I met Bonnie St. John at our national diversity conference, where she was a featured speaker. The night prior to her speech, she came and talked with a small group of us at dinner. There she gave me some advice about how to think of my career, and we discussed where I work, which she was able to use for her presentation. She was so genuine, enthusiastic - a great person.
She spoke and was incredibly effective, not using any notes. We were told of her accomplishments - Harvard, Rhodes scholar, Parolympic skier, and more. I bought her most recent book, "Live Your Joy." But then I discovered she also wrote "How Strong Women Pray," so I bought that.
It's a book I didn't want to stop reading. In it, Bonnie interviews and tells the stories of a famous set of women and how they pray. They include Barbara Bush, a survivor of Rwandan atrocities, a college president, etc. Into their views on prayer she weaves her story of learning to pray. Her successes in life seem to be ways to block a past of incredible horror she experienced as a child (read the book!). She talks through how she finally recognized the block and uses prayer in her own life.
In reading, I found myself pulled into her story, but also the various ways that people pray - alone, as couples, in groups, etc. I thought of how I prayed, but I learned how I could "better" pray (if that makes sense). I was brought up on set prayers - like the Lord's Prayer. Later I prayed outside formal prayers - typical of many kids, I would pray to run a race well, to get a good grade on a test, etc. As an adult I seemed confused of the mixture between set prayers and other prayers. And the other prayers changed, because God wasn't the decider on me winning a race or getting a good grade on a test. I wasn't quite sure when to pray - it can be any time.
Near the end, Bonnie has a prayer group (I've never done this - it still seems a bit odd). When she leads, she does something a little differently - she asks 3 questions, so I've thought how I wouls answer those...
Tell a story about the power of prayer in your life.
Just diagnosed with MS at age 20, I went to get help from the leader of our small Episcopal church on campus. We sat in the basement of the chapel with his secretary. He lead the prayer. I don't remember the prayer. I do remember it being the first time I felt the presence of God. I knew MS was going to be tough, very tough, but through our prayer I knew God would always be with me.
How have my prayers changed over time?
As from above, they went from formal prayers to more informal prayers, they went from praying for specifics to praying for guidance, and giving thanks. They can be talking to God whenever I want. The other day I struggled to get up from a chair (this can be difficult). I wanted to pray "God, please help me get up from this chair," but changed it to "God, help me to believe that I can find a different way to get up from this chair, because the current way is NOT working." And I found a way.
What support would I like in my prayer life?
More time for prayer, for conversations with God, for times when I can just "be." Many people find those times when they are in nature and I have to agree.
So the book offers so much more - in a way it took me on my own prayer journey. I thought of obstacles in my life, how I used prayer, how I can use it. And the strength on Bonnie St. John to open her childhood makes her a much stronger woman than all of her other accomplishments.
Maybe I'll be lucky enough to meet her again one day. She lives her joy, and I should start that book next. I'm praying to find my joy again - it's a bit lost; it's painful; I'll struggle briefly. But the joy will return. I believe that.