Archives for posts with tag: Greek

3rd week of Trinity Term

I had a tour at the Kilns to lead on Tuesday of the third week of the term. I tend to give tours most Saturdays, but I also give tours during the week from time to time as well, when they come up. And when I can slip away to the Kilns for long enough.

This tour was scheduled for the afternoon, so I was able to make it to my Greek reading class before taking the 20-minute bus ride to Headington and the Kilns.

I found a seat next to Lyndon in Campion Hall a few minutes before our reading class began and I told him I was heading out to the Kilns after we finished for a tour.

“Is that right?” he asked, rhetorically. “I wonder if it’s with the group of Americans I met over lunch at Wycliffe Hall just now.”

“Oh, yeah, I don’t know,” I told him. “I’m not sure who the tour is with, but it could be.”

“Apparently one of the older gentleman who visited is a rather big deal, from Florida, I believe, but I didn’t recognize his name,” he continued. “I sat next to him at lunch, so we talked a bit. When he told me his name, he seemed to act as though I knew who he was, but I didn’t!”

“That’s always a bit awkward,” I said. “Well, I’ll let you know if I happen to give a tour to an older American guy I should recognize but don’t.”

Lyndon laughed, and soon we were off to the races with our Greek reading for the week.

Police and Americans at the Kilns

When I arrived at the Kilns later that afternoon, I was surprised to find two police officers at the back door. The Kilns is set up in a bit of a funny way. The first door you come to as you walk up to the house isn’t actually the front door, but the back. Or, more specifically, it’s referred to as the “servicemen’s entrance.” Confusing, I know. Either way, it’s not the door guests typically use, but it’s the door these two officers were standing at when I made my way through the front gate and walked up the trail leading to the house.

“Do you live here?” one of them asked me as I approached.

“No, I don’t live here, but I am giving a tour here in a few minutes,” I told them.

They explained to me that someone in the neighborhood had reported a small fire  on the trail that leads up to the pond behind the Kilns, and they were wondering if anyone who lived here had any information about it. I told them I didn’t, but that I could leave a message with those who do live at the Kilns and they could call if anyone knew anything. They thanked me, and one of them left me with a piece of paper and their phone number.

“Say,” one of them asked me with a puzzled look before leaving, pointing toward the blue plaque on the side of the house with Lewis’s name on it. “C. S. Lewis . . . I should know who he is . . . tell me one of his works?”

“Uh, sure. He wrote The Chronicles of Narnia,” I told him, hinting at Lewis’s identity.

“Ah, yes, of course!” he said with a look of “aha!”.

“Don’t say you were thinking Lewis Carroll, don’t say you were thinking Lewis Carroll…” I thought to myself.

“That’s right,” the police officer said. “I was thinking Lewis Carroll!”

I smiled. And laughed inside. It’s so funny to me that a police officer who patrols the neighborhood where C. S. Lewis used to live confuses him with the man who wrote Alice in Wonderland. I shook my head as I made my way around to the front of the house and began making preparations for the tour that would be arriving any moment.

About 15 minutes later, I was meeting a group of well-dressed men and a single woman at the front door and welcoming them in for their tour. The lone British man at the tour introduced himself. He had a lean face with thick, dark glasses, and a nearly bald head. While it was just he and I in the houses entryway, he shared with me that he was leading a group of Americans on a tour around Oxford during their visit, and he told me he was from Wycliffe Hall.

“Bingo,” I thought to myself as I shook his hand, before showing the group into the common room at the front of the house. “This must be the group Lyndon was referring to.”

I followed behind them and took my seat on a bench beside the door, so as to face everyone. Along with the gentleman from Wycliffe, there was a couple from America, fairly casually dressed, an older, grey-haired, heavy set gentleman in a suit, and another well-dressed man with glasses, this one younger than the other suited-man.

After asking where everyone was from, I introduced myself to the group, and then I began telling them about what Lyndon had told me only an hour or so earlier that afternoon, about running into the same group at Wycliffe Hall.

“So I’ll have to let my friend know he was right,” I shared to the group with a smile, as they sat around the small room on the old, rugged furniture. “I’ll have to tell him I did, in fact, see the old man from Florida who he had spoken with at lunch.”

The air quickly went out of the room as I finished my sentence, and I didn’t realize why at first. I replayed my words in my mind only to realize what I had said, and to realize that my attempt to break the ice had failed completely.

I tried to back-pedal, as quickly as possible, but it didn’t seem to help. Awkward glances went around the room. Looks to the “older man from Florida” who I probably should have recognized, but didn’t. Everyone seemed very serious, but he, alone, was smiling, and looking straight at me, as if to welcome the start of the tour. So that’s exactly what I did, pretending as though everything was completely normal and nothing at all had happened.

I made my way around the house, telling funny stories of Lewis mixed in with stories of his time at the home and his life in Oxford. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and all my jokes were met with laughter.

By the end of the tour I was shaking hands and being told what a wonderful job I had done. Everyone seemed to really have enjoyed themselves, and so I decided against mentioning any sort of apology for what had been a horrible choice of words on my part to start the tour.

“Best not to wake a sleeping dog,” I thought to myself as I waved goodbye to the group with a smile from the front door.

I tidied up the Kilns from the tour, after everyone had left, and I made my way to the bus stop and back toward town to get some studying done from the Harris Manchester Library before meeting up with the Oxford University Lewis Society for dinner.

Lewis Society & Dinner with Aidan Mackey

This week’s speaker at the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society wasn’t actually speaking on C. S. Lewis, but, rather, G. K. Chesterton. That may sound strange to some, but Chesterton was a writer who was rather influential in Lewis’s life and writing, and so he’s a welcome topic for the Society.

Prior to the Society meeting, a small group of us met at Pierre Victoire, a small french restaurant where we often meet, which is only a short walk north of the Society’s lecture room. I had never met Aidan Mackey, our speaker for the evening, before meeting him at the restaurant that night, but I was so happy to. Jen had met him before, once when she was working at the Kilns and when he was visiting. She had really enjoyed meeting him, and I was excited to.

Aidan is an older man, he must be approaching 90 if he is not already there, and sharp as can be. He has a head of white-as-snow hair that stands up tall on his narrow frame. And, while he looks rather frail, his conversation tells you his mind is anything but. He’s a brilliant guy, incredibly humble, and funny, too. He’s the kind of sharp-witted man I can only hope to still be when I am his age.

Aidan is a life-long admirer of Chesterton, and very likely one of the world’s foremost experts on the scholar. This evening would be his final public address on Chesterton, he told us.

“I just don’t want to be the older man who is the last person to realize he is long past his expiration date,” he explained to us with great humility.

“Oh no, no, no,” Walter (Hooper) said with a look of astonishment, seated just to Aidan’s right. “You’ve got a long way to go yet!”

Aidan has been reading Chesterton since he was 14, when he fell in love with his books after his brother lent him one. Over dinner that evening, Aidan told us about falling in love with Chesterton’s writing, of falling in love with his wife (who still says the only reason he married her is because she had an early edition of Chesterton’s writing he was wanting for his personal library), and about how his daughter held a written correspondence with Lewis.

“It’s embarrassing that my greatest claim to fame is being related to my daughter,” he said to those around the second-floor table that evening, receiving a round of laughter.

Walter cited the volume of letters in which Lewis replied to Aidan’s daughter’s letter. Lewis had recently written The Chronicles of Narnia when this young girl had written him. Walter explained that Lewis was at the height of his career at this point, how he had all these demands on his time and a long list of pressing requirements, and yet, how he took the time to write a careful letter in reply.

“There was not a hint of condescension in responding to her question,” Aidan shared with us, as if recalling reading the letter for the first time, with a hint of admiration in his voice.

Wednesday: Caught in the rain & Alone in a library full of people and champagne

I spent Wednesday studying in the library. I had an essay due the next day, and  lot of reading to catch up before I could begin writing. So I read, and read some more, eating my lunch at my desk from my favorite spot on the second floor.

By the time 4:00 rolled around, I realized I still needed to drop off a post card at the post office before it closed for the day. So I pulled it out of my bag and made my way out of the library and onto my bike. I had not been outside all day, but the library windows told me it was still nice out, so I didn’t bother with a jacket. This was a mistake.

By the time I rounded the corner onto Broad Street, a short ride from Harris Manchester, I was completely soaked. Not just my trousers, this time, but everything. My hair, my shirt, I was completely drenched. And then, almost miraculously, when I had made it to the Post Office, only a short, five-minute bike ride away, it was as if the skies peeled back the previously present cloud cover to let the blue, sunny skies shine through. It was bizarre, and I was left to wander into the post office soaking wet.

By 8:00 that night, I was back in the Harris Manchester library, plowing through my reading, and nearly dry. My hair was standing every which way on my head as it reached upward to dry.

Earlier in the day I had received an e-mail I had paid little attention to, something about a wine party that would be held in the library that evening. I should’ve paid more attention, as it would have likely given me more heads-up to the older men and women who were filing into the library out of nowhere, dressed in suits and dresses. But I didn’t, and suddenly the library was buzzing, filled with suits and champagne and old men. Apparently all of the other students at college had taken the time to read the e-mail, as I looked around to find I was the only one left. And all of a sudden, I was alone, lost in a sea of older men and women and enough small talk to make my ears ring.

I scooped up my books and bag and did my best to make my way down the metal spiral staircase and out the library’s double doors without disturbing anyone. “This bit of reading will be finished at home,” I told myself as I continued my way out of the library, down the stone stair steps, and outside into the cool, dark night air.

Friday: We are the message

After my tutorial on Friday morning, I got a bit of reading done before catching up with Tihi at Kellogg College on Banbury Road, in north Oxford, for lunch. Tihi and I had been playing tag, exchanging e-mails trying to find a time that worked to do lunch for some time. Finally we had found a date and time that worked, and I was glad. He has an incredible story.

I pulled off the busy Banbury Road traffic to the crunching sound of gravel under my bike tire just in time to see Tihi standing at the front of the College. He had been waiting for me, and he welcomed me with a smile. He’s tall, always taller than I remember, and he wears a broad smile. His eastern European accent is heavy, but its softened by his intent look of earnest care and compassion and interest, a look he seems to wear a lot. He’s one of those guys who always seems happy about life. The kind of guy I like being around.

I had never been to Kellogg College before, but it took me off guard. It was far more modern than 90% of the rest of the buildings I had stepped foot in here in Oxford. It was simple in design, and it was filled with lots of natural lighting, soft tones and smooth hard wood floors.

Tihi and I grabbed a plate and he led me to the lunch line. Kellogg College is like Wycliffe Hall in that you make your way through a food line where you’re served. However, it’s very unlike Wycliffe Hall in that the food looks like what you’d find in an up-scale restaurant in the city, with smaller servings that have been neatly arranged for the sake of presentation.

Tihi commented on the fact that the food is very good at Kellogg College, but that it’s always served in such small servings. I told him I thought it looked great. And, after we bowed our heads and said a short prayer, I found out it tasted great, too.

If you haven’t already, you should take the time to read Tihi’s story. It’s unreal, and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Tihi, short for Tihomir, is from Serbia. And he’s working on his Dphil here at Oxford. Clearly, he’s a bright guy, but he doesn’t come across as condescending in the least. He’s incredibly personable, like he’s still in awe of the fact that he’s actually here, working on his studies. I think I find that comforting, and something I can relate to.

Tihi shared a bit more of his story as we talked over lunch. About how he showed up to Oxford with only $50 in his pocket, and about all the pressure he felt from those back home who knew where he had come from, and what he was now doing.

“I felt like everyone in Serbia was just waiting to see me fail,” he told me with a look of candid sincerity. “I didn’t know how this was going to work out, or what I was going to do, but I knew I was supposed to be here.”

Today, in addition to his studies, Tihi travels all around the world, to share the Gospel, and to tell others about the incredible ways in which things have unfolded so that he can be here now studying.

We talked about redemption, and Tihi shared with me how he believes God intentionally uses people who we wouldn’t normally expect, to tell others about His goodness and His love. So that they can see His mission is one of redemption.

After exchanging our thoughts on the point, and after we had both finished a forkful of food, Tihi looked across the table at me and said, “Since coming here, and since all of this has happened, I’ve realized that, in a way, we are the message.”

I nodded in my head in agreement, and I allowed his words to linger in the air so that I could let myself feel the full weight of his point.

Saturday: A rare Brit at the Kilns & A message in the park

I woke up Saturday morning and made my way to the Kilns, a five-mile bike ride from where we live in north Oxford, for my lone tour of the day. Fortunately, it was a sunny morning, and it made for a nice way to start the day.

Arriving to the Kilns on a sunny morning, and walking along the gravel pathway that leads to the front door to the crunching sound underfoot and looking into the kitchen to be greeted by a warm smile and “hello!” from one of the Kilns residents, is quite possibly one of my favorite things in Oxford. So much so that it is rather difficult to put into words.

My tour for the day went really well, and I managed to get all the way through it without getting my foot caught in my mouth this time around, which was good.

On my tours, I always make a point to point out the wardrobe that sits at the foot of the stairs, as, while its not the home’s original wardrobe, it is where the wardrobe that Lewis’s grandfather carved by hand stood when Lewis lived at the Kilns. This is significant because it’s the wardrobe Lewis would’ve had in his childhood home in Belfast, and it was later moved to the Kilns, which meant Lewis would have had it with him for nearly all of his life. Because of this, it’s not a stretch to imagine this is the wardrobe he would have likely had in mind when he was writing The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

A photo of the original wardrobe hangs on the hallway wall, as the original wardrobe is now housed at Wheaton College in Illinois. I usually point out to the group that the home would’ve had several wardrobes at the time Lewis lived here, as the English tend to have wardrobes where most American homes have closets or dressers, but that this particular wardrobe is significant for the reason I told them before.

Later on, while we were in Lewis’s bedroom, the lone British woman on our tour (it’s not often we get English residents on our tours at the Kilns, at least I don’t) asked about a small doorway on the wall beside Lewis’s bed.

“What’s this?” she asked, turning toward me, and pointing at the small doorway.

“Oh, that’s a door that leads to the attic space,” I explained. “But now it’s really just used as a closet.”

She smiled and nodded contently, and I recalled the statement I had made earlier about English homes tending to have wardrobes, whereas American homes typically have closets or dressers.

“I just thought it was funny that you said the English are too poor to have closets,” she said, almost in passing.

I’m sure the look on my face showed how puzzled I was.

“I didn’t mean to say the English are too poor to have closets,” I tried to clarify. “I was just trying to explain a distinction between the two cultures, that we don’t tend to see wardrobes in America. If I get anything wrong about the English culture, please do correct me,” I told her.

She nodded her head, again with a bit of a smirk. It was a bit awkward, I thought. I had had other Brits on my tour before, and none of them had ever given me any reason to think my comment about English homes having wardrobes was offensive.

Once downstairs, I showed the group to Lewis’s brother Warnie’s room. I pointed out several things in the room. Photos of Lewis and his brother, and where their desks would’ve sat.

I also pointed out where Warnie would’ve had a small buddha statue, on the fireplace mantle. I told the group this may seem odd, as Warnie was a Christian, but he actually had it there because it reminded him of his conversion experience, which took place in Japan, in front of a very large buddha statue.

15 minutes later I was wrapping up my tour, shaking hands and thanking people for coming. There were a lot of smiles, and lots of “thank you’s” from those on my tour. The English woman who pointed out the door to the attic room in Lewis’s bedroom made a point to find me, and I could tell there was something she wanted to tell me from the look on her face.

