Archives for posts with tag: Steve

Saturday: London the day after the Royal Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: 1 Year Later & Roses on the River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Open Forum & Atheism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Senior Tutor Mtg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: My first European Reformation Tutorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Friday: Last day of Greek & a plant for Rhona

Friday (March 4) was my last day of Greek. The rest of the class would be taking their Greek prelims the following Tuesday, but not me (since I’m a senior status student, and a year ahead of everyone else in the class, apart from Lyndon). I was just there for the fun of it.

I talked with Emily a bit before class started. Asking her how she was feeling about prelims (the exams Oxford students take at the end of their first year). She looked a bit tired, and I think she was feeling that way, too.

She said she was feeling okay about it, but that she also had another exam for prelims. In addition to Greek. She told me Tariq (the medical doctor who decided to come back and study Theology, without telling his family) actually had three exams that week, including two three-hour exams on Saturday.

“Oh, wow…” I said to her. “Well, if anyone can handle that, it’s Tariq.”

“Indeed,” she said, eyes turning to Rhona as Rhona looked to gather the class’ attention to the front of the room.

Since it was our last day of Greek, Emily had decided to get a “Thank you” card and a small plant for Rhona. From the class. We passed the card around the room while Rhona spoke. So that she couldn’t see. Signing a short note of thanks. And our names.

Just before Rhona could send us off and conclude class, Emily spoke up and told her we had something we’d like to give her. To tell her thanks.

She looked totally surprised by the gifts. And grateful for the thought. She unwrapped the plant. A hydrangea. And her eyes got big.

“Oh, how lovely, a hydrangea,” she said, holding the plant up in her hands and looking at it.

Then, turning toward us, she said, “That comes from the Greek word udor! Which means…”

“Water…”, said several of those in the class, finishing her sentence in tired voices.

Same old Rhona. Always bringing everything back to Greek. She’s a bit like the father from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in that way. The guy who is always wanting to teach people how the root-word of our English words come from Greek. The same guy who sprays Windex to fix everything, from cuts to zits.

I was walking back to Harris Manchester after Greek. With Emily. To wrap up my second of two essays due that week. For Patristics. When a girl on a bike let out a scream. She was riding toward us just as a blind man was crossing the street, swinging his cane as he tried to cross. She nearly ran into him, uncertain of whether he was going to cross or not.

We continued walking, but slowly, hesitantly, and stopping every few feet to look back and watch this man attempt to cross the street. To make sure he was okay. After a minute or so of this, I turned around and went back. To offer to help him cross. We weren’t on a busy street, it’s actually only for pedestrians. But there does tend to be a bit of bike traffic, and I felt horrible watching him try to cross without hitting anyone. Or being hit.

I walked up beside him and introduced myself. I told him I was happy to lend a hand if he was wanting to cross the street. He was a young guy. Maybe in his mid-20’s. I raised my arm so he could take a hold of it and we crossed, making sure no bicyclists were coming.

When we got to the other side, I asked him if he knew where he was going. And if he’d be able to find his way okay from here. He told me he could. So I said “goodbye” and returned to the other side of the street. Looking back over my shoulder, he still seemed to be struggling. He was walking slowly, and using his hands to feel the front of the buildings as he went. Touching each door to help orient himself. My heart went out to the guy. Apparently Emily’s did, too.

After walking ten feet or so, Emily turned around and said she was going to see if she couldn’t help him find wherever it was he was heading.

I watched as she did. Looking back over my shoulder as I walked down the street. Coming to the intersection where I had to turn the corner to head toward Harris Manchester, I looked back one last time to try and get Emily’s attention. To let her know I was continuing on to HMC. But she didn’t look. She was too engaged in conversation with this guy who she was walking with. Only taking her eyes off of him to look down at her feet and his, so as to make sure he didn’t trip up. Nothing at that point was more important to her than this conversation.

And I was so proud. Proud to have a friend with such a big heart.

I like it when God puts people like that in my life, I thought to myself as I rounded the corner and made my way to Harris Manchester. People who care so much about others. It reminds me not to be so focused on myself that I miss opportunities to serve others.

Napping in the Oriel courtyard

Seventh week was a very busy week for me. I had my last Old Testament essay due on Thursday evening, and my Patristics essay due Friday at 2:00. From Wednesday to Friday, I ended up punching out about 8,000 words worth of essays. On top of tackling each tutorial’s reading list (between 10 and 20 books each). Needless to say, by the time it came time to present my papers, I was beat.

I made it through Patristics okay, but then, immediately following that tutorial, I had to turn around and head to my Old Testament tutorial. I didn’t know if I had anything left in me. By the time you get to the end of the term here, you really do feel like you’re going to collapse.

I left the Theology Faculty Library, where my Patristics tutorial is held, and rode my bike toward Oriel College. To meet with my Old Testament tutor. To present my paper. I wasn’t supposed to be presenting this week. I have another guy in my tutorial, and so we rotate weeks. Switching off between who presents their paper each time we meet. But, just after turning in my paper that Thursday evening, I received an e-mail from Dave, my academic supervisor, letting me know the other guy in my class had dropped the course. And that I’d be presenting my paper.

“Perfect,” I thought to myself.

I arrived at Oriel a few minutes early. Looking into the window of where we meet, I could see my tutor, Casey, was still meeting with Emily, who has her tutorial just before mine.

Looking around the courtyard where I stood, I found a seat and took advantage of a few spare minutes to catch my breath. The first opportunity in several days, it seemed.

I sat down heavily, allowing my body to sink into the wooden chair. Fully enjoying the brief break from what felt like a frantic pace.

It was a  beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon, and my eyes wandered around the courtyard as I waited for Emily’s tutorial to wrap up. Taking in the tall, apartment-looking buildings that reached high into the blue sky overhead.

…And a metal spiral staircase that spun and spun before arriving at a room somewhere on the next story.

A handful of construction workers were cleaning up from the workday from the scaffolding of a building to my right. I listened to their conversation for a few minutes before leaning my head backwards to rest against the wooden chair, and closing my eyes, to get some rest before my Old Testament tutorial began.

I drifted off into something of a light sleep, and it was only when I overhead Emily and Casey asking each other if they should wake me that I realized what had happened. I quickly raised my head and threw open my eyes. Smiling at them both.

“How’re you doing?” Casey asked.

“Tired,” I replied, as we walked down the few concrete steps that lead into the room where we meet. “Looking forward to the weekend to catch up on some rest.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when Casey told me he wouldn’t have me present my paper. Recognizing it wasn’t my turn to present, and it hardly seemed fair to make me do so just because my classmate dropped the course.

Instead, we talked through the topic (1 and 2 Chronicles) together, and we scheduled a time to meet one last time. For a bit of an Old Testament history recap, which would help me prepare for my collections (testing) before the start of the next term.

