Archives for posts with tag: Jane

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

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

Saturday: CS Lewis gifts from a stranger

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Tea with Walter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter was beaming as he finished this sentence.

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

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

Monday: Back in school

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford attire

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: Sitting with Felix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh wow. That sounds great!” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I sure hope so…” he replied.

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

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

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

“Would you like some ice cream?”

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

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

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

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

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

“There, that’s it,” Felix said.

I had to laugh. It all seemed quite unreal.

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

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

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

Becoming An Uncle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is so amazing,” I said again.

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

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

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

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

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Most mornings I wake up in Oxford thinking, “Awesome. Time to go take a Greek Exam. Time to go get punched in the face.”

This morning I woke up thinking, “I get to see my wife today.” I literally woke up with a smile on my face.

The Big Surprise

Lyndon asked me the other day whether I planned to meet Jen and Steve at the airport. I told him I wasn’t sure. I told him I had class.

He gave me a look like I was crazy.

“Oh, you’ve got to go, man. Why don’t I drive you?”

He said he had a class, but that he’d see if he could miss. So he could drive me to London. To meet Jen & Steve at Heathrow. This guy’s amazing. Time is so valuable here. With all the workload. For him to take a half-day to drive me to the airport was huge.

I thanked him profusely for even offering it. He shrugged it off like it was no big deal. But it was.

“Oh, no worries, man.”

And he was right. Once he mentioned it, I knew I had to go.

I e-mailed Jen a list of things Monday evening. Items we could use here. Things to pack, if she had room. Her flight itinerary. And directions to get to the bus that would take her and Steve from the airport to Oxford. She knew I had class, and they had planned to take the bus. She had no idea…

Lyndon and I had Greek this morning. And we took off right after class. To Heathrow International.

We arrived at the airport five minutes after their flight landed, which meant we’d have some time before we saw them.

“How ’bout a coffee to help get you even more excited?” Lynde asked with a smile. I wasn’t going to pass that up.

The coffee shop was only 20 feet or so away from the door for international arrivals, so we could sit there and chat while waiting. Watching everyone come through. Waiting for Jen and Steve to arrive.

“So, is Jen going to text you when she arrives?” Lynde asked.

“No, her phone won’t work here. And even if it did, she doesn’t have my new number,” I told him.

“Oh wow. So, if we miss them somehow, how will she get a hold of you?” he asked.

“Well, she doesn’t know we’re here,” I told him, forgetting that I hadn’t filled him in on that little detail.

“No way!” he said with big eyes and a laugh. “Well played!”

We had a great time talking. Catching up. I felt bad for continually looking to the door, but every time it opened I felt myself hoping it’d be Jen and Steve walking through.

Another wave of people. Still no sight of them.

I told Lynde I was about ready to run through the doors and start shouting for Jen. He told me if I did, I’d probably find myself with a black bag over my head and thrown into a van. He told me England law allows a suspected terrorist to be held for up to a month. I told him that was the only thing holding me back.

I forgot my camera at home, so Lynde offered to snap photos with his iPhone. I told him he’d better be ready. That I was likely to take off running as soon as I saw them. No matter how much I told myself not to.

After about an hour, I was starting to get nervous. Wondering if something went sideways with customs. Or if we had missed them somehow.

I asked one of the women who walked through the arrivals door where her flight was from.

“Iceland,” she told me. “They shouldn’t be far behind.”

That was encouraging. At least now I knew this was in fact their flight.

Another 10 minutes went by. Still no sight of them.

Lynde and I had been talking the whole time leading up to this point. We weren’t talking at this point. We just stared at the doors. At each face that walked through. Waiting. Nervously. I was growing more anxious by the moment.

And then, all of a sudden, the doors opened up and I caught a glimpse of them. First Steve. I noticed his sweater. I have the same one. I wore it yesterday, of course. This is the way it goes with us. It’s kind of weird, actually. Then I saw Jen. She was just behind him. And immediately my face lit up. With a smile that split my face from ear to ear. I couldn’t help it. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Times a million and a half.

I started walking down the walkway leading up to the doors. With people on both sides waiting for their loved ones. They waited. I didn’t. I couldn’t help it. My chin was quivering. I was so happy to see them.

I walked right up to them both. Flowers in hand. Steve was first, so I patted him on the shoulder. Then I grabbed my wife and gave her the biggest hug. The kind of hug you save up for for weeks. There’s no better feeling than holding your wife after not seeing her for so long.

I kissed her. I told her I loved her. And the whole time I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. I was so happy.

“How’s that for a surprise?” I asked.

I told them I was so happy to have them here. And I was. So much. I introduced them to Lynde. I told them how he had driven me here. To surprise them. And they thanked him. I think they were just as happy about not having to take the bus as they were about seeing me. Maybe more, after their long trip.

I Have Guests

We pulled into our place around 2 this afternoon. 6 am Washington time. I was surprised by how well they were doing. Considering the time difference. Considering the travels. They were doing great.

After showing them around (they loved our place), Jen decided to lay down for a nap. It was so nice to tuck her into bed. Our new bed. She told me I had lost weight. That I was too skinny. I kissed her forehead and tucked her in. She closed her eyes and pulled the covers up to her chin. She had a smile as I closed the door behind me. Which made me smile. I was so happy.

Steve stayed up. This guy’s a machine. He hadn’t slept since, Monday night, I believe. He said he felt great.

Steve checked the cookie jar, in hopes of finding some homemade cookies. Instead he found the strawberry wafers my Grandpa had sent over the week before. A look of incredible disappoint spread across his face.

“I thought I told you to bake me something sweet?” he asked. I laughed, knowing what was waiting in the oven. The cake I had baked for him the night before. In honor of his birthday I had missed.

We worked away from the kitchen table. I on my Greek. He on his e-mails. And Skyping with Jamie back home.

It was so nice. I was used to working on Greek on Wednesday afternoons. I wasn’t used to working on Greek with my best friend across the table from me.

He helped me run through my flash cards, and I told him I had decided he’d have to stay here with us. He said, “okay.” (Sorry, Jamie. I’m afraid I’ve let you down already…).

After several hours, we decided to get some fresh air. Jen was still napping, so I left her a note. That we’d gone for a run.