“Hi,” she said, greeting me. “You mentioned that you thought it odd that Warnie came back to Christianity in front of a buddha statue, but I wanted to tell you I didn’t think that was weird.”

She explained to me how she thought all religions were ultimately trying to achieve the same thing, and so it shouldn’t be odd that one religious figure leads us to another religion, since they’re all leading to the same point. As best as I could, I tried to tell her why I disagreed.

Standing in the front hallway of the Kilns, as those from our tour shuffled from the front dining room where they were signing the guest book to the front door, I told her about the group I had started with several friends here in Oxford, the Oxford Open Forum, and how, after listening to people from so many different religions, it was clear to me that all religions really aren’t the same. I told her it was only after hearing, first-hand, just what each of the world’s major religions believe, that I came to realize just how different they truly are.

She nodded her head politely, and I was less than convinced she was persuaded by my comments. Then, for a reason I am still unclear on, she began to tell me about her frustrations with Christianity.

“Christianity just seems so concerned with rules and with laws,” she said to me, wearing a look of frustration.

This was not a conversation I was expecting to have when I arrived at the Kilns that morning, but, again, as politely as possible, I tried to explain why I disagreed.

“It’s kind of funny to hear you say that,” I said to her, “because that’s not what I think of at all when I think of Christianity.”

I went on to explain to her why I thought otherwise.

“To me, that seems like a very rigid, law-based religion, and that’s not Christianity at all.”

“There are plenty of religions that say you must do X, Y and Z in order to get A, B and C,” I continued, “but that’s not what I find in Christianity. The reason Christianity is so different from so many other religions is because, in Christianity, we find God coming as Jesus Christ and saying, ‘You cannot earn this, but I will do this on your behalf.'”

I went on to tell this woman that not only did I think this was an incredible distinguishing mark of Christianity, I also thought it was beautiful.

Again, she nodded her head, politely, and, again, I was less than convinced I had persuaded her to think differently. But I hoped I had at least given her something to consider. Shaking her hand and thanking her, again, for coming, I hoped, secretly, that she might have a second look at Christianity and realize it’s a bit more radical, and far more beautiful, than she had previously believed.

Music to my ears in the park

I returned home that afternoon to find Jen in bed. She hadn’t been feeling well, and she was doing her best to sleep it off.

I shared with her about my experience at the Kilns, and about the conversation with the English woman who joined us, before making my way downstairs to work on some reading. It was a sunny day, and the light from the spring afternoon shone through the front windows as I worked away.

I had planned on attending an open-air lecture that evening at a nearby park. South Park. The lecture was to be given by an Oxford Professor of Mathematics by the name of John Lennox.

I didn’t know who John Lennox was when I arrived in Oxford, but I had heard of him shortly after I arrived and I was blown away by some of his past talks, which I listened to online. Not only is Professor Lennox a brilliant mathematician, with an incredible body of work in his field, compiled during his time at both Cambridge and Oxford, he also regularly lectures on the topic of Faith and Science. One of his passions, it seems, is to show others that the two are not mutually exclusive, and that you do not have to throw out your faith simply because you consider yourself an intellectual.

It was a message I was drawn to from the start, and his speaking ability was as engaging as I have found. When I heard he would be giving this lecture at a nearby park, on a sunny spring evening, I knew I was in.

Jen had been planning on going with me, but, as she had not been feeling well, she decided to sit this one out. I told her I’d be happy to stay home and continue to work on my studies, just in case there was anything she needed me to do for her, but she insisted I go. I made sure this wasn’t one of those offers husbands are supposed to turn down, and hear about how they failed later if they don’t, but she didn’t budge. So I went.

South Park is in the direction of the Kilns. On the other side of Oxford. So I made my way across town on my bike once again, and 20 minutes later I was locking it up on the outside gate of the large park with its stretching green lawns. There were several tents set up as I made my way across the park, and people were beginning to gather beneath the high canopies as I arrived about 10 minutes early.

I recognized a few people there, but I found a seat about 20 feet back from center stage and took a seat in the lawn. Resting on my elbows, with my feet stretched out in front of me, I couldn’t help but think it was a perfect afternoon to be outside.

The evening’s lecture began with a bit of singing, as it was being hosted by several local churches, and it had a candidly evangelical bent. Many of those in the crowd raised their hands in the air as they sang, with eyes closed, even as they looked upward. The sound of voices singing praises hung in the air and drifted from the speakers on the stage, making their way to the surrounding neighborhoods. I found myself looking at those walking by, on the sidewalks that lined the park, and wondering to myself what they thought of all of this.

After several songs, an introduction was made by a local vicar (pastor) and John Lennox took the stage to a roar of clapping from the crowd.

Lennox is a large man, in his 50’s, with a head of white hair that has receded from the top of his head and settled around his ears and the base of the back of his head. He is from Ireland, and his voice rings beautifully with his rich Irish accent. He rolls each “r” sound, as if to emphasize its presence in each word, and I love it.

He spoke a lot about science, as one who is well established in the field of mathematics, and how those in the New Atheism camp like to argue that science has basically killed any reason to believe in God. His main point seemed to be to show that this is a farce, and that science was never intended to deal with spiritual matters. He began by explaining that, like anything, science has limits, and that spiritual matters is one of them.

He used an analogy I thought was beautiful to explain his point.

He told us a story about his Aunt Matilda who, he informed us, loved to bake cakes. He went on to explain that one could approach Matilda with every form of scientific testing available, but that it would ultimately prove unable to show why she baked cakes. He explained that science can’t tell us why she baked a cake because it’s beyond science’s reach. That’s not to say science cannot tell you many other things about Aunt Matilda and her cake, but not the reasoning behind Matilda’s baking. In the same way, he went on to explain, science can tell us many things about the world around us, and even about the humans that inhabit it, but there are many questions about the world and about us that it simply cannot answer for us, because it was never intended to. Many such questions fall under the label of “spiritual.”

Professor Lennox went on to tell us about a talk he once gave at a physicist convention and how, after his talk, one of the physicists approached him and asked him some fairly pointed questions about his faith. Apparently one of those questions was how he, as a mathematician, could hold onto his beliefs about God, knowing what he knows about science.

He told us how he agreed to respond to this man’s question, but how, before doing so, he asked the man a question in response. He told us how he asked this physicist to explain to him what consciousness is. The physicist was puzzled, he told us, both by his seemingly unrelated question, and as to how he might answer. And so, Lennox explained to us, he asked the physicist an easier question. Something more related to his field.

“What is energy?”

Lennox shared with the crowd how the physicist made some remarks about what energy does, but how, when Lennox continued to press him to describe not what energy does but what it is, he was unable.

“And so you see,” he shared with the crowd in his rich Irish accent, “Science does not have all the answers.”

He went on to explain that there are many questions science cannot answer, particularly those of a spiritual nature. How there are those who will try to tell you that science has disproved any reason for belief in God, but that is simply false. And how, ultimately, science was never intended to answer such questions.

And as I sat there in this crowd that had gathered at South Park in Oxford on a warm spring evening, a smile stretched across my face. I was filled with a great joy at this man’s ability to clear away the fog with his sharp thinking and illustrative analogies.

Listening to Lennox speak reminded me, quite strongly, of my first experience with C. S. Lewis’s writing. Another brilliant man from North Ireland, and a man who often passed by this very same park on his long walks between Magdelene College and his home at the Kilns. A man who a young John Lennox had heard lecture during his studies at Cambridge University. And, as Professor Lennox continued to speak on the topic of Science, Theology and New Atheism, his words rang with clarity, logic and truth of the kind I have rarely found, filling the park with beautiful music to my ears.

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Saturday: A trip to London with Rob

Saturday morning I hopped on a London-bound train in Oxford and enjoyed the meandering, snakelike ride through the English countryside to the gentle noise of the train shuffling along the train tracks. It was a rainy morning, which meant my two-mile bike ride to the train station from our house in north Oxford was less than enjoyable. I hoped by the time I’d arrived in London my clothes would somehow, perhaps miraculously, be dry. They weren’t.

An hour later I found a seat in Paddington Station, the large train station in London. The air was cool and crisp that morning, and it seemed to seep in from somewhere, even though the station was covered with a high-rising, glass roof. I was waiting on the next train from Oxford to arrive, as Rob and I would be attending a conference in the city that day, and he had booked his ticket on the train after mine.

After 15 minutes of listening to my iPod and people-watching, I spotted Rob in the crowd walking toward the spot where I was sitting. He’s just tall enough to stand out, but he also dresses in a way that makes him blend in with the English crowds. You’d never know Rob was an American if you didn’t know already, passing by him in England. The first time I met Rob, at a talk at the Mitre Pub in Oxford, I described him as much more Oxford than me, with his scarf and long hair. On this particular morning, Rob wore a tweed flat cap, with his long, dark hair curling out the back. He’s still more Oxford than me.

“Hey, how are you?” Rob asked, greeting me with a handshake and his broad grin. Rob’s also studying at Oxford, in the MBA program. He’s the kind of genuinely nice guy who instantly puts you at ease, and who you know will go far, be it in business or otherwise.

We were in London first thing on this Saturday morning for a men’s conference. Mark Driscoll, a pastor from Seattle we both appreciate, was in town, speaking to a group of men at the Royal Albert Hall. I had never been to the Hall before; nor had Rob. He peeked at his phone from time to time as we crossed a large, expansive park filled with trees and people on walks, peering at a map on his small screen leading us in the direction of the Hall.

About 15 minutes after leaving the train station, we spotted the hall: a giant, domed building looming just beyond the edge of the park. It was an incredible structure. Massive and beautiful. We made our way in through the double-doors and took an elevator to the third floor to find our seats. Walking down the hallway that bent along with the curve of the building’s exterior walls, I took in the pictures that hung on the walls, showing off the many performances that have taken place in the hall over the years. Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Hendrix and the Beatles. Coldplay, Rihanna and Bono. Amazing.

Rob and I slipped into a row of seats on the top-most level balcony and found our seats. The morning’s worship service had already begun when we arrived, so we joined in. The day included several speakers, all talking about man’s ministry in different aspects of life. At work. In the church. And at home.

Mark Driscoll spoke about man’s ministry in the home. He mentioned that he’s currently working on a book about marriage, along with his wife. And that this process had given him a lot of fodder for the day’s talk. If you aren’t familiar with Driscoll, he’s known for his in-your-face, blunt teaching style. He’s well known for his conservative theology (man as the head of the household, speaking out against homosexual marriages and abortion) and his more liberal presentation (he’s more likely to preach in jeans and an MMA t-shirt than a suit and tie).

Mark’s also known for yelling, particularly during his messages aimed at men. And as this was a men’s conference, with a hall filled with thousands and thousands of men, I was just waiting for him to erupt. But he kept things pretty tame. Only bursting out in a yell on one occasion, recounting for us a time he was counseling a father and daughter, and having to set a father straight for not taking better care of his daughter, and allowing her to get caught up in a relationship that ultimately ended in her being physically abused. In this case, the yelling seemed well deserved.

But one of the things Driscoll said that day, from his point on the stage in front of thousands and thousands of men, one of the things that stood out to me most was about how men ought to respond to their wife’s needs. He talked about what women want most out of their husbands. How they want someone who will be there for them. Someone who will be present and who will just listen to them when they need to talk. How they want their husband to be their best friend.

“How are you doing at being your wife’s best friend,” Driscoll asked from the front of Royal Albert Hall. And I left that day pondering this question, all the way to Paddington Train Station, and I continued to chew on it for the entire duration of my train ride back to Oxford.

It was an incredible, convicting question. “How are you doing at being your wife’s best friend?” And as simple as it might seem, I felt like the day’s trip to London and the price of my ticket to the conference was all worth it for that one question. And it was a great chance to hang out and catch up with Rob, too.

Tuesday: Greek, Prawn & Mayo sandwich, and the new President

Tuesday was my second time sitting in on the Greek reading class since the start of the term. My first experience with the reading class, unprepared as I was, was a bit of a wake up call. My lack of time spent practicing Greek over the spring break showed, and I wasn’t about to let that happen again. I put several hours worth of time into my translations for week two so that I would be able to translate my Greek text without being embarrassed when it was my turn in the spotlight.

I left Harris Manchester after working from the library Tuesday morning and made my way across the city to Campion Hall, stopping for a few minutes at the Bodleian Library to say “hi” to Jen and Karli. I pulled my bike off the street and walked it to the front of the large, stone stairs that lead into the Bodleian on Broad Street.

Karli is a friend of Jen’s sister from back home, and she was in Europe doing some traveling. She had stopped over for a night in Oxford when she first arrived a couple week’s earlier, and she was now on her way back to the States, stopping over in Oxford a day early to visit with Jen again.

“How is your panini?” I asked Karli, spotting her chicken pesto panini. Both Jen and her were enjoying lunch from their seats on the large, stone staircase.

“It’s really good!” Karli said, in-between bites of her hot sandwich.

“Good, I’m glad you like it,” I told her. “It’s nice to see other people from back home enjoy the chicken pesto panini as much as I have.”

I asked if Karli would be joining us for the C. S. Lewis Society meeting that night, and dinner beforehand. She was. And then I continued to make my way to Greek, along High Street, a left turn on St. Aldate’s, past Christ Church and Tom Tower and then a sharp right onto Brewer Street, a narrow lane, which is home to Campion Hall.

I locked my bike up outside the large, stone-structured hall and made my way into the dimly lit, library-looking room where the reading class is held. I took my seat at the large round table where we’d be reading from, along with only a handful of other students who were there at this point. I was a bit early, which was already an improvement on my first week.

The reading class is meant to be an informal time and, since it’s held at 1:00 in the afternoon, people generally eat their lunches during the hour. 1:00 is the traditional lunch hour in England, which always seemed a bit late for me when I first arrived, but now I find myself eating after the reading class, as I have too much to get done beforehand, and I’m too nervous to eat during it.

The girl next to me was working on a sandwich when I took my seat. “Prawn and Mayo,” read the sandwich packaging that sat on the table beside her notebook.

“Wow…,” I thought to myself. “Prawn and Mayo . . . That’d be a pretty hard sell in the States!”

The English tend to use less euphemisms than we Americans do, I’ve found. For example, where we call tuna fish sandwiches, “Tuna Salad” or just “Tuna Fish Sandwich,” the English call it “Tuna and Mayo.” Same thing for “Chicken Salad;” the English call our “Chicked Salad” sandwiches “Chicken and Mayo.”

For us, in the States, we don’t want the word “Mayonnaise” in the title of our sandwich. Even if it is the first ingredient. No, we want it to be called “Salad.” That sounds much healthier.

I tried not to stare too much at my neighbor’s “Prawn and Mayo” sandwich as I settled in and unpacked my Greek papers for the class. Soon, Nick King, our silver-haired, sharp-witted English tutor for the reading class, took his seat at the table, setting down his own lunch, asking if everyone had a chance to grab some coffee, and then asking the poor guy to his left if he’d mind starting us off. Then, very quickly, we were off, rounding the table reading the Greek text aloud, and then sharing our translation with the class.

I didn’t feel nearly as nervous this time around, having spent several hours preparing. When it came to my turn, I found myself much more confident in my reading of the Greek text, and sharing my Greek translation. There was no need to ask for help with any Greek vocab that stumped me this time around, and I was soon passing the baton off to my Prawn and Mayo sandwich eating neighbor.

Leaving Campion Hall that afternoon was a completely different experience from the week before. Having prepared, I actually found myself enjoying the hour of Greek reading from Matthew. Well, as much as one can enjoy reading Greek indoors on a sunny spring day in Oxford.

