Here we are. We made it. Gracious Living: 31 Days of Refinement is over. I won't pretend that I'm not a little relieved. I'm not used to this space of mine being so loaded with heavy posts. I prefer more variety with my regular posting. And I haven't ever posted every day in a single month. Ever.

This month has been one of stretching for me, and it been both good and difficult. Some days it felt like the universe conspired against me to upend all my real-life efforts at gracious living. I certainly wouldn't want you to think that because I chose to write about graciousness that I'm some kind of expert at it. That is far from the truth. I think about deep subjects, and sometimes maybe I think too much. But getting all that thinking into concrete words was good for my soul. And I hope it was good for yours.

I received so much kind and valuable feedback from you throughout this series: emails, texts, Facebook likes and comments, and blog comments from people I know and from people I don't know. It was humbling, and I'm glad the response to this experiment was so great. Maybe I'll do another 31 days next year. But then again, maybe I won't. Who knows?

Before I sign off for the weekend, I thought it would be fun to go through the month and let you all know what the most popular posts of this series were.

The Five Most Viewed Posts
:: Table manners matter
:: Notes from Emily Post
:: Happy birthday
:: 10 gracious characters in literature
:: Filled with compassion

My Favorite Posts
:: A napless day
:: For when you don't feel gracious
:: Throwing a party
:: What it means to have grit
:: Year three

I really love how some posts turned out. And I also wrote some posts that felt lackluster. But I made it. And so did you. Thanks for putting up with daily posts from me, posts that I hope weren't too didactic and preaching. I'll be back next week with lists, TV updates, and probably some pictures of my babe almost-toddler.

Happy weekending!


a reminder

Today is the second to last day of 31 days. Whoa. I won't lie--I'm exhausted by this. Not only is posting every day hard, but writing on one topic is a whole new ball game. My brain is begging for a good old list post.

Just as publishing blog posts every day is a wearing task, sometimes being gracious can be tiring too. It's about impossible to maintain the same level of graciousness every single day. So today, I'll keep it short and leave you with a reminder:

Do your best.

Sometimes we may underestimate our best, and sometimes we overestimate it. Our lives cycle through seasons when it's easy to be gracious and other seasons when it's hard. When gracious living is especially difficult, focus on the most essential aspects: kindness, apologies, please and thank you. When you're stretched to your limit, maybe throwing a dinner party isn't the best idea. Realize that gracious living can be adapted to all the seasons of our lives. Some days gracious living looks different from other days. And that's okay. 

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.

Spooky Read 2013 review

Well, I finished! My Goodreads review is short, so I'll expand a bit here.

Something Wicked This Way Comes was superbly chilling. Bradbury has such a delicate way of writing that almost makes you feel the words he uses. I found myself waiting to read this until I had a good chunk of time to curl up in bed with some cocoa. I wanted to relish the eerie atmosphere and let myself get appropriately spooked.

I don't know if creepy carnivals were a thing before this book was written, but regardless, Bradbury certainly takes carnivals and carousels to a new level with his story of stolen souls. I think I like this book almost as much as I like Dracula. Almost. I'm so glad we stumbled on this book for the spooky read this year. It certainly produced what I hoped it would.

Did you read Something Wicked This Way Comes? Did you pick a different spooky book? Do you even like spooky stories?

Happy Halloween! (Tomorrow. Obviously.)


the benefit of the doubt

I think our world has conditioned us against trusting others. Just look at television: all the time we're bombarded with storylines of unfaithful spouses, grisly murder, and embezzled funds. What has this mentality done to us as a whole? I think it's made us revert to mistrust first and faith second.

Gracious living is giving others the benefit of the doubt. How many times have we slipped up or miscommunicated, wanting in the end only for someone to not think we're the worst? Sure we meet people who are dishonest and sleazy; but what would happen if we issued an amount of trust before we judged? What would happen to our streets? To our schools? To our homes?

I certainly don't want to undermine the importance of informed and cautious judgment calls, but don't push out compassion for misgivings. In our homes, giving others the benefit of the doubt is most important. Yes, we get hurt by our loved ones most easily, but I really don't think that in most cases the hurt is intentional. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, place some genuine trust in your children. Because when people feel trusted, they rise. I really do believe that. 

Graciously giving those around us the benefit of the doubt espouses an attitude of optimism and may even help people see their own potential in a clearer light. We don't need to go around inviting strangers over for dinner, but we should live with more faith in others. Just imagine how wonderful the change could be.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can read the other posts here.


customer service

Several months ago, I was frustrated about some thing about Costco that I can't remember now. I honestly don't remember anything about the situation except that I spoke sharply to an employee and drove off. Not long after, I went back to apologize for my words, but he wasn't there. How silly it is that I don't even remember what I was mad about. But I do remember that I didn't treat this man very graciously. And I also remember that I didn't get a chance to apologize.

