Monday, May 14, 2018

Paying attention?

I'm having one of those days when there are so many ideas / thoughts / feels swirling around inside, and I struggle to make sense of it all. Not in a bad way, not at all -- this is good stuff, but I wonder sometimes whether there are really profound connections trying to be made in this mixture or if it's just a chaotic jumble that needs to be shoveled out to make room for good stuff. It's hard to tell.

So here are a few of the ingredients involved:

I went biking yesterday. First 20+ mile ride of the season, and it was fantastic. Beautiful ride combining roads and trails up to Sibley Park (a gem) and back through New London. I took pictures that in and of themselves add to the chaotic jumble / potential profundity. Approaching the park, I saw a doe and her twin yearling fawns cross the road in front of me. Rode through the woods on a park trail, pausing to glance at plaques that identified the differences between red oak and burr oak and lots of other flora. Got to the interpretive center and found all kinds of delightful stuff, most notably a clear and coherent timeline of glaciation through this part of the world and how it formed the landscape I live in. Here's the one picture I took inside the interpretive center:



I biked around for a while exploring the park, but there's a lot more to see there than I had time or stamina to enjoy. I'll be back. As I was leaving, I found another plaque that I'd been watching for, knowing there was some info at the park about this topic:


As I was headed back south and east toward home, near the same spot I'd see the doe and fawns on my way in, another deer was grazing along the road. I thought, how cool! I'll stop and take a picture because I don't know how close she'll let me get!


She actually let me get pretty close. This deer is obviously acclimated to living in a state park where people on bicycles are a normal part of life, even when they almost capsize while trying to juggle a phone and take a picture while pedaling past. She was completely unfazed.


 So I shook my head about wild animals that aren't wild, and headed for home. Stopped to rescue a painted turtle crossing the paved road and got embroiled in a philosophical conversation with the turtle about why the swamp on the north side was better than the swamp on the south side, so much so that it was worth risking messy death under the wheels of a passing vehicle. He declined to explain, and I was so caught up in the conversation I completely forgot to take a picture of him. I left him on the north side of the road, facing downhill toward the water, hoping he'll have the good sense to keep going that direction rather than climbing back up on the pavement.

I turned eastward, wondering if I'm any smarter than that turtle. And a short way from the park, the deer, the turtle, the memory of oxcarts, just by way of contrast, people are building enormous houses and encouraging others to do the same:


I got home last night and sat for a while on the end of my dock, pondering the sunset and watching the minnows do their regular evening dance, jumping out of the water just at the edge of your eyesight, dancing on their tails for a fractional moment, falling back into the water and making tiny ripples in the lake. I wonder -- are they leaping out of fear? hunger? ecstasy? frustration? Related or unrelated, a half dozen bass cruised back and forth in the water like cool teenagers at the mall. A pair of great blue herons performed an acrobatic mid-course correction and swept down to take up station on the point at the north end of my bay. 

As I walked up from the dock, deer grazed in my front lawn. They were thoroughly offended by my intrusion and acted much more like wild deer, though they're still pretty acclimated to my presence. They didn't, after all, run off into the woods in a panic, but jogged off, then stood at a distance huffing and snorting and stamping, and when I went inside they quickly came back to resume their meal as the light faded and the stars came out. 

This morning as I stumbled around with my first cup of coffee in hand I glanced down in the meadow and saw -- for the first time since I moved here last August -- a skunk. I've caught a whiff of them a couple times (which I don't mind -- it reminds me of using skunk scent as a cover while deer hunting up at the farm where I grew up -- good memories of chill November mornings), but I haven't seen them. And this one was a looker. If there are skunk models, this one belongs on the red carpet in front of the paparazzi. Larger than most, with a beautiful plume of a tail held up like a banner, graceful black and white streaks trailing behind as she confidently worked her way across the grass and up into the woods. 

After coffee and time talking with God in my recliner-of-meeting (more on that momentarily) I went out and set up an old drag -- a harrow, really -- that I found last fall back in the brush. I hooked it up to the 4-wheeler and spent an hour dragging a patch of bare dirt where we're going to plant grass seed this week and pray for rain. The bare dirt lies over the area where we mined sand and gravel last fall to create a parking lot next to our worship center. That glaciation I mentioned before left huge deposits of sand and gravel all through this area, and we were able to dig out enough from that hill to build a sub-layer in our new parking area. Then we took the topsoil we'd removed from that parking area and covered over the pit at the top of the hill. Dragging and leveling it this morning is the penultimate step in creating a beautiful patch of lawn. 