It was so refreshing to get outside and get some fresh after being inside most of the day. And it was a great way to introduce Steve to Oxford.

I’d point out buildings as we ran. Wycliffe Hall (“Where Lyndon goes”), Eagle & Child (“Where Lewis & Tolkein used to shoot the breeze”). There were several street performers on Cornmarket Street as we ran. A guitarist. And an amazing drummer. Dodging people as we ran through the city center.

A 31st B-Day Cake

I promised Jen pizza when she got in. Her favorite. So Steve and I walked down to Summertown to pick up our takeout order after getting cleaned up from the run.

“I can see why you’d love it here, man,” Steve said as we walked along the cobblestone sidewalk to Summertown. Leaves underfoot. It was encouraging to hear him say that. It was nice to share this with someone from back home. For him to see my new world. To be a part of it.

I told him it still feels unreal most of the time. Like I’m still living back home. It’s a weird feeling. Hard to explain.

We grabbed the pizza’s and walked home. Pizza and sodas in-hand.

After several weeks, it was great to share a meal with Jen and Steve, here in our new home. So great to sit around the table with them again. To talk, in-person.

We cleaned up the table and I pulled the birthday cake out of the oven. Frosted from the night before. Jen and Steve were both plugging away online. Jen on my laptop. Steve on his. So I managed to light the candles and turn off the lights before he realized what was happening.

I began singing. Jen joined in. He looked up with a look of complete surprise on his face.

“What? No way!”

“Oh, now I feel bad for giving you a hard time for not baking me cookies,” he said after blowing out the candles.

It’s not often I’m able to surprise this guy. It was nice to get him twice in the same day.

Jane and her family got in around 8:30 tonight. From Rome. I asked Felix how it was.

“Yeah, it was quite good.”

I asked him what his favorite part was. He told me it was the coliseum. He told me about all the animals they used to keep there. This kid loves animals. I should’ve seen that one coming.

He’s on break right now from school. For another week. It was so good to see him again. I’m really enjoying getting to know that kid.

Jane came over as we were dishing up cake and ice cream. To say “hi.” And to meet Jen and Steve for the first time. Everyone was quite tired from traveling, including Jane. So she didn’t stay long. But it was great to see her again.

I put four pieces of cake on a plate, covered it in saran wrap and snuck it into their kitchen. Along with a note thanking them for letting me borrow their cake pan (well, Beng let me while they were out).

The Happiest Guy in the World

I’m living in England. I’m studying Theology at Oxford. My best friend is visiting. And my wife is now here with me. I’m the happiest guy in the world.

It’s 11:39 at night here, and I’m excited because I just wrapped up all the work I set for myself to get done today. Which means the rest of the evening is me time. Which means I’m writing, as you can see.

The last few days have been pretty crazy here. I’ve pretty much been either studying Greek or working on essays since Saturday evening. Feels good to come up for air. But that’s just the way it is here. That’s the way people are here. I haven’t found a whole lot of slackers since arriving. But I knew coming into it there wouldn’t be a whole lot of people who weren’t here to get down to business. Especially at Harris manchester, where everyone’s coming back for another degree.

I remember looking at the clock at 7:42 last night and thinking there were still plenty of people in the library. Many of the same people who were there at 2 in the afternoon. That’s just the way it is here.

Church on Sunday

I did make it to church on Sunday morning, though. Before spending the rest of the day in Greek. And I’m glad I did. It put a smile on my face, just being there.

It’s kind of funny, even when so much seems foreign over here, church still feels like church. I mean, really, everything is different here. Even the outlets, for Pete’s sake.

But I remember sitting in church Sunday morning thinking, “these guys sing songs about Jesus, too.” And it made me smile.

They still have their share of cheesy church songs here, too. But they’re still about Jesus. I think they might actually have even more cheesy songs, but it could just be the church, too. It is a family service I’ve been going to, which could explain all the hand gestures. I’m not a fan of hand gestures. It just feels funny. Unnatural, maybe? I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a good reason for them (like humility, perhaps), but I’m not a huge fan.

Nor am I a big fan of making up words for church songs. You know what I mean? I’ve noticed that a few times here. But, I guess they could be real words. I don’t know what half of the words they use here mean anyway. And when I think I do, I’m usually wrong.

One of the songs we sang on Sunday morning was about not being ashamed of Jesus. That even when the world thinks we’re crazy. Or ridiculous. That we should find joy in living a life for Him. Maybe they have something with those hand gestures…

Finding a hatchet in the woods

I caught up with Ken and Lynne after the service. The hand surgeon from Oregon who is now studying Theology here at Oxford. It was good to see them again. They’re both great.

I had told Ken that Justin and Jane, well, Jane really, had offered Justin’s bike to me to get around town. I told Ken I had tried to pump up the tires but that I was unable to get it to work properly. Again, everything’s different here. He told me I likely had the wrong kind of pump, but that he might be able to help. He had a pump in his car. One that he could plug in and let the pump do the work.

“If it’s just a case of flat tires, I should be able to help you,” he told me.

Sure enough, that was it. After a few minutes, I had myself a bike with two full tires. I was so excited. I felt like the 16-year old kid being handed the keys for the first time and drooling over their newfound freedom. Or the kid who’s lost in the woods and comes across a hatchet. So many possibilities now. I’m moving up in the world, my friends.

Summertown

I knew I had a lot of Greek to get done before the start of the new week, and I really didn’t feel like sitting at home and studying, so I decided to venture out to Summertown for a bit of studying.

Summertown is probably less than a mile from here. North. The opposite direction of the Oxford city center. It’s a nice, small, more modern little neighborhood. With a couple markets.

A handful of restaurants. And a few shops.

It has a very different feel than the Oxford city center, but I like Summertown a lot. It almost feels a bit like Queen Anne in Seattle.

I hadn’t grabbed lunch at home after church because, well, there wasn’t much I could make with ketchup and cereal. And that’s about all I had in my kitchen. I planned to swing into the market after studying for a bit, so I found a place in Summertown for lunch. Brunch.

At a place called Joe’s. And it was great.

It actually felt like a place I might find back home. With the addition of the British accents. There were a lot of families when I went. And couples meeting for breakfast. I snagged a seat in the front of the restaurant. A window seat. And it was a beautiful, sunny day. So the light spilled in from the street. Tough to beat brunch on a sunny Sunday morning.

