Thursday, May 23, 2019

Memorial Day Poppies


Growing up in Alaska, I remember making poppy posters every May in school for a Memorial Day contest. My mother had won the all-school prize in the contest when she was in the same grade school, and I wanted to do the same. I never won the big prize, although I often won the class prize.

I knew the purpose of the poppies were to remind us of soldiers who had died in wars, but I didn't know how poppies came to symbolize the fallen, so I did some research.

Poppies have been grown for centuries for their brilliant flowers and as medicinal herbs, but they are technically classified as weeds because of their tenacious quality. Their seeds lie in the ground and spring to life when the soil is disturbed.

From 1914 to 1918, the Great War, now known as World War I, ravaged the landscape across Western Europe, where most of the fiercest fighting took place. Some 8.5 million soldiers died of battlefield injuries or disease. 

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae served as a Canadian brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit in northern France and Belgium (then known as Flanders), where the Battle of Ypres tore up the fields and forests, wreaking havoc on the plants, trees, and soil. About 37,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded, or went missing in the battle, as well as 37,000 on the German side. A good friend of McCrae's was slain. 

Early the following spring, 1915, McCrae noticed bright red blooms springing up from the battle-scarred ground. Struck by the sight of the poppies, he wrote a poem, "In Flanders Fields," in which he channels the voice of the fallen soldiers buried under those hardy flowers:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Flanders Fields Cemetery Courtesy
Interestingly, the lime content in Flanders Fields was so increased by the battle that today only poppies flourish there.
Published in Punch magazine in late 1915, the poem soon became one of the most famous to emerge from the Great War. Even though McCrae himself died in January 1918 from pneumonia and meningitis, his poem's fame spread to America, where it inspired Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, to write her own poem in response, which she titled, "We Shall Keep Faith." In it, she accepts the challenge, saying, "We caught the torch you threw/And holding high, we keep the Faith/With All who died."

Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a remembrance of the sacrifices made in Flanders fields. She bought red fabric and made a batch of poppies for herself and her colleagues to wear. After the war, Michael taught a class of disabled veterans and realized they needed financial and occupational support. She came up with the idea of making and selling red poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.

Eventually, Moina convinced the Georgia branch of the American Legion Auxiliary, a veteran's group, to adopt the poppy as its symbol. Soon, the National American Legion voted to make the poppy its official national emblem.

While other countries wear the red poppies on November 11, Veteran's Day, which honors all living veterans, Americans wear the symbolic red flower on Memorial Day to commemorate the sacrifice of the many men and women who have given their lives fighting for their country in all our wars.

And thank you, Jesus, for laying down your life for our sins!


Thursday, May 9, 2019

In Memory of My Mother

As an adult, I only spent a couple of Mother's Days with my mother because we lived on opposite coasts, but I always sent her the prettiest card I could find. In later years, I was able to call her. She's been gone for nearly seven years now, but her influence on my life still lingers. The daughter of Charles and Florence Personeus, the first Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska (1917-1982), my mother followed in their footsteps in ministry.

Mother playing the piano at about 85 years of age
In Alaska, at the age of 10, Mother taught herself to play the piano. "I was just playing the notes," she said, "but I wanted to play better."

In her early twenties, she heard someone play "fancy," as she called it. One night, she prayed, "Lord, please help me to play fancy." She went to bed, and dreamed that she was playing all over the keyboard.

The next morning, when she awoke, she went to the piano and began to play. For the first time in her life, she was able to play fancy. "It was God who gave me the ability," she said. She played the piano or organ for services in every church they pastored. Until the last week of her life at the age of 89, in spite of Parkinson's and cancer, she played hymns from her wheelchair in the senior living home in the dining room at meal times, running arpeggios all up and down the keyboard.

Mother & Me
A favorite memory of my childhood was waking from Sunday afternoon naps to hear her playing the piano and singing hymns in her beautiful soprano voice. She gave me piano and singing lessons. Whenever I would practice, if she heard a wrong note, she'd called from the kitchen to let me know.

When I was four years old, my parents began operating a children's home in Juneau, Alaska. While Daddy worked to support the home, Mother cared for the thirteen children, including her own three preschoolers. Nine of us were under five with two babies in cribs, and Mother often had no help. Sometimes she'd get so busy feeding and looking after us children that she'd forget to eat.

After five years, her health broke, and my parents had to close the home. A few years later, my father became a pastor, first in Pelican, then in Seward while I was in high school, and in Valdez after we left home.

Throughout their years of pastoring, Mother worked alongside my pastor-father in music, children's and women's ministries, and visitation. She had begun writing Christian songs when she was 16 and before she died had compiled a book of 44 of her songs and a Christmas cantata she had composed. She sang solos, duets with my father or me, and trios and quartets with various members of our family in church and on the radio. She directed and often wrote all the Christmas and Easter programs.

