Archives for posts with tag: Rob & Vanessa

Easter weekend in Oxford was an incredible time. Jen and I agreed, it was one of the most memorable Easters for either one of us. Even though we didn’t actually make it to church . . . I know, I know. Horrible. And I’m not proud of it. But here’s what happened . . .

A South of the Border Easter Brunch

We had plans to go to church at St. Aldate’s that evening. At the 6:00 service we’ve so been enjoying. And so we started off the day with a brunch at Rob & Vanessa‘s place. They were throwing a Mexican-inspired Easter Brunch. Vanessa makes some of the best Mexican food of anyone I know. And, considering the fact that I’ve only experienced her Mexican cooking here in Oxford, where the variety of Mexican ingredients is about as deep as the Spice Girls’ greatest hits album, that’s saying something.

Jen and I made the 20-minute walk to their place, carrying bags of fresh fruit for a fruit salad we’d make up once we arrived. We were the first ones to make it to their place, and we came across Rob as he was in-between the common room (where we’d be eating) and their apartment when we came strolling up the lane. We dropped off our things in the common room and made our way to their apartment. Vanessa was still working away in the kitchen when we arrived. Their apartment felt like a sauna, with the warm away rushing out of the door to greet us. We could tell she had been working hard all morning. And it smelled amazing.

After chatting with them both for a few minutes, we let Vanessa get back to wrapping up her work in the kitchen, and we excused ourselves from the sauna to go prepare our fruit salad in the common room kitchen. Not long after we began cutting up fruit, many others began showing up. Lots of people we hadn’t seen for a while. Friends who had been away during the break. Like Tyler & Lauren.

“Hey guys!” Lauren said with a big smile as she found us working away in the kitchen. Jen washing the fruit, and me cutting it. Tyler & Lauren had recently taken a cruise. Through Greece. They actually just got in the night before. So they were still a bit tired. We asked her how they found it, since neither Jen nor I had ever been on a cruise. She said they loved it. And that she’d have to take back all those bad things she said about Royal Caribbean over the years.

We wrapped up our fruit platter just in time to join everyone in the common room, and to bow our heads as Rob led us in prayer. There must’ve been between 15 and 20 people there for brunch. Lots of Rob & Vanessa’s friends from the MBA program, mostly. And us. The spread of food was amazing. Vanessa gave us all the rundown before inviting people to come dish up.

The main event of the spread was definitely the migas. If you’ve never had them before, migas are basically a mexican scrambled egg dish made with tortillas and salsa and cheese. They’re mazing. I had only had migas once before, but I loved them. My old roommate at Seattle Pacific introduced me to migas. Ryan. At one of my favorite breakfast spots back home. I take that back. It is my favorite breakfast spot back home.

But that wasn’t all. No, in addition to the migas, Vanessa had made a french toast style casserole. Homemade cinnamon rolls. And loads of other brunch goodies. I hopped in line and quickly went about the business of filling my plate to the point of overflow. Carefully balancing my paper plate, now full of fresh fruit, migas and homemade cinnamon rolls, I made my way out to the back garden and took a seat at one of the large, wooden, round tables where Rob had just found a seat and had begun working away on his own plate.

It was a beautiful, sunny day that Easter. And it was so nice to be able to enjoy this brunch outdoors. A few minutes later, Jen and Vanessa made their way outside, plates in hand, and joined Rob and I at the table where we were sitting. It was great to catch up with them both. They had both been back in the States over the break, and so it was nice to hear about their trips. Rob was visiting several companies back on the West Coast. And Vanessa had been back in Seattle helping out with several friend’s pregnancies and deliveries.

We enjoyed the delicious food and conversation from our seat in the sun, as others filed out of the common room and took their seats at several of the tables in the back garden. The food really was delicious. And, even though Vanessa was pretty disappointed that the cinnamon rolls came out fairly undercooked, Rob and I didn’t seem to mind. Even going back for seconds and helping ourselves to the warm, gooey cinnamon mess. It seemed to embarrass Vanessa, as they were clearly not in any sort of “roll” form at this point, but they were genuinely delicious, so we didn’t mind.

After a couple hours, Jen and I said our “thank you’s” and “goodbyes” and we made our way to the bus stop. I had nearly forgotten about our Easter commitments at the Kilns that afternoon after I filled up my second plate of brunch, but I didn’t actually mind too much.

Easter at C.S. Lewis’s home

We arrived at the Kilns around 2:00 that afternoon. Melissa greeted us at the front door when we arrived. Melissa is from the States, and she’s filling in for the full-time Kilns warden who’s currently back in the States dealing with some visa issues. She welcomed us in and we met up with the rest of the group in the kitchen. Dan, who lives at the Kilns, was working away on preparing the afternoon dinner, while a married couple who we didn’t know sat at the kitchen counter, preparing something that involved very small eggs.

“They’re quail eggs,” the guy said, turning to us with a smile.

“Ah,” was my response. “I’ve never had quail eggs before.”

“Well, they taste like eggs, but smaller,” he joked, in his British accent.

Dan introduced us to his two friends. He a nurse. She a youth worker in a local church. They both seemed really nice. He was tall, with spiky hair and glasses. She wore a cardigan and a pearl necklace.

We enjoyed getting to know them a bit while Dan finished preparing the dinner (lamb with all the fixings) and they finished arranging the salad on several plates (quail eggs and asparagus). It wasn’t long before we were all winding down the hallway toward the dining room, trying to find room among all the plates, glasses, flatware and food. The table was literally overflowing.

“Right, well, who’d like to say grace?” Dan asked, taking a seat at the head of the table, with his back to the window where the afternoon sun was pouring into the home.

“I’d like to hear an American blessing,” said Dan’s friend, with a smile. Laughter rounded the table.

“Sure, I’d be happy to,” I said. “Unless you’d like to,” I said, turning to Jen.”

“No, that’s okay,” she said, somewhat sheepishly. “I’ll let you go.”

So I did. And then we dug in. Starting with the quail eggs and asparagus (he was right–they do taste just like eggs, only smaller) before moving on to the main course: lamb, potatoes, yorkshire pudding (which isn’t actually pudding…) and broccoli. It was amazing. All of it. We filled our plates several times, and emptied them several times, before leaning back heavily into our chairs and talking about our plans for the Easter egg hunt.

Dan had the idea of having an Easter egg hunt around the property. Just the six of us “adults.” I thought it was a great idea. We all brought our own chocolate eggs, which we’d be hiding. Everyone else brought these gigantic chocolate eggs, whereas Jen and I brought these small chocolate eggs. We called it strategy.

After a bit of deliberation around the dining room table, as to whether we should have it indoors or outdoors, we decided we’d hold the Easter egg hunt out in the nature reserve, in the woods around the pond just a short walk from Lewis’s house. A pond where he used to swim and take his punt out regularly.

