Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dream

"Joe?...Joe, wake up!" Mary nudged him gently. "You're dreaming. You were muttering. Did you have a nightmare?"

Joe sat up in bed, looking around puzzled. "Where is he? He was standing right here."

"Who was here? It's the middle of the night. You were dreaming. Go back to sleep," his wife soothed.

"No.... No.... A man was here, standing right here beside the bed. What was it he said?.... The child!" Joe's voice grew agitated. "Mary, go and check the child!"

"He's fine," she protested. "I tucked him in myself just before I came to bed. You've had a bad dream. Now go back to sleep. You need your rest."

"No, the child's in some kind of danger.... That's it! The man said it isn't safe for us to stay here. He said we should leave immediately." Joe threw back the covers. "Get up, Mary! We must hurry!"

"Joe, it was just a dream. Go back to sleep."

"No, Mary, I can't," he explained impatiently. "Maybe it wasn't a man I saw. Maybe,...yes, it must have angel. And the child's in danger. We must leave now!" He groped for his sandals.

"I'll tell you what. If you still feel this way in the morning, we'll go," Mary offered. "Besides, the night air is chilly. He could catch a cold."

Joe turned to her. "Mary, how can you question after all the things that have happened since the baby came? Why, even the night he was born was so very strange."

"I know," she said softly. "I can still see how the faces of those shepherds lit up with joy when they saw my baby."

"They said angels appeared to them in the sky," Joe said, as though to reassure himself. "Mary, I just know it was an angel I saw."

"Even the cattle and sheep were unusually quiet that night," she mused, ignoring him. "It was as though they knew he was special."

"But Mary...," Joe interrupted.

She didn't seem to hear him. "Just last week those three men from the East came, calling him a king, bringing those expensive gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What unusual gifts for a baby!"

Joe grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "Mary, I tell you, we must leave now!"

"Well,...I suppose...if you feel that strongly about it, maybe we should go."

Reluctantly, Mary threw back the warm covers. The fire had gone out, and it was quite chilly. Shivering, she dressed quickly. Joe lit the lamps, and the flames flickered eerily as she gathered up their meager belongings and packed the leftovers of last night's supper--the dried fish and small barley loaves. She would wait until they were all ready to leave before wrapping the baby in extra blankets for the trip. He didn't even awaken as Joe gently laid him in Mary's arms.

The clop, clop of the donkey's plodding steps on the cobblestones echoed in the stillness of the sleeping town as they made their way out the gate. Only the watchman noted the departure.

*          *          *
It's been six months today since we left Bethlehem to come to Egypt, Mary mused, as she made her way to the well to draw water. The child toddled beside her, clutching her robe. She often puzzled over their strange departure.

Spotting a stranger near the well, she thought excitedly, he looks Jewish. What's that he's saying?

"...yes, all the boy babies two years of age and under were the decree of Bethlehem of Judea...six months ago..."

Mary heard no more. Though the morning was already hot, a chill passed over her as she recalled her friends whose children must have been slaughtered--Lydia's little Jonas, Joanna's little Samuel, and.... Her thoughts trailed off as the horror swept over her.

She felt a tug at her hem. "Mama, what's wrong?" 

They were after my son, she suddenly realized as she looked into his sweet, upturned face. Oh, God, what if Joe hadn't insisted. She shuddered at the weight of the responsibility God had placed on her and Joseph--the awesome task of the care of God's Son, the Messiah. 

*          *          *

We love the story of the Baby born in Bethlehem. We get caught up in the joyfulness of His coming. Yet, we often overlook the death of the innocent babies in Bethlehem that is part of the Christmas story (Matthew 2: 13-18). This year, the senseless death of so many innocent children in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, has highlighted the heartaches of so many at this time of year. What do we say to those who are suffering such anguish?

Christmas is more than the birth of a special baby. It is more than a benevolent Santa delivering gifts to good little boys and girls. It is more than tinsel and the ringing of bells. At Christmas we celebrate the time when God sent His only uniquely begotten Son into this sinful world to be Emanuel, God with Us. Jesus experienced homelessness, hunger, ridicule, all the temptations, the hurts, the disappointments we do, yet without sin. He alone could take all the sins of the world on His sinless shoulders and bear them to the Cross to break the chains of darkness that bind us in sin and its curse.

That is the joyful message of Christmas that can heal the broken hearts. Jesus, Emanuel, walks with us through all our trials, storms, and heartaches. We are not alone. Jesus is God with us. And we look forward to the day when there will be no more Curse, no more suffering, no more sorrow, no more death, no more separation in God's eternal Kingdom. That is what gives us hope in the New Year.

