Archives for posts with tag: Dad

Saturday: Museum & Mere Christianity

Cole had told me on Friday over tea that he was planning on visiting the Ashmoleon the next day. A museum here in Oxford just down the street from the Eagle & Child. I told him I had been wanting to go since arriving, but that I hadn’t found anytime. I told him I’d love to join him now that the term was wrapped up. So I did.

Jen woke up with a headache Saturday morning. She powered her way through a workout with some of her girlfriends here in Oxford, but she didn’t have much in her after that. She told me to go on ahead and visit the Ashmoleon with Cole without her. And to pick her up some coffee on the way home. So I did.

The Ashmoleon is a beautiful building. With large stone columns and a circulating glass door welcoming visitors. Inside, the building is quite modern, with minimalistic features that seem to stand back and let the museum sights take center stage.

Cole arrived at the museum shortly after I did that rainy afternoon. He had been held up at the post office, mailing some subscriptions of The Chronicle (the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s quarterly publication).

“Sorry, I hate being late,” he apologized as we entered the museum’s Ancient Egypt display.

He then told me he had a gift for me. And to close my eyes. So I did.

It’s an awkward feeling closing your eyes in a public place. You immediately feel vulnerable. I half-opened my eyes after a few seconds, only to see Cole struggling with something in his pocket.

“Keep ’em closed!” he said sharply.

I closed my eyes firmly and lifted my hands to receive the gift. A second later I felt the hard cover of a book fall into my open palms, opening my eyes to gaze over the worn blue cover.

“Oh wow,” I said aloud, turning the book over to read the spine.

Mere Christianity, it read, in faded gold letters.

“No way…,” I said, two or three times.

“It’s a first edition,” Cole informed me with a grin that spread from one side of his face to the other.

“No way,” I said again, but this time louder.

“Oh man, no way!” I said once more, turning the book over in my hands and opening the cover to check. Sure enough, it was. A first edition copy of Mere Christianity. The book that led me to come here to Oxford.

“I’ve never even seen a first-edition copy of this book!” I told him. “Cole, thank you so much. Really, this is incredibly generous.”

Cole told me he had found it at the used bookstore here in Oxford. The one across from Christ Church. Near where he lives. St. Philip’s. And that he wanted to give it to me as a gift. To congratulate me on finishing my first term at Oxford. And as a Christmas gift.

I was stunned.

Somehow I’ve become the kind of guy who receives first edition copies of CS Lewis’ books as gifts, and I’m not quite sure how that works. But it’s amazing. It probably has more to do with the incredible people who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet than with anything about me. But I’m so grateful for it. The books and the amazing friendships.

Sunday: Worrying about tongues

Jennifer and I slept in Sunday morning. On purpose. St. Andrew’s, the church just down the street from where we live, was having their monthly “all ages” service, which we had been told was actually geared more toward the quite young than “all ages.” We had been told it would be a good chance to try out any other churches in Oxford we might be interested in, if we were wanting to do so.

I’m in no way a fan of “church-shopping,” but we thought we’d skip the children’s service this time around and try something else.

We had a dinner that night. At Harris Manchester. And so we found ourselves near the city center right around the time two of our good friends Rob & Vanessa normally go to church. St. Aldate’s.

We gave them a call while walking toward the church, only to find that they were actually going to a different service this weekend, unfortunately. But since we were there, and since we had been wanting to go check it out, we did.

I had heard a lot of great stuff about this church. That the teaching was the best in Oxford. And that it was a really lively, contemporary service. I was excited to experience it.

I had also heard it was a church were speaking in tongues sometimes happens. Which is something I’m not familiar with. I’ve never attended a church where that is practiced. And so, while I was excited, I was also a little anxious about what exactly that might be like. And whether it was going to happen while we were there.

But, as anyone knows who has ever visited a church, you never visit a church for a “normal” service. For some reason, whenever you visit a new church, they end up having a guest speaker, a missionary from Uganda, or some sort of special event going on. That’s just how it works.

On the Sunday evening we attended, they were saying “goodbye” to one of their pastors who was leaving to help out with a missionary organization. Sure enough, the no-normal-service for-visitors rule was in full effect.

St. Aldates is a beautiful church. With large stone columns that shoot up into the looming ceiling all throughout the room. Stone walls and floor. And large stained glass windows on the walls. It’s a mix of ancient and modern, with flatscreen monitors hanging from the stone columns, and large glass doors welcoming people as they enter.

It wasn’t very full when we arrived, but it quickly filled up as the worship band took the stage. We found a couple seats several rows back from the front, just to the right of the stage.

And it was a great service. With one of the most amazing times of worship that I’ve experienced in a long, long time. But I found myself halfway wondering, “Okay, are they going to start speaking in tongues now?” And I was anxious. Wondering to myself what I was supposed to do when it happens.

This went on for quite a while. About halfway through the worship service. I found myself thinking, “Wait, are they speaking in tongues now? No, they can’t be. I can understand that still.”

And it was distracting. But then, out of nowhere, I felt like He was telling me I wasn’t actually doing what I was supposed to be doing. That I really shouldn’t be wondering whether this was going to happen or not. That my focus should be on Him, and not on my neighbor. Or on the guy on the stage.

And He was right. I was there for Him. And once I felt His gentle reminder, the Worship time was amazing.

I told Jen later I ended up crying during the Worship service. Don’t be surprised. I’m a cryer. But it was just an amazing time. One of those times where you feel as though it’s just you and Him. Like you’ve been invited to this private time with The Lord. And you find Him resting His arm on your shoulder and speaking in a warm, strong voice that feels a bit like a combination of your childhood blanket and the smell of your Grandma’s kitchen when she bakes, saying, “This, this is what you were created for.”

A Pipeless Ryan

As we crawled into bed that night, I told Jen I wanted to get a pipe. After walking by several people through town in Oxford who were smoking a pipe. And each time being reminded of my Grandpa. By the smell. Each time feeling like I was a young boy sitting in his living room again, while he sat back in his chair and puffed on his pipe, holding it with one hand.

But Jen said, “No.” She said it’s not good for me. And that I should know that.

I told her she was confusing pipes with cigarettes. She didn’t seem to agree. I don’t think I’ll be getting a pipe after all.

Tuesday:  Dinner with Walter

Walter had us over for dinner on Tuesday night. We were both looking forward to that, as Walter’s home is such a cozy place. It’s one of those places that makes you feel like you’re at home, even though you’re not.

And Walter’s the quintessential host. Making sure you always have food in hand and that your glass doesn’t drop below half full, even while keeping the conversation going.

We sat in his living room with the fire ablaze and Blessed Lucy of Narnia (his cat) asleep on the back of the couch. Jen in the chair across from me, and Walter seated on the couch facing the fireplace. It was so nice, particularly after a full day of studying.

We ate “soft cheese” on crackers. Walter told us if he were stuck on a deserted island and could only eat one thing for the rest of his life, that it’d be cheese and crackers. He asked Jen what she’d choose if she were in the same situation, and she said pizza. I saw that one coming a mile away. I said I’d take chicken.

We talked a bit about the different ways to prepare chicken (Walter loves to talk about cooking) before he excused himself to the kitchen to tend to dinner preparations. He told us to make ourselves comfortable. And to look around, if we liked. So I did.

I looked through his bookshelves. A really good variety, with a fair amount of Tolkein scattered throughout.

I noticed a lack of C.S. Lewis books on Walter’s shelves, so I asked him about it. Calling into the kitchen.

Walter entered the living room a few moments later and told me to follow him. He led us down the hallway and into his bedroom. He asked us to excuse the mess as we crossed to the far corner of the room, where a large hutch stood. Probably seven-feet tall. With glass doors.

He opened the doors to reveal shelf after shelf of Lewis’ works. Sorted by book. Three-feet of Mere Christianity. Two-feet of Screwtape Letters. Another several feet of Surprised by Joy copies. And on and on. All very old.

I was stunned. It was amazing.

Walter reached to the far left corner of the top shelf and pulled out a very old, very thin book and handed it to me. Spirits in Bondage read the title. By Clive Hamilton. I had never heard of it.

Walter explained that this was the first book Lewis ever had published. That he wrote it under the pen name of “Clive Hamilton” after returning from the war. When we has just 20 years old.

“He wasn’t yet a Christian at this time,” Walter explained.

Walter opened the book cover to reveal the signature “Clive Hamilton” scrawled across the first page. Lewis had signed it for Walter shortly after they met, he told me with a beaming smile on his face.

I was still staring down at the book with big eyes when Walter excused himself again to return to the kitchen and finish preparing dinner. He told us to help ourselves and to have a look at the rest of his collection, which I was happy to do. I had never seen so many first edition copies of Lewis, or anyone else for that matter, in my life. It was amazing.

I handed Spirits in Bondage over to Jen and told her to hold it just so she could say she had. She wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was, but she was a good sport anyways.

We had a great time catching up with Walter over dinner. And dessert by the fire after that. Jen had made pumpkin bars with icing. Walter loved them. He asked where we got the pumpkin for it and we told him that my grandfather had sent us several cans. That we still had some if he’d like one. I told him I’d bring one by the next time we were over, and he nodded with a large smile and thanked me.

I love our time at Walter’s place.

