Jen Bleakley, author of Pawverbs: 100 Inspirations to Delight an Animal Lover’s Heart, believes that God uses animals to both teach and heal us. In this interview, Jen discusses how animals can be tangible tie-ins to the wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and she gives us a glimpse into how pets can be one of God’s greatest gifts. Listen in for delightful insights about the furry friends that we don’t want to live without!
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- Jen’s newest book Pawverbs for the Dog Lover’s Heart: Inspiring Stories of Friendship, Fun, and Faithfulness
- Jen’s website: https://www.jenniferbleakley.com
- Episode #209 Transcript — coming soon!
- When is a time that being with an animal gave you comfort?
- What’s a lesson that you’ve learned from watching animals?
- In what ways are animals gifts from God to humans?
Featured Author — Jen Bleakley
Jennifer Marshall Bleakley is also the author of Joey: How a Blind Rescue Horse Helped Others Learn to See; a former child and family grief counselor; and a children’s curriculum writer.
When Jennifer is not typing away on her beat-up computer, you can find her spending time with her talented software engineer/woodworking husband, her two growing children, and her very needy Golden retriever. She and her family live in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Transcript — scroll to read here (or download above)
Grit ‘n’ Grace — The Podcast
Episode #209: How to Tap the Joy and Wisdom of Your Furry Friends
Note: This is a machine-generated transcript that is only about 60-70% accurate.
Jen, we’re so excited to have you here today. I’m especially excited. I got to read an early copy of your book and I’m so crazy about it. So what prompted you to write a book that brings together the book of Proverbs is stories of animals? Thank you so much for having me. Um, you know,
I, I’ve often said that animals are my love language. I know that’s not one of the original five, but I really think it should be. And so as I said, even as a painfully shy little girl that found it very difficult to speak to adults, even kids my own age, I was able to talk to animals. So animals have always had a special place in my heart and allowed me to learn kind of at my own pace, even social skills. Honestly, the most important lessons they taught me were things about God. And so even as a young child, I I learned from animals, and I’ve related to animals. And so after writing my first book, Joey, which is a true story of how God worked through an animal, a horse to help people see hope. You know, it just really ignited that childlike passion that I had for animals and started seeing just attributes of God and lessons all around me. And we at the time had a puppy. And for those who have raised puppies, there’s a lot of opportunities to see some life lessons. And at the time, our pastor was going through a series in Proverbs, and we were just having conversations with our kids about like foolish and wise behavior. And unfortunately, our Puppy was cast in the role, the full, you know, far too many times. But it just it was such a practical way to teach our children, some of these spiritual truths that we were learning and proverbs and so it really started as stories for my kids. And then it after writing Joey and talking with an editor, it kind of morphed into what what the book became, which is just these short stories of featuring animals, just doing what animals do, but then the lessons that we can learn from them and I just tied it to Proverbs because that is such a practical book. I like to call it like wisdom nuggets, my kids, a big chicken nugget fans. And so I feel like proverbs is really like nuggets of wisdom, and they just lent and I’m a big fan of puns, and so I couldn’t resist it. The title Proverbs.
I was gonna ask who came up with the title? Was that your idea?
It was Yeah, back. What are the stories for my kids and it was a mama puppy and our mama dog and her little puppies and it just it was it’s always been Proverbs. Okay, props, serious props. Okay,
tons. How does proverbs relate to your first book? Joey which we are both huge fans of how does proverbs relate to that book?
You know, it’s basically the same concept like whereas Joey was just one big cohesive story about the ways that, that people learn something about God through the horse, how they saw the light of hope through Joey’s life. It was really how God works through this one horse, and probably hundreds of ways. And then Paul verbs is really 100 short stories. So it shows us lessons that we can learn once again, from animals, but this time, it’s just short stories, but there’s 100 of them and we feature you know, lots of different animals in the book. And there is one story of a horse so the horse made it into the book as well. We tried not to be super technical that you had to pause to make it in the book. So we added some clothes and details and some others, you know, it’s it’s really, it was Born I feel like proverbs was kind of born from Joey, I just wanted to keep going so many people so many readers of Joey were so kind to share with me stories from their own lives of lessons that they had learned either through a horse or through another animal. So it just felt like the the next, you know, logical step to do.
Okay, so I’m going to go off script here and I’m going to ask just a spoiler alert. How many of those hundred stories end with the animal dying? I just, I just need to know.
They’re not none of the animals die in the book. I don’t think there might be one scram. There’s one story where I think that dog does die. There’s a the one that made me cry as much as speckles was, Oh, I see. But this story, it’s about buddy, a bird, a bird named Bobby and a dog named buddy. And buddy was 16 years old when he died, and the bird is a McCall. I think the ones that talk Call had learned Karen the owners whistle for buddy and took the bird would when the bird got bored. The bird would call for buddy and the dog would go run in the room and like they would play like they were friends. And so after 16 years the dog dies. Bobby three years ago is when buddy died to this day Karen said every day Bobby the bird whistles for
So I’m just like, for the love. So I wrote that story and I had to step away.
