SAYING YES TO THE DRESS
Her wedding preparations started with the hunt of her wedding dress. “Having been a bridesmaid twice and accompanying friends to go on bridal dress shopping trips, I realised that it’s so difficult to find a modest dress. Quite a number of people told me to just let it be because it’s just that hard to find one, but it’s something that I didn’t want to compromise on.” She “found” her perfect dress when her sister-in-law decided to have some clothes tailored on a family trip to Vietnam, and she spontaneously decided to personally design her wedding gown, down to the neckline and details and had it tailored in two days for one-third the price of a gown in Singapore!
FROM 800 to TEN GUESTS
With dress in hand, and months of planning, she was all ready for her wedding, but her plans hung by a thread as the Covid-19 situation kept worsening. Her future parents-in-law were working in Kazakhstan and barely managed to take the last flight out when the government there abruptly announced a lockdown. Next, on 20th March, it was announced that all events in Singapore were to be restricted to 250 guests. She recalls, “We had to inform many guests that we had to retract their invitations. We felt sad because we had to cut many friends and family friends who had seen us grown up. But, we smiled at this challenge because we still had our loved ones to celebrate with us.”
However, things took another turn: “Just four days later, the government said that social gatherings must now be kept to ten people and below. When Chen Hao (her fiancé) and I received the news, our heads started spinning. He was thinking of the money involved while I was thinking, “What is our backup plan?” But as we prayed together, I felt God telling me to take time to grieve. And that was when I cried for the next two hours! Yet, while we were sad, there was so much peace and hope in the midst of it.” Eventually, they decided to go ahead with a small family solemnisation ceremony.
“IT”S ABOUT THE MARRIAGE, NOT THE WEDDING”
When the wedding was first restricted to 250 guests, they felt God was preparing them for their future together. “As we sense God is calling us out to the field for cross-cultural missions in the future, we felt God was teaching us to be adaptable to change. When I found out I had to further cut my guests to only ten people, I was crying in a car and we both kept quiet for some time. I then asked Chen Hao, ‘What do you think God is speaking to you about?’ and we realised God was speaking to us about the same thing — ‘It’s about the marriage, not the wedding.’”
“We were looking forward to the celebration, but God was stripping away all the unnecessary elements of a wedding, and reminding us to keep the main thing, the main thing. What matters is the solemnisation vows made before God and our family, and to commit to one another, ‘till death do us part.’”
“IT'S ABOUT THE MARRIAGE, NOT THE WEDDING.”
DYING TO SELF
When Isabel first told me her wedding date a year ago, she laughingly said she had wanted an unpopular date so it wouldn’t clash with their many friends’ weddings. “0404” (4th April) would be considered as unlucky by many as it sounds like ‘’Die Die’’ in Cantonese. Her “Save the Date” and wedding invitations had played up this date with jokes about “Error 404”, the message that appears when a webpage can’t be found online. Two days before she got married, she shared with me, again with a laugh. “Now this is a joke because our wedding literally can’t be found! But, on a serious note, we chose this date as the ‘4s’ mean ‘death to ourselves’. We hear that relationships are about sacrifice, and God is asking us to die to ourselves, to our desires of the wedding we wanted, and [look to] what God wants instead. The funniest thing is our new house’s unit number is 08-404. We will never forget this lesson our entire lives!”
THE BIG DAY
Just one day before their wedding, “circuit breaker” measures were announced to start on 7th April, which meant that Registry of Marriages would suspend solemnisation of marriages from that date. Needless to say, Isabel and Chen Hao were grateful they could still get married! Finally, the 4th of April arrived. Isabel presented Chen Hao with two letters that she had written to her future husband before they started dating, one of which was written on an exchange programme in Birmingham, UK.
“I was surrounded by friends who were playing games like ‘Never Have I Ever’ and who made a lot of sexual references. It was so easy overseas to have the urge to have a one-night stand with somebody you don’t really know. I felt God speaking to me about purity.” She ended up writing to her future husband that she was praying for not just for her purity, but also his, and that they would save sex for marriage.
Chen Hao shares with a note of wonder, “I felt touched because five years ago, she wrote about the temptations she faced to date a non-Christian guy, and to let other guys touch or kiss her, but she wanted to give them up for me. She had no baggage, and all her discipline paid off. It’s like when you train very hard for a race and end up on the podium. It was a feeling of victory. I felt I loved her ten times more.”
With a third letter containing her wedding vows, the couple was ready for the ceremony. They live-streamed their solemnisation ceremony on Instagram and from the looks of it, relished every moment. With the restriction of ten guests, they ended up having their ceremony in Isabel’s brother’s office. Her friends redecorated the hip-hop-styled creative studio and she was only allowed to take a look when she walked down the beautiful makeshift aisle. She was surprised to see the office transformed into a carnival-like venue, with pom-poms everywhere.
She later shared, “It was actually the wedding I wanted. I had always wanted a more cosy and DIY feel. I was less nervous than if we had 800 people and I was feeling very chill, enjoying everything with no rush.”
Little did they know that this was not the end. The wedding day ended in a surprise when they found a thumb drive from their friends in their hotel room. It contained a 50-minute recording of the wedding programme they had planned but had to cancel, including wedding speeches, songs, a skit, and even a flashmob. “We were totally floored, and felt so loved by God. It really felt like God was the producer of our entire wedding.”
"IT WAS SO EASY OVERSEAS TO HAVE THE URGE TO HAVE A ONE-NIGHT STAND WITH SOMEBODY YOU DON’T REALLY KNOW. I FELT GOD SPEAKING TO ME ABOUT PURITY."
BACK TO REALITY
Having successfully married, Isabel was forced to hit the ground running the very next day. As news of Covid-19 clusters in foreign workers’ dormitories broke, she was busy at work reaching out to them. Instead of going on their cancelled honeymoon to Hainan, China (due to travel advisories), she was creating a new learning portal to keep the workers connected and engaged during their quarantine.
On the marriage front, due to the circuit breaker and social distancing measures, she says, “I have to get used to being with someone 24/7,” and has found herself spending a lot of time cooking and cleaning in this new transition. Two of her hits have been banana mango ice-cream and braised chicken wings, while she was upset with mushy fried rice and a dropped plate of vegetables.
In an Instagram post put up the night before her wedding, Isabel said, “May I long for the return of Christ as much as I’ve longed for this day to come. He is the true Bridegroom.” Indeed, their longed-for “0404” wedding, unconventional as it was, reminds us that in the midst of a pandemic, we are called to die to ourselves and serve others, because we have a Bridegroom who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal 2:20).