Customer service jobs are hard. Two years ago I worked in a bookstore, and the holiday season was madness. Long hours, long lines, sore feet, sore brain. Even with kind patrons, constant customer interaction is demanding (especially for us introverts). And then you throw crazy customers into the mix, and retail jobs are sometimes a nightmare.

Holiday shopping is about to begin. I know that Christmas shopping is crazy and expensive and overwhelming, but please don't make the mistake I did and say something that you'll regret. Because you might not get to say sorry. Employees work hard, and even when they're not very good employees, they deserve to be treated with kindness and patience.

Smile, and mean it. Wish them a merry Christmas. Say thank you. And smile again. It's not asking that much to be a gracious customer, and it makes a world of difference. Perhaps the holidays shouldn't be as hectic as they are. Maybe we could all do a little more to make the December calendar a little less. So take a moment and make the Target aisles and checkout lines a little more humane, and share your gracious heart with those overworked, underpaid employees who really are doing their best.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


living grace

This whole month the subject of grace has been percolating in my mind. I even had a friend ask me a couple of weeks ago what I thought about the relationship between grace and gracious. So here we are, the last Sunday of 31 days. And I think it's about time we talk about this.

Grace and gracious share the same linguistic root: Anglo-French, Latin root gracia or gratia. In this post, I'll be referring to grace as the gift of sanctification paid for by Jesus Christ. In my faith, grace is also called atonement and redemption. In the Bible Dictionary, a scripture study help, we learn that "the main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ." So with this understanding of grace, and with the understanding of gracious that we've gained from this series, what's the connection?

Just about everything.

{"Prince of Peace," by Liz Lemon Swindle. I have a copy of this hanging in Asher's room. It's one of my favorite portrayals of the Savior.}

Gracious living is living with grace, living with the power and mercy of the Savior in our lives. (I know some of my readers don't believe in Jesus Christ, and that's okay. Because I believe that not only is Christ real and literal, but also that He loves each of us, regardless of our belief system.) Gracious living is a lifestyle of the heart, a lifestyle that can't help but manifest itself outwardly in how we treat others and in how we treat ourselves. Living with grace is seeking change within the Savior so as to be more like Him in heart and deed.

This connection between grace and gracious is perhaps best explored on our own. Its meaning is so personal that it's best examined in our own quiet moments and reflections. The crux of it all is that grace is inexorably tied up in gracious living. Grace makes gracious living possible, and gracious living is the outward expression of grace. The more we cultivate a gracious heart, the closer we grow to Jesus Christ and the more we are changed to be as He is.

After this series concludes this week, above all things I want my readers to walk away with this understanding: Jesus Christ has the ultimate gracious heart. He is gracious to us always, and the more we seek to be gracious ourselves, the more light and peace we will experience in our lives through His grace. He is the point of everything, the reason for and source of gracious living.

We can't do any of it without Him.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


attending a party

With holiday season approaching, holiday parties are part of the package. If you're throwing a party, then you should know about being a gracious host. There's also such a thing as being a gracious guest. And it's important. As you attend parties, keep a few things in mind.

:: RSVP. Preferably soon.
:: Your job is to enjoy the party and make sure that the hostess knows it.
:: Remember to say please and thank you.
:: Arrive timely, and if you're going to be late, let the hostess know.
:: Do what you can to keep conversation flowing. Maybe this is just me, but when I throw a party, I worry that conversation will stagnate and that I'll be left trying to awkwardly force my guests to have fun. So when I have a guest or two who make a point of leading conversation and keeping things flowing, it eases my mind and allows me to focus on other aspects of hostessing.
:: Compliment the hostess. It means a lot.
:: Offer to help clean up. The hostess will likely decline, but offer anyway. At the very least take the initiative to clear your dishes and throw away your trash.

Sometimes you have a party thrown for you, and that involves different responsibilities.

:: Arrive early. No excuses.
:: Let the hostess do things for you. Part of being gracious is accepting the service of others, and when someone is throwing a party in your honor, it's important that you accept that.
:: Greet each guest personally. Remember, they came there for you.
:: Handle presents graciously. Acknowledge each gift and make sure the group knows whose gift you're opening. Even though it's hard to maintain appropriate excitement for each and every present, do it. Each guest wants to feel that their contribution is valued. Say thank you for every single present. Even if a guest says that there's a gift receipt, don't indicate that you'll use it. Show genuine gratitude for what you're given, even if you don't intend on keeping it.

