Relationships

Lessons from my late mother: Seamstress and superwoman

This Mother's Day, we want to honour mums out there – and we encourage you to do the same!

Joanna Cheong // May 6, 2021, 2:32 pm

mothers

At the height of the circuit breaker, Joanna Cheong’s mum went home to be with the Lord. As the family was unable to hold a proper memorial service due to the restrictions at the time, they were finally able to do so on their beloved matriarch’s death anniversary last weekend. Now 60 and herself a mother and grandmother, Joanna pays tribute to her mother’s life and legacy that continues to inspire her. 


My family was very poor growing up. It seemed that life dealt Mum a bad hand.

She was disowned by her father when she went ahead to marry Dad. Because they had the same surname, her father violently objected to their union. Marrying Dad meant she was leaving her family behind. Honestly, her life could be the plot of a Korean drama. 

Dad wasn’t rich either. His father had passed before he was born so he needed to support his aged mother too. Uneducated, Mum became a seamstress and hairdresser to make ends meet.

We were so poor that my younger sister was almost given away because Mum didn’t know how she was going to bring up four children and give them an education.

Mum would go to the market to pick up scrap vegetables. She explained to the vegetable seller that it was to feed the hens even though it was actually for her family.

Some days, Mum would go to the market to pick up scrap vegetables. She explained to the vegetable seller that it was to feed the hens even though it was actually for her family.

Well, we’ve come a long way since then, and as I look back on my Mum’s life, I see most clearly God’s hand at work. My children, grandchildren and I are blessed to inherit this heritage of faith.

Like John Wesley said: “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” 

A tribute to Mum, who gave up everything for us

Mum became a Christian in 1959 when she had her first child, my elder brother. She had been coming to church for a few months now and was asked to consider baptism. Undecided, she asked God for a sign.

That Saturday evening, Mum, who was a seamstress at the time, lost a sewing needle. She had a crawling 10-month-old then and feared the worst. She searched high and low, with no success, and decided to just go to bed since she had to get up early to attend the next morning’s Sunday service. 

The service was nothing out of the ordinary. But she had asked for a sign, and God delivered.

When she got home to change my brother’s soiled cloth diaper, it was there that she found her lost needle in his stool — which somehow looked like it had been broken down!

Mum was terrified. Somehow, her 10-month-old son had swallowed this needle and passed it out.

She threw the needle away and dared not tell her husband about the matter, fearing how he would react.

Still concerned that something might have gone wrong with her newborn’s insides, she observed him closely for the next few days before uttering a word.

When she related this story to her pastor a few days later, she was told that it was a miracle — God had protected her child!

That was how my Mum became a Christian, and it changed her life. Following God became her life. 

How love transformed my father’s life

Mum taught me to be a woman of prayer. She modelled a personal relationship with Jesus for me.  

Her lack was always met with prayer. Prayer, for Mum, wasn’t just about asking God for things. It was an act of dependence and faith that God would provide. It was her lifeline, the first place she ran to. So, she grew to depend on God for everything whether big or small. 

With four to raise, and little money, one of her prayers was for her children to receive an education. There was no immediate answer, but she continued to trust that God would provide. 

God opened the door for Dad to start an engineering business. It certainly wasn’t easy — he was blindsided by business partners, but that’s another story — but God was faithful.

He must have been the one sending Dad business contacts and clients because they were not business people; they couldn’t even speak English and both were unschooled!

Despite that handicap, God grew the business and it did well for more than 10 years, during which all four of us were able to go to school. My elder brother and I even got to study overseas. 

On prayer: Do you know who you’re talking to?

Mum lived and breathed prayer. As she got older, it became a habit of hers to wake up at 5am to pray. She prayed for her family members, each by name.

When I had my own kids, she prayed for them too. She prayed for the church, for missionaries, for her friends who knew Christ and had yet to know Christ. 

When I became a mother and asked her how to best care for a baby, she told me I didn’t need to fear, just to pray — all in Cantonese.

That was her mantra: “Don’t be afraid. You pray, you pray.”

In the first trimester of my second pregnancy, during a regular visit to the gynaecologist, I was told that my baby had no heartbeat. I still remember it — the Saturday of the Easter weekend.