How do you respond to Jesus, Emanuel, God with us?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Christmas I Learned About Prayer

It was December 1950 or 1951 in Juneau, Alaska, and I was 5 or 6 years old. We kids spent hours pouring over the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog, studying page after page of toys and dolls. As I turned a page, my eyes fell upon the most beautiful doll I'd ever seen--a bride doll dressed in lace and tulle, a veil over long, blond curls that could be combed and styled.

I ran to show my mother. "This is what I want for Christmas!"

With sadness tingeing her voice, she said, "Oh, honey, you'll have to pray and ask Jesus for that doll. We don't have enough money to buy presents this year."

My parents operated a children's home by faith. As many as thirteen children--nine of them under five and two babies in cribs--lived in a big house on the beach just outside of town--orphans, neglected or abandoned children, and others with only one parent and no one to care for them when the parent worked. Some parents were able to pay a little; those children placed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or welfare were subsidized. My dad worked full time to support the home while my mother cared for all the children, did the cooking, the laundry, and the cleaning, usually without other adult help. Both of them provided us with a lot of love and Christian training.

Every night until December 24, whenever I knelt to say my bedtime prayers, I asked Jesus to give me that beautiful bride doll for Christmas. My request wasn't very significant to anyone but me. You might even say it was selfish. It certainly would not change the course of history if I didn't receive that doll. But that Christmas morning when, wide-eyed with expectation, we children tripped down the stairs and peeked into the large living room, we discovered gaily wrapped presents under the tree for each child. When I unwrapped my gift, the beautiful doll I'd prayed for lay inside.

Years later, my mother told me the rest of the story. That Christmas Eve, the only department store in Juneau called my parents to come down to the store and pick out gifts for all the children in their children's home. Among the remaining toys she found a bride doll for me.

That Christmas, this young girl learned that the God who created the Universe cares about every detail of her life, including what she wanted for Christmas. And to this day, that sense of His love has never left me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Five More Truths I Learned from Fiction

Fiction mirrors life.
Good fiction must ring true.
Fiction explores great truths.
There's nothing new under the sun. All novels are variations on a certain number of themes. (And they are all found in the Bible.) Only the characters and details differ.
Through fiction, I've felt the pain of a broken marriage, the results of unforgiveness, the guilt of angry words that once spoken can never be recalled.
In a previous blog, I explored seven truths I have learned from reading fiction. Here are five more:

1. To achieve happiness, I must become vulnerable. In reading fiction, especially romance novels, I've observed the negative results of always trying to protect oneself from emotional hurts. In order to love and be loved, I must be willing to be rejected, which is painful. It's worth the risk.

2.  Never allow bitterness to take root in my heart. Miss Havisham, the wealthy but eccentric spinster in Dickens' Great Expectations, is a prime example of the destructiveness of bitterness to herself and everyone she came in contact with. Bitterness destroys.

3. Expect the unexpected. Life is like a novel, often even stranger. Anything can happen. It's not over until it's over.

4. Only God is completely good, and we often don't understand His ways. This is where faith comes in. This is something I have explored through the pages of  both fiction and biographies and come to accept.

5. Evil can only be overcome through forgiveness. In the pages of fiction I've seen how unforgiveness only hurts the one who refuses to forgive and blocks the heart from giving and receiving love.

What truths have you learned through fiction?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Encounters with Bears

In my first novel in my Alaskan Waters series, Till the Storm Passes By, the protagonist, Evie, encounters bears. Both black and brown bears are plentiful in Alaska. My worst nightmares growing up there involved fleeing from bears, probably because a boy my age was mauled by a bear and blinded for life.

Or, maybe it was because when I was four years old, my mother told me to play with a bear! Don't get me wrong. She was a good, loving mother. But strange things can happen in Alaska, especially in 1950.

That morning I was standing at the railing on our open porch that ran along the front of the house to the entry door at the second floor. The house faced a steep bank in front. The back of the house rose straight up from the beach. A long flight of wooden stairs at one end connected the porch from the highway above and down the steep bank along the side of the house to the beach below.

When a huge, black animal lumbered up from the beach under the porch, I was petrified. I'd always been afraid of big dogs, but this was the biggest "dog" I'd ever seen. Wide-eyed, rooted in place, I watched as its gigantic head swiveled over its shoulder. With stained fangs bared, it glared at me with bloodshot eyes, A low growl rumbled from its throat.

