Use your gifts.


Once upon a time the Tornado was in first grade and was assigned the teacher everyone warned us (and her) away from.

You want anyone but Mr. X!! He’s really tough on kids and parents.

I was apprehensive but went into the whole experience with an open mind.

To my surprise and delight she loved her new teacher.  He led the class (and the parents) with a firm but loving hand.

He was a perfect fit for the style of discipline we use at home.

One morning before school, as an expression of love for her teacher, the Tornado made him a coffee cup:

I vaguely recall asking her later if he liked it & her saying he did.

Months later, however, she came home from school over-joyed.

Mr. X had coffee today in class and he used the cup I made for him!!

Her delight led to a conversation (how good it makes us feel when we give people gifts and they use them!) and then slid, unplanned, into another discussion (how we are all given “gifts” and talents and our “job” is to discover & use them.).

Since that experience years ago “using our gifts” –literal and metaphorical–has become a part of our family-language.

  • We’ve talked about discovering what we do easily and naturally and how that’s not necessarily what others do easily and naturally.
  • We’ve chatted about how using these ‘gifts’ & sharing them with the world is what makes our human community a better place.
  • We’ve discussed how someone elses gifts aren’t better than ours—they’re just different.

A few days ago I brought the Tornado to her first day of tennis camp.

As we walked through the gate to the courts, we saw a woman painting a mural.


And, because my apple didn’t fall from her Mama’s tree, the Tornado’s jaw dropped and she announced to the woman:

That’s amazing.  I love that.  It’s beautiful.

And, because the MuralistApple didn’t come from my MamaTree, she said thank you and began to biscuit.

She explained: “This is just what I do.  I’m not good at other things.”

She asked: What are you good at? (writing) I’m terrible at that. I wish I could do that.

She brushed off our compliments and didn’t seem to see how we admired what came easily to her and how, since we have no talents in that arena, we both admired and were impressed by her work.

Later that day I saw a tweet from Karen Anderson which captured—better than my ramblings above–our experience with the muralist:


Valuable to others.

I loved Karen’s phrasing because those three words nail it all for me.

Valuable to others.

I loved Karen’s phrasing because I believe, in the same way I believe in a life of service, that’s why we are here.

Whether it’s “using your gifts” on the surface, eight year old level (literally using gifts you’ve been given as it gives the the giver pleasure to see) or “using the gifts” or talents you possess to bring joy to others (as with the muralist).

It’s for that reason this Misfit Jewish woman has always loved this quote by Leo Buscaglia:


From the first time I read the quote his words made sense to me.

  • Whether you’re religious and leave the quote as it is.
  • Whether you’re more spiritual and tweak the words to fit your deity.
  • Whether you’re an atheist, drop the notion of G-d and replace with a simple “a” and “the world.”

(sits back. navel gazes. ponders. and invites you to do the same.)

Quite frankly here’s where Id normally close comments and ask you spend the day using your gifts to bring joy to the world, but we’ve chatted about how you don’t enjoy that.

So instead I ask you:

  • Are there talents/gifts which come naturally to YOU which you take for granted or fail to see are valuable to others? 



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  1. Nina says

    I make a concerted effort to wear and use gifts when the giver is around.
    I love the story about your Tornado.

  2. says

    What a beautiful story! It seems like every single day, you and the tornado touch someones life for the better. This is lovely! I think our blogging world can be very helpful for realizing your gifts. I have realized how lucky I am to run as fast as I can, to get the benefits I do for being that fast, and how to make the most of it while I still can. It also teaches you to embrace your voice, and share what you can with the world, as you never know who is listening :) Beautiful Carla :)

  3. Becky says

    I’d never really considered the idea of what I do with the gifts I have.
    I need to figure out what they are first.

  4. says

    i talk to my students about this all the time – how we all have our own strengths — i’m going to have to add in this valuable to others piece i love that!

  5. says

    Love this….it is what I used to tell my students every day and what I try to encourage my daughter to remember. Not always as easy with myself…but am trying :)

  6. says

    are you open to adopting a 33 year old?? :) I think learning to take a compliment is so huge. I know there are things I’ve been told are great but because they come natural i did brush them off, great reminder!

