Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

Miracle of ropes indicates that God is still in control

In 1978 another couple accompanied my husband and I to pick up a boat windshield. After gently placing it and fastening the trunk down with a ski rope, we happily headed home. I turned around and saw the trunk lid was up. Was the windshield gone? How could we replace it?

After using the same rope to it again (the only rope we had), we continued homeward. Sitting nervously in the passenger seat, twirling my hair, I prayed: “God, please help us. If only we had a rope. If only we had a rope.”

In 1978, there were not stores open on Sundays. Tension, along with suggestions to stop and check, made my agitated husband drive faster. All of a sudden he stopped on a dime, throwing everyone forward. After tightening the loosened rope, our friend got back in.

As I got into the car, my feet moved in a strange way, as if I was climbing upstairs. I told myself not to be silly, but I knew this was not my doing. Shocked, I yelled, “Come here, quick!” At my feet were two pieces of twine, covered with dust and dirt as if they had been there for years. I remembered my prayer –“if only we had a rope.”

God gave us twice what we needed. Some people might say it was a coincidence. No, I know it was a miracle.

Through the years, lots of things have changed, but God is still in control today.

Janice Dail

Crisfield

Tuesday, Jun. 3, 2008

Families Count Blessings In Wake Of Tornado

A Hancock County family say it’s a testament to the power of prayer.

When a twister hit the Keefe home, they had barely finished praying a second “our father.”

“You want to know how long a tornado lasts? About to the end of the lord’s prayer, that’s how long,” said Erick Keefe.

Keefe says his mood isn’t horrible, because they survived. His wife and children escaped to the basement early Saturday morning as the tornado cut an eight mile path in northwest Ohio.

A path that includes destroying his dad’s home next door.

Ann Keefe says both families are unhurt as they lookover what remains from the twisters damage.

The insurance company says both farm houses are a total loss.

The tornado threw their belongings to the surround farmlands even nearby trees, and neighbors came to try and help put it all back together, reported ONN’s Dan Weist.

“She’s from my home town,” says Cindy Brooks, who was one person helping.

Brooks like many others over the last few days just came to help. Other neighbors have arrived in droves with offers of assistance.

“I’ll try to keep my composure but they just came out of the woodwork,” said Erick Keefe.

Even after what has rained down on them, both families have hoisted flags and proclaimed their gratitude to those, divine and otherwise helping them to start anew.

Friday, May. 16, 2008

Prayer breakfast brings men together for 50 years

Twenty-one years ago, Tom Allen was recovering for a heart attack and spending his days at home alone.

“I was feeling sorry for myself and wasn’t really doing anything else,” said Allen, 73, of Port Clinton.

Then his neighbor and some friends invited him to the Men’s Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast at Trinity United Methodist Church. The weekly fellowship meeting was the change he needed.

“It gave me an excuse to get away from me,” said Allen, a Trinity United member. “I felt good being there. The people were not there to promote themselves. They were there because it was a religious experience.”

Since then, he has regularly attended the non-denominational gathering. He joined more than 100 locals and clergymen this morning at Magruder Hospital to celebrate the breakfast’s 50th anniversary.

Monday, May. 5, 2008

The Power of Prayer

Hundreds of people surrounded Fresno and Clovis (California) Saturday offering prayers for a safe and prosperous community.

After eight months of planning, people from about 150 area congregations joined together this week for 4 days of prayer activities including Saturday’s event, where people fanned out to pray in every part of the city.

A van from Fresno’s First Baptist church was just one of the church vehicles that spread throughout Fresno and Clovis Saturday taking hundreds to various spots to pray.

Willie Nolte, First Baptist Church, says “We’re praying for our city. We want God to bless our city. We want our city to prosper, we want our city to be safe.”

The idea of “Pray Fresno/Clovis” was to surround the area with prayer. It began Thursday, the national day of prayer, with a prayer service at city hall.

Saturday, church groups split a 66 mile boundary of the area into six areas. Then they spread out along the perimeter to offer songs and prayer.

Joy Nolte, First Baptist Church, says “We’re not trying to protest anything or to say we’re unhappy with Fresno. We love Fresno and Clovis and the surrounding areas. And we’re just trying to say by our presence we pray for the community.”

Participants could pray for anything, like the needs within specific areas and the community’s needs as a whole.

Along the Herndon corridor some prayed for truck drivers who are battling rising fuel costs. Jacob Hitch, 14 years old, says “The things going on around here, the truckers and the businesses. The truckers bringing in their things and being prosperous.”

Organizers say they hope to turn “Pray Fresno/Clovis” into a movement instead of a single event. Those who participated Saturday say they’re counting on the power of prayer to change Fresno for the better.

Gabe Yanez, 14 years old, says “It makes me feel good. Because I know I’m doing my part. And as much as a can. With everyone else, it can all add up.”

The four day event wraps up Sunday, during regular services at churches throughout Fresno.

Monday, Nov. 12, 2007

Scots Put Their Faith In Prayer

ONE in three Scots still believes in the power of prayer despite a big decline in church attendance, according to a survey.

More than 1.4million adults in Scotland – 32 per cent – pray. But that figure is below the UK average of 42 per cent.

The survey, by Christian relief agency Tearfund, found just under half of those who pray do so at least once a day.

Family and friends are the most popular topic, accounting for 68 per cent of prayers.

Of the 20million adults who pray in the UK, nine million pray every day.

One in three says praying makes them feel better and happier, while one in five believes their prayers will be answered.

Peter Chirnside, head of Tearfund in Scotland, said: “These figures are very encouraging and suggest that people know there is something bigger there that can affect the world.”

However, the popularity of prayer appears to be at odds with church attendance in Scotland, which has dropped to just 11 per cent of the population.

If the current rate of decline continues, only 8.7 per cent will attend church on Sundays by 2010 and 6.8 per cent by 2020.

But experts believe the gap between the numbers of churchgoers and those who pray reflects a greater sense of spirituality outside official faiths.

Psychologist Dr Stephen Kelly, of Strathclyde University, said: “A lot of people don’t agree with those institutions but still believe there is a spirituality out there.”

Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007

Web site for prayers clicks with believers

NAZARETH, Israel — Dressed in his embroidered robes, the Rev. Andreas Elime steps from the altar of St. Gabriel’s Church and into the view of the Web cams on the church’s marble pillars. His voice fills the empty 250-year-old sanctuary with a Greek Orthodox hymn, while a computer on a nearby pew transmits personal blessings to three Americans thousands of miles away.

Christian pilgrims have long traveled to the boyhood town of Jesus to seek blessings. Now the Internet can save them the trip.

A service recently launched by Modefine Ltd., a Cyprus company, enables worshippers to log on to www.mirezo.com and watch as a priest utters a prayer for them.

“This takes things to a new level,” said James Martin, a Jesuit priest and associate editor of the Roman Catholic magazine America, who has watched religious trends develop on the Internet. Martin said in a telephone interview that the technology also gives believers a new way to carry out an old practice: asking others to pray for them in sacred places.

“Going to Israel is quite expensive,” said Martin. “So for people who can’t afford it but can afford their monthly (Internet) bill, this is one way to do it.”

Since opening May 1, the site has fielded hundreds of requests, some 70 percent from Americans but also from Hong Kong, India, Mexico and Australia, said Said Salem, Modefine’s Holy Land representative.

“We have something special here,” he said. “Mary lived here. Jesus grew up here. This is a holy town. This is the basis of Christianity.”

St. Gabriel’s Church stands over the spring where Greek Orthodox tradition says the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Catholic tradition holds that this event took place about a mile away, under the modern Basilica of the Annunciation.

Martin’s only concern was the fee: $10 per prayer. Salem said it covers system costs, not the prayer, which is free.

“If you come from Jerusalem to get the priest to pray for you, you don’t expect the priest to pay for the taxi,” Salem said. “We are the taxi.” He said he hoped the service would eventually raise funds for the Nazareth Christian community.

After the opening hymn, Elime prays for mercy, health, peace, forgiveness and salvation. He does services in English, Greek, Arabic and Russian, he said, depending on the request. He reads the first names on that day’s list, lighting a candle for each. A benediction closes the service, which lasts about four minutes.

Sitting in the stone-walled courtyard of his nearby monastery after the service, Elime said four priests do two services a day, seven days a week, praying for five to 10 people daily.

“There are some people who can’t come to the church to take Communion, so we go to them,” he said, citing the sick and elderly. Praying for people through the Internet serves the same purpose, he said.

Elime mentioned one American man who orders prayers over the Web weekly. Another woman recently placed an order after her daughter disappeared. The daughter was found three days later, Elime said.

The Web site lets people select a theme for their prayer, but Elime says the same prayer for each person.

Metropolis Kyriakos, the Archbishop of Nazareth, said he would prefer people visit the church in person, but that he saw nothing wrong with the online ceremony. “If I even smelled that something was not right, I would cancel it all,” he said, tapping his nose.

For Robert Jeffords, a frequent user of the site, online prayer was the only way to reach the Holy Land.

“I’m 66 now and almost immobile,” Jeffords said by phone from Hollywood, Fla., citing diabetes and leg infections. “So a trip to the Holy Land would be impossible.”

After reading about the service on a Catholic Web site, Jeffords ordered two prayers for his family and was impressed with what he saw.

“I was actually part of it,” said Jeffords, who is Catholic but says he has Greek Orthodox icons on his wall. “I was there.”

Jeffords has since ordered two more prayers, one for the anniversary of his mother-in-law’s death, another for his son and his son’s fiancée.

“Thank God for my Internet service,” Jeffords said. “There’s a lot of good stuff on there. There’s trash, too, but you can find good stuff if you look around.”

Wednesday, Jun. 6, 2007

Take a short prayer break

Years ago a priest friend showed me some daily schedule pads that he had made up for himself. At the top was a line for the date and the heading “To Do Today” and then 15 lines for the various things he wanted to accomplish. The basic difference from similar pads was that on lines 1, 5 and 10 it had “Pray” and on line 15 it said “Thanksgiving Prayer.”

The first time I saw the pad I commented that it would be interesting to market it, and suggested that he let me “borrow” the idea as a premium for the diocesan paper where I worked at the time. He was okay with that if I didn’t tell anyone where the idea had come from. He didn’t want credit in any way. The pads were his way of reminding himself each day of God’s primary place in his priesthood and his life. Line 15, he said, was the most important because it reminded him to thank God for the gifts of the day and – some days – for the help God had given him to make it through the day.

He said that the idea came to him soon after his ordination, following his first months assigned to a parish. Filled with the excitement and self-importance of his new work, he got so caught up in his parish ministry that at the end of too many days he realized that, other then presiding at Mass, he’d taken little time during the day for prayer and reflection as he regularly did in the more structured seminary life. The pads were his way of making sure prayer was always on his schedule and on his mind.

