Thursday, May 25, 2017

An Out-of-Character Request that Saved Our Lives

Byron & Marjory Personeus
Today I was looking through some writings of my Aunt Marjory Personeus given to me by their daughter last summer. Uncle Byron and Aunt Marjory have both gone to be with the Lord, but they operated a mission boat in Southeast Alaska in the forties and fifties and then around Vancouver Island for another 20 years.

During those years, they often experienced God's protection. Some of their stories are included in my book, Frontiers of Faith, about my grandparents' 65 years of ministry in Alaska as pioneer missionaries. But this story was one I had never heard.

I am telling it here in my aunt's point of view:

At 5 o'clock in the morning, I rolled over. The cabin was cold, but it was too early to be disturbed. "Don't get up to start the fire yet, dear. I'm so comfortable. Let's wait until 6." We snuggled under the warm covers.

The little three burner propane stove in the tiny cabin on our missionary boat, Gospel Light II, could not keep us warm, so we had installed a small charcoal stove we had picked up at the army-navy store several years before. The instructions promised no fumes or chimney needed.

At 6 a.m., Byron got up to start the charcoal stove and crawled back into our bunk, a small chesterfield (couch) on one side of the main cabin, until 7. Then we had to hurry and get underway for a logging camp where we were to hold Sunday school that morning, the first to be held at the location. We had visited the homes and invited the children, hoping to soon build it up into a regular morning service too. We didn't want to be late.

At 7 a.m., Byron went outside onto the aft deck to turn on the gas so he could start the engine. That's when he noticed that the air inside the boat smelled quite stale, so he left the door open. As I got up to make up the bunk, I felt sick. I tried to get out the cereal for breakfast but had to lie down again.

When Byron came back in, he said, "I feel sick."

I was feeling a bit better, so I quickly got up and told him to lie down. No sooner was he on the chesterfield than down I went onto the cold, hard deck. I could not stand up.

Byron managed to honk the boat's horn to signal for help, but no one came. The folks in our beautiful little village of Quatsino, where we had had a precious service the night before, thought we were signaling a friendly goodbye.

The Gospel Light II in the 1960s
Byron forced himself up and outside onto the float to untie the boat, almost falling into the water as he tried to loosen the lines. Steadying himself, he staggered back on board and to the controls. The little engine chugged to life, and we got underway.

Try as I might, I couldn't make myself do anything. Each time I tried to get up, my head felt so light I had to drop down again. I couldn't even attend Sunday school that morning. Although he too was feeling very weak and had a headache, Byron had to do his best without me.

That afternoon, we continued on to Port Alice for an afternoon service. An RN in the congregation told us that our symptoms indicated that we had no doubt almost been asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. Since my side of the bunk was under the side deck where the fumes had collected, I was hardest hit. Both of us had bad headaches all that day.

When out dear congregation in Quatsino learned of our near-death experience, they came to our boat the next Saturday night after service and presented us with a key to a lovely little cabin. "We don't want you to sleep on your boat any more. Whenever you minister in this area, we want you to sleep here."

Rarely did I tell my husband not to get up to start the fire early on a chilly fall morning. How thankful I was for God's nudging that morning! Little did I realize that my unusual request would save our lives. An hour longer breathing those fumes and we'd have been dead.

Beside Still Waters, Book 3 of my Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is now available in Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and in paperback. See

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Greatest Legacy

I spent today at a funeral for an 84-year-old woman. As I listened to the people who spoke, I noticed that no one praised her for what she did in life, but for how she loved people.

This woman spent her life as a mother and a pastor's wife. People talked about how she opened her home to a church every Sunday, how she loved to teach children in Sunday school, how she made spaghetti for the congregation every Sunday, and how she brought many of them into the Kingdom of God by the time she spent with them. She was a true Mother of the church.

Many people are concerned about leaving a legacy. They want to be remembered. They want to leave their mark on society--something that will show they have been on earth.

The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt spent their lives building pyramids as monuments to their reigns. Presidents of the United States talk about their legacy and build presidential libraries. Many people spend their lives making a lot of money to leave to their heirs. Others write books, paint or sculpt artistic creations, build houses, earn degrees, do humanitarian deeds.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that 'God has planted eternity in the human heart.' It is no wonder, then, that we spend our days trying to do something that will outlast us.

First Corinthians 13:13 names the only lasting legacy we can leave: love. That's why God tells us to make love the ultimate priority of our lives.

When people come to the end of their lives, do they want to look at the rewards and medals, their diplomas and gold watches, the books they have authored, their artistic creations?

No, they want to see the people they love. Seldom do they say, "I wish I had done more." The most common wish is that they had spent more time with their loved ones.

Mother Teresa once said, "It's not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters."

