Words to live by | Online journal of Marc Heriot

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Desire

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke‬ ‭22:41-44‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples just before he was arrested and crucified. He knew what was coming. And not just the physical torment or the abandonment by his friends, but the one thing that was of higher value than anything else — and something most of us still do not understand — the separation in the relationship he had with his Father. He had never experienced a distance from Papa before, yet now, Abba is asking him to carry sin away from the sinners, to be the lamb sacrifice on which sin falls. Jesus knows light and dark cannot cannot coexist. Sin and righteousness are opposites. Abba is absolutely holy, and not in some nose-in-the-air self-righteous way. He is pure white hot goodness and sin is like wood that burns up as it nears him, consuming it completely or damaging whatever it is attached to. So to become an offering for sin meant one thing: distance from the Father. Separation. Pleasing his father was the singular value that Jesus prized most. It helps me understand how the body produced drops of blood from the stress he was feeling.

The story of the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice is incredible by itself, but this is not what caught my attention. I’ve been considering what causes stress in my own life and as I was reading this I recognized that Jesus experienced stress too. His stress was a result of his values and desire being threatened, and that desire was only good. He wanted something, just like all of us want something.

When the thing we desire is threatened, it results in stress. It is like the warning lights in our car. The light is telling me I shouldn’t drive with one of my doors open. The oil light flashes and tells me low oil pressure is threatening my vehicle. I’m about to give a presentation to a group at work, and I feel it because I want to do well, communicate, succeed, and have others benefit from it. I want to be valued. Yet I know how quickly someone can succeed or fail when speaking publicly. I feel the stress of not having enough money and without enough cash, I may lose my house or car or not have enough food. If I’m afraid for my life, it’s because I still want to live — I have dreams, things to do, places to go, ambitions to fulfill. Yet if I simply give up caring about something I am released from that pressure. When I give up, it allows me to release care, worry, and anxiety. So, if I give up my desire, may I live a stress free life? Of course. But it’s also dead one.

Desire and caring is the natural response of my heart to life. It makes me uniquely human. Uniquely valuable. It defines me. There are those that have given up on their desires and abandoned any hope for the good they want in their life, but what has their surrender purchased? Less stress, yes, but also less life. A part of them has died.

Growing up as a believer, I’m well aware of the struggle between my flesh and my new man in Christ. It’s good to understand that distinction. The act of being baptized and plunged under the water is a symbol of my old man dying. When I come out of the water it is a symbol that the new man is resurrected with Christ. The experience of being born again is truly amazing and as a young man I had passion in pursuing the kingdom. But as with all children, things seemed black and white and in killing off the old man it felt reasonable to dump everything but “spiritual” pursuits. Everything! So what is left? I sincerely love the willingness to sell all to connect with my Father. But he isn’t looking for a slave. He’s looking for me. With all my intrinsic desire, ambition, gifts, and talents he gave me when I was conceived. Being a Christian doesn’t mean my person is dead, just the part that was connected with hurt, sin and damage. Instead of killing me, he has realigned me with the kingdom and kingdom values. Being truly dead to self — willing to hate all those I love, willing to cut off an arm or pull out an eye, and even hating my own life also — is only a gateway to real life.

Then and now I find the relationship with my desire and ambition to be precarious. If I have a dream but believe it can’t be fulfilled, I feel sick… and just like the proverb says: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. (Proverbs 13:12). The tread-wear of life on my soul has a tendency to reduce my child-like curiosity and desire. Kids unashamedly want to go places, to have fun experiences, to buy the latest toy or gadget, and to eat this fun new food. With time, the natural enthusiasm and excitement of simply waking up and tackling a brand new day begins to fade. The trim and flourish start to go missing. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t get everything I want. Sometimes the dream I have is not aligned with the reality of my circumstances and disappointment results. And then there are events in all of our lives that threaten our very life or well-being. The resulting post-traumatic stress has a deep impact that erases whatever childlike curiosity or possibility I held. When fighting for my life, whether it be sickness, adversity, war, or even abusive relationships, finding value in the little pleasures or desires seem inconsequential. Unimportant. At the root is the underlying question: “Am I loved?” If I feel like I have been threatened or nearly cast aside, then what is my worth?