Walking home that night, with Jen. After grabbing dinner in the city center. I was thankful to have made it through the week. And to have everything turned in. It would be my last week of essays for the term, and I was officially ready to collapse.

Monday: hands&feet in the mail and a Birthday tour of the Kilns

The doorbell rang Monday morning, shortly after I woke. As if to signal the start of another week.

It was the mail. The only time the doorbell is rung by the mailman is when a package needs to be signed for. So I was excited. To see what had come from home.

Signing for the box, and thanking the mailman, I took the package into the living room and wasted no time in opening it. It was from my Grandpa.

And, for perhaps the first time, he wasn’t sending us granola bars or cereal.

This time, he was sending us books. My book, hands&feet. 15 copies.

They had just rolled off the printer back home. And I was excited to see them.

It was actually the second edition of my book. A couple summer’s ago, my best friend Steve published my writing at hands&feet as a birthday present. I was blown away… A year later, I decided to add the rest of my writing, which I had written since this first printing, and republish the book in a second edition.

The book includes everything from when I first wrote about how we tend to treat the Cross like a Member’s Only jacket, more than three years ago now, to telling the story that led up to us leaving home and making this journey to England.

It took about eight months from the time I first started laying out the second edition to the time it rolled off the printers. Working on editing and layout while on vacation at a house on the Hood Canal back in Washington last summer. And while working on my schoolwork here. So I was pretty excited to finally see it in print. To hold it in my hands and flip through its pages. All 294 pages worth.

If you’re interested in a copy, let me know. I have some here in Oxford, and apparently there’s still some left back home. I’d be happy to get you one.

A birthday Kilns tour

I had a tour of the Kilns scheduled for that afternoon. Deb asked me the weekend before if I’d be willing and available to help out. There were only three people in the group, but this type of tour would be a first for her.

Two parents from Houston had gotten a hold of Deb to request a tour of the Kilns that week. They were touring around England with their son, Kirk, and they were traveling to see the Kilns for his birthday present. Kirk just turned 15. And he’s a huge C.S. Lewis fan.

What made this tour a first for Debbie, though, is that Kirk is in a wheelchair (because of his Cerebral Palsy). And so, getting around the house might be a bit of a trick, she thought. Deb let them know upfront that not every part of the house would be wheelchair accessible, including Lewis’ bedroom upstairs, but that we’d be happy to show them around as much as we could. They understood, and they were all for seeing as much as possible.

I arrived just before Kirk and his parents were scheduled to start their tour that afternoon. And I helped Deb with a few last minute things before they arrived.

Deb welcomed the three of them at the door, and I greeted them from the front of the house, in the common room. After telling them a bit about myself, I showed them around the house, pointing out photos of Lewis along the way. And sharing stories. And they loved it. I could tell they were fans of Lewis. And they were well read. Christine’s eyes would get big at different points along the tour, and Kirk would raise his head to look at the photos as I pointed them out.

Robin, Kirk’s father, and Christine, his mom, took turns pushing Kirk’s wheelchair, and making the sharp turns around the corners. English homes are tight as it is; they really aren’t wheelchair friendly in the least. But Robin and Christine were great. And they made sure Kirk was able to enjoy as much of it as possible. Christine told me he was a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia series. A wide grin spread across Kirk’s face, confirming the point.

It was a really nice day out, and so we took a walk up to the pond behind Lewis’ home after finishing the tour inside the Kilns. I warned them that the trail might be a bit muddy from the rain we had over the weekend, but they were all for it.

And it was beautiful. Several ducks were swimming on the waters. As well as two beautiful, large geese. I pointed out the bomb shelter Lewis had built at the far end of the pond during the second World War. And Christine had Robin take her photo in front of it. We stopped at the edge of the pond, to take in the view. It really was incredibly beautiful.

Christine turned to me slightly and said, “I think you have a pretty good deal here, Ryan.”

“Yeah, I really do,” I told her. “It’s nothing less than a dream come true.”

We walked to the other end of the pond, where Lewis used to sit, and I pointed out the brick bench that had been uncovered only within the past decade or so.

I told them how Lewis used to swim in the pond. And paddle his punt around it. I told them being up here, surrounded by the trees, and by the water, made me feel like I was back home.

They asked about where I live. And about the hiking, in particular. I told them my Dad actually lives in Texas, and that we had gone on a nice hike there one time. On this huge rock out in the middle of the desert.

“It was near this small German town that I can’t recall the name of right now,” I told them.

“Fredericksburg!” they both said in unison, with great excitement.

“Yeah, that’s the place.”

Apparently that’s where they went for their honeymoon. After deciding against the UK.

“We had a great time just camping out and hiking,” they told me. “And we still got our trip to the UK.”

We made our way back to the Kilns, so they could say goodbye to Deb. And thank her for making all the arrangements.

Kirk and Robin and I waited outside, in front of the house, while Christine went to find Deb inside. I squatted down beside Kirk’s wheelchair as we talked, and Robin asked me about my time in Oxford so far. They told me how they had visited a church while they were in Scotland, and how they were surprised to find it so empty. They asked about my experience with the church here, and I had told them there were a lot of empty churches around the UK, unfortunately, but that we had found a wonderful community to worship with here in Oxford.

Deb and Christine came walking through the front door a few minutes later, greeting us in front of the house. And Christine asked if she could take a photo of Deb and I with Kirk. I told her I thought that was a great idea.

I always feel incredibly happy after finishing a tour of the Kilns. Incredibly fortunate and blessed for all of this experience. But that was particularly true after finishing this tour. After seeing the love Robin & Christine had for their son, Kirk. And the lengths they went to show him their love, in celebration of his 15th birthday.

Happy birthday, Kirk. It was a pleasure to meet you and your family, and to introduce you to CS Lewis’ old home for your birthday.

Tuesday: Celebrating Walter’s 80th birthday

I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this with you, but Walter is celebrating his 80th birthday at the end of this month. I was excited to hear that the Oxford University CS Lewis Society was throwing him a birthday party to celebrate, and that we were invited to join in on the celebration.

The party was held on Tuesday evening of 8th Week, the last night of the Society’s gathering for the term. At a church on the edge of Oxford’s city center. Where Walter attends. Just down the street from the Eagle & Child.

The room was full when we walked in. Lots of men dressed in suits and ties, and women in dresses. Wine in hand. Talking. Laughing. And smiling. I recognized several people, and I immediately spotted Walter, surrounded by what looked to be a group of friends around his age.

We were greeted by David as we entered. Current President of the Society. He told us to help ourselves to some food and wine. And that they’d be giving Walter his presents shortly.

