18 Feb 2013

What mama did: the storytelling

A four part series.

I’ve been thinking about how we moms want our kids to remember us. And maybe what we think will make an impression on them is very different than what they end up remembering. Maybe it’s not keeping up on the laundry or the dishes or doing the perfect crafts or attending every sporting event. Maybe our kids are marked by memories of our motherhood we couldn’t possibly imagine let alone check off a list of recommended parenting to-dos.

So I invited four friends this week to share a “What Mama Did” post with us. What special, unique memory did they carry away from their wash, rinse, and repeat days of childhood that their moms never could have planned for?

And on Friday I’m going to ask you to come and share your own “What Mama Did” memory.

May they encourage you and remind you that you are beloved so much deeper, higher and wider than the laundry hamper.

Today, my friend Sarah Bessey shares what her mama did. Sarah is a writer filled with a wild grace and a vulnerable courage who sends us her words from Canada and reminds me that motherhood and faith go hand in hand.

My mum had a backache the whole day long. She was four days overdue, but that wasn’t stopping her. She went out and about for the whole day, visiting her parents, her in-laws, puttering around the house. But her water broke at eleven that night, just as she was wearily dropping into sleep, and so my parents drove to the old Pasqua Hospital in Regina. She gave birth to her first baby, a little girl, at 6:56 a.m. and, oh, she laughed and laughed. Her young red-haired husband cried, and they took pictures with a Polaroid camera. Those pictures have faded, the frame is nearly empty now, just a ghost-image of the joy of the day remains.

When she had her second baby two years later, labour went very quickly – just three hours. After all, she was ten days overdue. When she checked into the hospital close to midnight, the doctor solemnly asked if she was at all comfortable with the attendance of perhaps a student or two to observe her delivery, no pressure of course, Mrs. Styles. She laughed and invited the entire class of serious medical students to line up in the room, and then she chattered and laughed so incessantly that the doctor finally had to beg her to be quiet and focus. After her daughter was born at 2:13 a.m. weighing nearly 9lbs, the students applauded and they lined up to shake her hand before they left. “Mrs. Styles,” they all said, “we never knew giving birth could be this fun!” She was nearly high with adrenaline and excitement, with her own sense of power and strength. She was made to be a mother. She knew it, her husband knew it, and her girls grew up knowing it.

These are the stories of how my sister and I came into the world. I have them memorized because my mother has spent most of my life, telling us stories of our lives, her own life, my father’s life, my grandparents’ lives, all the way back.

I am descended from a long line of exaggerating, laughing, yarn-spinning, opinion-hollering storytellers. We have opinions on everything and I grew up surrounded by long and loud discussions on politics and hockey, the two great Canadian pastimes. But my mother kept almost all her stories close, and she spun our own yarn.

On the night before our birthdays, she would stay a bit longer in our room at bedtime. She smelled like Noxema, still warm from her nightly bath. She’d gather us close, and tell us all about how we came into the world, surrounded by her joy and her laughter. By the time we were in elementary school, my sister and I had each others’ birth weights and birth times memorized.

There were other stories. She decided to breastfeed because her friend, Maureen, came to visit her at the hospital and told her all about how wonderful it was. In those days, not too many women were exclusively breastfeeding, and I heard about how people would ask her if she wasn’t tired of being tied down all the time because of her choice to breastfeed, and how she always responded that her babies were such nice little people to be tied to.

There’s the story of how when I was three weeks old, I cried and cried on her birthday. Her big sister had come to take her out as a birthday treat but I was small and inconsolable, yearning only for her. She stood in the entrance with her favourite red coat on, the one edged with fake fur, her make-up on, her long sheet of golden brown hair tucked inside from the wind, and then she chose to stay home with me. She said it was like a line crossing, a moment in her life that she won’t ever forget because it was the first time she ever consciously made a decision to put someone else’s needs before her own. She used to say that it was the moment she decided what kind of mother she wanted to be. Her sister stayed with her and they rocked me and laughed because really the point was just being together anyway. (She adores her big sister and, together, they can make anything fun, even a crying newborn.)

