power of community (2) Copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing. All rights reserved.

Do you ever wonder if community – real interdependence and togetherness – still exists in our narcissistic, individualistic post-modern world? I do. I wonder it often. Most of the time I cynically dismiss the possibility that people really do rally with one another when the going gets tough, but then I am immensely humbled – instantaneously – by great acts of love that brush my life.

One such act of community occurred last weekend. Ben and I had been planning our annual fundraiser, along with our amazing core team (Loren and Joanne Hartman, Steve Schneider and Susan Schartzer) for about ten months. We met monthly, kept minutes, brainstormed, and generally came up with a timeline of events to pull this thing off.

Honestly, I wanted to crawl in a hole every time we met. The tasks seemed insurmountable, and I was truthfully expecting “the other shoe to drop” at any minute. In other words, I was expecting someone to say, “Sorry, this is just too much work. We can’t help you out right now.”

It’s been done before. Sadly, I’ve experienced it all too often. I’ve come to internalize an incredible amount of guilt, then, when people do step up to offer us help. My ego was long ago crushed when I accepted that, yes, I do need help, and yet when I know the struggles and crosses that the people helping us are carrying, I feel guilty that perhaps our family is adding to their burdens.

There is truth, however, to the fact that helping those who cannot return the favor offers us the most sense of satisfaction. God created us to be a people of community, not to dwell in isolation. We are meant to be interconnected at the heart, and this past weekend, I was reminded that people do care. There are a select few who actually go above and beyond the typical “I’ll volunteer for a couple of hours to help you out.”

We had friends who came early nearly every day the week of the garage sale to sort, clean, and organize items. They stayed late. The hot sun wore their bodies thinly. They were exhausted, and yet they came back. Time and again, they returned to help us. On the two days of our garage sale, they arrived early and stayed all day, answering questions, mingling with shoppers, greeting people with a smile, and cheering on Ben and me when we became weary and discouraged.

Was it all worth it?  In the end, we raised a little over $6,000. (I know my Facebook post said $8,000, but that was a miscount.) That $6,000 was earned through a lot of dedicated, committed friends, many of whom lost a lot of sleep and went hungry for a time and all of whom chose to walk with our family, to rally with us in unconditional support.

We had major setbacks due to unexpected (and serious) illnesses, and an entire group that was going to help us out bailed at the last minute.  We had people dropping off donations while we scurried to set everything up, and there were moments when I snapped at Ben from exhaustion and frustration.

The garage sale fundraiser was much more than a sale or a fundraiser. It was the power of community coming together for a common purpose and cause. You see, everyone who helped that day or even stopped by to patronize the sale were bonded by Sarah. They all know and love Sarah. They have been touched by her little life, and they wanted to help, regardless of their physical limitations or family commitments.

Because of our fundraising team, we also offered a bake sale based on free will offerings (and spear-headed by the sister team of Julie Reese and Monica Handrich, both of whom are dear friends and neighbors of mine). Julie’s husband, Mick, got up at midnight so he could slow-cook the pork for pulled pork sandwiches, which were also sold during the day next to the bake sale items. The Reese’s youth group – who had never met us before and didn’t know us personally – cheerfully arrived to volunteer selling sandwiches and filling in where needed.

I recall feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in this, and on Friday, my neighbor stopped by with a fragrant pink rose as a small gift for me. Instantly I recalled moments during my childhood when my mother assured me that the unexpected gift of a rose was a sign and consolation from St. Therese the Little Flower that everything is going to be okay.

I was instantly uplifted, though the sense of certainty never resumed. I’ve come to believe I will not possess that certainty again until I pass from this life to the next, yet God displayed an incredible witness of love through the countless impromptu conversations with strangers about Sarah’s condition, the anonymous donations of hundreds of dollars in cash, and the support of people beyond our families of origin who truly love us like family.

The bottom line: Sarah brings people together of all creeds, races, and ages. She is a universal icon of acceptance and love. She reflects God’s love through her smile and her laugh. Sarah reminds us that what’s important in life isn’t to help ourselves, but rather to help each other.

Text and image copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing. All rights reserved.