Archives for posts with tag: Mom

Tuesday: Adjusting to my wet shorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing well

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

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

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

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

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

A proud uncle

Jennifer sent me this picture earlier this week…

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: When my Greek came alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grizzly Adams did have a beard

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Breakfast with the guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guys laughed.

My shadow beard

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

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

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

I laughed.

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

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

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


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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.

I woke up early Monday morning. Before Jen. Shaved. Showered. And finished packing. I was heading back to Oxford in a few hours. On my own.

Jen’s sister Leann & her husband are expecting their first-born. Any day, at this point. And Jen was going to stick around for an extra few weeks. To lend an extra hand to Leann. And to enjoy her new role as aunt. Baby Khloe’s aunt.

Monday: Tough saying goodbye

I loaded my bags into the car while Jen finished getting ready. I came back through the front door after my second trip to the car just as Jen made her way downstairs. Tim & Rhonda were in the kitchen. Rhonda getting a bowl of cereal before work. Tim struggling to wake up. Earlier than he normally would, to say “goodbye.”

“My shower wakes me up,” he told us with a smile as we gathered in the living room. To say “goodbye.”

Rhonda told me how nice it was to have us home for the holidays. How it made for a really special time. I told her I agreed. And that I was happy we were able to be there.

I hugged them both. Told them I loved them. And we left. It was weird saying “goodbye,” knowing the next time I’d be there it’d be summertime.

“But we’ll see you again in a couple months,” Tim reminded me. “That makes it easier.” Rhonda nodded.

Jen’s parents had just booked tickets to come out and visit us. Along with some of their friends, Monty & Heidi and their two kids. Over spring break. It’d be their first trip to Europe.

“Yeah, that does make it a bit easier. Really looking forward to that time!” I told them as we left.

Jennifer and I stopped into Ben and Leann’s house on the way. To tell them “goodbye” as well. Leann greeted us at the door. We talked for a few minutes. Small talk. Then I told them I was really sorry I wouldn’t be there for Khloe’s birth. They shrugged it off, saying they understood. And thanking me for letting Jen stick around to be there for it. As if I had a choice. I’d rather steal a bear’s dinner than tell Jen she couldn’t be there for the birth of her first niece.

They told me they’d bring the laptop into the birthing room when Khloe arrived. So that I could be there, too.

“But just from the neck up,” Ben clarified. I thanked them both. Hugged them both. Told them both I loved them. And then we left. Making our way to Bellingham, to meet up with some of my family for a “goodbye” breakfast.

It was tough saying goodbye to those two. Ben & Leann. We’ve grown really close over the past year. The four of us. After losing Hayley, in particular. They really are some of our best friends, and it hurt like crazy knowing I wouldn’t be around for Khloe’s big day.

We pulled up to Lee’s about 10 minutes after we were supposed to be there. A restaurant near my Grandpa’s house where we used to eat breakfast when I was a kid growing up. He’d take me there early, before school, and we’d sit near the window as I ate my french toast, and he’d sip his coffee. Black, just like he had at home.

We were late from saying “goodbye” to everyone, so everyone else was at the counter ordering when we walked in. My brother Zach and his girlfriend Vanessa. My sister Lucy. My Mom. My Grandpa. And my best friend Steve, who was joining us, too.

It was great sharing a meal together before I left. I loved seeing Zach order his two plate’s worth of breakfast, and seeing the look on Lucy’s face when she realized she should’ve done the same thing. I loved seeing Mom glow at the image of her three children getting together for breakfast again. I loved watching my Grandpa sip his black coffee, just like all those mornings before. And I loved sitting between my best friend and my wife for the last meal I’d enjoy in Bellingham for the next six months.

Lucy had to head to class before the rest of us left. Zach & Vanessa were taking her, so I walked them to the door and said “goodbye.” I told them I loved them, and I hugged Lucy for a few extra seconds. “I love you, Goose,” I told her. “And I’m so proud of you.”

The five of us talked for a bit longer before leaving. Over coffee and orange juice. Before I said “goodbye” to my Mom. And my Grandpa. My Grandpa’s not much of a hugger, but I hugged him big as we left. My Mom is. And I hugged her big too. Told them both I loved them, and we were on the road. Waving “goodbye” out the driver’s-side window as we pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. A couple quick errands and we were heading to the airport.

Steve and Jen walked me to the airport security line. And we said our “goodbye’s” there, after an hour and a half drive south. I’d be seeing Steve in just over a week, as he would be coming out to Oxford shortly after me. To visit. He was originally planning on coming out with Jen, but he had a speaking engagement come up. So he moved his plans and broke up the three weeks I would otherwise be spending by myself. That was good news in my book. I told him I was looking forward to hanging out with him in Oxford in just over a week, and we said “goodbye” to each other.

I held Jen for a long time before going through security. I eased up on my hug, letting her back a bit so I could look at her. And smile. She told me not to cry. So I fought it. She’s so much tougher than me, and I’m used to it at this point.

I really didn’t want to, but we said our “goodbye’s” and I made my way to the security line, looking back just in time to see Jen smile and wave as she and Steve left. Smiling with that same smile that stole my heart all those years ago from the stage in our high school auditorium. I wasn’t looking forward to being without that smile for the next few weeks, but I was happy to know she’d soon be holding her new baby niece in her arms.

