“But if you are patient, and you wait long enough,
That dog will eventually come out from under the porch.”
~ Grandpa Fourkiller, The Cherokee Word for Water
It is almost impossible to accept that there are people in modern America who do not have access to clean drinking water. Nonetheless, this was the reality that greeted Wilma Mankiller when she returned to Northeastern Oklahoma in the late 1980’s, after having lived in San Francisco for much of her life. A quick study, Wilma soon found herself working for the Cherokee Nation where she would put together a plan to bring clean drinking water to the people of the Bell and Oak Ridge communities.
As usual, however, there was a catch. In order to secure the federal grant funding necessary to pay for the project, the Cherokee people of Bell and Oak Ridge would have to volunteer their time to dig and install 18 miles of water line.
After several failed attempts to build support among the would-be volunteers, Wilma’s partner, Charlie Soap sought advice from his grandfather about how to encourage the people of these communities to overcome their fear of the assistance that was being offered to them. Charlie’s grandfather, himself not many generations removed from the forced removal of the Trail of Tears, shared with his grandson the story of the wounded dog.
“Have you ever heard the story of the wounded dog? When a dog is wounded, it will retreat to the safest place that it can find…maybe behind a rock, or underneath the porch of a house. If you try to reach out to that wounded dog, even though your intentions are good, the dog is likely to bare its teach and growl at you. If you get too close, the dog may even bite you. But, if you are patient and you wait long enough, that dog will eventually come out from under the porch.”
Wilma and Charlie began to travel throughout the communities of Bell and Oak Ridge, asking the people what they could do to help, and spending their days doing odd jobs for the people in the community. In time, both communities would learn to trust again, and would come together to install the 18 miles of water line that is still bringing clean water into those communities today.
Emotionally injured people are skeptical and scared, like a scorched and weary earth cheated out of the life-giving waters of emotional security and health. Whether you were the cause of the injury or not, emotionally injured people are likely to refuse your help even when your help is motivated by the best of intentions.
If God is calling you to be a healing chapter in someone else’s story of emotional pain, neglect, or abuse, then be willing to give them two of the greatest gifts that they may never have received before: the gifts of compassion and time.