erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

“My mom was stabbed!” Mckayla shouted.

Her words shocked everyone in the classroom, including me, but with Mckayla, I was used to shock. The week before, she said she beat up a police officer, and her shaved head and huge arms made the story believable. Nevertheless, I waited with an open hand for her phone.

There are only a few rules I have in class, and one of them is absolutely no cell phones. When I saw Mckayla using hers, I knew taking it would be a battle. As soon as I tried, she started shouting about needing to text her stabbed mom.

She glared at me like Smog defending her precious gold from Bilbo. A fire crackled inside her, and from the scowl on her face, I could tell she wanted to roast me like a marshmallow.

“Did anyone hear me?” she roared. “My mom was stabbed.” And the flames poured out.

My lesson plan that day didn’t include having a battle with a fire-breathing student. What’s really sad is there’s a side of McKayla that loves people. Giving makes her happy, but with the storms in her life, that giving rarely shows up, so her classmates and I usually get Smog.

“Let’s go across the hall, Mckayla,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Grab your stuff.” Amazingly, she agreed, and the class watched us leave.

“How’s your mom doing?” I asked. I tried sounding concerned, but I knew she was lying, and a phone call later confirmed it. She said her mom was out of the hospital, but she wanted to make sure she was okay. I nodded, patted her on the back, and left her to cool down.

“I’ve got a little gift for you!” I shouted, walking back into the classroom.

Students groaned as I grabbed a stack of poems.

“Oh come on,” I yelled back, passing them out. “Give it a chance.”

Eventually, Mckayla walked back into class, and immediately, her phone was out. She was busily putting jewels into the necklace on her screen. My blood boiled, but I kept passing out the poem.

“Okay, who can do a Scottish accent?” I asked. Robert Burns’ poem To A Mouse was the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men. Reading that poem is the perfect way to finish our journey with the novel. And Burns was Scottish, so of course, we had to try a Scottish accent.

Nathan volunteered.

“Awesome, Nathan, go for it!” I said. The class laughed out loud as he gave his best Shrek impression, and in between stanzas, we talked about the poem.

When I started writing notes on the whiteboard, everyone quieted down. All except Mckayla. She was taking a picture of Nathan. He crossed his eyes and laughed out loud as Mckayla aimed her phone at him. She was flaunting her phone, deliberately pushing my buttons.

That was it for me.

“Okay, Mckayla, grab your stuff!”

“What now?” she yelled. She grabbed her backpack, and I escorted her out.

I dealt with her, and when I got back into class, a gold object flew across the room, hitting the floor. Steven was smiling when I looked at him. A pile of gold-wrapped Ghirardelli chocolates covered his desk.

“Steven, throwing things drives me crazy,” I said, still shaking with adrenaline from dealing with Mckayla. “Put those away.”

I turned around, and after a few more steps down the aisle, another gold wrapper hit the floor. Again, Steven was smiling.

I wasn’t.

“I just told you to stop throwing those!” I shouted. My face felt hot with anger.

“Sorry, Mr.,” he said.

“I’m trying to do my job, Steven! Can you let me do that?” He put away the wrappers, and before I could continue the notes, Stephanie’s hand was up.

“Yes Stephanie,” I said.

“Can I go in the hall?” When things get intense, Stephanie heads for cover. It’s her way of silencing the constant waves of anxiety.

“Sure,” I said.

By the time she made it to the hallway, we were finishing the poem.

“What does Burns mean by, ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft astray?’” I asked. Then Sara walked up.

She leaned forward to whisper.

“Mr. Ahnfeldt, I think Stephanie is having a nervous breakdown. Can I go sit with her?”

“No Sara,” I whispered back. “Thanks for asking.” Sara is incredibly caring, but she’s also fond of avoiding class.

The students were checked out at this point, most of them with eyes completely glazed over. Class had become a train wreck.

“What do you guys think about that last line?” I asked again.

Thankfully, Jaydin raised his hand.

“Plans don’t always go the way we want,” he said. The connection wasn’t lost on me.

I wrote what Jaydin said on the whiteboard.

Then came another interruption. Only this one didn’t come from fire-breathing students or golden shrapnel. It came through three simple words—

“The Lord’s plan.”

As I stood at that whiteboard, the memory of those words spoke to me. I read them earlier that morning in Micah 4, and in that moment, I felt something different than I had felt the entire class.

There was peace.

And it wrapped around my heart like a warm blanket on a snowy night.

As my plans were falling apart, “The Lord’s plans” were unchanged. Even in the midst of all the noise, He was still writing the story. The timing of the poem, my train wreck class, and those words from Micah could not have been more perfect. They worked together as God’s megaphone to my heart that He was still in control. It was all part of His unfailing plan, and like the farmer saw the mouse in that famous Robert Burns poem, I knew God saw me in the chaos.

Remember the story of Joseph and Mary? A long journey on a donkey, no room at the inn, and a baby born in a barn. Things were not exactly going the way they planned either, but that’s when the beauty of God’s plan unfolded. Jesus was born, and a “weary world”, where plans are constantly falling apart, rejoiced. The Author of our story loves us, and He holds the pen. That’s the “thrill of hope” our world hungers to know. And that’s where we’ll find peace.

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