In “How Strong Women Pray,” Bonnie St. John, Olympic skier and silver medalist, talks about the struggles of being an amputee and how she overcame incredible obstacles through prayer. Here's an excerpt:
People ask me how I got the idea for “How Strong Women Pray.” Actually, I was praying.
I was sitting on my living room floor in New York City praying one morning several years ago, as was my routine at the time. I had come to a point in my life where I looked forward to these moments I shared with God at the start of every day. Not because anything was particularly wrong. So often, prayer is relegated to moments of dire need. No, praying for me had become a source of well-being, joy, and faith. As I prayed, I would feel physically strengthened — from good to better than good. I remember appreciating how much I had drawn from prayer over the years. Feeling uplifted in the good times and, in bad times, finding the courage to move forward. I knew that learning how to pray was one of the most important things I had ever done.
Without prayer, I would have collapsed under the weight of the difficulties in my life and failed as a mother. I would not have been able to inspire others to overcome their own obstacles. I am not sure who I would be at all.
Yet, most people who knew me as a strong woman — an inspirational speaker, a one-legged Olympic ski champion, a Rhodes Scholar and former White House official — did not know that prayer was important to me at all. Millions of people knew my life story, yet they had no idea that I prayed, no inkling that prayer made a difference in my life.
I began to wonder how many of the women I looked up to were also privately powered by prayer. So, I set out to interview strong women —some well-known, others not — to find out what they knew about relying on prayer in the real world.
What I learned from these incredible women was more sacred, more practical, and more uplifting than anything I could have imagined. I began to wonder if I would be able to put such an ethereal feeling into words. But the words of the women gave me a guide. The concrete details they were able to share about their prayer lives inspired me to try new ways to pray and to focus more on what matters most.
In the pages that follow, I have also shared the ups and downs of my own prayer evolution as the thread that binds the stories of other women together. As whole, it is a spiritual quilt of women's lives you can wrap around yourself. These stories had such a profound impact on me, and on my life in prayer, that I truly feel I am not the same person I was when I began this project. Your life may never be the same again, either, after reading them.
From Chapter about Maya Angelou, she is describing how she arrived at a deep feeling that God's love for her was real:
In that instant in my life I knew that I was a child of God ... and knowing it then, I know it all the time, fresh. Just saying it makes me thrill, in the classic sense. I mean, my body — Wheeew!
At that moment, I had to leave the room. I started weeping ... with the knowledge of it. And I could do it again right now. That which made the seas and mountains, made stars and moons, and goldfish ... That loves me?!!
It was a freedom ... a relief ... a license to try to do all the good in the world. If That loves me, then I can do anything good. You see?
Now I pray all the time. I pray when I'm walking from here over to the chair. I pray at any time ... when something crosses my mind, I have a prayer. Mostly I'm thankful: Thanking God for God, thanking God for Jesus, and thanking Jesus for Jesus. I am thankful for the idea of love, the idea of forgiveness, and the offering of peace and joy two thousand years ago.
Maya AngelouAuthor, Poet, Professor
Excerpt from Chapter about Ann Marie Moloney, NYPD Detective and a first responder to 911:
NYPD Detective Ann Marie Moloney was alone in a section of the city that she had never been to before. Still a rookie and wearing her brand-spanking new cop uniform with a nice, shiny radio, she walked down Jamaica Avenue in Queens, New York, a predominantly black, working-class neighborhood. While she felt right at home where she grew up, just a few subway stops away in a predominantly black and Hispanic area of Jackson Heights, here, with her never-used gun holster and her high-gloss shiny shoes, residents eyed her with suspicion.
Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks. She could hear a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. Everyone wondered, what will the rookie woman cop do?
In her own words, Ann Marie says: You need God backing you up, especially on this job. He's the strongest backup I'll ever have. If you don't believe in Him, if you don't have faith, how do you go out there?***
Excerpt from Chapter about Edie Falco, winner of an Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG award and most famous for her role on “The Sopranos”:
I wasn't raised in any religion per se. Neither of my parents are particularly religious. I came upon this "higher power" as they call it in AA. A lot of the touchstones of their teaching are about prayer. It's couched in all different kinds of language to make it palatable to everyone but it really is about centering yourself and gaining access to that which we all already have. Learning how to quiet all the external nonsense and listen to the quietness which is everything you ever need.
I learned about prayer through AA, but I don't want to say that I totally adhere to those principles either. For me, it is God, not just a "higher power," but I find myself defensive when it comes to actually using the word "God" because I know a lot of people get turned off.
When I got so much help with a big problem like drinking, I realized I could focus on all my problems this way. Then my whole life pretty much turned around.
Excerpt from Chapter about Kathy Ireland, supermodel turned CEO. She is talking about the urge to be angry at her husband and criticize him about something really small:
So I prayed and I prayed and I prayed: "God, please give me the words to say because I can't do this on my own. I need the words."
In my own words, it would have come out either mean and accusing, or more subtle and clever, but with a dig. Yes, probably mean and clever with digs is the route I would've gone.
I prayed, "God, help me deliver this message in the way You would want it and I will be the vessel." I surrendered to Him and let Him give me the words. It was amazing! When we talked, the outcome was beautiful. It just changed the whole day. It could have been a really yucky day, and instead, it was a beautiful day.***
Excerpt from Chapter about Marilyn McCoo:
"Marilyn, meet my friend Billy."
Marilyn was Marilyn McCoo, the tall, statuesque, sultry-voiced singer who would later become the accomplished platinum-album singer and actress, probably best known as a member of the 5th Dimension alongside the charming and handsome Billy Davis, Jr.
Lamonte McLemore introduced them because they both loved singing. They seemed to be opposites in every other way. Marilyn was a college graduate and the daughter of two doctors. Billy had dropped out of high school and survived on street smarts.
Billy flashed his thousand-watt smile and his laugh filled the room. His hair had been "processed" real straight and real slick like the popular singers of the day. Billy was funny and a life-of-the party type. He was passionate about music and talked with Marilyn for a couple of hours that night.
Some weeks later, Lamonte suggested that they form a new singing group for something to do while waiting for Motown to give them each a contract. He approached Billy first.
"That sounds like fun," Billy said. "But just so you know, I'm not giving up on my solo career."
When he approached Marilyn she was more dubious.
Excerpt from Chapter about Dorothy Height, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her lifetime of work in civil rights:
Over 40 years ago, shortly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Dr. Dorothy Height traveled with two of her white friends to stay at the Sun and Sand Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. The hotel was the only one that would take them, but did so reluctantly.
After the other women joined Dr. Height in her room, smoke suddenly began to pour in from under the door. They soon realized that someone had put newspapers under the door, lit them on fire, and run away.
Someone was literally trying to burn the women out of the hotel. Even with the law just passed, there was still much resistance to moving on. The women opened the door to huge flames. They were trapped inside and couldn't get out.
Excerpt from Chapter about Kathie Lee Gifford:
The Bible says to pray without ceasing (see I Thessalonians 5:17). To me that says our lives are meant to be a prayer. Once I realized that, it changed everything for me. I realized that if I was to truly pray without ceasing it meant that my life is to be a prayer from the minute I wake up in the morning. I begin the day in prayer — even before I get out of bed — my first thought is on Him.
Once you start realizing that your life is to be a prayer in itself, it just makes each moment so much more precious because you are always in the presence of the Holy One. That impacts how you speak, where you go, and what you spend your time doing. It makes the awareness of your Lord just that much more profound. Excerpted from “How Strong Women Pray” by Bonnie St. John. Copyright © 2007 Bonnie St. John. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Book Group USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.