erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

My friend Jim is 88 years old, and he’s a newlywed.  Because he battles with parkinson’s, sitting is easier for him, so when we talked last Sunday, I sat on the floor.

Sitting at his feet seemed appropriate, partially because there were no other chairs but also because of the very real presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.  The moment felt sacred as we talked about his wedding and the goodness of God.  Life radiates through him like sunlight through aspens.

When he talked about people coming to know Jesus, he started to cry.

“I love the way you love Jesus, Jim!” I said.

Then, he leaned forward, his face bright with joy, and put his hand on my shoulder.

“Erin,” he said, “I’ll never be able to love Him as much as He loves me.”

His words stir my heart even now as I type them.  He was right.  They’re the secret to real living (Ephesians 3:18-19).  And when I think about what he said, I think about the story of a photograph.

Last November, my family and I made a trip to Larkspur, Colorado.  We were there for an awards ceremony to honor Jay and Beryl Jacobson, my wife’s parents.  Their support of the Douglas County Land Conservancy has made an impact, and those involved in the non-profit have noticed.

Walking through the restaurant’s big wood doors, we found ourselves surrounded by people.  They were taking off coats and shaking hands, so I slipped past the masses, squeezing into some open space.

And then I saw it.

The huge photograph, taken by Bob Karcz, captured the drama of the wild. A massive buffalo stood in defiance against a whiteout blizzard.  Her brown hump, speckled with snow, and her large, wooly shape shielded her newborn calf from the storm.

I stared at the picture.  Something about buffalo always stirs up wonder in me.  Going to CU football games as a kid, I’d get goosebumps watching Ralphie, the buffalo mascot, proudly pound her hooves as she ran onto the field.  And today, I’ll often stop my car along Highway 24 and watch in awe as the buffalo herds grunt and scratch at the dirt.

The picture was placed neatly on white tablecloth, surrounded by others.  There were photos of birds in trees and furry animals coming out of holes, but none of them caught my attention like the buffalo with her calf.

People were milling into the next room for food, but as I followed the flow, the crowd and noise were stifling.  So I left. . . and found myself back in the room with the buffalo.

“Daddy!” my daughter shouted, stepping out of the crowd.  Her cheerful voice, although a little scratchy from a cold, washed over me like a mountain stream.

“Joy!” I shouted back.  “What are you doing here?”

“I saw you leave the room, so I thought I’d join you.”

My daddy’s heart swelled.

We explored the refreshingly quiet room full of maybe thirty pictures.

“That’s my favorite,” Joy pronounced, pointing at the one with the two buffaloes.

“What!?”  I said, laughing.  “Mine too!”  We asked a host why the photos were on display.

                                     Photo by Bob Karcz

“They’re part of a raffle,” she explained.  “If you donate to the conservancy, we’ll sign you up to receive one.”

“Can we choose which one we get?” I asked.

“No.  It’s the luck of the draw,” she said.  “We draw your name, and then we draw the photograph you’ll receive.”

I turned to Joy.  Being a teacher, I’m not exactly drippin’ with dough, but I was excited.

“This is crazy,” I said to her, “but I think we should do it.”

Joy nodded her head and laughed, a huge smile growing on her face.

I wrote a check, and the woman signed us up.

We eventually got our food, and the awards ceremony started.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but during the first speech, my mind went back to the photograph.

“God, you could get us that picture,” I secretly prayed, but I left it at that.  I didn’t actually ask for it.  After all, there were kids starving in Africa.  Why would God be concerned about a photograph?

The first of three honorees finished his speech, and as Deb’s parents were introduced, the lady speaking mentioned the photograph raffle.

I bet God’s gonna do it, I thought, taking a drink of water.  I smiled, thinking about it.

An incredible video was played honoring Jay and Beryl, followed by their talks about their love for the land and history of Colorado.  There was applause, and then another host approached the microphone.

“If you entered the raffle, don’t forget to come by the table and pick up your photograph.”

“Daddy, can I go,” Joy asked with that cute, scratchy voice.

“Yeah,” I said, winking at her, “go see what we got.”

A few minutes later, conversation at my table stopped.  Everyone was looking at someone standing behind me.  I knew it was Joy.

“Daddy!” she said, her voice almost gone.  “Look!”

I turned around, and Joy was holding a large cardboard box, a giddy smile lighting up her face.  Using some dramatic flare, she pulled out the picture ever so slowly.

And as soon as I saw that wooly buffalo head, I covered my face with my hands.

“Are you kidding me!!?” I shouted.  Out of thirty pictures, we got the buffaloes!  People from other tables started staring.

“Daddy, I prayed we would get it,” Joy shouted, shaking with excitement.  “God bends close to listen!”

“He sure does!” I shouted back.

The picture now hangs in my study, a key unlocking a memory I never want to forget.  But even more importantly, it reminds me of Jim’s secret to real living—Jesus loves us much more than we could ever love Him.

The cross itself is evidence of that love, but God gives us more—the sound of a daughter’s voice, the beauty in nature, and moments in our stories that prove He’s paying attention.  We’re seen with the eyes of a Father who delights in what He sees and longs for us to know it.  After 88 years, Jim knows.  He knows it when he looks at his new bride Shirley.  And after that night with the buffalo picture, Joy and I know it too.

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