Monday, June 29, 2015

Showers of Blessings


Not gonna lie--I've struggled a lot over the years to build my team since I became area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child here in northwestern PA in 2007.

But right now, in this week, I feel God has opened a window of heaven to pour out blessings on us.

I wrote last Friday about how the sun shone through for our truck delivery on Friday.  That was a true blessing because on Saturday it was back to rain all day.  I was able to go to a few yard sales on Saturday morning and got 55 stuffed animals before I had to head out of town for a baby shower (appropriate weather for a shower, eh?)

On my way back home I stopped at a Children's Place outlet and scored 13 pairs of adorable flip-flops on sale for .99 each--


and I stopped to pick up my Fed Ex packages also and got a shipment of 240 boxes of cute princess bandages for shoeboxes.


Saturday's best blessing, though, came that evening.  A friend who is also on our OCC area team hosted an open house for visiting missionaries.  While there, I was talking with a staff member from our church about my need for more storage for our shoebox items.  I've been praying about this for some time now.  Well...he and his wife own a rental property that has a garage, and they offered to let us store our overflow there.  What a wonderful answer to prayer!

On Sunday the weather was--rainy--again.  But I was excited at church to find bags of stuffed animals had been left at the welcome center.  I found the donor.  She was beaming with smiles as she told of visiting yard sales on Saturday (the ones I'd missed by leaving town) and getting a haul of animals.  Some people already had their animals set aside and were just waiting for someone to come by and pick them up for Operation Christmas Child.  What a blessing it was for Donna to obey the Lord and go to garage sales in the rain.

Today was a sunny Monday and the blessings just kept coming.  The picture at the top of this blog shows the dear group of women who are part of the Women's Connection ministry at our Erie City Mission.  We had an Operation Christmas Child packing party today and they completed 101 boxes to bless children around the world.  I know God will use those special boxes in a mighty way for His purpose.

The afternoon was filled with sorting leftover packing party items as well as enjoying a great phone call with my OCC regional director Leigh Fisher.

The fun wasn't over yet as I had dinner with my two new co-Network Coordinators and spent some time doing training with them.  We've been praying for God to fill this position for years so it's almost surreal to see all those prayers answered.

Then I got a call from Jane Dennington, former missionary to Haiti and a member of our church relations team.  Jane is the missionary speaker this week at a Bible camp.  Today she spoke to 200 children and parents about OCC and was able to send home materials to five new prospective churches.  She also connected with camp counselors who are college students and want to pursue involvement with OCC and one adult who's interested in volunteering on our area team.

I can hardly wait to wake up and see what God does tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bountiful Blessings


This was a day of bountiful blessings.  I started the day at an early morning church rummage sale where I found not only 67 nice stuffed animals but also 6 brand new indoor/outdoor chair cushions that I hope will bless my daughter who needs them for her recycled patio furniture.

Then I met my Operation Christmas Child team media coordinator, Pam, for a free breakfast at Chick-fil-A (thank you Chick-fil-A Erie for having your Facebook Friday freebie be my favorite bagel sandwich.)

While there, we got a call from my church that a delivery truck had arrived with the two pallets of pens we ordered.  I'd been praying about this delivery because the weather's been crazy and I really didn't want the shipment to be rain-sogged.

We headed to the church and the weather stayed sunny and breezy while we unloaded and stored our loot.  I was especially blessed by Pam who not only donated pens but was also willing to stash them in her little vehicle and take them home to store in her basement.

Will they fit, we wondered?

Well, yes (80% of them anyway)

With a little more finagling, we got the boxes of items I brought from home stowed in the container also.  There is one little hitch, though.


We are just about out of room.  And we have five pallets with 240 cases of soap arriving in a few days.  So we need to move at least half of these cartons of jump rope handles to new homes.


I'm hatching a new plan to put a plea on Facebook for local families to 'adopt' a few boxes of these jump rope handles and at least store them.  Even better, they could put rope into the handles to make the actual jump ropes and then store them for our packing party in September.

Sometimes the blessings are so bountiful you just don't know what to do with them all...



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

One Thousand By One Thousand


Yes, I know what you're thinking.  How many pictures of stuffed animals can she put on this blog?  It's probably not normal for a grown woman to spend so much time obsessing about plush toys, but I never claimed to be normal.

Last week I rejoiced to receive a donation of 350 brand new Beanie Babies. Then after a few weeks of hiatus I was finally able to hit the weekend safari trail again and was blessed with 288 stuffed animals.  Now I'm back in the sorting and storing saddle.

I did a quick tally a few days ago and was excited to realize that I have about the same number of stuffed animals as I had at this time last year--just under 5,000.  I know that seems a long way from the goal of 25,000 by September 18th.  God's at work, though.

Today I was frantically organizing shoebox items in my efforts to clean the house for our Operation Christmas Child area team meeting tonight.  Those efforts were happily interrupted when I got the call to pick up a donation of more of those lovely Beanie Babies.  Off I went and returned with another 300 brand new animals.  So...in the past week God has provided almost 1,000.