Unable to move, I followed it with my eyes as it climbed the hill to the road and disappeared into the woods beyond. Only then could I run screaming into the kitchen. "Mommy! Mommy! There's a big, black dog out there without any tail, and it growled at me!"

"Oh, go on out and play with it," she said. "It won't hurt you."

Just then, two teenagers from the nearest house burst in carrying rifles. Breathless, they asked, "Did you see the bear in your yard?"

"Oh, no! I just told AnnaLee to go out and play with it!"

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Seven Truths I Learned from Christian Fiction

A love of books was instilled in me from my childhood and youth. When we visited our grandparents for the summers in the tiny fishing village of Pelican, Alaska, Grandma Personeus would read aloud to us at every opportunity. As a teenager, Christian novels were my constant companions. To provide us with good reading material on cold, dark winter evenings in Alaska, my father subscribed to a Christian book club. We could hardly wait for the two selections to arrive each month. Those pages influenced my world view and my attitudes about life and love. Here are seven truths I learned from Christian fiction:

  1. Marry a Christian. In the books I read, every love story demonstrated the fact that two can walk together in life only if they are headed in the same direction and share similar values.
  2. God designed for marriage to precede sex. This order is not arbitrary; it is for our own good. Since God made us, He knows what will make us happiest. We can choose to follow God's way or not. The Bible illustrates the results of good and bad choices. 
  3. Seek to do God's will, not my own. I can't remember the author's name, but the book, "Not My Will," brought this truth home to me in a memorable way. Frank Sinatra's song,"I'll Do It My Way," is not the theme song for my life. I want to "do it God's way."
  4. Learn to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you." We all make mistakes and hurt each other, whether we intend to or not. Asking for and receiving forgiveness is the necessary ingredient to good relationships.
  5. Never part from loved ones on an angry note. We never know when our words may be the last ones they hear from our lips. I don't want mine to be angry, hurtful ones.
  6. Always check the facts. When I read Biblical fiction, I always looked it up in the Bible to find where the author embellished the story. I learned to love studying the Bible.
  7. Love is a choice. Love is more than a feeling; it's an act of the will. Love is choosing to put the best interest of another ahead of my own. First Corinthians 13:4-8 (The Message) describes it best:
 Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others.
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

As I create my characters, I ask myself, "Will they choose to go their own way or God's way? I want to give my readers a good story that inherently illustrates, without being preachy, the value of choosing God's way.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Growing Up in Alaska

Growing up in Alaska, surrounded by the beauties of creation, I was very aware of God. The Psalmist wrote, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork" (19:1), and I was constantly reminded of His presence, no matter where I went in Alaska. I was never much for organized sports, but I loved to hike, climb mountains, ride my bike, and enjoy God's handiwork.

Walking home at night, I loved to study the sky with the Bear, the Dipper, the great North Star, undimmed by glaring lights that wash them out in big cities. The heavens portrayed a God bigger than His vast domain.  Often, the aurora borealis flowed across the winter sky with its mighty swags of glowing, colorful bands as though the Creator was painting with sweeping freestyle strokes, inspiring awe that the great Creator would care about me.

I remember one Christmas while we lived in Juneau, the capital and largest city in Southeast Alaska. The snow-covered mountains looked like strawberry ice cream cones. The sun rose mid-morning and set by mid-afternoon that time of year. The days were short, but the twilights lingered before the long nights fell. The sun made up for its brief appearances later. In the summer it rose in the wee hours of the morning and didn't set until after bedtime.

Lots of snow fell during those years in Juneau. But school was never cancelled. We pulled on pants under our dresses, bundled up in coats and scarves, and walked on sidewalks that often weren't shoveled. It was great fun--usually. One time, hurricane-force Taku winds picked me up and set me down in waist-deep snow in a driveway that slanted down from the street to the garage door. Another time instead of walking down many flights of stairs over a big hill to the street below, we slid over the hill on cardboard. Great fun--until I landed on a rusty nail sticking out of a board at the bottom. It pierced my thigh and bloodied my clothes.

My parents operated a children's home during my early years in Juneau. We had a dog we named Taku. She was part wolf, Malemute, and German shepherd. On cold winter nights she would howl to the wolves in the woods, but with us children she was as gentle as a lamb. The little children would climb all over her, even stick thier fingers in her eyes, and she never snapped or growled at any of us. One day she disappeared. We suspected the neighbors did away with her. They were afraid of her because she was part wolf.