And the woman she’s she’s a friend, but she’s my Sunday school teacher from childhood. So I love her and I love her heart. So that one that one was a little hard, but most of there’s no other there’s nothing like a special stuff. Okay. Yeah.
And I want to just as an aside, also one of the things I kept thinking when I was reading proverbs is how Wonderful this would be for family devotions because kids love animals so much. I mean, it’s for adults also. But kids love pet so much. And like you said, you used it for stories. And so if you if our listeners have grandchildren or children in their lives, this is a wonderful book for that. So natural ways to teach spiritual lessons. Yeah, there you go. So we’re talking about the death of animals. So that kind of transitions into this question, but you worked as a grief counselor before eventually becoming a writer. Do you find yourself using your counseling training and how you write in work now?
You know, I do and that was that was one of the sweetest surprises in all of this because I’ll be honest, I only worked for a couple years as a grief therapist before. My husband has job. You know, there is a job relocation and I was pregnant at the time and so I just ended up by God’s grace. able to stay home with my kids. And I’d always kind of question like Florida What was that? You know, like, I really felt like he had called me into that line of work and I loved it. And I met some of the most precious people, I feel like they taught me infinitely more than I could have possibly offered them. But after my my counseling background is what led me to hope brains because a friend who was a social worker, she and I were both raising kids and weren’t working in the traditional sense with our counseling degree. And she was on the board at the time of hope ratings. And she’s like, you know, with your background, it might be a good place for you to volunteer. And she knew I was just kind of a little restless, just wanting to do something. And she didn’t know that I had zero horse experience. You know, I could greet people and say hi, but that’s what brought me out there. And that was the night I met Joey. And so even just how God orchestrated that but then in touch with people, you know, I really use that background draw from that background because it’s all about helping people tell their story. And that was a huge aspect of Joey and you know, spoil for Joey. He’s not still with us. And so calling to interview his past owners and people that had loved him, it was almost like doing grief therapy to let them know he’s not still here and to let them process that. And then, you know, because the book does touch on grief, being able to draw from that. And then with Proverbs, just collecting stories, being able to actively listen to people to, you know, just invite them and honestly, to honor their story. And just to treat it with respect and to treat it carefully. So yes, I’m so grateful for that backgrounds in counseling, and it definitely makes a little more sense now.
Well, your storytelling is done with so much heart and compassion. So it’s your, your counseling shows through in really beautiful ways.
Absolutely. So how do you see animals being part of our mental health and or our spiritual health?
You know, in so many ways, there’s a fundamental rule or principle, I guess, in grief counseling, but it’s really why grief counselors exist. And it’s this that in times of grief, you have an increased need to be understood, but a decreased ability to be understanding. And that sums up why grief counseling exist is that when you’re going through grief, you you desperately want to be understood, but you’re, you’re exhausted emotionally, psychologically, and, and you just, it’s almost impossible in some cases to be under to extend that understanding to someone else. And I think that is where some of our animals can enter in and and, you know, even just The animals willingness to sit with you and to listen, sometimes, you know, I often felt so bad, why I didn’t feel bad getting paid because, you know, I was working, but I like listening to people, they don’t need me to do anything for them. They just needed someone to just listen and understand. And I worked a lot with parents and children. And a lot of times, it’s just they, you know, one is trying to protect the other and so just to really be raw to let yourself feel and process and animals are fantastic listeners and they don’t tell her secrets, you know, and so, I think even just from that, that viewpoint of having a listening ear, but then you add to that companionship, I mean, I feel like with this pandemic, you know, just just the fact that we have these little furry, feathery, scaly companions is is wonderful, a wonderful gift The ability to just take care of another living creature, I think oftentimes, the fastest way to heal is to take care of someone else, even if that someone else has a fur coat. And so I think there’s many different ways that animals can, can help us heal or offer support. Which is why I think it’s just one of God’s kindnesses to sprinkle so many animals on this planet.
Hmm, absolutely. Well, and it’s so funny because this series is all about relationships this season. And so and sometimes, you know, I think we like we kind of minimize there’s this whole cultural weirdness like we’re obsessed with our animals, but you don’t want to prioritize them too much.
You know what I mean?
It’s fun to be talking about the depth of relationship that we have with our animals and how God God uses them in our lives. So although proverbs is a sorry, although proverbs is a part of the Bible, many See it is a universal source of wisdom. So what are some of the main lessons you learned from reading proverbs and writing proverbs?