Ah, the heart of the matter.

God, or better, Abba or Papa, makes an unequivocal declaration of my value and worth. He loves me. Deeply. No matter what evidence I find to the contrary. Yet life bears down on me and my adversary shouts “worthless!” in my ear, challenging the very thing my father affirms. My life seems to be a drama where experiences either affirm or deny the worth I have and for which Jesus has paid dearly.

Will I live loved, or unloved? And what will it take to convince me of one or the other? Hope or hopelessness are both knocking at the door daily.

There’s a great article in Psychology today that explores the relationship between hope and depression. I’ve always wondered how someone could ever consider taking their own life. An excerpt says: Hopelessness is both a cause and a symptom of depression, and, in the context of depression, a strong predictor of suicide. This article makes a link between what we believe and our response to that faith — connecting hope, hopelessness, depression, and suicide.

And if these things are true, it is important not to equivocate between hope and hopelessness. The conclusion of both are either life or death. Choosing life means to live fully. And to live fully means that my desires are important. Desire is the fruit of the tree of being loved. It is a tender young shoot growing from a heart that feels value and worth. It is the evidence that my life is more than just being alive, but living abundantly and flourishing. Desire is an indicator. The more that is there, the more the fertilizer of love has seeped into the soil of my heart.

What I want is important. Allowing myself to want, is important. Self denial has a downside. There are many places in the Bible where Jesus says to deny ourselves. To hate mom, dad, sister, brother, and our own life also. But anyone who hears these things knows that those things were spoken only to realign our value system. God must be first in comparison to anything else. There is no question here. But to truly die to ourselves means we must pick up the life he intended us to live and live it fully! Abundantly. It’s not some pseudo-life created by the flesh to prove I am really a believer as evidenced by my excessive self-denial, long prayer times, or any other outward righteousness. It means aligning with my heart and soul to the calling and purpose he placed within me when I was conceived — what he knew about me before the creation of the world. Real self-denial means living an incredible, mind-boggling life!

Those who are loved are like fruitful gardens. Deep wells. Stable. Established. And desiring.

In that garden Jesus chose to give up his desire, so we may have ours. And our Father is at the core of what we want. There are many things that challenge our desires and threaten our lives. And every fight requires the Holy Spirit to help us navigate the complexity and when to give up and when to cling. We truly hold loosely to all he has given us. But at the same time I embrace the the goodness and the incredible life he has offered tenaciously, knowing it is just a foretaste of the kingdom which is coming. Hold on tightly to that!

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Life Lessons

When I look back on my journey of faith, I’m so thankful where I am today and marvel at where I used to be. There’s almost a sense of embarrassment for the faith I used to hold compared to the place I am now. I’m certain in the future I’ll look back on today and feel the same. But the journey I’m on is one of growing and maturing. I had to start at some point. So what are the areas of biggest transformation I’m noticing?

The sense of calling

Originally, I gave my life to God with a sense of vocation. Service. What value is a commitment to God if my life’s actions are not behind it? Growing up as a Catholic the idea of serving God in the highest capacity meant participating in the ministry or becoming a priest (or a nun if you are a woman). It’s the ultimate sense of giving all to follow, especially if you consider the requirements of chastity and poverty. Yet for me, being born again in a non-denominational church required no such celibate sacrifice. But the idea of ministry, preaching, pastoring, and service was still very much a part of my thinking about my devotion to him. Yet, at the beginning of my new Christian experience I recall driving from my home in Yorkshire to a service at the Chapel. In the car I was aware that I had a creative mind and action-oriented disposition. Combine that with the idea that men take the initiative to do God’s will and the result is what my pastor preached so firmly against: a man’s efforts cannot achieve what only the Spirit can accomplish (the very message that aligned me to the Chapel). I made a dedication to the Lord that I would not manufacture his call in my life. I would wait to hear it from him.