Looking over the menu, everything sounded good. French toast. Omelets. I settled on the ham and eggs, without the “chips.”

“Can I get your ham and eggs and chips, with toast in place of the chips?” I asked the waiter.

He gave me a look like I had surprised him with a calculus problem. He was completely baffled. And in turn, so was I.

“Well, we can do eggs and toast, with a side of ham?” was his reply.

“Uhh, yeah, that’s what I’d like. Let’s do that.”

“So, eggs and toast, with a side of ham?” he asked again. Just to make sure he had it right, I guess.

“Yes. Eggs, toast and ham. That sounds great.”

I was glad he was able to straighten out my confusing order. But then he brought my plate a bit later and I realized what the issue may have been. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who has ever ordered eggs and toast with a side of ham, or if it was a cruel joke played on the American, but I really did get eggs and toast with a side of ham. A side of ham cold cuts. Emphasis on the cold. I didn’t mind, though. I was starving. And it was good.

From there, I made my way to the Starbucks just across the street. To get some studying done.

It’s a great Starbucks, too. Feels a lot like home. And I know that sounds funny, but I’ve been to another Starbucks here that did not feel like home. It felt like Starbucks squeezed into a closet. Very English. But I guess it’s nice to have both.

I wasn’t quite full from my eggs and cold cuts, so I ordered some oatmeal to accompany my Greek studies. Or porridge, as it’s called here. It came plain, with a side of dried fruit. And so I had to add plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon and vanilla to make it worth eating.

And it reminded me of my sister. It reminded me of how I used to make her oatmeal, growing up. I’d throw everything in there. Cinnamon. Syrup. Vanilla. Brown sugar. Raisins. Everything. I think I may have even put nuts in there sometimes. And she’d love it. I remember her requesting it from time to time, when I was still in high school. It’s been a while since I’ve made my sister oatmeal, but that’s what I was thinking about this afternoon in the Summertown Starbucks. Made the porridge taste even better.

It’s funny how these memories spring up from the littlest things. And how they remind you of home. Even when you’re so far from it.

Monday

Monday was my first day using my newfound freedom to get to school. The bike. I ended up getting to class about 20 minutes early. I sometimes feel guilty for not walking anymore, but it’s incredible the time I save now!

And I’m certainly not alone. Everyone bikes in Oxford.

It’s actually helping me get the traffic down, too. Biking, that is. It’s helping me realize which side traffic flows.

Walking, I often catch myself having to remember which side of the sidewalk to walk on, when other people are approaching. Just as traffic is different, so too is foot traffic.

After leaving class Monday morning, I noticed another line of film crew trucks outside the Bodleian. And another X-Men 4 sign on the back of one of them. “Still shooting,” I thought to myself after riding off. It didn’t look like they were setting up, so I figured they were probably doing a shoot later.

I turned a corner and noticed people on both sides of the street. Stopped. Staring. People don’t stop in Oxford. Everyone has somewhere to be. I stopped, too. And looked back. I following everyone’s eyes to what must’ve been the director. Setting up the shoot. Talking with his hands. Gesturing. Explaining what they were going for to someone else.

“Crazy,” I thought to myself as I rode away. I had a date with the library, or else I would’ve waited around.

Dinner with Felix & Jurassic Park

I spent the most of the day Monday in the library. Not terribly exciting, I know, but like I said, I had loads to get done.

I tried a new panini shop for lunch. The Alternative Turk was packed and I was tight on time. I was disappointed; it just wasn’t the same. Plus, the Alternative Turk is five pence cheaper.

The Alternative Turk takes all my money. But I’m glad to give it away in exchange for their pesto chicken paninis. It’s like the guy who’s robbing you while smiling. How can you be mad?

Jane sent me an e-mail sometime that afternoon. While I was working from the library at Harris Manchester. Telling me her and Justin would be in London for the evening, and that I was welcome to stop in and say “Hi” to Felix while they were out. But only if I wanted to.

“Of course. I’d love to,” was my response.

“Great! Beng will have some food waiting for you, if you’re hungry.”

Being here, on my own, it’s so nice to have someone invite me for dinner. I don’t know what it is, but that’s been one of the most comforting things.

I didn’t get in until almost 9 that night. I dropped my things off at the door to my place and let myself in to see Felix. I was so excited for the break from studies. For a warm meal. And to catch up with Felix. He’s a great kid.

“Felix? Hello? It’s Ryan.” I said, making myself known.

“Hi Ryan. I believe Beng has some food for you. Do you, Beng?” he asked. Straight away, he wanted to make sure I got my food.

Beng welcomed me with a smile. “Hi Ryan.” And she made her way to the kitchen to warm up my dinner. Felix and I followed.

“There’s really nothing on, so I was just watching Jurassic Park,” he told me. I wasn’t surprised. I knew he liked animals.

“Yeah? I haven’t watched that movie in years.”

“Well, maybe you can have your dinner in the living room with me and watch it for a bit with me before I have to go to bed.”

“That’d be great,” I said with a smile.

“Beng, Ryan will take his dinner in the living room.”

I found myself sitting on the couch, enjoying my pork chop and laughing with Felix at the movie.

“This really is great,” I thought to myself.

Tuesday

John and I grab lunch on Tuesdays. At Wycliffe Hall. The guy from my Greek class. The only guy in England with a hawaiian shirt.

He’s a great guy, and I’ve really enjoyed our conversations. This day we found ourselves talking about Driscoll. I forget how he came up. But John and another guy we were eating lunch with, Sam, were curious about his ministry.

The guys were totally blown away by the ministry that’s been accomplished through Driscoll’s work at Mars Hill in Seattle. They said he’d probably face a mob right if he tried his preaching style here in England. I told them he’s not free from the mobs in Seattle. But that God has done some pretty amazing things through his ministry.

John brought up something he had heard Driscoll say at one point. How he is intentional about using the name, “Jesus” when he’s talking. For interviews. From the pulpit. Apparently he said he feels like there’s something that makes us not want to use that name. We’ll say “God” or “Christ,” but often times there’s something funny about using the name of Jesus. So he makes a point of it. Driscoll, that is.

