[Since it is Throwback Thursday, I thought I would post something I originally published more than a year ago. btw, I have used the Shiva paintstix.]

Traffic merged to one lane before me, polite Iowa drivers taking their turns to cross the overpass, single file. As we crossed, I noted the license plate of the car in front of me.

I solve puzzles, sometimes hard ones, but this one was easy. “Use your gift.”

It got me thinking about gifts generally, and how we use them. Everyone knows anecdotes about a mother, aunt, or grandma who would receive presents — table linens, bath towels, cologne — and put them away. The gift was “too nice” to use. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. Did you get china as a wedding present? Do you use it?

Why do we keep our best gifts hidden away? There could be a lot of different reasons. Fear might be the big one. Fear that we don’t deserve such a gift, fear that someone might think we’re showing off, fear that we don’t know how to use it or display it, or that it doesn’t fit in with our other “stuff,” fear that we might ruin it…

Since the word has a lot of different connotations, it’s probably worth a moment to define “gift.” A gift is something given (received), not earned or in exchange for something else, regardless of source. So it might be a tangible item given to celebrate a special occasion. Or it may be genetically-endowed traits, or beneficial circumstances over which we have no control. You can come up with your own examples.

It’s easy to think of gifts like mathematical prowess, or musical genius. When comparing to that, a person might think they have no gifts. But being “gifted” with capabilities or talents has a broad range of possibilities. This item by Duke University explains.

When parents think of their children as gifted, they usually think of high IQ scores, high SATs, high ACTs, high grades, and the like. But research shows that there is much more to giftedness than the academic ability and achievement that U.S. society values. Conventional tests emphasize memory and analytic skill.

At least two other kinds of skill, however, are important to success in life: creativity and practical know-how.

In other words, there are people gifted with creative abilities, and there are people who are gifted with the ability to get things done. Obviously these groups overlap. And of course there are other kinds of talent, as well, including physical and emotional ones. And for purposes of education, the definition of “gifted” focuses on those with an unusual degree of the talent or ability. But we all have areas of strength that are natural to us, not developed by force of will.

Use your gift.

What gifts do you have? Start with tangible ones, the ones you’ve never used. I’ll go first… I have — STILL have — a set of Shiva paintsticks I’ve never used. And a few other textile items, things I asked for and haven’t touched. And why haven’t I used them? At the beginning it was because of intimidation, fear. At this point, it’s more because I haven’t gotten around to it. And you?

What about intangible gifts? And broaden that to include hard-fought talents and skills. We aren’t all naturally diplomatic, but that is a skill that can be developed. Most of us weren’t born able to do free-motion quilting, visualizing the positive and negative spaces and coordinating to never get trapped by our own stitches. But again, that’s a skill that can be developed. It is a gift that the skill can be developed…

So what are you good at? Do you use those gifts fully? Do you share them with others? If not, why not?

And what other gifts have you received? Do you acknowledge them completely by enjoying them, or do you push them or hide them away?

There are so many blessings in my life, so many aspects I take for granted because they just are. One thing I try to never take for granted is the unconditional love of my husband Jim. This may well be my biggest gift ever. And I easily add to the list my children and grandchildren and bigger family. And yes, I could go on…

Also, I have the gift of opportunity. My life allows and my husband encourages immersion in my craft of quilting, as well as that of writing.

And I have gifts of capability. I quilt, I design, I teach, I write. I learn all of these things by doing. I do because I must, as I must breathe. And I do, both to conquer the fear, and because the fear abates as I try more things.

Today is the first anniversary of Catbird Quilt Studio. I came to this blog through a long crazy route I wouldn’t recommend for anyone! Getting to that point a year ago, and since then, I’ve had the support of my husband and a small group of very special friends, holding my hand through the craziness. Their friendship is indeed a gift.

This blog and Our View From Iowa both give me a vehicle to express my thoughts with you. I thank you for reading them, for offering that gift to me.

