It’s been said that life is a blank page, but because of my mother’s fate, the script for my life was already written.
Ah-Ma was a teenage mail-order bride from Hong Kong married to a busboy working in a noodle shop in San Francisco Chinatown. He left me when I was seven years old.
Ah-Ma is “mom” translated from the Chinese Cantonese dialect. The second girl of eight kids, Ah-Ma’s mother chose her to marry a stranger ten years older to immigrate her family to the land of opportunity. She had dreams of a better life, but I had different dreams of my own.
So, what would you do if you found yourself in the middle of a story you never intended to choose for yourself?
I never told anyone about the real story behind Ah-ma or my father because I always felt those were the parts of my story that made me feel weird, flawed, and out of place. So, I just cut those parts of my story out.
All my life, I grew up hiding my heart, trying to be “normal” like everyone else. I was stuck between two worlds: at home, I was Chinese Bonnie, the oldest daughter taking care of my little sister Mei-Mei, walking her home from school, helping with homework, and putting aside my work when it was dinner time. I’d stand over the kitchen sink, swish-swashing bok choy and then I’d throw a wok over the stove top to stir-fry a meal of sliced chicken, julienned green onions, and a generous splatter of minced garlic.
But the minute I stepped outside my doorway, I became American Bonnie, where I felt I could only talk about the things that happy, shiny people talked about. Without a place where I could fully belong, I walked around split into two halves that lived in different worlds and was never fully present in either. It was a bit like the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, who traveled beyond the wardrobe but could never bring Narnia back with them.
I was never whole Bonnie anywhere.
To navigate my life as an adult, as a wife, and as a mom to two boys, I decided to create a new story with my own family. I told myself, Leave the past where it was, Bonnie. I never wanted to talk about the family secrets that left me feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, but God knew how to reach me — through my curiosity.
One day, I was rummaging in an old file cabinet and stumbled upon an old forgotten birth certificate. I realized I had never seen the home I was born into and set out to find my childhood home and my father in San Francisco’s Chinatown to uncover the family secrets I had run away from.
What I discovered about my past has become my story of how God creates beauty out of brokenness as we discover our true worth in God’s love.
Can you relate to having different parts of your life split up between your private world, where you hide your wounds, and the outside world, where you perform, please, or achieve?
The truth is, we’re all on a journey to find belonging out of loneliness and beauty out of brokenness.
God has given each of us a unique set of cultural heritages, with a rich diversity of stories and different types of families, to show the world He is powerful to carry us through every imaginable human experience. When we open up about our lives and share our stories, others can see that nothing is wasted under the power of God’s loving hand. And because of God’s never-ending, faithful, and healing love, you and I no longer need to hide our brokenness.
God values and treasures the beautiful parts of you that others have overlooked. God tenderly whispers, You are my treasure. I cherish you.
We become beloved.
Over the pandemic, I wrote about my Asian American stories of faith and placed them in a new book named Sweet Like Jasmine. And for the first time, I read those stories to my children, Josh and Caleb. They can see that God was at work in all the parts of my story, and now I stand unashamed, embracing who I am as both Chinese and American and living whole as God’s beloved daughter.
Bonnie, you were SO CUTE as a baby. You’re cute now, too, but you were so adorable. Your mother was pretty, too. I pre-ordered your book and will be looking forward to reading it. I am sure parts will resonate with me since I had a rotten childhood. We’re all busted up pieces of pottery that the Master Potter mends and brings out our beauty.
Bonnie Gray says
Thank you so much for pre-ordering, Christine! Be sure to sign up for the book club & the free audiobook — I cannot wait to read the book together as a community to lift and encourage each other — and hear your stories!! It’s going to be fun and meaningful
Chasity Strawder says
I love your your story. You have become one of my favorite authors. I feel such purity, peace, and the love of Jesus through your words. Keep changing the world.
I totally agree! Please keep writing, Bonnie! Your voice is cherished.
Bonnie Gray says
Your words deeply touch and bless my heart, Annie! Thank you for your support! Can’t wait to encourage you through this new journey of the heart, in Sweet Like Jasmine, friend!
Bonnie Gray says
You words are such a blessing to my heart, Chastity! It is an honor to be a loving voice through my writing on this journey of faith – and I cannot wait to empower you to shine in your belovedness through Sweet Like Jasmine! Be sure to sign up for the book club – I’d love to hear your stories and encourage you there, friend!
Sarah Simpson says
Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story. I saw a piece of myself as I read along. I applaud you for breaking barriers and preserving.
Bonnie Gray says
It’s so beautiful when we see the beautiful thread of God’s love, the richness of His love — through the unique stories we all walk through! I hope you’ll feel inspired to pre-order, Sarah — and sign up for the Sweet Like Jasmine book club — I’d LOVE to encourage you and hear your stories, as we explore God in our stories in community together! Thank you for your support, friend!
Your story is beautiful, Bonnie. As you share your story it encourages others to look at their stories and see God’s hand at work where maybe before they were unaware of his presence. Thank you!!
Bonnie Gray says
Thank you, beautiful Susan! Yes, I’m so excited to encourage us as women to see God in our stories and share the unique ways God is speaking to each of us on our faith journeys – especially as we step out of the pandemic and start new beginnings! I hope you’ll feel inspired to pre-order, Susan — and sign up for the Sweet Like Jasmine book club — I’d LOVE to have you there, as we explore God in our stories in community together! It’s going to be a rich time of discovery and sharing!
