Thursday, May 26, 2016

Remember Our Fallen Heroes

As a school girl growing up in Alaska, I remember creating posters for a contest to commemorate the sacrifice of the fallen heroes of our wars. Then on May 30, we celebrated Memorial Day with a parade on the streets of downtown Juneau. Row after row of veterans in uniforms marched by to the beat of John Philip Sousa.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, originated in 1868 when General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order for every military post to hold suitable exercises and decorate the graves of the Civil War dead. In 1873, the veterans' organization in New York persuaded the state legislature to make May 30 a public holiday to commemorate the war dead. With the passing of history, the last Monday of May has been designated as a day for remembering all our dead.

When we remember the dead, what are we remembering?
  1. Our Founding Fathers for their work in building up this great nation
  2. The fallen heroes of all wars for preserving the United States as a free land
  3. Our parents and grandparents for the sacrifices they made to rear us and provide for us and equip us for life
Many people throughout history have worked hard, fought wars, and brought up children, so why is America so blessed? Because of God. If any nation should remember God, it is the United States of America. His hand was evident in our founding, and He has blessed us exceedingly.

In spite of all the difficulties we face as a country, we are still the most prosperous nation in the
world. This Memorial Day let's thank God for our blessings.

When we think of God's blessings, our material blessings often come to mind first. The most important blessing, however, is our freedom, especially our religious freedom.

My own Huguenot ancestors fled persecution and martyrdom in 17th Century France and came to America seeking religions freedom. They settled in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and named their town "Paradise" because they had finally found the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.

Who should we remember most of all this Memorial Day? 

Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." John 15:13. Our war dead laid down their lives that we might continue to have freedom. Someone who died for us that we might really live is Jesus Christ. The death of our loved ones and our soldiers often bring many questions, but Jesus' death brought us only answers. His death bought us liberty, true liberty.

What is true liberty?
  • Liberty that is not hindered by prison bars
  • Liberty that does not depend on the strength of our military 
  • Liberty that does not depend on the value of the dollar or the availability of oil 
  • His death gives us more than liberty; it bought us eternal life. 
  • Jesus won the most important battle of all. He conquered sin and death for us.
In commemoration of the 200th birthday of our nation in 1976, Neil Enloe, of The Couriers, wrote a song, "Statue of Liberty," in which he compared the Cross of Christ to the Statue of Liberty (The Original Couriers sing "Statue of Liberty"):

The Cross is my Statue of Liberty;
It was there that my soul was set free.
As the Statue liberates the citizen,
So the Cross liberates the soul.

This Memorial Day, let's remember our friends, our relatives, and our war heroes who have died. Let's remember too the way God has blessed our land, our nation, our lives.

Let's celebrate Jesus who has bought us true liberty.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Rose that Almost Wasn't

While doing research earlier this week, I came upon the fascinating story of a rose that has been proclaimed by growers as the most popular garden rose of all time--the rose known as 'Peace'.

'Peace' Rose Courtesy
 The story encapsulates everything we writers and readers hold dear--drama, love, and greatness of spirit, for it is indeed something of a miracle that this rose even exists in the first place. (The creation of 'Peace' was beautifully described in Antonia Ridge's book, For Love of a Rose.)

In 1935, Francis Meilland, third generation in a family of rose growers near Lyon, France, decided to visit the rose nurseries in America. Purchasing a second-hand car, he spent two months traveling 15,000 miles to visit nurseries all over America, including those of Mr. Robert Pyle of Pennsylvania.

Back home, based on what he'd observed in America, Francis and his father selected 50 cross-pollinated seedlings for trial seedbeds, though none seemed that promising. One was tagged '3-35-40'. Three years later, the trial beds were coming into bloom. Coincidentally, at that same time, in spite of gathering war clouds, an international conference of rose growers took place in France in June 1939.

Francis and his father invited some of the attendees to visit their nursery in nearby Tassin. One new rose sparked much interest--'3-35-40'. Strong buds opened into large, fragrant blooms of ivory to pale gold fringed with a delicate pink. The stems were strong and straight; the leaves dark and glossy. Many of the growers ordered '3-35-40' to be delivered as soon as budded stock could be made available.

'Peace' Roses from my own garden
Three months later, German armies invaded Poland. By May 1940, France too was overrun. Under the German occupation, the Meilland rose nursery was forced to grow food instead of roses.

Francis and his father began the heartbreaking task of digging up 200,000 rose bushes. Most were burned, but they shipped their rose stock to friends in Turkey. Tragically, that too was destroyed when German military forces commandeered the train carrying the roses.

Before communications were cut, Francis managed to send two small parcels of budded '3-35-40' to rose grower friends, one in Italy and one in Germany.

In November, a friend and fellow rose lover from the American Consulate in Lyon telephoned Francis to tell him he was about to leave. "If you like, I can take a small parcel in the diplomatic pouch, maximum weight of one pound."

Within 2 hours, Francis delivered to his friend a small package addressed to Mr. Robert Pyle, Pennsylvania. It contained budded '3-35-40', which the Meillands had decided to call 'Madam A. Meilland' in memory of Francis's mother, who had died of cancer some years earlier.

The Meillands received news from Germany that their rose was successful and was selling under the name 'Gloria Dei' (glory be to God). The rose also arrived safely in Italy and was known as 'Gioia' (joy). (Unfortunately, however, these roses did not escape the complications of the war.) No news came from America.