We left the dishes and headed up toward the pond, with our chocolate eggs in hand. We split up, two at a time, and we had several minutes to run and hide our eggs. Then, just to make it interesting, we decided to write up hints to help people find our egg on a small piece of paper, which we’d draw from a hat. This was all very complicated, I know. But that’s what happens when you get a bunch of adults having their own Easter egg hunt around C.S. Lewis’s home.

We all took several minutes to scribble down our clues before tossing them in a hat of Dan’s. I made mine rhyme. And then we took turns drawing the clues. Puzzled looks all around.

“All right, let’s go,” Dan said with a wide grin.

And we were off. Dan was the first to find his egg, running back to where we started with great excitement. It felt just like a normal Easter egg hunt. Only we were a bit taller. It wasn’t long before I found the egg that went with my clue. Hidden under a small, wooden footbridge. Dan and I stood at the edge of the pond, chocolate eggs in hand, and waited for the rest of the group.

Turns out I hadn’t been completely fair in hiding my egg. Well, I take that back. I hadn’t been completely fair in hiding my egg for anyone under seven feet tall (it was on top of a downed tree, which I could reach, but was a bit out of sight for the five-foot friend of Dan’s who was trying to find it). So I helped her.

About 20 minutes later, we were all walking down the hill toward the Kilns, chocolate Easter eggs in-hand. It was only then that I glanced at my watch and realized what time it was. Already much later than I thought, and too late for us to catch the bus back to the Oxford city center in time for the 6:00 church service at St. Aldate’s that we were planning on going to. I felt horrible . . . It was Easter, after all. I should’ve been paying better attention.

Realizing there was no way we’d make it to the service in-time, we took Dan up on his offer to take a seat in the front garden with everyone and enjoy the beautiful evening. It had been a perfect day. Warm. But not too warm. And blue skies.

Dan brought out his pipe. He explained that Jonathan had just given it to him as a gift. Jonathan is one of the other scholars in residence there at the Kilns.

“A lot of times we’ll go up to the pond and have a smoke from the bench where Lewis used to sit,” Dan shared with us, while fiddling with the pipe and tobacco. Removing the pipe from a small box.

Dan’s friend, the nurse, gave him a hard time. About how bad it was for his health. How foolish he was. And how there’s no way he’d ever do that. He was pretty relentless.

I always associate pipes with my Grandpa. In the evenings, after working on projects around his house when I was growing up, I remember watching him light up his pipe from his reclining chair in the living room. With one eye closed. Focusing as he puffed on the pipe to get it going. Then shaking the match in one hand to put it out. And, to this day, the smell of pipe tobacco makes me feel like a young boy, sitting in my Grandpa’s living room. After a long day of working outside with him. On projects around the house.

“Would you like a pipe?” Dan asked, looking across the garden at me. “I have an extra one.”

“Uh, sure, yeah,” I said. Realizing I’d never actually smoked a pipe before, and that I had no idea what I was doing. Except for that old picture of my Grandpa in my head.

I remember telling Jen I wanted a pipe one evening when we were going to bed shortly after moving here to Oxford. Because I liked the smell of them. She told me “no,” because they are bad for you. I told her she was confusing pipes with cigarettes.

I did my best to arrange the stringy tobacco into the pipe, without looking too much like I had no idea what I was doing, but realizing it was quite clear I had no idea what I was doing. Then came the lighting. Dan threw me a box of matches. Bracing the pipe between my teeth, I struck a match and did my best to light the pile of stringy tobacco sitting in the bowl of the pipe.

Without realizing it, I had become quite focused on this process. Crossing my eyes to focus my gaze on my match and the pile of tobacco in front of my face. Dan’s friend, the nurse, began laughing at me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, with a bit of a restrained laugh. “I don’t mean any offense, but you don’t look very intelligent right now.” That was his British way of saying I looked stupid.

Everyone else turned to see my face and began to laugh. And I realized he was probably right.

I gave it a couple more attempts before throwing in the towel and resorting to taking in the smell from Dan’s pipe, which, as it turns out, might actually be better than the real thing. I realized I should probably stick to the sidelines when it comes to smoking a pipe. But, at least I gave it my best. We were at C.S. Lewis’s house after all.

We enjoyed pudding with the group, a wonderful berry shortcake dessert Jen had brought, before saying our goodbyes and heading off to catch the bus. As we passed through the metal gate that sits between the green hedges in front of the Kilns, the sun beginning its descent just beyond the house, Jen turned to me and said, “You know, I think today has been one of the most memorable Easters.” And I had to agree.

Monday: Steve’s Return to Oxford

My best friend Steve was arriving that Monday. The day after Easter. He actually flew out the day of Easter. After going to church with his mom and fiance. And grabbing brunch with them both.

I was excited to see him again. It had been several months. But it felt like a lot longer. Both Jen and I were glad he was making the trip out.

I met him at the bus stop that afternoon, taking my Bible with me to prepare for my collections (exams) at the end of the week. I arrived about 10 minutes before Steve’s bus was scheduled to arrive, so I found a seat under one of the bus canopies and read while I waited. Not long after that, I saw Steve come walking off a bus with his luggage in tow. He was dressed really sharp, as he usually does, which made me self-conscious. It was another beautiful, warm day, so I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sandals.

“Hey bud, it’s great to see you!” I said, greeting him with a smile and a hug. “Let me take one of these for you.”

We crossed the courtyard beside the bus stop and climbed into one of the cabs.

“27A Northmoor Road,” I told the driver as we got in.

“So how are you doing, bud?” I asked, turning to Steve.

“Yeah, good. Glad to be back. It’s funny, everything is just how I remember it. It feels like I was just here,” he said as our cab pulled through the city center.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I remember feeling the same way when I returned.”

I asked him about his Easter. Then he asked me about mine.

“Uh . . . Well, we had a great Easter, but we didn’t go to church . . .” I said, in a voice of embarrassment.

“You didn’t go to church?! . . . But it was Easter?” he said with a voice of shock.

“Yeah, no, I know. . .,” I said, preparing to explain myself. “We were at a dinner and then we had an Easter egg hunt and we lost track of time,” I said, trying to keep my voice down, hoping the taxi driver wouldn’t hear. I didn’t want him judging me.

Thursday: Exam Preparations & Jen’s Departure

I had exams on the Friday following Easter. The Friday several days after Steve arrived. I was to be tested on my classes from the previous term. That’s how Oxford does it. They give you a six to eight week long break, but then test you afterward, which kind of spoils the fun of a “break.”

Because of all our travels, I had made very little time for my exam preparation. Certainly less than I had hoped. Which meant that the week following Easter included a lot of time in the library for me. Going over notes and preparing. I ended up typing up more than 120 pages worth of notes in preparation for my two exams. They’d take six hours in total, and I wanted to make sure I was ready.

That Thursday night was the night before the Royal Wedding, which Jen would be attending with several of her girlfriends. Originally, they had planned to camp out just outside of Westminster Abbey, which I was less than excited about. Fortunately, they found someone–a friend of a friend–at the last minute who had a spare room, just a short walk from Westminster Abbey. I never thought that would happen, the night before the Royal Wedding. But it did. Which made saying goodbye to her that night much more doable.

