This blogpost was taken mostly from an article written by Stanley Tiu, who interviewed me about my conversion to Christianity. He narrated the interview for publication at Grace Monthly, a monthly journal for Grace Gospel Church, dated January 2001. I have made a few changes mostly to conceal personal information or names of other people.
Eric was silently going through his son’s things. The whole thing was a mechanical exercise; after all, aching grief has long dulled his sense. Only his hands were actually conscious of what they were doing as they slowly but methodically segregated Wilmer’s possessions into two piles. Into one pile went his toys and some of his clothes while the other received what Eric thought were his son’s more personal belongings.
It had only been a few hours since his one and only son passed away. He had just come home from the funeral parlor where his son’s body lay in state.
The harsh reality of it all momentarily roused his mind from its numbness, while consolingly reminding him in two words of his purpose: Chinese tradition. Custom dictates that the personal effects of the deceased are to be burned during the burial so that these can be taken with him to the next life. That was what the first pile was for.
The other pile was to serve as cherished keepsakes of fond memories with his one and only son … all eight years and eleven months of them.
Nevertheless, regardless of what stuff went to which pile, every single memento of Wilmer he grasped in his hand was a heart-rendering reminder of the fact that his son was no more, and that he might be partly to blame for it.
Wilmer was not born a healthy baby boy. Six months after his birth, it was discovered that he was unable to defecate normally and had to take suppositories for proper bowel movement to take place.
When he was around a year old, Wilmer caught a cold and was taken to a physician. It was during that visit when the doctor observed he had an unusually large belly. She immediately suspected that the child had a rare clinical condition termed megacolon, wherein the patient’s intestines are longer than normal. The doctor then advised Wilmer’s parents to have him see a pediatric surgeon who could correct the abnormality through an operation. Eric, however, refused to have his fragile son undergo a delicate surgical procedure.
At that time, Eric’s faith lay deeply rooted in his Buddhist/Taoist belief. Since he also had a solid background in Chinese traditions and practices, he decided to turn to oriental medicine.
It later turned out that eastern medicine proved effective in Wilmer’s case as he soon experienced normal bowel movement. With the success of this alternative, Wilmer resumed his medication and was taken to the eastern practitioner every week thereafter.
From then on, his life began to change. Aside from a weak constitution due to his illness, Wilmer started leading a nearly normal life. Eric proudly noted that his son was an intelligent and obedient child. In school, Wilmer was always considered the “best boy” among his classmates.
His health was also improving. Some even noticed that Wilmer was starting to put on a few pounds. Adding to the good news was the eastern doctor’s pronouncement that his condition would “normalize” as soon as he reached his teenage years. By then he could fully stop his oriental medication.
Things seemed to be looking up for Wilmer.
It is no wonder then that his sudden death came as a big shock to both his family and friends alike.
A Question of Faith
“We were so surprised since we didn’t expect it (Wilmer’s death),” remarked Eric. He remembered during his son’s wake, he kept blaming himself as a father for his loss since he didn’t revert to western medicine.
“A lot of people blamed me for that,” he sadly recalls. “You are already in grief and people still throw these accusations at you.” Despite these callous comments, Eric passively took in the low blows thinking that they have every right to say such things.
Besides that, he had other things to ponder on.
Wilmer’s death opened a floodgate which sent torrents of questions bursting through Eric’s mind. “It is then I started to ask questions like: Where is my son now, or when can I see him again?” he contemplated.
Such reflections were then nothing new to Eric. When he was still practicing Buddhism/Taoism, Eric already had many questions about his life. He began to notice that there was something wrong with the way they worship their god/s in his religion. This prompted him to go further into Feng-shui, astrology, tarot cards and incense reading, New Age ideas and many others, yet all his questions about life remained unanswered. His soul-searching, however, had to come to an abrupt postponement when life’s worries eventually came knocking at the door.
But his search for the truth was far from over. During the wake, Eric felt that he should still keep his religion. Nonetheless, this decision was half-hearted one for deep inside he knew that he just wanted to maintain an empty, mechanical ritual. Doubt had already begun to eat away his hollow faith.
