 Beanie Babies this year?

Is it feasible that one team member also could put together 22,000 plus school packs in her home?

Is it feasible that another team member completed 6000 jump ropes and sorted and stored countless bins of clothing?

Is it feasible that one team member secured and financed the storage of two truckloads full of items? 

Is it feasible that a small team of 18 members (only 10 or so able to be active year-round and most of them over the age of 60) would be able to orchestrate the packing of 22,000 shoeboxes in 6 days in one small area with only 20 people at a time in the midst of a global pandemic?

The answer is a resounding "NO". This young man saw the truth. None of this is feasible.

BUT our God is not a God of the feasible. Our God is a God of the impossible. And we stand on tiptoe to see Him do it again. 

ps--this cute bear is our mascot for this 2020 Pandemic Packing Party and he is reminding us to "Rise up and build!"


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Little Things

 


Sometimes we feel prayer should be reserved for really crucial things like world peace. But God tells us over and over again in His word to pray about everything and to "cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Honestly, most of my prayers are for pretty small specific things--things that may seem trivial--like a better price on balls for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes or for good weather and timing for deliveries or for just the right volunteers to come at just the right times to get our boxes packed.

For the last eight months or so this little miracle is one of the little things I've been praying for. I'm not sure I agree with the term 'pregnancy loss' because I know none of these little ones who go to heaven without drawing a breath on earth are lost in terms of eternity. They are experiencing life forever, yet their earthly parents are left with the loss of the joy of knowing them here. And so, by this definition, my daughter has experienced more loss over the past several years. Not one to dwell on her sorrow, though, she moved on beyond the miscarriages and we rejoiced last Christmas when she shared the joyous news that God had blessed them with yet another pregnancy.

The prayers moved from the generalized prayer for the blessing of a healthy baby to more specific prayers as the pregnancy advanced. Our daughter and son-in-law did not want to learn the gender of their baby before the birth. And though the health of this baby was her primary concern there were other wishes she had for this labor and delivery. She wanted less medical intervention if possible and a chance to move around more during labor. She chose a midwife as her health provider.

As her due date of August 11 came and went in this hot summer she kept her eyes on the goal. Rather than having her labor induced she chose to wait beyond week 40. And then beyond week 41. It was decided her labor would be induced on August 23rd if she did not begin labor before then.

Meanwhile we kept praying. I was praying specifically that this labor and delivery would be a memorial stone in her family's walk of fatih--a time when they would see God's goodness in new ways. 

Though I kept praying her contractions would begin, for some reason I felt sure her labor would not begin until the 23rd. And, truthfully, I felt a bit guilty for that. Did it mean I lacked faith God would work? 

On Saturday we traveled to our daughter's home to stay with our two-year-old grandson, Sam. Early Sunday morning we prayed together before Jen and Jeremy left for the hospital. In this COVID world we knew we wouldn't see them until they brought their baby home.

News was sparse through the day but we kept praying as the hours wore on. I got several messages and one said she was able to have intermittent monitoring for only 15 minutes per hour so she could move around. A definite answer to a specific prayer. 

Finally, at 10:30 that night Jen called to say her baby was safely here. A girl. Our first granddaughter. And they named her Mabel Irene after her great-grandmothers. I was excited to hear how God answered another specific little prayer. After rupturing her membranes in the morning, Jen's labor progressed naturally with no medication needed. 

Now I'll continue my daily specific prayers for this sweet miracle baby and for my three other grandchildren--that each will know how much God loves him or her and respond to that love by surrendering themselves to a lifelong relationship with Him. 

No prayer could be more crucial. 






Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Day 3--They're Off, You see!

 


Day 3--and by God's grace we were done at 10:30 am! After cleanup we prayed around the truck for the children who will receive these boxes.

Packing so many boxes with a group of only 15 or fewer people at individual tables is something we never would have considered doing if it were not for COVID. And I had no idea how it would work. But our team actually loved it. In general there was less stress and it was more efficient in terms of time than our usual assembly packing party.

I figured each person packed about 250 boxes in a seven hour day and I'm pretty sure that's way more than the average person packed in a day by walking a large circuit around the inside of the church.  And we know these boxes were well-packed, also. That's a relief for sure.

At the same time, we realize we are losing the sense of community and the chance to interact with so many people at our large packing party. We mourn that loss, but we're grateful God provided this way for us to continue to bless children around the world. 


Each person packed at a socially distanced station and packed only 6-8 boxes at a time with their supplies on the other side of the table so they didn't have to move much. This helped with efficiency.




We had a list on each station so the packers knew what to put into each of these pre-planned boxes. While this was going on, we had three team members combining miscellaneous items for boxes for boys and girls ages 2-4. These trusted team members had a good grasp of all that was available and could hand pick the items that worked best together to make the best use of resources. 


Another reason things worked so well is that team members were self-directed. Those who were not at packing stations quickly noticed tasked that needed to be done to make things run more efficiently. Ed, who I dubbed "the sock guy" quickly started opening the plastic bags containing two pairs of socks so the individual pairs would be ready for packing. This was something we couldn't do in advance because many items were 'buried' in storage and unaccessible. 

Other team members took on tasks like breaking down boxes or stocking tables with supplies. In our debrief at the end of this session we discussed ways to make those tasks official jobs for volunteers in September. 


Sadly, we could have put 6 more cartons on the truck. My math was wrong when I ordered boxes. For some reason I thought 5400 would fill the 350 cartons on the truck but it actually takes 5600 to fill 350 cartons with 16 boxes each. They sent me 5500 boxes, thankfully, but since one carton only had 49 boxes our total when every single box was packed was 5499.  And how did we know one carton only had 49 boxes you ask? Only ONE carton of boxes had the boxes counted. Just ONE--because a team member took them home, folded them, and arranged them in rows of 5 and came out with an odd stack of 4 at the end. And we were missing only ONE box. 

I wish I'd ordered more boxes...and if I'd known how fast it would go we could have ordered even MORE boxes and a second truck. 

Still...the truck was just pulled and there are now 5499 gospel opportunities on the way to Charlotte. And...we'll be back to pack more in a few weeks so stay tuned.