Archives for posts with tag: Lyndon

3rd week of Trinity Term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police and Americans at the Kilns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis Society & Dinner with Aidan Mackey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: We are the message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music to my ears in the park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is energy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday: London the day after the Royal Wedding

This was Steve’s third time visiting us in England since we moved over. Steve had never been to London before, and we hadn’t made a trip there on either of his two previous trips. His fiance, Jamie, is an avid traveler, and, having been to London, she insisted that he needed to go.

I was sure Jamie would strangle him if I sent Steve back without a trip to London yet again. I didn’t want my best friend to be strangled, so I decided we’d better make it happen. (I’m just kidding, by the way. Jamie’s great. And I don’t think she actually strangles people.)

So Saturday morning Steve and I hopped on a bus and headed to the city. As we pulled out of the bus station, the driver came on the intercom and welcomed us. He told us about how long it’d take to get to London, and after a few minutes of chatter, he told us to make sure our seatbelts were on. I thought this was funny, because the seat in front of me was taller than I was, which I figured would make sure I wasn’t going anywhere in the event of an emergency stop. Steve obediently put his on, while I looked out the window at the countryside passing by on this sunny morning.

“Do I need to go tell the bus driver the guy next to me isn’t wearing his seat belt?” Steve joked, turning toward me. I laughed. “Yeah, actually,” I replied. “I’d love to see how that goes for you.”

I asked him what, in particular, he was hoping to take in while we were there. He told me he wasn’t a big sight-seeing guy, and so a lot of the typical sights he could probably do without. He said he would be interested in seeing Westminster Abbey, though, as it was the day after the Royal Wedding and all. I told him I’d take him to Harrod’s, too, as I figured he’d like to see that.

My eyes grew heavy as we talked and soon I found myself drifting into a bit of a nap while the bus scooted smoothly along the freeway, leading us through the countryside and toward London.

We picked up a map shortly after arriving in London. I found Harrod’s on the map and soon we were off in that direction. Walking past Hyde Park. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the park was interspersed with people enjoying being outside on this particularly nice afternoon. Some with their dogs. Some with their kids. A handful of couples.

We passed a small men’s clothing store along the way. With a window full of ties on display. Steve wanted to step inside to see if anything stood out to him for his wedding, so we did. There was a long table in the middle of the store overflowing with ties in neat rows, organized by color. Steve picked through them while I made my way around the store, glancing at ties and suit jackets.

The owner of the store came up from a staircase that led downstairs and asked us if we needed any help. Steve told him we were looking for some ties for his wedding, and so they talked for a bit. He ended up finding a tie he liked. For himself. So he picked it up for his wedding.

As we were checking out, I asked the shop owner what the previous day had been like for him. The day of the Royal Wedding.

“Slow,” he said. He told us this side of town, even though it wasn’t far from Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace, was just empty. That it was a bit of a ghost town. Because people were either at one of those two locations for the big day, or watching it on TV.

We thanked him for the tie and continued to make our way to Harrods. When we finally arrived a couple miles later, we took in the store’s window displays, filled with different designs of Royal Wedding cakes. Some were big and extravagant, others were more modern and simple. Some were covered in great displays of the Union Jack, others were a bit more subtle. After taking in more than 30 Royal Wedding cake designs, we walked through the large double doors and found our way around Harrods.

We passed through the watch selection in the jewelry department, with glass cases filled with rows of watches that cost as much as a small home, before entering the market and restaurants section of Harrod’s first floor. Steve found Laduree, a small, french bakery known for its macaroons, and bought a small box filled with a variety of flavors. He shared with me that Laduree was the creator of the French macaroon. He was happy.

We continued upstairs, passing through the men’s department, filled with suits and ties, and we noticed the opera music playing over the speaker system. Or, at least, that’s what we assumed we were hearing. We rounded a corner only to find a woman in a gown with a white shawl over her shoulders standing on a balcony and singing. “Much more impressive than a speaker system,” I thought to myself.

After we had enough of Harrod’s, we made our way across West London and found our way to Westminster Abbey, the site of the Royal Wedding the day before. I had been to Westminster Abbey several times, but I had never seen it so busy. There were people lined up around the entire block, waiting to get inside for a tour. The lawn in front of the large church was filled with people as well. We snapped a couple quick pictures and then escaped from what felt like a mob scene.

Across the street from Westminster Abbey is Parliament and Big Ben. Since Steve hadn’t been before, we made the short walk around Parliament’s expansive building and halfway across the large bridge that crosses the River Thames so we could take in the view. The view from Westminster Bridge, with Parliament and Big Ben on one side, and the London Eye on the other, is my favorite view in all of London. It’s really quite something.

From there, we made our way back across town and walked around Buckingham Palace, which wasn’t nearly as busy as Westminster Abbey, but it was still full of its fair share of tourists snapping photos. City workers were still working on tearing down large platforms and scaffolding, which we assumed were used to house the media from all around the world on the big day. Most of the chairs had been removed, it looked like, but a few stragglers gave a hint as to just how big this event had been.

When we had snapped some photos in front of Buckingham Palace, we walked along St. James Park and made our way back toward Marble Arch, where we had been dropped off by our bus earlier that day. Neither one of us had eaten since that morning, and it was now nearly 5:00. We found a pub along the way, thanks to a young British guy in a top-hat and tuxedo standing in front of a hotel, and we both ordered large burgers at the bar when we arrived. It was a nice end to Steve’s first time in London, sitting there in the wood-covered pub, with something like five different TVs all playing video and running commentary of the previous day’s wedding events. We clinked our water glasses together and dug into our burgers when they arrived, wasting little time in our hunger.

The Marble Arch bus stop was only a short walk from the pub and we were soon speeding northwest on the M40, the large bus scooting along smoothly in the evening air.

Sunday: 1 Year Later & Roses on the River

Sunday was a tough day. We knew it would be. May 1 was the one-year anniversary of saying goodbye to our sister, Hayley. We knew it’d be made extra difficult being away from our family. Being so far from home. Neither one of us were looking forward to this day. But we wanted to use it to remember Hayley. In a special way. I had picked up a bunch of roses. Pink. Hayley’s favorite color. Two days earlier. And I had a plan on how we could use them to make sure Hayley was honored, even from here in Oxford.

Steve was gone when we woke up that morning. He left for the city center, wanting to give us space. It wasn’t expected, or even suggested, but he’s thoughtful that way.

We slept in a bit and, when we both were up, I made us breakfast. We took our time that morning. And when we were finally ready, we left the house and made our way toward the river. To the Cherwell River Boathouse. I carried Hayley’s pink roses in my hand. And Jen’s hand in my other.

Walking down a gravel lane about a half-mile from our home, the small pebbles crunching beneath our feet, we came up to the boathouse. A long, wooden building with a low roof that sloped toward the river. Several tables were spread out on one side of the building. And there was an open door halfway down the front of the building, facing the river, where you could rent boats. I handed the man behind the desk my debit card, a guy around my age, with tattoos on his arm and large, circular earrings. He asked how long we wanted it for, and I told him an hour would do. He pointed us toward the next room over. A large, open garage. And told us to grab our punting pole, seat cushions, and a paddle and then head to our boat. Anyone we wanted. So we did.

Jen got in first. I handed her the pole and the cushions and the paddle. I untied the rope that fastened the punt to the dock and then hurried to enter the boat before it gently scooted away, out into the smooth-surfaced river.

“You want me to go first, to get us out of here?” Jen asked me, standing at the rear of the boat with the long pole in her hand. “That way you can see how to do it and then take it from there?”

“Sure. Yeah, that sounds good,” I said, taking a seat in the center of the boat as we glided softly into the middle of the river. Jen used the long pole to straighten us out and then, just like that, we were moving north along the river. Floating as the boat rocked ever so gently from side to side.

“You really know what you’re doing,” I told Jen, from my seat in the boat, she standing several feet behind me. “I could get used to this.”

There were a handful of other boats on the water that day, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly busy. It still felt a bit like an escape. It was still relaxing.

“Okay, are you ready to take it from here?” Jen asked me, after we had made it a ways from the dock. And the other boats.

“Yeah, yeah I can do that, I guess,” I said, somewhat hesitantly. I was enjoying my seat. And the ride. But I also definitely wanted to give punting a shot.

Jen and I traded spots, her now sitting in the middle of the boat, and me now standing at the rear. I used the pole to push off the bottom of the river, and quickly noticed it wasn’t nearly as easy as Jen made it look. The bottom of the river was quite muddy, which meant the pole would stick with each shove. It took some getting used to, but soon we were moving again.

“Use your pole to steer us,” Jen told me. “Like a rudder. Let it float and gently move it from side to side.”

When we had made it a ways further, and when there were no longer any boats around, Jen opened the bouquet of roses. And handed me one. I let the pole rest gently in one hand, and took the rose in the other. I shared a memory of Hayley. Jen smiled. Then I laid the rose softly on the surface of the river. And watched it float along the side of the boat, with tears in my eyes, before trailing behind us.

When it was a ways off, I returned to punting, taking the pole in my hand and pushing off the bottom of the river. We moved along a bit further and then Jen took a rose for herself. She held it in one hand, turning it over and over while sharing a memory of Hayley. One that meant a lot to her. Before reaching her arm over the side of the boat and placing the pink rose on the river. Then, slowly, it was floating along behind us.

