On my fourth and last day in Cagayan de Oro, adrenaline shot through the roof. It had been soaring since day one.
Our initial stop was Little Me Academy, where grade school kids sat on the floor and listened to the story of "Dump Truck in My Heart" with so much zeal I thought the storytelling would never end.
But we had to leave Little Me Academy for lunch at a boodle-fight place. The questions continued over crabs and shrimps, "Any tips for aspiring writers?"
With barely enough time to digest the sea treasures, we rushed to the final event, Meet and Greet, organized by the Private School and School Administrators of the Philippines (PRISSAAP).
The crowd of about 200 was just too eclectic for comfort—parents, yayas, grade school kids, high school students, teachers, and school owners.
My face blanched. Advertising taught me to focus on a monadic target audience. How was I to connect with an amalgam of ages before me? "Dump Truck in My Heart" is for ages 8-12. It is not linear and has several flashbacks.
I decided to simply narrate it in chronology, adding elements here and there to make the plot clearer and the theme, lighter.
So what happened?
After the story, the kids of varying ages threw at me spontaneous comments:
“My lola is also in heaven!”
“A dump truck is too heavy. I don’t want it in my heart.”
“I cried in the beginning, but the ending is happy.”
“I will put balloons in my heart, not dump truck.”
“My lola will never leave me even if she dies. She will stay in my heart.”
Despite my misgivings, they got the message: “For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.” Isaiah 57:2
The book signing could go on for hours, but the airport was one hour away (barring traffic) and I had a plane to catch.
Signing is hard to ignore and signing off is even harder to do. But grace breezed me through both; I got to the airport in good time.
“Please send the manuscript of your Sunday message for Cagayan de Oro,” Lynnie, Marketing Specialist of OMFLit (Viz-Min) messaged me. “That same message will be for two services.”
I found it odd that she needed it two weeks in advance. But a dutiful soldier does not question why—Lynnie never makes unreasonable requests.
That Sunday came and as soon as I set foot in church, the pastor met me and explained that I would be speaking in two languages—one in English for the first service, and the other in Chinese for the second service.
“But I can’t speak Chinese!” I panicked.
“No worries,” he replied, your message has already been translated to Chinese. Simply read your manuscript in English. Then he introduced me to the translator—a scholarly, formidable-looking lady who double-checked with me my Bible verses.
Ah so. That was why my manuscript had to be sent in advance.
The English message for the first service was as I prepared it—to the minute and to the letter. Now, what about the second service? My speaking time would be doubled with the translation.
“Would it be okay if I skipped some parts?” I hesitated to ask, but asked anyway.
“Okay,” she said, “I know your message by heart; I will adjust.”
I began my talk with an adlib, “My husband sends his greetings. He's the guy who speaks fluent Fookien. Unfortunately, I am the author. He is simply the wings behind the author.”
The translator picked it up and when she paused, there was loud laughter.
Such are the blessings that enrich an author’s journey. No two book tours are ever alike. Every single experience is a rich source of grace that keeps the writing more exciting and challenging—book after book after book.
If I had wondered about Jesus’ first miracle on earth, I wondered even more about His last miracle before He ascended to heaven.
Why would his last act be about an empty fishnet?
It was the same question I asked about the first miracle: Why would the first act be about empty wine jars?
From the pulpit last Sunday, two weeks after Resurrection Day, I heard our pastor say, “Both are about emptiness. Nothingness.”
Silently I added, They are like our bookends that keep us in place and upright.
"The details in the Gospels, particularly in these two miracles, are actually about the details of our own lives," he explained.
There are times, many times, when we feel like our life has run dry, empty like those jars and fishnet. I could not count the times I grieved over the loss of a loved one, or when I felt betrayed by someone I had trusted, or when I was distressed over some sudden, unexpected turn of events.
These are the points when God’s grace comes and fills us up again. From total emptiness in the beginning of our time—“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.” Genesis 1:2 (NLT)—God showed us Who He is and what He can do.
All through the pages of the Bible, He demonstrates how He fills up people’s empty lives. And then on Resurrection Day, at the rising of the sun, we read about the rising of the Son, leaving the cross empty: the ultimate symbol of a new life and new beginnings.
“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” Psalm 126:2 (ESV)
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While preparing to share in the Passover, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. By this humble act, He showed them how to love one another. (Aside: it’s unthinkable, by any stretch of the imagination, how any head of anything today could do the same for his people.)
Then at the dining table with His disciples, He said, "I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won't eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15-16, NLT)
That was His last supper with them before His crucifixion. It was a highly symbolic act—His body broken (bread) and His blood shed (wine)—to prepare them for His departure.
To His disciples, it was a sad farewell. They would never have a meal with Him again, not on this earth.
But just two weeks after His resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shore waiting for them, coming back from a long dark night of fishing, but catching nothing. (John 21:1-19)
Jesus told them to cast their nets again and they caught such a large number of fish they had a hard time hauling all in! It was the break of dawn, a fresh, new day.
He said, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught . . . Come and have breakfast.” Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
“Come.” It is hope within easy reach.