Wednesday: A no good, very bad day

Wednesday wasn’t a good day. It started off not so good and it ended even worse.

I hopped on my bike and headed to the Theology Faculty Library that morning. To pick up a book before spending the day at the Harris Manchester Library to get some studying in. On my way out of the Faculty Library, I threw my bag over my shoulder only to find it drop hard on the pavement.

I was a bit stunned. I had no idea what had happened, and I stood there gawking at my bag as it sat on the pavement. The ring fastening my shoulder strap to my bag had snapped, apparently, from the weight of my books.

“Ridiculous,” I thought to myself as I searched for the other half of the snapped ring. People walked by, probably wondering what I was doing with my head down on the wet pavement. I picked up the other half of the ring, after searching for several minutes, stuffed it into my pocket, just in case, and I boarded my bike, struggling to ride. One hand on the handlebars, the other on my bag, wedged between my knees as I rode through the city center.

“Great way to start the day,” I thought to myself.

The air was cold as I stepped out of Harris Manchester that night. I had been studying all day, and now I was heading back home. To meet Jen for dinner. I made my way to my bike only to find the lock had frozen. I struggled with it for several minutes before finally giving up.

I went back into Harris Manchester to get a cup of hot water. I poured it over the lock and steam rose into the cold night air as the warm water rushed off the lock and onto the pavement. I tried my lock again and it opened easily.

“Thank goodness,” I thought to myself.

It was at this point that my bag, which I had been resting on my bike fell onto the pavement. Again. Spilling much of its contents.

I shook my head, hunched down close to the ground and began picking up my belongings and stuffing them back into my bag. Including each of the colorful paperclips that had scattered across the dark street.

Back on my bike, I was happy to be heading home. There, I hoped, things would be better.

I turned the corner after leaving Harris Manchester to see a police officer talking with a guy on a bike on the sidewalk. Two seconds later I was being asked to pull over myself. By another cop. I nearly didn’t stop, not quite realizing what he was saying.

He asked me where my headlights and taillights were. I told him I didn’t have any. He told me he’d be giving me a ticket for not having any lights.

“Of course you are,” I thought to myself. “Of course I’m going to get pulled over on my bike after the way this day has gone.”

I smiled while the police officer told me how important it was to have lights on my bike. I continued to smile while he told me it’d be a £30 fine ($50). And I was still smiling when he explained how to go about paying for it. It was that or get upset, and I knew that wasn’t going to help me out at all. So I just stood there and grinned like a baffoon.

“Of course,” I thought to myself.

I walked my bike back home that night. After the officer told me I probably wouldn’t be ticketed if I got pulled over again, but that they would be the ones who would have to clean up after me if I were hit. And they wouldn’t want that.

He had a way with words, that guy.

Sunday: A 16-Mile Walk in London

We took a trip to London after spending the week in Oxford. We hadn’t been there since the previous summer. And, since Jen’s camera was stolen just before we returned home on that trip, we were excited to snap some more photos around the city.

Some friends of Lyndon & Mim offered to put us up for the weekend, after hearing that we were going to be visiting the city. As London prices are through the roof, we were happy to accept their offer.

We had mapped out everything we wanted to see the night before. The couple we were staying with said that’d be a lot to see in one day. We told them we’d give it our best.

We started off at the Tower of London, a 15-minute walk from their home. It’s an old castle built in 1066. Right on the River Thames.

It used to have a moat. And catapults. It’s still pretty impressive. We didn’t get a chance to tour this time, but we’re hoping to on our next visit.

From there, we crossed over the river on the Tower Bridge. It was a beautiful day, too. Cold, but sunny with blue skies. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We were walking through a cobblestone alley when we came across the ruins of Winchester Palace. Built in the 12th-century, this wall and a handful of stones are all that remain.

The Eye of London is a giant ferris wheel built right on the River Thames.

It’s pretty incredible how large it is, and it gives incredible views of the city (from what we’re told). We didn’t have time to find out, though, as we had lots to see.

But after so much walking I decided to lie down for a bit and get some shut-eye before making the rest of the journey. Jen was kind enough to keep watch for a bit while I did…*

[*NOTE: Ryan&JenGoToEngland does not support the practice of drinking and passing out on the street in London. But it does support a good joke. A half-pint of ale sitting by itself on the sidewalk was simply too good to pass up.]

From there we came up to Big Ben and Parliament, which are simply an incredible sight. It’s hard to put into words the size of this place, and all of the architecture work that went into it. It’s breathtaking, really.

Jen caught this photo of the front of Parliament. I was happy to see they had set up a Christmas tree. Apparently no one has told them that’s not politically correct, yet.

From Parliament, we made our way to Westminster Abbey. Another place that just blows you away with its size.

I told Jen it’d be crazy to be the pastor at this church, week in and week out. Right across the street from Parliament.

We had a bit of a walk to our next stop: Buckingham Palace. It was beginning to get dark by the time we arrived. But it was a beautiful sight at night.

I saw an Asian guy who was jumping into the air just before getting his photo taken in front of Buckingham Palace. I thought I’d get in on the action. . .

There’s an enormous statue of Queen Victoria that sits just outside the Buckingham Palace gates. With lights shining on it in the night, it was quite the sight.

Christmas time is an amazing time to be in London. They really do a great job decorating. Like this hotel on the West side of the city.

When my Dad heard we were visiting London, he told us we had to go see Harrods. That it’s something else during Christmas time. We had been before. Last summer. But he was right. It was quite the sight, all draped in Christmas lights. And the store-front windows were each decorated with a Christmas theme.

Harrods is a pretty incredible place. If you’ve never heard of it, they’re famous for saying you can find anything you want there. And if they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you. Anything. Like an airplane.

I didn’t get an airplane, but we did pick up a couple Christmas gifts.

After dinner at a pub called Head of Nails (which was amazing, by the way; great food and great service), we made our way back across town. And we were glad we walked, as there was so much Jen wanted to stop and take photos of.

London at night, in December, is a beautiful place to be.

We walked along the river on our way back. Taking in the sights. And stopping every few minutes so Jen could snap photos.

It was cold, and we were both tired from the long day, but it was also a stunning view to take in.

We were both happy when we made it back to where we were staying. To rest our legs after a full day of walking.

The couple we were staying with, Andy and Anna, greeted us at the door when we walked in shortly after 9:00 that night. And asked how our day was. We told them we had a great time. And we walked through our day. Telling them about everything we had seen. And how we had decided to walk, rather than take the bus.

They couldn’t believe it when they heard all we had done. Andy thought we must’ve walked 25 miles. Turns out we only walked 16. . .

Monday: A Surprise Christmas

Going into this term, we were planning on spending Christmas in Oxford. Jen’s sister Leann and her husband Ben were expecting their first child in January, and she was planning on flying home after the New Year to be around for that. As much as we wanted to, we simply couldn’t afford to fly me home for Christmas, and so we were planning on spending the holidays here in Oxford.

Knowing we wouldn’t be flying home for Christmas, Steve was planning on flying out. To spend it with us.

That’s what we were planning on doing, but that all changed when Steve came out to visit.

When he was here with us, Steve shared with us an idea he had. He told us he had been thinking a lot about Christmas, and how it would be Jen’s parents’ first Christmas without Hayley. And now, with us overseas, it’d be their first Christmas without Jen, too.

He had a point. That was going to make an already difficult time that much more difficult.

He told us that instead of flying out to spend Christmas with us, he wanted to fly me back home for the holidays. He suggested we book Jen’s ticket for earlier in December, rather than January, as we had been planning, and that way we could be home for Christmas. And make things a bit brighter for the family. That we could even surprise them. So we did. . .

Monday morning we woke up at 5:30 in London, grabbed our bags and made the long trek across the city, on the underground, before fighting holiday traffic in London Heathrow and finally boarding our flight, en route to the States.

We were both ecstatic to be flying home for the holidays. Excited to see the look of shock on our family’s faces when we surprised them.

13 hours in the air and two flights later, Steve greeted us at the airport. It was so good to see him again. We grabbed a quick bite in Seattle and made the hour and a half drive home.

27 hours after waking up in London, we walked through the front door of Jen’s parents’ house and creeped up the stairs, where they were watching TV.

“Merry Christmas!” Jen shouted as we climbed to the top of the stairs.

They were surprised to see us, to be sure. . .

After several seconds of a state of shock, Jen’s Mom yelled, “You’re supposed to be in England!”

We traded long hugs as they smiled and told us how happy they were to see us. And how thankful they were to have us home for Christmas.

I pointed toward Steve and told them they had him to blame. Then I asked if they minded putting us up for the holidays.

“Of course not,” Rhonda said with a warm smile.

Tuesday: More surprises

After a bit of hibernation, we woke up late Tuesday morning, got ready and headed into town. To surprise my family.

We went to my Mom’s office and I told the receptionist I was there to see her. She told me she’d let her know and asked us to have a seat. So we did.

A few minutes later, my Mom opened the door to the waiting room and just stared at us for several seconds. We smiled back. She then covered her mouth and ran to us.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, giving each of us huge hugs. She cried, and I cried too. I get it from her, I think. The tears. She apologized to the other lady in the waiting room, and explained how we had just returned from England as a surprise.