I can tell you about how my parents met each other: my Dad whisked her away to a pub during school and kept her from a typing test. I can tell you about how he asked her to marry him in his parents’ basement on a Saskatchewan Roughriders game day and then they drove the whole way to Taylor Stadium with her hanging out the window, hollering for her friends from high school to come see her tiny solitaire diamond. I can tell you about my dad growing up at Kitchener school, and I knew all their old high school friends by name even though we had long moved away from Regina. I know how she came to know Jesus because she became a mother and was suddenly wondering what love is and how to love better. I know how she felt when she was a little girl, about the great sorrows and hurts of her life, about her fears and her insecurities, because as I got older, her stories became more complex and intimate. We would take long walks when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and the whole time we walked, we talked, and we always talked about our lives right now and our lives then and how it was all connected. My mother’s life story is built into my marrow, and I feel like I know her, truly know her, and I don’t take that gift lightly: I feel protective of her.

Now I’m the mother smelling like Noxema, gathering my three tinies on the night before a birthday to tell them about how they were born, and how much I love being their mother. (They always enjoy the story of Joseph’s birth in particular since his was an unattended, unintended birth in our building’s parkade. Lord, have mercy.)

I’m pretty sure that part of the reason why I write in my weird made-up genre of narrative theology is because I’m wanting to tell a bigger and greater story of our Father’s love for us. I am so tired of colour-coded charts and three-point arguments, marriage manuals and narrow boxes of parenting rules. I want a bit more fresh air than that, and the story of Jesus is my very favourite. My own small family was built on the power of story, we were held together by our common narrative and our belief in its worthiness, and so naturally, I want to tell stories of God’s great love and faithfulness, generation to generation, and I want to tell of his goodness and his gentleness, I want to tell you how he has mattered in my own life, saved me, healed me, made me whole, and set me free.

And I want to tell my tinies, once a year, every year, how they came into the world while their mother laughed and their father cried with joy and angels rejoiced.

Sarah Bessey is a writer and blogger (www.sarahbessey.com). She lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia with her husband, Brian, and their three tines, Anne, Joseph, and Evelynn. Her first book “Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to the Kingdom of God Waiting on the Other Side of our Church’s Gender Debates” will be published by Howard Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) in 2013. She is a happy clappy Jesus lover, a joyful subversive, a voracious reader, an unrepentant hashtag abuser, and a social justice wannabe.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Such a fantastic idea for a series, Lisa-Jo. Sarah – my smile grew and grew through this beautiful post, and you can bet I’m going to start telling my little one more “real life” stories about her mama. I worry sometimes about how I will keep our relationship thriving through our life stages, and for us storytelling might just be the perfect key and tie that binds.

  2. 3

    wow. just–wow.

  3. 4

    What a wonderful heritage, seamlessly tied to your past,present and future, in a way that the narrative continues without ever realizing where one story ends and the next begins. Sarah, you tell your story so *well* it’s almost enviable; I stop myself from that destructive tendency when I remember we ALL have a story to tell – our own – and it’s given to US for a reason (to share it within our own realm). This was joy to read, and though my babies are not so tiny, you’ve reminded me never to stop singing their stories back to them :).

    My two favorite lines: “my mother kept almost all her stories close, and she spun our own yarn” and “she always responded that her babies were such nice little people to be tied to” :).

    Lisa-Jo, what a precious idea for a series :).


    • 5

      I think my favourite stories with my mum evolved over the years you’re in right now, Robin. I remember us walking around a local nature reserve almost weekly, just talking it all through, and it’s one of my favourite memories of my teens and twenties. Somehow it’s always easier to talk when your feet are moving.

  4. 6

    What a fun series. What great stories. Just reading these had memories flooding back of my own mom!!! Thanks for this!

