January 11, 2006

My Career as a Figure Skater

1501 page25 caphe Winter Olympics event was a time to celebrate hockey, bobsledding, and even luge. But when I was a teen, only one sport mattered: figure skating. I would sit on the couch and cheer for Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano, Nancy Kerrigan, and Todd Eldredge. I knew a triple toe loop from a triple salchow, the point deductions for a spill, the importance of fancy footwork, and the politics of a judge?s score.

My own skating career did not begin until the end of 2004. I was sitting in the computer lab when a friend leaned over and whispered, ?Guess what class I?m taking next semester??

?What?? I asked.

?Figure skating,? she said.

?They teach that here?? I asked. And without further deliberation, I decided that I too wanted to be a figure skater--never mind that when I skate, my legs race off in different directions, or that my arms cut through the air like windmills. In one semester I could be grace on ice.

1501 page25I received little encouragement, unless you consider hysterical laughter encouraging. ?You?re not exactly graceful,? one friend pointed out, wiping the tears from his eyes.

I saw his point, but I was not about to quit. Not until I discovered that even the beginning course involved jumps.* Oh, what to do? My heart was set on figure skating. Not one to be stymied, I transferred to a beginner ice-skating class, putting my career, you might say, on ice.

Beginner ice skating was not easy. There were swizzles and pumps, dips and hops, slaloms and T-stops. Twice a week I grabbed my skates and hoofed it to Mariucci Hockey Arena. With ballads playing on the radio, we bobbled across the ice, landing with shrieks and laughter.

After a semester of this, my classmates became quite good. Not me. My crossovers were still wobbly, and my backward one-foot glides were daily reminders of gravity. I was not, it seemed, destined to become a professional figure skater. It?s probably for the best, I thought bravely. Most skaters retire at my age.

No matter how much I enjoy watching figure skating, it is not my talent. Neither is singing, math, or surgery. Occasionally I watch someone else performing a spectacular feat, and I wish that I too had that talent. I attend a concert, listening as the orchestra plays together, almost as a conversation, and as the music rises to a crescendo, I wish that I too could play the violin. Or I read about a doctor who practices medicine in an impoverished region, and I am moved by his heroism and skill. I put down the article wishing that I had majored in biology after all.

It?s easy to think: Other people make a difference in the world because they have talents I lack. Their spiritual gifts have allowed them to do spectacular things. At church we notice those who are up front--preaching the sermon, leading Sabbath school class, playing the piano, singing.

But there are more talents at work: Someone cleans the church; someone tends the PA system; someone handles the finances. Then there are those who meet visitors in the parking lot and welcome them; those who visit the ill; those who volunteer in their communities.

Paul wrote about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. He described how God gives one person the gift of faith, another wisdom, another knowledge, another prophecy, another healing. We cannot call one gift more important than another without insulting the Giver.

Paul must have felt this was an important point, because he reinforced it with a metaphor. He described the church as a body and the believers as individual parts. ?The eye cannot say to the hand, ?I don?t need you!? And the head cannot say to the feet, ?I don?t need you!? On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor? (1 Cor. 12:21-23, NIV).

These days we?re less likely to tell a church member, ?We don?t need you!? Instead, we tell ourselves: The church doesn?t need me; I have nothing to contribute. If the church is a body and each believer is an individual part, then the truth is, without your unique talents the church is handicapped.

You are created in God?s image and filled with unique gifts. How can you best use those gifts to serve humanity?

*I know. It seems obvious, but I thought a beginning class would focus on gliding and becoming grace on ice.

Sari Fordham is working on a postgraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. Her e-mail address is [email protected].