It’s 11:39 at night here, and I’m excited because I just wrapped up all the work I set for myself to get done today. Which means the rest of the evening is me time. Which means I’m writing, as you can see.

The last few days have been pretty crazy here. I’ve pretty much been either studying Greek or working on essays since Saturday evening. Feels good to come up for air. But that’s just the way it is here. That’s the way people are here. I haven’t found a whole lot of slackers since arriving. But I knew coming into it there wouldn’t be a whole lot of people who weren’t here to get down to business. Especially at Harris manchester, where everyone’s coming back for another degree.

I remember looking at the clock at 7:42 last night and thinking there were still plenty of people in the library. Many of the same people who were there at 2 in the afternoon. That’s just the way it is here.

Church on Sunday

I did make it to church on Sunday morning, though. Before spending the rest of the day in Greek. And I’m glad I did. It put a smile on my face, just being there.

It’s kind of funny, even when so much seems foreign over here, church still feels like church. I mean, really, everything is different here. Even the outlets, for Pete’s sake.

But I remember sitting in church Sunday morning thinking, “these guys sing songs about Jesus, too.” And it made me smile.

They still have their share of cheesy church songs here, too. But they’re still about Jesus. I think they might actually have even more cheesy songs, but it could just be the church, too. It is a family service I’ve been going to, which could explain all the hand gestures. I’m not a fan of hand gestures. It just feels funny. Unnatural, maybe? I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a good reason for them (like humility, perhaps), but I’m not a huge fan.

Nor am I a big fan of making up words for church songs. You know what I mean? I’ve noticed that a few times here. But, I guess they could be real words. I don’t know what half of the words they use here mean anyway. And when I think I do, I’m usually wrong.

One of the songs we sang on Sunday morning was about not being ashamed of Jesus. That even when the world thinks we’re crazy. Or ridiculous. That we should find joy in living a life for Him. Maybe they have something with those hand gestures…

Finding a hatchet in the woods

I caught up with Ken and Lynne after the service. The hand surgeon from Oregon who is now studying Theology here at Oxford. It was good to see them again. They’re both great.

I had told Ken that Justin and Jane, well, Jane really, had offered Justin’s bike to me to get around town. I told Ken I had tried to pump up the tires but that I was unable to get it to work properly. Again, everything’s different here. He told me I likely had the wrong kind of pump, but that he might be able to help. He had a pump in his car. One that he could plug in and let the pump do the work.

“If it’s just a case of flat tires, I should be able to help you,” he told me.

Sure enough, that was it. After a few minutes, I had myself a bike with two full tires. I was so excited. I felt like the 16-year old kid being handed the keys for the first time and drooling over their newfound freedom. Or the kid who’s lost in the woods and comes across a hatchet. So many possibilities now. I’m moving up in the world, my friends.

Summertown

I knew I had a lot of Greek to get done before the start of the new week, and I really didn’t feel like sitting at home and studying, so I decided to venture out to Summertown for a bit of studying.

Summertown is probably less than a mile from here. North. The opposite direction of the Oxford city center. It’s a nice, small, more modern little neighborhood. With a couple markets.

A handful of restaurants. And a few shops.

It has a very different feel than the Oxford city center, but I like Summertown a lot. It almost feels a bit like Queen Anne in Seattle.

I hadn’t grabbed lunch at home after church because, well, there wasn’t much I could make with ketchup and cereal. And that’s about all I had in my kitchen. I planned to swing into the market after studying for a bit, so I found a place in Summertown for lunch. Brunch.

At a place called Joe’s. And it was great.

It actually felt like a place I might find back home. With the addition of the British accents. There were a lot of families when I went. And couples meeting for breakfast. I snagged a seat in the front of the restaurant. A window seat. And it was a beautiful, sunny day. So the light spilled in from the street. Tough to beat brunch on a sunny Sunday morning.

Looking over the menu, everything sounded good. French toast. Omelets. I settled on the ham and eggs, without the “chips.”

“Can I get your ham and eggs and chips, with toast in place of the chips?” I asked the waiter.

He gave me a look like I had surprised him with a calculus problem. He was completely baffled. And in turn, so was I.

“Well, we can do eggs and toast, with a side of ham?” was his reply.

“Uhh, yeah, that’s what I’d like. Let’s do that.”

“So, eggs and toast, with a side of ham?” he asked again. Just to make sure he had it right, I guess.

“Yes. Eggs, toast and ham. That sounds great.”