And no matter who you are, when you leave, you make sure that you find the host/hostess and thank them for inviting you. And it wouldn't hurt to throw out some legit and gushing compliments either. Being a gracious guest engenders a certain kind of trust between you and the hostess; not only will you get invited to more parties, but the party throwers will be legitimately excited to invite you.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


on forgiveness and apology

"To err is human; to forgive, divine"--Alexander Pope

"Never ruin an apology with an excuse"--Benjamin Franklin

"Somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles that can happen in no other way."--Gordon B. Hinckley

"The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologize and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of soul to do either--or both--when needed?"--Gordon B. Hinckley

Gracious living depends on apologies and forgiveness. We're not perfect, and because of that our character relies on the words I'm sorry. Gracious people own up to their mistakes and refuse to shift blame. They forgive wholeheartedly and don't allow wrongs done against them hold them back. I don't want to imagine a world without apologies.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


a napless day

Yesterday Asher didn't nap. At all. We tried, and we tried hard, but naps were not in the cards for this family. Then after twelve straight hours of being awake, Asher pretty much imploded so hard that he was heaving for sobs and succumbed to crying hiccups in between. It may have been the saddest thing I've ever seen. So we rocked and sang lullabies and cuddled and snuggled and kissed. He calmed down and crashed asleep.

Gracious parenting is so critical and so encompassing. It involves innumerable small acts that somehow add up into something grand and lasting. The children in our lives are soft and impressionable, and gracious living impacts them deeply.

Gracious living requires so much from parents, and Josh and I are far from perfect at it. But we try, and sometimes we do a pretty great job. I have to believe that all those small things are adding up to something big for our sweet boy.

We wait and walk behind him as he insists on climbing up every single step every single time we go upstairs.

We let him steer us to the deadbolt on the front door, the key hooks by the garage entrance, and the window locks in the family room so that he can inspect them over and over.

We let him examine his yogurt with his fingers, even though it's messy.

When we have to say no, we hold him close while he cries.

We read Goodnight Gorilla over and over and over so he can roar like a lion.

We lift him up to touch the leaves and stop on the sidewalk to say hello to the puppies.

Gracious parenting is both taxing and instinctual. It demands patience and compassion. My mothering is far from expert, so I do my best to take each day as it comes, making small decisions to create a gracious home where Asher feels loved, accepted, and wanted. I want him to feel God's love through us, because His love is the most gracious of all.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


what confidence isn't

When I think of confidence I don't associate it with being gracious. Our culture has trained me to associate confidence with extroversion, pushiness, and self-promotion. But that's not confidence, that's just arrogance. Sometimes I meet someone like that and I perceive some rooted insecurities that makes them need to inflate their importance to others. Sometimes I meet someone like that and they really do think they're that great.

Here's the interesting part: confidence is essential to gracious living. I'm not talking about that superficial brand of confidence; I mean real, self-assured, at-peace-with-yourself confidence. Real confidence happens when you're okay with who you are, when you don't need to impress anyone, when you know what you believe and you stick to it. You're okay with yourself even when you may be the only one who is.

Gracious living depends on confidence, because otherwise we all would be too easily swayed. Gracious living isn't always the most popular way to live, and if you're not sure of your gracious decisions, you could be persuaded out of them. So root yourself, embrace your choices and make them a part of yourself. If you don't, your carefully crafted gracious heart could slip right out of your fingers.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


year three

Josh's favorite joke goes something like this:

Some person: So, how long have you been married?
Josh: X years, but it feels like forever!

He's been telling that joke since we got back from our honeymoon, and to this day it's one of his favorites to pull out in a crowd. It makes me laugh and shake my head every time. (He's learned not to make that joke when I'm not around, because he's noticed that it makes people very uncomfortable when they can't see that I'm in on the gag.)

{On the wedding day, three years ago}

Year three has been wonderful and hard and emotional and loving. Having a babe in the family can really throw your relationship for a loop. We're sleep deprived and sensitive and don't always have the same opinion (gasp!). Sometimes it feels like the stars are aligning to incite discord. And then there are those moments of love and tenderness with my boys that outshine any differences. Our babe deepens my capacity to love my husband, and it's miraculous. Being a parent with Josh is the best endeavor.

{At lunch today with my boys. Clearly Asher was stoked about this.}

Marriage is primed for gracious living, probably because it's so damn hard sometimes. Apologies are just as sacred and important as the I-love-yous, and more often than not being right isn't what matters. Sometimes being gracious is the hardest with those we love most; and it's those most important relationships that depend on gracious living to thrive.

I can confidently say that Josh and I are happy. So, so happy. We're not perfect, but we are perfect for each other. We teach each other and we work together. We have a son who brings us both indescribable joy. There's no one I'd rather be with. Josh is, without a doubt, the love of my life. He makes my attempts at gracious living worth it. Three years ago today we each said yes, and I'll say it over and over and over for forever.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


weighing in

Mondays are my weigh-in days. I know that weight and body image are sensitive issues, so I'll tell you part of my story to ease the discomfort a bit. When I was pregnant I gained 30 pounds. After Asher was born I lost 20 of those pounds in a few weeks. Then, over the months, the pounds started creeping back little by little, until I was closer to my maximum pregnancy weight than I was to my pre-pregnancy weight. I was very discouraged.