We made a stop in Chicago, and I changed planes on my way to England. Walking the airport hallways, my eyes kept catching young families. A dad walking hand-in-hand with his young son. A young family of four seated, with their backs against the windows, waiting on their plane. And I realized I didn’t want this. Traveling on my own. I’m a married man, and it just didn’t feel right traveling on my own. I didn’t feel complete.

When we got married, our pastor (Craig, a good friend of the family) really emphasized that, when we became married, we went from being two individuals to one, united flesh. He really made a point to tell us that this is what this act meant. And I often use that line, from time to time, with Jen. Mostly when I want to steal something from her plate. “Hey, one flesh, remember?” I’ll say to her.

But that’s how it felt, walking through the airport that night in Chicago, waiting for my plane to board. Like half of a single piece of flesh. And I didn’t like it. I found myself looking forward to the day when we’d be traveling together. With our kids with us. All antsy and excited for the plane ride. And it put a smile on my face, seated there in the airport, waiting to board my flight to England.

Back in Oxford

I landed in London around noon local time on Tuesday, after flying out from Seattle at 3:00 on Monday afternoon. After sleeping most of the way (in complete disregard of the Greek studies I knew I should be working on), I found myself with more energy than I thought I’d have. Which was good, since I still had some traveling to do before I could rest.

I made my way through customs. The man taking my passport asked what I was doing in England. I told him I was going back to school. He asked what I was doing before. I told him I was in Public Relations. He asked what I was studying, as he flipped through my passport. I told him “Theology.” He asked why the change, still looking down. I told him I realized that was what I was passionate about. He stopped, looked up at me with a nod, and then returned to the passport. Stamped it and handed it over.

It was a good reminder for me, as I entered the country. I was here to pursue what I was most passionate about.

I grabbed my bags from the conveyor belt baggage claim and made the long walk through the airport to the bus station. After a short wait, I was on the bus heading to Oxford.

I thought it was funny that the sign leading to Oxford had the city “B’ham” on it, after leaving “Bellingham” a day earlier.

We pulled into Oxford an hour later. And I grabbed a cab for the last leg of my journey back. The driver helped me with my bags as I hopped into the back of the tall, black English cab. He asked where I was coming from. I told him Seattle. He asked if we had snow. I told him not much.

He told me Oxford had been hit pretty hard over the holidays. “About 10 inches,” he told me. “We had to stick to the main roads, and drop people off at the start of the side streets.”

“What’s the weather look like for this week?” I asked him.

“Rain. All week. Just rain.”

“Perfect,” I said from the back seat. “Just like home.”

I paid the driver as we pulled up to 27 Northmoor Road, the house looking just as we left it a month earlier. And he helped me with my bags.

Jane greeted me at the front door. With a hug. And a smile. And a “Happy New Year!”

She pointed to the tower of packages that had piled up while we were gone.

“Christmas packages I presume,” she said. I nodded.

“Yep,” I think so.

I unpacked my bags straight away, knowing I wouldn’t want to deal with it after waking up. It’d also help me put sleep off longer, and get back on the routine here.

I opened up our Christmas cards and packages from Grandpa after unpacking my bags and getting settled in. Don’t worry, I had Jen’s permission.

Even though we had been home with most of these people over the holidays, it was great seeing their smiling faces on the Christmas Cards again. And reading their Christmas wishes.

“We know it will be tough not being home, but we hope it’s a special one,” so many read. And it was a nice reminder of the surprise we were able to give everyone before the holidays. It put a smile on my face.

I opened the package from my Grandpa next. A mix of bike equipment, food and Christmas decor. And a clock. Oh, and two “Sumas, Washington” coffee mugs. (Special thanks to my cousin Matt for those. Only ones in Oxford, I’m sure!)

My Grandpa had just returned from the post office when Jennifer and I surprised him a month earlier. From sending us this package. “Good timing,” I had told him. He looked at me with a smile, still in disbelief that we were there, standing in his living room.

The package also contained a large zip-lock plastic bag. With cards in it. I opened the first one to see that they were Christmas Cards. From my extended family back home. Each one signed to Jennifer and I. Each one with a note inside, telling us how much we were missed. And how the holidays just weren’t the same without us.

“They must’ve been filled out over Thanksgiving,” I thought to myself while opening another. This wasn’t quite what my family was intending when they filled them out, I’m sure, but it was so nice to return to. Thank you all. It means so much.

Pre-Exam Hibernation Mode

Oxford’s breaks between terms are six-weeks long. Which sounds great on paper. But then you realize the amount of work they want you to do in-between terms and realize the word “break” in Oxford means something quite different than it does back home, like so many other words.

Having returned home to the States for the holidays, I took the opportunity to get some work in. The kind of work you get a paycheck for. To help with school. Which left little time for studies. Well, that and trying to catch up with everyone. And preparing a sermon for our home church after being asked.

And so I returned to Oxford feeling totally and completely overwhelmed with the amount of preparation I knew needed to be had before my exams (“collections,” as they call them here) Friday morning. So I put my head down and studied. At home. And at the library. Not even taking time to venture out to the grocery store for several days, but living off anything I could find in our cupboards.

I’m not a fan of soup for dinner. Never been. In fact, I don’t actually consider that a meal. But it was my dinner for three nights in a row while studying. That and oatmeal.

