Monday, February 1, 2016

Roping It In

Things might look a little precarious here but actually I've been really blessed over the last few days.  I returned Sunday evening from an amazing retreat with the other Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinators from the Mid-Atlantic region.  

Last year I missed the retreat because of a crazy snowstorm but this year God answered prayer with wonderful dry roads for the drive down to Maryland and back.  It's always a joy to be with other OCC volunteers, but this year was especially wonderful.  I didn't feel any of the usual discouragement I experience at training events and it was so exciting to hear how God blessed our region with a record 1,138,928 shoeboxes in 2015--an incredible 11.3% increase over 2014.  

I came home excited for the year ahead.  Despite losing two of our long-term coordinators, I know God has good plans for us in 2016 and I'm eager to start casting vision for our ministry plan.

While I was gone I got word that the two pallets (180 spools) of rope I ordered would be delivered today.  I got the pre-delivery call earlier than I expected this morning and headed out to meet the truck.

As you can see from the picture above, the driver had some problems with the lift gate.  I stood by praying while that heavy pallet of rope spools teetered over the edge and threatened to crash over the side.  I pictured myself chasing rolling spools of rope down the driveway.  After 15 minutes of trying, the driver finally gave up and we offloaded the spools by hand while still in the truck.  

Thankfully the second pallet was easier to move on the lift gate and got dropped without incident and I was able to pray with Eric, the truck driver, before he headed out.

 My husband arrived to lend a hand and Dustin, part of the church's creative team, blessed us by stopping to help us stow the spools in the container.  Space constraints forced us to stack the spools high and the stacks look pretty unstable.

The guys rigged up a pallet and a strap to try to provide some stability.  I'm praying that holds them upright.  

Now...let the jump rope making commence...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hard Changes

I guess my Operation Christmas Child life is really no different than all of life.  There's good and there's bad and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

There have been some crazy good things happening lately--an unprecedented number of new applications and amazing numbers of shoebox items for our 2016 packing party already safely in our storage container.

Just in the past few days one of our team members scored 945 beanie babies on an online sale site and was able to purchase them for the low cost of 3/$1.00.   Yesterday I ordered 180 spools of rope with 1200 ft. on each spool--that's a lot of miles of rope to be made into jump ropes.  And yesterday afternoon I got a delivery of 2,000 plastic cups.  Yes, great things happening.

But, then, right on the heels of last Thursday's news of our longtime Church Relations Coordinator leaving the team I got the news early this morning that my Prayer Team Coordinator feels God's calling her to leave the team also.  This wasn't totally unexpected, but the finality of the news was still a blow.

I got off that call, did an upper body workout in the middle of some tears, and loaded all the cups into my car to take them to the storage container.  When I opened the storage container I forgot we'd left heavy boxes of erasers right in front of the door the last time we were in there because it was cold and we didn't want to deal with them.  Now, in my efforts to move them I tripped, fell and slammed my knee and hand hard on the floor.  I sat and cried for about thirty seconds and then decided that was enough.

Getting to work, I managed to get things moved around, carried the cartons from the car and got them stowed in the back of the container.  Then things got comical when I tried to load 18 empty paper cartons in my car.  I wanted to get them out of the container and take them home to use for storing the donation of beanie babies.  The problem was that it was crazy windy.  I foolishly left the side door of my minivan open so when I put those empty cartons in the back of the car, three of them blew out the side of the car sending me on a chase down the driveway after them.   Yeah, it was just a little inconvenience but sometimes you're just over it, ya know?

I came home and sat for a few moments to regroup before heading out for an afternoon volunteer stint at our local mission.  As I rocked and ate my yogurt God started convicting me of my attitude.  I'd progressed from discouragement to anger.  So I confessed to God and also to a sister in Christ as I happened to be answering an email from her about another matter.  I asked her to pray for me, then I shut down my computer and headed out.  After volunteering I met with my mentor and she prayed for me also.

