Thursday, November 14, 2019

Beauty for Ashes

On that clear Sunday morning of May 18, 1980, my mother walked the two blocks from their house to the church they pastored in Kittitas, Washington. When she stepped out the door, she noticed a small cloud on the southwest horizon. By the time she arrived at the church, billows of dark ash clouds boiled overhead, blocking out the sun, turning the day to night in just a few minutes.

That was the day Mt. St. Helens, a volcano in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, blew its top. The eruption was witnessed by vulcanologist David Johnston, who was camped on a ridge 6 miles from the volcano, and Keith and Dorothy Stoffel, who were making an aerial survey of the volcano that morning. Miraculously, they lived to tell their stories.

At 8:32 a.m., a local magnitude 5.1 earthquake set off a landslide on the lip of the crater. Within seconds, the whole north face of the mountain began to move and collapsed, releasing super-heated gases and trapped magma in a massive cloud. Hot gases and rock debris were blown out of the mountain face at nearly supersonic speeds, wiping out everything within 8 miles almost instantly.

The shock wave rolled over the forest for another 19 miles, leveling century-old trees, leaving all the trunks neatly aligned to the north. Beyond this downed-tree zone, the forest remained standing but was seared lifeless. The area devastated by the direct force covered nearly 230 square miles.

Shortly after the lateral blast, a second vertical explosion occurred at the summit of the volcano, sending a mushroom cloud of ash and hot gases more than 12 miles into the atmosphere.

During the next 9 hours, about 540 million tons of ash from Mt. St. Helens fell like rain over an area of more than 22,000 square miles. The total volume of the ash before its compaction by rainfall was about 0.3 cubic mile, equivalent to an area the size of a football field piled about 150 miles high with fluffy ash. My sister lived in Yakima, about 85 miles northeast of the volcano. She measured 7 inches of ash on her porch. In the next valley north, ash accumulated to 4 inches on my parents' porch--like snow, but it didn't melt. When I visited my family 2 months later, it was just blowing around in the wind and making everything gritty, even my teeth!

Heat from the initial eruption melted and eroded the glacial ice and snow around the remaining part of the mountain. The water mixed with dirt and debris to create mud flows, which reached speeds of 90 mph and demolished everything in their path.

The 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption was the most destructive in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people died, and thousands of animals were killed, according to the U. S. Geologic Survey. More than 200 homes were destroyed, and more than 185 miles of roads and 15 miles of railways were damaged. 

Ash clogged sewage systems, damaged cars and buildings, and temporarily shut down air traffic over the Northwest. The International Trade Commission estimated damages to timber, civil works, fisheries, and agriculture to be $1.1 billion. Hot ash caused forest fires, and snow melt from the top of the mountain caused floods. Volcanic ash spread across the Northwest. More than 900,000 tons of ash were cleaned up from areas around Washington.

Mt. St. Helens ash
Today, scientists keep a close watch on Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. The volcano's location on the Cascadian Subduction Zone means another eruption is inevitable.

Yet, out of the ashes and destruction has come beauty. The ash has made the farmlands of Washington even more fertile. 

While Mt. St. Helens lost over 1,300 feet in height (previously, the mountain was 9,677 feet; it is now 8,365 feet) and scenic Spirit Lake was severely impacted, over time, the landscape is recovering. Different but still beautiful, it still attracts tourists.

Helenite also comes in shades of blue and red.
Unexpected and even more surprising, while cleaning up after the eruption, it was accidentally discovered that, when heated, the elements in the volcanic rock and ashes would fuse to form a rich, green gem similar to an emerald. The process was later perfected in strict lab conditions to create the magnificent deep green Helenite gemstone. Called Helenite or Mt. St. Helens Emerald, it has earned the title "America's Emerald." With its sparkle, color, and cut, it delivers the beauty of precious emeralds without the big price tag.