She didn’t appear too impressed. After a “Oh, that’s nice,” she returned to her Lady’s Home Journal.

Mom asked if we minded waiting for a few minutes so she could wrap up with a patient and then take us out to lunch. We told her we’d be happy to.

From there, we drove to my Sister’s work. My Sister is currently studying nursing, and she’s working part-time at a local elderly home. I asked the receptionist where I might find her, and she told us she was working on the third floor. And that we were welcome to go see her. So we did.

A short elevator ride and then we were wandering the maze-like hallways. We spent about 10 minutes walking the halls before we saw anyone.

I rounded a corner and saw Lucy walking with another worker. Both walking toward us. Lucy stared straight at me. Continuing to walk and talk with her co-worker. With a dead-pan look on her face, like she wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

I couldn’t help but smile, and soon she did, too. Her eyes went huge and she ran into my arms.

I gave her the tightest hug as she buried her head into my shoulder. And I held her as she sobbed. it was so good to see her again.

We had a great time surprising the rest of my family that day.

My grandma was surprised. . .

My brother was surprised, too.

So much so that he cussed when he saw us.

“What the heck are you doing here?!” he shouted when he saw us. But he didn’t say “heck.”

My grandpa was surprised to see us, too. He opened the door, looked at us and just smiled.

He almost didn’t let us in, though. He asked us if we were ghosts or if we were real. We told him we were real.

I don’t think it fully hit him we were there until he let us in and we gave him a hug. I held him for a while. It was so good to see him again. And I told him that.

He told us he had just returned from the post office. He had sent us another package. And we’d now have two packages waiting for us when we got back to Oxford. He’s an amazing Grandpa.

A Very Merry Christmas

The past several months have been a whirlwind. They’ve simply felt unreal, in so many ways. And after all of the experiences in Oxford, it’s so nice to be home for a bit and spend this Christmas with our family.

What a wonderful gift. Steve, thank you for making this happen. You are simply the most incredible friend anyone could ask for.

I am so thankful for all of this. For the opportunity to study at my dream school. To meet some amazing people in Oxford and experience all we have in such a short time. And to be able to return home to spend the holidays with those we love.

I hope your Christmas is a special one. I hope it’s filled with lots of smiles and laughter. I hope it’s spent with those you love, and with those who love you.

And as you do, I hope you find a special way to celebrate the day our Rescuer showed up in our story. To provide a way to bring us home. The greatest gift we could ever hope for.

Merry Christmas. And thanks for reading.

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Sunday: From Psychology to PR to Theology

I went to a University Sermon and formal dinner at Harris Manchester last week. Sunday night. Jen had planned to go, but she was not feeling well that day. I told her I was happy to stay home with her, but she encouraged me to go. Said she didn’t want me to miss out just because she wasn’t feeling well. My wife is amazing. I felt bad leaving her at home, but she insisted.

The sermon was held in the Harris Manchester Chapel. It was the University Sermon, which is held only once per term, from what I hear. It was a big deal that it was being held at our college, and I hadn’t been to our chapel before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to do so. It’s a great chapel. Not huge, but reasonably sized. Lots of stained glass windows. Lots of dark wood. Tall ceilings. I met up with Cole and Tim beforehand, so we sat together.

The service was very high church. Very formal. Not the kind of sermon you’ll likely see on YouTube anytime soon. There were a lot of grey-haired community members in the Chapel. I was tired, and as much as I had been looking forward to it, I found myself doing the head-bob through most of the sermon. Fighting off the temptation to fall asleep right there in the middle of the service. I felt horrible about it.

The sermon wrapped up with a prayer, and a song from the choir, and those seated at the front of the chapel in their suits made their exit down the aisle and out the chapel doors. After several minutes, we followed suit, and we made our way to the dining hall for dinner. Tim and I. Cole had other plans already.

Dinner was a good mix of students and community members and friends of the university. The students were definitely in the minority, though.

I sat next to a guy by the name of Guy Fielding. He asked what I was studying. I told him Theology. He asked about my background, and what brought me here. I told him my first degree was in Psychology and Business, and how I had been working in PR for the past four years before making this change.

Turns out he was a Social Psychologist who made the leap to PR. So we had a lot to talk about.

He told me about how he had developed the PR curriculum for the universities in the UK. That he had started up his own PR firm after teaching at Oxford, before selling it to a company in the US and then starting another one.

I told him I tied my tie myself…

Not really. I mean, I really did tie my tie, but I didn’t tell him that.

He was curious to hear what brought me from PR to Theology. So I told him. I told him about how I realized I really enjoyed writing, but that I wanted to write about the faith. In a way that’d help others with their faith.

I told him I had a great job back home. I told him we had to say “goodbye” to some amazing friends and family to get here. I told him how this was something that had been on my heart and my mind for years. And how I had fought it for quite a while. How it really didn’t make any sense for someone like me to be here. But that I just felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing.

He seemed to appreciate that. He nodded lots and smiled as I spoke.

Then he asked how I planned to make any money at it. He said no one buys books anymore.

It sounds like a painful question, but I didn’t mind. I appreciated his honesty.

I told him I thought that although we seem to be moving away from reading in the traditional sense, with the introduction of the Kindle and iPad, for example, that I didn’t think people were going to become uninterested in the written word anytime soon.

He nodded in agreement. He seemed to agree, but it could have simply been to make nice. To be British.

I had a great time talking with Guy. About the differences between the two cultures. About communications. About past work each of us had done.

I put my fork down after polishing my dessert plate (an amazing caramel bread pudding with vanilla ice cream), thanked Guy for a great conversation, and I made my way out of Arlosh Hall. I was the first one to leave. I had a sick wife at home to return to.

Tuesday: A Walk with Jen

Jen and I walked home from the Oxford CS Lewis Society Lecture Tuesday night. In the cold night air. Walking and talking. As our breath swirled into the black night’s sky.

I had been having a tough time the past day or so. Doubting a lot of things. Losing faith in why we were here. And just not being sure about where we were going. Feeling bad about coming all the way over here with so many uncertainties. Worrying that sooner or later, all of this that has seemed simply too good to be true is going to come crashing down. Finding myself replaying in my mind something Guy had said several days earlier: “No one’s interested in books anymore. . .How are you going to make any money?”

And I have the most amazing wife.

“When are you going to start believing in yourself, Ryan?” She asked me. “When are you going to start believing you’re supposed to be here?”

Jen spent the rest of the walk home explaining to me why I should be more confident in our place here. And for what the future has in store.

And, that may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is. It is incredible. For this is a woman who has literally put her dreams on hold for the sake of mine. Without complaining. Without throwing a tantrum about it. Simply, and humbly, saying, “this is what we’re supposed to be doing, and I’m going to support you in that.”

I have a tremendous amount of respect for my wife. For, when I’m second-guessing what I’m doing, what we’re supposed to be doing, she’s encouraging me. Even when that dream comes at the delay of her own dreams, even when she struggles with this transition, she’s encouraging me. I married up, to be sure.

If I can offer one piece of advice to anyone considering marriage, or to anyone who is yet to be married, it’s this: marry someone who you look up to. Marry someone who you want to be like. That’s the single smartest decision I’ve ever made.

Wednesday: First Names at Oxford and A package from Grandpa

Oxford is interesting. As traditional a place as it is, in terms of formalities, you couldn’t get away with calling your professor by their first name back home. Not in most cases, at least. And yet, that’s the way it is here. It still feels weird, at times. Even inappropriate. But that’s the way it is.

I found myself thinking about that on Wednesday morning. After asking Rhona a question. We started class with an exam. Like most days. Heads down. Writing away.

Rhona made her to the back of the room. To check something with the lights. And she must’ve noticed there were some students missing that morning as she did. She asked if Augustan is rowing this term as she fiddled with the light switch. Augustan, seated at the front of the room, responded, “No.” Laughter. Rhona’s still having a tough time with names, it seems.

Package from Grandpa

We got another package from Grandpa this week. Probably the fourth or fifth since we’ve arrived. He’s been amazing with that…

More food. Some rain suits to keep us dry. Some thick socks to keep our feet warm. And plenty of other goodies.

Thanks so much, Grandpa!

Thursday: Christmas lights going up and our first Thanksgiving Away

I noticed Christmas lights were being put up around Oxford on Thursday morning. As I made my way back home from the gym. I was glad to see that. They looked great when we were in Bath, and I was looking forward to seeing them here.

I noticed a large Christmas tree going up on Broad Street the week before. I was excited to see things start to look a bit more like Christmas.

Our First Thanksgiving Away

We had been told about a Thanksgiving dinner being hosted here in Oxford when we were at our small group last week. Apparently there’s an American professor (or “Tutor”) here who has been putting this on for the past four years, for Americans away from home. And for British students who want to see what it’s all about.

We decided to go, rather than go to small group. Hoping it might make it feel a bit more like Thanksgiving.

It didn’t. Instead, it seemed only like a painful reminder of what we were missing back home. Although it was kind of funny having to explain to people (the English who were there) what goes into stuffing. And watching others experience pumpkin pie for the first time.

It was all familiar, the food, at least, but it was also just different enough to not feel like Thanksgiving. That and the fact that we were eating with 40 strangers. They were nice enough, but it wasn’t home.

