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Those who enjoyed reading about our journey to Oxford to pursue a calling to study theology, and all of the adventures that followed, will appreciate knowing this story is being turned into a book, to be published by Leafwood Publishers in February 2015.

Here is the first look at the cover art for Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again.

Called_final

Click here to learn more. And you can sign up below to make sure you receive all the news about Called as the book release gets closer.

I was heading out to the gym this morning, to start my day, when I noticed a letter at the foot of my door. Beng must’ve left it for me. It was a letter from my Mom. I was pretty excited to see that. I wasn’t expecting any more mail for a while. And there’s nothing quite like a hand-written letter.

Since I was meeting someone to workout, it’d have to wait. Gave me something to look forward to when I got home.

Tim’s stolen computer

I met up with Tim at the gate outside Harris Manchester on my way to the gym. He had made it the week before. I had not. We have free memberships to LA Fitness here in Oxford through our college. I’m not one to let something free go to waste.

The night before, Tim’s laptop and cell phone were stolen from the college library. He had left them out, just like everyone else, and someone had not closed the library door all the way. Apparently someone wandered in from off the street and slipped Tim’s stuff into his jacket before walking right back out. Made me sick hearing about it.

“The worst part about it is, that’s just what everyone does, you know? It’s not like you were the only one to leave yours out,” I told him.

I had actually been sitting in the library yesterday when Tim came in and left his things.

“I have a tutorial to get to, but I have to save my spot,” he had told me while setting out his laptop at the desk across from mine. I didn’t think twice about it. I left before it happened.

“Yeah, I’m never going to do that again,” he told me.

I told him I felt horrible. And partly responsible, since I had just written about the fact that that’s what everyone does here.

“It’s okay. I’ll let you pitch in on my new Macbook,” he said with a laugh.

A letter from Mom

I returned home from the gym for a quick shower and then I was back to school to get to work on some reading for one of my essays. I didn’t have much time, but I wanted to read the letter my Mom had sent. Like I said, I really appreciate handwritten notes, and hearing from people. I’m a words guy. They mean a lot to me.

It was a wonderful letter. My mom’s a great writer. You can hear her voice in her words.

She told me how proud she is of me. She told me my Heavenly Father is proud of me, too. And that she could see that by what I’m doing. By being here. That showed He was proud, and that He has richly blessed me because of my faithfulness.

Along with the letter, she sent a photo of us. From my childhood. I’m the one in the blue.

Thanks for the letter and photo, Mom. I love you.

Skype with David

I Skyped with one of my very good friends back home tonight. David. He’s a great friend of mine from college. Jen and I both really appreciate he and his wife, Monika. They’ve been great friends to us over the years.

They’re having their first child this winter. In February. I’m thrilled for them. They’re going to be amazing parents, too. I told them that. I’m just disappointed I won’t be there for it.

It was nice to catch up with David. And to share with him all about the experience here.

He asked what my favorite part about being here was.

I told him it was probably just being in the world Lewis used to occupy. Going to his old pub. Meeting people who knew him. Hearing their stories about him.

“I’m going to tea at his old house in a week. That’s just crazy to me,” I told David. “It feels like I’m living in a dream world, you know?”

I told David that I’ve actually felt more encouraged about writing, lately. Which is funny, being in such an academic environment. Where so many people I’ve met already have a PhD, and they’re changing fields and getting another.

“It seems kind of counter-intuitive, really,” I told him. “If anything, this place should make me want to do something more academic.”

I told him how I feel like all of a sudden, for whatever reason, I’ve been able to come out and say, “I want to write.” And that’s been a big step for me.

I’m not sure what that looks like exactly, but I know that’s what I want to do. More than anything else. And I feel like this is leading me into that spot where I can do that. Unapologetically. Even more so than when I was back home. And that’s encouraging.

I told David about the letter from my Mom. Telling me this is God’s blessing. That it’s a gift. And how I needed that reminder. Instead of just thinking this is all some big mistake on the part of the school. Or a series of fortunate events for me.

