Receiving God’s Bear Hug in Las Vegas, Nevada

Little girl in purple shorts and t-shirt bends over with blue shovel to find shells.
We “planted” shells in Vegas.

My birthday milestone was an excuse for a family reunion. I pictured three generations enjoying a Florida beach and gathering seashells. Can you hear the screech of protest tires? Here’s how we ended up in Las Vegas.

Florida to Las Vegas Is a Long Tale Trail

One family member: “Florida is too far. We can’t take off that much time.”

Me: “I understand. So, how about somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, close to home?”

Silence.

An aerial view of snow-covered mountains under a deep blue sky.
Rocky Mountains in March–Brrr.

And then from another loved one: “Remember the altitude sickness and migraine headaches I had the last time we visited Colorado?”

Yes, I remembered.

What to do? Our memory-making destination needed to be reachable for all, at sea level, and affordable.

How About?

Eight-year-old girl is in sand along a tropical pool with palm trees.
Just give me a pool!

“How about Las Vegas?” I was thinking cheap airfare, food, and lodging; sunshine; and low altitude. Just give me a pool!

At first, came the sound of silence again.

Then, one by one, adults offered unanimous approval.

Two girls in shallow water with sand shovels in their hands.
Happiness is warm water, sand and sunshine.

Last month, our family of nine gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate my birthday three months ahead of schedule. We found a family resort with no casinos. Lovely Tahiti Village even offered a lazy river for tubing, sandy beach, and pool.

God’s Bear Hug

My birthday cup was full, I thought, and then I was bear hugged by God right in The Venetian!  Let me tell you there is no greater experience than a God hug, and I wish I could transfer one to you, but that’s not how it works. He’ll deal with you as is fitting on his timetable. But here is my hug experience:

A six-year-old girl poses in front of an iron railing by canal water, Italian store fronts and a cloudy faux blue sky.
A little of Venice at The Venetian

Part of The Venentian is a mall called The Grand Canal Shoppes. The stores look like Venice nestled along a canal complete with gondola rides under a faux, but tasteful, blue sky. It is probably the closest I will come to the real thing, and the granddaughters and I wanted to do it.

The family split into two groups.

Gondolier stands in boat waving while one grandpa waves, his granddaughter smiles, his daughter takes a photo and her boyfriend laughs. All in the Gondola.
Four members of the tribe with Gondolier Luca from NYC, who sang “That’s Amore.”

Potty Break. No! Two Potty Breaks!

My group included favorite daughter-in-law and the three- and six-year-old granddaughters. Just as we were getting into the roped off line the six-year-old winced and whispered: “I have to go to the bathroom.”

The two of us hoofed it and returned to our group. Then, the three-year-old was holding her crotch plaintively.

Not sympathetically, I said, “You’ll have to hold it.”

Her little face melted me, and I pleaded,  “Can you hold it?”

“She can’t,” said Mom.

We got out of line. The gatekeeper was understanding.

By the time we were back with empty bladders we were assigned gondolier Francesca, from Naples, Italy.

Francesca, the Gondolier from Naples

 

Francesca!

Her accent gilded the glide down faux Venice. Francesca was so sweet to the children, even singing an Italian nursery song. Translation, she said: “Papa, I have to go pee pee.”

A little girl and her mom sit happily in a gondola.
Enjoying the ride with lots of smiles

As our gondola entered a circle of water in a holding area, I noticed the Japanese woman at the railing snapping photos of us. The sunset’s window light did create a soft glow, I thought.

And then, suddenly I was spiritually bear hugged. I felt total love, total peace. All was well. And all is well. I was in a thin space between heaven and earth. Time seemed irrelevant. Love embraced everything. I was teary-eyed from this surprising birthday touch from God. No words can capture the experience, but it was very good and too quickly over.

“Happy Birthday, Grandma!” declared the six-year-old.

In that circle of water, Francesca sang Happy Birthday in Italian to the German American “Nona.”  She then rowed us to the dock, and we hugged when I got off the boat.

All was well indeed.

the parchment sign says "All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Julian of Norwich

 

A three-generation family sits at a long outdoor restaurant table waiting for their food.
The Birthday Party Tribe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KAPOW! That’s the Power of Love!

The exercising women had just finished a 60-minute “strong bones, strong muscles” work-out. As a Valentine’s Day salute, they brunched together and toasted love with sparkling apple juice. While munching on deviled eggs and coffee cake, each woman shared a personal anecdote about the power of love. Here are their contributions with names changed.

Power of Love in Sickness

Vows of “in sickness and in health” hold fast under love’s power.

Sadly, one of the instructors was missing from the brunch, because she needed to be with her husband in hospice care. His long struggle with Alzheimer’s would end later that morning. Our hearts were with Ann and Bob. Instructor Georgia said Ann’s loving example was the love story she wanted to contribute to our brunch conversation.

Georgia recalled, that when Bob started wandering away from his exercise class, Ann brought him to our class. She kept him active,  taking Bob  on vacations; they even skied together with Ann’s leadership. As Bob became more and more dependent, Ann didn’t complain.

