How Strong Women Pray


By Bonnie St. John

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Bonnie St. John profiles some of today’s most prominent women and how prayer has impacted their lives.


Copyright © 2007 by Bonnie St. John

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Scriptures noted KJV are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

Scriptures noted NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scriptures noted NKJV are taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

Scriptures noted NRSV are taken from the NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION of the Bible. Copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of The Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.

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ISBN: 978-0-446-55375-9

Heather Whitestone McCallum

Heather Whitestone, a tall, green-eyed brunette, was competing in her first major pageant. As she stood poised in front of the judges, she felt confident that she had a chance to win. A talented ballerina, Heather had never let her hearing impairment keep her from living life to the fullest. But as she tried to answer the judges' questions she began to panic. She tried to keep smiling, but when they spoke they were not looking at her: not a problem for a hearing person, but Heather read lips. She couldn't understand what they were asking her. She stumbled over the answers and lost.

Heather cried to her parents, "I lost because I am deaf."

But her parents would have none of it. "No," they said, "you lost because you were dishonest. If you had told the judges you were deaf, they could have talked facing you so you could read their lips."

It was an important lesson for Heather. She returned to the pageant the next year. Her talent segment was a ballet performance to "Via Dolorosa," a song that she had never heard due to her disability. After a bout with meningitis, Heather lost her hearing at eighteen months old. She had to literally count the beats and memorize the rhythm of the music.

And this time, because she was honest about her hearing impairment, the judges kept their faces toward her when they talked and wrote down their questions if she didn't understand. Heather won the crown and became Miss America 1995.

When I was on the road as Miss America, one of my oldest friends contacted me with an important request. She was dying of cancer and wasn't sure how much longer she had to live. She asked me to pray for her, and of course I agreed.

I wasn't exactly sure what to do. Should I pray for a long time? Maybe I should fast? I decided that God was in charge of her life, and if it was time for her to leave the earth, praying for a long time wasn't the answer. I sat down and said to God, "My friend has cancer. I don't know what Your plan is for her life. I trust Your decision and I ask You to give her a peaceful feeling about whether she will die soon or not."

And that was all. It was a quick prayer. I called her and told her that, as she went through her dark valley, I had prayed for her. It was such a chaotic time for me. As part of my duties as Miss America I was traveling all over. My days were very long and I had little time for any personal life. So I didn't see her until months later. That was eleven years ago and today she still lives. She still tells others that my prayer saved her life.

I felt embarrassed by that. My prayer was not that fancy and didn't even last a long time. When I told her, she said it didn't matter because she strongly believed that God was there to hear my prayer and let her know that He would bless her with a longer, healthy life. She said my words made her day in the hospital.

This was an interesting experience for me because it showed me how much God cares about even my quick prayers. He loves them as much as my long prayers. He appreciates anyone who takes the time, even a few moments, to pray. The power of prayer is so simple. God shows me that through prayer He can do anything.

I feel like I should have a traditional prayer routine, but I don't. I usually talk to God about three times a day. When I am facing an obstacle or am upset or frustrated, sometimes I talk to Him ten times a day! I don't pray with a memorized, formal prayer that is always the same. I pray differently every day because I talk and listen to God like I do with my close friends. Sometimes my prayers last fifteen minutes; other times they last thirty minutes.

I usually pray in my room or bathroom, where I can be alone. And once or twice a week I go by myself to the beach or backyard and just listen to God's voice while I watch His view of nature. But at nighttime I pray with my boys—John, age six and James, age five—after we read a children's Bible. We pray out loud for about five minutes. Their prayers are usually sweet and sometimes they make me laugh because they're so cute. They usually laugh with me afterward and we kiss each other when we say good night to God.

I always look at God like He's my father, when I pray. I talk to Him like a daughter who wants to share her joy, her sorrow, and her concerns, or even wants to seek His advice on something, even about her clothes and weight. I ask God to teach me how to be a better wife, a better mother, and a businesswoman.

Other times, I pray like this: "God, thank You for being good to me. I'm here and listening. Please speak to my heart. I just want to sit on Your lap and listen to good things about myself from You. What do You like about me?" I'm like a daughter who desperately wants to hear loving words from her father every day!

