Jack the Bulldog
My six-year-old daughter Audrey just may end up a vegetarian.
I read Charlotte’s Web earlier this year to Audrey and three-year-old Fiala, and the story impacted Audrey so greatly that she can no longer eat pork. She deeply empathizes with Wilbur. At first, my husband Martin thought this ridiculous — actually, he still does — but I could see in her tears that she was abundantly sincere, and we’ve decided to let her eat according to her conscience. Anyway, many people don’t eat pork for a wide variety of reasons.
Fiala, little stinker that she is, uses this as ammunition. “Aaaaaauu-dreeey,” she sing-songs across the table with a chunk of meat on her fork, “I’m eating piiii-iiig!”
Audrey bursts into tears (yet again), and I correct Fi, admonishing her on the graces of kindness.
Audrey’s tender heart toward all creatures great and small has changed the way I evaluate books. “How many moments in this story,” I search my memory, “will bring Audrey to tears?”
A week ago or so, I decided to read Little House on the Prairie to the girls. It’s not in the curriculum we use, and I think its omission is a travesty. The book is a must-read, in my estimation, for any American girl. I discovered the series when I was eight, and read it non-stop, much of it secretly by night-light, until I was finished with all nine books within a week, an experience that left me exhausted but completely satisfied. Shortly afterward — weeks, in fact — it was determined that I needed glasses. I’ve read that eyestrain cannot cause one to become near-sighted, but my experience makes me suspicious.
The Ingalls family, in the early pages of the story, sets off in the 1870s to parts West, possessions in a covered wagon, their dog Jack, described as a beloved brindle bulldog, trotting tirelessly under the wagon.
Completely as a side-note, in the last 18 months, our family has dog-sat both an English Bulldog and a French Bulldog. I cannot see either of those lazies trotting tirelessly anywhere. Jack must have been the longer-legged American Bulldog, or maybe even a Boxer. That’s just my own theory, though. :)
As the wagon fords a creek, suddenly the water violently swells and rises, sweeping even the mustang ponies off of their feet, threatening to upset the wagon. It’s quite a tense moment. When the family arrives on the other side of the creek, it is discovered that Jack is missing. Laura — and Audrey right along with her — is completely distraught.
I sat there as the chapter ended, a sobbing six-year-old on my left, an unmoved three-year-old on my right. Fi had sat contentedly through the whole thing, brushing a dolly’s hair, and was now happy that the reading was over and that she could get up and play. I put out my hand to hold her back, my mind racing. It had been a long time since I’d read the book, but I thought I remembered that Jack was discovered later to be completely fine and wholly alive. I surreptitiously flipped through the next chapter, and found, to my relief, that Jack’s “resurrection” happened in just a few more pages.
“Audrey,” I asked her, “would you like to keep reading?”
“NNNOOOOOO!!!” she emphatically wailed. “I never want to read that book again, EVER!!” She started to bolt. I caught her back.
“Little daughter,” I told her as gently as I could, “I know you’re very, very sad for Jack right now. I don’t want to leave you sad. Will you let me keep reading? I think what happens in the next chapter will make you happy again.”
“Nothing can make me happy!” she continued, very dramatically. “JACK’S DEAD!! HE DROWNED!! PA CAN’T FIND HIM! HE WASHED AWAY IN THE RIVER AND HE’S DEAD FOREVER!!!” In her tone and in her eyes, she was dripping with accusation: How could I read such horror to her? How could I even consider that she’d want to read about the death of a dog?? What was wrong with me???
I looked over again at Fiala, and marveled that there can be such different personalities in one family. Fi appeared to really not give a hoot what had happened to Jack. Those two little girls are opposites in nearly every way, the same as my oldest two boys, Ethan and Grant are. Grant is the anti-Ethan, and Fiala is the anti-Audrey.
