Locked Away Stories

Trauma can be, unfortunately, part of growing up as a TCK. Joy Smalley shares how she has unlocked her stories from her past. Though this article is about trauma, it is general and does not share specifics about her trauma. But, since this audience is large and wide, I wanted to put a cautionary warning that it might cause a trigger for those who have experienced trauma in their own childhood.

No one wants to hear my stories, at least not the stories that have dominated my mind for
decades, the ones that replay on a reel behind my eyes. When a story does cross my lips, it is
always covered with a smile or a laugh to soften the landing, making sure the other person is
comfortable and doesn’t feel the grief or fear that the story holds for me.

I moved to Outer Mongolia in 1992 at the age of 10. I had not been out of the country before
except for a quick jaunt across the border to Mexico, but I found myself in a post-communist
country, a frozen tundra, a new home.

No one wants to hear my stories, at least not the stories that have dominated my mind for
decades, the ones that replay on a reel behind my eyes.

The stories I can tell, which illicit awe and astonishment, revolve around living in a log cabin
without running water, the nature of the outhouse, the temperature dropping to -35 degrees
Celsius, and whether or not I speak the language. I’ve spent my life monitoring the pieces of my life that could be shared with others, only speaking of the mundane, the boring, the fascinating. When asked if I enjoyed my childhood I’d routinely say, “I didn’t know any different. It was just normal.” In my gut, I knew it wasn’t normal, but I didn’t know why or how to process the differentness, the hardness, the pain of my childhood experience.

Yet, the stories hidden behind my eyes continued to replay in a persistent loop as my brain
attempted to process their wisdom. The only way to stop them was to distract myself with
television, books, imagination, or learning, anything that could take my mind away from its need to construct meaning. I tried desperately to run away, and I failed. My coping strategies worked until they didn’t.

I’d tried therapy before. I’d tried a few months after college, I’d tried after my four kids were born, and I tried after I’d spent years of my adult life in Indonesia. But every time I’d sat in those sessions, I’d continue to run from the truth. The truth of my trauma.

Yet, the stories hidden behind my eyes continued to replay in a persistent loop as my brain
attempted to process their wisdom.

Therapy this last time, the one I’ve started but never stopped, is where my stories took flight.
Each week, I’d take a story from my forever loop, pull it out into the middle of the room, and talk about it. Over and over and over again, I’d talk about it, finding meaning and understanding and making connections and links from past trauma to current struggles.

As I walked through my story with a professional, however, I still felt lonely. Reading has always been a safe way to connect for me, a way to understand the world and myself, and yet, as I sought to find a story that resonated with mine, I could not. I could find snippets of relatable material in books like All Quiet on the Western Front or The Deepest Well, but it required mental acuity to make the connections. It took a self-trust that was hard to come by.

So, I decided to write the stories that no one wanted to hear, the ones that exposed the hard truths of TCK living, of missionary kid life. Will everyone resonate with my story and agree with my conclusions? No, of course not, but there are many of us afloat in the world, seeking to have our stories mirrored, seeking to be seen and regarded as whole and valuable humans.

Telling these stories has not been easy for me. There have been relationships lost and communities left because the truth is not easy to look at and examine. We know, instinctually, that every experience is filled with both good and bad, valuable and destructive, and yet, the difficulties of a TCK life can be shunted off to the side, hidden in dark corners.

I can no longer hide and continue to live fully. I long for connection. I want to miss people when they are gone. I want to be rooted, to dig my feet down into the dirt and feel myself a part of a place. I want to know attachment and love openly and securely, the kind of way that fills your body with excitement and expansion, the kind of love that seeks beauty in life. I don’t want to be numb. I want to feel the warmth of life in my body, where every emotion is accepted and embraced as a grand adventure.

Stories locked away and hidden destroy the creativity of the soul. They dismantled mine. Is it
possible to reignite the childhood fire of delight and joy? I believe it is, but only when we tell the truth to ourselves can we re-align with the child within, building up the neural pathways that have been stunted and masked to protect our childhood hearts.

Joy Smalley is a Missionary Kid and former Missionary who has served in countries around Asia, such as Mongolia, Thailand, and Indonesia. She is the wife of one man and the mother of four teenagers, who she homeschools. She graduated, with honors, from Biola University with a degree in Sociology and a Minor in Bible. She has pursued a deep understanding of childhood trauma issues and believes there are others, like her, who long to be heard. She desires to share what she has learned about her childhood in missions with honesty so that others can also find healing. Come find her book, Abraham’s Daughter: Healing Trauma from a Childhood in Missions, on Amazon, or contact her through her website, joysmalley.com, or her Instagram @abrahams_daughter_. 

Juxtapose Painting

Juxtapose Painting


There and Back Again – an MK tale

There and Back Again – an MK tale

My love for Lord of the Rings is pretty obvious

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