The Power of Prayer

“Their minds had been infected with the evil [propaganda] that had spread across the country [Rwanda], but their [Hutu extremists] souls weren’t evil.  Despite the atrocities, they were children of God, and I could forgive a child, although it would not be easy . . . especially when that child was trying to kill me . . . That night I [Immaculee Ilibagiza] prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart.  For the first time since I entered the bathroom [genocide “sanctuary”], I slept in peace.”

–from Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiz (with Steve Erwin)

I read the words and felt immediate conviction.  Perhaps my inability to sleep soundly (without waking at the slightest sound or movement) is directly related to my efforts (or lack thereof) in praying for others.  Sure enough I have a prayer life.  At times I have been more fervent than others with my prayers.  But I’m talking about praying from a deep place within.  I’m talking about praying for more than myself, the safety and well being of my friends and family; I’m talking about praying for those who have brought anguish and pain to my doorstep.

When I was younger I was often confused by the language found in my bible (King James Version), I sought to know The Word, but found myself struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar string of phrases.  As I grew older I found solace in the myriad of translations that were made available.  I still read from the King James Version, but now I find clarity in reading from the Amplified Bible as well as The Message translation.

Luke 6:27-28 (KJV) calls us to “. . . Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”

The Amplified Bible translation of the same verses reads, “But I say to you who are listening now to Me: [in order to heed, make it a practice to] love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred, Invoke blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you, implore God’s blessing (favor) upon those who abuse you [who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you].”

The Message translation of Luke 6:27-30 notes, “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.  If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it.  If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it.  If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.  No more tit-for-tat stuff.  Live generously.”

That call to action can seem like a pretty tall order when you are carrying the load of hurt, pain, anguish, hatred, and/or malice in your heart.  Just recently I began reading the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.  Ilibagiza tells the harrowing truth of how she survived the genocide that ripped through her homeland of Rwanda in 1994.  The text is not typically one I pick off the shelf; decidedly so, I have been on a science fiction high as of late.  Nevertheless, I just began a unit of study with my 8th grade students on the challenge of social justice.  While the unit of study initially called for the students to form literature circles and read about the Holocaust of European Jews, my school’s media specialist and I made the executive decision to expand the readings to explore stories of global genocide (fiction and non-fiction).  We found half-dozen-or-so titles that cover acts of genocide from across the globe and spanning the past eighty years.  Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell is one of the books on my student’s list.

By now you may be wondering where I’m going with all this.  It’s actually rather simple.  When I reached part two of the text, “In Hiding”, I was confronted with a harsh reality similar to that of Immaculee Ilibagiza—a heart that contained hurt, hatred, and unforgiveness.  At this point in the text Immaculee is hiding in a small bathroom in the house of a sympathizing Hutu pastor in her village.  One of six women in the cramped space, Immaculee comes face to face with the reality that she must forgive, and pray for the souls of the Hutu extremists hell-bent to rid Rwanda of the Tutsi tribal minority they believe are out to gain control over the government.

The conviction hit me square in my chest.  How could I continue to harbor feelings of unforgiveness (hatred and malice) and not pray for those who have despitefully used me, when this woman who suffered a far worse experience, was able to do so in the midst of her turmoil?  Right then and there I put down the book and began to pray for those individuals who I felt had wronged me over the course of my life.  I prayed for God to forgive me for the things I had said and done to hurt others.  I prayed, not because I so desperately want a night full of peaceful sleep (earnestly I do), but because I want a life of peace.  We have been given life in an effort to make the world we live in better.  Each one of us has something to say and/or do that will leave this world better off, not worse off.

Despite the fact that Immaculee Ilibagiza went through a living hell in Rwanda, she has been able to use her experience to heal a country–a world that is fractured.  I have been moved by her experience.  Though I have not yet finished the book, I am looking forward to the additional lessons–morals that it holds for me.

Every book that I read leaves me different.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a work of fiction or non-fiction; I am never the same person after the book is finished.  The same is true about the individuals who bless us with their presence.  Every friendship changes me.  Every experience of love (breath taking and heart wrenching) has changed me. I firmly believe that we should take away something positive from every person, every experience we encounter—good and bad.

I’ve been challenged to live differently, to pray differently.

What “take aways” have you gleaned from acquaintances, books, enemies, experiences, friends, family, movies, songs, etc?

Life I Know

On her latest CD titled SongVersation, India Arie has a track titled, “Life I Know”.  The first time I listened to the song I felt as if she had written the song for me.  Perhaps she and I are kindred spirits; perhaps not.  Nevertheless, I’ve listened to the song repeatedly and this is what it spoke to my heart.  The song begins . . .

I have kept this secret
From myself for far too long
The truth is, I’m confused
About where I belong
I’m not a mother or a wife
And I’m living such a complicated life
And this is the life I know

I’m confused about a number of things, but one thing most earnestly.  First and foremost, I am confused as to why so many good women seem to be alone—without a mate/spouse.  I am not just speaking selfishly, but also for all of my great single female friends, who can’t seem to get a break, can’t seem to find someone to compliment them, and/or can’t seem to enjoy the desires of their heart.  We mean well.  We are capable of loving and caring for a deservedly willing participant.  And we are sincerely desirous about being a supportive mate.  And this is life we know.  


