Friday, October 11, 2019

In Sickness and In Health


It's been nearly a month since I've written a blog. I've been working hard on another book, Following in the Footsteps of Faith, a sequel to Frontiers of Faith, which tells the story of my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus and their miraculous faith journey as pioneer missionaries in Alaska, 1917-1982.

The sequel describes the faith journeys of my parents and myself as we too stepped out by faith into a life of ministry in Alaska and beyond.

Last week, a health crisis interrupted everything. Wednesday morning, I went in for cataract surgery. It would be more complicated than most because of my hereditary Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy, and I was a bit anxious about all the possible complications. Recalling God's promises and hymns I'd memorized many years ago, I tried to calm myself.

That morning, as I was being prepared for the procedure, my blood pressure skyrocketed to a life-threatening level. The surgery was canceled, and I was sent immediately to the ER by ambulance. Scary!

The ER was packed with sick people in the cubicles as well as lining the halls. I was taken right into a cubicle where a multitude of medical personnel began tests that ruled out heart attack, but they said I was in danger of stroke and kidney failure.

After many hours in the ER, many tests, and new medications, the pressure was not coming down. My left arm was swollen and red from the painful tightening of the BP cuff every few minutes.

In spite of meditating on God's Word and silently humming my favorite hymns, my anxiety level rose even higher. Of course, that didn't help my blood pressure.

As I lay on the extremely uncomfortable gurney, which aggravated my already chronically painful back and neck, my head was now aching too. It was a catch-22 situation. I felt hopeless. Tears flooded my eyes.

I tried to hide my distress over the situation, but my husband, Bob, who had been with me from the moment I arrived, noticed. Alarmed, he rose from his chair and and handed me a tissue. "What's the matter? Why are you crying?"


I shrugged, but I didn't need to explain. He held my hand.

"I love you," I was finally able to say.

"Why are you saying that now?" he asked.

"Because you're here." And his eyes filled with tears too.

It was a special moment. In our marriage vows more than 52 years ago, he had promised to love me "in sickness and in health." And he was again keeping that promise.

After 30 hours in the ER and a trial and error of medicines and much prayer, my blood pressure finally lowered sufficiently that I could be moved to a regular room late Thursday afternoon. But it was still high.

By Friday afternoon, my systolic blood pressure had lowered to the mid one hundred fifties, and I was cleared to go home with a handful of new medications and a low sodium diet.

I do not tolerate medications very well. I was instructed to take the meds before breakfast. The next morning, I threw them all up. And I felt weak, shaky, and lightheaded all day every day until I saw my cardiologist yesterday (Thursday). She now has me taking them with food and spread throughout the day. So far, so good. I hope I'll be able to function normally again.

Through it all, Bob has been my nurse, chef, and constant companion "in sickness and in health." He does it all without a complaint. He is an example of love in action. When God gave me my husband, He gave me a good gift!

As I continue to prepare my new book for publication, I may not be able to write my blog as often. A lot depends on my health too. But I'll keep you informed. And I appreciate your prayers.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Look to the End!

Diogenes
Diogenes, a renowned pagan thinker of ancient Greece, set up a tent in the marketplace of Athens with a sign which read, "Wisdom sold here."

One of the citizens laughed at the idea and sent a servant with twelve cents in Greek coins, saying, "Go and ask that braggart how much wisdom he will let you have for twelve cents."

When the servant delivered the money and the message to Diogenes, the latter answered, "Tell this to  your master: 'In all your actions look to the end.'"

When the servant brought this message home, his master was so pleased with it that he had the words painted in gold over the entrance of his house so that he and everyone else entering his home might be reminded of the end of life. Even the mere natural virtue seemed to him very valuable.

This message should speak to us as Christians today. The Apostle Paul reminds us that "we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God" (Romans 14:10, 12, NLT).

With the death of my 97-year-old father a few weeks ago, I've been reminded that even a long life is short. This life is our preparation for eternity.

The psalmist says that our life on this earth is like the flowers of the field that flourish briefly and then are blown away by the wind and remembered no more (103:15, 16).

If we live our lives with the end in mind and make our choices in the light of eternity, God will be able to say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

A plaque that always hung on my Personeus grandparents' wall pointed out,

Only one life, twill soon be past;
Only what's done for Christ will last.

And a chorus I learned as a child has influenced my daily choices throughout my life:

With eternity's values in view, Lord,
With eternity's values in view;
May I do each day's work for Jesus,
With eternity's values in view.