Interruptions aside, I did get the house presentable for tonight's meeting.  Best of all, cleaning was my only preparation.  My prayer coordinator led the meeting and did a fantastic presentation on fruitfulness and multiplication.  It's amazing to think how fast our team could grow if everyone caught the vision of multiplication.

And if I could get these animals to multiply...we'd be all set.





Sunday, June 21, 2015

Marching In The Shadows


Most of the time this blog is all about packing shoebox gifts for children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.  Today, though, I want to talk about a meaningful opportunity I had today to participate in the All Lives Matter March.

I grew up in Wesleyville--a small suburb of Erie, PA--in the 1950s.  I attended Wesleyville School where students in grades K-12 were all together in one building with about 50 in each grade.  We had no school buses because everyone in our small community walked to school and there was no cafeteria because we all went home for lunch.

As I recall, there were two African-American families in Wesleyville, so there were only a handful of  kids "of color" in our school and I was in high school before one of those families came to attend our church.

I'm still trying to overcome those 'white' beginnings.  I know racial reconciliation is important but I find I'm still too often segregated in my daily life.

Last week I volunteered for the fourth year at a week-long camp hosted by our Erie City Mission for middle schoolers.  The camp was held in an inner-city public school and in our week together I worked with six students and five adult volunteers to produce a newspaper.  

Yesterday I was mulling over the week's experience and wondered what effect it had.  No kids prayed with me and I can't even say their writing improved over the week.  What did happen, though, is that 11 people from different countries of birth, from different areas of our city, with different skin colors, and with ages spanning from 11-62 came together to create an artistic production.  We became a team, and maybe that was the effect.   Maybe the most important thing was just being together.

Today, my husband and I joined a few hundred others on this Father's Day in a silent march to affirm that all lives matter--a march to bridge racial barriers and unite to end violence in our community.

We formed a long line on the city sidewalk and trudged along--walking quietly and prayerfully through some declining neighborhoods and over a major highway toward Shiloh Baptist Church.  As our shadows stretched ahead of us I thought of how we were walking in a very small way in the shadows of marches that took place a half century ago.  How much progress has been made in those fifty years?  

When we arrived at the church we filed in and crammed the pews, then the worship experience began.  It wasn't my first time to worship in an African-American church but it was one of only a handful.  Looking at the mixed crowd, the pastor leading the service said, "Wouldn't it be great if every Sunday was like this?" and he was answered with rousing applause.

Various members of the community--victims of violence, business leaders affected by violence, politicians, the district attorney, and a captain from the police department--came one by one to offer remarks and each was followed by a clergyman or layman offering Scripture and prayer.

Two hours later we were nearing the end.  The pastor called us to the altar--no, insisted we all come to the altar--to join in prayer for our community.  It was really moving to join hands with African-American brothers and agree in prayer, begging God to do what only He can do among us.

I won't be here fifty years from now, but if God tarries that long I hope there won't be any need for marches against violence in our city.  I hope there won't be racial division that necessitates calls for unity.  I hope we'll make progress.

At least tonight we made a start.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Slumps


I guess I've been in a blogging slump.  This is the longest I've gone without updating this blog in quite some time.

I'm also in a safari slump.  My normal Saturday stuffed animal safaris have been interrupted by other worthy plans on quite a few Saturdays already this year--travel to Colombia, family vacation, Operation Christmas Child training, and family commitments have kept me off the yard sale route week after week.

God keeps providing, regardless.  I've made monthly trips to a thrift store, getting over 100 animals on each trip, and bags of donations keep arriving.

Still, I'm lacking 20,000 stuffed animals and our packing party is just over three months away.

Yesterday had me sending an e-mail to a nearby company that sells the kind of stuffed animals you find as prizes at amusement parks.  They aren't the greatest quality but I could buy some smaller ones for .30 - .55 each.  Then I'd need to add in the shipping.  I'll keep praying and investigating.

I also called another company yesterday to inquire about pricing for 165,000 feet of rope to make jump ropes.  It's kind of astounding how quickly the totals add up.  Next I need to work on ordering a ton (or more, literally) of soap.

Our team has a motto, "We never do the same thing twice."  It seems God is always coming up with new ways to bring us the items we need to fill the boxes.  True to form, He's opened doors and led us to some new suppliers already this year.

I've been working hard at one thing after another--filling Easter eggs with rings and bracelets for fillers, untangling nice jewelry I bought in clumps at a local store...well, there are lots of stories to tell that I just haven't been telling during this blogging slump.

But...it's time to get out of the slump.  It's also time to organize a meeting for the core team who will organize the upcoming packing party.

Because time waits for no slump.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

But Now I See...My Good, Good Father


This week I've been pondering how my faith is based on God's character and His inherent goodness and perfection.  If God is not good all the time then my faith has no firm foundation.  So...when my prayers aren't answered according to my immediate desires I need to remind myself of the truth of God's goodness.  Because He is good I can KNOW that He will do what is ultimately best.