We got back in just before 10:00 that night. We Skyped with our family. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins and Grandparents. They were all getting together, so we were able to see a number of people we hadn’t seen or talked to since leaving. It was great to see everyone again. To laugh and catch up. But it was also tough.

I hugged Jen when we were done. I thanked her for doing all of this, for being over here and missing out on holidays back home. For me. I told her I knew that was a big deal, and that it wasn’t easy.

Friday: Breakfast of Champions, Writing and the Value of Home

After staying up until 2:00 Thursday night / Friday morning, Skyping with family and studying for my Greek exam, I was pleasantly surprised to make it through Greek class without falling asleep. I think I may have even done pretty well on my exam, so that’s a plus.

I caught up with a guy from Greek by the name of Fin as we left class that morning. He’s a member of Christ Church here at Harris Manchester. Site of the Great Hall from Harry Potter. I told him I’d love to eat at the Great Hall sometime. He said he’d love to make that happen.

He told me he realized this morning, while grabbing a Twix and soda for breakfast, that he hadn’t had a true meal from Tuesday to Thursday. “Breakfast of Champions,” I said, eyeing his first meal of the day. Then I realized I hadn’t seen a box of Wheaties since arriving, and that my joke was probably lost on him.

Fin’s a cool guy. Very European. Very much what you think of when you picture a European guy in his early twenties. Large, unkept hair. Unshaven. Very trendy clothes (boots, skinny jeans, scarf, cardigan / sweater). Very chill, and laid back. Quite smart, with a witty humor. With a raspy voice. Like he’s been up all night sharing laughs and stories with friends over an entire pack of cigarettes. The kind of guy who’s probably only here because his parents want him to be. And who likely straightens up when they’re around.

He’s quite kind. The kind of guy who comes off as too cool to care, but still intelligent enough to do quite well, and kind enough to get me into the Hogwarts Great Hall for a meal.

The Greatest Evil…Second only to Religion

I made a cup of tea after Greek. In the JCR back at Harris Manchester. A woman came in after me. She was probably a good 15-20 years older than me. I had overheard her speaking with another student several days earlier in the same room. Discussing nationalism, and its evils. “It’s the greatest evil in the world,” she had said. “Second only to religion.”

I listened to a talk that afternoon. A guy by the name of Dr Peter Williams from Cambridge. Or “Pete,” as he introduced himself to me afterward. Easily one of the brightest guys I’ve ever heard. He talked about the violence in the Bible. And people’s questions about it, such as “How could God command the killing we see in the Old Testament (including children, etc.)?”

His argument was basically that God hates evil, and that He chose to put up with such outright evil and disobedience for only so long (400 years, in the case of the Canaanites), before using a specific people group to wipe out this widespread evil. Evil that included the sacrificing of their own children to their gods. He said that this situation was for a specific time and period, though, and that God no longer  acts in this manner (“to judicially carry out his judgement”).

I caught up with him afterward, to ask him if this point suggested that the God of the Bible is inconsistent. As we’ve obviously had some pretty incredible acts of evil since the Canaanites, and we don’t have other examples of God acting in this way to stop it. He said he didn’t think so, in-between bites of his lunch. Answering my question with little effort.

He pointed toward the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The one where the vineyard Owner decides to pay everyone equally, no matter whether they worked all day or only for an hour or so. He said, “In the case of the Canaanites, their evil deserved their punishment. If God is choosing not to punish such evil at this point, but instead to be more merciful, who are we to complain about His mercy?”

The tea kettle stopped a minute or two after this woman arrived in the JCR. I filled her cup first, before moving to mine.

“Oh, you can fill yours first,” she spoke up.

“It’s no problem,” I said with a smile.

And her words came to my mind, replaying themselves in my mind. “Nationalism is the greatest evil in the world…Second only to religion.”

Religion has its evils, to be sure. And I would have no problem agreeing with this woman, in many ways. But there’s also something quite beautiful about a religion that says: “You deserve this (death), but I am giving you this (life).”

There’s something incredibly humbling and wonderful about a religion that says, “You’ve chosen to make yourself an enemy of God, yet He’s chosen to call you His child.”

A religion that says, “Consider others better than yourself. In humility, serve them.”

This faith is beautiful, when it’s lived out. And it’s a far different life than I’d ever live left to my own devices.

I was thinking about it in class earlier that morning. My faith, while sitting in Greek. As Rhona told a story about a poem written by a homesick man in Russia, while others looked at each other as if to ask, “How does this apply to Greek?…”

I was thinking about the fact that this wasn’t something I chose for myself. My faith, I mean. Nor was it handed to me by my family. They may have introduced it to me years ago, certainly, but that does not mean they were any more responsible for its current role in my life than is someone who first told me about The Alternative Tuck responsible that I return their almost every day for a chicken pesto panini.

Sitting there, in Greek, as Rhona talked about this poem, I found myself thinking about the roots of my faith, and how deep they go. I found myself thinking about the fact that those roots are a gift. For, even if I wanted, I couldn’t believe and desire this faith as I do now. Not of my own accord. I could not force myself to desire this as I do anymore than I could force myself to fall in love with my wife. It’s simply the result of being face-to-face with something so beautiful that the only natural response is to fall head-over-heels in love. And the rest of your life pursuing it.

Lighting of the Christmas Lights

Jen spent the day at a Christmas fair at Oxford Castle with some of her girlfriends on Friday. And helping bake at Vanessa’s place for a Thanksgiving party they were putting on this weekend. Pumpkin pies and pumpkin bars. She had a great time, from the sounds of it. And she’s definitely meeting some gals she can connect with. Makes me happy to know that.

We were meeting up with Cole for dinner and a movie that night. So I met Jen in the city center beforehand. After studying all day.
Apparently there was a Christmas festival of some sort going on. As the streets were packed with people. And vendors. Selling food and crafts. Carnival games and rides had been set up, seemingly overnight.

A reporter from the BBC was doing an interview, and we found ourselves just behind her. So if you saw us on BBC, that’s why.

We found ourselves square in the middle of a Christmas Lighting celebration, complete with a countdown and everything. It was pretty great, and people were certainly in the Christmas spirit. Made it feel a bit more like the holidays.

We fought our way through the crowds to meet up with Cole after counting down for the lighting of the Christmas lights and tree. It felt like standing in the ocean and being pushed back and forth by the tossing waves.

I ended up being separated from Jen, as the crowds leaned this way and that, standing shoulder to shoulder in a sea of people, everyone fighting to make their way either out or in. To see the lights. To ride the rides. To see the parade.

Yep, it definitely felt like the holidays.

Unfinished Writing

I’ve been writing a lot lately. More so than I probably have time for. Journaling, mostly. Little thoughts. On fear. On love. On the change that happens within us when faced with the Good News. Ideas I would normally expound upon at hands&feet at a different time, choosing instead to let them remain unfinished. Like a gift left to open at a later day.

And it’s wonderful. I love writing. And the more I do it, the more I realize this is what I want to do, more than anything else. And this whole experience is revealing that to me.

I love digging through those ideas and putting them to paper, allowing them to breathe and live a life of their own. Seeing where they go. If I can somehow figure out a way to do that the rest of my life, to help others see Him clearly, well, I’d be the happiest guy in the world.

The Value of Home

This is such a blessing. All of this. I am so blessed. Studying at Oxford. Reading, writing and discussing my greatest passion. Living out my dream. Every day. Here in this beautiful city. With my wife.

Once you’ve got a routine down. Once you’re able to cram 30 Greek vocab terms the night before an exam. Or memorize several charts’ worth of Grammar rules. Or become adjusted to sitting down for seven, eight hours straight and punching out an essay. Once you’ve got all that down, this is really a wonderful place to be. The people. The buildings. On a sunny day like this, it hardly seems fair to want to be anywhere else.

And yet, it has its difficulties, certainly. For it is not home. No matter how wonderful the people may be, they are not family. They are not the friends you’ve known for ages. And the places, no matter how breathtaking they are, are not the places you turned to to escape the pains of life. To find Him. Those old comfortable spots. And holidays here are not holidays there. For, no matter how great the food and company may be, it is simply not the same when you’re not surrounded by those you love.

I’m learning so much being here. About Theology. About other cultures. About myself. But I’m also learning so much about the value of home. And about what makes a place home. Your thirst for home is something that not even the very presence of your dreams can satisfy. For home is something greater altogether. It is people. It is places. It is relationships and food and smells and feelings and emotions and memories. All woven together into this incredible thing we call home. And there’s nothing else like it.

Thanks for reading. We love and miss you all.

It’s after 1 am here, but I’ve been wanting to write and haven’t been able to for a couple days now. Been too busy catching up on my reading, memorizing Greek vocab and wrapping up an essay.

I spent about seven hours today on my essay for this week’s tutorial and now that I have some free time at 1 am I want to write. Crazy, I know.

Sunday

Yesterday was a beautiful day here. Seriously, I’m sure it’s not always this way, but the weather really has been amazing here.

After church yesterday, I took a walk to Summertown to get some reading in. Like I said, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Perfect weather for a short walk.

I was pretty tired from not getting much rest the night before. Staying up studying. And writing. And it showed. I ended up sitting down in Starbucks only to realize I had forgotten the power cord for my laptop back at home. Perfect…

Thankfully, it was a nice day for a walk.

