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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.

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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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