Book hunt

After a quick shower and a bite to eat, I hopped on my bike and hurried back to the University. I had hoped to wrap up a book for one of my essays today at the Radcliffe Camera. I hadn’t been able to check it out of the Harris Manchester Library, as someone had beat me to it, but I could read it at the Rad Cam.

I got there this afternoon, a couple hours before they closed. I planned to dig in and plow through it. The place was packed. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with this plan.

I found an open spot that no one appeared to be in, but there was a book still setting in its place. I whispered to the girl seated next to it if someone was sitting there. They weren’t, she told me, in a hushed whisper.

I sat down and pulled out my laptop, to take notes. It’s incredibly quiet in the Rad Cam. Just as much if not more so than the library at Harris Manchester. Opened up my laptop and Barlow Girl’s “I need you to love me” began cranking. Loudly. Apparently it was playing when I closed my computer last. Yes, yes, Barlow Girl. That’s right. Laugh it up.

I frantically tried muting it, but of course it wouldn’t respond.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said in a hurried, hushed voice. Lots of stares were being shot my way. Lots of daggers. Finally I just had to close the thing up. I plugged my earplugs into the laptop so I could open it without the music playing again. I was so embarrassed. I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. Like I should be wearing a shirt that says, “I’m an American, and I have no idea what I’m doing here.”

Turns out I wasn’t even able to get the book I needed there. Someone else had it. At their desk probably. It wasn’t on the shelf. So, after making a complete fool of myself, I packed up and left.

I think I may have heard applause as I made my way out the door, but I don’t know for sure.

Dinner at Mitre

After getting some reading done at Harris Manchester (and doing my best not to make a nuisance of myself), I met up with Cole at Mitre for dinner. I hadn’t been there before, but he highly recommended it. The words, “beef eater” were scrawled across the top of the entrance. That was reason enough for me to give it a try.

It’s an old pub that’s build on catacombs, so he told me.

“They used to give tours, but I don’t think they do anymore.”

There’s a restaurant and a bar. We made our way back to the bar. Not shady at all. Much more low-key than the restaurant side, from the looks of things. Low-ceilings, dark wood. It was great. I love the pub atmosphere.

Riding around town this evening on my bike, and being in the pub tonight, I found myself thinking, “I’m really going to miss this when I’m not around it all the time.” England. Oxford. It’s a pretty great place.

It’s kind of funny, you get here and everything feels so foreign that you just want to go home. Where everything is normal. Where you can plug something into an electrical outlet without having to think too hard about it. And then it seems like someone flips a switch and you start appreciating everything around you. Kind of how it felt tonight.

I went with the rump steak tonight. That’s Cole’s go-to dish, and I thought I’d give it a try. I was at the “beef eater,” after all.

It was really good, too. Not sure if we have rump steak back at home, but I don’t remember seeing it before. We need to make more steak out of rump in the States, I think.

Had a great time talking with Cole tonight. We talked about a bunch of things. Lewis, of course. Tutorials and essays. How to get through your reading list without actually reading the books in their entirety. It’s basically impossible, I realized today.

I shared with Cole about losing Hayley this past spring, before coming to Oxford. And how that had made it even more difficult leaving home.

I told him how seeing that my writing had had an impact on her, considering where she was at in life, and the road she was walking, that that had made me want to write even more.

“It just made me think, ‘maybe I can do that for other Hayley’s of the world’, you know?”

I told Cole about how we had gone out to get tattoos the day before Hayley’s funeral. All six of us. Jen’s parents. Her sister Leann and her husband Ben. And us. As a way to remember her. Not because that was like any of us to do, but because that was like her. And how we did that knowing she was looking down on us and just laughing.

I told Cole about Hayley’s memorial service. About how I had said a few words, and how I had invited those who were having a tough time to come up afterward so I could pray with them.

“There were some people there that day who were living a pretty rough life,” I told him. “And I knew that going into it. So I felt like I needed to do this, even though I had no idea if anyone would come up. I ended up meeting a bunch of Haley’s friends that day. And praying with them. For two hours I was there. It was amazing. And I couldn’t help but think, ‘How could there be anything more rewarding than this?'”

“Sounds like you’ve got a mission,” Cole said from across the table with a smile.

“Yeah. Yeah I guess so.”