John said he could see that. That there’s something there. He thought maybe it was the Enemy not wanting us to use that name. “If I were Satan, that’s one battle I’d be involved in. Making sure people weren’t using that name.”

By his name will they be saved,” Sam spoke up. John nodded. I like these guys.

Surprised by rain

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the weather here. Which is funny. You know you’re from the Northwest when you’re happy with the lack of rain in England.

But our sunny streak was broken Tuesday afternoon. I was in my Gospels & Jesus tutorial when it started. Sarah, my classmate, was in another amazing outfit. Complete with red leggings that matched her hair.

But I love it. The crazy outfits. If you’ve ever been somewhere where everyone dressed alike, you’ve realized how much you appreciate people not dressing exactly like you. It’s good. It’s healthy. I don’t like constantly being around people who’re just like me. Who think like me. Who dress like me. Not all the time, at least. It’s constricting. It dulls my senses. You may disagree with me, but being around people who are unlike me is refreshing.

I think that’s one of the main reasons I enjoyed volunteering at the food bank back home. People came there from all sorts of backgrounds. Lots of variety. Lots of people very unlike me. It was refreshing. Like seasoning for a bland meal.

Sarah swore as she left the protection of our castle-like college. Darting across the college grounds in the rain. I think she liked the rain even less than I did.

“My brakes don’t work in the rain, so I end up trying not to run into things” she told me as we were leaving.

She passed me as I made my way back to Harris Manchester that night. On her bike. I laughed as I watched her stop at the intersection. In the rain. Shoes sliding across the wet pavement, acting as brakes.

Lewis Society

After a couple hours of working on an essay for my God & Israel in the Old Testament class that was due the next day, I made my way from the Harris Manchester Library to the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s lecture. Weaving in and out of traffic on the cobblestone roads, lit up by street lamps. The light reflecting off the puddles that line the streets in the night. The cool night air provided a refreshing break from being indoors so many days straight. Studying. The Lewis lecture would be a reward to myself for several days’ worth of non-stop studies.

I pulled up to the Pusey House where the lectures are held, just a few doors down from the Eagle & Child pub where Lewis used to meet with the Inklings. And I was greeted by the porter (the night watchmen, basically) as I did. He had broad shoulders that nearly filled the doorway.

“Hi there,” I said, stepping off my bike onto the sidewalk.

“Here for Lewis?” he asked in a heavy British accent.

It still surprises me. That people know I’m a student here. At Oxford. And I am, I guess. But just two weeks ago I wasn’t. Not at all. I was a business guy. Doing business things. Very much unlike the lifestyle I have here. As a student. It’s all so different. It’s such an incredible adjustment, and it happened so quickly. I think it’s going to take me a while to fully come to terms with it.

Locking up my bike under the night sky before going in for the Lewis lecture, I had another “Oh yeah…” moment. And I had to remind myself, “you are a student here, now. This really is your life.”

Greater appreciation for Lewis

Being here at Oxford has given me a greater appreciation for CS Lewis. Feels funny to say that, but it really has. To be around professors here. Even those in the Theology department, you don’t see a whole lot of them coming right out and saying, “This is what I believe.” Even less, you don’t see them writing to help the layperson with their faith. With their walk. You don’t see many here writing to help the layperson know and understand God more clearly. At least I haven’t come across that yet. The closest you’d come nowadays would probably be John Lennox. A brilliant Professor of Mathematics here at Oxford who often debates on the topic of God’s existence.

It’s little wonder why so many professors of Lewis’ day weren’t big fans of him. Professors don’t wear their faith on their sleeve like he did. That’s just the scholarly environment here. Which makes me appreciate him even more. He really stuck his neck out to do what he did, in the position he held here. But he did so because he believed in this stuff. With all he had. And because he believed it was his responsibility to use what he had to help others in their walk.

That’s a lesson for all of us, I think. We may not all be Lewises, but I don’t think God expects us to be. I think he just expects us to use what He’s given us. And I think we’ll be surprised to see what happens when we do. He can do pretty amazing things with even a small amount of faith. With even a small amount of willingness and desire to follow after Him.

You’ve got mail

I returned home late Tuesday night from a long day of studies, and from the Oxford CS Lewis Society lecture, to find two letters waiting for me. My first mail since arriving! I was so excited. Smiling like a kid on Christmas morning.

The first letter was from my Aunt Laurie and my Uncle Albert. It was a very nice, handmade card. Telling me how proud they were for the road I was on. It was so nice to hear from them.

I saved the next letter for last. The letter from Jen. I was so happy to hear from her.

I opened it with a smile on my face, and instantly the smell of Jen’s perfume came wafting out. And the smell, oh the smell! It was amazing…I cannot explain how comforting it was. Surrounding me, as if she were here, wrapping me up in a warm hug. It really was almost as if she were right here with me.

When you’re a guy living on your own, surrounded by your guy smells, the best smell in the world is the scent of a woman. Except perhaps for the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. They’re neck and neck, probably. But when you’re a married guy who is living on your own, away from your wife, the best smell in the world is the scent of your wife. Its better than cookies.

I closed my eyes and I just held the letter to my face. For quite a while. And then I remembered it was a letter. And that Jen had actually written me something, to read, and that she had not just sent me a perfume scented envelope.

We talk every day. Twice most days. And so I wasn’t expecting a letter from her. But I can’t tell you what a welcome surprise it was. I unfolded the letter and I began reading her words. And instantly I could hear her voice. It made me smile. And cry. And smile some more. It was the best thing that’s happened to me since arriving.

Jackpot

Today was another studies-filled day.

I did get a chance to finally make it to Blackwell’s, though. To pick up a book for today’s class.

Blackwell’s is an incredible book store here in Oxford. Something like five stories of books. The basement opens up into an enormous, cavern-like room filled with books. Everywhere you can see. You really could spend hours there. I’m not sure I’d ever have the time, but you could. If you wanted. I’m looking forward to going back when I have more time.

They have a really cool cafe on the second floor. Very Oxford. I think I might try it out for studies at some point. That’s how I think now, “this place would make a nice place to study…”

I returned home tonight to find more mail. A letter from Jen’s Grandma Anne (she promised to write me once a week). And a package waiting from my grandpa.

“You’ve got a beeg box here,” Beng said as I came through the front door, in her Philipino accent.