As one who gets caught up in my own daily “To Do” list, it was good for me to hear that a priest had to remind himself to take a few minutes during a day to put things into a prayerful perspective. I thought it was just me!

For many of us, it seems our schedules are not just filled, but jammed, with commitments, appointments and “absolutely-have-to-do” projects. I leave it to the social scientists to explain why this happens, but I know I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my schedule. Even getting a bite to eat, let alone a meal, is a challenge. Take a few minutes for prayer or meditation? I’ll get to that later or tomorrow!

I find that when it gets that way the healthiest thing I can do is take even five minutes for a “prayer break” right at my desk. I have a couple of resources I use to help me in this quiet time. Obviously and honestly, the day’s reading in our Christopher book Three Minutes a Day helps me focus on the good in the world around me.

In this computer age I can also go to Sacred Spaces, a Web site of the Irish Jesuits that has a short reflection, scriptural reading and prayer. To my surprise one of my own brothers recently told me that when he turns on his computer in the morning he listens to “Christopher Minutes” on our Web site (www.christophers.org). Even though he has to listen to me (his words!) he says that it helps him at least start the day in a positive perspective.

I’m sure the short prayer breaks I take during the day help me to slow down a bit, and that makes them mental-health breaks too. Yet I know that first and foremost the breaks help me put all the busyness into perspective – and remember to make my work a prayer.

Wednesday, May. 23, 2007

Prayer answered via a golf cart

Three years ago, Cass Forkin, who is in the job of granting “twilight wishes” to frail elderly people, visited the home of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem.

About 90 nuns live there, more than half of them retired, some extremely old and frail and living in the infirmary. In their walkers and wheelchairs, they could no longer see the beautiful grounds, the flowering rhododendrons.

The nuns really wanted a golf cart, to transport their frailest around the campus, but asking for one was deemed, well, inappropriate.

“They didn’t want to seem greedy,” said Marie Bradley, activities director at the infirmary, St. Michael Hall. “They wanted to be unselfish.”

Two years went by, and a new administrator was named for the 57-acre campus founded by Mother Katharine Drexel. This was Sister Lorraine, 72, who has a bad back and doesn’t get around so well.

She thought the golf cart was a terrific idea and sent a letter to Forkin, who founded and runs the Twilight Wish Foundation in Bucks County, seeking “a four-seat golf cart for 56 retired nuns.”

Forkin tries to fulfill all sorts of requests from older people, but this one was surprisingly difficult. Most country clubs lease their carts and need to return them.

Her brother knew a man in Philadelphia who was head of the Mayfair Civic Association and known as a can-do guy. Turns out that guy, Scott Cummings, knew a guy in the Poconos who lost 400 pounds after having his stomach stapled and no longer needed his golf cart to get around.

So Cummings bought the cart for $500 out of his own pocket, rented a trailer and drove to the Poconos in February, right after the huge snowfall.

The man with the stapled stomach hadn’t shoveled or plowed his driveway, which was under 18 inches of snow.

“I looked up, and I said, ‘Well, sisters, if you want the golf cart, I’m going to need a little prayer,’ ” Cummings recalled. “I looked up the street – and here comes a giant plow.”

Cummings polished the cart, put air in the tires. He and his wife, Vicki, clipped a guardian angel to the sun visor, which all the nuns thought most appropriate because Mother Katharine Drexel’s favorite expression was “Holy Angels.”

The couple also put a picture of Pope John Paul II on the steering column – covering the operating instructions, although Sister Lorraine insisted yesterday that she had read them carefully. Cummings also taped a bumper sticker to the front: Don’t let this car fool you, my treasure is in heaven.

The sisters were all lined up Saturday when he arrived.

“I pulled up, and I never saw so many women, so many Catholic nuns, happy to see me,” said Cummings, who went to St. Matthew’s parish school and Father Judge High. “I was a Catholic boy, used to getting my knuckles rapped with a ruler. Their faces were so excited. I actually started crying. I lost it.”

The nuns have spent the weekend and every day since driving around the campus. They have a little stool to help the weakest get on board.

“The chief of maintenance is getting seat belts for the back,” Sister Lorraine said. “I want to make sure they’re safely on and can’t fall out.”

The cart can hit a top speed of 15 m.p.h., according to the manufacturer, but nuns tend to be conservative drivers.

“This is where we all started,” said Sister Loretta, vice president of the order. Many of the older nuns joined and trained here more than 60 years ago. Most were teachers and went on to poor communities and reservations all over the country. Back at their order’s home, many are too frail to see the buildings and grounds they strolled long ago.

“Now, they can go anywhere they want to go – with an approved driver,” Sister Loretta said. “It’s opening up the world to them.”

Sister Claire, for instance, went down to the cemetery on Saturday to see the grave where her natural sister was buried. She hadn’t been able to get there since her sister died.

Yesterday, Sister Lorraine was giving several nuns rides.

“You’d better hang on,” she said to Sister Therese, in the front passenger seat, her walker folded in her lap.

“Don’t worry about me,” Sister Therese replied. “Watch out for the tree.”

Sister Lorraine was driving across the grass, heading toward the cemetery, when she stopped the cart at a four-inch drainage ditch. She decided it was too perilous to cross.

“This will be my first time in reverse,” she said, switching gears. “Let’s go. . . . That-a girl.”

Sister Anne Regina, who is in her 80s, got her first ride yesterday and took great joy seeing spring in all its glory.

“To think people thought of us, to do something like this for us, especially the older sisters,” she said. “You just don’t know what that means.”

Tuesday, May. 15, 2007

Police Week begins with outdoor prayer service

With help from Houston’s religious leaders, members of the Houston Police Department bowed their heads in prayer Monday at the start of National Police Week.

“This is a very heartfelt event and very encouraging to have the community of faith coming together with us,” said officer Barry Curtis. “I hope we can spread this unity across the city.”

Today is National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, and this week marks the 45th National Police Week since President John F. Kennedy signed the day of remembrance into law on Oct. 1, 1962.

The law designates the week containing May 15 as one meant to honor fallen police officers and their survivors.

Wednesday, May. 2, 2007

A Prayer for a friend with cancer

I get lots of e-mails from sick people and from the friends and families of sick people asking me to pray for them, and I always do. They are strangers to me but they are not strangers to God. Perhaps that is why praying for strangers does not seem foolish or odd or difficult to me. Really I am just praying for a friend of my friend. I just received such a request from my daughter Mara, whom I always call Moochie. Henry is a friend of Moochie’s who has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It may be treatable, but he does not know yet. This is my prayer for Henry.

Dear Henry,

I am praying for you, and I thought I might tell you what I am praying so that you could add it to your prayers—or so that, even if you stop praying for yourself, you know that I am among the many people who will not stop. I am praying for you to get well and become whole again.

I pray that your doctors might be the hands of God. They are not the only way that healing may come to you, but they are a good and proven way. I am praying that your doctors might find a treatment for your cancer—forever or for a little while. I am also praying that you might have the hope and courage to be their partner in the work of healing you. Hope mixed with medicine makes both the medicine and the hope stronger.

Henry, I am praying that you use your fear rather than submitting to your fear. Those who tell you not to be afraid are well-meaning fools. It is natural and normal for you to be afraid now. However, I pray that you might find a way to transform your fear into fuel for your fight. You are not a victim and you are not condemned. You are a living man who is deeply loved, and you can fight this thing with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Use your fear now to fight for your life.

And finally Henry, I am praying that you might smell the scent of water. Job (14:7) wrote about the hope he saw even in a felled tree. “If its roots are deep in the earth, at the first scent of water it will send forth new green shoots and grow again.” I pray that you will be like that tree, Henry. I pray that despite your prognosis, you will walk again soon on the beach with nothing on your mind except the colors of the water and the feeling of the wind on your face and the sand between your toes. Henry, you can do this. You can beat this. You can find strength of spirit and a resolute courage to fight this disease within you. What I have learned from the sick people who have been my teachers is that such strength and such courage looks more like hope than anger, more like serenity than combativeness. The secret of this fight is to know the feeling of being rooted in the love of family and friends and, for some, God. I am praying for you Henry. I am praying that beyond the smell of antiseptic and crappy hospital food that you might catch a whiff of something fine and bracing and beseeching and incantatory. I am praying that you can catch a scent of water. No matter what tomorrow might bring, Henry, I pray that today your new leaves will begin to sprout.

May God bless you and heal you,
Marc Gellman (Newsweek)

Monday, Apr. 23, 2007

Can Prayer Influence Health?

Historically, science hasn’t embraced the connection between faith and health, but today an increasing number of studies show spiritual practices, including prayer influence our health.

Millions of Christians around the world are participating in religious activities during this holy week.

And an increasing amount of research shows those spiritual practices, including prayer, worship and service to others could influence our health.

“Historically, science and religion have been fairly separate, although recently, there’s been a lot of interest in the role of religion, or faith in a person’s health,” says Cherokee Health Systems Psychologist Dr. Parinda Khatri.

Today, many medical professionals and religious leaders believe it’s a blend of the scientific and the spiritual that prove to promote health and reduce disease.

“Prayer is very powerful. Prayer is very positive. We don’t know all the ins and outs about prayer, except we know that it works,” says Revered Bill Fowler from Church Street United Methodist Church.

“The exact connection is a bit of a mystery, but when we think about health today, we think about mind, body and spirit,” explains Dr. Khatri.

There are a range of theories to explain the faith-health connection, healthy behavior, social support, self esteem and coping skills, but most studies focus on the frequency of church attendance and prayer.

“There’s one pretty compelling finding that shows people who attend church regularly have mortality rates that are 25% better than people who don’t attend church regularly,” Dr. Khatri says.

The belief is religious activities may also lead to positive emotions, which have been shown to influence your immune system, health and well-being.

“A lot of life is accepting every day as a gift from God, and we’re to make the very best of what we’re given,” Reverend Fowler explains.

One study found evidence participating in a religion can promote healthy behavior.

It found nearly 75% of female church members had a mammogram in the past two years, compared with only 60% of women in the community.

Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2007

The Power of Prayer

Walk through any bookstore, and you’re likely to run across one of author Stormie Omartian‘s runaway best-sellers—The Power of a Praying Wife, The Power of a Praying Parent, The Power of a Praying Husband, The Power of a Praying Nation, and her most recent, The Power of a Praying Woman (all Harvest House), as well as Praying God’s Will for Your Life (Thomas Nelson). Stormie dominates the Christian booksellers’ best-seller list; her books have ranked in the top 5 for more than 27 consecutive months. And they’re used in countless church small groups and Sunday school classes around the world.