Are you living your life in the light of eternity? Or, do temporal values rule your life? What choices do you need to make today in the light of the fact that you will one day stand before God and give account of your life to Him?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Dash

  1. It's been two weeks since my dad went to his eternal home. Today, I've been reading through papers I brought home from his file cabinet. I came across an unmarked folder containing several poems I recognized as ones he had mentioned often in his last few years.


One poem by Linda Ellis is titled, "The Dash." It refers to the dates of our birth and death separated by a dash on our tombstone. We have no control over those dates. What really matters is the dash--what we did with our lives between those dates. By making a conscious choice to live our lives with passion and purpose, we can make our mark on the world and leave it a better place than we found it.

My dad lived his dash serving God and others. His dash was well spent. While he accomplished many things in his life, he will be remembered most for the person he was. As a Christian, loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, leader, he lived what he preached. He walked his talk. He set an example of honesty and integrity. We cherish the memory of his love, his encouragement, and his friendly smile.

  1. Another paper I found is a song sheet of the bluegrass gospel song, "Angel Band," written by Jefferson Hascall, in 1860, and sung by several popular singers, including Johnny Cash.

  2. My latest sun is sinking fast,
    My race is nearly run;
    My strongest trials now are past,
    My triumph is begun.
    • Refrain:
      Oh, come, angel band,
      Come and around me stand;
      Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
      To my eternal home;
      Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
      To my eternal home.
  3. I know I’m near the holy ranks
    Of friends and kindred dear—
    I hear the waves on Jordan’s banks,
    The crossing must be near.
  4. I’ve almost reached my heav’nly home,
    My spirit loudly sings;
    Thy holy ones, behold, they come!
    I hear the noise of wings.
  5. Oh, bear my longing heart to Him,
    Who bled and died for me;
    Whose blood now cleanses from all sin,
    And gives me victory.
  6. In the past few years in our nightly phone calls, my dad often told me he was longing for heaven and sang this song. His singing is now silenced in this life, but I'm sure he has joined heaven's choir. While I miss him, and a day no longer feels complete without my phone call to him, I know he is together again with my mother, and above all, with the Savior he loved and served so faithfully. I would not wish him back.

As David of old said at the death of his son, "He cannot return to me, but I can go to him." (I paraphrase 2 Samuel 12:23.)

I want to live my dash as my father did until the day God calls me home.
 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Here, There, or in the Air

My dad, Robert E. "Bob" Cousart
This week since my father's death, many memories have washed over me. For the past seven years since my mother's death, I have called him every day. This week, at the end of each day, I've had a nagging feeling that there was something I still needed to do. Then I'd realize that I miss that phone call to my dad. The day seems incomplete.

This week, I've talked with many friends and family members by phone and internet, notifying them of his passing. They often shared their memories of him with me.

One longtime pastor friend from the Kittitas Valley Ministerial Association told me that even though they disagreed on minor points of theology, my dad never let that stand in the way of cooperation and friendship with the other pastors. He said in the forty years they knew each other, he always felt encouraged after being with my dad.

After my mother died, that pastor would pick my dad up from his residence at Hearthstone Cottage and take him to the church service that pastor conducted every Wednesday afternoon at Dry Creek Assisted Living, where Daddy had lived with my mother. When he dropped my dad back at Hearthstone, he'd say, "God bless you!" And my dad would always respond, "He does!"
Daddy on the phone

Then my dad would say, "Here, there, or in the air!" That was his farewell to us too whenever we left his apartment to return to our home in New York. He was always anticipating Jesus' return.

Many people have commented on what a sweet guy my dad was. He always had a friendly smile, words of encouragement, and a ready prayer for everyone, but no one ever felt he was pushy.

And he loved to sing and worship the Lord. During our last visit, he slept a lot. I did a lot of sorting through papers and greetings cards he'd received over the past 10 to 15 years. Whenever he'd wake up, he'd look over at me and give me a beatific smile. Whenever he was in pain or struggling to get out of his reclining chair, even with help from the aides, he would pray aloud, "Oh, Jesus, help me." Then he'd begin to praise the Lord.

He had arranged for a direct burial. Yesterday, we learned from the funeral director that he had even completed the paperwork for ordering his VA headstone with the phrase, "Looking for the Blessed Hope!" in the last line. That was my dad. Always prepared to go or stay. And encouraging each of us to join him "Here, there, or in the air!"

Here's a poem I wrote several years ago. I think this is what Daddy would say to us now if he could:

DON’T MOURN FOR ME

Don’t mourn for me;
I’m in a better place.
Don’t mourn for me
For I can see His face.
Don’t mourn for me;
I’m happier than I can tell.
Don’t mourn for me;
My body’s strong and well.
Don’t mourn for me;
Just plan to see me soon.
Don’t mourn for me;
Be ready—morning, night, or noon.

