erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

I wanted to ask her the right way.  Just for fun, I walked outside the front door, turned around and rang the doorbell.

“Hope,” Deb shouted on the other side, “I think you have a visitor.”  I could hear the pattering of little feet rushing down the stairs.  The latch turned, and the door swung open.  6-year-old Hope was standing there in jeans and her favorite “Live, Laugh, Love” t-shirt.

“Hi Daddy,” she said, eyes rolling.  She knew what was coming.

“Hope, would you go to a movie with me?” I asked, looking down at her.

“Yes,” she said with a giggle, shaking her head in embarrassment.  She didn’t know what to do with herself.

Her smile caught me.  With a front tooth missing, she looked like a cute hockey player with dimples.

We walked to the car, and when I opened the door, she plopped into her car seat.  She didn’t need help.  She buckled herself up and flipped her hair back like a big girl.

The family waved goodbye, and we were off to Wendy’s for some hamburgers and Frosty’s.  I don’t remember what we talked about.  Probably about being a big sister or the latest with her friends.  We were mostly just excited to see the new Disney movie, “Tangled.”

Afterall, it was Disney, so it had to be good, right?  When we finished eating, we left for the theatre and arrived early.  Hope held my hand as we walked through the theatre doors.

“This is going to be great!” I said, squeezing her hand.

She smiled with that cute hockey player smile and nodded in shy agreement.  We settled into our seats, and when the lights went black, the movie started.  Everything was going great.  Rapunzel played hide and seek in the tower with Pascal, her pet chameleon, and Flynn Rider started to win the heart of fair Rapunzel.  The music, the characters, and the storyline all carried along this classic Disney magic.

The date was a complete success, until evil Mother Gothel got mad.  She pulled a knife out with a wicked laugh.  Then, she hired some thugs, and as if things couldn’t get worse, they found a way to capture Flynn.  The music turned dark, and Hope’s little hand squeezed my arm.  A few times, she closed her eyes, and then in the twinkling light of the movie, I saw something that broke me.

There were tears in her eyes.

“Can we go now, Daddy?” she asked.

Her question hit me in the gut, like a fist from one of Mother Gothel’s thugs, stirring up a dilemma.

We could go.  If we did, Hope would feel like I was honoring her feelings and protecting her heart.  But then again, I was really enjoying the movie (even if I am a man watching an animated princess movie) and I wondered if maybe we should stick it out.  Did I mention I’m manly?

“Let’s stay a little longer, Hope.  There’s gonna be a happy ending,” I whispered, praying the good guys would turn it around.

Nope.  More darkness.  Rapunzel’s life only got worse and the scary music built to a horrifying crescendo.

Hope turned to me.  I could see her silhouette in the darkness.  She was wiping away tears, and this time when she spoke, her voice was shaking.

“Are you sure it’s gonna be okay?” she asked.  “I wanna go.”  My heart broke for her, but this was Disney for crying out loud.  Of course it would have a happy ending.  Right?

“I’m sure,” I whispered back, putting my arm around her and holding her close.  We waited a little longer, and eventually, Flynn found a way to trick the thugs.  Things turned around!  The music began to change, and Rapunzel was happy again.  The princess sitting next to me was happy too.  As they say, “All is well that ends well.”  Hope and I left the theatre thankful we stayed even though at points, we weren’t sure how it would end.

What Hope and I experienced in the middle of the movie is pretty common.  Anyone can feel overwhelmed in the middle of just about any story, even in the Bible.

Take Mary, for example, when her brother died (John 11).  Like little Hope, the story of her life was taking a turn she couldn’t bear to face. She sent word to Jesus, begging Him to come quickly, but He took His time.  By the time He got to Mary and Martha’s house, Lazarus was already dead in the tomb.  That’s when Mary ran to Jesus, weeping.   If Jesus had only been here sooner, she thought.

But she didn’t know Jesus was actually the Author of her story.  She didn’t know He knew how the story would end.  Jesus looked at Mary, knowing He was going to heal her brother, and He did something beautiful.

He cried (John 11:35).

Why?  If He knew in just a few minutes He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why the tears?

He cried because He loved Mary.  Her pain, even if it was temporary, mattered to Him.  Isaiah 40:28 says, “His understanding no one can fathom.”  He knew, like I did with Hope, that the ending would be happy, but He also understood what Mary was feeling, and it moved Him so much that He cried too.  I love that!

As I type these words, that little girl with the hockey player smile is upstairs in her room packing up boxes.  It feels like it was last week we sipped on frostys and watched “Tangled”, but she’s 18 now.  Her smile is perfect; every tooth is in place, and tonight, I’ll tuck her in and kiss her forehead one last time.  College and a life beyond this home are waiting, so we have to say goodbye.

The middle of this story is hard; this goodbye is hard, but there’s a God who’s pulling me close.  He understands, and as the tears come—like they are right now—I can rest knowing He not only sees the tears, but He writes the stories, and knowing He’s got the pen gives me strength to make it to the happy endings just around the bend.

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