All the Cool Kids are Meditating, Man

by Andrew Forrest

I was just listening to the Brian Koppelman interview on Tim Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors podcast, when one of Koppelman’s answers struck me.  The Tribe of Mentors podcast is billed as “short life advice from the best of the best,” and in it Ferriss asks his guests a series of standard questions, in a much shorter format than on his more well-known The Tim Ferriss Show podcast.  One of the standard questions (a really good one) is:

In the last five years what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Here is Brian Koppelman’s answer (beginning at 10:52 in the podcast):

“I know many of Tim’s guests say this, and the answer is: meditation.  For me, I do transcendental meditation, and I do it every day for twenty minutes, two times…first when I wake up in the morning, and then around 3, or 4, or 5, or 6 in the afternoon.  And what I have found is that doing this mediation–taking this time–has drastically decreased the physical manifestations of anxiety and it has given me far more clarity and far more peace.”

Some quick thoughts:

  •  He’s right: many of Tim Ferriss’s guests on this podcast and on the Tim Ferriss Show talk about meditation.  These folks often tend to be Silicon Valley/Hollywood/Venture Capitalist types, and they often mention how meditation has been a helpful practice to them.
  • Because these folks are Silicon Valley/Hollywood/Venture Capitalist types–“California” in mindset, if not location–their practice of mediation tends to be “spiritual and not religious” in a New Age vein.
  • It shouldn’t be surprising that spending time quieting the mind and the soul brings helpful benefits.  This shouldn’t surprise us because people have known this for literally thousands of years, in every culture that I know of.
  • It’s almost as if we were created a certain way, and certain practices–independent of time and place, across all cultures and centuries–just produce good things in people’s lives….
  • Maybe human nature isn’t plastic; maybe wisdom is not making yourself what you want to be, but rather making yourself fit the world.
  • If the same folks on Tim Ferriss’s podcasts had kept saying “prayer” instead of “meditation,” they wouldn’t seem nearly as cool, would they?  Prayer is boring; meditation is cool.
  • We’re a culture that’s forgotten what we used to know, and so we grab various life-giving practices out of the heap, but because we’ve forgotten what we used to know (like the folks in the Foundation in the Isaac Asimov novels), we’re not able to use them to their full benefit.
  • I recently heard Robert Barron say something interesting about prayer:

“Please don’t think of prayer as something that God needs: God doesn’t need your prayer, doesn’t need my prayer.  It’s not like we’re in this sort of pagan thing, where ‘unless I get this much done, God’s not going to do something’–don’t think of it that way; he’s not a ‘pasha’ that we’re trying to impress with our supplications–prayer is for you, prayer’s good for you, it’s not good for God.  God loves it because it makes you better and happier.  It’s not for God’s sake, it’s for your sake.”

  • The difference between Christian prayer and meditation seems to me to lie primarily in what you believe about ultimate reality: meditation is about quieting your heart and mind so you can experience the inner peace that comes from becoming more in tune with Reality, whereas prayer in the way and name of Jesus is about a relationship with the Person behind all reality.  In the Christian tradition (and Jewish tradition, for that matter), Reality is not impersonal at all.
  • The unique insight of the gospel is that Reality is a Person, and he’s made himself known to us in the manger.
  • Christians believe that God is Love.  That beautiful idea is popular, but think about it: love requires personhood–love cannot be impersonal.  Meditation is a good thing, but I don’t think it can lead to love in the same way that prayer can, because prayer is about coming to know the source of Love itself, and his name is the LORD.

Anyway, it just struck me that many of the world-class performers that Tim Ferriss has interviewed have mentioned mediation.  (Though I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single one of them mention prayer.)

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Nine Months

by Andrew Forrest

Nine months ago today, our baby daughter was born and my wife coded afterwards, an event which caused her to be hospitalized twice in the ICU and to undergo emergency, life-saving, life-altering surgery.

