Archives for posts with tag: hands&feet

A Tour of Oxford

When we returned to Oxford from our time in Rome & Paris, Jen’s parents returned with us. They’d be spending a week with us here in Oxford before returning home. We were excited to show them around our new hometown. We were also looking forward to a bit of a low-key week, following the European, jet-setting lifestyle we had been living.

Jen returned to work the morning after we got back in. What can I say, I married a workaholic. So the three of us–Tim, Rhonda and myself–spent the day touring around Oxford, showing Tim & Rhonda all the highlights this city has to offer. We started with a look at some of the more famous Oxford architecture, including the Bridge of Sighs.

I pointed out the 400-year old Bodleian Library, and the Radcliffe Camera where I often study. As well as the large, University Church of the Virgin St. Mary that stands just behind it, reaching high into the sky.

We stopped inside to have a look around when we found a small orchestra practicing in the front of the church, as if just for us. We slid into the back row of pews and sat there, for several songs, enjoying the wonderful music in this beautiful old church, before continuing our tour.

From there, we made our way down to Cornmarket Street, full of shops and lots of sidewalk performers. Like this guy, who plays the violin while balancing on a tightrope with one foot.

After restraining myself from heckling this guy to see just how good his balance was, we wandered down to Christ Church, just a short walk away. I flashed my student ID and they porter at the front gate let us wander in, snapping photos of the wide, green lawns along the way.

We crossed the coutyard and entered through an arched doorway before climbing a wide, stone staircase leading to the Great Hall. The dining hall where Harry Potter and the gang shared meals while at Hogwarts.

It was a beautiful, sunny spring day, so we grabbed some ice cream after walking around the inside of Christ Church and we took a walk around the college meadow, a beautiful, park-like setting beyond the building’s high walls.

The park butts up against a river that runs along the eastern edge of Oxford. There were several people punting on the water, laughing as they haphazardly made their way down the water. Lots of first-timers, from the looks of it.

Leaving the Christ Church gardens, we walked back across the city and met up with Jen as she got off the bus, returning from her day of work at the Kilns. Her wide smile told us she was excited to see us sitting there, waiting for her to arrive, seated on a bench along High Street in the afternoon sun.

After a short stop into the market to pickup a few things for dinner, we made our way back home. Apparently it was the mens’ night to prepare dinner, which Rhonda thought was pretty great. Laughing, she snapped a photo of Tim and I together in the kitchen.

“It’s not every day you see this,” she said with a grin as she took the photo.

That night, I went to bed with a bit of a sore throat. I was hoping nothing would come of it, but that hope was all for nought. Not only did I wake up the next day with my sore throat still lingering, I also woke up to a stomach flu. Yeah, not a good combination.

That one-two punch had me in pretty bad shape for most of the remainder of Tim & Rhonda’s time with us here in Oxford. Not exactly how I wanted to spend that time.

Friday: A Breath of Fresh Air in the Cotswolds

Still, we did manage to see quite a bit over the next few days. On Friday, we rented a car and drove to the Cotswolds, introducing Tim & Rhonda to some beautiful, old English villages. I drove…

Our first stop was Bourton on the Water, the small Cotswold village with a quiet stream running through its center.

From there, we drove to some of the other, smaller villages in the area. All of the Cotswolds are connected by rather narrow English country roads. Only wide enough for one car at a time. Which means you spend most of the time hoping that you don’t find yourself face to face with another car going the opposite direction.

At one point, we came across this quaint little farm in the middle of, well, nowhere really. In-between villages. The home was beautiful. Built entirely out of this ancient stone.

It was surrounded by stone fences and fields. And in the field closest to it, there were loads of sheep. Including several young sheep, prancing about.

We ended up stopping the car and just watching these little guys run around for a while. It felt a bit surreal, standing there on this one-lane-road in the middle of the English countryside, seemingly untouched by humanity for hundreds of years, watching these sheep run and play with each other. But it was beautiful. Like a breath of fresh air.

Saturday: A trip to London

The next day, we took Tim & Rhonda to London. They had never been, so there was a lot to show them. We took a ride on the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel that sits right on the river, looking out over Parliament, and much of the London city center.

It was a pretty impressive view, as we climbed to the peak of the Eye, rolled its crest and looked out across the city.

After our trip on the Eye, Jen took a walk along the river with Tim & Rhonda. To go see the London Tower. I was feeling pretty worn out, as I was still a bit under the weather from my cold  / flu, so I sat this one out. Choosing instead to find a spot in the grass beneath the London Eye and try to nap in the sun.

Apparently along their walk, they stumbled across a sandcastle building contest along the shores of the Thames…

The Tower of London is a pretty good walk from where we parted ways, at the London Eye. And I think Jen had underestimated how long it takes, but, after a while, they finally made it to the Tower, and it made for some great pictures.

After taking in the sights of London Saturday, we made our way back to the carpark so we could head home. Except things didn’t go nearly as smoothly as planned.

We ended up getting lost and we walked much longer than we probably needed to. But, by around 9:00 that night, we had finally found our car. We were all feeling pretty tired from walking around London all day, and so we were looking forward to getting back to Oxford. Unfortunately, even after we found our car, we still weren’t out of the woods just yet.

We ran into a bit of a snag in the car park. For some reason, the ticketing system and arm that lets drivers out after they paid stopped working, just as we were trying to get out. After phoning up the operator, we were told that they couldn’t do anything about it from where they were, and that they needed to send someone out to have a look at the machine.

“No big deal,” we thought. We pulled our car over to the side of the parkade, out of the way of the gate, and we waited. But we weren’t the only ones wanting to leave that night. Soon, there was a long line of cars waiting to get out. All growing increasingly impatient, and all taking turns calling up this operator and letting her know their great frustration. Each time, the operator apologized and let them know there was nothing they could do to get the gate open from where they were, and that someone was coming to take a look at it.

Lots of shaking heads and crossed arms. People got out of their cars and began trying to lift up the arm of the gate, to see if they could somehow force it up.

Finally, after about 45 minutes of this scene, a man got on the phone and told the operator that he was going to call the fire department if someone was not down here in five minutes to get this gate open. Like magic, the gate arm that the operator said could not be opened so many times before now was lifted. Car engines fired up and took off in a hurry, full of drivers and passengers anxious to get out of the parkade that had held them like prisoners for nearly an hour.

Not exactly the perfect end to our day in London, but at least now we were finally making our way back home.

Sunday: Sick in Bed & Oxford Punting

On Sunday morning, we all woke up and went to St. Aldate’s together, the church Jen and I have been attending here in Oxford. We were excited to share it with Tim & Rhonda. It was a great service, and it was really nice to be able to show Tim & Rhonda our church home here in Oxford.

Afterward, we wandered through the city center in search of a good place for a post-church brunch. We ended up at Giraffe, a place I knew served pancakes. It was another sunny day, and it shone through the large restaurant windows, warming us as we browsed the menu.

We placed our orders and talked about what we wanted to do for the rest of the day. We had been discussing whether or not we wanted to go see one of the nearby castles. I think we were all in agreement that it’d be a lot of fun to go see–Jen and I hadn’t been–but my illness was now in full gear, and I just didn’t have it in me. After lunch, I retired to my bed, in hopes of sleeping off this cold and flu that was sucking all my energy.

While I slept, Jen and her parents made their way over to Magdalene College to try their hand at punting. I was sorry to miss out on the fun, on such a beautiful, sunny day, but I was not doing well at this point.

Since I wasn’t there to join in, I thought I’d ask Jen to share a bit about their first punting experience. Here’s Jen:

Of the three of us, Dad was the brave one who decided to go first. Although it helped that I volunteered him when the guy who was working that day asked who was going to be in charge of punting.

“He is,” I said, pointing to Dad.

