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Things I Learned in Europe: Part 3–Quality Vacations

September 10, 2009

The Bodleian Library. 50 some-odd colleges, most over 300 year old buildings. Blackwell’s Music (my personal favorite Oxford locale). Ben’s Cookies (their white chocolate chip cookie is my first Oxford food).

Oxford’s tourism industry draws thousands of visitors (and their cameras) to its hallowed streets each year; I’m told that it’s particularly chaotic during the middle of the summer. And there’s value to exploring this unique mixture of ancient and modern. During this trip, Katie and I visited the Sheldonian Theatre–I pictured myself not only listening to contemporary lectures, but I also placed myself 200 years ago in the middle of a dramatic work as I walked across the massive stage–and a museum of 300-year old musical instruments.

But I learned these sights and activities are not what draws Katie back to this place; instead, the intimate relationships that she’s formed over her year and a half in Oxford continuously call her back across the pond. When we go to Oxford, Katie invites me into these relationships, and I create my own connections with these amazing people.

I’ve already mentioned Jacque and Mike, but I cannot place enough emphasis on the impact they had on our trip. They took care of us while we were in town, welcoming us to Oxford and making sure that we had breakfast every morning. They arranged sleeping locations for me and Katie, offering their small flat at first and later inviting us to stay in a spacious basement flat, then introducing us to Jacob and Lara and encouraging them to let us stay at their place. They shared several meals with us and were partners in our exploration of different parts of Oxford. They joined us in some hilarious memories, such as our Fawlty Towers marathon and our sprint through downtown Oxford in the pouring rain to the comfort of a cozy cafe with warm tomato soup. They also had some deep conversations with us, such as the one I referred to in the previous blog post, and invited us to worship with them at St. Aldates.

We also got to visit with Ron and Janine, the on-site directors of ACU’s Oxford Study Abroad. Although they were busy preparing for a new group of students to arrive, they took time away from the chaos to invite us to dinner with Jacque and Mike one night. Ron and Janine are fascinating, adventurous, and nurturing; we spent the night talking about plans for the upcoming semester and discussing random musical groups. Ron and I also went pubbing on a Saturday afternoon, hoping to catch a football game; the pubs weren’t allowed to show the games, so we talked religion, family, and sports for over an hour.

OxfordSpain09 161

Katie got the chance to reunite with her roommates from last year–Lizzie, Jo, and Grace–at Jo’s wedding in Cardiff. (Jo is not in this picture, but she will be in a future post.) Lizzie was kind enough to drive us from Oxford to Cardiff; ironically, we arrived to the church building right behind the bridal car, but unfortunately, we had to park three or four blocks from the church and in spite of our best sprinting efforts, were a bit late to the wedding. She and Katie shared lots of laughs and stories in the car (and the next day at lunch), and Lizzie told me about her counseling endeavor, working with pregnant women. Lizzie is absolutely hilarious, sharing cute, humorous stories about her godchildren and shaking her fist at the concept of paying a toll to get into Wales. I’ll share more about the wedding event and Grace and Jo in a future post, but it was such a blessing to be around Lizzie’s vibrant spirit.

One of the things that I look forward to about visiting Oxford is our visit with Simon. Simon is the minister of theology (at least I think that’s his title) at St. Aldates; he’s a former butcher, and has enough personality for three or four people. He’s also an amazing speaker and preacher, and has a unique way of combining gentleness, passion, and humor to create a pragmatic, easy-to-follow theology. Simon worked with university students during Katie’s Study Abroad semester in Spring 04, and whenever Katie returned, she spoke several times about his legacy. Simon and his precious wife Tiffany invited us to his house during my first visit in 07, and we got to know each other by talking about the greatness of Karl Barth, among other things. During my second visit in 08, we shared a Sunday lunch and talked about theology, rugby, and therapy. So of course, I was stoked to see he and Tiffany, and our paths crossed at church and Vince’s wedding (more on that in a future blog) before getting to spend morning tea with them the day we left for Spain. We shared our future plans (with can be characterized by a big “question mark”), and Simon told some funny stories from their family vacation and from Vince’s wedding, at which he preached.

I learned that there are different kinds of vacations. There are vacations where you explore new locations and sightsee, swim at the beach, or go on nature hikes. Our week in Spain fell under this category, and I hope to share more about the excitement and frustration of our Spanish excursion in future posts. But the week of refreshment involved people and relationships. Quality vacation did not take the form of touring Christ Church or walking around one of Oxford’s many parks, although these activities were enjoyable and mostly peaceful. Quality vacation was found in the homes of loved ones with familiar stories and laughs and gracious hearts.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Corrie permalink
    September 18, 2009 6:45 am

    Just wanted to say how much I like reading your blog. Keep on!

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