We continued along the river. Sharing memories. And dropping roses. Until all that was left was a string of roses. And a string of our memories. Of Hayley. Of our sister. Who left us long before we thought she should.

When all our roses were gone, I said a short prayer. Thanking God for the gift of memories. And for the gift of the time we had with Hayley. Time we wouldn’t trade for anything. For, even though this pain seemed so deep that afternoon while floating along the river, the joy of those memories was deeper. And even though we floated along with tears in our eyes, we also floated along with joy in our hearts. From each memory. And from the knowledge that, where her pain once resided, now there was only Light and Joy and Peace.

I was thankful for that time with my wife. We had not been looking forward to this day. But it turned out much better than either one of us imagined. We ended it with a night of worship at St. Aldate’s, dinner at Tom’s Thai pub, and ice cream at G&D’s. And laughter. Around a table full of friends.

I’m learning that’s how it seems to go. Life. We fear so much. And then, time and time again, He shows up. Bringing with Him light for the darkness we so fear.

That’s how May 1 was for us. Where we thought we’d find only pain and hurt and darkness, there was joy and laughter, even amongst the tears. He is good. Even in the valleys, He is good.

Tuesday: Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Steve, Saying ‘Hello’ to Greek

Tuesday was the day we said ‘goodbye’ to Steve and I said ‘hello’ to my first official day of Trinity Term, my last term of my first year at Oxford.

We called a cab for Steve and I rode with him back to Gloucester Green, along the same route we had walked so many times before. Back and forth between the city center and our home on Northmoor Road. We had had another great time with Steve here in Oxford, and I told him how much we appreciated him taking the time to come visit us.

The cab driver let us out at Gloucester Green, in a circle of large buses coming and going. I said ‘goodbye’ to Steve before he boarded one of the large buses himself and made his way back to London. Back to the airport. And back to the States.

It’s rare to have a friend who’s willing to travel so far to visit, I thought to myself as I made my way across the city center. To cross the Atlantic several times, as Steve has for us. What an incredible gift, I thought to myself. But soon, those warm thoughts were lost in a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by my return to Greek.

I wouldn’t be taking Greek this term as I had the two terms before. Not three times a week, with regular quizzes and translations to submit. Instead, I’d merely be sitting in on a translation class, where we’d walk through the text together and take turns reading and translating the text verse by verse. Much better than the nightmare I woke up to three times a week the previous terms, I figured.

Rhona had sent out an e-mail telling us about the different reading classes available to us this term. One by her, and another by another tutor, Nick King at Campion Hall. I had met Nick before. He’s a very nice, older British man. With a head of silver grey hair, neatly kept, and a sharp witted sense of humor. I chose Nick’s class for the term, not merely for his humor, or for a change, so much as because he would be covering the text I would be tested on as part of my final exams the following spring. That seemed to be the most obvious choice for me.

In her e-mail, Rhona said there’d be no need to prepare for our first day. So I didn’t. Entering Campion Hall, I made my way into a large room with a group huddled in a circle around a group of tables that had been squeezed together to form a large rectangle. Books were piled up in the middle of the table, and the group had just begun reading a passage from Matthew. In Greek. I took a seat on the right side of the circle and quickly noticed two good friends from Rhona’s class: Emily, on one side of the circle, and Lyndon on the other. Lyndon gave me a smile and a gentle wave.

Quickly, I realized everyone in the room was quite proficient in their Greek reading and translation, moving through the text at a dizzying pace. The reading didn’t scare me, but it was the translation that made me rather nervous. Soon, it was my turn. I read aloud my verse and then gave my best at translating, stumbling through a series of unfamiliar Greek words. The fact that I had hardly looked at my Greek over the two-month long vacation certainly didn’t help.

I soon found myself stuck on a word I was completely stumped on. I shook my head and confessed to Nick, who was seated across the large circle from me, that I had no idea what the translation was. The circle of students around the table were quiet, eyes on Nick and myself. He told me it was very similar to the Latin word of the same meaning, thinking surely that would be of help. It wasn’t. It was, instead, merely a reminder of another word I don’t know, and a bit like pouring salt in an open wound.

“Sorry,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “I don’t know Latin.” Someone else piped in with the answer and soon we were moving quickly back around the circle.

I felt horrible. Ashamed at how atrocious my Greek was, particularly in a group of students who were so proficient. I was quickly reminded Oxford attracts some sizable brains.

Before packing up and leaving for the afternoon, I noticed the students to my left and my right had notes on the text. From the looks of it, they had walked through the Greek and written out their translation in English.

“Well that would’ve saved me some embarrassment,” I thought to myself as I packed up my things. I caught up with Emily and Lyndon outside of Campion Hall afterwards. First Emily, then Lyndon. Emily seemed to share my sense of being completely overwhelmed with the return to Greek, which I appreciated, as I iced my wounds from the embarrassing scene. Lyndon fared better than us both, but he, too, shared in our sentiments when he caught up with us. Particularly with Nick’s attempt to use Latin to spur on my Greek.

“Don’t you love that?” Lyndon said with a smile and a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

It was an embarrassing first showing, to be sure, but it helped to know that, at least some of the others, had prepared in advance. I’d make sure I did the same come next week.

Wednesday: Open Forum & Atheism

I spent most of Wednesday working on my essay for the week, which was due Thursday evening. It was on the European Reformation. A topic I’m not well-versed in, which meant I needed to sink extra time into my reading just to get up to speed on the topic.

Wednesday night provided a break from the essay work, though, as it was our first Open Forum evening of the new term. We decided to change things up a bit with the Open Forum this term, choosing to have one worldview represented each week. We’d invite someone from a particular background, be it Atheism, Buddhism, Catholicism, etc., and give them 10-15 minutes to talk about their beliefs. After that, we’d spend the rest of the time in Q&A.

For our first night, we invited Alex to talk about Atheism. Alex is the president of the Oxford Atheist Society, so he was a perfect choice for the evening. And he did a great job.

Alex shared with us why he thought “Atheist” is a fair title, even though many in his camp tend to take issue with it. He explained their point, that we don’t have to carry a title because we don’t believe in fairies, yet we do when we don’t believe in God. He explained that many Atheists take it for granted that anyone would believe in God, but Alex said this is the case anytime you aren’t in the majority. And Theists have always been in the majority. Alex is a smart guy. He’s young, still in his early 20’s, and I appreciate his reasoning.

He talked a bit more about his own personal beliefs before we opened things up for questions. Jen was joining us this evening, along with her friend and co-worker Melissa from the Kilns. Jen asked Alex about the path that had brought him from Catholicism to Atheism. He had shared this story with us on a previous occasion, but Jen hadn’t been there. He gave us the condensed version, and then fielded some more questions.

I asked Alex something that had been on my mind, while listening to him talk. I asked him how his beliefs impact his life or the lives around him on a daily basis. In a practical way.

He looked almost confused by the question. Scrunching his eyebrows behind his glasses as he thought about the question for a few seconds before answering.

“It doesn’t,” he said, looking toward me. “But I don’t think we should look to such beliefs to do that.”

We wrapped up the night on that note, and I found myself chewing on his comment as we left the meeting. I agreed, we certainly shouldn’t “choose” our religion based on what it does for us. Or others. We should believe something because it’s true, and not for what it does for us. Which is why I believe the Christian account.

But Christianity does more than that. More than merely accounting for creation and our role in it, this faith reminds me I’m not the center of the universe, a reminder I often need. Christianity calls me to die to myself, to serve others and to love God with all I have. Christianity warns me against spending my short time on this earth worshipping myself or created things, which comes so easily to us. And I think that makes a difference, both in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I compared this with Alex’s response to my question: “How does your faith impact your life and the lives of those around you?” . . . “It doesn’t.”

How sad, I thought to myself, as we made our walk back north to Northmoor Road. And, as we made our way back home, I was wondering if Alex was thinking the same thing about his beliefs.

Thursday: Senior Tutor Mtg

Thursday morning I was scheduled to sit down with the Senior Tutor and Principal at College. To review my academic progress, and make sure everything was going okay. Everyone at Harris Manchester has this meeting at the start of the term, which means these meetings are super short. Only five minutes or so.

I made my way out of the library Thursday morning and up the wooden staircase leading to the Principal’s office for my meeting. Principal Waller met me at the door with a big, beaming smile and a warm, British, “Hello.”

He asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, and I thanked him but said, “No thank you.”

Lesley, the Senior Tutor, was seated at a desk near the window with some papers in her hand. My tutors’ reports, I assumed. She looked up from them as I entered and welcomed me.

Lesley is pretty straightforward, which I appreciate, so there was little small-talk. I had plenty of work to get back to in submitting my first week’s essay, and I’m sure the fact that they had plenty of other students to see helped, too.

“Well, we’re very happy with your work,” Lesley said, looking from her papers to me with a warm smile. Principal Waller looked at me and smiled as well. I thanked them, and I told them I was very happy to hear that. And then I let their words set in while they continued to talk.

It’s just that, it’s still a little unreal for me to hear that. That Oxford is happy with my work . . . Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d hear that.

After several minutes, I made my way back down the stairs leading to Principal Waller’s office, down the hallway and up the stairs leading to the Harris Manchester library. To wrap up my essay, which would take up the rest of my day.

Friday: My first European Reformation Tutorial

I made my way to Wycliffe Hall Friday morning for my first tutorial of the term. Wycliffe Hall is one of the few evangelical schools at Oxford. It’s where Lyndon is a member. My tutor for this paper teaches for Wycliffe, which is why my tutorial was there, in his office.

