Shelly loved to skip. She skipped to the park. She skipped to school and home from school. She skipped next door to visit Sister Jones. She skipped so much that her friends and family called her “Skipper.”
One day, though, she trudged home from school. She didn’t feel like skipping. Her legs felt heavy as she climbed the porch steps and opened the front door. She found Mother sitting at the kitchen table, paying bills.
“Hi, Skipper! How was school today?” Mother asked, pausing to lick an envelope.
Shelly didn’t say anything. She felt tears pressing her eyes. Oh, no, she thought, I’m going to cry again.
Mother licked some stamps and pressed them on the envelopes. Then she turned to Shelly. “Skipper, what’s wrong?”
As Mother hugged her, Shelly felt tears roll down her cheeks. “Oh, Mom! Some of the kids at school say I’m stupid! Am I?”
Mother hugged Shelly tighter. “No, Skipper! You’re not stupid.”
Shelly leaned back and looked at Mother. Mother had a way of looking into Shelly’s eyes that made her feel understood. She knew that Mother loved her. “Then why is everything so hard for me? I’m always the last one finished with math or spelling, and I still get more wrong than everybody else.” Mother handed her a tissue. Shelly sniffed. “I really try, Mom! I really try! And you help me study every night. So why is it so hard for me?”
Mother pulled Shelly close again and answered her with a question. “Skipper, what is the greatest talent anyone can have?”
Shelly thought. She remembered how well her teenage brothers played their violins. They played with the high school orchestra. “Is it to play the violin?”
“No,” said Mother. “Playing the violin is not the greatest talent. Think again.”
Shelly thought about how well Dad did woodworking. Shelly liked to watch him as he built beautiful furniture. “Is it to build things with wood?” she asked.
Mother shook her head. “No, woodworking is not the greatest talent. Think again.”
Then Shelly remembered how she loved to have Mother sing Primary songs to her at bedtime.
Sometimes, if Shelly wasn’t too tired after studying, they sang together. Mother led the singing in Primary. Shelly liked learning the new songs with her mother. “Is singing the greatest talent anyone can have?” Shelly asked.
“No, Shelly. Talent in music is a wonderful talent, but it isn’t the greatest talent.”
Shelly thought about her friend Aubree. Aubree usually finished her math and spelling before anyone else in the class. Aubree didn’t have to study after school, so she took dancing lessons several afternoons a week. She could do ballet and tap dance. On Saturdays, Shelly liked to visit Aubree. Aubree would let Shelly wear one of her beautiful costumes and would teach her some dancing steps.
“Is the greatest talent dancing?” Shelly asked.
“No, Shelly, it isn’t dancing. Think very hard.”
Shelly thought. Then she remembered how hard it was for her to read. Sometimes the letters seemed to flip over or even disappear. “Oh, Mom,” she gasped, “it isn’t reading, is it?”
Mother gave her a squeeze. “No, Skipper, it isn’t reading. Dancing, singing, woodworking, reading, and playing instruments are all great talents, but they aren’t anything compared to the best talent. And, Skipper, you have the best talent.”
Shelly was surprised. “No, Mom. I don’t do anything really well.”
“Oh yes you do, Skipper. You try to make people happy. You stop to visit Sister Jones on your way home from school. She’s lonely living alone, and you cheer her up. She’s often told me how much she looks forward to your visits.”
Shelly smiled. She liked Sister Jones. Sometimes she played her harp for Shelly. Sister Jones even said that she’d teach Shelly to play one when Shelly’s arms grew a little longer.
Mother gave Shelly another squeeze. “And, Skipper, when our doorbell rings, you’re the first one there. You greet everyone with a smile. Even when my friends come, you want them to leave with a cookie, and you always tell them to come again. That makes them very happy.”
Mother is right, Shelly thought. I do like to make people happy.
“Skipper,” Mother said, “your talent is the best talent of all. Can you guess what it is now?”
Shelly still shook her head.
“Skipper, your talent is love. You know how to love others, and that is the best talent. That’s what Jesus taught. All those other talents—singing, dancing, woodworking, playing instruments, even reading—don’t mean very much if you don’t know how to love.”
Shelly thought some more and nodded her head. She gave her mother a kiss and a big hug. Then she skipped down the hallway to change into her play clothes.
The next day just before the bell rang at the end of school, a boy in Shelly’s class started teasing her again. “Shelly, you’re so dumb!” he said. “You read slower than my pet turtle walks.”
Shelly smiled at him. “I might not be as smart as you,” she answered, “but I can love you anyway. Jesus said that loving is the best thing of all, and that means I’m not so dumb.”
Then Shelly put her math and spelling books in her book bag and skipped all the way home.