My back ached with my heavy load as I walked through the neighborhoods of the small town in South Dakota. I was delivering newspapers to the North Side, which was not considered the most congenial area. The people on the affluent West side of town tended to feel uneasy; car doors were promptly locked when they would be compelled to venture through the crude and unpolished neighborhoods of the North Side.

I wasn’t from the West Side though. I was from the North side, and had been all my life. My parents were simple, God fearing people, humble and poor. They struggled to just get the food on the table, even more so since my father had sustained a crippling injury impeding him from returning to his respectable occupation.

If there was anything that I would desire above and beyond the bare necessities, it was on my shoulders. I wasn’t bitter about it. I knew there were those who had it more difficult than I. And since I eagerly welcomed any opportunity to be outside in the fresh air and the sun, a paper route was just the thing to enable me to buy some of the more luxurious things I wanted, like socks that weren’t hand me downs, or a nice pen for school.

But for a slight girl of 14, the paper route pushed my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual limits.

Weighing over 100 pounds, the sheer weight would nearly tip me over.

It would sometimes take two people to get the huge awkward load of newspapers on my shoulders. Often weighing over 100 pounds, the sheer weight would nearly tip me over. I could hardly move. But somehow I managed, keeping in mind that for every paper I dropped off the load became just a little bit lighter.

I was apprehensive about being alone and vulnerable while I did my work. Not only was I a girl, but I didn’t look like the other girls. I wore modest clothing that made me stick out like a sore thumb in the rough neighborhoods. I asked God to protect me, and I fully believed that He would, but it didn’t always completely shore the anxious waves of nervousness that would sometimes creep up.

It was a hot day and I wasn’t thinking about how I looked or if I stood out from the crowd. I was just trying to get through. Even with the dry heat of South Dakota, the sweat poured down my forehead, burning my eyes as it rolled by and dripped off my chin.

Then I saw it. The ugliest dog I’d ever seen in my life. It was so ugly, it almost made me nauseatetd. Its coloring was a loathsome blend of tans and oranges; its fur was sporadic at best. The medium-sized dog looked brackish, forlorn, and awkwardly put together, but there was something in its eyes. It had the eyes of a dove. I could tell it was gentle and good. Despite the miserable conditions of the day and the fact that I could hardly walk under hundreds of newspapers that hung heavily on my thin shoulders, I shuffled over to the ugly dog, spoke softly to it, patted its head and gently stroked behind its ears. I wished I could have given it more attention, but I had to move on.

I shuffled over to the ugly dog, spoke softly to it, patted its head and gently stroked behind its ears.

Throughout the following summer weeks, I often saw the dog at the same sun-baked gravel alley where I’d first seen it. And each time I made sure to say hello, pat its head, and give it some attention.

One day I didn’t see the dog, so I continued on, passing by a yard with a row of bushes set further back. A sudden, loud rustle startled me, and in terror I watched as a small, vicious dog erupted from the bushes, tearing through the leaves right at me, with teeth flashing and blood in its beady, little eyes.

The ferocious dog pummeled towards me; I was practically immobilized with the weight I was carrying. With my heart pounding in my ears and pulse racing, I swayed, trying to keep my footing as I braced for impact.

Suddenly, a swift motion caught my eye; a low threatening growl reached my ears. It was the ugly dog! Ears flat, nose flared, teeth barred, hair raised, its body taut, terse, and ready for action. It had firmly blockaded itself between myself and the pithy offender like a brick wall. The small dog’s ferociousness vaporized as it gave a surprised yelp and turned a quick, surly heel, vanishing back to the dark bushes from where it came.

Waves of relief and intense gratitude swept over me. I had been saved.

I heartily thanked the ugly dog, rubbed its ears, massaged its neck, and patted its head. I would be forever indebted and appreciative.

As I walked away, a sense of awe settled upon me and hot tears rolled down my face as I thank God for looking after me. And I thought to myself, Look at what a difference it made showing kindness to a forlorn creature like this ugly dog.

And that’s when I made the conscious decision to greet all people, even strangers from the West Side, with a warm, friendly smile.