In spite of both girls’ wishes, I convinced both of them that they’d be best off, listening to another chapter. They settled in again, Fi back to her dolly-brushing, and Audrey with a grumph and a pout, tears still streaming down her cheeks. I resumed reading.
It’s also funny, what a blank slate children are. What is cliché and so very transparent to a long-time book reader like myself came as an absolute shock to Audrey: The “wolf” who threatened the Ingalls’ camp that night was not a wolf at all, but an absolutely worn out, mud-crusted bulldog named Jack.
Audrey squealed with relief and joyous shock, literally jumping up and down at Jack’s resurrection.
Crisis cut short, tender feelings soothed, normal life and hope in good books and a mother’s heart restored.
I shared a slightly abbreviated version of this story with my friend Kathy on Monday, figuring that, as an intense co-animal-lover, she’d appreciate Audrey’s tender, powerful feelings toward Jack.
Instead, she cocked her head and looked at me. “Is that what God does with us?” she mused. “There might be something in that.”
Thrown for a bit of a loop, I think I stood there with my jaw slack.
We had just finished an epic conversation on what God does with us, when things are pending, unfinished, when the results are not easily seen, when the light at the end of the tunnel is a pinprick point, too far to fathom, and we are battling the fear that our heart’s desires might be low on God’s priority list…
“Is that what God does with us?” she posited again. “Read the next chapter in our lives just a little sooner, out of mercy for our tears?”
I thought of my interaction with Audrey, and could clearly see the parallel. I had felt it important to not just flat-out tell Audrey, “Jack lives.” In those moments when Audrey was dissolving in a puddle of emotion, I made the decision that it was important for her character, and just for the appreciation of tension in literature, and to experience the coming joy, to not reveal the outcome in advance. Yet, I didn’t want to abandon her to her heartsick, out-of-control self.
She was so sincerely broken for Jack’s death, yet I knew that Jack didn’t actually die! I tried to soothe her, knowing things would truly be better — and very shortly! — and was almost unable to do so, because Audrey was almost violently upset at both the book, and at me.
I know that not every sad story has such a joyous outcome.
Still, though, is that what God does with us?
I’d never considered it before.
I’m learning to trust that He has my heart in His hands, my tender, short-sighted, and often mistakenly-distraught heart.
I have 100% iron-clad, unwavering confidence in the God of Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
I know He’ll supply my NEEDS.
I have a 100% iron-clad, unwavering confidence that He’ll supply all of my NEEDS.
But my wants? The deep desires of my heart? The things that I long for, that stir the deepest part of me? The things that speak peace and beauty to my soul, and satisfy my emotions??
I’m much less confident of that.
I’m very aware that, very often, He’s much more concerned with building my character, molding me into the person of Jesus Christ, than He is with answering every whim of a prayer, every emotion-sotted plea.
Trusting my Father God with my heart is much more challenging than trusting Him with my needs.
Yet, does He sit with me on the little sofa in the quiet room, reading the story of my life to me, tenderly calming me by — on occasion — compelling me to sit still just a while longer and listen, because He knows that the outcome, which currently looks so bleak, will actually be filled with JOY, the kind of joy where I squeal and jump up and down with elation and relief and unabashed surprise???
Perhaps He does.
I think He does.
I think I may be experiencing a bit of that, right now.
My heart can scarcely believe it, but I’m picturing Him, right now, turning those pages, gentle voice and all-knowing mind drawing me back from the brink, longing to return to me the hope that I have almost abandoned.
Harder, indeed, to believe that, than believe that He’ll meet my needs.
But, thanks to Jack the bulldog, and an insightful friend, I’ll listen more carefully — both now and in the future — for my God to scan those pages ahead, and do more than console me, but reveal the truth that was hidden, a truth that holds satisfaction, and which does meet the desires of my heart, the heart He created.
Posted on May 16, 2012, in Books for children, Character Development, Christian Living, Dogs, Encouragement, Family, God/Christianity/Church, Homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting, Relationship, Sad Things, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.