I was glad he was able to straighten out my confusing order. But then he brought my plate a bit later and I realized what the issue may have been. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who has ever ordered eggs and toast with a side of ham, or if it was a cruel joke played on the American, but I really did get eggs and toast with a side of ham. A side of ham cold cuts. Emphasis on the cold. I didn’t mind, though. I was starving. And it was good.

From there, I made my way to the Starbucks just across the street. To get some studying done.

It’s a great Starbucks, too. Feels a lot like home. And I know that sounds funny, but I’ve been to another Starbucks here that did not feel like home. It felt like Starbucks squeezed into a closet. Very English. But I guess it’s nice to have both.

I wasn’t quite full from my eggs and cold cuts, so I ordered some oatmeal to accompany my Greek studies. Or porridge, as it’s called here. It came plain, with a side of dried fruit. And so I had to add plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon and vanilla to make it worth eating.

And it reminded me of my sister. It reminded me of how I used to make her oatmeal, growing up. I’d throw everything in there. Cinnamon. Syrup. Vanilla. Brown sugar. Raisins. Everything. I think I may have even put nuts in there sometimes. And she’d love it. I remember her requesting it from time to time, when I was still in high school. It’s been a while since I’ve made my sister oatmeal, but that’s what I was thinking about this afternoon in the Summertown Starbucks. Made the porridge taste even better.

It’s funny how these memories spring up from the littlest things. And how they remind you of home. Even when you’re so far from it.

Monday

Monday was my first day using my newfound freedom to get to school. The bike. I ended up getting to class about 20 minutes early. I sometimes feel guilty for not walking anymore, but it’s incredible the time I save now!

And I’m certainly not alone. Everyone bikes in Oxford.

It’s actually helping me get the traffic down, too. Biking, that is. It’s helping me realize which side traffic flows.

Walking, I often catch myself having to remember which side of the sidewalk to walk on, when other people are approaching. Just as traffic is different, so too is foot traffic.

After leaving class Monday morning, I noticed another line of film crew trucks outside the Bodleian. And another X-Men 4 sign on the back of one of them. “Still shooting,” I thought to myself after riding off. It didn’t look like they were setting up, so I figured they were probably doing a shoot later.

I turned a corner and noticed people on both sides of the street. Stopped. Staring. People don’t stop in Oxford. Everyone has somewhere to be. I stopped, too. And looked back. I following everyone’s eyes to what must’ve been the director. Setting up the shoot. Talking with his hands. Gesturing. Explaining what they were going for to someone else.

“Crazy,” I thought to myself as I rode away. I had a date with the library, or else I would’ve waited around.

Dinner with Felix & Jurassic Park

I spent the most of the day Monday in the library. Not terribly exciting, I know, but like I said, I had loads to get done.

I tried a new panini shop for lunch. The Alternative Turk was packed and I was tight on time. I was disappointed; it just wasn’t the same. Plus, the Alternative Turk is five pence cheaper.

The Alternative Turk takes all my money. But I’m glad to give it away in exchange for their pesto chicken paninis. It’s like the guy who’s robbing you while smiling. How can you be mad?

Jane sent me an e-mail sometime that afternoon. While I was working from the library at Harris Manchester. Telling me her and Justin would be in London for the evening, and that I was welcome to stop in and say “Hi” to Felix while they were out. But only if I wanted to.

“Of course. I’d love to,” was my response.

“Great! Beng will have some food waiting for you, if you’re hungry.”

Being here, on my own, it’s so nice to have someone invite me for dinner. I don’t know what it is, but that’s been one of the most comforting things.

I didn’t get in until almost 9 that night. I dropped my things off at the door to my place and let myself in to see Felix. I was so excited for the break from studies. For a warm meal. And to catch up with Felix. He’s a great kid.

“Felix? Hello? It’s Ryan.” I said, making myself known.

“Hi Ryan. I believe Beng has some food for you. Do you, Beng?” he asked. Straight away, he wanted to make sure I got my food.

Beng welcomed me with a smile. “Hi Ryan.” And she made her way to the kitchen to warm up my dinner. Felix and I followed.

“There’s really nothing on, so I was just watching Jurassic Park,” he told me. I wasn’t surprised. I knew he liked animals.

“Yeah? I haven’t watched that movie in years.”

“Well, maybe you can have your dinner in the living room with me and watch it for a bit with me before I have to go to bed.”

“That’d be great,” I said with a smile.

“Beng, Ryan will take his dinner in the living room.”

I found myself sitting on the couch, enjoying my pork chop and laughing with Felix at the movie.