Eric was still listlessly separating his son’s things when he came across a penholder.
It was an ordinary penholder – a little something his son had given him months before he passed away. He hadn’t really given his son’s token much thought since it was, after all … just an ordinary penholder.
But now as he held it carefully in his hands, Eric suddenly saw the printed words on it which he hadn’t noticed before. It was a short message, a Bible verse to be exact. The verse was Psalm 37:5 (“Give yourself to the Lord; trust in Him and He will help you.”), from the Good News Translation.
For Eric, these few simple words drove straight to his heart.
“It was my son’s penholder that set off a trigger within me!” he exclaimed. “That short verse really touched me!”
At that moment, he realized that God was subtly giving him a message through Wilmer.
For the first time in his life, Eric felt a real and caring God directly intervening in his life. When he was a child, the only time he ever heard about God was through his household help who didn’t give anything clear or specific about Him. Likewise, he never had the opportunity to study in a Christian school. What he believed was that all people worshipped one and the same god but that each culture had its own religion.
Making a complete turn around, Eric was determined to give up his Buddhist/Taoist practice and later told his wife about it.
She took the news very well. A Christian who has lost track of her faith during her marriage, she decided to restore her faith the very day Wilmer passed away. Hearing Eric make such an announcement made things a lot easier for both of them.
But God had more surprises in store for Eric. There was still the unresolved issue regarding Eric’s enormous personal guilt over his son’s death. God soon took care of that in His usual mysterious manner.
The day after “re-discovering” the penholder, Eric had a little chat with a visitor to his son’s wake. The conversation eventually shifted to Wilmer and his illness where Eric casually mentioned that his son had a bloated belly. To this, the visitor assumed that a problem with the pancreas may have caused the swelling of his abdomen.
Once again, another silent trigger set off in Eric’s mind. This time he recalled having heard his son’s oriental doctor mentioned that Wilmer may have a problem with his pancreas. Somehow, something behind the back of his mind told Eric that this was important and that he had to find out everything he could about this little detail.
The moment he got home, Eric furiously started thumbing through every single medical book he had in his possession regarding pancreas and its related diseases. It was when he came across cystic fibrosis, an incurable congenital disease, that he hit pay dirt. He discovered that all the symptoms manifested by his son were consistent with those of the disease.
If this was the case, then Eric would finally be released from the emotional baggage he had been carrying all this time.
Not satisfied with just these facts, Eric went to bookstores and researched on the latest books for updated information regarding the disease. Later, he discovered that his recent findings further confirmed his suspicions that his son did have cystic fibrosis instead of the initial megacolon diagnosis made years back.
With this, the only missing piece of the puzzle left was an expert opinion. Eric immediately consulted with a western doctor to whom he shared all the information that he had gathered. In reply, the doctor first said that though cystic fibrosis is rare among Asians, she concurred with Eric’s conclusion saying that the possibility that Wilmer had cystic fibrosis, which was roughly 95% confirmed given that he had manifested all the symptoms. The only thing lacking was an actual sweat test which would fully affirm the validity of Eric’s claim.
It was through these things that Eric personally witnessed the grace of the Lord. He later reflected, “I was very confused at the time and He led me to the answer through the visitor who mentioned the pancreas. Thanks to the Lord, He gave me the wisdom to discover the truth, that I wasn’t truly accountable for my son’s death, since he was born with a disease that couldn’t be cured, so that I can finally have my peace of mind and stop blaming myself.”
Though Eric hasn’t fully accepted Christ yet, the seeds of faith have already sprung within him.
Light from Shade
As expected, everything was going smoothly. God’s orchestrating of the peculiar events in Eric’s life during his son’s wake started moving towards the climax of the whole story. At this point, it seemed like the timing was right and everything started falling into place.
With this, the Master Conductor started to set things into motion.
