How to Sing Hope Over the Wounded Heart of a Child (and a song for you, too)

Here’s how I wanted to start my book about our years in India:  

“We didn’t have to be perfect. But Joshua and I, we were going to be happy. Our house would always smell like pumpkin pie spice, and our windows would cast bright, clean squares on the carpet. Our future children would go on hay rides and tell knock-knock jokes and build forts in cherry trees. Our inner lives would be as stable as the big red barn at the Bar-Double-O ranch.

“Nobody would need Prozac.”

This potential first paragraph — which I didn’t end up using — is light-hearted. But it hints at my hopes and dreams and fears, too. Despite my desire to give my kids that lovely, pumpkin patch-filled, rural American existence, we followed God’s call to India before they were even conceived.

Eleven months into our service, my daughter was born. She weighed just five pounds, a consequence of less-than-ideal medical care and hyperemesis gravidarum. But it didn’t matter. She was so beautiful, so surprisingly alert, like a little bird in my two hands.

Until that moment, India had felt like an adventure. We had gotten ourselves lost in alleys, ridden down mountainsides on the backs of rickety trucks, and had established almost no boundaries in our little apartment so that we knew nearly everyone in our village and could communicate with them.  

Now I had a daughter. The world’s scariness increased considerably. But she was with me 24/7. She couldn’t even move from one place to another without my arms. And that felt safe.

I threw all my creativity and love into parenting, often feeling either she or the mission were getting less of me than necessary, trying to balance things as all mothers do. I had another child and soon realized that my kids were TCKs — and they would always be TCKs. There was no do-over, no alternative universe. We were no longer reading about TCKs as theory; we were living that life. And I saw a lot of value in that life.

Until my kids saw something very bad happen to someone they loved.

Although I won’t share specifics about what they saw, after last week’s pieces on witnessed trauma, I decided to share about the aftermath – in particular because, over the years, I’ve come to realize that I am not alone among young, college-educated Western mothers in my fear of trauma. I once spoke to a Millennial mom who was so afraid of damaging her childrens’ psyches that she felt completely paralyzed when it came to discipline. Other mamas express how worried they are that hardships will damage or ruin their children and that it will be their fault.

I can’t tell you how angry, disappointed, hurt, and full of spiritual doubt I was when I realized that trauma had entered the scene. The amoebic dysentery, the giardia, the worms, these were difficult, frustrating—but, thanks to modern science, there was medicine to take, a specific pill or syrup for each illness. And each illness had a set of diagnostic criteria. In addition to pills, I knew all kinds of helpful home remedies. So I always had options.

But when it came to trauma, I felt I had no options. In fact, the sickness itself wasn’t even clear. That feeling of helplessness almost destroyed me. I wished my life had a section at the back of the book, like in those Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. What was the answer? Was there even an answer? What was I supposed to do now? 

Our sending organization had a policy about families and trauma. Thankfully, they had prepared us well in advance for what we should do. Like robots on autopilot, we called them, and they prayed with us. Cried with us. Flew a counselor out to help evaluate. Sent an older couple to be with us for a couple of weeks. They provided resources. And when I say “resources,” I’m not talking about pamphlets and phone numbers. I’m talking about money and time. Although this particular missionary care procedure was brand new to our small organization, it worked.

When God led us to leave India, our organization gave us jobs in the home office. When we eventually healed, they were more than happy to accept our plan to relaunch to a different location.

Before I write about our personal experience, let me say one thing: if you have any influence on any sending organization, child protection policies are not an extra. They are necessary. And they work. Give your missionaries the time, money, and professional support they need to recover in cases of trauma, addiction, or relationship issues. You may just find yourself with a healed family who is forever loyal to your team – and kids who grow up to fulfill the great commission themselves.

But even with all that help, my organization couldn’t live my life for me. I still had to deal with the aftermath. After the initial shock lessened, I got to work. I found a beautiful, creative therapist my kids could work with. I spent hours learning about trauma, healing, and emotional intelligence and driving my kids to appointments. I worked on my own unnoticed childhood trauma, the secret reason behind my fear of Prozac. 

I made an “angry corner” in our home with a basket filled with playdough, music, bubbles, an emotional ID chart, a notebook, and crayons. And sometimes I used that corner myself. When my daughter had nightmares or was afraid or asked hard questions or wasn’t sure if she could ever cooperate with anyone again, I spoke hope over her. Over and over. In the middle of the night, I made up songs of hope for my little bird, praying she’d one day learn to sing again.

I have been told that trauma is like a heart wound. When we ignore it, it can fester and get infected. But that analogy gives us good news, too. Just like we’ve learned a lot about bacteria and have developed antibiotics, we’ve also learned a lot about how our hearts and minds work. People can and do heal.

It’s not easy, and it’s not fast, and it isn’t low-commitment. But the time and effort you expend on your child, whether he has cancer or low self-esteem from being bullied, whether she has a broken leg or a broken heart, is worth every second.

I promised hope to my kids, but sometimes I wondered if I had been deceived, hoping in Someone who just wasn’t coming to save us. What we don’t often talk about is that parents can receive their own heart wounds when they see those under their care hurting. My journey wasn’t just about my little ones. It was about me. About my relationship with God and what I believe about the world. Now, on the other side of this event – even though I still live in a world full of risk, illness, and heart wounds – I can say that hope didn’t disappoint me. 

Although these experiences will always be a part of us and our children, we learned to hope together. And some days, when I wonder, when I grieve afresh, I hear them singing to Jesus in the night, and I know that it’s going to be okay.

The following is a song I wrote about this situation. May it bring you hope and healing, whatever you are going through.

Morning Comes Again

by Abigail Follows

The day she was born, she didn’t cry
Just looked at you with wondering eyes
You held her like a baby bird,
Close to your heart as a seed to the earth
When she lost her song, she looked to you
So you sang her yours to get her through.

Morning comes again
The night and the darkness end.
There is singing and soaring beyond the bend
When morning comes again.

She learned in the dark to sing of the light
And every morning proved your song right
She found her voice and made it strong,
Left trembling branches to wake the dawn
When you miss her there, beneath your wing

Just listen for her singing

Morning come again
Let night and darkness end.
There is singing and soaring beyond the bend
When morning comes again.

When you shiver against the cold
When the world scorns your hope
When you forget the words
Listen for hers.

Morning comes again
The night and the darkness end.
There is singing and soaring beyond the bend
When morning comes again.

When morning comes again.

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Abigail Follows

Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and understood the life stories of friends in three languages. She has served as a missionary since 2010, alongside her husband, two energetic kids, and cat, Protagonist. You can read more from her at Whatsoever Thoughts, or check out her book, Hidden Song of the Himalayas.

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