Walter made his way over to us before we had a chance to approach the food table. And I was glad he did. Jennifer and I had just been over to his house that Sunday afternoon. For tea. And I had asked him how he was feeling about the upcoming celebration. He told me he was dreading it. He told me he didn’t feel worthy of any of it. And I assured him he more than deserved it.

As part of the celebration, two former Oxford CS Lewis Society Presidents had taken it upon themselves to put together a festschrift in his honor. A compilation of essays on the topic of Lewis and the Church. And they would be unveiling it for the first time at the party.

I had told Walter that it was due in large part to his more than 40 years of work that so many people around the world had been introduced to Lewis’ writings. He reminded me Lewis thought his books would die off and be forgotten about 10 years after he passed away. But Walter had told him they wouldn’t. He told Lewis people were too smart and his writing too good for that to happen. He was right.

Walter met Jen and I with a large hug that evening. We told him happy birthday (even though technically his birthday wasn’t until later that month), and that it looked like a wonderful party. He agreed. He told us he was happy to see so many people turn out. Including his good friend Priscilla Tolkein, J.R.R. Tolkein’s only daughter.

We let Walter continue his way around the room, and Jen and I said “hi” to a few more people before the gifts were opened. Including Cole, dressed in a full suit and tie, and wearing a large smile. I told him they had done a great job putting the party together, and that it looked like a success.

Shortly after that, David rapped a wine glass with a spoon several times to quiet the room, and to gather everyone’s attention. He told the room we would now be officially starting the celebration, and that Michael Ward had a few words to say in Walter’s honor.

Michael had been standing behind the bar going over what looked like notes for his speech in his hands when we arrived. And he was now standing at the front of the room to deliver a speech in honor of Walter’s birthday.

He did a wonderful job. He told about the time Walter first met Lewis, and how Lewis had led him to the “bathroom” (a room with just that, a bathtub, and only a bathtub) after Walter had asked for the bathroom, knowing full well Walter was really in need of a toilet. And how, after Walter finally got up the courage to return to the common room to explain the miscommunication to Lewis, how Lewis replied, “Ah… Well that will cure you of those useless American euphemisms!”

Even though most everyone there that night had heard the familiar story before, laughter filled the room. Michael told the room that if it weren’t for that practical joke, and the breaking of the ice in that way, Walter and Lewis may not have become so close, and Walter might not have become so involved in helping share Lewis’ writing with others. Something everyone in the room, and people around the world, have benefited from.

After Michael’s speech, he introduced the festscrhift, and he also handed over a large, gift-wrapped present for Walter to open. Walter tore the brown paper from the gift and stared intently at it as the paper fell to the floor. It was a painting. From a scene in Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. The scene in which Lewis meets his literary mentor George McDonald (a man who Lewis never met in real life, but who influenced Lewis’ writing tremendously).

Michael explained how Lewis was quick to admit that he was forever indebted to McDonald’s writing, and that there wasn’t any book of his in which he didn’t either directly or indirectly quote McDonald. Michael explained how, just as Lewis benefited from McDonald’s work, Walter benefited from Lewis’ work, and largely because of Walter’s work, so have we.

When Michael had finished, and after Walter had the opportunity to take in this painting, he turned to the room with a look of seriousness on his face. You could tell Walter’s not one who likes the spotlight, but you could also tell he was incredibly grateful for the kind words, and for the gift.

“If you’ll permit me this once,” he spoke to the room, in that soft voice of his, “I’d like to compare myself to Lewis’ character of Aslan.”

I know Walter, and I’ve always known him to be an incredibly humble man. And so, this comparison struck me as odd. But he continued.

“You may recall, in the book Prince Caspian, Reepicheep has just lost his tail. And the other mice are standing at his side, waiting to cut off their own tails as a way to honor him. And when Aslan sees this love Reepicheep’s fellow mice have for him, he responds by saying, ‘You have conquered me.'”

“And that is how I feel at this moment,” he continued, looking around the room, with a warm look of sincerity. “You all have conquered me.”

The room erupted with the sound of clapping, and I was so proud and grateful to have been invited to join in on the celebration that evening. The celebration of a life well-lived.

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.

Tuesday: Adjusting to my wet shorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing well

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

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

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

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

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

A proud uncle

Jennifer sent me this picture earlier this week…

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: When my Greek came alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grizzly Adams did have a beard

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Breakfast with the guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guys laughed.

My shadow beard

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

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

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

I laughed.

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

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

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


Friday: An honest conversation

I had Greek the Friday morning Steve left to head back to the States. He walked with me to class and then said goodbye before grabbing a bus to Heathrow.

I had a Patristics essay due that afternoon, so I headed to my favorite spot on the second floor of the Harris Manchester Library to punch that out after Greek. Emily was heading back to Harris Manchester as well. Emily’s the only one in my Greek class from Harris Manchester.  And Emily, Lyndon and I are the only “mature” students in the class (over 21). Everyone else in the class is straight out of high school (or the UK equivalent).

Emily asked how the term was treating me as we made our way down the curved lanes between high stone walls that led to HMC. I told her it was going really well, actually. Much better than last term. I told her I just felt felt myself feeling more comfortable with everything. How last term not only was the material new, but everything was new. Now, at least, I was a bit more comfortable here in Oxford. I told her I have really been enjoying my material this term, too, which helps.

“Yeah?” she said, looking over at me with a look that told me she wasn’t quite in the same boat.

“How’s the term going for you?” I asked.

“Well, not so well,” she said. “I had a bit of a breakdown this week, actually.”

Emily went on to tell me how she went to start her essay this week and just couldn’t do it. That she just didn’t have it in her.

“I ended up skipping my lectures, too,” she told me, in a voice that sounded a bit embarrassed. “That’s just not like me.”

“Yeah, no, that doesn’t sound like you,” I said. “Have you just been tired?”

“Yeah, I really just got to the point where I couldn’t make myself do it,” she said, again, in the semi-embarrassed tone.

We talked a bit about the frantic pace of studies here at Oxford. How, when the term is in session, it really is full-time, all the time. It’s condensed, to put it lightly. And we talked about how you really cannot stop, or else you’ll just get behind.

Emily’s from the UK, but she’s not the type who just assumed she’d go to Oxford. Not at all. Even though she recently told me her Dad went to Cambridge, she seems in awe of the fact she’s here, still. Like me. I appreciate that.

Somehow her family came up. I’m not quite sure how. But she told me about how they’ll call and the first thing they want to know is how her studies are going. How Oxford is treating her.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I told her. “It’s a big thing that you’re here, and to everyone else, this is just amazing. But, to you, it’s overwhelming.”

I asked her if she had let on to her family at all about how she was feeling. She told me she hadn’t. That they’re just so proud of her for being here. How they’re always telling their friends how their daughter is going to Oxford. And that she didn’t want to let them down.

