Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Nighttime Prayer

(A Grown-up Version of a Childhood Prayer)

"Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep..."
Forgive the sins that I have done;
Wash me clean in the blood of Your Son.
Bless my loved ones everywhere;
Keep them safe within Your care.
Thank You, Lord, for all You do;
Teach me always to walk with You.

As I rest, my strength renew,
So I can arise to work for You.
Watch over me in every way
And wake me safe at break of day. 
If You should come before I wake,
I'll see You in heaven, what a glorious Daybreak!
Knowing that You're always there, 
I rest secure within Your care.

--AnnaLee Conti

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Colors of Christmas

One of our favorite activities of the Christmas season is driving around to 
see all the colorful lights that sparkle like gems adorning the houses. 
They inspired me to write this poem:


Silver stands for our redemption,
purchased at great cost.
Red stands for the blood of Jesus,
shed to save the lost.
White stands for the purity of our 
robes of righteousness;
Washed white as snow by Jesus' blood,
we stand in holiness.
Green stands for our Christian growth;
to feed on God's Word is a must.
Blue stands for our loyalty to Christ
in whom we trust.
Purple stands for His majesty;
King of kings is He.
Gold stands for the heavenly place
He has prepared for me.

by AnnaLee Conti

As you enjoy all the colorful lights this Christmas, 
we pray that you will experience the myriad facets
 of the Light of the World, JESUS,
 whose birth we celebrate today.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Christmas Miracle

The day before our second wedding anniversary, my husband, Bob, a career officer in the Regular Army, flew out of Anchorage, Alaska, for a year-long tour in Vietnam. In 1969, the Vietnam War was at its fiercest. Hundreds of American soldiers died each week. After a tearful kiss and a last hug, I watched him disappear into the long tube that led to the Alaska Airlines jet.

Blindly, I turned and ran to the car, our red Volkswagen square-back we had purchased in Germany, where we had been stationed scarcely a year. I drove to the end of the runway to watch his plane take off. As it disappeared into the clouds that bright June morning, I sobbed uncontrollably, not knowing if he would come back alive.

For the previous year and a half, we had been trying to start a family. In spite of my constant prayers, month after month brought only disappointment. Now Bob was gone, and I didn't even have a part of him with me to love and to hold.

In November, my younger sister got married. At Christmas, she announced that they were expecting. While I was happy for them, that news only accentuated my pain and loneliness.

At the Watch Night service that New Year's Eve, my father, a pastor of many years, preached on expectations. Based on the words of Jesus that "all things are possible to him who believes," my dad pointed out that "faith is a prerequisite for God to act on our behalf." As he encouraged the congregation to pray concerning a specific need and expect God to do a miracle, I remembered an old song from my childhood, "Prayer is the key to heaven, and faith unlocks the door."

Bob and I had reservations to meet for a week of R and R (rest and relaxation) in Hawaii in mid-February. I began to expect that God would answer my prayers for a child, and that I would get pregnant on R and R. A month after I arrived back home, I knew we would have a baby around Thanksgiving.

On Memorial Day of 1970, Bob came home from Vietnam. In spite of the many dangers which I have written about previously, he returned unscathed. Sadly, he was the only officer in his advisory team to return home alive. 

We were stationed in Rhode Island, and on December 5, 1970, three days after my twenty-fifth birthday, our son, Robert Benjamin, was born. You never saw a prouder father! And he and our son have had a close relationship from the day Bob carried him home from the hospital. I realized that if Bobby had been born before Bob went to Vietnam, Bob would have missed out on an entire year of Bobby's young life.

Christmas 1969 was my worst Christmas, but the happiness of Christmas 1970 was accentuated in comparison to the sadness of the previous Christmas. As time went on, we never had another child, and not by choice. That's why I believe our son was my Christmas miracle. And like that first Christmas long ago when the Son of God was born into this sin-sick world, my best Christmas followed one of the darkest times in my life.

As a young person, I thought God had two ways to answer prayer: "Yes," or "No." That Christmas, I discovered that often God answers, "Wait," because He has an even better plan. I also realized that we tend to get what we expect. An old chorus says, "If you expect it, God will find a way to perform a miracle for you today."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Take the Lord Christmas Shopping

During this Christmas season, I will be blogging several short stories from my life that relate to my past Christmases. Have you ever thought of asking the Lord to help you with your Christmas shopping? One surprising incident taught me to do it all the time.

