As Thanksgiving drew near, Lori Bernethy’s thoughts traveled to past holidays. They landed on a time a few years ago that brought back the pain of loneliness. It was the time Lori, then a single mom, and her toddler son lived in a homeless shelter. No matter how many people surrounded her, she felt alone.
Even after they got their own place, loneliness loomed over her. She wished for a place to go to be with friends. She yearned for an invitation to a Christmas party or a Super Bowl gathering. Instead, she felt left out. Lori was in a really dark place.
But God brought her through that shadowed season and placed people into her life as lights of hope. As she thought about her lonely past those years ago, God nudged her with “How about having a party for all those people who feel left out?”
“I was like, ‘OK. If that’s what You want.’ So now I was planning a dinner for people I didn’t even know, and I didn’t know where to begin,” recalls Lori. She was going to throw a dinner party for lonely women in her community of Longview, Texas! She was calling it “Light the Night.”
‘You can do it!’
One of the first things Lori, a hub volunteer, did was talk with Robin Reese, her area Hub Ambassador.
After Robin listened to Lori’s vision and plans for this big event, she responded: “You have the heart (for this). You have the ideas.
“You can do it!”
Those four encouraging words created a whirlwind of activity. After all, she had only a few weeks to make this happen before Christmas. Her guests would be women living in several area shelters, women experiencing loneliness just like she did.
Her Longview Hub came on board to help. Items on her lengthy checklist were quickly accomplished: venue, menu, caterer, desserts, entertainment. Christmas decorations, servers, babysitters. Gift bags, Bibles, door prizes. All checked off.
Executing the plan in just a few weeks was a miracle. Discovering that nearly everything was donated proved that this was a God-happening. In the end, the hub was only out of pocket $3.53!
Robin became Lori’s encourager, a biblical Barnabas to Lori’s Paul. Periodically, Robin checked in with Lori and was amazed at how God was putting this all together through the inspiration of one woman, Lori. When it came down to getting a Speaker, Lori called Robin as she and a friend traveled by car to a Women’s Connection. Robin suggested Tammy Whitehurst, a popular Speaker who was sitting right next to her in the car. Lori quickly embraced the idea. Tammy accepted the invitation. It was a go.
As word of the event spread by mouth and social media, more women offered to volunteer or collect or give money, gift cards, or items like the Bibles. People from four hubs, churches, businesses, and some Lori didn’t even know, all offered to help with whatever was needed. Light the Night grew into a community effort to show the love of Jesus to lonely women.
The big night grows bigger
Guests were greeted with hugs from volunteers. They were happy and amazed that people they didn’t know were doing something like this for them. And they expressed their gratefulness the entire night.
Lori expected attendance of about 40 women from the local shelters. But the venue could seat 80, so that’s what they prepared for. Just in case.
Vanloads of women showed up. Also invited were women Tammy, the Speaker, had learned were feeling lonely through feedback on Tammy’s blog. Eighty guests had arrived! Volunteers stood at the back so each guest could have a seat. They stretched the 80 meals to feed all 90 people present. “It was almost like the loaves and fish,” Lori recalls. “No one left hungry.”
As part of the program, Lori took the opportunity to explain the reason for Light the Night as she shared part of her story and the Gospel. She talked about her dark time of depression and anxiety. “It was hard to find joy in things,” she told them. “It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lori then explained that God is the Light of the World and that He is the light for them not to feel alone and depressed. She also explained that they may be going through a season of darkness themselves, but that doesn’t stop them from being a light to someone else.
She asked the guests to turn on the mini-flashlight they received in their gift bags. The room lights went off. “This is the impact you can make,” Lori told them as the glow from the individual lights conquered the darkness. “You can light a dark place.”
Love’s glow shines stronger
Even though Light the Night took place a few weeks ago, the guests continue to express their gratitude when they see Lori, now a Longview Hub Co-Leader. She’s been asked to do some mentoring at one shelter. Other guests have invited her to visit their shelters. Stonecroft will hold a bingo night at one shelter. And plans are underway for the shelters to participate in the new, small group experience, Where Love Lives, that focuses on relationships with other people and Jesus.
The event’s effect grows. One woman, who traveled from Louisiana to attend Light the Night, is investigating how to start a hub in her area 2 1/2 hours away.
“Light the Night was done out of love,” says Lori. “Because God loves me, I can love others. Nothing matters without love.”
Mary Speidel, Writer and Editor, contributed to this article.