Ellie is sprawled in the front yard, soaking up the sunshine.

She refuses to come inside. When I asked her to, she managed to glare at me with only one eye open.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, but I want to take a nap, too. And I don’t like to leave her outside when I’m, you know, unconscious.

I suppose I could take my nap on the lawn—if we didn’t live near a busy street, and I wouldn’t get a sunburn in about 2 minutes (even with a blanket; trust me, I’ve tried), and the grass was halfway comfortable, and I wouldn’t wake up every time the neighborhood kids rode by on their bikes.

She herself doesn’t really sleep out there, either. She’ll doze off for a few minutes, and then she’ll (somehow) hear a squirrel or something trying to sneak past, and she’ll jerk her head up and go on the prowl—until she realizes her rope doesn’t reach across the driveway, and then she’ll sit perfectly still, all tensed up, until the squirrel wanders away and she gives up and flops on the grass and starts all over again.

So, from a practical standpoint, and because it’s Sunday afternoon and the Sunday afternoon nap is practically a biblical command (“Thou shalt do no work on the Sabbath Day…”), she’ll have to come in.

I can be gentle about it, though. I could storm out there and grab her collar and drag her indoors—or I can find a piece of cheese (her favorite thing) and ask her to choose to come in. Maybe she can’t process all the logical reasons it makes sense to sleep inside, but she can understand that I’m approaching her with love.

Yesterday, as I was putting on socks, I told Ellie we were going to ride in the car (also her favorite thing). She was so excited that she jumped up on the bed and then swiped a paw at me, catching me right in the lip. It hurt, too. “Ow!” I said, loudly, and felt my mouth for blood—and then I petted her. Gently. Because I forgive her for hurting me accidentally, and because I know she doesn’t know better, at least not yet, and because I want her to know that I’m not leaving her just because she made a mistake. 

I hope that’s what love is. Real love, I mean, not the romantic mushy kind, or the abstract “love thy neighbor” idea—but the real, practical, “I care about you even when you’re difficult” kind of love. I hope that’s how I love Ellie. I hope that, in her own way, that’s how she loves me.

And I hope that’s how God loves us: with a gentle, forgiving, patient love that doesn’t end because we make mistakes, a love that tries to work with us when we’re stubbornly sitting on the front lawn instead of being safe inside the house.

Gotta go find some cheese.