Monday: Smiling in the rain and an informal date night

I rode my bike to class Monday morning. For Greek. In the rain. It was coming down pretty good. And I was soaked by about halfway to class.

Normally I would be terribly frustrated by this. I am not a fan of being in sopping wet clothes. Like many, I suppose.

But it didn’t take long for me to remind myself that I was going to class. That I’m studying Theology. At Oxford. That I’m doing something I thought only a year ago I’d never actually get to do. And yet, here I am. Wet or not. I’m living out my dream.

Tacos and cards

We decided to stay in Monday night. Rather than go to dinner at college. To have dinner at home. Just the two us. And to play cards. We made tacos. More mexican food. And they were great.

It was a bit of an informal date night. And I loved it. It felt like we were back at home. Minus the fact that we were always so busy running back and forth at home, from here to there, that we never actually stopped to do something like this. Just the two of us. And I’m so thankful for that time together.

Tuesday: Dinner with Lewis’ godson

I had a load of work to get done early on this week. An essay to read for and write. And a fairly large Greek exam to study for. And some Greek translation. Not much free time whatsoever, but we had been invited to join a small group of people for dinner on Tuesday night. At a French restaurant here in Oxford. Pierre Victoire. On a little, brick road called Clarendon Street, with stringed lights criss-crossing overhead.

CS Lewis’ godson, Laurence Harwood, was going to be speaking at the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s lecture on Tuesday night. Sharing memories from his childhood of growing up around Lewis. And he was going out to dinner with a small group of people beforehand.

As there would be only a handful of people at dinner, it’d be pretty tough to pass this up. With as much work as I had to get done, I’m normally one to say, “I’d love to go, but…”. Fortunately Jen told me I needed to go. She was right. As she almost always is. She decided to come with, too. And I’m so glad she did.

It was so neat to hear stories from this man about Lewis. About the Lewis others never get the opportunity to hear.

“I feel like the movie Shadowlands paints this picture of Lewis that just isn’t accurate,” someone spoke up during dinner. Speaking to Laurence. I can’t now remember who. “That of a standoffish scholar. One who doesn’t allow anyone to get close to him. And one who particularly wouldn’t want to be around children. How does that compare with how you remember him?”

“Quite right. It’s awful. I always loved it when Jack came around,” Laurence told us. (Lewis went by “Jack” with all of his close friends, by the way).

“As children, we’d be playing games when he’d come over, and he’d get right down there with us. On the floor. At our level. He was genuinely interested in what we were playing, and he’d play with us. Not in a condescending way. He’d always beat us, of course, but we really enjoyed him.”

Laurence told us about how you could feel it when Lewis entered the room. Or Jack. That he was just one of those people with a powerful presence. But not in a bad, or scary way. That, even as a child, Laurence thoroughly enjoyed Lewis.

He told us how his father (a close friend of Lewis’) would always mentally prepare before Lewis arrived, knowing the mental battles that would ensue. And he told us how, even as a child, he’d love to listen in to the conversations. Not because he followed a word of it, but because of the sheer passion that would pour out from it. And how he loved being around the energy.

Laurence told us how Lewis never pushed his faith on him. That, even as a child, Lewis never bought him a book, subtly implying what he should believe. “Even though that was his role, as my godfather.”

And he told us about the letters Lewis would write. That he must’ve written more than 200,000 during his lifetime. How he’d spend a couple hours every day. Responding to those who wrote him. And how, as a child, Lewis would often include illustrations in his letters. To make a point. If, for example, Lewis wrote about a book he was writing that had a bear in it, he’d draw a picture of a bear. Not in the margin, but right there in the middle of the paragraph. Laurence told us how he’d always look forward to receiving these letters.

It reminded me of my grandpa. It seemed like something he’d do. Or used to do. For me. As a child.

Laurence shared a slideshow with us during his lecture. Old photos of Lewis. And he could tell a story for each. One of the photos was of Lewis sitting on a hill with his good friend Owen Barfield and Laurence’s parents. The photo is still hanging on the walls of Eagle & Child.