  7. says

    Great post! Reminds me of that quote by Miriam Williamson…which is among my favorites. One of my gifts is the strength and willingness to speak up in uncomfortable situations. Another is the ability to feel what someone else needs. I like how you are using YOUR gifts :)

  8. Valerie says

    Time for some navel-gazing. I think I know what my gifts are, but I’m not sure how much I’m using them. Using them doesn’t seem to give me as much pleasure as it should, and I need to examine that and figure out why. It wasn’t always that way…

  9. says

    I love this so much, Carla. We’ve been talking about service at my church lately and using your gifts and talents and you encapsulated that perfectly. Thanks for a thoughtful, wonderfully written post.

  10. says

    I love how you wove my little status update into this story (it’s something that I need to remind myself of often)! Another fabulous quote along the same lines: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

  11. says

    I love this post! I’m struggling to see what talents come naturally to me to be honest. I am very aware of other’s gifts, and very appreciative of them, but I honestly sometimes thing my gift is just to appreciate other’s gifts. I’m hoping to find mine. :)

  12. says

    That quote is now an all-time favorite of mine! Loved this story and you are so very right. A great lesson to share with our next generation.

  13. says

    Oh Ms Carla! You never fail to make me stop and think.

    I think I probably take my positivity for granted. I think a lot of people struggle to stay upbeat, especially in the face of adversity, but it is something that has always come quite easily to me. But I often undervalue it.

  14. says

    While i’ve not thought of it that way, being able to bottle raise kittens that have been orphaned is probably a skill, if not a gift, and i know it brings joy to the houses where those kittens get adopted.

  15. says

    I know that I’m one who downplays and doesn’t use my gifts the way I should – most of the time I act like I don’t have any gifts but I know deep down that isn’t true. I like the idea that even the simple things in my world could be valuable to someone else.

  16. says

    I only have some memories of first grade, but my parents have told me how much I liked my teacher there more than any other as a child. I remember having dinner at her home :)

  17. says

    LOVE LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!! Every last bit of it!!!!!!

    I have come to understand that people respect my diligence & what I do to stay the way I want to stay & look – not a put down on me spending too much time as I tell them what I do but that it inspires them to do what is good for them yet know as they age, they can still be “fine” !!! :)

    I am so busy right now but will share your post tomorrow on my blog but also my comment because I have gotten a lot of wonderful compliments lately even though I explain how much time I put into it – they accept vs. judge! :)

  18. says

    I get this a lot because I used to work in Information Technology and often help people with computer problems even now. People are so hard on themselves about their computer skills. If I know them well enough I often remind them about the skills they have that I do not.
    Its funny how little value people give to skills that I think are the most important like making others feel welcome, relating to them and remembering the important information about them.

  19. says

    FACT — it’s so easy for us to take for granted things that come naturally to us… we want more. we want to do what others do rather than appreciate what we do so well.

  20. says

    I try to explain this to my kids and my husband….that because something comes easy to YOU doesn’t mean it comes easy to anyone else.

    I should probably tell myself that as well, but I know me..I never freaking listen.

  21. says

    I think I see my own gifts more through not only the eyes of my child but watching him grow into himself. Treating people (and yourself) kindly, being considerate and standing up for what you believe in (even if it’s unpopular) are all things that I hold dear and it’s good to see these things in my child.

    I think my greatest gift is the ability to see good people even if they don’t see it themselves.

  22. says

    This reminds me of a post I just wrote about the fact that our normality / mundaneness can be nourishing for others. I live a very insular life and love just going to watch a friend’s child at swimming or just tagging along with my mum as she does chores.

  23. says

    I am asked to do things at my workplace, like draw things for others, play my guitar, work with the most troubled kids for awhile….so I guess I am good at these things, but they are what I love to do and am happy to share what I do!

  24. says

    “A life of service.” I love that. We all have so much to offer each other, the richness of talent is staggering. So often people shy away from their gifts. Sometimes we must be BRAVE to step into our talents. Recently I’ve been reflecting on this exact thing and the parable of the talents…not literal coins, but gifts. Asking myself “what gifts have I buried in the ground like the last servant? Or what dreams have I deferred, as Langston Hughes puts it. Sounds like such a great conversation with your daughter.

  25. says

    I can articulate myself well in both written and verbal forms. I suppose that like the painter you spoke with, I have also brushed off my talent as not that impressive. I take it as a given. I have begun to realize that instead of killing myself at learning something new, I need to use my current strengths to their full potential.