  5. 8
    Marina Bromley says:

    Delightful, and painful…the memories of my mom are not nearly as sweet, and very few… Thanks for sharing!

  6. 10

    Oh, Sarah, your post reached right into my heart and it’s still going pitter-patter. I need to read it again — it is packed with treasures and inspiration and I will share it with others.

    Your mother has inspired me to tell more family stories to my kids and grandkids. I’ve put many of them in writing but, thanks to your mother, I realize I need to tell them aloud, too. Recently I visited my three grandsons and told them a meandering story about Seattle’s pioneers and then at the end I told them they were descendants of those pioneers, and their eyes lit up. History class became personal for them that day.

    I’ll sign off now so I can go read your post again. Thank you for sharing your messages and those of your mother. They have made a difference in my life.


  7. 12

    Oh your words, they always make me tear up, they are so good. Touching my soul. This is a beautiful story

  8. 14

    Still a bit giddy at being here at your lovely place, Lisa-Jo. Thank you again. Can’t wait to read all the other contributors this week and check out the link-ups. Love you!

  9. 17

    Sarah Bessey you are so gloriously amazing. And your Mama, that’s the Mama I want to be, and I want to be the daughter who knows the stories, oh how very beautiful.

    • 18

      Oh, Grace, you’re very kind. I want to be half the mother she was/is, that’s for sure! So much of it takes courage to be vulnerable and you have so much courage.

  10. 19

    How do I, Sarah & Amanda’s Mum, respond to this? I’m crying over my computer, I’m remembering every conversation that Sar wrote about, like it was yesterday. But let me at least say, that the story is ongoing, forever and ever. Sarah you have always said more in one sentence than most can say in a paragraph, thanks for capturing ‘our story’ so beautifully. I am loved so deeply and I will never take my relationship with you all for granted. I believe it is my gift from Jesus, my Family.

    • 20

      Thank You, Sarah’s mum, for being such a lovely example. My own mother died when I was twenty-one, but she lives on in memories and fun stories and home movies.

      Our lives are full of unexpected things that make for memories that are unique to our experiences. Potato salad, white gloves for Mass, learning to shave my legs…. These are the stuff of life, these are the ornaments of yesteryear…

    • 22

      You and your daughter are such beautiful people who give me hope that my daughter (4 yrs old) and I can continue to have a wonderful relationship into her adulthood. Thanks to you both for sharing your stories.

    • 24

      To you, Sarah’s mum, I say a heartfelt. Thank you for telling your stories and freeing your daughter to tell hers. Thank you for this inspiration to tell truer stories to my own children and far more often. Thank you for sharing your stories with us through your daughter. Her words captivate me on a regular basis and my life as a mother, writer and believer is richer because of them. Big hugs to you both.

    • 28

      Mum, I love you! Thanks for popping in to comment. xo

  11. 29

    This post? Oh it made me cry, and wish for more laughter & joy in my mothering. I want my little girl to know these things. And the sweet precious comment from Sarah’s mom? Oh have mercy. I can’t wait for the next three posts, though I’m not sure I’m qualified to add much to Friday’s link up :)

    • 30

      I try to be intentional with the joy, now, too, Crystal. it’s hard to be joyful when there is so much to *do* but I hope I can communicate somehow that I love it, too. I can’t wait to read the next few as well (and glad I went first – pressure’s off! haha).

  12. 31

    I love your storytelling, creative way of sharing deep truths with us Sarah. It is truly unique. It is a profound truth that everyday stories can often tell us more about God than any theories we read in books or Phd theses. And you share these stories so beautifully. Thanks for letting us a little into your world…

  13. 33

    Wow. I have tears. I want your mother! I want to be like your mother. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing lady. Thank you for sharing.

  14. 35

    Oh, Sarah, what a lovely heritage you have. Thank you for sharing, and Lisa-Jo, what a wonderful idea for a series. It’s a reminder about what really really matters. Thank you to you both.

