Slouching on a low stool in the corner of an emergency room bay, I hung my head between my knees in an attempt to stay conscious. A few feet away, a plastic surgeon was busy piecing my husband’s mangled toes back together after an unfortunate incident with a garden tiller. I truly wanted to support Brad during his ordeal, but encounters with blood and needles always end the same way for me: with a hot, sick feeling that leads to fainting unless I actively take steps to prevent it. Clearly, I was not meant to be in the medical profession.

A few minutes later I cautiously raised my head, careful not to look at the surgical site, then inched my little stool closer to the bed. To distract both my husband and me, I asked Dr. Sanderson why he chose to specialize in plastic surgery. His answer was surprising and thought provoking. He spoke of his childhood fascination with hands and feet, and how he loved to draw them. He also loved to cut things. Smiling, the doctor concluded, “I just combined those loves and became a plastic surgeon, specializing in hands and feet.” 

I was intrigued by his words. Could a fascination with hands and feet, and a desire to “cut things” be considered gifts, talents? My husband has the evidence to prove they can. Just the other day I asked Brad if I could examine the toes of his right foot. Though surprised by the request, he obliged by sticking that particular appendage out for me to inspect. Where three toes were once damaged almost beyond repair, now only someone specifically looking for a scar would be able to detect one faint white line on Brad’s middle toe. Dr. Sanderson’s gift was a great blessing to my husband.

I’ve spent many hours pondering the variety of gifts God shares with us. Two months ago, I had the opportunity to sit with four other adults, listening to a radio interview. The female interviewee was an impressive author, actress, singer, activist, and linguist. As if those weren’t enough gifts and talents for one person to possess, she spoke of a dream she had years ago which had great significance in her life. In her words, “God speaks to me in dreams.” After the interview concluded, those of us who had listened together discussed what we had heard. Two members of our group shared that they had also had dreams which had great meaning to them. I confess that I felt envious.

Later that week I made a thirty minute drive to the refugee sharehouse where I volunteer. I spent the entire trip mentally replaying the conversation about dreams. I’ve never experienced the kind of dream that seems to come from God in order to give an important message or truth. Frankly, I wanted one of those dreams. I even asked out loud in my car, “Why doesn’t God speak to me in dreams?” Immediately an answer came into my mind: “God speaks to me in songs.” The words were so clear and so powerful I could not deny them. It is true. God speaks to me in songs. Though I was quite musical as a child and teenager–singing, and playing the piano and flute–I noticed something new emerging during my early twenties: whenever I felt a particularly strong emotion, especially if it related to a spiritual experience, words would come into my mind that often led to me writing a new song. I felt like I had been handed a gift, pure and simple. I couldn’t think of anything I had done to earn it, but suddenly I had a desire to write music and as I acted on that desire I felt like I had found a part of me that had been missing.

I was musing on the gifts God gives His children as I arrived at the refugee center and was greeted by my friend, Kim, who manages the sharehouse. She mentioned that she had just read one of my articles online and enjoyed it. “I wish I could write like that, but I don’t have any talents,” she declared. I paused for a moment, then burst out laughing. “You think you have no gifts, but every time I come here I marvel at what you do while I’m on the other side of the partition stacking diapers and toilet paper.” 

Kim, third from left, at the refugee sharehouse.

Kim is the face of the sharehouse. She is the smiling woman that greets each refugee who comes seeking help and supplies. Her ability to make people feel instantly comfortable is a gift I covet. I tried to convince her that not everyone has the talent to converse easily with strangers. Most of the people she works with speak very little English, but though Kim speaks no Arabic, no Farsi, her warm smile and her openness communicate a genuine welcome to the nervous, uncertain refugees who seek assistance. How many times have I heard Kim greet repeat “customers” with “Hello, my friend!” She listens to their struggles and smooths over ruffled feelings. On the rare week she is not at the sharehouse, everyone wants to know, “Where is Kim? Is she coming back?” They feel safe with her. Because Kim’s gifts with people come so naturally to her she doesn’t recognize them as talents. But for someone like me, who is far more comfortable in the backroom organizing supplies than meeting face to face with people, it is an impressive gift. She blesses scores of people each week.

