Discipleship can be your Talent

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I’ve been thinking about talents lately, mostly about how too often I circle back to the conclusion that maybe I don’t have any. I am not musically-inclined. My athleticism is sub-par. When it comes to my dancing, the only person who thinks I’m good is my one-year-old. Public speaking? Woof.

To add to that, I don’t even feel very interesting. I’m not wealthy or intelligent. I am not well-travelled, bilingual, or particularly funny. I have a very modest Instagram following.

It’s really easy to feel inferior to what the world deems successful and worthy of attention.

My mom has been instrumental in helping me see that the word “talent” is so much bigger than all of that. That’s saying something too, because she’s insanely talented herself—in obvious ways. My mom is a very gifted calligrapher, teacher,  cook, artist, and interior designer. The woman can transform a space into something Pinterest-worthy on a very slim budget. It’s remarkable. These talents of hers have blessed me immensely, but as I examine my life, it is my mother’s more ambiguous talents and gifts that have meant the most.

Here are just a few examples:

She is more in-tune with the Spirit than anyone I know. We’re taught recognizing the Spirit is like learning a language, and I dare say my mom is fluent.

She is the best listener, an excellent advice-giver, and has been my personal therapist for over two decades (and she’s never charged me a dime).

She is thee most thoughtful and charitable person I know. She can make anyone feel special and valued. She always gives unpleasant people the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t hesitate to do good to those who have wronged her.

She is supportive and encouraging. She pushes me to pursue my dreams despite the setbacks, despite my failures. She is the reason for stacks of uplifting hand-written notes—notes I’ve revisited in times of discouragement and hopelessness.

My mother is an amazing gospel teacher even though she’d never admit it.

Her tenderness and compassion have calmed my depressive storms.

When I became a mother, she was there by my side instructing, encouraging, and carrying the load with me.

Most importantly, she introduced me to a perfect Savior she has spent her life following.

Obviously these things mean infinitely more to my life than that acoustic guitar solo I heard last week or the Olympic figure skating routine I just watched. When it comes to my mom, who she is has blessed my life more than what she can do. The best way to sum up her strengths? DISCIPLESHIP.

My mother is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ. She strives to do as He would, and it’s just an added bonus that I can talk to her face-to-face and hug her and sometimes even convince her to scratch my back. She is a piece of Him here on this crazy, chaotic earth, and her discipleship is blessing my life—and the lives of so many others—every single day.

God has thoughtfully placed other Christlike people like my mama in my life, people who make their life mission about others.

I was deeply impressed by one of my seventh grade students several years ago. This bubbly student of mine had many friends in the class, but one afternoon, while we were working on a project in the library, she subtly left her group of friends to go sit by and talk with a painfully shy student who was sitting alone. She did it so graciously, so sincerely, without making a scene of it. I guarantee my shy student will remember this act of love more than she will remember any of the performances at the school talent show that year.

I think anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an act of kindness can testify of that. Sure, an episode of Dancing with the Stars can be super entertaining, and watching NBA all-stars do what they do best is freaking jaw-dropping sometimes, but those are not the kind of things that reach deep into our souls and impact us in such a way that we feel truly valued, truly loved, truly worth someone else’s time.

Now, I hope it doesn’t seem like I am somehow discrediting athletes and dancers and all those with very apparent talents. I’m not. Those are valuable attributes. But my point is that the less conspicuous gifts matter too.  Said Elder John C. Pingree, “While some spiritual gifts may not be prominent by the world’s standards, they are essential to God and His work.”

Too often we shrug off our various spiritual gifts as talents, when really these are the abilities and strengths that matter most. Discipleship encompasses spiritual gifts in action.

Another person who comes to mind when I hear the word “discipleship” is President Monson (oh, how I miss him). He was a humble man who devoted every waking breath to addressing the needs of others. His talents included noticing the unnoticed, heeding the promptings of the Spirit, and extending love and tenderness to EVERYONE. Always, he put people before tasks. He was a peacemaker, an optimist, a gold-medalist do-gooder. I love what was said of him at his funeral:  In a world now saturated with ‘selfies,’ [President Monson] modeled selflessness.”