But what’s amazing about Stormie is that she blushes when someone calls her an expert on prayer. “A lot of people think because I’ve written books on prayer that I know something special. But you know what? The truth is, I’m just desperate for God,” she insists. It’s that desperation that seems to be the theme through Stormie’s. … well, stormy. … life.

Raised by a mentally ill mother who verbally and physically abused her, Stormie, 59, spent her childhood locked in closets trying to avoid the rats that lurked there. She spent much of her teens and twenties searching for the love and acceptance she never received at home, which led to suicide attempts, heavy alcohol and drug use, and a failed marriage. Nothing helped her insecurity and pain—until a friend took her to church. There Stormie discovered the love and acceptance she’d longed for through a relationship with Jesus Christ. But calm still didn’t enter Stormie’s life. Although she met and married Michael, a fellow Christian, Michael’s tendency toward verbal abuse brought back all the pain and insecurity of her childhood. Not until 15 years into their marriage did Stormie finally discover the secret to successful living: desperate prayer and total obedience to God.

It was prayer that helped her forgive her mother, strengthen her marriage (Stormie and Michael have been married now for 28 years), heal her insecurities, and learn parenting skills to raise her three children, Chris, now 26, John David, 22, and Amanda, 21. And it brought her through a year-long recovery after she nearly died recently from a burst appendix.

While other people might have turned to bitterness and anger, Stormie turned to God, who’s shaped her into a gentle, genuinely lovely woman. “That’s the Lord,” claims Stormie. “He’s spared me so many times. I found a way out of my suffering, and I want to share that with other people, to let them know there’s hope.” Here’s what Stormie had to say about the power of prayer in this exclusive TCW interview.

When did you first realize prayer’s power?

When I brought my first child, Chris, home from the hospital 26 years ago. Because of my mother’s mental illness, I didn’t have a positive role model for parenting. When Chris would cry and I couldn’t get him to stop, I’d lose it and get angry. I realized that if someone didn’t intervene, I could abuse him as my mother had me. That realization terrified me.

I prayed, “God, help me raise this child. I have no idea how to do it. I don’t want to live with this horrible anger that makes me want to beat him to stop his crying.” I’d put Chris in his crib, go in my room, and cry to God, “Lord, you’ve got to transform me because I can’t change myself. But the Bible says you can. Heal me.”

Every time I felt anger, I went to God in prayer. The more I prayed, the more God lifted it from me. By the time my daughter, Amanda, arrived, I didn’t struggle with anger anymore.

Did prayer help you overcome your traumatic past?

Definitely. My journey from brokenness to wholeness didn’t happen overnight; in fact, it took 14 years from the time I began the process until I was able to help others with the same problems. When I was a new Christian, I thought once you received Jesus into your life, that was it—no more problems. The truth is, while I’d secured eternal life, my life here on earth still needed work!

But my best friend since high school came to Christ the same year I did, and we started attending the same church. Because we had similarly dysfunctional families, we understood each other’s prayer needs. We began praying regularly together over the phone several times a week. Through each low time of discouragement, each difficult decision, our prayers for each other were instrumental in our spiritual growth and emotional healing.

As I matured in my faith, I knew I wanted to forgive my mother. I learned, however, that unforgiveness as deeply rooted as mine must be unraveled one layer at a time. Whenever I’d feel any anger, hatred, and unforgiveness toward her, I had to learn to take charge of my will and deliberately pray, “Lord, my desire is to forgive my mother. Help me to forgive her completely.”

Over several years of doing this more often than I can count, I suddenly realized I no longer hated her; I felt sorry for her instead. Being in touch with the heart of God through prayer for my mother brought such forgiveness in me that when she died a few years later, I had absolutely no bad feelings toward her.

How did you learn to pray so effectively?

It was because I was desperate for God—for his help in overcoming the scars of my past. Every time I read something in the Bible about prayer, I did what it said. For example, the apostle James says we don’t have because we don’t ask (4:2), so I thought, I might as well go ahead and ask! But James 4:3 adds, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. … ” I realized I have to be obedient to God if I expect him to answer.

Is praying specific prayers important?

I think it is. There’s nothing wrong with telling God what you want, but you’ve always got to pray, “God, more than anything else, I want what you want.”

I try to be honest with God about how I feel, what I need, what I long for and don’t have. But first I go to God in confession to make sure my attitude’s right. For example, if I harbor unforgiveness toward my husband, it puts up a wall between God and me. Only confession clears the channel between us and God.

What if a woman feels her prayers don’t sound “good enough”?

Oh, I feel that way, too. I’ve often thought, I’m nobody. Why would God answer my prayers? But thank God he’s not impressed by eloquence; he’s impressed by our longing for him.

How do we get that longing?

Everybody has longings—for a husband, a child, close companionship, a better job, a bigger house. However, most of the time what we’re really longing for is God’s presence in our life. We just misinterpret the longings.

For instance, nine years ago my family and I moved to Tennessee. Michael was working long hours, and my kids, who were in junior high and high school, didn’t need me as they used to. I was alone most of the time and so lonely.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I burst into tears and prayed, “God, this feeling in me hurts. Take away this loneliness.” Suddenly, I felt his presence so strong in my heart that the loneliness lifted. God helped me recognize my loneliness as a call to be with him. So every time I felt lonely after that, I’d pray, “Lord, I’m lonely for more of you.”

You could have fallen into self-pity.

That’s exactly what I did at first! I felt sorry for myself and thought, I’m going to be lonely all my life. But when I looked to God instead of someone else to fulfill my needs, he took my loneliness away. When I do what Jesus says to do in Mark 11:24—to ask him for something—God actually answers! I’ve been blown away by God’s answers to prayer. Once I started to receive answers like that, I thought, If I prayed about this and he answered, what else might he answer?

But what about when God doesn’t seem to answer?

I have a family member for whose salvation I pray. … a wonderful person who’s closed off to the gospel. When I think of this person’s background, I understand the reasons. But I wonder, Lord, I’ve been praying for this person to come to you for 25 years. How much longer do I have to pray for this? But I can’t stop praying even though I don’t see an answer.

Sometimes I think God allows things to go on and on so our roots grow strong in him. It requires us to lay down our desires and say, “Not my will, God, but yours be done.” When we’re burdened about something, God either will change the situation—or our heart.

I’d like to be able to quit praying about my husband’s anger, but apparently that’s a prayer I’m going to have to pray for the rest of my life. I don’t get it! I don’t know why certain prayers seem as though they never get fully answered. Michael’s gotten so much better; it’s nothing like it was before. But I don’t understand why there has to be any anger. So I’m still praying, because a wife’s prayers for her husband are more powerful than anybody else’s.

Why do you say that?

Because God’s made the husband and wife one. So when you pray for your husband, you essentially pray for yourself. What happens to my husband happens to me. If he’s had a bad day, I guarantee I’ll have a bad one, too. So it’s to my benefit if I pray for him to have a good day.

Is that why you started praying for Michael?

I started praying for my kids first. Up until 13 years ago, it never occurred to me to pray anything more than “protect Michael” kind of prayers. But Michael brought anger into our marriage. Whenever he was upset about something, he’d lash out at me and the kids. After 15 years of marriage, the verbal abuse got so bad, I couldn’t take it anymore; I wanted out. I had no option but to pray a desperate prayer: “God, this situation’s killing me. Everything in me wants to take the kids and leave.”

After one particularly rough week, Michael went on a business trip and my kids spent the weekend with some friends. The empty house only magnified how empty I felt. So I told God, “I need answers. I’m not eating until I hear something from you.” I stayed in my bed, read my Bible, prayed, journaled, and fasted.

Why did you fast?

The Bible’s filled with references to prayer and fasting as the way to receive God’s wisdom and power. I knew if I wanted to see a breakthrough, fasting was the way to do it.

So it’s going to the next level?

Yes. It’s about putting God first. Every time I felt a hunger pang, I’d pray about my marriage. I’m sure God had been speaking to me about my marriage for years, but it wasn’t until I began to fast that I really heard him.

And what did he tell you?

That instead of praying, “God, make Michael more this, less that,” I was to pray, “God, change me to become the person you want me to be—and change Michael to become the person you want him to be.”

That doesn’t seem fair!

You’re right. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took me several hours just to come to the point of saying, “Okay, God, I’ll stay in the marriage and do things your way.” I sobbed. I felt as though I was dying inside. But I stayed—with no guarantee our life together would change. I didn’t start praying that way for Michael because I felt like it, but because I wanted to obey God.

Did you ever think, Why am I the one who has to pray?

Oh, I asked that many times. That’s when God would say, “I’ll work with whomever is willing. You’re willing—you start.”

But wasn’t it difficult to pray for Michael when he got angry?

I’d have to start by confessing I didn’t want to pray for him! I’d hold onto some hurt, some anger for the things he’d say. But the more honest I became with God, the more he showed me that while I may have forgiven an incident, I hadn’t forgiven Michael. I had to confess that and then pray for help. Once I did, I was shocked at how quickly God started answering my prayers.

What started changing?

Instead of confronting, pleading, ignoring, debating, or giving him the silent treatment, I’d withdraw from Michael and go pray for him: “God, what is this anger? Where is it coming from? How can I pray about it?” God gave me insights into the reasons for Michael’s misplaced anger, such as his being raised by an overbearing, overcritical mother. As my reactions changed, Michael softened.

I started to pray for his relationship with our kids, and was amazed when I watched it dramatically improve. For example, Michael began taking father-son golf trips with our son Chris. They’re doing all this stuff together they didn’t have a chance to do years ago because Michael spent so much time at work when the kids were young. Our family’s really tight now.

Michael has a heart for God. He really wants to do right. He’s not so strong-willed that he won’t change, that he won’t say he’s sorry. Things are so much better between us than they were before. I feel as though God’s redeemed our relationship because of my being able to pray for it. And my recent near-death experience from a burst appendix transformed Michael into a praying husband.

What do you say to the woman who no longer feels anything for her husband?

I’ve been there. At one point, I told my husband I didn’t love him any more. I didn’t say that to hurt him; I said that to let him know how badly he’d hurt me. I didn’t feel anything, not love, not tenderness. But God restored that.

Are you saying God can resurrect a marriage?

Yes, he can. I’ve seen it. I’ve gotten so many letters from women who’ve said they were separated or divorced, but when they started to pray, their marriage was restored. Some of these stories are astounding.

Only our God is a God who transforms us from the inside out. All you have to say is, “God, I’m willing to open my heart to you.”

But that’s no guarantee prayer will transform a “D” marriage into an “A” marriage.

Right. You’re still dealing with individuals who have free will. It always takes two people. If a husband’s so strong-willed he won’t change, God won’t violate a spouse’s free will.