The clinic arranged for me to come back on Monday to carry out the procedure to remove the foetal mass. When that kind of thing happens, what’s a mother supposed to do? I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to feel. I was heartbroken.

With the heaviest of hearts, I told Mum I was going to lose the baby. I can still hear her saying (in Cantonese): “Don’t be afraid. You pray, you pray.” 

So I did. I wasn’t sure what to pray for, but I pleaded with Him. When Monday rolled around, I found myself in the clinic once again, with the same gynaecologist doing a final ultrasound to confirm the lack of a heartbeat.

But when they hit the switch, there I saw it — the rise and fall on the screen. There it was. My baby’s heartbeat. It was a miracle! This miracle child we named Grace.

158 days with Joy, our miracle baby

That was the way my mother inspired me, with her unflinching faith and ceaseless prayer. Her prayers showed me the depths of her relationship with God.

It wasn’t about asking for things, it was about drawing strength and hope from God. She had so much confidence in God.

Even in her old age, Mum was still joyful. Only in her last days did I ever see her cry. Other times, she wore a toothy smile.

It brings to mind a phrase in Cantonese or Mandarin (天塌下来当被盖) that when translated basically means that even if the sky were to fall down, she’d use it as a quilt.

“Don’t be afraid. You pray, you pray.”

Her confidence gave me confidence too; because she always turned to God in prayer, so did I. 

That’s why I knew it was important that I pray for and with my children. On days where I wake up early in the morning and just can’t fall back asleep, I’d do the same as my Mum — I’d pray for my family members, each by name.

When my kids were younger, no matter how tired I was, I would close the day with them in prayer. It could be about anything: for a spelling test, a good night’s sleep or a mosquito bite.

And it is such a joy to know that my daughter does that too, now that she has children of her own. 

Mum taught me what sacrificial love was. She modelled how to put her family’s needs before her own. 

Mum was a very hardworking woman. In the early days of Dad’s business, apart from helping out in the factory and household chores, she would sew to supplement our income.

She loved Dad a lot. She would pack little kuning fish for him to bring to work and leave only the gravy for herself. Sometimes she would add sugar and water in her rice just to fill her stomach. That way, at least the rice had some taste.

She would also let the children eat, and leave herself the leftovers, if there were any. 

I wouldn’t be here today if my mum wasn’t saved from an abortion

I remember when Dad was very sick in hospital during the tense SARS period, Mum stayed overnight in the ward to accompany him for days on end, resting on a hospital chair. She was so brave in caring for her husband. 

My Mum showed me that it was about serving my family, and reflected the words of Charles Spurgeon when he said,

“You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, and training them up in God’s fear, and minding the house, and making your household a church for God, as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts.”

When I became a mother, she would be the one taking care of my kids and doing the cooking on weekdays when I needed to work. She would get up at 5am to catch the first bus because she stayed in Tampines while I was in Beauty World.

The daily journey to and fro was about three hours. She did that for two whole years. I could go to work with peace of mind knowing that my children were in the best hands. She loved the grandkids and was so joyful to teach them Cantonese songs and Bible stories.

Nowadays, I too avail myself whenever my children and grandchildren need me. When my eldest daughter calls to ask if I can watch over the kids while she attends to other matters, I drop everything and go over. That’s just taking a page from Mum’s book. 

She cheered me up when I was down. When I was afraid, she told me not to fear, but to pray. 

She was very capable. Although she was uneducated, she led worship and served as a Scripture reader in church.

She was generous. Though she didn’t have much, she sat me down every year to write a cheque to Trinity Theological College since she didn’t know how to write one herself.

Most of all, she loved God and lived an exemplary life for me to model after. 

As Billy Graham said: “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”

It’s been a year since Mum left, but I still miss her. Yet, my greatest comfort is that I will be reunited with her one day. 

Every Mum is a superwoman, but my Mum was my superwoman. One year on, her life and legacy continues to inspire me to be a godly woman, mother and grandmother. 

Love you always, Mum.

THINK + TALK

  1. What’s one thing you can thank your mum (or your spiritual mother!) for today?
  2. Thank her for that! Then, do something nice as well. 🙂