Thursday, March 31, 2016


Ah-oo! Ah-oo!

The town fire alarm wailed into that cold winter night in the early fifties in Juneau, Alaska's capital city. I've never heard another fire alarm like it. That chilling sound always struck terror to my heart as a child even as I snuggled all warm under my covers.

Everyone was safely in bed, but Mother couldn't sleep. The fire alarm confirmed the reality of her worst nightmare: Fire--the scourge of Alaska when stoves overheated on frigid winter nights.

Night after night, Mother lay awake in her bedroom downstairs imagining every possible scenario and worrying about how to get all the children out safely in case of a fire in the children's home she and my dad operated.

Daddy snored softly beside her. He worked long hours at Alaska Coastal Airlines to support the children's home. Including their own three, the two of them cared for thirteen children, nine of them under five, and two babies in cribs.
© AnnaLee Conti
Some of the children with the Cousart family (c.), Grandma Personeus (r.), and another
visitor at the Bethel Beach Children's Home. That's me, the only child in the back row.
 Slipping quickly from beneath the warm covers, Mother grabbed her chenille robe and peered between the curtains. A red-orange glow back lit the silhouette treeline to the north. Black smoke billowed into the star-studded heavens.

She heard the soft padding of small feet from the girl's dorm room directly above and hurried upstairs.

"Mommy! Look!"I called to her from the window as she entered our bedroom. "The fire horn woke me up."

She tiptoed across the room quickly to stand by my side. From this vantage point, she could see that the fire was not endangering us, but it could be engulfing another larger children's home a few miles away.

Hugging me, she said, "Let's pray for them." We bowed our heads and begin to petition God for the safety of those involved in the fire.

The next day, our suspicions were confirmed. The boys dorm at the Juneau Children's Home had burned to the ground. It was a miracle that no lives were lost. There weren't even any serious injuries.

But my mother worried even more--until she landed in the hospital, and the children's home was forced to close.

Worry can kill. My mother learned that the hard way. Worry is the opposite of trust. Isaiah penned, "I will trust and not be afraid" (12:2).  The psalmist, recognizing his human tendency to be fearful, wrote, "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You" (56:3).

Those are good words to live by. God has everything under control. Trust Him. God never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). No sense both of you staying awake!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Watershed Moments

Good Friday, March 27, 1964, a massive slippage beneath Prince William Sound in the northern part of the Gulf of Alaska triggered the strongest earthquake to ever hit North America in recorded history. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, it was even more powerful than the more recent destructive earthquakes in Indonesia and Japan.

All across Southcentral Alaska from Valdez to Kodiak, every city, town, village,including Alaska's largest metropolitan area, Anchorage, and connecting highways within a 300-mile radius were devastated--first by the quake itself and then by three successive tsunamis. Some villages were wiped off the map.

Seward before the Good Friday Earthquake
Seward after the Good Friday Earthquake
My family lived in Seward, 120 miles  south of Anchorage by road. To read about my family's experiences during the Good Friday Earthquake, go to my previous posts in 2014, Earthquake Part 1 and Earthquake Part 2.

Alaska frequently has earthquakes. Magnitude 7.0 is not unusual. But when Alaskans say "before the earthquake" or "after the earthquake," everyone there knows exactly which earthquake they are referring to. The Great Alaskan Earthquake of Good Friday 1964 was a watershed moment.

The Good Friday quake was a watershed moment in my life too. You can read about this in my previous posts from 2013: In a Matter of MinutesIn a Matter of Minutes Part 2In a Matter of Minutes Part 3In a Matter of Minutes Part 4, and In a Matter of Minutes Part 5. As a result of that quake, I met my husband. We've been married for nearly 49 years now. I often say that it took an earthquake to bring us together.

Another Good Friday earthquake over two millennia ago was even more momentous. The moment Jesus died on the cross on Golgotha's hill, the city of Jerusalem was shaken by a great earthquake.

Matthew 27:50-53 records that event: "Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

The veil in the Tabernacle, which was replicated in the temple, was a thick curtain made of fine linen and blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. It divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, which was God had designated as His special dwelling place in the midst of His people.

Whoever entered the Holy of Holies entered the very presence of God. Anyone who entered except the high priest would die.

Even the high priest, God's chosen mediator with the people, could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement and only after meticulous preparation. He had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring blood with him to make atonement for the sin of the people.

The presence of God remained shielded from view behind this thick curtain, the veil, throughout the history of Israel. Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross changed that.

When He died, the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn in half from top to bottom. The curtain was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and four inches thick. It was too high for humans to reach and too thick to be torn. Only God could have done it.

As the veil was torn, God's presence was made accessible to all. Jesus' death atoned for our sins once and for all. The torn veil illustrated that Jesus' body was broken for us and opened the way for us to come directly to God. No longer do we need to offer animal sacrifices through a high priest. The sacrificial system looked forward to what Jesus would do for us on the Cross.

"It is finished!" Jesus cried. The ultimate offering has been sacrificed. God's redemptive plan is now complete.

"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:19-22).

This year, March 27 is Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day. We now have confidence that after death, comes the Resurrection! Alaska has fully recovered from that devastating earthquake of 1964. That earthquake was a watershed moment in my life. And the earthquake when Jesus died is a watershed moment for all time and eternity.

Jesus died, conquered death, and rose from the grave. He is interceding for us at the right hand of God the Father. Now, we can enter boldly into God's presence because of His all-sufficient sacrifice.

