Thursday, February 16, 2017

Goodbye, Aunt Audrey

Aunt Audrey with two of her daughters
enjoying her 90th birthday party
Early Sunday morning, a week after celebrating her 94th birthday with her family, Aunt Audrey passed away peacefully in her sleep. An orphan raised by a couple she called uncle and aunt, she always appreciated family. She was the dynamo that held the Philadelphia Cousarts together.

She married my Uncle Jack Cousart, my father's elder brother, in March 1943, during World War II. Soon after their wedding, the Army shipped him out to the European Theater, where he spent time in France. She lived with his parents and worked at an office job while he was away.

My father, Bob Cousart, joined the Coast Guard and was sent to Alaska, where he met and married my mother, daughter of missionaries, Charles and Florence Personeus. In late 1944, they were transferred back to Barnegat Lighthouse on the New Jersey shore.

I was born in Philadelphia at the end of the war. We returned to Alaska when I was two and a half, so my first memories of Aunt Audrey were made when we flew east for a visit when I was in kindergarten, and again in second grade and fifth grade.

She and Uncle Jack never owned a car. Philadelphia has an extensive transit system of buses, the El, and subways. On my first visit, I remember trolleys, but they were soon replaced. Whenever we visited, Aunt Audrey arranged for friends to pick us up at the airport and drive us where we needed to go. And, of course, we rode the buses and the El.

We usually stayed with my Cousart grandparents in their row house on South Conestoga Street in west Philadelphia, just off Baltimore Avenue. We kids loved it when we went to Aunt Audrey's house to play with our cousins. Aunt Audrey was a great cook and made the most delicious chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten. Our visits to the zoo are among my favorite memories of those trips.

One special memory I have of Aunt Audrey was the summer of 1961 when I won a trip to New York City and the United Nations. I traveled with 35 other teens from the Pacific Northwest by educational bus tour across Canada and back across the northern United States, stopping at historical sites all along the way. During the week in New York City, our activities included a boat trip around New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Aunt Audrey rode the train to NYC from Philadelphia to join up with me for the boat trip.

The next week, our tour took us to Philadelphia to Independence Hall and all the sites of interest including Longwood Gardens. Aunt Audrey, my cousins, and my grandparents met up with me as we toured the city. Of course, Aunt Audrey was the one who made it all happen.

The next summer, my whole family drove from Alaska to Philadelphia so my dad could itinerate to raise support for his missions work in Alaska. Unused to hot, humid weather, we Alaskans sweltered in the oppressive heat in the city. Aunt Audrey opened her home in Lansdowne to us. Although it meant a lot of extra work for her, she entertained us with delicious meals and much fun in her tree-lined neighborhood.

Our first Christmas together, I wore my new dress.
In 1967, as a newlywed, I had my first experience as a "war bride" when Bob had to go to training at Fort Benning, Georgia, without me. Again, Aunt Audrey opened her home to me. Having been a war bride herself, she knew just how to comfort me. A talented seamstress, she took me shopping downtown, riding the bus and the El, to shop for material--a lovely soft green plaid wool--to make me a dress. We lunched at Strawbridge's, on the corner of 8th and Market.

After a year stationed in Germany, Bob and I returned to the USA just in time to attend my Cousart grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

For the next five months, while Bob attended the US Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, we drove up many weekends to overnight with Uncle Jack and Aunt Audrey. How we enjoyed her wonderful roast pork dinners!

It was in their home that my son, Bobby, at 3 months of age, met his Cousart great-grandparents for the first and only time. Granddad died 9 months later. Over the years, we visited Uncle Jack and Aunt Audrey whenever we could. She and Uncle Jack rode the train to attend Bobby's wedding to Sabrina in Port Chester, New York, in 1991. In 1998, when my parents came east for the last time, Bob and I drove them to Lansdowne to visit. My granddaughter, Sophia, then 5, accompanied us. Aunt Audrey gave her a stuffed elephant she'd made.

Uncle Jack and Aunt Audrey's house has always been my East Coast home. Many of my Alaska homes have been destroyed, but 151 Windermere Avenue was the one seemingly permanent link with my youth. After Uncle Jack passed away, though, Aunt Audrey found it increasingly difficult to keep up the property, so she sold it and moved to a senior living apartment in Rosemont. Whenever we could, we would stop by for a visit to take her out for lunch.