I didn't feel very good about myself. (When I felt that I way I'd mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookies to make myself feel better. Obviously.) It was hard to exercise, because our downstairs neighbors were really, really sensitive to normal living noise, and I doubted that hitting it hard with Jillian Michaels would do much to improve the situation. So I lived with my discontent for a while.

Then Asher stopped nursing. Now no one was tied to any part of my body for anything. We'd moved into a new home. I figured that it was time to do something about that persistent baby flub. So before I go forward with my story, I want to address what it means to be gracious to yourself and to your body.


Our bodies are miracles--actual miracles. To think about all the biological, cellular, mechanical, and chemical processes that take place in our bodies every single moment is amazing. Our bodies are amazing. And I take issue with people and media outlets that purport some twisted form of the body as the only definition of beautiful. I hate it that Hollywood thinks that a woman should be back in a size two by the time her babe has left the hospital. I love Kate Middleton for owning her post-baby body, and I hate that it sparked debate in the first place.

With that said, I also think it's important that you take care of your body and do your best to keep it healthy. It's also important to feel good about your body. Our bodies are gifts from God, and someday we'll be reunited with them forever. As we develop a healthy relationship with our bodies, we need to be gracious to them. Don't deprive your body of nutrition because you want to be skinny, and don't overload your body with junk because you are lonely or scared or stressed. Find a healthy balance and embrace it.

Take care of your body. Usually that means moderating what you put into it, and also managing some kind of exercise. Sometimes, though, it means that cookies for dinner isn't the worst thing in the world. Embrace your body and come to know it. Care for your body in the best way possible, and remember how wonderful it is that we all look different. Don't buy into the lies you hear about what you're supposed to look like. Make your health a relationship with your mind, your body, and God.

So, back to my post-nursing body: I decided to sign up for Weight Watchers, and I'll sometimes get into an exercise groove. So far I've lost over 10 pounds, and I'm feeling great about it. This weight loss hasn't been immediate. It's taken dedication and time and acceptance. I'm learning that being gracious to your body is essential and that you can want to lose weight and still be gracious about it. When it comes to graciously living with your body, you need to learn to love it, to accept it, and to care for it.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


when music filled my soul

Today at church a young woman sung a beautiful arrangement of one of my favorite hymns. It was actually the exact arrangement that I played when I was a teenager. I remember practicing this accompaniment over and over, with no one but myself to sing the words. I remember feeling the powerful presence of the Holy Ghost as I played, played notes that penetrated me and filled me full.

He lives! All glory to His name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"

As the accompanist played the arrangement, I was brought back to moments in my life when I solidified my own knowledge of Jesus Christ as my Savior. Tears welled as I recalled those sacred impressions, and even now I shiver in joy when I hear certain measures from that music. I've said it before in this series, and I'll say it over and over and over, because this is the crux of everything: God is gracious. He loves us. Always.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


a day at the pumpkin patch

Today was a gracious day. I'm not really sure what that means exactly, but I know how it feels. And it feels lovely.

Pumpkins, hot cider, corn dogs, PB&Js, live music, hayrides. Autumn, you are easily the most gracious season of them all. You entirely delight me.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


let's talk about that ego

If you keep in tune with the blogging world (and sometimes I can hardly believe that that's actually a thing now), you might know about an interview Martha Stewart did this week. Here's what she said: 

Who are these bloggers? They're not trained editors at Vogue magazine. I mean there are bloggers writing recipes that aren't tested, that aren't necessarily very good, or are copies of everything that really good editors have created and done. So bloggers create a kind of popularity, but they are not the experts. And we have to understand that.

Huh. I have several thoughts about this statement (as do so. many. bloggers. obviously). What really stuck out to me about this, however, is not the content but the character. Martha Stewart is not gracious. Sure, she's talented in a superhuman crafty kind of way, but gracious? Nope.

Gracious people give credit where credit is due. They know that being good at something doesn't mean that someone else can't be good at that same something. Gracious living can't expend energy on selfishly building egos. Gracious people don't want to waste their time on that. So they don't. Gracious living is doling out praise where it's deserved, even if it's not to an "expert." We should be eager to uplift others and give deserved compliments. Isn't it wonderful that this world is full of talented people? We should be celebrating that instead of discrediting the non-Marthas. 

