It was a beautiful day here yesterday morning. Blue skies that reminded me of home. Funny that a blue sky in England makes me miss home, when home is Washington State.

I made it to church for the first time yesterday. I’ve now been here for a week, and this was the first Sunday I wasn’t sleeping in.

Figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge. Not only had I not been to church here before, but everyone tends to dress-up in England. Full suits are not out of the ordinary. Not at all. If it’s not that, then it’s very American Apparel or Urban Outfitters. Lots of skinny jeans. Lots of mini skirts and tights. Very trendy. Shorts and a t-shirt would stick out like a sore thumb here.

My sister asked if I’d include more photos of myself here. I told her I’m trying not to appear as a tourist and be laughed at. So here’s a photo of me in my living room just before church.

Sorry for the boring background, but I hope that’s okay for now, Goose. I’ll see if I can do better tomorrow.

Church at St. Andrew’s

I went to St. Andrew’s for church this morning. It’s only a block away from where I’m living, and it had been recommended to me several times since arriving. The service was pretty similar to what we have back home. Except they speak British, of course. A little more dry, perhaps. A little less charismatic, but that’s probably to be expected.

The pastor spoke about some of the things Jesus calls us to. Fighting for the Gospel (I don’t think he mean literally, but more fighting against complacency). Depending on the Spirit. Praying at all times (which was a good reminder to me in light of an overwhelming schedule and hoping I’ll have time to sleep. And, lastly, not staying in comfortable spots or familiar surroundings, but to go. I started looking around at that point to see if someone was spying on me and knew I was going to be there that morning.

I sat next to a girl by the name of Avanda. She’s from Stratford Upon Avon (“Shakespear’s hometown,” she told me), and she’s also just starting her studies at Oxford. In English.

By the way, if ever you’re meeting a girl for the first time and your wife is nowhere close, it’s always a good idea to make it clear you’re married in the first or second sentence.

For example, “Hi, my name is Ryan. This is my first time here, and I’m happily married to the love of my life.” Or something similarly subtle. This will save you a lot of trouble.

Avana told me about a small group that meets on Thursday nights at the church. It’s made up of 20 and 30-year olds, and she said she had really enjoyed it the week before.

“I want to learn more about Jesus,” she told me. “I’ve been a Christian since I was 10, but I feel like there’s a lot I don’t know. So a good sermon and a place where I can go and learn in a small group is important to me.”

I’m thinking about making a t-shirt that says, “I want to learn more about Jesus.” Hearing that put a smile on my face.

I ran into several people I recognized from school after the service. One was a tutor I have for a class on Jesus and The Gospels. I was pretty encouraged by that. Especially since a guy at school a couple days before had told me not to be surprised if none of my Theology professors are believers.

This particular tutor is from the States, as well. His name is Dave. He grabbed my arm as I was on my way out of church and introduced me to his wife, Julia, and his new baby girl, Naomi. She was just three months old and she had a cute, flowery  headband on. Like a little sign that read, “I’m a girl.”

Dave and Julia seem great. Very chill. Very nice. They asked all about where I was living, how the transition was going for me, when my wife was going to be joining me… They said they’ll have to have us over after Jen has arrived and settled in. I left feeling like someone had wrapped me in a big, fuzzy blanket fresh out of the dryer. It was so nice.

Lunch with the family

Jane was just getting ready to head out for a run when I got in after church. I told her I had attended St. Andrew’s that morning and I had really enjoyed it. She had recommended it to me before, telling me some previous students who had lived with them had become really involved there. So I think she liked hearing that I had gone.

“Would you like to join us for lunch today?” she asked. “My parents would be over, and it’d be nice for you to meet them.”

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

“Okay. Wonderful. We’ll see you at 12:30 or 12:45, then,” she said with a smile. She has a wonderful smile. I think she gave it to Felix. He has the same one.

I made a quick trip to the market in between church and lunch. To pick up a few things. I changed out of my church clothes when I returned and I made my way over to the house. Just through the hall and doorway, really.

I was greeted by an older man in a blue shirt and grey sweater. His white hair made his blue eyes stand out behind his glasses.

“You must be Ryan,” he said as I made my way in.

“Yes, yes I am.” I said. “And you must be Jane’s father?” I asked.

“Yes, Scotty. Or grampa. Whichever you like,” he said with a smile.

We talked a bit by the door before making our way into the kitchen and joining the rest of the family. It smelled wonderful. Like they had been baking breads all morning.

Margaret, Scotty’s wife introduced herself with a smile. Again, Margaret or “Grandma.”

I took a seat at the table with Scotty. Jane and Justin were working on something in the kitchen. Whatever it was smelled amazing. Felix was putting on his soccer socks with a girl who looked to be a couple years older than him. His cousin, as it turned out. Elisa.

Another woman entered the room and introduced herself as Maria. Jane’s sister. And Elisa’s mom. She was super nice. Dark hair that dropped to her shoulders. She reminded me of people from back home. Very laid back.