I told her I was actually somewhat relieved to hear her say all of this. Not because I liked hearing she was having a hard time, but just because it was nice knowing I wasn’t the only one to feel like that.

“Yeah?” she asked, turning to me with a look of surprise.

“Yeah, I mean, as the American, I feel like I totally wear my heart on my sleeve,” I told her. “And, when I’m overwhelmed, I feel like it’s totally apparent. Whereas, you English, you always seem so cool and relaxed.”

I told her how I had been feeling totally overwhelmed the previous term. How I was having a really hard time even returning after the holidays. After being home, earning a paycheck again, and being around friends and family. I told her how I had literally started thinking how I might be able to return home and still save face.

“Because it’s been this whole big thing, right? Coming to Oxford, I mean,” I said, looking over to Emily to make sure she was following me. Her face told me she was.

“But then, you start thinking this was all just a horrible idea. And that you can’t actually do this. But then you just do, you know? You just put your head down and get through it.”

I wasn’t sure if that’s what Emily needed to hear or not. But it was my experience. And I hoped it’d help, in some way or another.

She told me she had scheduled an appointment to sit down with the Senior Supervisor. To let her know how she was feeling. To explain why she had missed her essay deadlines. Why she hadn’t been attending lectures. And to see if she had any advice.

“Good, good. I’m really glad to hear that,” I said, as we approached the front entryway at Harris Manchester. “Well, I hope that helps. You’ll have to let me know how that goes, huh?”

She told me she would. And she thanked me for listening.

I told her I was happy to. It’s not often the English show how they’re really doing. At least not in my experience. And I told her it had helped me, reminding me I’m not the only one feeling this way at times.

Saturday: Prayer over breakfast with Rich & Max

The last time I was in Summertown working with Rich from Starbucks, he had told me how he and another guy, Max, had been talking about starting a small men’s prayer group. A “prayer triplet” he told me. Apparently it’s an England thing. Where three guys meet once a week and prayer for each other. He told me they had been looking for a third guy. And since I had a lot in common with them (married, just started at Oxford, studying theology, etc.) he thought I’d be a great fit.

Rich and Max are both doing their doctorates here. Wheras I’m doing my second BA. They’re both in Philosophy and Theology. Whereas Rich has been doing this for a while, teaching Philosophy at Biola, Max is just rolling right through, and so he is right around my age. Maybe a few years younger. And he and his wife are from here in England. Rich and his wife are both from Southern California.

I told Rich I thought that sounded like a great idea. I told him it’d be nice to have some other guys to chat with who are in the same boat.

“Cool. Well I’ll talk it over with Max and we’ll set up a time to meet, then.”

“Yeah, that sounds great.”

I ended up getting an e-mail shortly after that, seeing if I wanted to meet for breakfast that Saturday morning. In Summertown. At Starbucks. And then we could take it from there.

So I woke up Saturday morning. Hopped in the shower to wash the sleep off of me, and I and rode into Summertown to meet up with Rich and Max for breakfast. They were seated at a table in Starbucks when I walked in. I had only met Max briefly before, but he’s a great guy. He has a big floppy head of red hair that’s always puffed up in the back. Messy in a trendy “I don’t care” kind of a way. And a great grin that goes to the side of his freckled face. He’s a super nice guy, and he greeted me with a handshake and that grin of his.

The three of us walked down to a place called Joe’s in Summertown. The same place Steve and Jen and I had went for brunch when they were here last fall. And the place I went shortly after arriving and ordered a side of ham with my eggs and toast. Only to be served ham cold cuts.

It’s a great place, though. It feels American. Like the kind of restaurant we’d have back home. With wooden tables, low hanging lights and large leather bench seats with high backs.

The place is pretty popular for breakfast. It’s always full.

We were greeted by a hostess and she led us to a table in the far back corner of the room where we pulled off our layers of jackets and gloves and scarves. It was a cold morning. We all ordered coffee to warm up.

And it was a blast meeting with these guys. They have great hearts, and they’re experiencing a lot of the same things I am, which makes it easy to relate and share.

We continued to chat as we looked over the menu.

Max’s eyes fell on the English breakfast.

“Mmmm…, yeah, I’m afraid I might need to do the English breakfast,” he said, in that British accent of his.

“Yeah? That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” I told him. “I haven’t actually had one since last term.”

Not everyone’s a fan of the traditional English breakfast. Well, not all Americans, I mean. For starters, it’s served with beans. The pork & beans kind. It also comes with fried tomatoes and mushrooms, which also puts some people off. But, it does include bacon (which is really fried ham, here in the UK), fried eggs, sausages and toast.

I’m a fan. I know the beans sounds weird, but once you get over the fact that you’re eating beans for breakfast, it’s actually pretty good.

Rich went with the french toast. Always a safe bet.

Rich started us off by talking a bit about what he and Max had in mind when they first started talking about this as an idea. How they hoped it could be a place where we can talk about anything and everything. From marriage to school to whatever. And a place where we can encourage and pray for each other.

“We’re all going to be here for at least two years,” Rich said from behind his glasses across the table, “and it’d be great to have this community while we’re here.”

Max and I both nodded our heads in agreement. We talked a bit about format. About what we thought might work best.

Then we all just talked about what had brought us here, and how the transition was going for us.

It was nice to hear their stories, and, again, to know that I’m not the only one going through this big change. That we’re not the only ones going through this big change.

It was great just to open up to these guys, to say, “this is where it’s tough,” and to see in their eyes that they knew exactly what I was talking about. Because they had shared that experience.

Max talked a bit about feeling overwhelmed in his program. How he had went from being at the top of his class in his Master’s program, about being favored by his professors, but how this was just on another level. How the people here are just brilliant, and how that’s been humbling for him.

Rich nodded his head from across the table, looking at Max.

I’m not sure why, but when I hear Max’s name, I think of the kid from Where the Wild Things Are, and I can’t help but picture him in those pajamas. The ones with the ears and whiskers and claws. With the crown on top of his head. And it makes me laugh to myself.

I told Max how I had felt the same way when I arrived. How I felt totally out of my element after the first few times of sitting in Greek. With these kids who were straight out of high school with their private school education rattling off French, Latin and Greek like it was nothing. I told them that I basically realized everyone here was smarter than me. And how that helped, because I no longer had to worry about it.

“Everyone. Not just in class, but everyone in Oxford,” I said. “The guy washing the windows, I’d literally think to myself, ‘That guy’s smarter than me,’ as I’d walk by.”

They both laughed. I was serious.

We wrapped up our breakfasts. I finished all of my traditional English breakfast. Including the beans. And I felt great.

We prayed for each other, going around the table, and then we nearly left without paying. After sitting there for a couple hours, I guess we just kind of forgot about that part.