PS Did you know that there is a made-for-TV biopic about Martha Stewart that was produced during her time in prison? Every single time I think of Martha, I think of this clip.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


throwing a party

I have a confession: party planning kind of scares me. I inevitably think, What if no one comes? and then my party shame would be unbearable. Also, my introvert self prefers to shy away from overt limelight, and as the party hostess, you can't chill out in a corner if you're not in the mood to be delightful and charismatic. For those occasions when I do plan parties, however, I've taken a few notes from other hostesses in my life who are especially gracious party throwers.

{no Pinterest link}

The crucial rule of hosting anything--be it a run-of-the-mill Sunday night dinner or a lavish holiday party--is that your ultimate job is to make your guests feel comfortable. I remember one particular shining example of gracious hostessing.

I was a teenager, probably 14 or 15. I think it was a holiday dinner, and we had a couple branches of extended family over. One of my aunts was there with her live-in boyfriend, who is inherently surly. Sometime during the evening we all knelt down in the living room to have a family prayer. Prayer is something that has always been very important in my family culture, and family prayers, especially with out-of-town family, are always special. 

During this prayer, my aunt's boyfriend not-so-quietly muttered something rude and expletive. The prayer concluded, and my mother, who was the hostess, didn't draw any extra attention to what had just happened. She invited everyone into the dining room for dessert and was smiling and welcoming, even though something she greatly values had just been abused.

That is what gracious hosting is all about. Despite this man's blatant disrespect under our own roof, my mother didn't throw him out, didn't yell or get upset. She decided rather to live graciously and do her best to make her guest feel welcome.

{no Pinterest link, but it says Martha Stewart}

When you throw a party, gracious living will help you navigate sticky situations. Gracious hostessing will guide you in how to handle tardy guests at a dinner party, poor manners with presents, and that one guest who feels uncomfortable because she showed up under-dressed. Gracious hostessing pushes you to see your guests as more than just a name on an RSVP list. When you throw parties with a gracious heart, you care more about how your guests feel than about the decorations or the food spread. Certainly those planning details are important and fun, but they're not as important as how your guests feel when they leave the balloons and pompoms and cake balls.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
{Maya Angelou}

People will likely even forget the centerpiece you worked on for hours. But guests who feel welcomed, loved, and wanted? They'll never forget you for that.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


halfway there

First off, we've made it to Wednesday. Even as a stay-at-home mom, for me Wednesday means the other side of the hump. Also, I'm halfway through Gracious Living. Part of me can hardly believe it, and the other part of me is tired. Writing every day is hard. Some posts I've planned a few days in advance, and others I whip up at 10:30 at night. It's been an interesting experience for me, and I'm grateful to you for coming along for the ride.

For today I'll leave you with a four-minute video about a couple who live graciously in a beautiful way.

As Josh and I approach our wedding anniversary next week, I watch this and want to embrace such wholehearted gracious living. Marriage is perhaps the most important relationship that requires our gracious hearts, and the rewards are breathtaking.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


what it means to have grit

Last week we took Josh's car in to the mechanic where we got a nasty diagnosis: clutch replacement. Do you know what a clutch replacement costs? Like, a full, complete clutch overhaul? $1400. That's four figures. And unlike the giant crunch in the back bumper, we kind of had to fix this. I mean, it's the clutch. You can't really drive the car if the clutch doesn't work. So the car spent the week in the shop, and we concluded the week by shelling out many monies.

So here's what I learned about bad news and expensive car repairs: Gracious living can also include graciously accepting what's dealt to you. Sometimes gracious living means biting the bullet and shelling out cash for something that turns out to be more important than another. 

I learned something else. When you live life with a gracious heart, you develop some grit. Literally grit is tiny pieces of dirt. But think about it: minuscule pieces of sand or dirt can actually refine and smooth out rough surfaces. How many times have you used a sea-salt scrub on your hands to exfoliate, or used sandpaper to smooth out a piece of wood? Really, grit is refining. Grit, in a roundabout way, is gracious.

I looked up grit in the dictionary to see what MW had to say its colloquial meaning, and what I found was insightful: "firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger."  Grit doesn't mean an unfeeling exterior, it means finding refinement within our challenges. Gracious living doesn't make you weak--it gives you grit, and in my book, grit is pretty awesome.

So next time you grudgingly take your car into the mechanic, don't feel so upset. Remember that when you have grit, you also have refinement.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


for when you don't feel gracious

We're going to be honest here: gracious living is hard, and sometimes you just don't feel like being kind or compassionate or understanding. So here are some things to remember when you're irritable and grumpy and melancholy:

:: Retreat. Take a break all by yourself. Don't put yourself in a situation where you know you'll be likely to speak unkindly. Sometimes you can be gracious by just being absent for 20 minutes.

:: Indulge. Take care of yourself. If you just need to watch TV during the babe's afternoon nap, by all means, please do so. And down some hot chocolate while you're at it.