                            —AnnaLee Conti



My dad's story is included in my book, Frontiers of Faith, and was the inspiration for characters in my Alaskan Waters Trilogy. Find them on my website: http://annaleeconti.com/books.html




  

Friday, August 23, 2019

My Daddy Died Today

Rev. Robert E. Cousart
How blessed I have been to have my father with me for all of my 73 years!

Holley Gerth wrote, "One of the greatest blessings God can give us is a father whose faith passes on the heritage of the past, provides blessings in the present, and guides us with wisdom for the future."

That was my father. He led us in God's ways by steadfast example. He taught us his values, raised us with love, always showed us respect.

He's been my dad. He's been my friend. And even now that he's gone, I will always continue to feel the power of his unconditional love. He will always be my guiding light.

My husband and I visited him for two-and-a-half weeks this summer. The day we left, he prayed for us. His voice was not as strong, but his prayer was just as powerful.

He had been in failing health over the course of this year. Since we live clear across the country from him, I knew it would probably be the last time I'd see him in this life. A week later, he showed symptoms of a stroke, and his condition deteriorated rapidly. The doctors said the small tumors discovered in his lungs earlier this year had grown remarkably. They believed it to be lung cancer metastasized to his brain that was causing the stroke-like symptoms.

His doctor in the emergency room remarked on how his praising the Lord and singing hymns blessed the staff as they cared for him until he was unable to talk.

This morning, a longtime friend who had been a teenager in one of the churches he had pastored came into his room and found him laboring to breathe. She took his hand and said, "Pastor Bob, you're late! AnnaMae's waiting for you." He took one deep breath, breathed it out, and was gone to be with the Savior he has served so long and faithfully.

While I'm sad, I know this parting is only temporary. "We sorrow not as those who have no hope," the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. What a day that will be when we all get to heaven never to be parted again!

Below is the eulogy I've written in celebration of my father, Robert Edward (Bob) Cousart:

Longtime valley pastor and former mayor of Kittitas, the Rev. Robert Edward (Bob) Cousart, died on August 23, 2019, after a short illness. He was 97. Rev. Cousart has pastored several churches in the Kittitas Valley since 1980 and served as mayor of Kittitas from 2005 to 2007.

Bob Cousart was born January 1, 1922, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Roy and Laura Jensen Cousart. As a youngster, he sang soprano in a prestigious Episcopal boys choir in the Philadelphia area. In the late 1930s, under the ministry of gospel singer, George Beverly Shea, Bob received Christ as his Savior and accepted God’s call to preach. Upon completion of high school, he enrolled in pre-theological studies at Temple University and received his Local Preacher’s License from the Methodist Church.

Newlyweds
His studies were interrupted by World War II. In 1942, Bob joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Upon completing Radio School, he was sent to Ketchikan, Alaska, where on August 16, 1944, he met and married AnnaMae, daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. Charles C. Personeus, the first Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska.

Following World War II, Bob completed his formal ministerial education at Eastern Bible Institute of the Assemblies of God (now the University at Valley Forge) in Pennsylvania. With their two toddlers, the couple moved to Pelican, Alaska, in 1948, to help the Personeuses build the church there.

That fall, the Cousarts moved to Juneau for the birth of their third child. From 1948 to 1958, Bob worked as Traffic Clerk and then Cargo Department Supervisor for Alaska Coastal Airlines to support their ministry. For five years they operated the Bethel Beach Children’s Home. Bob was also an active member of Bethel Assembly of God (now Juneau Christian Center), PTA president, and other civic affairs.

Pastoring in Pelican
In 1958, Bob accepted the pastorate of the church in Pelican. Since Pelican had no high school, he also supervised the high school students’ correspondence courses.

In 1960, the Cousarts were called to pastor in Seward, Alaska, where Bob also served as PTA president and was elected president of the Seward School Board and clerk of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board, Secretary-Treasurer of the Unified Education Commission for the State of Alaska, and spiritual adviser for the Alaska State Board of the PTA. He also did longshoring at the docks several days a month.

On Good Friday, 1964, the Great Alaskan Earthquake that registered 9.2 on the Richter scale, the strongest earthquake to ever hit North America, along with three successive tsunamis, destroyed 95 percent of Seward’s industrial area as well as many homes and cut off all shipping, railway, and highway access. As president of the Seward Ministerial Association, he led the earthquake survivors in a combined church service on Easter morning.

That summer, Bob was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the newly-formed Alaska District Council of the Assemblies of God, which included serving as a member of the General Presbytery of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, posts he held until 1973.

