Archives for posts with tag: The Kilns

Saturday: A boys’ choir, dinner at the Turf and a late night conversation

I led a tour around The Kilns on Saturday, before Jen and I made our way into the Oxford city center that evening. We had plans to check out the boys’ choir evensong service in New College before grabbing dinner in town and making a date night out of the evening.

Jen had never been to New College before, and it was fun to be able to show her around. New College has to be one of my favorite college grounds. First, because it’s massive. Second, because it’s so old. Even though it’s called “New” College, it is still more than 600 years old. It’s massive stone walls and high-arching wooden doors make you feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. Back to the middle ages. And I love it.

We took our seats, Jen and I, in a long wooden pew in the college chapel just a few minutes before the evensong service was scheduled to being. The high-ceilinged room was dark, and the only thing illuminating the darkness were candles interspersed throughout the pews where people sat. It was a beautiful setting, with light dancing off the ornately carved walls as the candles flickered, and it was quiet apart from the sound of people’s feet shuffling as they found their seats.

Soon, the boys’ choir had entered, and the service had begun. If we felt as though we had traveled back in time before, now we certainly did. The choral hymns reverberated off the walls in a way that seemed to swallow up the setting and then come chasing into your eardrums, transporting you to a time centuries earlier. The singing was beautiful, and I was so thankful to share it with Jen.

After the service, we followed the train of people leaving the service like a snake escaping into the darkness before we broke off from the group and I led Jen through a shortcut across the College grounds and we passed through the same, high-arching, massive wooden doors that would’ve been used to let in, or keep out, large horse-drawn carriages. We continued along the lane in front of New College and a few minutes later we took a sharp turn down a narrow alley, before passing through a low doorway, through a short tunnel and then entering into the Turf Tavern, which has quickly become of our favorite pubs to frequent.

The only down side of the Turf is that it’s not just one of our favorite pubs, it’s a very popular spot, and it’s regularly completely full of people. We walked around most of the pub, unable to find a seat, and we were about ready to leave for another pub, where we might have better luck, when I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of a familiar voice. As I turned, I realized we had walked right past Jonathan, our housemate at the Kilns, without even realizing it!

“Hey, Jonathan!” I said, turning as I recognized him.

Apparently he had not noticed us, either, as he looked completely surprised to see us.

“Ryan, Jennifer, hey!” he welcomed us with a smile, and introduced us to the woman he was talking to. “This is Stephanie,” he told us, “An old friend from London.”

Apparently they were just preparing to leave, as Jonathan had a dinner party to make, so they offered us their table. I felt bad taking it, as if we were cutting short their conversation, but they insisted. So we did. Jen took Stephanie’s seat, and I placed our food order at the pub counter. The room is filled with lots of dark wooden beams, and the low-hanging ceiling appears to be held up by the same.

After a very tasty meal at the turf–I’m so thankful my wife loves pub food as much as I do!–we made our way across town, to another pub (the Red Lion), and we continued our conversation over an order of sticky toffee pudding that we shared.

Once the plate that our pudding arrived on was nearly licked clean, and no remnants of the warm caramel dessert were left, we hopped on a bus and headed back to the Kilns. It had been a great night. It seemed like the perfect date, really. And we were still deep in conversation as we made our way on-foot up to the Kilns.

Because of this, I asked Jen if she’d like to continue our conversation up at the pond. Even though it was dark, there was a nice brick bench beside the water that I suggested as a good spot to continue our conversation. After a pause, Jen agreed. So we made our way up the small footpath leading to the pond, we passed through the small metal gate, and then we took our seat at the edge of the pond.

There was a slight wind as we spoke, causing the late fall leaves to blow into the water, as they fell like snowflakes in the dark. Fireworks left over from the Guy Fawkes Day celebration the previous weekend crackled in the distance and lit up the night sky as we talked. And it was like we were dating all over again. Jen talked, while I listened, mostly, and I found myself smiling at the scene of us, seated there together. As I realized that this woman who knows me better than anyone else was now encouraging me in our future together. It was from this spot that we talked for hours, sharing life and prayer requests. And it was from this spot that I realized I simply could not love her more.

6th Week

Tuesday: Roses from my Wrist

I was working on a presentation and essay on Tuesday afternoon, from the library at Harris Manchester, when I received an e-mail from my Dad. At the end of his note, he mentioned the fact that it’s weird to think I’m in England right now, as he had worked in England on occassion when I was growing up. And now the roles were reversed. And it was only when I read his words that I was reminded that we are actually in a foreign country right now. I know it sounds funny, but often times I forget that. I guess it has come to feel so natural, living here (all over again).

Joy’s Poems at the Lewis Society

Tuesday night was a big night at the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society. I had invited a speaker to join us, a professor from the States by the name of Don King (not that Don King) who is an expert on Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis’s wife, and who had recently been given a collection of Joy’s never-before-seen poems. Apparently they had been stored away in a friend of Joy’s attic, and they had only recently been found, by this woman’s daughter. This was the first time these poems of Joy’s had been shared with a public group, and the room was packed as people came out to hear them.

Don used a projector to display each poem on a large screen so they entire room could see them, and someone was chosen to read each poem aloud as we made our way through her works.

I’m not usually one for poetry, but I was completely taken aback by her writing. It was honest and heartfelt in a way I’ve probably never seen before. It was revealing, in terms of her relationship with Lewis, and her desire for him long before they had even met.

Joy had been introduced to Lewis through his writing. She had always been introduced to Christ through his writing, as she was raised as a Jewish woman, and she went on to spend years involved with the Communist Party. One of things many people don’t realize about Joy, though is that she was quite brilliant in her own right. So brilliant, in fact, that she graduated high school at the age of just 14, and she went on to attend University in New York in the same year.

Apparently Lewis was reluctant to get involved, romantically, with Joy at first, because of her marriage, which ended in divorce after a long-time separation around the time she first visited Lewis in England. It was not known whether she had shared her poems with Lewis or not, but they spoke, deeply, of her love and longing for him. Her words were honest and heavy, and they made your own heart heavy just hearing them.

After we had read through the entirety of her recently found poetry, several of us retired to the Eagle & Child pub, just down the street, to chat a bit more about her poems.

One of the lines that stood out to me most, and which I brought up to the group now huddled around a low, thick-wooden table in the Eagle & Child, was when Joy talked about offering Lewis crimson-colored roses from her wrists, and asked whether he would accept them. It was the kind of word picture that took your breath away.

Dr Michael Ward commented on the fact that these words appeared, to him at least, as something of a premonition. It was only a few short years later, after Joy had penned these words, that she would find herself lying on what was believed to be her deathbed in an Oxford hospital. She was stricken with bone cancer, and none of her medical staff thought she would leave the hospital alive. It was at this point that she and Lewis were married, in a ceremony at her bedside. Miraculously, Joy’s cancer went into a period of remission, and they enjoyed three wonderful years of marriage from the Kilns.

But the thought of all of this, of Joy’s words years earlier, of her offering herself in love to Lewis, even if it meant her death, and then this scene of them marrying at what was supposed to be her deathbed, it was all enough to send a chill shivering down your spine.

It was nearly 11:00 that night when five of us–Jennifer and myself, Debbie, Don King, and Malcom Guite, the self-described “furry little man from Cambridge”–tucked into a cab and made our way back to the Kilns, after talking for an hour or so at the Eagle & Child.

Wednesday: Conversation with a Pagan

I had my tutorial with Dr Kennedy on Wednesday afternoon. I alway enjoy our time together. Our conversations. And, perhaps the best part, is finishing the essay you’ve spent two weeks preparing. There’s nothing better than finishing an essay. But, having it go well helps, too.

After my tutorial, I returned to Harris Manchester to get a bit more reading done when I passed by Sue, the librarian, in the hallway leading to the staircase I would take to the library. She made a large sigh as she walked out of an office door just as I was passing by.

“Yeah?” I asked, in response to the sigh, turning my head to look at her as we were now walking side-by-side.

Sue was walking quickly, throwing her arms back and forth to keep up me. “I keep telling myself, ‘there’s got to be a better way to earn a living!'” she said with a laugh. I laughed in reply as I climbed the stairs and headed back to the library.

The Oxford Open Forum

The Oxford Open Forum meeting was that night, and so, after a bit of reading in Harris Manchester, I packed up my things and headed to Jesus College, where we would be meeting on this particular evening.

Jesus College is a small, old college in the middle of the city center. Its high stone walls are the only thing that separate the sanctity that seems to loom like a thick fog in the college’s inner quads and classrooms from the busyness of the shopping and restaurants and people passing by outside its walls.

I made my way through the college entrance, showing my ID to the porter, and I followed the directions I had been given to find my way to the classroom where we’d be meeting.

There was only one other person there when I arrived. An older Pagan woman who I knew, and he is incredibly kind and soft-spoken. And, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, we would be the only two people making up the Open Forum that evening.

And so we began talking, as we waited for others to show up. She told me about how her mother tried to get her to go to church as a young girl. And how she’d have to go to Sunday school. But she didn’t like it.

“It never stuck,” she said, quite pointedly. “I didn’t like the control,” she continued, now with a distorted face. “You must do this, this and this, or else you go to hell and burn for eternity.”

I gave a face that showed I sympathized with her.

“So, after putting up a fight for all those years, finally she stopped forcing me to go,” she told me, now looking rather triumphant.

“How old were you then?” I asked her. Her brow now lowered as she thought.

“Oh, about 12, I suppose.”

And I struggled to wrap my mind around this response. Even if I conceded to this understanding of Christianity, that we must obey a body of rules and laws, or else we’ll burn for eternity in hell (which I feel is a misunderstood interpretation of the Scriptures), I still don’t see how I could ever respond this way. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Bible is pretty clear on the destiny of those who aren’t covered by the grace made possible by Jesus’s sacrifice, I also believe Christianity is about more than following a long list of rules.

But I’m getting off topic… It was this woman’s response to what she thought Christianity was about that puzzled me. I was puzzled by the fact that she simply stopped believing in the Christian God because of the punishment she was told she’d receive if she didn’t obey this long list of rules. And I didn’t understand the logic in that. I’m not about to stop believing in electricity, for example, just because you tell me I’ll get shocked if I stick my finger in an electrical outlet.

Still, there was no one else around, and I was curious, so I asked her to continue, and she did. She told me how it wasn’t until her 50’s before anything “stuck.”

“Why’s that?” I asked her. “Why then?”

“Well, I underwent an incredible change…,” she told me, pausing, somewhat dramatically. She was clearly deep in thought as she spoke. “Everything sort of fell apart and I had the opportunity to start over.”

I told her it seems like, for many of us, that’s the only thing that gets us to the point of asking such questions. She nodded in agreement. And gave an “Mmmm…” to back it up.

But I found it odd, hearing her talk about her search at that point, how she ended up at Paganism. After searching through “all the other religions.” Because that one fit best. Like a t-shirt. Or a pair of jeans. Not because it was what she believed to be most true, but because it fit her.