The Day of Collections

I had received a note the day before telling me gowns were required for collections. Not full Sub-Fusc (meaning cap and gown), but gowns were. So I woke up early Friday morning, after staying up until 2:00 a.m. the night before studying, put on my suit, gown and hopped on my bike, en route to collections.

It’s a funny thing, riding a bike in a suit and Oxford gown. I caught several people staring as I rode. Not knowing whether that was because they knew the doom awaiting me on my collections, or if it was just because I looked ridiculous riding a bike while wearing a full suit and gown.

Riding through Oxford again was a weird feeling. Like returning to a familiar dream you’ve had before. Familiar because it’s not the first time you’ve had it, but still foreign because it’s a dream. That’s a bit how it felt, riding through Oxford again, staring up at the large stone buildings that stretched on and on and on into the sky overhead.

I made my way to the library at Harris Manchester and passed through the “Quiet Please, Collections In Progress” paper sign on the door. I was a good 20-minutes early, so I found a seat and took the extra time for some last-minute studies.

About 10 minutes before the exams were scheduled to begin, I realized no one else was in the library. There wasn’t a student in sight. I started to wonder if I had somehow missed out on some critical information, informing me that the collections weren’t being held in the library after all.

I made my way down the stone stairway and found Amanda in the main office. She greeted me and I asked where the exams were being held, as I didn’t see anyone in the library. Immediately she gave me this look like her heart had just sank into her stomach as she thought to herself, “Oh no, I feel horrible for you.”

The first words out of her mouth were, “Don’t panic,” which is never a good sign. She looked up at the clock and, with big eyes, said to me, “You need to be at the Exam Schools, just get there.” Without waiting, I rushed out of the college and hopped on my bike, again, knowing the Exam Schools were several minutes away, and I didn’t have several minutes to spare.

My laptop bag had been thrown hastily over my shoulder, rather than across my body, so it swung as I rode. I approached the final intersection before the Exam schools, squeezing tightly between a line of cars, when my bag struck one of the car’s rear-view mirrors.

“Oh no,” I thought to myself, listening intently for the sound of it to fall and hit the concrete below. Nothing. “It must be okay, then,” I thought to myself.

I was met by a red light, and so I waited to cross the street. The cars turned left (as we would take a free right back home), and I quickly realized the car my bag had struck would soon be passing me. My heart sank.

“Hey!” the man shouted as he pulled up, stopped, rolled down his window and looked at me. “Hey! You hit my car!”

I looked over at his rear-view mirror sheepishly, to see if there was any damage. There wasn’t. From what I could see.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I said, still focusing on making it to the Exam Schools in time for my collections.

“You’re sorry?! You’re SORRY?!” he continued to shout, only several feet from me. I didn’t know what to do, so I just looked ahead, waiting for the light to change.

He ended up speeding off, and I was relieved. I was really hoping to avoid a fight before my exams that morning.

I found my way to the room where my collections were being held and walked through the closed door, just as everyone was turning over their exams to begin. And as I did, everyone looked toward the door to see me walk in late. I quickly realized everyone was wearing their gown, like me, but dressed completely casually otherwise, unlike me.

“Perfect,” I thought to myself. “I’m late for my first collections AND I look like a complete idiot.”

It was like one of those bad dreams that you have, where you’re in front of the class and everyone’s staring at you because you’re either naked or forgot how to spell “the.” Except it wasn’t a dream, and I had an exam to take.

I apologized to the Senior Academic Tutor overseeing the collections and found my seat. Quickly trying to shrug off the rough start and focus on the questions on the paper.

Kicked in the teeth by Greek

The good news is that my first exam of the day wasn’t in Greek. It was my Gospels & Jesus exam. I felt pretty good about the material, and I was fairly confident I had done a decent job after finishing my last essay.

The bad news is that wasn’t my only exam for the day. That afternoon, I took a Greek exam. And by that I mean, I got my teeth kicked in by Greek. I really felt horrible. I had studied the material, not nearly as much as I should have, but I felt like I was seeing the language for the first time. I don’t know if it was the stress of the day, my jetlag fog still setting in, or what, but I was fairly confident someone answering my questions in Spanish would have done at least as well as I did.

I’m not a fan of Greek. Not at all. If Greek and I were to go toe-to-toe in a UFC cage match, I wouldn’t think twice to swinging an illegal, below-the-belt kick to Greek.

Steve told me later that day I probably did better than I thought. I told him if I did better than 50% then I’d be doing better than I thought.

I had spoken with my academic advisor the day before. Telling him I knew my busy holidays were likely to catch up with me on collections. He told me not to worry about it. That collections didn’t actually count for anything, and they weren’t likely to send me home if I did poorly.

“Worst case scenario, we ask you to take them again in a couple weeks,” Dave told me with a smile as we sat across from each other on the leather couches of his office. In the castle-like building of Mansfield College.

I wasn’t excited about the idea of taking another Greek collection again in two weeks, but I figured that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Riding home after spending most of the day in exams, I was feeling pretty down. Knowing I would have liked to do better. And picturing the look of disappointment Rhona would surely have when she graded my collection. Not quite the way I was hoping to start the term.

