Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Christmas In April and Resurrection Rolls

Ho, Ho, Ho...the air temperature was in the 'teens' here in Erie, PA today and the ground is covered with a blanket of white snow.

I feel like it's Christmas in April--and not just because of the snow.

I got a great donation of nearly 200 handmade stuffed animals from our team member--Pam Suter.  Each one took hours to make and so much love was stitched into them.  I can just picture the joy they will bring.

Pam also donated a couple of bags of filler items, some colorful handmade scarves, and even three perfect little blankets.

I also received two more bags of toys from a generous little girl and boy to add to the collection.

Best of all, I had a great visit yesterday from Leigh Fisher, my Operation Christmas Child Regional Director, who took the time to drive across the state to listen to me and cry with me and pray with me.

Last evening the three coordinators from our area team sat around a table with Leigh and me and we talked about some of the problems and 'roadblocks' that keep our team from functioning optimally.

Have you seen the recipe for Resurrection Rolls?  To make them you need a tube of 8 crescent rolls and 8 regular size marshmallows.  We dipped each marshmallow in melted butter and then rolled it in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar (I used equal parts of brown and white sugar.)  Then we placed each marshmallow (representing the body of Jesus--or, in our case last night, those seemingly giant challenges) inside one of the crescents of dough and made sure it was totally encased with all the edges sealed.

Then we baked them in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes and...those giant marshmallow 'problems' disappeared leaving us with yummy 'empty tombs' that symbolized God's power that raised Christ from the dead and still is available to us today.

As we discussed the pros and cons of hosting our 6th large Operation Christmas Child packing party this fall it became clear to all of us that we need to move forward in faith.

We don't know where all the items will come from or how they will be financed.   What we do know is that though there have been challenges this year we have not seen God firmly close a door on this packing party venture.

So, as a team, we move ahead.  Again.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

No News Is...No News

My Operation Christmas Child blog posts this year have been more infrequent than those of the past two years.  I think that's because, frankly, no news is...no news.

You can only post so much about the empty storage container and the lack of items.

I'm still praying about whether God wants us to host a large packing party this year.   A few months ago I was certain that He did and now... not completely.  When things are slow going it's hard to know if God is asking us to wait on Him and push through or if He is closing doors.

Through the intervention of another Operation Christmas Child volunteer I was able to purchase 18,158 washcloths at a pretty good price.  But now I have to figure out how to get them here from the other end of the state.

We have paper.  We have washcloths.  We have some leftover pencils.  We have 1350 stuffed animals.

We have little else.

We do have 11,000 coloring books, but I found out they are not acceptable for the special boxes we pack at our large packing party.  We'll be giving them to folks who are having regular OCC packing parties in our area or sending them to the processing center as fillers.  So I keep telling myself that all the hauling of them is worth it.  They will still make some children happy.  But they won't be filling the corners of empty boxes at a large packing party.

No news...it's not necessarily good news.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Life Changed 55 Years Ago Today

This little brown New Testament is falling apart.  The spine is gone and the pages are loose.  But it's still my most prized possession.

On April 6, 1959 I attended an after-school children's evangelistic service in the basement of my church led by a team of men from Word of Life Camp.

I had been in Sunday school since nursery age, but this was the first time I ever heard the entire gospel, including the story of the crucifixion.  Though I was only 6 years old, God gave me a clear picture of my sin and the weight of it.  I began to sob inconsolably--so hard I couldn't tell the men who were leading the program what was wrong.  They were at a loss.

I couldn't tell them that what I needed to know was how I could ask Jesus to forgive me.

My father, a non-believer, drove up to the side door of the church to get me.  I jumped in the car and asked him, "Daddy, do you know how I can ask Jesus to forgive me?"  He didn't have an answer.

When we got home my fifteen-year-old brother was the only one there.  When my father was out of earshot I asked my brother my question.  Fearing my father, he cupped his hand around my ear and whispered the truth--all I had to do was ask Jesus and He would forgive me and make me new.

So I went into my bedroom and knelt by my bed and made the best decision of my entire life.  I didn't see any angels but I had peace.  I knew my life was changed.

My brother brought me this little brown Gideon Bible New Testament and wrote in the back a confirmation of my decision and left a blank for me to sign my name, and I happily printed it.

The problem was that my father realized what had happened and became angry. After the yelling was over, he gently put me on his lap and explained that he knew more than those people at that church.  He told me I didn't need to have any sins forgiven and that the stories I heard at church were just that--stories.