I recently received a letter from a woman who’d been praying for her husband for a year after he left her to live with someone else. He’s had a kid with this other woman. She was tearing herself up, thinking she was supposed to keep praying for him to come back even though she didn’t feel the Holy Spirit asking her to. I wrote back, “You prayed. You’ve done everything you can do. Be released from him. He’s chosen his life. Unless God puts it in your heart to keep praying, don’t feel as though you’re doing wrong by letting that go. Just pray, ‘God, I release this relationship into your hands. If you want to restore it, restore it. If not, release me.'”

What about the married woman who suffers physical abuse?

I have zero tolerance for that. I don’t advise a woman to stay and pray; I tell her to get out and get counseling. Pray from afar. The Lord never condones physical abuse.

Were you involved in a women’s group while you struggled in your marriage?

Oh, yes. We met every Tuesday, and I shared with them what was going on. They prayed about it for me every week.

Did you tell Michael what you shared with the group?

Yes, I told him. He even wanted to share some of our struggles with the group himself! We trusted these women. And we knew they weren’t going to betray our confidence.

Where would your marriage be had you not been involved in this prayer group?

There wouldn’t be a marriage. There would have been a divorce.

Even if you’d prayed on your own?

I didn’t get to the point of being able to pray effectively on my own without the aid of what these women gave me. They helped me develop my walk with God. When you’re accountable to each other and you all share with and pray for each other, that matures you.

What other advice do you have on prayer?

I challenge women to think, What could I accomplish today if I allowed God to work through me? What would I like to see? Think of something you want to do beyond what you can do, and pray for that.

So you’re advocating praying big prayers.

Yes. Too often we underestimate prayer’s power. When you realize that power, you realize you can’t afford not to pray. The more you have to do, the more time you should spend praying. And that, in turn, blesses what you’re doing.

I also want women to know they can pray blessings into their life.

Is that why you wrote The Power of a Praying Woman?

It’s because I realized women are often so busy praying for others, they neglect to pray for themselves. I want to teach women how to pray for their life in a way probably no one else does for them.

Jesus said, “I came so that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NASB). That’s the kind of life he desires for us! But our best efforts to break out of our self-defeating cycle of bad habits or negative patterns can’t happen without God’s power. And that can’t happen without prayer. I want women to move into powerful praying for themselves.

But that almost feels. …

Selfish that we’re praying for ourselves? Exactly. But it’s really not. It’s okay to say, “Bless me, Lord.” I discovered that in my prayer group. I’d just written The Power of a Praying Wife. I knew God had worked in my marriage, and I wanted God to work in other women’s marriages, too. So I asked God to let that book be a breakthrough. I didn’t feel as though I was praying a selfish prayer; I knew this book had a powerful message, and I wanted it to go all over the world. I felt I was praying in line with what God wanted.

So when this book took off right after that, I was filled with awe. So far it’s been translated into 15 languages. Every time I get copies of a translation for another country, I break down and cry. I mean, why would that book go to places such as South America and Nigeria? Only God can do that. It certainly isn’t anything I’ve done.

The Bible’s full of passages in which someone prayed, “Bless me, Lord.” We need to know it’s okay to pray, “God, bless my life today. Bring into it what you want. I’m open to whatever blessings you want to give—and whatever correction you want, too.” You ask so you can be a channel for what God wants to do through you, no matter if you’re single, married, old, or young. Every woman can pray over her life. I think it’s essential.

How can a woman get her husband to pray for her?

It’s funny you ask that. One woman asked me, “How can I get my husband to read your book The Power of a Praying Husband?” I said, “You pray!” There’s no other way you can get your husband to pray for you other than to ask him to—and then pray yourself.

And keep at it?

Definitely.

Some day, when we get to heaven, I hope we’ll see all the ways God answered our prayers even when we didn’t know about it! That’s why I really want to encourage women to pray. Sometimes it feels as though our prayers aren’t heard, that we’re babbling into space or that our words hit the ceiling. But if you pray in Jesus’ name, they are powerful. Those prayers are heard, and they are doing something—even if you don’t see God’s answers this side of heaven.

Friday, Apr. 13, 2007

Prayers can help the sick, caregivers

Are health care professionals (HCPs) spiritual? Spirituality is defined here as an ongoing relationship with God regardless of whether one is healthy, chronically stressed out, or sick. I encourage fellow HCPs to pray for, and with, their patients. Regardless of their belief system, HCPs have the ability to grow in practice depth, humility and compassion toward their patients, and model the concept of abundant wellness to those who are interested.

Research supports that prayer benefits our patients in the areas of depression management, as well as coping with serious medical illness. One study reported that 44 percent of patients surveyed experienced healing through prayer at some time in their lives. A meta-analysis of 42 studies found that the odds of survival were 29 percent higher for individuals involved in spiritual practice.

Studies regarding the medical effectiveness of intercessory prayer offered on behalf of others began to evolve in the 1960s. Results have been mixed. Yet, I have witnessed medical miracles over the past nine years as intercessory prayers were offered for my father during his chronic illnesses, including remission from multiple cancers. His healing defied logic and science.

If our perceptions of our patients’ need for prayer are not synchronized with their spiritual assertions, here are some tips to help us close the gap. First, we can create a spiritual wellness journal and write our own spiritual history through sickness and health, then share it with other interested HCPs. We can invite our patients to seek out HCPs who are equally focused on spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. We should believe that God guides HCPs in the healing process whether or not this notion is articulated in their presence. Next, we might partner with our patients, asking open-ended questions like: “Sounds like you are trying to cope with a lot of health issues right now. Would you mind if I pray with you?” or, “Do you have a spiritual support community/system (i.e., chaplain, pastor, rabbi)?” Intuitive HCPs will take their patients’ lead for next steps.

Spiritual practice demonstrates gratitude for our gifts and humility in our relationships with our patients. Imagine health systems employees praying daily, from accounting, to housekeeping, to pharmacy, to nurses and physicians. For me, these scenarios represent a whole relationship with God on Earth. I, and many other HCPs, believe that faith-based prayers to God are important instruments for healing for all of us. Spiritual HCPs may wish to consider integrating prayer into their professional practice.

Tuesday, Mar. 6, 2007

A reason to believe in the power of prayer

The power of prayer can be beneficial to people with psychological or mental problems, a recent study suggests.

Assistant professor David Hodge’s research, “A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer,” is a meta-analysis of 17 studies that question the connection between healing and God or some other magnificent being.

“This research is very controversial,” said Hodge, an assistant professor of social work at the West campus who specializes in religion and spirituality. “One study might show positive results; one study might show no results.

“Overall, they show that there is some added benefit that comes from intercessory prayer or prayer done for the benefit of another person,” he added

The studies Hodge reviewed used randomized double-blind methodology, so there were no placebo effects.

Although some positive results were seen, Hodge said that the strength of intercessory prayer is not as effective as cognitive behavior therapy. CBT is the sort of therapy that deals with the role of thinking in the way a person feels and acts.

“People suffering from an illness like depression should seek medical attention,” Hodge said. “Prayer can be used as an intervention in the healing process, but it can’t replace CBT.”

Adam Cohen, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said studies show that people are typically healthier when they use positive coping methods such as prayer, rather that using negative outlets. But seeking a connection to religion in this controversial research may be theologically inappropriate.

“If God has a plan for everyone, can you make God arbitrarily change his mind by praying for the health or life of a sick person?” Cohen said. “Religion says you’re not supposed to test God.”

Cohen did a fellowship at the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University Medical Center.

“Prayer is not any less meaningful, but then is God supposed to be some type of ‘cosmic butler’ when we ask him to do something?” he asked.

For criminal justice senior David Vu, an intern at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center, it is an issue of mind over matter.

“If you believe you can be spiritually healed, you feel more comfortable, more guided, more at ease,” said Vu, who has been attending religious retreats his whole life. “Then, it is beneficial to your health.”

Rev. James Thompson, associate director for the All Saints Catholic Newman Center, said he doesn’t think prayer can control things in life, but that it’s common sense that someone with a healthy religious life will be physically healthier as well.

“Essentially, prayer makes us more receptive and opens us up to whatever God’s providence or will is,” Thompson said. “Praying is an aspect of life that creates a full person.”

Monday, Mar. 5, 2007

Neighbor Saves Praying Elderly Woman From Fire

A neighbor saved an elderly woman from her burning home Sunday morning.

Humberto Niavez braved the flames of 86-year-old Susie Llano’s home around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Niavez said he was awakened by the flames and did the first thing he could do think of.

“I went straight through and I saw her sitting on her bed,” Niavez said. “I said, ‘Susie, let’s go. The house is on fire and I can’t breathe.'”

At that point, Niavez said he grabbed her and pulled her out of the smoldering home.

Llano’s relatives said Niavez coming to their loved ones rescue was an answer to prayer.

When Llano noticed the fire, she began to pray and continued to do so until her neighbor rescued her.

Rudy Orozco, Llano’s nephew, said he is grateful that Niavez came to the rescue.

“(My aunt) is always helping everybody and now I’m just glad I have neighbors to help her,” Orozco said. “I’m glad she’s okay. Thank you, Jesus.”

Relatives overwhelmed Niavez with hugs and appreciation after the rescue.

Niavez said although he’s considered a hero, he was just being a good neighbor.

“I’m just a neighbor looking out for my neighbors and I would do this for anyone around here or anywhere else,” Niavez said.

Llano was not injured by the fire.

Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007

Guinness recognizes world’s smallest prayer book

The Guinness Book of Records has recognized the smallest prayer book in the world: one that measures 4×5 mm (about 0.16×0.20 inches).

The prayer book is composed of two volumes, one of 24 pages carrying 303 letters and the other of 26 pages with 473 letters. It was written by the late Zygmunt Szkocny of Poland and is kept in the Church of St. Stanislas in Czeladz.

Szkocny, who died in 2003, authored 165 such miniature works in his lifetime, the largest of which measures 20×15 mm. He is also the author of the smallest book in the world, a Latin alphabet of 28 pages that measures 1×0.8 mm and which was recognized by Guiness in 1999 as the world’s smallest.

Szkocny never sold his works, but did present some as gifts to individuals such Pope John Paul II , Belgium’s Queen Beatrix, US President Ronald Reagan, and a Polish winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Wislawa Szymborska.

Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007

Prayer Returns to Senate Chambers

“Dear God, we call upon You to be with each of the Indiana Senators.”

With those words from Sen. Dennis Kruse, more than a year of court-ordered silence was broken here Monday as prayer returned to the Senate chambers. It was the first verbally-offered prayer by senators since the end of the 2005 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

For more than a year, Senate sessions had begun with a reference to a U.S. District Court Order and a moment of silence. The Nov. 30, 2005 order from Southern District Judge David Hamilton mandated that prayers “should not use Christ’s name or title or any other denominational appeal.”

