Long Legs and Walking with Confidence

10 August 2011 7 comments
Once, when I was nine, I stood in the hallway and admired myself in the mirror. I turned my body left and right, I looked up and down. Announcing my conclusions, I raised my voice a little and said to my mother, "Do you see how long my legs are getting?"

"Honey," she said, "your legs are the same length as everyone else's: they reach from your butt to the ground." 


There is a Far Side comic that shows a boy, book under arm, pushing hard to open the door to his gifted school. The door says, "Pull." 

My mom found this comic printed on a mug and gave it to me as a gift, since (according to the state of California and the name of my school), I was her "gifted child." She usually liked to remind me of this when I did something that demonstrated a lack of common sense. "That's my gifted child!" she would say, smiling. 


Several months ago my mother and I were laughing on the phone as we remembered that nine-year-old me admiring herself for her long legs. The irony that I aged to be the shortest in my family was not lost on us. We cackled at the memory, and floated from it to others where she had put me in my place with some well-timed quip. I realized that this sort of thing had happened not once or twice, but many times. I brought it up to her, not from hurt feelings but out of curiosity. She said, "I felt that it was part of my mission as your mother to humble you. You always had more than enough self-confidence." 

I always had more than enough self-confidence. Though that would need to be amended slightly to be exactly accurate (e.g., "...as long as it did not involve meeting other children or playing basketball"), it is basically true. I always have had at least enough self-confidence, especially in the classroom. Some people were made for assignments and standardized tests. I am one of those people. I was the child who felt it cruelly unfair that the state tests did not award me a 100th percentile ranking even though I had answered every question correctly, and my mother's explanations that they didn't give anyone that ranking was only a small consolation. I saw a list of "99"s as a list of imperfections. No reason for snobbery at all.

85, 95, 99% ?!  Woe is me!

I always expected to be the top of my class. And when I was at the top of my class I didn't feel any special sort of pride; I rather it took for granted, as ordinary reality. I felt no more pride at being the top student than I did in being a resident of the state of California. It's just where I was. As I advanced in my education, being the best became harder until it became being among the best, such as in college. By the time I got to my masters degree, I had matured enough that being the best, or among the best, didn't come to mind. (Though keeping that spotless 4.0 was still a priority.) Still, there was never any question about if I could successfully complete an M.Div. degree. Of course I could. Of course I would. Of course! 

I always had more than enough self-confidence. 


Doing doctoral studies is the sort of thing that when people find out you're doing it they are somehow compelled by social or natural forces to utter some words of awe. The raised eyebrows, perhaps a whistle or the slow nodding, words like "Wow!" or "I could never do something like that," or "They don't just give those things away." Almost without fail, people react by acting impressed. This makes me quite uncomfortable, very eager to downplay the entire enterprise or to ridicule myself. "Don't be too impressed yet," I warn, "I haven't got the degree yet!" Or, as if I were jabbing them jocularly in the ribs, I say, "Well, what can I say? I'm just a nerd. We'll see how it goes." 

Except that all my hemming and hawing is not mere empty social posturing (which I dislike very much). It does, rather, betray that I actually do not have self-confidence on this point. I have self-doubt. I seriously doubt if I can successfully complete a PhD. Maybe I'm too naive, or too ignorant, or too dull, or too lazy, or too busy, or too faithless. I'm probably "too" something, and I probably don't have what it takes to finish. Resigning from my job and enrolling in this pricey degree may have been an expensive and career-fatal move, perhaps one of the dumbest life decisions I've made. 

But perhaps not. Likely it is a Fatherly invitation, part of God's mission to humble me. Probably it is God's schoolroom for me wherein I might learn humility and faithfulness, to trust Him whatever, neverminding the settled sense of unease. I am, after all, His "gifted child." ;)

So I go forward, resolving to no longer waver uncertainly in my speech about this doctoral degree, receiving the fear as an invitation to trust and obey, ignoring the self-centered folly which counsels me to give up, and walking confidently under the direction of His dreams within me. Walking--despite these short legs!


  • Chad Stuart said...