Again, I struggled to wrap my mind around this response, and I chewed on it as I made my way back home to the Kilns that night, first on the  bus, then on my walk up Kilns Lane and along Lewis Close.

Thursday: Making sense of it all

I was still thinking about this conversation when I was walking down Cornmarket Street late Thursday afternoon, in the cold evening air. It was dark out, and I was running errands.

A man was playing bagpipes on one end of the street, as people carrying shopping bags passed by. The young guy was playing “Amazing Grace,” and a small group of people were gathered around him. He looked like a student, with his bag open in front of him, waiting for donations.

Then, walking a bit further, I came across a young woman who was sitting on the ground on the opposite end of the street. She was covered in a blanket, and she had two dogs by her side. She was playing a recorder, but it was drowned out by the sound of the bagpipes from the young guy playing down the street. She was staring off in his direction as people passed by her. No one stopped to put any change in her hat, which was sitting face up in front of her.

And I found myself overwhelmed at this sight. Thinking about how cold the night air was. And how I simply couldn’t imagine having to spend the night outside in this weather. I found myself overwhelmed by the brokenness of this scene. And not only of this scene, but by all of this. By everything around us. I found myself thinking, “Whatever you believe, somehow you have to deal with this brokenness.”

Somehow, whatever you believe as to make sense of the fact that some of us go hungry and sleep on the cold, wintry sidewalk each night, while others pass by on their way to a warm meal and a warm home. And it just doesn’t make sense to me.

“This isn’t right,” I found myself thinking as I made my way past this young girl. This can’t possibly be how it was supposed to be. And whatever you believe, somehow you have to deal with this.

I think the Christian story is not only the most beautiful response to this problem–that a God who is both hurt by how we’ve wronged Him, in our disobedience, is also hurt, heartbroken, at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, and so He’s sent His only Son to make it right–I think it’s also grounded in history. That’s why I believe the Christian account of reality. Not just because it appeals to my heart, but because it appeals to my head, as well.

And I found myself thinking, as I walked, “I don’t want to believe this halfway. Either all the way or nothing at all.” And I prayed that that would always be the case for me. That I would believe this story with my whole heart. With my whole being. And that I would live it out. And that it would always be that way.

Ravi Zacharias and An Infant Rescued from Snake Alley

After running a few errands, I met up with Jen that night, who was working from Starbucks, and we made our way to St Aldate’s Church together. A guy by the name of Ravi Zacharias was speaking from St Aldates that evening, and I was excited to hear from him. I had heard of his name, and I had several friends who worked for the missions organization named after him, but I had never actually heard him speak in-person.

I was instantly taken aback by just how easy this man was to listen to, as he took the stage to a loud round of applause that evening. He was soft spoken, in a way that made him seem inviting to listen to, and personable, but he also managed to be very serious and intentional with each word, at the same time.

He shared with us how he had come to the Christian faith when he was just 19 years old, after having attempted suicide. He told us about how he was from India, and how none of his family were Christians, but how, when no one was there for him, except his mother, when he was lying in bed in a cold hospital after attempting to starve himself, a stranger visited and gave him a Bible, and told him there was hope, and that life was worth living.

He told us about how this experience changed the rest of his life, and how he has spent nearly the past 40 years traveling the world sharing with others who Christ is and why His life matters to us, here and now.

Ravi talked, as those in the old, stone church listened, about how those who hold to a secular worldview have a problem when it comes to how we are able to distinguish between what is good and what is evil. He talked about how, ultimately, those who hold to such a belief system are only able to distinguish good from evil based on what is practical for us. Based on what we want to call “good,” and what we want to call “evil.”

As he spoke, I was reminded of an article I had read recently. It was from an interview with the well-known Atheist Richard Dawkins, and he was being asked about this very issue. Dawkins had just made the point that our concepts of good and evil are simply a product of our culture, and he went on to say that we could imagine, if we tried, a culture that disagrees completely with our concept of good and evil.

In response, the interviewer brought the conversation to a point when he asked Dawkins if he thought this included rape. He asked Dawkins if he could, theoretically, imagine a culture that believed the practice of rape was not wrong, but good. His response, after some thought, was yes, yes he could envision such a culture.

My thoughts returned to the conversation at-hand as Ravi Zacharias began sharing a story about a trip he once took to Taiwan. He told us how he was sitting on an airplane, waiting for it to take off, when a woman sat down beside him. He told us how he asked her what she did, and she told him how she was involved in rescuing those enslaved by the sex trade.

Ravi asked this woman whether her trip to Taipei had been successful, and she told him it had. With a look of excitement, she told him about the infant she had rescued the night before.

And it was then that Ravi’s voice turned more serious than I had heard it all night. He told us how this woman had, the night before, found herself in Snake Alley, rescuing an infant from the hands of a man who had just fried his brains with a shot of snake blood, and who was about to have his way with this young child.

Ravi stopped talking at this point, and he looked out at the people gathered in St Aldates that evening, to hear from him. My eyes were misted over and it was all I could do to hold back my tears.

“You cannot tell me that this man’s intentions were anything other than evil,” Ravi spoke up once again, breaking the silence.

A Metaphor in the Stars

Jen and I hopped on a bus and made our way back to the Kilns together that evening, discussing the talk at St Aldates as we traveled. The bus dropped us off at the end of Lewis Close, and we walked the 100 feet or so up to the house.

As we walked, I found myself staring up into the dark, night sky. At the stars glimmering in the darkness. And I spoke up to Jen as I did.

“Does it blow you away to think that the same constellations you can pick out back home in the States you find halfway around the world, here in England?”

Jen paused, for a moment. To think about my question. Before replying, “No, because I don’t look for them in the States, and I don’t look for them here. I look where I’m going, rather than staring up at the stars.”

“Hmmm… Is that a metaphor?” I asked Jen, as she used her keys to open the front door.

“No, it’s just what I do,” she replied.

“I think it’s a metaphor,” I said, as I followed her into the house, cleaning the wet leaves from the bottom of my shoes, before stepping inside.

Friday: Could Not be Happier & A Terrible Surprise

I finished my weekly essay on John Calvin early this week, which meant I had some extra time to work on the essay I was writing on CS Lewis, Pagan mythology and Christianity. I don’t often find time for this, so I was thankful for the extra time to read from the Rad Cam.

I spent the morning reading several articles for my essay before heading to the Mitre Pub, to listen to a talk on the topic of Hell, and whether a Good God could actually allow such a thing.

I found a seat by my friend Tom, who works for the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and I told him how much I enjoyed the talk the night before. Tom was happy to hear it. He smiled, and nodded, as I talked.

“The thing that’s so great about Ravi,” Tom said, matter-of-factly, “Is that he removes the cultural argument against Christianity. He’s an Indian man from an Indian family, and he loves Jesus Christ as Lord.”

After the talk, I made my way back to the Kilns, as I had a tour to give that afternoon. The group were all Americans, and they all really seemed to enjoy the tour. As I made my way around the house, pointing out different pictures along the way, and telling stories about C.S. Lewis and his time at the house, I kept thinking, “I get paid to do this…” I was still waiting for the catch as I finished the tour and then spent some time getting caught up on e-mails over hot English tea and cucumber sandwiches from Lewis’s brother’s old study.

That evening, I told Jen I’d take care of dinner, and so I made a trip to the market and came back with fixings for tacos. It was while I was browning the hamburger and listening to music from C.S. Lewis’s old kitchen when it struck me, “I really do not feel like I could be any happier!”

But that’s when things changed. That’s when I received some surprising news that brought me from feeling like I was walking on clouds to feeling as though I was struggling to find my way in the dark, all over again.

A couple weeks earlier, I had a call with a publishing company back in the States. They had read a manuscript I had finished over the summer, and they were really excited about the idea of working with me to publish it. Wanting to get to know me a little bit better, after reading my words, we arranged a time for a Skype call. Even though it was the end of a rather long day for me here in Oxford, and even though we didn’t start talking until 10:30 that night, it went great. They basically started the call by saying, “We don’t know how long this will take, maybe 10 minutes, maybe 20 minutes. We just want to get to know you a little bit better.” Over an hour later, we were saying “goodbye” and they told me I could expect to hear back in a couple weeks with their decision. Because of how well the call went, I had began to believe that this was really going to go through.

But that’s when I heard back from them, on this particular Friday night, as I was preparing dinner. I received an e-mail letting me know that, as much as they loved my writing, and as much as they enjoyed getting to know me, they didn’t think now was the right time, largely because of the questions about what I would be doing after my time here in Oxford.

I was crushed.

I read the e-mail jut as we were sitting down to eat, and Jen could see the look of pain on my face as I did.

“What,” Jen said, looking over the top of my laptop. “What is it?”

I turned the computer around, so Jen could read it for herself, and all of a sudden I was no longer hungry.

We talked for a bit, Jen and I, from the kitchen. She told me this didn’t change anything. That she still thought this would go through, someday, but maybe just not with this particular publisher. She told me she still believed in me, and in my writing, and not to get too down about it.

I thanked her for her encouragement, and then I excused myself. I threw on my coat, and I grabbed my hat, before stepping outside, into the cool night air, and making my way the short walk up to the pond that sits just behind the house.

I sat on the brick bench alone in the dark, the same brick bench Jen and I had talked from a few days before, when the leaves fell like snowflakes, and I allowed my thoughts to race at this news.

“I really have no idea what I’m doing,” I thought to myself, “If this doesn’t go through.”

All of the excitement I had felt about life and where we were going, just an hour earlier, now seemed to be long gone. It felt as though it had run off with someone else, and that I was left alone, sickened by its absence.

And so I prayed. I called out to God, wondering what I was supposed to do with all of this. Wondering how He was going to work through all of this. And wondering, ultimately, where I was supposed to be heading.

It was there, in the cold, late-night air, beside this pond where Lewis used to sit and think, that I found myself now calling out to God. With many tears, I sat there and listened to the nearly-silent air that passed through the trees. And, even though I was all alone, and even though if someone were there, seated beside me, they wouldn’t have seen anything change, or hear any voices, I suddenly felt God encouraging me. I suddenly felt a peace of mind about the whole situation. I remembered Jen’s words she had spoken to me from this same spot just a few days before, and I felt Him reminding me that He still has plans for all of this, even when I cannot see them.

And suddently, even though nothing had changed, it was though things had. I was still hurt by this news, sure. And I was still struggling to figure out where that left us, but I no longer felt overwhelmed by it. Suddenly, in a way I can’t completely explain, I knew He was going to work through all of this in an incredible way. In a way I would never have believed were someone to tell me about it when we first set out for Oxford.

I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my jacket and smiled a bit as I stared out across the pond into the darkness. I thanked God for never leaving me alone, even when I feel so alone. And scared. And I made my way back toward the house. And back to my wife.

Saturday: Our trip to Blenheim Palace, and the Reason for Hayley’s Words

We woke up Saturday morning, Jen and I, and we made our way across town and caught a bus outside of the city to Blenheim Palace, an incredibly large, beautiful building that sits on more than 100 acres in the English countryside just outside of Oxford.

