Wounded Survivors and Invasive Species

So I’ve been doing the research, the reading, the prayers, the experimental living, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is going to be OK if I just live for my kids and my husband and try to make a happy life for them.

Sometimes you’re thinking about petting the dog, but you know that if you do, you’re hands will stink, and you’ll get fur all over your clothes, but to heck with it. You might as well go for it, and enjoy the dog, because when he’s happy, he’s not chewing up your shoes, or your couch, or barking incessantly, and therefore, you’re happy.

And when you’re engaged with your kids, they’re not off tearing up the house, and fighting with each other. They’re not leaving home, looking for something else to do. You might as well go all in, and clean the kitchen, and fold the laundry, and create order out of chaos, like God did, because order is beautiful, and it delights the mind and senses, and encourages creative thinking.



It’s gratifying to see that a few of the plants in my flowerbed have made it through the ground this spring. Between the dog chewing up the saplings, and the kids scuttling through, not to mention all the snow and later frosts we had this year, I thought I might be starting from scratch again. As it is, there’s a maimed forsythia showing signs of life, a few dog-eared hosta leaves unfolding and a very persistent silver lace vine, which I’ve learned is an invasive species.

It’s a garden of wounded survivors, sort of like the rest of us. But they are what they are, real, present and alive, absentmindedly sown, but seeking now a loving steward.



I asked the five year old what he wanted to do today because he had already spent much of the morning in passive aggressive pursuits, locking the baby out of my room, hitting the dog with a pillow, slowly pushing things off the couch. I wanted to send him outside when the baby went down for a nap but he said he wanted “to learn,” which meant I’d have to teach.

Teaching is a challenge for me because I have to slow down and explain the things I take for granted, and its hard to muster the same enthusiasm for teaching the fifth child I felt in teaching the first. He’s not a quick learner; I rarely see improvement from one lesson to the next. Every day, the same letters, the same sounds, and somehow it’s as if he’s never seen them before. Still you can’t turn down a child who requests to learn–even if he has no idea what he wants to be taught.

So we drew ants and the letter A, wrote the word ant, then went outside to find some real ones. And then he was ready to be done learning–skipping off happily outside to other pursuits that he could trick himself into believing were not “learning” activities.



I’ve been taking the older boys with me when I run. They can be a bit like aerosol cans when they come home from school, contents under pressure, ready to vaporize when pressed. We all do better with some sport, not unlike puppies that need a walk every day in order to be tame, but wrestling season is over, and soccer is not every day, and we have no wood to chop nor barns that need raising, so we have to fabricate reasons to exhaust ourselves.

We walk and do push-ups at intervals, then sometimes “fartleks,” where you run 30 seconds, walk 30, run 60, walk 60 and so forth. It’s better than expecting them to participate in a long slow run with a distant foreseeable end. They like having short-term completable goals, and after even a brief sprint, walking always feels like a reward.



The first couple of times I took only the more sedentary of the two older boys, and he was overwhelmed by trying to manage his film scores on the Ipod I let him bring as a bribe. The next time we left the Ipods at home, which was a minor sacrifice for me because I’m in the thick of listening to Middlemarch on Audible, and I treasure the time to listen to it.

But this particular boy is such a good companion really. He’s quiet and observant. He makes no demands on your attention but still exudes the pleasant warmth of being in good company. At times I’ve worried that he may never leave home, but I’ve come to accept that possibility as a good thing.



Teaching my kids and letting them exercise with me may not sound like champion feats of motherhood, but I believe they are works of God in response to my prayers that he soften me. Giving up writing time to teach another to write, and my solitude in exercise so that others can have some peace–these really are ways in which walls I’ve built around myself are becoming more transparent.

It is the definition of disorder to ask for and offer cheap grace, while ignoring the seriousness of the tasks that God so clearly put in my path. The prayers I ask for do no good if I never soil my hands in uprooting the fronds of narcissism that are woven throughout my life. The ego can be an invasive species capable of multiplying under the surface even throughout a long dormant season. It, too, can be a wounded survivor, springing up alongside all our hopes for a new season. Find the root and weed it out. Usually it’s not what I think it’s going to be.



But the outcome, of course–OF COURSE–is pure joy. The ego isolates and is never satisfied. The Spirit of God embraces and is never disappointed.




(More quick takes here)

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About Elizabeth Duffy