Good Is Not Good Enough

In grade school, good earns us stars.

In high school, good lands us  in the honor roll.

In college, good bestows us with Latin honors: summa, magna, cum.

In the workplace, good gets us a promotion, a raise, and perks.

In the community, good earns us popularity and esteem.

In our spiritual life, good welcomes us to heaven—that perfect place where no tears, aches, nor sins take place. 

That last statement, for evangelical Christians, is a fallacy and a heresy. 

Even if I gave half of my earnings to the poor, fed all the hungry in my neighborhood, housed all orphans, built a hospital wing for indigents, or went to church every day, I will not get to heaven.

Nothing that I will ever do or can do—no matter how good—will buy me heaven.

What, then, is good enough to be good enough for one to be saved from sins and get a pass to heaven?

None. Zero. Nil. Nada. Zilch.

Salvation is a gift; it’s a grace from the Lord.

Ephesians  2:8 (NLT)  “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Highlighting mine)

“When you believed . . .”

When I think of this verse, I am reminded of John Newton's Amazing Grace, a hymn written in 1779:  

“'twas Grace that taught,
my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.”

Good works or deeds, no matter how many or how much in our lifetime, do not reward us heaven.

Only God’s grace does.


What if?

Among the brainstorming techniques available to us, this two-word question, "What if?" seemed to work best for me and my teams when I was in the workplace.

The volume of answers cascaded like Niagara Falls. With raging, deafening noise, the ideas converged, crested, and plummeted into a river of possibilities that would never have come about without "What if?"

This question gives us the freedom to think beyond borders and to resist the usual. In my business communications classes and the seminars I facilitate, this question is always a part of the workshops—because it works.

But outside of those activities, I shun asking the question. For thousands of reasons: 

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I asked myself, "What if?" I got nothing but horrifying scenarios. 

While on board a plane, we felt it shake and nosedive in the middle of Pacific Ocean. "What if?"painted for me vivid visions of endings, all of them tragic.

Deep into writing a story, I focused on Mary, particularly in Luke 1:31 (NLT) when an angel of God announced, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus."

I asked myself, "What if she said no?" Panicking, I ran to our pastor. 

He admonished me, "Nobody, not Mary, not Judas, not Moses nor anyone, could thwart God's plan. His Book is unlike novels with alternative endings. The Bible is the beginning, middle and ending of everything and everyone. Period." 

That shushed me up good, never asking "What if?" again while reading the Scripture.

By faith, one just has to take it all in—simply because it is the truth.

By grace, one will understand how every piece of what seems to be a puzzle comes together into one perfect whole.


Real Fast, Real time

If you upload a photo of your lunch to social media now, someone abroad will click on “like” or react with a “wow” before you could take your first bite. The time difference between here and there, or anywhere, has disappeared.

With technology, everything is real fast at real time.

Bombings, wars, earthquakes, tornados or any news from any place on earth is known by all the peoples of the world on TV, digital phones, or the Net at the same time they are happening. 

A friend of mine, X, in the US wanted to surprise her husband with the adobo dish her family’s restaurant in the Philippines is famous for (the secret recipe is carefully guarded).

While cooking, however, X totally forgot the combining ratio of the vinegar, patis (fish sauce), and soy sauce, “which made the difference between our family adobo and the adobo of the rest of the country.”  

She called her mom on her mobile phone and instantly got the answer she needed. 

Real fast, real time.

That isn’t the case with prayers though. God, who is all-powerful, and who created the universe and everything in it in six days, often makes us wait for His answers to our prayers.

So we turn into a Habakuk and mouth his complaint, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Chapter 1:2)

We want to believe that a loving God wants to do everything for us. Yet, Christians also know that there are prayers He won't answer at all. And if we don’t take the hint, we could wait forever.

The blessing is, along the way grace makes us grateful for that withheld answer. We realize, just as James did in 4:3, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”

God is not on a real fast, real time mode. Waiting on the Lord, therefore, has become more difficult today when speed drives the world. 

But we can look at the waiting as a season for stretching and growing our faith. 


For Wives Only

In my last post, I left out many unnamed women in the Bible that impacted our Bible heroes’ lives. My self-imposed word count of 400 can be constricting.  