Monday: Alister McGrath & Christianity-The story of best-fit

I went to a talk with Max and Rich two nights later here in Oxford. It was at the University Church of St. Mary. It’s a beautiful church right in the middle of the city center. With tall spyres that reach high into the sky. Apparently it’s where Lewis preached The Weight of Glory during the wartime. It’s also the most photographed building in Oxford, I’m told.

It’s an incredible building to sit in, with its cavernous ceilings that seem to never end. Row after row of wooden pews lead up to the front of the church. Tall, arching stone columns reach high into the air. The walls are stone, too, interspersed with stained glass windows. And it all feels so ancient. So old. Like you’re sitting in the middle of history.

I pointed toward the pulpit off to the side of the front of the room and asked Rich if he thought he could preach better from that. He laughed.

The pulpit has a winding wooden staircase that leads up to a small, wooden, framed-in box, just tall enough for someone to stand in, looking out over the pews. It looked a bit like a little tree house. A preacher’s tree house. I told Rich if I ever became a pastor I was going to make sure I had a treehouse on-stage.

A guy by the name of Alister McGrath was talking that night on the topic of Science & Religion. Alister is a pretty well-known author and professor here. He’s an incredibly bright guy, with an amazing resume. He originally studied molecular biophysics here at Oxford, and he was wrapping up his work on his PhD in the natural sciences when he decided to pick up a degree in theology while he was at it. He’s since published a mountain of books on theology, and he frequently talks to groups about not only theology, but also hows science and theology interrelate. He regularly defends Christianity against guys who like to say Christianity is a joke because of what we now through Science.

It was a great talk, and you could tell Professor McGrath was both brilliant and really familiar with talking about this subject. After rolling through his talk for about 45-minutes or so, he took questions from the audience. And I was amazed by how quickly he responded. I was still processing the question when he was walking through the three points he would make in response. It was kind of crazy, actually.

After several questions, we were asked to thank Alister for his talk with our applause. We were also told we were invited to come upstairs, to “the old library” for some biscuits, tea and coffee if we had any other questions we’d like to ask. I didn’t, but I was interested in hearing the rest of the conversation.

Rich knows Alister, having introduced himself before. They met and Rich told Alister he’d like to help him with his website, to promote his work. So he is now doing that. Rich asked me if I’d like to be involved, and so I’m helping out with that as well now.

Rich introduced me briefly to Alister and told him I was studying theology here. He said he’d have to keep his eyes out for me, then.

“Yeah…,” I said, smiling. He was a really nice guy.

I snapped a photo of Rich and his wife, Christine, with Alister.

Rich asked if I wanted my photo taken as well.

“Sure. Yeah, that’d be great, actually,” I said.

The old library we were led to for questions with Alister afterwards was a really cool old room. We made our way up an old staircase that opened up into this ancient-looking room, with old wooden boards for a floor. Cracked and sloping, and not even in the least. The walls were mostly stained glass windows, looking out onto the Oxford city center lit up in the dark by street lights. Wooden rafters loomed overhead, and a circle of chairs had been set out in the far end of the room. We grabbed several seats while others circled the coffee and biscuit table.

Alister answered several more questions. Seemingly with ease. And more relaxed than the tone had been downstairs. Perhaps it was the smaller audience. Perhaps he didn’t feel as rushed now.

One of the questions that stood out was, “Why Christianity?” I thought it was a great question. Among all the other religions, why this one?

Alister’s a big fan of C.S. Lewis, which I appreciate. But it’s also rare. Lewis doesn’t have a big following here in England, particularly among academics. But Alister loves to quote Lewis. Or include him in his talks.

He responded to this question by quoting Lewis, saying, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

He talked about how Lewis had been an atheist for many years. And how his friend J.R.R. Tolkein had led him to the faith. He talked about the power of story. And how C.S. Lewis had seen in the Lord of the Rings series that Christianity made sense. That the story of Christianity fits with what we see around us. That this story explains the world around us better than any other religion.

Alister told us how he had grown up in Ireland, and how religion seemed to produce nothing but violence. Which is why he was an atheist himself for so many years. But then, many years later, something changed. He told us how, as a scientist, he came to see Christianity as the story that best solves all the pieces we have before us.

“In Christianity, all the pieces fall together just so,” Alister told us, looking around the room at those seated in their chairs.

Alister answered the last question around 10 o’clock that night, and the three of us made our way down the staircase and into the dark, cold night air outside. We chatted about Alister’s talk as we walked.

That was my first time listening to Alister, and I told them I thought he was brilliant.

“Sitting there, I felt like I was in the wrong place,” I told them. “Like, somehow, I had missed the memo for children’s church, and I was left sitting in the adult’s service. Like I should be somewhere playing in a sandbox during this conversation.”

They laughed.

I said goodbye and we all went our separate ways, me on my bike. It was a cold, foggy night, and the thick air seemed to envelope me as I scooted through the city center on my way north.

Steve and I woke up Saturday morning and headed to the city center for a workout at the gym. I went to grab my gloves on the way out when I realized they were nowhere to be found…

The same gloves that had been reunited only days before when my missing glove mysteriously appeared in my mailbox were now missing. Both of them. They weren’t in my bag pocket, where I had left them.

“They must’ve fallen out somewhere in the city center, again,” I told Steve as we left the house.

I had to laugh at the irony of the situation. Maybe both will show up in my mailbox next week with a sign that reads, “This is the last time!” I thought to myself as we walked along Banbury Road to the city center.

Sunday: Introducing Steve to Walter’s Home

When I visited Walter for tea shortly after returning to Oxford at the start of the term, I had told him that Steve would be coming out to visit the following week. Steve had met Walter when we first visited the Kilns last fall, and Walter regularly asks how Steve is doing. Walter’s good about things like that. He’s always asking questions that shows he cares.

After hearing that Steve would be in town, Walter said it would be nice to see him again. I suggested the three of us find a time to get together for dinner, perhaps. Walter liked that idea, and he invited us over for dinner that Sunday evening Steve would be in town. I had mentioned the idea to Steve over e-mail before he arrived, and he loved it. After hearing about our time with Walter, he was looking forward to seeing him again, and to someday seeing his home. I told him he’d love it.

So that’s what we did. After church that morning, and working away from the house that afternoon, Steve and I ventured north to Walter’s house. Stopping briefly in Summertown to pick up something for dessert. I told Walter we’d take care of dessert, since he was preparing a meal for us. He didn’t seem to mind that idea.

We made it to Walter’s home just after six that night. He greeted us at the door, with that huge, warm smile of his, and big eyes behind his glasses.

“Hello,” Walter said, welcoming us and inviting us in. “Let me take your coats.”