My parents, Bob & AnnaMae Cousart
In addition to her church work, she was active in the community as well as in PTA, including several years as president. In Juneau, she served on the city and territorial election boards, which counted the votes when Alaska voted for statehood, working 26 hours straight. She also collated the Constitution for the new state. In Valdez, Mother worked as a U. S. postal clerk. When they moved to Fairbanks, she conducted weekly church services in the Pioneers' Home. She was not allowed to read the Bible, but she could sing anything she wanted, so she set verses to music and sang them.

After 25 years ministering in Alaska, my parents spent well over 30 years pastoring in the Yakima and Kittitas Valleys of Central Washington. For a few years, they also ran a Christian school there.

Mother was one of the most creative people I have ever known. In addition to composing songs, she wrote poems, articles, short stories, and teaching materials for church publications. An excellent seamstress, she worked her way through college doing alterations in a dress shop and made most of her own clothes as well as ours. I don't think she ever bought a dress she didn't remake to add her special touch to the design.

A wonderful cook and baker, she sold pies and cakes for the Cookhouse in Pelican and decorated cakes for special occasions. Two I remember specifically: a Grumman Goose seaplane carved out of cake and frosted to look like an Alaska Coastal plane for my father's birthday. (He had been boss of cargo at that airline for 10 years in Juneau.) For a PTA event in Seward, she carved out a large apple from layers of cake and frosted it a shiny red--an apple for the teacher. It looked just like a real apple, only much bigger.

Mother also invented a method of crocheting with plastic wrap and wrote a book, AnnaMae's Plastic Wrap Crochet Craft, which tells how she cut and worked with plastic wrap and included many of her own patterns. She sold her creations at bazaars, craft fairs, and gift shops, although she gave most away as gifts. I have a complete set of her lovely plastic wrap Christmas tree ornaments in a variety of colors. The pearly white snowflakes and angels are my favorites.

She loved to invent gadgets and new ways of doing things. One time in Pelican we were viewing a Billy Graham film in church when the 16-mm projector broke. She fixed it with a bobby pin and the show went on.

Mother was a perfectionist and had strong opinions she was not afraid to express. She never accepted the mediocre in herself or us. When she taught us girls how to sew, she made us rip out seams until we sewed them straight. We began paraphrasing Galatians 6:7, "Whatsoever a woman 'seweth,' that shall she also rip."

We often said that Mother "trod where angels feared to tread." During the summer of the Gulf oil spill, she wrote several letters to President Obama telling him he needed to declare a national day of prayer for the situation. I imagine that in heaven Mother is now teaching angels how to sing.

Above all, Mother loved the Lord and did all she could to see that everyone she else knew Him too. She was a woman of strong faith and experienced many healings through prayer. At her knee I learned to pray. In her kitchen I learned to cook and clean and iron.

In fifth grade I wrote a poem about my mother. One line said, "She is concerned, of that I am sure,/That I live a life that's clean and pure." I still believe that. In spite of her sometimes annoying perfectionism, I always knew she loved me and was praying for me until the day she went home to be with the Lord. I like to think that she is still praying for me from inside the Pearly Gates.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

After the Storm

This morning while I was eating breakfast, I glanced out the window and saw the old lilac bush at the edge of our lot weighted down with lush blossoms. The bush was already old when we moved here twelve years ago, and I have never seen it bloom with so many flowers. What was different this year?

Macroburst in Hudson Valley last May
Then I remembered that the middle of last May the storm of the century had exploded upon us  The Hudson Valley and especially our area had been hit by a macroburst that generated winds of at least 110 miles per hour on the ground.

A macroburst is an outward burst of strong winds at or near the surface with horizontal dimensions larger than 2.5 miles and occurs when a strong downdraft in a severe thunderstorm reaches the surface. (If the diameter is less than 2.5 miles, the downburst is a microburst.) High winds hit the ground and burst out in a all directions.

Our mobile home park took the full brunt of the storm, which also generated several tornadoes up and down the river. Many trees toppled on homes causing much costly damage. In fact, entire tree-covered hillsides are still littered with uprooted and fallen trees that became even more noticeable after the leaves fell off last fall and snow highlighted each one. With the arrival of spring, new life is camouflaging the damage.

That storm nearly destroyed our lilac bush. Because damaged branches hung over the street. the park manager pruned out many torn or fractured limbs. I wondered if the bush would recover.

Today, out of curiosity, I looked up how to prune lilac bushes. Knowing when to trim lilac bushes is important, I learned. In fact, the best time to prune is right after their flowering has ceased. This allows new shoots plenty of time to develop the next season's blooms. If pruned too late, you can kill the developing buds.

Last year's storm had hit at exactly the right time to prune lilac bushes!