We came across a small bridge shortly after we got started, and we all had to duck really low. This did not go well, though, as it made us go against the bank where there were lots of tree branches. So, we he had to continue to duck down low, but we still found ourselves getting hit by all the branches.

Dad looked so funny trying to stay balanced while having to crouch down so low. Mom and I were laughing so hard we literally felt like we were going to pee our pants. Dad was frustrated with us for laughing at him, and for not helping him. But there was no way we could help until we got ourselves under control!

I am happy to say that Dad did get used to how the pole worked, and then he was able to move us along quite quickly.

And then it was my turn. I had the advantage of going second, which meant I was able to watch Dad and figure out what not to do. It turns out I’m a natural at punting. I may not have been the fastest punter, but I could move us along without running into things. Unlike some people…

The problem, though, is that you can’t always control what others around you are doing. At one point, we came across a more narrow part of the river and there was a teenage boy who clearly didn’t know what he was doing. He managed to get his punt horizontal, across the river, which meant I had nowhere to go and ended up running us into the bank. Again, where lots of branches were sticking out. I seriously thought the branches were going to shove me off the platform of the boat! Thankfully it didn’t, but I did receive some nice, deep scratches on my arm.

We made sure Mom got into the action as well. Anytime I can have a good laugh at my parents’ expense is always nice. Mom did pretty good as well, but she was a little unsure of what she was doing at first. Soon, though, she got the hang of it, and she caught on fast enough.

We had a great time, full of lots of laughs, and we considered our first time punting a success.

Monday: Saying Goodbye

After our time with Jen’s parents in Rome, Paris and now Oxford, we were sad to see them go. We had been looking forward to their arrival for some time, and our time together had been pretty amazing. Not just because of all the things we had seen and done over the course of those two+ weeks, but it was just nice to have them with us again. It made it feel like we were carrying a piece of home with us again.

But Monday morning we got up and prepared to see them off. We’d be driving them to London to catch their flight, but not before Jen made us some homemade scones to start the day. I found Justin and Dan (Justin & Jane’s oldest son) next door, and I asked if they’d mind snapping a photo of us before Jen’s parents left. Dan was happy to help.

When we arrived at the airport, we had trouble checking in. The machine we were using didn’t want to accept their travel information, which I found rather odd. So we found an airline staff member and asked for his help. He tried his hand at the machine, doing the same we did, only to find the same failed result we did. He punched in a few numbers on another monitor and told us that, unfortunately, it looked like their flight had been overbooked, and they might need to catch a flight out the next day.

Rhonda’s jaw about hit the ground at that point. Tim remained cool as the young airline employee told us we needed to walk down to the customer service table at the end of the hall and they would let us know what was going on.

We followed his directions, commenting on how bizarre it is that you can buy something several months in advance and then show up the day of only to find it’s not actually yours.

After talking with a guy who looked like he had been dealing with similar problems all morning, and who was a bit frazzled, we learned that the flight had indeed been overbooked, and that several passengers would be asked to fly out the next day in exchange for £1,500. It didn’t seem like a bad deal to me, but Rhonda was planning on being at work the next day, and she was trying to figure out how she could ask someone to cover for her, even though she loved the idea of staying an extra night with us.

You could see the wheels turning in Tim’s head, thinking how that money could be put to use in helping cover part of their trip. I was with Tim; that sounded like a good deal to me.

After about an hour of waiting, and being told to wait some more, Tim & Rhonda found out they would in fact be flying out on their plane, as originally planned. It was a bit of a rollercoaster departure, preparing to say goodbye, then thinking they might not have to say goodbye just yet, then realizing that, yes, this really was goodbye.

It was tough to see them go, after such a nice time together. We were just thankful to have them. It meant the world that they both crossed the Atlantic for the first time to visit us. It was a quiet ride home, that afternoon. Jen staring out the window for much of it. I patted her knee from time to time, and let my hand rest there. Encouraging her with a smile as she turned her head to me.

A Hard Message

The Sunday before we took off for our trip to Rome and Paris, Jen and I had attended the evening service at St. Aldate’s. The pastor who typically speaks at that 6:00 evening service is a guy by the name of Simon. His background is in Theology, and so I appreciate his meat-and-potato style of teaching. Simon is British, and he’s quite funny. His sense of humor rounds out his solid teaching quite well, often making jokes about his large size, or his rather casual attire (whereas most pastors here tend to get quite dressed up for their role).

This evening he spoke, though, this Sunday evening before we left, he had a rather interesting message. He began by explaining that he had actually spent about 20 hours preparing a message that week on Romans, which we had been studying, but as he was sitting there, prior to speaking, he felt led to preach on a totally different topic. He explained to us that he really felt like God was telling him that He had another message that needed to be heard by someone tonight. And so, at the last minute, he jotted down some notes and took the stage for an impromptu message. I was intrigued.

Rather than speaking on Romans that night, Simon focused on the period directly after Jesus’ baptism. When he spent the 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. Simon started by pointing out that, what most people don’t realize in looking at this story is that Jesus was actually led by the Spirit when He went out into the desert for this time of temptation. That Jesus was not just experiencing this great trial, but that God was the One bringing this time of difficulty about for His Son.

Simon explained that he didn’t like to think about it that way. That it’s tough. But, he pointed out, that’s what we’re told happened. And so, Simon talked through what this means for us, for those of us going through a tough time.

He talked about how, a lot of times these difficult times come, and we just want to throw in the towel and give up, without realizing that God actually wants to use such experiences to grow us, so that He can use us in a way He couldn’t otherwise.

He was right. It was a hard message. But I appreciate preachers who teach what they believe they need to teach. I appreciate preachers who teach what the Bible says, whether it’s hard or not, without feeling the need to soften the blow by watering it down.

Simon shared several stories with us that night. To help with the lesson. He told us about a pastor who had received a wide amount of success, as a speaker, but who had been struck with Tourette syndrome at the height of his ministry. He told us how this pastor went from blessing others with his mouth, to not being able to stop using that same mouth from spouting off horrible obscenities at the most inappropriate moments. He told us how this pastor was literally put up in bed one day, because he could no longer serve as he had before, and just asking God, “Why in the world would you do this to me?…”

Simon explained to us the answer that pastor said he felt he received from God, in that moment. After asking, he said he felt God telling him, “This is what you would be like without me.” Simon told us how God had led this man through an incredibly low valley only so that this man could be brought to a place where he was fully reliant on God, and where he knew he could take no credit for any amount of success he had.

Simon also shared with us from his own experience. From some of his own trials. He talked about how he  had made plans to leave the UK as a young, “strapping”, 20-something. To go join up with Vineyard Ministries in the States, as a speaker. Only to be pressed down upon with the great realization that, as much as he wanted this, he felt that’s not what God wanted for him and his wife. Instead, he felt God was telling him to go to school. To go to seminary. And to go work in the Anglican Church.

Simon shared with us how this, all of this, was the opposite of what he wanted. How he spent years in school, in great depression, while his wife went to work, earning an income so that they could get by, rather than starting a family, as she wanted. He talked about how incredibly trying this was, but how, ultimately, he came out the other side with greater confidence in how God planned to use him to share His good news with others.

And so, before we left for Rome & Paris, I had fired off an e-mail to Simon. I told him his message really resonated with me, and I’d love to chat with him a bit more when we returned. I was happy to hear back from him right away, and we scheduled a time to get together when we returned to Oxford.

A Walk with Simon

I met up with Simon on a sunny Tuesday morning after Jen’s parents left. I met him in front of St. Aldate’s, and we walked down the lane toward Christ Church meadow. He was dressed in his usual, informal outfit: cargo shorts, t-shirt, a brown, leather waistcoat (which I’ve never seen him without) and sandals. Simon has broad shoulders and he walks heavily, swinging his arms as we went.

