By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MOLINE, Ill. — Eight years ago, Sheila Boyd said goodbye to her husband Bob as surgeons whisked him away for brain surgery. On Feb. 8, the couple strode the red carpet runway amidst cheers and applause into the Night to Shine prom for individuals with special needs.
Bob’s special need is his brain injury. Sheila, Bob’s wife of nearly 20 years, chose to double up as his buddy and his date so that they could enjoy a glamorous event that celebrates unconditional love and the value that God places on every human being.
Tim Tebow Foundation has sponsored Night to Shine on the same February night at venues worldwide for the past five years. He chooses the Friday closest to Valentine’s Day to encourage people to think beyond love as romantic; to embrace unconditional love.
Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire (the parish Sheila and Bob belong to) and Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Davenport jointly hosted this year’s Night to Shine in the Quad Cities. The TaxSlayer Center — where hockey, arena football and basketball games and concerts usually take center stage — provided a spacious venue for 550 guests, an equal number of buddies and many other volunteers. Buddies filled the massive staircase at the center, waiting for the prom-goers to arrive and escort them on the red carpet into the arena.
Alex Donovan of Our Lady of the River Parish volunteered at guest registration. “I just love seeing the look on people’s faces,” said Alex, who is finishing up studies to be a physician’s assistant. “To make them feel so special for the night.” The red carpet entrance, she said, “is the coolest thing.”
Throughout the evening, prom-goers dined, danced and sang. Some had their hair and make-up done, posed for glamorous photographs and took limousine rides in the frosty night air. All were crowned king or queen. But the red-carpet entrance sealed the deal; that’s where the magic began.
‘It reminded me of our wedding day’
Sheila wore an olive green formal with sequins and a sparkly black wrapper, the first time she’d been dressed so elegantly since her wedding day in 1999. Bob wore a black tux with green tie and walked proudly beside Sheila, their hands linked tightly.
“At first, I was excited for Bob to have a big moment. But as I walked down the carpet, I almost started tearing up because it reminded me of our wedding day when you walk out of the church surrounded by those that love you and are wishing you well in their hearts. This was the same feeling,” Sheila said.
Their marriage and family, which includes sons Alex (18), Brandon (15) and Ben (12), have been tested in ways they couldn’t have imagined before surgeons removed a tumor the size of a fist from the center of Bob’s brain.
“Back in January of 2011, besides the trauma of the surgery, Bob’s brain was swollen for nearly three weeks post-surgery resulting in significant brain injury,” Sheila wrote in a post for Empower House QCA Brain Injury Clubhouse.
“He had to relearn all functioning, from sitting up to eating, walking, talking; you name it, he had to relearn it. He used inpatient and outpatient therapy for six months until our insurance ran out. His rebuilding process was not over, but it officially was over for the insurance. This meant it was our responsibility as his family to continue what we could at home. As a caregiver, it was a time of feeling lost, extreme confusion and frustration with the lack of resources to help continue his recovery and continue the rebuilding. I remember people asking, ‘What are you going to do now?’
The limousine ride
Despite an outdoor temperature of around 10 degrees, Sheila and Bob were among the first in line for a limousine ride, chauffeured by a driver and assistant. “They took us around downtown Moline. When we came back, there were long lines of cars waiting to drop off people (for the prom). So they said, ‘We’re just going to give you a second ride,’” Sheila said.
Bob described the ride as exciting. A young woman who is a World Special Olympian skiing champion and her buddy also were along for the limo ride. The skier shared her story with Sheila and Bob. The limo ride “was the one thing she was looking forward to all night. She was super excited,” Sheila said.
The crowning glory
Prom-goers danced with abandon to songs like “Dancing Queen” by Abba and “YMCA” by the Village People, songs perfectly timed to prepare the crowd for the crowning of 550 kings and queens. The music stopped and three clergymen — Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Father Joseph Wolf, pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish and the Rev. David Jacob, senior vacancy pastor of Risen Christ Lutheran Church — took to the stage. Bishop Zinkula led the gathering in prayer. “God is the source and origin of every blessing. All that God has created and all the events that he guides – including Night to Shine – are good and have a special purpose …” Sheila though the prayer “put a cap on the meaning of the night.”
Then Tim Tebow’s image appeared on the large screen on stage and the audience cheered. He shared a message of love with prom-goers hosted by 655 churches in the United States and 24 countries around the world. Night to Shine, he said, “is all about you … it’s because we love you.” He reminded the prom-goers that the “God of the universe has an amazing place in your lives.”
Seeing Tebow on the screen, a young adult prom-goer standing near Sheila and Bob exclaimed, ‘“He’s smiling at me!’” Sheila said. “I just smiled so much watching her … she was almost in tears.”
Then a bevy of beauty queens and other volunteers began crowning each prom-goer. Bob was among the first to get his crown. “It happened so fast. I could tell he was having fun with it,” Sheila said.
It was a Night to Shine
Bob loves to dance to karaoke songs at Jane’s Place, an adult day care center at the Center for Active Seniors in Davenport, but chose not to participate in karaoke at Night to Shine. He’d had plenty of activity for one evening. Asked if she feels more like a caregiver or a spouse to Bob, Sheila, said: “On a daily basis, I feel more like a caregiver. But there are moments that bring back the feeling of being a couple, such as attending Night to Shine together or recently dancing together at my niece’s wedding. Those moments become very special….
“Bob and I were like other couples, we had to work on our marriage every day. When he became ill, it didn’t mean we didn’t stop working. I remind myself that he is the same person he was before. He still loves me; he loves his family and he appreciates friendships. Just because he may not be able to express himself and communicate like he used to, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Deep down, he’s the same Bob he always was,” Sheila said. “God brought us together for a reason; we’re supposed to be together.”
Jennifer Hildebrand, lead organizer for Night to Shine from Our Lady of the River Parish, convinced Sheila and Bob to attend Night to Shine. Their personal story inspired Jennifer as she filled out a report reflecting on this year’s event. One question asked whether anyone turned over their life to Christ.
“I don’t think this is a venue where that takes place,” Jennifer said. “But you couldn’t experience this event and say that you did not feel God’s presence. You saw God’s face on every guest and volunteer in that arena.” Perhaps no one felt God’s presence more than Sheila and Bob. The glow on their faces made the night shine.