:: Create. Remember last week when I was blue? That afternoon I grabbed a fountain drink from Sonic and made chocolate sugar cookies. It wasn't a magnificent creation, but those cookies did get me on my feet doing something I love to do.

:: Take a walk. Or a run, if you're one of those people. Sometimes I go on sanity walks. Those walks are for when I'm frustrated and impatient and for when the babe doesn't nap. I put him in the stroller and we take off. The weather is so beautiful right now, so put on a sweater and enjoy it. Let that brisk air clear your head. And when you get home, make some hot chocolate. Obviously.

:: Cry. Yes, sometimes that's the best, most gracious option. Josh told me once that he has only five emotions, and one of those emotions was hungry. But me? I have many, many emotions that even I have a hard time sorting out. So if you feel like crying, do it. You might need some Exedrin later to kick the crying headache, but trust me, crying isn't always a bad idea.

We're imperfect people, and that means that our gracious efforts aren't perfect either. We get overwhelmed, lonely, frustrated, and upset. So in those moments when gracious living is really hard, don't despair. Remember that God is always gracious and will compensate for those moments when our gracious hearts aren't where we want them to be. Remember that gracious living is in so many ways a process rather than a goal or endgame. Gracious living is all about becoming better, and no one--not even Christ--expects us to do it perfectly.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


love and refinement

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth.

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


the sweetest moment

I was homesick yesterday, and I don't know why. Maybe because by the time I get to Denver at Christmas, it will have been five months since our last visit. Or maybe it was because lots of things lately have made me think of my missionary brother. Or it could have been because Emily and her husband aren't taking the job offer in Portland. While wallowing and feeling sorry for myself I was with Asher after his nap, watching him read to himself in the rocker (which he can now climb up into whenever he feels like it--goodness).

In my self-pity, I started to cry. Without prompting or coaxing, Asher put down his book and leaned in to give me a kiss. It was my absolute favorite moment. When I smiled and laughed, he looked so pleased with himself for figuring out that Mom could use a love. 

I've had my babe here for barely over a year, but I can already tell he has a gracious heart, and I love it.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


my day

Fridays are my day. Fridays I take a break from early-morning writing to sleep in, and I give myself express permission to stay in stretchy pants. I do my best to keep the day commitment free (though because I live a real adult life, that isn't a guarantee). On Fridays I have two new episodes of TV to watch, and I usually spend some quality time in my sewing room. Sometimes I bake, sometimes I nap, and I usually call my mom.

Evenings are sometimes social, sometimes hermit, and always easy. Asher usually forgoes a bath, and by 8:00 p.m. I'm ready for different stretchy pants. Fridays are the day of the week I devote to being gracious to myself, to giving myself a break, and it's lovely.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


refining the Golden Rule

I have this friend. Her name is Katelyn. I've written about her before. We met freshman year. She's one of those people who deeply affects your life in almost imperceptible yet really important ways. She's the kind of person who, if she weren't in my life, I think I would be a different person.

{When we were college freshmen littles}

Our sophomore year in college we were approaching a time of year that I was very excited for. I kept talking about it and asked her how excited she was. She responded that she really wasn't that excited, and I was flummoxed. How could you not be excited about this? I asked. She explained to me that just because I was so excited about something didn't mean that she was, and she actually had really good reasons to not feel the same way I did.

{Katelyn's birthday 2007}

So, here's the thing. Living the Golden Rule is important. Really important. But you need to live it with empathy. Living the Golden Rule doesn't mean that we all think and feel the same--actually it's the opposite. We need to listen, and we need to live with empathy.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


notes from Emily Post

Emily Post published her book, Etiquette, in 1922. I present you with some golden excerpts.

:: "New York's bad manners are often condemned and often very deservedly. Even though the cause is carelessness rather than intentional indifference, the indifference is no less actual and the rudeness inexcusable."

:: "A gentleman takes off his hat and holds it in his hand when a lady enters the elevator in which he is a passenger, but he puts it on again in the corridor. A public corridor is like the street, but an elevator is suggestive of a room, and a gentleman does not keep his hat on in the presence of ladies in a house."

:: "Nothing is so easy for any woman to acquire as a charming bow. It is such a short and fleeting duty. Not a bit of trouble really; just to incline your head and spontaneously smile as though you thought, 'Why, there is Mrs. Smith! How glad I am to see her!'"

:: "For one person to look directly at another and not acknowledge the other's bow is such a breach of civility that only an unforgivable misdemeanor can warrant the rebuke."

:: "In good society ladies do not go about under the 'care of' gentlemen!' It is unheard of for a gentleman to 'take' a young girl alone to a dance or to dine or to parties of any description; nor can she accept his sponsorship anywhere whatsoever."

:: "A lady may never be under the 'protection' of a man anywhere!"