Storms are God's way of pruning His green earth. The Bible uses the figure of pruning to teach us a valuable lesson:

In 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul compares God's people to a vineyard. God is the husbandman. He wants His people to bear fruit, so He prunes the vines (believers in Christ) to help us be more fruitful. Hebrews 12:6 points out that God disciplines every one He loves. John 15: 2 says that if a branch does not bear fruit, He "takes it away." This word in the Greek  means "to raise up, elevate, lift up." In the first century, when a plant wasn't producing fruit, the vinedresser would lift it up so it could get more sunlight.

Even the branches that bear fruit are pruned so they may be even more fruitful. We need God's help to grow even more in Him. God uses the storms and hardships in our lives to grow us, to help us become more like Him.

That's why we can say that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, NKJV). People often forget to read the next verse which explains how all things work together for good--that we might be "conformed to the image of  His Son," Jesus Christ.

Pruning is not pleasant. It hurts. But it is for our betterment.

Are you going through a difficulty right now? Be encouraged. Allow God to make you more like Jesus through this time of pruning.

Books by AnnaLee Conti

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Story Goes On!

The Garden Tomb just outside Jerusalem
Easter is past. The tomb is empty! And the story goes on!

The Bible tells us that on the evening of the first Easter...

The disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was standing there among them! "Peace be with you," he said. As he spoke he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his side. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord! He spoke to them again and said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." 
John 20:19-22, NLT

The links in the chain of the plan of Redemption began in eternity past when the Father and the Son devised salvation's plan. In their foreknowledge, they knew that Adam and Eve would sin, so they planned that the Father would send the Son, the Son would suffer and die as the Redeemer of the world, and the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to preach the gospel and be witnesses of the provision for salvation from sin through Jesus' death and resurrection.

The Father and the Son had completed their parts. Now, as Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit, He was passing the baton to them. Through the power of the Holy Spirit that would be imparted to them on the Day of Pentecost, they must now spread the gospel to the world that was waiting to hear the story of Redemption. 

The disciples were the connecting link between Christ and the world He had died to redeem. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Then Jesus added, 

If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you refuse to forgive them, they are not forgiven.
John 20:24, NLT

This was a reference to the forgiveness of sins that He had just told them should be preached in His name. The forgiving of sins would in reality be the work of Christ, although its proclamation and pronouncement would be by His disciples. He was committing to them the preaching and propagation of the salvation He had purchased with His blood.

Today, as His disciples, we too are sent into the world with the message of salvation.

Christianity is always one generation from extinction.

Are we doing our part to spread the Good News to our generation?

Books by AnnaLee Conti

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Prophecies Fulfilled In Jesus' Death

Image result for the crucifixion painting
Rembrandt's Painting of the Crucifixion
Every detail of Jesus' death on the cross was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Eight hundred years before the time of Jesus, David, king of Israel, described the Crucifixion in great detail in Psalm 22:

I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, "Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him!" 
My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint....
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth....
My enemies surround me....
They have pierced my hands and feet. 
I can count every bone in my body. 
My enemies glare at me and gloat.
They divide my clothes among themselves, and throw dice for my garments 
(vv. 6-8, 14-18).

It reads like the Gospel accounts, yet when David wrote it, crucifixion had not yet been devised!

The Book of Isaiah was written about 700 years before the time of Christ, yet Chapter 53 reads like an eyewitness account of the trial and execution of Jesus. Verse 7 says:

Image result for pontius pilate condemns jesusHe was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not  His mouth.

In the Gospels we read that He was tried by the high priest, the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council), and Pilate (the Roman governor--only he could give the death penalty). Jesus had no defense attorney, and He refused to speak on His own behalf. Only when He was forced to answer a direct question did He even open His mouth.

When Pilate turned Him over to the Roman soldiers to be scourged, they dressed Him as a king and pressed  a crown of thorns on His head to mock Him. Blindfolding Him, they struck Him and tried to get Him to prophesy who had hit Him. Through all this, He did not utter a word--just as Isaiah had prophesied.

Isaiah 53:9 describes Jesus' burial:

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death. 

Neither violent nor a deceiver, Jesus did not deserve to die. Crucified as a common criminal between two thieves, He would have been buried in a mass grave, but Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and influential man, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and buried Him in his own newly hewn stone tomb.

At least 16 specific details of the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament were fulfilled to the letter in of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. According to the laws of probability, the chance of these events happening in the life of one individual is infinitesimal!

Fulfilled prophecy is one unimpeachable proof that the Bible is the Word of God. Biblical prophecies span many millennia, deal with individuals, cities, nations, world events, and cover moral, social, and spiritual movements, as well as the physical universe, the kingdom of God, and Jesus Christ.

They are detailed and specific, often contrary to all normal expectations, and given long in advance of their fulfillment. Yet, literally hundreds of prophecies have been perfectly and meticulously accomplished. That's why we can have confidence that those which have not yet been fulfilled will be fulfilled to the last detail.

No other book in the world contains such specific prophecies. Other so-called prophecies are so vague that they could be "fulfilled" in many ways, but the Old Testament prophecies were so detailed that their fulfillments were obvious.

