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I saw a glimpse of heaven last Friday night.

I had the privilege of attending the annual Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine prom event at a local church.

I’ve long had a love for what we call “special needs” people, and this event that honors them won my heart when I first heard about it last year when the Chronicle wrote about Jamie, a teen girl with Down syndrome, who attended a prom in nearby Ocala.

The photographer and I met her at a hair salon earlier that day where she modeled her pink prom dress, twirling around saying, “I look cute -- I’m amazing!”

This year, we followed 35-year old twins, Matt and Joey, also with Down syndrome, from their getting ready moments to their being crowned prom kings.

At every Night to Shine, every special guest is a prom king or queen.

Everything is provided for them, even formal wear -- tuxedos and beautiful, twirly and sparkly dresses.

From the moment the guests arrive and walk the red carpet into the church, they’re treated as royalty.

Female guests can have their hair and makeup done, get a spritz of perfume or glitter. The males are offered a shoe shine or even to have their eyebrows groomed.

The best part, at least in my opinion, is the entrance into the main prom area.

Volunteer “fans” and “paparazzi” line the hallway, and as each guest is introduced (“Jane Smith, looking lovely in blue, likes to do puzzles and collects Barbie dolls”), he or she enters and walks another red carpet while the fans and paparazzi snap photos, applaud and say things like, “You look so beautiful,” or “We’re so happy you’re here.”

Some of the guests dance their way down the red carpet, a few shed tears. Most of them smile so big it seems like their faces will break.

All of them shine, because Jesus loves them.

These are the people many think of as broken or insignificant. Some cultures around the world would let these people die at birth or put them in an institution.

However, these are among the “least of these” Jesus talked about when he said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

It’s a hard truth, but God hasn’t chosen the best and the brightest, the rich and famous, influential and elite, as his own. Instead, he calls the poor, the addicted, the prisoners and common folk, the ordinary and the weak.

He takes anyone who admits they are needy and in need of a Savior and welcomes them into the halls of his kingdom.

He prepares a great feast, gives us the proper clothing to wear, cleans us up and invites us to his party, and then gives each of his guests a crown.

I saw a glimpse of it last Friday night on the faces of the special ones, and I felt it deep in my soul.

One day I’m going to walk the hallway (or its equivalent) into the shining presence of God.

Maybe I’ll dance my way in. Maybe I’ll have tears -- tears of joy.

Maybe my smile will be so big my face will break. 

At the end of every Night to Shine, every guest gets a crown -- another glimpse of what is to come in eternity, because Jesus loves us.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927 or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

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