“How do you feel about ice cream,” he said, turning toward me as we walked.

I laughed to myself, slightly, checking my watch to make sure it was still in fact 10:30 in the morning.

“Sure, yeah, that sounds great,” I said.

We stopped into G&D’s, we each grabbed a cone of ice cream (custard for Simon, strawberry for me), and we continued toward Christ Church meadow.

“So I read your blog,” he said, without turning to me, as we crossed the street and entered through the large metal gate.

“You did?” I asked, somewhat surprisingly.

“Well, I looked at it,” he clarified, admittedly.

“Oh, well thanks.”

“You’re a writer, and a thinker,” he commented. “That’s rare.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

“I mean, lots of people write. Lots. But lots of writers aren’t actually thinkers. And we have a lot of thinkers, but they don’t tend to write much,” he said, clarifying again.

“Yeah, well thank you,” I said, still unsure of what to say.

“You know, Harry Potter was filmed here,” he said, pointing toward the wide open fields in front of us, and to the side of Christ Church, quickly moving along in conversation.

“Yeah, I had heard that when I arrived,” I replied. “Pretty amazing.”

“It was a big setup,” he continued. “They had massive tents and trailers. You could see it all going on from where we were,” he said, motioning over his shoulder to St. Aldate’s not far behind us.

“They asked me to be in it, you know. But I told them ‘Nah… I have too much to do already,'” he joked.

“It’s funny you say that,” I said, without missing a beat, “Because when I first saw you, I thought to myself, ‘he looks just like Harry Potter!'”

“Really?” he asked, turning toward me.

“No, no I didn’t. I was just joking.”

“Oh, well I haven’t seen it, or read it, so I didn’t know.”

I almost felt bad, for my joke that had totally missed the mark.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to explain, “Harry Potter is a small, teenage boy with glasses, so pretty much nothing like you.”

“Ah,” he said, laughing.

We continued walking, making our way toward the river and along its edge, enjoying our ice cream cones as we walked.

“You know, I’m the most American Brit you’ll meet,” he told me, with a half-look of pride.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Well, at least, that’s what I’m told.”

“I could see that,” I told him. “You tend to wear your heart on your sleeve a bit, like us Americans. You tell it like it is. I appreciate that.”

“I do, yeah,” he said in agreement. “I used to be a butcher, you know. And a meat salesman. So I’m pretty to the point. ‘You want this cut, it costs this much,’ he said aloud, as if to replay a scene from his former life as a butcher / meat salesman, and to show me where it came from.

We passed several people on our walk. Most of whom Simon seemed to know, and who knew him. Lots of smiles and “hello”‘s.

He asked if I minded if we took a break about a half hour into our walk. I didn’t, so we did. We took a seat on a bench that overlooks the river, and we sat there watching the water tumble slowly by. It really was a beautiful day, and this was an amazing spot to take it all in.

“So you contacted me a bit ago to talk about something,” Simon said, narrowing our conversation, and recalling the e-mail I had sent him several weeks prior.

“Yeah, it was about your sermon, where you talked about how sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, to help form us into who He wants us to be. So that He can use us.”

“Ah, yes,” he replied, looking off into the distance, recalling the message I was referring to.

I shared with him how this message had really resonated with me that night. I told him about how we had picked up and left home to come here to Oxford, because I really felt God wanted to use this experience to help prepare me to share Him with others, even though I wasn’t totally clear on what that was supposed to look like. I told him how it had been pretty tough to leave home behind and come here, even though this is such an amazing city.

I shared with him how, even though this is a dream come true, in so many ways, it is also one of the most difficult things either one of us have ever done. To come here and start over, as it were, investing literally all we have into this, with no guarantee of anything waiting us on the other side.

I also told him about how we had lost Jen’s sister, Hayley, shortly before leaving home, and how that had only made this time all the more difficult.

He hung his head low at the news, shaking it as if to share in our pain.

He told me he was so sorry for our loss. And then he asked several questions. About coming here. And he asked how Jen was doing with it all.

I told him this had not been easy on Jen. Not at all. But that she had been incredibly strong through it all. And supportive. And that there’s no way I could have done it without her.

Then he asked me what I wanted to do, at the end of our time here in Oxford. I’ve been asked that question a lot since arriving, and so I was prepared to answer.

“Well, when I first came over, I figured I’d just go the PhD route and work to eventually become a professor,” I told him. “I knew I wanted to write and speak, so I figured that’d let me do that on the side.”

“But, since coming here,” I continued, “I’ve begun to think maybe that’s not what I want to do. I really enjoyed speaking and writing in my former job, so I know I’d love to do that. But I think I’d like to do that for a more general audience. Not just for academics. To help everyday people see Him more clearly.”

“I know it sounds like a pipe dream, but if I could do that, if I could write and speak to help others with that, that’s what I’d be doing.”

Simon was quick to respond, and to encourage me.

“We need both of those things, Ryan. Writing and speaking. And there are a lot of people who don’t want to do those things. I enjoy speaking, but writing is a chore. If you can do both of those things, then I don’t think that’s a pipe dream.”

I nodded my head. I was thankful for his encouragement.

We left our spot from beside the river and continued on our walk, heading back toward the gate through which we had entered the meadow.

Simon shook his head again, commenting on our loss. And the recent difficulties.

“You know, Ryan, you have to gain this knowledge, you have to get this degree, to do what you want to do. And this is a great place to get it,” he said, staring off at Christ Church in the distance. “But I think you’ll realize, afterward, that God brought you here for more than just a degree. He’s teaching you both through all of this, and you might not know how until much later.”

“Hmmm…” I said aloud, allowing his words settle in.

I thanked Simon for the ice cream, and for taking the time. I told him I really appreciated his thoughts and wisdom.

He’s a pretty humble guy, so he quickly brushed off any idea that there was wisdom in his words. He told me we’d have to do this again some time. I told him I’d like that, and I made my way toward the city center. Back to the library to study, still chewing on Simon’s words.

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: Nietsche for breakfast and “Think Week”

Tuesdays have been my lecture days this term. Which means I spend a good chunk of each Tuesday in the Exam Schools (where all the lectures are held). I start off with God, Christ & Salvation at 9:00. Then I have Historical Jesus at 11:00. And I wrap things up with Intro to Paul at 12:00.

For the most part, I’ve really been enjoying my lectures this term. Apart from God, Christ & Salvation, I suppose. The lecture is being taught by a Professor from Christ Church. His hair is salt and pepper speckled, and worn short. He has a shortly shaved dark beard and he likes to wear black. A lot of it. Black turtle necks. Black pants. And a black leather jacket. He often stares off into a corner of the large lecture hall as he talks, as if he’s speaking to someone suspended 20-feet off the floor in a chair fastened to the back wall.

His specialty is modern theology, so most of our time is spent focusing on guys like Kierkegaard, Marx and Nietsche. Guys I’m not too excited about. Guys whose writing is just way too dark for a 9:00 lecture. Lots of “God is dead” talk. It’s a bit like starting your day with a bowl full of cereal only to find your cereal has been replaced by nails.

My second lecture of the day, The Historical Jesus, is a bit better. Three professors rotate throughout the term, taking turns to present and pose questions each time. One professor speaks for 45 to 50 minutes or so, and then one of the other professors poses follow-up questions for another five to 10 minutes. The talks are on a wide range of topics, including everything from miracle accounts in the gospels to early church practices, and they’re all centered around the question of what these things tell us about who those in the very early church believed Jesus to be. As well as who He thought Himself to be.

I love the format, where one professor puts another professor on the spot and poses response questions based on the talk that was just given. They’re always incredibly cordial about it (as is the English way), starting off by saying something along the lines of, “Well, I think Professor ________ did a great job of covering this topic, and I’m not sure I’d have much else to add,” before posing their response, which typically includes a lot of points I just wouldn’t have thought of from the lecture. It’s great.