Scotty asked me about my studies. What I had been doing before coming over.

I told him how this was a total life change for me. And I was still adjusting to it. I told him I went from always being on my cell phone to not owning one. How I went from driving from home to work to meetings, to not owning a vehicle. Not even owning a bike. And how, in a way, it was kind of nice. The simplified life. How it was a bit of an escape, and how it helped me realize I could get on without those things just fine.

He raised his eyebrows as if he were surprised. As if to say, “Wow. I don’t know how you do it!” Which is kind of funny, because he’s 81.

Margaret finished washing some berries she was preparing for a dessert and joined us at the table.

They told me about a family member of theirs who had made the switch from teaching to the ministry. They told me about one of their kids and his wife who had triplets their first go around.

“Oh wow,” I said. “That’s quite the way to start off. So, did they call that good?”

“Oh no,” Margaret spoke up. “They had a couple more after that.”

Felix had been in and out of the room. Getting his soccer gear on. Or football gear.

“You ready to go out back and kick the ball around?” Scotty asked from the table.

Elisa joined the two of them out back. It put a smile on my face. To see Scotty take his grandkids out to kick the soccer ball around like that. I felt blessed to be welcomed into their home and experience all of this.

“Felix has two goalies to get by,” I said with a laugh, looking over my shoulder at the game of football being arranged in the backyard. I laughed as Felix kicked a goal on his grandfather and Elisa. “Goooooal.” I said with a smile.

Maria laughed. “Yeah, but the thing is, neither one of them are very good! Not as good as Felix.”

Jane filled our plates with a flat bread and sundried tomato dish and brought them to the table. It was amazing. Like pizza for grownups.

“This is really, really good.” I told Jane as she joined us.

“Oh, this is Justin’s work.” She said, sitting down.

The goal must’ve been for the win, because the three football players made their way back to the kitchen afterward. Felix wore a smile as he bounced the ball on the grass. Probably still proud of the goal. I would’ve been. It was a good shot.

Hard night

I had a lot of Greek catch up on, which equated to saying goodbye after an amazing lunch (and dessert) rather abruptly, and spending the next eight hours or so studying Greek. Not how I like to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, but that’s how it goes here.

It ended up being a hard night, too. After studying all day. My homesickness really caught up with me, and all I could think about was how much I missed Jen and wanted her with me. Or to be with her. Either way, at that point.

Jen was supposed to be skyping in with me after they got out of church. Her younger cousins were supposed to be joining her. Brenan and Evan. Two boys I really enjoy, but didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to.

I was watching the clock closely, trying to gauge when they’d call. It wasn’t making for an efficient Greek study, but it was all I could think about.

I was so happy to hear from Jen by the time she finally skyped me. It was just her.

“Shannon (Jen’s aunt) and the boys should be here anytime, but I thought I’d say ‘hi’ quickly first.”

I was just so happy to see her, I didn’t care if she brought the whole church with her. There’s nothing better than seeing Jen’s face after a long day here.

A few minutes into our conversation, Jen’s family came wandering upstairs to say hello. It was great to see them, too. Brenan was only a year old or so when Jen and I first started dating, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember a time before he and I were good buds. Even though he’s now, what, 11? He still comes and finds my lap at birthday parties. Oh, man, I miss that little guy!

Evan, his older brother (second oldest of three) likes animals. A lot. If you ever get the chance to meet him, ask him if he’s caught any frogs lately. Or snakes. You’ll immediately have something to talk about.

We wrapped up our skype and I returned to my Greek, knowing I had a lot to get done.

And it was a rough night. I was still missing family, and I was having a tough time on my Greek. Midnight came and passed and I was feeling horrible. Like crying, actually. “What in the world am I doing here?” I thought to myself. My wife is there. My entire family is there. Greek is here…

I checked to see if Jen was still on skype. She was. I called her up to chat. To tell her how I was feeling.

“Hey, sorry to bug you again, hun. I’m just really having a tough time here. I still have a bunch of work left on my Greek assignment, and it’s already 12:30 here. I have an essay due tomorrow for my Gospels & Jesus class. I’m not getting this Greek. I’m just not getting it. And I need sleep. I know I do.”

If I had ever felt like a man before, I didn’t after that.

“Ryan, it’s only been a week,” were her words. I recently told my best friend Steve one of the things I value most about Jen is that she’s a straight-shooter. She never tells me what I want to hear just because she thinks it’s what I want to hear. This was a perfect case in point.

“You knew this was going to be tough, but it’ll get easier. I’m not surprised the Greek is still difficult at this point, but it will get easier. You just have to keep working at it. You should get some rest, get up in the morning and get a little bit done before class.”

She was right. I knew I needed sleep. I just hated leaving things unfinished.

I closed up my Greek textbook and made my way upstairs. I was so happy to crawl into bed. It was nearly 1:00. 7:00 was going to come early.

Good morning

I made my way to Greek straight away. Studying flash cards while I walked. I had a 30-minute walk, so a good amount of time to get some studying done on my way.

