Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why We Give Thanks

Despite the challenges we as a nation face politically, economically, and culturally, we are still blessed to live in the United States of America. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day when Americans gather with family and friends to enjoy a bountiful feast in celebration of the many blessings God has bestowed upon us individually and as a nation.

The Apostle Paul faced many challenges, yet he knew the importance of giving thanks to God. He reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to

The Pilgrims too faced many hardships in the year leading up to their first Thanksgiving celebration. Some public school textbooks tell children that the Pilgrims were giving thanks to the Indians, but in his historical work, Of Plymouth Plantation, penned by Governor William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrims described what really happened:

The Pilgrims' journey began in Holland. They had left England, where they had no religious freedom, to settle in Holland, where they were free to worship God as they pleased. But there, the culture was so corrupt they made plans to go to the New World to build a community based on biblical principles for their children.

Governor Bradford wrote, "Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work."

The journey to America on the Mayflower was unbelievably miserable. Bradford described how 102 Pilgrims were crammed into a space the size of a volleyball court for 66 days at sea with little light and no fresh air since all the hatches had to be battened down due to stormy weather. Can you imagine the stench? Their diet consisted of dried pork, dried peas, and dried fish.

They arrived in New England late in the fall of 1620 just in time to prepare for winter. During that first winter, 47 of the 102 Pilgrims died. Only three families remained unbroken by death. Yet, they were thankful even though their daily rations at times consisted of only one kernel of corn.

That spring, the Indians befriended then, showing them how to plant maize and fertilize it with fish. When a drought threatened to destroy the crops, they fell on their knees and prayed until God sent rain.

The First Thanksgiving Courtesy
The proclamation of the first Thanksgiving came as a result of their first bountiful harvest. The Pilgrims were overflowing with gratitude to God because the harvest of 1621 provided more than enough corn to see them through their second winter.

Indian Chief Massasoit brought 90 Indians with him to the feast, arriving a day early. The Pilgrims despaired that they would not have enough to feed that many without dangerously diminishing their winter supply of food.

As it turned out, the Indians had come early to hunt and contribute to the feast. They provided five dressed deer and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys--enough food to extend the celebration to three days.

The Pilgrims were able to rejoice and remain hopeful even in the midst of death and privation because they knew their lives served a greater, eternal purpose. When we know and follow Jesus Christ, our lives too have that same eternal purpose. That alone gives us a reason to rejoice and be thankful, no matter what our outward circumstances may be.


Psalm 69:30 encourages us to "magnify the Lord with thanksgiving." A magnifying glass makes objects seem bigger to us. Thanksgiving makes God bigger to us--it makes us see Him better, see His ability to supply all our needs. When we thank Him for what He has done for us in the past, our faith is built up to know He will meet our needs today.

Before you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, pause to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for His blessings to you this year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It's Not Fair!

I'm not going to comment on the election, except to say that a phrase I've heard a lot from both parties this election year is "It's not fair!"


As children, we are continually told by our parents and teachers to play fair and to share equally. While that admonition helps us develop good character and people skills and shows us that they did not favor one child over another, that teaching also sets us up to believe that life should always be fair.

Courtesy Google,com

But the truth is, life is not always fair. Sometimes life is just plain unfair.

Ecclesiastes 8:14 points out that "in this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good" (NLT).

And Jesus told His disciples that the rain so necessary to abundant crops falls on the just and the unjust.

This doesn't seem fair, does it? The Psalmist too struggled with this dilemma in Psalm 73. "Why do the wicked prosper?" he asked (v. 16).


Then he thought about their end and realized they were on a slippery path to destruction (v. 18).

That was when he realized how bitter he had become over life's unfairness (v. 21). His trust in God was restored because he remembered that God was leading him to a glorious destiny (v. 24).

I too have often struggled with the unfairness of life. Unfairness plays havoc with my sense of justice.

The trouble with this kind of thinking is that unfairness then becomes a double whammy. Not only do I experience unfairness when it occurs, but I am allowing it to continue to affect my life by not accepting that life is not always fair.

Instead of constantly rehearsing in my mind what I can do to make things fair, I need to let it go.

Basically, it boils down to an issue of forgiveness. When I realized that we are all flawed human beings and need to be forgiven, and that we all make mistakes which hurt others, whether intentionally or not, I can forgive and let the hurts go. Only in this way can I keep past injustices from ruining my present life.

