Thursday, July 24, 2014

What A Difference A Decade Makes



This morning I read Psalm 18:49--"Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to Your name."

Since people from different nations read this blog it's a perfect place to give thanks to the Lord among the nations....and so....I want to give thanks and sing praises to His name.

Lucky for you, I'm not going to actually sing, but you get the idea.

I found this picture in an old Bible a few weeks ago.  It's a picture of a bulletin board I created at my old church in 2003 and it announces the Operation Christmas Child shoe box goal we were praying for that year.

The goal was God-sized.  After all, we'd only packed 796 boxes the year before in 2002.

But we prayed and trusted and watched God provide.  Every purchase was lovingly recorded in my simple notebook.


I was so excited when God provided notebooks at WalMart for .10 each and crayons for .15 and when I found large tubes of toothpaste for .69 each.

Ultimately, by God's grace, we packed 1,234 boxes.  Loved that number!  And it was a 55% increase over 2002.

I was ecstatic.  God was gracious to let me exult in the victory.  He didn't tell me then that a decade later we'd be packing over 22,000 boxes in one weekend.  That would have terrified me.

Instead He led us little by little--to 1,780 the next year and then to 2,240 the next and to 3,100 the next.  Increasing first by hundreds and then by thousands, with Him providing all the way.

Also in 2003 I went to an Operation Christmas Child informational meeting and filled out an application to become a volunteer.  I was never interviewed and never had any more verbal contact with our regional office, but I received a training manual and a certificate signed by Franklin Graham that proclaimed me trained as a "Promotional Partner."



I got a shirt in the mail every year but it wasn't until 2007 when I met Leigh Fisher and interviewed for a position as a volunteer Area Coordinator that I really got connected.  Things were different a decade ago.

And in 2003 we got an official OCC Collection Center in Erie for the first time. I believe they collected about 7,000 boxes that year.  That, too, has changed, with 40,000 coming out of Erie in 2013.

Year by year God gives the growth.  Pushing us.  Growing us.  Every year doing something new.

At our OCC area team meeting last night we joked that "We never do the same thing twice."  Last year, for example, I thought I had the perfect supplier for soap and toothbrushes and planned to use them again.  Instead, we got our soap and toothbrushes from totally different places this year.

Some things stay the same, though.  I still lovingly record every purchase on lined paper in my simple notebook.

And, still, God always provides.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Retreating

I can't believe it's been almost three weeks since my last blog post.  Part of the reason for that is that I took an intentional break from Facebook and most computer work.  I did check e-mail once a day but that was it.

Our Operation Christmas Child regional director, Leigh Fisher, asked our team to take a week off from OCC duties.  My media coordinator, Pam Niedhammer, dubbed it a "Praycation" and I like that term.

Leigh asked us to take that week to be still and hear from God.  I had hoped to make it a total week-long personal retreat but it didn't quite work out that way.  Life interfered, as it often does, and there were responsibilities I couldn't (and shouldn't) dodge.

Still, I was able to take at least a few hours most of the days of that week to go to some local place where I could experience the beauty of nature and I was able to stay (mostly) unplugged.

I only live a few miles from the beauty of Lake Erie beaches, but even though I love it I don't go to the beach on a regular basis.  Two days of that week I spent some time on the shore.  The weather was threatening but the clouds were gorgeous.  The sky is ever-changing, with a new view by the minute.

The verses I read in Isaiah 43:18,19 seemed appropriate, and I read them over and over.  And then I read them some more.  "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

There's been a lot of wasteland over the past months but I'm seeing a new thing spring up in our area.  God is on the move for us.

I stood at the shoreline and watched the waves come in and recede.  As the waves go out they seem to pull the ground from underneath my feet, then the ground is steady until the next wave comes.  That's life, too.

Then I read Psalm 46:10--"Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." -- I will be exalted in your team.  I will be exalted in your team members.  I will be exalted in your packing party.  I will be exalted in your marriage.  I will be exalted in your children.  I will be exalted at Rock The Lakes Erie.  I will be exalted at the BWI Processing Center.  I will be exalted in National Collection Week.  --Father, You are sovereign and You will be exalted.