While the House of Representatives has rotated three short, legally approved prayers at the beginning of its sessions since the beginning of the 2007 session, the Senate had, first under former President Pro-Tem Robert Garton and now under his successor, Sen. David Long, been observing moments of silence.

Kruse (R-Auburn) said he was happy to be the first to break that silence.

“I felt it was better to have a prayer to God than to have no prayer at all,” Kruse said afterwards. “From a Christian standpoint, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one anyhow.”

Kruse said he prepared the prayer he gave himself. He added that plans call for prayer duties to be rotated among the Senate members. Unlike the House and its legally-prepared rotating prayers, the Senate prayers will be different each day, yet strictly adhering to the judges’ order.

Kruse is one of six senators now assigned prayer duty. The others are Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis), Sen. Gary Dillon (R-Columbia City), Sen. Teresa Lubbers (R-Indianapolis), Sen. Bob Jackman (R-Milroy) and Sen. Marvin Riegsecker (R-Goshen).

“These prayers will all be prepared and written by each individual senator and comply with the court order,” Sen. Long said. “I want to make it very clear, however, that I vehemently disagree with the judge’s order and I fully expect his order will be overturned by the Court of Appeals.”

Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2007

Pastor answers prayer by donating his kidney

Harold Bricker has a new lease on life in 2007 – because someone stepped up to save his life in 2006.

After nearly a year on a kidney transplant list, the former Greencastle resident said he “turned to the Great Physician” for a helping hand.

Bricker, who has rare O-positive blood type, said he asked the Lord to send him a donor.
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“I was on the list with 60,000 people waiting for a kidney. How do you pick one of 60,000?” Bricker asked. “I didn’t hear anything for a whole year.”

But last August, Bricker’s prayers were answered. The Rev. Doug Kelchner, who had pastored at Bricker’s church, called out of the blue.

“He said, ‘I understand you need a kidney. Has anyone come forth?’”

When Bricker told him doctors had not found a match, the pastor replied, ‘I’m your man.’

“I was aware of his need and was just convinced it was the right thing to do,” Kelchner said.

On the waiting list

Besides undergoing back surgery, Bricker said he had never experienced major health problems. The father of three grown children and seven grandchildren enjoys time with his family and works full time with Jack Gaughen real estate in Chambersburg.

Previously, Bricker had worked at Jack Gaughen’s Greencastle office and had started his own seafood store where Wolf’s Bakery is today.

About 10 years ago, a prostate problem caused Bricker’s kidneys to completely shut down. Doctors told him to come in for regular checkups every three months.

During a routine checkup in April 2005, a red flag went up.

“They said I was going to have to make some changes,” Bricker said. “I had to go on dialysis and needed to go on the transplant list.”

At 65, Bricker was placed on the kidney transplant list at the University of Maryland.

In the meantime, Bricker underwent peritoneal dialysis for 10 hours a night over nine months. Eventually, he developed bacteria and was switched to hemodialysis three days a week. The three-hour procedure rid his system of the bacteria but also left him drained.

“They said the list could take four to five years. I guess I realized I was at the end of my rope with what I could do,” Bricker said. “I simply gave it to the Lord and said this is way bigger than me.”

Finding peace

The entire time Bricker was on dialysis, he continued to work. The situation was nerve-wracking, but Bricker said he kept it mostly to himself.

One month after doctors put him on a transplant list, Bricker said he had an inspiring conversation with a client he calls “an angel.”

The client had a real estate question, and the two scheduled an appointment.

Bricker said his son had worked with the client’s husband, who had died of cancer several years ago. Without knowing Bricker’s situation, she began discussing her husband and the peace he found while battling his disease.

“Her husband had the attitude that God would heal him on earth or take him to heaven and heal him,” Bricker said. “Either way, he was a winner. She didn’t even know about my situation, but I decided I’m going to be a winner, too.”

Bricker said the woman had no idea how much their conversation had meant.

“It became easier to accept because of the peace I received,” he said.

Bricker said he never asked anyone to donate a kidney. He simply asked the Lord to “move in someone’s heart” and find the right person to step forward.

The right person

When Bricker asked the Lord for help, Kelchner didn’t know he was the right person. Bricker teased that Kelchner’s wife said he didn’t like doctors and never had major health issues.

Bricker and his wife Martha knew Kelchner from Chambersburg Brethren in Christ Church. The Brickers served as a deacon couple there while Kelchner pastored from 1990 to 1993, but had seen each other only twice since.

Bricker never divulged his need to Kelchner, but the word got out.

Kelchner just happened to accompany his mother to her house settlement last summer. Bricker said Kelchner asked a Jack Gaughen agent how the Brickers were doing, and the agent updated him on Bricker’s condition.

Kelchner called Martha Bricker and checked her husband’s blood type. That’s when he realized that both of them had O-positive blood.

On Aug. 17 at 11 a.m., Bricker’s office phone rang and a voice on the other line said, “I’m your man.”

‘Kidney brothers’

Almost immediately, Bricker and Kelchner started the necessary steps to work toward a transplant.

Bricker said he passed along the number for University of Maryland and Kelchner went through about eight tests. The transplant was finally scheduled Dec. 6.

Neither said they were nervous. Bricker and Kelchner were side-by-side encouraging each other with sheets pulled up to their faces before the surgery.

“I wasn’t really nervous. They did a good job preparing and are a great team,” Kelchner said. “They make you feel very comfortable.”

“In the prep room waiting for surgery, the nurse asked, ‘Are you guys brothers?’”

Bricker replied, “Yeah, kidney brothers!”

Surgery went well, and Bricker said he was up and walking the same day. Kelchner said he experienced some complications from the anesthesia but was back preaching a few weeks afterward.

“It was a good experience. I wouldn’t change it,” he said.

“This situation changed my life completely,” Bricker said. “I think it’s better to give than receive, but I received in this situation … Doug was the giver, and I can’t imagine how good he feels.”

Bricker continues to recover and said he had an enjoyable holiday season with his family. He tries to find the right words to thank Kelchner, but Kelchner always interrupts, Bricker said.

“I understand how grateful he is, but at the same time I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Kelchner said. “ I was glad to step back in the shadows and observe him and his family (over Christmas).”

Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007

Kidney donor answers man’s prayer

Woman responds to church bulletin.

By last summer, Emmet Littleton of Oxnard had been undergoing dialysis for more than two years, hitched to a machine three days a week, four hours a day, to filter toxins from his blood.

The former bodybuilder, motivational speaker and devout Christian was hurting. He had run over grown men as a stand-out football player in high school and college, but now, at age 62, strapped to a machine, his life felt like it was on hold.

Suffering from kidney failure and hypertension, he needed a new kidney, and no one in his family could provide an acceptable match. His son had high blood pressure. So did his brother and wife.

Six times, friends or acquaintances had said they would donate a kidney, only to later change their minds or fail to qualify, dashing his hopes.

“At church, I stopped praying for a new kidney,” Littleton said. “I prayed for endurance.”

Pati Foster of Ventura was attending the same church but didn’t know Littleton. When Foster, a petite kindergarten teacher, read about his condition in a church bulletin, she knew immediately what had to be done. Six months later, on Dec. 20, Littleton received one of her kidneys.

“It felt like a lightning bolt from heaven came into my heart,” Foster, 49, said of her reaction upon reading of Littleton’s search for a donor. “His life was on the line.”

Today, the need for kidney donations, whether from the deceased or living, is as great as ever.

More than 60,000 people in the United States are waiting for kidney transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. The list grows by nearly 5,000 patients a year.

Fewer than 17,000 kidneys are transplanted annually, and most come from accident or stroke victims or living relatives.

About 1,500 a year come from unrelated donors like Foster, who agreed to donate despite the grave concerns of her parents and husband.

Living kidney donations are emerging as the preferred method because the quality of the organ tends to be superior to those from the deceased, and the waiting time for a transplant can be significantly reduced. In Littleton’s case, he was looking at seven more years of waiting before Foster emerged.

Advancements in medicine have progressed to where donors and recipients don’t have to be as closely matched to achieve excellent results, Dr. Gabriel Danovitch said. He is medical director of the kidney transplantation program at UCLA Medical Center, where Littleton’s transplant was among about 300 performed there last year.

People who want to donate to someone they don’t know rarely prove to be good candidates, Danovitch said. Many turn out to be depressed, are looking for meaning in their lives or think that there is some financial gain in it, he said.

Every potential donor at UCLA goes through an in-depth health assessment to make sure their bodies and minds are prepared for major surgery and the two- to six-week recovery.

Donating an organ can be intimidating, which is why the process is designed to protect the interests of the donor as much as the recipient.

“The donor needs to know we are on his or her side,” Danovitch said. “It’s not a process of sacrifice. You are a patient, too. You will have a doctor and a nurse who will be your advocates.”

On Wednesday, Littleton walked 4.5 miles, his farthest distance since the surgery.

“I feel like a new man,” he said, beaming. He called Foster a “courageous angel” and praised his doctors, nurses and his wife of 30 years, Sheralyn.

Although some in need of a transplant have turned to the Internet to scour for possible donors, Littleton, a former teacher who is now retired, never considered going outside his “church family” at Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura.

He now has to swallow nearly 30 pills, mostly anti-rejection medication so that his body accepts Foster’s kidney, but it’s a welcome reprieve from his exhausting days stuck in a recliner at a Ventura dialysis center.

“With this kidney, I can do so many new things,” said Littleton, who lost both his father and sister to complications from diabetes and was diagnosed with hypertension in his late 20s.

He’s contacted the Kidney Foundation about being a spokesman. He wants to work with youth and educate others, specifically blacks like himself, about how high blood pressure and diabetes can affect their lives and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Two weeks after the laparoscopic surgery, Foster is up and walking and off pain pills. She has a checkup scheduled Friday and hopes to be cleared by her doctor to return to her classroom at Ventura County Christian School on Monday. If she’s not ready, the church has stepped in, raising several thousands dollars to cover any lost time from work.

She will forever have a 3-inch scar on her abdomen, but it’s a small price to help someone in need, she said. Studies have long shown that people can lead a normal life with only one of their two kidneys.

“I would do it again,” she said. “I would give away my other kidney if I could live without it.”

Foster said her faith motivated her to donate. It just seemed that if she had the power to help somebody with such goodness in their heart, she should. Her children supported her decision from the start.

“A lot of people tried to talk me out of it,” she said. “But donating a kidney doesn’t cut any time off your life at all. I think it adds to it, because you gave.”

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007

Study: Praying online helps cancer patients

Breast cancer patients who pray in online support groups can obtain mental health benefits, according to a new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center of Excellence in Cancer Communications Research that was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

“We know that many cancer patients pray in online support groups to help them cope with their illness. This is the first study we are aware of that examines the psychological effects of this behavior,” says Bret Shaw, an associate scientist in UW-Madison’s College of Engineering and lead author of the study.

