Friday, August 23, 2019

My Daddy Died Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



Thursday, July 4, 2019

Free To Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does that great truth apply in our human relationships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fourth of July!






Thursday, June 27, 2019

How to Start Being What You'd Like to Become

When I was a freshman at Seattle Pacific College (now University) in 1963-64, our dorm mother, Mrs. Marie Hollowell, often held meetings with us girls in her apartment. I'll never forget what she said at one such meeting:

"When are you going to start being 
what you'd like to become?"

The Cousart & Personeus Family in Pelican Parsonage
(I am front right of my brother & sister. My parents are on left.
Grandma & Grandpa in center.
Uncle Byron & Aunt Marjory Personeus on right.)
As I heard those words, I thought of my Grandma Personeus. She was my role model. My brother, sister, and I had spent nearly every summer of my grade school years with her and Grandpa in Pelican, a tiny fishing village on a large island in Southeast Alaska.

Pelican in 1953
Having young children night and day for three months is not easy when you are in your sixties, yet I could not recall Grandma ever speaking harshly or impatiently to any of us. She was always up and fixing breakfast when we got up in the morning and was the last one to go to sleep at night. After we were in bed, she wrote letters until the wee hours to keep up her correspondence with hundreds of people around the world in her beautiful schoolgirl handwriting. She was the sweetest person I knew, and she loved us and all the other children in town unconditionally.

The church in Pelican built by my family in 1948
I thought about all the older women I had known. Some were sweet, and some were crotchety. Oh, they were good people, but no one was as consistently loving and kind as Grandma. I decided I'd like to become a sweet little old lady like her. 

As I recalled the stories Grandma had told us about her childhood, I realized she had not had an easy life. Her father was demanding, strict, and harsh. 

One time, she was bitten by a beetle that took a small chunk out of her nose. As children will, she kept picking at the scab so that it was not healing. Her father scolded her and promised to spank her if she did it again. 

The next morning she awoke to discover that her rough-textured nightgown had scratched the scab off. At the breakfast table her father noticed and told her to go to her room and await the promised punishment.

A very sensitive child, she was so terrified of her father that when she tried to explain what  had  happened, she trembled so hard she couldn't speak coherently. Sobbing, all she could utter was, "My gruff gright grown scratched it off!"

Her mother had to intervene and explain what she was trying to say.

As children, we thought that story was funny, and that is how she told it, laughing at her twisted words. But thinking about it as an adult, I could see that it showed how much she feared  her father.

The eighth of eleven living children (two others had died in infancy), she was allowed to only complete the first eight grades, although she loved school and longed to go to high school. When her older brothers and sisters left home to be missionaries, Their father disowned and disinherited them for not doing what he wanted them to do. Grandma was forced to leave school and take over their chores of printing and distributing the newspaper her father wrote and published.

Grandma & Grandpa Personeus in 1959
When Grandma left home at the age of 21 to study for the missionfield, she too was disowned and disinherited. She was not allowed to return to the family home again. 

By the time I  went to college, she and Grandpa had spent nearly 50 years as missionaries in Southeast Alaska, living by faith under often less than favorable living conditions, but she never complained. She had survived many serious falls on ice and snow as well as several life-threatening illnesses, but she didn't let those hardships deter her from her mission, caring for the sick and taking in orphaned children, cleaning and washing clothes on a washboard.

As I  pondered what made her different from so many others, I realized that she had allowed the trials of her life to make her better not bitter. She loved the Lord, communing with Him daily and continually putting the needs of others ahead of her own. She unselfishly served people out of love. Children and young people enjoyed being with her, listening to her stories of their early days in Alaska.  She often told us,

"The way spell true J-O-Y is to put 
Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last."

My observations showed me that no one becomes like Grandma Personeus just by growing old. We become what we have practiced throughout our lives. Those who love and serve others in spite of their own difficulties grow sweeter, and people love to be around them. Those who think only of themselves grow even more selfish, and and people tend to avoid them.

