Had a rough start this morning. Going on not enough sleep. Still not feeling great after the night before. And starting my day with a Greek exam. Not quite the way I like to start my Fridays.

But I felt better after getting a cup of tea. And after doing well on my Greek exam. Or I think I did well. We’ll see. I also met a guy here at Harris Manchester who’s from Vancouver. Was comforting to meet someone so close from home, actually.

Stan from Vancouver

I was getting a cup of tea in the JCR this morning. After Greek. I needed it desperately. It’s funny how much of a tradition tea has become for me in such a short period of time. If I haven’t had my tea by 11, I’m usually looking at my watch trying to figure out what’s the matter.

JCR stands for Junior Common Room. It’s a room here at Harris Manchester where the undergrads can hang out. It’s a small room with wooden walls that are lined with framed photos of past Harris Manchester classes. Two oars are on the walls, celebrating a rowing championship of some sort. Two or three dark brown leather couches offer a nice place to chat, or to read the paper. And there’s a very worn pool table that’s used more often than I’d expect.

The room was dark this morning when I went in. The lights hadn’t been turned on yet, but no one seemed to mind. It was nice, actually. Still. Calming. I was waiting on my water to boil when someone pointed out all four of us in the room were from North America, which is quite rare. I had met the other two, but not the fourth guy.

“Stan,” he said as he extended his hand from his place on the couch. Nice guy.

He’s in the third and final year of his law degree here at Harris Manchester. He moved here to England a couple years earlier. To play rugby. He now plays for Oxford. Makes sense. He’s a big guy. With Brad Pitt good looks. Soft spoken, but he could probably tear me in half without breaking a sweat.

I told him I was hoping to get involved in sports in some form or another while I’m here, but that I was wanting to get a little settled in first. He mentioned that the college had a basketball team last year. During Trinity Term (or spring term – Why don’t they just call it spring term? Because that’d be too easy).

“The thing about basketball here is that the English are just bad,” he said with a slight smile. “So even if you’re not great back home, you’re probably far better than most guys here.”

I’d love to play some basketball. Maybe by Trinity Term things will be settled down enough.

I’d like to row while I’m here, too. At some point. I’d love that, actually. But I’m not sure I can cut that with my schedule right now. Not on top of everything else. I did do the rowing machine in Justin & Jane’s in-home gym before leaving for class this morning, though. Almost the same thing.

My first plate of fish & chips

I had lunch at Harris Manchester today. It was my first time eating a meal here all week. Seemed like forever.

Fish & chips were on the menu, and I was excited about that, as I have actually yet to have fish & chips here in England. I know, I know… Such a traditional meal, how have I missed it? Bangers & mash, that’s how. And Alternative Turk chicken pesto paninis.

But it was really good, the fish & chips. It felt more hearty than I’ve had before. I don’t know, more substantive. Thicker batter, maybe? But it was really good. With chips (think joe joe’s) and peas. I love peas, and I love how much the English eat them. And a slice of lemon for the fish. Really, really good. Everyone has their own recipe, I’m sure, but I’d eat this again. For sure.

Principal Waller, the furniture mover

The dining hall was empty 15 minutes after lunch was served. Crazy. Like I said, people here don’t mess around.

I returned to the library after lunch to wrap up some reading, from my spot on the second floor. It wasn’t long after I had returned that I noticed someone in a full suit carrying a large, leather chair into the library.

“What a funny picture,” I thought to myself. Then I realized who it was. It was the college Principal. Principal Waller. And it looked like he was helping out the head Librarian, Sue. And then another, a few minutes later. I watched from the second floor of the library, and I was about to go down to offer to help when another student passed by and did so. So funny. What other Principal moves furniture in his spare time? What other Principal has spare time? I knew I liked this guy.

An impromptu car show

Harris Manchester didn’t have one of the books on my reading list, so I had to make a special trip to the Bodleian this afternoon.

I was stopped on my way, though, by an impromptu car show. There was a row of sports cars lined up across Broad Street. A Ferrari. A Bentley convertible. And an Audi R8.

People were stopping left and right. To look. To take pictures. I love sports cars, so I was drooling at this point. Here was well over a half-million dollars worth of sports cars right in front of me.

