love looks like

You have been travelling a bit more than usual, and I was in the home stretch of another week of solo parenting. My parents had graciously (read: heard the desperation in my voice and taken pity on me) invited us all over for pizza that Friday night. On our way home in the minivan, a motorcycle sped past us, and a new line of questioning was introduced by the tinies. They asked if we ever had a motorcycle and, of course, no, because well, we aren’t risk takers, you and me, are we? And maybe because we had just been at Granny and Papa’s house, who knows, but they wanted to know if Papa or Granny ever had a motorcycle.

Without a thought, I told them the story: the one about how Papa used to have a motorcycle when he was a teenager because well, he was that kind of kid. But when he showed up for a date with Granny, she wouldn’t get on the motorcycle because her father had forbidden it. Papa was incredulous – after all, he is the kind of guy who just does what he wants and hang the rules – but sure enough, she stood her ground and let him ride away. That could have been the end of the story, but no, I said, your Papa, well, he was already in love. Your Granny was so beautiful – she had a long sheet of golden brown hair, just the colour of Evelynn’s hair, and she had blue eyes just like you three here with me, and so instead, your Papa sold that old motorcycle and the next time he asked her out, he had a car to drive. She said yes, of course, and then they fell in love and got married. At the end, I said, you see? Your Papa loved your Granny more than any old motorcycle, right from the start. She was worth it.

Their eyes were big as saucers, you know how they get. But they were silent – for once. And then they asked to hear the story again, and so I told it again, just the way I remembered it anyway, because that is the story I heard all the time as a kid. We arrived home, and I put them to bed after all of the rituals, and then I sat around and watched television by myself. I stayed up too late. Before I went to bed, I changed the countdown on the kitchen cupboard blackboard: 5 4 3 2 1 more sleep until Dad is home!

You came home on Saturday. Later on in the weekend, you were in the car with Annie and from her perch in the backseat, she asked you if you wanted to hear a love story. And of course, you said yes, and then she said, “Well, once upon a time, Papa had a motorcycle….” and then you listened to her re-tell the old story I’ve told you a few (dozen) times, using my exact phrases and expressions. As she wrapped it up, she said, “Papa loved Granny more than any old motorcycle.” You were amazed at how they remembered every word, and I thought of another generation growing up in the safety of our family fables.

Darling, remind me to tell them our stories our loud now, too. Remind me to tell them about the nights we used to spend laying on the hood of your old car, stretched out with our backs against the windshield, staring at the Oklahoma nights. Remind me to tell them about how we danced to old Garth Brooks songs from an AM radio station on the side roads. Remember to tell them about the first time you saw me – tell them I was beautiful, please, a little lie never hurts.

Let’s spin our own yarns here at home, beloved, among all the books littered on the floor and buried under their pillows, let’s tell them our homemade myth. Let’s tell them about our sacred places: the side yard in Texas, perhaps, the parking lot of the Mabee Centre, the little booth in the Earl’s near our Vancouver apartment. Don’t forget that creek we found as we drove through Arizona during the hardest year of our lives: the one we heard before we saw it. And we scrabbled down a red rock embankment covered in dust, just to sit on the stones and soak our swollen hot feet in the clear water. Remember how the sun came through the trees, and we began to feel something like hope, perhaps stirring, fluttering, through the leaves, descending to us again. Maybe we’ll tell them about the night we went camping in the mountains of New Mexico and a blizzard blew up, so we drove down the mountain to stay in a hotel, leaving our kit and tent all set up. We had a shower, ate bacon and eggs, and then went back up the mountain later in the day to finish the trip.

Maybe we’ll tell them about the night you proposed in the moonlight, kneeling in the grass with a mix tape playing Six Pence None the Richer songs on the portable CD player, holding up a ring paid for with the tips from Tulsa oil tycoons at the club where you worked. Maybe we’ll tell them about the guys in San Antonio who play the pan flute at the Riverwalk mall, and the mariachi bands, and the way we lingered over tables with bright umbrellas above us. And the way we used to hold hands as we wandered through Gruene, listening to Americana music through clapboard walls of an old dance hall. Maybe we’ll tell them about Kananaskis but probably not.

