Would my mother Ah-Ma come to my wedding? I didn’t know.
One morning, seventeen years ago, I stepped into my Western bridal gown as American Bonnie for our church wedding ceremony, where my husband and I would exchange our vows. Later that night, I changed into my red Chinese wedding silk dress as Asian Bonnie at our wedding banquet.
The traditional silk dress is called cheongsam in the Cantonese dialect spoken in Southern China GuongDong where my parents are from. They escaped to British Hong Kong when the Communist party rose to power during the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong.
In Mandarin, the silk dress is called chi-pow. Brides wear red to symbolize good fortune and happiness for a new life as a couple.
That day was significant for me. Choosing happiness for myself was very different from the expectations I grew up with. I was taught to focus on the greater good, on what would be helpful and loving for others. Up to that point in my life, most of my life decisions had revolved around making choices for my family — my mother, who was a single mom, and my sister, who was five years younger than me.
I didn’t grow up in a cookie-cutter family that had a mom and dad, so I wondered if I could have the kind of whole-family happiness I’d always longed for. Did I deserve it, or was that selfish?
Happiness was more of an afterthought for me. It was nice when happiness was a part of my experience, as a side benefit to the responsibilities I shouldered. But to choose something simply because it gave me happiness? That seemed too extravagant.
Was I even worth happiness for my own sake if it didn’t serve other people?
So, choosing my husband — a soulmate with whom I’d define happiness together as a couple and later as a family — was a new territory of faith for me.
The morning of my wedding day, I wasn’t sure if my Ah-ma would be there, but I felt God’s peace as the sunlight sparkled through my window to greet me.
A Scripture came to mind, and I heard my loving Savior Jesus whisper,
You are precious to me
and I have given you a place of honor.
I love you.
Isaiah 43:4 (ERV)
The rest of that day was complicated, juggling so many different expectations from various people, but the one thing I remember most about our day was this Scripture from my Heavenly Father.
Happiness is not just important in the Chinese culture but in every culture God created. It gives God joy to see us blossom with happiness. This truth seems so simple and so obviously true to our minds, but will we take steps to embrace it in our hearts and live it out as God’s beloved?
Especially now, as we emerge from the pandemic, we need to keep choosing joy because in a world filled with doubt and division, choosing joy is a step of faith.
When we feel lonely, longing for companionship, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus understands our desire. Lean into Him. He can make a way for you because nothing is impossible for Him. He’s not holding back from you but wants to see you blossom with happiness. I don’t know what that might look like for you, but the truth is we’re all on a journey to find belonging out of loneliness and beauty out of brokenness. We all want wholeness and love, and God sees that.
Friend, you are worthy of happiness in the unique way that speaks of God’s love, joy, and peace to you personally. What might that look like for you as we emerge from the pandemic? Could it be renewed friendships, a dating relationship, traveling, or simply doing more of what you’re doing now? Whatever it is, go and do that. Joy is meant for us in Christ. God delights to delight you because you are precious to Him.
Choose to believe His joy is for you.
I’m smiling because this is yet another reminder to me to do what brings me life, joy and peace. I was reminded yesterday, and here it is again this morning! 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing, Bonnie.
Bonnie Gray says
Thank you, Bomi! So wonderful how God is placing such beautiful reminders to receive what gives you life from God’s heart to yours! You’re worth the joy and peace!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Bonnie you remember no matter what you are a Daughter of King. That king is Jesus. Even if your Mother didn’t go to wedding. No matter what the reason. You did what was right. Your still choose to joy in the Lord. No matter what and held on to that scripture you got on your Wedding day. I believe that was from Jesus for you. To know Jesus was happy for you to be getting Married to the man you were marring that day. Maybe it was the way your Mother felt. You didn’t know if she be there are not at your Wedding. Your Mother didn’t want to let her Daughter that was presious that she given birth to see grow to the beautiful woman you have become today go. Maybe your Mother wanted to hold on to you for the rest of her days. Not let man you were marring have you for the rest of his life. My late Mother was the same. But she came to my wedding. She didn’t want to let me go. But she knew she had too. So as I could make a life of my own. As keeping me for all the days she was alive wouldn’t be fair on me. She was glad as we had even better Mother Daughter religionship. As when I go visit my Mother she be glad to see me. We do so much together. We chat about so much. It brought us closer together. She saw a happy Dawn. I grew to love my Mother more. Just like everyday I love Jesus more. Love Dawn love all you shared. Your wedding dress is Just beautiful. Praying for you all Incourage. Xx
Bonnie Gray says
Thank you for sharing such a tender story from your own life, Dawn! It’s amazing hearing your faith story — and why I love sharing my stories of faith — we can see how God’s love shows up in all the unique ways in such vibrancy and personally! Love it!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos says
Thank you for this!! Yes, God desires for us all to experience His joy and peace! We are ALL worthy of happiness even when we feel that we are not. I needed this reminder today!
Bonnie Gray says
YES! We are all worthy — this is a message we can encourage each other with!! than you for sharing your heart, M! so blessed by your sharing!
Mary Ellen says
Thank you so much Bonnie for this beautiful, vulnerable post. The reasons for our sense of unworthiness are as varied as we are. Still, the unworthiness steals joy and belonging and so much more. Plunging into this subject right now with Brene Brown’s writing as well.
We are worthy because of His sacrifice, His love for us. The words are easy to say, but the believing and feeling take work. God bless you and bless us all as we learn to embrace who we already are. ♥
Thank you, Bonnie, for encouraging us to choose joy. Now I’m wondering if your mom came or if she chose not to. You were a beautiful bride and you are still very beautiful. Inside and outside. Blessings and joy to you!