In August 1944, the tide of World War II finally turned. France was liberated, and Germany was under siege. One month later, the Meillands received a letter bearing an American stamp. It was from Mr. Robert Pyle.

The parcel had arrived safely, and the rose had been tested in Pennsylvania and in nurseries across America--including the hot, dry soils of Texas and the cold, damp conditions of Michigan. The hardy, vigorous, frost-resistant plants thrived. Americans praised the beauty of the buds and the long-lasting freshness of the blooms.

So impressed with the reports, the American Rose Society organized a name-giving ceremony to take place at its exhibition in Pasadena, California, on April 29, 1945. Unable to communicate with Francis Meilland in France, Mr. Robert Pyle issued this statement:

We are persuaded that the greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world's greatest desire: Peace. We believe that the rose is destined to live on as a classic in our grandchildren's gardens and for generations to come. We would use the word "Peace" to preserve the knowledge that we have gained the hard way--that peace is increasingly essential to all mankind, to be treasured with greater wisdom, watchfulness, and foresight than the human race had so far been able to maintain for any great length of time. Towards that end, with our hopes for the future, we dedicate this lovely new rose to: Peace.

Two white doves were released into the American sky, symbolizing the naming of the new rose. That same day in Germany, Berlin fell, and a truce was declared.

'Peace' went on to win the All American Award for roses on the very day the war in Japan came to an end. On May 8, 1945, when Germany signed its surrender, the 49 delegates who met to form the United Nations were each presented a bloom of 'Peace' and a message of peace from the Secretary of the American Rose Society.

The timing of the launch of the 'Peace' rose in America struck such a chord that the name stuck. The Meilland family felt that the name 'Peace' captured all the qualities they had loved in their wife and mother.

Within 9 years some 30 million 'Peace' rose bushes were flowering around the world. But it wasn't simply sentiment. 'Peace' truly is superior to any rose before it in terms of its vigor, hardiness, and long-lasting beauty of its blooms.

The rose that almost wasn't, 'Peace', has been used in breeding roses around the world. It is the 'mother' of 150 varieties and 'father' in another 180 varieties. Most of the modern tea roses are descended in some way from 'Peace'.

As we hear the news each day, we know that the dream of Mr. Pyle, who named the 'Peace' rose, has not yet been realized. Jesus said that wars and rumors of wars would continue until He, the Prince of Peace, comes to rule and reign on the earth. In spite of that, we can have the peace of Christ in our hearts right now.


Do you have a 'Peace' rose growing in your garden? How do you experience the peace of Jesus in your heart today?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

12 Truths I Learned from Fiction

A love of books was instilled in me from childhood. When we spent our summers visiting our grandparents in the tiny fishing village of Pelican, Alaska, Grandma Personeus read aloud to us at every opportunity. We couldn't wait to do the dishes because while we worked, she read aloud to us books she'd loved as a child.

The author reading aloud from her first Christian novel
When my heart was broken after my first crush, my mother handed me a Christian love story to distract me. From then on, Christian novels were my constant companions.

To provide us with good reading material on cold, dark, winter evenings and during the long, often rainy days of summer in Alaska, my father subscribed to a Christian book club. We could hardly wait for the two selections to arrive each month.

Fiction is often described as "not true." Good fiction, however, explores great truths. An old adage says there is nothing new under the sun. It's true. All novels are variations on a certain number of themes, which, incidentally, are all found in the Bible. Only the characters and details differ. While the stories are made up, good fiction mirrors life. It rings true.

Through fiction, I "experienced" the perils of a teenage pregnancy, the heartbreak of a broken marriage, the guilt of angry words that once spoken can never be recalled, the dangers of ignoring God's will for life. Novels helped me avoid making the same mistakes the characters made. The pages of the novels I read influenced my world view and my attitudes about life and love.

Here are 12 truths I learned from fiction:

1. Marry a person of like faith. 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. The classic book, Not My Will, by Francena Arnold, 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 for good relationships.

5. Never part from a loved one on an angry note. Life is fragile and unpredictable. 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 about a Biblical or historical figure, I always looked up the
facts to find where the author embellished the story. I learned a lot that way and came to love history and the study of the Bible.

7. To achieve happiness, I must become vulnerable. In reading fiction, especially romance novels, I 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 risk rejection and emotional pain.

8. 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.

9. Expect the unexpected. Life is like a novel, though often even stranger. Anything can happen. It's not over until it's over. As long as there's life, there's hope.

10. Only God is completely good. We often don't understand His ways. This is where faith is required. Through reading both fiction and biographies, I have explored my own faith, and it has increased.

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

12. Love is a choice. Love is more than a feeling (infatuation). It is 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 Bible) describes it best:

Love never give 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 on going to the end.

Reading fiction also created a desire in me to write inspirational fiction. As I create my characters, I ask myself, What do my characters need to learn? Will they choose to go their own way or God's way? What will the consequences be?

I want to give my readers a good story that inherently illustrates, without being preachy, the value of choosing God's way.

What have you learned through fiction?

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where Angels Fear to Tread

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 four 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
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. 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, 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.

When I was four years old, my parents operated 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 in church and on the radio and directed 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.

After 25 years in Alaska, my parents spent well over 30 years ministering 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 soweth, 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. When I remember her teaching me how to sing and play the piano, 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.