Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Have You Ever Met a "Discourager?"



Here's My Latest Post from the Catholic Writer's Guild Blog

What Was Intended for Harm . . .

Several years ago, my family and I were seated in lawn chairs in a shopping center parking lot that overlooked Pittsburgh's skyline. As darkness descended, we gazed at the sky awaiting the city's Fourth of July fireworks when my soon-to-be son-in-law bolted from his chair and made a beeline to a store.

"Where's he going?" I asked my daughter, wondering why her fiancé suddenly had a need to go to the dollar store, which was about to close.

"Remember when he was in high school and he worked for that mean store owner? How that guy was always calling him an idiot and telling him that he would never amount to anything?" I nodded. "The guy in that dollar store is that mean owner. He's going to go tell him that he was wrong, that he'd graduated with an engineering degree, and that he was now working for defense contractor designing technology that would keep his miserable butt safe."

My son-in-law is a quiet, gentle, hard-working person, and since this was now eight years after he had spent a summer unpacking boxes at this man's dollar store, I knew that the store owner's unfair and demoralizing criticism of my son-in-law must have really lodged in his psyche.

Each year when my daughter was in grade school, the school participated in a reading competition sponsored by Pizza Hut. Students were required to read a certain number of books to get a free pan pizza. When she was in fourth grade, she was required to read ten books. One of my favorite books as a young girl was Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women, and I couldn't wait for her to be able to read it and discover what a delight it was. A good reader, she asked her teacher if instead of reading ten smaller books, could she read Little Women.

Her teacher vehemently refused to even consider it. "No. You cannot read it. That book is too advanced for a fourth-grader. You'll never be able to read that large of a book by the deadline. Read Ramona or Babysitters Club books," said the teacher. My daughter relayed that conversation to me, and then set her jaw. "I'll show her," she said. "I'll read Little Women and the ten stupid Babysitters Club books!" And she did, much to her teacher's dismay.

I'm sure you've had an experience like those of my daughter and son-in-law sometime in your life. I have. More than twenty years ago, I began writing, and after having had several articles published (for pay!) and writing a column for a local newspaper, I was encouraged to join a writing organization. This statewide organization billed itself as a group that encouraged writers and worked on their behalf. I had to submit proof that I was a professional writer to be considered for membership. Imagine my surprise when I received this message from the person in charge of recruiting members: "I congratulate you on your moderate success and welcome you to the organization." Moderate success? I had no illusions that I was Nora Roberts or James Patterson, but who purports to encourage by diminishing? I shook my head and laughed. I'll fix you, I thought. I'll keep on writing.

We all know the value of encouragement. It warms the soul to dish it out, and it is even more palatable to consume. Humanity gravitates to the negative, and ironically, it's often the "discouragers" that make an even bigger impression on our hopes and dreams than the encouragers. When faced with this kind of slap in the face, you have two options: You can either let the discouragers crush you or you can hitch your pants higher and get to work disproving them. Sometimes, I think God allows these negative Nancy's into our lives because they are exceptionally powerful motivators.

How do you rise above your detractors whether in regard to your writing, your goals, or any other aspect of your life? Here are some things to keep in mind. First, know God. If God has put this dream on your heart or endowed you with a certain talent, remember, there is nothing that will stop His will. Only you can thwart it by using your own free will and resisting it. Second, know yourself. Had I been wobbly in my confidence of my dream or my abilities, I would have been devastated by that backhanded compliment from that writing organization. Deep down, I knew writing was for me, and there was nothing he or anyone could have said to discourage me from pursuing it.

One of the most wonderful aspects of God is his power to transform the negative into a positive. We see it in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. He takes a boy sold into slavery and transforms him into a leader who will come to rescue his people. We see a young carpenter nailed to a cross transform that suffering into salvation. Through grace, He gives that power to us too.

In conclusion, if you are in God's will for you, whenever you come up against a discourager, remember, this: With God's help, you have the power to change what was intended for harm into something for good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lessons Learned from the Ancestry DNA Test & Geneaological Research


My latest post from the Catholic Writers Guild.

Who Do You Say That I Am?


By Janice Lane Palko

You’ve seen those Ancestry commercials about people who believe they are one race or nationality and then take a DNA test and find out they are not who they thought they were. My husband could be featured in one of those commercials.

This past Christmas, I bought him a DNA test because my parents had had their DNA tested as a gift for me and my siblings. Hence, I thought testing my husband would give our children a clearer picture of their genetic heritage.

My parents’ tests confirmed what my great-grandparents and grandparents had always told me—that I was predominantly Irish, with a splash of English, Welsh, and German. My hubby has always believed that he is half Italian and half Slovak. Imagine our surprise then when I opened the Ancestry email two days after Christmas and learned that he was 29 percent Italian, 25 percent Slovak, and, faith and begorrah, 19 percent Irish! Where did his green roots come from? We still have no idea.
My mother, whose maiden name is Hughes, registered 11 percent Irish and 50 percent Great Britain. Technically, my husband was more Irish than my Irish mother. The target of good-natured jokes from my family over the decades for not being Irish, my hubby now is one of the clan. He has taken great delight in his newly found heritage, lording it over my family, prompting him to don his “Who’s Your Paddy?” T-shirt reserved only for St. Patrick’s Day wear. The axis of our world has shifted a bit, and now I will have to throw away the “Honorary Irishman” button I gave him 36 years ago when we were first dating.