So, we said “goodbye” to Jen and had a guy’s night in her absence, Steve and I. It was great. Having him in town again. And catching up.

But Jen had a pretty great time herself. I’ll let her tell you all about it. Here’s Jen . . .

The Night Before the Royal Wedding

My friends Vanessa, Lauren and I started our journey to the Royal Wedding by taking the train from Oxford to London on Thursday night (the night before the big day).

Once we arrived in London (about an hour later), we took the Tube (subway) and we got out at Big Ben and Westminister Abbey. We walked by the front of Westminister Abbey and the sidewalks packed full of people who were all ready camping out.

There was a vibe in the air and everyone was so excited.

We walked around for a while and took in a lot of the sights on the eve of the Royal Wedding. It was a really exciting place to be.

After a while, we decided to eat dinner at a Sushi restaurant. Then we went and got a Chinese back massage for 12 minutes before enjoying some Snog (a sugar-free, fat-free frozen yogurt). It has a different taste but it is really good. After our Snog we walked by Buckingham Palace and then back to Westminster Abbey.

Lauren had bought a mask of Kate before the wedding. We had so much fun going around with her wearing it. Lots of people were saying, “Look there’s Kate!” or they would ask Lauren how she was feeling the night before her wedding day. But as we were walking to dinner we found “Prince William” and, of course, we had to get a picture of Kate and William the day before their wedding!

We got to the apartment where we were staying that night after midnight. We had a lot of fun in London, but if we wanted to get a good spot at the wedding the next morning, we would have to be up early.

Friday: The day of the Royal Wedding!

We woke up a little after 4:30 Friday morning, which is way too early! That is why I was so happy to get coffee before doing anything else.

We got to our spot in front of Westminster Abbey at 5:30 and met my friend Melissa there. Melissa is from California, and she worked at the Kilns with me for a while this spring.

We had the perfect view of the front door of Westminister Abbey from where we were standing, where all the royalty would be going in. Vanessa and Lauren were at the back of the sidewalk where there was a wall and Melissa and I were in the middle of the sidewalk.

When all was said and done I counted that I was five or six people back from the front row of people looking on, which gave us a great view of everyone entering. Like the Queen . . .Prince William and Prince Henry………

And the Royal couple themselves . . .

After the ceremony, Lauren was interviewed by BBC because of her Kate mask.

We all were very excited and even though we ended up waiting for nearly five hours that morning, it was very much worth the wait!

After the ceremony we walked back to the apartment where we stayed the night. Along the way we saw several people who had attended the Wedding, including who we thought was Posh Spice (aka Victoria Beckham), which was pretty cool.

Once we got to the apartment, we turned on the TV and watched the Royal Couple come out at Buckingham Palace and greet everyone. That is where they shared their first kiss. Being there in London that morning with these girls for the Royal Wedding really was an experience I will always remember.

Ryan’s Royal Wedding Day of Exams

While Jen was at the Royal Wedding in London, I was in a room at Harris Manchester here in Oxford full of other students frantically scribbling down their essays. I had two exams that day: Old Testament in the morning, and Patristics (early church fathers) in the afternoon. Each three hours long. By the time I was finished, my brains felt like my mush. And I realized, walking out of the room, I actually couldn’t feel my index finger and thumb. The ends of each finger had gone numb from writing with a pencil so frantically all day!

I wandered out of the room and, as I was heading up to the library to gather my things, I saw Steve seated on a bench at the end of the hallway. After six hours of essays, I was pretty happy to see him seated there.

“Hey bud!” I said, turning mid-step form the stairs leading up to the library to turn down the hallways leading toward him. We talked for a while from his seat there in the front entryway of Harris Manchester. About our plans. We decided a trip to The Trout would be a good way to celebrate the end of my exams, the preparations for which had taken up nearly all my time since he arrived.

I grabbed my things from the library and we headed home. Hoping to catch up with Jen, as she had only just returned from London, and bring her along with us to the Trout. I kept telling Steve how much of a relief it was to have my exams behind me, after studying non-stop for them for so long. I’m sure he got tired of hearing about it, but it was an incredible weight off my shoulder. We got nearly halfway home before I realized I was without my bike, which I had ridden to exams at college that morning. I apologized to Steve and we headed back to Harris Manchester. I told you my brains were mush.

Jen was home when we finally made it back. I found her lying in bed upstairs. She was exhausted.

She told me all about her time in London. How close she was to the wedding. And how much she enjoyed hanging out with the girls. But she was beat, having hardly slept, and walked all over the city. Her feet were killing her and she was really looking forward to just lying down and getting some rest. Which made telling her our idea of going to The Trout for dinner to celebrate tough.

She was hesitant at first, and so I told her we could just do it another night, but she insisted she was up for it. I’ve said it here before, and I’ll probably say it again, but she’s tough as nails.

We made the three-mile walk, across several footbridges, through a small village and around the countryside, and soon we were sitting around a small table in the dim, low-ceilinged pub. It’s an amazing place, first recommended to me by Walter. Apparently it was built as an inn back in the seventeenth-century, right on the water, and today its this incredible pub, with the river slowly flowing by the windows.

We placed our orders and all of a sudden I could exhale. Seated around this table with my two best friends. Laughing like I hadn’t laughed in a long, long time. It was the perfect ending to the week, and I was so thankful to have that time together.

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Saturday: Leading my first tours of the Kilns

Saturday was my first day of leading tours at C.S. Lewis’ old home. At the Kilns. After taking notes on Deb’s tour a couple days earlier, I felt pretty ready for leading the two tours that were scheduled for me for the day. I had one at 11:30, and then another at 12:30. Each tour takes around 45 to 50 minutes, with time for questions afterward.

I rode my bike to the city center Saturday morning, and then I hopped on the number 9 bus that leads through Headington and on to Risinghurst, home of the Kilns. After taking the bus there just a couple days earlier, the trip was beginning to feel pretty familiar.

I studied my notes on the short trip to the Kilns. Reminding myself of key dates. And what’s said when.

By the way, if you’re wondering why Lewis’ old house is called, “The Kilns,” it’s because there used to stand two large kilns not far from the house. Before Lewis lived in the home, the property was used to fire bricks. There’s a man-made pond just beyond the house, which is where the clay came from. The workers would dredge clay out of the pond and then fire it into bricks at the nearby Kilns.

The house on the property was never intended to be anything special, just a place for the workers to live. Lewis actually didn’t even step foot in the house before he bought it. He was just sold on the setting: eight-acres set outside of the Oxford city center, in the countryside. Within walking distance from Magdalene College (where he taught, about a 60-minute walk from the Kilns).

It was a beautiful morning when I arrived at the Kilns that Saturday. Walking up to the front of the house, I passed by the kitchen windows while Deb was preparing something from inside the kitchen.

“Hi, Ryan,” she said with a smile, looking out the window at me, and  turning to leave the kitchen so she could meet me at the front door.

It was at that point that I realized how crazy it is that I can be recognized by name at Lewis’ former house on a sunny, Saturday morning.