Let’s not kid ourselves though: our best – and our worst – stories will always be secrets, just ours, always.

Maybe we’ll tell them something about our wedding, but I’ll have to be honest: if I had to do it again, I’d have married you way sooner, and we could have run away together. That sounds nice to me now. Let’s fill their little minds with the thousands of ways we’ve convinced ourselves that we were meant to be: let’s tell them about 28 May 1989 and the weird way it connects us because that was the day you decided to become a Christian sitting on the edge your parents’ bed in Omaha and at the exact same moment in a church in Winnipeg, I was descending into a water tank for my baptism into the faith. Maybe we’ll talk about Naples and Riadoso, that one field somewhere in the middle of Kansas where we had a picnic after I met your parents, oh, and the Silverthorne Village Inn on the winter nights of Colorado when we sneaked out of the communal condo and stayed up all night, talking, over terrible coffee. We’ll talk about the way you drove up to see me in the dead of a Canadian winter, staying the night with my uncle and aunt. You’ll laugh and tell them about how everyone made fun of your old Monte Carlo because you didn’t have a block heater for the cold night ahead, and how my Uncle pulled his own car out of the garage, just to put your old maroon Monte inside, so you could leave first thing for the last leg to Calgary to me, our first Christmas together. And then – you loved this part – he went out on the deck, in minus 30 degree weather, and grilled you a steak at 11 o’clock at night, and you sat at their kitchen table eating meat and talking about nothing for a few more hours. You fell in love with Canada that night, I think.

Maybe we’ll talk about fear and sacrifices, about choosing each other’s best first, about deep sadness and the way we’ve clung to each other through dreams unfulfilled and longings unsatisfied and the still-waiting of right now. Someday maybe I’ll tell them about the babies who aren’t here with us, and about the night you stood in the darkness of their childhood room with another little lost one bundled into a kitchen tea towel and how I stood in doorway and listened as you cried and cried and cried. We’ll tell them about the nights they were born, the way I always burst out in laughter after they were safely earthside. Let’s tell them about the mundane beauties of their lives, and how we used to have them tucked in between us in our old bed so we could meet eyes over their downy heads to silently telegraph our disbelief at our luck – look at this! a real little person! –  at each other.

We’ll talk about how we lived pay cheque to pay cheque, and it was worth every single tense conversation about the budget. Let’s tell them about the vast middle part of love, too, this part right now, the part that doesn’t show up in movies and love songs, the part where my hips have widened and your temples are greying, and some dreams are languishing, and we’ve become better acquainted with the fruit of faithfulness and gentleness.

We’re still choosing each other, over and over and over again, this is what we want, this is what I want, this is what we want, you are who I want, still, then, always.

Let’s make them feel like they’re part of a love story, let’s tell them how love looked for us. Let them catch us slow dancing in our pink kitchen to Patty Griffin songs, let them hear us say it out loud: we used to sit in an empty baseball stadium in the middle of the night and kiss behind home plate. Let’s hold hands on the gearshift of the vehicle, the way we do, the way we’ve always done, until we’re old and tell them the stories of their grandparents and their great grandparents, about Nebraska and Saskatchewan. Let’s go to preschool graduations and high school graduations and university graduations, and then let’s stand in our empty nest house someday and cry because it went too fast and try to figure out the rest of it, and then laugh because there is still so much life ahead, who are we kidding? Let’s go to Paris and London, India and Cavendish together, all the places we never got to go because of money and tinies and plane fares, then let’s stay home and watch the sun set in the sky we love here, and let’s drink a bit too much and kiss until the stars come down.

We’ve had a regular sort of life perhaps, not too special to the outside eyes, but it’s enough to keep us warm. Wrap me up in the ways we’ve loved each other, darling, and let’s keep on spinning.