This past Sunday was Christmas Commitment Sunday at our church.  It’s like our 21st century urban version of what used to be called Harvest Sunday in rural, agricultural churches: we thank God for his provision toward us in the 12 months past, and ask for his protection and provision in the year to come.  Folks come forward and kneel and make a gift to finish strong in their current year giving toward the church, and make a commitment to give back a portion of God’s blessings in the year to come.  It’s a powerful moment to see hundreds of households come forward and kneel and pray.

When it was our family’s turn, all four of us knelt and prayed and praised the Lord for his mercy toward our family these past 12 months and desperately asked God to be with us in the next 12 months.  I find that I pray for God to protect us and prosper us almost constantly now; I am under no illusions regarding my utter dependence on the grace of God.

The day before we were kneeling at the rail, we’d picked out a Christmas tree and were decorating it: my wife–completely healed–perched on a ladder stringing lights, and our little baby chirping and squeaking and scuttling underfoot like a some kind of huge, curious, terrestrial crab.

As I look back over these past 12 months, I am overwhelmed: God has been so good to us.

A few weeks ago, Elaine and I made a brief video about some things we learned while she was in the hospital.  (I’ve posted the video below.)  Afterwards, of course, we thought of things we’d wished we said or said in a different way, and we share these thoughts humbly, knowing that this is our story, and your stories are different.  Even so, we’ve seen the faithfulness of God firsthand and we feel as if we’re supposed to tell other people about it.

One day, of course, death will come for one or both us us, and for everyone we love.  Maybe I will die first and leave Elaine behind, or maybe she will die first and leave me behind.  But, even when that day comes, God is faithful, and Jesus is risen, so the words the angels shared with the shepherds are still meant for us today:

Do not be afraid.

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How do we give thanks even when we don’t feel like it?

Christians are supposed to be thankful in every situation, which sounds nice on paper but is much harder to live out.

Still, not only should we give thanks in all circumstances, the Bible promises that it’s actually possible. Here are five simple suggestions that should help you and me give thanks, especially when we don’t feel like we have anything to be grateful for.

1. Give thanks because God is good, period.

The Lord is good, always and everywhere—it’s part of his nature. So, it’s always appropriate to give thanks to God just because of who he is.

  • The Lord caused the sun to rise this morning, just because he is good.
  • The Lord gave you life, just because he is good.
  • The Lord created giraffes, just because he is good.

We cheer when the slugger hits a home run because home runs should be cheered.

We smile at babies because babies should be smiled at.

We are in awe when we stand at the Grand Canyon because the Grand Canyon is awesome in the full sense of the word.

And we give thanks to God just because of who God is. Period.

 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1.)

 

2. Give thanks that it’s not as bad as it could be.

In every circumstance, it could always be worse. This fact is brought home to me every time I visit the Children’s Hospital—I always leave thinking, “Compared to what some of these people are going through, I don’t have any” Whatever you think your problems are, it could be worse.

  • If you have cancer, give thanks that it’s not a worse form of cancer.
  • If you’re married but can’t have children, give thanks that you’re married.
  • If you’re single and want to be married, give thanks that you’re not in a bad marriage.

Your circumstances may be bad, but praise God they aren’t worse.

 

3. Give thanks that out of a bad situation, something good can come.

I’m writing this on the plane after being at a family funeral all week. Death is not good, but the fact that a funeral brings family together is a good thing; it’s something to be thankful for. A good question to ask is, “What does this now make possible?”

  • Your time in the hospital gives you time to pray that you didn’t have before.
  • Your recovery allows you to experience the kindness of friends.
  • Your financial struggles give you the opportunity to trust God for your daily bread.
  • Your suffering makes you more empathetic toward others.

Many times what we think is a bad turn of events either makes something good possible, or brings about an unexpected blessing. Give thanks for that.

 

“What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” (Genesis 50:20—Joseph speaking to his brothers years after they sold him into slavery.)

 

4. Give thanks that your situation allows you to experience a small taste of Christ’s suffering.

Christ not only physically suffered, but he was also humiliated and betrayed. The New Testament writers continually tell us that our suffering gives us the opportunity to be more unified with Christ.

  • If people are lying and saying ugly things about you, they did that to Jesus.
  • If you are in acute physical pain, so was Jesus.
  • If you feel totally alone, so did Jesus.