Like my friend Kim, many people feel that they don’t possess any special gifts. Yet the scriptures inform us that “…there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift.” (D&C 46:11) How marvelous are the different gifts God gives to His children! The scriptures list a handful of spiritual gifts, such as the gifts to teach, to heal, to behold ministering spirits, and to interpret languages. (Moroni 10:8-17) These are impressive; however, this list is by no means exhaustive. Elder Marvin J. Ashton enumerated many more gifts:

“Let us review some of these less-conspicuous gifts: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost.”

What gifts do you possess? Are some of them among the less-conspicuous gifts Elder Ashton lists? It’s vital that we not equate “less conspicuous” with “less important.”  Examining our patriarchal blessing closely can sometimes reveal hints of our gifts, or even spell them out plainly. One of my great pleasures as a mother has been having a front row seat to view my children’s gifts and talents emerge. One of the significant jobs of a parent is to assist our children in recognizing and developing their God given gifts, and helping them understand that “…all these agifts come from God, for the benefit of the bchildren of God.” (D&C 46: 26)

Beyond spiritual gifts, there are many mental and physical gifts that allow us to make a living, to entertain others, or to add to our understanding of our world. We marvel at professional athletes with spectacular physical prowess; at artistic souls whose creations deeply move and inspire us; at architects and engineers whose vision and capability result in structures and vehicles and aircraft that enhance our lives and enable us to travel the world; at doctors, and scientists, and researchers whose bright minds calculate and explore the frontiers of medicine and outer space. 

This brings to mind a cousin, Paul, who once asked his parents to make one wall of his bedroom a chalkboard. Why? So he would have room to write out the math equations that were so fascinating to him. He sequestered himself in that room for hours on end, working to figure out the most perplexing problems. Whenever his mother heard a joyful shout coming from her son’s bedroom, she knew Paul had solved another equation. To a right-brained gal like me, any excitement over a math problem is puzzling. But when my cousin, not surprisingly, became a math professor, my own son became his student and benefitted from Paul’s gifts.

“Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given…To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby…” (D&C 46:12)

Some gifts are difficult to label. For example, my husband Brad is extremely observant. He possesses an impressive ability to assess a problem, then quickly determine what needs to be done to fix it. People frequently seek him out for advice about financial decisions, about buying a home, or buying a car. Is this sound judgment? Or is it just plain common sense? Either way, it has blessed many people. My friend Judy gets excited about spreadsheets. I ask myself how this is possible, but thank goodness there are people with this gift! Like my friend, they make fantastic accountants. What about the ability to lead, to persist, to spread sunshine, to relate specifically to children, or to youth, or to senior citizens. The gift to learn languages, to be creative, to have deep empathy for others. The gift of being mechanically minded, of loving animals, of having a quick wit, of recognizing injustices and acting to bring about change. The ability to persuade, to be a peacemaker, to forgive others readily. The gift to work hard, to be organized, to be dependable. All of these gifts have the potential for blessing others.

My Aunt Nettie and my mother and I are all composers, but don’t necessarily have the same gifts. Nettie has perfect pitch, and is able to write beautiful choral music wherever she happens to be. On an airplane, at the breakfast table, in a boring meeting—it doesn’t matter—she doesn’t just hear it in her head like mom and I do, she can actually write down all the parts perfectly without having to play them first on the piano. (Confession: Mom and I try so hard not to despise her for this ability, but really, aren’t we kind of justified? Okay, probably not.) That leads to another important gift: the ability to genuinely rejoice with others over their gifts and accomplishments. My sister-in-law Johanne is a world class “rejoicer.” She is genuinely happy when other folks successfully share their gifts, and her enthusiasm makes them feel like a million bucks. This gift wins her friends wherever she goes.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson points out that “In the covenant path we find a steady supply of gifts and help.” (The Power of Covenants, April 2009 General Conference.) As we seek to keep the covenants we have made to follow Jesus Christ, to serve God’s children, and to consecrate our time to the Lord He gives us the gifts we need to accomplish His work. As we attempt to magnify our callings in the church, even when (or especially when) we are out of our comfort zone, we have the right to petition God for the gifts that will make us equal to our assignments. 

How grateful I am to a generous God, who blesses each of us with different gifts so we must learn to depend upon each other and come together to accomplish our work on the earth. As we pay attention, and pray for help, we will be led to discover our gifts and to learn how to use them for the benefit and blessing of others. “Neglect not the gift that is in thee…” (1 Timothy 4:14)

Notes:

  1. Elder Marvin J. Ashton, “There Are Many Gifts,” Ensign November 1987.