Accompanying the DNA test came a free month’s subscription to the Ancestry website, and I took full advantage of it. I discovered some things along the way. I learned that one paternal great-grandfather, James Lane, had a mother named Mary, a sister named Mary, two wives named Mary as well as a daughter named Mary, which made keeping all the Marys straight very difficult. I learned that a maternal great-great grandfather, who the family had been told had died when my great-grandmother was very young, most likely skipped town to take up with another woman in Colorado. I also learned that my English great-great grandmother who owned a bar, smoked a pipe, had a tattoo, and a pet parrot (I must have descended from sea captains.) and had 13 children was not widowed as had been reported by my late grandfather. She had divorced her husband as her marriage license to her second husband, my great-great-grandfather, stated because of “cruelty and barbaric abuse.” She went on to have a set of twins, one of whom was my great-grandmother. While Catholics dominated my heritage (hence the myriad Marys), I did find some Welsh Baptists and Cornish Methodists among the lot.
My Paternal Grandmother Agnes Moran Lane circa 1915

However, the most stunning discovery was that I had a fifth great-grandfather, Martin Short, (not to be confused with the comedian and actor), who came from Dublin in 1750 to the U.S. and fought at the battles of Bunker Hill and Yorktown and crossed the Delaware with General George Washington.
In addition, I learned some other, more important things. First, life matters. Although in this day and age, we treat it rather cavalierly, why, if life were not so important, would our ancestors have taken such pains to record births and deaths and chronicle who we have descended from?
Are you there, Martin Short?

Second, as writers, we provide a link to the past. I taught memoir writing for a number of years, and I always urge everyone to write their life story. What we put on paper today may one day offer clues, insights, or inspiration to someone yet to be born.

Third, you are dead for a very long time. My searches revealed a few relatives who died days after birth or as young children and one centenarian. However, no matter how long any of them lived, most have now been dead longer than they were alive, and with each passing day, they are even “deader.”
We will all eventually be dead longer than we have been alive. Therefore, plan accordingly. Make the most of your time on stage. Dream big, write beautifully, love with passion, leave a legacy. And all the while, prepare for your eternity. What you do now will determine where you will be later.

Finally, whether you think you are one nationality or ethnicity and you find out that you are not, or whether you find heroes or scoundrels or just common housekeepers, coal miners, railroad laborers, or shopkeepers in your background or not, it really doesn’t matter. Jesus posed this question of his disciples: Who do you say that I am? We should also ponder the converse. Who does He say that we are? What is our real identity? What He tells us is that we are His fallen creation, who He reclaimed for Himself on the cross so that we could become His beloved children and live with Him in eternity.

While it is interesting to know where you’ve come from, it’s more important to know where you’re going. That supersedes any knowledge of our earthly identity. Cling to your heavenly heritage because it’s the only one that truly lasts.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Here's January's Post for the CWG Blog

Pick up the Orange


By Janice Lane Palko

Some people receive profound promptings from the Holy Spirit. Me? I get messages like “pick up the orange.”

A few weeks ago, I walked into my local grocery store and saw a woman select some oranges and put them in a plastic bag. As she walked away out of the corner of my eye, I saw an orange fall from the display and roll across the floor.

You should pick up the orange, said that still small voice.

Instantly, I began rationalizing. I didn’t dislodge the orange. Why should I pick it up? They have stock boys to do that. I’ll look stupid, like I have OCD or something, if I pick it up and put it back where it belongs. Let somebody else do it.

Then my better nature joined the debate. Will it kill you to pick up an orange? Geez, Mother Teresa picked up dying people from the streets, and you’re freaking out over an orange. How shallow are you? Who cares what people think? Someone may trip over it. You will be doing a good deed, no matter how insignificant.

So, I pushed my grocery cart over, picked up the orange, and put it back in the display. But then something else happened.

As I was about to press on with my grocery shopping, I caught a glimpse of a woman to my side bend and pick up another orange, one that I hadn’t even noticed had escaped with the other orange, and replace it in the display.

I was astounded. This woman was following my example.

That little interlude set me to thinking about life, and for those of us who write, about what our toils to turn a phrase may mean in the big scheme of things.

Several months ago, fellow CWG member Cathy Gilmore posted an article from the Catholic News Agency titled The Catholic Church Desperately Needs Artists by Mary Rezac. It detailed how the world so sorely needs creative people who can bring beauty and truth to the culture.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been writing for more than twenty years, and the monetary return on my artistic endeavors has yet to land me a summer home at the beach, a six-figure deal, or a stint on Oprah.

I attend a weekly Bible study, and shortly after the orange incident, our leader asked us to share our all-time favorite inspirational books. One woman recommended He and I by Gabrielle Bossis, a French, Catholic woman who lived from 1874-1950. He and I chronicles the interior conversation she and God shared. When she was putting these conversations on paper, Bossis didn’t know that after her death, they would be published, translated into many languages, and cherished by so many readers.

At times, it may be frustrating when we think of how much time and effort we put into our literary endeavors compared to the remuneration we receive in turn. However, I don’t, and I’m sure many of you don’t, write solely for financial gain. Then, take heart, fellow creatives. Though we may never know the extent of our influence, like Bossis, our work may do good long after we are gone.
I don’t know if God intends for me to be a best-selling author or not. But what I do know is that I’ll be fine with whatever magnitude of success I achieve. I’ll continue to write and strive to bring beauty and truth to the world through my work with the hope of glorifying God.

I may be only a stepping stone for someone who comes after me, a toehold for another writer on their climb to achieving loftier success in reviving what has been a hallmark of the Catholic Church throughout its existence: excellence in artistic expression for the glory of God.
Therefore, as this new year begins, I’m going to pick up that orange and keep on writing. I urge you to do the same. You never know who is watching us or reading works or being inspired by our example. We don’t know who may decide to follow us, who may bend down to pick up that orange we didn’t even realize had also rolled away.