I passed a group of catering vans and lighting equipment on my way past the Bodleian Library. “Another film set?” I thought to myself. Turns out it was. But not X-Men 4 this time. Nor was it Harry Potter. But a BBC show called Inspector Lewis. It’s weird to have your school be the set of so many different movies and tv shows.

The Oxford student paper had a photo of X-Men 4 being filmed on campus the other day on its cover. James Macavoy is playing the role of Professor Xavier as a young student at Oxford, in the movie, apparently. He studied Theology and Philosophy. I had literally just snapped a photo of the spot they were shooting the day before. A popular spot with an arched stone bridge that connects two buildings.

I made it to class about 10 minutes early, expecting to be the only one there. I was not. My professor was seated at a table helping another student. Neither one of them looked up, so I found my seat and went through some more flash cards.

A few minutes later, Rhona (my professor’s first name. She lets us call her by it) got up from the desk and made her way to the front of the room, smiling at me as she went.

“Good morning, Ryan. How are you?”

“Eh, I’m doing okay. I worked really hard on my Greek this weekend, and I managed to get caught up, but I still have some work to do. I didn’t completely finish today’s assignment. I ended up calling it quits around 12:30.”

“Good. As you should.” She said. “You need your rest. We’ll have a test on vocabulary today, but you just keep at it.”

She cared more about my well-being than finishing her assignment. I was so relieved.

A second year student came up to the front of the room before class began. I had recognized him from a university meeting we both sat in a week before, but this was the first time I had seen him in class.

Apparently he didn’t realize he needed to be in class last week, but he was hoping to still get into the class. Rhona’s eyebrows raised halfway up her forehead when she heard this.

“What’s your familiarity with Greek?” She asked him.

“Uh, what do you mean?” he asked

“Have you taken Greek before?”

“No.”

“Do you know the Greek script?”

“No. No, I don’t.”

“Well, you’re welcome to join us, but you’ll have a lot of catching up to do,” she told him, offering her textbook for him to borrow for the day.

“You’ll need to pick up your own copy at Blackwell’s straight away after class.”

I know I shouldn’t have, but this actually made me feel kind of good. Like maybe I wouldn’t be the worst Greek Student in class. I know, I know. That’s not right of me…

I sat next to a couple guys from Wycliffe Hall this morning. Wycliffe as a college is known for preparing people in Theology for the ministry. For ordinancy, as they call it. I got talking to a couple of them after class. Really cool guys. Both maybe a few years older than me. Both married. We had a lot in common, it seemed.

John had been a secondary school teacher before making this change. I have no understanding of the British educational system whatsoever. But whenever anyone talks about this or that year of school, about “A-Levels” or the like, I just nod my head like I know what they’re talking about. Of course I know all about the British school system…

Lynde, the other guy, is from New Zealand. He was a stock trader in London before deciding to go back to school to study Theology.

“So your wife is not getting here until the end of the month?” Lynde asked after class.

“Yeah. Not until the 28th.” A look of pain spread across both of their faces.

“Oh man, I am sorry. That sucks.” Lynde replied, both with his face and with his words.

“Well look, how would you like to have lunch at Wycliffe Hall?” John asked me.

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

“I’d like to chat with you some more, too,” Lynde said. “How about coming over to our house for dinner with my family?”

I left class feeling so encouraged, again. Such amazing people here. I’m sure they can sense my sinking feeling, and the fact that they are willing to go out of their way like that…it means so much.

My First Essay

I spent the rest of the day in the library. Working on my essay. My first. I was to answer the question, “Historically speaking, why was Jesus crucified?”

This was my kind of assignment. To read. To write. To talk about it (that part comes tomorrow, in class). This I can do.

I arrived in the library at about 10: 30 or so. I left at 6:30, after e-mailing my professor (Dave, from church) my essay. Feeling completely relieved, I promised myself a run after I got home. It would be my first since arriving. It was a treat, for sure.

Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, Angels & Airwaves and Sleigh Bells played the soundtrack for my run in the cool evening air. It was dark, at 7:30, but there were a bunch of joggers out. I was certainly not alone. It felt great.

I decided to go north, instead of heading back into the Oxford center. To the neighborhood of Summertown. It was really nice, actually. They even had a Starbucks on a corner with big windows looking out over the street. It reminded me of the Bakerview location back home. I’m looking forward to spending some time there with Jen, when she arrives.

Jogging home, I passed a house with an incredible smell pouring out into the streets. It reminded me of the biscuits my grandfather used to make for me growing up. Just Bisquick and water. They looked like the ugliest biscuits you’ve ever seen. Really spiky. Not rounded in the least bit. Drop biscuits. But they were amazing. With scrambled eggs. And Jimmy Dean sausage (“He doesn’t keep a penny of the proceeds he makes off of these, you know that, Ryan?” he’d ask me).

When I get home, I’m going to go to my Grandpa’s house for breakfast and make some biscuits. You’re welcome to join me if you like. Grandpa loves cooking for crowds.

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