erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

What makes a great story?  So many of them feature larger than life heroes rescuing people in epic battles.  Maverick flies an F-18 to heal old wounds and stop terrorists, and Rey goes toe to toe with the Emperor to free the galaxy from his evil control.  That’s entertainment these days, and I’m a huge fan, but the best stories aren’t found on screens or in the pages of bestselling books.

The best ones happen every day in your life and in mine—not because of the entertainment value.  Hollywood producers wouldn’t give most of them a second glance because, honestly, by the world’s standards, they’re ordinary.

The reason our real-life stories are the best stories is simple.

They’re beautiful!

Like the wildflowers growing in front of my burned fence, beautiful stories flourish in the ordinary ash and dirt of our lives.

Take naps for example.  They’re ordinary.  Turns out, it was the perfect soil for a beautiful story in my life.

Waking up from a nap in the backseat of my car, I had fifteen minutes before the start of Joy’s soccer game.  It was time to face the somewhat difficult reality of what was ahead.

I was about to face a crowd of soccer parents I barely knew.  They’d be talking along the sidelines, sitting under the shade of their umbrellas, and my shade wouldn’t be there.  I wouldn’t have Deb.  She’s always the extravert I can hide behind when I need a little quiet.  But this game would be direct sunlight—I would have to socialize.

I shook off the fogginess of sleep and stepped out of the car.

With a big yawn, I walked to the back and opened the hatch.

Reaching for my camp chair, I heard familiar voices.  It was Seth and Betsy, two of the only soccer parents I knew.  Their dog pulled at his leash, and they smiled when they saw me.

“Hey guys,” I said.

They both said hello back, and then Betsy walked toward her car.

“Wait just a second, Erin,” she said, “and we’ll walk over with you.”  I stood there with Seth who asked me about the end of my school year, and when Betsy got back, we walked to the sidelines together.

“Do you mind if I sit with you guys?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Seth said, unfolding his chair.  The rest of the game, we talked about our kids and plans for the summer.  We processed struggles we’ve faced.

And I wasn’t alone.

The Author of my story knew what I needed and brought along friends.  He brought shade.

When the referee blew the final whistle, I said goodbye to Seth and Betsy.  Then, Joy skipped across the field, excited about her victory, and we hugged.  Everything was great.

. . . until we walked up to the car.

There are some moments in life dominated by intestinal emergencies.  As we got to the car, I felt a rumbling in my stomach like a volcano, and by the time we hit the road, Mount Vesuvius was ready to blow.  I needed a bathroom fast!

I was desperate for anything, but preferably something other than a gas station.

Then, like a stream in the desert, Chick-Fil-A appeared on the horizon.  This time, the appeal wasn’t their waffle fries.  It was all about their beautiful bathroom.  The air conditioning, electric soap dispensers, polished counters, clean toilets, and to top it all off, the instrumental worship music gently playing in the background to soothe my troubled stomach.

I unbuckled my seatbelt.

Almost there, I told myself, stopping the car.

“I’ll be back,” Joy, I said, and she smiled as I ran for my life.

When I walked into the bathroom, I was alone.

I flew through the stall door, and. . . well, I’ll spare you the details of what happened next.  Let’s just say the volcano blew.

I sat there a moment catching my breath, like one of those Ninja Warriors after hitting the buzzer.

That’s when I realized in my rush, I’d made a huge mistake.

I didn’t check the toilet paper dispenser!  It was empty.

Okay, stay calm, I told myself.  I’ll figure this out.  I thought about calling Joy.  She could walk into the restaurant, find the manager and tell him, “Excuse me sir; my dad is in your bathroom without toilet paper.  Could you please help him out?”  But that seemed like too much.  I could yell for help.  No.  Too dramatic.  Maybe a simpler solution.  I could hop across the floor to grab some Kleenex by the sink.  But someone could see me with my pants down.  The awkwardness would be devastating.

The bathroom door opened.  Peering through a crack in the stall, I could see a gentleman washing his hands; his uniform filled me with hope—a solid red shirt and black pants.  He was an employee!

“Excuse me sir,” I said, as polite as I could from my throne.  The man slowly turned around, looking toward the stall.

“Yes.”

“Are you an employee?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“I don’t have any toilet paper in here.  Could you possibly grab me some?”

“Oh, of course,” he said, and he was off.

Within seconds, he was handing me a huge, white fluffy roll under the stall door.  Toilet paper never looked so good!

“Thank you, so much!”  I shouted.  He probably couldn’t wait to get out of there, but what he said next was perfect.

“My pleasure.”

In a matter of hours, some friends had come by to offer me their company, to offer me shade, and a Chick-Fil-A employee was there to hand me toilet paper under a bathroom stall door.  The timing in both cases was perfect.

Naps and bathroom scares are the bits of soil and ash that make up the ordinary parts of our lives.  But the Author uses all that to create beautiful stories.  And why are they beautiful?  Someone who loves us is putting together the pieces.  Beautiful moments like the timing of a neighbor offering to pray or meeting an old friend in a crowd–these are not coincidences.  Someone sees us, and that someone wants us to look into the ordinariness of our lives and see Him.


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