Fulfilled prophecy is God's seal of authenticity as 
the Author of the Scriptures.

Books by AnnaLee Conti

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Donkey's Story

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. I love to write stories of how it might have been behind the scenes in Bible stories. If the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem could talk, here is the story he might have told about that first Palm Sunday:

I had always wished I were a horse. Standing beside my mother, I often watched the horses go by carrying Roman soldiers. How important they seemed! Once, I even saw Pontius Pilate, the the Roman governor in Jerusalem, ride by. His horse acted so proud. I nickered. If only I could carry a king. But I knew kings didn't ride donkeys.

Still, I was anxious to grow up, to be useful, no matter what my life's work would be. Whenever Isaac, my master, needed a worker, I would bray in my deepest voice, trying to attract his attention so he would let me help. But he always chose my big brother instead. I felt useless and unhappy.

Then today, two men untied me. I could hardly believe what was happening. At last, I was going to be useful! I was a little nervous, but I walked as tall as I could, ears up, back straight. I may not be as regal as a horse, but I would do my best.

I wondered what these two fellows had in mind for me. Who was this Jesus they said needed me? Isaac seemed to think he was a good man--a prophet, he said.

As we neared Bethphage, I saw a small group of people gathered around a man. He looked rather ordinary, until I got close enough to look into his eyes. His eyes--how kind and gentle they were...yet sad too. I'd never seen eyes like his before.

The two men, "disciples" they called themselves, draped some of their clothes on my back since I didn't have a saddle. I stood very still as the man they called Jesus climbed on my back. I sensed his calmness, and I wasn't nervous anymore. Slowly, we walked down the dusty road toward Jerusalem. Clip-clop, clip-clop.

Soon, many people began following us. They spread their garments in the road to make a soft path for us. Some people cut palm branches and waved them as they all began to sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

By this time, everyone in Jerusalem was asking, "Who is this?"

"It's Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth," his disciples answered.

Then, someone shouted, "Let's make him our king!"

Suddenly, I remembered the old prophecy of Zechariah, "Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey's colt."

I was carrying the King of the universe on my back--Jesus, the King of kings, the very Son of God! Why, this was better than all of my dreams put together! I was blessed above all donkeys.

What if ...

What might the donkey have thought the next morning?

The next morning the young donkey awakened. The pleasant memories of yesterday lingered. After breakfast, he arched his neck and walked proudly with mincing steps back toward the city of Jerusalem.

On the way, he noticed a group of people over by the well. "I'll show myself to them first," he thought. They took no notice.

"Throw your garments down," he muttered crossly. "Don't you know who I am?"

They stared in amazement. Then someone uttered an oath and threw a stone at him.

"Miserable infidels," he thought in bewilderment. "They don't deserve me. I will go toward the market. That's where the good people will be waiting."

Courtesy Pinterest
No one at the busy market noticed his arrival. "The palm branches," he shouted. "Where are the palm branches? Have you forgotten so soon?"

Dazed, he hung his head and slowly plodded back to his mother for comfort.

"Foolish child!" She nudged him gently. "Without Him, you can do nothing."

This story illustrates a vital truth. When God uses you to do something for Him, do we try to take the glory to ourselves for what He has done through us?

Do we try to accomplish many things apart from Him?

We should not be surprised when our enterprises fail. Just as the branches cannot produce fruit unless they remain attached to the vine, so apart from Him we can do nothing. We must remain in Him and allow Him to remain in us.

And He deserves all the glory!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Harmony or Cacophony?

When I was studying music in college, I was required to learn how to play several different types of musical instruments--percussion, strings, woodwinds, brass. Even within each class of instruments, I found much variation in size, shape, sound, tone, and pitch. The tones of brass instruments stand out and may even blare; the flute trills, as does the tiny piccolo an octave higher; and the mellow strings serenade. Some are solo instruments, and some are not. Yet, each is essential in an orchestra to make beautiful harmonies.

Corrie ten Boom used to tell the story of the famous conductor, Sir Michael Costa, who was leading a rehearsal with hundreds of instruments and voices. The choir sang at full voice, accompanied by the pipe organ, the roll of drums, and the blare of horns. In the midst of all the din, the man who played the piccolo far up in a corner said to himself, “It doesn’t matter what I do,” and he stopped playing.

Suddenly, the great conductor flung up his hands and brought the rehearsal to a complete standstill. “Where is the piccolo?” he cried.

The piccolo, though the tiniest of instruments, was missed. The same is true in the Church. Though we are all created by God, we too each have unique abilities, talents, and interests. God's "orchestra" needs each one of us in order to play the beautiful harmonies that attract people to Himself. If you are not there, you are missed.

Have  you ever listened to an orchestra tune up? That sound is cacophony, but it is necessary to tune up to the same pitch, concert A. A lady in one of the churches we pastored loved to play her guitar and lead worship. She "tuned to herself," she said. That was okay as long as she was the only one playing, but when we tried to form a worship team, we had cacophony.