So I took a pen and scratched out those words in the back of that New Testament--thinking I would take it all back.

The next day, though, my brother was alone with me as he made my lunch.  He gave me assurance of the reality of God and my decision was reaffirmed.

I printed my own confirmation in the back of that New Testament.

Now, 55 years later, I am still amazed by God's grace and forgiveness.  I still have that New Testament...and I still have peace.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hope In Narnia

It's March 30th and several more inches of snow fell here last night in Erie, PA. I'm starting to think we live in Narnia--that land written about by C.S. Lewis where it is "always winter and never Christmas".

I'm pretty sure we've had more than three snows on the crocuses and they haven't even had a chance to bloom yet as we approach April.

Will spring come?  Is there hope?

When we look outside it seems doubtful...but of course we know spring will come.  How do we know?   Because our faithful God brings it every year.

Yesterday I went to two large indoor community yard sales.  Two.  And I got not one stuffed animal.  Nada.

And no sales have materialized for any other items to purchase for our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes either.

So, we wait.  And while we wait, several of our faithful workers are busy counting and stapling 39 cases of paper into small packets.  Hope.

If I were to follow the "Facing The Giants" metaphor I'd say we're "preparing for rain," but I'd rather say we're preparing for spring.

Hope--even in Narnia.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It'll Come

Empty seems to be my story lately.  My mind bounces from one thing to another--retirement, family decisions, leadership thoughts, Operation Christmas Child concerns.  In each case there are choices to make, things to decide...and I come up empty.

Today's message at church was a brief overview about the role of the Old Testament prophets and also a discussion about the role we have to speak God's words to others in our lives today.

After church I headed out the back door and struggled to get our nearly-empty Operation Christmas Child storage container open.  In 2011, 2012, and 2013 it was at least 1/3 or more full by this time.  Not this year, though.

I heaved open the door and stared into the emptiness.

Just then, a woman I've never met and don't know came out of that back church door and stood behind me looking over my shoulder.  She said two words...

"It'll come."

Maybe she is a prophet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Big Sky Dreaming

Tonight we had our monthly Operation Christmas Child area team meeting.  There were only seven of us, but that's a perfect biblical number.   I needed so much the encouragement that came from being with like-minded people who are as eager as I am to see God do new things in our area.

We did an activity called Big Sky Dreaming--a fancy term for brainstorming--where we threw out any ideas we could think of for getting 55,700 boxes packed from our area this year.

Here are some of our Big Sky Dreams--

-- a teddy bear throw at our local hockey team's games
--a complete team with all coordinators and sub-teams in place that includes younger team members and some men
--billboard advertising
--an Operation Christmas Child shoebox under every seat at the upcoming Rock the Lakes event in September
--inmates at our local prison making toys for shoe boxes
--all shipping for our boxes paid for by donors
--warehouse space
--a giant shoe box in Perry Square in the middle of our city
--a trip to an OCC Processing Center
--an OCC distribution trip

As the ideas flowed I felt buoyed by the possibilities.  Sure, some of them are WAY out in the big sky.  But as we dreamed together I was reminded of how BIG our God truly is.  Our biggest dreams are puny to Him.

We were all smiling by the time we were done, and we all agreed that we can't wait to see what God will do for us eight months from now when we're in National Collection Week.

Heather summed it up best when she said, "God always does it and He does it in a new and different way every year just to keep us trusting Him."

We're trusting God to fulfill dreams that are greater than we can even dream.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Re-Ups and Downs

Every year at this time our Operation Christmas Child area team does 're-ups'.  This means I contact each person on the team to see if they are still called and willing to serve for the coming year.

I've been trying for a few days to reach the last person on my list and complete this task.  I'm happy to report that I've now finished.  I'm unhappy to report that we lost five team members this year.  That's 20% of the team.

Lives change and callings change and passions change and people move on.  That's the way life is.

But it still leaves me wondering what I could do differently to keep people engaged in our team.  My husband, in his effort to be a truth-teller in my life, said to me today, "Well, what do people actually DO when they get on the team?  How do they know what you want them to do?"

He has a point there.

I need to learn to cast the vision better and offer better training experiences and team-building experiences.  In High Impact lingo, I need to recruit and select and train and equip and lead volunteers in a way that's...well...better.

I've always been more of an academic person than a do-er.  I could write you a great essay on how to lead a team via High Impact principles.  But leading takes more than knowing how to lead.  It takes leadership ability and practice.

If God's called me to lead this team then I need to quit making excuses and just do it.

God help me.