erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

My friend Betty is a little weird.  Why?  Because she’s a world-class listener.  And these days, not many people are good at listening—not with all the screens vying for our attention and the million must-do details running through our heads.  Stopping in the midst of all that noise to give life, people, or even God our attention is a little weird.  I mean the good kind of weird, or as my daughter Hope and I would say, “Jesus weird”, because His listening skills are off the charts.

The trouble is real listening usually doesn’t happen on paths highlighted with wildflowers and sunshine.  We need the mud, the rough weather and the steep inclines.  Desperation is key.  We need to be in places where relying on ourselves doesn’t work and listening is our lifeline.

During the twenty years I’ve worked with Betty, I’ve watched her travel some of those muddy, steep paths.  She’d be the first to say she’s not perfect, but she’s seen what God can do with her desperation, especially one particular week last December.

Day after day, she had visited her son’s mother-in-law in the hospital and watched her die.  She made phone calls, even sent flowers, but nothing could stop the inevitable.

And hearing about her sister’s battle with cancer only added more weight to a life that already felt like too much.  Memories swirled around in her head of family members she had lost—the goodbyes, the tears, the pain.  Fear had taken hold of her heart in its icy grip and she couldn’t help but wonder, Was she next?

Suddenly, living with the same zest and purpose seemed impossible, like trying to climb Pikes Peak with an eighty-pound pack.  Lesson planning, interacting with her students, just getting out of bed in the morning all came with a difficulty she hadn’t known since she lost Gary.

She was honest with her classes.

Standing in front of them one morning, exhausted, she had to say something.

“I’m sorry, guys,” she told them, “I’m just not myself today.”  Their strong teacher, the one who knew exactly what to do with every Kipling discussion or grammar lesson, was suddenly at a loss.

The following Saturday morning, she did the only thing she knew how to do when life gets hard.

She prayed.

But she didn’t just throw empty words at heaven and move on; she made a place to listen.

Sitting in her bedroom with a journal on her lap and the weight of the world on her shoulders, she called out for help into the silence of that room.

“Please Jesus, give me your peace.”  She knew leaning on her understanding would lead to more confusion, more fear (Prov. 3:5).  She needed the Holy Spirit.  “Give me something, Lord,” she whispered.

She started asking questions.  There were so many.

Why so much death?

Why another sister?

How do I keep going?

She waited in that silence, staring at her journal.

And more like a warm blanket than a voice, truth wrapped warmly around her.

“Live in the moment.”

That’s it? she thought.  She wrote it down.  And the more she thought about it, the more the words melted away fear’s icy grip.

In that room, with the morning light breaking through her window, she knew she wasn’t alone.  The past was gone, and the future was out of reach, but there was peace in the moment, a peace only God could offer.

Yes, she thought.  That’s what I’ll doOne moment at a time.

She could do the laundry.  She could buy some cards for some friends.  And then, she could get groceries.  One moment at a time, Betty walked through her day.

And the next morning, she knocked on my office door.

Her eyes and smile shouted before she said a word.

“Erin, I have to tell you something!”

I turned away from my emails, and she grabbed a seat.

“Remember what I told you about my sister and my son’s mother-in-law?”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding my head.  “How are you doing with all that?”

“Erin, this past weekend, I’m sure I heard from the Holy Spirit.”

She told me about sitting in her room with her journal.  She told me about the words “Moment by moment,” and then she told me about the grocery store.

“Erin, I was standing in line at the checkout counter.”  As Betty spoke, she was so excited she had to stop to gather herself.  “I noticed an older woman in line behind me.  She only had a basket of bananas and some milk, so I let her go before me, and we started talking.”

I sat on the edge of my chair, caught up in Betty’s wonder, and the story kept pouring out like a song:

The older woman was almost ninety, but she didn’t act her age.  She wore a sporty, red running outfit, like she’d been working out, and her eyes were full of life.  When the woman talked about losing her husband forty years earlier, Betty wanted to know how she kept going.

“Are the bananas and milk your secret?” Betty joked, smiling and pointing into the woman’s basket.

“No, honey,” the woman replied with a chuckle.  “I don’t worry about things.  I don’t worry about the future or get upset with the past,” and as the woman talked, Betty’s heart beat faster.  Then, the older woman looked at her and spoke the words they both knew were coming.

“I live in the moment,” she said.

Although a small part of her day, the conversation felt sacred, written out long before either of them met.  Like a great Charles Dickens novel, the pieces of her story were connected together to emphasize one final truth at the end.

Knowing the weight Betty had carried, I couldn’t help but marvel at the relief on her face.  The God who put rings around Saturn saw her 80-pound pack and, using a few simple words, lifted it off her shoulders.

“Betty, would you mind if I wrote about this?” I asked.

“Not at all, Erin,” she said.

Her smile spoke what she felt.  God was with her.  And how did she know?  When death showed its ugly face, she was Jesus weird, and she made a place to listen.

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