I returned to Starbucks ready to punch out some reading. Not terribly exciting, but this was the view for most of my day yesterday.

That is until I decided to bump the table and spill my coffee all over myself. And my library book. And my laptop. Thankfully, my laptop is still working just fine. And it doesn’t even smell like coffee. The library book, it’s seen better days. The librarians have been angels up to this point, we’ll see if this changes things.

Seeing me mop up my mess with handful after handful of napkins, a woman in Starbucks came and gave me some handi-wipes. “For your computer,” she told me. I thanked her and continued working away on my mess. “Ridiculous,” I thought to myself.

After several hours, I had wrapped up the reading I was hoping to get done and I gathered my things to leave. Returning my cup to the bar, I noticed a Starbucks employee on his hands and knees wiping up the floor. The handy-wipe lady was standing beside him with the remains of her coffee on the ground. I smiled. They both looked at me and laughed.

Monday

The mornings have been getting pretty cold here. People have told me they’ve seen frost, but I hadn’t noticed any yet. Not until this morning.

I was running a little behind this morning, after swapping a workout for an extra hours’ worth of sleep. Best idea I’ve had all day, by the way. After a bit of Greek studies, a quick breakfast and shower, I scooted out the door hoping to hop on my bike and go, only to find my bike seat completely covered in frost. It was a cold bike ride to class this morning.

I had to punch out an essay for my Gospels & Jesus tutorial today, so I headed off to the Rad Cam after Greek. Lyndon had to do the same, so he joined me.

Lyndon: Like the President, but not

I can’t quite remember how we got on the topic now, but we were chatting about his name. Lyndon.

“I’m the only one who got a bizarre name. My siblings all got normal names,” he told me as we made our way to the library.

“Yeah, I’d never heard that name before.”

“Lyndon? Like the President?”

“Ah… Yeah, I guess I have.”

“But it’s not that my parents were such big fans of him. Apparently it also means orchard.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Drake.”

“Oh yeah? That’s a great name,” I told him. “I’ve actually always told Jen I thought that’d make a great first name for a boy.”

“You mean like Joey’s character off of Friends? Dr. Drake Ramoray?”

“Exactly. But she’s not a fan of it at all. The name, I mean. She says you shouldn’t name someone after a duck.”

“Yeah, and that character is probably not a great argument for it, either.”

I laughed. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

We made our way up the stairs of the Radcliffe Camera, and we were greeted by the warmth of the book-filled room as we did, coming in from the cool-air of the cloudless sky day outside.

“Oh, that’s warm,” Lyndon said, looking at me with big eyes and a smile.

My afternoon at the Rad Cam

I was hoping to pick up the book I had been trying to hunt down on Saturday. The one I didn’t have any luck finding. I made my way to the spot it was missing from last time only to find it this time. Funny, I never thought I’d be so excited to find a book by the title of, “The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze.”

I turned to make my way back to my desk when I heard a hushed voice whisper, “Hey Ryan.”

It was Sara. The girl from my Gospels & Jesus tutorial. The one who makes me look like a vanilla ice cream cone sitting next to a banana split with sprinkles. With her outfits.

“How’s the essay going?” she asked me.

“Eh, I have a bit more reading to do before getting going on it,” I told her. “Not too excited about this one.”

She had a look of disgust on her face. “No, me neither.”

I made my way back to my desk. My usual spot in the Rad Cam. Took out my things and I began taking notes on the reading. Prepping my thoughts for the essay.

A few minutes later, Sara sat down behind the laptop that was setup across from me.

“Hey,” she said in a hushed whisper and laugh.

I plugged away most of the day on this essay. Reading. Typing. Reading. Typing some more. Just under 3000 words. My longest yet.

Sara wore a look of frustration. Then she’d put her head down on her desk for a while. Then she’d raise it, type for a bit, then down she’d go again. I couldn’t tell if she was sleeping or not. I didn’t hear any snoring, but I can’t be certain she wasn’t.

I wrapped up my essay with a bit of time to spare. But I still had a good amount of Greek to get done. I decided to head to the Harris Manchester library. If for nothing else than a change of scenery. After sitting in the same spot for seven hours, I could use it.

It was about dinner time when I left the Rad Cam, so I grabbed my bike and headed to the Alternative Turk for a chicken pesto panini fix.

I hadn’t had one in several days, and it had been whispering sweet nothings in my ear all afternoon long. It was a beautiful evening, and the cool air felt great after being in the library all day.

Dinner at the Turk

I always like going to the Turk when it’s not mid-day rush hour. The place is always packed between the hours of noon and 2:00. Everyone goes to this place. And it’s not big, not at all. It’s regularly crammed full of people, with a line leading outside. But it’s worth it.

It was just me tonight, though. And it was nice. It gave me a chance to talk with the owners a bit. I see them all the time, but there’s never been much chance to chat.

I told them I’ve been telling everyone back home about they’re amazing paninis.

“Thank you!” the owner told me from behind the counter with a smile. He’s a nice guy. Young. Maybe mid 30’s or so. I told him if he starts getting a bunch of people from Seattle, that he could thank me.

He smiled. And laughed.

Seattle means Bellingham to most people from England, by the way.

We talked about the winters back home. He told me they usually get some good snow here in Oxford. But that last year was abnormally snowy. We talked about his visit to the States several years ago. To Florida. I told him Florida sounded pretty nice on a chilly day in Oxford like today. He agreed.

He handed me my hot off the grill panini. We shook hands. I introduced myself. We exchanged names. And I was off for the library. Again. But I had my panini, so I was happy. As a clam. What does that mean, anyway? Are clams known for being happy? Sorry, like I said, it’s late here.

The Theology of Finance

I got a fair amount of Greek done from Harris Manchester tonight. I always enjoy working from there. I told David the other night it’s like a little piece of heaven.

“It’s quiet. They have books from the floor to the ceiling. Everyone knows your name. And they have fuzzy blankets.”

A buddy of mine from back home. Ryan. My old roommate from Seattle Pacific. He sent me an e-mail the other day. Putting me in touch with another friend of his. A guy by the name of Robert Garey. Apparently we both left Seattle at the same time. Both Oxford bound. Rob’s studying for his MBA here.

Rob sent me an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in joining him for a talk tonight. It was titled “The Theology of Finance.”

I didn’t initially think I’d be able to go. I told him I was sorry. That I was hoping to get as much work done before Jen arrived as possible so we could enjoy that time together. Sounded like he understood.

But after spending most of my waking hours studying, I changed my mind. I shot Rob an e-mail and told him I was interested, if he was still going. And I’m glad I did.

The talk was in a room on the second floor of the Mitre. The restaurant I went to with Cole for the first time on Saturday.

The room upstairs was reserved for the night’s talk. And it was full of people when I arrived. I grabbed one of the last open seats in the room just before things began. Front and center.

The speaker for the evening was a guy by the name of Michael Black. Apparently he’s had a pretty impressive career in Finance. And consulting. Working for some pretty incredible companies. Then he decided to go back and get his DPhil in Theology here at Oxford. It was an interesting combination, and it got my attention.

He was a brilliant guy, for sure. He talked a lot about business at first. Finance stuff. About what who owns a corporation. About value. About a what a corporation wants to achieve. He talked in a firm voice, but with a smile. Telling all the business students in the room that what they’re professors were telling them was wrong.

Then he talked about how spirituality was an underlying issue behind all of this. And how a corporation has a spirit. And how a corporation should be built on trust, if it wants to succeed.

That’s what I got out of it, in a nutshell. I’m sure I missed 90% of the important stuff in that synopsis, though.

But you see, the trouble is, I was distracted the whole time. By this picture hanging on the wall. Just over the fireplace. Just behind the speaker.

It was a black and white picture of an old man in a suit. With a bowtie. Sitting behind a desk. In front of a wall of books. He didn’t look happy. Not in the least. And his face kind of looked like a bulldog. Staring at me, the whole time. Like he thought I was going to steal his books or something.

You try and listen to a speaker talk about value and corporations with spirits with a bulldog man staring you down. It’s not easy.

I met up with Rob after the talk. And it was great to talk with him. Really nice guy. He looks more Oxford than I do, even though we’re both from the Northwest. He has long hair. And he wore a scarf.

I need a scarf. If I had a scarf, I might look more Oxford.

Rob told me how he had arrived in Oxford without his wife as well. How he was here for about two weeks before she got in. They had planned it that way, though. Apparently his wife had some work things to wrap up before coming.

It was nice being able to share with him about the transition. About how it was without Jen here. Knowing he understood.

“I did two weeks, and that is the longest we’ve been apart since we’ve been married,” he told me.

He told me about how his wife is a nurse back home. How she had been working at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. And about how she’s actually still working on some classes. Through a school in Cincinnati.

“She can do her research from anywhere, so it actually works out great for us,” he told me.

We left the Mitre and both headed for our bikes. We said we’d have to get together once Jen has her feet under her here. Rob said if Jen wants to get together with Vanessa at any time, if it’d help with the transition, just to let him know. And that she’d love to meet Jen for coffee.

Great guy. I’m continually amazed by the people God has put in our path in such a short time. He’s pretty great. God, not Rob. Rob seems great, too. But not great like God.