It was a sunny afternoon when I left the Exam Schools, so I promised myself a run and some fresh air when I got home. To reward myself for several days worth of hunkering down and studying. And for getting my teeth kicked in.

The sun was beginning to set by the time I got home and changed for a run. Cole texted me and asked if I’d be interested in going to watch a movie (127 Hours) that night. To celebrate having collections behind us. I told him that sounded perfect.

Steve Skyped in with me before taking off for a run. I told him about my day. And that I wasn’t having  such a great time here. He told me he was sorry. And that it would be the kind of day I’d laugh about at some point. He told me to go for a run. And to go watch a movie. I told him that sounded like a good idea.

I ran north. To Summertown. With music playing in my ears. It was dark and people were walking on the sidewalks as busses and cars drove by.

I loved feeling the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the stone sidewalk, and the cool night air on my face. It was incredibly refreshing after the day I had had.

It smelled like garlic bread as I entered Summertown. And I remembered how it smelled like drop-biscuits the first time I ran through the neighborhood, earlier in the fall. And how that smell had reminded me of my Grandpa’s house, growing up. And instantly I was taken back to my Grandpa’s, over the holidays. Into his packed kitchen as everyone filled their plates.

I could see their faces, telling me how nice it was to see me again. To have us home. And suddenly I didn’t feel so far away from home.

Cutting off your arm for a vision

If I was honest with you, I’d tell you it’s been tough since coming back to Oxford. After spending the holidays with friends and family and all that’s comfortable to us. Being able to earn an income again. And then returning to a place that still feels a bit foreign.

If I were being honest with you, I’d tell you there have been several days where I’ve just wanted to head back home, to be with everyone we know again. If I were being honest with you, that’s what I’d say.

Before leaving, I was asked to preach at our church. And so I did. On lessons I’ve learned since going through this process. Saying “goodbye” to a great job and friends and family to go after this dream. And one of the lessons I’ve learned, the lesson I closed with is that the Christian life isn’t a life of comfort. And that’s something I’ve had to remind myself since coming back to Oxford. I’m not here because this is the most comfortable life possible for us. It’s quite the opposite, in a lot of ways. Sure, it’s my dream, but it’s still really tough. But that’s just it. Following after Him, and what He intends to do with your life is rarely the most comfortable plan for your life. It’s something I’ve been learning through all of this. And I’m still learning.

I met Cole at the Theatre Friday night. To see 127 Hours. The real-life story about a man who got stuck while rock climbing, and who ended up cutting off his own arm to escape after several days. After 127 hours, apparently.

We ran into resident Lewis expert Dr. Michael Ward and President of the Oxford Lewis Society David at the theatre. It was good to see those two again. They sat across the aisle from us in the theatre, as we bought our tickets separately.

When you buy your tickets in the UK, you have two choices: standard seating and premium seating. Standard seating is basically the lower-level seating, where you’re looking up at the screen. These seats are also first-come, first-served, as it is in the states for everyone. But premium seating, premium seating seats are elevated, so you’re looking straight ahead at the screen. And they’re reserved, so you know exactly where you’re sitting ahead of time. Anything to make an extra buck, I suppose… Or pound.

The movie was pretty great. Gruesome, obviously, but pretty great. I’m not one for blood. Not in the least. I’ve always said I’d love to be a Doctor if it weren’t for the blood. But this movie was still definitely worth seeing, even for those of us who feel like taking a bit of a nap at the first sight of blood.

Not to spoil it for anyone, but the movie’s climax really stuck with me. Obviously it is incredible to think of someone cutting off their own arm to set themselves free, but what got him through this experience is what really stuck with me.

Apparently, what got this man through, what led him to decide to cut off his own arm so that he could get free was a vision he had.

While pinned there in that canyon, with no rescue in sight five days after falling into this horrible situation, this guy had a vision. He saw his son. A son he didn’t have at that point. He saw his son playing. And he saw himself playing with his son. Carrying him on his shoulders. And suddenly he was so overwhelmed with this vision that he would stop at nothing to get himself out of there, not even at cutting off his own arm with a cheap, dull knife. Because he believed in that vision. And because he wanted the reality of that vision with every ounce of his being. More so even then his own right arm.

And that’s stuck with me even now. That’s why we’re here. Because, long ago, I had this dream of one day studying at Oxford. Like so many others before me. Men who have changed my life with their writing. Men like Lewis. That I might write in a way that changes lives, too. That I might write in a way that helps others see Him more clearly.

It’s not comfortable. Not all the time. But it is a pretty incredible experience. And it certainly beats cutting off my own arm. And I hope, someday, to be able to look back on all of this and say, “There, right there, that is when He carried out that vision He set on my heart all those years ago.” That’s what I hope for all of this.

Thanks for reading.

 

Saturday: Museum & Mere Christianity

Cole had told me on Friday over tea that he was planning on visiting the Ashmoleon the next day. A museum here in Oxford just down the street from the Eagle & Child. I told him I had been wanting to go since arriving, but that I hadn’t found anytime. I told him I’d love to join him now that the term was wrapped up. So I did.

Jen woke up with a headache Saturday morning. She powered her way through a workout with some of her girlfriends here in Oxford, but she didn’t have much in her after that. She told me to go on ahead and visit the Ashmoleon with Cole without her. And to pick her up some coffee on the way home. So I did.