Laurence has a book out. I didn’t manage to get a copy. I wouldn’t have mind having one. Signed. But they were gone by the time I managed to make it to the front of the room after his talk.

We made it home around 10 that night. After dinner. And the talk. Me walking my bike. Jen walking beside me.

Jen skyped with her family. I made my way upstairs to study. I had a Greek exam the next morning. 10:00 quickly turned into 1:30. After feeling I had crammed enough, I made my way downstairs. To make my second dinner. Leftover tacos.

Turning in at 2:00. It’s becoming a terrible habit.

Thursday: small group

We made it to small group Thursday night. At St. Andrew’s Church. Just down the street from us.

It was the second time we went there. The two of us.

We talked with a girl over dinner who moved here several years ago. She told us this was the first church she visited after arriving. And how she hasn’t been anywhere since. She told us she wasn’t a fan of the whole church shopping business. I nodded my head, telling her I could respect that.

We’ve been to one other church since arriving. We went to a small community church with Lyndon and Mim last weekend. Before joining them for lunch at their home afterward. We had a great time. The food is always so good. And those two are just amazing people to be around. It was Jen’s first time meeting Mim, and the kids. She loved them.

But I really haven’t felt like visiting many other churches. There’s one Rob and Vanessa go to I wouldn’t mind checking out. But, I guess I feel like, church is about more than just the message, you know? I feel like I’m realizing it’s really what you make of it, if that makes sense. I’m realizing it’s probably more about finding a community and being a part of it than what you get out of it. Than about how it tastes.

This church is made up of a group of people. Broken people. Not perfect. That church is the same way. Maybe a little better looking people. Maybe a bit more well off. But still broken. This church may have a decent speaker. That one might be a bit better. But I feel like, maybe that’s not the point. I don’t know. Sorry if I’m taking a bit of a tangent here. I guess it’s just, we walked out of church that night, and I couldn’t help but think how grateful I was for the community we had found.

Two girls had prayed for Jennifer that night. Separately. Not because they had to. But because they wanted to. They prayed that this transition would go smoothly for her. That she would be comforted. That she would know what it is she’s supposed to be doing. That she would build friendships here in Oxford. And, afterward, one of the girls gave her a hug. Eleanor. The one from Ireland. The one that got me with the Sleepless in Seattle joke.

And, I don’t know. I guess that just took me back a bit. That we could come all this way. So far from home. And find people who want to care for us. Who genuinely want to help and love us. And I don’t know. I guess that’s the beauty of the Church, in a way. That we can have a family so far from home. No matter where we are, that we can find someone who has received from Him the same love that has been poured out onto us, and who want to share that love with us. It’s nice to be recipients of that kind of love.

Walking home, I told Jen how thankful I was for that. She agreed.

Friday: A story in Greek, drinking from a fire hydrant and a date night with Jen

I’m about ready to break up with my bike lock, I’m afraid. Or Justin’s bike lock, for his bike, I should say. It’s been neglected for quite some time. It’s beginning to rust a bit inside, I believe. But it’s terribly frustrating. I find myself spending more time trying to lock it or unlock it than I actually do trying to get somewhere. It took me five minutes to ride a mile and a half to class this morning. It took me eight minutes to unlock my bike lock.

I arrived in front of the exam schools for Greek right on time this morning. Then I literally watched Rhona arrive several minutes later. And Lyndon several minutes after that. All the while I struggled to get my bike lock to release so I could lock it up and go to class.

It was dreadful. The sweat was beading up on my forehead and dripping off by the time I was through. I wasn’t sweating when I arrived.

But then I get out of class and it works great. The first time. It’s like that terrible girlfriend. The one who treats you horribly 99% of the time, but then that one day, she smiles at you. Or says something nice. And you think to yourself, “Okay, I’ll give her one more shot.”

