How to Hug a Cactus in 5 Simple Steps

How to Hug a CactusHow to Hug Love a Cactus

Tears popped out of my eyes when the voice on the other end of the line growled an angry “What?!”

I don’t know why the tone of voice made me cry. Perhaps because it felt like the sudden, unexpected jolt of pain one gets when one brushes up against a cactus. Many a time whilst wandering out in the desert I’ve inadvertently touched a cactus—and the results always prove painful.

Sometimes, the sharp spines produce instantaneous pain and draw blood (like the time a cactus cluster impaled me while riding my mountain bike down a trail).How to Hug a Cactus

Other times, one thinks one has escaped unscathed from a cactus encounter only to find that tiny, invisible, hair-like spines have imbedded themselves in one’s skin. Those take a strong light and a pair of tweezers to remove.

How to Hug a CactusWhen I first lived in the desert, after spending most of my growing up years in the lush Pacific Northwest, encounters with cacti always surprised me. The locals pointed out one particular flavor of cacti and claimed that the Jumping Cholla could jump out and attach itself to unwary hikers.

At first, I had no patience with the desert and its wasteland of browns and dearth of beauty. For four years we lived on the edge of the desert and wandered in to camp and hike and bike and explore.

Each foray into the desert revealed beauty—ocotillo in the spring with gaudy red flowers waving frantically from narrow, spiny limbs; unexpected snowstorms in the winter laying a soft, transient carpet of white over browns and beiges; kangaroo rats hopping close to our campfire to investigate the trespassers.


The fifth spring we lived in the desert produced a miracle of flowers such as we had never seen before. The winter rain and sunshine had created the perfect combination to bring forth verbena in a flashy, stunning carpet of violets, pinks and whites. All that hidden potential burst forth and flourished in a cacophony of color.

The next winter, each rainstorm buoyed my hopes that I’d have another chance to wander through carpets of flowers out in the desert. I eagerly packed up for our first drive of the spring—fully expecting to find the same beauty I had seen the year before.

Alas, only a few verbena greeted me as we drove down one of our favorite four-wheeling roads. And then we got stuck. I grabbed my camera and got out of the truck while the men did their manly thing. Instead of verbena, I discovered that almost every cactus plant had sprouted flowers!

How to Hug a CactusThe frequent stops for getting the vehicles unstuck gave me the perfect opportunity to photograph hundreds of different blooms. Once again, the desert surprised me with its ever-changing beauty.

We all have people like that in our life. People with whom our relationships seem dry and barren and without hope (not to mention full of prickly feelings). So, while I might not be able to REALLY give advice on how to hug a cactus, I can share the parallels between what I’ve learned about the desert and what I’ve learned about prickly people.

1. Keep coming back for more. Just like I didn’t write off the desert after my first encounter, so I am learning to not get discouraged when dealing with prickly people. Each interaction brings to light new information that helps me feel compassion.

2. Keep a record of the beauty you discover. I used my camera to document the changes and the close-up beauty of the desert. My college friend’s daughter recently passed away in a tragic accident. My friend has been reading through her daughter’s prayer journal and discovered that when Maddy had a problem with a person, she would list all the positive things she could think of about her ‘prickly person.’ Then, she would pray for that person. What a beautiful way for a young person to handle the stresses and disappointments of relationships and interactions. My heart felt humbled when I read about Maddy’s method of dealing with prickly persons, and I plan on incorporating her method into my life.

3. Beauty will bloom. You might not be present for the once-in-a-decade display of desert flowers, and you might miss the results of your kind behavior towards a prickly person. But someone else will see it and benefit from the trickle-down beauty of you treating a prickly person with love, respect and kindness.

4. It’s not about you. Prickly people often don’t understand their own prickliness. Have patience and self-control. After all, the prickles and spines belong to the cactus.

5. Let the expert remove the prickles. Sometimes, it takes a strong Light to remove the spines that fester and irritate us. Only through my own relationship with God will I find healing from the unkind words or actions that irritate and fester. It’s not easy to let those wounds go sometimes, because it feels good to have a justification for our angry actions or unkindness towards a prickly person.