Dinner with Walter & My First night as President

After a bit more studying at Harris Manchester, I hopped back on my bike and headed across town to Little Clarendon Street, with cobblestones underfoot and stringed lights overhead. A handful of us were meeting with Walter Hooper for dinner at Pierre Victoire, Walter’s favorite restaurant in Oxford, a small, family-owned French restaurant, before the C. S. Lewis Society meeting.

I was the first to arrive, so I gave the host our name and he showed me to our table. It was long, and it sat in the front window of the restaurant. Not long after, Walter and Cole came in, along with David. Soon, Jen and Kari arrived, along with Melissa, the temporary Kilns warden.

We had a great time, laughing and talking over dinner. Walter kept asking if I were having the escargot, and I assured him I was not.

Over dinner, Walter shared with me about an article he had recently read in the paper. It was about an interesting trend in which more and more English women were marrying Muslim men. One of the primary reasons for this trend according to the article, Walter shared with me, was that these Muslim men are more confident in what they believe in than their English counterparts.

“Hmmm…,” I said, pondering Walter’s recount of the article. “I think there’s probably a lesson for us all in there.”

When we had finished with our dinner and dessert, and when the bill was taken care of, we made our way down Saint Giles Street, toward Pusey House, where the Society meets each Tuesday night.

The second-story room was full by the time we arrived, with small groups of people gathered around the room, talking with each other. I quickly made my way to the front of the room, as we were already a few minutes past our normal starting time, having waited a while at the restaurant for our bill to arrive.

“Hello and thank you all for coming,” I said with a smile once I had everyone’s attention. “I’m Ryan Pemberton and, in case you don’t know me, I am the new President of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society.”

The sound of clapping filled the room, echoing off the second story walls and pouring out through the open glass windows into the cool spring evening air.

It was one those unreal moments in life where time itself seems to slow down a bit, just enough for you to look around and take in the reality of which you never thought you’d ever experience. Introducing Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis’s former secretary as the evening’s speaker. As President of the Society. And yet, there I was. Doing just that. The smile on my face was more than an obligatory “welcome to our little society” smile, it was a pure, unadulterated reflection of the joy that was tumbling out of me in that moment as I reflected on the incredible things God had done in our short time here in Oxford.

President of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society . . . Introducing Walter Hooper as the evening’s speaker, a man who was not only C. S. Lewis’s former secretary and friend, but now a good friend of mine. It was all so unreal, and I stood in awe of it all, in awe of God’s goodness and His incredible gifts, as the sound of clapping filled the room. My eyes caught Jen’s, just for a moment, from her spot sitting in the crowd, and I felt as though I simply could not be more happy than I felt in that moment.

“It really is a pleasure to be here,” I said, as the clapping quieted. “Thank you for joining us, and it is my pleasure to introduce tonight’s speaker, my friend, Walter Hooper.”

The sound of clapping once again filled the room.

Wednesday: Goodbye to one, Hello to two

I took a break from the Harris Manchester Library on Wednesday morning to meet Jen and Karli at the entrance gate to the college gardens. Karli was on her way to the bus station, as she’d be flying back to the States later that afternoon.

They arrived with hot chicken pesto paninis from the Alternative Tuck Shop in-hand, as well as Karli’s luggage.

“Well I’m really glad you were able to stop over and see us,” I told Karli before saying ‘goodbye.’ “Say hello to your family for us.”

“I will,” she said with a smile. “They’ll all be jealous.”

I turned and walked back toward the front doors of Harris Manchester, passing a guy with earphones blaring a Taylor Swift tune as I went. He was singing along as he walked, quite loudly, too. It made me laugh. And it reminded me of the time in the Bodleian Library when I opened my laptop and I couldn’t get it to stop blaring out Barlow Girl’s “I need you to love me” lyrics. At least this guy was outside, I thought to myself. And completely oblivious.

I returned to the library for a bit more reading, before stopping for lunch myself. I also wandered down to the Alternative Tuck and grabbed a sandwich for lunch, like the girls. After finishing my sandwich from the comfortable leather chairs of the Junior Common Room, I made my way back up the wide, stone staircase to the library for some more studying.

Passing through the wooden double-doors, I had a funny feeling that I had forgotten something. I began patting my hands on my jean pockets, hoping to jumpstart my memory. Katrina, the librarian, was standing behind her desk when she saw me and asked, “Forget your keys?”

Her question apparently did the trick, as it was just then I realized what I had forgotten.

“No, tea,” I said, looking back at her. “I was just remembering I need some tea.”

“Oh, and you thought of that when you looked at me? Why, because I’m English?” she said in a joking voice.

Without missing a beat, I replied, “Yes, that was a racial stereotype,” to which she replied by rolling her head back and laughing out loud. In her library voice, of course.

A few minutes later, I returned to my second story, window desk seat in the library with my hot cup of tea in hand. Now I was ready to return to my studies. I love hot, slightly sweet English tea after lunch on a cold, UK day.

It wasn’t long into my afternoon studies that I heard from a friend of mine from back home. Brandon, a guy I used to work with. We catch up from time to time. He to ask how life in Oxford is going; me to ask how life at the firm and in the Northwest is going.

On this particular afternoon, we found ourselves Instant Messaging each other, talking about a renewed thirst for His Word I had recently experienced. He was excited to hear this, and he asked me if I had read a book called “Crazy Love” by a pastor out of California by the name of Francis Chan. I told him I hadn’t, but that I planned to. And that I’ve really enjoyed his ministry and teaching.

me:  the thing i love about Francis Chan is that i feel like he has his priorities straight, in a way that is biblical, but completely counter-cultural

Brandon:  Dude, he’s killer

me:  he hurts for the poor and the non-believers

Brandon:  Jesus lover for sure

me:  and i feel like that’s what we need, more leaders like that

G.Brandon:  Thats because he loves Jesus

Saying “hello” to two more

That afternoon, I left Harris Manchester and met up with two family members at the train station: my cousin Noah, who recently graduated from the University of Michigan, and his dad, Randy. They’d be traveling around Europe, and London was their first stop. They arrived that day, and they took the train from London to Oxford to stay with us overnight before continuing their journeys.

I met them at the train station, with a hug and smiles all around. They wore large, hiking backpacks, which held all of their belongings for their trip. They looked surprisingly awake, considering the trans-Atlantic trip they had just made. They asked if I’d like a coffee before we made our way back to the city center. I thanked them but said, “No thanks,” and then we were on our way to meet up with Jen. We found Jen on Cornmarket Street, in the middle of the city center. Noah and Randy said “hello” to Jen, and then we began showing them around Oxford. They had never been before, so it was fun to show them all the old buildings and sights.

They took lots of photos as we walked. Of the 400-year old Bodleian Library, and of Christ Church and Tom Tower. We walked along the old city walls that run along the perimeter of Magdalen College and then walked back through the city center, stopping at the Eagle & Child for dinner. It was their first pub experience, and we were happy to share it with them.

After cleaning up several plates worth of bangers & mash, Noah and Randy replaced their large backpacks on their backs, and we made our way north to our home. By the time we arrived, they were happy to unload their backpacks, remove their shoes and settle in for the night.

Business at Hotel Pemberton was booming this week.

Thursday: Essay day and dinner with Jen 

I awoke Thursday morning to say my “goodbyes” to Noah and Randy, wish them safe, fun travels as they made their way around Europe, and then I was off to the library. I had an essay deadline that evening, and so I would be spending the next 10 hours typing away frantically to hit it and get my paper submitted in time.

Essay days are always a bit stressful. Making sure I have understood the question, finished all my background reading, and finally put together a semi-coherent essay that argues my point. But submitting my essay makes Thursday evening’s one of the most enjoyable evenings of the week. By this point in the week, I’ve normally been working nearly non-stop on my reading and writing, often not even stopping on essay days for lunch, so I’m always ready to relax in the evening and enjoy some time with Jennifer.

This particular Thursday evening was no different. We stayed in and made dinner. The perfect way to relax and spend some time together.

Jen had made a cake to help celebrate Karli’s birthday when she returned to Oxford earlier in the week. We had enjoyed it when she was here, but there was still several pieces left, even after Jen had brought some to the Kilns to share.

“You should clean up that cake,” Jen said, motioning to the cake that was sitting on the kitchen counter around 10:00 that night.

“I will. But I have to eat my dinner first,” I told her.

Truthfully, I was finishing my second dinner. Okay, honest truth, I had to finish seconds of my second dinner. And then I’d get to the cake. What can I say, I’m a growing boy.

Friday: My 2nd European Reformation Tutorial

My European Reformation tutorials for this term are held on Friday mornings. At 10:00 in my tutor’s offices at Wycliffe Hall, just a short, five-minute bike ride from where we live. If the weather’s nice, I like to start off these mornings with a run. I normally don’t have time, but with a 10:00 a.m. tutorial, it seems to work out as a good filler.

John, the other student in my tutorial, had recommended at the end of our first tutorial that we include each other in our e-mails when we submit our essays for the week, that way we have an idea of what points and arguments the other has made before we meet. I thought that seemed like a good idea. I pulled up his essay on my laptop while I ate a bowl of cereal standing in our kitchen that morning and I began reading.

Right away, I found myself in awe of his work. While I found him to be rather intelligent and on the ball during our first tutorial, I was completely shocked at just how good his essay was, particularly in comparison to what I had submitted.

“John uses big words,” I found myself thinking while eating my bowl of cereal as the morning sunlight poured in from our living room window. I wondered if I should bring color crayons along with me to our tutorial to go along with the essay I had produced.

Our second tutorial went great. John met me at the front door to the building at Wycliffe where we meet, wearing a large grin and his brown, floppy hair. Andrew, our tutor, welcomed us into his office when we arrived, and he stood so we could squeeze in and find a seat amongst the boxes and books piled up in every spare inch of the small room.

Andrew asked us to, briefly, share the key points we sought to make in our essays, before running through the week’s question and his thoughts. I felt good about my summary, but the feelings of embarrassment after reading John’s essay still haunted me. Thankfully, the thing about the English is that, no matter what they might think, they’re not likely to actually tell you to your face. This allowed me to enjoy our time together, and devour the conversation, taking notes of all of Andrew’s points.

An hour later, John and I were walking back down the spiral staircase from Andrew’s office, and walking back outdoors into the sunny Friday morning air. I was off to the library to pick up my books for the following week’s essay, and John was off to work with his rowing team, which he coaches. Clearly, he had things figured out. I thanked John for the conversation, wished him a great week, and then rode off toward the city center on my bike in the warm, sun-filled air.

The last thing I expected to see in England

I spent the rest of the day gathering books for next week’s essay, and working on my application for my proposed extended essay topic; a dissertation which would replace on my of elective classes. I planned to submit an abstract and bibliography for a proposed essay on the topic of C. S. Lewis & Christianity, looking at how he defended the faith after becoming a Christian. In particular, I’d be looking at how Lewis defended Christianity against those alternative ideas he previously held as an atheist, and later as a theist (who was drawn to the pagan myths of a dying god). I was excited to be working with Dr. Michael Ward, a Chaplain and member of the Theology Faculty here at Oxford, who has written a book on Lewis and the Narnia series that has received a significant amount of attention recently.

I felt honored to have Dr. Ward agree to sign on as my advisor for the paper, as he’s not only a good friend (through our similar interest in the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society), but he’s also brilliant (having graduated from Oxford, Cambridge and St. Andrew’s universities), and the man N. T. Wright declared the world’s foremost expert on C. S. Lewis. This will both work in my favor, and against me, in a way. Because of his incredibly deep knowledge of the topic, Dr. Ward will be able to help me with any questions I might have as I worked through this paper. On the other hand, his expectations will also be sky high. All the same, I’m both happy and honored for the opportunity.

After spending most of the day working from the Harris Manchester Library, I rode to the Starbucks on Cornmarket Street, in the city center, to meet up with Jen. She was on her way back from her day spent working at the Kilns, and we were going to meet up to grab a cup of coffee and figure out what we’d like to do for our date night in the city that evening.

I parked my bike just around the corner from Starbucks and, as I did, I saw something I never thought I’d see: a guy around my age wearing a “Les Schwab” jacket . . . In case you’re unfamiliar with Les Schwab, it’s the name of a chain of tire centers from our home in the northwest corner of the States.

Of all the things we’ve seen in England since arriving, this, more than anything else was a complete surprise. Suddenly, the world felt very small, indeed.

Friday: Last day of Greek & a plant for Rhona

Friday (March 4) was my last day of Greek. The rest of the class would be taking their Greek prelims the following Tuesday, but not me (since I’m a senior status student, and a year ahead of everyone else in the class, apart from Lyndon). I was just there for the fun of it.

I talked with Emily a bit before class started. Asking her how she was feeling about prelims (the exams Oxford students take at the end of their first year). She looked a bit tired, and I think she was feeling that way, too.

She said she was feeling okay about it, but that she also had another exam for prelims. In addition to Greek. She told me Tariq (the medical doctor who decided to come back and study Theology, without telling his family) actually had three exams that week, including two three-hour exams on Saturday.

“Oh, wow…” I said to her. “Well, if anyone can handle that, it’s Tariq.”

“Indeed,” she said, eyes turning to Rhona as Rhona looked to gather the class’ attention to the front of the room.

Since it was our last day of Greek, Emily had decided to get a “Thank you” card and a small plant for Rhona. From the class. We passed the card around the room while Rhona spoke. So that she couldn’t see. Signing a short note of thanks. And our names.

Just before Rhona could send us off and conclude class, Emily spoke up and told her we had something we’d like to give her. To tell her thanks.

She looked totally surprised by the gifts. And grateful for the thought. She unwrapped the plant. A hydrangea. And her eyes got big.

“Oh, how lovely, a hydrangea,” she said, holding the plant up in her hands and looking at it.

Then, turning toward us, she said, “That comes from the Greek word udor! Which means…”

“Water…”, said several of those in the class, finishing her sentence in tired voices.

Same old Rhona. Always bringing everything back to Greek. She’s a bit like the father from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in that way. The guy who is always wanting to teach people how the root-word of our English words come from Greek. The same guy who sprays Windex to fix everything, from cuts to zits.

I was walking back to Harris Manchester after Greek. With Emily. To wrap up my second of two essays due that week. For Patristics. When a girl on a bike let out a scream. She was riding toward us just as a blind man was crossing the street, swinging his cane as he tried to cross. She nearly ran into him, uncertain of whether he was going to cross or not.

We continued walking, but slowly, hesitantly, and stopping every few feet to look back and watch this man attempt to cross the street. To make sure he was okay. After a minute or so of this, I turned around and went back. To offer to help him cross. We weren’t on a busy street, it’s actually only for pedestrians. But there does tend to be a bit of bike traffic, and I felt horrible watching him try to cross without hitting anyone. Or being hit.

I walked up beside him and introduced myself. I told him I was happy to lend a hand if he was wanting to cross the street. He was a young guy. Maybe in his mid-20’s. I raised my arm so he could take a hold of it and we crossed, making sure no bicyclists were coming.

When we got to the other side, I asked him if he knew where he was going. And if he’d be able to find his way okay from here. He told me he could. So I said “goodbye” and returned to the other side of the street. Looking back over my shoulder, he still seemed to be struggling. He was walking slowly, and using his hands to feel the front of the buildings as he went. Touching each door to help orient himself. My heart went out to the guy. Apparently Emily’s did, too.

After walking ten feet or so, Emily turned around and said she was going to see if she couldn’t help him find wherever it was he was heading.

