Now, if someone asked what talents you have, how would you answer? Would you shy away and say “I don’t have any talents” or would you be able to boldly admit that you have a gift for music? Maybe you are a beautiful singer, a musician, a dancer, or artist. Or maybe your talent is having patience, or being organized, or being a great speaker or teacher. I bet if you asked your family or your closest friends, they would be quick to tell you what your talents are. If you still have doubts, get on your knees and ask your heavenly father.
Our father in heaven blessed each of his children with talents. That does not mean we burst into this world being able to do a perfect pirouette. But maybe there is something that you feel drawn towards. Maybe there is something that piques your interest or you have always felt comes easier to you than it does to others. Or maybe there is something you are terrible at but you have the desire to work on it and make it a skill. Ether 12:27 says “if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” If we have faith and put in the time and effort, our talents will grow.
Elder Robert C Gay of the seventy said: “Some of you will say, “Who am I? I am no genius. I have no unique talent. I am nobody special. I just feel fortunate to get through each day.” To each of you, no matter your fears or uncertainties, I say, “Never sell yourself short!” Today you and I live in a world where good and evil share the stage, but the Lord tells the faithful, “Nothing shall be impossible unto you”. Let this one absolute truth from heaven sink into your mind and heart—you have the power within you to astonish this world. You are a son or daughter of the most powerful Being and force in the universe. You are endowed with His all‐knowing light and truth, by which you may forsake all evil. Moreover, the Lord teaches this profound truth: “To every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God”.
When I was little, I was living in Florida. It wasn’t the greatest area and the schools were terrible. I spent all of kindergarten and first grade learning how to get along with different races and not to judge. I knew the stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. backwards and forwards, but I couldn’t read or write. When we moved to Utah halfway through second grade, I was so far behind my classmates that my new school wanted to hold me back. But I was blessed with the most incredible teacher. She said no. She saw the damage that would do to a shy girl at a new school and spent recesses and time after school teaching me to read. She found books she knew I would love and sent them home with me. My mom stayed up with me every night, well past the time that my five brothers and sisters went to bed, reading through these books and helping me to catch up. Between my mom and Mrs. Steel, by the end of the year, I was one of the top readers in my class.
I have always been drawn to stories. School was never easy for me. I dreaded math, history, science, even P.E. I would stare at the bell until lunch or recess and then I would stare at the clock until I was free to go home. Except when it came to stories. Anytime the teacher read to us, I was hooked and attentive. When we read together as a class, I’d often zoom ahead several pages and be lost when it got to my turn to read aloud. Book reports were awesome! Writing assignments never felt like a chore, they were my prize for having to sit through times tables. I wrote stories and poems for my family members. I thought this was completely normal. I thought everyone loves to write. Who wouldn’t want to write a ten page paper?? That was the only homework I actually looked forward to. Doesn’t everyone get yelled at for reading in bed with a flashlight until midnight??
I told you, I’m a slow learner. It wasn’t until ninth grade when I actually realized I might be different. My English teacher offered us extra credit if we entered the writing portion of the Reflections contest. And to encourage us to actually spend time on it, the further we went in the contest, the more extra credit we got. I was terrified about having my writing judged by someone else, only my teachers and my family had ever read something I’d written before. But I needed the extra credit. Much to my surprise, the poem I wrote won for my school. It won at council, then district, then region, and went on to state. I think I finished ninth grade with 150% in my English class. For the first time in my life, I actually thought, “Maybe I’m good at this.” Up to this point, I thought writing was just fun, but it wasn’t really a “talent”. I watched all my friends excel at dance and gymnastics, and singing, and playing the piano and wished I was talented too. It was a lesson I had to learn slowly, but if you spend all your time envying other peoples’ talents, your own will be lost and buried.
President Spencer W. Kimball looked for the day when Church members would be great artists and master craftsmen. He challenged us to excel in our talents and skills. He cautioned us not to be satisfied with “good” but to work for excellence. He reminded us that those who develop their talents with the aid of the Holy Spirit should get superior results.
There are certain things we must do to develop our talents. First, we must be willing to spend the time and effort to develop the talent we are seeking. Next, we must have faith that our Heavenly Father will help us, and we must have faith in ourselves. Third, we must learn the skills necessary for us to develop our talents. We might do this by taking a class, asking a friend to teach us, or reading a book. Fourth, we must practice using our talent. Every talent takes effort and work to develop. The mastery of a talent must be earned. And fifth, we must share our talent with others. It is by our using our talents that they grow. In D&C section 60 it says, “But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them. And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have.” The Lord wants us to develop our talents, and He will help us if we genuinely pray and seek his help. But if we don’t use the talents he blessed us with and take them for granted, the Lord will take them away. Letting others see our talents can be terrifying! I still freak out before every single book release, worrying about if people will like it or not. The only way my talent can grow is by sharing it with others.
After that experience in middle school, I got a little braver and began entering writing contests. Some I won, some I lost, but by actively practicing my talent I got better and better with each poem or story I wrote. I’m going to be completely honest. When I graduated high school, I didn’t have a desire to get a college degree. I went to Utah State for the experience of moving out and living on my own. I figured I’d meet someone and get married and then stop going to school so I could start having babies. Well, that’s not what the Lord had in mind for me. I began taking English and creative writing courses and quickly discovered that my talent had a long way to go. I had so much more I needed to learn! All the different courses I was required to take for my degree stretched me so much as a writer. When Matt came home from his mission during my third year of college and we started dating, my goals had completely changed. After much prayer, I knew it was important for me to finish my degree in creative writing. And although we weren’t able to start our family right away, I’ve never regretted that decision.
President Joseph F. Smith said, “Every son and every daughter of God has received some talent, and each will be held to strict account for the use or misuse to which it is put.” The Lord is pleased when we use our talents wisely. He will bless us if we use our talents to benefit other people and to build up His kingdom here on earth.