The analysis was conducted on message transcripts from 97 breast cancer patients participating in an online support group that was integrated with the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (CHESS) “Living with Breast Cancer” program, a computer-based health education and support system. The patients were recruited from Wisconsin and Michigan.

Surveys were administered before group access, then again four months later. Text messages within the computer-mediated support groups were analyzed using a text analysis program, which measured the percentage of words that were suggestive of religious belief and practice (e.g., pray, worship, faith, holy, God). Writing a higher percentage of these religious words within the online support groups was associated with lower levels of negative emotions and higher levels of self-efficacy and functional well-being, even after controlling for patients’ pre-test levels of religious beliefs.

“From a psychological standpoint, there are a variety of reasons why cancer patients may benefit from prayer – whether on the Internet or elsewhere. In reviewing the messages, some of the most common ways study participants used religion to cope with their illness included putting trust in God about the course of their illness and consequently feeling less stressed, believing in an afterlife and therefore being less afraid of death, finding blessings in their lives and appraising their cancer experience in a more constructive religious light,” says Shaw.

The results of the study are published in an advance issue of the journal PsychoOncology.

Monday, Jan. 1, 2007

Armed with a badge, prayer

Oakland police sergeant says faith has been source of strength for him, others during increase in killings

Investigating a murder case in Oakland is a formidable mission, and Sgt. James Morris confronts each one with a badge and a prayer.

Morris is an Oakland homicide detective and an ordained minister. He’s been on the force for 24 years — in homicide for the past year and a half — and was ordained as a minister in 2002 at the Lighthouse Mission Church of God in Christ in West Oakland.

At first blush, the combination of cop and clergyman seems unlikely. Yet for Morris these are kindred careers, sustaining each other — and him — through Oakland’s recent shadow of death.

“Both preaching and being a homicide detective involve dealing with people who have a lot of issues. People in crisis,” he said last week, seated in one of the pale-blue witness-interview rooms in the Oakland police homicide offices, a place where the counseling and communication skills of a minister often come in handy with distraught family members or uncooperative witnesses.

“In both jobs, a lot of times you’re in the role of advocate or mediator,” he said. “As a homicide detective, it’s mediating between the family and the system. As a preacher, it’s between an individual and God. So there are similarities.

“And probably most of all,” Morris said, “both jobs involve the search for truth.”

Morris, 45, often called “Mo” by his fellow detectives, is a big man with a bald head, a strong handshake and a humble spirit who didn’t even tell his homicide partner, Sgt. Lou Cruz, he was being interviewed for this article. “I had no idea,” Cruz said. “That’s the kind of humility he has. The main influence of his faith on this job is just how he carries himself. He doesn’t go out there preaching on the job, but he lives his life by a certain set of principles. That enables him to survive a lot of things this job throws at you.”

Indeed, Morris says he prays every day for his city. He prays when he’s on stand-by, and has seen the effects — he and Cruz have worked fewer homicides this year than some of their fellow detectives. “Some say it’s luck,” Morris said, smiling. “But I know prayer works.”

He has tried to understand what he believes is God’s plan, even when at an autopsy, standing at the side of a 15-year-old boy. He prays for closure for families who have lost loved ones to murder.

“I’ll pray that answers come for these families,” he said. “And a couple times it has been just unbelievable. One case, I was really frustrated. It was going nowhere. I was praying about it, which is probably what I should have done to start with, and a witness came forward out of nowhere. The case was solved in a couple of weeks.”

Sometimes on the scene of a violent death, the atmosphere swirling with chaos and anger, tears and pain, Morris has prayed aloud with victims’ families, if the moment seemed right.

“When a life is that fractured and that broken, sometimes that’s all you can do for them,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘Let’s just be quiet a moment and pray together,’ and usually there’s a peace that comes upon that situation.”

He doesn’t force it, however. Doesn’t proselytize. Doesn’t presume to be his brother’s keeper, merely striving to treat others as he would want to be treated himself.

Such conduct was recently helpful to Farris Patrick Sr.

Patrick’s 20-year-old son, Farris Patrick Jr., was shot and killed outside a pizza parlor on High Street on Sept. 12. Two men have since been charged in the murder. At the crime scene, Morris did not pray with the elder Patrick per se, but offered condolences and guidance.

“(Morris) had some very good words for me,” Patrick said. “I was in real bad shape, and I first didn’t want to hear nothing from nobody. I was displaced from a lot of positive thoughts. Feeling negative. I felt that nothing was going to come out of (the police investigation), and I had thoughts of handling it myself.

“So when I talked to (Morris), he gave me a comfort and more of a sense of reality,” Patrick said. “His condolences really helped change my frame of mind about what I should do. And when he called the other day and I heard they’d charged these two, I felt a relief.”

In his dual roles, Morris has been asked to speak publicly on various solemn occasions. Just this month, the support group Families & Friends of Murder Victims asked him to share some thoughts at its public memorial service at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland.

And in August, the head coach of the Oakland High School Wildcats football team asked Morris to join with various school counselors, an Oakland Police Department chaplain, coaches and other ministers in offering support to the team after the death of player Andrew Porter, 16, who was shot and killed in East Oakland as he walked to a party with a group of friends.

“I deal with death every day,” Morris told the downcast players that day. “This was a cowardly act. A lot of times, you won’t want to talk about the incident. But you need to communicate. Talk to your friends, your parents.”

Morris was born and raised in Oakland, and graduated from Oakland High School. After school, he joined the Army, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. He then joined the Oakland Police Department, first on patrol, then in robbery and now in homicide. He even met his wife here, a former Oakland police officer who is now a teacher in Oakland schools. They have a grown son and daughter.

Morris was always dedicated to police work, he said, but went through a low period in his life about 10 years ago. That’s when he had a personal epiphany and began attending church.

“Growing up, I never really went to church,” he said. “Then in 1998, I was at home by myself, lying on the bed. It was a really dark time for me. And the spirit of God came into my life. A voice said to read the Bible. I opened up the Bible — I don’t know what I read, but whatever it was, I knew at that moment that there was a God and he loved me.”

Now at Lighthouse, a Pentecostal church, he teaches Sunday school and preaches a sermon on the fourth Sunday of the month along with other church members.

Morris says he never sought an ordination, or the job in homicide. These things found him. His pastor at Lighthouse encouraged him toward ordination. And when he was in the robbery division working West Oakland, he was approached by Lt. Jim Emery, then-head of homicide who has since retired.

“I was his field training officer when he first came to the department, so I’ve known him his whole career,” Emery said. “He has incredible communication skills, and a sense of compassion — which all our guys do — but certainly his background in the ministry helps with that. With the families of victims, a lot of times people seem to really like to have a spiritual connection brought out. Sometimes it helps them through what is the worst time in their lives.”

Not only has his faith influenced his police work, but vice versa. Morris has brought his experiences in homicide to the pulpit.

“I let people know in my sermons that life is so precious,” he said. “I’ve had friends murdered, and I won’t ever see them again. I try to encourage people to forgive, and to make peace with God. Now. Don’t wait.”

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006

Talking to God? Keep it real, author says

Philip Yancey says even biblical heroes such as Moses were willing to talk to God like a friend.

God doesn’t want pretty prayers. Instead, the Creator of the universe wants people to pour out their hearts, to talk to God like they would a close friend, to say things even though they might not sound noble. [Grace Plus Nothing]

That was the message nationally known Christian author Philip Yancey gave Tuesday to an audience of about 200 at First United Methodist Church.

When researching his latest book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Yancey said, he read as many other books as he could on the subject. Those books were preachy and made regular folks feel inadequate. The authors talked of praying regularly for hours, and of making only the most pious requests.

“They made me feel inferior. I wanted to write a book that didn’t make people feel guilty and inferior,” said Yancey, an award-winning writer whose other books include such titles as Where is God When It Hurts?, What’s So Amazing About Grace? and Church: Why Bother?

Yancey, who has appeared on national cable TV news shows and has been praised by the likes of the Rev. Billy Graham, came to First United Methodist because of local connections. An aunt, Ruth Lott, lives in the area and attends the church. Its pastor, the Rev. Richard Schmidt, received spiritual guidance from Yancey and his books when his first wife was ill with breast cancer.

It’s no coincidence that many of Yancey’s book titles are questions of people struggling with doubts. Yancey was once one of them. He grew up in what he calls a “toxic church” in which racism and hypocrisy flourished. He rebelled but eventually returned to his faith.

Yancey said a book on prayer was a natural next step as his own faith matured.

“I could not have written this book 20 years ago,” he said.

Prayer, he explained, is not meant to eliminate suffering. Nor is it meant to impress God.

One need only look at the 650 prayers in the Bible to see that all are not happy.

“Some of them are pretty cantankerous,” he said. “They say, ‘God, you’re supposed to be powerful. It sure doesn’t look like it.’ ”

Yancey said prayer can change God’s decisions.

For example, God agreed to Abraham’s request to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were a handful of good people there. (There weren’t.)

Moses also argued with God when he was about to give up on freeing the Israelites and finding the promised land.

“Most of the time, Moses wins,” he said.

Yancey said prayer also changes the person doing the praying.

Many seminary students involved in the 1960s got burned out because they focused too much on action and didn’t nourish their spirits through prayer.

“Prayer is an essential part of doing God’s work in the world,” he said.

Yancey said the most important lesson, which he learned through writing the book, was that prayer is not a chore like calisthenics.

“I used to think if I did it long enough and right enough, that God would approve,” he said.

“I came to see prayer as more of a spiritual privilege.”

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006

Lone hero pulls five girls from sea

‘I prayed that God would give me supernatural strength’

AN Mthatha man has emerged a hero after single-handedly pulling five young girls from churning seas when a Sunday school outing to the beach went horribly wrong at the weekend.

The drama, in which two girls survived, three were drowned and one is still missing, unfolded for Daniel Byrne and his girlfriend, Chandre Morrison, when they arrived at Port St Johns’ Third Beach for a swim at around 2pm on Sunday.

“As we arrived, I heard people scream for help and as I came closer to the water, I saw five people floating in the sea,” Byrne said yesterday.

“Their backs were visible and they were face-first in the water.

“I immediately took my shirt off and dived in.”

In order to keep the bodies in view he had to keep his head up in the tossing waves.

“The water was rough and there was a dangerous backwash,” he said.

He swam to the first of the five victims, took her in tow, and swam back to the beach.

“She had no pulse and I thought she was dead.”

He performed emergency resuscitation (CPR). When the girl revived, he went back into the water and pulled a second girl to the beach who, like the first girl, started breathing after he applied CPR.

