The Tim Tebow Foundation describes Night to Shine as an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 16 and older. North Shore Community Baptist Church hosted a Night to Shine prom this past weekend, and I had the great blessing of serving as a volunteer Buddy.
Luke 14:15-24 became a theme for all of the volunteers: We get the opportunity to throw a lavish banquet for people who are often overlooked, people who are dear to God’s heart.
There was a red carpet with young people cheering and snapping pictures like paparazzi as the guests arrived. There was a beauty station for the women and a shoe shine station for the men. There were limo rides, a photo booth, karaoke, a wonderfully catered meal, a special room for caregivers, and, of course, dancing. At one moment all of the guests received crowns and tiaras and were announced kings and queens of the prom.
At the beginning of the evening I waited at my table for the three guests to which I’d been assigned to arrive. I didn’t know anything about them, but I prayed for them.
With an event such as this you sort of anticipate emotional moments. Unexpectedly, the first thing to grab my heart were hands. Hands flapping excitedly and a young man toe-jumping in the air at the entrance of the banquet room. For me, it was the immediate knowing, the instant recognition deep down of the something that makes this young man and my own daughter so dear and beautiful and unique. It was gladness for his gladness and appreciation for all the effort he’d made to be there.
When I saw his face I realized I did actually (kind of) know him. He is a student at Rhema’s school, although he’s 8 or 9 years older than her. There were a few students from the school at the prom, and accompanying them were their teachers. And that’s the second thing that got me. Seeing the teachers dressed in their suits and dresses, so happy to be there to help and celebrate our kids. These teachers are so much more than teachers, they are friends, they do life with our children and words can never express how grateful I am for them.
It was an honor for me to be a Buddy to 3 special people. M was an older woman with mobility issues but I actually had trouble keeping up with her (!) as she made her way to the makeup station and the photo booth and eagerly visited with others in the banquet room. M never met a stranger the whole night and she regaled me with her stories. My other guests of honor were MH and T and they stayed with their caregivers at the table for most of the night. MH had a table tray table on his wheelchair that had many of the PECS symbols that Rhema has in her communication app. There was also a typed message on his tray that said, “I am MH. I understand everything you say even though I may be slow to respond.”
I told MH about Rhema (too young to attend Night to Shine) and my hopes for her. Seeing how hard he worked to communicate encouraged my heart so much and I told him so. His mother was there and even though our stories and our children’s stories are so very different – her son is 40, my daughter is 11, her son was hit by a car at the age of 7 and suffered a traumatic brain injury – we had many things in which we could relate. We shared a precious bond. When a Nat King Cole song came on, MH took my hand and mouthed the words. Best rendition ever. My time with MH and his mother is something I will treasure.
So it goes, in God’s economy, the ones who intend to help/volunteer/bless others are the ones who get doubly blessed in return.
I once said that when you have a child with special needs, every child with special needs is your child. I’m not sure that’s right. But sometimes it feels that way. I’m sensitive to some of the struggles and sorrows and triumphs and joys of others as if they were my own children. I’m liable to get weepy at the grocery store when I see a man with special needs doing his job and loving his job and touching the lives of the people around them.
So perhaps you can imagine my joy, multiplied by 100, seeing our guests lavishly loved and treasured and honored with a night that was made just for them.
There have been times I’ve wanted to shout to everyone and no one in particular, “Don’t forget my girl. It’s not easy, I know. But she’s here, sitting in the dark, waiting for you to sit with her, see her, know her. Don’t forget my girl.”
At Night to Shine God whispered to me: ‘I cannot, will not ever forget her. She is famous to me like an A-lister walking the red carpet. I throw a party, serve the best food and clothe her in love. I pamper her with my goodness and put a crown on her head. I dance with her, sing along with her. She is precious and she is mine.’
How extravagant is the love of God for us.
*A link to Night to Shine highlights from the Tim Tebow Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPUcw0Q5UEI
Videos and pictures from our Night to Shine can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/nscbchurch/.