I greeted Walter with a hug and handed the dessert to him, explaining that it’d need some time to bake.

“Of course,” he said. “I’ll take it into the kitchen; I’m sure my French chef Benoit will know what to do with it.”

I smiled. I had never heard of “Benoit” before.

Before leaving the front entryway, I pointed out a picture that hung on the wall to Steve .

“Walter with Lewis,” I said.

“Oh, wow.”

Walter returned from the kitchen and pointed out by name all the people in the photos that hung on his walls.

“And this, this is a view of the Kilns before the house next door to it that you saw was built,” Walter explained, helping orient us to the photo.

“They had quite a bit more room back then, from the looks of it,” I said.

“Well come into the living room,” Walter said, waving us along to follow him, which we did.

“This is great,” Steve said as we entered the room.

Walter’s living room has quickly become my favorite place in Oxford. It’s so incredibly comfortable. With the fireplace and large, comfortable chairs seated around it. With the books stacked high along the walls. And not to mention that Walter always has a hot pot of tea and some sort of treat waiting.

Walter showed Steve around the room, pointing out different things along the way.

“This statue shows how movement was first introduced into sculptures,” Walter explained, pointing toward the life-size statue in the corner of the room.

“Prior to this, you didn’t see this kind of movement. The Egyptians, for example, created their statues so that their arms were at their side and their legs were straight. But, by raising this leg just so, you create this movement in the rest of the sculpture.”

Walter continued the tour, pointing out the small table in the corner of the room that had been Lewis’ when he was a young boy, and the small humidor that used to be Lewis’.

“This isn’t his tobacco, though,” Walter explained, as he held it up for us to smell.

He pointed out the illustrations on the wall. Illustrations from the Chronicles of Narnia series. The original illustrations. Crazy. And then he asked us to excuse him while he returned to the kitchen to check on Benoit. His French chef. To make sure everything was coming along okay.

He invited us to have a look around, and to help ourselves to anything. So we did.

I found my way to Walter’s book shelves and allowed my eyes to read over the titles and authors.

“He really did a great job with the colors here,” Steve said. “Even in the entryway. The green works great with the photos of the house and the grass.”

“Yeah, he knows what he’s doing, for sure,” I said from across the room.

Walter’s second passion, to literature and all things Lewis, is sculpture. And he has a fair share of it spread throughout the room. As well as several pieces of art hanging from the wall.

“Here’s a picture of Walter with the Pope,” I said, pointing to a framed photo on the wall, beside one of the framed pieces of art. Walter’s a pretty big fan of the Pope.

Walter returned from the kitchen to tell us Benoit had everything under control, and that dinner would be ready shortly.

Steve told him he had done a great job decorating. And how much he liked the color choice.

“Oh, well thank you. I’m so glad to hear you like it,” he told Steve.

They talked for a while about the particular colors, and why they were chosen. A conversation which I, as a colorblind guy, didn’t appreciate nearly as much as they did.

Walter invited us to take a seat beside the fire. He helped us to some tea, and he held out a plate full of puffed pastries.

“They’re sausage rolls,” he told Steve. “Have you had one before?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well surely you have,” Walter said, turning toward me with the plate.

“Yeah, yeah I have. They’re really good, but we don’t have them back home,” I said, taking a bite. “Probably the closest thing I can think of would be pigs in a blanket, but they’re not quite the same.”

We talked for a while over tea and sausage rolls, while “Benoit” finished preparing dinner. Walter asked us what we had planned for Steve’s time in Oxford.

“Oh, well, we’re not quite sure yet,” I told him.

“I just enjoy being here and hanging out, really,” Steve piped in. “I love Oxford, but I’m not much of a tourist.”

“Have you made it to the Trout yet?” Walter asked, turning to me.

“No, no I haven’t, but I remember you telling me about that before. Still haven’t made it.”

“Oh, well you absolutely must go.”

The Trout is an old inn that has been turned into a restaurant, which sits right on the river. Walter had told Jen and I about it the last time he had us over for supper. But we had yet to make it there.

“Yes, you should go early in the day, before it gets dark, so you can take a walk beside the river,” Walter encouraged us. “It’s a nice walk, and I know you’ll enjoy it.”

“We’ll have to do that before you leave,” I said, turning to Steve.

“Yeah, that sounds great.”

We finished our tea and Walter invited us into the dining room, informing us that “Benoit” had finished preparing our dinner.

And he did a great job. Benoit, that is. A nice ham, some potatoes and broccoli. It looked really good.

“Why don’t you sit here in your spot,” Walter said, pointing to the chair where I had sat the last time Walter had us over for dinner. “And Steve, you can sit here.”

We fixed our plates and Walter asked me if I’d bless the food for us. I was happy to.

The meal was really good, and we had a great time, talking over the food. Walter’s a keen conversationalist, and he kept the questions coming. Never pressed or forced, but just good conversation.

We returned to the living room after supper. Stomachs now full. We sunk low into our chairs and picked up the conversation again.

He asked each of us how much we had traveled around Europe. Neither of us have much at all. He told us we needed to go to Rome someday. And Italy. He told us he loved Italy, and that he had just recently returned from visiting there. I told him I’d love to see both places someday.

He told us he was happy to see us having this time together, Steve and I, even while I was so far from home.

“It must be difficult to keep a friendship going while being so far apart,” he said, with that look of serious concern on his face.

“Yeah, it is,” I said, “but it definitely helps when this guy flies out to visit like this,” I said, motioning across the room to Steve.

Walter told us he had never seen a friendship quite like ours. And he was thankful for it.

“It’s rare to find a best friend, you know?” he told us.

He also told us we needed to read C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves.

“Have you read it?” he asked us.

“Yeah, I have,” I spoke up.

“I haven’t, no,” Steve said.

“Oh, you must read it,” Walter insisted. “It’s a wonderful book, and Lewis writes about the love shared between friends. He contends for such friendship in it.”

Walter explained how he thought the Feminist movement and a lot of the other changes in the middle of the last century deconstructed such friendships (I love that Walter doesn’t bother with being P.C, by the way; it’s refreshing). He talked about how men don’t share friendships like they did before that time. He talked about The Inklings, about C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein and others, about their weekly talks, and how these men spurred each other on to do great things.

“I hope you fight for this friendship,” he told us with a look of seriousness on his face. “And if you don’t, then come talk to me, and I will for you.”

We had a great time talking with Walter that night. He’s such a genuinely kind and sincere man.

At about half past 10, we thanked Walter for a wonderful time. We told him to give our compliments to “Benoit” for a great meal. And we asked him if he’d mind taking a couple quick photos. He as happy to oblige, as long as we signed his guestbook. It was a fair trade.

We thanked Walter again for a great time as he found our coats for us. And we promised to check out the Trout before Steve left.

