erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Whether we admit it or not, we all have opinions about how we think things should work. From my limited perspective, there’s this thought that sneaks up on me that somehow following God means everything in my life, for the most part, will run smoothly.

After all, that’s what happened in Mexico when Hope got the negative COVID test we wanted. It’s what happened when we prayed for Kevin’s car to start and it did. And wasn’t it God who helped some friendly neighbors and I get the fire out on my fence before it blazed through my backyard? God describes Himself as our help, so it makes sense He would remove any bumps in the road. Right?

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, once again, things went smoothly. The trip was perfect. Going during the rainy season was risky, but when we hooked up to the ziplines or saddled up on horses, the rain stopped. We saw sloths, perfect sunsets, and even some friends from Colorado who just happened to arrive at a waterfall the moment we did. Everything went so well, it had to be God, so we thanked Him and kept expecting more of the same.

Here’s the problem—things don’t always work out the way we expect. My son is wearing a protective boot and rides a scooter because of a stress fracture. He rode that scooter all over Costa Rica, and when we arrived at Denver International Airport, I didn’t see an elevator as we went through customs. I asked a uniformed lady directing traffic if we should carry David’s scooter down the escalator.

A scowl covered her face.

“Noooo,” she groaned with a biting tone. She looked at me like I was as slow as one of those sloths we saw. “You’ll take the elevator around the corner.”

“Thanks,” I yelled back, and then I turned to my daughter and whispered, “Jerk!” I wanted to punch that lady right in those granny glasses she was wearing.

“Daddy!” Hope whispered. She didn’t like my response. It wasn’t exactly what Jesus would do.

We got our bags and headed to the third cement island where our hotel bus would pick us up. Exhausted, we dropped our stuff and fell into the green bench.

It was Sunday, and I looked at my tired group of fellow travelers slumping on the bench, scrolling through their phones. With our long day of travel, we never got in a church service.

“Guys,” I yelled above the busses driving past, “we never did family church.”

“We can do it during the 2-hour drive,” David replied.

Everyone nodded in agreement, and we waited for our hotel bus. We waited, and we waited some more.

After an hour, the bus finally came but only with room for two people.

“I’m sorry,” the bus driver yelled through the open door.

“We can sit on laps!” Deb begged. “We’ve been waiting for an hour!” My usually calm wife wasn’t feeling so calm, but the bus driver wasn’t budging. Dejectedly, Deb and Hope jumped on the bus with as many bags as they could carry, promising to return with our minivan to get the rest of us.

Thirty minutes went by, and our minivan never came. Instead, we got a call.

Deb’s voice was shaking on the other end.

“Erin, someone broke into our car.” She was trying to hold it together, but I could tell she was shaken. “They got through the side window, and there’s glass everywhere.”

God, what is this? I wondered. Did we do something wrong?

“Sorry Deb,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing okay, I guess,” she whispered. “Could you catch another bus and meet us?”

I agreed, and David, Joy and I settled into the green bench to wait some more. The kids’ eyes were wide open with shock, and when the bus finally did come, we talked during the whole trip about what we would see.

It was just like Deb described. Glass covered the floor and seats. Paper and blankets were scattered everywhere. We waited for the police, but they never came. It was pretty clear we weren’t going to get help, not even from the hotel who said they wouldn’t give us another night stay there.

“Let’s just get home,” Deb said. While she filled out a police report online, I swept up the mess with a hotel broom. The five of us piled into the van, minus one window, and started our drive back to Colorado Springs. Our ears popped with that back window broken, so we opened a front window too.

Wind whipped through the van. The kids bundled up in rain jackets and sweatshirts.

“Should we do church now?” I yelled above the sound of traffic zooming past. In their hoodies and blankets, I could barely see the kids nodding their heads. I looked over at Deb. She nodded her head too, gripping the steering wheel. We each took turns sharing what God taught us in Costa Rica, yelling above the noise of traffic, and then we prayed. My mind kept going back to the same question—God what is this? Of course I knew life wouldn’t be rainbows and butterflies, but after things went so well on vacation, why was God letting this happen?

“I’ve got a song we can play,” David shouted. David pressed play, and we turned up the volume as high as it would go. It was Michael W. Smith’s song “Surrounded”, about fighting our battles with worship. As semi-trucks and motorcycles roared past us, we sang, “This is how we fight our battles. . . It may feel like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by you.” We sang at the top of our lungs with the music, and I looked back at my kids. Even in the cold and with the wind whipping through their hair, they were smiling.

The moment was God’s answer to my question. Yes, perfect Costa Rican sunsets are beautiful, but they’re only beautiful if there are clouds. We need those cloudy skies in life to see the all the colors of the God who lives in us. Joy filled that van driving down I-25, a joy that could only come on the other side of broken glass and stolen suitcases. We were smiling, but as we sang above the sounds of the traffic, our hearts could see what our eyes could not—God was smiling too.

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