On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, I decided to embrace the near-constant tunnel of wind that roars its way through the Columbia River Gorge by taking windsurfing lessons.
I was one part terrified, and one part ready to be humiliated.
The first order of business was to squeeze into a wetsuit, then sit at the feet of a Rastafarian as he gave my siblings and me a basic lesson in sailing. We reviewed charts and diagrams, testing out new phrases like “tacking” and “sheeting.”
It was a lot of information to digest. Midway through the lesson, the teacher noticed the blank look on our faces. He pulled out a marker and poised it over the white board. He started to write, then turned. “How do you spell the word ‘any?’” he asked. “I’m a terrible speller.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. Our teacher proceeded to misspell nearly every word in the English language while somewhere in the world, Noah Webster rolled in his grave.
But once we got past the classroom and out on the water, this Rasta was smooth. He knew the language of the wind and how it dealt with a flapping sail. He knew when we needed to ease up, lean back and relax. He was all grace, calling out directions while we floundered and flopped like baited fish.
I am always impressed when I come across someone whose talents are so unique from my own. The ability to have patience, organize a linen closet, work with numbers, and yes, guide a massive windsurf board across the water are gifts I admire, but don’t possess.
It reminds me that the Lord does not esteem one talent above another. The ability of the singer is not superior to the craft of the woodworker. The painter is no greater than the accountant. Likewise, our spiritual gifts may be varied, but not stacked in any hierarchy of importance.
Instead, as in Jesus Christ’s parable of the talents, we are taught to take our predetermined number of talents and multiply them (see Matthew 25:14-30). The Lord doesn’t care about the size, shape or quantity of our talents, only that we take what he freely gives us and bring back an increase.
Thus, we may find talents we didn’t know we had. We may also master areas of weakness, doing as promised in Ether, making weak things become strong.
As I wrestled with my windsurf board on the water that day, I thought only of my weakness, my inability to balance and my complete lack of upper-arm strength. Likewise, it can be easy for us to go through our days only looking at the areas where we fall short. We may also rely on our own strength, muscling through the day, instead of remembering that it is only with the help of the Lord that we can do what is needful. We may forget that he is supporting us, even “moment to moment.”
We all have a craft, one that we wield with a unique set of tools — a ball or pen in hand, with children at our feet, on a stage or in a back cubicle with a spreadsheet. We might perform our talents with grace, or fumble a bit while learning the tricky art of multiplying.
However, I am glad to live in a world where I can be a decent speller of words and a lame windsurfer. It gives me hope that goodness comes in more than one size or shape. In a world as colorful as ours, it’s obvious that the Lord finds beauty in variety. It only makes sense that the road to heaven is lined with a marvelous array of daisies, roses and lilies, carpenters, doctors and grocery clerks. It is my Rasta friend trying to spell “any,” and all of us, floundering in the water, doing our best to catch the wind so we can sail in the right direction.