:: "A certain very lovely lady whose husband is quite as much her lover as in the days of his courtship, has never in twenty years allowed him to watch the progress of her toilet, because of her determination never to let him see her except at her prettiest."

:: "Excepting a religious ceremonial, there is no occasion where greater dignity of manner is required of ladies and gentlemen both, than in occupying a box at the opera."

I'm sure you've found some manners here that are no longer necessary or appropriate. This is, after all, almost 100 years after Ms. Post published her seminal work. Some observations, however, she hits on the head.

:: "Lack of consideration for those who in any capacity serve you, is always an evidence of ill-breeding, as well as of inexcusable selfishness."

:: "Etiquette must, if it is to be more than trifling use, include ethics as well as manners. Certainly what one is, is of far greater importance than what one appears to be. . . . Thus Best Society is not a fellowship of the wealthy, nor does it seek to exclude those who are not of exalted birth; but it is an association of gentle-folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities, and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognizes its chosen members."

:: "If children see temper uncontrolled, hear gossip, uncharitableness and suspicion of neighbors, witness arrogant sharp-dealing or lax honor, their own characters can scarcely escape perversion."

:: "Simplicity of speech and manners means language at its purest, most limpid form, and manners of such perfection that they do not suggest 'manners' at all."

:: "Consideration for the rights and feelings of other is not merely a rule for behavior in public but the very foundation upon which social life is built."

:: "Rule of etiquette the first--which hundreds of others merely paraphrase or explain or elaborate--is: Never do anything that is unpleasant to others."

The laws of Emily Post have been updated over the decades and now even include online etiquette (praise the heavens for that!). Gracious living is part of who we are and manifests itself outwardly in how we treat others, our families, and ourselves. Wouldn't the world be a better place if men, women, and children took greater care to listen to Emily Post and live graciously?

You can download a copy of the 1922 version of Etiquette here.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


table manners matter

Growing up, I was expected to keep table manners while eating. These manners included the following:

:: No elbows on the table
:: Chew with my mouth closed
:: No interrupting
:: Wait to start eating until the hostess starts eating
:: No singing at the table.
:: Say please and thank you
:: No conversation that is inappropriate for the dinner table {once my brother started telling a story about worms and my mom stopped him saying that worms aren't good table talk, so he got up and stood in a corner of the dining room to continue telling his story}
:: Stay seated the entire time while eating (i.e. no getting up and down and up and down and up and down)
:: When finished with dinner, ask the hostess to be excused and thank her for the meal

Perhaps some of you may think that table manners are outdated and unnecessary. I disagree. Here's what table manners taught me aside from basic etiquette and courtesy: I learned that I am not the center of the universe, that in fact I am part of an intricate social system built on relationships and that I need to show respect to others, regardless of age. Dinner time is not the time for me to get up and play with toys or have fits. It's not the time for me to play on my phone or catch up on social media. Mealtimes exist to enrich relationships and foster communication. Manners benefit everyone.

Gracious people employ table manners. Not only do table manners exhibit respect for self and for others, but they also are evidence of refinement. They demonstrate an awareness of relationships and mindfulness of behavior. Gracious people have manners that are unaffected and that lack pretension. They certainly don't make others feel bad about themselves for not having table manners. Basically, gracious people care about manners but don't necessarily expect or judge others for not caring. Gracious people exhibit their manners, well, graciously.

It's more than just no elbows on the table--it's about cultivating an attitude of awareness and respect. So call me old fashioned, but in my family, manners matter. A lot.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


filled with compassion

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.

And he said unto them: Behold my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.

Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or half, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.

Gracious living is healing, merciful, and compassionate. Gracious living fills our lives with grace.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


happy birthday

Today is my grandma's birthday. She passed away three and a half years ago, and every year since then I (along with several other women in my family) have baked a cake. You see, she was the best cake baker I've ever known, so cake is only appropriate.

{Yellow cake with pink fluffy frosting--my birthday cake of choice throughout my childhood. The cakes Grandma made were at least twice as tall as this one.}

Grandma is the most gracious woman I've ever known. My whole life she exuded graciousness in every relationship. She was kind, compassionate, unwavering in her faith, confident in her identity, and ever loyal to her God. I won't do her a disservice and pretend that she was perfect, because she wasn't. She did, however, consistently strive to be better and more like her Savior. While she did make mistakes, she kept her eye on the prize--becoming like Jesus Christ. And when your goal is to be as He is, you inevitably enter into gracious living.

I think of her often--oh so very often. And I miss her. Sometimes I think about how most of my mortal life will be lived without her on this earth. And that's hard. She died six months before I got married, and sometimes I wish I could just call her up and ask her marriage questions and baby questions and life questions, because just as I got ready to begin the next big chapter in my life, she closed hers.