As Christians, we must allow the Holy Spirit to tune our "instruments" to His will for our lives in order to be in harmony with God's purpose and plan. We must learn to harmonize together, play the same piece of music, and follow the Conductor. Some instruments take the lead and are in the spotlight while others harmonize--all at the will of the Conductor. When we all blend together, exquisite music results.

God has given the Church gifts of pastors, teachers, leaders, and others who work alongside to "make harmony" in the church community. People who are not in harmony with the leaders do not make beautiful music to the Lord and do not provide a good witness to the world around us.

In an orchestra, not all instruments play all the time. Some play to provide variety, to enhance the melody, or to make a different sound. It is important that all respond on cue to the conductor.

Likewise, in the Church we need to be alert to the needs and quick to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to pray or minister, to listen and obey. When all the instruments yield to the commands of our Conductor, the result will be a beautiful, harmonious expression of praise to the Lord.

Let's offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness to the Lord.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

My Watershed Moment

Yesterday marked the 55th anniversary of the watershed moment that changed the direction of my life. The Great Alaska Earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, interrupted my freshman year at Seattle Pacific College on March 27, 1964.

Seward, Alaska, before the 1964 Earthquake

Seward after the 1964 Earthquake
My family the Christmas before the earthquake
(I am front left)

I grew up in a missionary family in Alaska in the fifties and sixties. We lived by faith on my dad's meager pastor’s salary. My personal faith grew as I experienced many answers to prayer. Feeling called to fulltime Christian service, I wanted to attend a Christian college, where I hoped to find a godly husband.

When I graduated from William H. Seward High School, I knew I couldn’t expect financial help from my family for college, but with a scholarship and money I’d saved from hundreds of hours of babysitting and ironing, I enrolled at Seattle Pacific College, an accredited Christian college closest to home.

Oil storage tanks burned for days
That memorable Good Friday in 1964, clocks stopped at 5:36 p.m. when the largest earthquake ever to hit North America struck Southcentral Alaska. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale (the Japan quake a few years ago registered 9.1), the quake centered in Prince William Sound, along the northern edge of the Gulf of Alaska. It generated tsunamis and devastated every city, town, port, connecting highway, and railroad in the region.

Railroad cars tossed like toys by the tsunamis
Horrified, I watched coverage of the destruction on television. Seward, a small port city just south of Anchorage, where my entire family lived, had been hard hit.

The docks were swallowed up by Resurrection Bay. Oil storage tanks ruptured, belching flames and black smoke for weeks. Homes were destroyed. Bridges were stranded 8-12 feet above shredded ribbons of highways. Several tsunamis carried burning debris inland, setting everything on fire. Many people were killed. For a torturous week, I didn’t know if my family had survived.

That summer, I returned home to a very different landscape. Miraculously, our church and parsonage had survived, but everything south of us was gone—many homes, the docks where my father had worked as a longshoreman to supplement his income, the shrimp cannery where I had pulled several night shifts while in high school.

Ninety-five percent of the industrial area had been destroyed. Family men couldn’t find work, let alone a single college girl.
And no one needed a babysitter.
Ninety-five percent of Seward's industrial area obliterated.

As that jobless summer progressed, I prayed and tried to have faith, but I knew it would take a miracle for me to return to college that fall. In July, evangelists visited our tiny church. We agreed together to make it a matter of special prayer, and my faith increased.

The first week of August, the local librarian asked me to help her catalog new books. She could only promise me babysitting wages (50 cents an hour at that time). It wouldn’t pay my way to college, but it was something useful to do!

While I was working at the library, a bulletin from the Ford Foundation arrived announcing an “Earthquake Relatedness” Scholarship for those who had lost a family member, property, or employment due to the earthquake. It would cover up to full expenses according to need. I was eligible.

But there was one catch. This scholarship was only for students attending universities in Alaska. I could not use it at Seattle Pacific College.

Although it was not what I’d hoped for, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayers. I immediately applied to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and felt peace. At least I would be able to continue my education.

The week before school started that fall, I received my letter of acceptance and a scholarship covering full expenses for the year. It even included money for books, a fur parka essential to living in the interior of Alaska where the thermometer reaches 50 and 60 degrees below zero for weeks on end, and spending money. And all of my credits transferred. When I graduated three years later, the scholarship had covered all of my expenses for all three years.

But that’s not all. Not only did God meet my needs, He gave me the desire of my heart.

The first week of school that fall of 1964, I met a young man at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. We married three weeks after our graduation in 1967. We will celebrate our 52nd wedding anniversary in June.

I often laughingly say, “God had to send an earthquake to introduce me to my husband.”

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Singing--Part 7: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

"Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus," a song that has become well known and well loved, was written in 1918 by singer/songwriter Helen Howarth Lemmel and has been included in most evangelical hymnbooks ever since. I grew up singing the chorus of this song often in church in the fifties and sixties as part of the congregational song service, and it became one of my favorites:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace. 