The Ashmoleon is a beautiful building. With large stone columns and a circulating glass door welcoming visitors. Inside, the building is quite modern, with minimalistic features that seem to stand back and let the museum sights take center stage.

Cole arrived at the museum shortly after I did that rainy afternoon. He had been held up at the post office, mailing some subscriptions of The Chronicle (the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s quarterly publication).

“Sorry, I hate being late,” he apologized as we entered the museum’s Ancient Egypt display.

He then told me he had a gift for me. And to close my eyes. So I did.

It’s an awkward feeling closing your eyes in a public place. You immediately feel vulnerable. I half-opened my eyes after a few seconds, only to see Cole struggling with something in his pocket.

“Keep ’em closed!” he said sharply.

I closed my eyes firmly and lifted my hands to receive the gift. A second later I felt the hard cover of a book fall into my open palms, opening my eyes to gaze over the worn blue cover.

“Oh wow,” I said aloud, turning the book over to read the spine.

Mere Christianity, it read, in faded gold letters.

“No way…,” I said, two or three times.

“It’s a first edition,” Cole informed me with a grin that spread from one side of his face to the other.

“No way,” I said again, but this time louder.

“Oh man, no way!” I said once more, turning the book over in my hands and opening the cover to check. Sure enough, it was. A first edition copy of Mere Christianity. The book that led me to come here to Oxford.

“I’ve never even seen a first-edition copy of this book!” I told him. “Cole, thank you so much. Really, this is incredibly generous.”

Cole told me he had found it at the used bookstore here in Oxford. The one across from Christ Church. Near where he lives. St. Philip’s. And that he wanted to give it to me as a gift. To congratulate me on finishing my first term at Oxford. And as a Christmas gift.

I was stunned.

Somehow I’ve become the kind of guy who receives first edition copies of CS Lewis’ books as gifts, and I’m not quite sure how that works. But it’s amazing. It probably has more to do with the incredible people who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet than with anything about me. But I’m so grateful for it. The books and the amazing friendships.

Sunday: Worrying about tongues

Jennifer and I slept in Sunday morning. On purpose. St. Andrew’s, the church just down the street from where we live, was having their monthly “all ages” service, which we had been told was actually geared more toward the quite young than “all ages.” We had been told it would be a good chance to try out any other churches in Oxford we might be interested in, if we were wanting to do so.

I’m in no way a fan of “church-shopping,” but we thought we’d skip the children’s service this time around and try something else.

We had a dinner that night. At Harris Manchester. And so we found ourselves near the city center right around the time two of our good friends Rob & Vanessa normally go to church. St. Aldate’s.

We gave them a call while walking toward the church, only to find that they were actually going to a different service this weekend, unfortunately. But since we were there, and since we had been wanting to go check it out, we did.

I had heard a lot of great stuff about this church. That the teaching was the best in Oxford. And that it was a really lively, contemporary service. I was excited to experience it.

I had also heard it was a church were speaking in tongues sometimes happens. Which is something I’m not familiar with. I’ve never attended a church where that is practiced. And so, while I was excited, I was also a little anxious about what exactly that might be like. And whether it was going to happen while we were there.

But, as anyone knows who has ever visited a church, you never visit a church for a “normal” service. For some reason, whenever you visit a new church, they end up having a guest speaker, a missionary from Uganda, or some sort of special event going on. That’s just how it works.

On the Sunday evening we attended, they were saying “goodbye” to one of their pastors who was leaving to help out with a missionary organization. Sure enough, the no-normal-service for-visitors rule was in full effect.

St. Aldates is a beautiful church. With large stone columns that shoot up into the looming ceiling all throughout the room. Stone walls and floor. And large stained glass windows on the walls. It’s a mix of ancient and modern, with flatscreen monitors hanging from the stone columns, and large glass doors welcoming people as they enter.

It wasn’t very full when we arrived, but it quickly filled up as the worship band took the stage. We found a couple seats several rows back from the front, just to the right of the stage.

And it was a great service. With one of the most amazing times of worship that I’ve experienced in a long, long time. But I found myself halfway wondering, “Okay, are they going to start speaking in tongues now?” And I was anxious. Wondering to myself what I was supposed to do when it happens.

This went on for quite a while. About halfway through the worship service. I found myself thinking, “Wait, are they speaking in tongues now? No, they can’t be. I can understand that still.”

And it was distracting. But then, out of nowhere, I felt like He was telling me I wasn’t actually doing what I was supposed to be doing. That I really shouldn’t be wondering whether this was going to happen or not. That my focus should be on Him, and not on my neighbor. Or on the guy on the stage.

And He was right. I was there for Him. And once I felt His gentle reminder, the Worship time was amazing.

I told Jen later I ended up crying during the Worship service. Don’t be surprised. I’m a cryer. But it was just an amazing time. One of those times where you feel as though it’s just you and Him. Like you’ve been invited to this private time with The Lord. And you find Him resting His arm on your shoulder and speaking in a warm, strong voice that feels a bit like a combination of your childhood blanket and the smell of your Grandma’s kitchen when she bakes, saying, “This, this is what you were created for.”

A Pipeless Ryan

As we crawled into bed that night, I told Jen I wanted to get a pipe. After walking by several people through town in Oxford who were smoking a pipe. And each time being reminded of my Grandpa. By the smell. Each time feeling like I was a young boy sitting in his living room again, while he sat back in his chair and puffed on his pipe, holding it with one hand.