“This really is great,” I thought to myself.

Tuesday

John and I grab lunch on Tuesdays. At Wycliffe Hall. The guy from my Greek class. The only guy in England with a hawaiian shirt.

He’s a great guy, and I’ve really enjoyed our conversations. This day we found ourselves talking about Driscoll. I forget how he came up. But John and another guy we were eating lunch with, Sam, were curious about his ministry.

The guys were totally blown away by the ministry that’s been accomplished through Driscoll’s work at Mars Hill in Seattle. They said he’d probably face a mob right if he tried his preaching style here in England. I told them he’s not free from the mobs in Seattle. But that God has done some pretty amazing things through his ministry.

John brought up something he had heard Driscoll say at one point. How he is intentional about using the name, “Jesus” when he’s talking. For interviews. From the pulpit. Apparently he said he feels like there’s something that makes us not want to use that name. We’ll say “God” or “Christ,” but often times there’s something funny about using the name of Jesus. So he makes a point of it. Driscoll, that is.

John said he could see that. That there’s something there. He thought maybe it was the Enemy not wanting us to use that name. “If I were Satan, that’s one battle I’d be involved in. Making sure people weren’t using that name.”

By his name will they be saved,” Sam spoke up. John nodded. I like these guys.

Surprised by rain

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the weather here. Which is funny. You know you’re from the Northwest when you’re happy with the lack of rain in England.

But our sunny streak was broken Tuesday afternoon. I was in my Gospels & Jesus tutorial when it started. Sarah, my classmate, was in another amazing outfit. Complete with red leggings that matched her hair.

But I love it. The crazy outfits. If you’ve ever been somewhere where everyone dressed alike, you’ve realized how much you appreciate people not dressing exactly like you. It’s good. It’s healthy. I don’t like constantly being around people who’re just like me. Who think like me. Who dress like me. Not all the time, at least. It’s constricting. It dulls my senses. You may disagree with me, but being around people who are unlike me is refreshing.

I think that’s one of the main reasons I enjoyed volunteering at the food bank back home. People came there from all sorts of backgrounds. Lots of variety. Lots of people very unlike me. It was refreshing. Like seasoning for a bland meal.

Sarah swore as she left the protection of our castle-like college. Darting across the college grounds in the rain. I think she liked the rain even less than I did.

“My brakes don’t work in the rain, so I end up trying not to run into things” she told me as we were leaving.

She passed me as I made my way back to Harris Manchester that night. On her bike. I laughed as I watched her stop at the intersection. In the rain. Shoes sliding across the wet pavement, acting as brakes.

Lewis Society

After a couple hours of working on an essay for my God & Israel in the Old Testament class that was due the next day, I made my way from the Harris Manchester Library to the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s lecture. Weaving in and out of traffic on the cobblestone roads, lit up by street lamps. The light reflecting off the puddles that line the streets in the night. The cool night air provided a refreshing break from being indoors so many days straight. Studying. The Lewis lecture would be a reward to myself for several days’ worth of non-stop studies.

I pulled up to the Pusey House where the lectures are held, just a few doors down from the Eagle & Child pub where Lewis used to meet with the Inklings. And I was greeted by the porter (the night watchmen, basically) as I did. He had broad shoulders that nearly filled the doorway.

“Hi there,” I said, stepping off my bike onto the sidewalk.

“Here for Lewis?” he asked in a heavy British accent.

It still surprises me. That people know I’m a student here. At Oxford. And I am, I guess. But just two weeks ago I wasn’t. Not at all. I was a business guy. Doing business things. Very much unlike the lifestyle I have here. As a student. It’s all so different. It’s such an incredible adjustment, and it happened so quickly. I think it’s going to take me a while to fully come to terms with it.

Locking up my bike under the night sky before going in for the Lewis lecture, I had another “Oh yeah…” moment. And I had to remind myself, “you are a student here, now. This really is your life.”

Greater appreciation for Lewis

Being here at Oxford has given me a greater appreciation for CS Lewis. Feels funny to say that, but it really has. To be around professors here. Even those in the Theology department, you don’t see a whole lot of them coming right out and saying, “This is what I believe.” Even less, you don’t see them writing to help the layperson with their faith. With their walk. You don’t see many here writing to help the layperson know and understand God more clearly. At least I haven’t come across that yet. The closest you’d come nowadays would probably be John Lennox. A brilliant Professor of Mathematics here at Oxford who often debates on the topic of God’s existence.