As a freshman girl, I determined to become a sweet little old lady. That's been my life's goal. I've striven to that end. I'm old now, and I'm not completely there yet, but I'm still working on what I'd like to become--to be like Grandma, and to be like Jesus.

Are you becoming what you'd like to become? What do you need to change today?



To read more about the Personeuses, visit my website, www.annaleeconti.com, where you can order my book, Frontiers of Faith, the story of Charles C. and Florence Personeus, Pioneer Missionaries to Alaska, "The Last Frontier," 1917-1982, directly from the publisher.


The Personeuses are the inspiration for my Alaskan Waters Trilogy, a set of inspirational novels based on true stories they told. (The Penningtons in my fiction stories are based on the Personeuses.) They are also available from my website.





Thursday, June 20, 2019

Are You Flourishing?

The Kittitas Valley (with irrigation) where my parents have lived since 1980 (North Cascades in distance)
When I visit my family in Central Washington State each summer, I am struck by the effects of irrigation. Without it, the landscape is a desert with only dusty-looking sagebrush, sand, and rocks. Wherever there are irrigation ditches, tall, green trees flourish.

Land between the Kittitas and Yakima Valleys without irrigation
The primary industry of that region is the production of fruit: orchards of luscious apples, peaches, pears, apricots, prunes, cherries cover the hillsides everywhere, made possible by irrigation. My brother and two nieces have spent many years working in the fruit industry in the Yakima Valley.

In fact, about 11 billion apples are grown and handpicked in Washington State every year. According to the Washington Apple Commission: "If you put all of the Washington State apples picked in a year side-by-side, they would circle the earth 29 times."

My niece in one of their orchards
Not only is Washington the nation's largest producer of apples, it holds the largest market share of  red raspberries. Washington leads the nation in the production of twelve agricultural commodities:

Red raspberries, 90.5 percent of U.S. production
Hops, 79.3 percent
Spearmint Oil, 75 percent
Wrinkled seed peas. 70.4 percent
Apples, 71.7 percent
Grapes, Concord, 55.1 percent
Grapes, Niagara, 35.9 percent
Sweet cherries, 62.3 percent
Pears, 45.6 percent
Green peas, processing, 32.4 percent
Carrots (2011), 30.6 percent
Sweet corn, processing (2011), 29 percent

The land also abounds with wide fields of timothy grass (hay), wheat, alfalfa, corn, potatoes, carrots, peas, sunflowers, etc. And irrigation makes it all possible.

The words of Psalm One immediately come to my mind. It describes the righteous as being "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatsoever he does prospers" (vv. 2, 3, NIV).

And Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life," and couples that with the thought that "he who wins souls is wise." 

In 1 Peter 3:15, we find two aspects of soul winning: (1) living the lifestyle that attracts people to ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have; and (2) the continual preparedness to win souls when the opportunity arises.

To be soul winners, we must walk our talk!

Without water, trees do not flourish. Without Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sin. 

One of the symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is water. Just as water is necessary for physical life, so the "washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5-6, NIV) is the means of our spiritual life and vitality. In order to win souls, we must first be "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:3b, NKJV).

The Holy Spirit wants to grow the fruit of the Spirit in us: love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22, 23). Only then will we be effective soul winners.

Are we trees of righteousness? Are we flourishing? Are people attracted to Jesus in us?

O Holy Spirit, bathe us, refresh us, and renew us in His love and power!    


Books by AnnaLee Conti (click name to read more about her books)




  

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Everlasting Arms

One of the joys my husband, Bob, experienced as a pastor was dedicating babies to the Lord.

My husband dedicating a baby to the Lord
 Just as Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple to present Him to the Lord (see Luke 2:22), parents in our churches bring their youngsters at an early age to dedicate them to the Lord, promising to raise them "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." The church agrees to provide spiritual assistance through godly counsel, Christian education, and the fellowship of believers.