Thank you for sharing your story, Bonnie! ❤️
Bonnie Gray says
Thank you, Stephanie! May you feel beautiful and beloved today, friend! ❤️
Ronda Wells MD says
Can’t wait to read this. God accomplished healing and deliverance for my mother from the brokenness of incest. He binds the wounded heart and makes it whole.
Bonnie Gray says
Oh my heart, thank you for sharing a bit of your powerful journey of healing God has led you and your mother through, Ronda! May God bless you and your mother with His deep, faithful love and encourage you both!! I can’t wait to share Sweet Like Jasmine with you! Thank you for pre-ordering – be sure to sign up for the book club – it will be great to have you there!
Jayne McLeod says
a lovely life story of God’s love … thank you for sharing Bonnie. How very loved and worthy each one of us are as a child of the King. His love is our strength and protection daily.
Bonnie Gray says
Amen! His love is our strength and protection daily — so beautiful, poetically expressed, Jayne! You have the gift of words, my beautiful friend!! I can’t wait to share this new book with you! I hope you feel inspired to pre-order — it would be wonderful to have you in the book club and read together – and hear your stories!
Becky Keife says
Bonnie, I’m so grateful God used your curiosity to invite you into a new season of embracing all the parts of your story. God is so faithful to use our broken pieces to make something new. Love you, friend.
Janet Williams says
Thank you for sharing Bonnie. Such a loving reminder. I’m so grateful for God’s whispers when I was a child amid sooo much crazy and today when I forget my brokenness brought me to Him and He was there waiting to whisper….
“God tenderly whispers, You are my treasure. I cherish you”
“And because of God’s never-ending, faithful, and healing love, you and I no longer need to hide our brokenness” AMEN
Lucy Milstead says
I really do love this picture. I know there will be many tears as we read your story, as many of us will relate. But i take comfort in the assurance that He who started a work in us is faithful to complete it. He just doesnt heal our hearts, he heals our soul and emotions too. Psalm 126:6 He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed,
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
Thank you Bonnie for sharing such intimate moments. Have been praying that it blesses each one who reads.
Karen Knowles says
Bonnie, thank you for the reminder that pain in our life is never wasted. God uses everything for our good and His glory!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Bonnie you are so beautiful in that photo. You remember this. You are a Daughter of the king. That king is Jesus. You were never out of place. Jesus sees you as his presious Daughter. That he loves no matter what. Look up on YouTube type in the words “The Father’s Love Letter” This we video will tell you just how much our heavenly Father Love us and Loves You too. I had to be told this. For the thing that happened in it. I had to be told I was a Daughter of the king that king was Jesus. Plus listen to the “Father’s Love Letter” on YouTube. I did that as I am the only one saved in my whole family. Apart from my Husband. I never believe that because I don’t have many friends. Two live 86 miles away from me. That did live near me. When their Dad was a minister when alive. My other Friend she is so good too me like them. I love them all so much. I see her now and then not that often. Because she is so busy. All this got me down at one time. As I thought no one wants to be a proper Christian friend to me. As they are the only friends I have. Other things got me down at one time I am well over them now with the help of prayer. Knowing Jesus loves me know matter what I am Daughter of the King that King is Jesus. Then one of my friends that live 86 miles away told me about the “Father’s Love Letter” plus out Salvation Army Offer were I live told me I was a Daughter of the king Jesus. When I listened to the “Father Love Letter” online. Plus took the words I am a Daughter of the king that king is Jesus. On board for my life and belived them. I began to cry to know I had the best friend ever. (Jesus) I didn’t need any other friends than the friend I had. I also realized nothing in my life is waisted. Especially when I am living it for Jesus very day. My past now makes see Jesus was there by my side being a friend the best friend to me. In those days. I didn’t see then but now I do. It also made me see I don’t need any more friends than the one Jesus has given me. As I have the best friend ever out of the friends I have who are saved and that is Jesus. So I say to myself now. Thank you Lord for another day to be alive in your beautiful world. Not even the past. I have the friends you want me to have. Plus Jesus my best friend of all. Thank you Bonnie for what you shared. So beautiful and from your heart. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little in my prayers all incourage. Love you all in Christ. Xx
Thank you so much Bonnie for sharing to us your story, virtual strangers as we are. As I read this, I was reminded of Ruth in the Old Testament – what if she chose to hide her being from Moab or not embrace the faith of Naomi, her mother-in-law from Bethlehem. We would have all missed the beautiful story of redemption that only a God like ours can weave out of impossible situations.
God bless all who will read your book too.
Yvette Pearce says
So loved what you wrote from a place of peace and acceptance. I’ve written a small part of my journey of my split self. Thanks for sharing.
Shari Blue says
I can’t wait to read Sweet Like Jasmine in a book club setting with my friends after its release this fall! I have preordered books for that express purpose and I’m asking God who he wants to join me. Just know that God is working behind the scenes to get your story out to the people who need the ministry of your vulnerable, beautiful, honest heart. May you know the JOY of our Abba’s delight in you today. Much love to you!!
Beth Williams says
I just love reading your stories. God has gifted you with such wisdom & insights. Thank you for sharing so much of your story here. I know it encourages many people including me. Everyone has bits & pieces of their past that they want to hide. Things they did or trials they lived through. Thankfully God will use those times & trials to build us up & make us more like Him. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy. Everything you’ve been through has a purpose. In His perfect timing God will reveal it to you.
Thank you for your true story whispered from your sincere heart. I was really touched and glad that you walked through your grey past and be your true self.
To God be glory.
LaVerne Johnson says
Bonnie, I praise God for you. Your words inspire me to become completely unbroken and I know God is with me. Keep sharing because it is helping so many.
God bless you and your beautiful family.