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Glossy or Matte?

We live in a world with images of the woman next door, her home, her kingdom, her power. Branding, lighting, taglines, followings, messages…tools to promote that can also enslave.

We have filters at our fingertips. Truthfully, people can present themselves any way they want in our digital age. In fact, the pursuit of promotion in this culture actually changes people from the outside in. It’s a subtle reverse metamorphosis.

What if the things that we think give us power and influence actually are hijacking our freedom? What if it’s all a lie? What if what we are promoting is not really there? Smoke and mirrors and emptiness…

Glossy, alluring, enticing, inviting us to want what they have–influencers portray a virtual life. We buy the tickets to get there…only to get to the festival and see the portapotties, the chaos, the fear. It’s selling a lie that we are believing as the truth. (Fyre festival documentaries, anyone?) Glossy is not real.

I want Matte. I want texture and divets. I want to enter into the real. I want to call b.s. on what you are portraying because it is going to devastate and destroy you.

Initially, this wrestling in my heart came from a reaction to how the game is played on Instagram. However, it’s true whether you are on Social Media or are in Amishland that we choose how we present ourselves. We choose Glossy or Matte. We are branding ourselves from Social media to our small towns to our churches.

We choose where we focus and spend our energy. We are building the wall of gloss or we are digging into the real. Where we choose to turn our heart slowly makes us what we are…

This painting represents what is really to be explored and shared behind the gloss. It’s messy, but there is real life there. Opening yourself up to others and admitting what is really going on in your life brings opportunities for real growth and real impact. In fact, it opens your heart to hear that you are in need of the One who will change your heart and mind and bring you freedom from the glossy prison of self.

We can easily live our lives on the surface, and look what we are missing. Is it scary and risky to dig deeper? Yes, but it can bring true life, and it is worth the pain. I promise.

As I have been wrestling with these thoughts, The Spirit just keeps whispering words and giving me visions of concepts of paintings. I have no idea what I am doing, but I am listening to and exploring the direction. I don’t have a formula for anyone, but I know it takes courage to break through the gloss.

I was an expert at gloss growing up. Look and perform this way, hide the doubts, please the people, don’t examine too much. As I have walked out the journey into the Gospel and into authenticity, it’s taken work and courage to punch through the gloss.

There are threads torn and it doesn’t just affect me. What I have found is that there are others who long to live that way, too. There are safe places to punch together and to talk about real hope and growth and life. The more we do that, the less gloss we desire. Our covering is in Him filled with color and the texture of matte and adventures that actually bring more growth and life and freedom.

The more we walk in this life, the more we see the gloss is a picture of this world that doesn’t satisfy like we hoped and wanted. We have a choice to see it as it is or to keep chasing the lie and gooping more on… (Gooping is the technical term I invented for how I painted the top of the first painting:))

We show what we really believe about the Gospel by how we walk this out. Is there really no condemnation for those in Christ? Then I can risk the punch. Does He really mean that thing about abundant life? Then I can trust His process instead of gooping the gloss. Am I really covered in the righteousness of Christ and by His death and resurrection? Then, I can walk in confidence not in what I look like to the world but who He is making me to be.

What do you desire? Where are you pouring your energy? Most times, all that glitters is NOT gold.

Posted in Uncategorized

the slow turn

Where we choose to turn our heart slowly makes us what we are…

This was what I wrote on Facebook February 8, 2011. What a precursor to the life that was coming like a freight train. At almost 36, I was six months pregnant with my first LONG awaited child. In the next 8 months, I would birth a child, go through the craziest day of my life when we husband was accidentally drugged on the day we came home from the hospital, crawl through the darkest days of depression and feeling of hopelessness with postpartum, try with a legalistic fervor to feed my child correctly breastfeeding and have to deal with the shame of failure in that, and would prepare our house to go on the market and to move. Those are just the highlights.

Where we choose to turn our heart slowly makes us what we are…

Adulthood has been systematic disarmament of my charms, my armor for coping, and my plans. I have mountains of journals that document the wrestling of my nature to turn my heart toward myself and other comforts of what I can do and control and His nature that tells me, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. It is not my natural bent to trust Him and to examine my heart for false loves. It is my natural bent to pick the false loves and props, though. I want to be admired. I want things to be easy. I love to numb away reality, and that satisfies for a moment until the emptiness of it crashes down and I see the fruit of what my choices have produced.

