“I wanted to grow up and leave behind everything that made me feel weird, flawed, and broken,” Bonnie Gray confessed to me. The daughter of a mail-order bride and a busboy from San Francisco’s Chinatown, Bonnie’s journey is uniquely hers, yet her struggles—with insecurity, identity, and the intense need to belong—are shared by so many of us. Her story is an inspiring reminder of how God transforms what the world has broken into something He makes beautiful. In a world crying out for kindness and belonging, this is a book needed for our times. Her new book, Sweet Like Jasmine is the gift, a beautiful remembrance that God treasures each of our broken hearts in His sweeping story of redemption. It’s a grace to welcome Bonnie to the farm’s front porch today…
My mother worked as an embroidery seamstress when she first immigrated to America, earning scraps of money sewing beads into intricate shapes of peonies, white cranes, and—my favorite—peacock feathers on cheongsams.
A cheongsam (or chi-pao as pronounced in Mandarin) was a body-hugging, one-piece Chinese silk dress, custom-tailored for women in well-to-do society.
I’d see the silk dresses laid out on the sofa, sprawling to the floor in a full array of pinks, purples, pearl whites, and iridescent crystals glittering in silver and gold. When the light hit, the assortment of shiny, disc-shaped sequins cast shimmering patterns onto the walls of our dark apartment.
Ah-Ma worked on many dresses at a time, placing them side by side, each in different stages of progress. When my mother wasn’t looking, I’d run to stand in front of the hallway mirror, carefully pull the fabric up to my chin, and pretend I was a beautiful model standing up on my tippy toes.
I always wondered when I would get to wear a cheongsam of my own. Once, Ah- Ma caught me trying a dress on.
“What are you doing? Take it off.”
A minute ago, I had thought I looked utterly fabulous. Now, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“Your dress is so pretty, Ah-Ma.”
“You look cheap.” You could only wear a cheongsam well, Ah-Ma told me, if you had quality: what she called hay-jut.
Without it, I would only end up looking cheap in a dress.
“It was easier to close my heart and be functional, fulfilling a goal, performing and meeting other people’s expectations, than to believe something beautiful could be seen in me.”
“Do I have hay-jut?” I asked.
“Have to see. You talk too much. Hay-jut all gone.”
My mother never really explained how you actually got hay-jut. This elusive quality of worth was something I had to earn, to be worthy of wearing something so beautiful. Beauty wasn’t something I already possessed, but something I needed to prove existed in me within the eyes of another—in someone else’s estimation.
As I internalized my mother’s critical words about my appearance, I wasn’t trying to be self- loathing. I learned to be content without being beautiful. I didn’t need it. This is how I learned as a little girl to hope for safe things. It was easier to close my heart and be functional, fulfilling a goal, performing and meeting other people’s expectations, than to believe something beautiful could be seen in me.
This way of life is lonely for the soul. I was numb to delight. I worked hard to gain comfort by people-pleasing—being smart and useful, rather than feeling joy or beauty.
And I came to see my story and my cultural heritage the same way. My home. My childhood, my memories, my face, my body, my clothes, our living room filled with used, mismatched furniture passed on to us, our kitchen covered in faded wallpaper, and my crooked teeth because we couldn’t afford braces. My life just felt ill-fitting.
As I remembered standing in front of the hallway mirror long ago, lowering the exquisite silk dress which I no longer felt worthy to lift into view, God was inviting me to pick up the unfinished folds of the stories in my life again.
Being unfinished didn’t make me less beautiful, just like the dresses laid across the sofa were lovely even in their unfinished state. Each dress was custom cut to fit the woman it belonged to—each garment measured for her every curve and embroidered with her unique design.
What if my life, however unfinished, no matter how seemingly different from another person’s life, was beautiful simply because it was my life, the one God gave me?
“What if my life, however unfinished, no matter how seemingly different from another person’s life, was beautiful simply because it was my life, the one God gave me?”
God was showing me that the masterpiece He was creating in me was both unfinished and beautiful. God was bringing together the different fabrics in my life that I viewed as ill-fitting and was clothing me with His love and acceptance, embroidering my unique quirks and personality to custom fit His grace into my life, to show His handiwork.
I remembered how soft the silk felt in my hands. I remembered how my favorite cheongsam, embroidered by my mother, glowed as I tried it on: a pink silk dress emblazoned with an opalescent, sequin-embroidered peacock, whose magnificent feathers flowed from waist to hem, shimmering as I moved.
I remembered I once felt beautiful.
I thought I was disqualified from beauty, but it has always been there. I just didn’t look for it. I had forgotten that part of myself, but God did not forget. Among the broken pieces of my heart, God saw beauty.
As I pictured the little girl staring at the mirror in the pink dress many sizes too big, I saw Jesus there beside me in the quiet. I felt the gentle touch of God’s hand on mine. And for first time in a long time, the little girl in me remembered that she once had believed she was beautiful. The sound of her tears came softly, like the gentle trickle of a creek you happen upon on the day winter is awakened by spring.
“There are no rules to beauty, because what brings you joy, peace, and comfort is unique to how God designed you to see beauty.”
You don’t have to hide your beauty. You are your own kind of beautiful.
There are no rules to beauty, because what brings you joy, peace, and comfort is unique to how God designed you to see beauty. Someone may have said you weren’t worthy of beauty. They were wrong.
God is making something beautiful in you. God sees your beauty.
Your life is like a lovely silk dress, free to embroider the way you choose. You don’t have to look or act like anyone else or fit into any mold to make a beautiful life.
Your loving Creator made you an original.
“Our Father, we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
Bonnie Gray is the author of Whispers of Rest and Finding Spiritual Whitespace. Her latest book is Sweet Like Jasmine. An inspirational speaker as well as the host of the podcast Breathe, Bonnie touches thousands of lives every year using storytelling, soul care, and prayer. Her writing is featured in numerous Christian media outlets including Relevant Magazine and Christianity Today.
In Sweet Like Jasmine, Bonnie shares the journey of self-realization she embarked upon as a 39- year-old woman who’d spent her life until then trying to hide the parts of herself that seemed unlovable. Determined to uncover her family’s secrets and understand the home she was born into, she returned to San Francisco’s Chinatown, where she made soul-shaking discoveries about her identity, human kindness and what it truly means to belong. This is a book that celebrates how God uses our unique and broken stories to create a beautiful mosaic of His love, one life at a time.
[ Our humble thanks to Harvest House for their partnership in today’s devotion ]