Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When God Says "Yes!"


It might not look like it, but these cardboard cartons are full of answered prayers.  I know there are children around the world who will be praying for pencils, and these boxes are full of them (116,640 of them, to be exact.)  We prayed for a good deal on pencils for our Operation Christmas Child boxes and these are some of God's "yes" answers.  They showed up at our storage container today and God even kept the rain away until they were safely unloaded.

Actually, we've been seeing a lot of those "yes" answers lately.  Our OCC area team here in Northwestern PA has been praying for more than three years for a network coordinator to oversee our shoe box drop-off sites (relay centers and collection centers) and for years God has been saying "not yet" and/or "wait".  But...as of this past weekend we now have two men who are willing to share this job.  God's amazing "yes" times two!

Items have been coming in for our upcoming shoe box party--almost 1,000 stuffed animals just in the past week--and a chance came to order a huge load of nice cloth visors.

And these answered prayers have made me think about the faithful prayers of a group of adults at the church where I grew up.  Those adults prayed for a spiritual revival in the youth of our church and, wow, did God answer them with a resounding "yes"!

Their prayers were answered when a group of about a dozen of us high schoolers began meeting early every Sunday morning (I think it was 7:30, but I'm not positive) for passionate prayer in our pastor's study.  We crowded that room and we cried out to God and He gave us a ton of "yes" answers that catapulted all of us into lives of Christian service.

More than four decades later I think about so many of us who once prayed in that room--now scattered around the country and still serving the Lord.  We are blessed by marriages that have survived 40 years or more, with some working in full-time Christian ministry roles that have lasted nearly that long.   Others never became vocational ministers but are blessed to serve as choir directors, Sunday school teachers, and missions supporters.

I think of how many blessings have come to our lives and to the lives of those we have all been able to serve because of the prayers of those adults who committed to pray for revival.  What an investment they made!

I'm challenged to pray like that for the young people in my life and in my church.  Someday in heaven I want to share in the ministry of those who will come after me...because I prayed and waited for God to say, "yes!"

Monday, April 13, 2015

Egg-cellent Shopping


It has been a crazy and productive week of post-Easter shopping.  I scouted the leftover Easter merchandise last Monday morning, but 50% off just isn't enough of a discount to send me into buying mode.  

This year was a surprise, though, when Target reduced their Easter items to 70% off starting on Tuesday in some cities and on Wednesday here.  I immediately fell in love with some adorable stuffed lambs with a regular price of $4.99.  I almost caved and bought some at the 70% off price of $1.50, but I decided I really needed to wait.  l left the store with nothing but prayers and high hopes that some of those cuties would be left when they went to 90% off.

Meanwhile, over at Walmart I was keeping my eye on a huge display of stuffed animals that were regularly priced at only $2.99 and would be a great deal at 75% off.  

On Thursday morning I hit Walmart before 7:30 am.  The signs were still posted at 50% off, but I grabbed one of those stuffed animals and sprinted to the price checking machine.  Elated when it rang up at 75% off, I headed for the display where I filled two carts with what turned out to be 234 stuffed animals.  


 I had a very competent cashier and was out of there in 20 minutes with my treasures.  I hadn't checked the other Walmarts in my area, and I couldn't stand the thought of missing any more of these adorable toys.  So...I hopped on the interstate and headed 20 minutes east but had no luck at all there.

Back in the car and another 15 minutes west to the next Walmart.  Again--nothing.

I debated whether I should try another store--especially since I was supposed to be at a Bible study at 9:30.  I prayed and finally decided to head out to Edinboro--another 25 minutes west.  I was disappointed again.  Should have quit after the first store.

On Friday morning I hoped Target would be at 90% off, but they weren't.  I counted those lambs (all 15 of them) and I confess I even tried to hide some of them behind larger stuffed animals.

Saturday morning dawned bring and sunny, but we were supposed to leave for the two-hour drive to visit our daughter.   My husband didn't want to wait for Target to open.  So we headed out, stopped to get him coffee, and THEN he surprised me by heading to Target.  We waited about ten minutes in the parking lot before the doors opened, and I was first inside.

I raced to the Easter aisle and was so sad to find that even though they'd gone to 90% there were no lambs left.  I did end up with six cute fluffy animals and a few dolls for .49 each to bless another half dozen children.


 One thing Target did have was bags and bags of Easter eggs.  I started thinking it would be fun to buy them and fill them with little plastic rings or trinkets to bless the children with another brightly colored filler toy.