Thus far you might be thinking I'm just writing a scattered journal of the last 24 hours or so, and you might be right. But what's got me pondering this morning is Oswald Chambers' reflection in My Utmost for His Highest

You must keep yourself fit to let the life of the Son of God be manifested, and you cannot keep yourself fit if you give way to self-pity. Our circumstances are the means of manifesting how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure the Son of God is. The thing that ought to make the heart beat is a new way of manifesting the Son of God. It is one thing to choose the disagreeable, and another thing to go into the disagreeable by God’s engineering. If God puts you there, He is amply sufficient.Keep your soul fit to manifest the life of the Son of God. Never live on memories; let the word of God be always living and active in you. 
If Oswald is right, and God engineers our circumstances (and I believe he does), then none of the last 24 hours is an accident. There are enormous questions of stewardship, delight, engagement, relationship, vocation, dependence, sabbath, and so much more involved in all these things. Here are a few of the many questions sprouting like ferns in my mind: 
  • What does it mean, this fascination rumbling in me with the oxcarts that plodded their way from Winnipeg to St. Paul and back, some wandering through this Decision Hills campus? Why do they intrigue me so much, and is God saying something in that? What stewardship is involved in the traces of those old roadways from the 1800's that are still visible on this property?
  • Why am I wired such that the minnows, the deer, the skunk, the trees, the ferns are so life-giving to me? Is everyone really, deep down, like this, or is it just me? Why is too much concrete like kryptonite to my soul?
  • At 52 years of age now, what does it mean to steward my body well? I thrill to be able to make a 20 mile bike ride on a whim, and I look forward to more such this summer. Are there other things in my body-management that I'm missing? How to live in such a way that I'm not doing myself damage, that I'm maximizing the life given to me?
  • I am the servant of a church that owns these 70 acres, and I hear tons of opinions about how to steward it. How to balance the urge toward property development with the longing to keep wildness, if not wilderness, intact here on this 70+ acres I oversee? 
  • What does Christian faith have to say to those who are deeply engaged with the earth -- the man who has no desire to travel to Mexico to build an orphanage, whose faith drives him not to accost a neighbor about matters of heaven and hell, but rather to seek the deep satisfaction of growing things, of crops well tended, of rain at the right times, of animals nurtured not exploited? Is the work of Wendell Berry and others like him an aspect of Christianity we dismiss at our peril?
  • What is God saying to me as I look at the tracks he's left in my own history? I grew up a few miles east of the old Pembina oxcart trail, still visible in aerial photos of the fields southeast of Fertile. I spent my youth learning to work the soil, to tend the cattle in the heat of summer and the brutal cold of winter. The realities of that upbringing shape my days still. What of the intertwined extended family that imparted faith to me at Faaberg Lutheran Church? Why is this business of living with deer and skunks so gut-level important to me, so much so that the collection of essays, the book manuscript is still churning in the bowels of my computer and I can't for the life of me figure out what to do with it? Why am I fascinated with the life happening just below the surface of the lake? And what about that deep, deep sense that all of this belongs in the sphere of the church, not the church of chairs and new carpet and seminaries and taking attendance, but rather the church that is knots of people following Jesus into each other's homes and lives, caring for their neighbors and communities, knowing each others' children and allergies and heartaches and hopes? 
  • In all of this, what is my voice and what word am I called to speak, to write, to pray?
I am beset this morning with a sense that I'm caught up in the midst of something God is saying, God is engineering, and I don't want to miss it. I don't want to blithely, ignorantly go my way. How many shepherds were working the Sinai in 1400 BC -- but only Moses noticed that the bush was not burning up. How long did he have to watch to figure that out? My guess is that Moses was the sort of guy who was paying attention, and so he noticed when God was engineering his circumstances. 









Thursday, May 10, 2018

Éowyn

As the father of two daughters, and for a variety of other reasons, I feel strongly about female characters in literature. I've mentioned before on this blog that I was challenged some months ago by a friend's comment that it's very hard to find female characters who are both strong and tender. It's been a good filter for me as I read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy this time through. There are few strong female characters in LOTR, sadly. I don't think J.R.R. Tolkien was any kind of a misogynist -- far from it -- but he was perhaps bound by his times, as are we all, and all the leading roles in his story fall to males.

The remainder of this post will be down in the weeds of Tolkien's work, assuming the reader has at least a passing familiarity with the various characters, or else is inordinately patient and dedicated to reading this for other reasons. At any rate, here we go ...

