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50th Annual National Day Of Prayer Answered Prayers...

Our Father and Our God,

We praise you for your goodness to our nation, giving us blessings far beyond what we deserve.

Yet we know all is not right with America. We deeply need a moral and spiritual renewal to help us meet the many problems we face.

- From Prayer for the Nation,

by Billy Graham

Today is the 50th annual National Day of Prayer, when the faithful of all religions are invited to city halls, courthouses, parks and churches to pray for the nation's government and leadership.

But prayer happens every day, all day, for believers and non- believers. For those enduring terrifying life events - the accidents and crimes that make the news and remind the rest of us to appreciate our good fortune - prayer often is a survival tool.

For many, it is the path to peace and miracles.

Here, in honor of National Day of Prayer, are a few of those stories:

'At first they didn't know if

she would live or die.'

Nona Brown prayed a very specific prayer that Friday morning in March more than 16 years ago: "God, where do I go? Lead the way."

It was 5 a.m. and the young mother had awoken from a sound sleep. She was staying at a Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati, several blocks from the burn hospital where her 22-month-old daughter was receiving care, but she felt an overwhelming need to get to Jennifer's side. She raced outside.

But she didn't know her way, so she just started running, praying for God to lead her to the hospital.

"And he did," she says. "He led every step of the way."

She ran inside and up to Jennifer's room. There, doctors were preparing to operate on Jennifer's severely burned right cheek - planning a skin graft to cover the open wound - three days earlier than scheduled. But Nona hadn't felt comfortable in this hospital since she and Jennifer had arrived earlier in the week.

"I just picked her up and said, 'We're going home,' " Nona says. By noon that same day, they were flying home to Charleston, S.C., and had rescheduled the surgery for Monday with the surgeon with whom they'd been working since Jennifer received her injury on Valentine's Day.

But on Monday, another prayer was answered: "We woke up and her face just looked different," Nona says. "I didn't know why, but when I got her to the hospital, the first thing the doctor said was, 'She's starting to heal.' "

Those were the words Nona and her husband, Michael, who now live in Wellington, had been waiting to hear for six weeks, since Jennifer had stuck a knife into the stove and suffered third-degree electrical burns on her hands, ear, face and lips.

Her parents knew she was hurt because she had screamed and the kitchen was filled with black smoke, but the injury wasn't obvious at first because electrical burns take 24 to 48 hours to become visible. But doctors figured out what had happened and within six hours, Jennifer's face had started swelling. They knew the injury was bad. "At first, they didn't know if she would live or die, if her heart would be able to withstand everything," Nona says.

Once she knew Jennifer would live, Nona learned more about the unknowns of the injury: that her daughter might have brain damage because the electricity had gone in her ear, conducted by her new pierced earrings; that her severely burned ear and lips might turn black and fall off; that she might never talk or walk or see.

"We were literally praying for her ear, her mouth, let her be able to walk and talk. Let her be able to read," Nona says. "Dear God, just let her hear."

And God answered every one of those prayers, Nona believes.

Jennifer, now 18, is a junior at King's Academy, captain of the cheerleading squad and involved in drama and choir. The only thing for which her teachers reprimand her is too much talking, and the only surgery she ever needed was corrective plastic surgery in eighth grade, although she may have more.

The compression mask and gloves and several years of therapy had kept the scarring to a minimum, and her bubbly personality, her mom says, keeps a protective group of friends around her.

Today, the family belongs to Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens and prays together, something that didn't happen before Jennifer's accident. Nona believes her prayers not only helped Jennifer survive but helped Nona survive, too.

"If I hadn't had God as my rock, I would have completely lost it," she says. "It's just an inner peace that you know you're going to get through it. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, but you will get through it."

'Please pray three rosaries every day.'

No one could imagine how Tito Bonilla would survive this accident. He had fallen asleep driving home from work in Okeelanta's sugar- cane fields and hit another car head-on on State Road 80. Paramedics needed four hours just to get him out of the car.

But friends and family had started praying immediately, and that's why he's alive and healthy now, seven years later, says his wife, Ana Bonilla. She still gets chills when she talks about it.