Walking up to Wycliffe, I met my classmate for the term. John Ash. I had met John during my first term at Oxford. When I had come to Wycliffe for lunch with another John I knew. From Greek class. John’s a tall guy. Maybe 6’2″. With dark brown hair and an athletic frame. I found out later he’s a rower.

“Ryan, good to see you again,” he said, greeting me with a smile. “I thought I recognized your name,” he commented, referring to the e-mail our tutor Andrew had sent out to us both before the start of the term.

We entered through a tall door and climbed a wooden, spiral staircase. We found Andrew’s door at the top of the stairs and, knocking, heard him answer from within.

“Hello,” he answered, in his low, British accent. “Come in.”

We did. Andrew stood up from his seat in the middle of the cramped office space. Cramped because it was not only small, but because it was filled to the brim with books and boxes. Bookshelves lined the walls of his triangle-shaped office, climbing high up into the ceiling. And boxes sat around the office’s floor, stacked on one another, leaving just enough room for three chairs.

Andrew is a younger guy, with close-shaven hair that’s nearly as long as the scruffy beard on his face. He has big, attentive eyes, and he welcomed us as we entered the room.

“Hello,” he said, greeting us. “Squeeze in and find a chair.”

I turned my shoulders and did my best to squeeze around him and into the chair on the opposite side of the small room. Taking my seat, Andrew and John did the same before he welcomed us.

We talked briefly about what brought us here to Oxford, and what we’ve been working on up to this point. Andrew then opened with a short prayer, which I’ve never had in a tutorial before, and I thought was great. A moment later we were launching headfirst into the paper we had submitted the night before, in response to the question, “Why did the Western Church prove to be so vulnerable to the critique of Reformers from the second decade of the sixteenth century?”

As I said, the European Reformation is a topic I’m almost completely unfamiliar with, and, even after my week’s reading, it showed. John took the lead on most of the questions, and I filled in the gaps where I could. It was the first time I had been outnumbered in my tutorial: both Andrew and Jonathan being British. Andrew works at a nearby church, when he’s not teaching, and John’s Dad is apparently a well-known Christian writer in England, on top of working in churches around the country. They have a lot in common, and very quickly I felt I was playing the role of outsider. I wondered, to myself, if they noticed.

Soon, our hour was up, Andrew was wishing us a good week, and John and I were making our way back downstairs and out into the open air courtyard behind Wycliffe Hall. It was a sunny day, and I was now officially done with my first week of the term. John and I chatted for a bit from outside Andrew’s office. He told me he and his wife were in the process of buying a home, and so he had his hands full of that when he wasn’t working on this paper.

“I’ve recently inherited a chunk of money, and so we found a very small home nearby,” he explained to me. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but we’re excited.” Listening to John talk about his home remodel project, I realized I had absolutely no excuse not to find time for my paper in comparison.

I told John it was great to see him again, and that I looked forward to our conversation the following week before saying “goodbye.” Hopping on my bike and leaving Wycliffe Hall, I shook my head at the thought that I only had seven weeks left before the end of my first year at Oxford.

“Nearly there,” I thought to myself as I rode toward the library to find my books for the following week’s essay.

Wednesday: Jen’s return to Oxford

Jen returned here to Oxford on a Wednesday. Around noon. Which meant I had time to make it to Greek before taking off to meet her at the airport.

Lyndon had offered to drive me to Heathrow again so I could be there when she arrived. I quickly took him up on that offer. I decided not to make a surprise out of it this time, though. I let Jen know we’d be there when she got in, knowing she’d be making the trip by herself and that’d make things a bit easier on her.

It’s a good thing she was expecting us, too, because had I decided to surprise her again we very well may have missed her…

Her flight was scheduled to arrive at noon that day. The same flight as last time. And so we got to the airport at that time. Thinking it’d take her a while to get her bags and get through customs. When we surprised her (and Steve) last fall, we didn’t see them until about 12:50. That was not the case this time.

By the time we parked our car and made it into the airport to meet those arriving, it was 12:15. We took a look at the arrivals monitor and it said something about baggage, which we assumed meant those on the flight were collecting their baggage. Thinking we still had another half hour or so before we’d see Jen, we thought we’d grab a cup of coffee and find a seat where we could spot her coming out through the double doors.

Turning to make our way over to one of the cafes, Lyndon and I were talking when I stopped mid-sentence, spotting Jen standing in the middle of the crowd, right where we had just come from, with her luggage beside her.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Hun, you’re here!”

I quickly wrapped her up in a tight hug and gave her a kiss.

“Hey, we didn’t see you,” Lyndon said.

“Sorry about that, hun,” I said. “You must’ve arrived early, huh? How long have you been waiting?”

“It’s okay,” she said. “We did arrive early, yeah. I’ve been here for about 20 minutes now,” she said.

That’s when my heart sank.

“Oh no, I’m sorry, hun. We thought we still had some time left. We were just going to go grab a cup of coffee. Would you like to join us?” I said with a smile.

“Yeah…” Jen replied, rolling her eyes.

We made our way out of Heathrow with Jen’s luggage in tow and made the hour-long drive back north to Oxford. It was a sunny day, and it made for a welcome return to Oxford for Jen.

Lyndon helped us with getting Jen’s luggage into the house before saying goodbye.

“Hey, thanks again for the ride, Lyndon,” I told him. “I know how valuable that time is for studying and being with your family, so thank you.”

“Oh, it’s no problem,” he said with a smile.

I told him we’d love to give them a date night out some time by watching their two boys, Joshua and Joel. He seemed to like that idea and said they’d have to take us up on the offer.

I carried Jen’s large bags upstairs, and she quickly found her way under the covers of our bed. It was close to 2:00 in the afternoon at this point, but Jen hadn’t had much sleep before leaving, having stayed up for several late nights with her new niece Khloe back home, and then just not sleeping much on the plane. She was thankful for the opportunity to get some shut-eye.

“It’s so nice having you back, hun,” I told her, kissing her forehead.

She smiled gently, eyes closed, blankets pulled up tightly beneath her chin.

“I’ll just  be downstairs getting some work done, and I’ll wake you up for dinner if you’re not up before then,” I told her from her bedside.

It wasn’t easy for Jen leaving home. With her new niece recently arriving. And having spent a lot of great time with her family. Coming here was a major sacrifice for her. And I so appreciate her willingness to leave it all behind to support me in this. To continue to encourage me in all of this.

I see God’s selfless love in my wife, and I am so incredibly thankful for her. But I’ll let her tell you about it in her own words. . .Here’s Jen:

My Dad, Leann, and Khloe took me to the airport on Tuesday morning (Feb 15) so I could return to England and be with Ryan again.

The hard part about heading to the airport that morning was knowing just how long it will be until I get to see my sister again. By the time June comes, and I’m back in the States, this will be the longest time I’ve ever been away from my sister.

Over this last year, we’ve become closer than I could ever have imagined. I guess it helped that she was so sick from her pregnancy that she couldn’t get away from me… Just kidding. It was great, though. With me not really working a whole lot this past year, I was able to hangout with Leann and be there for her during her pregnancy, and afterwards as well.

When I came home for Christmas, Leann and I got to spend even more time together. She wasn’t as sick as she had been before (she had been really, really sick before), so we were able to do more together, which was nice. Then, after Christmas, Leann and I were doing all we could to get little Khloe out so Uncle Ryan could meet her before he had to head back to Oxford. And because Leann was just miserable. We did lots of walking and going to Aunt Gwen’s house so Leann could use her treadmill (when it grew too cold to walk outside), drinking raspberry leaf tea (because apparently that’s supposed to get a baby out), bouncing, and anything else that was suggested to her. With such a difficult pregnancy, we thought surely she’d come early, but the joke was on us, because Khloe decided to come nine days late.

From the time Khloe was born, I pretty much moved into Leann and Ben’s house when I was back home. I practically lived there for the first month, before returning here to Oxford. I was able to watch Khloe during the night, which I loved. It was so nice to have that opportunity to bond with her, and it allowed Leann & Ben to get some sleep because they weren’t able to during the days. It was fun to watch my sister be a mom. I know she is going to be a great one.

Saying those goodbyes at the airport, I was a wreck. I think I pretty much cried off and on until I left Chicago (where I had a layover on my way to the UK). Don’t get me wrong, I was so excited to see my husband. It had been so long. But when you have had the year that my family has had, it is just hard to say goodbye.

Being able to Skype with my family from over here really has been a saving grace, though. I get to talk with them almost as if we are in-person, and I get to see Khloe as she grows. Also, I’m really thankful that in a month and a half I will get to see my parents, because they will be coming over for a visit with some close family friends of ours (the McDowell’s). While they’re here, we’re going to visit Rome and Paris, spending four days in each city. I’m so excited for those travels, and to be able to show them the community we’ve been living in here.

On both my flights (first to Chicago, then on to England), I was able to have the full row of seats all to myself. I wish every flight could be like that. I think being able to lay out from Chicago to London was the only way I was able to fall asleep.

My plane was early arriving to London, and going through customs was a breeze, thankfully. I was a little worried about that whole customs process, just because it was my first time doing it by myself. The only bummer about my plane being early, though, is that when I got my luggage and walked out to all the people waiting for their loved ones, mine wasn’t among them…Needless to say, I was a little let down, especially considering it had been so long since I had seen Ryan, and after a full day of travels by myself. I was ready for something familiar.