I watched as she did. Looking back over my shoulder as I walked down the street. Coming to the intersection where I had to turn the corner to head toward Harris Manchester, I looked back one last time to try and get Emily’s attention. To let her know I was continuing on to HMC. But she didn’t look. She was too engaged in conversation with this guy who she was walking with. Only taking her eyes off of him to look down at her feet and his, so as to make sure he didn’t trip up. Nothing at that point was more important to her than this conversation.

And I was so proud. Proud to have a friend with such a big heart.

I like it when God puts people like that in my life, I thought to myself as I rounded the corner and made my way to Harris Manchester. People who care so much about others. It reminds me not to be so focused on myself that I miss opportunities to serve others.

Napping in the Oriel courtyard

Seventh week was a very busy week for me. I had my last Old Testament essay due on Thursday evening, and my Patristics essay due Friday at 2:00. From Wednesday to Friday, I ended up punching out about 8,000 words worth of essays. On top of tackling each tutorial’s reading list (between 10 and 20 books each). Needless to say, by the time it came time to present my papers, I was beat.

I made it through Patristics okay, but then, immediately following that tutorial, I had to turn around and head to my Old Testament tutorial. I didn’t know if I had anything left in me. By the time you get to the end of the term here, you really do feel like you’re going to collapse.

I left the Theology Faculty Library, where my Patristics tutorial is held, and rode my bike toward Oriel College. To meet with my Old Testament tutor. To present my paper. I wasn’t supposed to be presenting this week. I have another guy in my tutorial, and so we rotate weeks. Switching off between who presents their paper each time we meet. But, just after turning in my paper that Thursday evening, I received an e-mail from Dave, my academic supervisor, letting me know the other guy in my class had dropped the course. And that I’d be presenting my paper.

“Perfect,” I thought to myself.

I arrived at Oriel a few minutes early. Looking into the window of where we meet, I could see my tutor, Casey, was still meeting with Emily, who has her tutorial just before mine.

Looking around the courtyard where I stood, I found a seat and took advantage of a few spare minutes to catch my breath. The first opportunity in several days, it seemed.

I sat down heavily, allowing my body to sink into the wooden chair. Fully enjoying the brief break from what felt like a frantic pace.

It was a  beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon, and my eyes wandered around the courtyard as I waited for Emily’s tutorial to wrap up. Taking in the tall, apartment-looking buildings that reached high into the blue sky overhead.

…And a metal spiral staircase that spun and spun before arriving at a room somewhere on the next story.

A handful of construction workers were cleaning up from the workday from the scaffolding of a building to my right. I listened to their conversation for a few minutes before leaning my head backwards to rest against the wooden chair, and closing my eyes, to get some rest before my Old Testament tutorial began.

I drifted off into something of a light sleep, and it was only when I overhead Emily and Casey asking each other if they should wake me that I realized what had happened. I quickly raised my head and threw open my eyes. Smiling at them both.

“How’re you doing?” Casey asked.

“Tired,” I replied, as we walked down the few concrete steps that lead into the room where we meet. “Looking forward to the weekend to catch up on some rest.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when Casey told me he wouldn’t have me present my paper. Recognizing it wasn’t my turn to present, and it hardly seemed fair to make me do so just because my classmate dropped the course.

Instead, we talked through the topic (1 and 2 Chronicles) together, and we scheduled a time to meet one last time. For a bit of an Old Testament history recap, which would help me prepare for my collections (testing) before the start of the next term.

Walking home that night, with Jen. After grabbing dinner in the city center. I was thankful to have made it through the week. And to have everything turned in. It would be my last week of essays for the term, and I was officially ready to collapse.

Monday: hands&feet in the mail and a Birthday tour of the Kilns

The doorbell rang Monday morning, shortly after I woke. As if to signal the start of another week.

It was the mail. The only time the doorbell is rung by the mailman is when a package needs to be signed for. So I was excited. To see what had come from home.

Signing for the box, and thanking the mailman, I took the package into the living room and wasted no time in opening it. It was from my Grandpa.

And, for perhaps the first time, he wasn’t sending us granola bars or cereal.

This time, he was sending us books. My book, hands&feet. 15 copies.

They had just rolled off the printer back home. And I was excited to see them.

It was actually the second edition of my book. A couple summer’s ago, my best friend Steve published my writing at hands&feet as a birthday present. I was blown away… A year later, I decided to add the rest of my writing, which I had written since this first printing, and republish the book in a second edition.

The book includes everything from when I first wrote about how we tend to treat the Cross like a Member’s Only jacket, more than three years ago now, to telling the story that led up to us leaving home and making this journey to England.

It took about eight months from the time I first started laying out the second edition to the time it rolled off the printers. Working on editing and layout while on vacation at a house on the Hood Canal back in Washington last summer. And while working on my schoolwork here. So I was pretty excited to finally see it in print. To hold it in my hands and flip through its pages. All 294 pages worth.

If you’re interested in a copy, let me know. I have some here in Oxford, and apparently there’s still some left back home. I’d be happy to get you one.

A birthday Kilns tour

I had a tour of the Kilns scheduled for that afternoon. Deb asked me the weekend before if I’d be willing and available to help out. There were only three people in the group, but this type of tour would be a first for her.

Two parents from Houston had gotten a hold of Deb to request a tour of the Kilns that week. They were touring around England with their son, Kirk, and they were traveling to see the Kilns for his birthday present. Kirk just turned 15. And he’s a huge C.S. Lewis fan.

What made this tour a first for Debbie, though, is that Kirk is in a wheelchair (because of his Cerebral Palsy). And so, getting around the house might be a bit of a trick, she thought. Deb let them know upfront that not every part of the house would be wheelchair accessible, including Lewis’ bedroom upstairs, but that we’d be happy to show them around as much as we could. They understood, and they were all for seeing as much as possible.

I arrived just before Kirk and his parents were scheduled to start their tour that afternoon. And I helped Deb with a few last minute things before they arrived.

Deb welcomed the three of them at the door, and I greeted them from the front of the house, in the common room. After telling them a bit about myself, I showed them around the house, pointing out photos of Lewis along the way. And sharing stories. And they loved it. I could tell they were fans of Lewis. And they were well read. Christine’s eyes would get big at different points along the tour, and Kirk would raise his head to look at the photos as I pointed them out.

Robin, Kirk’s father, and Christine, his mom, took turns pushing Kirk’s wheelchair, and making the sharp turns around the corners. English homes are tight as it is; they really aren’t wheelchair friendly in the least. But Robin and Christine were great. And they made sure Kirk was able to enjoy as much of it as possible. Christine told me he was a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia series. A wide grin spread across Kirk’s face, confirming the point.

It was a really nice day out, and so we took a walk up to the pond behind Lewis’ home after finishing the tour inside the Kilns. I warned them that the trail might be a bit muddy from the rain we had over the weekend, but they were all for it.

And it was beautiful. Several ducks were swimming on the waters. As well as two beautiful, large geese. I pointed out the bomb shelter Lewis had built at the far end of the pond during the second World War. And Christine had Robin take her photo in front of it. We stopped at the edge of the pond, to take in the view. It really was incredibly beautiful.

Christine turned to me slightly and said, “I think you have a pretty good deal here, Ryan.”

“Yeah, I really do,” I told her. “It’s nothing less than a dream come true.”

We walked to the other end of the pond, where Lewis used to sit, and I pointed out the brick bench that had been uncovered only within the past decade or so.

I told them how Lewis used to swim in the pond. And paddle his punt around it. I told them being up here, surrounded by the trees, and by the water, made me feel like I was back home.

They asked about where I live. And about the hiking, in particular. I told them my Dad actually lives in Texas, and that we had gone on a nice hike there one time. On this huge rock out in the middle of the desert.

“It was near this small German town that I can’t recall the name of right now,” I told them.

“Fredericksburg!” they both said in unison, with great excitement.

“Yeah, that’s the place.”

Apparently that’s where they went for their honeymoon. After deciding against the UK.

“We had a great time just camping out and hiking,” they told me. “And we still got our trip to the UK.”

We made our way back to the Kilns, so they could say goodbye to Deb. And thank her for making all the arrangements.

Kirk and Robin and I waited outside, in front of the house, while Christine went to find Deb inside. I squatted down beside Kirk’s wheelchair as we talked, and Robin asked me about my time in Oxford so far. They told me how they had visited a church while they were in Scotland, and how they were surprised to find it so empty. They asked about my experience with the church here, and I had told them there were a lot of empty churches around the UK, unfortunately, but that we had found a wonderful community to worship with here in Oxford.

Deb and Christine came walking through the front door a few minutes later, greeting us in front of the house. And Christine asked if she could take a photo of Deb and I with Kirk. I told her I thought that was a great idea.

I always feel incredibly happy after finishing a tour of the Kilns. Incredibly fortunate and blessed for all of this experience. But that was particularly true after finishing this tour. After seeing the love Robin & Christine had for their son, Kirk. And the lengths they went to show him their love, in celebration of his 15th birthday.

Happy birthday, Kirk. It was a pleasure to meet you and your family, and to introduce you to CS Lewis’ old home for your birthday.

Tuesday: Celebrating Walter’s 80th birthday

I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this with you, but Walter is celebrating his 80th birthday at the end of this month. I was excited to hear that the Oxford University CS Lewis Society was throwing him a birthday party to celebrate, and that we were invited to join in on the celebration.

The party was held on Tuesday evening of 8th Week, the last night of the Society’s gathering for the term. At a church on the edge of Oxford’s city center. Where Walter attends. Just down the street from the Eagle & Child.

The room was full when we walked in. Lots of men dressed in suits and ties, and women in dresses. Wine in hand. Talking. Laughing. And smiling. I recognized several people, and I immediately spotted Walter, surrounded by what looked to be a group of friends around his age.

We were greeted by David as we entered. Current President of the Society. He told us to help ourselves to some food and wine. And that they’d be giving Walter his presents shortly.

Walter made his way over to us before we had a chance to approach the food table. And I was glad he did. Jennifer and I had just been over to his house that Sunday afternoon. For tea. And I had asked him how he was feeling about the upcoming celebration. He told me he was dreading it. He told me he didn’t feel worthy of any of it. And I assured him he more than deserved it.

As part of the celebration, two former Oxford CS Lewis Society Presidents had taken it upon themselves to put together a festschrift in his honor. A compilation of essays on the topic of Lewis and the Church. And they would be unveiling it for the first time at the party.

I had told Walter that it was due in large part to his more than 40 years of work that so many people around the world had been introduced to Lewis’ writings. He reminded me Lewis thought his books would die off and be forgotten about 10 years after he passed away. But Walter had told him they wouldn’t. He told Lewis people were too smart and his writing too good for that to happen. He was right.

Walter met Jen and I with a large hug that evening. We told him happy birthday (even though technically his birthday wasn’t until later that month), and that it looked like a wonderful party. He agreed. He told us he was happy to see so many people turn out. Including his good friend Priscilla Tolkein, J.R.R. Tolkein’s only daughter.

We let Walter continue his way around the room, and Jen and I said “hi” to a few more people before the gifts were opened. Including Cole, dressed in a full suit and tie, and wearing a large smile. I told him they had done a great job putting the party together, and that it looked like a success.

Shortly after that, David rapped a wine glass with a spoon several times to quiet the room, and to gather everyone’s attention. He told the room we would now be officially starting the celebration, and that Michael Ward had a few words to say in Walter’s honor.

Michael had been standing behind the bar going over what looked like notes for his speech in his hands when we arrived. And he was now standing at the front of the room to deliver a speech in honor of Walter’s birthday.

He did a wonderful job. He told about the time Walter first met Lewis, and how Lewis had led him to the “bathroom” (a room with just that, a bathtub, and only a bathtub) after Walter had asked for the bathroom, knowing full well Walter was really in need of a toilet. And how, after Walter finally got up the courage to return to the common room to explain the miscommunication to Lewis, how Lewis replied, “Ah… Well that will cure you of those useless American euphemisms!”

Even though most everyone there that night had heard the familiar story before, laughter filled the room. Michael told the room that if it weren’t for that practical joke, and the breaking of the ice in that way, Walter and Lewis may not have become so close, and Walter might not have become so involved in helping share Lewis’ writing with others. Something everyone in the room, and people around the world, have benefited from.

After Michael’s speech, he introduced the festscrhift, and he also handed over a large, gift-wrapped present for Walter to open. Walter tore the brown paper from the gift and stared intently at it as the paper fell to the floor. It was a painting. From a scene in Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. The scene in which Lewis meets his literary mentor George McDonald (a man who Lewis never met in real life, but who influenced Lewis’ writing tremendously).

Michael explained how Lewis was quick to admit that he was forever indebted to McDonald’s writing, and that there wasn’t any book of his in which he didn’t either directly or indirectly quote McDonald. Michael explained how, just as Lewis benefited from McDonald’s work, Walter benefited from Lewis’ work, and largely because of Walter’s work, so have we.

When Michael had finished, and after Walter had the opportunity to take in this painting, he turned to the room with a look of seriousness on his face. You could tell Walter’s not one who likes the spotlight, but you could also tell he was incredibly grateful for the kind words, and for the gift.

“If you’ll permit me this once,” he spoke to the room, in that soft voice of his, “I’d like to compare myself to Lewis’ character of Aslan.”

I know Walter, and I’ve always known him to be an incredibly humble man. And so, this comparison struck me as odd. But he continued.

“You may recall, in the book Prince Caspian, Reepicheep has just lost his tail. And the other mice are standing at his side, waiting to cut off their own tails as a way to honor him. And when Aslan sees this love Reepicheep’s fellow mice have for him, he responds by saying, ‘You have conquered me.'”

“And that is how I feel at this moment,” he continued, looking around the room, with a warm look of sincerity. “You all have conquered me.”

The room erupted with the sound of clapping, and I was so proud and grateful to have been invited to join in on the celebration that evening. The celebration of a life well-lived.

Tuesday: Adjusting to my wet shorts

I was sitting in the library at Harris Manchester the following Tuesday afternoon. From my old familiar spot by the window on the second floor. Reading for my Patristics essay. When I stopped. And smiled. Realizing where I was. And what I was doing.

A couple weeks earlier, before Steve had arrived, I had been sitting in the same seat. Late one night. Staring out the window at the Oxford countryside settling into the darkness of another evening. Thinking how weird it was. To have received my dream of coming here and at the same time feeling like all I wanted was what I had left. Wanting so badly just to be back home, with my family and friends. To hold my new niece. To be doing what I knew how to do well. To have things back to the way they were. To just be back where things are familiar and comfortable.

But now, on this afternoon, I found myself fully aware of what an incredible blessing this was. Studying Theology at Oxford… The dream of my heart. The dream I was too embarrassed to share with others for so long. And now here I was. Right in the middle of it. And it felt amazing.

Reading the incredible works of these early Church fathers. Brilliant men. Men who didn’t just take this faith for granted, but who actively defended it. And explained it. Teaching others the truth that been handed down to them. With only a generation or two between them and the Apostles. The Apostles who had received these teachings from Jesus himself.

Since arriving here in Oxford, I regularly have the opportunity to listen to incredibly brilliant speakers. The kind of men who make me feel as though I should be off playing in a sandbox while they discuss such things. I get to be around the kind of discussions I may never again be fortunate enough to be around.

I get to translate Greek. Which I would normally say is just a horrible experience. But now, all of a sudden I’m beginning to see these words come alive.  In a way I’ve never known them before, almost as if I’m reading the Gospels for the first time. Even though I know them so well.

And I remembered what Principal Waller said to me that first time I sat in his office last fall. With the sun shining through the windows as he welcomed me to Harris Manchester. I remembered how he had told me that it probably seems overwhelming and really uncomfortable now, but that it would get better. I remember him comparing the transition to putting on a wet swimsuit. Totally uncomfortable at first. But then you jump in the water, and soon the discomfort fades away completely.