I turn only when things stop working for me. That sounds impressive, huh? I bet you identify.

When my job at an urban school (that I loved) ate me alive because I had no boundaries and tried to over perform, I burnt out. I had nothing left. Where did I choose to turn my heart?

When I didn’t know how to communicate and connect in marriage after a few newlywed years when things got real, I floundered. Where did I choose to turn my heart?

When My Daddy was struggling with Parkinson’s and I literally did not recognize the man he was becoming or know how to deal with the needs he had. Where did I choose to turn my heart?

When the last two weeks of my Dad’s life surprised us and he was taken to eternal healing, where did I choose to turn my heart?

When months turned into years of trying to have a baby with no results, I began the deepest journey of turning to Him to His word, His character, His plans, His ways and not mine. This was when the narrative switched in my life from an underlying performance to the hope of the Gospel every day. Slowly over years of time letting His word inform me, seeing the big picture, studying, praying, teaching it, my character was changed. My hope was trained to look beyond circumstantial to eternal. That serves me to this day–in parenting, in business, in changes, in conflict, in tragedy.

I would never have chosen this on my own. That is the sad truth. I am fickle–I love a new adventure–I want a new high. Life really worked for me for a long time. My journey in college began to show that all was not shiny underneath. Jennifer Cox did not have all the answers or the performance or the “goods” to make it in this life with a gold star. I did not know what to do with the weariness or low-grade depression that came. I did not know what to do when I royally messed up relationships and disappointed others and I couldn’t charm my way out of it. It got messy–I got messy. And, frankly, I did not love what came out. I did not recognize the person I was. All my constructs fell.

At the beginning of my Senior year in college, I wrestled with the picture of the depravity in my heart. I remember camping in Romans 1and 3, Ephesians 1. The way I viewed God had always been about me in some way. How could this verse help me? What was God leading ME to do? What guy was for me? It was the first time that I was challenged to look at it being about Him. Where we choose to turn our heart, slowly makes us what we are…

Each of these situations, struggles, needs, informs me of where my heart naturally turns and where to turn it for True Life and Hope. Where we choose to turn our heart, slowly makes us what we are… In a couple of months, I will turn 44, and I can look back at the slow turns in my life–maturity directed by HIM, informed by HIM, found in HIM with a long long long way to go. A long obedience in the same direction…Today I remember the truth that where I choose to turn my heart in the small slowly makes me what I am. What will I choose today? What will you choose?

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Your personal state of the union

Nope–not gonna get political, however, I am going to get personal.

There are an amazing amount of moving parts in our lives. Mixed with an inordinate amount of information coming our way, and the more we know, the more we can be paralyzed in the execution. We can feel like we “should” be doing more or getting better results ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY!

As I hear stories and see patterns in my life and the lives of others, my heart and mind turn to the word Simplify.  This is not in reference to minimalism but to paring down and being aware of what is going on in our hearts and how we are executing leadership and life.

Simplify: to make it easier to understand; to remove the things which make it complex

As women, we tend to have lots of plates spinning at once…and part of that is a necessity.  The problem comes when we do not consider what adding plates will do to our hearts and effectiveness–we complicate things. 

Consider what you are spinning in your life—are you a spouse?  Are you a parent?  Are you caring for a parent?  Are you dealing with a chronic illness?  Are your kids in a lot of activities?  Are you working?  Are you chasing success?  Are you pursuing friendships?  Are you moving?  Are you volunteering?  Are you (GULP) building a house?  Are you looking for a new job?  Are you dealing with intense conflict?  Are you in charge of the chores at your house?  Are you meal planning and cooking?  Are you attending to your spiritual growth? Are you in charge of something(s)? Are you involved in activities at your church?  Are your kids in travel ball?  Are you in school?  Who is depending on you? how are you treating money?

Breathe and come down from the ledge. 