Riding home in the cool night air tonight, I was excited. Thinking I am here for a reason. Thinking about the idea that all of these experiences are leading somewhere.

Like Carol said before we left, I might not know where exactly now. But I will. And I already feel like it’s becoming more and more clear.

I arrived at the school this morning about a half hour before I was supposed to meet with the Principal. He invites each individual student to his office before the start of a new term. To meet. To say “hi.” And to wish them the best with their studies.

Usually a meeting with the principal is not a good thing, but I was so impressed when I heard he makes time to meet with each student. I thought that said a lot about him. Which is funny, because this is the same guy who has a painting of himself hanging on the wall over the head table in the dining hall. I’m not sure if he has a say in it or not, probably not, actually, as there are many other portraits on the walls, most likely including past principals, but I’m not sure I could do that. Eat with a picture of myself hanging over my head, I mean. I’d probably asked that it be turned to face the wall while I ate.

Since my meeting wasn’t until 10:55 in the morning, I had planned on being about an hour and a half early  to study, but I’m quickly finding I need to give myself more time in my planning for the day. Something always comes up. Everything always takes longer than expected here.

The Canlis of colleges

I’ve said this before, but the people of Oxford University really are amazingly kind. Particularly those at Harris Manchester College.

I arrived at the school this morning and made my way through the college halls en route to the bathroom to dry off my sweaty forehead (which has become the norm anytime I arrive anywhere in Oxford, it seems, from all the walking), and I was stopped by Leslie (the Senior tutor).

“Rrrryan?” she said with a hint of question in her voice, pointing at me with her index finger and a look of hopefulness on her face.

“Yes,” I said with a smile. “And. . .Leslie?”

“Yes,” she smiled.

“Good. Good.”

I climbed the stairs to the library to get a bit of studying done before my meeting, and I was approached by the Assistant Librarian, Katrina, who acknowledged me by name and wished me a good morning. Just a few minutes into my studies, the Head Librarian, Sue, wandered through the aisles with a smile on her face.

“Good morning, Ryan,” she said with a smile and a hushed voice as she passed by my desk.

This place really is amazing in the way they make you feel at home. It’s incredible, really, that the faculty know my name after less than a week. Harris Manchester College is the Canlis of colleges.

Meeting the Principal

At about quarter till 11, I made my way out of the library and toward the Principal’s office for our meeting. I was walking out of the library like it was no big deal when my eyes caught sight of the stained glass windows at the east end of the open room and I was shaken back to the beauty of this room. But it’s everywhere, that’s the thing. It’s not one room, one hall or one building, it’s all over. It’s almost too much to take in.

After arriving early and waiting for the meeting before mine to wrap up, Professor Waller opened his office door and welcomed me in. It was a beautiful office. Not huge, by any means, but it had large windows that overlooked the college’s courtyard. Green gardens and trees and stone buildings provided a beautiful backdrop for our meeting as the late morning sun shone through the windows.

He is obviously a very bright guy. Quickly, but still very warmly spoken. Immediately he made me feel welcome and at ease.

He began by asking how my transition was going (something each of the faculty who meet me seem to be genuinely interested in).

“Well it really is a dream come true to be here,” I told him. “But it has been a bit overwhelming. It’s a lot to adjust to. More than I thought it would be.”

“Yes, I believe it’s a bit like putting on a damp swim suit,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable at first, but you won’t even notice once you hop in and get going.”

He asked where we were living, encouraged me to bring Jen by after she arrives for a meal or two and to meet everyone. Then he told me he had two things he wanted me to know.

“First, we are very excited to have you here.” He spoke with the most sincerity, that even though this seemed like something that might be expected to be said by a college Principal such as himself, if he didn’t mean it, he had me fooled.

“We really do think you’re going to do great here, and that you’re going to have a great time,” he continued.

“Secondly, I want you to know that you can always come speak to me. If ever there is anything you’d like to discuss, please just let me know. And, of course, we will undoubtedly run into each other around campus.”

He wrapped up the meeting with a beaming smile and more warm wishes before sending me on my way. Leaving the sunlit room, I felt like I was walking out of a little room of happiness. Incredible guy.