Having admitted Tolkien's perhaps unintentional bias toward males as leading characters, however, there are a few strong female characters to be acknowledged. Galadriel is perhaps the easiest to remember, and digging deep into the backstory of LOTR she has a long and important history, if undeveloped. Though by the time of LOTR she is long past, Luthien is another strong female character, notable for the way Aragorn speaks of her as he tells the tale of Beren and Luthien Tinúviel to the hobbits one dark evening on Weathertop. Christopher Tolkien has done all fans a service by bringing into print the deeper story of Beren and Luthien in the last few years, which shapes and deepens her character significantly. Even Rosie Cotton, though she comes into the story only at its end, is perhaps evidence that Tolkien understood both the strength and tenderness of his female characters. And of course Arwen, though she keeps mostly to the shadows in LOTR, plays an important role. One of the few things I really appreciated about Peter Jackson's version of the story in film is how he wrapped Glorfindel, an elf-lord of Elrond's house, into the character of Arwen for the sake of the movie, giving her depth and strength beyond what she has in the books themselves.

But this last time through the trilogy, I was so impressed with the way Tolkien himself wrote the character of Éowyn, who chafes at traditional roles, who finds creative and when necessary crafty ways to live out her strength and her love, and who is without question valiant in leadership and in battle. The scene in which she stands over the fallen body of Théoden and defends him as though she is staked to the ground next to him, and in her courage she helps to kill the leader of the Nazgul, at great cost to herself -- this may be the single boldest individual action in the entire story. At the same time, she exhibits an affection and a tenderness toward her uncle, King Théoden, and a deep love for her brother Éomer, as well as a passionate infatuation with Aragorn and eventually, a deep and abiding love for Faramir. She is certainly the most fully developed female character in the written text of LOTR.

Here are a few excerpts -- all too brief, sadly -- showing the development of Éowyn's character:

"'Go, Éowyn, sister-daughter,' said the old king. 'The time for fear is past.'
The woman turned and went slowly into the house. As she passed the doors she turned and looked back. Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings." (The Two Towers, 152)

"'Behold, I go forth, and it is likely to be my last riding,' said Théoden. 'I have no child. Théodred my son is slain. I name Éomer my sister-son to be my heir. If neither of us return, then choose a new lord as you will. But to someone I must now entrust my people that I leave behind, to rule them in my place. Which of you will stay?' No man spoke. 'Is there none whom you would name? In whom do my people trust?'
'In the House of Eorl,' answered Háma. 
'But Éomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay,' said the king, 'and he is the last of that House.'
'I said not Éomer,' answered Háma. 'And he is not the last. There is Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Éorlingas while we are gone.'
'It shall be so,' said Théoden. 'Let the heralds announce to the folk that the Lady Éowyn will lead them!'" (The Two Towers, 162-63)

But as Aragorn came to the booth where he was to lodge with Legolas and Gimli, and his companions had gone in, there came the Lady Éowyn after him and called to him. He turned and saw her as a glimmer in the night, for she was clad in white; but her eyes were on fire. 
'Aragorn,' she said, 'why will you go on this deadly road?'
'Because I must,' he said. 'Only so can I see any hope of doing my part in the war against Sauron. I do not choose paths of peril, Éowyn. Were I to go where my heart dwells, far in the North I would now be wandering in the fair valley of Rivendell.'
For a while she was silent, as if pondering what this might mean. Then suddenly she laid her hand on his arm. 'You are a stern lord and resolute,' she said; 'and thus do men win renown.' She paused. 'Lord,' she said, 'if you must go, then let me ride in your following. For I am weary of skulking in the hills, and wish to face peril and battle.' 
'Your duty is with your people,' he answered.
'Too often have I heard of duty,' she cried. 'But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?'
'Few may do that with honour,' he answered. 'But as for you, lady: did you not accept the charge to govern your people until their lord's return? If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no.' 
'Shall I always be chosen?' she said bitterly. 'Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?'
'A time may come soon,' said he, 'when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defense of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.'
And she answered, 'All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.'
'What do you fear, lady?' he asked. 
'A cage,' she said. 'To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.' (Return of the King, 67-68)

(Eowyn disguises herself as the soldier Dernhelm and rides in Théoden's company to the battle before the city of Minas Tirith, where Théoden himself is struck down by the lord of the Nazgul, a wraith riding on a flying creature of some kind -- think maybe a pterodactyl. Meriadoc the hobbit -- Merry -- is struck to the ground and the following scene is told from his point of view.)

