Smoothing Hackles: What I Learned Making Friends with a Mean Dog

Teeth bared, the brindle fur went spiky on the back of his neck. He loped toward me, barking hostility. Face to face. No way around. Aggression in attack stance at arm’s reach.

One enters cross cultural ministry expecting to experience the new and different. The sheer width and breadth of the unknown had me wrestling with the Lord over our calling, long before we landed. I find I rather enjoy knowing how to do things well. Embracing God’s plan for our family meant peeling off my pride and independence at a deep level.

Childlike faith is a sweet concept, but sometimes a messy action.

Thumping your face into the glass wall of the language barrier can make your eyes water.  Discovering a driving law by getting a traffic ticket is humbling.  Ordering seafood pizza and finding curly tentacles on board is surprising (and chewy).

Figuring out how life works in a new country puts you in minor status again. You walk like a child, learning the streets. You talk like a child, learning the vocabulary. You pray like a child, learning to trust.

When we take our Abba Father’s hand in open-hearted faith, he gives us new vistas to understand his glory in.

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So when this muscular bundle of canine fury parked himself in my path declaring, “You shall not pass,” I stopped dead away.

I thought about our last encounter, where I had picked up a stone to throw. Some dogs skitter away at that tactic. This one had responded like an MMA fighter yelling, “Bring it!” Thankfully, the owner had heard the commotion and wrestled said beast back behind their home gate.

With a chance to start fresh, I looked at warm brown fur and amber eyes. I spoke calmly that he was okay. I wasn’t going to hurt him or the home he was protecting. As I set the tone of reassurance, I saw ears relax and hackles smooth. He sniffed my hand. Not only did I avoid battle, I made a friend.

Lots of dogs wander the streets of this country. Learning to watch body language and diffuse tension is a skill I never expected to grow out on my morning run. The locals often walk with a stick, ready to swing. I respect that sometimes defense is necessary. Not every puppy responds to social graces.


I see myself in those golden eyes, though. I can be all too willing to narrow my gaze when someone barks back at my sharpness. I am grateful to find safety and reassurance when I’m frazzled. At the heart of things, I want to make friends.

Each day, this land of “new and different” gives me a fresh opportunity to expand my vocabulary in the way of care and connection. Octopus on pizza may not be your thing. You may walk easier with a stick handy for growling dogs.

But love goes well on everything.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. 

We love each other because he loved us first.

1 John 4: 16, 17a, 19 NLT

On We Drive

It was time to turn off the radio.  The lights on the dash were dimming as we drove onward into the western prairie.  We were headed toward the other edge of Nebraska, and a campground family gathering somewhere we had never been before.  Somewhere we didn’t quite know how to get to.  But even in our newlywed existence, we were pretty sure we could recognize alternator failure.  My baby-faith was rushing in where angels might fear to tread, praying miracles over us like thunder.  In the meantime, we were conserving electricity by nixing the tunes and the A/C.  The summer night was humid and the darkness thick out on the country road.

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Our alternator (and the angels) got us as far as a convenience store near the campground.  Out where cellphones had trouble reaching, we explained our situation to the clerk and called collect again to our Heavenly Daddy.  It was only a few minutes later that our nephew walked in with his buddies.  He must have been surprised at our excitement to see him, and then our commandeering their car to drive us safely in.  We weren’t.  We had been expecting God to make a way.

The lights are dimming down on our time here in Omaha.  It’s time to forsake Craigslist in favor of the Goodwill drop-off drive-thru.  If you stop by our house, odds are we will try to give you something.  We just got all our official documents to apply for Costa Rican residency, and the suitcases are filling up.  We don’t know exactly how it will look to get from here to there—closet/cabinet status is improving but not yet empty, our house is still waiting to meet its new owners, our monthly funding is at 56%—but our faith is driving on.  We know God will make a way.

Be strong and courageous!  Don’t be afraid or discouraged. . .for there is a power far greater on our side!  We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!  2 Chronicles 32:7, 8a

My Inner Bilbo

“. . .it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

As Bilbo made his dash to join the adventuring dwarves and lose his reputation of being respectfully predictable, one of his first laments was missing his pocket-handkerchiefs.  I have enjoyed the humor of that little scene recently as I made a batch of them for our family to try out.   Inspired by a friend’s table and hankering for a bit of sewing, I’ve become interested in making everyday cloth napkins for our family.  Considering my abundance of narrow quilting remnants, I decided to start on a smaller scale with some hankies.  (We like them, but I won’t go into the blow-by-blow.)

Making something useful out of something that I already had–and wasn’t using–is always a personal joy, but there’s been more to this project than wiping kissers and sneezers.  A sense of home.  A new family tradition.  In this time of releasing so much of our family’s way of doing life, my heart is hungry to tuck another feather in the nest we are making in Costa Rica.  Like Bilbo, I enjoy my comfort.  Yes, I am glad we won’t have to buy paper napkins and as many tissues in the future, or send our landfills another offering.  But mostly I think of meals that we will eat, conversations shared, and prayers made over that cloth for years to come.  When we move from our home of 7 years to an apartment in San Jose for 8-10 months of language school, and later to a rental house in Atenas to serve at the Home of Life, they will lay on the table as a thread of continuity.  A little luxury speaking the truth that the life our family shares is not defined by the space we share it in.

Today I spent some of my Christmas money on yards of beautiful fabric, a peaceful swirl of blues and greens for most days, a black print for spaghetti dinners.  And as we continue to move through the next few months letting go of what doesn’t fit with our calling, I will be stitching on the background for new memories.  I’m channeling my inner Bilbo, fluffing up my faith to set out upon this journey, and tucking away a little comfort for the road.

Photograph and a Tutorial on Napkin Making at Blissfully Content.