That’s really how it’s been. Without even realizing it, all of a sudden you find yourself swimming in this stuff and loving it.

And it made me think about being home. About all those summers spent at the lake with Jen and her family. It made me think about those hot summer days, falling in and out of sleep while laying in the sun and listening to children’s laughter bouncing off the sound of waves washing ashore. It’s probably the most peaceful place I know of. It’s my happy place. And I have a hard time thinking of anywhere else I’d rather be.

But it made me think about how often times I’d be lying there, in the sun. Warm. And not wanting to move. Being totally at peace. But then being asked to go for a ride behind the boat. To go wakeboarding. Or tubing. And not really wanting to. Not wanting to move because the sun just feels so good. Not wanting to feel the tight clench of the cold water when you first jump in.

But then you do. Hesitantly, you leave your dry, peaceful spot in the sun, you put on your lifejacket, and you go for a ride. And all of a sudden you’re having an incredible time. Soaring across the lake. The sound of your own laughter now echoing off the water. Sure, you get wet, and you’re not as warm as you were before. It’s not nearly as peaceful. But you’re also having the time of your life. And were you not to leave that place in the sun, you wouldn’t have experienced these laughs. These amazing experiences on the water. You would’ve had some more time in the sun, lying there, sure. But you wouldn’t have had these exciting experiences.

It’s a bit like that. It was so incredibly tough leaving home and coming here. More difficult that I can probably put into words. And it’s still tough. Very much so, at times. And yet, I’m so glad I did. The wet shorts are uncomfortable at first, sure, but pretty soon you’re having the time of your life. You’re having incredible experiences. And you’re thinking how glad you are for leaving your spot of comfort in the sun.

If you’re in a spot like that. Loving the comfort of the sun, loving how peaceful things are, but also thinking about pushing yourself. If you’re considering answering that call that keeps tugging at you to get up and leave your place in the sun, I’d tell you to go for it. The water feels great.

Doing well

My face must’ve shown it, how good I was feeling about everything all of a sudden, as I ran into Amanda from the front office while stepping out to grab a panini.

“Ryan, how are you?” she asked me with that look of sincere concern and genuine interest. Her eyebrows going up in the middle just so, as we approached each other in the hallways of Harris Manchester that afternoon.

“I’m doing well, thank you,” I told her with a smile. “I’m doing really well,” I said, looking back while continuing toward the stairs.

“You look like you’re doing really well,” she said, like a parent, comforted after seeing her child again for the first time since being apart for a stretch.

“Thanks, Amanda. It’s great to see you,” I said waving.

A proud uncle

Jennifer sent me this picture earlier this week…

Is that not the most amazing thing you’ve seen in a long time? It took your breath away a little bit, didn’t it?

That’s my niece, Khloe Dawn. She’s now the new wallpaper on my Macbook Pro.

Jen and Leann have been doing a great job of making me feel connected with everything back home. With Khloe. Even though I’m so far away from it all. I get photos pretty regularly in my e-mail inbox. I get to see Jen holding Khloe (who’s usually asleep at the time). And Leann writes me telling me all about the new experiences. About how Khloe rolled over for the first time.

And I love it. All of it. Which is funny, because I’ve never been a big baby guy. Until now. Khloe has made me change my ways. She’s beautiful. And every time I see her I just want to reach out my hands and take her in my arms. I told Jen the other day I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do come summertime when we get back home.

It’s official, I’ve become that uncle who brags about his niece. I never thought I’d see the day…

Wednesday: When my Greek came alive

I stayed behind after Greek that next morning. To talk with Rhona. I stood by the door as she gathered up her things and made her way out of the room. Looking up, I think she was surprised to still see me there.

“Hello,” she said with that wide smile of hers, eyes squinting just so behind her glasses.

Rhona has the kind of voice that would make her a perfect grandma. That sing-song kind of a voice that shoots up high with excitement and warmth at each greeting.

“Hey Rhona, I just wanted to share with you about what happened yesterday while I was translating our Greek text for class this morning,” I told her as we came to a stop just outside the door leading into the classroom.

“I was making my way through Mark 15,” I told her, “when I came to verse 24. And I know this story. I know it really well, actually. And so it’s not like I was hearing it for the first time. But, for whatever reason, as I was translating this text, it was almost as if I were hearing it for the first time.”

Her eyes were big behind her glasses, and she was leaning foward just so. I could tell she knew what I was talking about.

“And when I came to verse 24, I just found I had to stop. I knew what this word meant, but I just couldn’t do it… It was almost like, if I translated it, it would be real, and I didn’t want it to be real…”

“Yes, yes I know,” Rhona said. Her brow sinking low, as if she had complete sympathy with this experience, assuring me she did in fact know what I was referring to.

“No, you’re right, we don’t want it to be true,” she said.

“But I translated those words, ‘they crucified him.’ And I don’t know any way to describe it, other than to say it was like this familiar story was new, for the first time,” I told her. “And it really made me appreciate being able to translate the Greek.”

“I remember getting to the end of this account and just thinking to myself, ‘This man’s been murdered!'”

“Executed,” Rhona corrected me. “Yes, and for holding to the truth.”

Rhona’s a believer. She loves Jesus. And I could tell, in her voice and in her face. That this was real to her, too. Jesus’ death. That it both broke her heart and caused her to love this man with deep gratitude, at the same time.

That’s how it made me feel. It was a beautiful, incredible experience. Translating the Greek text from the Passion Account for the first time. It was as if I really was experiencing this truth for the first time, and it was so encouraging to share it with her. And to have it understood.

Grizzly Adams did have a beard

I’ve never been a facial hair guy. I don’t know what it is. I guess it kind of drives me nuts a little bit. It gets itchy, letting my facial hair grow much. And so I usually do a pretty good job of keeping my face shaved.

But Jen, well Jen’s even more against facial hair than I am. I swear, sometimes I can hug her that very same day after shaving and she’ll accuse me of trying to poker her eye out with my facial hair. And I’m not a hairy guy. Not in the least. But that’s how she is. She’s really sensitive to facial hair.

And so, knowing I had a couple weeks before Jen arrived yet, I decided to let it grow out.

“Why not,” I figured. “Now’s my chance to be a bit of a bum and get away with it.”

It’s a funny feeling, going from being clean-shaven and getting dressed up every day to meet with clients to not shaving and wearing whatever I want for class. I feel like I’m living someone else’s life most of the time I’m here still.

Saturday: Breakfast with the guys

After our traditional English breakfast the previous week, Max told us he’d try to find us a place with a bit more of an American menu for our next get-together.

“Someplace we can get some real, American pancakes,” he said.

I’m a pretty big fan of pancakes, so I wasn’t about to argue with that.

He sent us an e-mail a couple days before Saturday rolled around. Telling us there was a place called Giraffe in the city center that should do a pretty good job with some American pancakes.

I never knew pancakes would be a tough thing to get here, but apparently the English pancakes aren’t quite what they are back home. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by that at this point, but they’re not. They’re more like crepes, which is a different thing altogether, if traditional pancakes is what you’re looking for.

I met up with Rich and Max that Saturday morning for breakfast. And for our second prayer meeting. It was good to see them.

I was the last one to arrive, pulling off my sweatshirt and vest, pulling out a chair and draping them over the back of the chair before taking my seat.

“How’re you guys doing?” I asked, catching my breath from the bike ride.

Giraffe’s a really cool spot. I wouldn’t mind if we met there every time, actually. The decor strikes a pretty even balance between simplistic modern design and eco-friendly / funky.

A combination of sleek, wooden booths and tables filled the room, with minimalistic chairs circled around them.

The menu was definitely on the healthy / “I care what I’m putting into my body” side. Looking over the options, we all decided to go with the pancakes when the waiter came around to take our order. “Blueberry banana pancakes,” it read.

“I’ve been thinking about pancakes all week since you mentioned that the last time we met up,” I told Max, handing my menu to the waiter.

He laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

We had a great time catching up. On our past week. And just sharing life over sips of coffee. Bouncing things off of each other to the response of head nods and softly-delivered advice. It’s great to have a group like that. To share stuff with. To bounce things off of.

We were all taken aback when our pancakes made their way to the table. Their presentation was something else.

The pancakes came in threes. And in-between each pancake stood four or five slices of banana, acting as columns to hold up the pancake on top of it. It was like that between the bottom and middle pancake, and then again between the middle and top pancake. And then, on top of the tower of pancakes, sat a dollop of fresh, crushed blueberries, with their juices draining over the sides. It was a thing of beauty.

We said a prayer, blessing the food, and then we took turns pouring liberal amounts of syrup over the pancakes before digging in.

“Mmm… those are good!” I said in-between bites.

I told the guys about a time I was having breakfast for lunch with a good friend of mine back home.

“A former colleague of mine,” I told them. “Really bright guy. Member of Mensa. And a devout atheist. We were sitting there in this restaurant and I was eating my pancakes when I looked up from my plate to ask him, ‘You know why I believe in God?'”

“Why’s that?” he asked, looking over at me from across the table, not seeming terribly surprised by my question.

“Pancakes,” I said with a smile. And he just smiled in response.

The guys laughed.

My shadow beard

My Mom Skyped in with me that Saturday. During their afternoon. We were talking, catching up on how the week had wrapped up, and talking about the weekend. My brother Zach was there, too. So we talked for a bit after Mom and I had caught up. About movies that had just come out. About what he had seen. About what I was hoping to catch.

After several minutes of talking with Zach, my sister Lucy stopped by. I hadn’t seen her for a while, and she had no idea I was pulling a Grizzly Adams while Jen was away.

“Hey Ryan!” she said, greeting me on the computer screen as she came into the room. “Wait, what’s that on your face?!” she asked with a look of confusion.

I laughed.

“It’s just a shadow,” Zach said, trying to pull one over on her. We always give Lucy a bit of a hard-time about being gullible.

“Oh,” she said. “It looked like you had a beard there for a second.”

Zach and I just laughed. It was great catching up with them again.


Wednesday: Wet pants and personal belongings in the toilet

It was a wet morning for my second Greek class of the term. And riding my bike didn’t help matters. It was a bit like riding through a sprinkler. It reminded me of being back home in the Pacific Northwest, actually.

By the time I arrived at the Exam Schools for Greek, I was officially soaked. Thankfully, after an hour or so of class, I had managed to dry off a bit. Lyndon had also biked to class that morning, so he was in the same boat.

As Greek finished and we were packing up our things, I made the comment that my pants were soaked by the time I made it to class that morning.

“Trousers,” Lyndon said, quickly correcting me. “Your trousers were soaked,” he said again, with a smile.

“Ah, yes,” I nodded. “Thanks. My trousers were soaked,” somewhat sheepishly. Wondering how many other ears in the classroom had heard my words.

For those unfamiliar with the difference, here in the UK pants are referred to as “trousers.” It seems really formal and out-dated to us back in the States to call pants “trousers,” but here in the England, “pants” are what you wear underneath your trousers.

Having “soaked pants” would mean something quite different.

Speaking of things getting lost in translation, I love this sign in the restroom in the same building that my Greek class is held…

Back home, you’d hope people wouldn’t have a hard time leaving their personal belongings in the toilet. But they might forget them in the restroom, maybe, which is what this sign is getting at.

The word “restroom” isn’t used here. I’m not even sure the word “bathroom” is. Except by tourists.

Nope, it’s just called the toilet. Or the loo. I like the sound of that better. The loo.

I still have a hard time calling the restroom “the toilet.” It sounds so. . .so crass. It doesn’t sound very English, does it? Certainly not very Oxford…

“Hey, where’s the toilet?!”

But that’s what they call it here. I still call it the restroom. Yeah, I’m that guy.

Here’s a fun idea for all you kids reading: start referring to the restroom as the “toilet” back home in the States. Just tell people you’re working on your British.

An odd piece of mail

It’s been cold here lately. Particularly in the mornings. Which makes having a good, warm pair of gloves a necessity. Especially when I’m riding my bike to class in the mornings.

I’ve been tucking my gloves into the rear pocket of my messenger bag when I’m not wearing them. Which seemed like a reasonable spot for them. That was until I misplaced one of them.

It’s not an enclosed pocket. It’s more for slipping notebooks and such into, and so somehow one of my gloves apparently fell out of my bag while I was riding around town at some point. Not good when the weather’s as cold as it had been in the mornings. And, unfortunately, I had no idea when it happened, as I had been riding all over the city. It really could’ve been anywhere.

Leaving Harris Manchester Wednesday night, after reading in the library that day, I stopped into the mailroom to see if I had anything waiting for me. I was surprised to find my missing glove sitting in my mailbox!

I’m still a little unsure how it got there, and how the person who found it knew it was mine, but I sure was happy to see it sitting there. So, if you’re reading this, short of a little bit of witchcraft, I don’t know how you did it, but thanks!

Thursday: A visitor from home

After a grey, wet day on Wednesday, I was thankful to see some sunny blue skies on Thursday. I’m not a big fan of rainy winter weather that feels a bit like fall just overstayed its welcome. But dry, cold winters, I’ll take those any day of the week.

This particular day was beautiful, the white brushstrokes of clouds against the blue canvas of a sky created a beautiful backdrop for the Oxford spyres that stretch high into the sky.

A jet soaring overhead provided the only straight line in this otherwise abstract sky painting that morning.

Thursday was a great day not only because it was a sunny, blue sky day after a day of rain, but because my best friend Steve was arriving in Oxford from back home. He had been wanting to come out at the start of February with Jen, but he had a speaking engagement come up that he really couldn’t miss out on, so he ended up bumping the trip up a bit.

I was really excited to have him out for a week (or just over a week). I made a special trip to the grocery store before meeting him to make sure we had some food around. It’s not such a big deal to have things be a bit bare when you’re a bachelor by yourself. But when you have company, it’s nice to make sure no one’s going to go hungry. I figured I’d give Steve more options than oatmeal and soup. He is my best friend, after all…

Steve caught the bus from London Heathrow to Oxford, which takes right around an hour. I’ve taken it a couple times now, and it’s not a bad ride at all.

I was excited to find him waiting with his luggage at the bus stop that afternoon. He looked like he was doing incredibly well for the 6,000 mile journey he had just made.

“Great to see you, bud!” I told him with a hug.

“Yeah, you, too, man. Good to be here.”

We grabbed a cab and headed toward the house.

“Looks like you timed it right; it’s a beautiful day here in Oxford today,” I told him. “It hasn’t been so nice.”

“Yeah? Well, I tend to bring the sunshine.”

“Apparently,” I replied, both of us taking in the sights as the cab shuttled us through the city center.

“It’s weird, but it doesn’t actually feel like I’ve been gone very long,” Steve said. “I can picture everything so clearly.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of an odd feeling, isn’t it? Kind of like returning to a familiar dream.”

The cab dropped us off in front of the house and we fought with the change a bit before finally figuring out the right amount. It doesn’t make you feel very smart when you have a hard time counting change. It’s taken me a while, but I finally feel like I’m starting to get it down now. Just one more thing that’s just different enough to be confusing…

We unloaded Steve’s bags in the house and I helped him get settled in a bit. He pulled out two large pieces of tupperwear, packed to the brim with homemade muffins.

“From your Mom,” Steve told me. “She really packed them really well.”

She really had. First sealed in tupperwear, then taped up with several rounds of packing tape.

She had told me she’d be sending me out some treats along with Steve. She had asked me what kind of muffins I liked. Looked like banana chocolate chip, blueberry and raspberry.