I ran into Dave Lincicum Tuesday morning before the start of the lecture. Dave’s my academic supervisor, and he also taught my Gospels & Jesus tutorial last term. In the castle. Dave’s a great guy. He’s an American, and young. In his early 30’s, I guess. He and his wife had their first daughter last summer. And he’s soft-spoken, in a way that makes it seems like he’s really genuinely a nice guy. He’s a part of this three-person Historical Jesus lecture, as well.

He asked how things were going for me, as we hadn’t talked much since I first arrived back in Oxford. He told me he had just recently ran into my tutor (“Professor”) for my God & Israel in the Old Testament tutorial. Dave told me that my Old Testament tutor was really happy with my work, and that he told Dave it seems I’ve hit my stride in my essays.

I raised my eyebrows a bit.

“Oh wow. Well, that’s good to hear,” I told Dave.

“Yeah, yeah it is,” he said with a smile.

We chatted for a few more minutes. Commenting on the large, 10-foot tall paintings that seem to stare you down from the Exam Schools lecture halls. Dave asked how Jen was settling in. And then we took our seats for the lecture.

Think Week

The week Jennifer returned here to Oxford was the fifth week of the term, which has come to be a big week for Christian Societies on campus. Christian speakers are invited to come and speak during lunch and evening sessions throughout the week. On a wide range of topics.

I went to a lunch-time talk that Monday before Jennifer arrived that was titled, “Happy as I Am: Who needs God anyway?” I thought it was a great topic, and an equally great talk. Michael Ramsden was the speaker. The same guy who spoke at the Christmas Carol service Jen and I attended last term. He does a really good job of approaching these kind of questions in a logical, well thought out way that just makes sense. And he uses analogies well, which goes a long way in my book. I’ve really enjoyed listening to him whenever I have a chance.

Following on the coat-tails of these fifth-week talks, though, is what’s been given the title, “Think Week” (at least, that’s the title used this year). Think Week takes place the following week, during sixth week, and it’s a week’s worth of speakers organized by the Atheist Society. The speakers present on topics of similar nature to the previous week, but from a decidedly different standpoint.

One of the big speakers for the week is Richard Dawkins, a celebrity of sorts for those in the atheist camp. Max and Rich had picked up some tickets for his Tuesday evening talk, and they invited me to go along with them to the event.

Knowing it would be a popular talk, we arrived a bit early and waited in a short line in front of the Exam Schools. It was a cold night, and we could see our breath as we talked while waiting for the doors to open. By the time the doors opened, the front of the line had swelled, and we wondered if it had actually grown wider than it had longer.

We made our way through the twists and turns of the Exam Schools hallways, up the stone stairways, with those large portraits staring down at us, and we found a row of open seats in the large lecture room. The room quickly filled with people being ushered in and those in charge played with the microphones and monitors as they did.

I joked with Max about the name of the week, “Think Week.” It’s a bit pretentious, I thought.

“I go to church,” I joked with him, sarcastically, “so I don’t need to worry about ‘thinking.'”

The evening’s talk was being shared by another professor. A member of the Philosophy department. He had long white hair pulled back, and his eyes looked small behind his glasses. He was very well dressed and held his hands folded in is lap as people took their seats. Dawkins didn’t look quite as careful about his attire as this other man did. In a way, I guess Dawkins looked more Oxford. His tweed jacket a bit more worn, perhaps. Dawkins’ large, high-arching eyebrows almost looked menacing as he looked around at the audience from his chair at the front of the room. And I wondered if that was intentional.

Dawkins used to be a professor. A biologist, I believe. But then he decided to step away from academics to focus on his writing, if I’m not mistaken. His premise is that Science has basically shown that there’s no need for any belief in God, and that anyone who holds to such faith is simply outdated. I recently heard he wanted to get rid of Theology as an area of study at Oxford entirely, which I thought was pretty funny.

The evening’s talk was about whether or not there would be anything that would cause these two men (both devout Atheists) to believe in the supernatural. Whether or not they might deem any experience worthy of being called a miracle. Since they’re both on the same side of the argument, I thought this would be an interesting talk.

“It’s certainly not going to be much of a debate,” I spoke to Max before it began.

Dawkins acted as moderator for the talk, as well as participant, and so he would often play the role of devil’s advocate (or, in this case, God’s advocate?) for the conversation. Interjecting questions at points that seemed to support the view one from a religious background might hold.

“Well, what about this case?” he would ask, turning the conversation over to the Philosophy professor to respond. Setting him up, so to speak. Then Dawkins would agree. Make a point. And they’d move on.

I was a bit underwhelmed, to be honest. They basically concluded that no, there was nothing that would lead either of them to conclude that a supernatural, miraculous event had ever taken place. Not ever.

They jokingly referred to an example of a 50-foot tall Jesus walking over the English countryside, which, even then would not persuade them to believe in the supernatural. If such an act were to occur, not necessarily a 50-feet Jesus but anything that someone might want to label as a miracle, there would simply be a shift in the scientific model and then they would have an explanation for the event, they explained.

I was less than satisfied with the response. Perhaps I’m not giving the argument fair representation. And, if that’s the case, then it’s due merely to my own ability to listen, recall or comprehend what was being said. But I just remember feeling like the discussion was lazy, and not well thought through. Or even discussed, for that matter.

I enjoyed the question and answer period a bit more, though. I thought there were some interesting questions asked. One man, in particular, told a story, rather than a question. He didn’t come right out and say it, but, from the way he began, it didn’t appear that he or his family were believers. He told a story, though, about his father. Who he explicitly said was not a believer.

Speaking into a microphone that had been handed to him, he told the room, and Dawkins in particular, about a time when his father was driving home one evening. He told us how, while driving, his father first saw a man’s face appear to him, and then he heard him speak directly to him. He was so struck by this experience that he had to pull his car over to the side of the road. When this man’s father returned home that night, he told us he didn’t want to talk with anyone. That he appeared really shaken up. Finally, after some coercion, he talked with his wife and son. Explaining to them what had happened.

Someone in the audience asked the man telling the story who his father had seen that night, on his drive home.

“Well,” he said, “it was Jesus.”

There was some muffled laughter in the room. And talking.

He appeared to want to bring this to Dawkins to get his take on it. Almost as if to ask, “Obviously we don’t believe in this stuff, but what do we do with that?”

Dawkins was completely unfazed, though. I had been watching him as the man was telling his story, and Dawkins looked like he thought the whole thing was ridiculous.

After this man finished speaking, Dawkins simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Thanks for the story. Next question?”

That seemed a bit disrespectful to me. That’s not to say I didn’t think this story was pretty far out there. But he had a genuine question, and I really felt like he was a fan of Dawkins, and Dawkins simply brushed him off. He seemed like a rather unhappy man to me. Dawkins, that is.

Several other questions were asked over the next half hour or so. One of those was from a girl in the front of the room. She was asking about the psychological nature of faith, and whether certain people are predisposed to put their faith in such belief systems. Whether they have some innate need to believe such things, whereas others are more critical and do not need such belief systems. She pointed out that she had been raised in a very conservative Christian household. That everyone in her family were Christians. But that she was the first to step out and be an Atheist.

It was at this point that a man seated just a few rows to my right shouted out, “Congratulations!” The room filled with applause. And Dawkins and the philosopher in the front of the room joined in. It was one of the few times I remember seeing Dawkins smile that night.

I said goodbye to Max and Rich as we walked out of the Exam Schools that night, hopped on my bike and rode home in the cool night air. Jennifer had stayed home that night, not caring to go and listen to the talk. When I got in, I shared a bit about the evening with her. I shared the story of this man whose father had claimed to see Jesus on his drive home, and I shared the story about this girl who was the first to become an atheist from her family. And how the room had congratulated her with a long round of applause.