A Trip to the Market

I stopped into the market on my way home tonight. To pick up a few things before Jen gets in. Like Frosted Flakes.

I was hoping to pick up a box of Lucky Charms for her, but Oxford is Lucky Charmsless.

Jen’s not a fan of Life cereal, and so I’ve got about eight boxes to get through. From the packages my Grandpa sent over. It’s a good thing, though. I love Life cereal.

My Dad first introduced me to Life cereal. Many years ago. It has been my favorite ever since. We used to eat it with toast. Or with Grandma Pemberton’s homemade cinnamon rolls. Whichever was available. My Dad would dip the toast/cinnamon rolls in the milk as he ate. So I did, too. I still do that. And it reminds me of my Dad.

He showed me how to eat grapefruit, too. When I was kid. Sitting on the front steps of Grandpa and Grandma Pemberton’s house in Missouri. He showed me that the way to eat grapefruit is with sugar on it. Just like an American. I still do that, even here in England. But only because I haven’t been able to find any high fructose corn syrup anywhere.

2 Days

Jen will be here in just two days. I can’t believe it. After being here several weeks. Missing her every day. It seems like it can’t actually be almost here now. But it is. And I’m so glad.

My best friend Steve is coming, too. Really looking forward to seeing him as well. I woke up this morning thinking how fortunate I am to have a best friend who is willing to fly half-way around the world to visit. And so that my wife doesn’t have to make the trip on her own.

I’m blown away by the amazing people God has put in my life. By all He’s doing. I couldn’t possibly deserve it. The only conclusion I can come to is, He is good.

I was really afraid I was going to sleep in this morning. By accident. It would’ve made the third time since I’ve arrived, and I knew I couldn’t chance it. Today was the day of our Matriculation. Which basically means it’s the day each of the college’s new students are recognized as official members of Oxford University. It’s a pretty big deal. And I really didn’t want to miss it.

I woke up a half hour before my alarm went off. I considered getting up, but I just laid there for a bit. Until my alarm finally beckoned me out of my warm bed.

Prom Matriculation photos, by Jane

I grabbed some breakfast, skyped with Jen (briefly), then it was time to get ready. Quick shave, shower and I was putting on my full sub-fusc (Oxford’s term for their formal attire). Sub-fusc consists of a black gown (the men’s is longer and has sleeves), a mortar board, and a bow tie (or a black ribbon for the ladies). This is worn over a full suit.

I had to be at Harris Manchester for registration by 9:15, and I had a 25 minute walk ahead of me, but I stopped in to say good morning to Jane on my way out. And to see if she’d mind snapping a couple photos of me.

“Knock, knock,” I said as I knocked on the door, making myself known.

“Oh, hello. Ryan?” Jane called from the kitchen. Their home was warm, and the air smelled like bacon. It looked like Jane was cleaning up from breakfast when I found her.

“Big day today!” She said with a smile when she saw me. I asked if she’d mind taking a few photos before I made my way to college.

“Of course. Here, lets go by the front door,” she said. “That’s a nice spot.”

It was kind of funny getting my pictures taken by Jane, but I knew I’d want them. And I knew other people would enjoy seeing them. Kinda felt like she was sending me off to prom, though. If I wore a bowtie to prom. Like Ben.

I thanked Jane for taking some photos. I told her my Mom would really appreciate it.

“Okay, great. Let’s get one with your cap on now, shall we?” Jane encouraged me in that warm, British accent of hers.

I gave Jane a hug before leaving. It surprised me. I did it without even thinking. I think I was just excited. She didn’t seem to mind.

Cole told me last night the English aren’t big huggers. “They shake hands in England,” he told me. Apparently he found that out the hard way.

Also, before leaving, Jane asked me if I realized the house across the street from us is where The Lord of The Rings was written.

“Really? Wow… No, I had no idea,” I told her.

Sure enough.

Notice the small blue sign at the top of the above photo.

I really shouldn’t be surprised by things like this anymore. It seems like every day someone says something astounding about something that’s found here in Oxford. But I’m still blown away by it. Every time.

Tolkein lived just across the street from us. . .who knew.

Harris Manchester for Registration

I was worried my walk to Harris Manchester was going to be a pain. In my full sub-fusc. I was worried about showing up a sweaty mess. But it wasn’t bad at all, actually. It was a sunny, but cool morning. Which made it perfect. It was a really pretty walk, too.

I passed a number of people heading away from the university in their full sub-fusc. They must’ve had an earlier service. I was glad ours wasn’t until 10:50. With so many colleges at the university, they have to stair-step their Matriculation ceremonies, just to get everyone through.

I arrived at the college a little early. So I sent a few e-mails. And I scanned over the photo board. To remind myself of a few names. I’m horrible with names, so this thing really is a life saver.

Can you spot me?… How about now?

Still no? Okay…one more try.

I can just picture Jen reading this, shaking her head and saying, “What a dork…”

I had a look at the staff photo board as well, and I was shocked to notice the head chef (“Caterer”) here at Harris Manchester, the one I’ve been referring to as Steven, is actually named David. Whoops…

Now I’m trying to remember if I’ve called him “Steven” to his face.

After a bit of waiting, I made my way to the Old Dining Hall to register. I was happy to see there wasn’t much of a line.

Judith Nisbet, the academic administrator, was sitting at the far side of the room behind a table with a list of names in front of her. Checking names off as people checked in.

“Principal Ralph Waller,” I said firmly as I approached the table.

“Pppfffff… Please. I know who the Principal is!” she said loudly. “If I didn’t, I’d be senile. Even more so than I already am.”

We had a bit of time before the Matriculation ceremony actually began. Which made for plenty of photo opportunities around the college. More than you could ever likely want to see.

Tim bought an SD card for his camera just before coming. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right size, which meant he was without a camera for the day.

I felt bad for him. I told him I’d e-mail him a copy to share with his family back home.

This one’s of Wee Ming and I. Wee is originally from Malaysia, but he’s been working in New York for the past several years. In banking. Great guy. He had a Temper Trap shirt on the first time I met him, so I knew he was legit.

Thankfully, it was a gorgeous day here. Made the waiting around not so bad. And great for photos.

From left, here’s Wee Ming (Malaysia), Tim (Singapore), Harry (Germany, I believe), myself and Alex (England), in the Harris Manchester courtyard.

This one was taken in front of the Principal’s residence, at Harris Manchester College. It’s a gorgeous building, and he has a really nice fountain in front. From left, we have Tarik (England), Edward (Singapore), myself, Harry and Wee Ming.

After 30 minutes or so of our impromptu photo shoot, we were beckoned to the college entrance. It was time to head off for Matriculation.

Matriculation Ceremony

The Matriculation ceremony was being held in the Exam Schools building. It’s the building where your final exams are held, oddly enough. Lectures and classes are also held in the building. It’s really a beautiful building. Huge. And just a short walk from Harris Manchester.

I talked with Tarik on the way to the ceremony. I mentioned Tarik here previously, but he’s a great guy. Genuinely kind. Soft-spoken. Very smiley. Really bright. And we’ve had some good conversations on philosophy and theology already.

Tarik was previously “in Medicine,” which is his way of saying he is a doctor who has stepped away from practicing. He decided to return to school to study Theology. He’s interested in Medical Ethics.

I asked Tarik if his family was going to be at the ceremony today to celebrate, as I knew he was from here in England.

“Well, no. You see, I haven’t exactly told them I’m here at Oxford.”

“What?…” I asked, totally baffled by his words.

“Yeeeaaahhh,” he said, dragging out his “yeah” as he does. “I’m not sure how pleased they’re going to be when they found out I left a great job in medicine to go study Theology.”

“So they think you’re still practicing?”

“Yeeeaaahhh,” he said with a sly smile, and just a hint of guilt.

“Wow… do you talk with them often?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. I am going to see them tomorrow.”

I laughed out loud.

“Wow.”

I told Tarik I was initially nervous to tell my family about wanting to apply to Oxford. About wanting to leave a great job. To study Theology. I told him I was particularly nervous for what my Dad the engineer would think. Not because he’s not supportive, but just because I did have a great job, and because Theology is quite different than Engineering. But I told him my Dad had actually been one of the greatest supporters of us in this change. And that maybe he’d be pleasantly surprised as well.

I’m not sure he was convinced.

As we came up to the Exam Schools, we immediately knew we were in the right spot.

There was a fairly large group of people on one side of the road taking pictures. Family of the students. Family isn’t actually allowed into the building during the ceremony. They take this ceremony pretty seriously here, and it’s reserved for students.

The students who must’ve been matriculated immediately before us were pouring out of the building as we approached the Exam Schools. Loads and loads of them. All dressed in their sub-fusc.

Like I said, it was a pretty serious deal getting in. You can see police guiding traffic and keeping the parents with cameras at bay in this next shot.

Eventually, we made our way into the building, and we were lined up and asked to wait for things to begin. Quite a few students were crowded into the room before things actually got started. We were asked not to take photos, but I snapped this one to get a sense of how full this room was.

Once all the students had entered, some faculty began lining up in front of the central chair located on the right of the above shot.