When the parents would place their child in Bob's arms for the prayer, the infant would usually rest quietly against his broad chest soothed by the full, resonant tones of his baritone voice.

One Sunday, however, as Bob prayed, the fussing baby began to wail and flail his arms and legs and would not be comforted. Bob just held him securely and kept right on praying. He felt bad for the embarrassed parents and frustrated that he had been unable to comfort the child.

After the service, a godly grandma in our congregation sought him out. "Oh, Pastor, what a beautiful dedication!"

Shocked, my husband listened as she continued, "As you were praying, I thought of how God always holds us in His arms. Sometimes life throws a lot of bad stuff at us and we struggle and fuss and squall. But in spite of that, God keeps on holding us securely in His strong arms."

Dottie Rambo wrote a beautiful song during a time when she was going through hard trials and God reminded her that she was held securely in God's strong arms of love, Sheltered in the Arms of God. (Click title to listen to her story and the song she wrote.) What a blessing this song has been to many! Often it is in the hard things God proves to us who He is and what He can do.

I love the promise God made through Moses in his final farewell to the Children of Israel in Deuteronomy 33:27, 

"The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

For more than seventy years, those arms have never failed me. 

When you go through trials and troubles, remember that God's arms are everlasting. They never fail. As someone once wrote, "With God behind you and His arms beneath you, you can face whatever lies ahead." 


Books by AnnaLee Conti (Click here for more information)





Friday, June 7, 2019

Fear of the Dark

My grandparents, Charles & Florence Personeus
Pelican Church with attached parsonage (left) in the Fifties















As a child, when I visited my grandparents in Pelican, Alaska, each summer, my bed was in a huge room above the church sanctuary. To get to it, I had to climb two flights of stairs and then a few more steps and turn left into the dark room. There was no light switch on the wall. It took all the courage I could muster to run to the center of that room, heart pounding, and fling my hands high over my head until I located the single cord to pull to turn on the overhead light. The light quickly dispelled my fear.

I don't know why I was so afraid. I wasn't usually afraid of the dark. But going into that dark room spooked me.

Isn't that like our fear of the unknown?

We are unsure of what lurks in the future. We imagine so many things that MAY happen--poverty, sickness, loss of loved ones, and the list can go on and on. We die a thousand deaths from fear of what tomorrow may bring.

In Matthew 6: 25-34, Jesus warned His disciples about worrying over the future. Essentially, He reminded them that God takes care of the birds and the flowers of the field. "Are you not of more value than they are?" He asked.

Then He told them that people seek after food, drink, and clothing, but their Heavenly Father knows they need these things.
Courtesy Google.com

In other words, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Here are some of my favorite quotes about worry:

"Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength." 
--Corrie ten Boom


"Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere."
--Erma Bombeck


“There is a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, and a concerned person solves a problem.” -- Harold Stephen


“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
– Winston Churchill



“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.”
– Mary Hemingway


I find comfort in the song written by Ira Stanphill, "I Don't Know About Tomorrow." When I find fear creeping in, I sing those words and worry must flee.


Books by AnnaLee Conti



Thursday, May 30, 2019

Peace in the Midst of Storms

Seeing all the news reports of severe storms in the Midwest and Facebook stories from friends about hiding in their storm cellars for hours these past few weeks has brought to mind my experiences with floods, thunderstorms, and tornadoes.


As a young child living in Juneau, Alaska, in the late forties and early fifties, where it could rain for weeks on end, thunderstorms just didn't develop there. I didn't experience thunder and lightning until our family's first trip to Philadelphia when I was in kindergarten. 

One night, as I lay in bed listening to my grandfather's loud snores, flashes of light outside suddenly lit up the room and loud cracks of thunder drowned out all other sounds. I'd loved fireworks on the Fourth of July, but it was October in a big city, so I was sure it must be something else. 