The palace was hosting a Christmas-themed fair this weekend. With crafts and food. And we decided to spend the day there, taking it in.

We had both been to Blenheim Palace before, but it’s still enough to take your breath away.

As you walk along the footpath leading up the palace, you’re welcomed by a stretching scene of a slow-moving river and a large bridge, with the palace sitting on a hill in the background. It’s beautiful, and it feels a bit like you’ve just been transported into a Jane Austen novel.

It was a beautiful day when we visited Blenheim. It was cold, but the sky was blue and only interspersed with white clouds, slowly gliding by in the horizon.

We enjoyed looking through the different craft booths that day, stopping to pick up a few Christmas gifts for our family. We enjoyed hot roast pork sandwhiches for lunch, and, for dessert, we shared a cup of hot cocoa.

When our stomachs were full and warm, we walked to the edge of the palace courtyard and took photos. Of the palace. Of ourselves in front of it. Sometimes jumping or making funny faces, to crack each other up. Other times just smiling, or taking in the scene.

I had so much fun with my wife that day. And it helped to take my mind off the news we had received the night before.

It was dark by the time we took the bus home that night. And we talked as we did, as the bus pulled around corners, maneuvering its way through the tight Oxford lanes.

And we continued talking as we walked the short distance from our bus stop to the Kilns. We talked about Jen’s sister Hayley. And this news. And something Hayley had said to me, before we left home. And before she passed away.

“Hayley believed in this, you know?” Jen reminded me in a serious tone as we walked. She paused, as her eyes became glossy from holding back her tears. As did mine.

“She believed in you and your writing,” Jen continued. “It made a difference in her life. And even though I don’t think that’s why she’s gone, I do think that maybe God knew you’d need that, as motivation.”

The tears fell slowly as her words came, warming my cheeks in the cold night air as we walked. And it was then I knew that no matter how bad this news hurt, I couldn’t let it stop me from doing what we came here to do.

Hayley believed in this, Jen reminded me. So did Jen. I had to, too.

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Jen and I caught a bus home after our date night on Friday. It was a cool night, and we were anxious to get inside the warm home and escape the cold by the time we had walked from our bus stop. But just as we opened the door, a taxi pulled up outside the house, which I thought was odd, considering it was now 12:30 in the morning. I remembered our good friend Cole, who’s currently studying at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, was visiting for the weekend, and I wondered if this was him.

I watched as the cab door opened up and a dark silhouette stepped out onto the street. Sure enough, it was Cole. I recognized his profile as Cole handed the cab driver his fare, and so I waited at the door to welcome him.

“Haaaaaay!” he said as he drug his luggage through the gate and to where we stood at the doorway. We welcomed him with hugs and caught up from the kitchen. He had grabbed a late dinner from a kebab van in the city center, and I made myself a bowl of cereal while the three of us talked. Friends don’t let friends eat alone…

It was nearly 1:00 in the morning by the time we said “goodnight” to Cole and made our way to bed. Cole would be joining us for Guy Fawkes Day fireworks in South Park the next day, just as the three of us had done the year before.

Saturday: Day with Jen & Guy Fawkes Day

Jen and I started off Saturday with a trip to the Oxford city center. It had been a busy week, and we planned to spend the day together before catching the fireworks display in the park with the rest of the house that night.

After showering and grabbing a quick breakfast, we caught a bus to the city center. Our bus made a quick stop in Headington, a small village just outside of the city center, and my eyes caught a small boy walking behind his parents. He was carrying a long, plastic sword that was nearly as tall as he was. He stopped for a moment to try and “sheath” the sword into the front of his pants, but quickly realized doing so would prevent him from walking. His parents stopped to look back and find the boy in the middle of this dilemma. I laughed. And asked Jen if our boy could have a plastic sword one day. “Of course,” she said. I grinned widely.

We got off the bus at High Street, and we tucked into a small antique shop near the Exam Schools building. We thumbed through a large collection of old Oxford photos and illustrations, pausing to show the other any ones that we particularly liked. Finally, after looking through dozens and dozens of matted illustrations, we decided on an old drawing of High Street, complete with a carriage, one of the Radcliffe Camera, with several Oxford students in their cap and gowns, and one of the Bridge of Sighs. We talked about how great the pictures would look framed in our future home some day as we made our way out of the antique shop, across the High Street, and down a narrow lane that leads toward the heart of the city center.

It was a beautiful, clear, cool day as we walked through this cobblestone lane with leaves on ground. The stone footpath was covered in rich oranges and reds and yellows. And it was almost as if Oxford had dressed up in its finest Autumn-inspired outfit, just for us. Fallen leaves were draped across the cobblestone lane leading us beneath the Bridge of Sighs and finally up to the Radcliffe Camera, illustrations of which we carried in our plastic bag.

The streets were packed as we made it to Broad Street. Jen had wanted to try on some boots, and so we polka-dotted the city center with our stops in a handful of different shoe stores. We took a brief break from our shopping to wander down to the Alternative Tuck Shop and order two paninis for lunch, which we enjoyed from the dark leather couches of the Junior Common Room of my college. We didn’t manage to find a pair of boots for Jen, but we did enjoy spending the day together. It was a wonderful time, and something we don’t get to do nearly enough.

We returned to the Kilns in the middle of the afternoon, while the sky was still a light shade of blue, with streaks of white clouds drifting slowly by. And, as Jen searched for her keys to open the door, I found my eyes wandering to the small blue plaque on the side of the house, the one that identifies the home as where C.S. Lewis lived from 1930 to 1963, and to the windows that look into his old bedroom, and it was then that I realized, perhaps for the first time, how truly incredible it is that we live here.

Lighting Guy Fawkes on Fire & Fireworks in South Park

That evening, Jen and I and Cole made our way to South Park, where Guy Fawkes Day was being celebrated, along with Debbie and Jonathan, who are living at the Kilns, and David Naugle, a short-term scholar from Dallas. We walked the long way around, passing through the nature reserve in the dark. Around the pond where Lewis used to swim and go punting, and through the field with its tall grass. We walked in a line, with Jonathan leading the way. Jonathan walks between the city center and the Kilns every day, which takes about an hour, so he’s well-practiced. He keeps a good pace, and the rest of us did our best to keep up with him.

As we made it out of the nature reserve and onto the streets, we found ourselves walking amongst a large crowd of people, all making their way to the Fireworks display. I talked with Cole as we walked. We had left the house a little later than we should have, and so we were wondering if we’d make it on-time.

I joked that I had told those in charge that we might be a little late arriving, and so we didn’t need to worry about the show starting without us. Cole played along with the joke.

“Ladies and gentleman, has anyone seen a tall, handsome, intelligent fellow?…” Cole said. “And his friend Ryan Pemberton?”

I laughed out loud.

We passed through the gate leading into South Park only to find it lined with large carnival rides that lit up the night skyline, and food vendors that filled the air with scents of grilled sausages and hot mulled wine. It felt a bit like being at the county fair back home. And I loved it.

“Does being here make anyone else want a hot dog?” I asked.

“It does me,” said Cole.

“Just you two, I think,” said Debbie, the vegetarian in the group.

We found our way toward the front of the crowd that had gathered in the eastern end of the park for fireworks. The show had yet to begin, and we stood should-to-shoulder as we waited in the crowd.

Apparently my comment about hot dogs had stuck with Cole, as he soon took food orders from our group and left to hunt down hot dogs while the rest of us waited for the fireworks to begin. Less than 10 minutes later, they had begun.

The percussion was so loud you could feel it in your chest as the fireworks exploded into the black night sky in bursts of reds and blues and yellows. Those standing around us ghasped in awe, as did I.

“They were all out of hot dogs, so I got us burgers instead,” Cole said as he made it back to where we were standing in the crowd. The fireworks were building up to a grand finale, and we all stared skyward, faces lit up by the display, as we enjoyed our warm, tinfoil-wrapped burgers.

After the fireworks had finished, a giant, 50-foot tall effigy was lit on fire, and the crowd watched as it went from a small fire to a roaring blaze.

Limb by limb the effigy was torn down by the flickering tongue of the flames, and we all stood there, looking on, almost as if we were bystanders to a crime. But it was no crime. It was just a typical Guy Fawkes Day celebration in England. It seemed so primitive and barbaric. So pagan.

The crowd dwindled as the statue crumbled, leaving little more than a bonfire, and soon we were making our way out of the crowd and back toward the Kilns. But before we had gone, Debbie and Cole let us know they wouldn’t be able to leave without a ride on the merry-go-round. And they were serious.

The rest of us watched as they purchased their tickets and found a seat on the ride, each choosing their own “horse” before it began. But before the merry-go-round could begin its rotation, it became clear that not everyone was going to be able to have their own horse. A small girl was left looking for a free seat when Cole noticed and offered her his. Realizing this left him without his own horse, he took the front seat of the horse Debbie had been on.

“Nooooo…” I said in a hushed voice, realizing that not only would Debbie and Cole be riding the merry-go-round, but they’d be sharing the same horse!

As the ride began, they both looked over at us with embarrassed grins, Cole from the front of the horse, and Debbie from the seat just behind him. I burst into laughter, in disbelief of the scene.

Neither one of them were about to let the opportunity go by without hamming it up, so they made different poses on each rotation as they passed by us. Cole would extend his arms out into the air, as if he were flying, and Debbie would lean back and swat at the horse’s rear end, while the three of us laughed uncontrollably from our spot just beyond the ride. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard.

We caught a bus back to the Kilns that night. Jonathan had returned before us, to finish dinner preparations. Our meal was ready not long after we returned, and we all sat down to an incredible dinner in the dining room.

Jonathan is an amazing cook, and we enjoyed a truly inspired meal over much laughter as we explained the scene of Cole and Debbie on the merry-go-round to Jonathan. It was a great day, and a great night, and it didn’t end until nearly 2:00 the next morning.

Sunday: Magdalene Chapel & Shadow proves the sunshine

Jen and I attended church at Magdalene Chapel on Sunday morning, in the college where Lewis taught when he was here in Oxford. David, the short-term scholar from Dallas, joined us.

Magdalene is one of my favorite college chapels here in Oxford. It’s massive, and it has an incredible number of ornate carvings spread throughout its walls. The ceiling is a high-arching wooden structure, and the walls are lined with stained-glass windows. On this particular morning, a ray of light came dancing into the room through one of the front, corner stained glass windows in the chapel, in rather dramatic fashion, just as the choir–a mix of men and boys–began the morning hymns. It was an incredible, beautiful service, and I was so glad we had attended.

Afterward, we wandered a short way down High Street to the Grand Cafe for brunch. The Grand Cafe is England’s oldest coffee house, and David had never been before, so we thought it would be a nice place to follow up the service we had just enjoyed together.

We talked about the Switchfoot concert David would be attending the next week in Cambridge over our hot breakfast and coffee. David told us how he knew Switchfoot’s lead singer, Jon Foreman, and that a lot of the band’s lyrics had been influenced by his father, a pastor in California. I shared with him my favorite Switchfoot lyrics: “the shadow proves the Sunshine.” We agreed it was a beautiful line; theologically weighty and poetic.