No one wants to suffer, but in suffering we have the opportunity to draw closer to Christ in ways that would not be possible if everything were okay. That’s something to be grateful for.

 

“For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” (Philippians 1:29.)

 

5. Give thanks that The End is good.

The Bible ends with a future promise that “everything sad will become untrue,” to quote Sam Gamgee. (See Revelation 21.) The Resurrection of Jesus is the sign of what God is going to do with all of history—he will “redeem all that he allows” in Jim Denison’s great phrase. So, even when your circumstances seem hopeless—and each of us is going to die, sooner or later—we Christians can give thanks that God is ultimately going make everything new. This fact enables Christians to give thanks even in the midst of death.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4.)

Giving thanks when you don’t feel like it is a mark of holiness—of spiritual maturity—and it is very difficult. But, as with other difficult things, we get better with practice, through the grace of God.

 

So, start small. And start right away.

 

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“The Media and the Massacre”

by Andrew Forrest

I don’t know what to say about the massacre overnight in Las Vegas.  Probably the best thing is to say nothing, to resist the urge to explain, to sit in silence and actually pray, rather than just tweeting that worse-than-useless phrase “thoughts and prayers.”  This morning, however, I came across a brief essay that I actually found helpful in light of today’s evil news, an essay that Andy Crouch wrote in 2012 after the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary called “The Media and the Massacre”:

The most basic lesson for those who would comfort the victims of tragedy is that the first, best response to tragedy is presence, and often the best form of presence is silence. The grieving, the sick, and the dying sometimes need our words, sometimes need our touch, but almost always they need our presence. And there is no contradiction between presence and silence in the embodied life for which we were all created, to which we are all called, into which God himself entered. Bodies can be present without a word. That is the beauty of bodies.

He goes on to comment on our inability to keep silent in the face of these sorts of events, how the social media have caused us all to feel as if our voice needs to be heard:

And while there was a time when you could count the number of broadcasters on one hand, we are all broadcasters now. A tragedy like the Newtown massacre becomes not just a media event, but also a social media event. As the journalist Alex Massie pointed out in his trenchant essay this week, silence is not an option in social media. Not to tweet or post or blog is not to be silently present—it is to be mutely absent. He suggested, fully aware of the futility of his suggestion, that perhaps we all could have simply posted one-word tweets on Friday, using the hashtag #silent, and left it at that. But we didn’t, nor are we likely to during the next tragedy. #silent will never be a trending topic on Twitter.

 

All that any of us who do not live in Newtown, Connecticut, truly needed to know—possibly more than we needed to know—appeared in a 12-word news alert on my phone Friday afternoon. Almost everything else, I believe, was a distraction from the only thing that we who are not first responders, pastors, or parents in that community needed to do at that moment: to pray, which is to say, to put ourselves at the mercy of God and hold those who harmed and those who were harmed before the mercy of God.

Why must we say anything?  Perhaps it’s because we’d rather not actually face the brutal facts: that we are not in control, and that there is inexplicable evil in the world:

The quest for more talk, more images, more footage (none of which would ever satisfy our lust for understanding, no matter how graphic police and producers allowed them to become) is rarely about the quest to more deeply contemplate the brokenness of the world—it is the quest to not contemplate it. Because if we were simply to contemplate those 12 words, we would be brought all too soon to the terrifying precipice of our own inadequacy, our own vulnerability and dependence, and even (so the saints testify) our own culpability, our nearness in spirit to even the most deranged and destructive….

 

Terrible things happen every day. One day, one will probably happen to you, if it has not already happened. Surely it is our suppressed awareness that tragedy is coming our way, too, our unwillingness to be silent and contemplate our own need for mercy, that turns compassion into compulsion, turns our God-breathed impulse to stop for the wounded traveler into the gawking slowdown on the other side of the highway.

Please read the whole thing, especially his piercing final sentence.