Of course, like most people, I prayed differently when I was younger. I was pitiful when I was a kid! I asked God a thousand times to heal my deafness, make me a ballerina (He answered that prayer!) and to make my hair curly in a natural way. I hated the perm my mother did on my hair. That perm chemical was my torture because it smelled terrible for days! I did not seek Him for anything else until I was eleven years old. Then I started to ask God many other questions about life and His plan for my future.

If I had to choose one Bible verse that sums up how I feel about prayer and my relationship with God, it would be Jeremiah 29:11. It is always in my mind because so many times I think life is unfair. I don't know why some people are born deaf or with other disabilities and others are not. But the Holy Spirit challenges me to think of this Bible verse very often:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD,

thoughts of peace, and not of evil,

to give you an expected end. [Jeremiah 29:11 KJV]

I sit down and I say, "I come to You and ask You to guide me and give me the courage and comfort to take one step at a time. Please keep me in Your arms like a baby and help me to change myself for better. I trust this Bible verse You gave me."

I Love Sunday School!


I walked along the dusty dirt road, dragging my right leg with each step since the heavy brace kept my leg from bending. The growth in my right leg was stunted from birth, so I wore white, high-top orthopedic shoes with this metal brace providing a stilt to even up my legs.

I watched the dust and rocks scuff and dirty the white shoes I had polished only the night before. I hated wearing those ugly shoes that made me look crippled and deformed. Having to polish them only made it worse.

Being four years old, I had to struggle to keep up with my seven-year-old sister, April, on our way to church on Sunday. My six-year-old brother, Wayne, continually ran ahead, threw pebbles into bushes to flush the birds or climbed on the ruins of old houses that had been condemned to make way for the new freeway. Years later, once the freeway was built, we would no longer be able to walk to church at all.

The three of us kids walked straight up our dirt road over a small hill and down the other side to a small, one-room, cinder-block non-denominational Christian church.

I loved Sunday school. My teacher, Gladys Sumpter, was a chubby, older woman who reminded me of my grandmother on my father's side, who was white. On the black side of the family, my mother's mother died before I was born, so my entire concept of "grandmother" was a chubby, white woman with glasses and curly gray hair.

In Sunday school, we had beautiful pictures of Jesus and the disciples with stories of their adventures. There were crafts to do, punch to drink, and cookies to eat.

I don't remember the exact day that I asked Jesus to come and live inside my heart. I think I did it every time they suggested it, just to be sure that He was still there.

Once, I got assigned a verse to say in the Christmas pageant at church. My stepfather, Paul, helped me to memorize it. My real father, Lee, had left my mother while she was pregnant with me. Paul tested me on my Bible verse over and over until I could say it by heart without thinking. It seemed very odd to me that I still went blank on stage and couldn't recite my verse no matter how hard I tried. My face flushed hot with humiliation.

Going to Head Start preschool was a lot like Sunday school, but the stories weren't as good. My sister, April, had taught me to read already, and I was bored a lot. They had milk instead of punch.

Since my mother worked all day as a teacher, Paul picked me up from preschool. He was retired. He was very, very old. He combed his thinning gray and white hair back over his bald spot.

When we got home, I would go into my room to put away my sweater and stuff. Often, he would come into my room. I shared my room with my sister, but she was still at school, as was my brother.

When Paul came into the room I knew to lay on the bed. He would take off my clothes and play with certain parts of my body with his fingers, and even his tongue. Sometimes he took off all his clothes and I was supposed to play with his parts, too. The very first time he came in my room, he put his mouth between my legs. It scared me so much, I howled and struggled. But he held me down until I got used to it. I learned to help as much as I could. I wanted to be a good girl.

I still wanted to be a good girl when my mother told me they were going to cut off my leg. She explained that I would get a brand new leg that would allow me to walk more normally.

"I'll be able to wear normal shoes?" I asked. "Any color? Both feet touching the ground?" She nodded. "Great," I said, "cut it off!"

Months passed on the third floor of the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children in Los Angeles. My world narrowed to three long, dim corridors with graying white walls, medicinal smells, wheelchairs, and the twenty other girls on the ward.

For a five-year-old, six months feels like forever. Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Christmas all passed in the hospital with no home-cooked meals, no sister and brother, and no parents, unless the holiday fell on a Sunday. None did.