We finished our breakfast, took care of the bill, and then we made our way back to the Kilns on a particularly sunny Sunday afternoon. It was nice to get back home early and enjoy a restful day before the start of another week.

5th week

Monday: Lincoln College’s most famous alum & Proud of you

In contrast to the weekend’s sunny weather, Monday arrived with a thick blanket of fog. The air was wet from it, and your clothes would pick up the moisture as you walked. “This feels like the England as so many know it,” I thought to myself as I made my short walk to the bus stop, en route to the city center and college.

After several hours of reading, I clicked off my desk lamp in the Harris Manchester Library and rode my bike to Lincoln College, where I’d be meeting Rich and Max and Britton for lunch. We’ve been meeting together once a week, on Mondays, to share life and lunch, and then pray together.

I hadn’t been to Lincoln College before, but it is a beautiful college in the middle of the city center. It’s small, but I’ve found myself liking the smaller colleges lately. They’re less intimidating.

We followed Britton through several courtyards and down a small stone staircase to an underground room lined with old wooden tables and flatscreen monitors on the walls. At the end of the room was a bar, where students where placing their food orders. The whole thing looked like a rather modern pub, and it was.

“I’m a little jealous that Lincoln has its own pub,” I confessed to Britton and the rest of the guys. “But this is great!”

We placed our orders, sandwiches and soup, and retired to a small alcove that looked a bit like a bomb shelter in the corner of the room.

“This place is amazing,” I said as we sat with our lunches. The guys agreed, nodding their heads as we dug into our food.

“Yeah, I think it used to be a wine cellar,” Britton told us as we ate.

“That makes sense,” said Max.

We were in awe of what an incredible deal Lincoln was for lunch, as well. For £1.95, I got a bowl of soup and a sandwich. It was incredible, really.

We had a great time of prayer, as we wrapped up our meal and time together. Walking out of the underground pub, we followed Britton along a cobblestone walkway, and it felt a bit like we’d traveled back in time.

Britton showed us the College’s chapel and dining hall as we toured the grounds. In the dining hall, Britton made sure to point out a large portrait of John Wesley, most famous for founding the Methodist Movement.

“He’s probably our most famous alum,” Britton told us.

“Meh…” I said with a smirk.

Rich laughed. “Yeah, not that big of a deal,” he said sarcastically.

Proud of You

Back in the library at Harris Manchester, I found my studies interrupted by a Skype call from my Mom. She calls me fairly often when I’m in the library, and, since I’m almost always wearing my earphones to listen to music while I read, I’m able to hear her without interrupting anyone else. I type my responses, and she speaks to me. It’s a routine we’ve got down as I’m often in the library when she calls.

The call was brief, and after a bit of small-talk, my Mom’s voice took on a more serious tone.

“Ryan, I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she said as she began. “I’ve been thinking about it and, I think if C.S. Lewis was alive today, he’d be so proud of what you’re doing.”

My eyes focused and the skin on my face tightened. Even though I couldn’t talk anyways, being in the library, I found I had to stop. I put my head down, and it was all I could do to stop the tears from welling up in my eyes.

My Mom didn’t know it, but I had been feeling a bit disillusioned at the time. I was having a tough time, wondering about the future, what we were going to do after my studies here, and all. The idea of what Lewis would’ve thought about all of this, were he alive, had never crossed my mind, but it meant so very much.

My Mom had to go, as she was on a break at work and now had to get back to things there, but she could see how much her comment had meant, even though I could hardly type.

No One Will Ever Believe You

Jen and I had a Skype call with her family that night, from our study at the Kilns. We were talking with Jen’s mom when we heard a knock on the door. I was closest to it, so I got up from my seat and opened the door. It was Debbie, and she was asking if Jen’s book was available. I looked back to Jen, who seemed to know what she was asking for, and she handed me a small romance novel from the desk.

I looked at the book she was handing me, and turned to hand it to Debbie with a look of surprise. Debbie is, perhaps, the last person you’d expect to be reading such a book. Debbie teaches Medieval Literature at a University back in Tennessee, when she’s not the Warden here at the Kilns. She likes things like knights and horses and Beowulf, and she invites her students to (secretly) bring their swords to class to show her.

I thought it was hilarious that Debbie would actually be reading a romance novel, and she smiled as I handed the book to her.

“No one will ever believe you, Ryan,” she said to me with a wide grin, almost as if to read my thoughts.

Tuesday: Our Finnish Friends

I had a lunch meeting with a guy from Finland by the name of Jason on Tuesday. Jason had spoken to the Lewis Society last year, and I had been in touch with him over the summer about joining us again this year. He had told me that he’d be stopping through Oxford on his way to a conference in the States in November, and we agreed that it’d be nice to meet up for lunch while he was in town.

At 12:30, I walked around the corner from College to the King’s Arms, a small pub where we’d be meeting for lunch. Jason was standing in front of the pub when I arrived, dressed in a black turtleneck and blue jeans. Though I’m not terribly tall, I’m not used to looking up to speak to most people, but I had to with Jason.

Jason stands at least 6’3″, and his hair is shaved short. He has a deep voice, with a strong Finnish accent, which paired with his height to make me feel just a bit less manly than I had when I arrived.

“Hello, Ryan” Jason said, greeting me with a firm shake. His wide grin was the only thing that made his presence less than intimidating.

We tucked into the pub and ordered some lunch before finding a seat near the front of the pub. It was cool outside, and while I’m not usually much of a chili fan, I ordered a hot bowl of it to warm up.

We enjoyed a great conversation over lunch. He sharing his story with me, and then vice versa. And it was funny how closely our stories lined up. We had both read C.S. Lewis at the age of 19 for the first time, and his writing had changed the course of each of our lives in a rather dramatic way.

Jason had been planning to pursue a law degree when he first read Lewis. It wasn’t long after that, he explained to me from our seat in the pub, that he asked himself what he would do if money were not an option, and if he could do everything. Once he asked himself that question, he told me, he decided he’d actually like to study theology. I laughed as he told me about this experience. It was funny just how similar it was to mine.

At one point in the conversation, Jason recommended a book called A Severe Mercy to me. It was a book that had been recommended to me several times before, by people who knew we were coming to Oxford, but I had yet to pick it up. It was a book about an American couple who moved to Oxford for studies as non-believers, and who came to the Christian faith largely through C.S. Lewis’s writing and their later friendship with him, and how the husband dealt with the loss of his wife in later life.

Jason told me he typically had about 20 copies of the book on-hand at his home, and that it was his “go-to” present for newlyweds, as it had some incredible lessons for marriage and life. I hadn’t been persuaded to read the book before, but after hearing this, I told Jason I’d have around the Kilns for a copy as soon as I got home that night.

“I think you’d get a lot from it,” Jason told me, matter-of-factly, “They have a very similar story as you and Jen.”

I thanked Jason for what had been an incredibly encouraging conversation as we made our way out of the pub, and he invited me along to dinner that evening. I hadn’t planned to go, as I had lots to do, but Jason said he’d like to introduce me to his colleagues here at Oxford over dinner at the Eagle & Child before the Lewis Society met that night. I told him I’d do my best to be there, as we exchanged another firm handshake and I made my way back to the Harris Manchester Library to get some more reading done.

Finnish Survivor & Walter’s Warm Welcome

After an afternoon of reading, I gave in and made my way across town to the Eagle & Child for dinner. Jen had texted me that afternoon to let me know her and Debbie would be going, and I couldn’t not go at that point. I walked into the pub only to find that nearly everyone else had already arrived. Jen was seated behind a long wooden table as I entered. I exchanged smiles with Jen before saying “hello” to Debbie and Jason and several others as I made my way around the table to sit beside her.

After several minutes of introductions to Jason’s Finnish colleagues who were joining us for the evening, we made our way to the counter to place our orders and then settled in to wait for our meals to arrive.

Debbie mentioned that Jason was on the Finland version of Survivor, and he nodded embarrassingly as Debbie rolled her head back with laughter. I was stunned.

“This will be another conversation,” Jason said to me, from across the table, with a look of complete seriousness.

I laughed.

“All right, yeah. I’d love to hear about it,” I told him.

He ended up telling us a bit about the experience over dinner as it arrived. About how he went for days without anything to eat or drink to start the show, and then about winning a competition toward the end of the show that rewarded he and another (male) contestant with an incredible formal dinner while the other (female) contests were forced to watch.

He told us about how the competition consisted of carrying melted butter by the mouthful across the sandy beach and filling up a bucket. The result was being covered in butter and eating as much as he could while several girls, who were chained up, for dramatic effect, were forced to watch.

“None of us had eaten for days,” he told us, wearing a broad smile as he remembered the scene. “It was quite the picture!”

Apparently he nearly won, too, making it to day 42 of the 45-day competition.

After a laughter-riddled meal, we left Eagle & Child and made our way to the Lewis Society meeting just a few buildings down on St Giles Street.

The meeting went very well, and afterward, Jennifer and I caught up with Walter, who lit up when he saw Jennifer.

“Well helloooo,” Walter said to her with a hug as soon as he saw her. It was the first time Walter had seen Jen since we had returned, and he did a double-take to make sure it was, in fact, her.

“You look genuinely happy,” Walter said to Jen after their hug. I looked over to Jen, and she really did.

“Is it love?” Walter asked with a bit of a coy smile. Jen smiled embarrassingly in return.

I laughed.

“That must be a rhetorical question, Walter,” I said with a grin.

“He really gets better every day, doesn’t he?” Walter asked, looking back to Jen.

I asked if Walter wanted help down the stairs, as he was on his way out to catch a cab when we caught up with him, and I helped him down the narrow, spiraling stone staircase before saying “goodbye” and making our way back to the Kilns.

Wednesday: Tour with Rob & If You Were to Write About This Year…

On Wednesday night we invited our good friend Rob over to the Kilns for a visit. He had never been before, and he would be leaving in a couple days to return to Washington State to join his wife, Vanessa, so we were happy to see him once more before he left.

Rob and I ended up making the last leg of the journey to the Kilns together, as our paths crossed (I on foot, with groceries in hand, and he on his bike) during the last mile of the trip. The air was cool, and we were both dressed warm. We caught up on how things had been going as we made our way to the Kilns together.

When we arrived, Jen met us at the door and let us know that she had just put on some water for tea, if we wanted some. We both agreed that sounded perfect after the cool-air walk, and so the three of us gathered in the kitchen and talked over hot, English tea.

We talked about what it’d be like to transition back to life in the States. We talked about finding jobs and re-adjusting to the cultural differences, after adjusting to life in the UK. We talked about how odd it will be to hang out again when we’re back in Washington, now that we’ve only known each other in England. And then I showed Rob around the house, pointing out interesting photos and telling stories along the way.

It was a much more informal tour than what I’m used to, and it was great. Rob would ask questions as we walked, and we’d talk about the books he had read. Rob had previously recommended I read A Severe Mercy, and so I mentioned to him that I had finally picked it up.