Last fall, Bob could not attend his daughter Kara’s out-of-state wedding. A few weeks prior to the celebration Kara put on her wedding dress, and Ann and Bob (then in a wheelchair) dressed up for photos. We agreed that Ann’s love set the high bar for vow-keeping “in sickness and in health.”

Tragedy to Transformation

Two of the exercisers, Sarah and Louise, shared how they were advocates for sexually abused victims during lengthy court proceedings. Both women said the circumstances were heartbreaking, but the good news was their loving assistance resulted in the groundwork for healing. Friendships developed. Decades later, both families are thriving.

Love in Surprising Actions

Blue-eye tiger striped kitten with white paws lays on some bricked while looking at the camera.
Furry cuddles and a generous Mom accomplish much.

Smaller examples of love’s power were also shared around the table. Jenna told of her husband making a surprise dinner for their first-year anniversary: steak , potatoes, and salad. Debbie remembered her Mom, who disliked cats, allowing her to keep the kitten a boyfriend gave her.

Becca marveled at her grandmother’s intuitive love. When Becca was confirmed at age 12, Grandma wrote a poem for her entitled “Springtime in Colorado.” At the time, Becca had never been to Colorado, but in her twenties she took a vacation to a Rocky Mountains dude ranch, fell in love, and made the Centennial State home.

Child Love Power

Children sometimes give the best heart-felt gifts, said Hannah. She shared how daughter Lizzie, age nine, called her into the bathroom.

A red bowl holds water with white and pink daisies floating in it. Red painted toe nails on two feet are raised above the water.
A surprise pedicure from a daughter shows love’s power through serving.

“Take a seat Mom,” Lizzie said, pointing to the closed toilet lid, with a footstool placed in front of it. Lizzie proceeded to give Hannah a homemade pedicure with a bucket of water, bath towel, fingernail file, and polish.

Love is not Arrogant or Rude

Remembering cordial courtesies of love was Denise’s contribution. She was thinking about a retired apartment president.  She recalled: After each meeting, he always thanked the officers by name for their hard work. No one does that anymore. We all just get up and leave. I miss him.

“Lose, Lose” Story

Two boxers in a ring are going at it with boxer on the left jabbing at the chin while boxer on the right delivers a blow on an anguished face.
Johnny gives Freddie a bloody nose!

The funniest story came from Jessie, who declared, “This is a lose, lose.”

She continued: In high school I knew a boy named Freddie, who liked me. I was interested in Freddie, until I heard Johnny also liked me. He was a nicer fellow.

Freddie found out about Johnny’s interest in me and wanted to beat him up.

The basketball coach found out about the fight and had Freddie and Johnny put on boxing gloves in the gym to settle the matter.

Horrified and worried, I watched from the gym door as Johnny gave Freddie a bloody nose.

After that, Freddie was mad at me. And Johnny wouldn’t have anything to do with me because his brother advised, “Stay away from her. She’s trouble!”

A six-year-old and her grandma take a selfie with green facial mask on their faces and sliced cucumbers on their eyes.
The facial idea came from a Hello Kitty book–a little work and a lot of fun!

A big red heartPut Love to Work

We each have our Valentine stories, don’t we? They are fun to remember and share during this holiday of the heart. For Valentine’s Day, may win-win love wrap around you and may you, too, spread that power of love.

 

Love in rust font is slanted sideways on the left of parchment paper. First Corinthians 13:5-8a is printed on the paper.

 

 

What I Learned From Refugees

In light of current events I’m reposting a blog about  tutoring refugees in 2015. Two facts: 1) They need support. 2) We won’t be able to help them all.

But here’s a challenge: our government, under Democrat and Republican presidents, has not and cannot do as much as people wish. I urge you to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully doing something that makes life better for at least one refugee. Protesting makes a point, but volunteer hands and feet, and private pocketbooks, speak louder. There are opportunities everywhere.

This could happen to any of us. (two photos by anonymous friend)

Heartbreaking Statistics

For the first time since WWII more than 50 million refugees worldwide are displaced permanently, and the number is climbing. The media has shown

 

Syrian refugees in 2015 seek safe refuge in Europe.  Photo courtesy of the UN Refugee Agency.

 

many disturbing images. In the summer of 2015, I tutored refugees in an English as a Second Language class. Fresh off the planes, they came from Burma, the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba. Here are some impressions:

KFC, Cheesecake, Ice Cream

“I like KFC. It–it is good,” says the middle-aged Iraqi woman, when asked her favorite American foods. “Oh, and cheesecake is very delicious,” she adds. She tells me she spent four years in Jordan after fleeing Iraq. She wants to work as a chef. One of her adult sons is with her in the U.S., but she worries about the other one still in Iraq. “It is very dangerous,” she says.

When her U.S. son picks her up from class, he asks how his mother is doing. His English is good. I suggest he might help her with homework. He frowns, “I want her to learn to do it herself.” I gently say she might learn faster if he helps. There’s silence. I don’t think this idea is going to fly in entrenched cultural roles.

