I was very grateful during the weeks leading up to the yard sale to have the help of one of my housemates to simplify my life and subsequently, the life of JUSTembrace. Truthfully, there’s a LOT more we could have gotten rid of, but I have this deep desire to hold onto things “just in case!” It has served me more than enough to prove it’s worth to hold onto things that can make a simple experience swell with creativity and thought!
As the days approached for the yard sale, I knew it was going to be an experiment. Volunteers from DePaul as well as a couple from my neighborhood spent hours at the house making signs, sorting items and hanging clothes. There were somewhere between 20 and 25 volunteers and contributors who made this yard sale a success! The stories that came from the experience are way more valuable than the nearly $300 we raised! Here are some of my favorites:
The Thief: One of my favorite experiences of the day was watching one of our local nursing home residents quietly shop for over half an hour. As I watched her gather items, I was delighted to see her taste and style evident in her choices. One item she picked up was a red purse I bought while living in Bosnia. Although I loved that purse so much I remember nearly every detail of purchasing it – I hardly ever used it. I was happy to see it going to a lady I knew would appreciate it’s classiness! Although this lady has little hair left, she often wares it in a itty bitty side ponytail on the top of her head along with bright makeup and an intentional outfit.
I will admit, I was pretty shocked when she walked away – back down to the nursing home – with her newly acquired and unpaid for treasures. The idea that she might not have understood that she was at a yard sale was a very real one in my mind, and I went with it and chose to find her theft as an endearing act of an older lady struggling with dementia and holding on to her flair for style!
The Ravioli Eater: One of our yard sale shoppers was a young woman I hadn’t seen in months. This lady either struggles with tremendous mental health issues, chronic drug abuse or both. When I saw her milling around the can goods, I wandered up to see if I could help. I saw her hand full of change as she struggled to figure out how many cans of ravioli she could afford ($.25 each). She began to place change in my hand as we put the cans in a bag for her. I threw an extra one in as a thank you for purchasing so many – although really I wanted to just give her as much as she wanted for free! I knew she was choosing to use her last bits of change on these easy to store and heat meals. I could only imagine what was going on in her head as she made her purchase. While it was difficult in moments like these to “sell” items that I would much rather give away, I’m convinced there is something very humanizing and dignifying about being able to provide for yourself. I saw this in another way with:
The Hot Dog Eater: I’ve watched Larry’s health deteriorate before my eyes over the last two years. I’ll never forget how our first cook-out impacted him because each time I saw him, for months afterwards, he asked if we were going to have hot dogs again soon. One day when Larry was first beginning to use a wheel chair, I asked him what had caused the change. He let me know that he had AIDS and several other issues. All of a sudden what I had thought was simply drug and alcohol abuse became a battle I could never imagine.
Larry and one of his friends from the nursing home down the street spend their days up on Argyle (the street perpendicular to ours) shaking cups and asking for change. Every day I see them going back and forth on this route – gathering their income from commuters, shoppers and passers by. While I know the nursing home feeds them, I wonder if this is just a way to pass the day or get money for special treats like cigarettes and hot dogs.
At our yard sale we did something we’ve never done. We charged for food. We gave free coffee and lemon-aide away all day, but we charged $.50 for hot dogs and $.10 for a cup of peanuts. Larry and his friend brought their cups and emptied their change into my hand – purchasing a few hot dogs between them. A few hours later Larry came back with more change for another hot dog. I don’t know how I feel about charging a guy like Larry $.50 for a hot dog at a yard sale – but I do know that after the many meals we’ve prepared for Larry, the many tables we’ve set, the many holidays we’ve celebrated together – it is a tremendous blessing to give Larry the opportunity to buy a hot dog. It just is. I don’t really know why. But it feels right.
Sweet Linda loves everything she experiences with JUSTembrace. She is a faithful attender of our foot clinics, and even if she doesn’t need work done, she comes with her boyfriend and just spends time with us. At our FIRST yard party on July 4, 2011, Linda and her boyfriend showed up an hour early with a bag of canned goods to contribute to the party.
About half way through our yard sale, Linda shows up carrying two bags. As she walks up she starts explaining “Oh Sher, I’m so sorry, I don’t have any money for hot dogs! Do you think I could pay you $.50 next week so I can have a hot dog??” She then explained the two bags of items she brought for the yard sale which included a few clothing items and a Batman doll (her boyfriend had won it in one of those arcade games). Precious Linda never thought about being able to sell her items and use the money for hot dogs – but when we sold the Batman doll to a little boy for $.50 I suggested Linda use that for her hot dog instead of feeling like she was a burden. I am continually moved by the selflessness of our neighbors and the ways they take initiative to give-back. Linda sat with us for a few hours and we all enjoyed just being together helping to run this yard sale for the benefit of the work of JUSTembrace.