Fast forward to today; I have received no such call. There have been moments when I’ve felt certain I was receiving more specificity, but it was a general sense when I felt an alignment with my brother-in-law who was pastoring in California or when at the college I worked, I imagined God’s students filling classrooms of a newly built facility which I would often circle when praying), but I have never felt more precisely directed. But other direction I kept hearing in my spirit were more pointed: “What if I want to keep you for myself Marc? Would you be willing to let me enjoy you without any further calling?” Yet internally, I have felt like true devotion would ultimately end in my “job” being in Christian ministry. When I went toe to toe with God in a focused, faith-filled pursuit between 2005 to 2010, it was Marc who broke, not God. I realized there was no further calling. The deep sense of qualification I maintained (being holy, being filled with faith, being trained, having pure motives, having a clean life, being available) justified in my own mind that the Father really wanted this from me… because I really wanted this for me. Or at least the affirmation of it. And the recognition. Yet, there would be none. There is no call, other than to know Him and love Him with my life. In retrospect I’m surprised how my sense of hearing his voice was colored by my understanding trying to mold circumstances in a direction my Heavenly Father was not headed. On some occasions I felt very clearly like it was my Father’s voice, and most likely his presence was with me, communicating. But what is surprising is how I received him within the grid I was operating — and he never corrected me for it.

I wonder what my life would have looked like had I given up the pursuit if service from the beginning and simply loved and served him deeply — in whatever I chose to do? The next item is part and parcel, hand in glove with this one.

Finances

No one wants to be poor and lacking, waiting for the goodness or charity of others. There’s something intrinsic about wanting to work and to be able to make a living, and not just eke out a living, but to thrive. Yet in a religious context, particularly with my Catholic roots, there is the idea of poverty containing a sense of spirituality. There is much in the Bible which seems to support this as well: “blessed are the poor,” “Seek first the kingdom of heaven…,” “Don’t take two tunics or extra money,” “Hate your life,” and so on. Yet one may interpret these exhortations any number of ways. Looking back, I’ve always had an internal conflict between poverty and prosperity. The fact is, God wants our needs supplied. But does it look like an all-consuming American capitalism? I doubt it, but it is real sufficiency. Investment. An ability to be released to move about the planet with permission to explore, discover, enjoy, sow and reap, and give to those in need.

At Community Chapel, there was an idea that the rapture could be soon, so why waste your time on things that don’t matter? There was a sense that we could take the power and presence of God into a world that is distracted with wealth and things. Add a little bit of faith and you don’t need to worry about what tomorrow brings. This kind of faith is valid, even exhilarating when it is embraced by so many of my peers and feels like it has a higher purpose. I maintained this faith for many, many years. Yet looking back, it was at the expense of being invested in real skills that help my fellow man and real income that helped my family and community.

I firmly believe that pursuing his kingdom is the first priority and faith is God’s provision is essential. Yet working and making a contribution to our world and getting paid is also a part of it. In fact, finding vocation in how we earn our money is exhilarating. Monetizing the gospel is a dangerous occupation — trading an hour of my time for a hard earned dollar under the guise of freely giving the gospel and living by faith is dichotomy that is not easily reconciled. Living by faith and making a living are both important activities. When circumstances require us to make a choice, by all means God will provide. But self-imposed poverty and circumstances are a different thing.

The area of finances has been my biggest struggle, mostly because I have wanted the best of both worlds… the pursuit, focus, and occupation of the kingdom, and the fruit of living a well-earned life in an occupation. I’m thankful that God has provided for my family over so many years despite my thinking.

Faith and self-righteousness

I have a deep desire to please my Father. Within this is a value for becoming like him. Making right choices. Besides excelling at loving, “believing” is one of the key values of the kingdom. I believe that I have believed. Knowing I have a faith, and acting on it has been a confidence of my life. Doing right and knowing I’m doing right. Of the two sons in the story of the prodigal, I am the one that stayed put, faithful to my father. Yet, there is a relationship with grace, and a knowledge of my personal path to Him that is essential in clinging to the message of the cross. Any thing, ANYTHING I can do, will not purchase my salvation. It is grace, 100% pure grace that qualifies me. Good behavior and living faith simply gets me back to the starting point where failure took me off-road and over a cliff — if it even gets me that far. To have confidence in any self-righteousness is a mistake. Yet I have trusted in my sincerity and track record of my behavior to prove that I am the son that I believe I am.