One night in my dorm room my freshman year of college, this song became especially dear to me. Feeling the pangs of unrequited love, I lay on my bed in the dark and came to grips with the fact that a summer relationship with a Christian young man had been simply a friendship, not a romance.

Me in college
My roommate and I had turned out our lights and were lying in our beds sharing our struggles about boyfriends. I knew she was hurting. 

To show her I understood, I mourned aloud how hurt I felt that I had not heard from this particular young man. I was shocked when she began to taunt me with words something like this: "You're always talking about trusting the Lord. Isn't this one of those times?"

Those words cut me. Hurt and tearful, I quit talking. But I couldn't stop thinking about what she'd said. Even though it hurt, she was right. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the song, "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus," popped into my head. 

As I sang it over silently, I felt as though I were literally looking into His wonderful face. And the things of earth grew strangely dim as I was lifted "into heavenly places in Christ Jesus," (as the Apostle Paul described in Ephesians 2:6).

The hurt was gone. I could cherish that special summer friendship. From it, I had discovered what I would look for in a husband. And I found that special someone the next year.

Now, when the challenges of life become overwhelming, I close my eyes and begin to sing, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face..." and He lifts me up to see life from His perspective. He gives me grace and strength to carry on. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Singing--Part 6: His Hands

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, forty days of prayer, fasting, and penitence leading up to Easter. While our church does not observe Lent, I don't need Lent to be reminded daily of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God offered to take away the sin of the world--my sin.

Although I had probably heard the story of the Crucifixion prior to the age of five, I was five when I realized that I had sinned and that Jesus had died for me. It was in children's church on a Sunday morning in the church my grandparents had pioneered in Juneau, Alaska. I don't recall the time of year, but I remember clearly asking Jesus into my heart and life at that young age.

A song we often sang in church became very meaningful to me then and throughout my childhood and teens. I haven't heard it sung in many years now, but I still remember it:

He showed me His hands that were marred by my sinning;
He showed me His feet that were nailed to the tree;
I then saw His brow and His side deeply wounded;
And now I love Jesus, and Jesus loves me.

That chorus always speaks to me of how much Jesus loves me. That He would go through so much suffering for you and for me demonstrates the depths of His love for us.

I remember a story of a young orphan boy who was up for adoption. Several men had applied and stood before a judge to present what they could offer the child. One offered him wealth. Another promised him a good education. Finally, the last man, not as well dressed or as well spoken, came before the judge. 

"And what can you offer?" asked the judge.

The man held up his terribly scarred hands. "I offer him myself and my love. I may not be as wealthy or as well-educated, but I love him. I am the one who saved him from the fire that killed his parents."

A hush fell over the courtroom. The judge, choked with emotion, finally spoke. "This man has already proven his love for this boy. He is awarded the right to adopt him."

Jesus' nail-scarred hands prove His love for us. As 1 John 4:19 says,

How can we refuse such love?

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Singing--Part 5: Singing Scripture

Me in high school
While I was in high school, I was the school chorus soloist and was often asked to sing for special events--talent shows, weddings, funerals, etc. During my senior year, the churches of Seward, Alaska, combined their choirs to sing Handel's Messiah for Easter. At the time, I knew nothing about this perhaps best-loved oratorio of all time, but I was asked to sing the soprano solos.

As a child, I had memorized many Bible verses and even chapters of the Bible. Even before I started school, my mother taught me a Bible verse for every letter of  the alphabet, just as her mother had taught her. (For a list of those verses click here.) Then during summer Vacation Bible Schools, I always stepped up to the challenge to memorize Scriptures. One summer, I won my first very own Bible by memorizing the most verses.

I soon discovered that the libretto of the Messiah is entirely Scripture--passages from both the Old and New Testaments of the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming--all set to perhaps the most inspired music of all time.

George F. Handel courtesy
George Frideric Handel, I learned, was born in Germany but had settled in London in 1710, as a young man. He had composed many operas and oratorios, as well as court music, and was well-established in English society and music circles.

Eventually, society tired of his Italian operas, and his debts mounted. Due to the pressures of his debts, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right arm. His doctors believed it had also caused a permanent brain injury and his days as a musician were over.

But Handel refused to give up and surprised everyone when he miraculously recovered his strength and declared, “I have come back from Hades.”

In 1741, still in debt and 56 years of age, Handel received a libretto from Charles Jennens, a poet he had worked with previously. He sequestered himself for 23 days and, writing night and day,  composed the entire 260-page oratorio, which he entitled Messiah. The work was debuted in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and was soon recognized as his greatest work. To this day, the Baroque-era oratorio still awes listeners 250 years after the composer’s death.

I immediately fell in love with Handel's Messiah. I have sung it in choirs several times since. Every Christmas I listen to my CD of it and sing along.