By the time I got home I realized my anger had dissipated.  Praise God for that answered prayer.  The return email from my sister in Christ sent me a great assurance from Isaiah 43:18,19 "Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?  I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."  What a great word!

Tonight we had our first OCC team meeting for 2016.  As usual, there were quite a few team members who couldn't attend but the eight of us who were there had a blessed time.  I sense God is going to do a new thing this year.

Together we came to unity and set a goal of 51,500 shoeboxes for this year, by God's grace.

Good.  Bad.  Blessed.  Challenging.  Hard changes will give way to a roadway in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Questions In The Night

It's funny how the questions come in the night.  I can barrel through my day going from one thing to the next, effectively pushing thoughts and decisions out of my mind.

But so often when I crawl into bed and pull up the covers my mind loses its inhibitions and bounces like a kid on a trampoline.

This has been a crazy week in my Operation Christmas Child world.  On Monday and into Tuesday we had a snowstorm that might have seemed ho-hum for us at this time most winters (we are the #1 snowiest city right now.)   But we've had a mild winter so far so the 20" or so of snow we got within 24 hours was a bit of a shock.  Then my husband announced he thought his chest felt a little tight while shoveling snow so I pushed him aside and took that job (don't worry, he had a cardiologist appointment this week, too.)

On Tuesday I got a call that we had another truck delivery coming on Wednesday.  I prayed hard again and God blessed--the truck driver called and gave us a half hour notice.  That gave me time to get to the church and get the three foot drift shoveled from the front of the container so we could open the door.  The snow had stopped by then and there was no wind, so even though it was only 13 degrees the weather wasn't a problem and the pallet of items that were delivered were pretty easy to get stashed away.  Whew!

On Wednesday evening I decided to send a Facebook message to someone local whom I've never met outside of social media.  She's been posting some awesome things about her prayer life and I had a prompting to ask her about joining our prayer team.  She quickly responded to my message and at around 9 pm I sent her an e-mail telling her more about our team and sent her an Operation Christmas Child volunteer application.

On Thursday morning I discovered she'd completed the application by midnight.  I called Linda, our Prayer Team Coordinator and asked her if she could do the interview, and before long she had an appointment set up to do the interview at 4 pm that day.  I called to do reference checks and had them completed before 1 pm.  We had everything completed within less than 24 hours--a record for sure!  

That makes three applications in the past two weeks.  That's a miracle only God could accomplish.

On Thursday morning our team Network Coordinators met with our Collection Center Coordinator to do a debriefing, then I spent the afternoon cross-referencing the shoebox drop-off logs with our records from last year.

It was disappointing to see we had a lot of information missing on the logs this year.  We really need to focus with our relay centers on how important that information is.  I'm not sure how we're going to be able to successfully affirm the donating churches with such sketchy drop-off logs.

That leads to Thursday night when I met with Heather, our Church Relations Coordinator, who has been on our team since we started in 2007.  Actually, Heather and I have been packing boxes together since several years before the team even formed.  As we talked she told me she feels it's time for her to step off the team.  It was hard to hear, but she wants to be more involved in local church ministry and I want her to be in the place God wants her to be serving.  Man, I am not a fan of change, and this one is hard.

As I prayed this morning it was one of those times of prayer when there just aren't words.  I told my Father I wanted Him to hold me.  Now, I know God doesn't have a human body but sometimes I still like to picture just lying down and putting my head in His lap--the way I used to do with my mom when I was small.  I'm glad I have a God who holds me.

Today was scheduled with some fun visits with people I love and ended with our small group meeting tonight.  It was a full week and a good day.

But...when I crawled into bed and pulled up the mind took off again.