But Jen said, “No.” She said it’s not good for me. And that I should know that.

I told her she was confusing pipes with cigarettes. She didn’t seem to agree. I don’t think I’ll be getting a pipe after all.

Tuesday:  Dinner with Walter

Walter had us over for dinner on Tuesday night. We were both looking forward to that, as Walter’s home is such a cozy place. It’s one of those places that makes you feel like you’re at home, even though you’re not.

And Walter’s the quintessential host. Making sure you always have food in hand and that your glass doesn’t drop below half full, even while keeping the conversation going.

We sat in his living room with the fire ablaze and Blessed Lucy of Narnia (his cat) asleep on the back of the couch. Jen in the chair across from me, and Walter seated on the couch facing the fireplace. It was so nice, particularly after a full day of studying.

We ate “soft cheese” on crackers. Walter told us if he were stuck on a deserted island and could only eat one thing for the rest of his life, that it’d be cheese and crackers. He asked Jen what she’d choose if she were in the same situation, and she said pizza. I saw that one coming a mile away. I said I’d take chicken.

We talked a bit about the different ways to prepare chicken (Walter loves to talk about cooking) before he excused himself to the kitchen to tend to dinner preparations. He told us to make ourselves comfortable. And to look around, if we liked. So I did.

I looked through his bookshelves. A really good variety, with a fair amount of Tolkein scattered throughout.

I noticed a lack of C.S. Lewis books on Walter’s shelves, so I asked him about it. Calling into the kitchen.

Walter entered the living room a few moments later and told me to follow him. He led us down the hallway and into his bedroom. He asked us to excuse the mess as we crossed to the far corner of the room, where a large hutch stood. Probably seven-feet tall. With glass doors.

He opened the doors to reveal shelf after shelf of Lewis’ works. Sorted by book. Three-feet of Mere Christianity. Two-feet of Screwtape Letters. Another several feet of Surprised by Joy copies. And on and on. All very old.

I was stunned. It was amazing.

Walter reached to the far left corner of the top shelf and pulled out a very old, very thin book and handed it to me. Spirits in Bondage read the title. By Clive Hamilton. I had never heard of it.

Walter explained that this was the first book Lewis ever had published. That he wrote it under the pen name of “Clive Hamilton” after returning from the war. When we has just 20 years old.

“He wasn’t yet a Christian at this time,” Walter explained.

Walter opened the book cover to reveal the signature “Clive Hamilton” scrawled across the first page. Lewis had signed it for Walter shortly after they met, he told me with a beaming smile on his face.

I was still staring down at the book with big eyes when Walter excused himself again to return to the kitchen and finish preparing dinner. He told us to help ourselves and to have a look at the rest of his collection, which I was happy to do. I had never seen so many first edition copies of Lewis, or anyone else for that matter, in my life. It was amazing.

I handed Spirits in Bondage over to Jen and told her to hold it just so she could say she had. She wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was, but she was a good sport anyways.

We had a great time catching up with Walter over dinner. And dessert by the fire after that. Jen had made pumpkin bars with icing. Walter loved them. He asked where we got the pumpkin for it and we told him that my grandfather had sent us several cans. That we still had some if he’d like one. I told him I’d bring one by the next time we were over, and he nodded with a large smile and thanked me.

I love our time at Walter’s place.

Wednesday: A no good, very bad day

Wednesday wasn’t a good day. It started off not so good and it ended even worse.

I hopped on my bike and headed to the Theology Faculty Library that morning. To pick up a book before spending the day at the Harris Manchester Library to get some studying in. On my way out of the Faculty Library, I threw my bag over my shoulder only to find it drop hard on the pavement.

I was a bit stunned. I had no idea what had happened, and I stood there gawking at my bag as it sat on the pavement. The ring fastening my shoulder strap to my bag had snapped, apparently, from the weight of my books.

“Ridiculous,” I thought to myself as I searched for the other half of the snapped ring. People walked by, probably wondering what I was doing with my head down on the wet pavement. I picked up the other half of the ring, after searching for several minutes, stuffed it into my pocket, just in case, and I boarded my bike, struggling to ride. One hand on the handlebars, the other on my bag, wedged between my knees as I rode through the city center.

“Great way to start the day,” I thought to myself.

The air was cold as I stepped out of Harris Manchester that night. I had been studying all day, and now I was heading back home. To meet Jen for dinner. I made my way to my bike only to find the lock had frozen. I struggled with it for several minutes before finally giving up.

I went back into Harris Manchester to get a cup of hot water. I poured it over the lock and steam rose into the cold night air as the warm water rushed off the lock and onto the pavement. I tried my lock again and it opened easily.

“Thank goodness,” I thought to myself.

It was at this point that my bag, which I had been resting on my bike fell onto the pavement. Again. Spilling much of its contents.

I shook my head, hunched down close to the ground and began picking up my belongings and stuffing them back into my bag. Including each of the colorful paperclips that had scattered across the dark street.

Back on my bike, I was happy to be heading home. There, I hoped, things would be better.

I turned the corner after leaving Harris Manchester to see a police officer talking with a guy on a bike on the sidewalk. Two seconds later I was being asked to pull over myself. By another cop. I nearly didn’t stop, not quite realizing what he was saying.