Deb greeted me at the front door and I helped with a few final things before the first tour arrived. Getting the kitchen picked up and turning on the lights in the rooms upstairs.

A few minutes later, a couple 20-something year old girls came to the front door. Deb welcomed them to the Kilns and invited them to have a seat in the common room while we waited for the rest of the tour to arrive.

Deb told me it’d be a bit of a trial by fire for my first tours. That they’d be much larger than normal tours. About 12-15 in the first group, and between 16-18 in the second. Apparently most tours are about half that size.

While we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, one of the girls told me she had just had my wife over at her house a couple days earlier. I had never seen her before, so I was a bit confused.

She explained that she had hosted Bible study at her house this week, the one Jen had gone to for the first time, and that Jen had told the group that I’d be leading tours at the Kilns. I didn’t know it, but she told the group they should go for a tour and check it out. Apparently it worked.

This girl, Mary Katherine, told me that her and her husband had just moved over to Oxford in the fall. And that her friend, who was with her, was in-town visiting. From California. Apparently Mary Katherine’s husband is a physicist working on his PhD. So, almost the same as what I’m doing…

After talking for a bit, the rest of the first tour arrived. There were about a dozen people or so in the group, made of of a couple British families who were traveling around the country. A pair of parents and their children, with the oldest kids in their early twenties.

I introduced myself to the group. Told them what I was up to here in Oxford. And then asked a bit about what brought them here to Oxford and the Kilns. Apparently a couple of them were pretty big Lewis fans. The wives / moms in the group. I figure it’s helpful knowing what brought them here in the first place, to know what will interest them along the way.

I told them it was actually my first time leading tours at the Kilns. I was thankful no one decided to leave at that point. I told them Deb would be joining us, or at least hanging back, to act as my training wheels for the day. And then I kicked off the tour.

I shared a bit about the history of the house and Lewis’ life from the common room. I told them how, after Lewis and his brother had died, that a family bought the home and left it in pretty poor shape by the mid-80’s. How the house became the eye-sore of the neighborhood at that point. And how it likely would’ve been steamrolled to make room for new housing had it not been for a group of Americans who got involved. A group who wanted to see the house maintained as a way to remember Lewis’ life and his legacy.

I told them about all the work that went in to restoring the house into what they now saw. Into the conditions that help us picture what it looked like during Lewis’ day, minus the period before Joy (Lewis’ wife-to-be) arrived and put the house in order. When it was just the brothers living at the home, apparently it was a bit of a bachelor pad. They’d dump out their pipe tobacco right on the carpets and grind it in with their shoes. As a way to keep away the moths. Apparently the moths aren’t the only thing it kept away. It was in such bad shape at one point that J.R.R. Tolkein’s wife apparently forbid her husband from visiting the house, as she didn’t want him getting sick.

For all practical purposes, the Kilns fit Lewis and his brother just fine. Set out in the country, it provided ample opportunity for walks outdoors. To talk. And to work on their writing with little worry of being bothered by the bustle of living in the city. Apparently the house was filled with books. Stacked up in every room, several rows deep. Lining the walls in the hallways, and even up the staircase. Lewis used to joke that their house was held up by books and cobwebs.

I led the group through the home, pointing out different things along the way. Photos hanging from the wall. And mentioning stories that had been told to me about the photos. And about those in them.

We wrapped up the tour in the library, and I said my goodbyes to the group. The girl who had hosted Jen’s Bible study several days earlier thanked me for the tour. Her and her friend told me they had really enjoyed it.

Before I made my way back to the front of the house, to get ready for the next group, one of the wives from the group asked me how it went, being my first tour and all.

“Well, I’m feeling pretty good about it,” I told her. “But maybe you should tell me.”

She laughed. “You did a great job,” she said with a wide smile.

The group left out the back door and I returned to the front of the house. To see if anyone from the second group had arrived. They had. Two older ladies were seated on a bench in the garden just outside the front door.

“Hi there,” I said to them. “Are you both here for the tour?”

“Yes we are,” one of them spoke up. “We were just enjoying our lunch from here in the garden.”

As sunny as it was, it was a perfect day for a lunch outdoors.

I introduced myself to them both. And asked where they were from. They were from the States. The south. One of the women had just moved over to England. To act as a “live-in Mom” for some of the American students at one of the houses just outside the city center. Her name was Kitty. The other woman was Kitty’s friend who was visiting from back home. Previously, she had been a math professor at Columbia.

Not long after meeting the two of them, a girl in her early twenties with a backpack came walking up to the house. She introduced herself and said she was looking for the tour. I told her she had found it. She, too, was from the States. She’s a student at Stanford, and she’s currently doing a study-abroad program here at Oxford. For a year. She told me she had been wanting to come up for a tour since arriving in the fall, but that she was only just finding time.

We made our way into the house and took our seats in the common room. Not long after, Deb greeted a good-sized group. Also from the States. A class, apparently, that was touring the UK. They stopped by Oxford and the Kilns as part of their trip. Rounding out the tour was a group of early twenty-somethings from Ireland. A handful of guys, and one girl. One of them was studying here. And the rest were his friends from back home.

Being made up of more Americans than the first group, the second group seemed much more excited about the tour. More smiles and laughs at the Lewis stories. More “Wow!”‘s at the different photos around the house.

And I loved it. Every bit of it. The opportunity not just to be at Lewis’ house, but to get to talk about Lewis for hours on end. And being paid for it. I kept waiting for the catch.

At the end of the tour, I shook several hands. And said lots of “your welcomes” before catching up with Deb. We each found a seat in the common room. To recap my first tours.

She told me I did a great job. Especially for being my first tours. She told me I seemed really comfortable speaking to the groups. And natural. And that it seemed like I was much more comfortable the second time around.

I told her I thought that was probably largely due to the fact that the second group was more heavily American. And that I could read them much better than the first group.

She corrected me on one thing I had wrong (referencing a wrong book), but that, overall, it seemed like it went really well. And she said she was really thankful to have my help leading the tours.

I told her it really was my pleasure. And that I still found it hard to believe I was actually doing this.

Sunday: More fire than stone at Fire & Stone Pizza

Our fellow Washingtonian friends, Rob & Vanessa, have been arranging Sunday evening dinners for a while now. For several American couples here in Oxford. Sometimes this is hosted at someone’s home (when Vanessa made Mexican food at her house, for example), but, for the most part, we tend to meet at a restaurant in the city center. We’ve really enjoyed getting together with the group, and sharing laughs with the other couples.

This particular week Vanessa sent out an e-mail inviting everyone to pizza at Fire & Stone. She had a two-for-one coupon she was excited to share with the group. Being students again, everyone in the group is pretty big on finding good deals when we can. We told Vanessa to count us in.

We had attended St. Aldate’s that night, knowing we’d be in town for dinner anyway, so we walked up to Fire & Stone with some of those who had attended the evening service as well: Penn & Grace, and Lauren. Lauren’s husband, Tyler, was working on a class assignment, so he was going to meet us at the restaurant. We were talking abut our week as we walked along the sidewalk in front of the dark storefronts after church.