 So...before church on Sunday morning I headed back to Target and scored over 10,000 plastic eggs.  Each pack of 12 was only .08, making the eggs less than 3/4 cent each.  Each package had to be individually scanned so I was at the register for 40 minutes.  The register stopped half way through, and we ended up with two transactions.  I started to worry that my minivan wouldn't hold them all, but I ended up having plenty of room.  I took them right to church with me and was able to stash them in the storage container.

Around noon today I read that some Walmarts had gone to 90% off.  There was one Walmart store I hadn't visited yet in this sale season.  The weather was gorgeous here in Erie, PA today--up to nearly 80 degrees--a true miracle after our long, cold winter.  I just had to jump in the car and take a ride with the windows down to that Walmart.

I'm so glad I did.  I found these sweet little water bottles for just .09 each, and though it was after noon there were still 50 of them left.  I couldn't believe it!


I also found some cute lollipops in Easter eggs and a few little felt purses for .09 each, too.  Also made a stop at K-Mart where they had lots of darling stuffed animals but only at 65% off.  Who came up with the idea of 65%?  I'll be checking back there later.

Sun, heat, and bargains all in the same day.  What could be more egg-cellent?


Monday, April 6, 2015

Jesus Died For Me


April 6th was also a Monday 56 years ago in 1959.  That afternoon I went to a children's meeting at my church led by several men from Word of Life Ministries and heard the story of Jesus' crucifixion for the first time.   My six-year-old heart was broken as I realized what Jesus went through to pay for my sin, and I started to cry--to weep, really.

The men leading the meeting that day promised to tell us later in the week how we could ask Jesus to forgive our sins, and I only cried harder because I didn't want to wait.

When I got home I asked my 15-year-old brother if he knew how I could ask Jesus to forgive me.  Knowing my father was antagonistic toward the gospel, my brother cupped his hands around my ear and, in furtive whispers, told me all I needed to do was tell Jesus I was sorry and ask Him to take away my sins.  So I went into my bedroom, knelt down by my bed and prayed.  I remember that immediate feeling of peace.  I knew I was forgiven.

My brother brought me this little brown Gideon New Testament and wrote in the inside back cover a sentence to remind me of the decision I'd just made, leaving a space for me to write my own name.



Moments later my father stormed into the kitchen, furious, and angrily banished my brother to his
room.  Then Daddy took me into the living room, sat me on his lap, and explained he knew more than those people at church and all those stories about Jesus were, well, just stories.

I figured Daddy knew best, so I took a pen and scratched out those words in the back of the Bible--thinking I could take back my decision.

I was blessed the next day, though, to have my brother explain the assurance of my salvation.  So I wrapped my fingers around that pen again and wrote out my recommitment to Jesus myself.

Today I look back on these 56 years.  My commitment has faltered many times but His has never failed.  I cherish this little brown Bible, but I cherish even more the knowledge that my name is written in The Lamb's Book of Life and will never be crossed out or erased.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday--The Land Between


Jesus is buried.  The tomb is sealed.  Now it's Saturday.

Jeff Manion wrote a book titled, "The Land Between" and as I lay in bed this morning pondering this day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday I thought how Manion's book title is a perfect description for this day.

I wonder what Jesus' followers were doing and thinking on that day when they were in The Land Between.  We often use the phrase "Sunday's coming" to remind us of our hope of resurrection and victory, but I wonder if the disciples had that assurance?  I doubt it.

Though Jesus predicted and promised His resurrection, it still seemed to come as a surprise to His disciples, so I doubt they were calmly trusting and waiting for it on that day in between.

I think about those Saturdays in my life.  In your life.

It wasn't many weeks ago when I struggled with some Saturday days.  I felt like my prayers weren't being answered.  I wasn't fully trusting in His promises.  In my head I knew I could; in my heart, I wasn't.  Nothing huge, mind you--just some normal Saturday angst.

In God's economy these Saturdays in life seem to be really important.  For one thing, they make the resurrection victories all the sweeter.

I'm going to take this Saturday to reflect on all the Saturdays in my life that have been followed, by God's grace, with glorious resurrection Sundays.

It's a good day to remember all those past Operation Christmas Child packing parties where God showed up and filled the trucks.  It's a good day to thank God for victories--even those that didn't come when and how I thought they would come.

And it's a good day to remember, always...Sunday really IS coming.




Sunday, March 29, 2015

T minus 31 days -- Colombia & Siloam


Back in 2009 I went on an Operation Christmas Child distribution trip to give out shoe boxes in the Dominican Republic.  I'm afraid I had some fairy tale expectations for this trip--the dream trip of a lifetime to see the work of OCC firsthand.