Skyping with Jen: We’re going to Rome!

I Skyped with Jen when we got back to the house. To tell her about our time. And just to catch up. She told me they had just talked with Monti and Heidi about their trip out to see us (Monti and Heidi are great friends of our family back home, and they’re coming to visit with their two kids this spring).

“So it sounds like we’ll be going to Rome,” Jen told me with a big grin over our Skype call. “They just booked a place.”

“Oh yeah? That’s awesome!” I told her. “And kind of funny. Walter was just telling us we need to visit Rome someday.”

I told Steve it sounded like he needed to make a trip out this Spring, too.

Wednesday: Clive’s help with a wedding suit for Steve

I was working on some Greek at Starbucks on Wednesday afternoon when Steve stepped away to go walk around town for a bit. He returned about a half-hour later with a big smile on his face.

“I think I found suits for my wedding, man.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, not realizing that’s what he had been up to. “That’s awesome.”

Apparently he had walked into a place across the street and he told one of the guys there he was getting married in October. And that he had been looking at suits back home. Not long after that, he had a suit picked out for the wedding.

“I’d love to check it out,” I told him.

“Yeah, that’d be great.”

I packed up my things and we headed across the street. We had looked at suits at a couple places back home before I left to return to Oxford, but he hadn’t settled on anything. I was curious to see what he had found.

A stocky british guy with a thick english accent and shortly shaved head by the name of Clive greeted us as we walked in. “Steve, good to see you again.” He seemed like a real English man’s man. Like the kind of guy who would be out playing rugby for the first part of the day, and then come to the shop and tell you all about suits the next.

He led us upstairs and handed Steve the suit he had picked out. It ended up being a bit different than what we had been looking at back home, but it was great.

“I like it a lot, man. Yeah, it’s really sharp.”

“You should try one on,” Steve insisted, “to get your size right.”

So I did. Clive snapped a photo of Steve in his suit first. And then one “with the best man,” as Clive said.

I’d love to share the photos with you, but apparently it’s something of a secret.

“I don’t get to see her wedding dress until the day of, so she doesn’t get to see our suits,” Steve said. “That’s fair, right?”

Wednesday: A Trip to the Trout

We were serious about taking Walter up on his suggestion to make it to the Trout before Steve left, so we made plans to venture north to the restaurant on Wednesday afternoon. In the late afternoon, but not too late. Before it got dark. So we could still take in the sights.

It was a bit of a cloudy day, and it had been drizzling off and on earlier, but we lucked out and it seemed to hold off for our walk.

And Walter was right, it was a great walk. About three miles north of where I am living here.

A couple miles into the trip, we came to a bridge that crossed a river that runs through the western border of Oxford. The river had these small boats on one side, which I had been told people live in year-round.

After crossing the bridge, the view opened up into this beautiful English countryside.

Several small ponds were scattered throughout the fields, and a group of ducks skimmed across the top of the water as we passed.

Walking a little further, we came into a small town. With this little market. And all of a sudden I was reminded how very far we were from home. In this small English village miles even from Oxford. It’s funny. I hadn’t felt that way. I had just kind of gotten used to being here. But, for some reason, walking through this little village reminded me I was in a foreign country. I a beautiful foreign country.

Most of the homes in this village were old and built of stone. With little space from one house to the next. The roads were narrow, and we walked on them. Taking photos along the way.

This thatched roof home was seated on the corner of a bend that opened up to reveal another expansive field, which it looked like people were taking full advantage. A couple was walking together. And a man was walking with his dog.

The road narrowed again as it turned into another bridge, crossing another part of what I took to be the same river, bending just so.

After crossing this second bridge, we spotted a tall sign with a fish on it.

“That must be it,” I said to Steve, as we walked past what looked to be a small, communal garden in the center of a handful of older-looking stone homes.

The Trout was just as Walter had described it. An old stone inn that had been reconverted into a restaurant. It was great.

Randomly, a peacock was wandering by the front entryway. “Must be the bouncer,” I thought to myself as Steve and I both snapped pictures.

Entering the old stone building, we ducked our heads a bit for the low entry ceiling. The restaurant was amazing. I was immediately surprised by how modern it looked. Everything was very sleek and minimal. Lots of wood throughout. Dimly lit. And it looked out over this beautiful view of the river.

We passed right through the restaurant and onto the back patio to take in the sights, before finding our seats inside.

The river was rushing pretty swiftly as we stood on the patio, taking it all in. Large umbrellas provided for the seating area, which I’m sure must be great during the spring and summertime.

A long, narrow wooden foot bridge led across to the other side. It really was a great spot.

We made our way inside and found a table in the corner of the room that looked out across the river.

It was still a bit early for dinner, so we ordered a couple drinks and started journaling.

Steve and I had been talking a bit about our dreams. And we wanted to find a time to do that before he took off. To share with each other what we wanted to accomplish. And to pray for each other. So we did.

Steve’s the kind of guy who dreams big. Unlike anyone I’ve ever met before.

Before I met Steve, I always figured dreams were a bit for people who don’t actually do anything with their life. But, instead, for people who simply “dream” of doing something big. Someday. And then someday never comes.

But that’s not the case with Steve. not at all. I still remember the first time I shared with him about my dreams to one day study at Oxford. And to write in a way that helped others see God more clearly. I hadn’t shared this dream with anyone at this point. Apart from my wife. And so I did so somewhat sheepishly.

But he told me I should go after it. As simple as that. Without laughing at me or telling me that sounded like a pretty lofty dream. Just that I should.

That was just over two years ago. It was only the second or third time we had hung out. And now here I am. At Oxford. Studying Theology. Like I had dreamt of for so long.

Needless to say, that’s something I appreciate greatly in Steve. He’s the kind of friend who’s always encouraging me to dream big, and to go after those dreams. He’s the friend who always believes in me.

Having someone like that in your life. . .well, that’s priceless.

“I figured, rather than just sitting down and writing out what we want, maybe we should start with some of the ways God’s blessed our life up to this point,” Steve suggested. “That way, we’re reminded about all of the times God has shown up and provided when we doubted whether He would.”

I loved that idea. So we did. Each journaling to ourselves.

We shared them with each other after a while. All those ways God has shown up. In each of our lives. It was really encouraging to hear those times in Steve’s life, and it was good to remind myself of all those times He’s shown up in my life, even amidst my doubts.

After a while, we decided to order some food. We’re both burger guys, so we went with two of their burgers.

They showed up on these cool, wooden serving trays. Very unique.

After burgers, we talked a bit about what we wanted to set out to accomplish in life. Short-term and long-term. And then we prayed for each other. Lifting up these dreams to God, just like we had done all those years before. With Oxford. From just outside of Oxford.