I don’t know what I don’t know until he shows me. I am entirely dependent upon my Lord to work any work within me. To imprint his holiness. To call me to a kingdom occupation. The message of grace is the starting point for me today, even many years after my conversion. The father did not need a skilled, creative, reliable individual. He wants me. Just as I am. A surrendered, listening, following, humble, believing, loving, kingdom-birthed son of God who is being conformed into the image of his son.

If I die today, I am accepted. The really cool thing is that while I still have breath, I can continue to be changed from glory to glory. To experience the value of maintaining kingdom values on earth. To enjoy the life-giving benefits of a heavenly kingdom despite a broken earth shouting a destiny of death at all of its inhabitants.

The distance I’ve travelled

The things we believe about ourselves can be complex. From our self-view comes all sorts of crazy behavior. When viewing others through our personal lens they can look downright bonkers. Why did this person do that? Why did someone respond this way? We all have experiences that speak into the person we’ve become. My wife said this morning: The reason for my weakness in a particular area is because when I had a need in my life at some point I filled it with something other than Jesus and his kingdom. I fed my need with flesh. And now the comfort my flesh provides is the only reaction I have or choose to have. If when I was rejected I was comforted in food, is it any wonder that food has become a weakness? If a person needs love and they turned to porn or sex, is it any wonder that when the all too frequent need speaks up that porn or sex is standing at the window waiting to provide? When I have felt out of control and my anger flared and others cowered and a semblance of order returned, is it any wonder that anger is at hand for me? But flesh does not fill our lives like the Holy Spirit. He wants to clean out the areas that have been filled by flesh and inhabit a clean and swept house. Is it required? Of course not… just ask the thief on the cross that was next to Jesus. But it is an act of love to our Lord. But let’s be clear. It is His initiation, and filling, and cleaning, and redeeming. Not mine.

I’m so thankful for where I am today, the transformation of thinking, and the distance I have traveled. But there’s still further to go.

John 5:37-40 Self deception and real change

And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John‬ ‭5:37-40‬ ‭NIV‬‬

It’s possible to believe something about myself that is point blank wrong. What is amazing about this encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees is that it reveals how close they are to Jesus and to life, but how far they are from God and the truth. They are the leaders of God’s nation. They study and know his history and words and interactions. Yet, they missed him. Of all people (on the outward) they should have recognized the son of God and welcomed him. Where is the disconnect?

We all have a disconnect. Sin does that. We have been unplugged and separated from the source of life and as a result deal with all sorts of dysfunction that God never intended. But because we are so accepting in our nature, we embrace the discord, explain it away and allow the pragmatism and instinct of needing to survive and live our life to eclipse the basic need for God’s life. Life found only in the son.

Every person has a starting point in their journey of faith. One thing in common with each of us is that we recognize our need for help. For a Savior. The condition in which I come to him is what it is — it’s my starting point with all my warts, sickness, bad attitudes, foul mouth, entitlement, and pleasure-seeking. My journey with Jesus is one of seeing him, and recognizing how holy and pure he is. He behaves in a way that is difficult to for me to comprehend and his life flows from nothing less than pure motives, true values, and love and loyalty to God his Father. Yet even with Jesus, perfection did not come at birth, it came from living life. It was a process of becoming by daily keeping an eye on the goal, making choices — sometimes very difficult ones. And in that process, just like silver or gold is refined in the fire, the children of God become pure.

Where does real change come from in my life? I’d like to think that the change results from me making a good choice. I must make choices, there is no question about that, but they are not at the core of my transformation. The grace of God is the core. It’s my recognition that at my very center I am incapable of being what he’s called me to be. Seeing, hearing, understanding his words to even know what to choose is his grace to lift the veil which obscures my view. At the most basic level, Jesus is the author and finisher of my faith. My job is to keep my eyes on him. To say “yes” as he leads me down uncertain paths. To listen to his voice.