And it was only after sharing this with Jen that I realized the depth of what had just happened. And it struck me.

“If we really believe this stuff,” I told Jen, “and if this girl really is saying she doesn’t want anything to do with God or with His Son, then that room was celebrating something that could have eternal consequences for this girl’s soul.”

“Yep,” Jen said, seated on the couch across the living room from me, while I heated up some leftovers in the kitchen.

Jen’s so black-and-white. This was a no-brainer for her. But for me, things like that take a bit longer to compute. And I was left in painful awe of the “celebration” I had sat in that evening. It was an incredibly dark and sad experience. And the only thing that brought me comfort, at that moment, was to pray for that girl.

Wednesday: A humbling quiz and helping a Brit

I started Wednesday off with a Greek vocab quiz. As I often do. And it kicked my butt. Flat out. I’ve been doing well on grammar this term, but vocab is another matter. We’re being tested on vocab at random at this point, from all of the vocab we’ve learned so far (something over 300 words), and I’ve just been neglecting my vocab, focusing more on translation of our Greek text (some from John’s Gospel, some from Mark). So, when it comes to our vocab quizzes, I’ve been getting my teeth kicked in.

I was a bit humbled by the experience Wednesday morning. Staring down the list of 30 or so Greek terms and only being able to translate a handful from the top of my head. But I think it’s good to be humbled like that every once in a while. I think it’s good to light the fire under us a bit. I left class that morning knowing I needed to spend some more time on my vocab.

I was walking with a young guy after Greek that morning. By the name of Tim. He’s been feeling pretty overwhelmed by the Greek. Everyone is, at this point, I think, but he was feeling particularly so. He was telling me he’s jealous I don’t have to take the Preliminary Exams everyone else (apart from Lyndon) had to take, since I’m a Senior Status student (starting in year two of the three year program). Everyone else has to pass this exam before they can move on, so they’re feeling a bit stressed out at the moment.

He asked me a bit about my background as we walked through the Exam Schools hallways. And why I was studying theology.

I told him how I had been working in business before. In marketing and public relations. For about four years. And how, at the time, I was also reading and writing about theology. And how I finally came to the realization that I didn’t know many people in my field who were doing that. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who was doing that.

He laughed.

“And so,” I told him, “I figured, it probably makes more sense for me to be studying theology. And so here I am.”

It was a wet morning that day. Not necessarily because of heavy rain, but more because it seemed like there was just a heavy mist lingering in the city. Biking through the city center after picking up a book from the Theology Faculty Library, it felt like one of those mornings where you wake up after camping and everything and everyone is just wet.

I was planning on getting some reading done that day. For my two essays that were due later in the week. From the library at Harris Manchester. Two women were standing at the foot of the stone staircase leading up to the library, speaking  french to one another as I passed by.

There was something I needed to print off for the week, and so I took a seat at one of the PCs in the middle of the library. Jamie, one of the other students here at Harris Manchester, the guy who went rock climbing across the US years ago, and who made a stop over in Port Angeles, was working across from me. He seemed to be stuck on something, as he asked how familiar I was with Word Processor.

Having a look over his shoulder, he told me he was trying to put a line over a title on the page, but he didn’t know how.

“Ah, okay. Well, let’s see if this does the trick,” I said, holding down shift and using the underscore key several times. “Does that work?”

“Yeah, that’s great,” he said, turning to me with a smile. “Thanks!”

It was good to actually be able to help a native Brit with something here. To feel like I actually know something and can be of help. I feel like 99.9% of the time it’s the other way around.

Thursday: A sundrenched lunch and our “interview” at the Kilns

While Wedesday was a damp day in Oxford, Thursday more than made up for it. We woke up to a sunny, blue sky day. And not just a cold, dry, winter kind of sunny day. But the warm kind. The kind that seems to say, “Spring is coming. It’s not quite here, but it is coming.”

I met Jennifer at the Alternative Tuck Shop for lunch, after reading in the Harris Manchester Library for a while. We grabbed two paninis and walked around the corner to Harris Manchester. It was a beautiful day, and so we decided to enjoy our sandwiches from just inside the college gate. On the benches that sit beneath a large oak tree just outside the college chapel. It was wonderful, sitting there, talking with Jen, enjoying a hot from the grill chicken pesto panini in the sun.

After lunch, we made the short walk to High Street and waited for the bus. The number nine. Which would take us out to the Kilns. Deb had a tour scheduled, and so she thought that would be the perfect opportunity for me to shadow her before leading my own tours, as well as for us to talk a bit about getting Jen’s help there at the Kilns. She invited us to stay after the tour to talk a bit about the jobs over tea. The Pembertons aren’t ones to turn down tea at the Kilns.

It’s a short bus ride from the Oxford city center to the Kilns. Maybe 15 minutes. And just a short walk once the bus arrives at the end of the lane that leads to the Kilns: Lewis Close.

As we approached the house, we could hear Deb’s voice from the entrance. She was standing in front of the house with a couple from America. He was taller, and he had long hair. He wore a black t-shirt that read, “Over the Rhine,” along with a picture I don’t quite remember. I laughed to myself at the funny coincidence.

Over Christmas break, while we were home for the holidays, one of my good friends from back home, David, had written to an author of a book he was reading, “Hipster Christianity” (a book I highly recommend, by the way). Apparently the author was a big fan of Lewis, and he had written a portion of his book while living at the Kilns (as a scholar in residence). David wrote to this author, a guy by the name of Brett McCracken, to tell him a bit about my story. About what I was up to. And to see if he might sign a copy of his book so David could give it to me as a gift. I thought that was awesome, and I was blown away when I received this from David in December. Brett had not only signed the book, but he had written me a note. Encouraging me on this journey, and saying he was enjoying reading along. I had been in touch with Brett, after returning here to Oxford, off and on. Thanking him for the gift. And talking a bit about my thoughts on the book. And it was through meeting Brett that I was introduced to a band by the name of Over the Rhine, a favorite of his. I had never heard of them before, and I had certainly never noticed anyone in an Over the Rhine t-shirt, and so I thought that was a pretty funny coincidence.

Deb introduced us to the couple and told us they were on their wedding anniversary. I thought that was a great way to celebrate. I also thought there’s no way I’d ever be able to talk my way into celebrating that way, though.

“I’m a librarian,” she told us, introducing herself.

“Ahh…,” I thought to myself. “Well that explains it, then.”

I had been on a tour of the Kilns before. A couple of times before, actually. Both times with Walter and Deb. But I had never taken the time to write down notes along the way. Of important dates and names. And so I did that, this time, knowing I’d need to be able to remember the many details for my first tour in just two days.

Deb started us in the common room. The room with books stacked from floor to ceiling on one side of the room. The room where Lewis used to sit with this guests. Smoking his pipe and telling stories. It was a beautiful day. And the light from outside was pouring into the room as Deb spoke from her chair in the far corner, while I frantically jotted down notes in short hand.

The couple on the tour were quite familiar with Lewis’ works. Both of them were. And they asked great questions. Which made me more than a little worried for when it was my turn to lead.

One of the scholars in residence at the Kilns, Stephanie, joined us for the tour. An American. She’s currently studying in Edinburgh, but she’s living at the Kilns for a month while writing her dissertation on Lewis. She’s from the South. And she had a bit of a southern draw. Which always sounds particularly out of place when you’re in England.

Deb did a great job with the tour. Even though I had heard it all before, I really enjoyed it. And I made sure to jot down all the things I knew I wouldn’t remember otherwise. It was great seeing the couple’s reaction around the house, seeing different things for the first time.

Afterwards, we said goodbye to the group and then we made our way into the dining room for tea.

