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.Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Your post made me think….when we all get to heaven (believers from every land and tongue) will we all be speaking in our own languages yet able to understand each other – like when the Holy Spirit came across the believers and they spoke in many tongues? How beautiful it will be to hear the Korean lullaby that you love so much. My grandmother used to sing me an Irish lullaby that had it’s own lilt to it. Whatever has been lost will be found again. I’m just so thankful that God rejoices over us with singing. God, our Abba Daddy, does one of the most personal things one can do – sing softly over us with love. Loved this post!
Bev, I love those thoughts. And how beautiful it is to hear about your grandmother singing an Irish lullaby to you. Thank you for sharing that and for your encouraging words.
Michele Morin says
So often we look back over our shoulders at Babel and think of the multiple languages in our world in terms of fragmentation, a consequence of humanity’s hubris. Thank you, Tasha, for pointing out that God will redeem even this as the heart language of a mum becomes imprinted on her babies and is passed down in love through generations. The image of God rejoicing as He sings over us with love is one of my favorite in Scripture.
It is one of my favorites as well. Thank you so much for your words here, Michele.
Oh Tasha- (I am in my heart) and always will be an ESL Teacher who loved her students, who loved learning from them their cultures, songs, poems, idioms and hearing their languages. I delighted in being able to pick out their languages when opportunities still arise to be in cities (as I live in a very rural area) and hear people conversing in their mother tongue. I always encourage them, as I do my nieces and nephews to not forget their native language. How beautiful to share your reflections in your heart – how blessed you are through San Toki, Toki Ya. On a mission trip in Haiti I met a wonderful woman who for the first time with the Hatians began praying in her mother tongue – French. It was so moving for her and healing in her heart as she as a little child had been not aloud to speak French after her mother left time for eternity. Her prayers in her mother tongue were freedom and healing she said. The bunny in her found her way home through her mother tongue language.
What a gift God has given you in being able to see and lift up the beauty of another’s language and culture, Holly! I love the story you shared about the woman who began praying in her mother tongue for the first time in Haiti. Thank you for sharing that and for you encouragement.
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
Tasha, thank you for sharing your faith from your heart. My mom was from Hiroshima,Japan and she didn’t teach me Japanese.However there are 2 lullabies she’d sing to me. I also sang them to my daughter. I was very I’ll in my 30s and she sang them to me as I was recovering. Sadly,she passed away 3 years ago. But when I am in the midst of a pain flare,I can still hear her voice singing that song of love and it reminds me that the Lord is watching over me in the same way.
Kathleen, I love the things we have in common as daughters of mothers who spoke another language, and mothers who sang our mother’s lullabies to our daughters. Knowing that there are others who feel a similar kind of loss of language, and yet hold fast to and pass on the songs sung over them in that language, encourages me. I am sorry for the loss of your mom three years ago. Keep singing those songs, Kathleen. We need them.
Ahhh the sweet words and voice of my Italian pop pop! That’s what I hear! He sang and played his mandolin and although we didn’t get sung to in our unsettled household at bedtime… mama sang daily and whistling to her fifties and sixties songs while raising 7 kids alone… so recently I had her here visiting and caring for her now in her mid 80’s and Alexa played anything she asked:) we sang and cooked together and I cherish that memory! as I do with my grandchildren as I rock them to sleep they hear Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.
This is my song over and over to them.. and they all know Jesus so far .. I love the scripture too in Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing! Thanks Tasha for the reminder of His love today singing over my life and the ones who love Him.. blessings
Sadie, I love the glimpses you shared of your childhood and life today. How lovely it is to imagine your Italian pop pop singing with a mandolin and your mama singing daily, making a soundtrack for your memories. What gifts God gave you through both of their songs and I am sure those gifts helped you sing your own. Thank you for being here today and for sharing.
Joan Moore says
Beautiful words with an even more beautiful and encouraging Word from our Heavenly Father. Thank you for sharing.
Joan, thank you for your kind words and for being here today.
Grace P. Cho says
Such a beautiful post. So thankful to share our Korean-ness, the same lullaby sung over us, and for your voice.
I am so grateful to share our Korean-ness as well. I don’t even have the words for how much. Thank you for believing in my voice and giving me courage to write with it, friend.
What a beautiful memory you have shared. Thank-you Tasha for not only that, but also for the comforting reminder of God’s love.
Have a blessed day all,
Penny, thank you so much for being here and for your kind words. I am so glad mine were comforting to.
Birdie Cutair says
My parents were not from another culture, yet I still remember the love they gave to me. My father whistled until the day my daughter died. He stopped whistling that day but I still remember his happy tunes. I also remember my mother singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I sang that to my children and also “His Banner over Me is Love.”
I am so very sorry to hear about your daughter, Birdie. How beautiful that the songs sung and tunes whistled over you have stayed with you as well. Thank you for being here, Birdie.
Thank you for sharing these beautiful words and heartfelt memories. They somehow validate my belief that all babies should be sung to, and make me glad that I have been doing that with my granddaughters since they were born. I sing all sort of things to them – old hymns, Jesus Loves Me, country songs whose lyrics really aren’t for babies and other nonsense songs that kids love. But I have a special song for both of them that I hope will be a meaningful memory long after I’m gone. For the oldest (now three) I sing James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” with the words changed to “rockabye sweet Audrey Lane.” For the newest (only nine weeks old now) I sing Radney Foster’s “Godspeed”, which was written as a lullaby for his oldest son when he was five years old and his mother moved to France with him. Instead of “Godspeed, little man” I sing “Godspeed, Whitney Lynne” and even at this young age she stops fussing any time I start singing it. My favorite line from that song is one for all of us, regardless of what languages we speak: “God hears ‘amen’ wherever we are, and I love you.”
