erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Chills kept moving through my body. My head was on fire, but I shuffled my way into our bathroom and turned on the space heater. This definitely wasn’t good. “If this is COVID,” I wondered, “how are we going to do this?” My heart sank as I thought about isolating from my family. I grabbed a thermometer and pressed it against my forehead. It beeped until the little digital screen said 101. “No!” I thought.

David slid the pocket door open and poked his head into the bathroom. “Hey David. You better stay back,” I said. “I might have COVID.”

“Seriously?” he whispered, like he was trying to keep anyone from hearing. He left as quickly as he came, and after phone calls to my mom and urgent care, I was gone too. Joy and David watched me walk down the stairs with wide eyes, keeping their distance. The isolation had already begun.

The testing was quick. A woman with a surgical gown and mask came to my car window. “I’m sorry, sweetie, but I’m gonna have to stick this up your nose.” She moved that white, long stick toward my nostril. In it went, tickling its way into the upper recesses of my nasal cavity where no cotton swap or finger had ever been. I didn’t even know God put space up there until that nice lady took time to explore it for me.

The tingling in my nose settled, and I drove home, but I didn’t want to go inside and expose anyone. I figured I’d wait to find out the results in the car. With the heat cranked all the way up, I sat in my driveway wondering again how our family would handle this. “I could sleep downstairs in David’s room,” I thought. “Deb could leave meals at the top of the stairs.” Trying to separate from my family had me more anxious than the possibility of actually being sick with COVID. Then the phone rang. “This is Erin Ahnfeldt,” I said.

“Hi Erin. This is Dr. Walters. Did you just get tested for COVID?” he asked, making sure.

“Yes, that’s right,” I answered.

“I’m calling to let you know you’re definitely positive.” It wasn’t really a surprise, but it felt like a jail sentence.

Deb pulled up on the other side of the driveway in our minivan, watching me listen to the rest of the doctor’s instructions. When he was done, I called her. She picked up her phone and looked back at me. “I’m positive,” I said, giving her a shoulder shrug through the window–the shamed prison inmate talking to his visitor.

“Really,” she said. “Wow.” She was quiet for a minute, absorbing it all.

Then I broke the silence. “I was thinking I could stay in David’s room. That way I could. . .”

“No!” she shouted, before I could finish.

“What do you mean, ‘No’?” I asked.

“If you’ve got it, then let’s all get it.” She was smiling—confident. “I’m not sitting in quarantine for months while each of us takes turns getting it. Let’s all get it at once and be done with it.”

“You’re crazy!” I said, but I laughed as relief washed over me. Her words and the brightness of her smile felt like a warm blanket, driving away the frosty anxiety I felt about spending the next two weeks trying to avoid my family.

We both left our cars and went upstairs to the bathroom with the space heater. A few minutes later, Joy walked in and took a seat on the tub. Next came David, leaning next to the sink. We were all in the bathroom, basking in the warmth, breathing in the germs and facing whatever was coming together.

When Hope walked through the door, she found out the plan and gave me a huge hug. Then Deb gave me four spoons and said, “Suck on these.” If you know Deb, you may find this a little troubling. Yes, she’s a sane, mature woman, but there are times when she definitely crosses the line between sanity and absolute craziness! In my weakened state, I was easily persuaded, so I did what she asked, and then she did the unthinkable. She took the spoons and handed them to our three kids. “Okay guys,” she said with a smile, put these in your mouths. Hope grabbed one and sucked on it like the tootsie roll owl, Joy grimaced as she took hers, and David dropped to the ground in a fetal position screaming “NOOO!”

What’s the point of relating our family’s crazy COVID story? I’m definitely not recommending you do the same with your family. Isolating from people may be the most loving thing we can do right now. But as my family moved toward me and my germyness, even when I felt like they shouldn’t, something special happened. Their nearness, more than words, communicated love.

That’s what Jesus did. He moved toward the outcasts. When a man came to Him with leprosy, instead of running away, He touched and healed him (Mark 1:40), and when a broken woman isolated herself because of racial division and scars, He found her and asked for water (John 4). Maybe he didn’t suck a spoon or sit in a bathroom, but He was good at finding vulnerable, beautiful ways to be with people. He loves us in our mess; He moves toward us despite our mess.

There’s more than just COVID making us feel dirty and unworthy to be with anyone, but the hope of Jesus flourishes when we see our germy, sinful mess and embrace the truth that God loves us anyway. It’s not fun getting sick, but the Author of my story didn’t stop there. He used my weakness to give me an early Christmas gift. A wife’s smile, a daughter’s hug, and even COVID all helped me see Him in a way I never had before. I saw Him moving toward me and my mess, and that’s much more potent than any virus. It’s what the real magic of Christmas looks like. It’s God with us (Mathew 1:23). It’s hope.