Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Shoebox Gifts

"Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples."  
~1 Chronicles 16:24
I've been thinking about this post for several days, and I still can't do it.  I can't find the words.  The opportunity to once again partner with Samaritan's Purse and pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child is, indeed, humbling.  I remember the very first shoebox I packed in 1994.  I had absolutely no idea at the time the magnitude of the ministry that would eventually deliver shoebox gifts to over 143 million children in more than 100 countries.  And to think that 23 years later I am packing shoeboxes with my own children!
I can tell you that shoebox shopping day is always a big deal for us.  The kids so carefully and so thoughtfully pick out gifts to include in their shoeboxes.

Packing day is another big day at our house.  We spread everything out on the dining room table and organize it by child so each one has a special place at the table to pack their boxes.  I think this is one of the children's favorite days of the year.  It's not just something we do each November.  It's something we talk about throughout the entire year.  There are SO MANY reasons I LOVE this ministry, and one of the main reasons is because it's such an easy way for my children to get involved in a missions' project.  It's so relatable to them because they, too, love receiving gifts.  I've used these boxes to try to help them understand that there are so many kids just like them who have NEVER received a gift of any kind before.

But it's not just about the items in the boxes . . . the toys and school supplies and hygiene items and craft projects.  It's so much bigger!  These shoeboxes are a tangible way to share the love of Jesus with others.  
Mason told me this year as he was packing his box that he wished he knew the boys who were going to receive his boxes.  I just can't even imagine what it would be like to hand this box to one of those boys . . . a boy just like Mason . . . but living in a war-torn country, perhaps . . . impoverished . . . living in a spiritually darkened place . . . 

Sometimes I think these gifts are just so small, so seemingly insignificant compared to the gifts under the tree for my own children . . . and, yet, these simple boxes are bringing so much hope and love to the "least of these."

I've heard the testimonies and watched shoebox recipient videos each year.  Oh, the joy!  But sometimes I think there's got to be even greater joy in the packing of these boxes!

Just when I think it can't possibly get any better, it does!  Several weeks ago, our church had the honor of hosting a shoebox recipient from the Dominican Republic.  Anabel is now married and lives in the states, but she received a shoebox as a child.  She shared her testimony with us, and it nearly brought me to tears.  

Of all the things in her box, can you guess what meant the most to her?  She loved her toothbrush.  Her toothbrush!  I mean, I have a jumbo pack of toothbrushes that I purchased from Costco in my drawer right now.  But you know what else?  The family who packed her box included a simple, handwritten note telling her that Jesus loves her.  All these years later, she still treasures that note, and she brought it with her to show us.  That note . . . that truth of the Savior's love for her . . . sustained her through the loss of her parents in an automobile accident a few years later . . . and many times since!

We've always tried to include a note or picture of some sort in our boxes, but in years past, the kids weren't excited about writing their notes.  I don't think it meant much to them.  But this year?  They very willingly and very carefully spent time picking out their stationary and paper and pens.  We didn't talk about this specifically, but it didn't hit me until later why writing these little notes was such a big deal to them this year.  They, too, heard Anabel's testimony.  They were listening.

Oh, and something we added to our shoeboxes for the first time this year?  Toothbrush holders!  

We had another packing party at church this year.  Nearly 270 boxes were packed!  After they were packed, we brought them into the sanctuary and placed them on all of the pews.  The next Sunday morning, each box was picked up and brought to the altar.  This gave those who didn't pack a shoebox or attend the packing party an opportunity to touch a box . . . a box that will bring joy and happiness and the Good News of salvation to a child all the way across the world . . . and be involved in the ministry of Operation Christmas Child, too.  

After all the boxes were placed on the pews, I stopped and stood for a minute at the back of the sanctuary just looking out over all those boxes . . . again, I just can't put words to it.  I'm just so humbled, so grateful that the Lord has given us this opportunity to be His hands and feet to children so far away and yet so dear to our hearts.
Ellie woke up the morning of the party with a sore throat and low-grade fever so she stayed home with Daddy.  That's why you don't see her in these pictures.