After twenty minutes or so of sitting on a bench there in the airport, I saw Ryan and Lyndon. I was so excited to see them but it took me a little while to get to them because they didn’t see me and I had two heavy bags, as well as my camera bag, backpack (which was quite heavy, as it was full of books and my laptop) and my purse. With all my luggage, it was a little hard for me to move around.

Ryan and Lyndon were just on their way to grab coffee when they saw me, because they thought they still had to wait for me. So they were very surprised to see me standing there. At that point, I was thankful for their help with all my luggage! After taking my luggage off my hands, Ryan gave me the biggest hug.

Once we arrived safely to our flat, I went straight to bed. Well, after talking with Ryan some. I believe I slept for about three hours, I was so tired. Ryan woke me up for a nice Valentine’s dinner that night, which he had made for me. If it wasn’t for the nice dinner I probably would have kept sleeping.

Thursday: A birthday surprise

Hey, it’s me, Ryan. I’m back. So the day before Jennifer arrived was Valentine’s Day. And since we didn’t get to spend it together, I made her a nice meal that day she arrived. As well as picking up some flowers and a gift. (The one thing I forgot was wrapping paper, which explains the Christmas trees on the wrapped gift…).

It was so great to have that time together again. Dinner at home. Just the two of us. It had been a very long time.

The day after she arrived, that Thursday, was her 25th birthday. So we had a lot to celebrate when she got in.

I told her for her birthday that I had made dinner reservations at Fire & Stone Pizza in the city center. To celebrate. Just the two of us. She looked a bit disappointed.

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, I thought you’d like that. Pizza for your birthday.”

“Well, yeah, I love pizza, but I guess I just thought we’d do something a little nicer for my birthday.”

Jen didn’t know I had a little surprise waiting for her at Fire & Stone. So I played it up that I just thought she’d really want pizza for her birthday. She didn’t seem to mind too much.

We made our way to the city center that evening. Leaving the house right around 7:00. And made the old familiar walk to town.

We arrived at the restaurant about 15 minutes late, but I found the hostess and gave her my name.

“Sorry we’re late, but I have reservations for ‘Ryan.’ There should be people waiting at our table already,” I said in a hushed voice, so that Jen couldn’t hear me.

“Oh yes, just down the stairs, the last table on the left,” she said, pointing down the stairs.

“Great, thanks,” I said, passing by and leading the way toward our table.

Jen had no idea what was coming, and her face showed it. It wasn’t until we got right next to our table that she realized, “Wait a minute, I know you guys!”

A handful of our good friends had arrived there before us and were waiting on Jen to arrive.

“Surprise!” Vanessa shouted from the far end of the table with her hands thrown high into the air.

Jen was surprised, all right, and it was great to see that huge smile wash over her face. It was great for her to see just how many people were waiting for her to arrive back here in Oxford. To see just how many people were excited to see her. And to have them join us in celebrating her birthday.

(From left to right: Max, Christine & Rich, Rob & Vanessa, Minhee, Jen (of course), and Cole).

Cole grabbed the camera from me and told me to sit by my wife so we could have one with me in it, as well.

We had a great time celebrating Jen’s birthday together. The girls loved hearing about Jen’s time back home with her new niece, commenting on the photos they had seen of her online. And Jen loved telling them all about it, while the guys on the other side of the table talked Theology. And I had my wife by my side again. It was a win-win on all accounts.

I’ll let Jen tell you a bit about her birthday, in her own words… Here’s Jen:

For my 25th Birthday, I gave myself the gift of sleeping in. It was great. I got out of bed around 3:00 or 3:30 that day. I had told Ryan to be prepared for me to sleep a lot the first couple of days, while I caught up on my sleep. And that’s exactly what I did!

Ryan had made dinner plans for us at Fire & Stone for that night. As we were walking there, I quickly remembered how warm you can get with all the walking. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, I felt like I could take another shower.

We went downstairs to our table and there sat a bunch of our friends: Vanessa & Rob, Minhee, Rich & Christine, Cole, and Max. And to top if off, Vanessa made me my favorite cake: rainbow chip with rainbow chip frosting. Apparently Steve had shipped the cake mix and frosting out so that I would be able to have it for my birthday. I really do have some great friends. It was so nice to be able to catch up and see how everyone was doing.

When Ryan and I got home that night, I got to open up my present from him. It was a very nice white frame, and he got it so I could frame a photo of Khloe in and have here.

I absolutely loved it! The rest of  my birthday present is our trip to Paris and Rome.

Hey again. It’s me, Ryan. Yeah, so we talked and laughed for a long time with everyone that night. At Fire & Stone Pizza. And after we all finished off our pizza, we asked for some smaller plates and some more forks. For birthday cake.

Vanessa had e-mailed me a couple days before Jen arrived and said she was wanting to make a birthday cake for Jen and bring it along. I told her I thought that was a great idea, and I knew Jen would appreciate it.

The day Jen arrived, literally just before I left the house to head to the airport with Lyndon, a package arrived from back home. It was from Steve.

Steve had been saying how he felt bad he wouldn’t be able to be there with us to celebrate Jen’s birthday. He’s always been really great about helping make that a special time. The first year he celebrated Jen’s birthday with us, he stayed up all night making her cake. I turned in around 2:00 that night, after helping Steve for a while. But he stayed up, to put the finishing touches on it. For anyone who has ever seen Steve’s work, you know it’s amazing. And it was.

The next morning when I woke up, I told Steve Jen was going to love it. And that she’d be totally blown away. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned. We celebrated Jen’s birthday on Lummi Island that year. At this amazing home right on the water. And, on the way there, someone pulled out in front of Steve, causing him to slam on his brakes, and sending the cake smashing against the side of the box it was being carried in. It pretty much completely destroyed the work he had stayed up all night working on.

When he first told me, I thought he was joking, knowing how hard he had worked on it. He wasn’t. Fortunately, it still tasted great, and so we still used it to celebrate Jen’s birthday that night. Jen didn’t mind.

Steve knew how much Jen loved rainbow chip cake for her birthday, and that we wouldn’t be able to find that here, so he had taken the time to pack that up and send it over. So that Jen could have it for her birthday.

While Jen was sleeping that afternoon after the long journey from home, I ran the cake mix supplies to Vanessa’s work, so she’d have them for the next night when we celebrated Jen’s birthday together.

And it turned out great. We all sang “happy birthday” to Jen, and we enjoyed the birthday cake, compliments of Vanessa and Steve. It was great to celebrate Jen’s big day with friends, even though we were so far from home.

Sunday: Pub-Thai & baptisms

We met up with Max & his wife Michelle and Rich & Christine at a Thai place Sunday night. For dinner. Before church. The six of us hadn’t gotten together before, and we had been looking forward to Jen arriving so we could do that.

The place we met is an old pub that was bought not too long ago by a family who have made it into a Thai restaurant. It’s pretty funny, actually, because it was clearly built as a pub, but it has hints of Thai decor scattered throughout. It’s the most pub-like Thai restaurant you’ll ever find, but the food is great. Jen ordered the phad thai (her staple when we go out for Thai food), and I ordered a cashew dish. With pork.

We had a really good time catching up with everyone over dinner, and it was a nice chance for Jen to get to know Michelle and Christine a bit better.

St. Aldate’s, the church I’ve been attending since returning, is right next door, so it made things convenient that night. Rich & Christine and Max & Michelle also attend St. Aldate’s, so we all went to the 6:00 service after we finished up our pub-Thai dinner.

I’ve really loved it here at St. Aldate’s. I told a friend back home I really feel like my soul comes alive when I’m worshipping here, leaping for joy inside of me during the songs. And the people have been really great, too. Several times I’ve had people introduce themselves and ask to hear about what brought me there, having not recognized me before. I really do love it there. Jen had been with me to St. Aldate’s once before we returned home, and I was excited for her to return so we could attend together again.

The church is right in the heart of the city, so you’ll often see a homeless person sitting side-by-side with an Oxford student. And I think that’s great. I think it’s a good reminder heaven isn’t going to be quite as homogenous as we’d imagine.

The evening’s service was a baptism service, which I always love. The former owner of the marketing firm I used to work at back home is fond of saying, “You can do everything right, but if you never tell anyone about it, they may never know.” In a roundabout way, I guess that’s what baptism is about. It’s about telling others, “I believe Jesus did this really great thing. For me. For you. And I want to be a part of that. I want others to know about it.”

I always get excited seeing people take that step. To share what this faith means to them with others.

And the service was great. There were two gals and one guy being baptized that night. The two girls were students here at Oxford. And the guy was a little bit older. Maybe in his mid-30’s. And he worked nearby.

The one girl student and guy who went first shared about their backgrounds. And about why they wanted to take this step to become baptized. They both seemed super comfortable speaking in front of everyone. Even with the church packed full of people. Neither one of them seemed to mind. They both did great, not appearing nervous in the least. I assumed it was just an English thing. That perhaps the British are just natural-born public speakers.

But that wasn’t the case with the next girl. The last one to be baptized that evening. She was incredibly nervous. And it was clear to everyone.

Her hands were shaking, and she was breathing deep as she took the microphone on-stage. She started briefly and then had to turn her back to the audience to collect herself. The Vicar of the church (pastor) smiled at the crowd as she did. My heart went out to her.