I opened the letter from Jen’s Grandma first. It was a great letter. She’s a great writer. Filling me in on what’s going on back home. How everyone’s doing. I loved all the details. It made me feel not so far away.

She told me they were proud of me. She told me she knew Hayley would be, too. That she loved me very much. And I had to stop reading at that point. For a few seconds. To catch my breath. To let the tears fall. It still hurts. Those wounds, it seems, are still so fresh. But I did appreciate it. Her words.

My Grandpa’s box was next. He had been asking what I needed since shortly after I arrived, so I knew something would be coming at some point. But, boy, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see it.

And to open it. I felt like I had won the jackpot!

This package was amazing. I was stunned with all the food from back home.

Life cereal (my favorite, which you can’t find in England). Some protein bars to snack on during the day (so the Alternative Turk doesn’t steal all my money…I can’t prove it, but I’m 95 percent sure they’re putting nicotine in those sandwiches. I find myself wanting another chicken pesto panini two seconds after I finish one), enough crystal light for me to make juice for the entire city of Oxford, Quaker maple & brown sugar oatmeal (again, my favorite), Cheez-Its, newspapers (so I’m up to speed on what’s going on in Bellingham), a first-aid kit, vitamins (“I take a vitamin c every night before I go to bed, and I never get sick,” he always tells me), a resistance band to get some exercise in along with my studies, and, the cous de gras, Kirkland brand trail mix. Oh man… I was so excited.

He also sent me a dry erase board, which I thought was a great idea. Will be nice to have, for sure.

I put on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and began stocking my shelves. Taking a handful of trail mix, crackers, etc as I did. I really have an incredible family.

Thank you.

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

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

Prom Matriculation photos, by Jane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure enough.

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

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

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

Harris Manchester for Registration

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

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

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

Can you spot me?… How about now?

Still no? Okay…one more try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matriculation Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So they think you’re still practicing?”

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

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

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

I laughed out loud.

“Wow.”

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

I’m not sure he was convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeeeeeaaaaah…” he said, with a laugh.

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

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

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

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

Felix’s Rugby Match

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Felix kicking off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a beautiful day here yesterday morning. Blue skies that reminded me of home. Funny that a blue sky in England makes me miss home, when home is Washington State.

I made it to church for the first time yesterday. I’ve now been here for a week, and this was the first Sunday I wasn’t sleeping in.

Figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge. Not only had I not been to church here before, but everyone tends to dress-up in England. Full suits are not out of the ordinary. Not at all. If it’s not that, then it’s very American Apparel or Urban Outfitters. Lots of skinny jeans. Lots of mini skirts and tights. Very trendy. Shorts and a t-shirt would stick out like a sore thumb here.

My sister asked if I’d include more photos of myself here. I told her I’m trying not to appear as a tourist and be laughed at. So here’s a photo of me in my living room just before church.

Sorry for the boring background, but I hope that’s okay for now, Goose. I’ll see if I can do better tomorrow.

Church at St. Andrew’s

I went to St. Andrew’s for church this morning. It’s only a block away from where I’m living, and it had been recommended to me several times since arriving. The service was pretty similar to what we have back home. Except they speak British, of course. A little more dry, perhaps. A little less charismatic, but that’s probably to be expected.

The pastor spoke about some of the things Jesus calls us to. Fighting for the Gospel (I don’t think he mean literally, but more fighting against complacency). Depending on the Spirit. Praying at all times (which was a good reminder to me in light of an overwhelming schedule and hoping I’ll have time to sleep. And, lastly, not staying in comfortable spots or familiar surroundings, but to go. I started looking around at that point to see if someone was spying on me and knew I was going to be there that morning.

I sat next to a girl by the name of Avanda. She’s from Stratford Upon Avon (“Shakespear’s hometown,” she told me), and she’s also just starting her studies at Oxford. In English.

By the way, if ever you’re meeting a girl for the first time and your wife is nowhere close, it’s always a good idea to make it clear you’re married in the first or second sentence.

For example, “Hi, my name is Ryan. This is my first time here, and I’m happily married to the love of my life.” Or something similarly subtle. This will save you a lot of trouble.

Avana told me about a small group that meets on Thursday nights at the church. It’s made up of 20 and 30-year olds, and she said she had really enjoyed it the week before.

“I want to learn more about Jesus,” she told me. “I’ve been a Christian since I was 10, but I feel like there’s a lot I don’t know. So a good sermon and a place where I can go and learn in a small group is important to me.”

I’m thinking about making a t-shirt that says, “I want to learn more about Jesus.” Hearing that put a smile on my face.

I ran into several people I recognized from school after the service. One was a tutor I have for a class on Jesus and The Gospels. I was pretty encouraged by that. Especially since a guy at school a couple days before had told me not to be surprised if none of my Theology professors are believers.

This particular tutor is from the States, as well. His name is Dave. He grabbed my arm as I was on my way out of church and introduced me to his wife, Julia, and his new baby girl, Naomi. She was just three months old and she had a cute, flowery  headband on. Like a little sign that read, “I’m a girl.”

Dave and Julia seem great. Very chill. Very nice. They asked all about where I was living, how the transition was going for me, when my wife was going to be joining me… They said they’ll have to have us over after Jen has arrived and settled in. I left feeling like someone had wrapped me in a big, fuzzy blanket fresh out of the dryer. It was so nice.

Lunch with the family

Jane was just getting ready to head out for a run when I got in after church. I told her I had attended St. Andrew’s that morning and I had really enjoyed it. She had recommended it to me before, telling me some previous students who had lived with them had become really involved there. So I think she liked hearing that I had gone.

“Would you like to join us for lunch today?” she asked. “My parents would be over, and it’d be nice for you to meet them.”

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

“Okay. Wonderful. We’ll see you at 12:30 or 12:45, then,” she said with a smile. She has a wonderful smile. I think she gave it to Felix. He has the same one.

I made a quick trip to the market in between church and lunch. To pick up a few things. I changed out of my church clothes when I returned and I made my way over to the house. Just through the hall and doorway, really.

I was greeted by an older man in a blue shirt and grey sweater. His white hair made his blue eyes stand out behind his glasses.

“You must be Ryan,” he said as I made my way in.

“Yes, yes I am.” I said. “And you must be Jane’s father?” I asked.