Eric soon received another visit, this time from one of his brothers. “I didn’t know then that my brother was already a Christian,” said Eric. (Prior to the wake, a gap had already existed between the two brothers for months. It was during that sorrowful occasion that they were reconciled.) He approached me and asked if my son should receive a Buddhist/Taoist, Catholic or Christian interment service.”
In truth, Eric was unable to confirm his son’s acceptance of Jesus Christ. His son never really talked much about his personal faith in his brief existence since it was understood then that Buddhism/Taoism was the official religion of their household.
Thoughts of the penholder however sparked an insightful notion in him that perhaps the seemingly innocent gift could have borne mute testimony of his son’s faith.
Without hesitation, Eric requested for a Christian service.
“Going back to the penholder, I realized that he may have already accepted Christ without telling us,” he assured. “It is for this reason we chose that (Christian) service, thinking that that’s the last thing I could do to make my son happy.”
Arrangement for the service soon went underway. Eric was soon receiving visitors from the Grace Christian High School faculty – former teachers of Wilmer. One of them was none other than the school principal. Upon meeting Eric, he wasted no time in giving him a crash course on eternal life and about accepting Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.
It turned out that the crash course was Eric’s first Christian education. “Imagine, all this time the only thing I knew about God were stories told to me by house-helpers when I was little!” he enthused.
It was also an eye-opener for him. “I was immediately attracted to the concept of eternal life,” he added. “I saw the chance of seeing my son again!”
The Christian service took place a few days later. The pastor, in his sermon, touched on Eternal Life through Jesus Christ and the personal repentance of sins, accepting and believing in Him. (John 3:16)
Then came the climax, the turning point in Eric’s life.
“At that moment, I immediately asked the Lord Jesus Christ to be my Saviour!” said Eric with much conviction.
The man who had lost something big in his life suddenly gained everything back.
In no time at all, Eric’s once Buddhist/Taoist household was bustling with newborn Christians. “Now that we have become Christians, we don’t practice Chinese/Buddhist/Taoist rituals or traditions anymore,” he noted with unmistakable pride, “It is because we now believe that because of Jesus Christ, we are freed from all worldly traditions.”
So zealous was he with pursuing his newfound faith that he was motivated to buy his own Bible and was able to read from cover to cover (both the Old and New Testament) in 100 days! “People like my brother and daughter started calling me ‘pastor’ since I was able to accomplish that feat,” he noted humorously.
The ‘Pastor’ claimed, however, that he wasn’t able to finish it in one sitting.
He said that the trick to it is to carry the Bible with you at all times while finding time to relish its contents. “I always carry the Bible wherever I go, like when I accompany my wife to the market, or when I go fetch my children in school,” he shares. “I sometimes read a paragraph, stop then carry on where I last left off. It’s like reading a novel!”
But to Eric, the Bible was more than just fun reading. Through it, he was able to unlock the answers to all of life’s questions. He considered that this old belief, which was a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism, lacking, since it did not clearly explain many of his queries of life’s mysteries.
Eric noted, “It is then (when I finish reading the Bible) that I began to fully understand who God really is, His desires for us, and the true meaning of His salvation for us.” He further adds, “Also amazingly, all the questions I had about life were answered as well.”
This, he says, is how he finally and truly committed himself to the Lord.
Since Wilmer’s passing, Eric and his family’s Christian faith have already come a long way. Eric and his wife have opened a small Bible study in their home every Monday evening. At times, Eric would be invited by others to share their personal testimony while sharing God’s Word to both believers and non-believers alike.
“If I can be of any use for the glory of God, then I am willing to serve or share God’s Good News to anybody who is willing to listen,” offered Eric thoughtfully.
Nevertheless, one question continued to haunt Eric incessantly.
“Is my son saved?”
Eric had asked this question of a pastor since it bothered him to think that his son had never openly mentioned anything about accepting Jesus Christ when he was still alive.
To this, the pastor replied that the age of accountability (regarding faith) varied so “only God truly knows.” The pastor believes however, Wilmer is safely tucked in our Heavenly Father’s arms.