Anyone does not have to end with the last supper; we are invited to begin anew with the first breakfast. The meaning of the last super “has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
And the resurrection of Jesus is our new beginning, the dawn of our new day, our first breakfast—so we can leave our old sinful selves and live again.
Can grace be any grander?
"This is where the parenting seminar will be held tomorrow afternoon," said the pastor of the school sponsoring the event.
What I saw was a gym with many chairs, arranged facing the stage. And that intimidating podium! "No podium for me," I stressed. "I am more comfortable walking around."
But with almost 300 parents with some millennials and Gen Z-ers from different churches, I was prevailed upon to go up the stage. Walking around just wouldn't work.
All groups were active, complete with discussions, questions, some arguments, and agreements. The reporting by the leaders earned us more knowledge about the topic: Understanding Your Millennial and Gen Z Child (based on my book "Present!" written for millennials).
From the post evaluation, I think we all came out of the seminar more aware of how the young generation today and the generation after it differ from their parents. “When I was your age . . ." doesn’t work anymore; their brains are wired differently!
We went back to Scripture, to what it says about understanding and bringing up the children God entrusted us with.
In sum, our net take away was: we are swamped with parenting books today. But we must always go back to Scripture. It is the best parenting book ever written, with the same truth yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
And it begins with, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
There are many kinds of orchids, but the one that holds special meaning to me and my siblings is called Sanggumay (Dendrobium anosmum Lindley 1845, of family Orchidaceae), Purple Rain in English.
Sanggumay is how we call it in our country. This epiphytic growing orchid is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Its flowers, each measuring 8 cm with mauve to purple petals, are borne on leafless stems. It is fragrant, with raspberry-like scent.
My sister, Aie, who now lives in our ancestral home, says Sanggumay was planted in our backyard by our late mom years ago. She loved the color purple, which was probably why she took a liking to this beautiful flower.
But even now that mom’s gone, the Sanggumay continues to bloom every year—the flowers are at their best on her death anniversary.
Mom’s death anniversary is moveable. She died on a Good Friday (April 18) 15 years ago, but my siblings and I decided to commemorate her last day with us every Easter, whatever date it may fall on.
And this is what’s amazing about Mom’s Sanggumay—it blooms in full splendor every Easter, as though celebrating with us the risen Lord and our Mom’s life that now flourishes without end in His holy presence.
Easter celebration is often symbolized by colorful eggs, food, and fellowship in churches all over the country. Yes, we had all those, too, but in our heart of hearts, Easter is about the resurrection of the perfect Man who died for our sins so that we, too, may have the privilege of rising up to heaven when our life on earth ends.
What better time to remember our mom, who served God all her life in various roles, than on Resurrection Day?
And what grace can we ever ask for, other than to see and smell the Sanggumay on Easter in gay profusion, like refreshing drops of purple rain?
Excellence is symbolized by five stars in the hotel industry.
A five-star rating means, services across all areas are offered to satisfy all of the guests' needs: a range of facilities, and more importantly, personalized service.
I used this five-star symbol as a metaphor to underscore what it takes to serve children. The event, organized to coincide with a book tour in Cagayan de Oro (CDO), Mindanao, brought together Sunday school teachers and youth pastors from various churches.
“We must desire to develop into a five-star worker, consistently raising the bar in our job,” I flashed on screen.
Tough call. How could we offer excellent personalized service with limited time and resources?
“It begins with a change of mindset—our time and resources are unlimited. This is who we are in Scripture: ‘. . . anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him . . . So we are Christ’s ambassadors . . .’ 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
“As Christ's envoys, we represent Him. Therefore, we can’t be less than a five-star worker, nurturing children with our riches. He has appointed us to share our time and talents, and be generous with His resources.”
After extensive discussions based on the above, we parted ways knowing this truth, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9
It was past midnight when I finally settled in my bed at Grand Central Suites, Cagayan De Oro (CDO). My first trip to CDO was in 2013 and in five years, changes have rendered the landscape unfamiliar, including the new airport, which was now a one-hour drive to the city.
God's grace of sleep came instantly, preparing us for the 8 AM first event.
Oro Christian Grace School is a huge Chinese school—in structure and population. I was privileged to meet every single one of the officers, teachers, and staff before the storytelling of Dump Truck in My Heart.
The kids screeched and applauded when I entered the library and the delightfully raucous and riotous affair began.
The children were vocal; they asked questions and volunteered comments.
As in all of my book tours, it is during the book signing that I get to know my readers up close. I could write another book with all the things they tell me!
Next stop in the afternoon, after a lunch treat by the school pastor/chaplain and his wife, was Corpus Christi School, another humongous campus that teemed with teachers and students. There were more questions, and I had to fish out from my reply reservoir some quips that would bring on more of their endearing titters and giggles.
In both affairs, I earned maybe a thousand new friends whose names my brain will not remember, but whose warmth my heart will never forget. It was all worth the late night sleep and early morning rise.
When I first traveled to CDO for Compassion International, I thought I'd never pass that way again. I erred. To borrow the lyrics of a song, “It is lovelier the second time around.”