“I like ice cream,” smiles the petite, shy twenty-year-old from Burma. She draws a picture of her former home—a thatched hut on stilts. Now she lives in a city apartment with her sister and brother-in-law. She enjoys listening to Christian music on her iPhone and wants to be a tailor. She is always early to class with homework completed.

Afghan Brothers

“My father is old; my mother is happy; my girlfriend is beautiful.” These are the sentences using adjectives that two Afghani brothers create. They have only been in the U.S. a few days. Their English is poor, they say, because they have spent five years in Hungary, followed by four in Turkey. They yawn a lot from jet lag and are cautious. After asking their ages, I realize they were ten and eleven years old when they left Afghanistan.

The Congo Family Refugees

As summer progresses the Congo family from a Burundi refugee camp is a joy to tutor and a mystery. During their first time to class, they have only been in the U.S. about 10 days. Trauma is evident in tense bodies, sad eyes, and the way they interact with one another. They speak mostly French and Swahili. I notice the depressed mother and 22-year-old daughter have several scars on their arms; the mother has scars across her throat. The son, about 21-years-old, seems healthy, but he misses classes because of sickness and doctor appointments.

From the start, they are A students. The daughter tells me she has seven brothers and sisters. About a month later, the daughter reports her three middle school brothers have arrived at the airport. Mom will not be coming to class anymore.

Cubans and Iraqi Refugees

My tutoring also includes a beefy mechanic from Cuba, who is interested in learning about the Craigslist classified jobs. A sad Cuban woman comes to class only twice—she is grieving the eight-year-old son she left behind with grandma for economic opportunities. She says it is never possible for her son to come to the U.S. I don’t know if this is true, but it is true for her at that moment.

Most of the refugees I meet are motivated to work and want to make lots of money. Sometimes they are disappointed they cannot have the jobs they dreamed about. In the case of the Iraqis, many are white collar professionals, who risked their lives to help the U.S. military. Now they must work at lower-paying jobs like valet parking, janitorial work, and housekeeping and restaurant services. Still, they are the fortunate ones who won the residential lottery.

Kevin and Vicki Witte with 12 of their Nepali friends, former refugees now settled in Colorado. (photo provided by Vicki Witte)
Kevin and Vicki Witte with some of their Nepali friends, former refugees now settled in Colorado. (photo provided by Vicki Witte) Find Vicki’s insightful blog at:

Is a Nickel Worth More Than a Dime?

World Relief offers a free study guide download and first chapter of this book at https://www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge

In class, students and teachers smile a lot and use hand gestures. I learn too.  For example, I never thought about how foreigners must discern that even though a dime is smaller than a nickel, its value is twice as much. Initially, they confuse a quarter with a nickel.

When we “read” 1:00 p.m. we say, “one o’clock”—not zero o’clock. Some of the refugees do not comprehend our mail system or banking, because they do not have access to these systems in their countries.

Running a Fever?

During one session Teacher Cameron goes over the basics of a health clinic and pharmacy. How can one understand what “running a fever” is, when one doesn’t speak or read English? Could they explain to a doctor such words as constipation or diarrhea. Will they give the proper dosage of medicine to a sick child? Will they accurately tell the doctor which body part hurts? So many daily culture actions we do automatically.

In my summer as an ESL tutor, my greatest reward was seeing several refugees become less stressed. Their body language became more relaxed, and there were genuine smiles and some joking. They all said they appreciated America’s safety.

Do You know the Difference Between “Refugee” and “Immigrant”?

I thought these nouns were interchangeable. Now I know an immigrant has more choices in migrating to another country.  Because of war or natural catastrophe, a refugee never goes “home.” Refugees, many who live for nine years in a camp, must wait for someone–some country–to adopt them. Sadly, children and women are not safe in many of these camps.

I learned the U.S. is one of the only countries that accepts refugees with health issues. In 2015, there were approximately 70,000 refugees per year admitted to the U.S.–this number was down from the 100,000 per year that came to the U.S. under President Clinton. The government decides which refugees to take and from which countries. Why some countries and not others? A refugee worker I heard answered, “Who knows? But it is no secret that the government doesn’t do anything for free.”

We can always do better. The question is, “What does that look like?” Our political system’s failure cannot be an excuse for doing less or nothing at all. “Who is my neighbor?” is a soul-searching question that dances with “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Each person must wrestle with the answers, and then hopefully do something to help, even if it is outside the comfort zone.

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A Blog About Refugees

Friend Vicki Witte spends a lot of time helping refugees, and she blogs about it at:

https://stand4welcome.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/american-dream/

A Good Movie

Reese Witherspoon, starring as a social worker in "The Good Lie" movie greets three Sudanese refugees at a Kansas airport.
I recommend the movie The Good Lie, with Reese Witherspoon. Here, as a social worker, she greets Sudanese arrivals at a Kansas airport. Some of the actors are former refugees. Photo courtesy of Alcorn Entertainment/Warner Bros.