Some of these things are part of the choices in life that we have pursued…and some are chosen for us. The biggest choice is how we react to these.  Do we see them as opportunities to steward?  Do we have a cohesive heart and mind in how we choose what to add and what to say “no thank you” to?  What are we choosing to make more complex in this season? And where are we hurting ourselves and our families in the midst?

I could tell story after story of that one GOOD thing I added to my plates since being a mother that put us all over the edge. Usually, it involved me leading a Bible Study or a child participating in one more thing or getting out of balance with boundaries–GOOD things, but it spread me too thin and affected all my people in the worst of ways.

Cohesive: consists of parts that fit together well and form a UNITED WHOLE (integrated)

Oftentimes, we do not sit down to examine OUR SEASON and OUR HEARTS and THE NEEDS OF OUR FAMILY and how they fit together. Our lives look like a mosaic of different activities that we think we “should” do or that we “have to do to be a good parent or person” or “that’s just the way life is.”

The sum total of our lives are bearing fruit…and the question is “what is blooming?” Is there a stench or a fragrant offering? Does it offer life or death? Light or dark? Non-GMO organic apples or rotten apples? Healthy relationships or toxic relationships? Is there godliness (more of his character) or selfishness growing there?

Beward of false teachers…”you will recognize them by their fruits…Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. THUS YOU WILL RECOGNIZE THEM BY THEIR FRUITS.” Matthew 7:15-20

So, it is so important for all of us to examine the State of our Hearts, our families, our patterns of life. They get easily complicated and disintegrate in purpose and direction. That is where our flesh and this world points us. “Our hearts are deceitful above all things”(Jeremiah 17:9). They are idol factories. We begin to see good things as the ultimate thing–our success, our parenting, our marriage, our status, our leadership…all can get way “out of whack.” God says “have no other gods before me,” Exodus 20:3, and we are experts in how to fashion gods. And, most often, they are made up of admirable things and that complicates our examination. He calls us to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize that this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you. “ 2 Corinthians 13:5

I come to you with hope. God simplifies this process in us by the power, life, death and resurrection of Jesus–when we come before Him with the reality of our complex lives that are not cohesive in loving Him fully (which is the greatest commandment). We have to recognize and admit the state of our union/heart…If we do not realize there is a problem, we are calling Him a liar. He is Truth–there is no darkness in Him. When, we go to Him, turn away from our other “loves,” we are given the gift of forgiveness and a new heart and a new life. We still struggle with making other idols/loves, and, even still, He NEVER forsakes us if we are truly in Him. This is why He says to REMAIN in Him everyday–He helps us simplify our motives, our plates and helps to bring cohesiveness to our patterns of life–what we put in, what we take out. He helps us understand–in this oft-times confusing life.

My prayer for me and for all who know Him: That we recognize today where our hearts are wandering and trusting other things and where our lives are bearing bad fruit. And, in that, that we may draw near to Him and the power of the GOSPEL that “by grace we have been saved through faith and this is not our own doing–accepting God’s gift–not a result of works, so that NO ONE may boast. I pray we remember that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 May we remember that “there is no condemnation FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.” Romans 8:1

My prayer for those who do not know the beauty of knowing God: I pray that you graciously open their eyes, Dear One. I pray that you awaken their hearts to Your worth. Lord, I pray that you cause examination that they consider their fruit–and their hearts. May they experience the freedom of being adopted as your Child…

Posted in authenticity, comparison, discernment, grace

Do I have food in my teeth?

I have big teeth, and I cannot lie. This is a fact. They attract green leafy food. I could try to defend against it by not showing my teeth–painfully keeping my mouth closed while at dinner with friends or in the company of strangers. There’s a problem, though. My mouth was made to smile, to talk, to laugh, to inquire of others, and my gummy smile is part of that. The experience of that joy is worth more to me than my worry about a broccoli branch sticking out of my canines.

This has taken a long time to embrace. In fact, I wanted to fall into the floor when Greg told me I had something in my teeth on our first “date.” I was 23, but I felt all the insecurities of 8th grade burst into my being.

