erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

There’s a closet in an old abandoned house on my grandpa’s ranch. It’s not a wardrobe leading to Narnia. There’s no treasure hidden beneath the planks of its scratched and dusty, wood floor, but I love to open it and see what’s inside. The house itself sits beneath the shade of giant Elm trees, and the closet, one of many, is in one corner of my parents’ bedroom. The floors make noise under the weight of our feet. The pictures are dusty, and the spiders and mice have taken over. The place has changed since I lived there as a boy forty years ago, but the closet is still there.

As a young man with 3 squirrely little kids, my dad dipped his brush in some paint and splotched “Arnie Loves Lois” across the back of that closet door. He and my mom were restoring an old house, painting the walls, laying down new carpet, taking what was old and making it new. Restoration of any kind is usually a minefield for couples, something that dissolves most relationships into glares and heated discussions about the proper approach to caulking or painting trim, but all I remember was laughter and fun. They loved bringing beauty and purpose to something that was worn down. They still do. I didn’t know then, and probably still don’t fully understand now, how God uses their love to restore more than just old houses and antiques. Their door is always open for couples to come sit on their couch, shed some tears and find hope when it seems like there is none. Divorced, single mom’s find strength to keep going in quiet conversation at their kitchen table. Broken insecure young men, brandishing mohawks and tatoos, find belonging as they pass the Thanksgiving turkey and walk away full with something more than just food.

When we go to the “Ranch”, we now stay in another house a little further up the road. But when I walk into that old kitchen, I feel like I can still smell the bacon cooking on the stove. There would be dad standing over the mixer, making his homemade whip cream to go with the Swedish pancakes piled up and warm beneath the tin foil on the counter. As Mom set the table, Roger Whittaker was usually singing in the background, “For you are beautiful, and I have loved you dearly, more dearly than the spoken word can tell.” That song played constantly, like an anthem celebrating the beauty of what my parents shared. Dad even sang along, walking up to mom, wrapping his arms around her waist in the middle of whatever she was doing, and we’d all look away to avoid seeing what came next.

There were squirt gun fights erupting somewhere in the house. Seeing Mom as the underdog, all of us kids piled on top of Dad trying desperately to take the gun. His shrieks of laughter as we tickled his knees, his kryptonite, echoed through the house. The dogs usually helped and grabbed an ankle, their tails wagging as they pulled at his socks.

Those sounds that still pleasantly haunt that old abandoned house. . . the smells I swear that are still there when I walk into that kitchen all find their beginnings in the message on that closet door. The love that Arnie still has for Lois wrapped me up like a warm blanket in a cold world and carried me to a place where I could stand. It was their love that carried me to Jesus.

They were still a young couple when Dad painted his love note to mom. They couldn’t see that their story would lead to walks through dark places. God held them as Mom dealt with seizures and Dad faced the fight of his life with Leukemia. Even then, the love He gave them, carried us. Every morning as the possibility of losing Mom hung over us like a dark cloud, we woke to the sound of worship. Mom sat in the sunshine pouring through the sliding glass door, and the words “You have been a shelter Lord, to every generation” rang out, filling the house with the hope that was Mom’s anchor in the storm.

Dad was desperate at the possibility of losing his best friend. There were days he came home from work, and his smile and whistling were gone, so he did the only thing he knew. He turned to Jesus, and He brought His family with Him. It was from that desperation and the hope found on the other side of darkness that we started “remembering.” We began writing on index cards, once a year, memories of God’s faithfulness and prayers for the future, and with each year’s passing, we read the stories and prayers from the year before. These cards, held safely in a leather chest, became our family’s Ebeneezer. We’ll laugh and cry, passing around the Kleenex as we share what we’ve written, and every time we pull out that old leather chest, I know God smiles.

He smiles when we savor His goodness, and there’s a whole lot of it wrapped up in what He’s done through two people. The music, the smell of bacon, Dad’s shrieks of laughter, sunshine pouring through a sliding glass door offered a flavor to life cooked up special in God’s kitchen of grace, and the key ingredient was the love He gave to my mom and dad. Fifty years since they said “I do”, people still gather around them, laughing, sharing their broken pieces and sometimes crying. There’s a fullness in their love that could only come from the Author of life, and we taste and see it through a marriage He built to last.

That old closet may not take me to Narnia or conceal a hidden treasure, but there’s a magic in the way it takes me to a different time, and the message on the inside of the door still speaks to me about an Author who wrote a love story that is worth more to me than anything money could buy.

Happy 50th Anniversary Mom and Dad! Words really can’t capture what your marriage has meant to us.