A Just Walk (run, hike, etc…)

"…to the Rock that is higher…"

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Christmas in Chiang Mai

Nothing like a big air travel snafu to make it feel like the holidays! The thing is, there is no snow or ice here and people aren’t really traveling for Christmas! No problem – free wifi and snacks in the lounge –get this – for EVERYONE! Yay Bangkok Air!

How is this for a Christmas present: A marathon on Christmas Day in my town! I was so excited to discover this a couple of weeks ago! Chiang Mai’s annual marathon is on 25 December! The bonus is that I get to finish my marathon by 8am and have plenty of time to clean up and take advantage of one of the Christmas buffets offered at one of the hotels in town! I’m using this as a training run for my upcoming 100k ultra, so I don’t have hopes for a PR or anything – just to have fun!

On Christmas Eve I’ve been invited to a progressive dinner >YUM!<  hosted by a friend’s house church that starts late afternoon and winds around to different homes until around midnight Loads of food, friends, and celebration. Great loading for the marathon: it’s Christmas, does it really matter what I’m loading? Unfortunately not so great for the 4am marathon start – but like I said, it’s Christmas!

I know what I just wrote about the true meaning of Christmas and all that, but I still do enjoy some Christmas decorations. Thailand loves Christmas and does a pretty good job with the glam as well as the cute. Check out these elephants at the local mall:

Wishing all of you a very warm, relaxing, and JOYFUL  Christmas!



O Holy Night Reflection

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas carol perhaps because it has quite a strong justice message in it. You know this verse:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise us,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Here is the direct translation from the original French version:

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

Jesus came to live and die for the redemption of ALL and setting all slaves – our brothers and sisters – free.  Please allow the words of this hymn resonate with you today, the season, and throughout the year.

With those thoughts, we move on into our daily lives, which we all much do. One of the disciplines that I’ve been working on is what will be the background to my days? Will it be the grace and hope of O Holy Night, or will it be other messages that our world would give us? Despite the central theme of this season, it can be difficult to rest in the grace it gives us.

In Asia, the Christmas season – oh and there is definitely a commercial Christmas season here – doesn’t even have the benefit of starting with the Christian celebration of Christ’s incarnation. I’m in Phnom Penh this week and the tinsel is also everywhere here!  I would not be surprised to see a monk with a Santa hat (but I haven’t). There are indeed opportunities to share the the true story of Christmas as one has opportunities to talk with friends and strangers curious about this Western holiday that is so bright and cheery and full of glam and tinsel.

Maintaining an ‘O Holy Night’ background to your days helps you be in tune with these sometimes not-so-straightforward opportunities to share.

Rejoicing with you,



Christmas cookie time again!

I guess it is becoming a sort of tradition for me to host a Christmas cookie decorating party for my Chinese friends, as well as a couple of foreigners. It is a distinctly Western activity in which they love to participate and they are really good at it! I think in a way it feels to them the same as I feel when I’m making jiaozi.

I make the gingerbread dough ahead of time and my friends enjoy rolling it out and cutting shapes. The sugar cookies have already been cut and baked, ready to go while the gingerbread is getting started. Lots of sprinkles and icing and broken limbs of gingerbread men make for lots of fun and mess! The Chinese are quite creative with the cookies – intricate faces, Chinese characters, and clever designs. Of course there is lots of girl talk and stories of Christmases past. I think we managed to eat less than we made and my friends took home plenty of cookies to show off to parents or spouses or roommates.

Christmas is not an official holiday in China, but it is becoming a fashionable holiday to celebrate. However, the entire basis of the meaning of Christmas – peace and good will to all mankind – is completely lost on them. If you thought Christmas has become entirely commercial in America, it has never been anything but commercial here. See this BBC article for more on this. Thankfully, it has a little bit deeper meaning for my friends this year.

Wishing all of you a very blessed Christmas and a very happy New Year!

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What a Day!

Last Thursday (18 Dec) I went to Chicago to apply for my Chinese visa… and was successful! I now have a work permit and a work visa! Woo Hoo!

The train ride on the way up was uneventful but as a public service announcement, if you have to catch the train at Waterloo, IN in inclement weather, I would suggest you have a nice place to wait (like your car) as the train is notoriously late (> 1 hour last week)!

I got to the consulate and turned in my papers and was told to return later to pick up my visa. At this point, I was still only 99.8% sure I’d get it – my anticipation too high!

Since the document wouldn’t be ready until 2pm, I decided to go to the Art Institute of Chicago. However, when I went to pay for the ticket on the “el” my wallet was GONE! I didn’t believe I was pickpocketed (but I could have) but probably lost between Union Station and the consulate. I felt deflated and disappointed, but not angry. I can’t explain why I didn’t explode, but I didn’t. I didn’t rationally think and say to myself, “it won’t do any good to explode and lose it because it won’t change anything anyway”. I just react out of the peace (or lack of it) resides within me.

After all, I was going to get my visa to China today! Not even a lost wallet can take ALL of that away. Besides, I had my car keys, cell phone, and $300 cash put away in a deep pocket inside my backpack. At least I can still pay for my visa, buy my train ticket, and drive back home. I can even buy lunch and celebrate at Starbucks !

Sure, it is a pain to get all new cards, replace the driver’s license, and all that. Someone could have completely rebuilt my identity with the stuff that was in there. And all the cash? Well, Merry Christmas and God bless whoever got it. Evidently someone needed it more than I did! I’m not going hungry, or living in the cold. It’s all God’s money anyway, I can trust him to do good with it. What else is there to do anyway?

I debriefed the incident with a friend right after I finished the canceling of the cards. I told her I reported the missing wallet to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) as a “hail Mary” shot. She said it might restore some hope in humanity if someone turned it in and I got it back. I replied that I am not sure about humanity so much as maintaining hope and faith in God. It is a bonus when humans exercise and act on their hope and faith in God by doing the right thing and bless others in attitude as well as action.

About 4pm that day I got a call from the CTA reporting that they had found my wallet and where I could pick it up! WOW! The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING was still in there – down to the $102.41! If that isn’t a blessing of hope this season, I don’t know what is!

With all the stress of shopping and poor economy and ever-changing circumstances, it is easy to forget the reasons why we have this holiday, and lose perspective of the reasons why we need this holiday. We celebrate Christmas because in Christmas we have hope for peace through Jesus who gives us a peace that is not of this world. My wish for you is that you would take time for some reflection on the hope and peace that you have (or not), and that some hope and peace can be restored in you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!