How will we handle these changes on our team?  What can I do to make sure our new team members get a good start in their roles?  How can we become the high-impact team we aspire to be?  We have our first team meeting of 2016 next Tuesday and I have no idea how to make it a good meeting. Several people told me recently they don't like to come to the meetings. do I plan a meeting that will make people want to go out and drive on a cold, dark night when the wind chill is -2 degrees and there's two feet of snow on the ground?  Maybe we should switch our meetings to daytime?  I'm already thinking we need to alternate days.  Maybe I should have catered meals or dancing elephants?   Sometimes it feels like casting the vision for changing the lives of children for eternity just isn't enough.

Maybe I should rent a trampoline.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Decisions, Decisions

I really don't like making decisions--mostly because I'm generally indecisive.  I want things to be perfect, so I avoid making decisions for fear of making wrong ones.  This is part of the reason why I'm not interested in home redecorating.  Too many decisions!

I find, though, that my Operation Christmas Child shoebox obsession involves constant decisions also.  At least every week, and sometimes even every day, I have to decide whether to buy certain items and, if so, how many.

I don't have a firm budget for our shoeboxes but I have a general idea of what I want to spend.  The thing is--because God has blessed my husband and me the limits are pretty negotiable.  But I've spent my whole life being a frugalista and that habit dies hard.

So when I find a bargain I enter into an arduous internal debate along with prayer.  As I try to decide whether to buy or to wait I take into account a number of factors such as--

  • How often do I see this item at this price?
  • Will the item have some practicality but also bless the child who receives it?
  • Will it fill some space in the box?
  • How good is the quality for the price?
  • Do I have enough room to store it and will it store well?
Asking my husband for help in these decisions usually just frustrates him.  He's prone to ask, "Do you need it?"  But beyond the basic school supplies and hygiene items there are no real needs for the boxes.  It's all about prayerfully stewarding our resources to bless as many children as possible.

Of course, only God knows which items will bless each child, so prayer is always a must.

Still, I'm often left staring at the latest bargain on my computer screen with fingers hovering over the keys in prayerful agony.  

This year God has blessed us already with so many bargains.  Our storage container already holds all the paper, pens, and pencils we need for 2016 and then some.  We have over 23,600 baseball hats and water bottles and over 23,000 fillers.

Still, I have a strong conviction this year that I want the quality of our boxes to be even better.  I'm asking God to help us be sure to bless each child who receives a box packed at our packing party.  

I subscribe to several online sites that give me alerts to bargains and try to scan sites as often as I can.  Today one of those hints involved a company called U.S. Toy.  I found plastic cups and, after all that internal deliberation, bought another couple thousand.  I think colorful plastic cups are both fun and useful.

Small cars were another item I found there.  They won't take up much space but I know boys love cars so I added 540 of them to my cart.  And I threw in 1200 paper party hats just for fun.  

Hmm...I hope I made the right decisions...

ps--for those of you who want an update on last Monday's delivery.  God answered beyond anything I could ask or think.  The truck driver called before delivering and my husband beat the truck to the church.  And, miracle of miracles, instead of using the lift gate the driver opened the pallet on the truck and just handed the light cartons down to my husband.  The driver even keep the pallet on the truck so I don't have to deal with finding a home for it.  That never happens!  So many answers to prayer.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Little Things

When you think about it--most of life is made up of little things.  That's certainly true for our annual Operation Christmas Child packing party, and, in many cases, for our OCC area team also.

We've had a precious few weeks to rejoice in God's goodness in giving us such a great harvest of shoebox gifts in 2015.  But now we're already into the double digit days of January--time to get busy on our 2016 boxes.

As I ponder and pray over goals for the coming year the numbers I am considering seem so large.  Still, those large numbers are all the result of little things done well.

Today's little thing has been sorting six giant bags filled with used bags left over from last year's packing party.  I store the stuffed animals in garbage bags and I like to use the nicer Force Flex ones that seem to hold up better.  They're fairly expensive, so I try to reuse all the bags I can.