I’m not sure what this was about, if they were coming from a car show, or if they were just out for a drive, but they were eating up the attention. The drivers. They started revving their engines. And they were still just sitting in the middle of the street. Granted, it’s a street with more foot-traffic than anything, but soon the locals had had enough.

“Come on… Get out of here!” A group of guys said.

They took off, tearing down the street. Engines roaring. I was loving it. It was an interesting sight against the old buildings of Oxford.

Everyone bikes here

I told you before everyone bikes here. And it’s true.

It’s funny, but everywhere you go, bikes are chained up to something. Fencing. Light poles. Anything they can. And it’s actually hard to find a spot in a fence to tie up your bike most times. That’s how many bikes there are here.

But it’s great, actually, because everyone’s used to bicyclists. Makes getting around that much easier. It’s a very bike-friendly city, and I’m really enjoying getting around by bike. It’s great. I don’t miss having a car at all.

A pile of kleenex

It seems like everyone’s getting sick here, all of a sudden. You notice it in class. The sniffles. The coughing. The girl sitting across from me in the Radcliffe Camera (at the Bodleian Library) had a pile of used kleenex sitting on her desk this afternoon. She’d sneeze, wipe her nose, and then add one to the pile right there on the desk beside her Macbook. I didn’t realize how gross that was until I wrote it out…

I think people are getting worn out. And run down. It’s a non-stop pace, for sure. And It’s probably catching up with people. The temperature has really dropped here, too, which probably doesn’t help.

I got sick right off the bat when I arrived. From the lack of sleep. And the transition. I felt horrible for a few days. But since then, I’ve been doing all right. I’ve yet to make any kleenex piles in the library. Makes me want to go take a bath in some hand-sanitize after thinking about it.

At the Radcliffe

The bathroom in the Radcliffe Camera is downstairs. Underground. You go down a steep set of concrete stairs to get there. And it smells like a dairy parlor. It’s so bizarre… I haven’t smelled a dairy parlor in probably, 10 years? But that’s what it smells like. No idea.

Security is really strict here at Oxford. I guess it has to be, with all the tourists. You can’t just walk off the street and go into most buildings. They don’t just let tourists go into the colleges or libraries, for example. You have to show your student ID. Or you have to have a key. Or both. Some places check your bags as you come and go, to make sure you’re not taking any books with you.

But the upside is that you can leave your things and not worry about it. Well, I guess I say that somewhat loosely. People leave their things — laptops, bags, etc — and don’t worry about it. There’s the possibility of another student stealing it, of course, but that’s just the way it is here.

People will be studying in the library with everything all set up (their laptop out, notes and books out) and they’ll leave it to go grab lunch or run and errand and come back later. It’s really nice, actually. And the thing about Harris Manchester, for example, is that everybody knows everybody. If someone doesn’t recognize you, they’re going to be watching anyway.

Dinner at Lynde & Mem’s

I had dinner at Lynde & Mem’s place again tonight. They were having some people over and invited me to join them. And it’s funny, because I’ve only just met them, but I totally felt right at home. Like I was meeting up with old friends.

There was another couple there, too. Adam & Kate. Adam is studying at Wycliffe Hall with Lynde. He’s tall, has blonde hair. Kate has blonde hair as well. They’re one of those couples that looks like a couple.

Lynde introduced me, saying I was doing the Theology degree through the university, rather than through Wycliffe.

“He’s quite brave,” Lynde said with a smile.

Adam and Kate are great. Really easy to talk with. I had never met them before, of course, but we had some great conversation right off the bat. Sharing foreign language class horror studies.

They asked me what I was hoping to do after my studies. I’ve been getting that question a lot.

Before leaving home, we had dinner with some close friends of ours. Doug & Carol. To say goodbye.

They’re the ones who encouraged us to come visit Oxford last summer, to see if this was something we were supposed to do. They’re a big reason we’re here now. Well, why I’m here now, and why Jen’s coming.

But it was during that night, after dinner, that I told Doug & Carol I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do after all of this. That I had initially planned on going into academics, and writing on the side. But that lately I was thinking about maybe ministry and writing. But I wasn’t sure.

I asked them if they thought it was foolish of me to be making such a big change without knowing exactly what I wanted to do with it.