Let’s zoom in on three more—this time, wives.

First, Mrs. Pilate. She appears in a single verse, Matthew 29:19 (NLT). As Pontius Pilate is about to proclaim Jesus guilty, she says, "Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night."

An enlightened wife gives her husband advice or another point-of-view to help open his mind. One of our roles in this complex merger called marriage is acting as our husband's conscience, especially in crucial times.

Sadly, our husband’s decisions are beyond our control.

Second, Mrs. Potiphar (Genesis 39:6-20). A woman of leisure—rich, bored, spoiled, probably donned in fabulous clothes—she has an army of servants at her bidding. What the lady wants, she gets.

She turns her lust on her husband’s appointed head of household: Joseph. Young, handsome, well-built, like today’s heartthrobs, and yes, a mere hired hand. She seduces him, shamelessly luring him to go to bed with her day in and day out.      

Joseph says, “No.” “No.” “No.” He runs. She gets even. She cries, "Rape!" And Joseph lands in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

There are similar stories today. But as women after God's own heart, we are grateful that those stories are not ours.

Third, Mr. Noah. Although mentioned five times in the Bible, she has no name nor description. But imagine . . . a woman living with a hard-working husband who let her in on God’s order to build an ark, because God would destroy sinful Earth with water.

Not a whimper from her. Not even when, years later, she, her family, and every pair of the world’s animals stepped into the ark, where they were marooned for about a year (Genesis 6:18; 7:7, 13; 8:16, 18).

In there, she must have fostered a close family life as they moved away from everything they had; as she prepared for a time when the earth would have no one but them.  

How many Mrs. Noahs are there today?

Let’s leaf through the Bible to meet more unnamed wives—our how-to or how-not-to manuals. Consider, too, the nameless wife of Job, of Isaiah, of Ezekiel, of Lot, of Naaman, of Gilead, of Cain, etc.

In their stories, grace lies in wait for us to discover.    


What Kind of a Woman Are You?

In our study of women in the Bible, we usually focus on those whose names have gained prominence because of their important roles. To name a few: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Ruth, the loyal daughter-in-law; Esther, the beauty queen who saved the Jewish people; and Eve, the first wife and mother.

Among them, within the chapters where their stories are told, we find many other women who have no names. What roles do they play? Why weren’t they given names? Why are they even in the Bible?

I believe that these nameless females are important because they serve as mirrors for us to see the kind of women we are. They reflect a part of us that we gloss over or don’t recognize.
That was precisely the title of my talk one weekend among the women of our church:  “What kind of a woman are you?” It drew uneasy laughter from the audience.

In 1 Kings 3:16-28, we meet two unnamed women, both prostitutes and pregnant, who lived together. Three days after one gave birth, the other gave birth as well.

One of the babies died and each claimed that the baby who lived was hers. They went to King Solomon to settle the issue. 

Wise as he was, Solomon asked for a sword and offered to divide the baby between them.

"Don't!" One mother cried out to spare the baby’s life and was willing to give the boy to the other mother. But Solomon awarded the living child to her instead and said to all, “She’s the baby’s mother.”

Why? She was unselfish and sacrificial, giving up her child so he might live. Are we that kind of a mother?   

Or, is our mind so warped that, like the other mother, we think nothing of a baby being killed just to prove we’re right?

“What kind of a woman are you?” I asked. It was likewise a question for myself, for anyone living by grace—and trying, all her life, to be a woman after God’s own heart.


Back to Regular Programming

September is gone.

It carted along with it the activities (usually spread over a few months) crammed in thirty days. Somehow, all the events that needed my presence was bundled in one big bale.

First, the school term ended, and I was saddled with final papers and grades. Simultaneously, I had to attend the Palanca Awards Night, not because I was one of the judges, but because I like attending it.

Before I could catch my breath, I facilitated a daylong writing workshop for youth advocates of PCMN against sexual abuse among children.

And because the Manila International Book Fair happened that same week, I shuttled back and forth to the venue for two launches and book signing activities. These—while I celebrated with my spiritual family the 41st anniversary of our home church with a series of programs.

I squeezed in additional back-to-back activities—another writing workshop for university professors and an awarding ceremony for the same group, where I shared my author story. Both were through the invitation of a long-time friend I could not refuse.