So thankful for that time. So thankful for a friend who still dares me to dream big and who encourages me to go after them.

A second dinner: Hussein’s Kebab van

We made it back to the house kind of early. As we had taken an early trip out to The Trout.

Both Steve and I had been wanting to make a trip to the kebab vans in the city center before he left. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something so appealing about eating food from a truck. I think it’s unique to men, though, as neither Jen nor Jamie are big on the idea.

Steve told Jamie we were going to go grab a second dinner from the kebab van. She told him to be careful they didn’t serve us rat. Or pigeon.

Jamie used to work in New York. And apparently there was a case where some sidewalk vendors got caught for selling pigeon. So, her fear isn’t completely unfounded, I guess.

Neither Steve nor I were swayed, though. We were dead set on ordering food from a van before he left.

Around 10 o’clock that night, we made our way to the city center. And we found “Hussein’s Kebab Van” in his old familiar spot. On the corner near the Ashmoleon Museum. Where Cole had surprised me with that first-edition copy of Mere Christianity last December.

One of my favorite parts about Hussein’s is the menu. They have everything. From pizza to burgers to kebabs… They even have tuna pizza. I dared Steve to order it, but he decided against it. Choosing to go with the chicken kebab instead.

It was a cool night, but we found a spot nearby to eat our kebabs. Under a large statue in the city center that sits between two lanes of traffic. It’s where Jen and I had eaten our kebabs before seeing Romeo & Juliet last fall.

It was a cool spot to eat. With oncoming headlights cutting through the night air, as though they were going to come straight for you, before finally turning.

The kebabs were great. Messy, but great. The hot chicken was a warm welcome in the cool night air.

It was a great time, sitting there with my best friend. Late that night in the middle of Oxford. Thankful for those times. And memories.

Thursday: Paninis & celebrating Steve’s engagement

Steve’s a big fan of the Alternative Tuck paninis here in Oxford. As am I, obviously. So we enjoyed quite a few trips to the panini shop while he was here. We’d normally meet up there halfway through the day, make our way through the long line, and head down to Harris Manchester, warm paninis in-hand, to find a place to sit and eat.

Steve snapped this one of me unexpectedly. But, as you can see, I wasted little time. That panini didn’t have a chance with me.

We worked away from the Harris Manchester Library for a few hours that afternoon. Me on my papers. Steve on his business. And on wedding plans.

Celebrating answered prayers

I had told Steve I had a surprise for him that night. Before he left. I don’t think he had any idea what it was. I told him we’d take off a little after five for it.

About a quarter after five, we left the college and headed back home. I asked Steve if he had packed any dress clothes for the trip. He hadn’t.

“Hmm… well, maybe you can borrow a pair of mine.” I suggested.

“Actually, I bought another suit with my wedding suit,” he told me. “Not sure if it’s tailored or not, but maybe it’ll work.”

After getting ready at the house, we stepped out and headed back to the city center.

“Well, bud, I felt bad we weren’t able to celebrate your engagement when I was back home,” I told him, “so I wanted to make sure we got to do that before you left.”

“Oh, thanks man.”

There’s a restaurant here in Oxford that always catches Steve’s eye. Gee’s. It looks a bit like a green house. With white trim and loads of windows. It has chandeliers hanging just above the tables inside.

I told Steve I had tried to make reservations for us for Gee’s for the night before he took off, but that they were booked out for an event.

“So, next best option: The Old Parsonage.”

The Old Parsonage is a hotel / restaurant in the city center. It’s supposed to be a pretty nice place. And apparently it’s owned by the same folks as Gee’s.

“That sounds great, man. Thank you so much,” Steve said, turning toward me as we walked. “That really means a lot.”

“Of course.”

The Old Parsonage is a really cool old stone building with lots of vines growing on the exterior. And large hedges along the road, blocking the view from traffic.

The front door is an old, castle-esque wooden door.

We made our way in to find a small room with several people seated with drinks and smiles. A young guy behind a desk wearing a dark suit and a tie greeted us. I told him we were looking for the restaurant.

“Just around the corner,” he told us, pointing us in the right direction.

The small room opened up to a slightly larger room after a couple steps. The room’s walls were plastered in framed art and portraits.

It was a really elegant place. And just a handful of other tables with people at them.

There were two older men seated with a woman at one table, and an older couple seated beside a window at another who talked in french to each other the whole night.

A Porsche pulled into the gravel driveway as we sat down, and I watched as a guy in his late 50’s stepped out, wearing a suit and scarf.

We were clearly the youngest ones in the restaurant.

Opening up our menus, I think Steve was taken aback a bit.

“Oh, wow. Man, we can go some place else if you like.”

That’s just the kind of guy Steve is. He gives other people the world, and yet he expects so little in return.

“This really means a lot, man, but I seriously would’ve been happy just being treated to ice cream or something,” he told me from across the table.

“Ice cream? Had you known me when I got engaged, I know there’s no way you would’ve taken me out for ice cream to celebrate.”

A sheepish grin spread across his face as he looked off. He knew I was right.

When I received the news that I had been accepted to Oxford, Steve treated Jennifer to an umpteen course meal at one of the nicest restaurants in the area back home. Certainly the nicest restaurant either Jen or I had ever been to. And will probably ever go to.

We had an amazing time that night, celebrating my being accepted to study here. And I wanted to do the same for Steve.

“Well thanks, man. It really means a lot.”

“Of course.”

The food at The Old Parsonage was pretty incredible. I ordered the ox. Because I’ve never had ox. And Steve ordered the cod.

Both were great. My ox tasted a bit like the best roast beef you’ve ever had. Falling apart with the slightest touch of a fork. And mashed potatoes to top it off.

We had a great time. Talking about Steve & Jamie’s big day. And remembering about all the times we had spent praying for Steve’s future wife. Over coffee at Wood’s back home. Now the big day was just months away, and I was happy to celebrate that with him.

After cleaning our plates, I slid around the table so our waitress could snap a photo of us. Celebrating just another way God has shown up, in a very big way, and answered the prayers of our hearts. The wife of Steve’s dreams.

Thanks for a great trip, my friend.

Wednesday: Wet pants and personal belongings in the toilet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having “soaked pants” would mean something quite different.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, where’s the toilet?!”

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

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

An odd piece of mail

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: A visitor from home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We grabbed a cab and headed toward the house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh wow…”

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

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

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

“Thanks, bud.”

An international pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: An introduction to Patristics

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I can tell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pretend milkshake

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

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

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

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

What came next was a thing of beauty…

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

Steve was pretty happy about his, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah? In your library?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Tough saying goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in Oxford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rain. All week. Just rain.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep,” I think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Exam Hibernation Mode

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

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

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

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

The Day of Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kicked in the teeth by Greek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting off your arm for a vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

 

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