Meetings, meetings, meetings

My days this week have been filled with a lot of meetings. Introductions to how to use the many different libraries. Meeting our professors. Meeting Theology faculty throughout the university. Meetings. Meetings. Meetings. Papers. Papers. Papers. And, after each meeting, you wonder how much of the fine print is really necessary, and how many important things you’re going to miss if you don’t read it all.

Following lunch at Harris Manchester I had a meeting with the rest of the Theology students at the university, as opposed to just our college. It was in a new, modern building, which oddly felt like home, after being in buildings that were built centuries ago.

I met another “Tim” after the meeting. (I promise I’m not just repeating names to make it easy on everyone). He’s a really nice, British guy who is preparing for ordination. After hearing where I was from, he mentioned that his parents loved vacationing in the Pacific Northwest.

“They just got back from… Mt. Rainier, is it?”

He said he and his wife often listen to a pastor from Seattle.

“Mark Driscoll?” I asked, before he could finish his sentence.

“Yeah,” he said with a grin. We shared a lot of the same interests in different speakers and teachers. It was refreshing to find someone so far from home who enjoyed many of the same teachers I enjoyed from back home. He gave me some tips on ways to get plugged in at the school, and suggested some things to check out, after hearing about my interest in CS Lewis.

“You can still visit his office over in Magdalene College, you know.” He said. “And you can take the bus ride up the mountain from his famous conversion, where he said he began a non-believer, but by the time he was on the mountain, he was whole-heartedly a believer in Christ.”

An American voice

After wrapping up my final meeting of the day, I made my way to the Lower Radcliffe Camera. It’s a beautiful, rounded building that’s part of the Bodleian Library.

It’s where much of the Theology books are kept, and so it’s a great place for me to catch up on reading for class. It’s also one of the parts of the library that only students can enter. You show your Bodleian Library Card and your bags are checked upon entering. You’re greeted by a sign that makes sure you know pictures are not to be taken, and you enter through two large wooden doors.

The ceiling is a beautiful arching ceiling of stone. Books line the walls of the library, while stone columns climb into the ceiling. It’s dimly lit, kind of like a casino, so you never actually know what time of the day it is while you’re there. Probably for the best. Long wooden tables are kept in each aisle, with lamps peering over each student catching up on their reading.

There’s a reserve section in this part of the library that keeps some of the more rare books. It’s also where the staff are seated. I asked about getting some help with some copies before leaving and about halfway through the conversation I stopped mid-sentence and said, “Wait, you’re American! I’m Ryan, and I’m from Seattle!” (Seattle = Bellingham when you’re in England, by the way)

“Lisa, Kentucky,” she said with a smile.

It’s funny, I actually noticed something didn’t feel quite right about the conversation until I realized it was her lack of a British accent.

Oxford is such a diverse place, though. I hear more languages spoken in a day than I’ve probably heard most of my life before arriving here. People literally come from all parts of the world.

Cornish Pasties

The reason I was late arriving to Harris Manchester this morning was because I was looking for an office supply store I had been to a few days before. To pickup flash cards. But I had a heck of a time finding it again. When I finally did, I was met with a bit of a language barrier.

“Hi, where are your flash cards?”

“Postcards?” the employee asked, pointing to a wall obviously lacking flash cards.

“No. Uhh… how about index cards?” I asked, trying to think of some other word they might be called. Maybe punters. Seems like everything is called a punter over here.

On my way to Harris Manchester for my meeting, I passed a place advertising something called “Cornish Pasties.”

“Sounds awful,” I thought to myself. But, a woman was grabbing one for breakfast. So apparently someone must like them.

Somehow the idea of a cornish pasty had become engrained in my head, because when I left the library this evening, all I could think about was grabbing a cornish pasty for dinner. It was after 7 at this point, and I knew I had much more studying to do once I got home. This would save me some time, I thought to myself.

After a bit of wandering, I found the cornish pasty stand. Only to find it closed. My cornish pasty introduction will have to wait for another day, it seems.

