The word gracious is not one you hear tossed around a lot in casual conversation these days. People used to say, “Goodness gracious!” when they were shocked at something. That sounds rather quaint to our ears since we now frequently hear another, shall we say, more colorful blend of terms when someone is distressed.

That reminds me of the little girl I heard trying to recite a Bible verse she had memorized. The verse was, “Pray without ceasing.” Her version, however, came out, “Pray without cussing!” (Which is always a good idea, by the way, if you can help it.)

When people talk about gracious living, they often mean tea parties on bone china in the midst of luxury and finery. The term may rouse our imaginations with visions of yachts and grand estates, chauffer-driven limousines and one’s own personal masseuse.

But when I think of gracious living, I think in an altogether different direction. To me, the word gracious is attached to the memory of a drooping, wrinkled, 94-year-old face…that of my grandmother, Nettie, just before she moved to heaven a while back.

MaMa, as we called her, grew up in anything but gracious surroundings. Her mother died when she was ten, leaving her and her sisters responsible for all the household duties. She told the story (without rancor) of getting a spanking from her daddy early one evening when he and her brothers came in from working the fields of their hardscrabble Oklahoma farm. Her offense? She got so wrapped up in playing with another little neighborhood girl that she forgot to get dinner on the table in time.

One year later, her father also passed away leaving her orphaned with her siblings. For awhile they were shuffled back and forth among different relatives until she ended up living with her impoverished elderly grandparents. In her mid-teens, Nettie met and married my grandfather, who eventually became a minister.

I have rarely met anyone who had a greater gift of hospitality (and always on a shoestring) than MaMa Nettie. Her home was always open to anyone and you could barely get through the door before she was trotting to get you something to delicious eat and drink. Refills and seconds were mandatory. Deprived of the opportunity for much formal education, she was still a voracious reader and a lifelong learner. I’ll always have a mental picture of her with a dog-eared book somewhere near at hand. I think I inherited my “bookworm” from her, via my lovely and also gracious mother, Louise.

MaMa gave others the gift of unhurried time. She would play games with me (Hangman, the word game, was a favorite of ours and she was hard to beat!), or read stories and sing songs by the hour. In all the time we spent together throughout the years of my life (a lot!), I never once saw her angry or heard her say an unkind thing about another person. In a word, MaMa was gracious. When I think of her, I realize how far I have to go in that area of character development.

Graciousness may be hard to define but it’s easily recognized in someone’s manner. Gracious people are givers. If you want to become a gracious person, here’s my suggested giving list to get you started:

  •  Give a listening ear to an elderly person who wants to tell you a story you’ve already heard a bazillion times before.

  •  Give room in your lane for the car that’s waiting to break into traffic.

  •  Give a smile to the waitress who just brought you the wrong order.

  •  Give a hug to your mom and dad whenever you see them…no matter how old you are or what honors you earn in life. And grandparents get double hugs!

  •  Give weight to the lofty aspirations of a dreamer.

  •  Give someone a break when they least deserve it.

  •  Give yourself boundaries and goals.

  •  Give attention and affection to a child who isn’t so attractive or naturally talented.

  •  Give respect and the privilege of being heard to those with whom you disagree.

  •  Give another round of kind words to the people you spoke kindly to yesterday—especially your family—and then do it again tomorrow.

  •  Give your loudest applause to those who are just starting.

  •  Give the weak your arm…give the strong your acceptance…give the doubting your faith…give the hurting your tears.

  •  Give time…give grace…give cash when you can …give laughter.

  •  Give God and others your best.

A woman like this has a lot of influence. Like my MaMa Nettie, she may never be famous or reside in elegant surroundings but she will make a difference in peoples’ lives day after day.

Really, that’s what gracious living is all about…for goodness sake.


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