The University’s Vice Chancellor, who would be leading the service then entered. Just in front of him was a woman with a gold scepter. She stepped off to the side of the stage as he took his place, tipping his hat to the faculty as he took his place.

He began by speaking in Latin. I was worried the entire thing was going to be in Latin. It was not. He made a great speech, actually. He told us we were joining a very elite group of academics who had gone before us this day, as well as those who would come after us. And that that was something we should be proud of. He told us we would be expected to work very hard while we were here, and to contribute to the realm of academia in our given field. He told us we wouldn’t leave the same people we were when we arrived here.

And then, about 10 minutes later, we were done. And we were now officially members of the oldest University in the English speaking world. Just like that.

“So that’s all it takes, huh? Just a little Latin?” I joked to Tarik.

“Yeeeeeaaaaah…” he said, with a laugh.

We were herded back out of the Exam Schools. Like cattle. But it really is a beautiful building. I really didn’t mind that it took some time to make our way out.

The Exam Schools are full of these huge, 12-foot tall portraits in these ornate golden frames. They’re all over. It’s quite impressive.

A few minutes later and we were back in front of the Exam Schools.

Here’s a photo of Wee Ming, Tim, myself and Tarik, fully Matriculated. Full members of the University of Oxford. “For the rest of our lives,” as they reminded us. I’m not sure I could keep this one from my parents.

Felix’s Rugby Match

After a round of individual and group photos back at Harris Manchester, and a nice, celebratory lunch, I made my way back to Northmoor Road. Felix was having a rugby match at his school only a few minutes away, and I had told him I’d like to watch him play.

I’d never been to a rugby match before, and I was looking forward to it.

I had just enough time to change before it was time to go. I walked with Jane to the school. Felix goes to a school called Dragon. Not “The Dragons.” Just Dragon. It’s pretty rad.

Jane asked me about the ceremony as we walked. And she told me about her Matriculation Ceremony from years ago. Both her and Justin graduated from Oxford. They lived in London for 20 years before moving back here to Oxford, where they’ve been for the past eight years now.

There were loads of people at the school when we arrived. Much like back home on a Saturday morning. Parents watching their kids. Dressed warm, for it’s certainly been chilly out.

Justin arrived a little after we did. And he did a great job of explaining the rules to me. There are quite a few similarities with American football, but also quite a few differences.

I’m not sure what his position is called, I can’t remember, but Felix does a lot of the kicking and throwing. Basically like an American quarterback and kicker rolled into one. He’s the most important position, Justin told me matter-of-factly.

Here’s Felix kicking off.

I loved watching the game. Even though I didn’t know all the rules. It was pretty easy to pick up. And Justin as helpful. It’s just so fast-paced. It doesn’t have the stop-and-go aspect of American football. And I was blown away by the hits these little guys were taking.

Here’s a photo of the scrum (above). If you don’t know what a scrum is, it’s…well, you should probably ask someone else.

At one point, one of the larger boys tackled one of the other guys around the neck. He was asked to leave the field for a bit. Wild. These little guys are only 10 and 11 years old.

Jane asked me if I had played American football back in the states. I told her I had. She asked if we had more padding. I told her we did. I also told her that’s the only reason my Mom had allowed me to play.

Felix did a great job kicking his field goals. Or, whatever they’re called in Rugby.

Standing on the sidelines, watching the action, my mind went to Jen’s Dad, Tim. I remembered him talking about playing rugby back when he was at Western in Bellingham. I thought he’d enjoy this.

And I remembered saying goodbye to him. After living with he and Rhonda for the past year. And after many more years of just being around there. In their home. And all the great memories from there. And I began to get teary-eyed, remembering how difficult that was. And how he got emotional too, when we said goodbye. He almost never gets emotional.

The people really are amazing here, and they’ve been so wonderful to me. But every once in a while something like that comes up. I get to thinking about something from home. And I almost lose it. It’s weird. And it comes when I’m not expecting it. But it just reminds me of what an amazing family I have back home.

I had to get a hold of myself quickly. I didn’t want Jane and Justin to have to try to explain to their friends who they had just introduced me to why the American student living with them was crying at their rugby match. That would have just been embarrassing for everyone.

Dragon ended up winning. By quite a bit. 42 to 12, if I remember correctly.

After the match, both sides lined up on the field, facing each other, and they took turns shouting, “hip, hip, hooray. Hip, hip, hooray. Hip, hip, hooray.” I’m not making this up.

I congratulated Felix after the game. I told him I thought he played great. And I told him I’d see him later.

Justin and Jane are going out tonight. They asked me if I’d mind hanging out with Felix for the evening. I told them I’d love to.

In small, small ways, all of this is starting to feel more like home.

I had lunch with John today. He caught up with me after Greek class yesterday and suggested we grab lunch. He’s doing the same thing I am. Theology BA in two years. He’s married. Both returning to school. So we have a lot in common, there.

He’s a couple years older than I am, I think, and a really nice guy. He taught school before. High school. And I think he did some IT as well. The Theology studies are his foot into the ministry.

Lunch at Wycliffe Hall

John is a member of Wycliffe Hall. Different college than me, but it’s actually closer to where I live.

Wycliffe focuses solely on Theology, and it’s generally for folks preparing for the ministry. They have a lot of great speakers who visit. I’m looking forward to hearing a few.

John met me at the front door when I arrived. He’s a tall guy. Taller than me. Probably 6’4″ or so. With floppy brown hair and a big grin. He was wearing a hawaiian shirt when he greeted me. No one wears hawaiian shirts in England. But John does.

We made our way to the dining hall and he asked how my studies were going. I told him I just submitted my Gospels & Jesus paper the day before. I told him it’s going to be interesting. And that the reading is definitely going to challenge my faith.

“Oh yeah?” he asked. Seeming somewhat surprised.

“Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely some things that fly in the face of what I believe.”

“Like what?” he asked.

I told him about one of the books I read. The Messianic Secret. The book was published by a German guy (Wrede) in the early 1900’s. From what I’m told, he was one of the first to come out and say, “Yeah, we’re probably not going to be able to trust this stuff, guys.” Biblical Criticism is what it’s called, I believe.

I told John how he basically posed that Jesus didn’t actually suggest he was the messiah, and that this all came up after the fact. That it was written in, so to speak.

“Ahhh, yes. That one.” John said.

We came to the food line and conversation quickly changed subject. Today’s lunch was a meat pie, with a side of vegetables. It was all right, but it’s not quite Harris Manchester.

John introduced me to some of the other guys at the table. They asked about my transition to England. About when my wife was going to arrive. About Harris Manchester. About whether I’ve been to any churches since arriving.

Apparently St. Andrew’s (where I attended this past Sunday) is John’s home church.

“For the past six years,” he told me. “But of course I wasn’t there Sunday,” he said with a smile.

Before wrapping up with lunch, John made sure I paid a trip to the yogurt bar. He said I’d be missing out if I didn’t. Yogurt is served at room temperature here in England, by the way. Just a heads-up.

He spoke like a car salesman, showing me all the options.

“First you have your fruit sauce,” he said, pointing at the bowls of various colors. Green. Red. And Orange. (He had to help me out with this one, as I’m colorblind).

“Much like a stop light,” he said after describing the different sauces.

“But that’s not all. You also have an assortment of slightly crunchy, meusli-like toppings to choose from,” he said with a smile. You could tell he was pretty proud of this treat. That or he was playing it up. He might’ve been playing it up.

“After 14 days straight, it becomes quite cathartic,” he explained.

“Ah… Well, I wouldn’t want you to get the shakes,” I said.

We sat back down at the table and he helped me with the layout of town. Explaining where he lived. Where some of the other roads led. He’s actually from just south of Oxford, so he and his wife didn’t have to move when he returned to school. He was pretty happy about that.

His wife is a teacher as well. They’re both teachers. He said he might be able to help find Jen something when she arrived. Or at least point us in the right direction.

Pushing his empty yogurt bowl aside, he then changed the topic rather quickly.

“Well, I think we’re going to have quite the challenge ahead of us with this BA, Ryan.” he said. His voice was more serious now.

“But there’s no reason if we’re praying for each other, and if we’re talking through what we’re learning, that we can’t come out of this with our faith even more stronger than it was. And not so that we can puff out our chests and all, but so that we can glorify God.”

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear those words. That’s what I was hoping for all along. Before arriving here. But then you start getting scholars throwing stuff at you in your reading (as I knew they would), and I knew how important prayer and Biblical community would be.

John asked if he could pray for me. I told him I’d like that very much.

“Why don’t we make this a regular thing, what do you say?” he asked after wrapping up his prayer. We’re going to meet every Tuesday for lunch. And I am so glad.

My First Tutorial – I go to class in a castle

I stopped into a place called Orange after leaving Wycliffe. They sell cell phones and sim cards. A friend from back home, Katie VanKooten, had given me a cell phone she previously used here in England, and I thought I’d buy a pay-as-you-go sim card in case Jane or anyone else needed to be in contact with me. I really don’t plan to use it all that much.

I had my first tutorial today. Tutorials are basically what Oxford calls your standard classes. They’re very small, discussion-based format. As in two people in a class. Me and one other person. They’re what Oxford is famous for offering.

Today’s tutorial was for my Gospels & Jesus course, and it was at Mansfield College. Another beautiful, castle-like building.