The two girls asked how my tours had went. I was taken off-guard at first, but then I remembered Jen had shared the news with them during their Bible study.

“Ryan has the coolest job,” Grace said, turning to her husband Penn. “He’s leading tours at C.S. Lewis’ old home.”

Grace is studying here in Oxford to work in publishing. So I think naturally she’s a fan of Lewis.

The five of us arrived at Fire & Stone Pizza before anyone else. So we grabbed a table by the window and waited for others to arrive. Vanessa showed up about five minutes later. Wearing a large, puffy jacket and breathing heavily. Apparently she had an issue printing off the coupons for dinner, and so she ended up jogging to the restaurant.

“I’m so hot,” she told us, unzipping the large, puffy jacket and hanging it on the back of her chair. Unknowingly, she was sitting beneath the heating vent, and so she found herself not cooling down at all. After several minutes, she realized the hot air blowing on her was not helping matters, and so she took a seat on the opposite side of the table.

“But I do have the coupons,” she told us, reassuringly. Apparently the coupons were good for parties up to six people, and so she printed off two, hoping the restaurant would be cool with it.

“Worst-case scenario, we just won’t sit with you guys,” Lauren joked.

When the waiter came by to take our drink order, Vanessa showed him the coupons to make sure we could all use the two-for-one deal. But no, he was not going for it.

“It’s only good for parties up to six,” he explained.

“And if we just slide our table over a couple feet?” Lauren asked, half-jokingly.

“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head.

A look of defeat spread across Vanessa’s face.

“It’s a good thing I took the extra time to fight with my printer and print off that second coupon,” she said.

Tyler, Lauren’s husband joined us a few minutes after our drinks came, and we all put in our orders. I love the eccentric menu at Fire & Stone. The last couple of times I’ve ordered one of the pizzas from Australia. The one with chicken, mashed potatoes and sour cream. I never would have thought sour cream would be good on pizza, but it’s amazing. I decided to try something different this time, though. The egg and ham pizza. I forget which country it was from, as well as the witty name they gave it, but I’d call it the breakfast pizza if I were in charge.

It wasn’t long after placing our orders that the fire alarm went off. It didn’t seem to faze anyone at first. I think we all just figured it’d go off after a couple seconds and no one would worry about it. But it didn’t. And the head hostess soon began asking people to exit the restaurant and head across the street to get away from the building.

Anytime you’re  in a building with open ovens when the fire alarm starts going off and someone asks you to evacuate the building, it’s usually a good idea to evacuate the building.

A few minutes later the entire restaurant was evacuated and everyone was standing across the street in a large group. Waiters and waitresses. Cooks. Guests. Everyone. Waiting, wondering what was going on.

“It smells like burnt toast,” someone from the sidewalk said.

Almost immediately after those words were spoken, a woman in one of the the apartments that sit over the restaurant threw open two of the windows. Laughter filled the sidewalk. It didn’t take a detective to locate the source of this fire.

Unfortunately, we had to wait for the fire department to come and check everything out, and to declare everything safe before we could return to the restaurant, and to our pizza.

“I wonder if our pizza made it to the ovens,” someone asked.

We debated finding another restaurant to grab dinner at. Rather than waiting for this woman’s burnt toast to get straightened out. But then we figured surely if we decided to stick it out and wait around the restaurant would do something to compensate us.

“Maybe now they’ll honor our coupons,” I said, half-jokingly.

Rob, on his way to join us at the restaurant, found us gathered on the sidewalk and took up his place near Vanessa. We told him how we had just placed our order when the apartment overhead set off the building’s fire alarm. And how the woman upstairs threw open the windows shortly after we took our spot on the sidewalk outside.

Shortly after Rob arrived, a fire truck pulled up to the curb. Sirens blazing. At this point, people walking by were staring. At the large group gathered on the sidewalk at 9:00 at night. And the empty restaurant.

Just as the fire truck pulled up, the apartment with the woman who burnt her toast pulled her windows shut and flipped off the lights. We all laughed. As if somehow everyone there would’ve missed what had happened, and she’d never be found out.

After another 15 minutes or so, the restaurant management told us it was okay to come back inside. And that they’d have our dinner to us as quickly as possible. The fire truck was still parked outside when we returned to our table. We never did find out anything about the woman upstairs.

We shared some great laughs over some amazing pizza. My breakfast pizza was the best choice I’ve made in a long time. The egg and the ham went great together. I’m beginning to think egg is good on just about anything. Burgers… Pizza…

When our waiter came around to bring our bill, Lauren, wearing a wide grin, asked if they were going to do anything to compensate us for the long wait outside.

“Like letting us use our coupons,” she said.

The waiter half-smiled and just shook his head. “Sorry.”

“It was worth a shot,” she said with a large smile as she finished her glass of water.”

Monday: Jen’s first day working at the Kilns

Jen’s first day working at the Kilns was the the next morning. On that Monday. I wasn’t there with her, so I figured I’d ask Jen to tell you how it went herself. Here’s Jen…

I had told myself that come Monday (Feb. 21, the Monday after I arrived back in Oxford) that I would start looking for a job. I wasn’t looking forward to going through that process, though. The looking, applying and interviewing.

Well, lots of people must have been praying for me to get a job because that Monday afternoon, Ryan told me he got a call from Debbie, who is the warden at the Kilns, and she asked if we both were available to work. She was praying for someone to help with tours and for someone to relieve some of the stress on her. She was also looking for someone to help with the administrative work that needs to take place for the CS Lewis Foundation. Of course we both jumped at that opportunity. I’ll be working 12 to 15 hours a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, helping set up tours for the house, and Ryan will be giving a lot of the tours, so you know who to talk to if you want to come tour the Kilns!

It was crazy going to work on Monday (Feb 28), since I’ve been unemployed since the beginning of September. This job seems to be a great fit, though, and I will learn how to do a lot of new things. Like how to host a high-tea. I’ve already organized a lot of Deb’s files, which were piling up, I’ve learned how to deposit checks for the Foundation, and I’ve started to learn how to setup tours.

It’s nice that Ryan and I share this, too, both working for the Foundation, and it’s just a huge blessing overall, as it provides enough to cover our rent for the month, as well as some of our grocery expenses. I would have never thought I would be working for the CS Lewis Foundation, or working in CS Lewis’s house, where people come from all over the world to get a tour.

Wednesday: Oxford Open Forum

Okay, Ryan here. I’m back…

The previous Wednesday night was our first night hosting the “Oxford Open Forum,” a group Rich, Max and I have been excited to kick off. After meeting early on this term over breakfast in Summertown, we had the idea of starting up a group where people from all different religious views could come for an open, informal dialogue. Our thinking was, “what better opportunity than here at Oxford University to have an open conversation with brilliant people from all over the world about their religion?”

So that’s what we set out to do. Hoping that maybe we’d create something that would meet such a great need that it’d outlast our time here at Oxford.