Are you struggling with unfair treatment? The answer is to forgive and let it go. Only God can bring final justice. Leave it to Him.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Vietnam Veteran's Memories

Tomorrow is Veterans' Day, a very special day for me to remember how God protected my husband while he was in Vietnam.
Captain Robert J, Conti, U. S. Army
I have the distinction of celebrating one more wedding anniversary than my husband. How can that be? On June 9, 1969, the day before our second wedding anniversary, my husband took off from the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, and headed for Vietnam. At midnight, he crossed the International Dateline and totally missed our anniversary that year. So I have celebrated one more anniversary than he has! 

As an infantry officer, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne. In that assignment, Bob was involved in something called “fireflies”--night operations with helicopters.

One large helicopter was equipped with a big searchlight made of large aircraft landing lights. A couple of other helicopters carried rockets and bombs. The observation helicopter would fly high above using infrared to navigate while the others flew near the ground.

At night they'd fly in the dark with no lights until they were over their target. Then, the command helicopter, which Bob flew in, would switch on the lights, making it an easy target for the enemy, while the other two would fly in from the left and the right, crisscrossing under the command helicopter, firing rockets and dropping bombs. It was hazardous. Some of his friends cracked up doing the same thing and died.  

Bob in Vietnam in 1969
Bob says, "Every night I’d have to wait for a helicopter to come to the fire base to pick me up. The waiting was the worst part. I began to understand fear. I’m not talking about just being scared. I mean a fear that gnaws at you and tugs at your nerves.

"The fireflies took place about one or two a.m. I would wonder if I’d see the sun come up in the morning. Once, we got caught in a monsoon rainstorm and couldn't see in any direction. I really learned about fear that time.

"During those months, I began to draw closer to the Lord. That well-known hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” often came into my heart and mind. I kept thinking that no matter what happened, with Jesus, it is well with my soul. I can handle it. I did. And I made it through.

"One time, as my unit was being relieved by another unit at a fire base, I got into the command chopper with my pilot, and we lifted off. Immediately, the command chopper of the next battalion landed. Other choppers were coming in behind him.

"Suddenly, Viet Cong soldiers sprang up out of the grass right next to the landing area and fired away, killing their S3 officer and severely wounding the others. The VC had infiltrated during the change over and were already in place when I jogged to my chopper. The man sitting in the same position in the incoming helicopter that I sat in on my chopper had his arm and leg shot off. I thank God that He protected me on that occasion. I didn’t even get a scratch."

The 82nd Airborne went home after six months, and Bob had six more to go, so he was assigned as an intelligence officer, S2, on an advisory team to a Vietnamese unit in Tay Ninh Province. Bob had to ride in helicopters frequently. He made it a practice not to fly unless his job required it.

Two weeks before Bob came home, his best friend, Major Barton, the S3 officer on the advisory team, invited him to fly along with him to visit the province chief that Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day, but Bob said, "No. I want to go to church and then write letters to my wife." That day, Major Barton's helicopter crashed, and all on board were killed.

At the end of the longest year of our lives, Bob returned home on Memorial Day, 1970. Although a few years ago, the VA declared him to be 100 percent disabled due to the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, I am especially thankful every Veteran's Day that my husband came home from Vietnam.

I'd love to hear about a veteran you'd like to honor.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Bible Baked in a Loaf of Bread

My Grandma Personeus was an expressive storyteller. We grandchildren listened with rapt attention as she told stories of her youth.

One day, she showed us a dark blue hardbound book entitled, The Pennsylvania LeFevres, the genealogy of her family dating back to 1510 in France, compiled by her father, George Newton LeFevre. All the lists of names inside reminded me of the genealogies in the Bible, which as a child I usually skipped so I could devour the exciting stories.

Then Grandma showed us a picture of the LeFevre Family Bible and told us the unforgettable story of the Bible baked in a loaf of bread:

The LeFevre Family Bible (1608)
In France, in 1685, nearly one hundred years before the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, Sarah, wife of Abraham LeFevre, baked the family Bible in a loaf of bread.

What a strange thing to do! "Why would she do that?" we asked

The LeFevre family were French Protestants, nicknamed Huguenots in the 16th and 17th centuries. They had enjoyed 87 years of freedom under the famous Edict of Nantes of 1598, which permitted them to hold services and worship the way they pleased.

Then, on October 18, 1685, Catholic King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. Severe persecution ensued. No one was allowed to read the Word of God for himself or even own a volume of the Holy Scriptures. Huguenots were not allowed to be baptized or to instruct their children in their faith. Their churches and records were destroyed, their property was confiscated, and they were forbidden to emigrate.

The LeFevres lived near Strasbourg, France, in the Alsace-Lorraine region across the Rhine River from Bavaria, Germany. Their family Bible was the Geneva Bible, published in Switzerland in 1608. It was smaller and a great improvement over the ponderous volumes of the Great Bible and Tyndale versions which preceded it. The family placed great value on their forbidden Bible and did not want it to fall into the hands of those who would destroy it.

