My younger daughter, our resident story teller, is working at a pet boarding facility this summer.  As we are easily amused and her best audience, this part time job is resulting in an endless supply of entertainment for our family.

Along with her nightly tales about the interesting cast of characters with whom she works, including a 1 pound frog named Ms. Jabba, I often get photos and texts during her shift introducing me to her favorite doggie friends.  I have had the pleasure of electronically meeting two bull dogs who became her mud wrestling companions, Chocolate and Sprinkles who were named by their 3 year old “sister” back home, and the ironically named Killer, a tiny Yorkie who has to be in a special crate in the kitchen because he can fit in between the bars in the regularly sized runs.  While I have yet to see his photo, I am also hoping to one day be introduced (at a distance) to Taco the Chihuahua who is housed near the giant, scary attack dogs because he is so aggressive.

Did I mention that the giant frog has teeth and eats baby mice?

CaliforniaOne day last week, I especially enjoyed meeting California, the Bichon.

“Mom, this is California the Bichon.  She is now my ward because she apparently got mad and bite-y last night.  I didn’t know this because they hadn’t marked her as a biter yet, so I went in and cuddled her anyway.  She loves me and didn’t bite.  She needs tons of help because she is so old and so now we are friends.”

Channeling my inner therapist and unable to resist the teachable moment, I answered thusly…

“So sweet!  I’m so glad she has you!  Dogs, like people, who get mad and bite-y are usually just scared and need love.”

Because we also live with an elderly Bichon, and because I can sometimes be “mad and bite-y” when I’m overwhelmed, I have a soft spot for California.  Poor little thing, away from home and frightened, surrounded by hundreds of barking dogs, lashing out at this parade of strangers coming at her from all directions.

Have you ever found yourself to be a little “mad and bite-y?”

Have you met a few folks along the way who clearly should have been marked as “biters?”

For me, the answer to both questions would be yes.

Sometimes, people have a reputation for being hard to love. Perhaps they have been labeled as “difficult” or “angry” or hard to handle. Sometimes, there is nothing to be gained from engaging that person who seems to want nothing more than to be left alone.

Other times, however, when I have chosen to approach a “prickly person” with love, grace, patience, an open mind and a listening ear, I have had a different experience.  A hand outstretched, a gentle smile, a willingness to hear that which is unsaid can often be an unexpected gift to someone who is hurting and afraid…and perhaps pushing us away by being “mad and bite-y.”  Sometimes, that person just doesn’t know how to ask for that which they need the most.

Anyone ever lived with a teenager, for example?

But it is difficult not to feel hurt and defensive when someone is actively pushing us away, isn’t it? Why should we keep trying with a person who doesn’t seem to want our love or help?

Why?  Because most of us, if we are honest, can remember a time when we were the person who didn’t know how to ask for what we needed most. And maybe someone looked past our prickliness, our anger, our hurt and loved us anyway.  Maybe it was someone who knew us well.  Or maybe it was Jesus or someone who loved Him enough to love us on His behalf…Jesus with skin.

It has been my experience that Jesus never gives up on us, even when we push Him away. And because Jesus never gives up on us, we can’t give up on one another.

Even when…perhaps especially when…we get a little mad and bite-y with one another.

Loving people when they are being hard to love is part of being brave.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Ephesians 4:2