erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for heroes. The most recent Avenger’s movie has an amazing scene. Drooling, deformed, space demons drop through a ceiling to finish off two members of the Avengers team, Vision and Scarlet. It doesn’t look good. A train goes by, and one of the space demons sees something—a man on the other side of the tracks. As the train passes, the Avengers theme music starts to play, and the camera moves in a little closer. It’s Captain America! Gasps fill the theatre when the audience gets a first look at that heroic bearded face. One of the demons throws a spear at him, and he catches it. He’s not smiling. It’s pretty clear “Cap” showed up to kick a little demon butt, and that’s exactly what he does. Everyone loves that moment because, at one time or another, we’ve all felt like Vision and Scarlett, alone in that dark place desperate for a hero to fight off our demons.

Toward the beginning of the year, I have my students bring in a “penny picture”. It’s a picture of something they value but nobody else really would. Before collecting them, I give the students a chance to talk about what they brought. Some share about their dogs. Others talk about a piece of simple jewelry. Fifth period was much the same until Callie raised her hand. When I called on her, she held up a picture of a little girl. “This is me when I was two,” she said. It’s the last picture taken of me before the accident—the last picture of me without my scar.” When she said the word “accident”, all the whispering side conversations stopped. Everyone was listening. I asked her what happened.

“There was an accident with hot oil. It’s how I got this scar on my face.” Her voice was trembling as she pulled aside her hair to show us.

“I’m so sorry you went through that Callie,” I said.

“That’s okay. It used to be really hard for me, but I’ve learned to let it go.” She was giving us a smile, but the evidence of pain in that quivering smile said it all.

“Callie, I’m amazed at the courage you just showed by sharing your story!” I barely finished the sentence, and the class was cheering.

We only heard a small part of her story. By second grade, she was being bullied. Her teacher said she scared the kids, and her dad had given up on life. She had nowhere to turn, so she cried alone, but there was a Hero in her story who saw her tears, and just like Captain America, He kept showing up.

He even showed up for her in my classroom a couple weeks later. My students were presenting their “face paragraphs.” They had to write a paragraph about the face of the person whose name they drew out of a hat. I told them, “Make the paragraphs positive.” There would be no describing zits or flabby cheeks, and I offer extra-credit to anyone who reads their paragraph aloud. The moment is beautiful, just like the faces they describe. Amya was absent the day her classmates drew names, so I told her to pick anyone, and if she decided to read it in front of the class, we could all guess who she picked. Amya was the last to go. I was going to move on to something else when she raised her hand and asked, “Can I share what I wrote?”

“Oh yeah, sure Amya. Come on up.” She walked to the front and laid her paragraph down in front of her. With her sweet southern accent, she read, “This girl’s face lights up the whole room.” She described her person’s eyebrows, lips, and the beautiful color in her eyes, but when she mentioned the scar, I’m pretty sure everyone’s heart stopped. We all knew exactly who she was describing. “The scar,” she wrote, “not only represents the past, but strength.” Of all the students in the class to write about, Amya chose Callie. And rather than avoid writing about the scar, she focused on it. She let the scar unveil the beauty of the person Callie had become. By the time she got to her last sentence, the young lady she was describing was wiping away tears: “From hairline to chin, her face is merely pure beauty displaying ultimate perfection.” The class erupted in applause, and when I asked for the paragraph, Callie asked, “Can I take a picture of it.” She wanted to show her mom.

Later, Callie and I sat together after school. She finished her grammar test and shared more of her story. There was a camp, a friend who invited her to church, and some kids she was babysitting who taught her how to pray. There was even a pastor a few weeks ago who saw her in the crowd and introduced himself. Over and over, Jesus was there. When her story was over, I wanted to shout, “That’s my God!” I felt like dancing. Her Hero showed up for her, and I’m sure somewhere in the universe there was superhero music playing. “God obviously loves you!” I told her. “He saw that second-grade little girl crying alone, and He hasn’t stopped going after you.”

She pulled her hoodie over her face, hiding her tears, and said, “My cousin told me God gives his greatest challenges to His strongest warriors.” She smiled, and then whispered, “But I’m tired.”

Captain America has a great costume, complete with a new shield and a new-look beard. He even has his own music that plays when he shows up, but the problem is (spoiler alert) he’s not real. I’m thankful for the superheroes in my life who are real, like Amya and Callie. So many of my students choose to be courageous and let in a little sunlight. Whether they know it or not, they are warriors, God’s warriors, and although God doesn’t wear a cape or carry a shield, He’s real too. He sees us like Amya saw Callie, redeeming our scars, and He fights off our demons to wrap us up in His love. We may or may not hear the music, but just when we think we can’t make it anymore, He’s there.