At the end of the tour, Debbie and Jen met us back at the front of the house. I introduced Rob to Debbie, and told her that Rob’s wife, Vanessa, had been at the house for the girls’ high tea that Jen threw last year.

“Ahhh, okay,” she said, connecting the dots.

We said our goodbyes to Rob, making tentative plans to get together again when we were back in the States for Christmas, and then he was off.

A Late-Night Visitor

Jen and I enjoyed dinner from the kitchen that night, which tends to be a rather social time when people are at home. Jonathan and David had gathered in the kitchen with us while we ate, and Debbie joined us later. There was a knock on the door as we were finishing our meal, and everyone looked around to make sure we were all there before giving one another puzzled looks, as if to say, “Who else could be knocking at this time?”

But I knew who it was before I even got up to check.

“Oh, it’s Tom,” I said, getting up and making my way to the front door.

Tom is a good friend of mine here in Oxford. He works at Ravi Zacharias Ministry, and he had given a talk the week before on the topic of topic of how a good God could allow suffering, which I had attended the week before.

I introduced Tom to Debbie and David, as he knows Jonathan (they grew up together) and Jen, and then we took a short walk to the Ampleforth Arms to catch up. There were only a handful of guys in the pub when we arrived, most of whom were watching a soccer match on a widescreen tv hanging from one of the walls. Tom and I tucked into a pair of overstuffed leather couches in the front of the pub, and we enjoyed catching up on life and church and studies.

I also asked Tom about balancing marriage and work and parenting, as he’s a few years ahead of me, and he and his wife have a young daughter at home. I talked about some of my goals, pausing to hear Tom’s advice, and I told him how much I appreciate the life of the mind here in Oxford.

“I feel like my mind is alive and at work here,” I told him, “in way I haven’t found anywhere else.”

Tom smiled, and nodded, in a way that told me he knew exactly what I meant, and we made our way back to the Kilns in the cool night air.

It was nearly 11:00 when we returned, and as we turned onto Lewis Close, Tom commented on how incredible it must be to me to be here and to be so involved with C.S. Lewis.

“Giving tours, living in his home,” Tom began.

“President of the Lewis Society, writing my essay on him…” I finished.

He smiled.

“If you were to write about what this year might look like before all of this,…” Tom began.

“…It would not have compared with this.” I said, finishing his sentence. Again, a wide smile from Tom.

Thursday: High Tea at the Kilns

Jen and Debbie put together a high tea at the Kilns on Thursday afternoon, as we had a new scholar arriving from the States, an English Professor from Montreat College in North Carolina by the name of Don King. Our Finnish friends were still in town, as well, and so they were invited to join us, too.

That afternoon, there were nearly 15 of us gathered around the dining room table, which was now overflowing with freshly baked scones, cucumber sandwiches, two kinds of hot-out-of-the-oven cookies and tea, along with fresh jams, lemon curd and coddled cream for the scones. It was quite the sight.

We talked about Lewis and his wife Joy Davidman and love as we dug into the food and tea. Everyone agreed, the food was amazing, and we let Jen and Debbie know they had done a great job.

Don recently published a book on Joy, who was married to C.S. Lewis for three years before she passed away. She was quite the fiery Jewish New York woman before she was converted to Christianity, in large part through Lewis’s writings, and Don shared some of her earlier writing with us so we could get a sense of her personality.

He read a review Joy had written about a film that had, rather overtly, been produced to drum up efforts for the second World War, particularly among male viewers. It had us all laughing out loud. One part of the review, in particular, made a rather pointed attack on the main actresses inability to act, which, apparently, was made up by her looks.

“Although if she were to wear a brazier,” Don read Joy’s review aloud, “suddenly her acting skills would drop dramatically.”

Everyone around the table was squinting with laughter at Joy’s writing.

“I can see why Lewis would’ve loved this woman,” I said, in between laughs.

“Yes, but what does she really think?!” Jason asked with a loud, affirmative voice of authority, and half a smile. We all laughed even harder.

I’m picking things up on our second year at Oxford, even though I didn’t have a chance to wrap up last year while we were home over the summer. I apologize. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell the story of how last year finished at another point in time. Until then, here’s how our return to Oxford unfolded…

After being home for three and a half months, it was not easy to say goodbye to our friends and family back home when it came time to return to Oxford. We had grown awfully comfortable back home, and it felt like we were being uprooted all over again. Such is our life for now, it seems. But knowing where we were returning to did make things a bit easier.

Our new home

For those who might not know, we found out just before leaving last spring that we wouldn’t be able to live in the same place this year as we had last year. That was a pretty big disappointment. It was a beautiful home, everything was new, and the neighborhood was the nicest either of us had ever lived in (and likely ever will). As it turns out, the family we were living with (the family that gets invited over to Elton John’s place for parties, to hang with folks like J.K. Rowling and others) needed the space, as their parents were getting older, and they had been staying over more and more.

We understood, of course, but it was tough knowing we wouldn’t be returning to that home that had grown so comfortable to us. Our home search over the summer did not go so well. I’d continue to look for housing options from back in the States, but nothing seemed to come up that was in our budget and close enough to school. And this became more and more stressful the closer we came to making our departure.

Then, in September, I received an e-mail from Debbie, the woman who manages the Kilns here in Oxford (C.S. Lewis’s old home). Debbie is a professor at a university in Tennessee, and she’s on her sabbatical, living here at the Kilns and working on her own studies. Debbie prefaced her e-mail by saying she didn’t know if this was some crazy-Debbie question, or if this was a God thing, but she wanted to let us know that the C.S. Lewis Foundation was considering inviting a couple to live in the Kilns this year, and that she thought we’d be the perfect couple. She asked us to think about it, and to let her know if we were interested.

Those of you who know me, and who know C.S. Lewis is the very reason I’m here, studying theology in Oxford, will know how unreal that offer was to me. And it was. But knowing that Jen would be working for the Foundation, I wanted to make sure that wasn’t too much for her. I wanted to make sure she didn’t feel as though she could never get away from work, or that we were only living here because she knew I’d want to. And so we talked it over. We prayed for a week, and Jen came to me one day, while we were still back home, to let me know she thought this was a great fit for us, and that we should go for it. I agreed.

Our return to Oxford

After leaving home Sunday evening (our 11:40 p.m. flight was pushed back to 1:15 a.m. Monday morning), we touched down in London around 10:30 p.m. local time. We made our way through the meandering Heathrow hallways, through customs, and found our bags, sitting beside the carousel, heavy from their over-capacity packing. I threw them onto a luggage cart with a heave and then we made our way to the bus that would take us north to Oxford (about an hour’s journey).

But as we came out of the arrival’s gate, I noticed I didn’t recognize where we were at. I hadn’t landed here before, apparently, and so I wasn’t sure how to get to the bus station where we’d be catching the Oxford Tube (as there are several different bus stations at Heathrow). We walked toward the door I thought would lead us to the Tube, and I asked a guy who was approaching us if he knew where we could find the Oxford Tube.

“The bus?” he replied with a look of confusion. “I don’t think any more buses run to Oxford at this time of night. You’ll probably need to take a taxi.”

I thanked him and he continued on his way behind us. It was after 11:00, but I was sure the Tube ran later. And a taxi ride was out of the question. That’d surely cost us more than a £100 for the trip.

Quickly I remembered the lanyard around his neck. It was emblazoned with a taxi cab company’s logos.

“A taxi cab driver telling us we have to take a taxi from London to Oxford,” I said aloud, to Jen. “Go figure.”

After some walking, and some more asking (this time from a bus driver), we managed to find the place where our bus would meet us. But once we arrived, I looked on the schedule only to find that the last bus arrived at 11:10. It was now 11:30. My heart sank.

Thankfully, my wife is smarter than I am.

“Ryan,” she said, “the first bus comes at five after midnight. We’re fine.”

Jen and I took a seat on a bench beside the bus stop, under an overhead covering. It was nice to stop for a moment to catch our breath. And to talk. About our journey. About returning to Oxford and all we were doing.

It was raining when we arrived (it always seems to be raining when I arrive here), and the wind was beginning to pick up. The wind swept the rain between the overhead covering and a gap in the wall, so that there was a fine spray on our faces. I hoped the bus would come soon, so that we could escape into its warmth.

I checked my watch. It read 12:05. The bus was scheduled to arrive, and still there was no sight of it. Five more minutes passed and I began to worry we had somehow not read the schedule correctly. I called the number listed on the schedule, only to find the offices were closed (of course). I walked back to the bus station to ask someone if they knew anything about the where our bus might be, and they told me it was likely just running late.

They were right, and five minutes later, our large, looming bus pulled into the bus stop and we were soon being shuttled past the highway road signs on our way north to Oxford. I remembered the first time I traveled to Oxford. I was without Jen. And I remembered passing the same road signs. “Birmingham” is abbreviated as “B’ham” here, and I thought it funny having left “Bellingham” only a day earlier to be passing signs for “B’ham” here, 6,000 miles away.

We got off the bus at a park & ride in East Oxfordshire just after 1:00 in the morning, and we took a cab the short, five minute drive the rest of the way. I paid the cab driver and thanked him for helping us with our massive bags, before we passed through the small metal gate in the hedges and made our way to the front door. I rang the doorbell, and Debbie welcomed us with a warm smile, a hug, and  a loud “Heyyyyyy!” It was so good to see her, and it was an incredible feeling to be at the Kilns again.

The home was warm, and it was just as I remembered it. Quaint and comfortable. Old, in a way that kind of reminds you of your grandparent’s home, but warm and soothing. It was bright, with all the lights on, even in the 1:00 a.m. darkness outside.

We set our bags down in our room (which used to be Lewis’s brother Warnie’s room) and we joined Debbie in the kitchen. She had made some homemade soup that day, and some homemade cookies, and she offered both to us. We took a seat in the kitchen and she happily served us, as we happily accepted it. The warm soup tasted so good after a day’s worth of travels.

Debbie told us all that had happened at the house since we had been gone. About the different conferences that had been held, and about all the interesting people who had come through. She served us a plate of cheese and crackers, and when our soup bowls were empty, she offered to refill them. I was happy to let her.

By 2:00 a.m., both Jen and I were well fed and past tired from our travels. We were happy to say “goodnight” to Debbie and to retire to our bed, which had been done up by Debbie, with two chocolates resting on our pillows. It was so nice to return to Oxford and the Kilns, but this welcome made it that much better.

Tuesday: My first day back in Oxford & classes

My alarm went off at 7:00 on Tuesday morning, less than five hours after I had gone to bed that night, after traveling over night the night before. And yet, surprisingly, I was wide awake. It must have been the adrenaline. Preparing me for what would be an incredibly busy return to my classes. Preparing me to punch out a presentation and two essays in only a few days’ time.

We had returned to Oxford a week later than we would have otherwise. Steve, my best friend, was married the day before we left, and I was the best man in the wedding. So, rather than fly to England for a week, fly home for the weekend, and then fly back to Oxford for the second week of classes, I made arrangements before I left to do my first week’s work from home (which ended up just being reading, as my essays were due second week).