“Oh man…” I said looking through the clear plastic at the muffins hidden inside. There’s nothing quite like getting home-baked goods when you’re so far from home. It’s a bit like receiving a little piece of home.

“And she gave me these for you, too,” Steve said, handing me several cards.

“To Steve,” read one of the cards. “Looks like this one’s made out to you,” I told him, handing it back.

“Oh wow…”

I had two cards. One from my Mom. One from Abbey. My Mom’s pet Shih Tzu. She’s a great dog, but I had no idea she was literate. It was a bit Lassie of her, really. I was half-expecting to open it and find she had told me Timmy had fallen in a well.

The card from my Mom had two photos. Of us. From when I was pretty young.

“Wow, you were chubby!” Steve commented on the photos.

“Thanks, bud.”

An international pizza

We went to a pizza place in the city center for dinner that night, after I wrapped up a paper for my Old Testament course. It’s a really cool place. With wood fire cooked pizza. The decor is really modern. And open. It’s dim inside, and always full of people. Which tells you the pizza is just as good as the atmosphere.

The three of us had come here the last time Steve was in town, and we were both wanting to go again when he arrived. After a week and a half of being here, some pizza sounded great.

The menu is really great here, too. It’s set up so that pizzas are categorized by geography. You might find some Asian-inspired pizzas featuring hoisin sauce, an African pizza with a mint yogurt sauce, or a barbecue steak pizza inspired by the great State of Texas. Along with some more traditional pies.

We went with one from Australia, with chicken and potato and sour cream, and the barbecue steak pizza from back home. They were both really great. We sat in the bar, overlooking the restaurant and out toward the street. It was great sitting there with my best friend from back home and enjoying pizza. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so far from home.

I told Steve there have been several times where I’ve thought I had seen someone I knew, but then I realized the person I thought I saw was from back home, and there’d be no way they were actually here. It’s a weird feeling.

“That’s funny,” he said, “because I was just thinking the same thing when you said that. I thought for a second I had seen a good friend of mine from high school.”

We sat there and talked for quite a while. Eating our pizza slowly. Until there was only a few pieces left. The place was still busy when we asked for our check.

My eyes caught a couple sitting in the middle of the restaurant as we talked. A younger couple. He was watching something on his phone. A video, from the looks of it. And the girl across from him was busy texting. Almost the whole time. He took bites of his pizza, without removing his eyes from the tiny screen in front of him.

“How sad,” I remember thinking to myself. “What I wouldn’t give to get to spend a meal across from my wife at this point.”

We threw in the towel with a couple pieces of pizza still left on the pans in-between us. It’s not something I’m proud of, not finishing food like that. I’m known for eating several plates at dinner back home, and then having a second dinner a couple hours later. I must be losing my touch.

Steve told me I’m getting older. And that pretty soon my metabolism is going to start catching up with me. I told him I’m not looking forward to that day. But that I’m going to enjoy my two-dinners a night until then.

The bill came and we were both surprised to see that two pizzas had only cost us £8. Usually that would’ve been the price of just one pizza, but apparently Thursday nights are £4 pizza nights at this place.

“Looks like we’ll be coming back here on Thursday nights,” I told Steve as we made our way out of the restaurant and walked through the city center on our way back home.

Friday: An introduction to Patristics

I had Greek Friday morning, so Steve walked into town with me to get some work done while I was in class. He went to Starbucks while I headed to Greek and I caught up with him afterward.

I found him right away after Greek. His eyes looked tired and, before he could even admit it, I could tell the time difference was catching up with him.

“How’re you doing bud,” I said to him as I sat my bag down on a chair at the table he had been working at.

“I’m tired,” he told me in a worn out voice.

“Yeah, I can tell.”

“I’m thinking about heading back and taking a nap, actually.”

“You should,” I told him. I had a paper due that afternoon, so I would just be working from the library that afternoon. “Why don’t you head back to the house and get some rest. I’ll catch up with you after I finish and we can get together to grab a bite.”

“Sounds good.” He wasn’t about to argue with that idea.

I plugged away from the library at Harris Manchester to finish my paper just in time before it was due. I would be presenting it in class that afternoon. It’s for a new class I’m starting this term, Patristics. Or early church fathers. Basically, the class is covering some of the more prominent guys who helped define the early Christian ideas as they were handed down from the apostles. Defending the faith against false traditions that were beginning to arise. In the second and third centuries. So, really, not too terribly long after the death of Jesus. A few generations, I guess.

These were brilliant guys, and I’m really, really enjoying this material. I can’t get over how well these guys intelligibly communicate these doctrines, paying careful attention to the Scriptures. I love it. I feel like it’s good for my soul. I feel refreshed and nourished reading for it. And this is part of my class work, I remind myself. So great. I really consider myself fortunate to get to study this stuff full-time.

My Patristics class is being taught by a woman from Eastern Europe. She’s from Russia originally, I believe. Konstantinovsky is her last name. And, for this class, I’m the only student. It’s still crazy to me to think of a university class made up of one student. But that’s how it is. One-to-one student-to-teacher ratio. Crazy. But that’s the beauty of an Oxford education for you.

Cole had told me before class that she’s pretty particular. That she’ll call you out if you use the wrong word here or there. And that she really enjoys this material, so as long as you show an excitement for it, it’ll be great. Fortunately, I’ve been eating this stuff up, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

She has a bare office. Overlooking St. Giles Street. The same street Eagle & Child is on. Just above the Theology Faculty Library. A computer desk sits in one corner of the room, piled high with papers and books, and  a second desk sits in the middle of the room. With a chair on either side. A few sparse book shelves hang from the walls. And a chair sits in another corner. Apart from that, the room is very bare.

I handed her a copy of my paper and saved one for myself. She glanced at it before asking me to read it aloud. She told me the length looked really good, but that there were some things I could do to make it stronger. Like expanding my bibliography (i.e. read more books) and expounding more on the ideas I introduce (i.e. write more without expanding the paper; be more concise about it). I told her I’d do better next time. She told me not to worry, that it was a great paper.

Not bad for my first Patristics class, I thought to myself as I left the room. Down the spiraling staircase and back out onto St. Giles Street. I had another class that afternoon. My Old Testament class, which carried over from last term. It went long, and so it was dark by the time I got out.

A pretend milkshake

It was nearly dinner time, so I made my way to the library to ring up Steve on Skype and see how he was doing.

He had managed to get some good sleep, he told me. He was feeling much better, from the sounds of things.

We ended up meeting in town for dinner. We thought we’d follow up a night of pizza with some burgers. I told him there was a place I had been wanting to try. The Gourmet Burger Kitchen. He was sold.

We ordered two guacamole bacon burgers at the bar. I added an egg to mine (if you haven’t a fried egg on a burger, you really haven’t lived). And we got two milkshakes to go along with the burgers.

What came next was a thing of beauty…

This skyscraper-esque burger was a dream come true. Notice that sunny-side-up egg peaking out the side.

Steve was pretty happy about his, too.

The milkshakes, though, well, those were another story. Back home, milkshakes and chocolate milk are two different things. Here, I’m not so sure that’s the case. At least not at this place. Mine really was the consistency of chocolate milk.

“You know you have a good milkshake when you can hold it upside down and nothing happens,” I told Steve. “That’d just be a mess with this guy,” I said, staring into my “milkshake” glass.

We didn’t mess around with those burgers, though. We were quickly cleaning the remnants of guacamole from our hands with napkins and feeling pretty good about life. They were amazing.

We ventured down the street to a coffee shop in town after that. To grab something warm to drink. And just to chat.

This particular coffee shop is in this great old building. With low ceilings and large wooden beams everywhere. You really feel like you’ve traveled back in time when you’re there.

Their front window juts out into the street and two high wingback chairs are seated across from each other, looking out over the street. The seats were open when we went, so we took those.

Sinking back into the wingback leather chair, I told Steve I needed one of these in my house someday.

“Yeah? In your library?”

“Exactly,” I told him, with a smile, thinking about the library I hoped to one day have.

Books. Everywhere. Floor to ceiling. Maybe with a view of the water, too. That’s my happy place.

We sat there in those seats, looking out over the street, and talking until the coffee shop finally closed. We were the last to leave. It was great having Steve here and catching up. He had just gotten engaged over the holidays. To an incredible woman. Jamie. So we had a lot to catch up on while he was here.

I’ll be proudly standing beside him come October. As his best man. It’s a real honor, and I couldn’t be more excited for them both.

“Thankful to have a whole week with you here, man,” I said, turning to him as we left the coffee shop and stepped out into the cool night air.

“Yeah, me too, man,” he said as we turned the corner and made our way back home along the cobblestone street.

One of the first things I did after arriving back in Oxford after the holidays was send Walter Hooper an e-mail. Jennifer and I had gone over to his place for dinner before we left and, knowing I’d be on my own for a bit before Jen rejoined me, Walter made sure to invite me over when I returned.

I sent him an e-mail shortly after getting settled in, and it wasn’t long before I received a reply from Walter, welcoming me back to Oxford and inviting me over for tea my first Sunday back in Oxford.

Saturday: CS Lewis gifts from a stranger

When we’re apart, Jennifer and I try to Skype a couple times a day. The whole long distance thing isn’t a lot of fun, but if you can talk regularly, and even see each other, that makes everything a bit easier.

I Skyped with Jen Saturday evening. My evening, her afternoon. And she told me someone back home who knew her Dad, and who had heard about what we were up to, had given me a first edition copy of Lewis’ book The Great Divorce. As well as a complete, early-edition set of The Chronicles of Narnia series.

Apparently this man had heard I was a big fan of Lewis’ writing, and that I was studying here at Oxford, and he had decided to give me these books from his personal collection.

I was stunned. I didn’t even know the guy, but that was an incredible gift.

“You’re building up quite the collection,” Jennifer told me over Skype.

“No kidding,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief of the generous gift.

Sunday: Tea with Walter

After church on Sunday morning, I made my way to Summertown. To get some work done on Greek before the start of the first official week of the term. And to catch up with a friend.

Richard had sent me a message shortly after lunch. Letting me know he was studying from Startbucks in Summertown, in case I wanted to join him. It’s nice to come back to a place half-way around the world and find people reaching out to you. It certainly makes for an easier transition.

I met Richard shortly before leaving to return home from the holidays. He’s a great guy. He and his wife are from California. Beautiful, sunny, southern California. And they had actually just been married before moving here to Oxford, so Richard could start his Doctoral work.

Richard’s background is in Philosophy. He seems young for the job, but he’s been teaching at Biola. Philosophy. His passion, though, is Christian Apologetics. Talking about why Christians believe what they believe. Answering questions about the faith. And that’s something I certainly appreciate. That’s something we have in common, as it’s much of the reason why I’m here, too. So we find a lot to talk about.

We caught up for a while, sharing stories from our holiday vacations over coffee, before picking up our books and getting some studying done.

After a couple hours, I excused myself, telling Richard I had a tea to make. At Walter Hooper’s house. He thought that was pretty great.

Summertown is about a five-minute bike ride from where we live, and Walter’s house is about another five-minute ride north of Summertown.

It was just starting to get dark outside when I arrived. I pulled my bike around the back of his large, condo building and locked it up. Not seeing a bike rack, and not wanting it to get in the way if I tied it to the entryway.

I passed through the two large double doors and rung the bell at Walter’s door. Seconds later I was greeted by his wonderful smile and  a “Why hello there!”

It really was great to see him again. Being at Walter’s home makes me feel like I’m at home, in a way. It’s just comforting.

After we had said our “hello’s,” I handed Walter some canned pumpkin pie mix we had promised him the last time we were over. After he had raved about the pumpkin bread Jen brought over for dessert. He was pretty happy to receive it, and he was quite grateful about it, thanking me several times.

I also brought him one of our Christmas cards. Jen had signed and prepared it for him before I left. It seemed like he appreciated it. I pointed out all the places we had been in the photos on the cards. The Tower of London. Bath. Blenheim Palace.

Walter invited me to sit down and we shared some tea. From that old, comfortable chair in his living room. The one I always sit in. He pointed a plate of shortbread cookies in my direction and insisted I have some. Walter’s incredibly hospitable.

I love sitting in Walter’s living room. Talking. While the fire flickers in the fireplace. There’s always great conversation, and it’s never forced or dull. He always has something interesting to talk about. And, somehow, it always comes back to Lewis.

I asked him about meeting Lewis for the first time, and he shared the story with me in incredibly rich detail. It was like I was right there with him.

He told me how he had shown up on Lewis’ doorstep several days earlier than he was expected, after being told to give some extra time, as Lewis’ home was difficult to find. And, even though Lewis wasn’t expecting him for another few days, he invited him into his home and they ended up sharing three pots of tea just like that. Apparently Walter had come expecting just to stay for the one visit, and maybe to see a bit of England, but that trip quickly turned into the next 45 years of his life. Walter went from being a pen-pal of Lewis’ to being Lewis’ personal secretary.

“I remember thinking, shortly after meeting him for the first time,” Walter told me, “that I genuinely loved this man.” He let his words hang in the air as he looked off in the distance, into the fireplace, and you knew he was replaying these experiences to himself.

“He was so incredibly kind,” Walter said to me after a pause. “He really was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met.”

I asked Walter if he had been homesick after coming here and staying unexpectedly. He told me he had, particularly after Lewis passed away.

Walter’s cat, Blessed Lucy of Narnia, entered the room while we were talking. Walter always addresses Lucy when she’s around, as if she were a person who had just entered.

“Well hello, Blessed Lucy of Narnia,” he said to her. “Are you going to say hello to your uncle Ryan?”

I smiled, as Lucy paced back and forth in front of where Walter sat as he played with her tail.

We talked for a bit longer. He asked about Jen. How she was doing, and if she was enjoying being home.

I asked him a theological question. Something a friend of mine back home had been talking with me about. Something that had been weighing pretty heavily on this friend for some time. About whether or not everyone, ultimately goes to heaven (what’s called “Universalism”), or if there is indeed a heaven for some, and a hell for others.

Walter was quick to answer, and he immediately began by referencing Lewis book The Great Divorce. He asked me if I had read it. I told him I had began reading it at one point, but I hadn’t finished it.

“Oh, you must read it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful book.”

I told him how I had just received a first-edition copy as a gift the day before, and how I now had no excuse.

He began to tell me how he’d respond to this question, that he believed the end of this life would mean great disappointment for many. But that it wasn’t a matter of tastes or opinion. Rather, it was matter of fact. Of truth, referencing Lewis’ book as he talked. He then excused himself from the room so that he might grab a copy from his room and read directly from the book.

This surprised me, as Walter routinely quotes verbatim from books when we’re talking. Not just Lewis, but others as well. And I’m always blown away. I hope I can pull that off when I’m 79.

After a few minutes, Walter returned to the room, his copy of The Great Divorce in hand. He flipped through the pages to find the section he wanted to read from, scanning the pages like he was returning to an old conversation. And, as he read it aloud, I realized he was doing just that. After knowing Lewis, and after working on his books for more than 40 years, Lewis’ words must feel like nothing short of an old friend to Walter.

“I’m often asked if I regret this, having spent all this time studying Lewis’ writing and compiling his letters. I’m often asked if I feel like it’s been a waste,” Walter later shared with me. “And I don’t know how I could. My life is so much richer because of this man.”

Walter was beaming as he finished this sentence.

Staring at this 79-year old man seated in the middle of his beautiful living room, knowing the amazing difference meeting Lewis had meant in his life, I was touched. To know such a man, and to know that, as much as Lewis has meant in my life, he has meant so much more to Walter.

I could feel the joy permeating from him as Walter sat there across the room from me, and I was so thankful for that time together.

