erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

One of my students was done. Not done with another online assignment or another WebEx class. He was done with life, but when the depression was too much, he told a counselor and got help. “I’m thankful for those kids,” said Stacy, one of our school counselors, “It’s the ones who don’t reach out that scare me.” Her words got my attention.

There’s so much darkness, and lately, it’s been seeping into my online classroom with ugly regularity.

That darkness hung over Carter. When I asked him about his Thanksgiving plans, he told the class he wasn’t invited. Whether it was his parents’ disappointment or some kind of sick discipline, they decided to go to Denver without him. “What will you do at home?” I asked. He used his best tough guy voice and muttered something about hanging out with friends.

Again, one Friday, the darkness was thick. Lucy shared a quote with the class about the beauty of putting on confidence.

“Do you do that?” I asked.

“No,” she whispered, a little surprised by the question. Her little square was highlighted in blue. “I look in a mirror and really don’t like myself.”

“Lucy, you’re an incredible young lady,” I said, “It took guts for you to share that in front of everyone.” My words felt like a butterfly band-aid for a gaping wound.

These are the kids, like Stacy said, we’re thankful for. They’re the ones reaching out, but they’re also a horrifying reminder of the darkness we’re all battling these days.

The quote Lucy shared was an “Instant Replay”, an extra-credit opportunity for kids to share words that mean something to them.

Tim typed, “I have one” in the chat box.

“Here comes Tim!” I shouted, trying to use my best game-show-host voice. Then, just like with Lucy and all the others, I played a Michael Buble version of “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” as his walk-up music. I waited for about twenty seconds, and when Buble sang, “Candy canes and silver lanes that glow,” I faded it out.

“I came up with these words,” he said. His camera was off, so I couldn’t see his face, but I put two points next to his name and listened. “The words are, ‘Stars only shine bright in the darkest night.’” He explained that sometimes we need darkness to appreciate the light. His words were perfect! Yes, there is darkness, but there are also stars, and the night makes them beautiful.

The light of one of those stars was bright during 8th period. It was a class filled with twenty-three freshmen, and just like all my other Friday classes, they shared their Instant Replays too. Zoey shared, “Don’t hurt yourself loving someone else.” It was a line from a song.

“Are you feeling hurt right now, Zoey?” I asked. Her camera was on. We could all see the tapestry on her wall and some pictures. She waited to answer, looking down for a minute.

“It’s been hard,” she whispered. Again, the darkness was heavy. She was trying not to cry, and then some words appeared in the chat window.

It was James. “Zoey, you need someone to talk to or you good.”

We waited. Zoey wasn’t quite ready, but when I told the class to write Christmas Wish poems for each other, she wrote about James.

“Does anyone want to share what they wrote?” I asked. Zoey raised her hand immediately in her square. “Awesome, Zoey!” I shouted. “Go for it.”

She picked up her notebook and read:

The talent you have is more than someone could ever wish for.

Your smile is something anyone can adore;

I wish you luck on your basketball journey,

because James you really are worthy.

The class erupted with Christmas edition emojis—clapping, green Santa gloves and smiling snowmen. Zoey found a spark of hope, and we all basked in her glow. In the world of virtual classes and online lessons, the darkness was there, but it only made the light shine that much brighter.

There were other bright stars. After Thanksgiving, Carter told us about eating at IHop with his friends. When he told us about the Chicken Fried Steak he ordered, a smile lit up his face. It was the brightest thing I’d seen all day.

Alea laughed about trying out for Seth’s kazoo band. Seeing her doubled over in laughter gave us all a chance to laugh with her.

And when Aubree and I found out about Devlin’s baby guinea pigs, we told the whole class. Devlin leaned into the camera as he talked about them. For so long, being alone seemed to squelch the life out of him, but with the whole class hanging on his words and staring at those cute little “pups”, his eyes, like Carter’s smile, were bright stars.

God’s a big fan of little things. He’s the Author of baby guinea pigs and kind words in a chat window. He gives us smiles about chicken fried steak and laughter about kazoos. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” The Maker of the stars gives us those little gifts, and because they’re little, they can be overlooked. That’s what makes the darkness useful.

Not many people payed much attention to the star the wisemen followed, but they did.They knew it would lead them to the Messiah, and they needed the darkness to find Him. They used the darkness. And what about that Messiah? Born in a barn, wrapped in rags, and surrounded by the smell of cow manure, He was another one of those gifts that could’ve been missed, but our darkness helps us see He’s everything we need. Those little moments, those little gifts God gives, may seem trivial, but in the midst of crushing anxiety and kids battling lies, they carry the brightness and beauty of stars. Tim was right. The darkness helps us see those stars, but the Father of heavenly lights wants us to see more. He put that song on the radio, that conversation on the phone, and that meal from a neighbor in our lives for a reason. Like the wisemen, he puts stars in our stories to light our way to Him.