In addition, every day I am inspired, taught, and amused by other bloggers. Their writing and sharing is a gift, as well.

Use your gift.

I pledge to continue exploring my gifts, trying to be the better me, trying to overcome the fears that somehow I’m not good enough. I pledge to be mindful of the blessings in life, and to express gratitude when I can. And I pledge to try those Shiva paintsticks.

What about you? Do you use your gifts fully? Will you eat your meals off the good china, at least now and then?

Will you focus on today rather than fear for tomorrow? I’ll finish with this quote from Bil Keane, creator of the long-running comic strip The Family Circus. He said, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.

15 thoughts on “UZURGFT

  1. allisonreidnem

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Gifts are sometimes tricky to pin down and use! I wonder if the comparison between material gifts and natural gifts runs to receiving unexpected material gifts and not knowing how to use them?

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Sometimes the things we receive as material gifts don’t fit, and not just the clothing! Long long ago I read a story, and I believe it was about Queen Noor of Jordan. Many people presented gifts to the king and queen. Of course they wanted for nothing, and so often material gifts were not useful or were perhaps even inappropriate. But she graciously received each gift of whatever type and responded that it would be well used. And most everything would be, but by someone else, as it would be passed on to a more appropriate receiver. The queen of regifting!

      We told our son that story when he was pretty small, because Christmas presents from relatives who didn’t know him well often were the wrong size clothing, or a toy he wouldn’t play with. And we coached him to thank the giver and tell them that the item would get a lot of use. He just didn’t go on to say it wouldn’t be by him. 🙂

      1. allisonreidnem

        Great stories Melanie – I guess most things become a valued and useful gift if given to the right person!

  2. KerryCan

    I’m so glad you re-posted this, Melanie! I hadn’t read it before and it gives me a great deal to ponder. Every day I deal with these vintage linens that someone put away as “for good” and never enjoyed, and I always lament that. Yet I do the same thing, with stuff and with my own abilities. I avoid certain projects because i feel I’m not ready and will mess them up . . . Your pep talk might make all the difference!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I thought for a long time about this post before I wrote it. If I remember correctly, one element I included was your discussion of not wanting to be seen as showing off, so you shy away from sharing your successes with us. Do you remember that post? I think it was in reference to your Revolutionary War quilt. (And it’s possible I have that all wrong.)

      Don’t worry about messing up. If you’re new at something, no one expects you to be good at it. Just go ahead and try something new!

      1. KerryCan

        I do remember that post! And I still hesitate to write about things I’ve finished, although, since making things is a big part of how I spend my time, I’m not sure what else i’d write about! Maybe I should write about my less-than-successful undertakings–been having a few of those lately . . . . 😉

  3. katechiconi

    Congratulations, and thank you for starting your blog, which I’ve enjoyed greatly since I started following you. I like to think I’m using my inborn gifts, but the material things, maybe not so much. My work room is filled with fabric, gadgets and books, most of which don’t get an outing all that often. It’s a timely reminder to USE that stuff!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Use the stuff and enjoy it. And if it’s truly something you won’t use, pass it on to someone who will.

      Thank you for the good wishes. I published the piece a year ago, so I’ve actually passed two years here (and more on the other blog.) It’s been good for me and I always hope, good for other people, too.

  4. Yanic A.

    What a wonderful post. Happy blogiversary!
    Oh my, unused gifts… I know I have plenty of intangible ones that I’m learning to slowly incorporate into my life. For the longest time, my creative side was stifled. Now, I finally have time and I want to do it all… it paralyzes me and I end up doing very little. Isn’t always the way?
    Tangible : Crystal wine glasses and a putter and oak cheese serving set. I don’t drink anymore (which is a crappy excuse because I could drink lovely sparkling ciders and home brewed ice teas) so the wine glasses stay hidden and the cheese set, I guess no occasion feels fancy enough. Maybe that is the reason. Everyday should be treated as something special.


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