The greatest legacy we can leave is not our wealth or our accomplishments, but our love for our family, for the family of God, and for humankind.

Wisdom is realizing that love is the most important thing in life. Let's not wait until our life is ending to discover that. Let's begin today to build a legacy of love.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Pelican I Remember

My Alaskan Waters Trilogy of historical Christian novels is set in Southeast Alaska, where I grew up in the fifties. As a child, I spent all of my summers visiting my grandparents, who pastored the only church in Pelican, a fishing village on Chichagof Island between Juneau and Sitka. I have fond memories of that town, and it is featured in my first book in this series, Till the Storm Passes By.

Pelican in 1953 ©AnnaLee Conti

The following is a piece I wrote years ago for a writing course. The assignment was to write a description. I wrote about Pelican as I remembered it.

"What a nasty southeaster!" grumbled the old fisherman as I passed him on the boardwalk.

"The worst we're had all summer," I agreed. The rain beat down on me, trickled down my neck, and ran off my nose. "An umbrella's useless in wind like this."

Pelican from the air
Activity had nearly ceased as I trudged down the main street of Pelican. By "main street" I mean a boardwalk that was about fifteen feet wide, built on creosoted, barnacled pilings over the waters of Lizianski Inlet. The houses and buildings also perched precariously on piling on either side of the boardwalk. The town stretched about a mile, curving with the rocky cliffs to which Pelican tenaciously clung. The tide ebbed and flowed under the town.

The red wagon in which my suitcase rested clattered and splattered as I pulled it over the rough, slippery boards toward the post office where the Alaska Coastal Airlines office was located. The rain continued to pound me mercilessly. Occasionally, lightning flashed. I counted the seconds to the thunder roll.

The fog was so thick I could not see the red light that flashed on the buoy at the entrance to the harbor. Seagulls swooped overhead like tiny white phantoms in the fog. The wind was tangy with salt water and fish slime. The odor of rotten eggs from low tide still pervaded the air.

A raven cawed frantically just above me. I jumped. As I glanced up to see what was the matter, my right foot skidded out from under me on the slippery walk and down I thudded. Icy water soaked through my clothing before I could scramble to my feet.

A few yards farther, I passed the two local bars. Raucous laughter rang out above the throb of the juke box. The weather-bound fishermen had nowhere else to spend their time and money. One old leather-faced fisherman in a black slicker tottered out of one tavern toward the other as I passed.

I slopped on through the rain toward the post office. Soon, the boat harbor became visible through the fog. The trollers and seiners rolled and twisted in their moorings as the choppy waves caught them, and the wind rattled their tall poles.

The tiny skiffs tied to the close end of the float were half filled with water. Except for several fishermen securing their boats, the float was vacant. Even the youngsters, who seldom left their favorite fishing spots except to eat and sleep, were missing.

Farther on, I passed the little firehouse, which sheltered the smallest fire engine I'd ever seen, and approached Pelican's only bakery. Even old Wobbly had closed up shop today, and I missed the familiar aroma of fresh bread.

Next to the bakery stood the little white schoolhouse, which would open in a few weeks. The empty swings in the playground twisted in the wind. Part of the chicken wire fence, which had broken away, grated back and forth as each gust of wind hit it.

The Standard Oil dock and the salmon cannery opposite the school were closed until they could get more fish. No cheery "hello" rang out from the Filipinos who drove the jitneys, carrying loads of canned salmon to storage until the next Alaska Steamship freighter came in. The cannery's cookhouse, Pelican's only restaurant, was also closed until the storm passed.

The docks around the fish house and cold storage plant just ahead were vacant. Yesterday's fish had been cleaned and stored in ice, and now only a faint fishy odor clung to the deserted building.

Pelican boat harbor today
To my right was the post office, located next to the small general store and the offices of the Pelican Cold Storage Company. I grabbed my suitcase and dashed inside. By this time, I was thoroughly soaked and chilled to the bone.

Before I could ask the agent when the Alaska Coastal Grumman "Goose" was due in, through the static on the radio a voice cackled, "Due to lack of visibility, Alaska Coastal flight 2 now turning back to Juneau. Over and out."

"When will Pelican ever get telephones?" I grumbled.

Pelican Church in the fifties
Today, Pelican has telephones and televisions, and the Grumman "Goose" no longer flies there. The church, where we lived in the attached living quarters, still sits atop the hill above the cold storage plant, but the little trees now tower above it blocking the wonderful view of the inlet we loved to enjoy. City hall now occupies the old school building and the school has moved to a modern building at the other end of the boardwalk. The cannery is closed. Sports fishing and tourism are the main industries now. It's still a great place to visit.

Check out my Alaskan Waters Trilogy on Amazon. Book 3, Beside Still Waters, available in e-book, coming soon in paperback.