erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

My dad spent last week in a hospital bed.

Twenty-five years ago, some tests showed he had leukemia. Time with him seemed to be slipping away, but my sister prayed he would make it to her wedding day, and he did. Dressed in his tux, he held her hand and walked her down the aisle. When Libby, a family friend, heard about his battle, she prayed he would live to see his children’s children, and he has. He’s been tossing the baseball with them for over twelve years now.

But Dad’s battle with leukemia continues, and recently, he’s struggled.

Mom spent last week checking into a hospital every day to sit by his side. She watched as the new chemotherapy drug kicked up a storm inside his body, making him weak. After 53 years of marriage, she’s never seen him so weak.

That’s hard.

He was the ball player who the Red Sox invited to camp. He was the one who beat the arm-wrestling machine at Showbiz Pizza. He was the doctor who prayed with patients about broken bones and broken hearts.

And now he’s the patient, but he’s been a patient before. As a boy, his parents checked him into a hospital with a high fever. He stayed for a few nights, and every day, his mom would visit. She was an officer’s wife and dressed like it, wearing a freshly pressed skirt, classy purse, and high heels. She’d sit with him for a while, but then she’d leave, her heels clicking on the tile floor as she walked away. That fading sound haunted Dad, and tears would well up in his eyes.

He wanted to be strong, so he told himself he didn’t need his mom. I don’t need anyone, he thought. It was a lie he believed all the way into adulthood.

Dad got out of the hospital a few days ago. He’s probably sitting in one of his favorite chairs as I type this, watching the MLB playoffs, and Mom’s there sitting by his side. Like the cold breezes of autumn, the reality of one day saying goodbye chills them both to the core, but that lie Dad once believed is dead.

Dad knows he needs people. He knows he needs the One who’s given him all these years with us, and he knows he needs Mom. The sign he painted 35 years ago on the back of the closet door still rings true—”Arnie [still] loves Lois.” And that love isn’t just words painted on a door; there’s evidence of it every day when Mom helps Dad to the bathroom, when she washes his clothes, and when she reminds him to drink a little water.

“Mom, you seem stronger than you’ve been in a long time,” I told her, standing in her driveway a few nights ago.

“That’s the Lord, Erin,” she said, without hesitation. How does she know? Like my dad when he was a boy, she hears footsteps too, but instead of walking away, these footsteps are moving closer.

She heard them in the hospital. Dad’s oxygen plummeted, setting off alarms at the nurses’ station. When they came rushing in, he was slouched over, barely moving. There was no conversation—only moaning and struggle. While rain poured down outside, darkness crept into that room, suffocating hope.

After the nurses got him settled, for whatever reason, Mom got up from her chair to open the blinds. When she looked through the wet glass, all she could do was stare in wide-eyed wonder.

There, in plain view, breaking through the clouds was a rainbow. It may have seemed like nothing to most people, but to Mom, it was a glimpse of hope. “Arnie,” she whispered, “Look what God gave us!” Above the sound of beeping heart monitors and nurses pushing carts through the halls, she recognized the sound of footsteps. In her darkest moments, they were moving, step by step, ever closer to her.

The next day, while getting some errands done, Mom felt like some seafood from Captain D’s. Sitting in the drive-thru line, she was lost in thought, worried about Dad.

A giant man leaned out the window.

“It’ll be just a minute, mam,” he exclaimed, and his smile was gentle.

“How’s your day going?” he asked, trying to make conversation.

“Not so good,” she said. “My husband’s on the cancer floor at the hospital.” She was being polite, returning the smile. When the big man heard the news, his smile was gone.

“What’s his name?” he asked, reaching for a pen.

“It’s Arnie,” she said. Just saying his name almost brought tears. He wrote it down, and Mom’s heart swelled.

“You’re a brother!” she shouted. He laughed with compassion in his eyes.

“And you’re a sister,” he said, and handing her the food, he whispered, “I’ll be praying for Arnie.”

Mom left Captain D’s that day with much more than a seafood lunch. There was a God moving toward her, and in that drive-thru line, she listened with her heart and heard His footsteps.

My dad is resting at home now, getting stronger every day, but both my parents know, like all of us deep down, that they’re weak. That’s not hard for them to recognize in their seventies as Dad battles leukemia. At times, Mom is scared, but what she told me in her driveway is true. My parents’ strength is not from believing a lie that somehow they’re good on their own. Their strength is in knowing they’re weak but the Lord is there. Over and over, throughout these harder days, they’ve heard His footsteps. And rather than moving away, like the sound of clicking heels, they’re softly moving toward them, much more like the sound of the sandaled feet of Jesus.

There’s a child in all of us who feels weak and alone like my dad when he was a boy, but like the father who ran to the prodigal son in his weakest moment, there’s a father running toward us. We’re not alone—not in classrooms filled with teenagers, not waiting in drive-thrus, not even in the darkness of hospital rooms. God is here, and if we pay attention, we too will see the evidence and hear the sound of His footsteps.

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