People like my mom, my former student, and President Monson inspire me to think less about how good (or bad) I am at something and more about what I can do for someone else. People like my mom, my former student, and President Monson inspire me to be more like the Savior.

As I study the life of Jesus Christ, I see a constant stream of goodness. Sometimes His goodness meant performing a life-altering miracle, like raising someone from the dead or granting sight to the blind. Sometimes it meant extending forgiveness to the anguished. Sometimes it simply meant washing feet. He loved, healed, forgave, taught, and served. He was loyal, charitable, selfless, kind, sensitive, merciful, compassionate, understanding, and gracious. His life has taught me that sometimes our influence isn’t meant to be seen, but felt.

He was the most powerful man to ever walk the earth, yet He never flaunted His abilities. He never did something good only to glance  look over His shoulder to seek validation from Peter or John. He suffered and died for all of humanity and never even took the credit. His life was always about you and me.

Christ has just always been there for me. Recently, He has helped me cope with a medical diagnosis and all its repercussions. He has lifted me. He has helped me see myself with a little more kindness. He has grieved with me. He has extended forgiveness when I couldn’t forgive myself. He has lightened my load and given me the courage to push through some pretty dark days. He has made all the difference.

Christ urges us to follow His lead, to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). Said Sister Barbara Thompson, “He taught that no one is too important to serve others.” He invites each of us to be His disciples.

So, if ever you feel gypped in the talent department, remember that DISCIPLESHIP can be your talent, and that it’s the most noble thing you could ever pursue. It is not self-indulgent or competitive. It does not require a well-edited picture, clever post, or audience. It demands a willing heart in lieu of hours of perfect practice. And it is the path—the only path—to true, lasting, and fulfilling JOY.

 

Ode to a Crossing Guard

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There is a very “famous” person who lives in a small town of just over 4,000 people. Her name is Terri and she is a crossing guard.

Terri blesses the lives of hundreds of people each and every day. Not only does she usher elementary-aged kids safely across the street, she also makes a point to wave to and smile at every single person who drives past. She does not let a single car pass without greeting its occupants. No matter how late you are to work, how much orange juice you just spilled in your lap, or how crappy your morning already seems to be going, Terri can transform your day. She has convinced me that a contagious smile is a spiritual gift and that an enthusiastic wave has healing power.

My youngest sister, Sophie, knows Terri on a much more personal level. Terri helps her cross the street, addresses her by name, and asks her about her day at school on her way home. This she does for all the students who pass by her. Terri is like the community aunt, and anyone who knows her loves her.

She has taught me that service can be simultaneously simple AND meaningful, and that just gives me a whole lot of hope. Sometimes I stress because all too often I fail to transform good intentions into action, and I know I will never have the drive to start a charitable organization. Terri is living, waving, smiling proof that simple acts of kindness can mean the world.   

President Uchtdorf said,

“God knows that some of the greatest souls who have ever lived are those who will never appear in the chronicles of history. They are the blessed, humble souls who emulate the Savior’s example and spend the days of their lives doing good.”

Relatively speaking, few people know of Terri, but this cheerful crossing guard has made her way into my personal history. She’s not concerned about impressing people. She does not worry about how many compliments her wardrobe will merit, or how many likes an Instagram post acquires. In fact, I highly doubt she’s ever heard of Instagram (she’s so refreshing). She understands that real joy—the kind that cannot be replicated—comes from making others happy. She helps these young students feel valued and important, and assures every passerby that they are indeed noticed. In a world of self-indulgence and the compulsion to look inward, Terri chooses to look outward. Always. By existing for others, she claims a joy that others rarely find. I hope to someday break free from the chains of selfishness that too often hold me back, because to be more like Terri is to be more like the Savior.

Alas, I am no poet or lyricist, but below is my feeble attempt at an ode to the world’s greatest crossing guard:

Terri, dear Terri,

You make all so merry,

With a wave and a smile,

You make each feel worthwhile.

Terri, dear Terri,

Our hearts you do carry,

You uplift and you brighten,

Our burdens you lighten.

President David O. McKay’s words do Terri far more justice:  “The noblest aim in life is to strive to make others happy.”

That, Terri does—neon vest and all.