When I wrote my first book, which was young adult, and I began looking for a publisher, the only ones I could find wanted me to add swearing and at least one sex scene in order to be considered. At the time, I was teaching the eleven year olds in primary. I had several girls in my class who were reading a very popular series at that time. When the final book in the series came out, it had a lot more adult content in it and none of my girls’ parents allowed them to read the last book. We had a long discussion about it in my class and as I looked into those girls’ eyes, I knew what I had to do. There was no way I could publish a book with bad content in it and then be able to look them in the face week after week. I didn’t want to have to explain to these innocent, beautiful girls why I would write something that they wouldn’t be allowed to read.
In D&C section 46 The Lord said: “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given. For verily I say unto you, they are given … that all may be benefited … that ask of me.” Talents and abilities should help others as well as ourselves. We show our gratitude to Heavenly Father for our talents when we use them to enlighten, lift, and build others.
Last year I was getting ready to start my next novel when an idea for a completely different book popped into my head. You should write a book about a couple who overcomes addiction to save their marriage. Unfortunately, I’ve had some very close family members and friends who’s lives and marriages have been deeply affected because of addiction. So I felt like it was a book I could write, but I really didn’t want to. I had no desire to write it so I pushed the thought aside. But every time I tried working on the book I wanted to write, I would draw a complete blank. I couldn’t make any progress with the story at all. But I was super stubborn and refused to listen to the spirit. A little while later, I was talking with some friends and they voiced how much they wished someone would write a book about addiction and what a toll it takes on the spouse and the marriage. Still, I refused and pushed the idea aside. Then one night I was sitting in the temple and a line from the endowment session really stood out to me. Actually, it didn’t stand out to me so much as it jumped up and punched me in the gut. I realized that my father in heaven blessed me with a talent for writing and if I didn’t follow the spirit, I was being extremely ungrateful for his gift.
It was the hardest book I’ve ever written and I also believe it’s the best book I’ve ever written. I learned very quickly, with this particular book that I couldn’t write unless I had read my scriptures that day. Before I sat down at my computer every night, I would get on my knees and pray to the Lord for guidance as I told this difficult story. Writing that book was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I felt so close to my father in heaven and I’m so grateful he allowed me to have that opportunity. I know if I had given in early in my career, and written the way the world wanted me to, there’s no way I would have been close enough to the spirit to handle that project. I get e-mails on a weekly basis from women all over the world, thanking me for writing that book. I still often feel inadequate and I frequently doubt my abilities, but I know that with our father in heaven’s help and guidance, we can do incredible things.
Elder Gay said: “What am I going to do with the blessings that have been bestowed upon me?” Will you be like those of the world to whom the prophet Moroni says, “Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life?” Or will you rise like disciples to whom the Savior says, “Unto whom much is given much is required”? Will you engage or be content on the sidelines? Will you lift others or think only of yourself? God invites us to be agents of action and to be anxiously engaged in good causes. It is easy to limit the impact of our love, our influence, and our blessings to only close friends, loved ones, and those of our own choosing, but the Savior asks more of us. “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?” Paul added this exclamation point: “[Without] charity, I am nothing.” We are to leave our comfort zones and bless those around us, including strangers, those who reject us, and even those who despise us.”
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to meet with some teenage refugees living here in Utah and help them write their individual stories. I was a little bit nervous and I didn’t know what to expect going in. I almost canceled because I have a lot going on right now. I’m busy and I have four young kids that I was going to have to leave with a sitter for several hours to go and help. I am so, so glad I went! It was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. I know I learned far more from each of them than I possibly gave back. I was blown away by their faith and their determination and their strength as they are starting new lives in a new country.
Talents can not only be used to bless others, but they can help us in our own lives. In an Ensign article from 2013 by Vaughn E. Worthen it states: “Confidence is the breeding ground for hope. Confidence is generated by confronting challenges and striving for and achieving meaningful goals. We can gain confidence by tackling a task we have been putting off or working on developing a talent. We should focus on effort and progress rather than complete success. Confidence is not the certainty of success but rather the conclusion that failure does not determine our worth—we lose nothing by trying.”
I have been painfully shy my entire life. The paralyzing fear of being judged often prevented me from trying. As I have come to acknowledge and accept the talent my father in heaven has given me, I’ve found a new sense of confidence. As an author, I’m often asked to do book signings or speaking engagements in front of huge crowds of people. The younger me probably would have hidden in the closet and refused to come out. But through using and growing the talent I was given, I have come to truly enjoy those events. I get to meet and talk to all kinds of people from all walks of life. Pretending to be an extrovert for a couple hours is still very exhausting, but the confidence in myself and my abilities has grown enough that I don’t dread putting myself out there and meeting strangers anymore.
A few years ago I actually stopped writing for a little while. We had just moved, I was super pregnant with my third baby and life was crazy. I didn’t have time to focus on my talent because I was busy raising my family. We had a lot going on at the time and I began having panic attacks. So much so that I was put on bed rest and my doctor was worried about my baby’s safety. She sent me to a therapist to talk things out and the therapist told me “You know, some people find it really helpful to write.” I couldn’t believe I had to pay this woman to tell me to do what I should have been doing all along. As soon as I started writing again, I was able to relax and feel peace and the panic attacks stopped. I was able to get off bedrest and continue on with the pregnancy.
It was such an incredible experience for me and a good lesson to learn. My father in heaven gave me talents because he wants me to use them and continue to make them grow. Talents can bless us physically as well as spiritually. They help us grow closer to our father in heaven, they make us expand and gain confidence, and they are used to bless others and to help them learn and grow.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with this scripture. Moroni 10:8 says: “I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.”