Richmond Uniting Church’s pipe organ looks like Christmas year-around.

I wish we could write a personal note to all of you, or even better, host one big celebration with everyone present. Many have written us either as a comment on a post or in an email. Thank you. You lifted our spirits throughout the year, not just at Christmas. “Merry Christmas” seems a pretty inadequate response to your kindness, though.

Kindness—yours and others—is very much on my mind as I write. We’ve received so much of it while on the loose. Let me give you just one example.

At church Sunday morning the congregation was invited to join with a sister church in the nearby suburb of Northcote for a “Beer and Carols” evening in a pub in a former church building there. We love singing Christmas carols, so we decided we’d go. The evening was open to everyone, a gentle way to present Christmas in a secular setting. We set out in plenty of time but almost missed the event. “Just take Tram #86,” the pastor instructed. Right. Except we didn’t know where to catch #86. We went to the stop just a few blocks from home. Then we discovered it’s a stop only for #75 and #48, but not #86. While Joy was trying to find the tram schedule online, I went in search of human help. You can’t catch #86 in Richmond, I learned. You take #48 into the Melbourne and board #86 there. By this time we would already be an hour late. Still, we persisted.

My helpful informant was Hang, a 23-year-old university student from Hanoi, Vietnam. She works part-time in the flower shop adjacent to Cole’s on Bridge Street, a large grocery chain here. I liked her immediately; I had to bend down a little to hear her! After giving me directions to the proper tram stop–and reading the confusion on my face– she said, “If you can wait fifteen minutes, I’m closing the store and I’ll take you there.” We waited. She walked us to and helped us board Tram #48, accompanied us into Melbourne, then led us from #48’s stop a few blocks to #86’s stop. She wouldn’t leave us until she saw us safely aboard, then waved goodbye. Oh, I forgot to mention. She had a date that evening but offered to cancel it to ride with us out to Northcote in case we needed her (and we hadn’t told her of any of our other transportation adventures. She just surmised. I guess.) As we were walking toward the Parliament building between our Melbourne stops, I pointed to a large church spire in the distance. “Do you know that church?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t go there,” she explained. “I’m Buddhism.”

Hang, the Vietnamese university student who showed us the spirit of Christmas

This is the story of the hard-working young Vietnamese student who is “Buddhism” going the second mile in showing kindness to the elderly Christian couple on their way to a church-sponsored Christmas caroling party in a pub.

Richmond City Hall at Christmas. Santa and his reindeer have supplanted Jesus and the manger.

Melbourne may not feel very Christmassy to the visiting Americans who’ve always described the holiday as a season of snow and sleighs bells ringing and children singing and fir trees glistening and special church services and manger scenes. In addition, this preacher has always enjoyed reminding  everyone of “the reason for the season.” It’s different here. But not totally.

We’re not going to forget that Christmas really is rooted in that remarkable event that “came upon a midnight clear” two millennia ago. But we’re also not going to forget that God majors in the unexpected, sends his message of peace and goodwill to (and through) shepherds in their fields and wise men studying their charts, and offers hope to the least and the lost everywhere– and uses a young woman who runs a flower shop to remind longtime Christians that the Spirit of Christmas comes packaged in many ways.

This time of year is an excellent opportunity to look forward to the new and reflect on the past. Here’s Joy’s monthly selection from her thousands of pictures, each just a hint of the what made 2017 such a remarkable, memorable year for Lawsons on the Loose. We hope yours was good for you and that 2018 will be for you a Happy New Year!


You don’t need modern plumbing to take a bath in Kulpahar, as this street bather demonstrates..


Stu Golding’s kayaks rest in the grass near his home in Helena Bay on New Zealand’s north island.


I caught this Dapper Dandy checking his cell phone in front of his quirky side street shop in Valparaiso.


We visited Salamanca, where I discovered this chain of padlocks in a city garden.


On Roy’s birthday we found this beautiful spring scene near our Massachusetts home.