He asked me where my headlights and taillights were. I told him I didn’t have any. He told me he’d be giving me a ticket for not having any lights.

“Of course you are,” I thought to myself. “Of course I’m going to get pulled over on my bike after the way this day has gone.”

I smiled while the police officer told me how important it was to have lights on my bike. I continued to smile while he told me it’d be a £30 fine ($50). And I was still smiling when he explained how to go about paying for it. It was that or get upset, and I knew that wasn’t going to help me out at all. So I just stood there and grinned like a baffoon.

“Of course,” I thought to myself.

I walked my bike back home that night. After the officer told me I probably wouldn’t be ticketed if I got pulled over again, but that they would be the ones who would have to clean up after me if I were hit. And they wouldn’t want that.

He had a way with words, that guy.

Sunday: A 16-Mile Walk in London

We took a trip to London after spending the week in Oxford. We hadn’t been there since the previous summer. And, since Jen’s camera was stolen just before we returned home on that trip, we were excited to snap some more photos around the city.

Some friends of Lyndon & Mim offered to put us up for the weekend, after hearing that we were going to be visiting the city. As London prices are through the roof, we were happy to accept their offer.

We had mapped out everything we wanted to see the night before. The couple we were staying with said that’d be a lot to see in one day. We told them we’d give it our best.

We started off at the Tower of London, a 15-minute walk from their home. It’s an old castle built in 1066. Right on the River Thames.

It used to have a moat. And catapults. It’s still pretty impressive. We didn’t get a chance to tour this time, but we’re hoping to on our next visit.

From there, we crossed over the river on the Tower Bridge. It was a beautiful day, too. Cold, but sunny with blue skies. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We were walking through a cobblestone alley when we came across the ruins of Winchester Palace. Built in the 12th-century, this wall and a handful of stones are all that remain.

The Eye of London is a giant ferris wheel built right on the River Thames.

It’s pretty incredible how large it is, and it gives incredible views of the city (from what we’re told). We didn’t have time to find out, though, as we had lots to see.

But after so much walking I decided to lie down for a bit and get some shut-eye before making the rest of the journey. Jen was kind enough to keep watch for a bit while I did…*

[*NOTE: Ryan&JenGoToEngland does not support the practice of drinking and passing out on the street in London. But it does support a good joke. A half-pint of ale sitting by itself on the sidewalk was simply too good to pass up.]

From there we came up to Big Ben and Parliament, which are simply an incredible sight. It’s hard to put into words the size of this place, and all of the architecture work that went into it. It’s breathtaking, really.

Jen caught this photo of the front of Parliament. I was happy to see they had set up a Christmas tree. Apparently no one has told them that’s not politically correct, yet.

From Parliament, we made our way to Westminster Abbey. Another place that just blows you away with its size.

I told Jen it’d be crazy to be the pastor at this church, week in and week out. Right across the street from Parliament.

We had a bit of a walk to our next stop: Buckingham Palace. It was beginning to get dark by the time we arrived. But it was a beautiful sight at night.

I saw an Asian guy who was jumping into the air just before getting his photo taken in front of Buckingham Palace. I thought I’d get in on the action. . .

There’s an enormous statue of Queen Victoria that sits just outside the Buckingham Palace gates. With lights shining on it in the night, it was quite the sight.

Christmas time is an amazing time to be in London. They really do a great job decorating. Like this hotel on the West side of the city.

When my Dad heard we were visiting London, he told us we had to go see Harrods. That it’s something else during Christmas time. We had been before. Last summer. But he was right. It was quite the sight, all draped in Christmas lights. And the store-front windows were each decorated with a Christmas theme.

Harrods is a pretty incredible place. If you’ve never heard of it, they’re famous for saying you can find anything you want there. And if they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you. Anything. Like an airplane.

I didn’t get an airplane, but we did pick up a couple Christmas gifts.

After dinner at a pub called Head of Nails (which was amazing, by the way; great food and great service), we made our way back across town. And we were glad we walked, as there was so much Jen wanted to stop and take photos of.

London at night, in December, is a beautiful place to be.

We walked along the river on our way back. Taking in the sights. And stopping every few minutes so Jen could snap photos.

It was cold, and we were both tired from the long day, but it was also a stunning view to take in.

We were both happy when we made it back to where we were staying. To rest our legs after a full day of walking.

The couple we were staying with, Andy and Anna, greeted us at the door when we walked in shortly after 9:00 that night. And asked how our day was. We told them we had a great time. And we walked through our day. Telling them about everything we had seen. And how we had decided to walk, rather than take the bus.

They couldn’t believe it when they heard all we had done. Andy thought we must’ve walked 25 miles. Turns out we only walked 16. . .

Monday: A Surprise Christmas

Going into this term, we were planning on spending Christmas in Oxford. Jen’s sister Leann and her husband Ben were expecting their first child in January, and she was planning on flying home after the New Year to be around for that. As much as we wanted to, we simply couldn’t afford to fly me home for Christmas, and so we were planning on spending the holidays here in Oxford.

Knowing we wouldn’t be flying home for Christmas, Steve was planning on flying out. To spend it with us.

That’s what we were planning on doing, but that all changed when Steve came out to visit.

