The art of gracious receiving

An elderly woman sets an example of how to accept help with grace.

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The gang of teens swarmed down the street in our quiet neighborhood, cut through the narrow space between houses, and gathered in my elderly neighbor's backyard. Intent on their mission, they attacked with the energy of the young.

Wielding rakes and ecobags, they cleared out the tree branches that had flattened Flo's azaleas during a storm the day before.

Now, you ought to understand how much Flo loves her garden. She planned to do the cleanup herself, to make sure no harm came to the azaleas.

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She's in her 80s, but you'd never guess it by watching her planting, weeding, mulching, and nurturing her flower beds. She's lived alone since her husband died last year, and she's sassy, opinionated, and fiercely independent.

So when Flo's door opened, I braced myself for her response to the unsolicited help. The kids meant well, but Flo might consider their random act of kindness more of an insult, as if they didn't believe she could take care of herself.

I'm guilty of that on occasion myself, so focused on self-sufficiency that I turn aside offers of assistance with an impatient shake of my head. Giving comes easily to me, but receiving, not so much. I tend to overlook what's really being offered: the opportunity to gift someone with genuine gratitude.

I call it gracious receiving, and I should have remembered that Flo is a master of the art.

She came out of the house with a tray of cookies and lemonade, and thanked everyone. She made those teens feel like heroes.

I turned away from my window with a smile on my face, knowing I'd received a gift, too.

The next time I talk to Flo, I'll have to thank her for reminding me of the power – and pleasure – of gracious receiving.

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