Carol spoke up. She said she thought I had been given a gift with this opportunity, and that maybe I wasn’t supposed to know what was going to happen. Not all the way, at least. Not yet. But that I was just supposed to enjoy it. That’s been encouraging to me, lately. I’ve had to go back to that several times.

I told Adam & Kate how I really just enjoyed reading and writing and talking about this stuff. And that that’s what brought me here. I told them I was still trying to work out what that looked like, but that I knew I wanted to write.

“I feel like that’s where the real value comes from all this,” I told them. “Not necessarily in putting another textbook on the shelf, but writing about Theology in a way that says, ‘This is what this looks like in our life. This is what this means for us. This is why it matters.’ Writing in a way that speaks to people. Not in a dull, dry, academic sense. But in a way that people can relate to. And about the stuff that matters most.”

“If I could do that,” I told them, “I’d be the happiest guy in the world.”

Lots of smiles. Lots of head nods.

Adam was in business before coming here, so we have that in common. He’s going into the ministry when he finishes up at Wycliffe.

They have four kids, and they had them all in five years. I asked if they had planned on four, or if that’s just what they decided on.

“Actually, when we got married, we had planned on having six,” Katie told me. “Then we had one and thought we’d be happy with one.” She laughed. Adam smiled.

“It’s actually something we were just talking about, though,” Adam spoke up. “We thought we were done, but now we’re not sure. We realized it was something we probably needed to pray about.”

“I had started giving away all our baby clothes, and then I realized we hadn’t even prayed about this,” Katie said. “So that’s where we’re at now. We’re going to pray about it and see where that takes us.”

I thought that was encouraging. Me, I’d say, “Yep, four seems like plenty. Let’s call that good.” But I appreciated hearing they were wanting to pray about this before closing the door on the conversation. It made me take a look at my own prayer life. And think about what decisions I make without even thinking twice.

Lynde & Mems invited another guy from Wycliffe Hall, too. A guy by the name of Dominique. He’s from the States. Maui, actually. Lynde told everyone that this must’ve been a calling, because there’s no way anyone would leave Maui for England.

“Yeah, it really is great. Summer all the time. But after a while, you do find yourself wanting something else,” Dominique told us.

He was talking to three people from England, a guy from the Northwest, and a guy who’s been working in England for the past 10 years (Lynde), so he wasn’t getting much sympathy from his audience.

“Yeah, I think they call those people insane,” Adam joked.

Dominique is married, and they have one daughter, but he’s here on his own at this point as well. Another visa delay. But he has it much worse than I do.

He and his wife have been married for 10 years now, and their 10-year anniversary was last week. They had all these plans in store, for how they’d celebrate it here in England, but they celebrated it over skype instead. I felt horrible for him, hearing this.

He hasn’t seen them for a month, and it’s looking like it’ll still be another three weeks or so. Ridiculous.

Mems made another amazing meal. She really is an incredible cook. And it’s funny, because I’ve eaten there twice now, and both times she’s said before dishing up the plates not to feel bad if we don’t like her cooking. But not like she’s seeking your approval, or that she’s looking for your compliments, but that she genuinely wants to make sure you’re not uncomfortable speaking up if you don’t like something.

If you like food, you’ll like her cooking. It’s as simple as that.

She started us off with a mushroom soufflé, which was so good. She apologized for how it looked.

“It’s supposed to be puffier, but it looks rather like a pancake,” she said, from the head of the table.

Everyone raved about it. As they should have. It looked amazing. You could tell she took the time to prepare it just right. Little slices of mushrooms and cream peaking out from the top of the pillow-shaped soufflé. It was fresh out-of-the-oven warm, and it melted in your mouth.

Adam told us about how, growing up, his parents would often have students stay with them. College students. That’s just something his parents wanted to do to be able to help. And so they’d get people from all over the world. He said he got to meet a lot of great people that way.

“I still stay in touch with several of them, actually,” he told us.

“We had one guy from Japan staying with us. For about 15 months. And my mom wanted to prepare food she thought he’d enjoy. Food that would remind him of home. And so she cooked a lot of fish. About three nights a week. Well, there was one night he was away, for something, and my mom decided she’d cook fish anyways. The other student living with us at the time, he was from Sweden, he asked if we could not have fish. If we could have something else. My mom told him she had been planning to cook fish for this other student who was staying with them, the one from Japan. But this guy told her that actually, the Japanese student hated fish. He just didn’t want to say anything to make her feel bad. 15 months, three times a week, and he never said anything!”