Were we under attack? It was only five years since the end of World War II, and in Alaska, the only American soil invaded by the Japanese, and with nuclear war on the horizon, we still practiced air raid drills in school. Of course, my fertile imagination could conjure up the worst scenario.

My whimpers must have awakened my grandfather sleeping in the twin bed across from me. I heard his deep voice reassure me in the midst of the storm. "Don't worry! It's just thunder. The storm will pass soon." 

How many times since then have I heard the voice of Jesus whisper, "Peace, be still!" in the midst of my life's storms?

Two months after our wedding in 1967, Bob and I went through the worst flood of the Chena River in the history of Fairbanks, Alaska. I have previously written about that miserable but unforgettable experience. Click here to read it.

During the mid seventies, Bob and I moved to Springfield, Missouri, so he could prepare for the ministry at Central Bible College and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Part of Tornado Alley, Springfield sported spectacular thunderstorms as well as tornadoes.

Our first night there, we were staying with friends until we could move into our rental house. Bob had gone to bed and fallen asleep immediately while I was still getting ready for bed. Just as I was about to crawl under the covers, out of nowhere, a huge flash of light just outside our window and a deafening boom awakened Bob. Only back from Vietnam for two years, he leaped up and grabbed me, shouting, "Incoming! Incoming! Hit the floor! Take cover!"  

A few months later, in our rental, one morning as I dressed for work, I heard distant rumbles of thunder. Bob had already left to drop off our son at nursery school on his way to his morning class. As I combed my hair, I felt the sudden urge to pray for the safety of the house and all its contents.

No sooner had I uttered the words when with a great flash of light, the house shook violently. It felt like everything had exploded around me. Still trembling, I checked around and found no damage. Later, I learned that the house next door, just a few feet from ours, had suffered a direct strike that fried all of the electrical appliances inside.


I also recall the many tornado warnings. One night, while Bob was still at his night job, the radio warned of tornadoes. Our son and I could hear the telltale freight train roar as a tornado barreled down a nearby street. We had no storm cellar. Our son's bedroom closet was the only inner space with no windows, so I frantically tossed everything out so we could squeeze in and shut the door until the danger was past. 

During another memorable storm, I stood at a fourth floor window of the Assemblies of God Headquarters building where I worked, looking out at a storm surging over the city. My legs were resting against the air conditioning/heating radiators just under the windows. Suddenly, I felt the walls pushing against my legs from the force of the winds. I backed away quickly. 

That day, several tornadoes touched down on the south side of town. The house of one of the employees was hit. Her young son was home with his babysitter. The tornado sucked him up and carried  him away. When the storm passed, they found the baby caught in a nearby tree, crying with fright but unharmed. Later, as they searched through the rubble, his mother found something to laugh about. The tornado had taken one shoe and left the other of every pair of shoes she owned.

We now live in the Mid Hudson Valley of New York, where thunder rolls and echoes up and down the river. Washington Irving, in his classic story, Rip Van Winkle, compared the thunder rolling up and down the valley to men in the Catskill Mountains playing nine pins (bowling).

When I was teaching a class of second graders in a Christian school near us, we returned to our classroom from lunch one day in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm. One side of the classroom was a wall of windows that afforded a front row view of the storm's ferocity. Someone mentioned tornadoes, and the children panicked.

I opened the Bible to Psalm 29, which vividly describes a thunderstorm--its approach as it grows in intensity, its full impact as lightning hits nearby trees and splits them, its frightening effects that strike fear to even the animals, causing some to give birth. And then the storm passes into the distance, and still the Lord sits enthroned as King and blesses His people with peace. As I read the psalm aloud, the children's fear subsided, and soon the storm was over.

How comforting to know that in all our storms, weather-wise, emotional, or spiritual, God gives us peace--peace in the midst of the storm as well as when the storm has passed by!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Memorial Day Poppies

Courtesy Google.com


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 Google.com
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