Abraham and Sarah knew it was just a matter of time before their home would be searched and they could be arrested for their faith and even executed. How could they protect the family Bible? Where could they hide it so the soldiers wouldn't find it?

Sarah must have been a woman of great courage and ingenuity. Perhaps the inspiration came to her one day as she baked bread for the family. If she baked a loaf large enough to contain the Bible, no one would think to look inside a loaf of bread even if it sat in plain sight.

She must have made a really large loaf, for the Geneva Bible was 9 1/4 inches long, 6 1/4 inches wide, and 4 1/2 inches thick.

After kneading the dough to perfection, Sarah wrapped the sacred Book in vellum to protect it from the heat and tucked it in the center. She allowed the dough to rise then placed it in the oven to bake, watching it carefully to be sure the loaf was not overdone. When she withdrew it from the oven, she set the golden loaf on the table to cool.

Abraham gathered their six children around the table and admonished them to guard the Bible carefully. If the worst should happen, they were instructed to grab the loaf of bread with the Bible inside and run to the nearby home of Daniel and Marie Ferree, wealthy Huguenot friends.

Apparently, 16-year-old Isaac wasn't there when the soldiers invaded the LeFevre home and slaughtered the rest of his family. Imagine his horror when he entered his house and discovered their brutalized bodies.

Young Isaac quickly grabbed the large loaf of bread containing the Bible sitting unmolested on the table and ran swiftly toward the home of their Huguenot friends. On the way, a soldier stopped him and grabbed the loaf from his hands. Isaac's heart beat so hard he feared the man would see it pounding and become suspicious.

"Rather a heavy loaf you have there, lad." The man hefted it then flung it back into Isaac's arms. "Here! Take it back. It feels much too doughy for me."

Isaac hugged the loaf and hastened to the Ferree house. He knocked quickly with a prearranged signal--two loud taps and one soft.

The door opened slowly, and Daniel peered into the darkness. Seeing Isaac, he pulled the distraught lad inside.

"Hurry! We must flee!" Isaac sobbed. "They killed my parents and all my brothers and sisters."

That night, Isaac and the Ferree family stole through the darkness, taking only the barest necessities, and fled across the Rhine River into Bavaria, which was primarily Lutheran. There, Isaac stayed with the Ferree family until 1708. Isaac fell in love with the Ferree's daughter, Catherine. They were married in 1704, and their first son was born in Germany. Isaac named him Abraham after his martyred father.

Isaac's father-in-law, Daniel Ferree, died in 1708. His widow, Marie, heard about a proclamation issued by Queen Anne of England inviting suffering Huguenots to come there, but they had also heard of religious liberty in Pennsylvania in America, and that was where they wanted to go.

Upon their arrival in England, Madame Ferree visited William Penn in person. After hearing her misfortunes, he introduced her to Queen Anne, who promised them substantial aid in going to America. William Penn then granted 2,000 acres of land to the Ferree-LeFevre family.

When they arrived in New York, it was winter. The Ferree-LeFevre party proceeded 90 miles up the Hudson River to Esopus (Kingston), where they stayed with Isaac LeFevre's two uncles, Andrew and Simon LeFevre, who had come to America 40 years before. There, a second son was born to Isaac and Catherine.

In the spring of 1712, they left Esopus and traveled overland to Philadelphia, where Penn's commissioners issued to Isaac LeFevre and his brother-in-law, Daniel  Ferree, for the sum of 150 pounds, the deed to the land in what was then Chester County, Pennsylvania (Lancaster County was not organized until 1729).

Deed from William Penn to Isaac LeFevre
As the Huguenot party reached the verge of a hill commanding a view of their land in the Pequea Valley 55 miles west of Philadelphia on a golden September evening, an idyllic woodland scene unfolded below. The trees were beginning to change colors in the forest inhabited by wild beasts with no indication of civilization.  After all their trials of persecution and years of travel, their new home looked so tranquil and delightful that Madame Ferree exclaimed, "Let's call it Paradise!" And that is what the town and township are known as to this day.

Grandma's cousin, Franklin D, LeFevre, holding the LeFevre Bible
Isaac LeFevre carefully preserved his family Bible throughout his journeys. The births of his six children were penned in ink on the first page. The ancient Bible was cherished and handed down through six generations and then given to the Lancaster County Historical Society to preserve for posterity. It is one of the most frequently requested items to be viewed--a symbol of the faith the Huguenots held to be more precious than life itself. It has inspired many of the LeFevre descendants to spend their lives sharing its message around the world.