It’s funny, because at home, I wouldn’t think twice about buying a new bike lock. But here, the idea of spending £25 on a new bike lock. Well, that’s groceries. Ridiculous. This girlfriend may be around for awhile.

At the end of this life

Rhona was telling a story when I arrived in class. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is the majority of our time in Greek. Anecdotal stories. But I liked this one.

She was talking about a man who had served in the first World War. About how he had literally come from nothing. And how he had worked hard, making a name for himself after the war. As a businessman. And how he managed to do quite well for himself. And how he was able to take care of his family.

Rhona told us about how, when he had grown old, he began to lose much of his memory. And his general awareness began to fade away. So that his family had trouble talking with him as they once did. But the one way his family was still able to connect with him was by reminding him of this fact. How he had taken care of them.

She told us how his daughter would visit him. How she’d bring him a cup of tea and say, “I am so thankful for all you’ve done for our family. You really have provided so much for us.” And he’d smile. He’d remember. And they’d connect over that thought.

Rhona finished the story, pushed her index finger down into the Greek textbook she had been holding open in her left hand and said, “Right…” as she seems to do when she transitions from her stories back to Greek.

I still have no idea what the context was for this story. Probably a Greek vocab word of some sort. But I liked it. I think that’s what we all want in a way, isn’t it? To be able to look back at the end of this road and know that we made a difference. To know that, somewhere along the line, our life had an impact on another life. Or lives. And to smile at the thought of it. I know that’s what I want.

Drinking from a fire hydrant

It’s the end of week five of classes here. Crazy to think. It’s gone by so quickly. Four more weeks and this term will be done. And we’ll be getting ready for Christmas. Hard to believe.

School is a frantic pace here. Unsurprisingly, I suppose. But you can see it on people’s faces. Tired. Lots of yawns in class. Baggy eyes. People don’t want to respond to questions like they did before.

But, oddly, I’ve found myself feeling better about things. I’ve felt like I’m beginning to adjust to the pace. You arrive here and quickly find yourself stunned by the pace. Wondering how you’ll ever keep up the sprint, when it seems like you’re running a marathon. You find yourself certain you’re never going to be able to do it. That you’re going to fail. It feels so overwhelming. But then you just do it. You realize you have a pile of work to get done, and not much time to get it done in, but you do.

And I think it’s probably that way with most things in life. We all have things that seem impossible. Or overwhelming. We find ourselves wondering how in the world it’s all going to work out. But then you just go after it. You get your hands dirty. And it works out. But if we never get our hands dirty, then our fears are right. It will be impossible.

It’s a bit like drinking out of a fire hydrant, being here. The workload. You can feel bad. And get frustrated. Over how difficult it is. Because it is. And it seems unreasonable that someone doesn’t turn it down just a bit. Or you can realize everyone’s drinking out of the same fire hydrant. And it’s not going to slow down when it comes to your turn. You simply do as much as you can and find contentment in that. That’s how I’ve managed to keep my sanity in it all, at least.

I received my first perfect exam in Greek this morning. From the exam I took Wednesday morning. After staying up until 2. Sorry if it sounds as though I’m bragging, it’s just, when I arrived, I was getting only a handful of questions right. Literally. Four or five out of 25. It’s nice to feel like you’re able to get a decent drink from the hydrant every now and then. I’m sure I’ll be drowning again in only a few days.

Dinner from a truck and Romeo & Juliet

We had a date night in Oxford tonight. Jen and I. Jen noticed the other day that Romeo & Juliet was playing at the Oxford Playhouse. And I had been wanting to eat out of a food truck parked in the city center. So we put the two together and we had ourselves a date night.

I hadn’t realized it before, but the name of this particular food truck was Husein’s. Can’t say it didn’t give me a bit of pause. But I was still excited. Jen has always refused to eat from the taco trucks back home, even though I love them. So this was a treat.

A woman was waiting for her food when we arrived, so we had some time to look over the menu.

