Friday, June 23, 2017

No Outlet

In 1986, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of going to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked. Tears welled up as I sat in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and realized this was the site where Jesus walked on the water and calmed the stormy waves with His "Peace! Be still!"

Across the waters was the mount upon which Jesus preached His "Sermon on the Mount" and fed the five thousand with five small loaves and two fish.

At its base was the place where Jesus met with His disciples after the Resurrection and commissioned Peter to "Feed My sheep."

On the other side, Jesus cast the demons out of the Gadarene and into the herd of swine that then plunged into the sea.

 Then we followed the Jordan River through the Rift Valley south to Jericho and on to the Dead Sea. From a distance, its blue waters looked like a shimmering gemstone set in the platinum surroundings of salt formations.

Our guide explained that the area was once the well-watered plains of Sodom and Gomorrah chosen by Lot when he and Abraham parted ways. He pointed out the pillar of salt named "Lot's Wife." Lot's family was warned by the angel not to look back as they escaped the destruction of Sodom, but his wife did and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:12-29).

The natives of the area call it the Salt Sea. It contains ten times the salinity of ordinary ocean water. In fact, its water volume is more than one-fourth mineral matter. A person cannot sink in its waters. We were warned not to even stick a finger or toe into the water unless we could wash it thoroughly with fresh water because the water is so caustic.

The Dead Sea is well named. No animal life can exist in it. Fish that are swept into it by the Jordan River soon die.

The Dead Sea region is probably the deepest depression on earth. It is 1,300 feet below sea level. The bottom is another 1,300 feet below the surface in the deepest part. This hole is 2,600 feet in depth--with the Mediterranean Sea only 50 miles away.

The trouble with the Dead Sea is that it holds everything for itself. It has an intake but no outlet. Water flows in from the Jordan River, but none flows out.

How like some people who take in but never give out. Some Christians go to worship services and take in but get so busy with their own lives that they never give out to others. I want to be like a glass held under a faucet. The glass fills up and overflows to others with fresh, life-giving water.






Looking for good summer reading? Check out my newest book, Beside Still Waters, Book Three in my Alaskan Waters Trilogy, available now in paperback and ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.
 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Our Surprise Honeymoon

Last week, Bob and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary, and I blogged about the events that threatened to derail our best-laid plans. After the ceremony and brief reception on that Saturday evening 50 years ago, we hopped back into our Chevy Impala and drove the 500 miles back to Fairbanks, so we could return to our jobs on Monday. No time for a honeymoon! 

Back in Fairbanks, our working schedules were crazy that summer. Bob worked for the Alaska Highway Department from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. I worked at the Alaska Purchase Centennial Exposition from 2 p.m. until midnight. Not a great schedule for anyone, let alone newlyweds!

The Chena River flows through Fairbanks, Alaska

On July 1st, at about nine o'clock in the morning, I was jolted awake by violent shaking and a big crash as something fell on the roof above my head.

Adrenalin pumping, I hopped up and staggered to the front doorway, the best place to stand during an earthquake, and hung on. The telephone poles were jumping, the lines snapping up and down like cowboys' whips.

When it subsided, I turned on our tiny radio and learned that the earthquake that had just occurred registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. I went outside to check out the roof and discovered the chimney on our tiny rental cottage had fallen down on it.

During the summer in Alaska’s interior, it was not unusual for temperatures to soar into the 90s in Fairbanks. That summer, though, was chillier and rainier than usual. With no chimney, we couldn't use the furnace. The first week of August, the landlord built a beautiful cement block chimney. At last, we had heat.

Then it began to rain again—almost nonstop for a week. The Chena River runs through Fairbanks, and one night in mid-August, reports came that it would crest well over flood stage. Everyone stayed tuned in to their radios. We weren't too worried since our place was sixteen blocks from the river, so we went to bed but kept the radio on.

About midnight, we heard that many basements had been collapsing due to the extreme pressure from the high ground water. Our basement had a dirt floor and board walls. The furnace was there, and we had stored boxes of school books, wedding gifts that didn't fit in the tiny living quarters, and winter clothes, shoes, etc. We decided it was time to empty the basement. 

