|Celebration of Life for Lauren Leone|
When my now fifteen year-old daughter was eight, she and I sat in a school theater together watching 100 students perform Pocahontas. I'd been invited to these youth theater shows a half a dozen times before, but until that day, had declined those invitations assuming it may be a waste of time. We loved plays and musicals, but if I was going to see a show, I wasn't sure I wanted to see a bunch of kids sing off key and forget their lines.
However, it was only a matter of moments into the first act I realized this was not just any youth theater group. Songs in perfect pitch, complex and spectacular choreography, as well as bold and soft-spoken scenes evoked emotion one expects from a theater experience. In fact, half-way into the first act, I was so absorbed I had forgotten I was watching kids.
It took merely seconds after the final bows for my daughter to turn to me and say, "Mom, I want to do this. I really, really want to do this." I could hardly ignore how enchanted she was with the magic of it all.
And so it began. A plunge into the frenzy that is theater. The seemingly endless hours of rehearsals, and the distinctly endless hours of parent volunteer time. 10 shows in 2 weeks and sometimes even 10 shows in 4 days. Selling tickets, raising money, setting up, tearing down. Theater is grueling in ways I hadn't expected. You have no idea what goes on behind-the-scenes to bring about those stunning shows. But in all honesty, for all of the beauty that is evident on stage, what goes on behind-the-scenes far exceeds it tenfold.
Ours is a Christian Youth Theater group. Spotlight's tagline is: Reflecting Christ through the Performing Arts. While not everyone that participates is a follower of Christ, there is no getting around that Jesus takes center stage. One need only to witness the camaraderie among these kids, the nurturing the older kids provide the younger ones, and the friendships that bloom between parents, to know that Jesus has fashioned an exquisite tribe of his followers here.
Earlier this year, and just a few weeks into our production of Shrek, our tribe lost beautiful, fifteen year-old, Lauren. Her passing was preceded by a medical emergency that left her in a coma for days. During this time, countless hours of prayer were spent upon our knees beseeching mercy from our Mighty Physician. Lauren's tragedy rippled through every one of our homes and families. Our kids rallied together heartbroken but hopeful.
If you have never been surrounded by dozens of teens, imploring God for a miracle, claiming verse committed to memory and professing complete faith, hope and trust in God's perfect plan despite the outcome...
It was without doubt, one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced in life.
In Lauren's passing, the faith of these kids grew louder. Where it would have been easy to demonstrate doubt and angst, our kids proclaimed peace and promise. Tears without question, but through the tears manifested something among us I can't quite articulate. On the day of Lauren's Celebration of Life service, our Shrek cast closed the ceremony with a song from the show. They sang that old Monkee's tune, I'm a Believer. A lighthearted tune that scarcely seemed appropriate for a time such as this. But as 100 kids took the stage of the church outfitted in vivid colors worn in Lauren's honor, and did what they do best, it seemed no other act would have been more fitting to send off one of their own. With arms outstretched and fingers pointed to the sky, our kids honored our glorious King and the place in which Lauren now stands before Him. I witnessed the boldness of that faith awestruck and humbled. To learn from our children who seek the Lord and all His comfort has to offer in dim and clouded understanding has changed me.
Our productions always end with a Strike party. It's a time we celebrate the preceding weeks including the moments we have seen the hand of God. Last night I watched this transpire through a different lense. A more appreciative one; with a deeper fondness for this group. An even greater respect for these kids who give every last ounce of themselves both onstage and off. I'm reminded these kids are the future of the Church and I am so grateful for that. At the end every Strike, we join hands in prayer and sing the song, How Great is our God. As we closed this chapter, we sang those words with tears accompanied by a silent acknowledgement of all that has been. It seemed it took longer than usual for us to disperse this time. Or maybe it was just I who elected to linger a little longer.
We have all been changed by one girl's story. One family's story-amid a thousand circumstances all seemingly orchestrated by God. When you see these kids stand with arms outstretched and fingers pointed toward Heaven, know that the beauty of this Youth Theater extends far beyond the stage. Know that behind the scenes, there will forever be a story. This is our story. God bless us, everyone.
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Timothy 4:12