Thank you so much! I love the thought that babies are meant to be sung to. Perhaps we all are. Thank you for sharing some of the songs that are dear to your family. How wonderful that you get to sing to your grandchildren.
Lynn Koukal says
This is a beautiful message, seemingly shared by so many who understand the tenderness and love between a mother and child. Unspoken touches in the heart. Singing love is so meaningful to calm the soul. I sang to my boys before bed at times, that “everything is beautiful in its own time” and would add phrases as they came, my heart singing love to there’s. This bond is never broken or wasted, even when our children are grown, or no longer with us, we have sown love into them.
I love the bunny story too, it’s the sweetest.
Blessings to all mother’s hearts.
Thank you, Lynn! I like how you phrase your singing as singing love to your boys’ hearts. How beautiful. Thank you for being here and for sharing some of your own story.
Robin Dance says
What fond memories you’ve stirred, Tasha. I couldn’t help smiling as I imagined those finger-bunnies hopping, the same motion I taught my babies when they were young. Because I lost my own mom so young, that I remember her pet song (You Are My Sunshine) is sweet; and yes, it’s the one I sang to all three of my children. They’re big now (25, 24, 21) but they still remember, so I hope that encourages you. Melodies threading memory…what a gift! Your post reminded me of Zephaniah 3:17 (and I love Sadie mentioned it, too) — That God is with me, He takes delight in me, and he rejoices over me with singing (and not just me, but all of us!).
Robin, thanks for sharing that. I love the memories you shared and I am encouraged to know that you still carry your own. “Melodies threading memory” is a beautiful way to put it.
Beth Williams says
Like most here I thought of Zephaniah 3:17. God has been with you from the beginning, stitching you together with significance, singing over you in love. The thought that God of the universe would sing over me is unimaginable. Hard to fathom such love!! He loves us with a tenderly motherly type of love. You are blessed to have such warm & tender memories of your childhood. Don’t let your Korean heritage or language disappear. I have an American/Chinese niece/nephew in law (she American he Chinese). They live in China & have taught their children both languages. I feel like many here that children should be sung to. Music can soothe a weary soul. It will calm the little one.
Yes, Zephaniaah 3:17 was definitely behind this post and I feel the same way, Beth, it’s so wild to fathom how loved we are. Thank you for sharing about your niece and nephew and for your encouraging words. I am so glad you are here in this space.
Becky Keife says
Tasha, you’re such a beautiful writer. Your words bring chills to my Spirit — a sign to my heart that something deeper is stirring. Thank you. I just love that you are here.
Becky, thank you. That means a lot and I hope to hear more about what has been stirred in you someday. I am so glad to be here with sisters like you.
Ola Bunch says
I love your story. It reminds me of the songs my mother and grandmother from Appalachia sung to me as a child. The little poems and sayings the gave me. My daughter is now grown and unfortunately we are estranged; and most of my remaining family are deceased. After my husband passed away I found a job working at a Christian preschool ministry. I now repeat those little poems and songs to other babies and small children. Some of these children live in homes that are broken and some of these children live in heartbreaking circumstances. I have found healing and peace here helping God’s little ones. My pray is that the songs that were sung to me and I pass on to these other children helps them in some small way.
Also, before my second husband passed away ; he was stationed in South Korea. He had a deep love and respect for the Korean people he lived and worked with. He was also fond of kimchi. He always prayed for South Korea every chance he could. May God bless you and keep you.
Thank you so much for sharing part of your story. I love the picture you shared of your mother and grandmother carrying the songs and stories of their Appalachian upbringing to you through song. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter and just now, I said a prayer for reconciliation for the two of you. It’s absolutely beautiful that you have carried on singing to many others who need these songs. I am so glad you are here, and I am so grateful for the things you have shared and for the songs you keep singing.
Also, your second husband must have good taste! 🙂 Much love to you.
Rebecca Jones says
Tasha, this is one of the most beautiful posts I have read in a long time. I have sung to many children, Jesus Loves Me, lots of kid songs, and the lullaby/carol, All through the Night, which appears on my blog. He rejoices over us with singing and quiets us with His love. Zephaniah 3:17 While I have had many children pass through daycare doors, the language was English, and a Southern, Georgia peach voice, though I always encourage people to let their kids be bilingual if they can speak another language, many never bother. I would think Korean or any Asian language would be beneficial, I felt silly trying to teach a few Spanish words to children with Mexican grandparents. What a loving memory of your mother singing to you, mine helped me write a poem at 5 and I have never stopped. Favor and blessings, I will leave you a link to the lullaby, I never knew was a Christmas carol. https://adaughtersgiftoflove.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/all-through-the-night/
Rebecca, thank you so much for those kind words. Thank you for sharing a glimpse into your life and the way you have used your voice to love on others and offer them a song to remember. Thank you for sharing the link to your blog post and the beautiful lullaby. What gentle, comforting words. I am glad you are here!