    • 36

      I just loved this idea of Lisa-Jo’s, too, Lindsay – she comes up with good ones. It’s an encouraging thing to consider. I look forward to reading the rest of them!

  15. 37

    “My mother’s life story is built into my marrow, and I feel like I know her, truly know her, and I don’t take that gift lightly: I feel protective of her.”

    I think that statement sums up how I feel about my mother. She passed away a couple of years ago, right before her mother did and I’ve become the “keeper of their stories”. Precious memories. Only this morning I was telling God how much I missed my mom and the relationship we shared. Thank you for this series. I look forward to reading them all.

    • 38

      “Keeper of the stories” – love that Deborah! What a beautiful way to put that. I am sorry for your loss but you’re right, very precious memories remain.

  16. 39

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this. Makes me want to go pick up my girl and tell her our stories.

  17. 41

    Beautiful. I love how stories fill and grow our hearts. Your mum is an inspiration!

  18. 43

    Such a gift, this sharing of stories and memories and our very selves. Sometimes, I feel as if I hoard my stories and save them up to share elsewhere. Who better to share them with, than the little people I birthed into this great, big love story?

    • 44

      Absolutely! It’s funny because even as I “tell our stories” like how my husband and I met and fell in love etc. it makes me fall in love all over again somehow. It helps me to tell them probably even more than it helps anyone else to hear them.

  19. 45

    I so enjoyed hearing how rich the heritage of story-telling became throughout your family line. Because of your mother’s love of Story. This was such an encouragement to keep the storytelling alive!

  20. 47

    That story is full of life,I could imagine every single detail. God bless you Sarah for sharing such a warm experience and for giving me the courage to see a brighter future with my unborn kids. God Bless.

  21. 49

    Oh Sarah, I’m tearing up and beaming and jealous all at the same time, more than anything I am thankful that your mother imparted to you what she did and determined to love my children with a brave, deep, intentional, sacrificial love that gets into the marrow of who they are and never fails to point them to heaven… scratch that…. I will fail, but God will redeem it.

    He’s just so good at that.

    • 50

      He is good like that. And my mum will be the first one to tell you that she wasn’t perfect (and heaven knows, I’m far from it, too) but somehow even those things are redeemed when we’re not afraid to talk about them. You’re a blessing, Leanne Penny.

  22. 51

    This was all kinds of beautiful, Sarah. I’m giving thanks for your mum’s stories, and hoping that I remember to let my mom’s stories sink into my heart just as you have. Thank you for sharing with us.

  23. 53

    oh, two of my favorite writers in one place! i love it, and sarah, that is something i LOVE about you is the way you love the story of Jesus. the way there is nothing stale or color-coded about the way you describe him. the way you make him family to me. so thank you, sister. love you.

  24. 55

    ps. i love that you spell mom “mum” like me.

  25. 57

    Sarah, thank you for sharing these wonderful stories!

  26. 59

    Oh, Lisa-Jo, thanks for this idea. Sarah, the way a life can spill story and spill over is a beautiful thing to recount. I lost my mama at 12 and so the stories are all that I have to recount. I love that you have seen the stories grow deeper and wider as you have gotten older. Makes me happy for you because as a girl who lost her mama that is what I imagine life with her would be like- an unwinding of all the tales from my childhood. Thanks for sharing this.

  27. 61

    It’s so good to think of our own childhoods and conjur up the good. There is plenty of time and people and fodder for anger or old hurts- its brave to focus and pass on the good I think. Lovely.

  28. 63

    i really enjoyed this post. makes me think about how my kids will think of me one day and how i already think about my own mom. lovely.

  29. 64

    Best series idea ever!! Can’t wait to read all the goodness this weekend with Five Minute Friday!! and the story telling? I am just learning that… looking froward to telling my kids their birth stories this year!!

  30. 66

    Absolutely beautiful, Sarah. You have such a wonderful, soul-stirring way with words.

    One question: What exactly do you use Noxzema for? I’m curious.


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