Monday: Back in school

It was an odd feeling, returning to class on Monday. Like I had never really been away.

My week began with Greek, which meant I hit the ground running. We spent most of the class time talking about what we would be focusing on this term, and what Rhona expected us to have finished by the next time we met.

Looks of horror spread across the faces of those seated around me, as fingers and eyes flipped through page after page of Greek translations to complete. It seemed insurmountable, more than we could possibly do or know, on top of the rest of our studies. But Rhona spoke of it like it was nothing, of course. I think she honestly believes students can learn Greek by osmosis. By simply looking at the pages for a few moments. I think that’s how she learned it. Fresh out of the womb. She’s brilliant.

Lyndon and I were chatting about the workload as we left class that morning, as we were unlocking our bikes.

“And now I see why the Oxford name carries a certain cache,” he said with a large grin.

“Yeah, no kidding. It’s there for a reason,” I told him as I got on my bike and made my way to the library to get started on my reading list for the week.

Oxford attire

I couldn’t help but take in the different outfits of those passing through the library while I was supposed to be reading. My head lifting up with each passerby. After being away from Oxford for a while, I was reminded how unique men dress here in Oxford.

Very academic, for the most part. Particularly those who aren’t 18 and straight out of high school.

Lots of tweed jackets with v-neck sweaters, dress shirts and ties. Pointed leather shoes. And turtle shell rimmed glasses. Messy hair and scarves. Unkept, not polished, seems to be the Oxford way. Too flashy or showy seems to be very much “un-Oxford.” No whites, or light or bright colors, but dark browns and greys and black earthy colors.

It feels like an escape, in a way. Being here. Into history. Into the classics. And I suppose you can’t help but feel that way, when you study in libraries that are nearly as old as The United States, and when you’re daily walking past buildings that are 800 years old.

Oxford, where young men dress like old men. Where modernity, it seems, is shunned.

Tuesday: Sitting with Felix

Jane told me shortly after I arrived that Beng was away on vacation. I let her know that I was happy to help with anything until she returned, if needed. She thanked me, and then asked if I might be willing to “babysit” Felix Tuesday night. I thought it odd, referring to hanging out with a 12-year old boy as babysitting, but I told her I’d be happy to.

Felix is a great kid, and I was looking forward to getting to hang out with him again. It’s something I’ve wanted to do more, but things here don’t leave a whole lot of free time.

Felix was working on Latin homework at the dining room table when I crossed the hall and made my way into their home Tuesday night. He greeted me with that large, toothy grin of his. It was great to see him again.

Jane and I caught up and talked about our holidays. She asked if the baby had come yet. Jen’s sister’s first. We had been hoping she’d arrive before I left, but we had no such luck, I told her.

“Jen’s getting pretty excited for her to arrive at this point,” I told Jane. “I think everyone is.”

“I bet so,” she said, with that same wide grin that Felix has.

“Oh, I booked our skiing trip today, Felix,” she said. Turning quickly to where he was seated at the table.

“Felix and I are heading to Switzerland for some skiing in February,” she told me with a look of excitement. But nonchalent excitement, like it wasn’t completely out of the norm for them.

It was for me, as I’m sure my large eyes gave away.

“Oh wow. That sounds great!” I said.

She walked over to where Felix was seated at the dining room table working on latin and asked him to sit up straight. He did. I smiled, to myself.

“He might like some pudding later on. Help yourself to anything in the fridge,” she told me. I smiled and thanked her.

Jane went through Felix’s bedtime with me, “Lights out at 9:00,” and she asked me to look over Felix’s work, if I wouldn’t mind. I was actually considering asking Felix to look over my Greek, but I told her I would, not knowing how I would actually know whether or not he had done what was being asked.

After Felix had wrapped up his Latin homework for the night, he told me he needed to go feed his rabits. He asked if I wanted to join him. I told him that’d be great. It was dark outside, and so Felix snagged a pair of goggles from a table in the corner of the room.

“They’re night vision goggles. I got them for Christmas,” he told me, while holding them out to me.” Would you like to try them?

“Cooool…,” I said, like a kid seeing his buddy’s new toy. “Yeah, I’d love to try them out.”

I’m not one to pass up on night-vision goggles. We walked out to the rabbit cage, me holding the goggles to my face, and he told me about the fox they had spotted in their backyard with the goggles.

I considered telling him I had received some pretty great wool socks for Christmas, and how they were keeping my feet nice and warm, but I decided against it.

We played some cricket in the large entryway of their home after feeding the rabbits. Felix ran over the different batting styles of the game. I was surprised to hear it’s still called batting. And not punting or something else, just to be different.

Grizz, their small dog, hated that we were playing with her tennis ball, and she’d constantly try to get it until we finally gave up and tossed her the ball.

“Would you like to watch some Simpsons?” Felix asked me, after throwing in the towel on our game of Cricket.

“I would love to, yeah,” I said. “I haven’t watched Simpsons in years.”

Seated there, in their living room, watching The Simpsons with Felix, I thought about all the studying I needed to get done. All the Greek I had waiting for me. But then I remembered I was being paid to watch The Simpsons with Felix and all of a sudden those studies didn’t seem quite so important.

One of the (three) episodes we watched involved the family going to an apple farm. Grandpa Simpson went with them. When they were leaving, he took his seat in the backseat. Marge quickly asked, “Oh no! Are you sitting on the apple pie?!”

“I sure hope so…” he replied.

Felix laughed quite hard at that point. “I sure hope so,” he repeated to himself, eyes glued to the TV screen.

After one of the episodes had finished, Felix got up and made his way to the kitchen.

“I like enjoying pudding while I watch The Simpsons,” he told me. He really is a smart kid, I thought to myself.

“Would you like some ice cream?”

We enjoyed our dessert, or pudding, while watching a couple more episodes of The Simpsons.

During a commercial break, Felix asked me if I had heard his dad had started another paper. I knew he co-owned two papers in London already.

“No, no I hadn’t heard that,” I told him.

“Yeah, it’s called The I, and it’s a short paper. Just the basics.”

About five seconds later, a commercial came on the TV announcing a new, concise newspaper. “Only what you need, none of gossip you don’t,” the narrator’s voice spoke. It was a great commercial.

“There, that’s it,” Felix said.

I had to laugh. It all seemed quite unreal.

After several episodes of The Simpsons, I told Felix it looked like it was about time to start getting ready for bed. I followed him upstairs and waited outside his door as he brushed his teeth and got changed for bed.

I told him goodnight and turned off the light as I left. “Thanks for watching me tonight,” he said as I left. It put a smile on my face. This kid is a stud; he’s so polite.

“You’re so welcome, Felix. It was a lot of fun.”

Becoming An Uncle

I returned to the living room and pulled my Greek textbook and notebook from my bag. I figured I would get some work done while I waited for Jane to return home.

But I couldn’t. My mind was elsewhere. Thinking about the e-mail Jen had sent me just before I came over to Jane’s. Telling me Leann’s contractions were getting closer, and that they would likely be heading to the hospital that day. That Khloe would probably be arriving soon.

I tried to put my head down on my Greek, knowing I had vocab to memorize for a quiz the next morning, but I couldn’t focus. Finally, I pulled out my laptop to check my e-mail. Hoping I would have an update from Jen, as I had asked her to keep me posted.

Sure enough, Ben & Leann had left for the hospital, and Jen and her parents weren’t far behind. Khloe was on her way, it seemed!

I was so excited. More so than I expected to be. But I was also sad at the same point. I think it took receiving that e-mail to realize this is something I’m going to miss, being here. The birth of my first niece, and I wouldn’t be there to experience it.

Jen had asked Ben & Leann if it would be all right to bring the laptop into the room with them, so that I could be a part of things. Not during the birth, obviously. But before, while they were waiting. And afterward.

It was nearly 11:00 by the time I got back that night. After Jane returned.

I was quick to get online and Skype with Jen and Ben & Leann and Tim & Rhonda. To see them all there, in the birthing room. Getting ready for Khloe’s arrival.

I was so excited Khloe was finally coming, and it was so good to see them. They hadn’t slept much the past several days, apparently, but you could tell they were terribly excited as well.

I stayed up for a couple more hours. Studying Greek for my quiz. And taking breaks to check in with Jen.

By 1:00, Leann wasn’t far from giving birth, they told me, but I was fading fast. I told them I was probably going to need to turn in.

Jen told me they’d Skype in with me after Khloe arrived, if I wanted to leave my computer on. So I did. I turned the volume up as high as it would go and I left it at the foot of the stairs leading up to our bedroom, knowing the wireless signal isn’t strong in our room, and I didn’t want to miss out.

I told Jen goodnight and went to bud, a little past 1:00.

At around 6:00 that morning, a beeping noise woke me from my sleep. It took me several seconds to realize what was going on, but I stumbled toward the source of the noise, with one eye open and one eye still shut.

I spotted my laptop at the foot of the stairs and, even in my sleepy-state, I quickly realized what was going on. Khloe had arrived!

The first thing I saw after taking the call was Jennifer holding baby Khloe, and suddenly I was filled with incredible joy. I sat down on the stairs in my pajamas, held the laptop up close to my face and said, “Oh wow. . .that is amazing. She is so beautiful!”

Jen was smiling from ear to ear at this point. Smiling like I hadn’t seen her in a long, long time.

I couldn’t get over what a beautiful baby she was. Even while struggling to wake up, I was taken aback by her perfect features. Her perfectly round button nose. Her beautiful round face.

“That is so amazing,” I said again.

Seated there, on the stairs that early morning in Oxford, the house still dark and the light of the laptop illuminating my face, I was taken aback by the beauty of this baby. And what an incredible blessing she was to our family in what has been a pretty difficult time. This past year has been full of some of the deepest, darkest pain we’ve ever known, after losing Hayley. And yet, here, before us, was this beautiful baby girl. This gift of light and joy. From God. Almost as if to say, “Here I am. In all the dark and in all your pain, I still delight in giving good gifts.”

I was terribly disappointed I wasn’t there to experience, first-hand, this moment with my family. It hurt deeply. I wanted with all I had just to reach out and grab a hold of Khloe. So that I might hold her in my arms. But I realized I couldn’t. And I realized I would have to wait six months before I could. I wondered if I would one day look at Khloe, after she was several years old, playing by the lake as a beautiful little girl, and regret that I had not been there for this moment. Ben & Lean had said time and time again that they understood I couldn’t be there, after I apologized time and time again. They shrugged it off, saying there was nothing to forgive me for. I wondered if I’d be able to forgive myself.

But those thoughts of disappointment quickly turned to joy. Joy for Ben & Leann, and the beautiful, healthy baby girl they had been blessed with. For the family she was born into, and knowing how deeply she would be loved and cared for. Knowing what wonderful parents Ben & Leann were going to be to her. What amazing grandparents Tim & Rhonda would be. How Jen was going to be the most incredible aunt. And how I couldn’t wait to spoil her as an uncle should. Those thoughts brought me great joy.

Baby Khloe Dawn Van Dyken, welcome to the world. It is more beautiful now that you have entered into it, and we are so delighted to have you. (Click here for a bit of mood music to accompany the photos).

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.

After Steve left last Wednesday morning, I was off to class. To Greek. Steve told me I should tell people back home I’m doing much better in Greek now. That my hard work has paid off. I told him I thought that would sound like bragging, and that no one want to read someone bragging.

He insisted people from back home would appreciate hearing it. So…here’s one of my latest tests.

If my bragging upsets you, I am sorry. Drop me a comment, and I’ll send you Steve’s e-mail so you can let him know.

Americans in the Library

I spent most of Wednesday in the library, celebrating being done with two essays and a large Greek exam  with, you got it, more studies. But I knew I had a date night with Jen waiting for me, so that was my carrot.

There was a large group of people gathered on the stairs leading up to the Harris Manchester library when I arrived. It looked like a tour. I thought I’d wait at the bottom until they cleared, but one of them encouraged me to go through. I squeezed my way about halfway up the stairs while Principal Waller led the tour, talking to the group, before finally realizing I wasn’t going to be able to make it any further. I stopped and waited.

Several people in the group noticed I wasn’t a part of the group and said ‘hi.’ I asked where the tour was from. They told me BYU. I spoke up, to say something, and they immediately noticed my accent. Or lack thereof.

“An American!” one of the girls said in an excited voice. They asked where I was from.

“Seattle. Or just north of Seattle.”

“Do you go here?” another asked me.

“Yeah.”

“Really?” the same person asked, with big eyes.

It was kind of funny. I haven’t had a response like that in a while. No one at Oxford is impressed that you go to Oxford. At least, no more than a bird is impressed by the fact that other birds can fly.

“Yeah. I just moved here,” I told them in a whisper, so as not to make a nuisance to the entire tour. “It’s my second degree. A complete career change.”

“Good for you!”

I managed to make my way upstairs after several minutes. To my old, familiar studying spot. By the window. On the second floor. We don’t have assigned seating in the library, but everyone certainly has their favorite spot. And it’s a small enough school it typically works out everyone gets their spot. And everyone knows where there spot is. I’d probably be frustrated to find someone in the spot I always study. So human of me, isn’t it?

Working away that afternoon, I remember Steve’s response when I introduced him to the library the week before.

“This place is amazing,” he had said with a smile as we walked on the hardwood floor underfoot. He had been able to get a lot of work done for his business from here.

After several hours of plugging away on some reading, I hopped on my bike and rode home. I had a date night with my wife. First time in months. And I was so excited.

Pizza Hut & Die Hard

Jen wanted pizza. And we had seen a Pizza Hut the week before. We thought we’d treat ourselves to a very American dinner. So we did. And we loved it, shamelessly.

The waitress had a thick English accent. She was probably in her early twenties. With long, frazzled blonde hair. Incredibly upbeat. With a smile that took up most of her face.

She told us how she loved America when she went. She had gone to Florida before. The weather in Florida must seem a bit like heaven for someone who grew up in England.

And I found myself thinking about Hayley as she served us. Hayley used to be a waitress. And I knew she’d wear that beautiful smile of hers for every customer. Making them feel like they were the only important thing in the world. And it made me miss her.

But we had a great time. Jen and I. Catching up. Laughing. Enjoying our pizza.

We put some in a box and made our way home, stopping by the market on the way. To pick up a few things. And, as we walked out of the market that night, bags of groceries in hand, I found myself thinking, “This is our new life. This is how it’s going to be for the next while for us.”

We put in Die Hard when we got home. Sitting on the couch next to Jen, watching Bruce Willis beat up helicopters and fighter jets, I couldn’t help thinking how great this all was. I was so happy.

Friday: Dinner with Rob & Vanessa from Seattle

I got an email from Rob Friday afternoon. Asking if Jen and I were interested in coming over for dinner with he and his wife. Rob’s the guy I mentioned previously who came from Seattle. The guy with a scarf and long hair. The one who looks much more Oxford than I do. But, with the long hair, he definitely had a leg up on me. A bit of an unfair advantage.

The four of us had been trying to get together once Jen was all settled in, so I was excited to get the invite. Rob was a super nice guy. Figured his wife would be the same. Well, a super nice gal, that is.

Jen and I walked from our place to theirs Friday night. It had been raining off and on all day, so I was pretty grateful when we stepped out the front door to find it dry.

“The rain’s stopped,” I said, turning to Jen. “Perfect timing.”

We made it about 15 feet down the road when it started drizzling. Softly at first, but then harder. Until it we conceded and put up the umbrella (singular). Jen had her hood, which is a good thing, because apparently it’s a skill to hold an umbrella over your wife while walking. I had no idea, but apparently it is. A skill I have yet to master. Suffice it to say, we decided next time we’d be bringing two umbrellas…

After only a handful of detours (we had never been to their neighborhood before), we managed to find our way to Rob and Vanessa’s place. 15 pounds heavier from our rain-drenched clothes.