“Yes, Scotty. Or grampa. Whichever you like,” he said with a smile.

We talked a bit by the door before making our way into the kitchen and joining the rest of the family. It smelled wonderful. Like they had been baking breads all morning.

Margaret, Scotty’s wife introduced herself with a smile. Again, Margaret or “Grandma.”

I took a seat at the table with Scotty. Jane and Justin were working on something in the kitchen. Whatever it was smelled amazing. Felix was putting on his soccer socks with a girl who looked to be a couple years older than him. His cousin, as it turned out. Elisa.

Another woman entered the room and introduced herself as Maria. Jane’s sister. And Elisa’s mom. She was super nice. Dark hair that dropped to her shoulders. She reminded me of people from back home. Very laid back.

Scotty asked me about my studies. What I had been doing before coming over.

I told him how this was a total life change for me. And I was still adjusting to it. I told him I went from always being on my cell phone to not owning one. How I went from driving from home to work to meetings, to not owning a vehicle. Not even owning a bike. And how, in a way, it was kind of nice. The simplified life. How it was a bit of an escape, and how it helped me realize I could get on without those things just fine.

He raised his eyebrows as if he were surprised. As if to say, “Wow. I don’t know how you do it!” Which is kind of funny, because he’s 81.

Margaret finished washing some berries she was preparing for a dessert and joined us at the table.

They told me about a family member of theirs who had made the switch from teaching to the ministry. They told me about one of their kids and his wife who had triplets their first go around.

“Oh wow,” I said. “That’s quite the way to start off. So, did they call that good?”

“Oh no,” Margaret spoke up. “They had a couple more after that.”

Felix had been in and out of the room. Getting his soccer gear on. Or football gear.

“You ready to go out back and kick the ball around?” Scotty asked from the table.

Elisa joined the two of them out back. It put a smile on my face. To see Scotty take his grandkids out to kick the soccer ball around like that. I felt blessed to be welcomed into their home and experience all of this.

“Felix has two goalies to get by,” I said with a laugh, looking over my shoulder at the game of football being arranged in the backyard. I laughed as Felix kicked a goal on his grandfather and Elisa. “Goooooal.” I said with a smile.

Maria laughed. “Yeah, but the thing is, neither one of them are very good! Not as good as Felix.”

Jane filled our plates with a flat bread and sundried tomato dish and brought them to the table. It was amazing. Like pizza for grownups.

“This is really, really good.” I told Jane as she joined us.

“Oh, this is Justin’s work.” She said, sitting down.

The goal must’ve been for the win, because the three football players made their way back to the kitchen afterward. Felix wore a smile as he bounced the ball on the grass. Probably still proud of the goal. I would’ve been. It was a good shot.

Hard night

I had a lot of Greek catch up on, which equated to saying goodbye after an amazing lunch (and dessert) rather abruptly, and spending the next eight hours or so studying Greek. Not how I like to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, but that’s how it goes here.

It ended up being a hard night, too. After studying all day. My homesickness really caught up with me, and all I could think about was how much I missed Jen and wanted her with me. Or to be with her. Either way, at that point.

Jen was supposed to be skyping in with me after they got out of church. Her younger cousins were supposed to be joining her. Brenan and Evan. Two boys I really enjoy, but didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to.

I was watching the clock closely, trying to gauge when they’d call. It wasn’t making for an efficient Greek study, but it was all I could think about.

I was so happy to hear from Jen by the time she finally skyped me. It was just her.

“Shannon (Jen’s aunt) and the boys should be here anytime, but I thought I’d say ‘hi’ quickly first.”

I was just so happy to see her, I didn’t care if she brought the whole church with her. There’s nothing better than seeing Jen’s face after a long day here.

A few minutes into our conversation, Jen’s family came wandering upstairs to say hello. It was great to see them, too. Brenan was only a year old or so when Jen and I first started dating, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember a time before he and I were good buds. Even though he’s now, what, 11? He still comes and finds my lap at birthday parties. Oh, man, I miss that little guy!

Evan, his older brother (second oldest of three) likes animals. A lot. If you ever get the chance to meet him, ask him if he’s caught any frogs lately. Or snakes. You’ll immediately have something to talk about.

We wrapped up our skype and I returned to my Greek, knowing I had a lot to get done.

And it was a rough night. I was still missing family, and I was having a tough time on my Greek. Midnight came and passed and I was feeling horrible. Like crying, actually. “What in the world am I doing here?” I thought to myself. My wife is there. My entire family is there. Greek is here…

I checked to see if Jen was still on skype. She was. I called her up to chat. To tell her how I was feeling.

“Hey, sorry to bug you again, hun. I’m just really having a tough time here. I still have a bunch of work left on my Greek assignment, and it’s already 12:30 here. I have an essay due tomorrow for my Gospels & Jesus class. I’m not getting this Greek. I’m just not getting it. And I need sleep. I know I do.”

If I had ever felt like a man before, I didn’t after that.

“Ryan, it’s only been a week,” were her words. I recently told my best friend Steve one of the things I value most about Jen is that she’s a straight-shooter. She never tells me what I want to hear just because she thinks it’s what I want to hear. This was a perfect case in point.

“You knew this was going to be tough, but it’ll get easier. I’m not surprised the Greek is still difficult at this point, but it will get easier. You just have to keep working at it. You should get some rest, get up in the morning and get a little bit done before class.”

She was right. I knew I needed sleep. I just hated leaving things unfinished.

I closed up my Greek textbook and made my way upstairs. I was so happy to crawl into bed. It was nearly 1:00. 7:00 was going to come early.

Good morning

I made my way to Greek straight away. Studying flash cards while I walked. I had a 30-minute walk, so a good amount of time to get some studying done on my way.

I passed a group of catering vans and lighting equipment on my way past the Bodleian Library. “Another film set?” I thought to myself. Turns out it was. But not X-Men 4 this time. Nor was it Harry Potter. But a BBC show called Inspector Lewis. It’s weird to have your school be the set of so many different movies and tv shows.

The Oxford student paper had a photo of X-Men 4 being filmed on campus the other day on its cover. James Macavoy is playing the role of Professor Xavier as a young student at Oxford, in the movie, apparently. He studied Theology and Philosophy. I had literally just snapped a photo of the spot they were shooting the day before. A popular spot with an arched stone bridge that connects two buildings.