Then she moved to Glen Arm, Maryland, to live closer to her eldest daughter. We visited her a couple of times. The last time we saw her was at her 90th birthday party. On my birthday she always sent me a card and a note, and every Christmas she'd call me to chat and to thank me for the Daily Guideposts I sent her for Christmas. This past Christmas, I received a card but no note and no phone call. I knew she was failing, so I was not surprised to hear that she had slipped away to her heavenly home to be reunited with her dear husband, whom she missed greatly.

For her 80th birthday, I created this alphabetized list of things I associated with her, things that describe who she was:

Apple dishes, Antiques, Art
Buttons (she had a large collection), Books, Buses
Chocolate chip cookies, Cloth napkins with rings, Chicken salad
Aunt Audrey with her apple dishes
Dress-making, Downtown Philadelphia
Ellie the Elephant she made for my granddaughter
Family gatherings, Fun times
Good Gravy, Guided tours of Kerhonkson & Rosemont
Horn & Hardart's automated food service in NYC (a new experience for me), Hospitality, Happy times
Interaction
"Just around the corner" (everything was "just around the corner")
Knick-Knacks
Lansdowne Presbyterian Church
Mermont Circle
No air conditioning
Overnight visits from Baltimore
Pork roasts, Pies
Quality time with Quite a lot of talking
Riding the El, Reupholstering
Sauerkraut, ham, and Swiss on rye Sandwiches, Sewing, Shopping
Travel (though she never owned a car, she could travel anywhere by train), Trains, Trolleys, Tablecloths
Uncle Jack
Walking, Windermere Avenue, Wanamaker's
Xtremely
Youthful!
Zest for living!

Goodbye, Aunt Audrey! I'll miss you! I'll never forget you.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

Don't "Should" on Yourself!

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"I should have known." I sighed and continued my sad story. "I shouldn't have done that. Maybe then that wouldn't have happened."

It was mealtime at a retreat for the wives of pastors when I said those words. The lady I'd been talking with suddenly took my name badge and wrote on the back of it, "I will not 'should' on myself."

As she handed it back, she said, "You've said that several times in the last few minutes. You're trying to live in a perfect world that doesn't exist. You did the best you could with what you knew at the time."

That got me to thinking. We all tend to entertain the delusion that life should be a certain way and that bad things shouldn't happen to us. "If only we had or hadn't done such and such, painful episodes in our lives wouldn't have happened." But that's fanciful thinking.

The truth is that very painful, unfair things can and do happen in the real world. And they happen to us. They even happen to those who love and serve the Lord. Christians can hurt us, and we can hurt others.

When we dwell on the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," we only add further damage to our emotional and spiritual well being.


Instead of worrying about what we or someone else should or shouldn't have done, we need to get our minds off the past and focus on how we can overcome it now. We can't change the past. What's done is done. but we can learn from the past and profit from those lessons today.

When we realize that "nothing good lives in [us], that is, in [our] sinful nature" (Romans 7:18a, NIV), we will not be surprised when people commit sinful acts. It is not right; it is not pleasant. But given man's sinful nature, which even we as Christians must constantly fight against, evil is not surprising. Even the Apostle Paul wrote, "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (7:18b).

Realizing the truth about evil, we must fight it with all the strength available to us through God's power. And we "can do everything with the help of Christ who gives [us] the strength [we] need" (Philippians 4:13).

So, don't "should" on yourself! Confess your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Are You a Procrastinator?

When my professors in college assigned a term paper, I would begin doing the research and writing it a little at a time until it was finished. I knew I would worry and panic if I waited until the last minute.

©AnnaLee Conti
My boyfriend, who is now my husband, however, had a different style. He would mull it over in his mind until the last minute and then pull an all nighter. His term papers were certainly fresh! His father, pictured left, apparently took the same approach to studying in college.

I thrive on studying and writing. On the other hand, some tasks are so distasteful to me that I put them off until I don't dare wait any longer. If I would just get them done, though, I wouldn't spend so much time dreading them.