Nevertheless, God was faithful to Eric and it was through that question that He imparted many recollections to him which eventually set his mind at ease. Somehow, he felt that God was telling him not to worry about his son.
It was then that he suddenly recalled a small incident that occurred a week before his son passed away.
He remembered being in the room with his son one evening. “I always spend some time with him in his room every night since I’m close to my children,” he tearfully recounted. “Never did he want me to leave the room. He is very affectionate. He always wants me to sit beside him.”
But not that night.
That evening, Wilmer didn’t want dad to stay long in his room. “I remembered him saying, ‘Dad, please go to your room.’ On my part, I was puzzled why he wanted me to leave,” narrated Eric. “Nevertheless, I followed his wishes because I respect him.”
Eric recollected leaving the room and closing the door. But before heading for bed, Eric decided to listen at the door out of curiosity.
“I listened intently and I heard him whispering.” Eric soon realized that his son’s quiet whispers was actually a prayer.
At that time he didn’t have a clue as to who Wilmer was praying to or for what reason. But now, in retrospect, Eric believes that his son was saying a prayer to the Lord.
“Come to think of it, he (Wilmer) wouldn’t ask me to go out of the room if he were praying to the idols in the house,” Eric reasoned out in his reflection. “I think he didn’t feel comfortable with me hanging around his room while he prayed since our family didn’t believe in Jesus Christ at that time.” Perhaps this could explain why Wilmer was so secretive about his Christian faith. If one was to believe this assumption.
Eric also remembered times when Wilmer would sometimes ask him if he could go to the Sunday school at Grace Christian Church. “I remember discouraging him back then since I reasoned out that his body was weak so he should rest during the weekend,” he said. “I told him that he could always go to the chapel on weekdays.”
All these bit and pieces of his memories with Wilmer, Eric believes, are unspoken reassurances of his son’s salvation.
“How I recalled all these tiny instances was through the Lord,” he concluded.
Once, while with his family, Eric spoke about his concern for Wilmer’s salvation. It was then that the elder sister of Wilmer, only twelve years old then, confessed that both she and her brother (Wilmer) had decided to trust in Jesus earlier before the passing of her brother.
Strangely, it seemed that life only truly began for Eric and his family after the painful experience. So much has happened in their lives that it can now clearly be seen that Wilmer’s early passing was not in vain after all.
With this, Eric shares with us the verse, John 12:24, which he thinks best describes God’s purpose behind his son’s fleeting existence in this world. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
“I know this verse refers to Christ Jesus as the single seed,” he says, “yet I also think that this verse is applicable to us, telling us how the Lord posthumously used my son for us to believe in Jesus Christ, and what we should be doing with our lives as Christians.”
“If my one and only son didn’t die, not that we are now glad he did, but he and his sister would have remained as the only ones in the family who believed in our Lord Jesus Christ. His death has restored my wife’s faith, and led me to know our Lord Jesus Christ because of our great love for our son and our desire to be with him again. So in the end, his short life did bear many seeds.”
“Before, it was only my desire to see my son again that I came to accept Jesus Christ. But now, having fully understood His Good News and knowing He is the one and only God, I have come to realize that we ought to worship Him and not just believe in Him.”
Human lives are curious collections of both happiness and sorrow. Sadly, life’s tragedies, both big and small, stand out more than the happy moments interspersed between them. Yet, it was during these troubles moments that God chooses to unveil His mysterious, yet glorious plan!
Wilmer’s seemingly untimely passing was a great tragedy to the family. Eric’s personal testimony, however, shows us that even the most heartbreaking sorrow can yield blessings to many.
A Postface From Me
Time really flies so fast. It has been a couple of decades since my one and only son went to be with the Lord. I decided to publish this personal testimony of mine in relation to my last blog posting. God truly is amazing. In the last twenty years, there are many stories to tell on how the Lord Jesus Christ has guided us in our journey of faith to where and how we are now. But in summary, I was only able to do everything and continue our journey of faith through Christ Jesus who strengthens us. All glory belongs to Him!
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