We began by sending out e-mails to the heads of as many different religious societies at the University we could think of. Everything from Buddhism and Hinduism to the Catholic Society and Atheism, and everyone in-between. We got a really great response from the idea, too. Pretty much everyone seemed to be interested, and Rich and I even grabbed coffee with the head of the Atheist society to talk about the idea after church one day, ironically enough. We met with the head of the Graduate Christian Union and pitched the idea to him. He loved it, and he said he’d be sure to include it in the group’s weekly e-mails.

We found a cafe in the city center that stayed open until 8:30 that would allow us to meet once a week, as we figured a pub might be off-putting for some who held particularly conservative religious views, and we really did want to make things as open and inviting as possible. Puccino’s, the cafe we settled on is a really great, funky place, with colorful hand-writing scribbled all over the walls. The menu is written on the wall, as well as lots of random, witty comments. There’s an arrow pointing to an electrical box in one corner of the room where we meet that reads, “we have no idea what this does,” and, on one of the blank walls, someone wrote, “We had a really nice picture here, but then it was nicked.” One of the other walls has a picture hanging near a scribbled comment that reads, “What, was this photo too ugly to take?”

It was exciting when our first evening of the Forum rolled around and every chair in the large front room of the cafe was filled. We estimated about 20 people showed up that first night, representing an incredibly diverse number of backgrounds and belief systems.

Several of those from the Atheist society showed up, even during the middle of their big event, “Think Week.” We also had the head of the Hindu Society there. Two gals who identified themselves as pagan showed up. There were a number of Christians present, including several from the Catholic Chaplaincy. There was, I believe, one Buddhist there. And there was a guy who was adamant that really, when we get right down to it, all the different world religions are saying the same thing, and he was dead set on proving to us this was the case.

The group definitely shrunk a bit when the second week rolled around. But we figured it likely had something to do with the fact that the end of the term was approaching, and many of the students had exams to prepare for.

Our question the first week was, “Can faith be rational?” After addressing what it is we meant by “faith,” the conversation largely centered around Hinduism. Mostly because most of those in the room really weren’t familiar with the beliefs of the Hindu tradition. Ramesh, the head of the Hindu society and a guy who’s apparently pretty familiar with inter-faith dialogue, did a great job telling us about what practicing Hindus believe. He spoke in a slow, calm voice. Pausing to make sure he spoke with care, and that he was using the right words to say what he meant.

Ramesh explained that the English language lacks a lot of words that he would like to use, which made his explanation a bit difficult. I thought he did a great job, though. And I left thinking, “that really seems less like a religion and more like a philosophy than I ever imagined.”

And, as much as the guy seated near me attempted to persuade us that we really were all talking about the same thing, I walked away from our first Oxford Open Forum realizing there are some insurmountable differences between what Christianity teaches and what so many of those other faith systems in the room that night believe.

For the second week, our question was, “Can there be a single, objective truth?” With a slightly smaller group, our conversation came to focus largely on Paganism. There were two women there, who didn’t know each other, both of whom were practicing pagans. They shared their particular beliefs (apparently Paganism is a pretty broad view), and we had the chance to ask questions. It was great to be able to ask those questions to someone first-hand, rather than reading from a book written by someone outside of that particular tradition. And, while the questions were asked in a courteous way, they were pretty pointed. And, particularly on the topic of a single, objective truth, it became quite clear that Paganism and Christianity stood on opposite ends of the spectrum. Just in case any doubt lingered from the previous week.

It really was great, though, having the opportunity to talk so openly about so many different world views. I talked a bit with one of the Pagan women after the meeting that night. Asking what she was working on here in Oxford. She told me she’s in the medical field, and that she was thankful for the opportunity to return to academics (on top of working full-time) and have of a bit of a mental challenge after being in the workforce for a while. She told me had spent some time in the military for a while before starting her career, which I found interesting. I thanked her again for joining us, and for sharing a bit about her beliefs.

Never before have I been able to enjoy such open conversation about views so very different from my own. And it’s great. It helps me firm up my own faith, and how I communicate my own beliefs, as well as better understand the many, many different faith traditions out there.

Riding home that night, on my bike through the city center and along Banbury Road, I found myself incredibly thankful for all of this. For the conversations. And for those I was meeting. My education is stretching far beyond just the classroom.


Wednesday: Jen’s return to Oxford

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey!” I shouted. “Hun, you’re here!”

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

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

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

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

That’s when my heart sank.

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

“Yeah…” Jen replied, rolling her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: A birthday surprise

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

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

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

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

“Oh, really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Pub-Thai & baptisms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: A surprise phone call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This Saturday?” she said, almost hesitantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Tacos and laughs at Rob & Vanessa’s

I’ve been meaning to catch up with Rob & Vanessa since returning to Oxford from the holidays. But things have been busy. For me and for them.

But they sent out an e-mail this week. Asking a group of friends over for mexican food. On Sunday night. I wasn’t doing anything, and I’m not one to turn down a free Mexican dinner. So I wrote back, telling them I was looking forward to it.

After a full day of studies, I grabbed my jacket and hopped on my bike, racing through the city center in the cool, black night air on my way to Rob & Vanessa’s. It’s about a 10-minute bike ride from our place.

I locked up my bike out front and made my way to their apartment. Rob’s doing his MBA here at Oxford, and so they live right across from the Business school. In student accomodations. Which is basically an apartment complex full of business students. And usually spouses. Seems like everyone I’ve met in the MBA program is married.

Another couple was making their way up the stairs just ahead of me.

“Going to Rob & Vanessa’s place?” I asked.

“Yeah, you too?” the wife asked.

“Yep. Hi, I’m Ryan,” I said, holding shaking the guy’s hand first, then then his wife’s.

“Tyler,” he said.

“Hi, I’m Lauren,” she said.

“Good to meet you guys.”

Rob and Vanessa’s apartment was full by the time we got there. Several other couples were talking in the living room, while Vanessa finished preparations for dinner with a few other people crammed into their tiny kitchen.

Most of the people there that night were from the MBA program. And by “most” I mean, I wasn’t.

I talked with Tyler and another guy in the living room while the final touches were being put on the dinner. Tyler was telling us about a trip to London they just returned from. For a Business school dinner. At the Oxford & Cambridge Club.

I had never heard of such a place. But apparently it’s where Oxford & Cambridge alumni can spend loads of money on a membership so they have a place to book a room from or eat dinner at when they’re in London. Seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Apparently it was an alumni dinner, which current MBA students were invited to. Tyler told us how they had interpreted that as an opportunity to go have dinner with alumni who have been in business for a while, and talk about job opportunities. But apparently that’s not what happened.

“It was a very high table event,” Tyler explained. “You had the big guys at their table, all the alumni on one side of the room, and then all of us current students off in our own corner, to ourselves.”

Apparently they were asked not even to talk to the alumni, which I thought was pretty funny.

Vanessa let us all know dinner was now being served a few minutes after that. Everyone’s conversations quieted. Heads bowed. And Rob blessed the food for us.