Then out of the blackness in his mind he thought that he heard Dernhelm speaking; yet now the voice seemed strange, recalling some other voice that he had known. 
'Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!'
A cold voice answered, 'Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.'
A sword rang as it was drawn. 'Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.'
'Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!'
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. 'But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.'
...
Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Éowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
Still she did not blench; maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair yet terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed in ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise. (Return of the King, 143)

(After the defeat of Sauron, Éowyn is still in Minas Tirith, recovering from her wounds, in the Houses of Healing with Faramir, the Steward of the City.)
And Éowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily, and Faramir said: 'Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?'
Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.
'I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, she said, 'and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in songs of slaying. I will be a healer and love all things that grow and are not barren.' And again she looked at Faramir. 'No longer do I desire to be a queen,' she said. 
Then Faramir laughed merrily. 'That is well,' he said; 'for I am not a king. Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes.' (Return of the King, 299-300)

Congratulations on getting this far. These few quotes demonstrate that Tolkien invested a lot of energy in developing Éowyn as a strong character, certainly. I suppose a person could make an argument that she is not very tender, but when we first meet her she is quite tender in her care for Théoden, even though his dotage frustrates her. And at the end of the story, the tenderness that grows between her and Faramir (as noted above, and in other quotes not included here) seems to indicate that Tolkien saw her as a woman who is both strong and affectionate, both tender and courageous.

It was fun to read this story again and see her in greater depth, to pay attention to her with new eyes. She's not a perfect role model, of course, but given the impact Tolkien's LOTR still has, it's encouraging to find a female character with such depth, grace, and strength.




Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Who knew?

Here's an acting opportunity I never knew existed. Sounds like fun, but I don't think I'll drive to Camp Ripley just for mileage reimbursement. Still ...



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The view from here

I am captivated this morning by the change of seasons. Sitting looking out my window westward as I sip my coffee and read scripture (Psalm 30 this morning) and Oswald Chambers (his reflection today is just outstanding) and listening to the loons on the south end of the lake -- watching the first few raindrops coming down on increasingly green grass and ruminating on the fact that my birds don't seem quite so dependent on the feeder anymore, but it's still such a delight to see them flying in and out of view.

I'm struck by the changes. Just a few short weeks ago we had a foot of snow. There's a life-filled excitement in the woods these days. Yesterday I was watching three turkeys (the first turkeys I've seen here in six months) and several deer back on the trails in my woods. I'm eagerly waiting in the next few weeks for the appearance of new fawns. Because the winter has been relatively non-stressful from the deer's perspective, I expect to see lots of twins and maybe even triplets. Trees are leafing out and flowers are peeking out of the ground. It's a gorgeous time of year.

Pay attention. God is at work all around, and inside. I have to confess that over the last year and a half, too many times I've doubted that God is present and working. But those are momentary lapses, plunges into the abyss of self-pity. Fact: He is working for good purposes. He is keeping his promises. Here's a quick excerpt from Chambers this morning: "Faith is not a pathetic sentiment, but a robust vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. You cannot see Him just now, you cannot understand what He is doing, but you know Him."

Monday, May 7, 2018

Not all those who wander are lost

One of the themes that has been romping around in the back of my mind the last few months is this: I've been thinking about stories and how they shape us, and specifically I've been thinking about characters in stories and how we read them in ways that give depth and meaning and structure to our own lives. I've just finished rereading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and I've been pondering a couple characters specifically. The first is Aragorn, or Strider, who comes off as one of the main heroic characters by the end of the story. The other is Eowyn, and I'll write about her in the next few days.

Through much of the narrative, Aragorn is a guy with lots of potential, a fantastic backstory, and wonderful dreams. But throughout the story the likelihood that Aragorn's dreams will be accomplished seems so, so far away. Tolkien sets things up so that as readers, we yearn for Aragorn to get what he wants -- for the One Ring to be destroyed, for Sauron to be defeated, for Middle Earth to be protected, for the free peoples of the world to unite in opposition to evil, and eventually for Aragorn to be crowned king and almost as a tag line at the end, to marry Arwen. When all of this happens by the end of the story, the reader feels gratified and satisfied.

