erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

David squealed upstairs. His school’s cancellation was just too much to keep inside and play it cool. Sitting in my bed, I held my breath and checked my phone—only a two-hour delay. My heart sank. The kids were cuddling upstairs, starting their snow-day off right, but not me. The snow forts, the board games, watching another episode of “This is Us” would all happen without me. As Deb and I shoveled the driveway, I grumbled with every scraping row I pushed into the yard.

School was different to say the least. The hallways were eerily empty. Only the few who dared brave the storm, wearing snow clothes and wet shoes, squeaked along through the hallways. The bell rang, and teachers grumbled their way to classrooms so they could listen to students grumble about being there. What a waste, I thought, reaching for my lesson plan book.

Walking into room 212 caught me off guard. Pedro, Aurora, and Josh were sitting on desks, laughing. Chai greeted me with a warm, “Hello, Mr. Ahnfeldt,” and when Adrianna and Janelle walked in, they all clapped. Their cheerfulness was closer to something you might expect from elves working at the North Pole than students getting ready for class.

The bell rang, and we got started. “Can we watch a movie?” Cisco asked, his head leaning against the wall.

“Uh, no,” I said, half awake. “I’ve got some ideas.”

“What about a game,” Janelle suggested, her feet propped up on the desk. With each suggestion, eager eyes looked at me and heads nodded.

“Maybe we’ll play a game.” I pointed at her feet, packaged in stylish black and white Vans. “Your feet Janelle.” She smiled and dropped them to the floor.

“Let’s start with Instant Replays,” I said, clapping my hands. Friday is always the day we share typed quotes that are significant to us called Instant Replays, so I cued up YouTube for a little walk-up music.

Pedro shouted from the back, “But none of us did any.”

“That’s okay.” I paused for a minute, smiling at Pedro. “Today, you don’t have to type the words for extra-credit. Just think of one and share it.”

“Can we use our phones?” Aurora asked.

“Yes, you can use your phone,” I groaned, rolling my eyes, and with that, there was a frenzy of unzipping backpacks and reaching into pockets for phones.

“I’ve got something,” Chai announced, holding up her hand.

“Here comes Chai,” I shouted, doing my best impression of a revved-up sports announcer. I clicked the YouTube screen, and “Brown-Eyed Girl” started to play. Chai danced her way to the front, and I let the song play a while. She loved it. She rolled her shoulders and moved her feet to the music. Everyone watched in awe, hooting and hollering, “You go girl.” When I finally faded the music, the joy in her voice matched the dancing.

“I actually didn’t find any quotes. I just want you guys to know you’re special to me,” she said, almost shouting. “That’s all!” All seven of us clapped, and she gave a few high fives going back to her seat. A little sunshine was breaking through the clouds of my wasted day, but nothing could prepare me for what came next.

“Anyone else?” I asked, still savoring the high-fives and dancing.

Janelle raised her hand, and when I looked at her, she was slumped down in her seat, hiding under her hat. “Can I borrow your Bible?” she asked. The somber tone in her voice and her question brought a curious silence. Like a page-turning book, we had to know the rest of the story. I clicked “Brown-Eyed Girl”, but she didn’t dance to the front like Chai. Her shoulders hung low as she walked. This was definitely not what I expected. Some googled quote from Oprah maybe or a line from High School Musical, but not the Bible. She flipped through the pages, and when she was done, I faded the music.

Looking up from the verses she found, she was almost whispering: “I was in my room a couple weeks ago, and honestly, I wanted it all to end.” She looked at the floor and then looked at us. “I wanted to commit suicide. It felt like nobody cared about me, like nobody was paying attention.” She looked back down at the Bible and leaned against the podium. “And then I read this. It’s the first two verses of Psalm 116:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

When she looked back at us, her brown eyes sparkled with hope. She wasn’t smiling, but her voice was strong. “When I read those words, I knew God cared. I knew He was paying attention.” She closed my Bible and handed it to me. Nobody said a word. We just stared in wonder as she and her Vans walked the aisle back to her seat.

Everyone watched her sit down, and I stood up. “So you didn’t do it?” I asked. Cisco and Aurora laughed quietly. It was a dumb question, but I was reeling. She shook her head “No”, and with the sweetness of the little girl still inside her, she smiled.

After school, I sloshed my way through the wet parking lot to my car, and a thought struck me—God so often uses days when I’m at my worst to show me His best. He took my icy roads and small class sizes and gave me Pedro’s laughter and Chai’s “Good morning, Mr. Ahnfeldt.” That’s His grace. He offered this grumbling, messed up teacher Janelle’s story, proving that although I’m often distracted by my mess, He always sees my students. Like the sunshine breaking through the clouds outside, God lit up my classroom with His goodness and turned what I thought would be a “waste” of a day into what He knew would be His beautiful surprise.