erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

There’s a Wisconsin lake that still holds a little mystery for me.  My college roommates and I camped near it one weekend.  We didn’t even know it was there until, late at night, we took a walk.  I remember standing on the dock, listening to the gentle lap of the water against the rocks.  There wasn’t much of a moon and no wind, so all we could see was a big, black emptiness.  Then, someone suggested we throw ourselves into that emptiness.

“What?”  I whispered, staring at his silhouette.  “That’s crazy!”

“Come on,” he said, “Let’s do it.”

“I’m in!” my other roommate shouted, a little too loud for my taste.  I didn’t know if jumping in the lake was off limits, and what if there were park rangers around checking the campgrounds?

Before I had time to reconsider, I was kicking off my shoes.  I threw my jeans and t-shirt to the side and stood with my friends.  We all stared at the dock, about to be our runway.

Then we counted down.

“Three, two, one,” and we were off, our bare feet rumbling across the wood dock until we were airborne, flying into the darkness with echoing shouts and screams.  The cold Wisconsin water swallowed us up with a splash, and then suddenly we were beneath the surface, surrounded by bubbles and silence, swimming back to the top.

“Whooohoo!” I shouted, lifting my head above the water.  My roommates were shouting with me, bobbing at the surface, laughing.  We could hear each other, but all we could see were the dark, round silhouettes of our heads.

I’ll never forget the freedom I felt jumping into that darkness, defying the fears of the unknown.

What’s fascinating is there was so much we couldn’t see.  We couldn’t see the width of the lake, or if there were trees around its edges.  And we couldn’t see beneath us.  No doubt a few fish made a quick getaway as we splashed down.

Images of a shark looking up at my kicking legs rattled me.

Erin, I told myself over and over, there are no sharks in Wisconsin lakesThis is NOT Jaws!

It’s been thirty years since I swam in those waters, but looking back, in a strange way, that lake reminds me of the high school where I work.

My students and I all bob around on the surface, barely catching a glimpse of each other, and just beneath the surface, there’s so much more we can’t see.

I caught a glimpse of what’s down there, beneath the surface, when L walked up to the podium.  It was another Friday, and if you’ve been following these stories for a while, you know what Friday means—Instant Replays!  Kids get the opportunity to share meaningful words with the class and get extra credit.

After I asked if anyone in 8th period had Instant Replays, L’s hand went up.

“Awesome, L!” I shouted.  “Come on up!”  She waited for the walk-up music.  My TA, Meghan, hit play on YouTube, and One Direction started singing What Makes You Beautiful through the hum of side conversations.

L had emailed me her Instant Replay, so while she strolled up to the podium, Meghan put her words on the big screen and then faded the music.

“I’ve seen a lot of bullying happening to my friends,” L said.

Her subject matter caught all of us by surprise.  Side conversations stopped.

She explained that these bullies had hurled the word “slut” at her friend like stones.  And then to break her even more, they quoted the Bible.

I felt my face get hot as she talked, thinking about the woundedness beneath the surface of my own past.  Raw nerves were being rubbed a little too much.

Then she mentioned her friend Alycya.

“She’s very quiet but super sweet,” she said.  “We’ve had conversations about her religion before, and she respects my views of not believing in it.”

She explained how much she admired Alycya as a person and her passion for what she believes.  The contrast between her sweet friend and the bullies struck me, believing the same things but, like pigsties and gardens, expressing them in very different ways.

Then she asked Meghan to reveal her painting.  Meghan clicked a button, and what popped on the screen took my breath away.

There was no mistaking the fact—she had painted a picture of Jesus, struggling under the weight of the cross.

As it glowed on the big screen in room 212, everyone just stared at it.

“I don’t know a whole lot about the Bible and God and Jesus,” L said, almost whispering, looking up at the screen with us, “but from what I do know, Jesus was hated.”

Everyone sat on the edge of their public-school classroom seats as she talked about Jesus’ wanting people to follow His example, not the example of His haters.  That’s when it hit me.

Easter was one week away, right after spring break.

Somehow, on our last Friday before Easter, a young lady who openly doesn’t believe in Jesus invited Him into our classroom.

What was that?

Looking back at that 8th period class conjures up images of my Wisconsin lake.

There’s so much mystery in the deeper waters of my school.  Students and staff carry insecurities that circle our hearts like sharks in the dark.  And bullies who throw around the word “slut” only make the waters feel darker.

But also under the surface, there’s a Spirit of God moving, building His kingdom.  We can’t see Him, but we can see what He’s doing—using friends to silence bullies and paintings to remind us of Jesus.  Even while I’m going about my day completely clueless, talking about semicolons and Bradbury, He’s using prayers, kindness, and quiet, beautiful people like Alycya.  He’s stirring up His love like sweet oxygen, bubbling up from the depths.

The water may look like a black nothingness, but there’s so much going on under there.  God is moving!  I refuse to stand on the shore, missing it all.  With the dock in front of me, I’ll hurl myself into those depths over and over with a shout.  That’s where the stuff of real life is hidden, so that’s where I want to live.

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