Why did this uncomfortable moment serve as a gift to me? 1) I knew he was not afraid to tell me the truth. He was not worried about impressing me but helping me. Flattery and charm help you feel good for the moment, but they leave you empty and hurting in the end. 2) We got uncomfortable out of the way. That is risky. He still pursued me knowing I had a propensity for wearing my meal in my grill. To this day, he tells me. I laugh and ask for direction, and we move on.

There are things about each of us (much deeper than food in the teeth) that are flawed, that carry wounds, that, in shame, we try to hide or manufacture a facade to cover. Some of those things are very clear to others and not to us (as food in the teeth). Some we push deep down hoping to never face or reveal. And, in doing so, we minimize our gifts, our hearts, and our joys that are meant to be shared with others. We also miss out on the joy of relationships and community–where unconditional love has a place to grow.

We live armored lives, and therefore, we encourage others to live that way. We think we are self-protecting, but we are really living 1/2 lives. EVERY SINGLE PERSON has hang-ups, insecurities, places of shame, imperfections, places where we have or are going to royally fail. What we do with those realities defines the life we live and how we empower or enslave others.

Are you risking others seeing the food in your teeth? If not, what are you afraid of happening? Is what you are afraid of worse than what you are missing out on by not being vulnerable?

Embrace with me #getrealwednesday in the simplest of things today. The world is a MUCH scarier place when we hide and cover. It doesn’t have to be your deepest secrets that you let out, but embrace the reality that you DO NOT have it all together. Smile, laugh, talk and floss your teeth!

Posted in discipleship, God's word, grace, self-absorption, sin, spiritual growth, the gospel, transformation by truth, trusting God

Forget Me Not

When you feel remembered–when someone acknowledges and leans in, it is so powerful. You feel seen and heard and chosen. There’s nothing more deflating than having to introduce yourself to a person for the 49th time, and they have no clue who you are. It feels empty. That’s why I love to connect with people–we need to know that we are valued. It changes how we interact with and invest in others. It reminds us that we are not alone and that we are a unique person in the middle of the masses.

A random gift I have is remembering people–what they do, where they are from, what motivates them, their name, etc. Because of 43 years of involvement in school, ministry, interests, there have been a lot of experiences and a lot of people, and my files are pretty full. So, I am getting more confused from time to time because it’s different to remember layers of connections from a combination of places, times, seasons. It makes me sad when, because of that, I forget someone.

The last few days, I have been studying in the Psalms again. There are several repeated phrases throughout the 150 chapters. ‘Remember. Do not forget.’ In fact, Psalm 106 traces the history of the Hebrew people in a series of God remembering them, taking care of them and them forgetting and ignoring Him.

The Hebrew people did not remember:

  • Did not consider His wondrous works (have you heard the one about parting the sea????)
  • Did not remember the abundance of His steadfast love but rebelled at the sea
  • They soon forgot His works and did not wait for His counsel
  • They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt
  • They exchanged the glory of God for something they could touch and see
  • they served their idols which became a snare to them
  • They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan (sound familiar?)
  • Psalm 28 speaks of evil men not regarding the works of the LORD of the work of His hand

But, notice what God remembered and the reason why.

  • YET He saved them for His NAME’s SAKE that He might make known His mighty power
  • On their behalf, he rebuked the sea and made it dry, He led them through the desert, saved them from the enemy, redeemed them
  • He showed His anger at their rebellion and said He would destroy them and Moses stood in the gap for them, He gave consequences for their unfaithfulness as they were taken over, His anger was kindled against His people and He abhorred His heritage
  • Many times He delivered them (though they were unfaithful)
  • for their sake He REMEMBERED HIS COVENANT (promise) and relented according to His steadfast love

The root of our actions comes out of the fact that we live as though God is not there. We forget His words. We live oblivious to His works and His movement. We fashion for ourselves idols of pragmatism (what works for us for our goals), romanticism (what feels best to us and what seems fulfilling), consumerism (striving and ingesting and going after more) instead of regarding His name and His glory. We do not listen long enough, make a practice of remembering His faithfulness, or bother even knowing Him to know that He is much more fulfilling and brings peace to our hearts in ways the things we fashion can never do. (Check out 1 John 2:15-17) So, we come up with a plan of our own.