Vanessa warned us about the salsa Tyler and Lauren had brought. To be careful. As it was quite hot. The fact that it was orange was a good sign of that, I thought.

“That’s how we like it in Texas,” Lauren said. “I’m used to it. I eat this stuff on my cereal.”

I told them I had been born in Texas, before moving to the Northwest.

“Oh yeah? Where abouts?” Lauren asked.

“Just outside of Dallas,” I told her. “Grand Prairie.”

“Oh yeah. All right.”

I always say “just outside of Dallas” whenever I’m asked where I was born. Out of habit. Because no one from outside of Texas has any idea where Grand Prairie is.

We dished up our plates. Chicken tacos (with gluten-free chicken, Vanessa informed us). Rice. Beans. Chips and salsa. And took our seats around Rob & Vanessa’s living room to eat and talk.

I dipped a chip into the orange salsa, just to give it a test ride. Vanessa wasn’t joking. It was ridiculous.

We got onto the topic of TV shows. A conversation I’m always lost in. Lots of laughs were had about this or that episode of The Office. People gave their thoughts on how Lost had ended. And whether they thought it resolved or not. I kept waiting for Friday Night Lights to come up. But it never did. So I enjoyed my taco and pretended to know what was being talked about.

After a while, the conversation changed to travel. As one of the couples there that night had literally arrived with their luggage in-tow from their trip to Paris.

Lauren and Tyler told us about the trip they had taken to a museum while in London. And how Lauren had her picture taken hugging the Rosetta Stone. And how she went back the next day with someone else and took her to see it. After pointing to a large stone behind a piece of glass, Lauren insisted that wasn’t actually the Rosetta Stone, and that she had gotten her picture with it the day before. And how she had been able to touch it. But, sure enough, there was the plaque, showing pretty clearly this was the Rosetta Stone.

Lauren was pretty confused, but on the way out, she passed by the hallway she had been before, with “the Rosetta Stone” she had gotten her picture taken with. And that’s when she noticed the sign above the door of this hallway, which read, “Hall of Replicas.”

We all laughed. Wondering how many people took their picture with “the Rosetta Stone” or other ancient artifacts and then went home never knowing any better.

“Why would they even have that at the museum?” I asked, in-between laughs. “That must just be for the Americans who they know are going to want to touch everything and not know any better.”

Monday: Two for two on the headlight

I was talking with Steve on Monday from Harris Manchester’s library. On Skype. It was good to catch up with him.

I told him my bike headlight had been stolen at the end of the last week. And that I was glad my Grandpa had sent me an extra so I didn’t have to go out and buy a new one.

I told him I figured if this one got stolen too, that I’d just duct tape one of the many flashlights my Grandpa had sent us to the front of my bike as a substitute. He told me he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

I worked late into the evening that night. And at one point I swore I heard snoring. Even with music playing in my earphones. I turned around to find the guy behind me with his head down on his desk snoring away. It was the same guy who several days earlier started singing to the music playing in his earphones, without realizing. It was the second time in a week this guy made me laugh out loud in the library.

I left the library late that night. After reading all day. To head home and fix something for dinner.

And I was less than impressed when I found my bike where I left it that night. Minus the headlight.

“Well, it’s a good thing I have plenty of flashlights at home, I guess,” I thought to myself while unlocking my bike and riding away.

Tuesday: A beautiful day in Oxford

Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day here in Oxford. It wasn’t the first sunny day we’ve had this term, but this day was just beautiful. And actually warm.

I grabbed a panini for lunch and decided to eat outside. It was the first time I’ve been able to do so since arriving. I sat beside a tree across the street from Harris Manchester. Squinting my eyes as I ate my panini, staring up at the college in front of me.

“It really does look like a castle,” I thought to myself while enjoying my sandwich, as if suddenly seeing the college for the first time, in the sun.

The clouds overhead were shot through by the trails of airplanes, and it was a gorgeous day to be enjoying a panini outside, under the bright blue sky.

Wednesday: Apologetics & Talking Lewis over medium rare beef

I recently joined a Christian Apologetics group here in Oxford. The idea is to get together and give talks on different questions people might have about the faith. “How can we believe in God if pain and evil and suffering exist?” “Are all religions basically the same thing?” “Has science disproved God?”

The idea being that this will be good practice for us to go out and give such talks elsewhere, after we’ve given each other feedback. I loved the idea. Where better to find people to shoot holes through your talk than here in Oxford, I figured.

I talked this Wednesday on the topic of pain and suffering. And how we can believe in God, even in the midst of such evil. And it went really well. Particularly since I hadn’t had a chance to really put my talk together until around 11:45 the night before.

One of the guys there is basically in charge of training and organizing people to do these kind of talks here in Oxford. He told me afterward that he listens to a lot of speakers. That’s all he does, actually. And that I was in the top percentage of those he’s heard.

“Easily in the top 50%, but pushing into that Champion Level,” he said, motioning his hand up as if to make his point.

“Oh wow,” I said. “Well thank you.”

I really enjoy getting together with those guys. For these talks. This was just my second time, but each time I feel more and more that this is something I’d love to do more of.

Dinner with Michael Ward

From there, I raced off to meet up with Michael Ward. Michael is the Chaplain at one of the colleges here in Oxford. And he’s also on the Theology Faculty. He’s most well-known here for being the resident C.S. Lewis Scholar. And for writing a couple books on Lewis that have done really well, especially back in the States. He’s the same author who was interviewed by my cousin KC on the radio last term when the new Chronicles of Narnia came out in theatres.

I had met Michael pretty early on last term at the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society events. Really nice guy. Incredibly bright. And after hearing Jen was going to be back in the States for a bit yet, he asked if I’d like to grab dinner one night. So we did.

I met him at St. Peter’s College that evening. It was my first time there. It’s a beautiful college. More modern than many here in Oxford. And on the small side. But I really liked it. He showed me into their chapel for a quick look. And he bragged a bit about their choir, which is apparently one of the best in Oxford. He told me he would have shown me around the chapel a bit more, but there was a cellist practicing on the far end, and he didn’t want to disturb him.

We walked to a restaurant around the corner from St. Peter’s. A french place. I didn’t catch the name, but I had noticed it before. It looked really nice, from the street. And it looked really nice from inside, too.

Very modern, with smiley waitstaff.

We found a seat by the window and began looking over the menu. I asked Michael if he had any recommendations. He did. He recommended the prime rib dinner for two, which gave him 10 extra respect points in my book.

“But it’s a bit on the spendy side,” he said. “Particularly for students without any money.”

He asked me how much I was planning on spending. And then he said he’d take care of the rest if that sounded good to me. I told him that sounded great to me.

The waitress came a few minutes later and took our order. When she asked how we wanted it prepared, Michael told her medium rare. Another 10 respect points in my book.

I had a great time getting to talk with Michael. I had only talked to him in short conversations before. I enjoyed hearing a bit more about his interests in Lewis. About his own work. About why he thought Lewis was more popular in the States than here in the UK (“He’s English, through and through, but he’s also quite direct and pointed in his writing, and I think the American audience appreciates that,” he said. “I think people forget Lewis was born in Ireland, and that certainly plays a role in his tone.”)

