Sunday, November 21, 2010

It happened on Arlington Avenue

8:08 p.m. Today's project was to pack up a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, find out where the closest collection center was, and deliver it before today's deadline.

Each year since Franklin Graham's (son of evangelist Billy Graham) Samaritan's Purse international mercy ministry began the shoebox project, our has participated. The concept of a severely needy child in a war-torn or otherwise bereft corner of the earth receiving a Christmas box full of toys, school supplies, clothing or personal care items has found a permanent place in our hearts. The first year the project was launched, Franklin Graham himself came to Harvest Christian Fellowship to accept and pray over the thousands of gaily wrapped boxes on the steps of the massive sanctuary.

Our family's commitment has never waned, from the days when we prepared one box as a family, letting our little ones include an item; to the years when each of the kids packed their own box with items they had selected on our annual expedition to KMart; to getting their grandpa involved and packing a box each year; to times when they would pack a box with a boyfriend or girlfriend on their own initiative; to packing up boxes with youth groups or on their own as young adults; to now, when Steve and I pack a box by ourselves. Back in the day, we would include a note and picture of our family as well. My 83-year-old dad still packs a box!

One year while I was still on the Riverside School Board, Arlington High School's student body holiday charity was an Operation Christmas Child shoebox drive. Franklin Graham's vison has become a worldwide phenomenon. And when the videos were played each year of the children getting their boxes, there wasn't be a dry eye in the sanctuary--those kids couldn't have smiled any bigger if they tried! Only Jesus' smile could be greater!

"Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven," Jesus said in Mark 10:14. May the littlest victims of war and poverty be abundantly blessed by these gifts given in the Name of Jesus!

Steve and I arrived at Harvest on Arlington Ave. just before the start of their 5 p.m. -fourth- Sunday service. I parked and took the shoe box to the front entrance of the sanctuary, where there were large boxes already packed and stacked. But a nice greeter gal told me I could leave it on the table in front of the door.

Memories flooded in. Was it really 31 years ago next January that I first walked into Calvary Chapel Riverside as a divorced single mom who had just been born again? and was undoubtedly greeted by a certain handsome mustachioed usher at the front door whom I married a year and a half later?

Wedding day, July 11, 1981 took place in the sanctuary that bears no resemblance to the high tech, sophisticated setting the congregation now enjoys. Greg Laurie is still preaching the gospel--that has most certainly not changed! Our four younger children were dedicated by Greg, about one every other year for a while there--joy unspeakable, all the Lord's doing! Steve and I led a cub scout troop that included our son Sean there at church. I taught women's studies and led ministries, Steve ushered, and we enjoyed the home Bible studies we attended. Our children were saved and subsequently baptized through the Harvest ministry, and participated in youth groups. Heidi was on the first crew of the Harvest Cafe in 2002. And we always packed up shoeboxes!

As we drove back down Arlington Avenue, I reviewed other memories with Steve: my teaching at Grace Baptist school; the Sears where we bought the kids' school clothes, got portaits done, and bought just about everything else; the Post Office with the funny backwards curved mail "drop-way;" the Rent-A-Center where we rented a washing machine when ours broke down after 22 years; the Honey Baked Ham store; Jefferson School which I visited numerous times while on the Riverside Board of Education; the lovely, shaded side streets on either side of Arlington; the Riverside Unified Central Registration building established during my trustee tenure; the modestly respectable neighborhoods I walked each afternoon for months during my election and re-election campaigns.

God has granted me a rich and full life in Riverside with my family. And the best part of it all is Jesus Christ at the center. Without Christ, I would never have met Steve, nor had the children we share. Without Christ, I wouldn't have the strength to care for him in his hour of need as an Alzheimer's sufferer. Without Christ, I would not have been a Christian school teacher and educated my own kids, eventually running for school board and changing the life prospects of hundreds of thousands of children over 13 years.

Yes, much happened on Arlington Avenue and its surrounding area. But nothing worthwhile happens without Jesus Christ, as the Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:28, the One "in whom I live and move and have my being!"

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