Moses spoke of Jesus, yet the Pharisees could not hear. Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables, so they could listen but they did not hear. There is a veil on our understanding that is only removed in Christ. After Jesus had died and resurrected, he was walking on the road to Emmaus with some disciples who did not even recognize him. They had heard of the resurrection, but did not believe…until a moment in their conversation that their hearts were willing. As soon as they believed, their eyes were open. The same is true of things in my own life that inhibit me from being the son of God that I know he’s called me to be.

The fight with my flesh is real. And I have only one life to live the transformation that he offers.

Jesus gives us the key here: “the Father who has sent me has testified of me.” It is not self will, self determination, or good choices. It is hearing the Father’s voice and receiving his testimony. At the other end of that voice is help. Grace. Something given to a dead man in which he has no part in the resuscitation process. Being a recipient of grace should be both absolutely humbling and marvelously enabling and triumphant. Take your will, all your determination, your good intentions, your promises to do better and flush them down the toilet. They will not change you. Only he can. In his time.

Maybe this song says it best…

Becoming Free in the Church

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 NIV)

The role of governance in people’s lives is essential. There must be an order, a hierarchy. Governance, priorities, deference to another, these things will not go away. On earth, the issue of who is in charge is nearly always in the forefront of our lives. Men want to control, rule over, and benefit from the subjugation of man. The rule of law is necessary otherwise men would do as they wish and not always as they should. If all men would love God first, then love their neighbor as themselves, there would be little reason for additional laws.

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28 NIV)

There is and interesting juxtaposition in this: dominion authority and power will be destroyed followed by the subjection of all to God.

The context of authority
From the very outset of life we are exposed to authority and the need for obedience as kids. The family structure is God’s design for real governance. Yet in society, like Israel moving from the freedom of living under judges and living a life accountable directly to the Father to the life under a king, there is a clamor from people to have someone be over them. Be the lead. Be accountable to God directly in place of me. This is a deep subject and I want to focus on a very narrow sliver of the conversation.

We are growing up. In a family as you grow you have more responsibility and freedom of judgement. The goal of maturity is that you gain the necessary tools to do life without needing a parent mentor telling you what to do. In the teenage years there is the introduction of the real nitro-glycerin in the mix: emotions and self discovery. With this come the deep bonds of relationship and love. The things we live and die for. In life we grow from our family into our own family. Incredible.

But our lives have been bathed in the fluids of dominion and authority and power over our lives which stunt and impede our growth. It doesn’t matter where they come from, they are simply there. The sources are as abundant as the imagination (your civil government, your domineering mother, your controlling sibling, the church you attend, the clique at school, your elementary school teacher, your drill sergeant — who is the one you look to?) The focus from the Father since the beginning of time has been to hand over the kingdom to sons. And details of this plan include the bond of relationship and trust found in the analogy of the bride and her groom. Image making. Kingdom ruling. The adversary has done all that is possible to distract from this gift and its handoff, trusting that if the heirs could be sidelined, the prize could be his.

The kingdom of God is very simple. He wants us to know him. Relate with him and have fellowship. We are in a season when the substitutes are being identified and the opportunity available to step into the kingdom design. This will mean that the things we have clung to, that which we presently think has benefit, must be held lightly as he identifies the obstacles to the intense relationship he desires.

When a woman has a relationship with a man, it is personal and intimate. It is the essence of human interaction: exposure, transparency, vulnerability, followed by acceptance, curiosity, delight, and love. When one is known and loved there is no greater joy and fulfillment in life. The consummation of that love is a physical expression that the Father designed so our bodies, emotions, and pleasure write the transaction to the deepest portion of our memory and soul. There is no one between the two. It is the two. The two alone. (The act of intimacy is no replacement for what should occur before the act, this is another topic though.) The parent is no longer a mentor here. The government, the pastor, the prophet, all other rule and authority have no place here.