When my mother and stepfather tried to sneak upstairs to give me a cake for my birthday one Saturday, the hospital unceremoniously threw them out. As punishment, they were barred from visiting on Sunday. No one told the ward nurses or me what happened, so Sunday morning I dressed up like the other kids, let the nurses primp up my hair, and waited for my parents to come. Since my sixth birthday was the day before, I just knew they would bring me a present, and maybe a cake. We all waited eagerly with eyes wide, like puppies in a pound hoping to be claimed by the next passerby. As each parent came in to claim a waiting child, I watched and watched.

"Maybe the next one," I kept thinking, until finally, visiting time ended. I was exhausted from hours of waiting, straining on the edge of my bed, and hoping for my parents to come and celebrate my birthday. All the loneliness, isolation and pain of surgery I'd felt welled up in me and poured out in a torrent of tears. I lay on my hospital bed, a sodden heap of primped-up curls; a cold hollow spot inside. Through this and other experiences, I learned that having feelings and caring about people meant getting hurt. I wanted to stop feeling anything.

The physical pain of surgery and therapy was almost a welcome distraction from the routine loneliness and boredom. The amputation left me with a rounded stump of a leg, which was a bit longer than the thigh of my other leg. Sharp, stabbing pains, called phantom pains, shot through my non-existent foot. By day I somehow was able to ignore it. Some nights, however, I would awaken to a nurse shaking me to stop me from screaming in my sleep.

To cope with the depressing realities of life, I not only controlled my emotions, I escaped into other worlds through books and stories. At age six, I powered through an entire set of Dick-and-Jane readers and polished off two or three spelling chapters a week while the hospital's schoolteacher sat back aghast.

I was drawn back to reality by trips to the physical therapy room. It was different from every other part of the hospital because it was filled with brightly colored pillows, stuffed animals, toys, and games. But I spent agonizing hours in that sunny room, trying to toughen up the end of my stump by pushing on a bathroom scale perched on a pile of books.

Finally, the time came for me to go home. My mother had to work, so Paul came to pick me up from the hospital on the day I was discharged. The nurses gave me a real dress to wear instead of the loose cotton outfits we'd worn every day. My hair was pulled into pony tails and hung in shiny black curls. I had one crutch and my new leg, which was made entirely of wood with metal hinges at the knee. It looked like Pinocchio's leg.

The excitement of going home and new clothes faded in the presence of my first real pair of shoes. All of my attention was focused on drinking in the beauty of seeing normal shoes on my own feet. During the two-hour drive from Los Angeles back home to San Diego, I didn't look out the window, but stared at the incredible shoes on my feet. I had picked them out myself: dark blue suede, with windows cut into the top part like stained glass. Red stitching edged the cutouts and circled the entire shoe, attaching it to a black waffle sole. They were, without a doubt, the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

When my mother got home from work, she watched me walk with my new wooden leg and admired my blue suede shoes. She took a picture of me in the backyard showing off my new leg. Then Mom gave me a brochure she had found with a silhouette of an amputee on a ski. It read, "If I can do this, I can do anything." I put the brochure in a box that held my special treasures: a lock of my dog's hair and a rock from the Grand Canyon.

Ann Marie Moloney

NYPD Detective Ann Marie Moloney was alone in a section of the city where she had never been 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?

Adrenaline rushed through her body. Ann Marie was on edge—tense, desperately trying to figure out where the screams were coming from. Activity surrounded her: kids played basket-ball, buses rumbled back and forth, cars darted in and out of traffic. As the knots in her stomach grew larger, she hoped the screams were not too close or too dangerous. Only a few weeks out of the academy, she still waited to be partnered up.

The screams were getting louder, closer. Suddenly, a car came screeching around the corner. A woman leaned out of the passenger side window—her whole upper body out of the car—she held a fourteen or fifteenth-month-old baby by the leg and arm. The baby was clearly not breathing.

As soon as the mother spotted the uniform, the car skidded over and the woman thrust the baby into Ann Marie's arms. Her eyes were wide open, expectant. She looked at Ann Marie as if she was the only hope on the entire planet. She screamed hysterically in Spanish, "Por Favor! Por Favor! Ayudame!" Please, please! Help me! Make my child breathe again.

Being from a large lrish family, holding babies was second nature to Ann Marie. Her CPR skills were up to date.