I had received a text-message just as the tour was beginning, but I wasn’t able to get to it as I was doing my best to stay on top of my notes. It wasn’t until we sat down after the tour that I was able to check it. It was from Cole, and he was letting me know he had heard back from St. Andrew’s University in Scotland about his application. He had gotten in. He had been accepted for the PhD program with a scholarship. That was big news, and definitely worth a phone call. I excused myself from the room, making my way to the back of the house before calling him.

“Hey, congratulations” I said over the phone after Cole had answered on the other end. “That’s great news!”

After talking for a few minutes about the good news, I made my way back to the front of the house. I told Deb Cole was wanting to talk with her, and that she should give him a call.

She looked concerned.

“Is something wrong?” she asked me.

“No, no. Nothing’s wrong. But you should give him a call.”

Still looking concerned, and a bit confused, she made her way back to her room. I whispered the good news to Jen, so that Deb couldn’t hear. And a few minutes later, we heard a scream from Deb’s room.

“Oh, Cole! That’s great news!” came Deb’s voice.

Stephanie peeked her head into the dining room, where Jennifer and I were waiting for Deb, and she asked if we’d like some tea.

“Yeah, that’d be great,” I told her.

“What kind would you like?”

“Oh… Well, I don’t know. I guess the normal English kind?” I had never been asked what kind of tea I wanted in England. Usually I just take what’s served to me. And it always tastes the same to me.

Deb joined us in the dining room a few minutes later. Still smiling from the good news. And Stephanie wasn’t far behind her. With a pot of tea in one hand and a plate of cookies in the other.

“Oh, thank you, Stephanie,” Deb said as she entered the room.

We talked for several minutes over tea and cookies. Oatmeal raisin and ginger. Stephanie asked what I was up to here in Oxford. And I shared with her how I was studying Theology. After working in Public Relations for several years. And how I was hoping to one day write.

She asked a bit about what I was interested in writing, and so I told her a bit about hands&feet, and what I had been up to there. How I was interested in writing on theology using everyday experiences. Using stories that people could relate to. But that they also got something out of. And that would ultimately help them see Him more clearly.

After she explained a bit about what her own work was on, Stephanie excused herself so that we could talk about our work at the Kilns.

Deb made sure I felt okay about leading the tours, which I did. And we got the schedule for Saturday’s tours all settled out. I told her I was really looking forward to it.

We talked a bit about Jen’s job. About how many hours Deb might need from her (about 15 per week). About what she’d be doing (responding to e-mails, scheduling tours, organizing the office and helping prepare for tours). And about pay. Deb said she was really looking forward to having Jen’s help, and that she’d have her start tomorrow if she could.

“What I’ll do is I’ll call Stan at the Foundation back in the States tonight, and I’ll make sure he’s okay with everything we’ve talked about,” she told us. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t plan on you starting on Monday next week.”

If that was an interview, it was the easiest interview I’ve ever been a part of, I thought to myself as we helped Deb clean up after the tea.

We had a great time at the Kilns that afternoon, and, walking down the lane and back to the bus stop with Jen afterward, I still couldn’t believe we were going to be working there. Amazing.

Friday: Returning home rejoicing

I went to the morning prayer service at Harris Manchester this week. It’s held every week. Just a short, 10-minute service at 8:40 on Friday mornings in the chapel. I’ve been meaning to go for some time, but I’m usually spending that time on some last minute studying for my Greek quizzes. So I’ve never been before. I was glad I went that morning, though.

I was in a hurry to get there. Riding my bike at a frantic pace to make it on-time. I slipped into the chapel shortly after the service began. Breathing heavily as I took my seat in a pew behind one of only four other people in the audience.

I recognized Ken Wilson a few rows ahead of me. The hand surgeon turned Theologian from Oregon. And Principal Waller sat across the aisle from him. In his suit.

A man in the front of the chapel was reading a story from the Old Testament book of Exodus. The story of God’s conversation with Moses. When God came to Moses and told him He was going to use Moses to rescue His people from captivity. To lead them out of Egypt. And how Moses responded in confusion and fear, not knowing why in the world God would use him of all people for such an incredible mission. And feeling totally unworthy.

It was a great service. Short, but incredibly peaceful. And it was a welcome break from the frantic pace I’m used to most mornings.

After the reading, we sang a hymn. I don’t often sing hymns, but in this chapel, it seemed like a perfect fit.

At the conclusion of the service, the man who had been reading returned to the front of the room. And, with a hint of a smile on his face, he gave a short concluding message before we left.

And the words seemed so perfect. As if they were meant just for me. Almost as if He were speaking these words just for me that morning. Through this man. And through his words.

And I was speechless, seated there in that hard, wooden chapel pew. Staring up into the tall stained glass windows that fill the end wall of the room. I found myself filled with an incredible amount of joy. And thankfulness. For all He has done.

For guiding us through all of this. For bringing so many amazing people into our lives. For lining up jobs for us; the kind of jobs I never dreamt of. For keeping us safe and well fed. And for the incredible things He has shown us along the way.

I was filled with great joy as I replayed the words over again in my head, seated there from the pew that morning.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,

wherever He may send you.

May He guide you through the wilderness,

protect you through the storm.

May He bring you home rejoicing

at the wonders He has shown you.

May He bring you home rejoicing

once again into our doors.

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.

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

Thankfully, it was a nice day for a walk.

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

Lyndon: Like the President, but not

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

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

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

“Lyndon? Like the President?”

“Ah… Yeah, I guess I have.”

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

“What’s your last name?”

“Drake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My afternoon at the Rad Cam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at the Turk

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

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

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

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

He smiled. And laughed.

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

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

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

The Theology of Finance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trip to the Market

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

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

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

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

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

2 Days

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

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

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

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

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

Tim’s stolen computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A letter from Mom

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

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

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

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

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

Skype with David

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

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

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

He asked what my favorite part about being here was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at Mitre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Yeah I guess so.”

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

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

I slept in yesterday again. By accident. It was the second time since I’ve arrived. The volume was turned all the way down on my iPod (i.e. my alarm clock), and so I slept through my skype call with Jen. Not only was I two hours behind on all that I had to get done for the day, I missed seeing my wife’s face: the highlight of my day.

Inaugural Trip to the Eagle & Child

Things did look up after a bit, though. The day soon got better, as yesterday was the day I visited Eagle & Child for the first time. For those who don’t know, Eagle & Child is the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkein and others met for a pint, a pipe and to chat about what they were working on. The great Narnia and Lord of the Rings series were discussed here over laughter and criticism many decades ago, as well as other works. And it was an incredible feeling to visit the pub. For lunch. Unreal.

I met up with Cole there. The American who is also attending Harris Manchester and studying Theology. He’s a year ahead of me in the program, and so he has a bit more experience with all things Oxford. He is also a big fan of all things Lewis and Tolkein. He’s Vice-President of the Oxford CS Lewis Society, and he actually lived at The Kilns last year (the home where CS Lewis used to live). It’s called the Kilns because there is still a large kiln in the backyard.

Cole had already found a table when I arrived. Not in the Rabbit Room (where the Inklings used to sit (the Inklings is the name the CS Lewis & Co group used to go by), but it was a small room tucked off the central hallway with two small table and benches for seats. The pub was full of these little rooms before opening up for the bar, where guests would place their order. Cole handed me a menu and I asked him what his favorites were.

“Rump steak,” he said with a smile and nearly a pause. “And chips.”

“I’ve really been in the mood for a meat pie,” I confessed.

“The meat pies here aren’t my favorite, but I also have friends who love them here, so you might.”

“Meat pie it is,” I said aloud with a nod. We were in line for the bar, to place our orders. It was surprisingly busy, for being 2:00 in the afternoon. We had hoped it would be a little less busy, so that we could find a spot in the Rabbit Room. I was just happy to be there.