Today I dragged those giant bags out of the storage container at church and brought them home where I carefully folded them and divided them into piles according to use.  The leftover white ones were folded to be used for my home trash and the shopping size ones were set aside to take to the local clothing pantry where I volunteer.  The ones that were unusable were set aside to be recycled.

It's a little thing, but it will save me some money to use to buy more things for shoeboxes and is also helping to keep more bags out of our landfills.

I've been called to report for jury duty tomorrow--another little thing.  It's a bit of an annoyance because I'm getting another truck delivery tomorrow.  This one was unexpected and I'm not absolutely sure what will be on it.  I know what I ordered from the company, and I'm kind of surprised it's not coming via Fed Ex as most of my orders do.  Thank goodness my faithful husband has volunteered to be on truck receiving duty in my place.

Of course here in Erie the weather turned blustery today--temps falling 20 degrees and the winds at 20 mph.  The winds and snow are supposed to continue tomorrow.  My greatest fear is that this truck delivery is going to contain a pallet with one giant box containing 1200 pairs of sunglasses that will have to somehow be put into boxes to be stored in the container--all outdoors with 20 mph winds.  I'm praying for God's grace as my husband handles this little matter.

Day by day those little things add up for all of us.  Faithfully doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms and even sorting plastic bags is really what makes up our lives.

Colossians 3:17 reminds us "Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Hmm, I might have to leave that verse on the bathroom mirror for my husband in the morning.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

His Answers Are Better

We're on the brink of a new year so why not have a new adventure?  Maybe dumpster surfing would qualify?

Yesterday I spent the day waiting for a truck delivery of three pallets containing 44 cartons of nice baseball hats for our 2016 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Waiting.  All.  Day.

I was praying for all the details of this delivery.  I knew the church office was closed, so I was very specific in telling the trucking company the driver needed to call me before arriving at the church.  I didn't let anyone at the church know in advance because...the office was closed.   I was also praying for the weather and that I'd have help to be able to get the hats stored properly.

I hoped the delivery would come in the morning before the sleet was scheduled to arrive, and I had my trusty sidekick Pam on alert to meet me there when I got the call from the truck driver.  Alas, the call never came.

Finally, at 4:30 pm I called the trucking company who told me they'd already delivered and had a signature on the delivery.  My husband and I quickly drove to the church but it was locked up tight with no sign of the pallets of hats outside.

After some investigation I discovered the church custodian had signed for the delivery and had the pallets put inside in a loading area at the back of the church.  Let me say, I would never consider having pallets put inside the church.

My next problem was trying to figure out how to get into the church to move them to the storage container.  Did I mention the church office is closed?

This morning I was able to reach someone who agreed to meet me and open door.  I located the pallets, got a hand truck from the container, and set to work.

Since I had to move them through the gym I figured why not place them there and use the benefit of a warm area to inventory and consolidate them so I could store fewer boxes in the container.

Not one, but TWO team members arrived to assist.  When I went into the storage container I found several stacks of cartons filled with donations of new filler items I'd received right before leaving for Maryland so we decided to sort them at the same time.  Soon the gym became a sea of cardboard.

 Terri worked on sorting donations

Boxes were all opened and hats taken out of their inner packaging to save space.  Last year we did this step the week before the packing party so we're really ahead this year.

I got to the church at 11:00 am and it was 5:30 pm by the time we finished.  As we lost all daylight on this cloudy day it became interesting trying to get those boxes hefted into the container.  It took two of us to get the top box onto the four-carton-high stacks.  Those things were heavy!

Yesterday I wondered if God was hearing my prayers, but today I can see His answers were better.   It was a lot of work, but the hats are stored, the donations sorted and boxed and stored as well, and the dumpster surfed upon to tamp down the plethora of cardboard.

And, though we dealt with some drizzling rain the temps were in the 40s.  With snow forecast over the next few days it was the perfect time to get this job finished.

Thank You, Lord, for your better answers.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Gone In A Blur

I have to say the last two weeks have gone by in a blur.  It seems impossible that it's been nearly two weeks since I wrote on this blog, but...