 

 

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92 Days….

by Andrew Forrest

Tomorrow is October 1, the first day of the last quarter of the year.  God willing, I have 92 mornings left in 2017,  92 days between now and the end of the year.  I like clean beginnings, and the fact that October 1 falls on a Sunday has got me motivated to nail down some goals for the rest of 2017.  Call them End Year Resolutions.

Like you, I began the new year with hope, and wrote down some goals for 2017.  Now, however, some of those goals seem unattainable, and some just don’t interest me any more.  So, I’m spending some time today to gain clarity and focus on what I really want to accomplish in the last three months of 2017.  I’d like to share one of my year-end goals with you, in hopes that some of you will join me.

“Consistency is More Important Than Intensity”

I believe that consistency is more important than intensity.  In other words, sustaining a behavior over time is more valuable than an intense but brief change of behavior.  So, I’ve staked out a few habit goals between now and the end of the year, one of which has to do with daily scripture reading.  I’ve written before about the power in spending the first few minutes of every day in prayer and scripture: it’s a keystone habit that will affect every area of your life.  So, I’m re-committing myself to spending the first 30 minutes of every day in silence, prayer, and scripture.  (For me, my scripture reading is that day’s portion from The One Year Bible.)

What about you?  I’d love to hear some of your year-end resolutions in the comments below.

 

P.S.  It really has to be your first minutes every morning.  If you think, “Let me first check my texts or see the previous evening’s news or briefly scroll through Instagram, and then I’ll read and pray” it just won’t work.  If you crack open the door of your mind to the Cloud— even just the tiniest bit, it will force the door wide open and invite in all its distracting (but oh-so-beguiling) friends.

First things first.  Then and only then let the iPhone turn you into a zombie.

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5 Reasons to Love the State Fair of Texas

by Andrew Forrest
(Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas)

The 2017 State Fair of Texas opens tomorrow and I am fired up!  I look forward to seeing Big Tex each fall and each year he doesn’t disappoint.  Here are 5 reasons to love the State Fair of Texas.  [I originally published this on 9/25/15, but hey!–like Big Tex himself, it’s perennially relevant.)

 

Everybody’s There and Everybody’s Happy

The State Fair is one of the few places in Dallas where everybody comes together: rich folks, poor folks, city slickers, small town farmers; black folks, white folks, hispanic folks; folks from Highland Park and folks from Fair Park: everybody is at the State Fair.  And, everybody is happy to be there.

If there is a better place to people watch, I haven’t found it.

 

The Food is all Fried

(http://antoniorambles.com)

(http://antoniorambles.com)

Fletcher’s corny dogs, fried Thanksgiving dinner, even fried beer.

At the State Fair, all the food groups are covered…in batter.

 

The Car Show is Texas-Sized

(bigtex.com)

(bigtex.com)

I love browsing the 2 huge car pavilions.  It’s fun to sit in the drivers seats and pop the trunks of dozens of cars that I would never ever consider buying.  (Although, be warned: I’ve actually bought two cars over the years after first sitting in them at the Fair’s Auto Show.)

 

The Demonstrations are Mesmerizing

(bigtex.com)

(bigtex.com)

In several of the exhibit halls, informercial pros demonstrate knives and blenders and shower heads and mops and vacuums and ladders.  These guys are good.  I mean, can your blender make soup?

 

The Farm Children are Inspiring

15-Livestock-025

(Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas)

It does my heart good to see the little boys from Texas farms tend their donkeys and cows and pigs and goats and sheep.  Little boys with blue jeans and flannel shirts and cowboy hats who look exactly like their tall fathers beside them.  I’m glad that world still exists and seeing those farm families makes me proud to be an American.  Really.

 

What About You?

If you’ve been thinking about visiting Dallas, you should plan a visit during the Texas State Fair, which runs for 3 weeks every September and October.  The weather will be gorgeous and the whole experience is can’t miss.

If you do visit, Big Tex and I will be waiting for you.

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6 months ago….

by Andrew Forrest
Exactly 6 months ago (3/6/17), my daughter was born and my wife almost died. That night (and nights thereafter) I slept on a chair in her ICU room.
 
Those weeks were the worst of my life.
 