Some people act as though avoiding problems is easier than facing them. Avoiders ignore problems until they either go away or get worse and have to be faced. Of course, we all know that problems usually have a way of getting bigger and more painful. They don't just go away; they must be addressed.

Those who avoid problems and the emotional pain that accompanies them usually end up with more pain in the long run. Those who face their problems save themselves a great deal of unnecessary suffering. When we believe our problems will go away if we avoid them, we are fooling ourselves and risking more pain.

As parents, we must be careful about rescuing our children from their problems and depriving them of the opportunity to learn the appropriate skills for coping with life and its unavoidable problems. One of the reasons so many young adults cannot face life and are still dependent on their parents is because Mommy and Daddy, in misguided love, made excuses for them and bailed them out instead of teaching them how to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for solving their own problems.

Are you a procrastinator? Are you a problem avoider or a problem facer? The Apostle Paul was certainly not a procrastinator. He didn't avoid problems. He didn't wait until conditions were perfect before he strained to reach his goal. In his missionary journeys he stepped out in faith in spite of many problems and severe persecution (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10). He let nothing stand in the way of preaching the gospel, not his past nor his present circumstances nor the threat of persecution nor the dangers of the journey. He continually "pressed toward the goal":

Courtesy Google.com
Are you a problem avoider or a problem facer? Next time I find myself procrastinating, I'm going to remind myself that I will suffer less if I tackle it right away! How about you?

What do you do to motivate yourself to achieve your goals? I'd love to hear about it.

To receive notification by email of the release of Book Three in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, Beside Still Waters, as well as new posts on my blog, complete the coupon to the right. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus in Our Messes

Someone once asked me, "What good is it to be a Christian? I still have messes in my life."

I thought about something that had happened in my life years ago. I was sure it would make me ineffective as a minister. But you know what I discovered?

I soon found myself ministering to more people than ever. People opened up to me about their own problems in a way they never had before. They could see that having Jesus with me in the midst of my mess made a wonderful difference, and they wanted Him in their lives too.

So I answered that person by saying, "We are not exempt from troubles just because we are Christians. We are all human and have messy lives, but I'd rather have my messes with Jesus than without Him." And I quoted what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Courtesy Google.com
How many Christians believe the lie that God can't use them unless their lives are perfect and they are spiritually strong? They think that because they haven't straightened out all their own messes, they can't possibly tell their friends and loved ones about Christ. They are paralyzed by thinking their friends will say,"You haven't done very well in your own life. Why should I listen to you?"

The truth is, Christians are not perfect, just forgiven and saved by God's grace. We don't have to wait until we become spiritual giants to tell people about Jesus. We don't have to pretend to be perfect. That approach won't fool anyone. If we are honest about our struggles, telling how Jesus is giving us the strength to overcome, others may just want what we have found.

So, let your warts show and loudly proclaim what Jesus is doing in your life. Remember, the Christian life is a growing process for all of us.

Beside Still Waters, third book in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is coming soon. 

After her last living relative dies, a destitute young Boston woman accepts a teaching position in the harsh 1915 Yukon Territory, but when tragedy strikes again, she must find a new reason to live.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Is God Just Another Gadget?

Courtesy Google.com
Years ago, I got hooked on entering Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. But to enter, I have flipped through pages and pages of gadgets advertised to make life easier. And I must say, I have collected a few. Some have actually been quite useful, but others just take up space. I don't throw them away, though, because someday they might come in handy, I tell myself.

Most Americans try to find ways to make chores easier and life more comfortable. And we've been quite inventive. Trying to minimize our pain and maximize our pleasure is not bad. But when we expect life to be easy because we're Christians, we set ourselves up to believe the lie that God, like a gadget, is there to make our lives easier.

But life is not easy. Even for Christians, it's often downright difficult. Accepting that fact, however, will make life less difficult for us.

That sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? 

Jesus told His disciples to expect trouble in this life. In the next breath, He told them to "take heart." Why? Because He has overcome the world and wants to impart His peace to us.

Courtesy Google.com
A song by Annie Johnson Flint, "What God Hath Promised," has spoken to my heart in times of trouble. It goes like this:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, troubles and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing kindness, undying love.