Happy Resurrection Day!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Legal Dilemma

The story is told of an early Russian tribal leader who issued only two laws: The first ordered all tribal members to love their parents. The second commanded that they not steal.

This man's leadership and these two laws made his tribe the greatest in all of Russia.

One day, it was discovered that someone was stealing. This greatly angered the leader. He brought all the people together and said, "Let the thief come forward and receive ten lashes for his crime."

No one stepped forward, so he upped the punishment to 20 lashes, then to 30, and finally, to 40. He stopped there because he knew that only a very strong man could survive more than 40 lashes with the whip.

The leader then dispersed the crowd and sent his men to search until they discovered the thief. Within a week, they brought the thief to the leader. On seeing who it was, the leader gasped. It was his own mother!

The guards began wagering among themselves as to what their great leader would do. Would he obey his second law, keep his word, and whip his mother? Or would he obey his first law, love his mother, and let her go?

Either way, he would break a law and bring disgrace upon himself and the laws he sought to enforce. Yet, if the crime went unpunished, everyone would steal.

The leader gathered the tribe together. They brought his mother forward and bared her frail back. Then, just before the whip master brought the first blow down upon her, the leader strode over to his mother, tore off his shirt, and draped himself over her slight body, taking the 40 lashes himself. Both laws were satisfied.

Isn't that just what Jesus did for us? All of us have been disobedient and fallen short of God's purpose in creating us. The Sinless Son of God took the punishment we deserved on himself at the Cross. We should have died for our own sins, but Jesus took our place.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

It Is Finished!

An interesting story on Facebook caught my eye this morning. World War II had been over for 29 years when a Japanese lieutenant named Hiroo Onoda surrendered to Allied Forces in the Philippines on March 9, 1974.

As the war neared its end, Onoda and three other soldiers became cut off on Lubang Island in the Philippines when US troops worked their way north. The young intelligence officer had been ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to surrender.

After the Japanese surrendered to Allied Forces, leaflets, including letters from family members, telling them that the war was over and encouraging them to surrender were dropped from planes, but the men determined they were bogus. They continued to engage in sporadic clashes with local residents.

One of the men deserted in 1949 and surrendered in 1950. A second man was killed in a shootout with a search party in 1954. The third was killed during guerrilla raid in 1972. Mr. Onoda ignored all attempts to get him to surrender.

In 1974, a Japanese tourist met up with Onoda in the jungle and tried to convince him that the war was over. He refused to surrender unless his commanding officer ordered him to do so.

Finally, in 1974 the Japanese government located Onoda's former commanding officer, Major Yoshima Taniguchi, and flew him to Lubang. On March 9, 1974, he met with Onoda and rescinded his original orders in person.

Onoda in 1944 and in 1974
Only then did Mr. Onoda salute the Japanese flag and hand over his Samurai sword, his still functioning rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, several hand grenades, and the dagger his mother had given him to kill himself if he was captured. He still wore his tattered army uniform.

Although many in Lubang never forgave him for the thirty people he killed during his campaign on the island, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos pardoned him for his crimes. Onoda died in 2014 at the age of eighty-two.

"I had been ordered not to surrender. If I could not carry out my orders, I would feel shame," he said in an interview in 2010.

This story reminds me of a song penned by Bill and Gloria Gaither that I used to sing in church: "It Is Finished." It describes how Jesus conquered sin and death on the cross of Calvary and the war has been won once and for all time.


The song goes on to say that in many hearts the battle is still raging on battlefields of our own making. Not all prisoners of war have come home.

Not until we surrender our all to Jesus is the war over. Oh, what blessed peace when we finally stop fighting against Him and surrender!

What battle are you still fighting? As we near Holy Week and think about the Cross, let's examine our lives and ask ourselves what we need to lay at the foot of the Cross.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Words to Live By

Once upon a time, a powerful Eastern monarch asked the wisest men in his court to give him a bit of wisdom in one sentence that would lift him up and encourage him when he suffered hardship and would bring him back down to reality when life was good and he felt arrogant.

The wise men mulled it over for weeks and finally came up with the answer. The king had the sentence engraved in his ring, which he wore everywhere he went--from throne to battlefield, to funerals when he lost loved ones to death, to his treasury when he counted his millions.

Each time the king read the inscription on his ring, curiosity soared among the citizenry. "What could it say?" they murmured among themselves.

Finally, after many years, the king died. Still desiring to discover the truth that had kept their king going all those years through all kinds of joys and sorrows, the citizens removed the ring from his finger and discovered the answer to their question.

Engraved in the gold they read,

"This too shall pass."

Yes, those words certainly give perspective to life's joys and sorrows.

One of my favorite phrases in the Bible, which is repeated frequently throughout the Gospels, is "And it came to pass." Nothing in this life comes to stay because this life is fleeting.

The psalmist wrote,

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children's children,
To such as keep His covenants,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
Psalm 103:15-18, NKJV

Peter wrote that when the day of the Lord comes, even the heavens will pass away, the very elements themselves will disappear, and the earth and everything on it will be judged (see 2 Peter 3:10). Why then do we work so hard for earthly things that are destined to pass away?

Instead, Peter encourages Christians to "make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in [God's] sight" (v. 14).

During my childhood, I spent my summers with my missionary grandparents in Pelican, Alaska. In a prominent place on their wall hung a plaque which read,


This little poem has guided my life and influenced all of my choices, reminding me to live with eternity's values in view.

"This too shall pass." Yes, in terms of eternity, the things of this earth, both good and bad, are temporary. They will all pass away.

Only what we do for Christ has any lasting value. I want my life to count for eternity. How about you?