A woman from their prayer group at St. Rita Catholic Church in Wellington came upon the accident just after it happened on Dec. 1, 1993, and anointed Tito with holy oil. She alerted the rest of the group, and by the time Ana arrived at the hospital at least 30 members of the prayer group were in the waiting room praying - for Tito, for his doctors, for strength and for Ana.

Ana and Tito Bonilla, who live in Royal Palm Beach, had been led to the Roman Catholic church's charismatic movement by their three children a few years before. They became active in the prayer group, in premarital counseling for Hispanic couples and in other programs. Ana now believes it was God's way of preparing them for this accident.

After Tito survived 10 hours of surgery, doctors told Ana he would need 13 more surgeries plus more than a year to recover. A week later, another evaluation revealed he also would need to wear a brace for a broken neck for three months.

But throughout his three weeks in intensive care and three months in a rehabilitation hospital, the prayer group remained a fixture at the hospital. Anyone who wanted to help received the same instructions: "Please pray three rosaries every day."

Within six months, Tito was healthy and walking, although he'll never be able to work in the fields again. He now coordinates migrant programs at the Palm Beach County Health Department.

And for the Bonilla family, reciting the dozens of prayers of the rosary - including repetitions of the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Gloria Patri - became a habit they enjoyed keeping up. For good reason, they learned in December: Ana and Tito's youngest child, 21-year-old Antonio, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in Tampa. Since Antonio, like his parents, brother and sister, always keeps his rosary with him, he immediately began praying with it.

His parents' friends again began their prayer chains, and Antonio not only survived, but also avoided having to have his shattered left leg amputated. Now, after six surgeries, Antonio is healing well and hopes to return to the University of South Florida in the fall.

Ana, a Spanish teacher at Bear Lakes Middle School, thinks prayer made her a different person.

"I was peaceful," she says. "I used to give support to the people who came to see Tito and Antonio. I would say, 'Don't worry. Don't worry.' I had faith."

'Partying and being a fool didn't satisfy a hungry heart.'

Toni Lee doesn't mind admitting she prayed only in utter desperation. What's amazing, she thinks now as a 53-year-old Christian, is that God answered her handful of prayers when she didn't even acknowledge him.

Take her cocaine and alcohol addiction in the early 1980s. She used the drugs as part of a burning need for approval from the outside world, she said. But the drugs didn't fulfill her.

"Drugs and partying and drinking and falling down and being a fool certainly didn't satisfy a hungry heart," the West Palm Beach resident says. "I was lost all the time."

Failing to break the addictions on her own, she tried a prayer. "I was begging, maybe this would be the answer," she says. "And poof, it was gone." She's been sober since March 6, 1982.

Eight years later, she stood, terrified, over her son's hospital bed in New York. Shannon, then 20, had an aneurysm in an inoperable part of the brain and doctors weren't optimistic. "As a mother, this shriek of my heart was saying, 'Oh God, if there is a God, please don't take my baby,' " Lee says. Four months later, Shannon recovered completely. He's now a carpenter in New York.

Five years later, in 1995, Lee flipped off her horse while fox- hunting in Virginia. She hit the ground face-first, snapped her neck, "troweled" the ground with her face and smashed her back.

"I woke up and I had gravel in my mouth, the right side of my face was ripped open and the left side of my body wasn't responding," she says. "I remember praying, 'Oh God, let me walk again.' " In four months, she was not only walking but also competing in a horse show in Wellington, although it took more than a year for her speech to return to normal.

She bottomed out after her second divorce in 1998. She lost her husband and his income, and her health was deteriorating from the stress. She still had a good job handling marketing for Windstar Cruises, but she was "searching" for something, and she was scared.

"I didn't feel pretty enough, smart enough," she says. "Here I am with all this power and might and brain and magnificence, and I felt hollow inside."

She laughs when she says God had lost patience with her, but she's serious in her belief that she had to lose everything - and admit drugs, alcohol, men, spending money, professional power, prestige and the like would not fill her up - before she would accept him. "Everything had to turn out to be a lie so I could turn around on June 10 and pray the sinner's prayer."