On my way out of the city, I passed a woman with a pipe. The curved kind, that slopes to the grown before curving back up to allow smoke to rise to the sky. Walking passed her, it smelled wonderful. It smelled like my grandfather, and for a brief moment, I almost felt like I was back in his living room, as a child.

Coming up for air

I stopped by the market to pickup something to prepare in lieu of cornish pasties for dinner. My second trip was much smoother than the first.

Walking home along the cobblestone road leading out of Oxford Center, groceries in hand, I found myself thinking, “I might actually pull this off. This might actually work out.”

And it was a relief. Like I had just come up for air after holding my breath all week.

I knew I needed to arrive in Oxford by today, as I have to take some Greek preparatory classes before classes actually begin, and that began today. With a test. I spent the majority of my first day unpacking, meeting the family I’ll be staying with, and studying. Less than exciting, I know, but it’s what needed to be done.

This will be a quick post because, as my test showed, I have a lot of studying to do!

I accidentally slept in until 11 today. My first day here and I slept through half of it. My cell phone alarm did not work (due to the time change), so I got a few extra hours of shut-eye. Which was probably a good thing, as I am feeling pretty well rested. Really haven’t felt the jet lag at all, which everyone has been surprised about.

The family I’m living with had already left when I woke up (which I felt terrible about), but I met them when they returned from Felix’s soccer match (Felix is their youngest, he’s 10). They invited me over for tea that afternoon, and we talked. It was great. They have an amazing home. Very large. With a beautiful back yard. We talked over tea for a bit. They told me they were at the oldest museum in the world last night (which just happens to be right here in Oxford) for a private dinner party. I told them I spent an extra hour in Poland due to a delay and all I could hear was Polish when I went to sleep.

I was off pretty quick after tea for my exam. It was at Christ Church. Only about a mile away. And a beautiful walk.

Oh, by the way, I walked by this on the way to my exam…

For those who don’t know, the above picture is of CS Lewis’ favorite watering hole, The Eagle and Child, where he used to go with friends like Tolkein and others.

If you haven’t seen pictures of Christ Church, do a Google Image search for it. It’s breathtaking. I remember visiting the school when Jen and I came over last summer and telling Jen, “How cool would it be to actually take class here?” Now I am. Crazy.

I really enjoyed meeting my Greek classmates. They all seem really nice. And they’re from all over the world. It’s pretty cool. We were going around the world introducing ourselves, and I couldn’t help feeling like I had woken up and all of a sudden I had found myself in the middle of a Harry Potter movie. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so excited. Picture a shaken up bottle of champagne with a smile drawn on the front, and that’s a good picture of what I looked like.

We were supposed to be competent in the first five chapters of our Greek textbook when we arrived. Due to all the craziness of the last couple weeks (visa snag, moving, etc.), I just simply did not have the time necessary to devote to this. As a result, I didn’t do nearly as well as I had wanted to on my exam.

We had a class dinner after the exam. And social hour. To meet our classmates and professors. It was the awkward kind of dinner, where the food is really good, and you really want to eat it, but you can’t actually eat it, because you’re standing the whole time, trying to have a conversation. I managed to do an okay job of eating most of it, though, and it was actually quite good. A chicken and pepper dish. Beef stew. Pasta. Rice. Salad. Potatoes. All very good.

I found my professor and apologized for my nightmare performance on the exam. I explained that I really was a good student, and a hard worker, and I planned to catch up. She told me not to worry at all. That I’d be just fine.

I went on to explain how I had gotten here. How Lewis had influenced me and uprooted me from the states to pursue this dream. That put a smile on her face. She is very friendly. Incredibly bright. And quite funny. She told me one of her former students is now living in C.S. Lewis’ home. And that he is actually staying in the room Lewis used to live in! She then went on to tell me how she had stupidly (her words, not mine) never made it over for tea, but that she’d have to contact him and have the both of us go over for tea! That was the point I began drooling all over her. Not really, but I was stunned.

Which is why I need to get going now. I don’t want to let this professor down. I’ve got to make it to Lewis’ old place for tea!

So, lots of studying to do tonight (it’s 11 p.m. already here), and then I plan to study in the morning again before class. Things are going to be busy, that’s for sure. But it’s going to be amazing, too. Here we go…

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