I have these memories of my mom making hand motions while singing San Toki, Toki Ya when I was sad or right before I went to sleep as a little girl. She would hold one arm up to symbolize a horizontal path and then prop her other hand behind it with her first two fingers peeking up from behind her first arm like a rabbit’s ears. She moved her finger-made rabbit up and down to show it bouncing away and then bouncing back again. It was this one song she sung to me in Korean about a bunny who ran away and came back home again that attached itself to my heart and never let go.
We didn’t speak Korean to one another at home when I was young. I’ve heard different reasons for why this was. And while this might be bold to say, considering the fact that I cannot have a conversation with anyone in Korean, the language feels like a piece of home to me. I can pick it out of a busy city street. I know the curves and movements of it’s sound. I’m convinced it rests deep in my heart. It’s as if it were there in my earliest moments, God speaking it straight through my mother’s thoughts, mouth, and body, pressing it into my bones and ligaments, letting it help form my innermost parts.
When I had my first son, San Toki, Toki Ya was the first song I sang to him. It was the first song that flowed out of me as easily and swiftly as a bird can fly away; it didn’t matter how brand new, tired, and terrified of a mama I was. I sang it for him and I sang it for me like a necessary gift that had to be liberated for a new generation. It was this same Korean song about a bunny who ran away and came back again that attached itself to his memories of being soothed through long bouts of separation anxiety.
When my second son was born, the same song spilled out of my mouth and into his ears, over and over again, taking on new attachments. He was the one who wanted to know what it meant and why the bunny ran away and how the bunny found its way back home again. And like his brother and his mama, he asked for it to be sung night after night.
When we went to South Korea a year and half ago to bring our daughter home, I wondered if she might already know this song from another woman’s voice. In the first few days we spent with her, she spouted out Korean words and phrases. While we watched Disney cartoons in our hotel room in Korea, she said, “Ee-guh moh-yah?” asking us in Korean “What is it?” as she pointed at a Korean-speaking Doc McStuffins on the screen or something else placed on the coffee table. I pulled every word I could remember my mom ever saying to me in Korean to answer her and texted my mom a few times to ask how to say something, but I mostly answered her in English. Even though I knew our daughter was on her way to becoming an American girl, my heart broke those early days and months afterwards as we watched her lose her first language.
I don’t know if our daughter will feel the way I do about speaking Korean once she’s old enough to understand more of the details of her own story. I don’t know if our kids will remember the Korean lullaby I sang to all three of them at night when they were young, and whether or not it will carry as much weight for them as it still does for me. It terrifies me to imagine it disappearing. It grieves me to know that that some of the disappearing has begun with me.
But here’s what I am continually convinced of over the course of these parenting years complete with sleepless nights and childhood memories revisited: there are songs that we are meant to hear and made to sing like only we can. God’s care for us is intricate, down to every curve, twist, loss and redemption of word and song that makes our story. There’s no mistake in the colors and cultures of our making. During the nightmares that wake us in the thick of night or the unexpected interruptions that visit us in life, He sings to us like a warrior victorious, like a mother singing love over her child, trying to teach her baby how to drive the fear away.
God speaks to me in English, but at night, He sings to me in Korean. I am a pilgrim of more than one culture and language, however fragmented, using both to journey Home.
Are you longing for rest or looking for home? Do you grieve the loss of a heart-song that’s becoming more difficult to recall the words to? Rest assured, sister, you are not alone. God has been with you from the beginning, stitching you together with significance, singing over you in love. He will be faithful to lead you and redeem you with the songs and stories of Home.