In 1966, Bob was asked to pastor the Assembly of God in Valdez, another town hard-hit by the earthquake. Shortly after the Cousarts’ arrival, the entire town had to be moved five miles when the Coast and Geodetic Survey determined that as a result of the earthquake, the old town was sitting on a ledge that could break off into the bay at any time.

In 1972, the Cousarts moved to Fairbanks, the location of the offices of the Alaska District of the Assemblies of God at that time, to devote more time to his Secretary-Treasurer duties.

In 1973, the Cousarts returned to pastoring, accepting the call of the Assembly of God in Naches, Washington. Bob later pastored in Union Gap, Kittitas, and Ellensburg, and served as principal for a Christian school in the Kittitas Valley. He retired from active ministry in 1997.

At the age of 82, Bob was elected mayor of Kittitas, a position he held for two years, until the Cousarts moved to Dry Creek Assisted Living in Ellensburg. After his retirement, he taught the adult Sunday school class and served as secretary-treasurer of the church board at Family Christian Center until 2013. When his wife died in 2012, Bob moved to Hearthstone Cottage. In April 2019, he moved back to Pacifica Senior Living (formerly Dry Creek).

Bob was well-known for his friendly smile and his love of singing. He and his wife, AnnaMae, sang together all their married life in churches and for funerals and weddings.

His 97th birthday
Bob is survived by two daughters, Rev. AnnaLee (Robert) Conti of Beacon, New York; and Mrs. Kathleen (Thomas) McAlpine of Hoven, South Dakota; a son, Robert P. Cousart of Yakima, Washington; a foster daughter, Denia Schmidt of Anchorage, Alaska; thirteen grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife; his parents; a brother, Jack F. Cousart of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania; and a foster daughter, Barbara Capjohn Chu, of Juneau, Alaska.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Change

Alaska Coastal Grumman Goose in Pelican
This is vacation time around America. People take to the road, to the air, or to the sea. As I look back at the Twentieth Century, I am amazed at the changes that took place in air travel and in transportation in general during that time.

Now, 19 years into the Twenty-First Century, the changes in technology, and in communications, affecting every phase of life, would shock even my grandparents, who had lived through nearly a century of change. These only represent all of the changes we encounter in life that can amaze or unsettle anyone.

Every summer as a child in the fifties, I flew on an Alaska Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose from Juneau to Pelican, Alaska, to visit my Personeus grandparents for two or three months. The eight-passenger amphibious plane took off and landed on the waters of Southeast Alaska, where no roads connected the many islands, large and small. It flew up close and personal over the tops of snow-capped mountains and blue or stormy seas.

Since 2000, my husband and I have driven across the continent from New York to Washington State almost annually to visit friends and family, six to ten days each way. Now, we jet across the continent in six hours.

Born in 1888, my grandparents had already witnessed the transition from horse and buggy to the automobile and the Wright Brothers first flight by the time they went to Alaska in 1917. To get there, they traveled by train from Rochester, New York, to Buffalo, where they caught a steamer across Lake Erie to Detroit. From there, they again boarded other trains to take them across the country to the West Coast. In Seattle, they boarded another steamship to sail up the Inside Passage to Juneau. The entire trip took two months.

Regularly scheduled air travel around Southeast Alaska didn't begin until the mid-thirties, first with Ellis Airlines out of Ketchikan, and a few years later, with Alaska Coastal Airlines out of Juneau. Most people, however, traveled by boat--steamers, mail boats, or private fishing vessels. My grandparents didn't fly. Grandma was afraid to try it.

Fairtide II in Pelican 1948
After World War II, their son, Byron, began operating a gospel mission boat, Fairtide II, around Southeast Alaska. My grandparents joined him and his wife on the boat. When my parents returned to Alaska from Bible school in Pennsylvania, bringing me, a two-year-old, and my younger brother, Uncle Byron met us in Ketchikan with his mission boat and took us to Pelican to join the rest of the family in building the Pelican church. My earliest memory is of a big storm on that boat trip.

When my folks moved to Juneau for the birth of my sister in 1948, my dad was hired by Alaska Coastal Airlines as boss of cargo. As an employee, one of his perks was free air travel for him and our family. I began flying to Pelican when I was 3 years old. My father would put me in the seat next to the pilot. My grandparents would meet me at the float in Pelican, When it was time for me to return home, my dad would arrange for me to again sit by the pilot. My dad met me in Juneau.

Alaska Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose at the Hangar in Juneau 1953
Grandma was in her early sixties by then and had decided that flying was more than she could handle. The boat trips around the islands were bad enough, but to fly through thin air was more than she cared to experience. She thought she was too old to fly.