When he was here with us, Steve shared with us an idea he had. He told us he had been thinking a lot about Christmas, and how it would be Jen’s parents’ first Christmas without Hayley. And now, with us overseas, it’d be their first Christmas without Jen, too.

He had a point. That was going to make an already difficult time that much more difficult.

He told us that instead of flying out to spend Christmas with us, he wanted to fly me back home for the holidays. He suggested we book Jen’s ticket for earlier in December, rather than January, as we had been planning, and that way we could be home for Christmas. And make things a bit brighter for the family. That we could even surprise them. So we did. . .

Monday morning we woke up at 5:30 in London, grabbed our bags and made the long trek across the city, on the underground, before fighting holiday traffic in London Heathrow and finally boarding our flight, en route to the States.

We were both ecstatic to be flying home for the holidays. Excited to see the look of shock on our family’s faces when we surprised them.

13 hours in the air and two flights later, Steve greeted us at the airport. It was so good to see him again. We grabbed a quick bite in Seattle and made the hour and a half drive home.

27 hours after waking up in London, we walked through the front door of Jen’s parents’ house and creeped up the stairs, where they were watching TV.

“Merry Christmas!” Jen shouted as we climbed to the top of the stairs.

They were surprised to see us, to be sure. . .

After several seconds of a state of shock, Jen’s Mom yelled, “You’re supposed to be in England!”

We traded long hugs as they smiled and told us how happy they were to see us. And how thankful they were to have us home for Christmas.

I pointed toward Steve and told them they had him to blame. Then I asked if they minded putting us up for the holidays.

“Of course not,” Rhonda said with a warm smile.

Tuesday: More surprises

After a bit of hibernation, we woke up late Tuesday morning, got ready and headed into town. To surprise my family.

We went to my Mom’s office and I told the receptionist I was there to see her. She told me she’d let her know and asked us to have a seat. So we did.

A few minutes later, my Mom opened the door to the waiting room and just stared at us for several seconds. We smiled back. She then covered her mouth and ran to us.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, giving each of us huge hugs. She cried, and I cried too. I get it from her, I think. The tears. She apologized to the other lady in the waiting room, and explained how we had just returned from England as a surprise.

She didn’t appear too impressed. After a “Oh, that’s nice,” she returned to her Lady’s Home Journal.

Mom asked if we minded waiting for a few minutes so she could wrap up with a patient and then take us out to lunch. We told her we’d be happy to.

From there, we drove to my Sister’s work. My Sister is currently studying nursing, and she’s working part-time at a local elderly home. I asked the receptionist where I might find her, and she told us she was working on the third floor. And that we were welcome to go see her. So we did.

A short elevator ride and then we were wandering the maze-like hallways. We spent about 10 minutes walking the halls before we saw anyone.

I rounded a corner and saw Lucy walking with another worker. Both walking toward us. Lucy stared straight at me. Continuing to walk and talk with her co-worker. With a dead-pan look on her face, like she wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

I couldn’t help but smile, and soon she did, too. Her eyes went huge and she ran into my arms.

I gave her the tightest hug as she buried her head into my shoulder. And I held her as she sobbed. it was so good to see her again.

We had a great time surprising the rest of my family that day.

My grandma was surprised. . .

My brother was surprised, too.

So much so that he cussed when he saw us.

“What the heck are you doing here?!” he shouted when he saw us. But he didn’t say “heck.”

My grandpa was surprised to see us, too. He opened the door, looked at us and just smiled.

He almost didn’t let us in, though. He asked us if we were ghosts or if we were real. We told him we were real.

I don’t think it fully hit him we were there until he let us in and we gave him a hug. I held him for a while. It was so good to see him again. And I told him that.

He told us he had just returned from the post office. He had sent us another package. And we’d now have two packages waiting for us when we got back to Oxford. He’s an amazing Grandpa.

A Very Merry Christmas

The past several months have been a whirlwind. They’ve simply felt unreal, in so many ways. And after all of the experiences in Oxford, it’s so nice to be home for a bit and spend this Christmas with our family.

What a wonderful gift. Steve, thank you for making this happen. You are simply the most incredible friend anyone could ask for.

I am so thankful for all of this. For the opportunity to study at my dream school. To meet some amazing people in Oxford and experience all we have in such a short time. And to be able to return home to spend the holidays with those we love.

I hope your Christmas is a special one. I hope it’s filled with lots of smiles and laughter. I hope it’s spent with those you love, and with those who love you.

And as you do, I hope you find a special way to celebrate the day our Rescuer showed up in our story. To provide a way to bring us home. The greatest gift we could ever hope for.

Merry Christmas. And thanks for reading.

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

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

Tim’s stolen computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A letter from Mom

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

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

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

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

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

Skype with David

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

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

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

He asked what my favorite part about being here was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at Mitre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Yeah I guess so.”

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

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

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

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

Prom Matriculation photos, by Jane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure enough.

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

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

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

Harris Manchester for Registration

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

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

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

Can you spot me?… How about now?

Still no? Okay…one more try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matriculation Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So they think you’re still practicing?”

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

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

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

I laughed out loud.

“Wow.”

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

I’m not sure he was convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeeeeeaaaaah…” he said, with a laugh.

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

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

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

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

Felix’s Rugby Match

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Felix kicking off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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