One thing I discovered is that singing the Word of God is just about the best way to memorize Scripture. The melodies bring the words along with them.

That Christmas in high school I sang the aria in the Messiah, "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth," from the Book of Job and echoed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20. It quickly became my favorite.

As part of my senior vocal recital in college, I performed another aria from the Messiah, Romans 8:31-34, "If God Be for Us Who Can Be Against Us?" What a precious promise!

In the 70s and 80s, I loved the Scripture choruses, which helped me learn even more Bible verses. I can hardly read the Psalms without bursting into song frequently. I find that the verses I memorized as a young child and the ones I learned set to music are the ones I can still quote word for word as I grow older. The Psalmist wrote,

Psalm 119:11, NKJV Courtesy
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Singing--Part 4: Sunsets

Sunset over Denali Courtesy
I love sunsets. My favorite posts on Facebook are sunset photos. Due to the long twilights in the winter, as well as the mountains, sea, and snow, Alaska has some of the most awesome sunsets.
Clouds in the sky make the most beautiful sunsets.

As a teenager, I discovered a song, "Just Enough Clouds," by Bill and Gloria Gaither. It isn't one of their best known songs, but it struck a chord within me. The first couplet of  the chorus says: "I want just enough clouds in my sky to make a beautiful sunset." 

Even as a teenager, I had noticed that some elderly people were sweet and joyful, while others, even some Christians, were crotchety and grumpy. They seemed to complain a lot and seldom did a smile cross their faces. They worried and talked constantly about how difficult life was. I wondered what made the difference.

Grandma & Grandpa Personeus
I'd had a close relationship with my Personeus grandparents all of my life. They had spent their lives as pioneer missionaries in Alaska. Unselfishly ministering to people in need, they had often endured hardship and illness. Yet, the joy of the Lord was evident in their smiles and actions. They were always praising the Lord and telling stories of how God had healed them and supplied their every need.They were fun to be around. Children, teens, and adults alike loved to be with them

My freshman year at Seattle Pacific College, our dorm mother once asked us girls, "When are you going to start being what you'd like to become?"

That's when it all clicked. I wouldn't just suddenly become a sweet little old lady when the I got old. No, what I did and how I responded to life when I was young is what I would become, and even more so when I got old. I needed to start becoming then what I wanted to be in my sunset years.

The song, "Just Enough Clouds," goes on to say, "I want just enough tears in my eyes to make the rainbow appear." Rainbows are formed when the sun shines through the rain. The raindrops act like  tiny prisms refracting the white light into its spectrum of colors. It's the heartaches and tears we experience in our lives that, when given to God, soften us and teach us and allow the beauty of Jesus to shine through us. They mold us and make us what He wants us to be.

So don't be afraid of the clouds and tears and heartaches that come. Just remember Romans 8:28:

How can bad things bring good? The next verse tells us how:

The good is that through the things we suffer, we are conformed to the image of Christ. God uses the trials of life to make us what He wants us to be--like Jesus!

Yes, as the song says, "I want just enough rain and just enough pain to make me what He wants me to be." I'm not totally there yet, but that's my goal!

Click title to listen to Just Enough Clouds on YouTube.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Singing Part 3: Submission

The Personeus-Cousart Family in Seward, Alaska, in 1963, the year I graduated from high school 
Perhaps growing up in a missionary family made me more aware of worldwide missions. My grandparents, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, were not the only missionaries in my family. Several of their brothers and sisters served in India, Chile, and Africa.

In school whenever I was required to read a biography, I chose a missionary biography. One that really touched my heart was the story of David Brainerd, who poured out his life ministering to Native Americans in New Jersey, New York, and eastern Pennsylvania in the 1740s, and died of consumption at the young age of 29 in the home of the well-known preacher of the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards.

I also read the biographies of William Carey, who became known as the Father of Modern Missions; Adoniram Judson, who translated the Bible into Burmese; Hudson Taylor, missionary to China; and the well-known David Livingstone, missionary to Africa.

The movie, Through Gates of Splendor, about the five missionaries martyred along the Amazon River in Ecuador, also stirred my heart. Jim Elliot, one of the men who was killed by the Auca Indians, had also been motivated by the ministry of David Brainerd.

As I began to sing more solos in church, the theme of Christian service flowed through many of the songs I chose: "My Task," "I'm His to Command," "I Will Serve Thee," "Make Me a Blessing," "Come and Tell Us of Jesus," and "Submission," an old gospel song with a powerful message, written by C. Austin Miles, Philadelphia pharmacist turned hymn writer. The lyrics of "Submission" really arrested my attention. (Click the title to listen to it on YouTube.)

1.     The path that I have trod,
Has brought me nearer God,
Though oft it led through sorrow's gates .
Though not the way I choose,
In my way I might lose
The joy that yet for me awaits

Not what I wish to be,
Nor where I wish to go,
For who am I that I should choose my way?
The Lord shall choose for me,
'Tis better far, I know,
So let him bid me go, or stay

2.     The cross that I must bear,
If I a crown would wear,
Is not the cross that I should take;
But since on me 'tis laid,
I'll take it unafraid,
And bear it for the Master's sake.  

