Charlotte’s Web and The Broken Way

I don’t know why I didn’t get it until that moment in the little theatre, sitting in the dark with the rest of the proud parents and grandparents, watching our 8- and 9-year-olds act it out for us.

It’s not sad. It’s beautiful. It’s gospel.

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I’ve read the book. Seen the movie—the old animated one—dozens of times. Was in the play as a middle-schooler when my school put it on.

The spider dies in the end. We all know this. Our beloved Charlotte saves her friend Wilbur, the pig whose days were numbered unless someone intervened.

And then her time is up.

As a child listening to my teacher read the story for the first time, as a 13-year-old acting it out, as a mom listening to my husband read the E.B. White classic aloud with the baby draped over one shoulder and our then 6-year-old on his lap, I got the sadness of Charlotte’s Web. 

That’s what it was—sad. Books about animals always are.

But then last week, that little girl who once curled up with her dad to listen to the tale became Charlotte in a (highly anticipated) 3rd-grade, 30-minute version.

I sat there perched on the second row of that little corner theatre, camera in one hand and phone in the other, and watched her intently.

And my heart broke all over the place, because as she spoke her last lines in her little voice and the lights dimmed, I—for the first time—fully wrapped my mind around what Charlotte had just done.

I finally got it. 


This is the year of opening myself up to compassion. In conversations with the handful of people who have wanted to hear about it, I tend to quip about how I tried to pick a different word for 2017—perhaps peace, or restCompassion sounded too hard. Painful. Like something I could potentially crash and burn at.

But when I am weak, He is strong. Glory to God.

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Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way was a Christmas gift from my husband. Truth be told, I’d dropped it into my Amazon wish list without having read any reviews or even peeking inside it. It’s the first of her books I own. I didn’t crack it open right away.

Along came that word, compassion.

In January I began to read. End of February and I’m crying and underlining my way through slowly, the message wrecking me one page at a time. Because it’s all about giving life away and finding, through the pain and the heartache and the brokenness of emptying ourselves out, that this is where we find fullness.

This is how we find life—by living not for ourselves. 

It’s take-a-deep-breath-and-exhale-slowly kind of stuff. It’s breaking me down.

“The world is brokenhearted and full of suffering, and if you listen to what life needs instead of what you need from it, you could fill the brokenness with your own brokenhearted love—and this will in turn fill you.

What if you were not afraid?”

{The Broken Way}

What if I wasn’t afraid of how much it might hurt—no, how much it will hurt—letting my heart break for people? For the people I already love, and for people I don’t know? Even for my enemies? 


My tiny 3rd-grader, she’s delicate as a pixie and hops about like some kind of leaping antelope—a springbok? a gazelle? I can’t put my finger on it. She has wispy blonde curls that are perpetually knotted up. Her voice is soft and sweet. She’s so lovely and full of emotion.

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The perfect little spider.

I’ve always worried that she is overlooked. Sometimes the quiet, cautious kids hang back—but they don’t miss the fact that as a result, occasionally they’re forgotten. I remember feeling that way, wondering if I might be good at something but not feeling noticeable enough to be given the chance.

But her teachers, they gave her a part to play, an important one. They made her Charlotte, and she took on the role with such heart. At least, I hoped that was the case, because she wouldn’t practice in front of us at home.

“I want it to be a surprise,” she said. So I tried not to be nervous.

Oh, it was the best surprise. I just didn’t expect it to affect me so deeply.


Wilbur and Charlotte are the most unlikely of friends. He faints at the thought of blood; she eats insects. He is whiny; she is eloquent. He’s only being raised to be slaughtered and eaten; she’s, well, a spider. Who likes spiders?

They have nothing in common. It doesn’t matter to Charlotte.

She knows that life is short and unfair, that her time in particular is just a blip, that she will procreate but never see her own babies.

So she resolves to give her life away instead of preserving it for the time she has. She empties herself of energy and resources for the sake of someone else, spinning words into webs to announce to the world that her friend the pig is something special.

She pours out her own life in order to save one.

“Time isn’t something you seize, it’s something you sacrifice.”

{The Broken Way}

I don’t know why I didn’t get it until that moment in the little theatre, sitting in the dark with the rest of the proud parents and grandparents, watching our 8- and 9-year-olds act it out for us.

It’s not sad. It’s beautiful. It’s gospel. 

The last exchange between my little girl, confident and sweet in all her earnestness as Charlotte the spider, and her friend since kindergarten, with so much heart and astonishment as Wilbur, bewildered by the magnitude of what he realizes she has done for him—well. God had a message I needed to receive, and He used my daughter to deliver it.

Wilbur: Charlotte, why did you do all this for me? I’ve never done anything for you.

Charlotte: You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. After all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little, we die. By helping you, perhaps I was lifting up my life a trifle. Heaven knows, anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

Wilbur: You have saved me, Charlotte, and I would give my life for you. I really would.

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It was a moment of all things coming together, and my eyes and my heart overflowed.

These kids, dressed as spiders and barnyard animals and country folk, their hard work learning to tell this powerfully moving tale, and doing it with such sweetness and humor and grace.

Compassion. The Broken Way.

Jesus pouring out life for a bunch of wrecked people who could do nothing to earn grace.

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

{Matthew 20:28}

Letting our hearts break and not being afraid. Filling the brokenness with brokenhearted love. Giving love and life away in order to find it.

Anyone’s life can stand a little of that.


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