And it’s a good thing. The menu was all over the map. They had everything. Pizza. Kebabs. Burgers. And egg burgers. I’m still not quite sure what an egg burger is.

Jen went with the burger and chips. I decided to try the Kebab. Which isn’t what we’d think of by a kebab back home. No meat on a stick here. Which I was disappointed to find out.

Hot chunks of chicken and lamb were served on a warmed piece of naan bread. Then they piled on mixed lettuce and cabbage and onions. A couple tomatoes and pieces of cucumber. And then a good dose of tzatziki sauce to top it all off.

We found a seat beside a large statue in the middle of the city center. On the stairs. Cars passing by on either side. Under the dark night sky, lit up by the shops that lined the road.

I had no idea how I was going to eat my pile o’ kebab. But I did. It was messy. Not quite as messy as a birth, mind you, but pretty messy. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

I told Jen it was pretty good, but the Alternative Tuck was still the best deal in town. She agreed. I told her I got thinking about it this week, and I realized I can’t remember the last time I ate something other than paninis from the Alternative Tuck for lunch.

She nodded.

“It’s the highlight of my day,” she said. “It gets me into town.”

I’m not alone.

We wrapped up our food and made our way down the street to the Oxford Playhouse. Just a few minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

I figure if you’re going to take in a Shakespeare performance, England’s not a bad place to do so. The accents made it seem, well, like it was supposed to be performed, I guess.

It made me remember when Jen and I visited England last summer. And when we toured London. We got to see a small church hidden down a terribly tight lane. It was the location where Shakespeare’s work was first performed. For the Queen. With Shakespeare himself playing the lead role. It was pretty unbelievable.

Tonight’s performance was a pretty modern take on the story. The dialogue was the same, but the characters looked like they were straight out of London. Mercutio wore Chuck Taylor’s. Romeo wore his jeans tucked into high tops. Juliet wore a flannel button up shirt over a pink dress, over black tights, with high, dark-colored lace up boots.

But the performance was actually quite good. Apart from Juliet. I told Jen she reminded me of Kristen Stewart. She agreed.

“I didn’t like her,” she said. “She wasn’t how I pictured Juliet.”

“Too flighty,” I suggested.

But it made me realize how brilliant Shakespeare was. And why his works still draw crowds. He really was amazing with words. I enjoyed that part of it, for sure. Listening to him paint a picture of the dawning sun. Or describe the pain of losing someone you love.

And his works are so unlike modern works. Leaving you hanging. Feeling so unresolved. Not neat and tidy in the least bit. A bit like life, I suppose.

We decided to wrap up the night with a stop into G&D’s for ice cream. Not a bad way to wrap up a great date night.

Things are changing

I love our walks home. Jen and I together. Not driving. But walking. Sharing the cool night together. Feeling the pavement underfoot as we catch up on life. And all that’s been happening.

Things are changing quickly here. The leaves are falling from the trees. The same richly colored leaves that provided cover for a streetlamp only a couple weeks before…

…have now fallen to the ground. Leaving the skeletal tree limbs to stretch out into the night sky. And the streetlamp naked to those passing by.

Things are changing so quickly, it seems.

The Dream Giver

Steve told me the other night he’s reading a book he gave me two Christmases ago. The Dream Giver. He’s re-reading it. With Jamie.

It’s a great read, if you haven’t already. Not the kind of book I’d normally pick up for myself, but I read it because I trusted Steve’s thoughts on it. The first part of the book is a story. About someone who decides to follow their dreams. A “Nobody” from “Nowhere.” That’s the main character. And the story is about all of the obstacles he faces as he steps out in pursuit of his dream.

I remember reading this book and thinking how it was a great story, but that it must’ve been written for someone else. I simply wasn’t the type of person to have dreams. And I certainly wasn’t the type of person to go after my dreams. And yet, here we are. In Oxford. In pursuit of a dream. It’s still so hard to believe.

Thanks for daring me to dream big, Steve.

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