She instantly laid the baby on the ground and started giving it mouth to mouth. As soon as she got the baby to breathe, Ann Marie began screaming in her radio for an ambulance. All formality was out the window—she spoke no code numbers into the radio. Six cars pulled up with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The mother was crying and kept saying, "Gracias, Gracias," over and over.

I think that was probably one of the scariest moments in my life. I was only in my early twenties. I remember sitting in the back of the patrol car on the way to the hospital and my heart was pounding—boom-boom-boom-boom. I was feeling so high and thinking, "God, this is great! Look what we did!"

But then an older, more experienced cop burst my bubble, saying, "One thing you need to know, Kid: You never put your mouth on that kinda kid. You don't know what kinda disease you're gonna get."

I said, "I don't understand."

And he said, "You'll learn."

I was devastated. I didn't understand what he meant. I saw a child. I didn't see black. I didn't see white. I didn't see Latino. I was just shocked that he was implying that this child's life wasn't worth it. He thought the possibility of my getting sick wasn't worth trying to revive this child because the child was not a little white, Irish child.

I didn't think about any of that. I just went and I did what I had to do. How do you find the strength in a situation like that? It's God. Who else could it be?

There's no question that I had the courage to do it because I trusted and I knew that He was going to help me. If that poor child had passed away, obviously I would have been devastated, but at least I know personally that I did everything I could to make sure that baby was okay.

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?

I think about all those firefighters and cops that ran into the buildings on 9/11. As part of the ceremonial unit, I was responsible for organizing the funerals for and burying twenty-three police officers. Many of them were my close friends and co-workers.

God was behind those officers. They trusted that God was going to do the right thing, whether He was going to call them home or whether He was going to let them go back to their families here on earth. They had enough belief and strength in God that they went ahead and tried to do the best they could to help. You need God in your life as a cop. If you don't, how do you have the strength?

You have to understand that you are a tool and that God is going to use you. If you are willing, He will put you in the path of people that need your help. He understands. He loves. He cares. That's why I've been a police officer for over seventeen years. I truly believe that He works through me.

When you're a police officer, people turn to you and trust you. They almost look at you like you are God when they need help. And some days you can feel drained of the God in you. People just want you, and they want you and they want you.

When I go home and I'm drained and exhausted, and my child crawls into my lap and says, "Mommy, I love you so much." That's my reward. God gave me these beautiful children. My reward every night is to go home and to have a little hand clasp my big hand. I find such companionship in the silence. My children don't have to say a word.

My kids have always seen me pray. They've always seen some form of prayer in our house. The way to teach someone to pray is through your own actions. They watch me and they want to be like me. Consistency is important. No matter what, we will always go to church at the same time, every Sunday. No matter what, we will always pray every morning and every night.

My parents came from Ireland in the 1950s. My kids watch my parents pray too. I'm not saying we're the greatest family on the face of the earth, we obviously have disagreements, and some days we just want to strangle each other!

If we argue, if Liam pulls his sister's hair, or if Saoirse smacks him in the head—and that happens, because they're kids—prayer is always there. The children have always had religious toys to play with and you'll see pictures of Jesus around the house. There has always been a children's Bible in almost every room. I had a whole box full. I love children's Bibles because you get a good story and a giggle without all the thees and thous.

On 9/11, we went downtown after the towers fell to give assistance. I got there within the first hour or so, but there was nothing there. From three to four or five blocks away, all you saw were shoes. Literally, people ran right out of their shoes. Hundreds of shoes were all over the place. It was like somebody had plucked the people up and just put them somewhere. It was just outrageous. We were trying to bring water down there, but it was so chaotic that we had to come back to my post at the police academy a few blocks away.

We didn't know what was going on. We had radios, but our cell phones were dead. Most of us were on the street, we weren't manning the TV. All we heard was that the Pentagon was being attacked and something had happened in Pennsylvania. Rumors were flying around like crazy. I thought the world was coming to a crashing end. I had no idea what was going on in the rest of the country.

Once we were able to get our land lines up at the academy, that's where everybody came. It became like an emergency center. We're across the street from Cabrini Hospital, so we were waiting for any dead or wounded to be brought back. We had set up all these beds for a triage center downstairs in our gymnasium. We were just waiting for them to bring anybody from downtown—firefighters, cops, civilians. They didn't bring a single person in.