My grandmother, Florence LeFevre Personeus, a direct descendant of Isaac's firstborn son Abraham, grew up in the 27-room mansion that stood on the tract of land originally deeded to Isaac LeFevre by William Penn, in what is now Strasbourg, Pennsylvania. She spent 65 years as a missionary in Alaska, from 1917-1982. My parents and my husband and I too have followed in the LeFevre footsteps as ministers and writers sharing that gospel message.

The 27-room LeFevre home my maternal grandma grew up in
Throughout the ages, many mighty potentates have tried to destroy the Bible--Alexander the Great, the princes of Egypt and Babylon, the monarchs of Persia and of Greece, the Emperors of Rome, and even European kings, Communists, the Nazis, and other religions, but the Bible still stands. It is estimated that only 1/2 of one percent of all books published will survive seven years, that 800 out of every 1,000 books are forgotten in one year. Yet, the Bible is still the world's best seller.

The story of how God has preserved His Word throughout history is a fascinating one. Psalm 119:89 declares, "Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven."


NOTE: This is a longer post than usual, but I am in the process of preparing the manuscript of my third book in my Alaskan Waters trilogy for publication,  Beside Still waters, so I will not be posting for a few weeks. I hope you enjoy this true story of my ancestors and their Bible baked in a loaf of bread.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Four Little Words

As a fledgling writer, I received a rejection of a submission to a magazine. I was disappointed but encouraged to keep trying. The editor had written. "You have a way with words!" I tried again, and he published several of my articles.
I have also come to understand the importance of my words as a parent and a teacher.

Years ago, I came across the story of a young boy, Malcolm, who was terribly insecure and shy. He had few friends and no self-confidence.

His high school English class had been reading To Kill a Mocking Bird. Then the teacher asked the students to write their own chapter that would follow the last chapter of the novel.

Malcolm wrote his chapter and handed it in. More than 30 years later, he could not recall anything special he had written or even what grade his teacher had given him, but he never forgot the four words she wrote in the margin of his paper: "This is good writing."

Those four words changed his life.

Until he read those words, he had no sense of identity and no idea what he would do with his life. After reading those four little words, he went home and wrote a short story, something he had always dreamed of doing but never believed he could do.

That year, he wrote many short stories and always showed them to his teacher to evaluate. Soon, he was named co-editor of his high school newspaper. His confidence grew, and he became a successful professional writer. Malcolm is convinced that none of this would have happened had that teacher not written those four words of encouragement on his paper.

Words can change a life. Words like "You're stupid!" or "Can't you do anything right?" can echo and re-echo in our minds and become self-fulfilling prophecies. So can positive affirmations.

A word fitly spoken is very precious indeed!

How would our family, friends, and coworkers describe our words?

Do our words encourage or put down?

Do we constantly criticize those under our authority without ever praising them?

Would the lasting echoes of our words be to encourage others to be more than they thought they could be--or less?

When we must give criticism, do we couch it liberally in praise?

The Apostle Paul admonished the Ephesians to not "let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs" (4:29, NIV).

Today, let's take a hard listen to our words and ask the Lord to help us to speak only words that are pleasing to Him and a blessing to other.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

He Took My Lickin'

Since Labor Day signals the start of a new school year in many parts of our country, I thought you might enjoy a true school story I heard in church when I was young.

I attended eighth grade in a two-room school in Pelican, located on Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska about half-way between Juneau and Sitka, accessible only by boat or float plane. A fishing and cannery town, Pelican had a population of about one hundred people in the winter. Grades K-3 occupied one room and 4-8 in the other, taught by a husband and wife team, who lived about the primary classroom.

Pelican, Alaska, in 1953. Photo taken by my uncle C. Byron Personeus
Perhaps that's why I could relate to this true account that took place in an old-fashioned, one-room school in Kentucky and never forgot it. But I think there's an even more important reason why.

Old Pelican Schoolhouse that now serves as City Hall
One by one, several teachers had been driven off by the students' rebelliousness in that old Kentucky school. A new teacher was due to arrive that day.

Jim, a 17-year-old third grader, bragged to the other boys. "We'll run this one off before sundown if he gets bossy."

In their first session, the new teacher said, "If we are going to have a good school, we need to have good rules."

A few of the boys snickered, but they sat up in surprise when the teacher added, ""But I'm not going to make the rules. You are."

One by one, the students volunteered what they thought would be fair rules and set fair penalties for each offense--five to ten hard swats with a large wooden paddle.

The teacher proved to be warm and friendly, firm but fair, and all went well for several weeks. Then one morning, the teacher solemnly told the class that someone had stolen Jim's lunch. To uphold his authority, he knew he had to carry out the penalty, but his heart was heavy.