This devotional was definitely for me! I absolutely love this sentence:
“ Friend, you are worthy of happiness in the unique way that speaks of God’s love, joy, and peace to you personally.”
Amen! As opportunities to get out and explore open up in my state, I have a list of places that I am going to visit, and I am EXCITED about it. I have also started to dream (and make plans) for travel. I’m rediscovering the JOY God has for me!
Bonnie Gray says
LOVE how God is just sparking so many new ideas — as the life opens up again! I can feel your excitement as that list of places to explore continues to appear on your heart, Alecia — and I’m especially happy for you because it’s all personal to what sparks joy for *you*! You are worthy of all the happiness that speaks to you!! Thanks for sharing, friend! love this!
Beth Williams says
Your writing is so inspiring to everyone. For so long I didn’t think much about happiness. I just went about my life doing what I knew I had to do. I was always the one to live near my parents so the burden of caring for them was on me. For about 10+ years I dealt with late night phone calls, doctors’ appointments, running errands, etc. I even quit a good job to be more available for my dad. Now that is over & it’s time for me to be happy. Somehow I don’t feel I deserve it. It amazes me how much God has blessed me not only spiritually, but a little materially & with a super great hubby also. Like you I am going to start choosing joy & being happy no matter what.
P.S. You look great in those dresses!!
Bonnie Gray says
aw.. thank you, Beth!! and YES, it is time for YOU to receive and experience the happiness that our Heavenly longs to see you delight in! You are his DELIGHT!! xo
Janet Williams says
What a wonderful peaceful message. Thank you Bonnie
Bonnie Gray says
Thank you so much, Janet – for your words of friendship across the miles here! blesses my heart to know the words touched your heart with peace! Have a beautiful day, friend!
Theresa Boedeker says
I could relate to your childhood. I had a mom and dad and siblings, but I was taught by my mom to always think of her and everyone else first. We were to look happy to others, because it made her look like a good mom, but our happiness was not something we were to focus on. Thankfully God wants us to be happy.
Nancy Ruegg says
For some like you, Bonnie, great obstacles have stood in the way of your joy. For many of us, it takes very little to derail our joy–an irritation, an unmet expectation, an interruption. Thank you for the reminder that happiness is a choice. I want to become a person who can find joy no matter where I am or what is happening. (My gratitude journal is a step in that direction!)
Happiness is always in our hands as long we surrender it unto Him fully.
Glad that to know you are blossom with Happiness….
Pray that you & family are surrounded by God’s love and happiness always..
Colleen Sheehy says
Thank you for this post. I used to be the most joyful person I knew. I was a missionary in the Middle East, and my leaders started fighting and the ministry fell apart. I came home feeling like a failure. I should have done more, prayed more, and things would change and be better. But I was burned out.
Then I met my husband, and we fell in love and got married. He had bone condition, and two months after we married he was injured at work and needed surgery. That snowballed into needing 18 orthopedic surgeries in 4 years. In between the surgeries, we had a baby boy who was born with the same bone condition.
When our son was two years old, my husband died from complications from another surgery.
A year later, my son needed major spine surgery in his neck and was in a halo brace for four months.
I met my new husband at a conference for the bone condition my son has. We moved across the country to live with my husband after the wedding. My new husband has the same bone condition and is in a wheelchair. We had a baby 10 months ago, and he does not have the bone condition. My husband has had a broken arm for over a year, and it just hasn’t healed yet. So he can’t help with the baby. I am just so tired and overwhelmed, because I have to do everything. I love my family, and I am so very thankful for them, and for what God has done for me, but I’m also so weary. And my husband can’t drive with a broken arm, and I need eye surgery so I’m not allowed to drive, and since the pandemic, we haven’t been anywhere except for doctor appointments and hospitals.
This past winter, a friend sent me Whispers of Rest, and I just LOVED it! It took me twice as long to finish it than I was supposed to, but I’m reading it for the second time, and have sent it to a few friends. I just bought finding spiritual whitespace, and I can’t wait to start reading it! And I pre-ordered your new book.
I’m going to try to step out in faith and choose joy again. Thank you for your ministry your message really uplifts and blesses me.
Carmel Joyce says
Thank you dear BONNIE,,,Needed this encouragement It has been a rough year and a half
WE stay strong and put our trust in the lord.
Barbara K Rothman says
I enjoy your devotionals so much Bonnie! I got married in 1974. I am an only daughter with a brother 8 years my senior. I became a Christian at 16 years old & come from a Jewish home. I had always wanted to marry someone Jewish but when I became a Christian I wanted a Christian man with a Jewish background. God blessed me with an amazing husband who loves me & loves the Lord. My parents gave their blessings for us to be married when I was only 19 years old but also were very difficult planning the wedding & said they wouldn’t come! My husband & i planned & paid for our entire wedding with some help with the food from my in-laws & my parents bought the cake but decided on the design & flavor. My Dad didn’t even agree until the day of the wedding to walk me down the aisle. It was really emotionally difficult for me. There was a lot that went on with my wedding that hurt me deeply but I learned to forgive them & over the years we had a great relationship. They passed away in 2003 & 2008 never opening their heart to the Lord. Thru this the Lord has brought some young women into my life that I’ve been able to minister to & help along the way. Lord bless you Bonnie with your husband & family!
Michelle Sigmund says
I have preordered your book and I am looking forward to reading it! Have a wonderful week!