In which we are reclaiming feminism
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  • Helen Murray

    Oh, that’s what love looks like. It might not seem special to people just walking past but it’s beyond special, it’s a gift from the Living God and it’s the best we can have this side of Heaven. Beautiful words and such emotion and this is just lovely. You’ve inspired me to get out our old stories, me and him, and tell ’em to the kids.
    Thank you. Perfect, important post.

  • Lina

    Lovely Sarah. This is beautiful…you are beautiful!

  • Adele Chapman

    Dear Sarah, yours is truly one of the most hospitable blogs I have ever visited; you invite us into your life and your family’s stories with such grace. It’s always an honour when someone shares their precious memories with you. Reading your words makes all of us feel like we are the oldest and dearest friends – instead of what we actually are – people who met on the internet. (Shameless ‘You’ve Got Mail’ paraphrase!)
    So much thanks and love to you and your dear ones (tiny and otherwise!) xo

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    breathless. yes. tell this love…because it reminds me to find my perfectly normal life and love scandalous in its simplicity and truth. so glad for the storyteller in you, Sarah Bessey. for your heart even better than your words.

  • Awesome, Sarah. Your words reminded me – I watched this PBS special on Garrison Kellior recently, and he talked about how as a young man, he was terrified of having an “ordinary life.” But when he held his first newborn child, he was struck, not with the miraculousness of it, but the ordinariness. After all, that is how we all came into the world. And his conclusion, he said, was that an ordinary life is what we are given, and isn’t that enough? Words to live by for a guy who has held the same fear.

  • goosebumps of joy … when he gave his heart to Jesus as you stepped into the flowing waters

  • This is just beautiful! What a treasure these stories will be. 🙂

  • josenmiami

    great piece! it makes me sad though. I had a 38 year love like that and she is gone (cancer). We could tell some stories! And yes, the best one”s we could not tell anyone @josenmiami

  • Beth

    Amazing post, Sarah. I’m so encouraged and inspired! You are a beautiful storyteller. Your children and your grandchildren will treasure your stories.

  • Linds

    So beautiful. And it saddens me so – my husband died 7 years ago. Memories. I can tell my grandchildren the stories!

  • Makeda

    This. This is so beautiful and truly a picture of what love looks like. Thank you for inviting us into your private world for just a bit and sharing a tiny glimpse into the love you share.

  • Lindsay

    It’s not even 9:30 AM here and I’m crying into my coffee. Sarah, this is so beautiful, so absolutely perfect. I’ve been a bit….frustrated at dreams that I once had seeming a little out of reach now. But you’ve reminded me that I also got to see other, even more fabulous dreams come true with my man and our little ones. Thank you. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your life here. I’m going to carry this with me for the rest of the day.

  • Sarah. Thank you. You don’t know what this does for my soul.

  • This is what love looks like. This is what mine looked like. I lost my husband in 2006 to his first and only heart attack. We had been married for 20 years, but best friends for ten years longer than that. I am in tears as I type this – but so happy that you see this now, feel this now, are living it now.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    let’s stand in our empty nest and cry because it went to fast.

    cannot breathe. too true for today.

    love you, girl. this is stunningly beautiful!

  • brenda shaw

    and once again you touch my heart and move me to tears..who would not want this life ???

  • Anonymous

    “We’ve had a regular sort of life perhaps, not too special to the outside eyes, but it’s enough to keep us warm.”

    Oh my gosh. This is truth right here.

  • Shelbey

    I just love these posts about what your love looks like. So beautiful and true.

  • Amy Hunt

    Tears and a choked up throat as I feel incredibly honored to have walked into this intimate moment of worship.

  • Jada

    Absolutely beautiful, Sarah!

  • kristina

    I loved almost all of this. But not this: ” tell them I was beautiful, please, a little lie never hurts.” Why? I know how hard it can be to feel beautiful. I understand that writing about it can make us all worry that we’re putting on airs, puffing up with pride in silly things. But we don’t make ourselves look any kinder, holier, more serious, less vain, etc. by offering asides to assure other people that we really know how ugly we are. Please, please, please let yourself dare to inhabit the beauty that you hope others see (and that others do in fact see).