I made it to class about 10 minutes early, expecting to be the only one there. I was not. My professor was seated at a table helping another student. Neither one of them looked up, so I found my seat and went through some more flash cards.

A few minutes later, Rhona (my professor’s first name. She lets us call her by it) got up from the desk and made her way to the front of the room, smiling at me as she went.

“Good morning, Ryan. How are you?”

“Eh, I’m doing okay. I worked really hard on my Greek this weekend, and I managed to get caught up, but I still have some work to do. I didn’t completely finish today’s assignment. I ended up calling it quits around 12:30.”

“Good. As you should.” She said. “You need your rest. We’ll have a test on vocabulary today, but you just keep at it.”

She cared more about my well-being than finishing her assignment. I was so relieved.

A second year student came up to the front of the room before class began. I had recognized him from a university meeting we both sat in a week before, but this was the first time I had seen him in class.

Apparently he didn’t realize he needed to be in class last week, but he was hoping to still get into the class. Rhona’s eyebrows raised halfway up her forehead when she heard this.

“What’s your familiarity with Greek?” She asked him.

“Uh, what do you mean?” he asked

“Have you taken Greek before?”

“No.”

“Do you know the Greek script?”

“No. No, I don’t.”

“Well, you’re welcome to join us, but you’ll have a lot of catching up to do,” she told him, offering her textbook for him to borrow for the day.

“You’ll need to pick up your own copy at Blackwell’s straight away after class.”

I know I shouldn’t have, but this actually made me feel kind of good. Like maybe I wouldn’t be the worst Greek Student in class. I know, I know. That’s not right of me…

I sat next to a couple guys from Wycliffe Hall this morning. Wycliffe as a college is known for preparing people in Theology for the ministry. For ordinancy, as they call it. I got talking to a couple of them after class. Really cool guys. Both maybe a few years older than me. Both married. We had a lot in common, it seemed.

John had been a secondary school teacher before making this change. I have no understanding of the British educational system whatsoever. But whenever anyone talks about this or that year of school, about “A-Levels” or the like, I just nod my head like I know what they’re talking about. Of course I know all about the British school system…

Lynde, the other guy, is from New Zealand. He was a stock trader in London before deciding to go back to school to study Theology.

“So your wife is not getting here until the end of the month?” Lynde asked after class.

“Yeah. Not until the 28th.” A look of pain spread across both of their faces.

“Oh man, I am sorry. That sucks.” Lynde replied, both with his face and with his words.

“Well look, how would you like to have lunch at Wycliffe Hall?” John asked me.

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

“I’d like to chat with you some more, too,” Lynde said. “How about coming over to our house for dinner with my family?”

I left class feeling so encouraged, again. Such amazing people here. I’m sure they can sense my sinking feeling, and the fact that they are willing to go out of their way like that…it means so much.

My First Essay

I spent the rest of the day in the library. Working on my essay. My first. I was to answer the question, “Historically speaking, why was Jesus crucified?”

This was my kind of assignment. To read. To write. To talk about it (that part comes tomorrow, in class). This I can do.

I arrived in the library at about 10: 30 or so. I left at 6:30, after e-mailing my professor (Dave, from church) my essay. Feeling completely relieved, I promised myself a run after I got home. It would be my first since arriving. It was a treat, for sure.

Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, Angels & Airwaves and Sleigh Bells played the soundtrack for my run in the cool evening air. It was dark, at 7:30, but there were a bunch of joggers out. I was certainly not alone. It felt great.

I decided to go north, instead of heading back into the Oxford center. To the neighborhood of Summertown. It was really nice, actually. They even had a Starbucks on a corner with big windows looking out over the street. It reminded me of the Bakerview location back home. I’m looking forward to spending some time there with Jen, when she arrives.

Jogging home, I passed a house with an incredible smell pouring out into the streets. It reminded me of the biscuits my grandfather used to make for me growing up. Just Bisquick and water. They looked like the ugliest biscuits you’ve ever seen. Really spiky. Not rounded in the least bit. Drop biscuits. But they were amazing. With scrambled eggs. And Jimmy Dean sausage (“He doesn’t keep a penny of the proceeds he makes off of these, you know that, Ryan?” he’d ask me).

When I get home, I’m going to go to my Grandpa’s house for breakfast and make some biscuits. You’re welcome to join me if you like. Grandpa loves cooking for crowds.

I apologize in advance for the lack of photos in today’s blog entry, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of time to take many pictures. And, even if I did, they would’ve looked something like this…

Not so exciting, I know. But that was what the majority of my day looked like. Trying to play catch up in Greek. Still.

Getting my cap and gown

We had Pre-Sessions (class before the real class begins) from 10 to 12 this morning, and then again from 4:30 to 6 this evening. In between? That’s right, Greek. Oh, and I bought my cap and gown. Because that’s what you do when you’re at Oxford. You wear your gown, and you carry your cap until you graduate. No, the funny get-up isn’t just for graduation. Not at Oxford. So when do you wear the gown and carry the cap, then? Why, to formal meals and tests, of course! Ridiculous, I know. Anyway, I have one now.

I’ll have a chance to wear my gown (more appropriately, with a full suit and bow tie) on Wednesday evening for our first formal dinner at Harris Manchester.

Harris Manchester

Harris Manchester is the college at Oxford University I’m a member of. And today was actually my first time seeing it. I hadn’t had a chance to see it last summer, and I did my application interview over the phone, so today was my first experience with it. It’s really quite nice. It has a really pretty grass and stone courtyard surrounded by a large stone fence that you can look into from the street through an arched gate. The school itself has some very beautiful architecture. Lots of stained glass windows. Lots of stone. Really cool two-story library.

I checked in at the front desk and picked up my mail (all internal school paperwork). I met some of the other students who were in the common room waiting for lunch. Most of them were very friendly and easy to get a long with. There were three guys from Singapore who just arrived. They’re studying economics. Very bright, but very friendly and easy to talk with. And they remembered my name. I was surprised. I’d be hard pressed to remember the name of someone from Singapore. Except for Tim. I remember Tim.

There was only one other American at the school who I met today. Moira, I believe. I heard it a couple times and I’m still not sure if that’s right. She just moved over. A transfer from Brown. Daughter of a professor back in Ithaca. And she seemed like it.

