Editor’s Note: Matthew 3:2 says, “The Kingdom of God has come near”, meaning it’s closer than we think, but we must choose to see it. Some of the best representations of the Kingdom are when differing cultures, nations, skin colors, occupations, walks of life, etc. come together in the most unlikely of circumstances. Our God is the Master of the unexpected. Can we get an Amen? The Yada Yada Prayer Group book series does and excellent job of painting a literary picture of what it looks like when God weaves life paths together by His divine and perfect plan. A group of women, who would never have chosen each other as friends on their own, form deep community and begin to live life together centering their focus on prayer and an intimate relationship with God. All birthed from a group email called The Yada Yada Prayer Group! Can you believe that? Enjoy this excerpt from book one of the series.
Whew. Finding out that Avis had had breast cancer and that her husband had died of cancer was huge. Who would have known, as serene as she always seemed and so ready to “give glory to God” in every situation? Her hilarious story about visualizing “the little man with no teeth” on her “deformed breast” seemed so out of character for Avis… and yet, maybe not.
“Laughing together was so healing for Conrad and me!” she told us. “In fact, it helped prepare us for what lay ahead when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They couldn’t operate — the cancer was too far advanced by the time he was diagnosed.
But God showed us that even in the midst of a crisis, we can look for His gifts of joy and peace.
She shook her head, half-smiling at the memory. “He wouldn’t let our daughters be all sad and gloomy around him, even at the end, when he was bedridden and in a lot of pain. He’d crack jokes and tease them… and I’m so grateful.
Their memories of their dad are happy ones right up to the end, even though they miss him terribly. I’m only sorry he never met his namesake… Conrad Johnson the third.” She threw up a hand. “Don’t get me started on the grandbabies! I think maybe it’s time to pray for Chanda.”
And pray we did, gathering around our sister who cleaned houses on the North Shore, praying with many voices for healing. As part of the prayer, both Avis and Nony read a whole litany of “healing Scriptures,” claiming God’s promises for health and wholeness for Chanda. I certainly believed God could heal, but I wasn’t always comfortable thanking God in advance, like we knew for sure that’s what He was going to do. In fact, I felt a little confused; Avis’s husband had died, hadn’t he? It was a little easier for me to pray that Chanda would experience God’s peace in the middle of the uncertainty and that she could trust that God loved her and was working out His purposes in her life.
She walked over to a low bookcase, the top of which was covered with framed photographs, and picked up a five-by-seven silver frame. “This is Conrad.”
The picture was actually Avis and Conrad, standing by the railing of a ship, his arm clutching her close. They were both wearing white slacks and marine blue shirts, setting off the rich deep color of their skin. Avis was laughing, holding on to a long headscarf that was blowing in the wind. Conrad was grinning at her, obviously thinking he was the luckiest man in the world.
“That was our twentieth anniversary,” she said. “We took a cruise to the Caribbean. Our first and last.”
I looked at the photo of Avis and Conrad on the cruise ship a long time, then finally set it down. “I wish I’d known him.” I turned to her. “Why haven’t you ever mentioned him before? He seems like a wonderful man.”
Avis sat down on the love seat along the front windows, her gaze on the big elms lining the street. “Because… I miss him. It’s not easy to talk about him. It’s easier…” She hesitated. “…easier to just praise God for the good years we had, for giving him to me long enough to raise our girls.” She turned away from the window. “But if you want to know the truth, Jodi, it’s not easy to be around married couples. That’s one reason I turned down your invitation to dinner, because I knew when I got home, I’d probably tear my hair out, I’d feel so lonely. I didn’t mean to be rude, but…” She shrugged.
Avis… lonely? Tearing her hair out? I was trying to absorb this new picture of the calm, self-assured Avis Johnson, principal of Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School, the praise and worship leader at Uptown Community Church, whose joy spilled over to the rest of us, helping us white folks worship, helping us be thankful.
“I’m so sorry, Avis. I didn’t know.” It was getting darker outside, and I really needed to get going. “How do you do it — keep going, I mean. You always seem so happy.”
“I am happy. Really. As long as I keep my focus in the right place — right on Jesus and all the good things God has done for me. Or Satan rushes right in and makes me start feeling sorry for myself.” She gave me a hug. “Thanks, Jodi… thanks for wanting to ‘meet’ Conrad. I think he’d like you, too.”
… I suddenly realized I didn’t want my old life. Not if it didn’t include Yada Yada. Whatever my “destiny” was — as Evangelist Olivia Mitchell had put it — it had something to do with Yada Yada. We’d only been a prayer group for barely two months, and already it had been a roller coaster ride that left me breathless. Shaken up. Energized.
Excerpted with permission from The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson, copyright Neta Jackson.
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Scripture urges us to outdo each other in love. Praying for a friend is one of the purest forms of love we can offer. Have you experienced praying bold prayer in community? How would you describe that experience? How will you be the hands and feet of Jesus by displaying His love to others this week? Come share your thoughts on our blog!