Sunday, April 17, 2005

on being gracious

When I was a little girl, I usually sat by my grandma in church. She kept wintergreen mints in her purse and offered them to me when I began to wiggle. Sometimes she would fold a kleenex, back and forth, as though you were making a fan, would pull a bobby pin from her bun and slide it in the middle of the kleenex, and gently shred the edges of it to make a flower that I could pin in my hair. My grandma was pew thigh-pinching, no threats that God would punish me if I didn't sit still, no glaring at me over her glasses, no applying the law, but rather grace. My grandma wanted me to love God because she loved Him so much herself.

In front of us sat Mrs. Krey, an older woman who was showing signs of dementia. She frequently sang loudly and out of key and always repeated the responsive reading a sentence behind the rest of the congregation. I can remember, even as a small child, that I felt embarrassed by her and for her.

One day, as we stood singing the last hymn, I noticed that Mrs. Krey was wearing a new dress and right there, under one arm, the price tags were still hanging. Size 24W, $39.95. You know how your mind works, how thoughts race through it faster than you can repeat? My first thought was to laugh, then to cry, and finally to blush. I really wanted to nudge my grandma and point but somehow I knew she really wouldn't think it was funny at all.

Then I saw something I will never forget. As the benediction was pronounced, my grandma reached up and patted Mrs. Krey on the back. She told her how lovely her new dress was and how nice it looked on her. And as she engaged Mrs. Krey in this conversation, she carefully unpinned the price tag and slid it down into her purse, right there next to the wintergreen mints. She told Mrs. Krey to have a nice week and we left to go home.

I thought long and hard about my grandma that day. What she did couldn't be defined in a 5 year old vocabulary. But now that I am a grown-up, a grandma myself, I know that there is a word for what she is gracious.

The Bible tells us in Luke 4:22 "And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, is not this Joseph’s son?" The word for gracious literally means a power from the divine realm that infuses god-like men, moving them to perform miraculous deeds. It means action that bestows delight on others.

How often have I looked at something I said or did and felt my face flush was embarrassement because I was NOT gracious? Lord, grant me the grace to love those who are not lovely, to stop and encourage someone, even if he or she is difficult, to bear another's burdens as you bear mine!


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