When we moved to the tiny fishing village of Pelican on Chichagof Island, one of the large Islands that formed the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska, we owned a dinghy. The town was strung out above the water along the cliffs on a boardwalk that stretched a mile or more from end to end. Rugged mountains that stood regal in their ermine capes rose on either side of Lizianski Inlet. When they reflected in the still waters at their feet, my foster sister and I would take the dinghy out and take turns rowing on the inlet in front of the combination church and parsonage where we lived on the hill above. When ferocious winds blew off icy blue glaciers, whipped up frothy whitecaps, and sent clouds racing, rowing would be folly. One time we were out rowing when the wind suddenly whipped up whitecaps all around us. We had some frightful moments rowing against the wind and waves back to the neighbor's dock.

One of the highlights of my childhood was the times spent on boats. When I was two and a half, I arrived in Alaska on my uncle's mission boat. My earliest memory is of that trip. We jumped at every opportunity to sail with him. One summer my dad worked on a salmon troller. The owner had to have a spinal fusion mid fishing season, and his eighteen-year-old son needed a fishing partner. One week my dad took me along as chief cook and bottle washer. What a wonderful memory!

My twenty plus years in Alaska from 1948-1970 provide the setting for much of what I write. There's a good reason Alaska is called "the Great Land." I've been in forty-six states and several foreign countries. I've seen many beautiful sights. But in Alaska, everywhere you look is grand and beautiful! I have lived most of my adult life in New York State, but I'll always be an Alaskan at heart.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why I Write

Growing up in Alaska in the Fifties and Sixties, where my family served as missionaries from 1917 to 1982, my constant companion was Christian fiction. My great aunt published nine inspirational novels under the pen name, Zenobia Bird, and I began to dream of writing my own novels. In high school I was the editor-in-chief of our school newspaper, and in college I took a creative writing course. Alaska is frequently the setting for my stories.

While my husband was in seminary, I worked as an editorial assistant at Gospel Publishing House, where I began writing freelance articles and short stories which were published in EPA award-winning magazines such as The Pentecostal Evangel, Youth Alive, and Woman's Touch, as well as church school curriculum on assignment. When we planted a new church in Upstate New York, I continued this writing ministry for the next 25 years. My short strories and articles number in the hundreds, and curriculum I wrote is used worldwide. In addition, for four years my devotionals appeared daily on The Sound of Life radio network's website.

Grandma Personeus was a storyteller and kept everyone entranced with the accounts of their early days in Alaska. Many people who knew my grandparents and had come to Christ under their ministry kept asking me to write their story. In 2003, AuthorHouse (then First Books), a print-on-demand publisher, produced Frontiers of Faith, my non-fiction account of the adventures of Charles and Florence Personeus, who served as pioneer missionaries in Alaska for 65 years. The book is available through my website,, as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores.

As I researched the Personeuses' story, I came across several incidents that triggered my imagination. These have become the basis for my Alaskan Waters series of inspirational novels for adults. The first, Till the Storm Passes By, is completed; the second, A Star to Steer By, is nearing completion; and the third is titled, Beside Still Waters. These are stories of forgiveness and redemption, God's love and human love--important themes I have experienced in my life and desire to share with others through my stories. I am in the process of seeking a publisher for these titles. A brief description of each follows.

A heart full of unforgiveness has no room for love. In Till the Storm Passes By, a recurring nightmare and a deathbed confession drive Evie Parker, a Rhode Island schoolteacher, to seek answers in Southeast Alaska in 1953, where she makes a heart-rending discovery. Can Evie come through storms both physical and spiritual to open her heart to love through forgiveness?

Everyone needs A Star to Steer By. Tales of the booming fishing industry in faraway Alaska in 1920 lure Norman Pedersen, a teenaged Norwegian fisherman, to immigrate to America, leaving behind his fiancee, Kristina Michelsen, who promises to remain faithful. Norman thinks of Kristina as his "star," but can she save him from himself and the beautiful, but conniving Cecilia? Only God can.

In Beside Still Waters, Violet Channing, orphaned at a young age, is tossed about by the turbulent waters of life when the aunt who raised her dies. Living in a Boston tenement in 1915, barely able to survive, Violet accepts a job teaching a sick child in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Just when her life seems to be as beautiful as her new surroundings, tragedy strikes when the Princess Sophia sinks in a blinding blizzard near the entrance to Alaska's Lynn Canal. Can Violet overcome her losses and learn how to love again as she cares for orphans of a deadly flu epidemic in Juneau, Alaska?