Bob had no sooner carried up the last box when two cellar walls collapsed. With a tremendous whoosh, filthy brown water rushed in. Our cottage teetered over a giant water-filled mud hole.

Outside, muddy water swirled around our house. We piled everything we could on top of our bed, chairs, and couch, all except two huge boxes that wouldn't fit.  

But how could we get safely from our house to the hotel about a block away where the radio said buses were picking up survivors to take them to the shelter set up at high school?

In back of our house was a small boat dealership. Bob waded over and broke out a skiff.

But we had no oars.

“This will have to do.” Bob held up the leaf from our Formica kitchen table.

We packed our toothbrushes and a few toiletries, our Bibles, and our wedding book into Bob's backpack and climbed into the boat, along with a few neighbors, to "row" to the nearby hotel.

A gray dawn was breaking as we paddled away at four a.m. Tears filled my eyes. Bob said, "Don't cry! We still have each other and the Lord. That's all we really need, isn't it?"

From the hotel, a bus drove us through flooded streets to Lathrop High School, where Bob had attended ninth and tenth grades. We spent a week there sleeping on the hard tile floor with at least thirty people to a room, side by side, head to toe, without bedding of any kind.

The lady whose place was next to me on the floor worked in the kitchen preparing meals for the school filled with displaced people. Secretly, she kept her white Persian cat with her, refusing to place it with the other rescued pets. The first night, I walked through the line in the cafeteria and received a chicken back with maybe four tiny bites of meat. 

Back in our room that night, the lady offered her cat a beautiful chicken thigh. My mouth watered. That finicky cat sniffed it all over and walked away. To make matters worse, Bob and I never could get rid of all the white cat hairs stuck to our new matching burgundy wool car coats.

A long week later, the waters had finally receded sufficiently that we could trudge back to the house. The flood had opened up huge craters in our tiny street. If we had not used a skiff to evacuate, we could have been swallowed up in one and drowned.


Inside the house, mud caked everything up to nine inches above the floor. Everything in the two large boxes on the floor had to be thrown out--Bob's school books and my lifelong collection of shoes and purses. 

Cold and damp, with no water, sewer, or heat, the house teetered over a basement full of filthy water. We knew we couldn't live in it. But that new chimney still stood tall!

Parked on slightly higher ground next to the house, our 1960 Chevrolet Impala had stayed dry inside, although the engine had probably been at least partially flooded. Bob opened the hood to let it dry out then tried to start it. It roared to life!


Bob still had work with the highway department, but the Centennial Exposition on the river had been completely inundated so my job was gone. We decided to load everything into our car and drive to Valdez (it took two trips) to stay with my folks until Bob's orders to active duty in the Army came through (three weeks later).




At that time, the town was only partially moved. My folks lived in the old parsonage that was connected to the old church. There, we slept in the missionary apartment above the old building, ate meals with my parents, and had a wonderful three-week honeymoon.










From the beach in Valdez, which had once been the waterfront of the old town, we fished for silver salmon, stocking my folks' freezer for the winter. 

And we explored one of the most scenic places in the world—Keystone Canyon with its Bridal Veil Falls, Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier, and the Gulkana River Gorge along the Richardson Highway north of Valdez. 


We weathered the Fairbanks Flood of 1967, but even the worst storm clouds often have a silver lining. For us, it was a honeymoon to remember.

In Thompson Pass

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fiftieth Anniversary Musings

Saturday, June 10, my husband, Bob, and I celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary.


During our first year of courtship at the University of Alaska where we were both students, the faculty advisor for our Intervarsity Christian Fellowship chapter, a confirmed bachelor from Madagascar, said, "Couples start marriage like a prince and a princess. But soon they become a wrinkled and worn old man and old woman sitting across from one another at the breakfast table, wondering what they ever saw in each other."

Bob disagreed. "They would become more like a prince and a princess to each other."

