Today I’m thrilled to welcome author AnnaLee Conti as she talks about a Christmas lesson she won’t forget.
In the early 1950s in Juneau, Alaska, when I was 5 or 6 years old, most families did their gift shopping by mail in the Territory. The arrival of the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog signaled the beginning of the holiday season. We kids spent hours poring over the Christmas catalog, studying page after page of toys and dolls, looking for the exact gift we wanted.
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, with 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.”
By faith, my parents operated the Bethel Beach Children’s Home in a big house on the beach just outside of town. They received little income for caring for the children—as many as thirteen children, nine of them under five and two babies in cribs—orphaned, neglected, or abandoned. Others had only one parent and no one to care for them while the parent worked.
Bethel Beach Children’s Home in Juneau, Alaska, c. 1950
My dad worked full time to support our family and the home. My mother cared for all the children as well as doing the cooking, the laundry, and the cleaning. We children did our assigned chores, but Mother was usually without other adult help. Both parents provided us with a lot of love and Christian training.
That year, every night until December 24, when 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.
Christmas morning, when we children, wide-eyed with expectation, tripped down the stairs and peeked into the large living room, we discovered gaily wrapped presents under the tree for each of us. The tags all read, “From Jesus.” 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, Behrends, the only department store in Juneau at that time, had invited my parents to come down to the store and pick out gifts for all the children—free of charge. Among the unsold toys, she found the 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 my Heavenly Father’s love has never left me.
AnnaLee (Cousart) Conti, daughter of Bob and AnnaMae Cousart and granddaughter of Carl and Florence Personeus, is a fifth generation ordained minister of the gospel in the Personeus family. AnnaLee grew up in Alaska and met her husband, Bob, while they were students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They have pastored in New York State since 1977, including pioneering a church. They have one son and five grandchildren.
AnnaLee earned a B.A. in music and elementary education at the University of Alaska, and an M.A. in Biblical Literature at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. For many years she wrote church school curriculum on assignment and freelance articles published in magazines, including The Pentecostal Evangel, Youth Alive, and Woman’s Touch.
For 4 years her daily devotionals appeared on the Sound of Life Radio website. She also taught elementary school and GED and adult basic education classes.
AnnaLee served as minister of Christian education in three churches, taught adult Sunday school classes for many years, sang and played the piano on the worship team, and served in state and local Women’s Ministries. She has taught Berean Bible courses, an extension of Global University, Springfield, MO, and continues to teach classes in the New York District School of Ministry, which trains pastors and teachers for ministry in local churches.
AnnaLee and her husband retired from pastoring in 2011. She now devotes more time to writing. She has completed her Alaskan Waters Trilogy, historical Christion fiction set in Alaska.