She turned around, facing the audience again, and she still looked quite nervous. But she turned her eyes to her paper and began reading. Quite quickly. About what had brought her here.

She told us, while reading her notes, how she had grown up in a family of devout Atheists. And how her parents were quite proud when, on one occasion very early on in school, she was removed from her private school classroom for asking how dinosaurs fit in with the story of creation. She told us how her parents must’ve proudly thought she’d be the next Richard Dawkins at that point.

She told us about how she had come here to Oxford. Proud of herself for the accomplishment, and excited for her studies. But then, how she had surprisingly found God in all of this. How she had come to realize His love for her, and how she had formed a deep faith in Him. How she wanted to hand her life over to Him, and how she wanted others to know about it. It was an incredible story. Hearing about the amazing change in her life and her attitude toward Him. I really just don’t understand how that works, apart from His work in one’s life.

It put tears in the corners of my eyes, hearing her describe the change that had taken place since arriving here.

“I still have questions about dinosaurs,” she spoke into the microphone from the church stage, less nervous now, “But I want to follow Him.” Everyone laughed, and the sound of clapping echoed off the church’s stone walls as she made her way into the baptismal pool.

Monday: A surprise phone call

Since Jennifer had returned to Oxford, I had been working from home. Not wanting to leave her to spend those first few days back here in Oxford at home all on her own. On Monday, though, I made my way to Harris Manchester after Greek. To the library. To get some reading done.

I was still thinking about something Rhona had said that morning in Greek as I rode my bike to college after class. She had asked one of the girls in class to read aloud her translation of John to the class. As we had all been taking turns doing. But this girl had said she’d rather not. Not today.

Rhona didn’t press her. She said she was welcome to take a pass if she’d prefer, but she encouraged her to not get in the habit of doing so.

“You ought not hide your light under a bushel,” Rhona told her, speaking in that soft English accent with her familiar Grandmother-like voice. “You’ll regret it when you’re 55 or 60.” She smiled at this girl from the front of the room after saying so.

I liked how Rhona put that. And it made me think of this girl who had been baptized at St. Aldate’s the night before. It made me think about how easy it would have been for her not to do so. Particularly in light of her parents’ beliefs. I was glad she hadn’t decided to hide her light under a bushel, though, as Rhona put it.

Entering the library at Harris Manchester, I was greeted by Katrina. The assistant librarian. Katrina’s great. She always has a smile on. And she always greets you by name in a soft-whisper as you enter through the large, wooden double doors of the library.

And it was nice coming back to the library. It felt a bit like returning home. Being greeted by name. And returning to my old familiar spot. I love it there, at the Harris Manchester Library, seated from my familiar spot beside the window on the second floor.

I got a good amount of reading done that afternoon. And, checking my phone later on, I realized I had a missed call at some point during the day. I stepped out of the library to check my messages, and I was surprised to hear the voice of Deb on the message. Deb’s the Warden at the Kilns. The former home of C.S. Lewis. I had met her before, on my trips out to the Kilns, and at the C.S. Lewis Society dinners and meetings, but we really hadn’t talked too much before. I was surprised to hear from her.

She said she had something she wanted to run by me in her message. To see if she might be able to get my help with something. And she asked me to give her a call when I had a free moment. I had no idea what that might be, but I gave her a call back, and I heard her voice on the other end a few seconds later.

She sounded happy to hear from me, and, after a bit of small talk, she asked if I might be interested in giving tours out at the Kilns at some point.

I was stunned. She explained that they needed a bit of extra help, and she thought I might be interested, knowing my interest in Lewis.

“Really?” I asked. “Well, yeah, that’d be great. When were you thinking?”

“This Saturday?” she said, almost hesitantly.

“Oh wow… Yeah, that’s quick. Well, I’d love to help you, but I should check with Jen first and make sure that’s okay.”

Deb was fine with that, and I told her I’d get back to her either later that night or the next day.

Then she asked what Jen was up to. And if she might be looking for any work.

I laughed, and then I told her Jen had actually planned to start looking for work that day.

“Oh really?” she said. “Well, I was wondering if she might be interested in some administrative work here at the Kilns. I could certainly use her help!”

I told Deb I had been praying Jen would be able to find a job when she returned to Oxford without too much trouble. And one that would be a good fit for her. I told her this sounded great, and I was sure Jen would love the idea.

“Well, yeah, I don’t know why I was calling you other than the fact I was praying about it and your guys’ names came to me,” her voice said on the other line.

And it put a smile on my face, thinking about how incredible everything has lined up for us through all of this. Since arriving here in Oxford.

From great friends and community to job opportunities. It’s all so much more than I ever could have imagined. And I am so thankful for what He is doing here.

I am so thankful for being the recipient of His blessings. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be able to sit back and say, “Look, look at what He is doing here.”

Wednesday: Wet pants and personal belongings in the toilet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having “soaked pants” would mean something quite different.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, where’s the toilet?!”

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

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

An odd piece of mail

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: A visitor from home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We grabbed a cab and headed toward the house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh wow…”

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

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

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

“Thanks, bud.”

An international pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: An introduction to Patristics

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I can tell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pretend milkshake

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

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

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

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

What came next was a thing of beauty…

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

Steve was pretty happy about his, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah? In your library?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Christmas Dinner, Caroling and the Christmas Story

Harris Manchester had a Christmas carol service and dinner on Wednesday night. A formal event. I didn’t find out until after going to get two tickets for Jennifer and I that it was a members-only event. Not like the jacket. Only Harris Manchester students and faculty members were invited to the dinner.

I was pretty bummed. I’m not a fan of leaving Jennifer to fend for herself for dinner. Not at all. But she insisted. She told me she didn’t want me to miss out on my college’s Christmas dinner for her sake. And not in some “I’m saying this, but I really want you to do that” way, but she meant it. So I went.

I threw my suit and tie on, hopped on my bike and hurried to Harris Manchester. On the snow-dusted road. It’s a weird feeling, riding your bike in a suit. But it sure beats walking 30-minutes in a suit.

I made it to college about 10 minutes after the carol service began. I left my coat and scarf with John (the night porter) at the front door and slipped into a pew in the back of the chapel. The song being sung when I arrived finished and someone came to the front and read the birth narrative from Luke. The chaplain, I believe.

His face was lit up by the light looming down on his Bible. It presented an almost awminous mood as he read the birth account. He read slowly. And deliberately. So much so that I felt like someone hit the slow-motion button on a dvd player.

But I really appreciated it. It was like great consideration was being given to each word. The words we tend to plow through because we’re so used to them.

After finishing the reading, he slowly lifted His Bible up from where it sat, stepped slowly back, and then walked slowly to his seat.

We sang a few more songs before making our way out of the chapel and into the college halls for some hot mulled wine. And more carols. The halls were crowded tightly with men dressed in their suits and ties and women in their dresses and formal wear. The smell of mulled wine filled the air. And the Christmas carols echoed off the stone walls. It was great.

After several songs, we ventured out into the cold night air just long enough to walk down the stone path leading to Arlosh Hall for Christmas dinner. The tables were arranged differently than normal. And they were lined with Christmas decor. Place settings standing out amongst the green pine decor and candles and treats. A giant Christmas tree, complete with lights and a star on top, sat in the corner of the room. Behind the head table. I asked Tariq how he thought they fit it in the hall.

“No idea,” he said, shrugging his shoulders with a laugh.

The meal was great. Salmon for starters (I’ve been surprised by how good the salmon is here). Turkey and mashed potatoes and green beans for a main meal. And I left before dessert. I was meeting up with Jen for a(nother) carol service at 8:30, and I didn’t want to keep her waiting.

I asked Tariq to excuse me and hurried out of Arlosh Hall. Tariq and I had been talking about the essay he was handing in that week. He had written a 12,000-word submission for a paper that’s supposed to be 2,000 words. . .This guy’s something else. He’s the medical doctor who left his practice to study Theology. And who still has yet to tell his parents he’s here.

I grabbed my coat and scarf from John at the front desk, hopped on my bike and rode the quarter-mile stretch to the Sheldonian to meet up with Jennifer for the Christmas Carol service. I locked up my bike across the street and found Jen walking up a few minutes later.

It was an amazing service. It definitely made it feel like Christmas time.

Christmas Carols and the Christmas Story at the Sheldonian

We were in the upper balcony of this circular-shaped building. Looking down from our wooden seats in the balcony on the brass band that sat in the middle of the first floor, with students and families seated all around them.

The circular ceiling had an ornate painting of a heavenly scene, complete with cherubim. It was an amazing building, and a perfect place for Christmas carols.

A guy from my Greek class was seated behind us with a small group of friends. He noticed me before I saw him there. He said “hi” and I went to introduce him to Jen only to find, mid-sentence, that I was second-guessing his name. I wanted to say “Tim,” but I wasn’t sure. So I just kind of mumbled the second-half of my introduction. He laughed.

“Tim,” he said, looking to Jen.

I told him that’s what I was going to say, but I’m not so sure he believed me.

After several Christmas songs I whispered to Jennifer that I loved Christmas carols.

“Didn’t you just come from singing carols?” she asked me.

“Yeah…”

She shook her head and smiled.

Mary Was Surprised, too

A guy by the name of Michael Ramsden spoke after several songs. He wore dark glasses and a light-colored blazer. You knew he was a pretty brilliant guy before he even had time to open his mouth.