The phrase that is haunting my heart–‘But they soon forgot His works and they did not wait for His counsel.’ and ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’

I do not want to forget who God is…or be found to have fashioned a god in my own image. That seems to be our M.O. these days–one of these two things. The only way I REMEMBER Him and KNOW Him is to hear from His word by the power of His Spirit. When we use our own circumstances, our own desires, our own wisdom to figure out what He is for and what He is against, etc. we have made it about us. We are missing out on the gift of knowing Him and seeing the worth of His name. We, in effect, put words in His mouth–and He will not be mocked.

So, I encourage me and you to REMEMBER who God actually Is and to NOT FORGET His works and purposes. May we not devalue His infinite value, holiness, righteousness, justice, steadfast love by brushing over who He is like a chance introduction at a party. Let’s lean in. Let’s dig deep into His character poured out in His word and throughout the thread of our lives. He says and warns…’Forget Me not.’

Posted in authenticity, grace, humility, parenting, spiritual growth, trusting God

Clueless

At dinner the other night, my youngest said “Grown-ups know everything.”

Then, the seven year old chimed with…”No way, they only know about some things.”

I laughed to myself, and I remembered having that unbridled confidence in grown-ups. I think of all the adults I grew up around and that I considered any age of 30 and above as gray-headed and ancient and somebody’s mom, dad or teacher. In my mind as a child and early teenager, I did not consider adults to have struggles or doubts or to be at a loss for direction. They were “adults,” and they had it together. They had quick answers that were always right. (I didn’t have a category for people in prison–my life was small town sheltered.)

Then, I began growing and experiencing “real life.” Everything had structure until graduating from high school. It’s like the ages of 18-24 are a no-man’s land if you need structure and stability. We call it “freedom,” but really there was a lot of confusion in the midst. We are trying on different hats and life choices and don’t even recognize who we are in the mirror. And then, we have a diploma or a job or a ring on and supposedly, we are adults that have answers.

Bahahahahahahahahaha.

Then these words come out of our mouths…. “wait, this is it? This is what I have been preparing for? Can I get a manual? I’m sure there has been a mistake! I’m the only one who is a royal mess inside!”

What we experience is grief that life is not what we hoped or thought or were promised that it would be. Facing that loss that we experience is the first step in maturity. Some of us never make it out of the cycle of grief–looking for what we were owed. We may jump from job to job or relationship to relationship, numb ourselves with what we can buy or consume, or blame everyone for our issues, but that grief is still there lodged and real growth is stunted.

The real maturity of adulthood? Knowing and embracing we don’t have the answers within ourselves. That doesn’t mean we throw our hands up, but we examine ourselves.

A few months ago, Greg and I had our biggest parenting hurdle thus far, and we were at a complete loss as to how to lead a situation with our oldest, and we had to make a fast decision. We were stonewalled. I asked Greg…”what do we do?” He said–“I don’t know any better than you…we are making it up as we go!!!” There was a freedom in hearing him say that because I often go back into “adults should have all the answers” mode. Thank the LORD that we have people who have walked before us on this journey and we also have God’s guidance as we make decisions.

Then, one by one, I began thinking of all those adults that were there when I grew up. I thought of ministers, teachers, moms and dads, doctors, young couples. I wanted to go back and to hug them because I realized all that they were carrying when I just saw them as an adult who had it all together. They were carrying pain, doubts, insecurities, marital troubles, shame… Yet, they loved me and made me feel safe.

Adulthood–man. It has been my favorite time in life and the most terrifying and hard time in life. It has been the time that I have known my need for One beyond me in the greatest of ways. I have seen myself be a mess, and I know that I cannot put the pieces back together. When we don’t have the answers that is actually the greatest gift because it drives us to look for the One who does. And, He greets us with grace and love, and he sets the bones we have broken along the way to grow into Him. He replaces our ways of coping with His spirit and His truth. We can freely admit that we are broken and that He is the healer. And, like the children of Israel in the desert, He give us what we need for TODAY. It is a trust exercise over and over and over. We want a downloaded plan for the next 10 years, but growth and life and trust do not work that way. We have the freedom to admit where our Hope and our Strength and our Wisdom comes from. Beautifully, we can teach our children to look to Jesus because life will not be what they expect or want it to be, but there is a deeper joy in the midst if they walk into the grief instead of running from it.