But by then, an hour had already elapsed and by the time Byrne reached the third girl, she had already drowned.

“I tried desperately to save her, but she just did not respond.”

Byrne went back a fourth time. By now he was getting tired and he suspected that the fourth girl had not made it.

But for her parents’ sake, he knew he had to get the body “so her parents can get some closure”.

“As I went, I prayed that God would give me supernatural strength,” he said.

And, indeed, he managed to pull the girl to shore and even go back a fifth time for another body.

By now, an hour-and-a-half had gone by, and the body of the sixth girl had disappeared in the sea off the Wild Coast.

“I did not want to give up, as dangerous as it was,” he said.

But there was nothing more he could do.

Byrne, a landscaper in Mthatha, said the experience had left him traumatised.

“It was horrible, it was like one of those Hollywood horror movies,” he said.

Yesterday, the head of the United Pentecostal Church of South Africa, Pastor Desmond King, released the names of the girls who drowned.

They are Zizo Maqokolo, 11, Nasiphi Mzimba, 12, and Zimvo Mgeyi, 13. Buyiswa Besele, 16, is still missing.

In a joint statement, the parents said they were too traumatised to speak to the Daily Dispatch and were still mourning the deaths of their children.

Three of the affected families were neighbours in Mthatha’s Northcrest suburb, while a fourth family lives in Norwood.

Port St Johns’ National Sea Rescue Institute chief John Costello said that there were no lifeguards stationed at Third Beach at the time.

He urged bathers to use the ocean responsibly, saying: “People drown even when there are lifeguards.”

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006

Nuns Go High-Tech With Prayer

We are a society dependent on technology.

But who would have thought that a group of Hoosier women with a godly bond would be among the technological leaders on the worldwide web.

Kevin Rader introduces us to these women who “pray the news.”

There is a home that is very traditional on the outside. But the nine nuns who live behind this door believe it is blessed with a very intellectual interior.

The residents are not cloistered in the traditional sense. They do venture out of the monastery. They consider themselves more contemplative than cloistered.

“Someone once said the true conservative is the person who keeps the values of the past but is open to the future and to the changes they need to make to keep their values alive in the present culture.”

Working in conjunction with Young and Laramore the Carmelites captured a prestigious webby for their “Pray the News” website and now, as of Monday they are taking god to the iPod where you can download their reflections from iTunes or from their website. [Cloister and Community: Life within a Carmelite Monastery]

“We are basically private people. We are willing to let go of our privacy in order to let our message of contemplative life flow out to the culture because we live it in a special way but it is for everybody.”

So now you can share in the benefit of a different perspective on the world and wherever you go in this world you can take some peace and serenity with you.

“It’s how do you see what is going on and can you look with a different kind of lens. A deeper vision and I think we do that here. It is to enable others to open up that vision for themselves to realize they also have that capacity to see things.”

Even in the upcoming election.

“What should we be looking at in this election? What is god calling us? What kind of better world can we make? Do we do it to be tearing everyone down by saying all the negatives? What is it we are trying to do and what do we look for.” [Campaigning Online: The Internet in U.S. Elections]

Thoughts that are hard enough to sort out on our own buut now we have help. .

To check out their website, click the link to the right of this story.

You can watch their podcast, light a virtual candle and put in a prayer request to the sisters.

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

Their prayers were answered: Families reunited with Marines

Alexander Mejia’s deployment to Iraq was difficult on his parents.

“My faith was tested many times,” Ciriaco Mejia, 57, said yesterday, fighting back tears.

His wife, Consuelo, said she found comfort sitting with her son’s photograph and reading Psalm 121 – “The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your life.”

But the Mejia family can rest easy now that Alexander is home in Lawrence.

He was among hundreds of Marines, members of the 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry, who arrived in Massachusetts yesterday after seven months in Iraq.

The Mejia family and others from the Merrimack Valley were on the grounds of the former Fort Devens as the buses carrying their Marines rolled in. The crowd broke into thunderous applause. Then there were hugs, kisses and tears.

Methuen native Sgt. Brian Vitale, 24, was among the returning Marines.

Vitale said he could not wait to spend time with his “huge Italian family” and his fiance, Kaitlyn Gallant.

Of course, he also wanted something good to eat.

“That’s all I want to do right now. Get a bite to eat and hang out with my family,” Vitale said.

A 2000 graduate of Methuen High School, Vitale has been a Marine for six years. While in Iraq, he worked on a personal security team for a member of battalion command staff, he said.

Vitale, who grew up on Bonanno Court, is the son of Linda and the late Jack Vitale. His arrival at Fort Devens was not only his journey back from Iraq. It’s also the end of his active duty with the Marines, although he said he is considering joining a reserve unit now that he is back in the United States.

The unit was activated last December, and after three months of training they were sent to Fallujah. Their mission included humanitarian relief, uncovering weapons caches and working with local Iraqis to reopen an asphalt factory to rebuild roads.

“Not having your son by your side is worrisome enough. I can just imagine how those families (who lost loved ones) feel,” Ciriaco Mejia said.

October has been an especially violent month in Iraq with 96 U.S. troops losing their lives. As of yesterday, at least 2,809 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Eleven members from the 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry, were killed during their deployment in Fallujah, said Sgt. Peter Walz, public affairs chief.

Mejia, 23, a 2001 graduate of Greater Lawrence Technical High School, said he joined the Marines three years ago to help pay for his college education. He was studying business at UMass-Lowell before he was deployed.

His girlfriend of two years, Albeyri Gonzalez of Haverhill, was at Fort Devens to greet him.

Mejia would call Gonzalez every three days and talked about how their lives were going. They also e-mailed each other regularly.

“I tried to stay positive, but I always wondered what he was doing and what was happening where he was,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes I was just scared because I was afraid of losing him.”

After seven months away from home, Mejia said he also craves his mother’s cooking.

She had been cooking for three days, making meat pies, Dominican-style stew, angel food cake, cheesecake and her son’s favorite meal – rice, beans and steak laden with onions.

She said that was the least she could do. For the past seven months, she has been able to sleep only two or three hours a day.

She would wake up around 3 a.m., get on her knees and pray for her son. At one point her blood pressure was so high she was hospitalized for several days.

“I feel better now because my son is home, and I thank God for that,” Consuelo Mejia said.

She watched the news constantly to keep abreast of the latest events in Iraq.

“I knew it was bad, but I always trusted that God would bring him home safe,” she said. “The house felt so empty without him.”

His brothers, Eggar Mejia, 24, and Claudio Camacho, 33, agreed.

“The three of us were always joking and horsing around,” said Camacho, a Lawrence police officer.

“If we didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, my mind would start to wonder,” Camacho said. “We always try to keep happy thoughts, pray and stay positive.”

Throughout the Mejia home yesterday there were “Welcome Home” signs, yellow happy face balloons and homemade posters in both English and Spanish.

The Mejias’ front door was open as family members and friends streamed in to welcome their neighborhood hero.

Oscar and Lillian Vasquez did not have to travel far. They have lived next door to the Mejias for nine years. Oscar said he also was proud of Alexander’s service.

“I’m happy that he defended our country and protected our freedom,” Oscar said. “He did a good deed for all of us.”

Friday, Jul. 28, 2006

Son’s wreck last fall showed mom the power of prayer

Teen recovered and went on to earn a college scholarship

Name: Vanessa Jackson Austin, 45

Member of: Union Primitive Baptist Church

Vocation: Author of “Live On: Inspirational Poems and Quotes.” Bookkeeper, jewelry maker.

One of your poems: The poem that stands out to me is “Hanging by a Thread”: “When I feel overwhelmed in this life; When I’m hanging by a thread, I ask God to be my guide and by him I am led.”

Describe God: God to me is loving, kind, sincere, forgiving, powerful and magnificent. I experience God every day by hearing the birds sing, seeing nature and talking to Him through prayer.

Spiritual role models: Both of my parents. My mother especially was my spiritual role model. She had strong faith in God and regularly sought him. Plus, all my brothers and sisters and I grew up attending and joining the church.

A difficult time faith helped you through: A difficult time in my life was when my son, Cedric, had a car accident early one morning in November.

The traffic lights had been shot out during the night.

Cedric was coming from a coach’s house, where he had been running with the cross country team for Sparkman High.

Cedric’s car was hit so hard as he went through an intersection, his vehicle made a 360-degree turn on Alabama 53, and he landed on the side of the highway.

Cedric was suppose to have run cross country in the state competition the weekend after the car accident, but he could not because of his pain and doctors’ orders.

During the days and weeks after the accident, I told Cedric that the car accident could have been much worse and that he was blessed. Also I reminded him, “God took care of you.”

Cedric recovered and was able to start for Sparkman High shortly after the basketball season started. Cedric’s playing time and ability increased, and the result is that he received a basketball scholarship to Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., where he will start in a few weeks.

God is real, and He answers prayers.

What you are doing to deepen your faith: I will be praying more and asking God for protection and guidance, especially for Cedric, going off to college. Also I will be reading more religious books, including the Bible. I am hoping to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Advice for anyone who is discouraged: Pray sincerely asking God for guidance and help. Also ask Him to come into your heart. Read Psalm 23, Psalm 46, John 3:16 and Hebrews 13:5. Those are helpful Scriptures. Also, talk with a godly person, someone with whom you feel comfortable talking.

Favorite verse: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Isaiah 43:2

“Spiritual Journeys” is a conversation about faith from a variety of “regular” people (not professional ministers).

Monday, Jul. 10, 2006

I was praying, ‘Jesus, revive my baby’

Leanne and Brad Carlson of Olympia say there’s a reason their daughter, Beth, 5, came back from the brink of drowning at a recent family reunion.

That would be that Beth’s close call is a wake-up for other parents to reassess how prepared they are for emergency situations.

“The ironic thing is we are always that family who has the first aid kit in the car. We’re the ones who are prepared,” Leanne Carlson said. “We’re a very careful family, and if this could happen to us, it can happen to anybody.”

The Christian family also believes that God had a hand in Beth’s recovery. People as far away as Australia and England prayed after their friends and family alerted folks they knew near and far to pray for the girl.

“I believe that the Lord would have healed her with our faith alone, but this touched so many people. Their faith was listened to,” Carlson said.

Two Saturdays ago, Beth became one of the dozens each year in Washington state who are injured or killed in water accidents. According to the state Department of Health, 97 people drowned and 48 were injured in 2004, the most recent numbers available.

The health department also reports that drowning is the second-leading cause of injury deaths for Washington children ages 17 and younger. In that same age group, drowning accounts for a yearly average of 24 deaths, there are 26 hospitalizations for near-­drownings, and about 110 water-related visits to the emergency room are made statewide.