Brown had a change in its Anthropology curriculum, she explained to us over lunch (bangers and mash – my favorite English dish!), so it was either take a two-hour bus ride to Harvard for some of her classes, or change schools. So she chose to transfer to Oxford. Naturally.

I came because I didn’t like my 20-minute commute from Everson to Bellingham. Naturally.

Back to Greek

After picking up my gown, finding my college for the first time and a bit of studying in Starbucks (felt almost like home), I made my way back to Christ Church to get my brains stomped in by some more Greek. But not before passing a number of incredible buildings and still being blown away by it all.

Including this one: Magdalene College (where Lewis taught during his tenure at Oxford).

We were tested right off the bat, which I knew was coming, and it did not go so well, which I feared was coming.

I found myself sitting in the second Pre-session of the day thinking to myself, “You know, this was probably the worst decision I’ve ever made. I don’t need to know Greek to write! . . . Now, all I’ve got to do is ask for my job back and things will be just fine.”

Being talked off the ledge

After class this evening, I stayed after until everyone else had gone. All except for one other classmate who was also feeling a bit behind, and I explained to the professor that I still felt terribly behind. She said not to worry. She said I certainly had some catching up to do, but I had time before our actual classes began in a week. She told me to take my time, to walk through each chapter, and to not get anxious. She was sure I would do fine as soon as I had a chance to be caught up on the reading material. (To put it into perspective, most of today was spent discussing chapters six and seven of the book. I’m about halfway through the third chapter).

On the way out, I told the other classmate I was planning my escape from England. And that I was wondering how easy it’d be to ask for my job back.

She quickly shrugged it off. Telling me I would do fine, and that this material would be confusing for anyone who hadn’t seen it before. That each chapter build on the previous, and I shouldn’t be surprised I don’t understand chapter 7 material if I am still working on chapter 3.

I explained that I’m not used to being lost in class. And that it was all so disorienting, particularly after traveling to a foreign country and trying to orient myself. She assured me to just work through the material. And not to book my return flight just yet.

Groceries and my talk with myself

I stopped by the grocery store on the walk home. My first time at a British grocery store. The place was packed. Lots of 20-somethings stocking up on staples. The place was bustling, and I did my best to not look like it was my first time at a British grocery store, which included my best attempt not to appear shocked when their cereal aisle ended after only about 10 brands.

I have 20-min walk from campus to where we’re living. Which gives me plenty of time to think. When I’m not reading my flash cards (tough to do with two hands full of groceries). Walking home, I thought about why I was here. About what had brought me to Oxford. And what I wanted to do with all of this.

I really didn’t come here just so I could have the prestigious “Oxford” label by my name. What I wanted was to write in a way that helped reveal Christ to others. In a way that made the difficult things of the faith a little more clear. I knew Oxford has something truly unique that could help me reach this goal. And I knew they’d give me the opportunity to write to a much larger audience than I otherwise would be able to. “If he’s coming from Oxford, he’s gotta have something worth hearing, right?”

Also, because this is where Lewis studied and taught. And he is the reason this passion began in me so many years ago. So here I am, not for bragging rights, but so that others might be touched by my words. Sounds cheesy, I know. But that’s why I am here. And that’s what I want to take away. The opportunity to help others. The opportunity to speak into their lives. The opportunity to illuminate the difficult things of the faith. No matter how difficult the road getting there might be.

I’d stick it out, I told myself. I’d keep plugging away and give it my best. And we’ll see where that takes me. At least until Jen has a chance to come over and see everything.

About halfway home I got to thinking, “I just bought all of this food to go home and make dinner, but I really would like some company. Particularly company that is not interested in talking about Greek.”

JK Rowling, Sir Elton John and dinner

When I arrived home, I found a note from Jane waiting for me at the door, inviting me to have supper with Felix (Jane was on her way out the door for tennis). Beng (the housekeeper) was cooking fried rice. Things were already looking up.

I set down my things from the day, put away groceries, and I quickly found my way into the family’s kitchen. Justin (the father/husband of the home where I’m living) was in, which I was excited about, since I hadn’t actually had the opportunity to meet him yet. Justin works in London Tuesdays through Friday each week, and he is at home the other days of the week.

He invited me to come join him and Felix at the dinner table while Beng warmed up a plate of dinner for me. They had just finished. Felix was wrapping up some math homework; Justin was wrapping up a bowl of cereal.

Beng brought me a plate of fried rice, freshly warmed from the microwave, and a glass of water. Felix and Justin asked how my Greek exams went. “Poorly,” I told them. They were familiar with the circumstances of my departure, so they weren’t terribly surprised to hear about my need to play catch up.

I explained how I had been studying at Christ Church, and Felix told me that’s where his Dad studied. He then told me that’s where Harry Potter is filmed. Funny, as that’s exactly how it felt.

“Yes, Hogwarts,” Justin chimed in from the kitchen, filling up his bowl with another round of cereal. “Do you know who I’m having dinner with tomorrow evening?” he asked Felix upon returning to the kitchen table.

“Who?” Felix asked, leaving the table himself for the kitchen.

“J.K. Rowling,” Justin responded. Felix’s eyes grew big.

Apparently Justin co-owns two newspapers in London. One of his business associates is having a party tomorrow night. It’s being hosted by Sir Elton John. Hugh Grant and many other close friends of Sir Elton will be there. Including Ms. Rowling herself.

“Ask her if she plans to write any more books,” Felix told his dad.

I finished my dinner just as Felix returned to the kitchen table with a bowl full of ice cream. Justin eyed Felix’s bowl with a smile and wide eyes. “That’s a lot of ice cream!” Felix grinned. He has a terrific grin.

“I hear ice cream helps with mathematics homework,” I said from across the table. Felix smiled and nodded.

Harris Manchester, the college I’m a member of, is hosting a pub crawl this evening. After going to bed at 1 a.m. last night / this morning and not being able to fall asleep until just before my 6:30 alarm, I decided to stay in for the night. The school is continuing the pub crawl tomorrow evening, so I might try to squeeze in some studying tonight and catch up with them tomorrow evening.

It’s only Tuesday tomorrow, but it already feels like I’ve been here for ages.

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