Unlike when we arrived, Tuesday morning was a beautiful day. It was sunny, and the blue skies only carried a handful of floating white clouds. I got ready quickly, only stopping long enough to shower and shave, but not to eat, before I made my way out of the house, down the lane, and onto the bus that would take me into the city center, a 20-minute ride away.

And it was an odd feeling, riding past all these buildings I hadn’t seen for months, still just as I remembered. We drove over Magdalene Bridge and past Magdalene College, where Lewis used to teach, with its large stone tower and stone walls, and we continued along High Street. I got off the bus here, on High Street, and took a shortcut down a curving lane with high stone walls, where all I could see towering over the walls were the high tops of towers from neighboring college. I walked past the entrance to New College (an ironic name, considering it was built in the 1300’s), and continued through an even narrower passage, past several high-climbing, old apartment buildings, past the Turf Tavern (where Bill Clinton used to frequent when he was a Rhodes Scholar here at Oxford, and where an open door revealed a woman behind the bar humming as she cleaned glasses from the night before, and I made my way out onto the road that would take me directly to Harris Manchester College, my first stop for the day.

Walking past the large, stone walls that lead up to the entrance of Harris Manchester, that odd feeling returned. It seemed like I had been away forever, and yet, here it was, just as I remembered it. It was a bit like returning to a dream, a dream I had had long ago. But it wasn’t. It was real. All of it. And I was thrown back into the middle of it just as though I had never left.

I stopped into the front office, to pick up my key to the library, and, as I did, I thought I was going to be attacked.

“Ryannnnn! Helloooooo!” Amanda’s voice came pouring out of the front office window in that beautiful, singing British accent as I entered the room. Amanda works in the office, and she is quite possibly one of the sweetest women I have ever met. And her greeting immediately made me feel welcome.

“It is so good to see you again, Ryan. Welcome back.”

I picked up my key from Amanda, we talked for a few minutes about the summer, and then I was on my way up the large, stone staircase that leads into the library. As I made my through the large, wooden double-doors, I passed by the front desk, where Katrina, one of our librarian’s was working. The look one her face when she saw me was one of, near, shock.

“Ryan?…” she said as I approached her with a smile. “We didn’t know if you were coming back.”

Apparently my delayed return had not been shared with many, as this was the response I received for the next few days. I explained to Katrina why I was late returning, and how much I had to get done in the next few days.

“Well, we’re very happy to have you back, Ryan,” Katrina told me with a smile. “I was beginning to wonder if we had lost you to an American University.”

“Of course not,” I assured her. “Never.”

I continued to pass through the library and up the narrow, spiral staircase. Its metal frame creaking slightly as I climbed. I walked around the upstairs walkway toward where I normally sit to get started on my presentation that was due later that day, only to find the desk where I normally work filled with a pile of books on Economics.

“Of course,” I thought to myself as I sat my bags down on another table. “That’s what I get, I suppose.”

I opened up my computer and used the notes I had gathered while back home to punch out a presentation on John Calvin. I finished it five hours later, just in time, and I scooped up my things before making my way across town, to the Theology Faculty where the class would be held.

As I entered, the first person I saw was David, my first tutor from last year. An American who finished his Dphil here at Oxford and is now teaching. It was great running into him, and he looked very happy to see me.

“Ryan, how are you?” he said with a wide grin as we hugged.

He told me another one of the Theology students at my college had seen him the other day and asked if I wasn’t returning. I told him I had already gotten that as I shared our summer with him.

“So, are you living in the same place, then?” David asked me.

“No, actually. We aren’t. Which was tough. But we’re actually live in the Kilns, in C.S. Lewis’s old place, over in Headington.”

His eyebrows shot up behind his glasses.

“Really?! Oh, wow…”

“Yeah, we’re staying in his brother Warnie’s old bedroom.”

“You’re kidding! Ryan, that’s incredible! And that’s funny, because Julia and I were just talking, and she was saying it’d be nice to check out the CS Lewis Society some night. Is that something you’re still involved in?”

“Yeah, I am. I’m the President now, actually.”

Again, his face exploded with surprise. And he laughed. I told him I’d send him the list of speakers for the term, so that they could have a look and see when they’d like to join us. I also told him we’d love to have them out to the Kilns at some point, if they were ever interested in taking a tour.

“That’d be great. We’d really like that,” he said.

Tea, biscuits and Calvin

As we finished our conversation, John, a classmate of mine from last spring, walked past us, stopping when he noticed it was me. John is in my Calvin class, and I was excited to see him again. I said “goodbye” to David, told him I’d be in touch, and John and I made our way upstairs to our classroom.

We were early when we arrived, but Sarah, our tutor for the Calvin class, wasn’t far behind. I introduced myself to her, and she seemed very happy to meet me in-person (we had been in touch over e-mail while I was still back in the States). She was very nice. Young and upbeat. She excused herself shortly after saying “Hello,” so that she could go make some tea and grab some biscuits (cookies) for our class.

“Welcome back to Oxford,” I thought to myself with a smile.

John and I were scheduled to present that day. He went first. And quickly I felt intimidated for my own presentation. John’s a brilliant guy. But he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. Dressed as if he had just come back from the gym, he poured through his presentation with ease, telling us why he disagreed with this scholar, and what he thought about that scholar. Apparently John’s father is a rather well-known pastor and successful author here in Britain. But, again, you’d never know it. He’d never come right out and say it.

I followed John with my presentation. And it went well, I thought, but I prefaced it by saying it would be quite a bit more thin than John’s. And it was. I finished much more quickly than John did. But Sarah thanked me very much after I was done, and told me she thought it was great. There were four other girls in the class (more than two people in a class is a rarity for Oxford, but it’s typical for our special Theologian classes). We had a brief time of questions following our presentations, over tea and biscuits. And 90-minutes later, we were saying our goodbyes and packing up.

I spoke with John for a few minutes before making my way back to Harris Manchester. I asked him if he had some dental work done over the summer.

“Yeah, I did, actually,” he said with a smile at my having noticed.

He explained that he had gotten into a bike accident over the summer and had some damage done to his front teeth. He said the dentist told him, while they were making the repairs, that they might as well straighten things out a bit for him.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. You look very American!” I told him with a laugh. He laughed, too.

“All you need now is a bit of bleaching and you’ll fit right in.” He laughed again.

“That’s right, very Hollywood.”

I said “goodbye” to John and made my way toward Harris Manchester. To get a bit more reading done before heading to the Oxford University CS Lewis Society, which meets on Tuesday nights.

And as I walked across the city center, I realized I had yet to eat that day, having been too busy working on my presentation to stop for lunch. I glanced at my watch. It was nearly six now. “Still time to catch the Alternative Tuck and a panini before it closes,” I thought to myself on my walk. If I hurry.

I entered the small sandwich shop just around the corner from Harris Manchester only a few minutes before it closed for the night, and instantly the guys in the shop recognized me. Smiles spread across the faces of those behind the counter. “Hey, are you okay?” they asked me (a traditional greeting here in England, which threw me off the first few times I heard it).

“Yeah, I’m doing really well. Happy to be back,” I told them. “I just got in early this morning, so I’m still adjusting to things, but it’s good to be back.”

We talked for a few minutes while my sandwich was being made. I asked them about their summer, where they had vacationed (in the Lake District), and how business had been (“Better now that school is going again”) before saying “Goodbye” and returning to Harris Manchester and the library. I managed to get a bit of my reading for the next day’s essay done before grabbing my things, again, and returning back across the city center to the CS Lewis Society meeting.

“I’ll be happy to have a bike again,” I thought to myself as I made my way back down Broad Street, between the tall,stone buildings on either side of the road. I never walk this much back home, and it always takes me longer than I imagine. But it does provide a nice opportunity to take in all the old buildings again. Walking past the high walls of Oriel College, I peaked in-between the gate to take in the College’s ivy covered stone walls in all of its grandeur, along with its sweeping green grass lawns. Oxford is such a beautiful place, and there’s nothing like it, so far as I’ve seen, back home.

First night back at the Lewis Society

I made my way to Pusey House (pronounced “pew-sea”), where the Lewis Society meets, and I greeted our speaker for the evening, as he was standing in the doorway talking with the Porter (the official title of the door guards found at all of the colleges and halls here in Oxford). Brendan, our speaker for the evening, is a past President of the Society. He’s an American, I believe, who is wrapping up his Dphil here at Oxford after spending some time in Germany with his wife, another Lewis scholar. He wears a long beard, and he looks a bit like the guy from Iron & Wine. But he’s super nice, soft spoken, and incredibly bright.

We made our way up the tight, stone spiral staircase and shortly after we entered the room, Walter Hooper came in flocked by a large group of students.

“Walter, it’s so good to see you again!” I said, greeting him with a smile.

I asked him if he had brought all these students with him. And he laughed.

“No, I’m afraid not,” he told me, wearing a wide smile. Having only talked once or twice over the summer, by e-mail, It was so good to see him again.

I introduced myself to start the meeting, mentioning a few announcements before introducing our speaker for the night. Brendan took his place at the front of the room to the sound of clapping as I took my seat in the front row. I listened to his talk on “C.S. Lewis on Relations Between the Churches,” and, as I did, I began to wonder quietly to myself, how in the world am I here? How in the world is it possible that I am studying at the same place as this guy?… He’s brilliant. And then I began to wonder how long it’d be before someone in the Society found me out and my role as President was revoked.

An hour and a half later, after the presentation and a brief time of Q&A, I was making my way back across the city center to hop on a bus and return to the Kilns. I hadn’t seen Jen all day, and I was about ready to collapse from fatigue.

I had a business conference call with someone from the States scheduled for 10:30 that night. Jen greeted me at the front door of the Kilns. It was so nice to see her, but it only lasted for a moment as I had to setup in the common room for my call.

An hour later, Jen and I were talking over a bowl of Debbie’s leftover soup in the kitchen. And cookies.

Jen has a tough time adjusting to the time difference coming this way, whereas I’m the opposite. Here, she struggles to fall asleep before 3 or 4 in the morning. And, because of that, she usually doesn’t wake up until well after noon. Other than dealing with the time difference, though, Jen was doing really well. Her and Debbie had spent that afternoon getting things settled here, as a tour had come through.

It was so nice to see her that evening. After my first full day back. I was overcome with fatigue from travel and studies, but also filled with excitement about being back in Oxford, and all that came with it. It was so exciting to me to think that this, this was going to be our home for the next year. And, as tired as I was, I was so excited to think about how it was all going to unfold.

Thanks for reading.

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.

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.”

I was invited to CS Lewis old home not long after arriving here in Oxford. After only a matter of days, really. For tea. Just a small, private group of Lewis fans. And I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

Cole set it up for us. He lived there at the Kilns last year. So he still had the connections to make this happen. And after hearing Jen & Steve would be here on the day of the tea, he made sure to let me know they were welcome to join us as well. Great guy.