Was I panting yet?

Yes. Not from exhaustion, but from excitement. In my "retired" mode, these are the things that keep the adrenaline pumping. All of them just happened to take place in the same month in one fell swoop.

In the second half of September, I had to attend the women’s group fellowship of several churches (one of which is ours) because I had said “yes” months ago to deliver the day’s talk.

Meanwhile, the second school term began and you know what that entails—new slides, review of syllabus, etc.   

Then last but not least, I attended the launching of ANI 39, a book/anthology of literary works (by 91 Filipino writers in this issue) where one my stories has been featured. In the program, I was privileged to read an excerpt from that story.

It’s October and it's back to regular programming. I am now trotting at my regular leisurely pace again, like basking under the shy sun on a calm beach, and writing my next book while reflecting on everything that happened.

What was September 2016 like? A tsunami!  

But instead of giant waves from under the sea, giant grace from above engulfed me. How’d have I gone through all those with pep and verve on my own?

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV)


A Night of Harvest

Ani is the Filipino word for harvest. 

It’s a most fitting title for the literary journal that the Cultural Center of Philippines (CCP) publishes every year. An anthology of literary works by Filipino writers in various genres and dialects, Ani's 39th issue was  launched in September this year.  
The literary works of 91 writers (names on back cover above) are in this 2016 issue with the theme “Kahayupan/The Animal Kingdom.” Ani 39 was produced by the CCP’s Intertextual Division as part of the celebration of CCP’s 47th anniversary.

Now here’s why this issue is particularly special for me:

One of my stories, “The Dump Truck in My Heart,” is part of the children’s literature section.

Let me quote the CCP website, “Dr. Luis P. Gatmaitan, guest section editor of Ani 39, was able to gather works by the best writers for children.”

That made my heart leap to Mars and back.

Then I got a call from CCP, “We'd like you to read an excerpt of your work at the formal launching of Ani 39.”

My heart leaped even higher; this time to Pluto and back.

Third son might have taken pity on his mom, he escorted her to the event. “Nice,” was his effusive compliment after I performed in the program.  

(Top right: the original painting on the book cover by Neil Doloricon) 
That night, I felt as though the country's literati—the same crowd one sees in the Carlos Palanca Awards—was in full attendance.

(The authors whose works are featured in Ani 39)
As I was star gazing, someone nudged me, “Till next year’s issue.”

Can writing life get any better? On that one starry night, I harvested grace.  


A Day with Professors

Like the title of my newest book, Twin Blessings, I felt doubly blessed at a university where I was invited to perform two roles: one, facilitator in a writing workshop in the morning; and two, speaker in an awarding ceremony in the afternoon.

“Your audience would be professors,” Cynthia, the lady who invited me, said.

The university is huge, with about 700 in the teaching staff, but 70 are into academic writing and would want to dip a finger into creative writing.

Used to handling a maximum of 20 people in a workshop, I dreaded the number 70. It was far too big to manage.

But to my shock and surprise, the session proved more fluid than I imagined—with everyone participating. There was not enough time for me to comment on every single work, but hey, these are professors, they could do that adeptly on their own, based on the principles discussed with them.   

Earlier, when I stepped into the HR portals, with the Head and her staff welcoming me so warmly, I knew I'd have a day like no other. Ergo, I did not have fun; I had a ball! And, I hope, so did they. 
For the above, I was rewarded with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers, a plaque of appreciation, new friends, and tons of photos documenting the event. 

The afternoon was more formal, but no less vibrant than the morning. Twenty-five professors were feted for having had a trade or textbook published in the past year.  My talk was on writing (what else?), particularly about my author story. 

In her remarks, the University VP for Academics emphasized the need for professors to leave a legacy through and hone their craft in writing.

Since everyone in the audience is a writer, I felt at home speaking to kindred spirits, who share my passion for the printed word.

For this, I was rewarded one more time with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers, another plaque, more new friends, and more photos.

The first photo below sums up the twin volumes of grace they heaped on my lap, and which I will treasure for life.  The rest of the photos, which will be kept for posterity, show only a hint of what went on through my nonpareil day with professors-turned-friends.