Thinking of my Personeus grandparents, who celebrated their fiftieth anniversary that year and were still very much in love, I agreed with Bob.

That inspired me to write this poem:

To Bob

(written in December 1965)

Young and in love, like a prince and a princess,
They embarked on a journey in search of success.
Through time and sharing of joys and sorrows,
An old man and woman with few tomorrows
Look in review of the years spent together.
Though wrinkled and worn from work and the weather,
In their faces the glow of contentment does gleam
That more like a prince and a princess they seem.
For, Through the years, the secret they'd found
That in quietness and confidence their strength would abound.*
For God had not promised no problems they'd bear,
But only His strength with them to share.

*In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15.

Newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Robert J. Conti
On May 22, 1967, Bob and I both graduated from the University of Alaska with plans to marry that summer. That year was also the Alaska Purchase Centennial. Fairbanks, home of the University of Alaska, was the site chosen for the Centennial Exposition. Due to the shortage of hotels/motels, most rentals in Fairbanks became daily or weekly rentals that summer, making the price prohibitive for a couple just out of college with no pay check until mid June.

We searched for several weeks and could not find a place to live. We had everything ready for our wedding but couldn't set the date until we found a home.

Bob, who had also been commissioned into the Army at graduation, was expecting orders to go on active duty at any time. When we couldn't find a place to live, he suggested that we wait to get married until after he arrived at his first duty location. He would then send for me, and we'd get married there.

That did not set well with me. I wanted my father, a pastor, to marry us. For two and a half years, I had been praying for God's will regarding our marriage. That night I prayed, "God, if we aren't married before Bob leaves for the Army, I'll know it is not Your will for us to get married at all."

The very next day we found a tiny furnished bungalow on 16th Street, a block off the main road out of Fairbanks. It was just what we needed, and the price was right. Bob rented it immediately. 

Knowing that Bob would have two weeks' notice to prepare to leave for active duty, we set our wedding date for two weeks after renting the house--June 10.

Bob was working for the State Highway Department, and I had been working as a cashier at the Centennial Exposition and living with family friends since graduation. Bob would not receive his first paycheck until the first of July, but I was paid every two weeks. Unfortunately, my first paycheck, which we were depending on to pay for our marriage license, was a day late.

When we went to pick up the license on Thursday, the day before we planned to drive to Valdez, 500 miles south of Fairbanks, we discovered that my require blood test certificate had expired the day before.

I was frantic! The state lab was only open on Tuesday and Friday mornings. The Gowins, the friends I was living with, helped me get an early Friday morning appointment at my doctor's to retake the blood test. Then Bob and I hand carried the blood sample to the state lab for testing. We then rushed the health certificate over to obtain the marriage license.

By then, it was afternoon. We still had to pick up the flowers (Valdez had no florists). But they were not ready when we stopped for them. We finally left Fairbanks at 3 p.m. for the 12 hour drive to Valdez.

Since we were nearing the longest day of the year, we had only a few hours of darkness. We arrived in Valdez in heavy rain at about 3 a.m., Saturday, our wedding day. Since Valdez had no hair salons either, I fell into bed three hours of sleep and got up at 6 a.m. to wash and roll up my hair, which would take all day to dry.


Saturday dawned clear and warm, one of those rare Alaskan days that make all the bad weather worth enduring--a perfect day for a wedding. Since we both had to go to work Monday morning, after our 7 p.m. ceremony and a reception of wedding cake and punch/coffee, we drove back to Fairbanks Saturday night. Arriving at our little bungalow about noon on Sunday, we crashed for the rest of the day.

We had no time for a honeymoon. In Fairbanks, where the sun hardly sets in the summer, the Highway Department worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. 6 days a week, and I worked from 2 p.m. to midnight at the Centennial Exposition.

But God arranged for a honeymoon in a most unusual way. I'll write about that in my next blog.

As we look back on 50 years of marriage, we both agree that our bachelor friend was wrong. Perhaps we view each other through the eyes of memory of how we looked in our youth, but we still see a prince and a princess. Yes, we've had our share of difficulties, but through commitment to our marriage and forgiveness, we've made it through the hard times.







Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Why Me, Lord?"

As president of the junior high French Puppet Club, it was his responsibility to introduce the puppet play the club was putting on for the student body. Trembling, he walked to the center of the stage.

His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Every thought fled. He lifted his notes, but the glare of the spotlight blinded him, and he couldn't read a word. He crumpled the cards, dropped them to the floor, and ran off stage.

The teacher had to announce the play.

The boy stooped down behind the puppet stage. In fluent French, he manipulated his puppet and spoke his lines without a flaw.

Daddy in 1942 in front of Calvary Methodist Church in Philadelphia
My dad, Robert Edward Cousart, was born on New Year's Day, 1922, to Roy and Laura Jensen Cousart in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he lived until early adulthood. His mother was Lutheran, but he was raised in the neighborhood Presbyterian Church, When he was old enough, he sang soprano in a prestigious Episcopal Church Boys' Choir until his voice changed. Then, he joined the Methodist Church his father attended.

Bob had been baptized as an infant but didn't realize he could have a personal relationship with Christ through faith. At the age of 19, he met two sisters who invited him to attend the annual Victorious Life Conference in Keswick Grove, at the campsite owned by Addison C. Raws near Toms River close to the New Jersey shore, held over the Labor Day weekend in 1941.

George Beverly Shea, who later became well-known as the beloved soloist for the Billy Graham Crusades, was the song leader and soloist for the conference. As a singer himself, my dad was impressed with the ministry of Bev Shea, and that weekend, he committed his life to Christ.

When some of the young people drove him home from the conference, his mother and father met him on the front steps of their home. Apparently, they immediately sensed a change in their son because they asked, "Bob, what happened to you?"

"I got saved!"

"Saved from what?" his mother asked. "You've always been a good boy."

He didn't say it, but he thought, "Boy, Mother, if you only knew!"

Over the next two months Bob began to feel that God was calling him into fulltime ministry. Recalling his French Club fiasco, he cried out, "Why me, Lord? Do You know what You're asking? I'm too shy, and I'm terrified of public speaking. How can I preach the gospel if I can't speak in front of people?"

Agonizing over the call, he determined he would not leave the house that Thanksgiving weekend until he settled that question.

During prayer, God reminded him that when He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land, Moses had posed the same objections. And although God gave him his brother Aaron to be his mouthpiece, Moses was soon speaking God's words directly to the people. Just as God equipped Moses for the calling God placed on his life, Bob knew that He would enable him to become a preacher of the gospel.

At the time, Bob was working in the real estate department of a bank in central Philadelphia. The bank offered scholarships for employees to take college classes that would enhance their work skills. Bob applied for and was granted assistance to attend Temple University to study real estate law and public speaking, as well as theology.

"I literally had to take myself by the scruff of the neck and drag myself to that public speaking course," he said, although he remembers little about the actual class.

In February 1942, Bob was granted an Exhorter's License (license to preach) in the Methodist Church. But America was at war. Bob knew he would soon be drafted. Instead, he joined the Coast Guard. After basic training at Ellis Island and radio school in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he was sent as a radioman to Ketchikan, Alaska.

There, he met the Charles C. Personeuses, who were pastoring Ketchikan Gospel Tabernacle, an Assemblies of God church. At Christmas 1943, their daughter AnnaMae came home from Bible college. Bob and AnnaMae hit it off. When she returned to school, they began corresponding. The next summer, they married.

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) and returned to Alaska to help the Personeuses build the church in Pelican.

That was just the beginning. For more than 50 years, my dad served as a missionary and a pastor. Along the way, he was elected to serve as secretary-treasurer of the Alaska District of the Assemblies of God; as president of the Seward and the Kenai Peninsula Borough school boards; as president of the local PTA,as president of the ministerial association, and at the age of 80, as mayor of Kittitas, Washington--surprising accomplishments for a boy who was petrified to speak in front of a group.

As someone once wrote, "God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called."

Is God calling you to do something you feel unable or unqualified to do?