It was devastating to see those empty beds. I didn't expect that because I figured "When these beds load up, boy, it's going to be sad to see all these people in here injured." But not one person came. That was worse than what I had imagined.

Most of the people who were coming back from downtown were completely covered in soot, so they were being decontaminated outside. They were just being hosed off and given clothing. All modesty went away. They just changed in the street to get out of their clothes.

Within twenty-four hours, churches began to respond. These beautiful women—from down South, from upstate, from out West, from the Midwest—came in vans. They brought food and clothing.

We spent probably the first three or four weeks alternating on and off, going down to the pile to dig. And every now and then a bell would sound, a little siren, or a horn that would mean someone found remains. Everyone would stop while they brought the person or the remains out, covered in an American flag. The whole thing was very strange and unusual.

Kids gave us stuffed animals and other gifts so we wouldn't be frightened at night—their favorite Elmo toy or a Power Ranger blanket. They were giving up their blankies! They would hand you the only thing that they knew that kept them comfortable at night. You would get this old, torn up blankie with a little scrawled note, "Be strong," or "God loves you." Or you'd get a crooked flag with two red stripes from a three year old that said, "God bless America."

In this horrible situation, the strength was coming from little kids, and do you know why? Because God used those children to give us adults hope and strength. Those kids have complete faith in us as police officers and firefighters and we have to draw our faith from them. It's such a beautiful circle that's been created by God for us. When you don't recognize these things in life, you miss out.

I still suffer from a variety of medical problems because of all the dust I inhaled in the first weeks after 9/11. I've had my gall bladder removed. And after extensive therapy at the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Center, my various lung conditions and the ability to sleep were greatly improved. I don't have to take antihistamines every day anymore. But the Center, which has helped so many officers recover from the effects of 9/11, is still struggling for funding (see

When I was on patrol I did see a lot of bad stuff. But, from bad, good sprouts all over. Like the time when a young girl was hit by a car as she was walking home from a birthday party in Staten Island. Her parents made the choice to donate her organs. Out of that accident, out of that tragedy—the funeral, the wake, the burial, going to the cemetery, all of this—she was able to help seven different people live a longer life. There is an eleven year old out there with her corneas, and another kid with her liver. So good came out of it. You have to look at it in a different way. If you see only the bad, you're going to shut down.

If I had to give any advice about praying it would be to never stop. Just keep learning. I would also say just listen. If you don't have prayer in your home right now, that's fine. If you weren't raised with prayer, seek it out. Spend half an hour, or twenty minutes, each day by yourself, whether you're sitting in your car, waiting for an appointment, or at home.

Even if you think you don't know how to pray, just being silent is praying. Gardening is praying to God. Singing is praying to God. Some people don't understand that. They think that they have to go through this whole religious education in order to be close to God. But God is close to us. We're the ones that push Him away.

I think that if I could go back twenty years, I would like to recoup a couple of years or days or moments where I struggled through a lot of things that were going on in my life. Instead of turning to God or going to church and praying, I acted like I needed to make that decision by myself. I didn't even think about asking, Hey, can I have a little help? Hey, can I have a little support? That's why my favorite Bible verse is: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13 KJV).

Leaning on the Lord


When I was eleven years old, I joined my brother and sister, who were already scholarship students at the Bishop's School for Boys and Girls, a fabulous private school in La Jolla, California. The manicured lawns and elegant buildings looked more like an ivy-league campus than a high school. I wore black-and-white saddle shoes with a green-and-blue plaid uniform and a starched white shirt. Everything whispered "money" and "success." For me, it was stressful to be there. I didn't fit in with the rich, blonde, beach crowd.


On Sale
Nov 2, 2007
Page Count
304 pages

Bonnie St. John

About the Author

Despite having her right leg amputated at age five, Bonnie St. John became the first African-American ever to win medals in Winter Olympic competition, taking home a silver and two bronze medals at the 1984 Winter Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

Bonnie graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and served in the White House as a Director of the National Economic Council. She has been featured extensively in both national and international media. NBC Nightly News called Bonnie, “One of the five most inspiring women in America.”
Allen P. Haines has served as CEO of several high-growth, mid-sized creative marketing companies in the movie and television industries. In 2010, he cofounded The Blue Circle Leadership Institute where he is instrumental in the creation and distribution of a variety of highly successful leadership training programs across dozens of industries.

Learn more about this author