Isn't that just like our God? In Isaiah 61:3, He promised to comfort all who mourn:

To give them beauty for ashes, 
the oil of joy for mourning, 
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; 
that they may be called trees of righteousness, 
the planting of the Lord, 
that He may be glorified.

As I look back over my life, I remember times when I felt my life was in ashes. But God has made something beautiful out of the devastation. Can you think of a time when God turned your ashes into something beautiful?

Note: I'm still struggling to get my blood pressure down to normal. Still getting many tests and trying new meds. Significant deterioration in my cervical and lumbar spine has been discovered, and physical therapy is recommended. That will be time consuming. I will still make my new book a priority. I'm making good progress. And I will try to write a blog post from time to time. Thank you for your continued prayers. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

It's Time to Pray!

We have a collection of old Ideals books I inherited from my Personeus grandparents. Every fall, my husband gets them off the shelf to browse through them. Full of colorful pictures, poems, and short stories, they bring to our remembrance days or yore. We especially enjoy the fall scenes.

In our 1956 Old Fashioned Issue of Ideals, I came across a letter that is so apropos it could have been written about America today:

We have been the recipients of the 
choicest bounties of Heaven; 
we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power
 as no other nation has grown. 
But we have forgotten God. 
We have forgotten the gracious hand 
which preserved us in peace 
and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, 
and we have vainly imagined, 
in the deceitfulness of our hearts, 
that all these blessings were produced 
by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, 
we have become too self-sufficient 
to feel the necessity of 
redeeming and preserving grace,
too proud to pray to 
the God that made us.
                                  --Abraham Lincoln

My heart breaks when I hear the attacks on our Judeo-Christian heritage. I'm reminded of a song I used to sing as a teenager, "It's time to Pray." 

It's time to pray to the God who watches o'er us;
It's time to seek His help without delay;
The world is dark for the clouds of war still threaten;
It's time for all America to pray.
If we would keep the flag of freedom flying,
Secure the peace for which we all are crying,
It's time to pray--our sin and wrong confessing,
It's time for all America to pray!

It's up to us as people of God!

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV).

Update on my health: I've been kept busy with doctors' appointments and all kinds of test trying to get to the cause of my uncontrolled blood pressure. Continuing to try new medications to find ones that help. More tests scheduled. But I continue to look to the Lord, my Healer. Appreciate your continued prayers for me. Thank you!

Friday, October 11, 2019

In Sickness and In Health

It's been nearly a month since I've written a blog. I've been working hard on another book, Following in the Footsteps of Faith, a sequel to Frontiers of Faith, which tells the story of my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus and their miraculous faith journey as pioneer missionaries in Alaska, 1917-1982.

The sequel describes the faith journeys of my parents and myself as we too stepped out by faith into a life of ministry in Alaska and beyond.

Last week, a health crisis interrupted everything. Wednesday morning, I went in for cataract surgery. It would be more complicated than most because of my hereditary Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy, and I was a bit anxious about all the possible complications. Recalling God's promises and hymns I'd memorized many years ago, I tried to calm myself.

That morning, as I was being prepared for the procedure, my blood pressure skyrocketed to a life-threatening level. The surgery was canceled, and I was sent immediately to the ER by ambulance. Scary!

The ER was packed with sick people in the cubicles as well as lining the halls. I was taken right into a cubicle where a multitude of medical personnel began tests that ruled out heart attack, but they said I was in danger of stroke and kidney failure.

After many hours in the ER, many tests, and new medications, the pressure was not coming down. My left arm was swollen and red from the painful tightening of the BP cuff every few minutes.

In spite of meditating on God's Word and silently humming my favorite hymns, my anxiety level rose even higher. Of course, that didn't help my blood pressure.

As I lay on the extremely uncomfortable gurney, which aggravated my already chronically painful back and neck, my head was now aching too. It was a catch-22 situation. I felt hopeless. Tears flooded my eyes.