    In 3rd grade I scored at the top of standardized testing and was placed in a program at Loma Linda Academy called TAG (Talented and Gifted). I spent the next three years trying to work my way out of it! One year my Dad promised me $100 dollars if I got all A's for the year, so I did, the next year, no such deal...the grades slipped. By my freshman year I smoking pot on a regular basis and achieving a 2.5 GPA. We moved to Ohio my grades went back to around a 3.5-3.75. Our Junior year I took the PSAT. When we got the results several girls in my class were angry with me...they, 4.0 students received a far lower score than me, 3.5 guy. At Southern I was called into Dr. Clouzet's office. He asked me about my attendance at Dr. Martin's class. I told him that sometimes I would skip and go golfing. Dr. Clouzet warned me that I would lose my A and get a B if my attendance didn't improve. My response, "that is fine." I had a math class at Southern, my score average was 97% but in order to get an "A" you had to write a 5 page extra credit paper. I took the "B". In Seminary I wanted to see if I could do well...first semester strong grades...second semester Stan Patterson wrote me and reminded me that I had to keep at least an overall 3.0 GPA to keep my Conference sponsorship. These are some of the reasons I think a Doctoral degree may not be in my future:).
    My Summa Cum Laude, never received a B, graduated second highest in her Anesthesia class at UTC wife shakes her head at me and prays that her kids are not lifelong scholastic underachievers.
    Sometimes I wish I could go back to that 3rd grade kid and correct his motivation. Proud of y'all that can accomplish such academic feats! As you have done in the past, by this point in life, Kessia the same will ring true in your doctoral program.

  • kessia reyne said...

    Ha! Chad, sounds like your wife keeps you nicely balanced :) And you know, what this goes to show is that grades are not life and life is not grades. Life is actually just life, it's living, it's trying, it's doing, it's being-- and I'm gonna guess that getting a B in undergrad math hasn't kept you from effective ministry.

    And the lesson I need to learn is that it's not about my track record or my grades: it's about trusting God and serving Him faithfully. Such hard lessons to learn!

  • Matthew Smith said...

    While a 100% is not something that I crave more than anything in life, and I usually fall under the "B's get degrees" category, I still think it's awesome that you are out to get your doctorate. It will be quite the journey, and I think you're cut out for it. My only question is, "What will you do after you defend your dissertation?" Will you get another doctorate? WIll you write a book? Will you become a teacher? What IS the next step? And I guess the answer is only known by the Lord as He knows the plans He has for you...

    May the Lord bless you as you continue this educational journey with Him!

  • Jessica said...

    Somehow you put into words what I can't put into thoughts. Thanks.

    And, for what it's worth, I think you're one of the humblest gifted children I've ever met.

  • Miss Jehle said...

    Oh Kessia. This post makes me miss you! I relate to you in so many ways. Except I still believe my legs are long. (In my defense, yesterday one of my ESL students asked "What happened to your legs?" After my confused look, she said "They are so long!") It sounds like you are being an equally dedicated student of humility and trust.

  • marlon said...

    Kessia, I believe you have a gift, and you are using it. It is okay to be good at something and know it, and you have never come across as proud. I know God has great plans for you, and I am so happy you are going after your PhD. Moreover, you are a great pastor! The changes regarding worship at Paw Paw, your preaching and writing, are all amazing. and I bet you Juniors Sabbath School class is pretty amazing too. You and Joshua are great friends, we are blessed to know you guys and call you friends.

  • kelsey said...

    Growing up as the little sister of our family's "gifted child" gave me a different perspective on academic acheivement. My scores on those standardized tests also revealed to me my isufficiencies. I wasn't able to recognize that landing in the mid 80 and 90-something percentiles was pretty fantastic. I realize now that my idea of perfection was not measured by percentiles or a 4.0, but rather by how closely I could come to performing as well as you - you were my standard of academic pefection and my definition of "smart." Clearly that is flawed logic. I set a standard for myself which I could not meet, and only set myself up for perpetual disappointment. I chose not to go to college because I thought I had to be like you when I got there (which I am not). As an adult I see how truly silly that is. Just because I will probably not maintain a 4.0 now that I am finally in college, doesn't mean I shouldn't shoot for it or believe I can. I still find myself struggling to feel confident in my classes, as though I'm a fraud and my professors will soon discover I don't belong in their classroom. I see now that my self-doubt is the same as yours. Although we have set our personal measurement for success a bit differently, I see them as the same. I know now that if I want to complete as many degrees as you have, I can! Maybe I don't want to, but I am capable. When all of that doubt begins to creep in I remind myself of how hard you worked to land where you are in your academic career. I always thought it was easy for you, and the fact I had to work hard to even come close to your performance meant I wasn't cut out for it. I couldn't have been more wrong. You have worked so hard and if I am willing to work hard, I can do it too. I have learned to value your talents and hard work for what they are, and mine for myself. It has been a struggle and probably will be for a while longer. Growing up you were defined as "the smart one" and I was "the cute one." Now I see (and I hope everybody else does too) that our mother gave birth to two intelligent, loving, and beautiful girls who have grown up to be two intelligent, loving, and beautiful women.

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