You know, I think really one of the biggest lessons is that God is the source of wisdom and that it is to kind of sell like a proverb. It is folly to look for wisdom somewhere else. And so I think that has really become one of the the fundamental lessons that that true wisdom comes from God and and just the need to to turn to him to turn to his word to look to Him to be that author and creator of life and of wisdom and just keeping our eyes on him even when we stumble even we don’t get it right. To continue to go back to him has really been just a an incredibly powerful kind of overarching theme for me in all of Proverbs. I will say it gets really hard to keep proverbs and proverbs separate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told someone just turned to Proverbs chapter
what I said it together
I was like
but I think the other thing and it is it’s another pun and I think God just speaks to me sometimes in puns I’m so grateful but the whole pause and ponder and pause and pray which of course in the book, you know, at the end of each story, I have a pause pa Ws and ponder and pause and pray. But the idea that when reading proverbs I used to have a tendency to just kind of power through it, like let me just read a bunch at a time. But then writing the book and just sitting with one tiny little section, sometimes not even a whole verse, sometimes just focusing on one section of the verse really helped me see choose in new ways just slowing down which is another gift and the animals Give us is helping us learn to just slow down.
Oh, you know I am I always tell people I’m a dog person and a cat convert. And right now we’ve got an orange tabby and named Rififi and my Facebook feed has nothing but Rififi pictures and he does he’ll get on me and he’ll need me with his with his little paws because he got his mama and I’m I’m paralyzed I can’t move and you know we know in our family if somebody’s got a cat on them they you know pretty much have to be waited on sides to move you know yeah but that’s that I did not grow up with that at all. So it’s it’s been learning to pause and then Amy has been here so she knows that Ricky’s per you can literally hear his across the room. Oh my goodness, the most comforting sound like it’ll dial me down. Oh, any
person his sleep den. He’s the happiest
Alright, so how can people And animals point is to God and His love and His truth.
It’s so many ways I feel like another one of God’s kindnesses is the fact that we can discover some of his attributes and his heart through these animals. And you know, whereas someone might have been really hurt by another person or especially someone in the church and maybe maybe they have a hard time they’re in a season where it’s just difficult for them to hear truth from another person, just how kind of of God to kind of imprint some of his attributes and qualities in an animal and so, you know, a dog line with you their companionship or their loyalty, their unconditional love of cats natural curiosity and and creativeness. Because our cats can be somewhat creative in what they choose to do and you know, The birds how they just do what God intended them to do the song that they’re always singing or how they’re always gathering and and there’s just so much that if will look at it and look past the surface and pause and ponder and really consider, we can learn so much about the heartbeat of God Himself through the animals that he created. And of course, we as humans are his image bears but I think he’s given us little clues to himself in the animals that he’s surrounded us the power of a lion, which I know I don’t think anyone has a pet lion, maybe they do and more power to them. But um, you know, from from the big animals, the the strength of a horse, that it’s just fascinating to me to really look and see what you can discover about God. From the animals. I consider them kind of like his ambassadors of grace and His kindness and some of its attributes. And so I feel like there’s so much and the bible talks a lot about it. Animals from telling us to look at that the ants and consider its ways and the fact that Jesus wrote in on a on a mama donkey and her little baby. You know, there’s just so many stories of animals in the Bible too. So I think there’s a reason why God wants us to look to them.
Well, you’ve just mentioned this wide variety of pets and animals and a lot of this variety made it into the book, but we want to know what was the weirdest pack or animal that made its way into popper. I feel like
the one that will probably surprise the most people actually there’s two they’re both in the reptile family and I once upon a time swore I would never have reptiles on our house. And then we had kids. So we have a bearded dragon in our family. His name is Captain Tim. And I can’t say I have a lot of affection towards him, but I appreciate him. And so he made it in the book. And as did a leopard gecko. So There’s a leopard spotted Gecko and we kind of jokingly refer to him as the protocol Gecko because he escaped his tank and went on a four month joy ride through the neighborhood only to be found alive which is incredible to me. So, I would say probably the reptiles there’s bunnies and squirrels, a horse dogs and cats. There is a dolphin in the book, which I love dolphins, dogs and dolphins are my two most favorite animals. And so there’s a story of a dog and a dolphin that are best friends, which I think is just incredible.
Oh, fun. So Jen, what is your hope for readers of Proverbs?
I think my biggest hope is that just in reading this collection of stories, people will find comfort, they will find a little bit of joy and that they will find hope that that there’s a purpose God has a purpose. For a gecko, surely he has a purpose for us. And I feel like right now with the way the world is we could all use some therapy animals and I feel like proverbs is offers 100 little therapy animals that are willing to come sit right beside you and help you pause and ponder just who God is and who we are to him and just so many other really powerful and yet simple lessons.