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  • Courtney Ellis

Shoddy and Thriving

It’s easy to marvel at the wonder and intelligence of the natural world when watching nature shows or visiting zoos. Elephants are resourceful. Crows use tools. Give a rat enough snacks and it will figure out a maze at breakneck speed. We even regularly discover reasons for animal behaviors once thought bizarre—the American Woodcock taps the ground under its feet not to dance a silly dance (though it is a silly dance) but to trick the worms below into thinking they need to surface.


But Mourning Doves build shoddy nests.


Sometimes, animals just aren’t very good at their jobs. Mourning Doves are attentive parents, but their nests are bare-bones affairs, often so flimsy as to be see-through from below. It’s not uncommon for eggs or chicks to literally fall through the cracks. But have no fear, for Mourning Doves are prolific. They rebuild. The females will lay another clutch of eggs and then another after that. What they miss in quality they make up for in quantity, landing in the “Least Concern” category for conservation despite their foibles.


I love Mourning Doves. They remind me that sometimes I’m not very good at my jobs either. My Achilles’ heel is being so task oriented that I often get a lot done in a day while failing to see the person right in front of me. The kids’ lunches and backpacks get packed, but at the expense of the child standing in the doorway, ready to show me her art as I breeze past, unseeing. The sermon gets written, but it leaves me in my office among the comfort of my books on a day God wanted to put me face to face with a grieving father.


Lunches and backpacks need to get packed. Sermons need to get written. But the heart of the matter is the person, and joy often comes apart from task. Mourning Doves are horrible nest builders but fantastic parents, incubating their eggs in shifts to protect their tender temperature needs while ensuring their partner has time to find food.


We all have our strengths.

Perhaps this is the heart of the matter, that the mess of life is not simply mess, but life.

I say I struggle with balance, but at the end of the day balance seems to be a myth. The press and ache of life don’t allow for precise calibration. For years my husband and I attempted to stick to a strict budget that would fall to pieces at least once every month when the washing machine broke, or the kids wore out their shoes on the same day. Anyone who studies ducks knows they don’t stay in a row for long.


Perhaps this is the heart of the matter, that the mess of life is not simply mess, but life. All good things bring with them a bit of chaos.


My middle kid and I are reading through The Chronicles of Narnia for his first time. It’s been a few seasons since my voice, plagued with chronic reflux and a partially paralyzed vocal cord, has been strong enough for sustained reading aloud, and picking up anything longer than a picture book has been a joy.


My son belly laughs when characters fall off their horses or owls speak in owl-y voices, and what stands out to me most on this trip through the books, my twentieth at least, is Aslan’s delight in his creation. He is no utilitarian. There are purposes to be sure, battles to be fought and evil to be vanquished and good work to be done, but there are also feasts and dances and parties. I’d forgotten how much laughter there is in these stories. Only the very worst characters—the White Witch and Uncle Andrew and the Tisroc (may he live forever)—are deadly serious.


Our youngest child, our only daughter, has internalized the joy of this world. She crashes and bangs her way through life—ALWAYS SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS—and when she spills a glass of milk or knocks over a vase, she responds immediately with, “IT IS OKAY! ACCIDENTS HAPPEN!” While the pragmatist in me wishes she’d be a little bit more circumspect (accidents do happen, of course, but also, I liked that vase!), I see the lesson and I hope to learn it.


Mourning Doves build shoddy nests. And yet their species thrives.


Maybe we can do likewise.



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