I took it all in as we waited. Photos of Lewis adorned the walls. The Inklings on their famous “walks.” I wanted to take photos of everything, but I did my best to resist. I’m trying really hard not to be “that guy.”

“So we’re on for tea at the Kilns,”  Cole said with a look of accomplishment. “You’ll be joining myself, the Dean of Christ Church and his wife.” (His wife is my Greek tutor, and she was Cole’s Greek tutor last year). “It’ll be great.”

I couldn’t believe it. I felt so…undeserving to be among such a group. Two weeks ago I was still working in Bellingham. Next month I’m having tea at CS Lewis old home. With the Dean of Christ Church. It’s wild, really.

“Thank you so much for setting that up,” I said, confessing my feelings of inadequacy among the guests. “I’ll be the guy in the corner with a smile on his face, just happy to be there.”

We placed our orders at the bar and made our way back to the table. We had a great talk about coming to Oxford as a student from the US, about the many Lewis things and places to see, and he encouraged me to apply to live at the Kilns, if for some reason we needed to find another place to live at some point. Apparently it’s a pretty straightforward application process. Oxford students can apply, writing an essay on why they’d like to live there, and submit several professional and pastoral references.

“I’ll put in a good word for you,” he said with a smile.

Our meal was brought to the table and greeted our conversation. My meat pie was not quite what I expected, but still rather good. It was a flaky, puffy crust, rather than a normal pie crust. The meat was hidden in a gravy below the pillow of puffy dough. I finished it easily enough, and finished off the mashed potatoes and veggies that adorned my plate.

“So I take it you’re a fan,” Cole said.

We wandered back to the Rabbit Room, so I could take a look around. And Cole told me about how when they changed out the original Eagle & Child sign for the new one a few years back, they left the old sign on the sidewalk, just lying there. A man by the name of Hooper (who is a Lewis Historian and lives just outside of Oxford) was walking by at the time and picked it up. He later donated the sign to the Lewis foundation, Cole explained to me.

“I’d love to have that sign,” the bartender spoke up.

“Well you’ll have to steal it from the foundation,” Cole retorted.

The bartender was cleaning a glass at the time with a white rag. Very bartender-ish of him. He finished cleaning it, held it at arm’s length eyeing it for a moment, and then handed it to Cole.

“Hey, thanks! Now you have a pint glass from Eagle & Child,” he said as he handed it to me.

My eyes immediately grew big.

“What? Really? I can have it? Oh man, thank you!” I said. The smile now consuming my face. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop who was just given a hundred dollar bill and told to have at it. It is easily the most exciting thing I’ve received since arriving. I might not use any other glass for the next nine months.

I considered titling this post, “I went to the Eagle & Child and all I got was this glass,” but I decided against it.

We left the pub and Cole showed me a few other interesting spots on the way back to Harris Manchester. He showed me where Tolkein used to go to church, and where it’s said he got the idea for the orcs of The Lord of The Rings (the inscribed pictures of Pilate and the Roman soldiers during Christ’s crucifixion are replaced by images of orcs). He introduced me to a used bookstore where they have all of Tolkeins books on display in the window, too.

He was ecstatic about it, as any Tolkein fan would be. Were it Lewis’ books, I probably would’ve been more interested myself. I’m pretty dry when it comes to reading. I’m not a big fan of fantasy. I like my books like I like my meals. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I’ll go back for a second plate of dinner and end up passing on dessert; you can keep the sweets.

I found a couple early editions of Lewis’ books I picked up. Screwtape proposes a Toast and Miracles. I was pretty happy with the find, and I’m looking forward to adding them to my collection.

Free Meal and Free Books

I returned to the Harris Manchester library for some studying. About four hours worth. It was my first time studying upstairs, in the second floor of the Library. I really liked it. You’re not surrounded by books, like you are on the first floor, but it’s really light and airy.

After several hours’ worth of Greek, I met up with Tim for a dinner being put on by the University Christian Organization. Free dinner and a chance to meet some fellow Christians. I was sold.

The church it was held at was amazing. St. Aldate’s. Old, old church, with lots of stone pillars and vaulted ceilings, but it had been renovated to include glass doorways and flatscreen monitors. It was an interesting blend.

The room was filled with 18 and 19 year olds. As it should’ve been. It was for freshers, after all. The two of us just happened to be older freshers.

Tim and I discussed a few of our favorite theologians while we waited for dinner. He told me he would be afraid to study theology, in a way. That it’d be difficult to be faced with scholars who challenge the beliefs you hold so dear.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said. “But that’s also kind of why I’m here. Were I just to go to a seminary to learn theology, I feel like people would question my background, my education. I feel like they’d know exactly what I was going to say before I said it.”

I told him I wanted to study this and walk through it so that I could help others. Particularly those who felt like they couldn’t believe this stuff and still respect their intellect.

He told me he admired the fact that I was doing it.

“We need people doing that,” he told me.

“So what do you want to do after all of these studies?” Tim asked me.

“Well, I’ve found I really enjoy writing. I’d love to write in a way that helps others with all of this. Theology and faith and everyday life.”

“Where’ve you done your writing? Like, on a blog?”

“Actually, right here,” I said as I reached into my computer bag and grabbed a copy of hands&feet I still had on me. It seemed a little cheesy, like I was just waiting to show it off, but it was a copy I was supposed to give it to a friend back home before leaving.

“My best friend took what had been my blog and put it together into a book for my birthday a couple years back,” I told him as I handed it over.

His eyes got big as he looked down at the cover. “You wrote this?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s just self published, but it’s been fun to share it with people,” I said as he flipped through the pages.

The meal was very good. Spanish chicken and rice. I asked Tim how the change was going for him, coming from Singapore.

He said it was a pretty significant change, but he liked it. He said he’d probably missing food from home in a month or so, when he’s eaten about as much sausages and mashed potatoes as he could.

I mentioned that the stereotype back home is that British food is really bland, but that I had enjoyed everything I’d eaten so far. This must’ve gotten the attention of another guy at the table, because he instantly asked about the differences between the two.

“What would be a definitive American meal?” he asked. “How would it be different?”

“Well…,” I began. I often freeze up at the easiest questions. This really should not have been a tough one, but it was. I could probably say someone doesn’t look like my mom and, if asked how, I’d have trouble describing what my mom looks like.

“I mean, it’s a bit of a melting pot, in a lot of ways. So we have all kinds of food. But where I’m from, we have a lot of fish and beef. So, a classic Northwest meal might be salmon and rice and asparagus, or steak and mashed potatoes. Something like that.”

He nodded his head with a half-smile. I think he was less than impressed with my American meal.

Dinner was followed by a speaker. He only talked for about 15 mins or so, and I left shortly after that. Without waiting around for dessert. I had missed my morning skype with Jen, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss my evening skype with her.

On the way out, there were several tables covered in books. Brand new books. I recognized several. Including Strobel’s Case for Christ. I had lent out my copy a while back and I had been meaning to pick up another. I was excited to find it.

I grabbed a couple others and made my way out.

“How much are these?” I asked the greeter by the door.

“Free. They’re all free,” she said with a smile.

“Wow!..Thank you.” I said. Free meal and free books. I felt like I had just robbed a bank.

I’ve been told a couple of times since arriving that England, as a whole, has become much more secularized in recent years. Beginning in the 20th century. It seems like there’s a lot of complacency surrounding the faith here. People just don’t take it very seriously, for the most part. Rather like home, in a lot of ways, I suppose. But without a lot of the big names of the faith in the States who have fairly large followings.

Particularly at a place like Oxford, where belief systems are challenged, the Church in England (not the Church of England, but the Church in England) is wanting to equip its members. Encouraging believers to fight the good fight. To not believe that you can’t be both intelligent and a believer.

I opened the book and began to read on my way back to Northmoor Road as the words played hide-and-go-seek with the shadows. I was happy for the weaponry.