At our all-family vacation in Branson, Missouri. Hannah Narsh loves the bubble machine.


Boats at low tide in a marina in Newquay. All that’s missing is the water.


We spent three weeks in Chester. While on a city tour I found this woman in a churchyard praying in a variety of penance positions.


While on a camera class shoot in Bruges,  I spotted this quiet scene on one of the city’s canals. It reminded me of my father’s love on boats.


On a blustery fall day In Tallinn, we visited a replica of an old village where I shot this nostalgic scene.


The day we visited Fort Zachery Taylor this flag was flying at half mast. We weren’t sure why, but recent New York and Virginia tragedies had just taken place.


At Christmastime families gather.

After this fairly strenuous year of travel (and Joy couldn’t include Uruguay, Germany, Denmark and Brazil in this retrospective) the following picture pretty well captures The Hat’s general response:

The Hat grabbed a catnap at Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen, while I took pictures.



  1. Love the story about the “Buddhism.” How we live seems more important than what we believe. Blessings on both of you and your angel in disguise wherever she may be. Rosa

  2. With an itinerary spanning all continental land masses but Antarctica and Africa, the last photo strikes me as peculiarly appropriate.

  3. I think I already told you how much I am enjoying your travels. As I read I so clearly hear your voice and see your expressions and realize how much I enjoyed your sermons all those years ago. Have a joyous Christmas and stay safe and healthy in the New Year. Happy for the upcoming cruise for you two. Might as well spend the kids’ inheritance.

  4. Your ability to get people from all countries, professions and walks of life to help you out of your messes never ceases to amaze me! Even people who are buddhism! I think you owe an apology to her poor date, who almost got stood up, but was undoubtedly made to wait while you were escorted along your way. I’m a little sensitive about such things. (I’m usually the one that gets stood up).

  5. So fun hearing from you Joy and Roy. And glad you are both healthy enough to do so much traveling. I got an insurance settlement and wanted to use it to take a family vacation but Jim hasn’t been well enough to even plan for much. Hopefully he’ll feel better in 2018. Miss your great sermons and you sense of humor. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and more adventures in the new year. Jim and Sandy Miller

  6. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, dear ones! 🎄 I so enjoy reading all of your posts & traveling the globe with you! 🌎 It’s much less expensive this way! Lol. Love & BIG hugs to you both❣ Can’t wait to see where we’ll be in 2018! Debby D 😁

  7. and we Aussies love hearing these fascinating tales of adventures your adventures down under. When are you coming to Tasmania?? That is the jewel in the crown of this vast country!

  8. Merry Christmas to you both! We have enjoyed following along your travel adventures!! Such beautiful story telling photos Joy. What a special moment and story of Hang too! Praying she will come to know the real meaning of Christmas by contemplating about her meeting of you! We will anxiously await to hear about the Christmas caroling in the Pub too!;) Blessings & love from a snow glistening morn in Colorado! ~ The Bates~ Stan & Suzie

  9. Your story (non-fiction) of Hang, “the hardworking Vietnamese student who is ‘Buddhism’ showing kindness to the elderly Christian couple on their way to the church-sponsored Christmas caroling party in a pub” is priceless–a brief version of Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Merry Christmas, “and God bless us everyone!”

  10. Merry Christmas to Joy and Roy . . . what an important part of our lives you were this year! We will always remember 2017 with the Lawsons . . . in Cincinnati, in Kansas City, and, especially in Key West. You challenge and inform and entertain us, and we’re looking forward to the next time we can sit and visit!

  11. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you two, Roy and Joy!!! I will send you a copy of our card on email ….. I took a photo of it to send out to you since I can’t mail it to you. If I had been thinking, I could have sent to Australia like last year, but my thinking arrived too late.

    Thank you so much for your beautiful thoughts on your way to sing Carols. And for the wonderful photography throughout the year!!! Looking ahead we may try to find you in St. Louis the next time you land there.

    Miss seeing you guys ….. Toni & Joe

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