At my school in Birmingham, England, United States geography and history were required subjects. And my A-level course included a study of Malaysian geography. The lessons didn’t stick much. When was I ever going to need to know about the United States or Malaysia?
In my third year at Liverpool University, I was invited to move into a hostel for international students, not because I fitted that category but because the warden loved Jesus and was eager to introduce him to his residents. Our job was to live among them and build friendships. I was told that some of my friends were saying, “Alison is so English. How will she fit in?”
I did more than that. I married one of them. He was Malaysian Chinese with a dream of living on the west coast of the United States. Should’ve paid more attention in school.
We now live in the pretty little town of Los Gatos in northern California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
But it turns out, Alison Naish was almost as English as her friends said she was. It wasn’t easy to settle down into a new country, and even when it became obvious that we wouldn’t be going home, I thought it would be better to keep my permanent residence status instead of becoming a citizen.
As I look back, I remember that as the first time God showed me a Bible verse which would impact my life.
Speaking to the exiles from Jerusalem living in Babylon, Jeremiah spoke God's message that they were to put down their roots there, to seek its welfare, “and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”[i] I don't know if the message was as unwelcome to the Jews as it was to me, but I found it impossible to continue in my stance of resident not citizen if I was really concerned to seek the welfare of the place God had sent me to.
A few years later, I didn’t like the outcome of a situation I met. A verse further down the chapter reminded me that God knows the plans he has for me, and they are good plans, even when things aren’t going the way I want them to go. [ii]
But for many years, I doubted that God could really love me. I believed utterly in God’s love for mankind and wanted the children in my Sunday School class to come away with the knowledge that God loved them. But I couldn’t make that belief personal. Then I received a challenge to choose a family verse for the year. After praying about it, I shared the verse I hadn’t been able to move away from: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” [iii] I felt embarrassed to have chosen such a downer verse. Who wanted to think about suffering?
But that year was one of the hardest I have experienced—admittedly because of some mistakes I made which caused suffering not only to me but also to the whole family. In the autumn, I began to experience a deeper sense of God’s love than I had ever had before. It wasn’t until later that I read the verse that followed the ones I had despised at the beginning of the year. “…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” [iv] I hadn’t realized before the connection between suffering and having a sense of God’s love.
The pattern has continued. I look back on life and see how many times a verse in the Bible has grabbed hold of me at just the time I needed it. As the psalmist proclaimed in Psalm 119, “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” [v] God has used it often to lead me “in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” [vi]
I love getting to share what God has taught me in my times reading his Word and was deeply touched by a comment from a young person in our youth group. “Even though the culture of the day may be hard to connect to, you persevere in teaching and find ways to bridge gaps.” My prayer is that my stories will do that for those who read them.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] Jeremiah 29:4-7
[ii] Jeremiah 29:11
[iii] Romans 5:3-4
[iv] Romans 5:5
[v] Psalm 119:105
[vi] Psalm 23:3b-c
The photo above was taken during the 1950s on my parents' most memorable but certainly not most enjoyable vacation. An antsy 21-month old, I pulled boiling coffee on myself and they had to rush me to the nearest hospital, twenty miles away down narrow Cornish roads. By God's grace, I fell asleep in the car, which the doctor said probably saved my life as he had seen children with lesser burns die of shock. The bandages, and a too-large dress bought to be worn over them, were a reminder of the accident in all the vacation photos.