Posted in Anxiety, authenticity, discernment, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's will

Where the heck am I going?

I’ve always had pretty good direction–I see maps in my head. I like to get my bearings and understand where I am in order to navigate where I am going. I get the shakes when I am just following a crowd. My husband will tell you that I am all about backroads and finding the faster way.

“The faster way” has gotten me in trouble a few times. It reminds me of a trip to London when I was 25. Long story short, due to my mom breaking her ankle, I took my parent’s place on a senior adult tour of England, Scotland and Wales (thankfully my good friend Amber also went). There are many stories from this trip including a stalker that I naively picked up, but that one is for another time.

Now, for you, youngins, this was before you could get walking and driving directions by phone. I didn’t even have a phone on this trip. We were trying to get to a show very quickly using the Underground, and I basically was leading the way on directions with a lot with people following. Which lead me to the brilliant shortcut… Picture it, a winding staircase from the Underground that wound up probably 10 flights of stairs (that I thought would be 2 flights)–with twenty 65-80-year-olds behind me. The map did not show topography…it just showed distance. So, my “shortcut’ almost sent 5 adults into cardiac arrest. Not my finest moment.

At twenty-five, I was coming out of a season where I felt directionless in every way. I had landed on a plan and was in grad school for school counseling while in a serious long distance relationship with Greg. I thought that getting a plan for what I was going to do would lead me into understanding who I was. We easily confuse that as humans, huh?

Looking back with what I know now, it makes sense that I was overcome with making a decision with so many choices before me. As an Enneagram 7, I love spontaneity and new adventures and loathe a plan that buckles me in. However, the world, my parents, and all the little ladies from my hometown were continually asking me the question “what are you doing with your life?” I felt the weight of deciding the rest of the path of life right then and there from career to marriage, and I did not have ONE clue which direction of the 3000 ways I could go was right. My heart is beating faster thinking about those weird conversations I had from about twenty-two to twenty-six.

The “right” part was the thought in which I was stuck. I felt I needed a distinct calling into something to do it.

What would the 43-year old Jen tell the 22 or 25 year old Jen?

  1. It is going to be okay…apart from the marriage choice, these decisions on jobs or cities or careers are not going to make or break or DEFINE your life. And, even in the marriage choice, God is gracious with both of you.
  2. Pursue God and be in His word and with authentic people on the same journey. You are going to meet some amazing friends that will struggle with you, encourage you, stretch you.
  3. You are messy. You tend toward depression. You do not have to be the image of that 10-year-old girl that does everything right to be praised. The best growth and beauty will come out as you share your brokenness and lean into your Gracious Father.
  4. Girl, you are going to try lots of new things. You will paint, sing, speak, write. And, don’t throw up in your mouth, but you are going to be a pastor’s wife as one of your roles along the journey. Breathe…you are going to be okay with it.
  5. You are going to learn how to study God’s word deeply. You are going to grasp and dig deep into the power of the gospel, and you will be transformed and taste greater freedom than you can imagine. In fact, instead of drowning in your feelings, start pursuing that now!!
  6. Life is not about your happiness. Happiness is fickle and a shadow in life. You will learn, through much pain that I will not disclose at this time, that the secret to life is being content in the Lord. In plenty and in want, in sickness (which will come) and in health, in laughter and in tears, in gain and in loss…your roots are going to grow deep into Him. It is going to be really good.
  7. It doesn’t matter your job or career, Jen. I know now it seems it does…but you are going to be you and minister to others with God’s love wherever you are. He is in control–breathe. He is going to take you on many adventures, and you will get to experience new challenges in each season. Be open to the new and do the small things of faithfulness in the midst.
  8. Remember this: the people who have a plan and seem to have conquered adulthood are just as lost inside as you are. Their outside “direction” may look together, but on the inside, they might be feeling the burn of walking up 10 flights of stairs looking for a shortcut. We all are in need. We all struggle.

The verse I was meditating on this morning: “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.” 2 Thess 3:5

Wherever you are on the journey, this is my prayer for you.