Oxford is beautiful in the fall. Not that I have a whole lot of other seasons to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Particularly the neighborhood I am in on Northwood Road. It’s very green. Lots of leaves on the ground. Children in their private school attire. Little girls in skirts and sweater vests running and laughing. Boys in suits getting out of class. Parents in BMWs, Volvos and Mercedes waiting to pick up their kids after school. It’s all so picturesque.

The 2%

About 99% of the time I’m here I’m incredibly anxious. Uncomfortably so. I find myself thinking, “Everyone else is supposed to be here; I am not.”

You wouldn’t think so, but everything is new and foreign, and out of my comfort zone. Most of my time is spent wishing there was more time and wondering how in the world I’m going to possibly do this. How this is going to work out. How I’m going to learn everything, be everywhere and hand everything in. Worrying how bad its going to hurt when I fall completely on my face.

One of the Tutors gave a talk this morning. Or yesterday morning, perhaps. One of the two. My days are all blending together at this point. And she mentioned that 98% of all mature students (over the age of 21) who attend Oxford complete their degree. I wondered if I’d be in the minority.

If this was just about adding some letters behind my name, or putting a piece of paper on my wall, I wouldn’t be here right now. I would’ve given up long ago. This is simply the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. No, if it weren’t for truly believing God was going to use this experience to work in other people’s lives. In other people’s hearts. For His glory. So that they might see Him more clearly, I simply wouldn’t be here.

Thank God for close friends who encourage me. Who spur me on. Thank you more than you know.

3 out of 104 libraries

I walk a lot. Every day. I’ve been averaging about two hours per day. But today was three hours of walking (three roundtrips to and from school).

I was at school most of the day. For meetings. To be shown around the libraries (I was introduced to three of the 104). One of which was the Bodleian Library. Its an incredibly old Library, and it houses everything thats ever been published in Great Britain. More than nine million books.

Apparently it’s a very difficult place to get into. Oxford University students show their card to get in. The public cannot. I take that back. They can see a bit of it, but not all. The inner courtyard is crowded with tourists. Again, I still feel like one, most times.

Even professors who aren’t a part of the university who want to come to access a book (you cannot check out books from the Bodleian) have to write a letter stating their interest to do so. They’re also required to include a bunch of background information and go through an application process. It is a breathtaking place, though. Lots of stone. Walls. Ceilings. Lots of incredibly intricate carvings. Of saints. And words.

Back to Harris Manchester

I didn’t think about it in the morning, but I needed my suit and gown for our first formal dinner this evening. I should’ve brought it when I went to Harris Manchester in the morning. I didn’t. Which meant an extra trip in the evening. An extra trip I really didn’t have time for.

I arrived back at the house only to realize I had forgotten the slip of paper with the door code in my jacket back at school. I didn’t think anyone was home, but fortunately Beng (the housekeeper) was in. “Forget  the code?” She said with a smile when she opened the door for me.

I decided to try and take a shortcut back to the school. To save myself some time. It ended up taking me twice as long.

I arrived back at Harris Manchester just in time for tea with our Theology tutors. Completely drenched in sweat. A perfect way to meet them for the first time.

More and more, Harris Manchester seems like the perfect college. Not too large. Beautiful. Incredibly friendly people.

I met another student in the Theology program during the tea meet and greet. Cole. He’s an American, from Houston, and he’s a very big C.S. Lewis fan. He’s actually head of the C.S. Lewis Society and he’s living in Lewis’ old home. He told me that the society’s Christmas party this year will be held at the Kilns (the name of Lewis’ old home). I’ll definitely be talking more with this guy.

First Formal Dinner

After tea, I squeezed in a bit of studying in the College Library (Tate Library). I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the Library includes stacks of soft, fuzzy blankets on several of the tables around the room. It’s amazing. Jen would love that about it.

After about an hour of Greek, I made my way downstairs to change into my suit and gown and I crossed the college grounds to Arlosh Hall for our first formal dinner. It was an amazing sight. Very Harry Potter esque. The room was dimly lit, and everyone was dressed in their finest. Suits and ties. Dresses. And black gowns. Tables, long tables, with candlelight and plates and glasses and cutlery. High, arching ceiling. Huge portraits hanging from the stone walls. It was beautiful. I felt honored to be standing at the table.

Everyone stood until the table was filled. At that point, Steven (the chef, “Caterer”) would rap something on the door then everyone would sit. Once everyone was seated and the main doors were closed, there came another rap on the door. At that point, the main doors were opened and the faculty, led by our principal, entered the room and made their way to the head table. All dressed in gowns. Another rap, then everyone sat.

The dinner was amazing. Three courses. A salad, of sorts. Tuna served over green beans with tomatoes and hard boiled eggs on the side. It was very good. That was followed by the main course of mashed potatoes and pork steak, with vegetables. Lastly, there was some sort of warm, gooey chocolate cake with a custard sauce. It was amazing.

Dr. Ralph Waller, Principal at Harris Manchester College, gave a speech following the main course and before the dessert was served. He talked about the incredible honor it was to be a part of this community. Both the college and the university. That it would take a lot of hard work, but that we should not lose sight of where we were. He talked about how the university had denied 20,000 applications this year, and how hundreds of thousands of others around the world who didn’t apply would love to be in our shoes. He talked about the great men and women who had attended both the college and the university before us, and their contributions to society. He talked about the amazing things we can find at Oxford, including the blackboard from when Einstein visited for a lecture years ago and wrote the equation to solve the size of the universe. His handwritten equation is still on the blackboard, which was cut out and placed in one of the many museums here.

It all left me feeling very humbled. Like I was in the wrong place.

A conversation with Tim

I sat next to Tim. A student from Singapore I mentioned before. Really nice guy. He’s studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). We talked about church for a while. If I went to church back home. If I had looked into any churches here. He told me about a small group he attended earlier in the week he really liked.

“This all feels very much like Harry Potter,” Tim said over dinner. I laughed. I told him I couldn’t stop thinking that.

Another guy by the name of Tarik sat with us. Tarik was practicing medicine before coming to Oxford to study Philosophy. Very bright, but also incredibly down to earth.

Of all the challenges Oxford throws at students, its people really are the redeeming factor. Both students and faculty. Everyone is so friendly, and so willing to help in any way they can.

Steven (the head chef and caterer) comes by during the meal, places his hand softly on (nearly) everyone’s shoulder, smiles and asks if everything’s okay. This room has nearly two hundred people in it.

I asked Tim if he thought anyone ever told Steven no.

Tim arrived at the school a few days before me. He told me there were a bunch of bright spotlights shining on Christ Church when he arrived, and that there were  a large number of catering vans parked around it. He asked someone what was going on and they told him X-Men 4 was being filmed there.

“Of course it was,” I said aloud.

He asked me a bit more about my Theology interests. What I wanted to do with my degree. I told him I really appreciated Lewis’ writing, and the ways in which he used analogies and logic to help people (non-academics) understand the things of the faith. Tim nodded. “We don’t have anyone who does that these days. Some say Tim Keller will be the next Lewis, but I don’t know.”

I asked Tim if he had read any of Donald Miller’s writing. Blue Like Jazz, or anything else. He hadn’t. Never heard of him. I explained that Donald Miller wrote about everyday experiences and stories and he also introduced his faith and how he approached it in these experiences. I told Tim I would love to combine the two approaches. Lewis’ use of analogies and logic applied to the faith, with Miller’s approachable, everyday situation writing style. I told him I thought that’d be an effective way to talk with people and to teach the hard things of our faith. For the guy on the street. Not the academic type. And that that’s what I wanted to use this for.

In a way, that’s very much what I hoped to achieve with hands&feet.

Tim listened to me rant before nodding his head in agreement and saying, “Theology isn’t an end in itself, but it’s a means to an end.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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