The candles were lit, and white lights twinkled overhead. The room was decked out in red and white, tablecloths smoothed, plates laden with treats. We were ready. I looked out the window to see the ones I love gussied up in their finest, smiling for the cameras like the stars that they are. Moms surrounded them with pride in their eyes, snapping photos left and right, attempting to capture this moment and never let it go.
It was our last night at camp and time for our “Ladies and Gentlemen” evening. A night created to honor our campers and let them know how we cherish them. A night without parents, a night to feel young and free, grown up and proud. A night made for them to take with them for the rest of their lives.
We opened the doors and applauded our dear ones as they entered the room arm and arm with their precious volunteers. Oh, how their faces beamed with pride and excitement. They looked absolutely stunning- each one. Pure magic.
Every volunteer had written something special for their camper, and as each one was called up we cheered and hooted and hollered. We told them they looked beautiful. We read beautiful words about them, telling them how they are seen by their friends. Some had grins you couldn’t wipe off if you tried, some blushed furiously, shy with the praise, a few wept, and I know I joined them. 🙂
Oleg shared a poem and dessert was served. I flitted from table to table, wanting to savor each face in my mind, wanting to cement this night in my heart. Volunteers, the waiters and waitresses for the night, served our guests like royals. Feeding those who couldn’t feed themselves, holding hands and pushing wheelchairs, wiping drool and crumbs, smoothing skirts and jackets, refilling cups, and sharing conversation. The cream of the crop was there that night- Zhytomyr’s finest- young people who have chosen to ignore their culture’s definition of value and choose to see with eyes of the Kingdom.
A waltz was shared and all were invited to join. A tall volunteer bends low as he invites a beauty in a wheelchair to join him in a dance. She laughs big as another volunteer cuts in. Every soul celebrated and treasured.
We ended the night with fireworks and the joy on each face was indescribable. Kingdom of Heaven come to earth. God’s Kingdom come here and now- on earth as it is in Heaven.
I wish I could transport each of you back to that night with me. I wish you could see and feel the joy in the room. I want you to meet those we love so. Roma, Vitaliy, Dasha, Natasha, Luba, Andrei, Vitya, Rostik, Oksana, Vika, Anton, Olya, Maxim…real people with real hopes and dreams. They may be limited by their bodies, but there is no limit to God’s love for them. They are of infinite value and worth. They are worth it. They are worth time and effort and energy and love. They aren’t a diagnosis or a mystery in a chair. They are beloved sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and friends, and on Sunday night they were celebrities. 🙂
I won’t be the same after this last month. Our whole family is changed. So much was solidified in our hearts and many, many times this past month my heart knew there was no place else I’d rather be. Yes, it is often difficult. Yes, the language barrier makes me want to scream. Yes, we feel like outsiders much of the time. Yes, sometimes we are lonely. Yes, we miss our family (so much). Yes, we miss our church (so much). Yes, we miss one-stop shopping and dryers and the coast and the beauty of Oregon. But our hearts know where they belong. Our hearts belong in a town full of those broken in body but alive and awake in spirit. Our hearts belong in an institution of the broken and forgotten. Our hearts belong with the royalty of Sunday night and with those who served them.
Praise God for knowing so much better than we do. Praise God for those who have gone before us and paved the way in a society that says their work is of little value. I just can’t thank God enough for placing our family here. Not every day is lollypops and roses, and someday soon I will share some of our struggles. But beyond all that I am thankful. God has flooded our hearts with love that only comes from Him and I can’t even express to you in words how much we love our Ladies and Gentlemen. They are absolute treasures.
How is this our life? Somebody pinch me.