Monday: The lion guy, tea at the Kilns & a formal dinner

I’ve been surprised to find that CS Lewis isn’t a bigger deal here in Oxford. Being where he lived and taught and wrote for so many years. I’ve brought up his name as the reason why I’m here to several people, and, on a couple occasions, I’ve been met with faces that looked like they had no idea what I was talking about. Not every time, but on more than one occasion.

One person thought I was talking about Lewis Carroll. The author of Alice in Wonderland. Carroll also studied here at Oxford. At Christ Church. He was a brilliant mathematician, apparently. I’m sure they were scratching their head on that one for a while, trying to figure out how Lewis Carroll would make me want to study Theology.

I don’t know, maybe it seems funny to some people. You can almost see the look on their face. Almost as if to ask, “Wait, the lion guy, right? The one who wrote about the kids who went into the wardrobe? That one? That’s why you’re here?”

Yep, that’s the one. But I never actually read the Narnia series. I’m not a big fan of fantasy. I have a terribly limited amount of time to read and a massive list of books I’d like to read. And so when I do finally find time for it, I want to read something a bit more meaty. I want a big steak. I don’t have much room for dessert on my plate.

No, for me, Lewis is the man who, in Mere Christianity, put his arm around my shoulder and said, “You don’t have to feel like a fool for believing this stuff.” And that was the first time I ever felt that way. The first time I ever read him. During my sophomore year of college. My first time around.

Lewis took a logical approach to dig through the beliefs of the Christian faith. Using analogies and reason to talk about things like whether Christ was just a man or something more. And that was so foreign to me. That approach.

As I read through his pages, I found myself encouraged, that I didn’t have to leave my reasoning at the door to approach this stuff. The stuff of the faith. In fact, I felt like he encouraged me to dig into the faith in a way I never had before. For he’s the one who put my hand in the hand of the Lord’s and said with a smile, “Go for it. Go the whole way, and don’t feel like you have to apologize for it.”

And as I did, I felt my relationship with Christ grow deeper. I felt my faith open up and awake in a way it never had before. Probably because it was the first time I felt like I could put both feet in. And, ever since then, I’ve wanted to help others do the same.

Tea at the Kilns

Jen, Steve and I took a bus to the Kilns on Monday afternoon. It was a short ride from Oxford’s city center. Maybe 15 minutes.

Jen spotted the sign as soon as we got off the bus for the Kilns, letting us know we were in the right spot.

We walked down a short lane and, sure enough, there was Lewis’ old home. Just as Cole’s directions had explained. A smallish cottage. Surrounded by trees and a garden. Just peeking out from behind the greenery.

Two small signs identify the home. One on the top left corner reads, “The Kilns.”

The second, a small blue plaque, the same style found on Tolkein’s house across the street from where we’re living, tells the dates Lewis lived here.

A small black cab was parked in front of the house when we arrived. Walking up, we saw Walter Hooper get out.

Walter was Lewis’ secretary before he passed away. They had been in touch for many years before that. Sharing letters back and forth across the Atlantic. Walter moved here shortly before Lewis died, and he’s been here in Oxford ever since. Writing. About Lewis, mostly.

I first met Walter at a CS Lewis lecture here at Oxford. Shortly after arriving. He was incredibly nice. And soft-spoken. He told me he’d have to have me over for tea at some point. I was pretty excited to hear he’d be joining us for tea on this afternoon, as I knew he’d have plenty of stories for us.

“Walter, hi,” I said with a smile as we approached. I held my hand out to greet him.

“Ryan Pemberton. We met at the Lewis lecture a few weeks back.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” he said in his soft-spoken voice. “Nice to see you again, Ryan.”

I introduced Walter to Jen and Steve. I told him how they had just arrived a few days earlier, and that they’d be joining us for tea.

He greeted them. Warmly. Like he was genuinely happy to meet them. And then he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small journal. The same small journal he pulled out when I met him before.

“I’m just going to put your names down here,” he said. “And look who that is,” as he opened the page to my name.

Walter told us how he had lived here for several years. With Lewis’ brother, after he passed away. He told us how Lewis and his brother bought the home for £2,000. And how Tolkein had encouraged them to buy the property next to the house for an additional £200, but they didn’t have the money.

He told me how Lewis and his brother used to go for walks. Around the lake behind their house. Behind the Kilns.

“Would you like to go see it?” he asked. It sounded like a trick question to me.

“Yeah, that’d be great,” I told him, with big eyes. So we headed up the hill, toward the lake. The muddy trail squishing beneath our shoes as we walked.

We came to the top of the hill and all of a sudden it opened up into a tree lined lake. Leaves were falling from the trees. Swirling round and round before landing on the surface of the lake. Into a pool of ripples. Ducks floated softly by. It was beautiful.

Walter told me how Lewis used to love swimming here. In the lake. And I thought that was so funny. I guess I never pictured Lewis as a swimmer. Probably because I never pictured him without a pipe in his mouth.

Walter told me some more stories as we walked. Stopping to point out a brick bench that overlooked the lake. Telling me about how the area used to be. About how much it had been developed since those days. About all the new homes. About how it looked before. In that soft-spoken voice you could listen to for hours.

We made our way back down the hill. Along the muddy trail. Back toward the Kilns. Knowing tea would soon be ready.

Rhona (my Greek professor) and her husband arrived just as we did. On their bikes. They were joining us for tea as well. They both looked winded from the ride. But happy to be there. They both wore wide smiles.

Rhona’s husband, Chris, is the dean of Christ Church here at Oxford. Pretty big time position. But he was super down to earth. Just as Cole had described. Great guy to talk to.

After introductions, we made our way into the house. For a tour. And for tea.

The first room we came to was the living room. A desk set just below the window on one wall. While two bookshelves sat on either side of the fireplace on another wall. A couch and a couple chairs rounded out the room. Several photos hung on the wall. Of Lewis. And of his wife. Joy.

Walter pointed to one of Lewis and told me that was the last day he was ever photographed. And that he (Walter) had taken the photo.

I looked over the books on the shelves. Not the originals that were there during Lewis’ day, but lots of his books. Lots of very early editions. I took an early edition copy of Screwtape Letters from the shelf and flipped open to the first few pages. “To JRR Tolkein,” it read.

The shelf held some books about Lewis, as well. Including this one by Walter.


We continued our tour. Making our way into what has been setup as a library. It was a garage before. Now it holds books. Lewis’ original signed marriage license to Joy. Memorabilia from when the movie Shadowlands was filmed. And the original Eagle & Child sign, which Walter managed to get from the restaurant and donate to the Kilns.

We were talking about Lewis’ writing. Walter and I. About how he managed to do what the Theologians of his day couldn’t. About the way in which he managed to pair logic and reason with wonderful analogies to paint a clear picture of the rather complex points of the faith.

“That’s where his intellect and imagination really came into play,” Walter said. “It was the perfect combination.”

Walter told Steve he must hear some great Theology from me. I shook my head, sheepishly.

Steve told Walter I was actually quite the writer myself.

I told Walter I felt like there was an opportunity. To reach people of my generation. With the things of the faith. In a format they’d want to pick up and read. He told me he agreed, as we made our way back to the front of the house for tea. He told me he thought that’s something we needed to do. And it made me smile, knowing we were on the same page.

“This is an official English tea,” Rhona told us with a smile as Jen took a seat beside her.

It was amazing. Fresh scones. Still warm. Jam. Lemon curd cream. Biscuits (cookies). Cucumber sandwiches (no, I had never heard of them, neither). And, of course, tea.

We ate and talked. And laughed. I sat between Jen and Walter. Steve sat across from us. Walter told Jen I was the nicest guy he’d ever met. And that he hoped to be as nice as me someday. Took me completely off guard. I laughed.

I told Walter about how Steve had printed off my writing and made it into a book for my birthday a couple summers ago. His eyes got big behind his glasses. He told me he’d love to read it some time.

We enjoyed our scones. I took a second. Layering on the sweet berry jam.

And then I remembered that I had an extra copy of my book in my bag, beside the door. I grabbed it and handed it to Walter, apologizing for its condition after being in my bag for so long. It was pretty beaten up.

He asked me to sign it for him, and I told him I’d have to get him another copy. That I felt horrible giving him such a rough-looking copy. But that he was welcome to borrow this copy for as long as he’d like. That it’d mean so much to have him read it.

We wrapped up our tea and had a quick tour around the rest of the home. Stopping in Lewis’ bedroom. And his old study. And it felt so unreal. All of it. Like I was in some sort of a dream.

We had taken the bus to the Kilns. And we were planning on taking it home. But Walter suggested we join him in his cab. That it could drop us off after dropping him off at Mass. So we took him up on it. And we crammed into the back of the cab. The three of us. Jen, Steve and I. Thanking Cole for everything before we left. Before the black cab pulled away from the Kilns. I couldn’t have been happier.

Formal Dinner

We made it back home with just enough time to change. I had signed us up for the formal dinner at Harris Manchester that evening. I was excited for Jen and Steve to be able to enjoy it.

It was a formal dinner. Suit and tie for me. And my gown. I had asked one of the ladies in the Administration office what the appropriate attire was for guests earlier that day. She told me they should dress smart. Jen and Steve were having fun with that one.

“Does this look smart enough, d’ya think?” they’d ask.

We walked the 30 minutes or so to the college in the cool night air. And we made it just in time.

Arlosh Hall is beautiful. With high, vaulted ceilings and portraits along the walls. And I love it. All of it. The formality of it. Everyone standing behind their chair, waiting for the Principal to enter. Followed by the rest of the faculty. Then a short prayer and everyone’s seated. It was great to share all of it with Jen and Steve.

Apparently it was an exchange night. With another college. I had no idea. We sat next to a girl from Poland. She was from the other college. I can’t remember the name just now. But she was nice. Funny. And definitely a talker. Have only met great people from Poland. All three of them.

Lamb was on the menu for the evening. I’m not usually a fan of lamb. It usually tastes too much like lamb, I suppose. But it was great this night. Served with a light gravy sauce.

I told Jen I didn’t usually like lamb, but that this was great.

And instantly I could tell Jen didn’t know it was lamb. Her eyes lifting from her plate. She didn’t like the idea of eating lamb, apparently. I had no problem with it.

TuesdaySteve’s last night in Oxford

We went to an Irish pub by the name of O’Neill’s for Steve’s last night here. And it was great. The place had lots of dark wood. The bar. The tables. On the columns and the ceiling.

And the food was great. At least I thought so. Steve and I ordered the burgers. He wasn’t terribly happy with his. I loved mine. Thought about ordering one for the road. Jen ordered the fish and chips. I ate her smashed peas, as she is simply not a fan of peas. And I’m not a fan of letting good food go to waste.

We had a great time catching up one last time before Steve left. He told us about a weird dream he had had the night before. That apparently Jane had asked him to be their butler. And that he agreed.

He told us how he had to wear a tuxedo, and wait at the door for us to arrive. To open the door for us. With a towel over one of his arms. In stereotypical butler fashion.

“And I was so mad at you,” he told me. “I wanted to punch you.”

“Why? Because you had to open the door for me?”

“That and you had a British accent.”

I erupted into laughter.