He told me how this idea for his books had come to him while he was working on his PhD. How he had been planning on writing something totally different, but then this thought just came to him one night. Totally unrelated to what he had been working on. Not even close to what he had been thinking about. And how it had completely changed his life. How he had been given the opportunity to travel all over the world to talk about it. And how he saw it as a gift from God, rather than a reflection of his own clever mind.

I told him I really appreciated hearing that. There are far too many people who want to take all the credit for how clever they are. Particularly when it comes to their work.

He asked me about my own interests in Lewis. And so I told him. I told him about reading “Mere Christianity” for the first time as a sophomore in college. And how that had literally changed my life. How I realized you don’t have to sacrifice your intellect to approach this faith, and how Lewis had shown me that. I told him about the crazy journey that brought us here, and how I was in Oxford because of Lewis.

Michael seemed to appreciate hearing about that story, as he smiled a lot while listening. And nodded in agreement.

He then asked me if I had realized the Oxford CS Lewis Society was losing its President to graduation after this year, and if I had put any thought to that.

I was taken aback by his question, but I told him I had realized that, yeah.

“Well, I wanted you to know your name has been discussed for that role,” he told me from across the table, wearing a slight smile.”

“Really?” I said, with big eyes. “Wow… Well that’s, that’s great.”

“Well, what do you think?” he asked me.

“I think it’s an honor to even be considered for that role,” I told him. “And I think I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything else I’d rather get behind here in Oxford.”

Again, I think he was happy to hear that, as his slight smile had now grown into a full-blown smile.

He told me it wasn’t his decision. That it was the current President’s decision. But that he thought I’d make a great fit, and that he’d be talking with him.

I was blown away. It wasn’t that long ago I was dreaming about coming to Oxford because of this man. Because of C.S. Lewis. And now I was being considered for the role of President of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. It was at that point that I felt my chair lift off the ground a little bit.

Friday: A scene from Harry Potter at New College

I was on my way to Harris Manchester on Friday afternoon to punch out my Patristics essay when Emily asked me if I had taken a look around New College yet.

“No, I haven’t,” I told her.

New College isn’t actually very new. It was established in 1379. So, apparently it was new around that time.

It’s on a street I walk by after Greek every day on my way to Harris Manchester, but I’ve never actually been in to walk around. Emily asked if I had five minutes to check it out. She said she had just walked through it the other day and it was pretty amazing. Realizing I really haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities to see so many of these amazing buildings, I took her up on it.

And I’m glad I did. It’s an incredible place. It’s enormous, for one…

…but it’s also really, really old. And it shows it, in spots. One of the older, inner walls still has slots for archers, for example.

Emily told me that one of the scenes from Harry Potter had apparently been filmed here (the’ ferret scene’ in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). In the courtyard. What they call “cloisters.”

It’s a pretty cool spot. The cloisters. Old, arched stone hallways, with a stone floor underfoot, surround a large, grassy courtyard. And a large tree sits off in a corner of the square. With a bench underneath it.

It really was an incredible spot. And no one was around on this morning. No one except a handful of birds chirping in the tree overhead.

As we left New College, and made our way back to Harris Manchester, I couldn’t help but feel in awe. Of this incredible place. And all the buildings I walk by on a daily basis without checking them out. Without taking them in. The colleges aren’t open to the public, but all I have to do is show my card if I’m asked.

I really need to do a better job of taking advantage of all there is to see here.

Saturday: In Lewis old Chapel

Michael sent me an e-mail at the end of the week. Asking if I’d like to join him and David (the current Oxford Lewis Society President) for a chapel service at Magdelene College (pronounced “Maw-delene”) that Saturday night. At the college where Lewis used to teach.

I told him that sounded great. And that I had been looking for an excuse to visit Magdelene.

It was a beautiful night Saturday. It had been a clear day, so the stars seemed to be shining even brighter than normal in the dark night sky overhead. David arrived just as I did, so we entered the grounds at Magdalene College at the same time. And instantly I was taken aback.

The square courtyard was surrounded by these gigantic stone walls that reached high into the sky. It was amazing. Michael crossed the square and greeted David and I shortly after we arrived.

“Hello gentleman,” he said in his deep voice, wearing a smile.

“This really is your first time visiting the old hallowed halls, huh Ryan?” he asked me.

“Yeah, it is.”

“Well, you are in for a treat,” he told me.

He was right. The chapel and the service were both amazing.

Entering the candlelit room, I felt like I was going back in time. The wooden ceiling loomed high overhead. The walls are ornately carved wood. And candles lined the rows and rows of seats. With their high backs. The seats are tiered, and they look toward the center of the room, so that you’re looking at those seated on the opposite side of the room as you. The choir entered in their white robes shortly after we arrived. And they delivered an incredible performance.

They have this service every night, apparently. But Saturday nights are particularly good, Michael told us. I kept thinking how much I wanted to bring Jennifer there with me, to see and experience all of this.

“Next week,” I thought to myself. “Next week.”

After the service, Michael pointed toward a plaque on the wall, behind one of the seats at the end of the room.

“C.S. Lewis,” it read. Amazing. I was sitting in the same chapel Lewis sat in for all those years he taught here at Oxford. Amazing.

As we made our way out of the chapel that evening, Michael introduced me to the Bishop who had given the message that evening.

“This is Ryan Pemberton,” Michael said to him as we shook hands. “And he’s going to be our newest President for the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society.”

“Really? Well that’s wonderful,” he said to me with a smile. Apparently he’s a former President of the Society himself.

It was news to me, as we hadn’t talked about it anymore since dinner earlier in the week. And so I was taken aback. But also elated. Incredibly excited. I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear like a little boy. But I didn’t care. I was in Magdalene College, and I had just been named the next Oxford C.S. Lewis Society President. I was ecstatic.

Tuesday Night: Even more excited

I was so excited getting that news Saturday night. I shared the news with Jen when I got back in. And she was incredibly excited for me as well, knowing how much that’d mean to me.

But, as exciting as that news was, I have even more exciting news… In about 10 hours, I will be greeting my wife at the London Heathrow Airport. With the biggest hug I can manage.

I haven’t seen her in more than five weeks at this point. The last time we went that long without seeing each other, I was a freshman in college. My first time around. Around eight years ago.

I’m terribly excited to see her again. And to be together. It’s been an incredible time being back here in Oxford, but it’s just not the same without my other half. I’m looking forward to enjoying this time together as the Pembertons again. And the next time I wake up, I’m looking forward to doing just that.

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.

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

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

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

Americans in the Library

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

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

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

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

“Seattle. Or just north of Seattle.”

“Do you go here?” another asked me.

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

“Good for you!”

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

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

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

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

Pizza Hut & Die Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: Dinner with Rob & Vanessa from Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Lighting Guy Fawkes on Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They really were beautiful. The fireworks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Tea at Walter Hooper’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was blown away at each point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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