erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

The hotel “complimentary” wake-up call jarred us out of a deep sleep. We shuffled through suitcases, changing as fast as we could, threw on our jackets and ran downstairs. Deb grabbed some coffee and pointed me toward the apples. “Get some of those for the kids,” she whispered amidst the bustle of breakfast buffet traffic. Apples in pockets and coffee in hand, we exchanged “good mornings” with tired smiles while the kids stumbled behind us to the car. The soccer game was starting in 15 minutes, but Siri said that the field was 20 minutes away.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, David shouted from the back seat, “See if you can shave off some minutes, daddy!” What can I say? The boy gets me.

Deb rolled her eyes, and when I was pushing 80 just off the I-70 on-ramp, she was repeating, almost as a prayer, “Arrive alive.”

“We gained one minute!” shouted Joy, holding Deb’s phone and waking up in the back seat. With those words and a few miles of I-70 past us, I exited with a smile, but the happiness, like our car, came to a halt at the next red light.

Deb leaned in close to the mirror, using the opportune moment to put on some mascara. “It’s alright, Erin, we can miss a few minutes of the game,” she said, trying to sound calm. A bus caught our attention, slowing down as it came through the intersection. We were close enough to hear the air brakes breathe as it pulled up to the bus stop across the street. With nobody there, it grinded into gear and started moving away, but just as the red light turned to green, a man ran across the street.

“That’s dangerous”, I thought. “What is he doing?” We watched and understood. Even from our car, we could see him shouting at the bus, waving his arms, and trying to keep his backpack from falling as he ran. We drove by and watched him give up, slamming his backpack on the ground. He leaned forward, hands on knees, in utter dejection and breathlessness. An annoying question interrupted my race with Siri: should we give him a ride? Hope’s game was starting in minutes, and giving him a ride to the next stop or to work could mean we miss the first half. He wasn’t exactly put together. The hoodie and baggy pants looked a little overused. Could we even trust him? That last question became my excuse, and I kept driving, but all day, watching the game and driving home, I couldn’t get that breathless, frantic man out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe I had missed a chance to love someone.

At church, we are talking about making room at our “tables”. It is Jewish tradition for a landowner to leave a part of his field unharvested so that the poor could “glean” from the field whatever food they need to survive. It is a way to make room at the table for others. A few weeks ago, as Scott Custer was talking about Ruth, he called that part of the field that Boaz left for her and for the poor, “margin”. That word spoke to me. With a tidal wave of soccer, Young Life, cross-country, Bible Study, family time and papers to grade constantly bearing down on us, our family has very little “margin”. The edges of our field do not have room for frantic travelers desperate for spontaneous rides to the next bus stop.

One field, however, harvested and cared for 30 years ago, had plenty of “margin”. Mary Ellen was the kind-hearted owner of the “field”, and she worked it every day. She had little ones, she was married, and she was involved in Young Life, but she still found time to love a young teenage girl who lived across the street. There was strategy in the margin that she created. Around 3 pm every day, Mary Ellen would suddenly get a hankering to work the soil of the garden in her front yard. “Coincidentally”, this was just about the time the teenage girl would come walking down the street on her way to an empty home. The older woman would smile and offer an invitation to the young lady. Sometimes there was pizza or lemonade in the fridge, and the casual conversation about school would turn to boys, broken relationships, and a battle with depression. As the relationship grew, like her garden, Mary Ellen asked her to babysit, and after returning home, she and the young teen, quickly growing into a young woman, would sit down at a table with plenty of room for others and talk about what it means to be loved.

It was at that beautiful table that the two cried together about mistakes made and prayed about the future. Mary Ellen could not have known the impact her investment in that young woman would make later in life. She could not have known that the young lady she loved so well, the broken girl so desperate for hope, would later stand with me at an altar and become my wife. After Mary Ellen told her about Jesus, that teenage girl grew up to be a mom who told her own children about His love around her own table. God used the margin of one woman’s field to create a legacy that now has impacted five lives, not just one. Our society is desperate for fields with “margin” and an open place at the table, but creating it is hard. There are no easy answers as the tidal wave of activity pounds against us, but maybe we don’t need answers. God breathes His life through people, and when we look at a life like Mary Ellen’s, the fog of activity and decisions begins to dissipate in the tangible warmth of His love.