The Village

When my first nephew Jordan was turning one, I went to Toys R Us to buy him a present. Bill and I planned to give him a savings bond, but I wanted to bring something he could play with, too. So I went to the 12-month-old section and chose a colorful stuffed wiggle worm.

The day of the party, Bill and I showed up to find Jordan pushing a Little Tikes lawnmower across the lawn. I’d gotten my nephew a toy appropriate for an infant and this kid was mowing his backyard.

Before attending a family gathering, I ask (when I remember to ask, which is not always) what I can contribute. I usually get assigned the rolls. You can’t mess up bread unless you bake it yourself. And my relatives know I’d never try.

In the last month of my dear friend Jackie’s life, a group of us would gather each day at her home. I’d marvel at the beautiful daffodils Jen brought, smell the home-cooked meal Gail had prepared. Me? I’d contributed nothing. I’m no good at flowers. Or dinner.

At all.

Before Letters for Scarlet launched, I needed to update my blog to an author website and create a newsletter. Unable to do these things on my own, I solicited the help of Aimee Horton, a website designer and one of my publishing sisters at Velvet Morning Press.

On my release day, I received requests for a Book Club Discussion Guide and I joked to my online writing group about having no idea how to do this. Within hours, my sweet friend Jennie had created a button for my blog and a pdf of the questions I’d written. (It’s on this page if you scroll down on the right. A big green button that says CLICK HERE!)

Even now, today, trying to get my second newsletter sent, I relied on the assistance of my friend and local writer’s group member, Laurel. Full disclosure: she sent it for me.

There are many things I am not good at and I’ve been frustrated to the point of tears at times wishing I could be better. I’m guessing we all do this, focusing on our weaknesses rather than our strengths.

When my second nephew Riley was born, I came to my sister’s house and stayed with her. While Nancy worked on nursing a reluctant newborn, I pushed Jordan around in his Little Tikes car. We sang songs and read books. He called me Au Ju because he was 18 months old. And Auntie Julie is a mouthful.

When I attend a family gathering, I bring rolls (if I remember to ask) and drive two or three hours depending on which family we’re visiting. I make this drive fairly often because what I have to offer is time and flexibility. And also love. Always the love.

When Jackie was too sick to get out of bed, we’d sit beside her and watch TV. Or talk. Tell stories. I’d toss out a joke and Jackie would smile. In her perfect English accent she’d say, “You’re so clever,” and my heart would swell.

When another publishing sister of mine said she needed a Beta Reader for her novella, I spent my Sunday line-editing her pages. For the record, her novella was great and it was my pleasure. Something I’m good at.

What a relief, at last, to be of use.

I said as much to Bill and after some thought, came to this conclusion: I should probably stop beating myself up for what I’m terrible at and focus on my strengths.

I suck at gift-giving (no really, I’m horrible) and flower-buying and baking and technology. It’s undeniable: I lack these talents.

What I have in abundance is time and editing skills. Jokes and love. I have this space to honor memories. To share my thoughts, hopes, dreams.

These Sydney based tech aren’t all practical things, sure; but they’re what I have to offer, and I lend them freely to people who need my particular skill set.

Have a blog post you want comments on? I’m your girl! Need your Instagram post or Facebook status or Tweet liked and shared? Bring it! Got a manuscript that requires editing? Send it over. Or I’ll come to you and bring rolls or wine or something else I can’t ruin in an oven.

I even keep a cork extractor in my purse. (Everyone’s good for something.)

So tell me: What are you good at? I promise there are pieces of greatness in you. Don’t look for what you’re missing. See what’s THERE.

Let’s toast to filling in each other’s blanks. To bringing to the table what we have to give. Let’s agree to stop berating ourselves when we need help, and instead highlight the gaps we fill.

It takes a village to raise a child. To celebrate a life. To launch a book.

To be a human.

Put our pieces of greatness together and we make a beautiful whole.


To order your copy of Letters for Scarlet, click here. To download the Letters for Scarlet Book Club Discussion Guide, click on the green box above on the right.

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15 thoughts on “The Village

  1. Those things you offer freely are priceless. Especially your friendship and love.

    In our small town I often need the favors of friends, because without family here I get pretty desperate for backup. Many of those friends do have their extended families here, and rarely need anything from me in return. When I do get called upon for a favor, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to pay back, or even forward.

  2. Once again your beautiful words have made me cry, Julie. (You’re pretty good at that too!) I consider myself lucky lucky lucky to be the recipient of your talent and gifts – I don’t think I would have ever gotten my book published without your help my dear friend. But the gift you give that I am the most grateful for is your friendship and love!

    Oh, and what am I good at? I can usually make people laugh. And if you need someone to show up I’m there (after all I wouldn’t want to miss out) and I’ll probably bring wine. 🙂

  3. When I think of you, Julie, I think of your always thoughtful commentary on my work, whether on my blog or on the snippets shared in shared online spaces. I think of how gracious you are about requests and how fun it is to work with you. Your skill set is a treasure. It does take a village to raise anything: a barn, a child, a novel, our spirits. Our villages have wider parameters sometimes, but villages they are nonetheless.

    (Still waiting for the direct buy/trans-continental author signing option for LFS – let me know if you want help setting that up. That’s in my wheelhouse.)


  4. Your skill set is perfect and it brightens my life to know you. <3 That is all.

  5. Laurel

    Lovely lovely lovely!!! Your words are so sweet and true and real. I can just taste them. And also, I want a roll now.

    I can navigate Mail Chimp. Lol
    And I make a fierce pesto.
    And I’m a great bedtime story reader & cuddler.
    And I never let wine go to waste.

    Hear us roar!

  6. Diane

    So privileged to be a part of your village! XXXOOO

  7. Julie, what a lovely and thoughtful post. I read it several times because I thought it showed how strong you are to write this. After reading your words, I know you must be a true, loyal, fun and caring friend. There’s an old church song that asks. “What can I give Him, poor as I am..and ends with “What can I give HIm- give my heart.” Which sounds like you- you give your heart. I used to feel like you- that I didn’t have “skills” but as I have grown older, and now freed from so many daily demands- I have learned skills!! It’s been a pleasure to learn more about gardening and cookie, baking, so continue to love and continue to grow!

  8. This made me cry a little. Probably because I’ve never once noticed a thing you’re not good at, and only ever noticed the things you are. There is only one Julie C Gardner (whom I adore) and she’s very good at being Julie.

  9. Oh Julie, the brilliance of who you are obscures any possible shadows. All the things you mentioned you lack are nothing compared to what you have and do. Your love is a beautiful thing and you bestow it very generously. Thank you for being you.

  10. Julie, I knew we had more in common – I’m a horrendous gift giver and I often forget to bring or ask to bring food before events. But I share your good qualities, as I am a generous reader and editor for friends (and I think I’m pretty good at it) and I will sit with loved ones through pain and illness and perhaps make them smile even as my own heart is breaking. I believe those gifts are as worthy as any others. I am so deeply happy for your success and am signing up for your newsletter now! Also, once I come up for air from my current obsession with memoir, your novel is first on my to-read list.

  11. Jen

    I love this. And you. I’m continually amazed by you & your way with words.

  12. Bailey

    I love this post. I am really good at listening and loving my family but not exceptionally good at much else. You are so talented and seem so kind and that’s a great combination.

  13. You definitely shine at all things bookish…including giving the gift of comments and books!

    I shine in the art of ridiculousness.

  14. Not sure how I missed this! I love this point about focusing on strengths. We all have what to give–so true.

  15. I am also the family bread-bringer and I love it. No stress, and more importantly, no dishes to clean. 🙂 Also, I’m so excited to read your new novel.

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