In Case of Emergency

“Hey.” My mom’s voice sounded otherworldly—either because I was talking to her on an actual payphone, or because of the mix of Bollywood music and traffic sounds filling the air around me. “Listen, your sister Ella was in an accident.” I didn’t breathe, blink, or swallow for what felt like an eternity.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s okay, she’s okay,” Mom answered. “She was with her boyfriend in his truck, and they got t-boned at an intersection.”

“Ella has a boyfriend?”

“She said she wanted you to be the first to know about the boyfriend,” she said. “He’s cute. And scared of your dad. But your dad says he likes him, so after he scares him, he’ll be nice.”

“Okay,” I said. “Was the boyfriend driving?”

“Yes. But it wasn’t his fault. The other driver ran a red light.”

“Where is Ella now?”

“The hospital,” Mom said. “She’s going to be fine, but she’ll need PT for her neck.”

“Okay,” I said. “Should I do anything?”

“No, Abby. We’re here. We’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks for telling me, Mom.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, tell Ella I love her, and I’m going to be praying for her.”

“I will.”

Joshua and I walked back to our hotel. There was nothing I could have done. But I felt strange, being so far away, while my family dealt with this emergency without me. 

***

My family is your typical, not-perfect-but-trying-their-best kind of family. For all our flaws, we do one thing very well, and that’s emergencies. We are the kind of people who call you if there is a typhoon in the Philippines to make sure you’re okay, even though you’re only traveling in Canada, and only for the weekend. You know, just in case.

Maybe it’s because both my parents have worked in caring professions. Whatever the reason, they know how to nurse the sick, or bring a casserole, or check your temperature with a kiss on the forehead. My relatives can visit someone in the hospital with just the right amount of concern to make the sick or injured feel loved, while simultaneously making everyone laugh and feel like things are going to be okay.

They are like an army of love that bustles in and starts making mac and cheese right when you think you’re doomed, and suddenly everything is normal and funny and we’re all in this together. I knew how to be a part of that. I loved being a part of that.

And now they were having an emergency without me. 

On my first day as a missionary in India.

***

My family and I have missed sharing some important moments because of our ministry location. Both my babies were born in India, without my mom to fuss over me/tell me I could do it/cry with joy/make me a piece of toast. Both my kids were admitted to the hospital several times during our time there. Don’t even get me started on the giardia.

My own emergencies included many Indian friends who were great at fussing and cooking and visiting. Maybe that’s why I bonded so intensely with the place and people. They were, in their own, curry-flavored, communal, rainbow-scarved way, family to me. With their help, I survived many difficult times. 

It was the emergencies I missed back home that left me feeling truly grieved.

Both of my siblings were in car accidents while we lived in India. My brother’s was more serious, requiring the Jaws of Life to remove him from his car and several dozen surgeries to give him partial use of his legs. I talked to him on the phone and heard about how he was really tempted not to decrease his pain medicine. How he’d had to choose between pain and addiction, and how he’d chosen pain. 

Eventually, my sister married the boyfriend from the car accident, and they had a little girl, and I couldn’t be there for the birth. Then I understood something about how my mom felt when I was in labor overseas.

All this loss sometimes sits in my belly like a stone. But it’s my family that helps me understand why I’m still doing this. Because they have given me two gifts I could never have known I would need.

First of all, they taught me what to do in case of an emergency. They taught me to be fully present. To care about the people involved. To cook. To laugh as much as possible, especially at yourself. To fuss, but not too much. To laugh some more. To cook some more. To research. To gather everyone together. To recount what happened, many, many times. To appreciate what you still have. To appreciate the past. To choose what is good over what is easy. To hold on to hope even if it doesn’t make sense to others. To press into the place where there is pain and injury, and to bring light and love and healing there, and sometimes, mac and cheese—or curry, depending on where you are. 

And secondly, they’ve blessed this calling of mine, even though it means they have to sit on their hands instead of rushing in to provide support when my little family faces emergencies. They have sacrificially let go, making space for other people to become family to me, and for me to be family to them. And they assure me that they are taking care of things back home. It’s been 12 years since my first day in India, and they’re still saying, “We’ve got this, Abby.”

My family shares me with the world so that I can bring the love of Christ into those emergencies where He is not known. Even though I can’t always be a part of their casserole-bringing and forehead-kissing, I can do something equally as beautiful. I can bring the love they taught me to India, or Africa, or wherever I go. And when the people we serve have emergencies–whether medical, relational, or faith-related–I can call my family and know they will be praying like it matters. 

Because that’s what emergencies are all about: taking care of the people who matter. To us, and to God.

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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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