Summer Reading: Surprised By Oxford


“I still remember the birdsong. Despite the walled gardens, the magnificent castle-like buildings, the cobblestone streets, there is always birdsong in Oxford.” – Carolyn Weber

When I was in 7th grade, I fell in love with a group of writers called the Inklings. After devouring The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I started reading everything I could about J.R.R. Tolkien and his friends. I discovered that, of course, he was friends with my favorite childhood author, C.S. Lewis, and that they both attended and later worked at a magical place called the University of Oxford. I have a vivid memory of sitting outside, reading a biography of Tolkien sometime in the 8th grade, and promising myself that some day, some how, I would make it to this magical place that birthed such gifted writers and thinkers.

Spring of 2010, my dream came true. As part of UGA at Oxford, I attended the University of Oxford (more specifically, Keble College). I lived in Oxford, I studied in Oxford, I participated in way too many cream teas at Oxford. And I bought way, way too many books (40 pounds worth, and I mean weight, not money). Five years have passed since my great Oxford adventure, and I was growing a little homesick for the old buildings, green meadows, and “dreaming spires”.

Enter Carolyn Weber’s spiritual memoir, Surprised by Oxford. In the mid-90’s, Weber attended Oxford University as part of her graduate studies. While there, she started asking a lot of questions about Christianity, which until then she had considered an ignorant and cultish religion. Spoiler alert: over the course of her first year of study, she converts to Christianity.

I enjoyed Weber’s memoir so much. It is beautifully written, intelligent, and contains frequent references to Keats (my dead poet crush) and the Romantics. Weber is gifted in writing conversation, which is fortunate, as they make up the bulk of the book. Her conversion came not as a sudden thunderclap over the head, but in a slow, steady changing of her heart. She speaks with professors, scientists, and her own friends about what she is learning or asking, and through these conversations, she comes to faith.

There were so many good quotes and ideas throughout the book that I took several pages of notes while reading. One of those notes was, “I wish I could send this book back to high school Sarah.” A lot of the questions she struggles through are questions I wrestled with as I made my faith my own. She comes to conclusions that are full of “grace and truth”.

I’d highly recommend this book to lovers of Oxford or literature, or to people with questions, who wonder how one can be a person of logic and a person of faith. I wanted to shout “Hooray!” any time she wrote about a place I recognized, whether it was a physical place in Oxford, or a place of grace I’ve come to in my own faith. This book is a love story – to a place, to a God who pursues, to a love of learning – and I think you, too, will be Surprised by Oxford.


Bye-Bye, Baby Car

IMG_8007When I was in middle school, I had things planned out. When I turned 16, I was going to have a light blue convertible Volkswagen Bug. I was going to work at Borders and drink lots of coffee. My boyfriend – because of course I would be dating by 16! – would work at Borders, too. And he was probably going to be a werewolf (I probably loved Remus Lupin a little too much).

When I turned 16, I drove a green Altima with squeaky hubcaps (but don’t knock it – that Altima is now on its sixth driver and is lovingly named Forest). I worked summers helping at my father’s military surplus company. I was still 8 years away from my first boyfriend. The dreams that 14-year-old Sarah had planned for 16-year-old Sarah hadn’t quite panned out.

But eventually things worked out. In college I worked in an education library, which was like working at Borders (R.I.P.) except 1000x better. That whole boyfriend thing took a couple of tries, but worked out exceedingly well (high five, B!). And I never drove that light blue convertible Beetle, but I did drive a deep blue hatchback affectionately known as Baby Car.

Lots of times when I’d look at that car, I’d think about the plans I made for myself, and how things turned out, in such different shades and ways I’d never have imagined at 14 or 18 or even 24. Late bloomer, I imagined myself with a house of cats and the companionship of books until close to 30. And I was content. But somehow I ended up a bride before ever being a bridesmaid. Life has turned out so differently than what I imagined.

This isn’t a post to show how well things have turned out for me. I am so grateful for where I am now, but there have been times when things aren’t going as imagined. I’ve been that girl, watching the years tick by, wondering when the job, or the boy, or the whatever it is that was supposed to come along by now hasn’t. I cultivated an attitude of waiting, of anticipating, like a child on Christmas Eve. Soon, I would tell myself. Soon soon soon. It became my mantra.

Meanwhile so much was happening. Good friendships forming, trips of a lifetime taken, life lessons being learned. One thing is certain in life: time will pass. Things will happen. But sometimes when the things happening aren’t what we had planned, we feel suspended, stuck.

1 Corinthians 7:3-11 was brought to my attention by the study we’re doing in our small group, “The Illumination Project”. The author, quoting her ESV study Bible, paraphrases the verses: “For now, stay put. Be content in the situation where God has placed you. If you’re married, don’t seek to be single. If you’re single, don’t seek to be married. Live God’s way, one day at a time, and He will show you what to do.”

What I didn’t know while I cultivated this attitude of waiting is that even when things happen, the big plans that suddenly come sooner rather than later, when you have trained yourself to live like it’s Christmas Eve, you always live that way. Even when the plans come through, no matter how they come through.

Only in the last few months have I realized how I am still living like it’s Christmas Eve, even though I’ve had my book job, and my boyfriend, and my Beetle. I’ll still live like it’s soon soon soon. But my library job has come and gone. My boyfriend is gone; he’s now my husband. And last Saturday I said goodbye to my Beetle. Eight years passed with Baby Car. Eight years of plans and dreams and becoming. I didn’t think I would, but I cried when I gave up the keys.

So, to you I say: don’t live life thinking soon. No matter what you are waiting on, cultivate an attitude of contentment now. I am just now beginning the slow and steady process of living now now now, knowing I am exactly where God would have me.

IMG_8008So now I have Scout the CR-V. She is reliable and has a lot of space. She has the room the Doolittles will need to grow at some point. And I know eight years with her will pass. Quickly. Until then, it’s summer and I am content with now. Not because it’s exactly what I had planned, but because it’s better. It’s where God’s loving and imaginative hands have placed me.