He talked about the story of Christmas. And how it’s one so many people struggle to believe. Or simply don’t bother struggling with it at all. He mentioned a professor who recently said no one after the 18th century had any right to speak of the virgin birth as a historical event without sounding completely foolish. That the science of our day simply wouldn’t allow it.

Michael claimed that the virgin birth wasn’t pre-science. That, even as a young teenager, Mary would’ve understood the science behind what it took to bring a child into the world. That she would’ve seen the idea of giving birth to a baby as a virgin as not natural in the least bit. That she would not have seen this as a normal occurrence, which is why she responded as she did (“But how can that be, for I am a virgin?”). And so, it doesn’t do any good to say that somehow we have advanced to the point that we can see that it’s unnatural to presume a virgin can give birth to a child. Apparently, Mary thought the same thing.

And we find the same is true of Joseph. He, too, understood clearly what it takes to bring a child into the world, which is why an angel had to come and prepare him for the news. Any man, married or not, knows that short of an angel appearing, there’d be some explaining to be had if your virgin wife comes to you and tells you she’s pregnant.

And so, what we find is both Mary and Joseph, on separate occasions, being approached by an angelic being, and being told that God was doing something quite special here. They didn’t need to be told this was a miracle; they fully understood that part. But the angel came to tell them that this miracle was from God.

But that’s not to say being approached by an angel was an expected event for these two. It was not. And they responded probably the same way most of us would. We’re told Mary was troubled. The angel had to reassure her that everything was just fine. And that he had come to testify to the fact that God was doing something extraordinary here. Something miraculous.

And that’s just the way it should be, isn’t it? For it should not be something of ordinary origins testifying to the validity of the miraculous, but something of miraculous, even divine origins that testifies to the miraculous.

If you want to know if the “genuine Italian” leather shoes you get for a great deal are actually “genuinely Italian,” your best bet is to ask someone who is familiar with genuine Italian leather. Better yet, you ought to ask someone from Italy who works with Italian leather. And that’s precisely what we find here: a being from heaven testifying to the miracle that would be forthcoming as that of heavenly origins.

Michael went on to talk about the fact that many people simply refuse to even consider such a story because it doesn’t follow the laws of nature. They argue that all of nature has to agree with the laws of nature. And since this obviously doesn’t, then we can’t possibly believe it to be true.

But he suggested that’s not an argument against this story at all, for the laws of nature are precisely what makes the virgin birth a miracle. If the laws of nature tell us a virgin simply does not give birth, then that doesn’t mean we’re claiming the laws of nature have been broken, or that they’ve somehow failed us. Rather, they tell us we must look to something outside of the laws of nature for an explanation.

He used an anology I thought was pretty helpful to explain this.

He told us to imagine him going home this week and putting £2,000 in his nightstand. And then going and doing the same thing the next week, with another £2,000. Now, if he goes to his nightstand in the third week, the rules of arithmetic tell us he should find there £4,000. But say he opens up his nightstand and only finds £1,000. What then should he conclude? That the laws of arithmetic have somehow been broken? Or that arithmetic has failed him? Of course not. The laws of arithmetic describe what will happen when you add £2,000 to £2,000, not whether someone will come in and snatch £3,000 from his nightstand. That outside agent (a thief sneaking in while he is gone) is not accounted for by the rules of arithmetic. And, in the same way, a being outside of nature (namely, the Creator of nature) is not accounted for by the rules that describe the nature he created.

I thought that was helpful. He spoke to the students in the room that night. And their families. Encouraging them to not dismiss this story just because it doesn’t seem like something that’d happen in our day. Apparently, that’s what Mary thought, too.

A perfect end to the evening

Jen and I walked home afterward. Me with my bike, whistling Christmas tunes from the evening’s service. Jen in her black peacoat and red gloves. And as we walked in the frigid night air, pulling our scarves and collars high up against our cheeks, the snow began to fall. Slowly.

I looked over to see Jen staring up into the sky with that beautiful smile painted across her face. Looking up into the deep, dark night sky as the snow spun and twirled in the air. Swirling around the street lamps like moths to the light.

It was a beautiful scene. The snow falling in Oxford. Our breath forming little plumes as we walked home in the cool night air. And it was the perfect ending to a wonderful night of Christmas carols and decorations and food and the Christmas story.

Thursday: A Snow Covered Oxford

Thursday morning saw another dusting of snow in Oxford. The street leaving our house, the trees lining the streets and the sidewalk. All white from the fresh sheet of snow. Not thick. Not deep. But just enough to paint everything white.

Our Greek class was moved from Wednesday morning to Thursday morning this week, as Rhona wanted to have everyone over to Christ Church for treats. For the second-to-last Greek class of the term. (The last class would be reserved for more serious matters, she told us).

It was a beautiful scene, walking into a snow-covered Christ Church Thursday morning.

Rhona welcomed us into her home at Christ Church, where we found a table brimming with warm mince pies, fruit cake and hot tea and coffee. It was great. I’ve never really had mince pies like I’ve found here in Oxford. Not back home.

They’re basically mini-versions of a full-size pie, complete with a pastry crust. And their filling is amazing. It tastes a bit like Christmas in your mouth. Warm, gooey center with hints of cranberries and cinnamon.

And the fruit cake was really good as well. It gets a bad rap back home, but I quite liked it. Nuts and fruits in a cake-like bread. Not sure what’s not to like about that.

We took a rather informal exam, where Rhona walked through what would be on the exam and then gave us a few minutes to take it. We graded our own and then she went over a few last items she wanted us to know before the end of the term.

We were all seated around the large Christ Church dining room table as she talked. Tending to our warm mince pies and hot drinks. It was great.

Rhona mentioned one of the students who had began the term with us, but who was no longer in our class. She must’ve left after about a month or so. Fiona. She explained to us that Fiona decided this wasn’t actually the path for her. Not at this point, at least. I was surprised to hear that, as she had been doing quite well in class.

Rhona didn’t know the details of Fiona’s decision to leave, but she asked if someone would be willing to pick up a Christmas card to send her. No one seemed to jump at the opportunity. After several seconds of awkward silence and avoidance of her eyes from students around the room, I told her I would. She thanked me, in that warm, motherly voice of hers. Tilting her head to the side just so and smiling warmly.

A John Wayne like American accent

I was talking with Lyndon and Emily as we left the Deanery at Christ Church that morning, stepping out into the snow-frosted courtyard.

I forget how we got on the topic, but we were talking about how you tend to pickup sayings and accents when you’re around another culture for long enough.

Emily asked me if I had picked up any British accents or sayings since being here. I told her I hadn’t. That Jen would give me too hard a time if I did. She laughed.

Lyndon gave his best go at an American accent, which made me laugh. He sounded a bit like a cowboy. Like John Wayne.

I said I had noticed myself picking up on different English inflections that I wouldn’t normally use since being here, though. At times. Emily asked for an example, not knowing what I was talking about.

“Well, say I want to ask a question. If I were in the States, I’d just say, ‘Where do you want to go?'” without adding any sort of inflection to my voice. Emily picked up on what I was talking about immediately.

“You mean, you wouldn’t go up at the end?”

“No, that’s the difference. I wouldn’t back home, but I’ve found myself doing so here from time to time, and I catch myself thinking, ‘Wait, what am I doing? I wouldn’t do that back home…'”

They both laughed.

Lyndon say that inflection gets abused back home. In New Zealand. To the point where it’s used for everything, not just questions. And you’re left wondering what’s a question and what’s not.

I pointed out the icicles hanging from the water fountain as we walked through the center of the courtyard. It was beautiful.

Friday: My last day of Greek

Friday morning was my last day of Greek for the term. Saying I was excited about that would be putting it lightly.

I had a bear of a time studying for the morning’s exam the day before. It was just a vocab exam, nothing too difficult. But I just didn’t feel like studying. I kept finding myself distracted. By the most mundane things. It was like I was having a case of senioritis, but five-terms too early.

Rhona greeted us all with a smile as we took our seats that morning, addressing us before handing out the morning’s exam.

“You should all be quite proud of yourselves,” she said to us from the front of the room, wearing that wide grin of hers.

She was standing in front of the deep blue table runner with the “Oxford University” emblem emblazoned on it. She can’t stand that table runner. She says it looks far too commercial.

“You’ve had a massive amount of coursework, and you’ve stuck it out,” she continued, now with a more serious look. “That takes courage.”

I had picked up a Christmas card after class at Christ Church the day before. For Fiona. I gave it to Rhona to pass around at the start of the class, so others could sign it.

“Oh thank you,” she said, taking the card from me.

“Lyndon has picked up a card for Fiona for everyone to sign,” she then declared to the class.

I smiled, fully intending not to correct her. Lyndon looked up with a look of confusion on his face, as if to ask, “what is it I have done?”

Emily laughed from the chair next to mine.

Rhona picked up on her mistake and corrected herself.

“Oh, right. . .Of course. Ryan picked up the card,” she said.

Appears she still has a tough time with my name. She explained to the class that she regularly mixes up her children’s names, and so we shouldn’t take any offense when she makes the same mistake with us.

We then had our final Greek exam of the term, and Rhona talked about what she’d like us to do over the holiday. “Revisions,” as they call them here.

Our breaks are six weeks here at Oxford. Which sounds pretty great on paper, except for the fact that they aren’t really much of a holiday, per se. It’s really more a time of self study. To prepare for the tests we take when school starts back up again. “Collections,” as they’re called.

