It was to be a packed weekend and everything had to line up perfectly: the flights on time, film gear together, venues just right, bluebird-sky weather, and a finely tuned schedule. There was no time to spare. Everything had to go just right and we knew it.
In addition to the scheduled 2nd Act backstories and photo shoots, it was the weekend that New Focus Network started on the pilot for “Positively Jessica.” The timing was perfect as we were allowed to film “Rally on the Runway,” a fundraiser for pediatric cancer research. Our Jessica was the co-host. While the event featured TV news anchors and Tennessee Titan football stars, the true “stars” were the beautiful child warriors fighting this disease we call cancer. They were the Rally Champions and took center stage as the models on the runway for event. It was the perfect event to showcase Jessica doing what she does best, being Jessica and rallying those children to strut their stuff with confidence.
NFN co-host Philip Bradley and I had it all planned ten days earlier, just before he left for a trip to Japan. Everything was set as Philip flew in the morning of the Rally. Of course, chaos ensued and our best-laid plans went out the window. Jet-lagged and needing coffee, Phil staggered into my car at Nashville airport. Driving away, I started tossing curve balls at him as we adaptively managed the marathon weekend ahead of us: Change in venues, change in times, an unexpected NFN photo shoot, change in production direction and yep, you guessed it…torrential rains and flash floods expected at our shoot sites. With a packed Nissan full of gear and a lot of coffee to combat sleep deprivation, we began to adjust.
We arrived early for our production meeting with Jessica and her mom at the Rally on the Runway site. Philip’s cameras captured Jessica’s preparation and awesome spirit as she rose to her challenge. As evening arrived, so did the child warriors. With Jessica narrating each step of the backstage preparations with her contagious personality, those special kids warmed to their surroundings. With proud parents looking on, the stars-to-be dove into the show prep of hair, makeup, and wardrobe. With utmost respect, Philip carefully filmed these preparations, the first chapter in what was to be an incredibly moving event that night.
We slipped into a quiet corner and watched the revolving door backstage. The room became silent in my mind as I thought of the incredible emotions among these families. Some of these children had been “warrior-ing” for years. From age four to well into their teens, these children had faced adversity many of us could only begin to fathom. And the parents of the children had been faithful warriors as well. Being an adult with cancer is one thing, but dealing with a cancer diagnosis of your child is another. As I stood quietly in the corner, I received notification on my phone of the impending storms headed to Tennessee. My eyes scrolled the room. I couldn’t help but think about the winds of each family and their emotional storm of a diagnosis and how it transforms into a swirling tornado of treatments and fear. Cancer – the storm destined to leave chaos in its path. But then, the sound of laughter broke my thought. It was through the laughter and smiles of these children I saw sunshine peek through the clouds. The storm of emotion once felt in that room for these parents somehow had given way to skies of blue. And while I am sure there have been and will be gray skies and rain along the way, I now watched the beauty of parents’ glowing faces, lit by the sunshine of the children’s smile as they took center stage for hope – their hope. I looked over at a very tired, but incredibly dedicated Philip. With a very deep and thankful heart, I simply sighed and said, “The emotion in this room…There are no words.”
The evening was a tremendous success. Thousands of dollars were raised and many emotional moments experienced. Beautiful little children and young teenagers took the arms of bulking Titan players. But the true giants on that runway, in full sunshine, were those brave and proud kids, strutting their stuff.
The curve balls tossed at our NFN/WSA duo this weekend were quickly put into perspective. As I laid my head down last night, I couldn’t help but remember Jessica’s giggles throughout the weekend and pride of turning her own challenge into a desire to leave a little positivity along the way. I also thought about challenges I have faced and the impact I want to make both now and down the road. That impact was felt in the stories shared and in the smiles of the kids and prideful tears of those parents. That is what our journey is all about.
Leslie Brandt’s book, Psalms Now, tends to be my go-to on my most challenging days. I couldn’t help but think about these families as I read this brilliant writer translated of Psalms 23:
“The Lord is my constant companion.
There is no need that He cannot fulfill.
Whether His course for me points to the mountaintops
of glorious ecstasy or to the valleys of human suffering,
He is by my side,
He is ever present with me.
He is close beside me when I tread the dark streets of danger,
and even when I flirt with death itself,
He will not leave me.
When the pain is severe,
He is near to comfort.
When the burden is heavy,
He is there to lean upon.
He touches me with eternal joy.
When I feel empty and alone,
He fills the aching vacuum with His power.
My security is in His promise to be near to me always,
and in the knowledge that He will never let me go.”
In the challenges we face, may we forever be thankful for the spotlight of hope we can create with the impact of an open heart and giving spirit. Jesus, shine your love on these amazing little warriors and bless them with the knowledge to know they are representatives for the challenges of yesterday, the spirit of today and all hope for tomorrow.
Thank you to everyone who helped make that weekend of joyful chaos happen – Laura Mac, Debra Sheridan, Draper James (for their wall) at 12 South, Elaine Kay with Rally Foundation, Richland Country Club, and the Tennessee Titans for their support of funding pediatric cancer research and of course, Jessica, Lori, Erich, Moose and Bruiser.
May you Rally through your challenges today.