Deep sobs broke the silence. Little John, timid and frail and loved by all, confessed his guilt. Everyone knew John was poor and often hungry. But the law had been broken, and the penalty must be paid.

As the teacher lifted the paddle, Jim cried out, "Stop! It was my lunch, and I forgive him!"

"That's kind of you, Jim, but you made the rule, and we all agreed on the penalty. I'm sorry, but it must be carried out." He again raised the paddle.

Jim stepped forward. "Then I'll take his lickin'. I can take it better than he can."

With each painful swat Jim received, John felt his own guilt deeper and deeper. When it was over, the teacher wiped his eyes and put his arm around the two boys.

"Class, it was a wonderful thing Jim did. He was innocent, but he volunteered to take John's punishment. That reminds me of how Jesus, the sinless Son of God, voluntarily took our punishment when He died on the Cross for our sins. Jesus took our lickin'."
And that's why I have never forgotten this story. Not because it took placed in a one-room school, but because it illustrates so beautifully what Jesus did for us when He died in our place. He took my lickin'.

"All have sinned," Romans 3:23 tells us. And "the wages of sin is death," according to Romans 6:23. But while we were yet sinners, God in His great love and mercy provided His remedy. Christ, God's innocent Son, stepped down from heaven's glories, lived a sinless life, and died for us (Romans 5:8). Now, through Him, we have eternal life.

Every year as children go back to school, let's remember how Jesus took our lickin' and give Him our eternal thanks and gratitude.

If you'd like to receive an e-mail whenever I write a new post, please complete the form in the column to the right.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Parable of the Teacup

While visiting my 94-year-old father, a retired pastor, this summer, I was sorting through some piles of magazines he'd finished reading and came across interesting items. Neither the author nor source of this story was given, but the message, which I have taken the liberty of editing, struck home.

Parable of the Teacup

A couple traveled to England to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They discovered a special antique store that specialized in pottery, especially teacups. Spotting an exceptional one, they asked to see it. "We've never seen a cup so beautiful."

As the lady handed it to them, the teacup spoke. "I have not always been a teacup. I was just a shapeless lump of red clay at one time. When my master rolled and pounded and patted me again and again, I yelled out, "Don't do that. I don't like it. Leave me alone." But he only smiled and said gently, "Not yet."

Then he placed me on a spinning wheel where I was spun around and around. "Stop it!" I screamed. "I'm getting dizzy! I'm going to be sick." But the master only nodded and said softly, "Not yet."

He spun me and poked me and prodded me until I was bent out of shape to suit his desires then stuck me in the oven. I'd never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded on the door. "Help! Get me out of here!" I could see him through the opening and could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side. "Not yet."

When I thought I couldn't bear the heat another minute, the door opened. He carefully lifted me out and set me on the shelf to cool. Oh, that felt good. This is much better, I thought.

After I cooled off, though, he picked me up and brushed paint all over me. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. "Please stop it, stop it!" I cried. He only shook his head. "Not yet."

Then before I knew what was happening, he stuck me back in the oven. Only this one was twice as hot. I knew I was going to suffocate. I begged and pleaded, screamed and cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up when the door opened, and he took me out and placed me on the shelf again.

I cooled then waited and waited, wondering what he was going to do to me next. An hour later, he handed me a mirror and said, "Look at yourself."

As I stared into the mirror, I felt confused. "That's not me," I said. It couldn't be me. I was beautiful.

Quietly, he spoke. "I want you to remember this. I know it hurt you to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I left you alone, you'd have dried up into a useless glob.

"I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled.

"I know the oven was disagreeable, and it hurt, but you would have cracked if I had pulled you out sooner.

"I know the fumes were suffocating when I brushed paint all over you, but if I hadn't done that, you would have had no color in your life.

"If I hadn't put you back in the oven, you wouldn't have hardened, and you'd never survive life's hardships.

"Now you are a finished product. What you thought was intended to destroy you, I meant for your good. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began molding you."

God is the Master Potter. We are His clay. He wants to mold us and make us into beautiful vessels for His use. He knows what He's doing. He will expose us to just enough pressure of just the right kind so that we may be made into a flawless masterpiece to fulfill His pleasing and perfect will.

So, when life seems hard, and you are being pounded and patted and pushed almost beyond endurance; when your world seems to be spinning out of control; when you feel like you are in a fiery furnace of trials; when life stinks, try this:

Brew a cup of your favorite tea in your prettiest teacup. Sit down and think about this story. Then, have a little talk with the Potter. Let Him show you His perspective.