That day last year, she says, she began a relationship with Christ. She now belongs to two churches: Christ Fellowship and Covenant Centre, both in Palm Beach Gardens. And her prayers - to give God all the credit, to clean up her filthy mouth, to have "God- centered priorities" and reduce her hours spent shopping - have been answered.

"The prescription in my glasses of life has been changed," she says. "It's not about Toni Lee anymore."

'God, just get me through this. God, just get me through this next hour. God, get me through this next day.'

Chaya Miron-Katz began praying on the airplane on the way to Buffalo. It was the first chance she had since her cousin had called with the news: Chaya's mother had been murdered that day in her home.

It was May 19, 1995, a Friday night. Just three weeks earlier, Chaya had sent her feisty 81-year-old mother back to her hometown after her annual visit to South Florida for Passover. Now, as Chaya, her husband, brother and son walked off the plane, they were being taken to the police station and questioned as possible suspects in her murder.

"Here I was, trying to hold my family together, trying to work out what is the best for everybody involved and I'm in the middle of a police investigation," she says. "I turned to God to help me get through this. I prayed very hard."

Louise Cicelsky, a widow who managed several rental properties, was found stabbed to death. Family members were quickly cleared and a former tenant eventually convicted in the murder, which began as a robbery. Renay Lynch was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole.

Chaya prayed for help arranging a proper and religious burial for her mother, a very observant, conservative Jew. She prayed about when and how to tell the rest of her family, who were gathered in Albany for a bat mitzvah. She prayed about the need for an autopsy, which Judaism usually forbids. (A rabbi read passages from a book to help Chaya accept that an autopsy would be allowed in a murder.) She even prayed for the strength to take her son shopping because he hadn't brought any clothes on the trip.

"Through this whole thing, I just kept trying to keep my composure, and I said, 'God, just get me through this. God, just get me through this next hour. God, get me through this next day,' " she says. "I was always turning to God to help me do the right thing."

Prayer didn't help her understand how someone could violate one of the Ten Commandments and take a life, but it did make things easier, she says. Her prayers - and the guidance and support of rabbis - also helped her accept the need to break from tradition.

For example, Chaya returned to her Boca Raton home (she now lives in Boynton Beach) to sit shiva - the seven days of rigorous mourning for immediate family members - although it normally would have been done in her mother's home. She also allowed herself to say her mourning prayers - typically required twice a day for 11 months after a death - just once a day, as a rabbi suggested, because it was difficult for her to reflect on her mother's terrible death twice a day.

And she believes all these prayers and connections to her faith kept her calm and functioning. "It wasn't easy, but it was because of my faith that I did get through it," she says. "It was our faith and our religion. It was our belief in God."

National Day of Prayer events

National Day of Prayer will be observed locally at the following locations today:

- Noon-12:30 p.m. on the north side of the West Palm Beach City Hall, 200 Second St., West Palm Beach. Interfaith prayers and music will be offered. Participants include the Palm Beach Dharma Center; Hospice of Palm Beach County; Consider the Lilies Interfaith Ministries; Temple Israel; Palm Beach Friends; the First Church of Christ, Scientist; the Muslim Community of Palm Beach; Baha'i Community; Hindu Community; the First Presbyterian Church; and Union Congregational Church.

- Three interdenominational groups in Boca Raton will sponsor an observance from 6:30-7 p.m. in Sanborn Square on North Federal Highway, across from Old Town Hall in Boca Raton. The sponsoring organizations are Boca Raton Interfaith in Action, Developing Interfaith Social Change and Greater Boca Raton Religious Leaders.

- An interdenominational prayer gathering will be held at 7 p.m. at Victory Christian Center, 3499 N.W. Second Ave., in Boca Raton. For information, call 627-8138 or 391-2800.

- In addition, city hall and courthouses will be sites of observances noon-1 p.m. Call 832-3576 for the information in your area. For church involvement, call791-4829. For student gatherings at public schools, call 832-3576. For private school events, call 302- 8898. For home school sites, call 753-6874. To be a part of an on- site prayer-walking team at transportation centers, call 302-8898.

- A prayer rally will be held at 7:30 a.m. at Palm City Presbyterian Church, 2100 Martin Highway, Palm City. For information, call Jim Miller, 287-6461.

©Copyright 2001, Palm Beach Post

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