erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Tucked away in a prairie draw, there’s a little old house that knows me. It’s a place I’ve grown up visiting on a piece of land our family calls “the ranch”. I remember pulling up to the house at night, my grandparents waiting in the lit-up kitchen window. We’d drag our suitcases to the bedrooms waiting for us, and after being tucked in, my brother and I would stare at the sliver of light under the door. We could hear the quiet, low tones of adult conversation on the other side, and the voices lulled us to sleep.

My grandparents are gone now, but the house is still there. Now my parents are the ones who greet us when we pull up. They’re the ones wearing the big smiles as grandkids walk through the kitchen door. Our kids catch minnows and crawdads in the same creek where my brother, sister and I used to wade with our nets ready and our eyes wide open.

The walls, the different rooms, that old kitchen have been privy to countless conversations, some with laughter and some with tears. Isn’t it interesting the way places shape us, for better or for worse? Places like the ranch can help us better understand ourselves and gain perspective, but then painful places like a tile floor in a middle school hallway can leave scars that last most of our lives.

Last weekend, my family and I visited “the ranch”. Because of COVID, my parents weren’t there. It was strange to stand in the rooms of that old house and not hear their voices. The idea of doing life without them is hard to think about.

Saturday morning came, and I was the first one up. The morning sun was shining through an upstairs window, and I moved a rocking chair to warm up in the light. My phone was sitting on my bedstand, so there wasn’t a screen in front of me. It was just God and I sitting there in the quiet of a house packed with memories.

As pictures of the past came to mind, I whispered, “Thank you, God, for moments with Dad in the kitchen.” Tears clouded my eyes thinking of his face in the sunlight. I looked out the window at the yard. “Thank you for meals at picnic tables under the trees, and for coyotes howling out there in the canyons.” I got up from the chair and started to pace looking at the walls, the photographs, and out the window at the old chicken coop.

The memories kept coming, and God and I savored them all—Deb and I sitting by the fire all night, sunset walks, Steve using the dirt-road puddle to wash his hair, Andy playing that old piano, leading kids in worship, and Mom standing in the light of a sunset telling all of us to “Just imagine.”

You’d think each memory would be uplifting, but I felt the opposite. It all felt heavy. Why was that? I sat for a while thinking about it. Staring out the window in the quiet, this image of Peter came to mind.

He was holding a net, but he had a problem. Despite fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus told him to throw that net into the water one more time, so he did, probably with a little eye roll. When he tried to pull it in, it was so full of fish, he couldn’t do it. He needed help. That was it. That was the heaviness I felt.

God fills our nets with rocky mountain views, sunsets, snowflakes and kids. He gives us moments teaching our kids to ride bikes and then tearful goodbyes as they walk into their college dorms.

Thinking about Peter straining at those nets, I realized the heaviness came in knowing I couldn’t possibly hold on to every memory. Some of them break through or spill over the edge. It’s impossible for one human heart to keep them all, and that was sad to me. That’s why Peter asked for help. He asked his friends to help him haul in those fish, and as I sat there alone, I wanted help too.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what expression was on Jesus’ face as He watched those men pull in that net overflowing with fish, but I bet He was smiling, maybe even laughing. God loves it when we enjoy what He’s given. One of the most underrated acts of worship is remembering—stopping to look back on what God has done and giving thanks.

It’s a way to savor His goodness and the reason He had His people build Ebenezers, celebrate festivals, and pass out the bread and wine for communion. It’s the reason we celebrate Christmas. Every holiday, tradition and sacrament is a net thrown out to gather up the stories of what God has done. And typically when we remember, we do it together. We need help hauling in the nets jam packed with memories. This poem is one of those nets.

Dad at the breakfast table

Wearing a cheerful smile

The smell of coffee and a book in hand

He asks me to stay a while

Swedish pancakes and simple stories

The jam and sugar passed around

Conversation in the morning light

My heart wrapped up in the sacred sound

Canyons, treehouses, and old barns

Crying out to be explored.

Catching minnows in the cool of the creek

How could I ask for more?

Oranges and reds light up the sky

Sunsets behind Grandpa’s old trees

We all take time to stop and stare

Sitting among broken machines.

“Just imagine” mom would say

And we picture people from the past

Like little cups she fills us up

Creating memories that will last

Like Peter when he cast his net

Into what he thought was an empty sea

Jesus fills up our lives to overflowing

Thinking of you and me

Our nets filled to overflowing.

The memories push against the ropes

Too much for one heart to carry.

God’s goodness greater than our hopes.

Come taste and see the evidence of love

Bursting like prairie thunder

Grab a line and help me remember.

Come be still, and come wonder.

One of my greatest joys in life is to use words to encourage. I hope to do that with these stories, and someday soon with a book. If you think others might be encouraged by these emails, please consider sharing this on Facebook or forwarding it to a friend. And if someone sent this to you, you can sign up here to get these stories twice a month. Thank you for your support!