Saturday, September 12, 2015

One Refugee's Happy Ending

L-R: Garyn, Ronan, and Gillian Anderton: Father's Day photo for Bryan, 2015
This is the final episode of a story that starts here.
Phi-Phi graduated from Occidental College in 1995 with a degree in Women’s Studies and a specialization in International Politics. They moved to San Diego while Bryan attended law school. She has worked for the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, and at Occidental College in Eagle Rock—first as an Admission Counselor, and later promoted to Assistant Dean of Admission.

After Bryan passed the bar exam and worked in the legal field for a while, he realized that he was more fulfilled creatively working in the entertainment industry. Bryan is a master craftsman with meticulous skills and a vivid imagination. Among his numerous credits are (Production Designer): Yo Gabba Gabba, and (Set Designer/Set Builder): Pirates of the Caribbean, SpiderMan, Thor, Interstellar (this one blew me away—we saw some of the photos before the film came out and it made us extra excited to see the movie), and most recently, Straight Outta Compton.

I met Phi-Phi at their newly-purchased home in Pasadena, in November of 1998. I was asked to be Phi-Phi’s visiting teacher when they first moved into the area—what began as an assignment quickly became a treasured friendship. I was pregnant with our youngest son at the time, and just a few months later they found out Phi-Phi was expecting too. Phi-Phi and I were both working mothers, and a year or so after their oldest daughter was born, Phi-Phi and I shared a wonderful nanny, Corrina Vasquez. Our children practically grew up together in Corrina’s care! 

The Anderton Family at Bryan's brother's funeral in 2015
Though I have long since moved away from California, we have been great friends for the entire time we’ve known each other. (Phi-Phi is amazingly good at keeping in touch!) Bryan and Phi-Phi now have three beautiful children—Garyn, Gillian, and Ronan, a tiny, picture-book perfect house with a giant vegetable garden in back; and more joy than she could probably imagine throughout most of this story.

In all of our conversations and interviews in preparation for sharing this story, Phi-Phi continues to express her gratitude for all of her experiences, the painful and heartbreaking ones as well as the miraculous and joyful and inspiring ones. She insists that all of them—the whole package—are what make her who she is today.

Who she is, in my experience, is a warm, bright, beautiful and generous person with a rich inner strength and a wealth of compassion. Phi-Phi is one of those rare people who is perpetually positive, who smiles on others like rays of the sun and warms you from the inside-out. She radiates love and embodies hope. She has made her home a bastion of peace, which reflects this biblical passage: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” (Isaiah 54:13)

It has been an extraordinary blessing to enjoy her friendship over the past 17 years. And it has been a very humbling opportunity to share her story here. Thank you for reading through to the end.  (Click here to read a brief epilogue about how this story came to be.)

Call to action:

Although Phi-Phi is definitely one in a million, there are still tens of millions of refugees in similar plights who need to be clothed, fed, rescued, sheltered, and loved. Just this week President Obama’s administration announced that while in this fiscal year the U.S. has accepted about 1500 refugees, next year he has increased that number to at least 10,000! This is wonderful news.

If any readers would like to join me in donating to the urgent cause of aiding today’s refugees, here are a few links to sponsoring sites with A- to A+ ratings by Charity Watch:

American Refugee Committee
Catholic Relief Services
Church World Service
Doctors Without Borders USA
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Lutheran World Relief
Mennonite Central Committee
Mercy Corps
Save the Children
United States Fund for UNICEF
World Vision


Sheri said...

I loved reading Phi Phi's story on your blog. I have enjoyed Phi Phi's friendship and faithful example for about a year now, and I can't believe I never knew all this about her! You captured a remarkable story and person most beautifully. Thank you!

Jen Wong said...

Thank you for writing such a great depiction of my wonderful friend Phi Phi! I was on the edge of my seat everyday readings. Thank you so much!

charrette said...

Thank you, Sheri and Jen, for your kind comments here. Phi-Phi is a wonderful friend and a light in my life. I'm grateful you feel like the story captures her goodness and strength. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Suzy said...

Thank you for sharing Phi-Phi's story! I am so grateful to be her friend and to have heard all of this story first hand! So happy to know such a wonderful family!

charrette said...

Thank you, Suzy. They are a wonderful family! I'm glad you've enjoyed reading her story, even though some of it was already familiar. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Debbie said...

I am in awe and humbled to learn the details of Phi-Phi's story. What courage and strength her parents and Phi-Phi had. I've seen her to be a woman of beautiful grace, empathy, and kindness; these qualities surely have been amplified through her experiences. She has such an awe-inspiring story. Thank you!

Brittany said...

Beautiful story, beautifully written. I felt like I was on that little boat! What wonderful people we have in the world, and how fortunate we are to get to know one another! Thank you both!