Let’s face it—we all have prickly people in our lives. Click To Tweet People who grouch and complain and seem friendly one minute and aggressive and angry the next. But we don’t have to let the cacti ruin our view. How have you dealt with prickly people in your life?

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Thanks for the insights about prickly people, Anita. I particularly liked the idea that while we might not see the results of our kind actions toward a prickly person, other people later on might reap the benefits.

    • That’s the thought I cling to the most some days! My actions might not bear fruit for a long time–but that’s ok because God sees time differently than we do!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…How to Hug a Cactus in 5 Simple StepsMy Profile

  • Thanks for this cool insight, Anita. I’ve never been to the desert, but there have been prickly people in my life. Plenty of them.

    And I’ve been one myself more often than I’d like to admit.

    I needed to be here tonight. For more reasons than one.

    Blessings, friend, as we make our way through this week. Your lessons go with me …
    Linda@Creekside recently posted…3 Cherished Little GuidebooksMy Profile

    • Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Linda :). I’ve been prickly, too (sometimes it takes a cactus to recognize a cactus 😉 ). One day, maybe you’ll get to see the desert in the spring!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…How to Hug a Cactus in 5 Simple StepsMy Profile

  • Anita,
    Lovely photos and wise words…#5 especially resonated with me 🙂
    Dolly@Soulstops recently posted…On Peter, process (& giving up perfectionism)My Profile

  • There really is beauty in the desert. Loved your photos. Cactus are a good analogy for prickly people and you make some good points. I particularly liked #5. How important to trust the expert with the hard people in our lives. Visiting today from #RaRaLinkUp.
    Ginger Harrington recently posted…Simple Encouragement When Work FailsMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ginger! I enjoyed more beauty in the desert this weekend when I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon–it looks so barren from the rim, but it’s a wonderland down there!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Relief for Cancer of the Human SoulMy Profile

  • What a great post Anita! I live in the SW and LOVE your photos. Just beautiful! — I love all your thoughts on handling prickly people too. I am going to write down the positives of those prickly people. That is a great idea. I also like #4. You are so right, it is not about them. I often drive myself crazy trying to figure out what I said or did wrong, when actually they are just prickly. Thanks for this post!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Robyn :). The desert is amazing–and all the creatures that survive there, too! I love Maddy’s method of dealing with people–I am definitely going to form that habit!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Is Jesus in Your Heart?My Profile

  • I remember driving across the desert in New Mexico, we had just crossed the panhandle of Texas and we were cruising – had the Eagles blaring on the stereo, windows open, cacti everywhere, tumbleweed blowing around – it was stunning in an odd way for this South Florida gal who was used to blue, green, palm fronds! Your writing makes me want to return to see all the colors of Spring. I’ve had several prickly people in my life – heck, I was a prickly person at times. Great post!
    Susan Shipe recently posted…make the connectionMy Profile

    • The desert is amazing, isn’t it?! I think we all have seasons of cactus-like behavior. I’m always grateful when someone reaches out to me and helps me realize there’s no need to throw up spiny barriers!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Is Jesus in Your Heart?My Profile

  • The timing of this post brings tears to my eyes. I’ve been hurt trying to hug a cactus…I just couldn’t exactly understand how it could be possible to really get close to the needles again without getting hurt. I should have known better. I should have tried a different method. I wasn’t prepared…and on…and on… This post gave me a completely different insight, reminding me of the beauty beneath the outer layer of hurt so many never move past. This just frankly hits too close to home right now…I’m going to have to re-read this again in a few days. I LOVE THE PICS too! I lived in Arizona for a few years! Memories!!!
    Bethany Boring recently posted…I’m With YouMy Profile

    • Aw, I’m sorry you’re having problems with prickly people, Bethany :(. It’s no fun. May the Holy Spirit grant you the wisdom and discernment that you need to keep loving on the prickly people!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Is Jesus in Your Heart?My Profile

  • Anita, stopping by from the Tell His Story link up (we’re ‘neighbors’) and typing to you from the lush Pacific Northwest (we live near Seattle).
    I especially liked number 4 and 5…. letting the Expert (Jesus) speak to people and the fact that we need to trust and pray the Holy Spirit will show the prickly people where the sharp points are….Easy to say but hard to do.