{This used to hang in my grandparents' bedroom. Now it hangs in my sewing room next to a replica of a refrigerator magnet I made for Grandma when I was six-ish. Despite her lack of excessive sentimentality she kept it for years and years, and we found it in her desk after she died.}

But in spite of this occasional melancholy, I have felt her near. I know she knows my son, and right now, he remembers her. She knows me still and is aware of my life. The veil between this world and the next is so thin. Those we love are closer than we realize, and God is ever present to manifest his love and graciousness.

The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.
{Psalms 145:8}

So happy birthday, Grandma. Thank you for your legacy of gracious living. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the others posts here.


refinement defined

What does graciousness have to do with refinement, anyway? When I think of refinement I think of social grace, of poise, and of good taste. I think of a woman with confidence that she doesn't need to shove in your face, of someone sure enough of themselves to be genuinely kind. Refinement is honestly addressing your rough edges and working to smooth them; it's shedding the unnecessary to focus on the important.

Gracious living is all about simplicity of character and demeanor. Gracious living is knowing your purpose and living it. Gracious living is character refined.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


10 gracious characters in literature

I'm certainly not confident enough to name these characters the most gracious in all literature, because 1) I haven't read everything, and 2) my retention rate is abysmal. So I present 10 characters in books who, in no particular order, are indeed gracious.

1. Molly Weasley, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Molly is gracious enough to knit Harry a Weasley sweater every single Christmas. And knitting is hard.

2. Melanie Wilkes, Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Melanie is gracious almost to a fault. She's wonderful, and it takes Scarlett over a thousand pages to realize it.

3. Jane Bennett, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Always the softer of the Bennett sisters, Jane's graciousness allows her to forgive Mr. Bingley for being "the most unmitigated and comprehensive ass."

4. Matthew Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

When Matthew gives Anne the dress with puffed sleeves? Waterworks every time.

5. Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Jane is gracious enough to herself to leave Mr. Rochester and gracious enough to both of them to come back.

6. Samuel Hamilton, East of Eden, John Steinbeck

He's not as well known a literary character, but his graciousness fueled his friendships and learning. He's a fascinating character in a phenomenal book.

7. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Atticus, Atticus. He's gracious to everyone from his own children to Tom Robinson to Boo Radley to Mrs. Dubose and maybe even to the rabid dog.

8. Celia Foote, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Celia couldn't care a whit about the color of your skin. Her graciousness is so ingrained in her she hardly knows she's wonderful for it.

9. The Fitzgeralds, Mandy, Julie Andrews Edwards

Another more obscure reference, the Fitzgeralds give orphan Mandy what she's always wanted: love.

10. Charlotte the Spider, Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White

Perhaps the kindest arachnid I've ever encountered.

Who are your favorite gracious characters?

*If you're interested in the movie adaptations, all of which are fantastic, click below. All links are Amazon Affiliate links.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


the golden rule lived

Treat others as you want to be treated. We all know it--the Golden Rule. It's even scripture: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

My mom taught us that rule growing up. Whenever I'd be annoyed with a sibling and react poorly (which was not so uncommon), Mom would ask, "Is that what you would want, Charlotte?" Usually it wasn't. For years the rule was just words, and I don't remember a specific moment when it sunk deeper into my heart. In fact, I still work on treating others how I want to be treated. That edict is still trying to find a comfortable place within me. But maybe that's the point of the Golden Rule: more often than not it is uncomfortable, and it's most important to live graciously when we don't really feel like it.

Knowing the Golden Rule is one thing, living it is another. To live the Golden Rule means to pause before acting, to think before speaking, and to step outside of yourself on behalf of another. To be gracious and golden is to give others the benefit of the doubt, because really and truly, most people are good people, or at least want to be.

Living graciously changes the way you see people. You see with softer eyes and with a bigger heart. You come closer to living the second great commandment, to love others as you love yourself.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.


what's the point?

I can't explain the burst of inspiration that hit me with this series. I had been reading about the Nester's annual project for weeks and thought, Hmm, that sounds nice for some people. But me? No way. I don't think I'd be good at it. I'll read from the sidelines, thank you very much.

Then I was doing some writing work and my heart whispered, Gracious. You need to write about being gracious. You need this 31 days. So here I am.

I spent some time last night brainstorming posts for this month and have some good ideas brewing, but I will surely have a night (or two or three or four) where I'm under the wire with nothing to post. So some of this will be flying by the seat of my pants. (Where did that expression come from?) 

Why focus on graciousness? Because it's a dying virtue. It's not valued or nurtured--and it should be. I think we'd all fare a little better if each of us were just a little softer, a little kinder, a little more merciful, a little more welcoming, a little less selfish--a little more gracious. That's the point--changing for the better. Because if we can work on changing ourselves and our families, we'll invariably impact some of the bigger things too.

This post is part of a 31-day series on gracious living. You can find the other posts here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...