Thank you Jesus that we are all safe and home together tonight.
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Police join hands during the singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during an interfaith memorial service for the victims of the Dallas police shooting at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center on July 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

“I don’t know what to say.”  When we’re confronted with someone who is grieving or in pain, most of us feel inadequate and intimidated.  But, grieving, suffering people are all around us, and we need to learn how to appropriately engage with them: ignoring them is not an option.  On the first anniversary of the murder of the five Dallas police officers, I thought it would be helpful to briefly offer what I’ve learned about speaking to people in pain.

It’s Not About You

Over a decade ago ago, I was working in youth ministry at a church.  One afternoon, the pastor of our church came rushing into my office: “Just got a phone call: so-and-so has killed himself.”  A high school boy from our church shot himself at home, and his parents had found him.  The pastor drove the two of us to to meet the boy’s family.  I’ve rarely been so sick with nerves.  I was worried that I would say the wrong thing or somehow make the situation worse.  In other words, I was only thinking about myself.  What I realized after visiting with the bereaved father was that it wasn’t about me at all, and to worry about saying the wrong thing or otherwise making the situation worse was selfish and foolish.

In this particular example, literally the worst thing that this father could possibly have imagined had just happened; there was nothing I could do that could make the situation worse.  But, in any interaction with a grieving or suffering person, your words are not going to fix the situation no matter what you say, and if you worry about what you say or how you’ll be perceived, you’ll be making it about you, when it’s really about the other person anyway.  So, remember: it’s not about you.

Which is not to imply that in those situations you should say whatever crosses your mind.

Resist the Urge to Explain

It’s one of those phrases my dad always says that has stuck with me: “Resist the urge to explain.”  We humans like neat explanations, but one of the problems with pain and suffering is that they are ultimately inexplicable.  You and I do not know why that child has cancer or why that couple can’t conceive or why those cops were killed.  Do not speak about that which you do not know.  What I mean is that we should not resort to greeting card pablum along the lines of:

“Everything happens for a reason;”

or

“I guess God just wanted another angel;”

or

“God knew you could handle it.”

Those sorts of statements are not helpful to people who are grieving or suffering.  Resist the urge to explain that person’s suffering to him or her.  When you do that what you are really doing is making the interaction about you, exactly what I warned against above.  There isn’t a neat, clean explanation for suffering, and since there isn’t, resist the urge to explain.

Don’t Compare Sufferings

In the same way that you should resist the urge to explain, you should also resist the urge to compare sufferings with the other person.  You don’t know exactly what the person is going through, and it’s unhelpfully self-centered to think that you do.  It’s okay to reference your own experience with suffering, but be sure to refrain from assuming that your situation is comparable to the other person’s (even if it seems to be, from your point of view).

Say “I’m So Sorry”

Rather than trying to compare sufferings, I’ve learned that it’s better to instead share 3 simple words with people who are grieving: “I’m so sorry.”  That sentiment is always appropriate and has the virtue of being true and normal.

Be Normal

Normal people smile when they greet each other and when they say goodbye.  Normal people talk about things in specifics.  I’ve found that many people are worried if they should smile or mention the source of the pain when they interact with someone who is suffering, but remember: it’s not about you, and you’re not going to make it worse.  (It’s already terrible.)  Treat the grieving person as you would any other normal person.  This means it’s important to give the other person the courtesy of a smile (even if it’s a sad smile) and a courteous, friendly look when you greet him or her, and I think it’s important to specifically mention the source of the pain.  When parents have just lost a child, it’s okay to say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”  It’s okay to say to your co-worker, “I heard about the death of your mother and I wanted you to know I’m really sorry to hear that.”  I’ve heard people say that one of the ugly parts of grief is that you feel like such a leper–everyone avoids talking to you about your loss or tries to change the subject.  When talking to someone who is grieving, therefore, just be normal.

