Last night, over dinner, a dear friend asked me about the conclusion of the 2016 Jeep Raffle that I sponsored to raise money for my sister-in-law, Vicki, who has been battling ALS since August 2014. It occurred to me, as I recounted the dramatic ending to the raffle over dinner -- and the fact that Vicki is still with us, still fighting, still filled with love and hope -- what a powerful story my Jeep Raffle remains and how it bears repeating this holiday season.
It was late December 2015 when I made my dramatic New Year's resolution to raffle off my beloved 2010 Mango Tango Jeep Wrangler to raise funds for my even more beloved sister-in-law suffering the physical, emotional, and financial ravages of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
I'm not one to make a New Year's resolution, especially on social media. But once I had committed, I learned just how powerful a public resolution can be.
The instant groundswell of support was overwhelming as so many people got behind the Raffle immediately -- from friends, social media acquaintances (court reporters from coast to coast) and complete strangers like Jim Moyer from Fields Jeep in Glenview, Illinois.
Not only did hundreds participate by purchasing $100 tickets, but they spread the word all over social media, reaching folks in states as far away as Alaska!
Alaska? Yes, Alaska.
When Bill Brown, an Alaskan bush pilot, purchased a ticket, I responded instantly, letting him know he was GU -- geographically undesirable! But Bill didn't want to be excluded from helping Vicki over something as "insignificant" as a zip code. So I sold him his ticket, giving little consideration to his odds of winning and even less consideration to the logistics of delivering Mango Tango to Alaska. After all, there were to be, I hoped, 499 other participants, any of whom could win.
Online ticket sales remained steady for months, increasing as the Raffle neared completion. But I was still miles away from my stated goal of raising $50,000.
Days before the end of the Raffle, trailing my goal by about $17,000, I was contacted by a rockstar who pledged that no matter what number I reached at the close of ticket sales, s/he would close the gap with a single check and wished neither to be named as the benefactor nor receive the equivalent in ticket entries.
In the final hours of the raffle, ticket sales surged as people threw down challenges to others to buy tickets, in some cases multiple tickets, in an effort to help me reach my goal. But I knew no matter what, with my benefactor's assistance, the Jeep raffle was going to be a success!
As I watched the final countdown of the Jeep Raffle on my website, I realized that this was no longer my New Year's resolution. It become everyone's resolution: To make the world a better place through acts of selflessness by helping a woman who many of the participants did not even know, a woman fighting a horrific disease, a wife, a mother, a sister, a sister-in-law, a daughter, a daughter-in-law.
And then that bush pilot from Alaska shows up again, purchasing five more tickets. I emailed him to express my gratitude...
"What are you, nuts? FIVE MORE TICKETS?"
While I have so many stories of the selfless giving exhibited throughout the entire four-month Jeep Raffle, it was the winner -- yes, Bill Brown, the bush pilot from Alaska -- along with the anonymous benefactor, who took my little Jeep Raffle and turned it into the inspirational story of human decency that we can all carry in our hearts this holiday season.
Bill Brown refused to take possession of Mango Tango. Bill just wanted to help me realize my goal of raising money for Vicki. As a long-time Jeep owner himself, it was his desire for me to keep Mango Tango.
We argued, Bill and I. I had made a resolution, a promise, if you will.
Promises may fit the friends, but nonperformance will turn them into enemies. -Ben Franklin
I knew in my heart I couldn't accept Bill's generous offer to keep Mango, genuine as it was.
In the moment that Bill offered me to keep Mango Tango, I had an epiphany.
The raffle had bestowed on me a gift more valuable than the Jeep itself. In four-and-a-half months, I had the great good fortune of witnessing wide-scale human kindness, feeling the power of letting go of a thing you love for someone you love, and observing the connective powers of social media for the benefit of someone in great need.
But it seemed the winner of the raffle had one more experience in store for me: To bear witness to the contagiousness of generosity.
Bill and Kaylene Brown (along with the entire Brown clan) of Anchorage, Alaska decided to gift Mango Tango to my niece Molly who has shown courage, strength and resilience in the face of her mother's battle with ALS, by completing her home school education alone, a year before her peers, and becoming a National Merit Finalist, earning her a full-ride scholarship to Oklahoma University.
Days before Molly's high school graduation in May of 2016, Bill and Kaylene surprised Molly with Mango Tango. And in August, Molly and Mango headed off to Norman, Oklahoma, where a new chapter has begun for her.
At home in Pantego, Texas, Vicki's battle with ALS continues. But she has been able to remain at home, cared for by her loving husband (my brother Ron), her amazing church family and friends, and all the talented caregivers, the cost of which has been offset by everyone who participated in the Jeep raffle.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
As another year draws to a close, New Year's resolutions are beginning to percolate.
I wonder to myself, whose life might you touch with a bold 2017 promise?