The Budget Follower: One sweet customer shopped for quite sometime – compiling piles of items slowly. Finally, when pricing time came, I sat down with her and looked at her loot as she counted her few singles, quarters, dimes, nickles and pennies. She had less than $4.00. As I looked through her items with her I watched her put priority on the blanket for $2 over the clothing items for $2. The 2nd priority were the samples of hygiene items (we were selling those for $.10 – $.25 each). I threw a few in her bag to get things started before keeping track of price. After we were done, the clothing items were still out of her price range, yet she lamented most not being able to get a book. She told me she’d been reading a Mormon Bible but didn’t understand it. I ran to the book box and got a devotional that had been donated to JUSTembrace (with large print!) a few years ago – and threw it in her pile as a “thank you” for stopping by.
Over and over at this yard sale I saw men and women count their change and calculate what items they could afford. Knowing that JUSTembrace usually exists to lavish loving celebration on our neighbors, it wasn’t as difficult to watch the struggle as I know we do support all of our neighbors in a sustainable way. We can’t supply the neighborhood with physical resources – but we can supply it with Generosity, Hospitality and Inclusivity – and we strive to every day.
The Helper: Eric has been a small group member for several months now. He lives across the road and is just a quiet and humble kind of guy – only a few years older than me. He wants to be a teacher, but has had a hard time finding work. I saw Eric outside the gate around 8am as my two helpers and I were struggling to get our groggy selves hustling to get our yard sale items out and on the tables we’d set up. Eric came in and immediately went to work helping us – it was 10 hours later when Eric and Payton (college volunteer from DePaul) and I sat down to celebratory deep dish pizza. Not only had Eric stayed through the whole day with us – weathering the ridiculously cold temperatures – but he had been more than willing to do anything that was asked of him – and he even took it upon himself to help shoppers when he could. I was deeply touched by Eric’s unasked for help and faithfulness to yesterday’s experiment!
The New Neighbor: Our first yard sale patron turned out to be a new neighbor who just moved in down the street. She was out walking her dog and ended up buying one of my favorite purses – I had an emotional tie to SO many items we sold yesterday. I was able to give her my card (as I did several other times) and invite her to find out more if she wanted to join us in restoration in this community! I hadn’t thought about that aspect of the yard sale – and thanks to this first customer, I was able to be arm myself with business cards for the several more connections we made through the day.
The Other New Neighbor: A gentleman arrived early to the yard sale and purchased a few useful items. As we talked, he informed me that he had just moved into the hotel down the street and needed a few things to get set up. We chatted for a while before he left. A few hours later he returned with a gift for me – a promotional calendar for the Joffery Ballet. He said “my company produces the artwork for those. I’m a graphic artist with an substance abuse problem.” That little gift was his way of explaining his story to me – giving me enough information to get the general idea as to why he recently moved in down the street. At this point, I began to realize his coffee mug was not filled with coffee. I encouraged him to consider joining us for small group this Sunday as we’re watching “Chocolat” and a discussion afterwards. The third time he stopped by the yard sale, he had clearly been enjoying his “coffee” and yet continued to purchase items for his new room – a sheet set, a throw rug, a few plates and cups. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to meet him and let him know about the JUSTembrace community in his new neighborhood!
The Starbucks Regular: A familiar face peered over the fence at me as I was still hurrying to hang clothes. His hat had his name embroidered across the top, so I immediately knew who he was – he was a regular at Starbucks. I identified myself as the “New Girl” since I wasn’t wearing my mandatory black hat and green apron, he hadn’t recognized me. Within a few minutes I was able to explain to him what we were doing at JUSTembrace and eventually the question came up “are you all connected to a church?” I love this question because the answer is no. But the answer is also Yes. I typically answer “We love Jesus! But no, we aren’t affiliated with one particular church – in fact, we all go to different churches in the area and some of us don’t attend church. We just love Jesus and try to live our lives like He would.” The reality is, it’s a lot harder to try to live a lifestyle of restoration than to be associated with a local faith community. Presenting yourself as a part of a particular faith community vs. presenting yourself as part of a community of believers. This is one of the many ways JUSTembrace lives out our value of Inclusivity. It’s not about the denomination, worship style or political beliefs held by people of faith that defines us – it’s about living lives of Restoration – about together putting the broken pieces of our community back as they were created to be as best as we know how. To join us you do not need to worry about agreeing with everything we believe or each viewpoint we take – you only have to be drawn to what you see. And it seems, lots are.