Rob greeted us at the door with a huge grin and a welcoming, “Hellooo.” Vanessa came up just behind him. It was great to see him again, and nice to meet her. The warmth of their apartment was just as welcoming. We were happy to hand them our sopping wet jackets and umbrella and dry off. I looked at my soaked jeans and considered handing them over, too, but I decided that’d be a bit of a steep icebreaker. “Better keep them on,” I thought to myself. It was our first time over, after all.

We had a great time getting to know Rob and Vanessa. Vanessa made tacos. Chicken and beef. With all the fixings. Cilantro. Limes. Tomatoes. Sour cream. Cheese. Avocados. They were amazing. I didn’t think I’d be eating any Mexican food here in Oxford. I’ve already had it twice in my first month.

It was so nice talking with another American couple. Sharing stories of the transition experience. About making the crazy decision to go overseas for school. About saying “goodbye” to friends and family.

We talked about what brought us here. I always appreciate hearing that. People have amazing stories. I’m always encouraged when I stop long enough to listen.

Rob was involved in some non-profit work before coming here to Oxford. After spending some time in the corporate world, he told us. The long hair came with the departure from the corporate world, Vanessa explained. Seemed like a good way to stick it to the man to me.

Both Rob and Vanessa are super down to earth. Very welcoming. Very friendly. Very funny. Great people to be around. Rob’s the kind of guy who will tell you he went to college “out of state,” rather than drop the name of the elite school he attended. A good lesson, for sure.

Vanessa told us how she was from Eastern Washington, and asked us not to hold it against her. I told her I was already thinking of jokes.

She told us about how she was working at Children’s Hospital before they left to come here. As a nurse. And about how she was wanting to setup a child birthing center back in Seattle someday. Jen told her that her sister Leann was having her first child in January, and that she’d be flying back home to be there with her.

“This is going to be messy,” Vanessa said, just before biting into her taco, which I didn’t realize at the time. I thought she was talking about the birth. I just about spit my dinner across the table all over Rob I laughed so hard. I may have cried a little bit.

“I meant the taco,” Vanessa explained, in-between laughs.

We talked and laughed for several hours. Vanessa brought us dessert. Pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin bars.

“You must’ve known I was coming,” I said as she returned from the kitchen. I’m a sucker for all things pumpkin.

I’m starting to wonder if someone sent a memo ahead of us, before we arrived in Oxford. Apparently only people who know how to cook are having us over. We’ve been blessed with some amazing food, that’s for sure. And some amazing company.

We’re looking forward to taking some trips with Rob and Vanessa at some point. Touring around Oxford. Maybe further. That is, if Rob and I can steal away from our studies long enough.

Saturday: Lighting Guy Fawkes on Fire

We went to fireworks Saturday night. A couple from our small group at church on Thursday night said they’d be going, if anyone wanted to meet up with them. We did. The Pembertons aren’t ones to miss out on fireworks.

And I’m so glad we went. It was amazing.

Cole ended up joining us. We had plans for dinner before finding out about the fireworks. He had missed it the previous year, so he was wanting to go anyways. It worked out perfectly.

Apparently it was a national holiday here in England. Guy Fawkes day. Or weekend. Which would explain the fireworks we had heard walking to Rob and Vanessa’s the night before.

For those not big on history (like me), apparently Guy Fawkes is the name of a man (I’d say “guy,” but that’d just sound funny) who tried to blow up the House of Lords here in England back in the 1600’s. Fortunately, they managed to catch him before everything went off, saving the lives of many. Except his. To this day, the English celebrate the prevention of Fawke’s plan by lighting off fireworks and (I’m not kidding here) and lighting giant replicas of him on fire. Moral of the story, don’t try to blow up the English. They won’t let it slide.

I’m thinking about bringing this tradition home with me. I told Jen I was going to build a lifelike, wooden statue of a person next Fourth of July and light it on fire to go along with the fireworks. I’ll just tell the cops it’s okay, they’re doing it in England. I’m sure they’ll understand.

We walked a couple miles to a nearby park Saturday night. It looked like a county fair when we arrived. Complete with straw on the ground and carnival rides lighting up the night. It was great. People were everywhere. Thousands, easily. There were stands selling food. Stands with people singing. And stands selling t-shirts. I felt like we were back home at a county fair.

We grabbed some dinner and waited for the show to start. Cheeseburger for Jen. Roast pork sandwiches for Cole and I. Yep, it definitely felt like home.

It wasn’t long before the fireworks began. And they were amazing. Better than I expected. It must’ve lasted for about 30 minutes or so. The crowd was gathered tightly together. Heads craned upward, taking in the show.

I looked over at Cole about halfway through the fireworks and asked him how much he’d give me to start singing, “God Bless America.” He laughed. Told me he’d give me a part on the back. I decided against it.

They really were beautiful. The fireworks.

And it was at this point I found myself remembering something I had read a few days before. Something Lyndon had posted on his blog.

It was about his transition from the world of bond trading to studying theology here at Oxford. And why he decided to make that change.

At the end of his post, he included a quote from a reporter by the name of Matthew Parris. A professed Atheist. He had this to say about the Christian faith:

The New Testament offers a picture of a God who does not sound at all vague to me. He has sent his son to Earth. He has distinct plans both for his son and for mankind. He knows each of us personally and can communicate directly with us. We are capable of forming a direct relationship, individually with him, and are commanded to try. We are told this can be done only through his son. And we are offered the prospect of eternal life – an afterlife of happy, blissful or glorious circumstances…

Friends, if I believe that, or even a tenth of that… I would drop my job, sell my house, throw away my possessions, leave my acquaintances and set out into the world burning with the desire to know more and, when I had found out more, to act upon it and tell others.

And as I watched the fireworks explode into bright whites and blues and reds and oranges across the night sky, I found myself thinking, “what if people actually believed this stuff?” What if we didn’t just believe it, but what if we lived like we believed it? I think that would be something beautiful. Like fireworks. Lighting up the night’s sky. I think it would be so beautiful people would stop to take it in. I think they’d tell their friends about what they’d seen. And, as they closed their eyes to go to bed at night, I think the scene would play again before the darks of their eyelids. And they’d go to sleep with a smile on their face, thinking about how beautiful it was. Like fireworks.

Sunday: Tea at Walter Hooper’s House

I sent Walter a thank you note after our trip to The Kilns last week. Thanking him for showing us around. For sharing his stories of CS Lewis with us. And for taking the time to read my book.

He got back to me and told me it was his pleasure. And that he’d love to have us over for tea sometime. Just Jen and I. At his home. He wasn’t far from where we are living. We were happy to take him up on the offer.

We arrived around 5 after 4:00 on Sunday afternoon, and Walter greeted us with the door open. “Come in, come in,” he said with a smile, in that warm voice. As warm as the air seeping from his open door.

His home was amazing. A flat on the ground floor of a large multi-story building. We caught a glimpse of his living room from the walk up, on the gravel path leading to the front of his flat. Tall statues and green plants peaked out through his windows. I wondered if it was his. It was.

The hallway when you enter is lined with photographs. Many of the Pope. Many of Lewis. One group of photos was mostly of Lewis. Three rows of three photos. Mostly at the Kilns. The photo of Lewis Walter had pointed out to me from our tea at the Kilns was there. The one he took of Lewis, the last photo taken of him. Amazing. And one photo in the middle of the bunch was of Lewis with a younger looking man in a suit. He looked remarkably like a younger version of Walter.

“And who’s this one of?” I asked, half-jokingly.

“Oh, that one. You know, I used to know, but now I can’t remember,” Walter said, playing it off.

“Oh yeah?” I laughed. I love the fact that his sense of humor is as dry as mine. Makes me feel uncomfortable when I’m not expecting it, as I’m sure others are who don’t know me.

He invited us into the living room and continued to show us around. His living room was amazing. A fireplace sat in the middle of one wall, a fire blazing inside, with two statue busts perched on columns on either side. On either side of the columns were bookshelves. 10-feet high. Lots of old books. A 10-feet tall statue of…someone I can’t now recall stood in the corner opposite the fireplace. Walter told us how this statue was special because the original (“This is just plaster, of course,” he told us) was created in 450 BC, and it was the first time motion was created in a statue. He explained how previously the Egyptians created statues with their arms at their side. “But look what happens to all the rest of the muscles in the body when this lower leg is lifted,” he pointed out to us.

A large, oversized sofa sat in the middle of the room, with a table before it and two high-back chairs on either side of the table. The fireplace providing a wonderful view for the seating. It was a perfect setup for hosting.

He introduced us to Blessed Lucy of Narnia. His cat. Who was perched comfortably on the back of the couch. Soaking in a late afternoon nap.

“Now, I want you to take lots of notes from Jennifer on how to be a lady,” Walter spoke to her closely and firmly. She didn’t seem fazed.

He showed us into the dining room, and he pointed out a table in the corner of the room. A table that was built for CS Lewis when he was just five years old. To do his studies at.

Sitting on the table was a humidor for tobacco Lewis had bought while he was in college here at Oxford.

“But it’s not his tobacco,” Walter told us, opening it up to show the contents.

He pointed out several illustrations on another wall. Original artwork created for the Silver Chair. Framed. On his wall.

I was blown away at each point.

Walter then invited us to have a seat at the large, wooden table in the middle of the room. Several old books were sitting on it. He’d open the cover of one, introduce it to us, and then move it in front of us to look at. They were Lewis’ old books. From his personal library. With his handwritten notes still in the margins.

I couldn’t believe it. I was so overwhelmed with joy. I had to fight back the tears I was so excited.

Walter pointed out how Lewis used to index all of his books by subject. He might find something on a particular page that he appreciated, then he’d index it himself in the back of the book for later use. Amazing. Apparently he’d do this with all of his books. A copy of Dante’s work, which was highly influential to Lewis was there. As well as several others. Some in Latin. Some in Italian. And Lewis notes were in the corresponding language. This man was truly brilliant. And here, before me, were the notes he’d later refer to to pen such books as Surprised by Joy, and others. I was speechless.

Walter had prepared some tea for us, so we moved to the large chairs in front of the fire and sat down. He took the couch with Blessed Lucy of Narnia resting quietly behind him, curled up into a ball.

My book, which I had left with him several days before, was resting on the table in front of the fire.

He asked how we took our tea. Both with sugar and milk. An English / American hybrid, I suppose. And then he poured each saucer and, holding the sugar, presented them to us so that we could serve as much sugar to fit our tastes.

Along with the tea, he served us what are called digestive biscuits. The name sounded terrible. I told him they’d never get away with that in the States. He told us they were Lewis’ favorite. And I wasn’t about to turn them down. I probably had five before the afternoon was through.

They were “semi-sweet,” he explained to us. And they were. Like a graham cracker, but not quite as sweet. They were great, actually. Jen and I both agreed.

Taking his seat in the large couch, he began telling me his thoughts on my book.

Walter has been writing for the past 40 years. Writing and compiling, I should say. Before that, he taught English at the University of Kentucky. He reads prolifically. He knows his stuff.

Which is probably why the next part of the afternoon meant so much. Walter told me his thoughts on my book. He had read it. And I’m glad Jen was there. Were she not, I would probably forever be left wondering if it was actually all just a dream.

It was not. We left Walter’s home that evening warm, even as we stepped out into the cold. Maybe it was the wine he insisted we try before leaving. But I think it had more to do with his response to my book. I was speechless. I felt encouraged in a way I can’t quite put into words. But I knew, at that point, that this path had been confirmed for me. There in Walter’s living room, in front of the fire, that afternoon. I wanted to write. In a way that would help others see Him more clearly. The fact that Walter saw something in hands&feet assured me of that.

So much has happened already in such a short period of time. Incredible things. Things I never thought possible. And I’m terribly excited about what lies ahead.

Keble College

I must’ve been bragging too much about the weather here. “It’s been beautiful,” I said… “It’s so sunny,” I said… Yeah, well, not today. Apparently England has got a reputation to keep, because today brought the rain.

I had a 2:00 meeting at Keble College this afternoon (pronounced “Keeble,” like the elves, minus the “er”). Keble’s a beautiful college. You can’t see any of this from the street. Just walls. And the rooftops. But you can’t see the grounds. And I don’t believe they’re open to tourists. Most colleges aren’t.

I was heading to Keble to work on some Greek. And I was drenched by the time I got there.

Chris, the guy I was meeting up with, greeted me at the front gate.

“You look miserable,” he said as I entered.

“Yeah, well, I’m drenched and I get to come study Greek.”

“So how has your week been? Has this been par for the course?”

“Well, it hasn’t been rainy…” I said.

More Greek

I spent the rest of the day in the library. Studying Greek. I’d like to say I am ahead for when Jen and Steve arrive, but this is just me staying on top of things.

I had my Gospels & Jesus tutorial this afternoon. We were talking about the Synoptic Problem. Felt like I was trudging through waist-deep snow. Or watching Inception. But it’s good stuff. And it’s challenging. The kind of challenge I enjoy.

I really am learning loads here. I’m reading tons. And I’m expected to be able to discuss and defend my thoughts on the reading every week. And I love it.

After my tutorial, it was back to the library. At Harris Manchester. That place is feeling like home. I’m just waiting for them to ask me for my rent.

One More Day

I left the library about 9 tonight. Several other people were still there. I wasn’t able to check out the Lewis Society Lecture this evening. Just too much to get done. It felt great to slip outside, hop on the bike and float through the Oxford night air after a full day of studies.

My wife arrives in one day. Well, actually, less than 12 hours now. I am so excited. We Skyped tonight. As she was preparing to board her flight. I told her how thankful I was that she had agreed to go along with this crazy idea. That she had agreed to say goodbye to all of her family so we could go after this dream of mine. I told her I loved her. And that I’d see her soon.

It’s been over three weeks now since we were together. We haven’t been apart this long since we were dating in college. It’ll be great to see here again.

I know Jen has a ton of people back home who’re going to miss her greatly, and who really hated to tell her “goodbye.” Thanks for not tying her down and holding her back from leaving. I appreciate it.

And my best friend, Steve, is coming out as well. Still can’t believe he’s flying out here just like that. He is the most incredible friend I could ask for.

His birthday was this past Sunday. I felt really bad I couldn’t be there for it. He told me the other night that this trip is his birthday present to himself. So cool.

I thought I’d do a little something for him. Since he’s coming all the way to Oxford and all. Here’s what I did this evening, in-between Greek flash cards.

When I talked to Steve this evening, he told me I’d better have made something for them for when they arrive. Something sweet. Funny. He has no idea.

Prologue

If you haven’t already, check out our About Us page. It talks a bit about why we’re here. What brought us here. That kind of stuff. It’s a pretty amazing story. And one I certainly can’t take credit for. You can read the longer version here, if you are interested.

Since the name of this blog is Ryan&JenGoToEngland, I kind of feel like this has just been the prologue up to this point. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, but I feel like now the real story is beginning. And I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

By the way, I’ve got a surprise for Jen & Steve. Any idea what it might be?… No, it’s not the cake. Guess you’ll find out tomorrow.

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

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

Stan from Vancouver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first plate of fish & chips

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

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

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

Principal Waller, the furniture mover

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

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

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

An impromptu car show

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone bikes here

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

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

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

A pile of kleenex

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

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

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

At the Radcliffe

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

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

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

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

Dinner at Lynde & Mem’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of smiles. Lots of head nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone laughed.

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

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

We all laughed again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s great!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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