And, please note, Mason is not (YET) taller than me.  He's on his tippy toes, and I'm bending down a bit!
And, just for fun, here's a look at shoeboxes past . . .

This was 2009.  Hannah Kate was about to celebrate her second birthday, and Mason was four years old.
In 2010, we had moved back to Louisiana, and I hosted the first OCC packing party at church.  There are so many things I love about this picture.  I mean, it's the perfect representation of my Mason (mouth wide open on the front row!) and sweet little Hannah Kate with her hands folded underneath her chin.  All of those precious girls on the back row graduated high school this year!  There's just something about children serving others, even through as simple a gesture as a shoebox gift, that melts my heart.
We were back at it in 2011. 
We packed shoeboxes in 2012, but I was apparently too preoccupied with my newborn to capture a lot of memories after Ellie was born that summer.  So I have a shortage of shoebox pictures, but I did find this one of Hannah Kate working on her boxes.  Ellie is in the stroller behind her.  I don't even know where Mason was!  

In 2013, Ellie joined in on the shoebox fun.  Looking at all of those beautifully and carefully wrapped boxes makes me smile.  Shoeboxes are hard to wrap, y'all!  But I'm a sucker for brightly colored paper, and with each boxed we wrapped, I'd think about the child who would be receiving the box and the smile that must've lit up that face when he or she was handed a cheerily wrapped box.

It was also this year that we began using the online labels to track our boxes.  They were gifted to children in Honduras and Peru. 

In 2014 we had another packing party at church, complete with face painting.  Our boxes were gifted to children in the African countries of Ghana and Togo this year.
In 2015 we moved on to the boxes provided by Operation Christmas Child.  It's amazing just how much you can pack into these little boxes!  I'm convinced the Lord just multiplies the room . . . He always does that you know . . . He can take a little and turn it into an abundance!  This year our boxes were gifted to children in the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I really enjoyed our packing party at church this particular year.  One of the dreams I'd always had was somehow helping the kids connect to the countries in which our boxes were being sent.  Because our boxes were sent to Ghana and Togo the previous year, I researched the economy, education and foods of those countries.
I prepared several Ghanian dishes for the kids to taste and brought my in-laws' collection of hand-made African treasures from their mission trip to Africa years ago.  It was such a sweet time, and I thought the kids did a great job trying the different foods.

In 2016 our shoeboxes were gifted to children in the Philippines and Chad. 
I can hardly wait to find out where our boxes go this year!  And I've already got big plans for us next year . . .

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hannah Kate's Shield

Hannah Kate is studying the Middle Ages (from the fall of Rome to the rise of the Renaissance) this year in history.  She recently learned about the English code of chivalry, which included a discussion about the knights who lived in England.  An excerpt from her book states:

So the leaders of the Christian church began to teach that knights owed loyalty to God, not just to the king.  A knight had a sacred duty to defend the church and to take care of the weak:  women, monks and priests, widows and orphans.  Knights were supposed to be more than just good fighters.  They were like policemen, responsible for protecting others and making sure that laws were obeyed.  This new way of being a knight was called "chivalry."  Chivalry means that a knight had to be brave, loyal, honest, generous and good at fighting.  He had to fight for the church whenever it was threatened.  He had to love his country, honor his lord and fight his country's enemies.  Most of all, he had to protect women.  And if a knight fell in love with a lady, he had to promise to serve her - and to do any task she gave him, no matter how difficult it was.

Becoming a knight was a long, complicated process . . .

The text then outlines the steps to becoming a page and then a squire and finally a knight.  Regarding the armor . . .

Your squire straps your sword onto your belt and puts your helmet on.  It covers your whole face, except for narrow eye slits where you can see out.  Your friends only recognize you because of the special symbol painted on your shield.  This symbol, or coat of arms, tells everyone who you are.