The Father wants this relationship with us. No mediators. No substitutes. A transaction with the individual.

Yet the individual in the church environment has been done a disservice. The format and the organization of the church has become something God never intended it to be. And the organization is often led by men with no understanding of what the true goal is. Generation after generation we reproduce the idea that the church and its leadership is the essential ingredient to success in Christ. We are told, quite frankly, that without it, you are deceived and have no defense against the adversary. Along with that smug advice comes the multitudes of other silly requirements as varied and available as the flavors of ice cream in your local grocer’s freezer. From tithing, to traks, to missions, to attendance requirements, to personal appearance, to the celebrations of events and rituals… you name it! The chain of command is the focus here. Who has the lead in the church? Men chosen and selected of God. These are those who receive instruction for you and deliver the heart and mind of God. This is what the Spirit is doing this hour…. And if they are God’s choice, who am I to question them? The written testimony in the Bible is pointed to as the support for the authority and structure. The book itself becomes idolized above the Spirit who gave the message. And then the interpretation of it can and has become anything man has wanted to make it. The problem is that when a man is entrusted to do the job that the Father has assigned to the Holy Spirit and you engage in another’s rationale you miss the very relationship he has established for you. Men making their livelihood from the gospel ask, “how can it be any other way? Confusion and thousands of different interpretations will result without leadership. Men are not qualified to know and understand these things on their own.” Yet aren’t we confused and have the thousands of different interpretations anyhow?

I find it ironic that every move of God currently in the organized church has resulted from men hearing the Holy Spirit and moving on from the inflexible status quo. The governance of the church has always declared it’s preeminence over the the individual (the good of all is better than the good of one). It’s also ironic that the Gospels are clear about the issue of organized religion — men use it for their own good and make the hearer two-fold the child of hell that they are. Where are today’s pharisees? Where did the man born blind go when he was thrown out of the synagogue?

Men and women in the body of Christ are to be tutors to the sons of God. Schoolmasters so to speak. The Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Evangelists are all for the building up the body. (I don’t read “organization” here.) The building up of men and women, assisting with their growth and maturation. The goal is to tutor men and women into relationship with Christ, into hearing the Holy Spirit and syncing with heaven. This is the only safeguard against the numerous and self serving schemes men promote, often without even knowing it. Relationship with Christ will then lead to relationship with each other. The body! The real church! His bride. It’s about healthy and strong bonds of love in the Father’s house.

But we must deal with this pesky little question of “who is in charge here?” In our hearts, we must migrate away from the authority structures we have been pickled in. This must be a spirit-led activity. Moving cold-turkey from what we have known to what we don’t may be devastating. We don’t run the Boston marathon because we decide the day before it is a good thing. You don’t marry the first date you have incredible feelings for. It is a process. But let me be clear, the goal is the migration to a holy relationship with Jesus without mediators. The voice we must hear is His. We must have a confidence that we, individually are connected to him. We know his voice. We can follow his leading. The idol of church authority must be pulled down.

As one who is married, the role of the husband must also be in it’s proper place. There is grace enough for a woman all by herself. She is not required to have her husbands permission or approval to be engaged with Jesus and heaven. Even in a good spiritual relationship with her mate, he does not replace Christ. Now this is another subject completely, but the husband and wife relationship can and does reflect our heavenly destiny, but the curse must first be entirely removed for it to work: a woman must be released from her desire for her man and the pain of childbirth. And the man must be released from his obligation toe work to live and eat. (Like I said, another topic completely!)

This is a journey. What does the body look like if it is not the thousands of fractured assemblies on Sunday mornings? Who is his body? What does relationship with the body look like? I don’t know the answer to this. A few things I am confident of:

  • he knows who belongs to Him
  • His sheep hear his voice and he leads them
  • a freed man will finally enter his place in the body with the incredible gifts he has been given, supplying what he has been designed to supply
  • we the body will be fitly joined together
  • it is a spiritual house, location is not an issue
  • those given authority over a part of the house will both recognize it and be recognized for it
  • it is an exciting journey, although not always clear
  • This is his work and he does all things well