Rhona told us about a mosaic in the tiles of the entryway of the building we were in. The Exam Schools. She said she’d point it out to us as we left the class, but that it’s of a tortoise and a hare. And she told us it is there for a reason, for we all know the hare wins the race, and so we ought to take note of that. “Slow and steady wins the race,” she reminded us, referring to preparing for Collections.

Several of us laughed.

“Funny, because I feel like this term has been rather fast and shaky,” I said, in a quiet voice.

Rhona had asked us to write up a plan for our revisions over the holidays. Of what we’d be working on each day. She looked over my shoulder at mine, on my laptop, and she said it looked wonderful. I didn’t think it looked wonderful. I thought it looked rather dreadful.

We all made our way to the front of the building after class. Through the large hallways, with the marble tile underfoot. Until we made it to the entryway, where Rhona pointed out the tortoise and the hare in the tile mosaic. Sure enough, there they were.

And it was funny, really, because “slow and steady” certainly doesn’t seem to be the Oxford mentality. Perhaps the tiles were placed there by a past student. As a protest, of sorts.

I told Rhona “goodbye” as I left, and to have a “Merry Christmas.” She smiled at me and said, “You as well, and same to Jenny.” People tend to call Jennifer “Jenny” here.

As Emily, Lyndon and I walked out through the large double doors, I pointed out I thought it rather funny that Rhona knows my wife’s name, who she’s met once, but not mine.

We all laughed.

“She rates higher than you, I guess,” Lyndon said with a smile and a laugh.

“Apparently.”

Tea with Cole

I received a text from Cole shortly after leaving Greek. Asking if I’d like to celebrate the end of my first term of Greek with some tea. I thought that sounded like a great idea.

We met up at Blackwell’s Bookstore. In the cafe on the second floor.

Cole congratulated me on wrapping up my first term, and now having that behind me. I told him it was a bit of an odd feeling, going from deadline after deadline to no deadlines, but also a lot of work to get done.

He nodded with a look of understanding.

We talked a bit about the paper he had just submitted earlier in the week. His extended essay. It was nice to sit down and not feel guilty for not studying Greek, or reading for an essay for the first time in months. It was like stopping just long enough to catch your breath after running a race.

But I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be back in the books, preparing for collections. Even the holidays have a pile of work here.

More Time With Jen

The highlight of wrapping up my first term has been having more time with Jen. And not feeling like I’m always preparing for the next deadline.

I have loads of work to get done over the break, to be sure. And it seems like I keep realizing I actually have more work to do than I initially thought, somehow, but it’s definitely been nice to enjoy more free time together. For the first time in a long time.

We met in the city center Friday afternoon. At the market. To pick up something for dinner.

“How about french dip?” I suggested, after wandering around the store aimlessly for a while. The look on Jen’s face told me she was sold on that idea.

I found a young guy stocking the store shelves and asked him where I might find au jus seasoning. He looked at me blankly. As if he were listening to someone speak a foreign language completely unknown by him.

“I take it you don’t have au jus,” I said.

“Uh, no. I’m not even sure what that is, but no.”

We ended up deciding on a chicken dish of some sort. With mozzarella and pancetta. The kind of dish you can throw in the oven and not have to worry about. That part sounded great to both of us.

Dinner ended up proving more difficult that we had imagined, though, as I realized about 40 minutes after placing it in the oven that I hadn’t actually turned the oven on…

Once we got that part figured out, though, it was great to sit down to a nice meal together. Knowing I had zero exams to prepare for the following week. Or essays.

We clinked our glasses in celebration of the end of our first term in Oxford.

“Only five more to go,” I said, smiling at Jen, and raising the glass to my mouth.

After spending most of the day at Blenheim Palace last Saturday, I had to crank down on some homework. I spent most of Sunday punching out an essay that was due the next week. Got about halfway through before turning in for the night. Felt pretty good going into a new week ahead of the game after having a great trip to Blenheim Palace. Which made Monday morning even worse.

Monday: Bad news…

I woke up Monday morning and flipped open my Macbook before studying a bit of Greek and heading off to class. I was a little curious when my screen didn’t flicker on, but stayed black instead. Tried a couple different things. Checked the power cord. Tried to restart. No dice. My computer was dead. Not a good way to start the week.

I visited the Oxford University Computer Services offices after Greek. Hoping they’d have some good news for me. They did. And they didn’t. They told me that this was probably a known issue. Failure of the graphics board (of course). Which should be covered by Apple’s warranty. That was the good news.

The bad news was that they wouldn’t be able to get to this for about a week. Best case scenario. Which meant the the work for the essay I had managed to get about halfway through, the one that was due that afternoon, would be worthless to me. That and my five-days worth of reading notes that were saved on my computer. Perfect.

I spent the next seven hours seated at a computer in the library trying to piece together my essay from memory. Which would probably work better for someone with a memory. I managed to put something together and send it off just before my deadline, though. Part of me felt like maybe I could do this more often and save myself five days’ worth of reading. But I figured that’d probably not be such a great idea.

Thursday: My experience with Computer Services and An American explaining Thanksgiving

I was happy to get an e-mail Thursday morning, telling me I could bring my laptop in to get checked out. They don’t let you just drop it off when things go down. “We’d have computers piled up everywhere,” I was told.

I dropped it off Thursday afternoon. After my lecture that morning. I figured I’d just go in, drop it off and I’d be out of there. But that wasn’t the case. I told the lady at the front desk I had received an e-mail from Darren and I was here to drop my computer off with him. She looked at me suspiciously, like I was trying to pull one over on her. They must get a lot of people wanting to pile up broken computers around Darren. And she was having none of it.

She asked me if I had filled out the paperwork and paid my £30 deposit for repairs. I hadn’t done either. “Well come over here and you can fill that out,” she said, directing to me to a table on the opposite side of the room.

“Perfect,” I thought to myself. After 15 minutes of navigating their online payment system, tracking down my computer’s serial number and filling out the paperwork, I made my way back to this sweetheart of a lady’s desk to hand off my computer to Darren. If she’d let me.

“Oh, it looks like he’s gone to lunch now,” she said with a look of feigned disappointment. “If you’d like to come back in a half our or so, he should be back then.”

I didn’t want to go anywhere. All I wanted to do was leave my computer. 30 minutes, I figured I could get some studying done here just as well as the library.

“I’ll just have a seat over here and study some Greek, if that’s okay?”

“Yes, of course,” she said with a smile. “He should be back around 1:00.”

An hour later, Darren made his way out of the back room and asked if he could help me. I was pretty glad to see him. I was beginning to develop a twitch at this point.

I brought my computer to him as he looked at my paperwork. He asked if I had paid the £30. I told him I had. He told me it didn’t look like I needed to, that it was covered under warranty.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Well we’ll check it out and get you a refund if that’s the case.”

Darren was a nice guy. I could see why more people would want to take the time to stop in and pile up their laptops around here.

An American Explaining Thanksgiving

We went to small group at Church Thursday night. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know the folks there.

They have dinner beforehand, and we usually end up sitting by people we don’t know. So we get to meet new people that way.

We found a seat by Martin this week (Martin’s from Scotland). And an American girl. From DC. She’s studying here for a term. A guy from South Africa sat down at our table shortly after us. He looked like Dirk Nowitzki‘s doppleganger. Although about a foot shorter. It was quite the international bunch.

The American girl asked us if we had any plans for Thanksgiving. We didn’t, we told her. She lives with 40 other Americans, so it sounds like they’re bringing Thanksgiving to England in full force. She was pretty excited.

Martin asked what was so great about Thanksgiving.

“Everything,” she said, with big eyes and a smile, looking to us for support.

“Yeah, I mean, if you like food, family and football. American football. It’s a pretty great day,” I said.

“What exactly is Thanksgiving all about, again?” Martin asked the girl beside us.

“It’s about celebrating the fact that we won!” she said loudly.

“Oh my,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t going to be good.”

The guy from South Africa seated across from us didn’t seem too impressed. Turns out he wasn’t.

“That surprises me,” he spoke up. “In South Africa, I don’t think we’d joke about something from our history like that.” He wasn’t smiling in the least.

The blood drained from this girl’s face. It was obvious what she had meant to communicate and what had come out were two totally different things.

“I’m sorry. I was just joking. I’m really sorry if I offended you,” she said to this guy from South Africa with a look of sincerity.

“Oh, no, you didn’t,” he said with a look of half-sincerity. “Well, maybe a little.”

He cleaned his plate and made his way back to the kitchen for some second helpings.

The girl looked over to us with a look of horror. Martin smiled.

“Who exactly did you beat, by the way? The Indians?…”

“That’s totally not what I meant…” she confessed. “I’m totally fulfilling the stereotype.”

I told the girl I was going to pick up a “God Bless America” t-shirt the next time I was home. And wear it around Oxford. To compete with her impression of Americans in England. She laughed. Jen shook her head.

Friday: Ruining God’s plan and a pink laptop in the library

Lyndon told me after Greek Friday morning that he was going to be preaching at his old church in London in a couple weeks. And that he was going to have to get started on that over the weekend.

I asked him what he was speaking on.

“Deuteronomy 22,” he said. “The scene where Abraham pretends Sarah’s his sister, and not his wife. So the King wouldn’t kill him and take her for himself. To protect himself.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, with a scrunched brow. “So what’s the application?”