  • Erin

    Oh. This made me cry. <3

  • A. Wolf

    Oh my heart. Beautiful.

  • Sharon O

    This is so beautifully written. A true love story on many levels.
    I loved it…
    We have been married almost 40 years and we still ‘choose’ each other, with our graying hair (he is almost white now) and our wrinkles and our almost 60 look. Our children and our grand children benefit from us, choosing to make it work.
    Keep telling the story, over and over and over. It is so important.

  • Bev Murrill

    Absolutely beautiful. I sent it to my kids, all of whom are making their own stories with their spouses and families. We’ve all got sweet times behind us, and remembering that heightens the sweetness we live in now and are creating for our future.

  • Megan (FriedOkra)

    Swooning over the gorgeousness. Oh, I just love this so much.

  • pastordt

    On my. Again, with the glorious romance. I so love it, Sarah. Yes, I do. You inspire me to try and write a little about our long, very different looking life together. Yes, I think that’s the way I need to go next. . .

  • Erin Wilson

    It took me a long time to add your blog to my feed reader, simply because I can’t identify with young family life. But you’re such a damn fine writer. Truly. I feel really spoiled to be able to read your work.

  • John D Blase

    Very, very good. Thank you.

  • theblahblahblahger


  • These “love looks like” posts are always my favorite because you capture the mundane moments of life and show how marvelous they really are.

    You are in your element as a writer here.

    Thank you for being you.

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  • Erin

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful. This reminds me of an article I saw not to long ago about how kids who grow up in families of strong stories (both good and bad) grow up stronger and more resilient.

  • Mar

    Beautiful. As our 35th anniversary approaches, you’ve reminded me to see the beauty in my own ordinary stories. There is something so holy about an ordinary life.

  • Rachael

    Hi Sarah, I’m Rachael, and I’m not typically a “blog commenter,” but I’ve been reading your posts for a few months, now, and felt compelled to write SOMETHING after this beautiful, intimate piece that you wrote and shared. Thanks for inspiring me to write more, and from the heart, and to tell more love-infused stories to my babies. There’s a possibility that I might run into you, sometime (we live in the same bit of Canada, I think!), and then I’ll thank you in person, but lest that never happens, I just wanted to let you know that there’s one more person out there who’s benefitting from the thoughts and insight that you’ve been sharing. Have a wonderful (rainy?!) Thursday!

  • Sarah, every time I read one of your ‘love looks like posts’ I am moved deeply – and this one almost brought me to tears. As a single man, when I read this I simply pray ‘Lord, that’s what I want my marriage to look like’. It is so intimately genuine, poetic and beautiful. And you don’t hold back on the struggles, the compromises, the ‘normal’ moments of a marriage, you make them look beautiful.

    I don’t want to romanticise marriage, as I know it’s not easy, and in fact is hard work. But I do want a marriage which is a reflection of the love of the divine, a marriage of trust, love, honest, graciousness, give and take, and ultimately a beautiful marriage. And here you again show what a beautiful marriage you have. Thanks for encouraging me again Sarah.

  • Gorgeous. What a love story!

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  • Rachel

    Sarah, This is beautiful. My wedding day is in almost exactly a month from now and there are little parts of me panicking about the foreverness and selflessness and the what ifs of such a commitment. But in reading this, fears begin to quell for what is life but a collection of stories and the man I’m marrying is the one I want to live those stories with. Thank you for showing me what love looks like for you so I can begin to dream of the stories of what love looks like for me.

  • Cara

    This made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah.

  • This. Is The. Best.

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  • Sarah, this piece really inspired me as I recently hit a mental block in writing positively about love and marriage without falling into cliche. I’m so thankful that you have told your stories here, because it’s helping me to remember the beauty in the details of my own stories and cherish that beauty. I’m an intermittent reader (and only an intermittent blogger myself) but such a grateful one. Thanks. for. this.

  • Rea

    From the bottom of my young heart, thank you for the hope that maybe love isn’t so intangible.

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