My life is full
In some of the most important ways
But empty in the core
At the end of everyday
I lock the door, turn out the lights
And I climb in bed
And it’s all alright
Cause this is the life I know

There is truth to India Arie’s words.  My life does have a sense of fullness.  I have a career that I enjoy—most days.  There is a sense of satisfaction and purpose behind what I do and I appreciate having the opportunity to do just that—teach.  I have friends and family, far and near, that provide me with comfort, encouragement and unconditional love.  I busy myself with things I am passionate about: reading, writing, being active, learning, etc.  However, there is a pervasive emptiness that resonates when it comes to the love department.  I’ve spent more of my adult life alone (without a companion)—ruminating, reflecting, and re-emerging from love’s disappointing moments.  All too often I climb in bed alone desirous of the time when I will share the space with someone who wants as much to be there next to me as I do him.   When the opportunity presents itself, I hope I’ll be mature enough to not be bothered by his snoring and drooling and vice versa.  Cause this is the life I know.


I cut the grass
Take out the trash
And fill the gas
In this house
I’m the mom, and the dad
What tomorrow brings
I do not know
Yes, I know it’s unconventional
But, It’s the life I know

I too have been solely responsible for household and vehicle maintenance/upkeep.  While many a woman (myself included) throughout history has proven that she is capable of performing the same tasks as her male counterparts, there are moments in a woman’s life when she isn’t trying to compete with a man, but instead desires to be consoled and comforted by her man—should there be one in her life.  And therein lies many a woman’s dilemma.  Too many of us have found ourselves single after years and years of dating.  Yes, we can buy and maintain our own homes.  Of course we can service our own vehicles.  We can make our own money to take care of ourselves, and children if we have any.  However, just because we are able to do those things doesn’t mean that we don’t want a man in our lives who can and will handle the responsibility of those details.  Yes, women desire to be taken seriously and treated with dignity, but we also want to be catered to and cared for because our hearts are delicate despite the defiant demeanor we extol to the world.  But, it’s the life I know. 

We all have a secret pain
We all have a tender place
We were born to want more
And no I’m not meant to live alone
But this is the life I know

Yes, this is the life I know

Yes, there is a soft spot that I shield (and I’m not the only one is this predicament—I am convinced that men do this too).  My heart is tender from emotional turmoil and disappointments.  Yet I yearn to expose that tender place to a man who is able to accept this perfectly imperfect woman.  And no, I don’t think we were meant to live alone.  I Corinthians 7:2 (Amplified Bible), states, “ . . . let each [man] have his own wife and let each [woman] have her own husband”.  If this word is truth, then we are not meant to live alone, we are meant to share a life with another individual.  But the life that I know and have known has been one where I take care of myself.  Yes, this is the life I know. 

All my friends
Are having families of their own
I’m still waiting for
The perfect one to come
Almost four decades in

If I’m blessed, then I’ve got five more to go
And this is the Life I know

I sometimes feel like the last unmarried and childless thirty-seven year old woman.  I have friends and acquaintances from high school who married early and now have grown or near-grown children.  And then there is me—still single twenty years later.  Some of these women are even on their second marriage and I haven’t even had an opportunity to make good on the union once.  I feel like a late bloomer.  Moments like this I begin to feel defective.  I sometimes entertain thoughts that I have a cosmic flaw that has inhibited me from knowing lasting love, marriage, and motherhood.  There have been too many days where I have wondered if the opportunity will ever present itself.  Will I ever get myself together so that a man can appreciate the woman that I am?  While time seemingly hasn’t been on my side—per se—I am hopeful of the prospect of the next five decades if they are granted to me.  And this is the life I know.


Sometime it hurts like hell
But I walk away with a song
And a story to tell
And this is the life I know
Yes, this is the life I know

I know the hurt of many years.  I know how it feels to hope and believe in something and someone, but that something or that someone doesn’t come though for you.  After each tumultuous love experience I have certainly walked away with a story to tell—some funny, some hellaciously funny.  I have also walked away with a renewed sense in the power of love.  Yes, despite the fact that I have been disappointed, I cannot help but want to fall in love again and again.  It matters little that I have experienced many a disappointing love experience for I will forever yearn for an opportunity to open up my heart to another human being.  Yes, this is the life I know. 

And this is the Life I know

The life I know has been one of a constant trek uphill.  The life I know is one where I find myself ever-waiting for my perfectly imperfect mate.  And this is the life I know

(A Final Note–pun intended) The Sound Track of My Life

 This is the first of many pieces in this writing category–The Sound Track of My Life.  I borrowed the idea from a teacher friend (Mari A.—thank you!).  She introduced me to this writing activity as a creative and autobiographic mini-lesson during the TBAWP (Tampa Bay Area Writing Project) Summer Institute.  Though I have yet to share the lesson with my students, I am selfishly enjoying the cathartic power of this writing modality.  The Sound Track of My Life affords me with an opportunity to select a song that has made a deep impression on me and make annotations about the joy, laughter, insight, peace, rejuvenation, solace, etc.  Music is truly a universal language that has the power to move us to higher heights, uplift us in times of trouble and settle us when it’s been one of those days.  I hope that you take a moment to think about songs that have carried you through life.  Perhaps you’ll take a moment and listen to them one more time and revel in their transformative power.