Twice orphaned, Annie Johnson Flint was forced to give up her career in teaching after only two years when severe arthritis crippled her and put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. To endure the long days of suffering, she took up a pen into her twisted and stiff fingers and wrote many encouraging poems, articles, and letters. This poem was set to music and has appeared in many hymnals, blessing many people over the years.

As Annie Johnson Flint learned, if we don't face and accept the truth that life is difficult, we will become angry, bitter, and confused, thinking God has failed us. She chose to allow her suffering to make her better not bitter. And she became a blessing to many people.

True Christian living demands tremendous sacrifice, and that often causes pain along with the joy. Romans 8:28 promises that God will "work all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." God doesn't promise us a rose garden, but He does promise to be with us in our troubles, giving us His strength and peace, and to use the struggles to make us into the image of His Son (v. 29).

Life is not easy. It is tough and full of hardships and frustrations. Instead of letting trouble make us sour and bitter, let's use it as a stepping stone to becoming sweeter and better. As the saying goes, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade."





The third book in my Alaskan Waters Trilogy of historical Christian fiction, Beside Still Waters, is now at the publishers and will be available in the spring. Watch for further information. Beside Still Waters continues the saga of the loves, tragedies, and second chances of a Norwegian immigrant family who must battle the beautiful but often dangerous waters of early twentieth century Southeast Alaska. Can Violet allow the trials and suffering in her life to make her better not bitter?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

You Don't Have To!

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For years I struggled with being overweight. I often said, "I have to go on a diet." I tried many diets, but nothing worked.

Finally, I decided to just try to eat better. Instead of saying, "I can't eat this, and I can't eat that," I ate what I wanted but in moderation. In the next several years, I lost a significant number of pounds.

For some reason, when we feel we have to do something, it becomes a drudgery. When we do what we want to do, it becomes fun.

Are there any "have to" statements you make frequently? such as, "I have to go to work." Or, "I have clean my house." Or, "I have to pay my bills." Or, "I have to_____________."

The truth is, we don't have to do anything! God created us with free will--the freedom to make choices.

One time while I was working on a year-long writing assignment, I suddenly faced a traumatic crisis in my life. I later told someone that, as difficult as it was at the time, I had to complete that assignment, and I did. I was taken aback when he said, "No, you didn't have to. You could have let it go. You chose to complete it."

Of course, there are consequences to our choices. If I hadn't chosen to complete that assignment, my reputation as a dependable writer would have been ruined. I wouldn't have been paid, and so on.

And there are consequences to our spiritual choices that affect our present as well as our eternal welfare. We are free to see our options and take responsibility for our choices.

Before Jesus came to earth, the Law of Moses demanded that people follow certain rituals in order to please God. But Christ's death on the cross set us free from the impossible demands of the Mosaic law. We are free to love and serve God.
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Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Dark Gate

In 1939, Hitler's armies marched across Europe, and England's future looked very dark. On Christmas Day, a week before the beginning of the new year, King George VI addressed his people and urged them to have faith and to trust in God. He quoted them a poem, the story of which is basically this:

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A man was standing in front of a gate, which represented the new year. It looked very dark inside the gate. An angel stood next to the man, and the man said to the angel, "It is awfully dark in there. I can't see anything through the gate. Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown."

The angel replied, "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way. Enter through the gate into the new year without fear. The Lord will be with you."

So the man went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And God led him toward the hills and the breaking of day.

The future can indeed be very dark sometimes. The news is full of frightening prognostications. Whether we are entering into a new year or a new day or a new experience, what we need to do is to put our hand into the Hand of God, have faith in Him, and trust Him completely. Then we can enter into the future without fear, knowing that He is with us.

The Apostle Paul had come to the last days of his life. He was alone and in prison, awaiting his execution for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the midst of those trying circumstances he wrote what was probably the last letter he would pen to his son in the faith and coworker in the ministry, Timothy. Was he disheartened? Was he depressed? No! In that hour he could write words that would ring down through the centuries and encourage all those who read them:

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Are you in a dark place today? Do you know that same certainty that Paul knew? You can As the old gospel song says, simply "put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the waters." He is standing right there beside you with His hand outstretched, just waiting for you to slip your hand into His. He knows the way. He's walked it himself. And He will guide you safely Home.