As a result of this most-recent accident, Leanne Carlson said that now she will no longer take children to Black Lake without her husband.

Brad Carlson, a former lifeguard, saved his daughter’s life by pulling her from a pool and giving her CPR.

Leanne Carlson also vows to retake a CPR course.

“I know that I could not do what Brad did,” she said. “It’s made me face my limitations.”

“I see the moms at Black Lake with their kids. It makes you think about how many of them may be unprepared if something happens,” Brad Carlson said.

The Carlsons’ ordeal started when 30 members of Leanne Carlson’s extended family were cleaning up to leave a community pool. The Carlsons’ older daughter, Brenna, 8, alerted her father that Beth had been at the bottom of the pool “for a long time,” Brad Carlson said.

Brad Carlson, a competitive swimmer in high school and college, had been a lifeguard years ago, but his daughter was the first unconscious person he ever rescued. He jumped in and spotted his daughter’s striped swimsuit at the bottom of the pool.

“My lifeguarding instincts kicked right in,” he said.

After pulling her out, he was joined in his resuscitation efforts by Leanne’s relative, Jack Bryan, a retired California Highway Patrol officer.

Beth struggled to breathe as medics took her to Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, where she was later taken by medical airlift to Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Both of her parents were with her in the ambulance to Kadlec, they said.

“I was praying, ‘Jesus, revive my baby,’ over and over,” Leanne Carlson said. “It was the most desperate, gut-level prayer I had ever prayed.”

Just then, Leanne’s cell phone rang, and she picked it up and spoke into it without even looking at it.

The caller was her neighbor, Brenda Arend, who was pet sitting for the Carlsons and called with a question.

“She was saying something like, ‘Help us, Jesus. Beth almost drowned. Please pray,’ ” Arend said. “She had a panicked voice. The thing I held onto was that Beth had ALMOST drowned.”

Arend started calling other mothers they knew from a prayer group called Moms in Touch, which prays for the health and well-being of their children.

The word quickly spread to the Carlsons’ church, Church of Living Water in Olympia, and by the next day, the word had spread to acquaintances and friends of friends in other states and countries. Nearby friends and family, including the church’s children’s pastor, Joe Patterson, supported the Carlsons in the hospital.

“We are so humbled and blessed that so many stayed up through the night to pray for her,” Leanne Carlson said.

Beth was put under sedation and on a ventilator overnight to allow her lungs to recover.

By the afternoon of July 4, three days after she was pulled unconscious out of the pool, Beth went home in time to see the fireworks show in Tumwater with a clean bill of health from doctors.

“She had been counting down the days to the Fourth of July,” Leanne Carlson said. “Brad and I sobbed through the fireworks.”

Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2006

Taking the power of prayer seriously

Dutch Sheets has seen the power of prayer. Whether he is praying on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, in airports, or at his church, he has witnessed his prayers make a difference.

“When I came to a revelation and believed deep in my heart that my prayers could make a difference and mattered, it changed my world,” says the author of the new book, “Authority in Prayer.”

That is the revelation Sheets is looking to pass on to other church leaders who offer only a quick “thank you, Lord” before passing the offering plate, and do not engage their churches in serious prayer.

The Colorado Springs minister says many pastors fail to guide their congregations into ongoing intercession because they don’t believe it works. Sheets thinks the idea that God is sovereign can be taken to such a theological extreme that some people reason that God will act regardless of prayer.

“Now, I’ll travel to (Washington) D.C. for a day because I feel like God has assigned me to go stand in front of the Supreme Court and decree five sentences. I do it because I believe wholeheartedly that God works through us and through our prayers.”

Believing prayer matters

Sheets is passionate about prayer, citing Ezekiel 22:30-31, where God says he is looking for a person to stand in the gap so he won’t have to pour out his wrath on his people.

“That just blew me away,” Sheets says. “I began to realize this is not just a religious exercise to make me feel good about myself.”

Not only do Americans need to pray more fervently, according to Sheets, the responsibility for more prayer falls on the shoulders of the nation’s pastors. “I think individuals will follow us wherever we take them,” says Sheets, whose book, “Intercessory Prayer,” was a bestseller. “So many times, the leaders don’t get it. Therefore, they don’t lead the congregation there.”

Obstacles to prayer

Others who work in and write about prayer ministry agree with Sheets. Jonathan Graf, president of the Church Prayer Leaders Network, estimates only two percent of churches maintain active prayer ministries.

The former editor of Pray magazine says not only is prayer hard work, it may make a pastor’s work harder. Graf says that when churches get serious about prayer, negative circumstances often appear. Affairs involving leaders may surface, serious family situations come to light and “things get messy.”

Not only does Satan want to thwart what’s happening, but when people desire to walk closely with God they must deal with hidden or unconfessed sin, Graf says.

“Because it’s difficult for churches, I know a number who haven’t moved forward after an initial thrust,” says Graf, whose network has about 1,300 congregational members. “The status quo can be comfortable.”

Another obstacle may be church leadership—deacons or elders who are indifferent, don’t want to yield control, or don’t expect prayer will make a difference.

Resisting discouragement

Another leader told Graf once that when she compiled a list of intercessors she recognized the huge attrition rate over the years. Because prayer is such hard work and so few join in, Graf says frustration yields high turnover among lay leaders.

Graf says this is why a pastor’s involvement is key. “In churches where prayer is the strongest they haven’t let go of the leadership.”

Dr. Chuck Lawless agrees. The dean of the evangelism school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and co-author of “Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry,” says that unless the pastor clearly supports prayer volunteers by praying in the pulpit, participating in prayer events and keeping a spotlight on the issue, lay leaders will feel abandoned.

“There’s a need to know the pastor prays, they hear him praying in the pulpit and see him on his knees with some people,” says Lawless.

Stimulating prayer

More prayer can begin with Sunday worship prayer. Sheets says the No. 1 thing a pastor can do to improve the church’s prayer life is to bring prayer time into corporate worship. For him, that means anywhere from five to 20 minutes of prayer during a Sunday morning service.

His church divides its prayers into three primary areas, praying for the nation and its government, those who don’t follow Christ, and congregational needs. As they move through the list, pictures of people affected flash on an overhead screen.

Sheets and Lawless are both believers in using prayer guides, saying they can help provide direction and assistance for daily intercession at home.

When it comes to authoritative prayers, though, Sheets says there is nothing better than praying the Scriptures. Ephesians calls the Bible “our sword,” which means when Christians pray it they know they are praying God’s will, he says.

“I feel like you go to another level of God honoring it when it’s His Word,” Sheets says. “I don’t think there is anything more powerful.”

Living proof of the power of prayer

All my life I have been swimming against the tide. Here I am about to challenge a national $2.4 million study, one of those “I-told-you-so” scientific studies that disputes the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

I sure wish they had asked me before they spent all that money. I could have saved that money for, say, research to find a cure for some of those reasons for intercessory prayer.

Do I have any scientific proof? I am living proof.

In December 1979, medical minds told me malignant melanoma cancer cells had spread to the lymph system and it would be a matter of months before it metastasized either to the liver or the brain. In other words, it was terminal.

Two hospitals had confirmed that fact. The last confirmation came from the Veterans Administration hospital in Roseburg. In my hospital room that night, Father Leo O’Riordan, a VA chaplain, came for a visit, unaware that I had just been given the hammer blow. His words were simple: “There is a larger physician than those we have on staff here.” His promise was to have prayers said for me by his Capuchin Franciscan order — strangers in brown robes.

The next day, I was transferred to the Portland VA and again tests verified the terminal condition of my cancer. The VA brought in a surgeon from Southern California who had a special skill in removing the cancer cells from the lymph system without spreading the cancer. I underwent that surgery in May 1980. Strangers were praying for me all over the world, although I didn’t know this.

I survived that surgery 26 years ago and had no chemotherapy or radiation.

If that was all the living proof I had, skeptics might say it was a medical fluke, or perhaps a misdiagnosis in the first place. It was not the end of my need for prayer — distant or otherwise.

In January 1997, I had a massive heart attack, so damaging that surgeons at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene told my wife and daughter I was too far gone for open-heart surgery. My family was notified to come to my bedside for a last vigil.

The newspapers for which I write published a story that I had been stricken.

Then something happened. The next day, a new team of surgeons reversed the decision, saying that I had miraculously improved overnight and surgery was now possible.

I don’t know how many people who read the story paused long enough to pray for an old wretch like me, but I have to believe they did, or else why had the diagnosis so radically changed?

I do know that complete strangers prayed for me. I even got prayer cards from two Presbyterian churches in Panama City, Fla., telling me Presbyterians were praying for me. The open-heart surgery was successful nine years ago.

I have three thick notebooks filled with cards and letters I received from readers of my column from all over the United States who said they were praying for me.

To those skeptics of the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance, I wish there were space here to print the names and comments from all who sent their prayers — complete strangers who stormed heaven with my name on their lips.

There was a card from Dan and Marilyn Rose, of Marysville, Wash., with a note “Our prayers include Bill Duncan and a speedy recovery.”

Maxine Tjallker, of Quincy, Wash., sent a biblical reminder from Numbers 6:24, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

Bill and Barbara Krieg, of Portland, sent “heartfelt prayers.”

Tunny McCollum, of Lebam, Wash., wrote, “My prayers are with you.”

Bob and Margie McCormick, of Shedd, Ore., sent notice of their prayers.

This may be an unscientific study, but it is proof enough for me. I am on a countdown to age 80 and I know there is a God in heaven who answers prayers to spare someone like me who has walked several times through the valley of the shadow of death.

Friday, Jun. 9, 2006

Miracle Or Mystery? Seven Year Old’s Survival Story Could Be Both

Doctors at SSM-Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center have a mystery on their hands, but they’ll take this kind of mystery any day.

Heather Chandler was like any other active, bright 7-year-old, with a love for school and animals, until last February, when she came home with a headache.

“The next thing I knew, she was vomiting,” recalls her mother, Debbie Chandler. “I called 911 and had the rescue squad there.”

Bleeding in her brain stem left her lifeless. Doctors say it was not an aneurysm or a stroke. She required no brain surgery. They admit they’re baffled.

“We don’t know what caused the bleed,” said Dr. Adrienne Tilbor.

Nor can doctors explain what is happening now. Heather is improving. Heather was not expected to live, let alone move her arms and legs or talk, but she is doing those things.

When she’s not in therapy, Heather is also getting strong enough to take part in field trips. Also against the odds is her amazing alertness, shown by her facial expressions.

While doctors continue to investigate her case, Heather’s mother offers this explanation: “We had a lot of people praying for her, a lot of people.”

Heather is from Bonne Terre, Missouri. Doctors hope to remove her breathing device soon.

Inside Good News Blog