“The application is great,” he explained to me. “First, it reminds us that no one’s perfect. Abraham is seen as this great figure, and here he is doing something completely foolish.”

I nodded. Seemed like a good reminder.

“But also, it reminds us that no matter how bad we mess up, God is in control,” he continued. “Jesus was to be a descendant from Sarah, in order to fulfill his role as the Messiah, and Abraham’s foolishness threatened that. He very well could’ve messed it all up, but God carried out His plan. And He still does so, in spite of our shortcomings.”

It was a good reminder, to be sure. Particularly for someone like me who constantly worries I’m going to fall flat on my face and ruin all of this. That I’m totally going to spoil God’s plans for my life. For our life. By some huge failure on my part. Or lack of faith.

It’s good to be reminded that God is bigger than my failures.

A pink laptop in the library

I spent most of the day Friday in the library. My laptop wasn’t back from the shop, and I had to take down some notes from the books I’d be reading, so I resorted to borrowing Jen’s laptop for the day. Her pink laptop. I may be colorblind, but this was still a tad outside of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, I had no choice. Pink laptop it was.

I managed to get through most of the afternoon without thinking too much about it. Plugging away on my reading and jotting down some notes. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and shrugging off the few glances I got from time to time. Though I was pretty happy to be wearing a wedding ring at this point, just to avoid any confusion. I thought about putting up a sign over the desk I was working from that read, “It’s my wife’s…”, but I decided against it.

I always listen to music while I’m studying. Even when I’m reading. It helps me focus and zone out any other noise. Weird, I know. But it works for me.

At one point while I was reading, I realized a Taylor Swift song had come up on my playlist. “What in the world,” I thought to myself, quickly switching to the next song.

“That’s just what I need,” thinking to myself, “for my music to somehow switch from my earphones to my external speakers and start blaring Taylor Swift from my pink laptop in the middle of the library…”

It was about halfway through the afternoon when I noticed a woman in her 40’s working across from me. With the same pink laptop. She was looking over at the computer I was working from.

“Perfect…” I thought silently.

I received an e-mail from the Computer Services just a few minutes after that awkwardness. Telling me my computer was fixed (under warranty, no less). I didn’t waste anytime photocopying the rest of the reading I had to do and getting out of there.

I arrived at home earlier than Jen had been expecting me.

“You’re home early,” she said with a look of surprise on her face.

“Yeah, well, I was a little uncomfortable working on a pink computer in the library. But sitting across from a woman with the same pink computer was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.”

She rocked back her head and let out a loud laugh.

Saturday: Pembertons take a Trip to Bath

Vanessa got a hold of Jen earlier in the week. To let her know she was going to Bath with some friends and their spouses this weekend. And that they’d love to have us join them, if we wanted. Jen had a look at some photos of Bath online and she was sold.

Rob and Vanessa are the couple from Seattle who had us over for dinner a couple weeks back. Rob’s doing his MBA here at Oxford. Vanessa was a nurse at Children’s hospital before coming over. They’re a lot of fun, and we were excited to take this trip with them. And excited to see Bath.

We woke up early Saturday morning, booked a couple bus passes and we were on our way. Vanessa scooted onto the full bus with a couple girlfriends shortly after we had boarded and found some seats several rows ahead of us. Rob had a rowing race that day, so he would not be joining us. I was one of two “spouses” on the trip, but it was a blast anyway. I was very happy to go and see the city. It was much better than the library.

Bath is a great city. It’s about a two-hour’s drive west of Oxford. Southwest, I believe. And it’s built in a valley, which means it has beautiful, 360-degree views of hills. And there’s a river that runs right through town. It’s pretty picturesque.

The City is quite old. The Romans were stationed here at one point in their conquest. And they ended up building these incredible Bathhouses up around the natural hotsprings that are found here in Bath. Thus the name.

We got off the bus and found our way around town, armed with several iPhones. There were nine of us. None of us had been to Bath before.

Jen noticed this storefront sign and made me stop so she could snap this photo, in light of my pink laptop experience.

I was less than happy about it.

One of the first places we stopped at was Bath Abbey. A very old church built in the city center. Near the Roman bathhouse. It was an incredible church. With a huge wall devoted almost solely to stained glass windows.

We were handed an information pamphlet as we entered the church. We didn’t know anything about it, but apparently it’s a pretty popular tourist spot.

I couldn’t believe how high the ceilings climbed when we walked in. I quickly found my jaw dragging on the ground behind us.

The information packet pointed out different points of interest in the church. And it spoke a lot about Jesus. It put a smile on my face.

I found myself walking through this incredible building, built more than 500 years ago, with my nose in this information pamphlet. Reading about Jesus. I had to pull myself away from the yellow, photo-copied tri-fold to take it all in.

The stained glass windows on the far side of the church portray something like 70 different scenes of Jesus’ life. It was terribly impressive.

Jen snapped this photo in a mirror in the middle of the church to show the ornate ceiling architecture.

I found myself wondering what it’d be like to worship here week in and week out. And how long it’d take to get so used to it that you didn’t even think twice about what an incredible building it was.

Our next stop was the heart of the city. The Roman Baths.

The entrance to the Bath houses was very modern. The decor was pretty impressive, with lots of white, ornate crown moulding and dangling chandeliers.

We paid our admission fees (of course), and began our tour. We were handed small radios we were to hang around our necks. The digital display would be used to punch in numbers according to each location along our tour, which would correspond with the appropriate informative tour guide segment. British accent and all.

The Baths were great. It felt like we were traveling back in time.

You enter the bathing area and quickly feel the warm air wafting off the hot springs, contrasting with the cool outside air. I can only imagine how great a place this would have been in its time. Crowded with people fighting to get a good spot.

The Romans built this bathhouse around 70 AD, the audio tour guide told us. Around the same time Luke penned his Gospel account. Crazy.

I thought about the history of the bathhouse as we walked along the stones lining the pool. About the fact that the Romans had enjoyed lounging in this place around 2000 years ago, and now we were here. It was pretty wild.

I asked one of the staff members who was standing nearby how many people they had to pull out of the pool on a given month.

“More than you’d think,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s mostly on accident. People taking a photo and stepping backward into the waters. And kids getting too close mostly.”

I had to fight back a serious urge to cannonball into the pool most of the time we were there, which subsided after hearing about the tests they had to run on anyone who went into the waters. To make sure they didn’t pick up any bacterial infection.

Vanessa was kind enough to snap photos of Jen and I throughout the day. So we didn’t have to bug other people. It was a nice change of pace.

We snapped this photo of Vanessa (on the left) and her friend Camille from back home.

They loved the Baths, as well. Camille said she just wanted to sit by the waters for a while.

It really was great. The Romans had it figured out.

We found these bathing instructions posted on the way out. Even though we couldn’t actually use the baths. Seemed a bit like false advertising to me.

It was after 2:00 by the time we finished touring the Baths houses. We were all pretty hungry. We looked for a place to eat for some time before settling on an Indian place.

“You guys like Indian food?” they asked us, making sure we were okay with the choice before going in.

“Never had it,” Jen replied.

“You really are from Bellingham,” Camille laughed.

It was the first time Jen and I had Indian food together. (I had had it once before and wasn’t a fan). But the food was great. So many flavors… And colors.

Somehow we got on the topic of cheese during the meal. One of the gals was talking about how much she loved it.

“Except for Goat Cheese,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

“Me neither,” I said. “The smell does me in every time, and the taste isn’t any better.”

“Not me,” Vanessa chimed in. “I love Goat’s Cheese. I could make out with it.”

Everyone laughed. We were the only ones in the Indian Place. It was huge, too, which made it seem even emptier than it was. It had large, vaulted ceilings, and large windows that overlooked the alleys below.

Indian music played over speakers hidden somewhere in the restaurant. Music that seemed to put me in a trance. I felt like I was in a dream state. It made the great food sit even better than it would’ve otherwise, I thought to myself. Rocking me like a lullaby.

Bath was strung up with lights in preparation for Christmas. It was beautiful.

Vanessa snagged Jen’s camera as we walked through the city center streets. Doing her best paparazzi impression. Peeking out from behind street vendor displays to steal photos of Jen and I.

I’m not sure who’s idea this one was…

We walked around the city center for a couple hours before making our way to the bus station to board. Bath is a beautiful city, to be sure, and we’d love to go back.

We were more than satisfied with our Saturday as we took our seats aboard the warm bus. The lights inside the bus dimmed as we pulled away from the city center. Careening through the country roads, we quickly found ourselves slipping away into a comforting, late afternoon nap. The high-back bus seats holding us in a hug, the roads rocking us slowly to sleep.

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

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

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

Americans in the Library

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

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

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

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

“Seattle. Or just north of Seattle.”

“Do you go here?” another asked me.

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

“Good for you!”

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

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

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

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

Pizza Hut & Die Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: Dinner with Rob & Vanessa from Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Lighting Guy Fawkes on Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They really were beautiful. The fireworks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Tea at Walter Hooper’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was blown away at each point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

Thankfully, it was a nice day for a walk.

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

Lyndon: Like the President, but not

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

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

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

“Lyndon? Like the President?”

“Ah… Yeah, I guess I have.”

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

“What’s your last name?”

“Drake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My afternoon at the Rad Cam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at the Turk

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

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

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

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

He smiled. And laughed.

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

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

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

The Theology of Finance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trip to the Market

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

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

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

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

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

2 Days

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

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

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

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