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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

Thankfully, it was a nice day for a walk.

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

Lyndon: Like the President, but not

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

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

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

“Lyndon? Like the President?”

“Ah… Yeah, I guess I have.”

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

“What’s your last name?”

“Drake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My afternoon at the Rad Cam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner at the Turk

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

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

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

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

He smiled. And laughed.

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

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

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

The Theology of Finance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trip to the Market

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

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

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

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

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

2 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church on Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a hatchet in the woods

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

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

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

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

Summertown

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

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

A handful of restaurants. And a few shops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner with Felix & Jurassic Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprised by rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater appreciation for Lewis

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

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

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

You’ve got mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackpot

Today was another studies-filled day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Church at St. Andrew’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch with the family

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

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

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hard night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good morning

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

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, Ryan. How are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, what do you mean?” he asked

“Have you taken Greek before?”

“No.”

“Do you know the Greek script?”

“No. No, I don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

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

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

My First Essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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