Due to a painful back condition, I cannot walk very far without great discomfort. At shopping malls, I try to park close to the entrance nearest the particular store I'm planning to visit. That day, I was looking for a certain gift item, and the store I intended to shop in didn't have an outside entry. I drove around the mall from one end to the other, but every parking space near an entrance was full. I must confess that I was grumbling to the Lord about the situation.

After driving at least three-fourths of the way around the large mall, I finally found a space. It was a little farther from the store I intended to visit, but I thought it was doable. I exited my car and walked to the entrance. There, just inside that door was the very item I was looking for! I didn't even need to ascend to the upper level of the mall to the store where I thought I'd find it.

"I'm sorry, Lord," I prayed. "Please forgive me. I was grumbling about the parking, and You knew exactly where I would find what I wanted. You prepared the right parking space that would lead me to it."

Now, even when it's not Christmas, I ask the Lord to prepare a parking space for me close to where I'm going. And He does. He cares about every detail of our lives.

That incident reminded me of a chorus we used to sing in church when I was a girl: "The Lord knows the way through the wilderness; all I have to do is to follow...." Even in the seemingly insignificant things of this life, like finding the right gift to bring happiness to a special person, the Lord wants us to commit it all to Him, to trust Him to help us in everything.

This Christmas season, don't let the stresses get you down. Instead, "commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you" (Psalm 37:5, NLT).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Why Me, Lord?"

This coming New Year's Day, my dad will celebrate his 92nd birthday. For well more than 50 years, he has served as a missionary and a pastor. Along the way, he has also been elected to office several times as president of the local and borough school boards, the PTA, and the ministerial association; as secretary-treasurer of the Alaska District of the Assemblies of God; and as mayor of Kittitas, Washington--surprising accomplishments for a boy who was petrified to speak in front of a group.

In junior high school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was president of the French Puppet Club. As such, his responsibility was to introduce the puppet play. Worried that he might forget his lines, he had written his speech on note cards before he went on stage, but the spotlights blinded him so he couldn't read them. Without saying a word, he crumpled the papers, dropped them to the floor, and walked off. Hidden behind the puppet stage, though, he spoke his lines in fluent French.

At the age of 19, he met two sisters who invited him to attend the annual Victorious Life Conference in Keswick Grove, New Jersey, over Labor Day weekend in 1941. He went with a carload of young people. George Beverly Shea, who later became well known as the beloved soloist for the Billy Graham Crusades, was the song leader and soloist for the conference at the campsite near Tom's River, owned by Addison C. Raws. Having been a boy soprano in an Episcopal church, my dad was impressed with the ministry of Bev Shea. That weekend, he committed himself to Christ. Soon, he felt God was calling him into full-time ministry.

"God, do You know what You're asking? How can I preach the gospel if I can't speak in front of people?" Agonizing over his Call, he finally enrolled in a public speaking course at Temple University. "I literally had to take myself by the scruff of the neck and drag myself to that class," he said, although he remembers little about the actual class.

He received his Local Preacher’s License from the Methodist Church, but his theological studies at Temple University were interrupted by World War II. In 1942, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Upon completing Radio School, he was sent to Ketchikan, Alaska, where on August 16, 1944, he married AnnaMae, the daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. Charles C. Personeus, the first Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska.

Following World War II, he completed his formal ministerial education at Eastern Bible Institute of the Assemblies of God (now Valley Forge Christian College). I was two-and-a-half years old, when we moved to the tiny fishing village of Pelican, Alaska, to help the Personeuses build the church there (read the account of my family's trip to Alaska in previous blogs).

When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land, Moses objected. "I can't speak," he said. God gave him his brother Aaron to be his mouthpiece. Soon, however, Moses was speaking God's words directly to the people. Just as God equipped Moses for the calling God had placed on his life, so God enabled my father to become a preacher of the gospel.

What is God calling you to do for Him that you feel inadequate for? Don't be afraid to step out in faith in spite of your own perceived shortcomings, knowing that God will equip you for the task. As someone once wrote, "God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called."