I tried to hide my distress over the situation, but my husband, Bob, who had been with me from the moment I arrived, noticed. Alarmed, he rose from his chair and and handed me a tissue. "What's the matter? Why are you crying?"

I shrugged, but I didn't need to explain. He held my hand.

"I love you," I was finally able to say.

"Why are you saying that now?" he asked.

"Because you're here." And his eyes filled with tears too.

It was a special moment. In our marriage vows more than 52 years ago, he had promised to love me "in sickness and in health." And he was again keeping that promise.

After 30 hours in the ER and a trial and error of medicines and much prayer, my blood pressure finally lowered sufficiently that I could be moved to a regular room late Thursday afternoon. But it was still high.

By Friday afternoon, my systolic blood pressure had lowered to the mid one hundred fifties, and I was cleared to go home with a handful of new medications and a low sodium diet.

I do not tolerate medications very well. I was instructed to take the meds before breakfast. The next morning, I threw them all up. And I felt weak, shaky, and lightheaded all day every day until I saw my cardiologist yesterday (Thursday). She now has me taking them with food and spread throughout the day. So far, so good. I hope I'll be able to function normally again.

Through it all, Bob has been my nurse, chef, and constant companion "in sickness and in health." He does it all without a complaint. He is an example of love in action. When God gave me my husband, He gave me a good gift!

As I continue to prepare my new book for publication, I may not be able to write my blog as often. A lot depends on my health too. But I'll keep you informed. And I appreciate your prayers.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Look to the End!

Diogenes, a renowned pagan thinker of ancient Greece, set up a tent in the marketplace of Athens with a sign which read, "Wisdom sold here."

One of the citizens laughed at the idea and sent a servant with twelve cents in Greek coins, saying, "Go and ask that braggart how much wisdom he will let you have for twelve cents."

When the servant delivered the money and the message to Diogenes, the latter answered, "Tell this to  your master: 'In all your actions look to the end.'"

When the servant brought this message home, his master was so pleased with it that he had the words painted in gold over the entrance of his house so that he and everyone else entering his home might be reminded of the end of life. Even the mere natural virtue seemed to him very valuable.

This message should speak to us as Christians today. The Apostle Paul reminds us that "we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God" (Romans 14:10, 12, NLT).

With the death of my 97-year-old father a few weeks ago, I've been reminded that even a long life is short. This life is our preparation for eternity.

The psalmist says that our life on this earth is like the flowers of the field that flourish briefly and then are blown away by the wind and remembered no more (103:15, 16).

If we live our lives with the end in mind and make our choices in the light of eternity, God will be able to say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

A plaque that always hung on my Personeus grandparents' wall pointed out,

Only one life, twill soon be past;
Only what's done for Christ will last.

And a chorus I learned as a child has influenced my daily choices throughout my life:

With eternity's values in view, Lord,
With eternity's values in view;
May I do each day's work for Jesus,
With eternity's values in view.

Are you living your life in the light of eternity? Or, do temporal values rule your life? What choices do you need to make today in the light of the fact that you will one day stand before God and give account of your life to Him?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Dash

  1. It's been two weeks since my dad went to his eternal home. Today, I've been reading through papers I brought home from his file cabinet. I came across an unmarked folder containing several poems I recognized as ones he had mentioned often in his last few years.

One poem by Linda Ellis is titled, "The Dash." It refers to the dates of our birth and death separated by a dash on our tombstone. We have no control over those dates. What really matters is the dash--what we did with our lives between those dates. By making a conscious choice to live our lives with passion and purpose, we can make our mark on the world and leave it a better place than we found it.

My dad lived his dash serving God and others. His dash was well spent. While he accomplished many things in his life, he will be remembered most for the person he was. As a Christian, loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, leader, he lived what he preached. He walked his talk. He set an example of honesty and integrity. We cherish the memory of his love, his encouragement, and his friendly smile.

  1. Another paper I found is a song sheet of the bluegrass gospel song, "Angel Band," written by Jefferson Hascall, in 1860, and sung by several popular singers, including Johnny Cash.

