The sky out over the Firth of Clyde is often soft grey. Beautiful blues imperceptibly blend into its expanse. Many miles of sea, rough or calm, will take the traveller far away. Standing on the shoreline, not one step is needed for my senses to change location. In the imprint of my life, I feel the strong warmth of a Taiwan summer wrapping itself around a day, hear the hum of cicadas at night outside green mesh screen windows, see stately palm trees along wide avenues in Southern California and taste a welcome cup of tea in a snug terraced house in Cardiff. Precious threads woven finely to create one seamless memory of that life. My life. A keen wind reminds me where I am today, but it will not blow away where I have been before.
A ‘foreign’ home
Fifty-seven years ago this autumn my Scottish parents travelled from Ayrshire to Southampton and boarded a boat, travelling a journey which I would do in reverse many times. ‘Home’ was where their journey began, but as the years passed, a gradual swap occurred until home was more in the Far East. My childhood memories are of disturbing ant trails with my flip-flops and the slap of a screen door on a hot day. Black and white pictures show four hot smiling children (my brothers and me) alongside our gracious parents. Chinese friends often fill these frames too, dignified and warmly looking into the camera. In the missionary community, we collectively called ourselves ‘Foreigners’, as that was how we were known. But this wasn’t a foreign land to my family. Our hearts, my heart, was there. I didn’t want any other home.
A family home
Born in Sabah, Malaysia, I was very young when our family moved to beautiful Taiwan. My parents worked as missionaries there for the next eighteen years. By the time I turned eighteen, our life in Taiwan was what had shaped my idea of normal. When we gathered to have our evening meal, my mother would usually serve the rice onto our plates before my father gave thanks. As we bowed our heads, the steam from the rice would rise, and my father would pray. The smell of the rice and being together as a family, combined with hearing the father I loved speaking openly and sincerely to his Heavenly Father, brought a deep understanding into my life of this irreplaceable Saviour, Jesus. During those years there were trips back to Scotland for furloughs. We visited churches and supporters here and spent important time with wider family after long periods of absence. I felt happy being with my parents and my brothers and I welcomed the sense of constancy which they brought to life as we navigated a new and strange culture each time we returned to the UK. It was special to see family and friends and be connected to the churches there. We visited historical places and appreciated Scottish food but aspects of being in the UK I simply tolerated while waiting to get back home to Taiwan.
A faith-filled home
Like a constant fragrance in the air of our childhood was the presence of Jesus Christ. Blessed with parents who knew the wonder of being forgiven and set free by such a Saviour, our lives were full of his love, as well as theirs. My parents made deliberate choices not to send us to boarding school, at any time. The majority of our education was received through the American system at schools for missionaries’ children in the two cities we lived in while growing up. We shared in the friendships and lives of Chinese men and women with whom my parents ministered and made friends with them and in the missionary community. Looking back, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the way in which my parents kept us with them and part of what they did. Alongside church and literature work in our Chinese town, my parents were also involved in our school. They made themselves available to teach Bible classes in Morrison Academy, coach sports teams, attend plays and musical performances. Ensuring they were an integral part of our lives meant that we saw who they really were, discerning as only children can whether what they said they believed made any real difference to how they lived. It did. Their constancy in my childhood gave me security and an inner sense of home, wherever we lived. Their constancy in living the gospel showed me a unique Saviour, Christ, who bought me at the price of his own life and would be with me always.
A lonely home
Advancing into my teens, I watched my two older brothers leave Taiwan to begin University studies. Both chose to go the United States. Graduating from an American High School was considered, at that time, insufficient to be offered a place at a University in the United Kingdom. Assessing the transition to the United States to be less turbulent than to return to the UK, my brothers and I all chose, one after the other, to embark on and complete our university degrees in America. For the first time, I stepped away from the safety and buffer of my family and began a transition largely on my own. The sense of being lost is still something I can remember. I knew where I was geographically, but felt that what defined me and made my world normal was gone. In those days, what I had seen and learnt in my childhood about Christ began to come more to the fore. I knew that I needed him and I needed to trust him. He needed to surpass any other sense of safety or home, and so began another journey, not one that can be charted on any nautical map.
A changing home
Four years later, having completed my degree, I left the United States to spend a year working and living in Hong Kong. At the end of that year, I returned to the UK to begin to work with UCCF (the Christian Unions). After two years in Leicester, and a year in Cardiff, I was married and moved to where my husband worked, in Reading. The transitions these years brought were many and various, and not without hardship. Ephesians 1:18-20 says, ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may also be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead…’ Over those years spent in California, Hong Kong, Leicester, Cardiff and Reading this same Lord exerted his mighty strength at work in my life. He taught me many profound truths about his constancy in a world that did a lot of shifting. His Spirit, at work in my weak and at times unwilling heart, brought me to know my Saviour as an adult and not only a child. His desire for greater maturity in my life, wherever I might live and under whatever circumstances brought a lasting experience of reaching beyond what is seen, to the evidence of things unseen.
A complete home
Twenty-three years later, I find myself standing on the shores of the Firth of Clyde. A small town on the West Coast of Scotland has become mine and my husband’s home, along with our children. It’s like coming full circle. We moved here to be closer to my ageing parents as they complete their earthly journeys, near where they began. Our lives in Berkshire encompassed many significant events, and my roots there had become deep again. Resettlement can be arduous in hidden ways. God’s precious word directs me onto safe ground. The pebbles beneath my feet and the wide sky above remind me of how near the Lord is. Whatever land I stand on, whatever sky fills my horizon, it’s actually his. The Lord is my home, my complete home. The eyes of my heart can see beyond this shoreline, and I know the hope to which he has called me.