Don't get me wrong; there were some wonderful moments on that trip.  But I also struggled--overwhelmed by my failure to connect with the children as I wanted to; uncomfortable in another culture.  I took a packed shoe box with me to give to a child, but I lost track of it in the chaos of a distribution and never was able to actually see it opened.  

The main thing I learned on that trip is how many children are still waiting to receive a box to let them know of God's love.  I saw what I needed to see to be able to give that message to churches and groups in our area.  And I told people I'd need a clear message from the Lord to get me to go on a mission trip again.

So I was surprised right before Christmas when I got a call from our regional staff members extending an invitation to go on another shoe box distribution trip--this time to the country of Colombia from 4/30-5/4/15.  They needed an answer in two weeks.  I told them I'd pray about it, and I did.

I prayed about it a lot.  And, finally, God helped me realize the trip was not about me in any way--not even about me being able to minister directly to anyone in Colombia.  It's about giving me an opportunity to see what He is doing through Operation Christmas Child so I can share that with others as He allows it.  So I committed to go.

A few weeks ago I got another confirmation about this trip as I was in a group studying the miracles of Jesus, based on Mark Batterson's book, "The Grave Robber."  We were discussing Jesus's healing of the man born blind as recorded in John 9.

John 9:5-7 reads "'While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.'  When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam' (which is translated, Sent), so he went and washed, and came back seeing."

Mark Batterson explains that the pool of Siloam was quite a distance away from the area where Jesus first encountered the blind man.  This man could not see Jesus spit and make mud--he only felt the mud applied to his eyes.  And Jesus never even promised the man he would be healed.  Jesus simply told him to go wash in the pool, and he had to make the choice to obey and make that trip.  He had to walk quite a distance, unseeing, and travel down many stairs to do what Jesus told him to do.  But he was rewarded with vision.  And did you notice that Siloam means 'sent'?

Reading that story convinced me Jesus is sending me, too, and as I obey He will somehow allow me to see what He wants me to see.

Will you pray that happens?
















Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Promptings


I'm still trying to adjust to being retired and not having a set schedule for my day.  This morning I wondered what to do with myself and thought about spontaneously going to volunteer at a local food bank.

As I was pondering that I had a random thought about going to our local Big Lots store to check for bargains. I remembered getting winter slippers there for 90% off at about this time last year.  I had no reason, though, to think they'd be on sale this week.  I hadn't even been in that store for months.

I dismissed the thought for awhile, but I couldn't entirely shake it.  Finally, I decided to make the trip, thinking I could stop at the grocery store at the same time.

So I got to Big Lots, grabbed a shopping cart, and headed to the aisle where I thought I'd find winter footwear.  Nothing.

I decided to leave and turned my cart down another aisle to make my way out.  That's when I saw the sign--




It was pretty amazing.  As I started loading my cart with nice slippers, another shopper came up behind me and started taking some from the rack also.  I tried to allow her to choose what she wanted and told her I'd take the rest.  She ended up with about 25 pairs of slippers and I left the store with 65 pairs.

If I'd listened to those first promptings I'd have gotten there a bit earlier and maybe avoided the competition.  I did have a nice time talking about Operation Christmas Child with the manager in the check out line, and she told me to call her in the future and she'll let me know when things are going to be reduced.   Apparently I missed out on the 90% off on winter hats and gloves they had recently.

Here are some of those cute treasures--


The ones in the foreground were .60 each and the cute boots in the back were $1.00.  Those nice Dearfoams ones were $1.20.


These soft, cuddly ones were .50 each.


I think the three pairs of fluffy pink boots were my favorites.

Well...and these cutie patootie ones with bear faces for 60 cents.


There's another Big Lots store on the other side of town, so after stowing my treasures in the back of my minivan I headed there.  When I arrived at that store I grabbed my cart and headed to the slipper display only to find they were marked at regular price.  I took a few pairs to the cashier to have the prices checked and they all came up at regular price.

I told her they had been 90% at the store on the other side of town and asked her if each store had individual pricing.  She said they did not, but also said their store never discounts below 50% off.  Weird.

Still...getting 65 pairs of cute and sturdy slippers for $48.00 is a pretty good way to spend a day of retirement.

Thanks for praying.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

#tbt Twilight Zone


 (photo from 2010 Operation Christmas Child packing party in Erie, PA)

I have a love-hate relationship with technology.  I'm in the process of switching my use from the MAC laptop I purchased in 2008 to our new MAC laptop.  Did I mention I hate change?  I find myself frequently having to go back to the old computer to find an old e-mail or address that I need.

My daughter put many of the photos that were stored on the old computer into Dropbox but I can never figure out how to access them when I need them.  I just went to the old computer and sent myself a picture to use on this blog.  I really need to figure this out before the old computer dies a certain death.