  2. My latest sun is sinking fast,
    My race is nearly run;
    My strongest trials now are past,
    My triumph is begun.
    • Refrain:
      Oh, come, angel band,
      Come and around me stand;
      Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
      To my eternal home;
      Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
      To my eternal home.
  3. I know I’m near the holy ranks
    Of friends and kindred dear—
    I hear the waves on Jordan’s banks,
    The crossing must be near.
  4. I’ve almost reached my heav’nly home,
    My spirit loudly sings;
    Thy holy ones, behold, they come!
    I hear the noise of wings.
  5. Oh, bear my longing heart to Him,
    Who bled and died for me;
    Whose blood now cleanses from all sin,
    And gives me victory.
  6. In the past few years in our nightly phone calls, my dad often told me he was longing for heaven and sang this song. His singing is now silenced in this life, but I'm sure he has joined heaven's choir. While I miss him, and a day no longer feels complete without my phone call to him, I know he is together again with my mother, and above all, with the Savior he loved and served so faithfully. I would not wish him back.

As David of old said at the death of his son, "He cannot return to me, but I can go to him." (I paraphrase 2 Samuel 12:23.)

I want to live my dash as my father did until the day God calls me home.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Here, There, or in the Air

My dad, Robert E. "Bob" Cousart
This week since my father's death, many memories have washed over me. For the past seven years since my mother's death, I have called him every day. This week, at the end of each day, I've had a nagging feeling that there was something I still needed to do. Then I'd realize that I miss that phone call to my dad. The day seems incomplete.

This week, I've talked with many friends and family members by phone and internet, notifying them of his passing. They often shared their memories of him with me.

One longtime pastor friend from the Kittitas Valley Ministerial Association told me that even though they disagreed on minor points of theology, my dad never let that stand in the way of cooperation and friendship with the other pastors. He said in the forty years they knew each other, he always felt encouraged after being with my dad.

After my mother died, that pastor would pick my dad up from his residence at Hearthstone Cottage and take him to the church service that pastor conducted every Wednesday afternoon at Dry Creek Assisted Living, where Daddy had lived with my mother. When he dropped my dad back at Hearthstone, he'd say, "God bless you!" And my dad would always respond, "He does!"
Daddy on the phone

Then my dad would say, "Here, there, or in the air!" That was his farewell to us too whenever we left his apartment to return to our home in New York. He was always anticipating Jesus' return.

Many people have commented on what a sweet guy my dad was. He always had a friendly smile, words of encouragement, and a ready prayer for everyone, but no one ever felt he was pushy.

And he loved to sing and worship the Lord. During our last visit, he slept a lot. I did a lot of sorting through papers and greetings cards he'd received over the past 10 to 15 years. Whenever he'd wake up, he'd look over at me and give me a beatific smile. Whenever he was in pain or struggling to get out of his reclining chair, even with help from the aides, he would pray aloud, "Oh, Jesus, help me." Then he'd begin to praise the Lord.

He had arranged for a direct burial. Yesterday, we learned from the funeral director that he had even completed the paperwork for ordering his VA headstone with the phrase, "Looking for the Blessed Hope!" in the last line. That was my dad. Always prepared to go or stay. And encouraging each of us to join him "Here, there, or in the air!"

Here's a poem I wrote several years ago. I think this is what Daddy would say to us now if he could:


Don’t mourn for me;
I’m in a better place.
Don’t mourn for me
For I can see His face.
Don’t mourn for me;
I’m happier than I can tell.
Don’t mourn for me;
My body’s strong and well.
Don’t mourn for me;
Just plan to see me soon.
Don’t mourn for me;
Be ready—morning, night, or noon.

                            —AnnaLee Conti

My dad's story is included in my book, Frontiers of Faith, and was the inspiration for characters in my Alaskan Waters Trilogy. Find them on my website:


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.

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.