Here is where the danger lies for the inattentive or surface-level reader. It looks like those things are Aragorn's goals, and he is a lofty, capable, highly motivated character who is almost impossibly pure in pursuing the good, true, and beautiful. I don't think Tolkien saw him this way at all, and for the reader to see Aragorn in this way provides little that is helpful to ponder, as this caricature of Aragorn gives the average reader nothing to grab hold of -- only a noble ideal to aspire to, but nothing that can be honestly reached. Aragorn (who without doubt functions as a sort of Christ-figure in the stories) is, like Jesus, too good to be true. And like Jesus, if we interpret Aragorn this way, we miss so much.

I've been reading this time through with an eye to wondering what Aragorn would be like if Sauron was defeated but a few other details were not accomplished. You see, dig deeper and you find that throughout the story Aragorn is motivated by a relatively simple desire: He is desperately in love with Arwen, the daughter of Elrond, and Arwen loves him back. Reading the details, I believe it is this love, pure and simple, that motivates Aragorn in all the challenges and trials he faces. Granted, he's born into the line of the Numenorean kings, and he is born at the time when the One Ring is rediscovered so it is possible for him to lead the movement that defeats Sauron. These are what we might call the "accidents" of his existence. But hidden away in the appendices of Tolkien's trilogy is a story of Arwen and Aragorn meeting and falling in love, and Elrond -- Arwen's father -- being quite unhappy about her loving a mortal man. (It's complicated, but basically Arwen lives as one of the Elves, with immortality and the possibility of sailing over the sea with Elrond her father to enter a sort of this-world heaven, and marrying a mortal would mean she gives that up.) Elrond declares that he will not permit Arwen to marry any mortal unless that man is the king of not only Gondor (the southern kingdom) but also of Arnor, the northern kingdom that has long been chaotic and unruled. He must possess the scepter of Annuminas, the traditional symbol of the authority of the northern kings. He must rule with the White Tree growing in his courts, and the last living White Tree had died many years before. If you read Tolkien carefully, all these are the things that Elrond has set out as requirements for Aragorn to marry his daughter -- and Aragorn works throughout the story to achieve these ends for the sake of his great hope and his great love. So the great defeat of Sauron is in a sense, for Aragorn, a means to an end.

Tolkien was a bit of a romantic. This theme of great love, even what Shakespeare termed "star-crossed" love, as the motivator for great deeds, appears over and over in Tolkien's work.

Imagine for a moment if Aragorn had not achieved all his desire. It requires rewriting the entire epic, sort of like those "imagine if" books that say what if Hitler had not been defeated in World War Two. Aragorn's character would not be any less -- he would still be an incredibly strong, incredibly driven man with deep loves. He might still achieve much that is good, and he might still have people who love him deeply. But in the end, his character might frighten us for no other reason than that we see too much of ourselves in it -- we see our own frustrations, our own unfulfilled desires, our own almost-but-not-quite lives, our own disappointments. The inspiration of LOTR lies largely -- and Tolkien himself talked about this -- in everything turning out right. By the end of the story we may well cry out, overwhelmed with joy along with Sam the hobbit, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?"

The trouble is, like Aragorn before the War of the Ring, we judge ourselves harshly and we see ourselves as less than we truly are. Like Aragorn, we need others to name us and describe us and believe in us so that we might see ourselves accurately, because even what we see in the mirror is rarely factual. The reality is that we are far more glorious than we usually believe. We filter and interpret, most often in a way that damages us. We are reluctant to receive the word God speaks to us along with Jesus, "You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased." We are reluctant to read all the present tense truths of Ephesians 1 and believe that they are true about us. We are reluctant to read Colossians 2:8-9 and believe that we are included in this strong statement about who Jesus is and about what we have been given. Each of these powerful statements is most often met with a wistful "yeah, but ..." because we know ourselves better -- better than God knows us. We know our fallibility, our failure, our untrustworthiness, our ugliness, and who is God to tell us any different?

In the end what makes Aragorn a noble character is that he knows his potential and he is willing to risk greatly. In the beginning of the story, he is only a wanderer of great lineage, great possibility. Bilbo has written him a poem that begins,

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost

But it seems like Aragorn does indeed wander purposeless, spending his days tilting at windmills and wandering the face of the earth without ever really accomplishing much, a hunter and a traveler. "Stick at nought Strider" is one of the names he's given by his detractors. His real worth and his real strength is hidden from others, and sometimes even from himself.

So what do we do with Aragorn? And more important, what do we do with ourselves? Is it possible that you are who God says you are, not who you imagine yourself to be? Is it possible that God is right about your strength and potential? And who has described you, who has named you, who has offered you feedback (what an odd pop psychology term) about who you truly are in a way that agrees with what God says about you?

It's worth pondering.