But one day as she put me, her eldest but still preschool-aged grandchild, on the Grumman Goose and saw me sit trustingly in the cockpit with the pilot who would deliver me to my father, she thought, "If that little child can put so much trust in her father's wishes, then I must overcome my fear of flying and trust my Heavenly Father to take care of me." After that, Grandma flew all over Alaska and the continental United States many times over the next 30 years.

PNA "Connie"
In 1961, as a teenager, I was flying home from Seattle alone on a Pacific Northern Airlines "Connie," a popular, four-engine plane. As we flew over the rugged Chugach Mountains toward Anchorage, the propeller outside my window fluttered to a stop. My heart nearly stopped too!

The pilot made no announcement so I surmised we could make it to Anchorage on three engines, but staring down into sharp, snow-covered peaks that yawned like an open shark's jaw below, I shivered to think of crashing.

Then a still, small voice reminded me that "underneath are the Everlasting Arms." Since then, whenever I fly, I remind myself of that verse and sit back and enjoy the flight.

In 1968, Alaska Airlines bought up Alaska Coastal and Ellis Airlines, built runways in the towns along the Inside Passage, and began flying cargo and passenger jets into towns on islands with no road connections. Private and tourist float planes still land on the water in tiny villages such as Pelican and on beautiful inlets and coves to see glaciers and waterfalls, but jets now land on runways built out into the sea in the larger towns..

In 2017, Bob and I flew back to Juneau for the 100th anniversary celebration of the church my grandparents founded in 1917. We flew the evening Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 "milk run." Our flight stopped at Ketchikan and Sitka before landing in Juneau.

When we emerged from the fog at sea level at Sitka, all we could see was whitecaps beneath us until the wheels hit the runway. Surrounded by mountains and sea, with frequent stormy weather conditions, and waves crashing against it even on clear days, the runway at Sitka is considered one of the scariest in the US.

Sitka Airport
I've been flying since 1948. When I think of all the changes, both good and bad, in my lifetime and add that to the changes in my grandparents' lifetime, I can't help but think of a line in that old hymn, Abide With Me:

"Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me." 

And I am comforted that in all of life's changes, the Lord has been walking with me all the way. One day, He'll lead me safely Home.



If you'd like to read more about Alaska from gold rush to statehood and beyond, you may enjoy my historical books set in that time period. You can find them at my website (click here).



Thursday, July 4, 2019

Free To Be

Painting by John Trumbull of Signing of the
Declaration of Independence
Two hundred forty-three years ago, 56 patriots signed the Declaration of Independence which gave us an independent nation--the United States of America.

The Declaration states, "All men are... are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Today, there is so much incendiary debate about just what rights we are entitled to that Congress gets nothing done. Everyone focuses on what is right for me instead of what is best for all of us. Politicians remind me of the old idiom, "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." They are so against helping the other party get anything done that we all, including them, suffer.

The truth is that while it's fine to want and seek life and liberty and to pursue happiness, we are not entitled to those things.

The Bible teaches that what we all really deserve is eternal punishment in hell because of our sin. But Ephesians 2:4 announces,

The good news of the gospel is that God doesn't give us what we deserve! Instead, because of His great love for humankind, He gives us His grace through the death and resurrection of His Son! What is grace? It is bestowing upon us all the good things we don't deserve--such as forgiveness and eternal life.

How does that great truth apply in our human relationships?

First, we need to recognize that we are not entitled to anything from anybody. Yet, American society is based on "entitlement," the attitude that we are owed only the good things in life.

  • Advertisements bombard us with the message, "You deserve a break today," or "You owe it to yourself to buy_______."
  • College graduates think they are owed a higher salary.
  • Parents feel their children owe them good behavior for all the things they do for them.
  • Senior citizens think younger people owe them respect.
  • People believe the government owes them everything--free health care, free college, and so on.
  • Illegal aliens deserve all the rights of citizens.
  • The rich owe the poor.
And the list goes on.

Christians seem to think God owes them a life free of trouble and suffering. But God doesn't owe us anything! He's already paid a debt we owed for sin that we could never repay.

The truth is, nobody owes anyone anything. To believe we deserve to get our needs met is arrogant. To expect special treatment as appropriate payment for what we do for someone else only invites anger, resentment, bitterness, and rebellion, which destroy relationships.

A sense of entitlement is self-serving, but focusing on how we can meet the needs of others fosters emotional well-being, cooperation, and mutual respect. Mutual giving builds relationships.

For our own well-being, we need to let go of feelings of entitlement. Instead, we need to follow God's example and practice grace!

Thank God for the freedom we have to be all we can be in Christ!

Happy Fourth of July!