We stopped into G&D’s for some ice cream on the way home. A nice treat for the walk home.

Steve finished packing when we got home. Tucking away the last of his things. Showing me some of the gifts he had picked up for friends back home. And he told me he had picked up a couple of things for me, handing me a bag.

I wasn’t expecting anything. I asked him if I could open it now or if I needed to wait. He told me to go ahead. So I did.

And I was speechless when I did. He had gone to St. Phillip’s. A used bookstore here in Oxford. Where Jen bought me a first edition copy of Broadcast Talks (which later became Mere Christianity) last summer. As a birthday gift. And he had picked up several early edition copies of Lewis works for me, including a first edition copy of Surprised by Joy.

I was speechless.

The last book in the pile. Or the one at the bottom, rather. That’s a book Walter Hooper put together. It’s a book of letters between CS Lewis and his best friend Arthur Greeves. It’s a first edition. I told you this guy’s an incredible friend.

He also got me a scarf. So I could look more Oxford. I’ve really been enjoying it.

We had a great time with Steve here. Both Jen and I. It meant so much for him to fly out here, so Jen didn’t have to make the tripe alone. To show her around town. So she didn’t have to experience it all on her own while I was in class.

It was tough seeing him go after such a great week. And we miss having him here, for sure.

My only consolation? A date night with my wife. Pizza and Die Hard. I have an amazing wife.

I slept in yesterday again. By accident. It was the second time since I’ve arrived. The volume was turned all the way down on my iPod (i.e. my alarm clock), and so I slept through my skype call with Jen. Not only was I two hours behind on all that I had to get done for the day, I missed seeing my wife’s face: the highlight of my day.

Inaugural Trip to the Eagle & Child

Things did look up after a bit, though. The day soon got better, as yesterday was the day I visited Eagle & Child for the first time. For those who don’t know, Eagle & Child is the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkein and others met for a pint, a pipe and to chat about what they were working on. The great Narnia and Lord of the Rings series were discussed here over laughter and criticism many decades ago, as well as other works. And it was an incredible feeling to visit the pub. For lunch. Unreal.

I met up with Cole there. The American who is also attending Harris Manchester and studying Theology. He’s a year ahead of me in the program, and so he has a bit more experience with all things Oxford. He is also a big fan of all things Lewis and Tolkein. He’s Vice-President of the Oxford CS Lewis Society, and he actually lived at The Kilns last year (the home where CS Lewis used to live). It’s called the Kilns because there is still a large kiln in the backyard.

Cole had already found a table when I arrived. Not in the Rabbit Room (where the Inklings used to sit (the Inklings is the name the CS Lewis & Co group used to go by), but it was a small room tucked off the central hallway with two small table and benches for seats. The pub was full of these little rooms before opening up for the bar, where guests would place their order. Cole handed me a menu and I asked him what his favorites were.

“Rump steak,” he said with a smile and nearly a pause. “And chips.”

“I’ve really been in the mood for a meat pie,” I confessed.

“The meat pies here aren’t my favorite, but I also have friends who love them here, so you might.”

“Meat pie it is,” I said aloud with a nod. We were in line for the bar, to place our orders. It was surprisingly busy, for being 2:00 in the afternoon. We had hoped it would be a little less busy, so that we could find a spot in the Rabbit Room. I was just happy to be there.

I took it all in as we waited. Photos of Lewis adorned the walls. The Inklings on their famous “walks.” I wanted to take photos of everything, but I did my best to resist. I’m trying really hard not to be “that guy.”

“So we’re on for tea at the Kilns,”  Cole said with a look of accomplishment. “You’ll be joining myself, the Dean of Christ Church and his wife.” (His wife is my Greek tutor, and she was Cole’s Greek tutor last year). “It’ll be great.”

I couldn’t believe it. I felt so…undeserving to be among such a group. Two weeks ago I was still working in Bellingham. Next month I’m having tea at CS Lewis old home. With the Dean of Christ Church. It’s wild, really.

“Thank you so much for setting that up,” I said, confessing my feelings of inadequacy among the guests. “I’ll be the guy in the corner with a smile on his face, just happy to be there.”

We placed our orders at the bar and made our way back to the table. We had a great talk about coming to Oxford as a student from the US, about the many Lewis things and places to see, and he encouraged me to apply to live at the Kilns, if for some reason we needed to find another place to live at some point. Apparently it’s a pretty straightforward application process. Oxford students can apply, writing an essay on why they’d like to live there, and submit several professional and pastoral references.

“I’ll put in a good word for you,” he said with a smile.

Our meal was brought to the table and greeted our conversation. My meat pie was not quite what I expected, but still rather good. It was a flaky, puffy crust, rather than a normal pie crust. The meat was hidden in a gravy below the pillow of puffy dough. I finished it easily enough, and finished off the mashed potatoes and veggies that adorned my plate.

“So I take it you’re a fan,” Cole said.

We wandered back to the Rabbit Room, so I could take a look around. And Cole told me about how when they changed out the original Eagle & Child sign for the new one a few years back, they left the old sign on the sidewalk, just lying there. A man by the name of Hooper (who is a Lewis Historian and lives just outside of Oxford) was walking by at the time and picked it up. He later donated the sign to the Lewis foundation, Cole explained to me.

“I’d love to have that sign,” the bartender spoke up.

“Well you’ll have to steal it from the foundation,” Cole retorted.

The bartender was cleaning a glass at the time with a white rag. Very bartender-ish of him. He finished cleaning it, held it at arm’s length eyeing it for a moment, and then handed it to Cole.

“Hey, thanks! Now you have a pint glass from Eagle & Child,” he said as he handed it to me.

My eyes immediately grew big.

“What? Really? I can have it? Oh man, thank you!” I said. The smile now consuming my face. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop who was just given a hundred dollar bill and told to have at it. It is easily the most exciting thing I’ve received since arriving. I might not use any other glass for the next nine months.

I considered titling this post, “I went to the Eagle & Child and all I got was this glass,” but I decided against it.

We left the pub and Cole showed me a few other interesting spots on the way back to Harris Manchester. He showed me where Tolkein used to go to church, and where it’s said he got the idea for the orcs of The Lord of The Rings (the inscribed pictures of Pilate and the Roman soldiers during Christ’s crucifixion are replaced by images of orcs). He introduced me to a used bookstore where they have all of Tolkeins books on display in the window, too.

He was ecstatic about it, as any Tolkein fan would be. Were it Lewis’ books, I probably would’ve been more interested myself. I’m pretty dry when it comes to reading. I’m not a big fan of fantasy. I like my books like I like my meals. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I’ll go back for a second plate of dinner and end up passing on dessert; you can keep the sweets.

I found a couple early editions of Lewis’ books I picked up. Screwtape proposes a Toast and Miracles. I was pretty happy with the find, and I’m looking forward to adding them to my collection.

Free Meal and Free Books

I returned to the Harris Manchester library for some studying. About four hours worth. It was my first time studying upstairs, in the second floor of the Library. I really liked it. You’re not surrounded by books, like you are on the first floor, but it’s really light and airy.

After several hours’ worth of Greek, I met up with Tim for a dinner being put on by the University Christian Organization. Free dinner and a chance to meet some fellow Christians. I was sold.

The church it was held at was amazing. St. Aldate’s. Old, old church, with lots of stone pillars and vaulted ceilings, but it had been renovated to include glass doorways and flatscreen monitors. It was an interesting blend.

The room was filled with 18 and 19 year olds. As it should’ve been. It was for freshers, after all. The two of us just happened to be older freshers.

Tim and I discussed a few of our favorite theologians while we waited for dinner. He told me he would be afraid to study theology, in a way. That it’d be difficult to be faced with scholars who challenge the beliefs you hold so dear.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said. “But that’s also kind of why I’m here. Were I just to go to a seminary to learn theology, I feel like people would question my background, my education. I feel like they’d know exactly what I was going to say before I said it.”

I told him I wanted to study this and walk through it so that I could help others. Particularly those who felt like they couldn’t believe this stuff and still respect their intellect.

He told me he admired the fact that I was doing it.

“We need people doing that,” he told me.

“So what do you want to do after all of these studies?” Tim asked me.

“Well, I’ve found I really enjoy writing. I’d love to write in a way that helps others with all of this. Theology and faith and everyday life.”

“Where’ve you done your writing? Like, on a blog?”

“Actually, right here,” I said as I reached into my computer bag and grabbed a copy of hands&feet I still had on me. It seemed a little cheesy, like I was just waiting to show it off, but it was a copy I was supposed to give it to a friend back home before leaving.

“My best friend took what had been my blog and put it together into a book for my birthday a couple years back,” I told him as I handed it over.

His eyes got big as he looked down at the cover. “You wrote this?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s just self published, but it’s been fun to share it with people,” I said as he flipped through the pages.

The meal was very good. Spanish chicken and rice. I asked Tim how the change was going for him, coming from Singapore.

He said it was a pretty significant change, but he liked it. He said he’d probably missing food from home in a month or so, when he’s eaten about as much sausages and mashed potatoes as he could.

I mentioned that the stereotype back home is that British food is really bland, but that I had enjoyed everything I’d eaten so far. This must’ve gotten the attention of another guy at the table, because he instantly asked about the differences between the two.

“What would be a definitive American meal?” he asked. “How would it be different?”

“Well…,” I began. I often freeze up at the easiest questions. This really should not have been a tough one, but it was. I could probably say someone doesn’t look like my mom and, if asked how, I’d have trouble describing what my mom looks like.

“I mean, it’s a bit of a melting pot, in a lot of ways. So we have all kinds of food. But where I’m from, we have a lot of fish and beef. So, a classic Northwest meal might be salmon and rice and asparagus, or steak and mashed potatoes. Something like that.”

He nodded his head with a half-smile. I think he was less than impressed with my American meal.

Dinner was followed by a speaker. He only talked for about 15 mins or so, and I left shortly after that. Without waiting around for dessert. I had missed my morning skype with Jen, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss my evening skype with her.

On the way out, there were several tables covered in books. Brand new books. I recognized several. Including Strobel’s Case for Christ. I had lent out my copy a while back and I had been meaning to pick up another. I was excited to find it.

I grabbed a couple others and made my way out.

“How much are these?” I asked the greeter by the door.

“Free. They’re all free,” she said with a smile.

“Wow!..Thank you.” I said. Free meal and free books. I felt like I had just robbed a bank.

I’ve been told a couple of times since arriving that England, as a whole, has become much more secularized in recent years. Beginning in the 20th century. It seems like there’s a lot of complacency surrounding the faith here. People just don’t take it very seriously, for the most part. Rather like home, in a lot of ways, I suppose. But without a lot of the big names of the faith in the States who have fairly large followings.

Particularly at a place like Oxford, where belief systems are challenged, the Church in England (not the Church of England, but the Church in England) is wanting to equip its members. Encouraging believers to fight the good fight. To not believe that you can’t be both intelligent and a believer.

I opened the book and began to read on my way back to Northmoor Road as the words played hide-and-go-seek with the shadows. I was happy for the weaponry.

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