It’s little wonder why so many professors of Lewis’ day weren’t big fans of him. Professors don’t wear their faith on their sleeve like he did. That’s just the scholarly environment here. Which makes me appreciate him even more. He really stuck his neck out to do what he did, in the position he held here. But he did so because he believed in this stuff. With all he had. And because he believed it was his responsibility to use what he had to help others in their walk.

That’s a lesson for all of us, I think. We may not all be Lewises, but I don’t think God expects us to be. I think he just expects us to use what He’s given us. And I think we’ll be surprised to see what happens when we do. He can do pretty amazing things with even a small amount of faith. With even a small amount of willingness and desire to follow after Him.

You’ve got mail

I returned home late Tuesday night from a long day of studies, and from the Oxford CS Lewis Society lecture, to find two letters waiting for me. My first mail since arriving! I was so excited. Smiling like a kid on Christmas morning.

The first letter was from my Aunt Laurie and my Uncle Albert. It was a very nice, handmade card. Telling me how proud they were for the road I was on. It was so nice to hear from them.

I saved the next letter for last. The letter from Jen. I was so happy to hear from her.

I opened it with a smile on my face, and instantly the smell of Jen’s perfume came wafting out. And the smell, oh the smell! It was amazing…I cannot explain how comforting it was. Surrounding me, as if she were here, wrapping me up in a warm hug. It really was almost as if she were right here with me.

When you’re a guy living on your own, surrounded by your guy smells, the best smell in the world is the scent of a woman. Except perhaps for the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. They’re neck and neck, probably. But when you’re a married guy who is living on your own, away from your wife, the best smell in the world is the scent of your wife. Its better than cookies.

I closed my eyes and I just held the letter to my face. For quite a while. And then I remembered it was a letter. And that Jen had actually written me something, to read, and that she had not just sent me a perfume scented envelope.

We talk every day. Twice most days. And so I wasn’t expecting a letter from her. But I can’t tell you what a welcome surprise it was. I unfolded the letter and I began reading her words. And instantly I could hear her voice. It made me smile. And cry. And smile some more. It was the best thing that’s happened to me since arriving.

Jackpot

Today was another studies-filled day.

I did get a chance to finally make it to Blackwell’s, though. To pick up a book for today’s class.

Blackwell’s is an incredible book store here in Oxford. Something like five stories of books. The basement opens up into an enormous, cavern-like room filled with books. Everywhere you can see. You really could spend hours there. I’m not sure I’d ever have the time, but you could. If you wanted. I’m looking forward to going back when I have more time.

They have a really cool cafe on the second floor. Very Oxford. I think I might try it out for studies at some point. That’s how I think now, “this place would make a nice place to study…”

I returned home tonight to find more mail. A letter from Jen’s Grandma Anne (she promised to write me once a week). And a package waiting from my grandpa.

“You’ve got a beeg box here,” Beng said as I came through the front door, in her Philipino accent.

I opened the letter from Jen’s Grandma first. It was a great letter. She’s a great writer. Filling me in on what’s going on back home. How everyone’s doing. I loved all the details. It made me feel not so far away.

She told me they were proud of me. She told me she knew Hayley would be, too. That she loved me very much. And I had to stop reading at that point. For a few seconds. To catch my breath. To let the tears fall. It still hurts. Those wounds, it seems, are still so fresh. But I did appreciate it. Her words.

My Grandpa’s box was next. He had been asking what I needed since shortly after I arrived, so I knew something would be coming at some point. But, boy, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see it.

And to open it. I felt like I had won the jackpot!

This package was amazing. I was stunned with all the food from back home.

Life cereal (my favorite, which you can’t find in England). Some protein bars to snack on during the day (so the Alternative Turk doesn’t steal all my money…I can’t prove it, but I’m 95 percent sure they’re putting nicotine in those sandwiches. I find myself wanting another chicken pesto panini two seconds after I finish one), enough crystal light for me to make juice for the entire city of Oxford, Quaker maple & brown sugar oatmeal (again, my favorite), Cheez-Its, newspapers (so I’m up to speed on what’s going on in Bellingham), a first-aid kit, vitamins (“I take a vitamin c every night before I go to bed, and I never get sick,” he always tells me), a resistance band to get some exercise in along with my studies, and, the cous de gras, Kirkland brand trail mix. Oh man… I was so excited.

He also sent me a dry erase board, which I thought was a great idea. Will be nice to have, for sure.

I put on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and began stocking my shelves. Taking a handful of trail mix, crackers, etc as I did. I really have an incredible family.

Thank you.

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