God's Plan All Along

February 17th, 2022

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Night to Shine 2021 was God saying, “I can make things beautiful out of the scariest, most unknown situations.”  - Ellen Gardner, Tim Tebow Foundation Shine On Manager

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, no one could anticipate how it would change life as we knew it. Over the following months, TTF felt the impact in a variety of ways. But as planning for Night to Shine 2021 started to take place, the weight upon us at the foundation became even heavier.

For six years prior, the one-night prom, centered on God’s love, had served as one of the foundation’s marquee events. But in the months leading up to the 2021 event, it was increasingly obvious that things had to change. The very community the event was designed to honor and celebrate was a community at exceptionally high risk. As we spoke with medical professionals and other experts in the world of disability, and spent significant time in prayer, the next right step became clear. For the safety of our guests, Night to Shine could not be in-person.

It was a tough decision; one that hurt to make. The sadness that was felt by our staff and by many host churches and parents was real. We’ve had families share with us that their loved one looks forward to Night to Shine more than Christmas, or that they wake up the morning after a Night to Shine and ask how many more days until the next one. We knew we’d be letting many of them down. But it seemed there was simply no way around it.

Or was there?

IMG_7734.jpgOur staff continued to pray. We continued to believe. We continued to dream. And as we did, new ideas were born. What if we hosted a virtual version of the event? With many things in the world having to switch to a virtual format, why couldn’t Night to Shine?

Little did we know during those early creative brainstorm sessions how much impact Virtual Night to Shine would go on to have.

The reality is that even though Night to Shine was purposely created for individuals with disabilities, and has always catered to their unique needs, there were still many who could never attend. The music, the lights, the crowd, the noise, the energy…for some, it’s just too overwhelming. Staff member Ellen Gardner’s son Davis, who has multiple disabilities, is one of these. Ellen knows multiple parents who, in previous years, tried to take their son or daughter to Night to Shine, only to leave just minutes later because it was simply too much. Other parents never even attempt such an event, knowing from the start that their loved one would not be able to handle it. The stories she shared broke our hearts.

But now…now we had an opportunity like never before to reach even more of the disability community—to create a version of the event in which every individual could watch within the safety and predictability of their home while surrounded by trusted family and caregivers.

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The ideas didn’t stop there, however.

Inspired by drive-thru birthday parties and baby showers, the idea of a drive-thru version of Night to Shine came up. What if we created a version in which guests could still celebrate and be celebrated, but within the safety of their vehicles from start to finish? What if we rolled out red carpets so wide, cars could drive down them? What if we still lined those carpets with thousands of cheering volunteers, turned the music up loud and danced for hours on end? What if host churches found unique ways to celebrate and honor the kings and queens in their local communities?

IMG_7732 (1).jpgWe knew it was doable, but would it be the same? Would that same level of excitement and fun exist? Would the guests still feel seen, and valued, and loved? We couldn’t know until we tried.

And so, with the support of hundreds of host churches and thousands of volunteers, that’s exactly what we did. From coast to coast across the United States, churches, volunteers, and local vendors rallied together and gave thousands of guests a night to remember.

IMG_7730 (1).jpgIt looked a little different, there’s no denying that. But the things that mattered stayed the same. The Church came together to answer the calling placed on us as believers. Parents and caregivers were reminded that their loved one is not only seen by us, but deeply loved by the God who created them. Guests were treated to a night of celebration, of honor, and of joy; a night in which they were crowned as the kings and queens they are; a night in which they could truly shine. And God came through in ways far greater than we ever could have imagined.

Night to Shine 2021 changed the game for us, and there’s not a doubt in our minds it was his plan all along. It opened the doors to share his love to more people than ever before, and that’s why it will continue for the foreseeable future even when in-person events become, once again, a reality. And for those of us at TTF…if you asked every staffer here what we learned, it is this – His ways are higher than ours. He sees the whole picture when we don’t. He is a good God who can be trusted even when life is scary and unknown. And he truly does makes beauty out of ashes.

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