  • Oh friend… so much wisdom here! Such a great post – with doable and helpful tips! We all have ‘prickly’ people – and sometimes it only for a season, but other times it can last (seemingly) forever. Remembering the above points will help!
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…When a Writer’s Conference Connects More Than Writers and Opens More Than Doors… (Part One)My Profile

  • Sarah

    I really love this post, Anita. It’s SO hard to love prickly people well. I think #2 might be a game changer. I’m going to give it a try. 😉

    Oh, and the “have patience and self-control” thing you mentioned? I’m so good at imagining myself having it, but in the heat of the moment it all flies out the window.

    Good stuff today! 🙂

    • Thanks, Sarah! I’m good at imaging myself as being patient and full of self-control, too. Sometimes, I’m not. Ok, maybe more often than I’d like to admit. I get so wrapped up in MY schedule.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Is Jesus in Your Heart?My Profile

  • I love these tips, Anita! Good ones–each one. There’s a prickly person that’s in our rotation of meal deliveries. His apartment stinks, he never gets out of his chair, and he complains. So I force myself to be the one to go in each time because I know I need him in my life! 🙂 Yesterday I had the longest conversation with him yet; he was discouraged and although I had little words of consolation, hopefully a listening ear helped dull some of his sharp prickles.
    Lisa notes recently posted…When you show up, you bring heatMy Profile

    • I’m so glad that you have a chance to ‘hug a cactus’! It’s not easy to do what Jesus asks us to do sometimes. Cactus hugging is one of those hard things.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Is Jesus in Your Heart?My Profile

  • Anita, yes, you are so right. You remind my soul, sometimes we step back because we aren’t the ones to address the problem. There is so much faith and trust wrapped into that. What a fun analogy you used. Keep up the great posts! Cheering you on from the #RaRalinkup on Purposeful Faith.

    • Thanks for stopping by! It’s so hard to let God take care of the wounds, isn’t it?

  • I love the pictures and the hope they give me! It is too easy to write someone off instead of loving them like Jesus would.
    Sarah Donegan recently posted…My New American DreamMy Profile

  • Pingback: #TellHisStory: How to Make Space for Grace When You Struggle with Spiritual Jealousy (With a Book Giveaway!) | Jennifer Dukes Lee()

  • Love your analogy and the steps, Anita. Certainly the Expert can help us hug and love those prickly people in our lives. Visiting via #TellHisStory. (Congratulations on being the featured writer this week. #GoGodgo)
    Kristi recently posted…Is Control your Drawing Tool?My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kristi, and for your kind words. I’m so glad we have an Expert!

  • Anita! I’m so glad Jennifer featured you on #TellHisStory because I saw this title last week, and it caught my attention, but I hadn’t made it here yet to read it!

    This encourages me to no end friend, because my very closest friend is a sister 15 years younger than I, from another culture, and when we had a coffee date Monday, boy did she ever throw some prickles at me! Like you say, her prickles and spines were about her, and she apologized later. I have this fresh in my mind as I read your post. I especially like your point #2, keep in mind their positive points and keep praying!
    Betsy de Cruz recently posted…Stay-at-Home Mom, Your Work MattersMy Profile

    • Aw, thank you Betsy! I was so honored to be featured! I’m also glad that you found encouragement for dealing with the cacti in your life :).

  • Thank you. I needed to be reminded of the why. Sometimes loving prickly people is tiring and you want to snap and give up. It was so good to remember why it’s important to love them even when it’s uncomfortable. Now to find the balance so we don’t get attacked by those spikes that jump out at us 😉
    Becky Hastings recently posted…Have We Forgotten What Jesus Said?My Profile

    • Amen! Sometimes, we have to balance boundaries with loving–it’s a dance that only the Holy Spirit knows the steps to!