The Operation Christmas Child processing season at the Baltmore (BWI) Processing Center came to a quick end on Wednesday evening, December 16th.  We'd been wondering all day when the last box would be finished, and I'm glad Jim and I decided to go back on Wednesday evening to volunteer so we were there to see that last box processed.

Here's the guy who got the honor of processing the last box (yes, he is really 13.)

 Our friend and first shift floor manager, Tiffanie Wells, was excited (then started to cry a minute later.)
Second shift Quality Control manager, Jeff Berger, led the "last box ceremony" and I was blessed to be asked to join second shift chaplain Richmond Laney in praying over this last box.

Even as we volunteers were processing those last cartons of boxes, the staff and associates were efficiently working to break down the stations that were not being used so clean up would be accomplished as smoothly as possible.  As much as I wanted to go home it was still a little sad to watch everything come down.

 The walls of cartons were taken down and all the boxes processed.
 And these were waiting to be loaded onto the last of the sea containers.
 My husband actually looks pretty happy in the role of volunteer for the evening.
 One by one each station finished the last of their boxes
 While on the other side of the warehouse it's looking pretty empty and forlorn
and all those carefully selected filler items are destined to get piled into "miscellaneous" cartons

We were able to return for first shift the next morning, and I was blessed to be able to lead devotions with the associates one more time.  I talked about how we're so prone to think our satisfaction lies in that thing we're waiting for--a marriage or a better job or a nicer home--when really we can never be satisfied except in Jesus.  He is always and only Enough.  I offered a "Steps To Peace With God" booklet to anyone who wanted one and many took them.  I'm praying God continues His work in all of our lives as well as in the lives of the more than 679,000 children who will receive the boxes we processed at BWI this year.

We all dispersed to continue the breakdown and cleanup efforts.  I took down the pictures on the prayer wall and carefully packaged up the 1,064 that had prayers written on the back.  I know that God has heard each of those prayers and will be intervening on behalf of these children around the world.  What a privilege and a miracle we have in prayer.

 The last of the written prayers on the prayer wall

That afternoon we were blessed when Lisa, a blog reader and friend from Virginia, drove in with her husband to drop off her last 100 packed shoeboxes.  It was so great to reconnect with them and to tell a few other people about all the answered prayers God has provided for our families in the past year.  Just more proof of what a good, good Father we have.

It was exciting to get on our way home that afternoon, despite the fog and rain.  As we drove home I spent a lot of time thanking God for His provision in so many ways.

I am so grateful for my personal prayer team of three--my OCC prayer coordinator,  another mentor who is two decades older than I, and a teenager from California who sent me such amazingly wise and encouraging e-mails.  Of course I'm thankful also for every prayer prayed by those I know and those I do not know.  Prayer warriors around the country and even around the world were praying in general for our processing centers and we were blessed to see God answer in specific ways.

I know, also, that God has worked in many ways I have not seen or have not seen yet.  It's all such a glorious mystery and a real cause for awe.

We made it home at 9 pm on Thursday and our daughters arrived on Friday to celebrate our family Christmas.  We didn't care that the tree was hastily purchased at Home Depot, and it was sweet of my daughters to decorate it themselves on Friday night.

We enjoyed Christmas with my extended family on Saturday night and had a Star Wars-themed celebration with our daughters.  We saw the new movie together, assembled a 3D puzzle of a Star Wars vehicle, and did some Star Wars light saber thumb wrestling.

Now I'm back to prepping for our 2016 shoeboxes.  Yesterday and today Jim and I spent 16 hours unpacking and rubber banding 1600 belts.

I wanted to get them ready to store in the container so I can take them tomorrow when I meet the truck that's bringing 6,336 baseball hats.  I'm praying for decent weather tomorrow so we can get them sorted and stored easily.

But that's a story for another day that will be gone in a blur...