3.    Submission to the will
Of him who guides me still
Is surety of His love revealed;
My soul shall rise above
This world in which I move,
I conquer only when I yield.

I had always wanted to go to a Christian college. During my freshman year at Seattle Pacific College (SPC), I attended a mission service. The speaker suggested that we should consider ourselves called to full-time Christian service unless the Lord definitely directed us otherwise. I had never heard it put that way before. I remember praying that night that if God wanted me to be a missionary, He would direct the circumstances of my life in that path.

A few months after I prayed that prayer, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake devastated Southcentral Alaska, where my parents were missionaries. Ninety-five percent of the industrial area of our town of Seward was destroyed.

I had planned to work in the shrimp cannery on the waterfront that coming summer to pay for my next year at SPC. But the cannery had been swept away in the tsunami. And the docks where my father worked as a longshoreman to supplement his meager ministry income was gone too. I could find no work that summer, so I had no money to return to SPC that fall. That's certainly wasn't part of my plans for my life!

Our graduation day in 1967
Then I learned that Ford Foundation had set up an Earthquake-Relatedness Scholarship. Since my father and I had lost employment due to the earthquake, I qualified. But it could be used only in colleges in Alaska. At that time, there were only two, one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. I chose the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

There, I met my husband. He was planning a career in the Army. After much prayer, I felt God wanted me to marry him.

After his tour in Vietnam, God began to move in his heart to go into full-time ministry in the Northeast. He resigned his commission, went to Bible school and seminary. In 1977, we came to New York to pioneer a new church in Gloversville. After 40 years of ministry in three churches in New York State, we are now retired from active pastoring. Our ministry now is to be encouragers in our local church.

The path by which God leads us may not always be the way we might choose for ourselves, but we've found that submission to the will of God is best. And He has blessed our lives beyond our expectations.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Singing Part 2: How Big Is God!

Aurora Borealis at Bear Lake, Alaska

Growing up in Alaska, I acquired a keen sense of the greatness of God as Creator at a very young age. Surrounded by magnificent evergreen-clad mountains that rose abruptly from the waters of the Inside Passage high into the sky, I would look around and see God's amazing creation every day.

I felt close to God as His creation hugged me every day while I walked to school or rode in the car.

The colorful neon displays of the Aurora Borealis on a clear, crackling winter night left me awestruck with their curtain-like shapes waving high in the sky. Then, of course, I had no comprehension of the science behind those constantly moving magnetized electrical currents in the magnetosphere and ionosphere that produced those ethereal sights. I just knew that God set them in motion.

Even the stars declared God's glory to me. The midnight blue expanse of sky stretched from peak to peak. With few city lights to fade them, the stars twinkled so close I could almost reach out and trace the constellations.  

In my early teens I heard a song that was made popular by the singing of George Beverly Shea in the worldwide crusades of Evangelist Billy Graham: "How Great Thou Art." That song spoke to me, and I began to sing it as a solo. Now, it may be one of the best known and well-loved hymns of all time.

Yellowstone Canyon
As a young adult, I visited Yellowstone National Park on a Sunday morning. Standing on the rim looking down into Yellowstone Canyon with the river flowing from its Lower Falls, I felt the breeze lift my hair. As I listened to birds twitter and the roar of the falls, I was reminded of the second verse of "How Great Thou Art," and I burst out singing all four verses at the top of my lungs across that vast canyon. That song still brings me to tears fifty years later.
Another song I learned when I was in high school and was first introduced to the theory of evolution was "How Big Is God." It was written by country-western singer and song-writer, Stuart Hamblen. His father was a preacher, but Stuart turned his back on Christianity. He became a hard-drinking, foul-talking cowboy actor. But his wife Suzie was a believer. When Billy Graham did a series of meetings in Los Angeles in 1949, Suzie encouraged Hamblen to attend. 

He did, and the message of the gospel so stirred his heart that he was unable to sleep that night, thinking about his sinful life, and where he was heading in the end. About four in the morning, he called the hotel where the Graham team was staying and asked to see Dr. Graham. He arrived at the hotel an hour later and made a decision to trust Christ as his Saviour.

The power of God changed Hamblen's life completely, and he became an effective ambassador for the Lord Jesus. He wrote many gospel songs, such as "It Is No Secret," "This Old House," and "Until Then.". Overwhelmed at what God had done, he wrote a song especially for Billy Graham’s soloist George Beverly Shea to sing, "How Big Is God." The chorus joyfully exclaims:

How big is God!
How big and wide His vast domain!
To try to tell these lips can only start;
He’s big enough to rule His mighty universe,
Yet, small enough to live within my heart.

And these songs became my testimony in response to the theory of evolution.