Two weeks ago today, as we started our last full day in Colombia, we sang a new-to-me song in worship, led by Erin Deuel, called "Good, Good Father".  (You can find it on YouTube by a group named Housefires II)  The song repeats, "You're a good, good Father.  That's who You are...And I'm loved by You.  That's who I am."  Then it goes on to say, "You are perfect in all of Your ways to us."

In the past two weeks that song just keeps replaying itself in my mind.  As I go through my day I keep repeating that phrase in praise to God..."You're a good, good Father."

I've already talked in previous blogs about the Operation Christmas Child discipleship graduation we were blessed to participate in on Sunday morning and about how God protected us on our trip back from the last afternoon distribution.

And I told you about sweet Andres (pictured above) who won my heart.  But there's something about Andres and his shoebox that I haven't told you, so here's the rest of the story...

First, a bit of history--

In a past blog I mentioned my friend Lisa from Virginia.  After reading my blog, Lisa was kind enough to bring me some stuffed animals when she was visiting family here in Erie last summer.  A few months later she returned in September with more animals and to invite some of her Erie family members to Franklin Graham's Rock the Lakes festival.  God answered our prayers that weekend when one of Lisa's aunt's made a decision to say "yes" to Jesus!  Lisa and I have kept in touch, and I've been praying especially hard over the past few weeks for challenges she and her family have been facing.

Now--back to Colombia--

After our harrowing bus ride back to the hotel two weeks ago I quickly cleaned up and headed to our last delicious hotel dinner.  I was just finishing up when two guys came over and knelt beside me--one on each side.  I was perplexed, and one said with a chuckle, "I know, this looks ominous."

The other guy pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of a family, but I honestly didn't recognize them.  He then explained it was a picture of Lisa's family and that each of these guys--at separate shoebox distributions in totally different locations--had found two of the over 500 boxes packed by Lisa's family and each of them had e-mailed Lisa and sent her a picture of the child who received their box.  In each case Lisa promptly replied to the e-mail and told them she knew someone (that would be me--lol) who was on the trip.  So the guys (who are actually named Nate and Mark and  are staff members with OCC) found me at dinner to let me know.



It moved me to tears to think how our good, good Father sent this very special encouragement to Lisa and her family at a time when they really needed it.  God was loving on them for sure.  But, that's not all...

I didn't have e-mail access in Colombia, but when I got back into the US I had an e-mail from Lisa that she'd written while I was still in Colombia asking me to look hard to try to find one of the boxes her family had packed so she could get a picture of me with the child.

I wrote back and told her I was sorry I hadn't found any of her family's boxes.

A few days later while I was on vacation with my family Lisa sent me a text.  She'd enlarged the picture of my special friend Andres with his box and recognized all the items.  She could identify positively that it was a box packed by her family!


They'd packed over 500 boxes and ran out of letters and pictures after the first 400 of them so Andres' box didn't have those.

So, Lisa got that picture she wanted of me with a child who received her box.  And we both got another example of God's amazing goodness to us.

You're a good, good Father.  That's who You are.




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

But Now I See--His Protection


After connecting with my new friend Andres at that last Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution in Colombia on Sunday night, I wanted to stay and enjoy his company.  But the rain that had been falling intermittently was beginning again.

We gathered quickly to pray for Zulay, the woman who'd planned this shoebox distribution, and her team, and to leave them with a gift bag of ministry materials.  We barely had time to exchange hugs before our bus driver hurried us to the bus.  The locals told him we might not get up the hill to leave the village because of the rain.

We all clambered onto the bus and watched the rain through the windows as our driver began to slowly accelerate up the steep grade.  The tires made a sucking sound as they sought traction on the slippery pavement.

Everyone in the bus began praying aloud (and loudly) with his or her own words.  A chorus of "God, give us traction," and "Lord, get us up" mixed with other variations of the theme as we prayed and ground our way up--finally, with a cheer, to the top.  Praise God!

But the adventure didn't end there.  We started down the mountain and the rain fell harder.  The wipers tried to keep up the pace as we watched the water swirling down the road.

When we came to an intersection that had a foot or more of water, the bus came to a stop.  Water streamed down as the driver seemed to consider his options.  I whispered to Carole who was sitting next to me, "We have plenty of water in the bus.  I vote we sit here and wait."  She nodded and replied, "They tell you never to drive through standing water like this."

Then we watched as a line of tiny yellow taxis began to bravely head up the grade in front of us.  Not to be outdone, our driver joined in and started to pull forward.

video credit to Arthur Schalick

We inched up and ahead as the water swirled beside us.  We kept praying and the bus kept moving.  Time passed, the rain slowed, and we all cheered as we reached the relative safety of the highway where the only danger lay in dodging oncoming vehicles and the ever-weaving death-defying motorcycles.  Thank you, Lord, for letting me see Your protection.