~The Story of the World, History for the Classical Child Volume 2:  The Middle Ages (pages 152-154)

I mean, if that's not romantic, I don't know what is!  (And I'm currently watching Cinderella with Hannah Kate and Ellie as I'm typing this!)

So Hannah Kate's next assignment was . . . you guessed it . . . to design her own shield.  
I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this!  There are so many things about this I can't even put into words.  I must say this is such a true reflection of my creative, fiercely loyal, kind, compassionate, diligent, reserved Hannah Kate.  I'm not sure that she realizes how much I love her, how much she encourages me on a daily basis.  I look at her, and I just marvel.  She makes being her mom so very easy.

I think it's very purposeful that half of her shield is dedicated to dance.  I love the depiction of her and her two besties, Brexley and Sidda.  Her drawing of her electric keyboard reminds me that I wish I would've been more dedicated to teaching her how to play the piano.  When we began homeschooling, I imagined I would have all kinds of time for the arts and science projects and such.  And all the homeschool mommas are laughing!  I admit I questioned her about the fishing illustration.  I didn't realize that fishing would be shield-worthy!  But, obviously, it is.

Sunday night a week ago, I walked around the corner at 8:45 to see her pouring over school work yet again.  It had already been such a long day, and we were tired.  I reminded her that she didn't have to go to Sequitur for another two days and that she had plenty of time within those two days to complete her work.  But what am I talking about?  This is the same girl who, last Thursday a week ago, told me when I picked her up from Sequitur that she had to read an entire chapter book by the following Wednesday.  I reminded her that she had nearly an entire week in which to read the book (because I knew what was going to happen).  And, sure enough, she disappeared to her room around 2:00 that afternoon, and when I called her downstairs at 4:15 to get dressed for dance, she came be-bopping down the stairs and announced that she'd finished the book!  Yes, that is my Hannah Kate.   
And, speaking of dance, last week was parent observation week.  Why is it that, seven years later, I still become a puddle when I watch her dance?

Miss Courtney has been one of her dance teachers for several of the seven years, and Hannah Kate was excited to have her again this year.
I've noticed recently that she's been working really hard on her technique.
She remained in this position for several minutes.
She's also been working really hard on her splits.
Mrs. Katherine encouraged Hannah Kate to take two ballet classes this year, one of which is purely a technique class.  She's really beginning to mature as a dancer, and I just love watching her dance.
Exactly two weeks from today, this girl will be 10 years old.  I can't even.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Caught (as in "in the act")

Monday afternoon I was cooking supper.  The kids were playing outside.  Ellie came in and went upstairs.  A few minutes later, I heard her yelling, "Mason!  MASON!!  Mason, I can't find the big one.  But I have the little one."

Now, I knew that Ellie came inside by herself.  I knew that Mason was NOT inside.  And Ellie was NOT using her inside voice (like she even knows what that is anyway).  So it took all of three seconds for me to figure out what was going on.

I immediately took off running up the stairs and arrived just in time to find this:
She is FIVE.  Five years old.  And she's already figured out she can raise the window in her room to communicate with the outside world.  She's probably already thought about climbing out the window into the outside world (she'd land on top of the roof over the back porch)!

Seriously, Mason nor Hannah Kate would ever do this!  Only Ellie!

Time to nail. it. shut.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Caught (as in a bunch of fish)

Last weekend Seth, Mason and PawPaw went fishing.  I wish I had the funny stories and anecdotes to share, but I don't because I wasn't there.  And I honesty haven't heard too many stories from this trip.  I'm sure there are some.  I just don't know what they are.  But I have a few pictures.
They went with a guide on this trip because they were hoping to learn some new spots and tricks.  Seth said the guide spent most of his time with Mason and that even he learned some things he didn't know.
Apparently there were some big ones.

They reeled in reds, speckled trout, white trout and Spanish mackerel.

Mason also caught a sting ray.

They limited out by lunch time and came back in.  I sure wish I could see Mason's face in this picture!
But after you catch those fish, you have to clean them.  That took the better part of the afternoon.  And now my freezer is full!