Another day I went a few miles in the other direction to Four-Mile Creek.  It was a cool morning and I stretched out on a warm rock beside the water and just  listened to its gurgling.


This water isn't exactly still but it's not rushing either.  It looks peaceful and clear.  As I watch it flow, I think--the water doesn't know where it is going or how long the journey will be--it just flows.  It's diverted by branches and rocks but it just flows around them.

"Lord, I want to flow like that--surrendered to Your direction, Your timing, Your destination.  I sense that You are tending me as my Shepherd.  God, in my heart I want to please You, but all my trying will not do it.  Help me surrender to You, rest in You, trust You.  You will be exalted.  You are my fortress.  You will give me all things.  Like Elijah, I want to rest here by the brook and be fed and refreshed by You."

Because the shoe box goal for our Mid-Atlantic region is 1.1 million this year, Leigh challenged us to be still for 11 minutes each day but even by the end of the week I could never do it.  Not once.  I could sit still but I couldn't make my mind be still.  I guess I need more practice.

Though I failed to empty my busy mind, I felt God's comfort.  It was good to retreat.


Friday, July 4, 2014

TIA Minus 3 Months


Three months from right now, Lord willing, our 2014 Operation Christmas Child packing party (slated for October 3 & 4)  will be over and there will be 23,000 filled shoe boxes packed in cartons and waiting on the truck(s) for pick-up.  Praise God!

The hardest part so far this year was determining whether God wanted us to do another large packing party or not.  The waffling back and forth gnawed away at my soul.

But at Easter time the core team made the decision to move ahead and since then I've had more peace.  Sure, there are moments when my breath catches and I wonder for a brief time how it will all come together.  For the most part, though, I'm trusting our El Shaddai to make this happen again for His glory.

In fact, this week I'm starting to practice TIA (Thanksgiving In Advance.)  I am making a concentrated effort to thank God each day that He has already accomplished all the details of this packing party and it is COMPLETE in His eyes.

Since yesterday we got another 300+ major clothing items for our boxes, so after going to a movie my husband and I stopped at the storage container to stash and reorganize.  We're getting ready for the next round of blessings.

I have exactly three more months to practice TIA so please hold me accountable.  Together, let's practice Thanksgiving In Advance for God's answers to all our prayers and the prayers of people around the world.

Great things he HAS done!


Monday, June 30, 2014

From "Where Is It?" to "Where Do We Put It?"

A few weeks ago I was thinking about our paper supply for the upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party.  We received a wonderful donation last winter and all of that paper is stapled into packets and stashed in the back of the container.

I knew, though, that we still needed about 10 more cases (100 reams) of paper.  I didn't pray specifically about this need but God still met our need.

I got a message a few days ago that McCarty Printing, the donors of the last load of paper, had another donation to make.  So tonight Chuck and Lorelei Millet--sweet servants of God--brought the donation loaded in their truck.  Chuck pulled it off the truck and Lorelei and I carried and stacked it into the container.

We didn't get the 100 reams I estimated we needed.  Instead, we got 295 reams! Before they left, we stood and prayed together that God will prepare the hearts of the children who are going to receive this paper to give their lives to Jesus.

As long as I was driving to the container I took my second carload of flip-flops to store there.  This flip-flop story deserves a post of its own so I'll leave the full story for another day.

The bottom line, though, is we now have a wall of the storage container filled with 20 plastic totes containing 1,576 pairs of flip-flops.  Praise God!



Funny thing -- 6 weeks ago we had very little in our storage container and I was praying fervently for a breakthrough.

Tonight I stood in that same container and wondered where I will put the soap I plan to order next.  The space is shrinking at a fast pace.

Ah...from "Where is it?" to "Where do we put it?"

