Oxford: Then and Now

More and more often, I am realizing how easy it is for us to live our lives at warp speed. We have people to see, places to go, things to do and work that needs to be done. Throughout our lives, we have amassed this collection of occurrences, accomplishments, memories, and emotions that have shaped us into being the person we are right at this very moment. To slow down a bit, I have found it to be a worthwhile process to ‘check-in’ on my life now and then. When I take the time to reflect on just exactly how all my living and doings have impacted my life, it always proves to be a rewarding task.

Part of my hope for this space is to share with you how God has worked in my life up to this point. However when I do not take the time, (make the time?), to reflect on my past, I can be ignorant and blind of the way God has led me, sustained me, and provided for me. Over the next few weeks you are invited to journey with me as I reflect on one of the most formative experiences of my life: My time in Oxford, England.

I had the privilege to study abroad at Oxford University during the spring semester of my junior year in undergrad. In the five years that have passed since that time, I have often thought about the months I spent there. It has always been a dream of mine to compile a concise record and testimony of both what I learned and how I grew while living in England…and it seems like now is the time when I must put my thoughts to paper for I can no longer keep them solely in my mind.

My friends and I in a bonafide English pub.

When I was in Oxford, I was very different then than I am now, and yet, of course, in some ways thoroughly the same. At the time I was a junior in college. Now I am wife and a mother. At the time, I was pursuing a double major in mathematics and philosophy. Now I am embarking on a journey to learn more about philosophical theology. At the time, I was an upperclassman on the woman’s soccer team. Now I play pick-up soccer for fun. At that time, I was a Christian…

Okay, I was sorta a Christian. I would say that I was very slowly gaining beliefs in Christian doctrine. You see, when I started college I was doubtful about the truth of Christianity. Somewhere between freshman and sophomore year of college I became confident in the belief that a God who created the world did indeed exist. However, when I was heading to Oxford I was still deciding whether I believed in Christ as the second person of the trinity and the Messiah, which of course is pretty crucial belief for Christians.

In high school, I had been intellectually opposed to religion in general until God’s glory was revealed to me through the beauty of his creation. Nature was something I could experience. I saw the nascent green of spring, felt the warm sun of summer and the whipping autumn wind, and I could touch a drop of rain or catch a snowflake on my tongue. Interacting with nature pointed me towards God the creator. However, I had not had any tangible experiences with the other persons of the trinity. Jesus, to me, was a historical figure and possibly a misconstrued one at that. The Holy Sprit, in my mind, was part magic and part imagination mixed with a hopeful desire that, despite my hesitations, he would be real.

Aside from my faith, I was in a peculiar spot then with how I understood my personal identity. I had always thought of myself as intellectual, yet I had slowly fallen into a trap where my desire for learning was stunted. In reflection, I can see that I held this crazy idea that any sort of serious studying undermined my ‘natural’ smartness, which would then violate my authenticity as a person. Despite being able to now recognize this idea as a lie, I was blind to the deception that was then in my mind. The lie grew out of my pride. In order to make up for failings in other areas of my life, I prized my learning ability above all else– but in holding them as sacred, my desperate attempt to find my self-worth in my intellect was almost the thing that could have led to the gift of my intellect being lost to me.

So that’s where I was.

But, when I returned from England, my faith was flourishing and my love of learning restored. However- here’s the strange thing- it was not in Oxford that either of these events occurred. Now, don’t get me wrong, for I am sure the pulse of learning and historical faith that floods that beautiful city did rouse, to some degree, both of the outcomes. Yet my true transformation took place in Eynsham, the little town a bus-ride away. It came about from time spent seated around a large table immersed in conversations. For it was to a little home in Eynsham, a house called the Lane House, that I trekked each Friday afternoon in order to join with a small group of students for a course in worldviews.

My partaking in the course was a serendipitous event. How I arrived was rather uncommon, I do believe, but the knowledge and bolstering of my faith when I left is a shared result of many. Under the mentorship and teaching of Kevin Bywater, and through engaging with the other students of the Oxford Study Centre, I encountered the Bible as I never had before and was propelled deeper into an understanding of the reality of the truth of Christianity. My hope is that I will be able to share what I learned and a glimpse of that glorious time with you.

Share with me: How do you make time to reflect on your life? What is one of the biggest revelations you’ve had in your reflections? Seriously, call me up, write me a note, send me a message or comment somewhere. I would love to hear your thoughts.

This is part one in a series chronicling my time in Oxford and learning through the Oxford Study Centre. To see part two click here.

For more information about the program I studied with, the Oxford Study Centre, please visit their website and take some time to look around the wealth of information on Kevin Bywater’s personal website.