Everyone laughed.

“That’s totally their culture, though,” Lynde said. I remember him telling me had spent some time in Japan. On business.

“Yeah, it is,” Adam said. “But he’d go back for seconds. Every time.”

We all laughed again.

After everyone had finished, Mems brought out the main course. Mashed potatoes, green beans and duck. I have only had duck once before, and I wasn’t a fan, so I was actually kind of disappointed to hear this, even though it looked amazing. I didn’t hesitate to dig in, though. And I was surprised. I probably shouldn’t have been, given the track record, but it was so good… It was so well prepared it just fell apart. Super moist. And she served it with this dark, sweet gravy. I’m not sure what it was, or what was in it, but it was amazing.

Lots of “Mmmmm” ‘s and “Oh my… that is good!” ‘s as everyone dug in.

We had some great conversation. Lots of church talk, since we’re all studying Theology. We talked about our experiences with the different lecturers. I told them about my Professor who speaks for an hour straight while holding his glass of water before finally drinking it in one foul swoop to bookend his lecture. They laughed.

We talked about evolution. Which sounds weird for a dinner conversation, but Dominique is doing his Master’s on faith and science. So it made sense.

Lynde gave a well-thought out explanation of where he stood. Of different books he had read, and about how he had actually had the opportunity to preach on this topic at a church, recently.

Adam said he had come to the conclusion that this just isn’t the real issue for him. That he wasn’t going to tie himself down to it one way or the other. That there were more important conversations to be had. More important issues to be settled.

“Like the cross. And sin,” he said. Everyone agreed.

I spoke up. I told him I agreed, but that, for a lot of people who aren’t in the church, who might not believe in this stuff, evolution is the issue. Or at least a real issue. And that sin just isn’t. Even though it is to us.

“If you go in saying, this is the issue. Sin is what we need to be concerned about, then you’re going to end the conversation right there. Because it’s not an issue to them. But evolution is. The tricky thing to balance is being able to have an educated conversation on the topic, and not painting the entirety of Christianity as not caring about the topic of evolution, even if we believe sin is the core issue.”

Nods. All the way around the table. I said that not because I’m deeply interested in evolution. I’m not. I agree with Adam, to be honest. But I think we need to be careful about not side-stepping the conversation. Or cutting it off before it starts.

Sounds like a heavy conversation, I know, but it really was a great time. We talked about Oxford. About all the things to see and do (once our wives arrive). The shrunken head display at one of the museums here, for example.

Mems told Dominique he’d have to have a pretend anniversary date when his wife got in. Adam suggested a place, but Kate told him it was far too expensive.

“Yeah, but this is a 10-year anniversary,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing you break into your pension for!”

We followed up dinner with an amazing roasted pear dessert. On a pastry crust. With a caramel sauce. And vanilla ice cream. Again, amazing.

“It’s not always like this,” Lynde later told us with a smile. “But she really is a great cook.”

Kate asked when Jennifer would be arriving, on their way out. I told her Wednesday.

“Oh, that’s great!”

“So, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for date nights, then?” Mems asked.

I laughed. “Yeah, will definitely be nice to have her here, that’s for sure.”

“Does she know anyone here in Oxford?” Kate asked.

“No, she doesn’t. She knows zero people,” I told them. “And that’s going to be a tough transition, because we have a pretty great network of friends and family back home she’s saying ‘goodbye’ to.”

“Oh… Well, don’t worry. We’ll have to meet her. She can hang out with us,” Kate said. “She’ll be properly Mems and Katified when she arrives.”

It’s pretty amazing the people I’ve met already at this point. I really do already feel like I know some amazing people. So incredibly friendly. Genuinely friendly. And not awkwardly friendly, like they want you to join their cult or something. But the kind of people who you feel like you’ve known for a long time, even though you haven’t. And hospitable. The kind of people who invite over a perfect stranger. Just to get to know them.

That’s really been a blessing. It makes being so far from home not feel so far from home.

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