Pray

It’s normal to want to remove someone’s pain and it’s normal to want to pray.  However, when someone is hurting, prayer isn’t going to change the source of that person’s pain–what’s happened has already happened.  What prayer can do is change that person’s future.  When someone loses a loved one, for example, you can’t pray that the loss goes away–it’s a real, permanent loss.  Rather, what you can pray is for God is be with that person in the midst of his or her pain.  I’ve found that it’s helpful to pray a version of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

When I pray for someone who has lost a loved one, for example, I’ll say:

Lord, this person is hard pressed on every side; let her not be crushed;

This person is perplexed at this inexplicable event; let her not be driven to despair;

This person is feeling persecuted; let her know that she’s not abandoned;

This person is feeling struck down; let this grief not destroy her.

Suffering is All Around Us

Suffering is a part of life and no one is exempt.  One of the ugly parts of pain is that it makes you feel alone.  But, there can be a solidarity in suffering, as we reach out with kindness and courtesy to others as they suffer, and when they in turn do the same to us.  I hope the thoughts above are helpful to you the next time you find yourself confronted with a person in pain.

 

 

I’m in the midst of overhauling my blog design.  If you haven’t already signed up to receive updates from me, would you consider doing so here?

 

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Brief Reflections on Fatherhood

by Andrew Forrest

Fatherhood is a stewardship.  The Lord gives us the blessing of children, but also the responsibility for them: to teach them to love him and his world.

 

My children are under my care, and my job is to cultivate Christ-like character in them and to help them see the world clearly and learn to investigate it with curiosity—it’s such beautiful world, “charged with the grandeur of God.”  It’s easy to become distracted by everything else, so I need to be constantly reminded that nothing I will ever do will be more eternally important than raising my children to love the Lord their God with all their heart and all their soul and all their strength (Deuteronomy 6).  And, of course, the surest way for me to do that is to draw near to the Lord myself; I can’t teach what I’m not first receiving.

It says in the scriptures that “we love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  This means that any true love I have for my children will be a sharing in the love I receive from God “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  Too many times we earthly fathers try to love out of a sense of emotion or duty, and though emotion and duty are good things, they will not be enough to sustain me as a father over time.  To depend as a father on emotion or duty alone would be like trying to exhale and then exhale again, without ever breathing in fresh air.  It’s when I am receiving and abiding in the love of God that I am able to share that love with my children.  I love my children, because God first loved me.

For me to know what a father is like, I need to look to my Heavenly Father, and there I see a God who so loves the world that he sacrifices for it.  This means that fatherhood requires sacrifice: I learn to give my life to the Lord and to die to myself, and then the Lord can use me to love my children in the way they most need.  And, in the beautiful mystery of the gospel, it’s in the giving of my life that I gain it back, in ways that exceed what I can ask or imagine.  In this way, therefore, fatherhood becomes exceedingly joyful: I think I am serving my kids, but in the serving I find myself blessed beyond measure.

Fatherhood is a stewardship, and I’m accountable.  But the Lord who blesses us with children is a good God, and he will also bless us with the love we need to be fathers.  God wants us to succeed as fathers and wants to say to us “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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For This Child I Prayed

by Andrew Forrest
[My daughter's baptism, 4/23/17.]

I prayed for my little daughter for more years than I’ve prayed for anything else in my life.  What I’m reflecting on tonight is that not only is she an answer to my prayers, but also an answer to the prayers of so many other people.  And I’m grateful.

“For This Child I Prayed”

My wife and I have been married for 10 years, and if it had been up to us we’d have had a whole baseball team of kids by now.  But, that wasn’t God’s plan for us.  Rather, God’s plan for us involved a great crowd of people, praying and interceding for us for years.

The picture above was taken on the day of my daughter’s baptism, last Sunday.  My dad baptized her; our family, our staff, and our small group stood up with us.  I love the image of all of them praying for us, because I know that’s what they’ve been doing, and I love it that you can’t even see our little girl: she’s literally covered in prayer.

Just tonight, we received a note from someone in our church who said she’d been praying for us for years–I’ve frequently heard that these past 8 weeks, and it makes me so happy.  In the Scriptures, Hannah prays for years for a child, and when he comes, she triumphantly tells old Eli, the priest: “for this child I prayed.”

My wife and I could say the same, but we’d have to also add, “And so did countless other people.”

 

 

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