“Cancel.” At no point in history has that word been so popular as it has been in the last year. From weddings to graduations, March Madness to the Masters, it seems as if nearly everything was canceled.
But there are some things in this life that can never be canceled. God’s love. The inherent value He assigns to each and every human being. The work being done around the world in His name.
There is no doubt that ministry looks different now than it did pre-pandemic, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But the mission has not changed. If anything, it is now more critical than ever, which is why we can never stop fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Thankfully, we serve a God for whom nothing is too big. With Him alone as our source of power, faith, hope and love can never be locked down.
We saw this truth put into action at the 2021 Night to Shine hosted through the Tim Tebow Foundation.
I’ve been to many impressive events over the years, but Night to Shine has always meant more to me than any game I ever played in or any awards show I ever attended. It’s my favorite night of the year, without question.
Beginning in 2015, Night to Shine began as a simple call to churches and communities to come together and host a prom for people with special needs.
Seven years later, it is now a worldwide movement that has reached into over 30 countries each year and has provided hundreds of thousands of people with special needs with an opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated as the royalty they have always been in God’s eyes.
Night to Shine has always meant more to me than any game I ever played in or any awards show I ever attended. It’s my favorite night of the year, without question.
But it’s not just the honored guests for whom this event has been life-changing. It’s also the churches that faithfully come alongside us, the volunteers who give it their all year after year, the local vendors whose generosity consistently goes above and beyond, and the parents and caregivers who can’t hold back tears as they watch their precious loved one be crowned king or queen of the prom.
And it has also been life-changing for me and my team. It’s something we plan for and pray for the entire year. But no sooner had we had begun to dream about the 2021 event than COVID-19 changed life as we know it.
The months that followed were filled with some of the hardest conversations I have ever had. In the spirit of transparency, they were conversations I didn’t want to have at all.
My dream is for Night to Shine to be in every country in the world one day, and not only that but to spark year-round support for people with special needs and their families.
Selfishly, I didn’t want this event to be canceled. I wanted so badly for these kings and queens to be reminded of their worth, especially in this season during which they have been isolated even more than usual.
But at the same time, we knew we could never put our honored guests in jeopardy. Their health and safety have always been of utmost importance to us. So, if that meant sacrificing what I want now for something better later, well, that’s always the right play to run.
But, a part of me couldn’t help but think, What if there was another way? What if canceling wasn’t the only option? What if we could figure out how to both celebrate and protect the guests? What if God had a different plan all along?
I believe God often accomplishes some of the greatest things in our discomfort.
Playing the “what if” game can expose the thin line between optimism and delusion. But this time, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that God had something up His sleeve.
We proceeded with great care, being open to what was possible while keeping safety at the forefront. We did our due diligence in seeking advice from experts. We kicked around countless ideas. We prayed long and we prayed hard.
And we also grieved. Even if we found another way, we knew it wouldn’t look the same. Knowing that hurt. There was more heartache, disappointment and discouragement than I could tell you. Grief is a weighty thing, and our team felt every bit of it.
Throughout the process, however, I can say that we never lost faith – faith that nothing is impossible with God. The very One who accomplished the great miracles we read in the Bible, who rose from the grave, is the same One still at work in the world today.
I can’t say that our team immediately knew what do. But armed with the knowledge that He goes before us and His ways are trustworthy, we started to take small steps of faith creating some kind of solution.
The journey wasn’t easy. And it definitely wasn’t comfortable. Being in a position of total surrender never is. But I believe God often accomplishes some of the greatest things in our discomfort.
When we long to be obedient and are at our most vulnerable, we have no choice but to learn, adapt and grow.
Looking back now, I can see so clearly how He led us every step of the way. As the months went by and we ran down every possible road imaginable, parents and caregivers flooded our inboxes with messages sharing the stories of how their children have been impacted by the pandemic over the last year, and asking us not to cancel.
Just last week, my team shared with me the story of a young man who had spent time battling a severe illness in the ICU in 2020.
One day, his nurse, who just “happened” to be a Night to Shine volunteer, noticed that on the “Reason to Live” board that hangs on the wall of each patient’s room, he had a single photo. Unlike the other patients whose boards were filled with photos of families and friends, his had only one – a photo of him being crowned king of the prom at Night to Shine several years ago.
This young man, whose parents had passed away when he was just a young boy, and who was then facing a life-or-death situation, was holding on to Night to Shine as his reason to live.
His story is just one of the many we heard. But with every one that came our way, we began to sense more strongly than ever that the Lord was making a way.
And that is exactly what He did. Alongside hundreds of churches and thousands of volunteers, unique ways to celebrate the amazing kings and queens even while social distancing became a reality in the form of Shine-Thru, a drive-thru adaptation of the event with door-to-door swag bag deliveries and more. With the help of a few celebrity friends who shared heartfelt messages of encouragement with our guests, thousands of individuals celebrated the evening via a virtual experience.
With the prayers, encouragement and generosity of countless supporters around the world, Night to Shine 2021 was still an evening in which our honored guests shined brighter than ever. I wish I had adequate words to express my gratitude to the countless individuals worldwide who said yes to the mission set before us.
Together, we were able to share the simple truth with all of our honored guests – they matter. They are created in the image of the God of this universe, and He loves them like crazy.
A couple weeks have passed since Night to Shine. But the stories continue to roll in – emails and text messages that have left us in awe of the God who made a way when it seemed like there was none.
We were able to share the simple truth with all of our honored guests – they matter. They are created in the image of the God of this universe, and He loves them like crazy.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the changes brought on by COVID-19 will continue to impact the movement in significant and lasting ways in the future.
What that looks like right now, I don’t know. But I know that God already does.
And I can trust that whatever the future looks like, He works all things for good. For that, I am grateful.
For Night to Shine 2021, though different than ever before, I am grateful.
His mission cannot be stopped. His love for humanity cannot be locked down. No matter the adversity around us and the roadblocks in front of us, we can trust Him to show us the way forward.
And if the time comes when the path before us seems dark once again, we will remember Night to Shine 2021 as proof that faith, hope and love will not only endure but will always shine the brightest in the darkest of seasons.
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