erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

The moment is epic —the muscle-bound superhero defends the frightened kid.  There’s nothing better in stories.  Why?  Because, if I’m honest, I’m that kid.  Sure, sometimes I imagine myself as the hero, but deep down, I know I’m that scared kid too, the one who’d love for Superman to fly in and block the bullets meant for me.

Maybe that’s why I relate so much to Duncan.  He’s the main character in a movie called The Way, Way Back, a movie with so many inappropriate moments, I’m embarrassed to say I actually enjoy it.

Owen is Duncan’s Superman, and their relationship redeems the whole story.  He’s not perfect, but he finds a way to step into Duncan’s broken world and love him.

Let’s be clear; this is NOT a movie I’d recommend, but my family and I sat down to watch it again a few weeks ago.  We laughed watching Duncan break up a dance party.  And we got misty-eyed when he told Owen his stepdad rated him a 3 out of 10.  Yuck!  Who does that?

The next morning, I opened my Bible and read about a woman who needed a hero (John 8:1-11).  She was caught sleeping with a man who wasn’t her husband.  An angry mob pushed through her bedroom door.  There were shouts.  She probably reached for sheets to cover herself.  And then the mob grabbed her.  In that part of the world, the penalty for any girl caught in adultery is stoning.  She had to know what was coming, probably begging for her life.

This crying, barely clothed woman was then thrown in front of Jesus.  Someone told Him where they found her.  Others began to pick up large stones.

“The law says to stone her!” someone shouted.  “What do you think we should do?”

All eyes were fixed on Jesus.  So what did He do?

He began to draw with his finger in the dirt.  He slowed everything down.  And with everyone leaning in to hear what He’d say, Jesus became that desperate woman’s Superman.

“Okay,” He said, “But the only ones who can throw the first stones are the ones who’ve never sinned.”

The men must have looked at each other, waiting for someone to do something.  But nothing was done.

Thud. . . thud. . . thud. . . one by one, the stones were dropped harmlessly to the ground.  What a beautiful sound that must have been—the sound of hope!

Bullets flew at that broken woman, but someone blocked them.  Someone stood between her and the accusations, the lies, the ridicule.

I thought of the movie from the night before.

Toward the end, the grumpy stepdad, the one who rated his stepson a 3, reaches to grab Duncan.

Photo by Gareth Simpson

But NOPE!  Owen stands between them.  He blocks the bullets, and every time I see that scene, I cheer.

The connection between Owen defending Duncan and Jesus defending the woman fit too perfectly to be a coincidence.

“Thank you, God,” I whispered, and I wrote about the connection in my journal.  The Teacher of teachers used Owen to help me understand Jesus!

I looked at the clock, and the reality of life beckoned, so I willed myself out of my comfy green chair and into my cold van.  Professional development is just a part of the deal for any district employed English teacher, and my time had come.

Eventually, I was sitting in a classroom with my computer open.  Other teachers walked in saying hello to familiar faces in the district.  Patty sat behind me, and I was thankful.  It was good to sit with a friend.

One of the activities was to identify essential questions we could ask students after reading The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin.  In groups, we listed key details to inspire closer reading and wrote the answers on white butcher paper.  Then, the facilitator asked groups to share.

Brendan, one of our group members, asked if I would present this time.

I nodded my head.

“Okay, this group over here,” the facilitator said, pointing at our paper taped on the wall.

After 27 years of teaching, you’d think I’d be fine with presenting in front of a group, but I’m not.  My heart pounded.

This is no big deal, I told myself.

“Uh yes,” I said.  “Our essential question is. . .” and I rattled off my list of details like I couldn’t breathe until I was done.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I did breathe.

“Thank you,” she said, and then she moved on.

My heart began to settle, but as the pounding got quieter, the thoughts screamed.

That answer was terrible!

You’re a veteran teacher, but everyone could see you were afraid.  

They’re all wondering how someone as dumb-sounding as you could ever lead kids.

The thoughts clawed at me like little demons, circling my head.  I tried to ignore them, but only felt shame.

I was the fragile kid.

Walking through the front door of my house that afternoon, I dropped my keys on the counter.

“Hello!” I shouted, but nobody answered.  I was alone, so I trudged upstairs to change clothes.

Feeling battered and weak, I dropped to my knees to pray.  My eyes closed, and it was like opening a window to my soul.  Images poured into my mind like warm sunlight.

Owen standing between Duncan and the evil stepdad.

Jesus standing between a frightened woman and an angry mob.

Suddenly, those scratching, accusatory thoughts were exposed.  They were lies.  They were bullets being fired either from my own deep well of insecurities or from a very real enemy who hated me.  But those lies lost their power.  Somehow, the movie and that moment in the Bible helped me see better.  Yes, there was a very real enemy, but even more real than him was the Hero standing in front of me.

Why did I watch The Way, Way Back, and then the very next morning read about Jesus rescuing that woman?  They were pages in my story, and the minute my knees hit that floor, they all fit together.  The Author knew what was coming.  The bullets were going to fly, but just like Owen, He’d be there to block each one.

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