Our son’s race car competition was held on the Las Vegas Strip. It was everywhere we didn’t want to be. But this was where the race was being played out. I was playing the eternal part of trying to be our son’s supportive mom.

He had procured his room and was already on the track when I flew in to check into my room at the designated hotel. I looked around the lobby. Gambling options covered nearly every foot of space. There was a lot of smoke, a lot of mechanical noise (slot machines etc.), and a lot of…what was that feeling? Oh yeah, that feeling no one ever wants to feel.  Emptiness…mingled with a frenetic greed to fill it. People gambled like zombies…empty, slow, but also fierce. I felt a salt and pepper shake of fear inside me.

The Strip showcases some grand architectural splendor. Some of it is “take your breath away” genius. But brilliant buildings and fountains fail to hide moral poverty. The Strip is a queasy combination of magnificence and depravity.

The smoke was so thick in that hotel lobby. I grabbed my luggage and headed back towards the hotel entrance to catch up on a little fresh air. As I did so, a semi-naked woman selling cigarettes (from a cigarette tray strapped around her neck), walked towards me. I had the sudden impression that I should say something to help her. Ugh. How? What was I supposed to say?  Anything that sounded remotely judgemental could easily be met with an icy stare, or worse.

What’s the problem lady? Don’t you know I’m empowered? I’m living life on my terms. You don’t approve of my clothing? My lifestyle? Get out of my way.

I prayed hard. Please put the words in my mouth. Another few footsteps. We made eye contact. Prayer is the great softener.

I stared into her eyes with genuine love. She was a daughter of God. I love daughters. My husband and I have six of them. Softly I said  “You don’t have to do this.” She looked down. Here it comes, the reprimand. I braced myself. But when she looked up, tears glistened.

“I know.” she said, her eyes searching mine. Desperation and resignation fought for dominance in those eyes. I wanted to hug her.

But she looked down again. And then her fast steps walked nervously on. As quickly as she had come, she was gone.

That encounter was the first surprise.

The second came later, when my son and I went to the Donny& Marie show in a another casino hotel.  I had supposed that their show would somehow be “far from the madding crowd”. Maybe an elevator, or something, would take you to a casino free part of the hotel. I was wrong. In order to get to the Donny&Marie show you have to traverse what feels like an acre of casino experiences.  Your senses and moral dignity are assaulted along the way. The theatre is a few steps up from the casino floor.

Once the doors close behind you though, it’s another story completely. Donny&Marie can’t help but spread joy. The show is infused with the spirit of joy, camaraderie, and the spirit of…what was that again? Oh yes, innocence. I had missed that so much.

There is an opportunity, after the show, for fans to visit with them “up close and personal”. There were so many kind, excited, and gentle fans. I met a woman in a wheelchair who was very emotional about getting to see them. She had waited years. It was really sweet.

But when we left, I kept asking myself “Why in the heavens would Donny&Marie work in a place like this?” Why are they there, in this dark, dark corner of the world?

And then it hit me: there was someone else who hung out in dark corners. Someone else who spoke with prostitutes and sinners of all sorts. Someone who wasn’t afraid. I was humbled. Donny&Marie were doing what Jesus Christ did-bringing light to even seemingly impossible dark.

Light, I am learning, has a way of finding people and places. The one who sends the light can see where all of His children are. And he knows about the tiniest openings in their hearts.

“Everything has cracks. That’s how the light gets in.”-Leonard Cohen

Thanks for the hope, Donny&Marie. And the fun!!!


  • Mary Bell


    MaryJo Bell is the author of the Costco bestseller "The Pursuit of Happi-nest", a silly and serious guide for deep happiness (in family "nests") for everyone. You can find it in these online places, among others: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Cedar Fort (best price). She is also the author of "I Can Feel it in My Heart", a book for kids, to help them learn to avoid dangerous media. It arrives in May, 2023. She is also the host of the popular podcast, "Moms Meet World." She loves homemade popcorn, tossed with a skooch of olive oil and sea salt, and her entire family. And God. Not in that order.