Our tutorial was in Dave Lincicum’s office. He’s the guy I ran into at church on Sunday, and he’s filling in for another professor who is currently on Sabbatical. It was an amazing office, too. Book shelves from floor to ceiling on every wall. Only to be interrupted by an old, antique desk. It used to be the desk of some famous New Testament scholar, but I couldn’t tell you his name. It was pretty ornate, though, and it had the carvings of various saints all over it. They were kind of creepy, actually, but the desk itself was pretty impressive.

The room was quite large, compared to what I’ve seen so far. Room enough for two, actually three full couches. The stone walls had windows that looked out over the courtyard, and we could actually hear a student singing Kelly Clarkson as we wrapped up class. I laughed out loud.

The class itself was great, though. We each were asked to go over our essay (main points) and then he’d ask us several questions about the texts we were posed with as well as our essays. I ate it up. I was so engaged and interested I actually found myself having to hold back so I didn’t consume the conversation.

Dave would ask a question in a very calm, almost warm voice, and then leave us to respond. He’d get talking about a certain point and then have to stop himself and apologize for lecturing. We didn’t mind, of course. We wanted to hear what he had to say, but apparently the point of the tutorial is for us to discuss.

I hadn’t met the other student in my class before today. She’s a member of a different college. Sarah. She’s from the southern tip of England. And I don’t mean any disrespect by this, but she kind of looks like she walked into a thrift store and blindly picked out her outfit. I know, I know, it sounds horrible, but I thought it was rad. An old red sweater, a blue and white pinstriped blouse and black tights with boots. She probably thought I looked boring. And American. Which I did, next to her. Like a vanilla ice cream cone next to a banana split. With sprinkles.

The tutorial was only an hour long, and it flew by. Before I knew it, we were talking about our reading for next week and were being ushered out the door with a smile.

Walking over the pebbled footpath leading from Mansfield College, I looked back over my shoulder to take it all in.

The massive, centuries-old stone building. The intricate carvings. The green lawn. And I thought to myself, “how cool is it that I actually get to go to class here? I go to class in a castle.”

The Alternative Turk

It was only 5:00 when I left class, but I was hungry. I knew I needed to get some studying done, so I thought I’d get something to go. I decided to stop into a little corner cafe that had been recommended to me. Just down the street from Harris Manchester.

I thought it was called the Little Tux. Apparently I was wrong.

I had seen several people walking around campus with these amazing looking paninis, and I was happy to realize this is the place to get them. For only£2.95, too (you say that “two pound 95,” by the way). I was pretty excited. The shop was very small. And crowded, which I figured was a good sign.

There was a sign hanging on the wall for a Halloween haunted castle tour here in Oxford. I thought it’d be fun to take Jen to that when she arrives.

The shop had an amazing display of treats. Muffins. Cupcakes. Baklava. I plan to go back for the maple pecan pie. It looked incredible.

As did this.

I went with the chicken pesto panini. The bread was fresh-out-of-the-oven hot and crispy, and the mozzarella mixed in perfectly with the chunks of chicken and smeared pesto. I’m definitely going to become a regular of the Turk Shop. In fact, I could go for another chicken pesto panini right about now…

I made my way to the Bodleian to get a bit of studying in before the CS Lewis Society’s talk that would be later tonight. I found another line of film trucks parked outside the Bodleian today.

I’m not sure what they were filming, but I would assume they were wrapping up the Inspector Lewis shoot that was going on yesterday. When I passed by.

I was finishing up my sandwich and walking to the Radcliffe Camera (the Theology section of the Bodleian) when I saw this view and thought, “man, this place really is amazing.” I had to snap a picture so you could see.

A guy was walking by as I did carrying a camera. I figured he probably wouldn’t mind if I asked him to snap a photo of me (since my sister had been asking for more photos of me).

I realized right away my eyes were probably closed, but I wasn’t about to ask for another one.

The Oxford CS Lewis Society

After a couple hours of studying I made my way out of the Radcliffe Camera and headed toward St. Aldate’s Street for the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s talk.

The film crew had apparently been hard at work while I was studying, as they were all setup and shooting by the time I walked by.

The Lewis Society’s talks are held at a place just two doors down from the Eagle & Child. By no coincidence, I am sure. It was in a smallish room on the second floor. One long dining room table sat beside the windows on one side, which cleared up the rest of the space for chairs. There was a piano in the front of the room, which made me think religious services of some sort might be held here.

Tonight’s speaker was a guy from Wheaton College in Illinois. Chris Mitchell. Apparently he oversees the largest collection of Lewis literature in the world, which is housed at the college. So he knows his stuff, when it comes to Lewis.

He spoke on the topic of Lewis and his impact on historical evangelism. He talked about how Lewis’ influence has touched the lives of people from many different denominations and backgrounds. And how many of his fans would often get squeamish at his personal life, as it didn’t line up with their own beliefs. (He smoked, drank and carried on).

Chris talked about how Lewis’ real focus was on mere christianity. On faith for the public, not for the academic. And how, because of that, he was able to reach a very large audience.

“Lewis was a real lover of souls,” Chris said. I liked that.

He talked about how, on top of his academic responsibilities, Lewis traveled and spoke. How he spoke at groups that met at Oxford on a weekly basis, including The Socratic Club. And how he would respond to letters from thousands of people who wrote him with questions about their faith. This was not a guy who took lightly his call to use what he had to help others with their faith.

After Chris had finished his talk, one of the people in the room asked about Lewis’ thoughts on Reformed Theology versus Evangelism. And this is when another man spoke up. A man by the name of Walter Hooper. A man who knew Lewis personally.

He is an older man. He wore a tweed jacket with a v-neck sweater that disclosed a dress shirt and tie underneath. Apparently Hooper was Lewis’ personal secretary while he was in declining health. He is now an advisor of Lewis’ literary estate.

“I remember standing just down the street from here, on Cornmarket Street,” Hooper spoke up, in his soft voice. Cornmarket is a street I walk to get to class.

“And I remember Lewis saying, ‘Imagine a space ship landing right here before us and a group of Martians walking out and greeting us. Imagine they say to us, we only have a few minutes before we have to return to Mars, so please don’t mind our frightful appearance. We hear you have some Good News. We would very much like to hear this before returning home. Can you tell us about it?’ “And you know what would happen, don’t you? Surely someone would speak up and say, ‘Well yes, this church over here, they have liturgy, but the other church in town does not. And that church over there, they have candles, but the first church I told you about, they do not…’ And what would happen? Well the Martians would return home having not heard the Good News.”

The point of all this, Hooper explained, is that Lewis believed we are for more concerned with church format or demoninational differences than we should be. Than we are about the real matter before us. That of sharing the beauty of the Good News with others.

I smiled a lot tonight.

I caught up with Cole afterward. He’s the Vice President of the group. I told him it was amazing. I told him I’d love to meet Mr. Hooper at some point. So he introduced me.

“He’s such a nice guy,” he assured me.

And he really is.

I explained to Mr. Hooper how I had only just arrived a week ago, and that Lewis is the reason I am here.

“How wonderful,” he said with that soft-spoken voice and smile.

Cole mentioned a class of his in which the professor asked if he enjoyed Lewis’ works. Naturally, they had a lot to talk about after that. But then he mentioned that there are plenty of Theology professors here who actually hate Lewis. Likely for wearing his faith on his sleeve as he did, and not keeping it separate from his academics.

“That’s terrible,” Hooper said with a look of disgust. “If you ever find yourself in that position, just walk out. You’ll still have me.” I liked this guy.

We talked a bit more, and he took out a small notebook from his jacket pocket as we did. He wrote my name on a page and slid it back into his coat pocket. Hooper asked me where I was living. I told him. He told me he lives not far from there, and that I’d have to come over for tea.

“I’d like that a lot,” I said.

An e-mail from my Dad

I got an e-mail from my Dad today. He reminded me that I am living out my dream. Right now. By going to Oxford. To study Theology. He reminded me this is something not many people can say of themselves.

I never thought it’d actually happen, but here I am. It was a good reminder for me.

I’ve said it at hands&feet previously, but this has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Leaving a great job. A job I enjoyed, and one that provided very well for us. I am now unemployed for the first time since, well, since high school. And I have no idea what my next job will be.

Packing up and saying goodbye to some of the most amazing friends and family anyone could ask for. . .and then having to adjust to life abroad without my wife at my side.

I’d have a hard time putting into words how difficult this has been, actually. Constantly questioning myself. And what I was doing here.

I’m not here because I thought this was the most sensical step to take at this point in our lives. But I took this step because I believed my life would be put to better use, in the long-run, having had made this change. That this experience would allow me to step out in ways I would not have been able to before, to help others see and experience and know and believe and trust in the Good News. That I might have the opportunity to experience the blessing of changed lives first-hand. For, the real beauty of the Good News, the real beauty of the Gospel, is its power to change lives.

The point of all of this is that I might use the gifts God has given me to help with that purpose.

I’m looking forward to being able to look back on this road and say, “see there. See what God was doing at that point? And there, too, at that point. Even when I had no idea, he was doing something incredible.”

It’s difficult now, because we can’t always see the road before us. But we go forward knowing He is good and that He is, daily, directing our paths.

I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

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