So...imagine my surprise when I just did a search in my e-mail account on my new computer only to have a bunch of old 'sent' messages from 2010-2012 pop up.  Now, these are messages that I feel sure I deleted from the old computer years ago.

This is a true "Throw Back Thursday" that I never planned.

But...what a blessing these messages have been.

Yesterday my husband and Pam, our area team media coordinator, joined me on a trip to Warren, PA to visit our collection center coordinator there.  It's a three-hour round trip and on the way home we were talking about our 2015 Operation Christmas Child community packing party planned for September 18th & 19th this year.

As we discussed some of the challenges and mused about the fact that several people at the recent OCC Connect Conference told us they'd stopped doing large packing parties for various reasons, my mind started to spin with doubts again.

Is this really what God wants us to do?  That's always the basic question.  Because if God is for us, then who can be against?

Still, as we talked about the possibility of having several different shifts and whether that would increase or decrease our volunteer pool...

And as we talked about all the thousands of items we still need and how to obtain them...

And as we talked (again--do we ever stop?) about how God will provide the funds for these boxes to be shipped...

Those persistent whispers echoed in my mind telling me it would be a WHOLE lot easier to just cancel the whole thing.

So...this morning, inexplicably, I am bombarded with my own messages about God's provision for our packing party in 2010.  I wrote this e-mail in response to questions from an OCC staff writer on 9/27/10--

"God moved in so many ways over the packing party on Saturday.  Last year when we had our first large packing party I was so blown away by God's provision.  This year I worried that I wouldn't have that same sense of wonder.  I thought I knew what to expect and that I wouldn't have that same awe and surprise.  Well, I was wrong.

There were a number of obstacles that came up in the week before the party.  On Thursday afternoon the last 3000 boxes of crayons came in, which was a true blessing since they'd been on order for almost 4 weeks.  The paper that was to be donated did finally come on Friday afternoon but it was much less than I expected--only three small boxes of paper--and not nearly enough for all the boxes.  It was a blessing that God had provided thousands of free coloring books for us.  

I ordered 4 of the 3" wide packing tape dispensers a week ago and they were to be sent via UPS from the Staples store in Meadville--a city about an hour's drive from Erie.  They stil hadn't arrived by the time I returned home from school on Friday so I called the Staples store to check on them and found they had never been sent.  The only way to get them would be to drive a two-hour round trip to Meadville.  I tried to think of someone I knew from that area who could pick them up and then I realized that Leigh Fisher, my OCC Regional Director, was driving up from Baltimore to come for the packing party.  I called her cell phone but didn't reach her and left a voice mail.  About 5 minutes later my phone rang and Leigh said, "Kathy, I'm in Meadville.  I got a late start because I had problems with my rental car this morning."  I asked her if she'd received my voice mail and she hadn't.  But she was just 2 miles from the Staples store and went to pick up the tape dispensers with no problem.  It was a God thing that she was delayed in the morning and thus was in just the right spot at the right time to pick them up.  

total boxes packed = 12,670  (if you remember from some of the totals I gave you in advance, this is quite a few more than I anticipated.  The first thing we ran out of was toothpaste and then pens but we kept packing as long as we had enough items to make decent boxes.  We used every usable box we had.  I had wanted to discard some of the regular shoe store boxes that were littering the storage area before the party but I'm glad I didn't because each one ended up being filled.

We expected around 200 volunteers BUT we ended up with 500 volunteers from 25 different churches and organizations. There were over 100 Girl Scouts alone.  The neat thing was that I believe many of them were not 'church people' and it was so great to bring them into the church for an event like this.  Our space was a bit overloaded and they had to wait in line to get to the 'shoebox packing line' but it was still wonderful.  

The packing was over by about 3:30 and it took until 5:00 pm to totally finish the clean-up but packing 12,670 boxes in 6 hours was amazing.  At one point we were doing 1000 every 20 minutes which is way beyond anything I ever imagined.   I was TOTALLY SURPRISED once again by our AWESOME GOD.  Even a few years ago I never could have imagined anything like this."

And there were a dozen other e-mails in this bunch, too.  Messages of thanks to team members that reminded me of all their efforts over the past years; messages between me and fellow OCC volunteers who have been my prayer partners; messages from relay center coordinators with their numbers of shoe boxes collected in 2010 and 2011 that remind me just how far God has brought us.   

I still have absolutely no idea how these precious reminders of God's provision that I'm certain were deleted years ago ended up in the e-mail on my new computer this morning, but God used them as memorial stones of His goodness today.  

And, after all, His goodness is always a mystery.