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Filling Up

It's hard to believe I haven't blogged for two weeks.  They've been crazy weeks. June 13th was my last day of work as a school nurse.  There were retirement parties and end-of-school tasks and then last weekend all my daughters came home so we could host a bridal shower for my youngest.

Still, I am amazed at how God has been working to fill our storage container with items for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.  On May 13th I noted on this blog that we had only 646 major anchor items for the 23,000 boxes we are praying to pack.

In the past five weeks God has opened doors for the purchase of water bottles  and hats and flip-flops and T-shirts--enough to bring our new total to 14,900 major items.

Today we got a shipment of 3500 nice kids' baseball hats.  I only ordered them last Thursday and had no idea they'd even been shipped.  The trucking company was supposed to call to arrange delivery but...

imagine my surprise when the church admin at the church we attend called me this morning to tell me there was a large delivery there in the church office.

By God's grace my husband and a friend of his were here and were able to drive to the church and move the cartons to the storage container.  I'm not sure I could have handled that on my own this morning.

So it didn't go the way I'd planned but the container is filling up.

Next I need to try to recruit a team to plan the packing party and get a meeting set up.  I'm still not sure how this packing party is going to happen, but I believe it will.

Just keep filling us up, Lord.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Moving The Wall


For weeks our Operation Christmas Child prayer team has been praying for a breakthrough--for God to provide a large quantity of a good anchor item for our boxes.

God blessed us with an answer to those prayers last week when I found some good, high-quality sport bottles for just .25 each.  Please don't ask me where I found them, because I promptly bought them all.

I wondered whether the order would actually be fulfilled because I never got confirmation e-mails on the orders and the company never called me to arrange shipping.

I've asked a team of people to pray about this and God answered again today.

Imagine my husband's surprise when he pulled into the driveway this afternoon and saw the above sight in front of the garage--63 large cartons left by the UPS delivery truck.  My neighbor confirms that all 63 of them came out of one normal-sized brown UPS truck!

I was delighted with these answers to prayer but they posed another dilemma.  Rain was in the forecast and these cartons had to be transported to the storage container at our church--over 6 miles away from my house.  My husband was leaving to play in his golf league so at 4:30 pm he helped me pack the first load of cartons into my minivan before he left.  He was able to get 13 in the van.

Once loaded, I was off on the 6.2 mile drive.  I hit another snag when there turned out to be road work going on as I neared the church that forced me to sit and wait as minutes ticked by.  By God's grace, He moved me to use that time to pray for the children who will received these water bottles.

I got the storage container open--always a chore--and began hauling the cartons.  I had to move and rearrange a number of boxes already stashed.  One blessing, though, is that I was able to stand on the lower cartons to lift bags of stuffed animals onto the top row of cartons to use all the container space.

I finished that load and headed back home for another one (waiting for the road work again)--loaded the car again--and headed out.

(Just repeat the above sentence X 3)

Off and on the skies were gray and threatening rain.  I'd asked Pam, my OCC Media Coordinator, and my OCC Regional Director, Leigh Fisher (who happened to call during the initial loading) to pray that the weather would hold. And, praise God, it did.

I was delighted to see that storage container filling up at last.

By 8:30 pm I was home and the wall was moved--with 52 of the cartons stored in the container and the other 11 stored in my home for another trip on Wednesday.

God is good, as always, and I hope He keeps me in good graces with the UPS guy.


Monday, June 2, 2014

SMURT goals or SMIRT Goals


I've been watching and listening to DVDs of the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference from a few months ago.  As I consider the rapid growth of shoe box numbers in the past few years, I think maybe they should reconsider the high impact acronym for goal-setting.

We've been taught to set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) but I propose that God might be asking us to change that.

Maybe we should make them SMURT with a"U" for 'unattainable'--those goals that we know only God can accomplish.

Or, maybe they should be SMIRT with an "I" for 'immeasurable'.  No, wait--that would make them measurable AND immeasurable.

Well, whatever the acronym, can we just agree that God has bigger things planned than we can imagine or ATTAIN in our own power?