erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Someone caught me off guard in church last Sunday.  I was bouncing down the stairs saying “good morning” as I passed people.  Then, one gentleman replied with a little more than I expected.

“You’re an Ahnfeldt!” he shouted.

I stopped when he said that and turned around.

“Yes,” I said, smiling at him.

“I worked at the hospital for a while, and I knew your dad.”  He was halfway up the stairs, but I could tell he had more to say, so I moved closer.

He talked about my dad making the hospital a better place, and about how impressed he was watching him work a rod into someone’s leg during surgery.  I could picture it—my dad in his scrubs, veins bulging out of his huge Popeye forearms.

“Your dad was strong,” he said, savoring the memory.  When he finished, a few people listening smiled.  I half expected them to applaud.

What he said about my dad with so much pride stirred something in me, and I think he knew it.  Everyone around us knew it.

There was a time when my dad could arm wrestle the mechanical arm at Showbiz Pizza and drive baseballs over the centerfield wall.  That kind of strength is faded now, but anyone who tries to say my dad is weak would be dead wrong.

Just a few weeks ago, his Bible was open on his lap.  He had been reading about a man named Jacob who spoke words of love and direction to his sons.  The words, taken from Genesis 49, are not casual, spoken as an afterthought.  They’re considered a “blessing” because they’re intentional.

As Dad sat in the quiet mulling over what he read, his heart was moved with an idea.  And he felt like maybe the idea wasn’t even his.

Is this what you want, Lord? he prayed.  His answer came like a whisper deep in his heart, and he knew what he had to do.

Later, after we had lunch together, Dad asked me a question.

“Erin, what would you think if I gave a blessing to Hope, David and Peter?”

This is going to be tricky, I thought.

Hope and David are my two oldest kids, and Peter is my sister’s oldest.  With track practices, Peter’s musical, and work obligations, getting our schedules open at the same time would be like aligning the planets.  It just seemed impossible, but I could see what Dad was trying to do.  And if God could part the waters of the Red Sea, He could certainly open our schedules.  We all prayed about it, and miracle of miracles, it happened.

There was one day—and only one day—that worked.  My sister hosted a dinner, and while the dishes were being collected from the table, Dad set up the room.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but at first, I just considered the whole “blessing” idea something a patronizing person might say is “sweet.”  I watched him set up the chairs like I used to watch my kids set up their play kitchen.  The idea seemed cute—not something I’d call powerful.

When Dad was ready, we all sat in a half circle facing a couch where Hope, David and Peter were sitting.  After a quick explanation of the blessing, the vibe was set.  Then, standing behind all three older kids, Dad prayed.

“Father, we thank you that you’ve allowed us,” he prayed, his voice starting to tremble, “to not only see these people graduate, but also be part of their lives.”  We heard the emotion in his voice, and suddenly Dad’s blessing didn’t feel so cute and plastic anymore, like my kids’ play kitchen.

This was real, and there was power behind it.

One by one, he placed his hand on the kids’ shoulders and spoke words he knew he had to say.

He spoke about the kids Hope would have one day and the blessing she is to everyone she meets.

He talked about David being like the David from the Bible—a man after God’s heart.

And he talked about Peter being a man of wisdom who loves talking about truth.

As he spoke, his eyes were glistening with tears, but then I saw tears begin to form in David’s eyes too.  Like the beginning chords in an epic movie ballad, the moment was slowly building to a crescendo.

Dad finished by praying for each of the three grandkids, and the sniffling and tears continued until most of the eyes in the room were wet.

His words broke through the teenagers’ protective layers and softened them like a cool summer rain on dry grass.  They were little kids again, vulnerable and soaking up every bit of love they could–not only from my dad, but also from the God who gave him the idea to speak in the first place.

And then it happened.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

David reached out and held his sister’s hand.

That’s right.  He held Hope’s hand!

That might not seem like much, but I had goose bumps.

You know that moment when a butterfly lands on you and you don’t want to move?  That was David holding Hope’s hand—it was fragile, momentary and absolutely beautiful!

My son recently started listening to John Mayer, so we’ve been singing along in his car to Mayer’s song called Say.  Mayer sings, “You better know that in the end it’s better to say too much than never to say what you need to say again.”  The timing of those lyrics isn’t lost on me.

That man I saw at church could have replied with a simple “good morning” and kept walking, but he didn’t.  He stopped in the hallway and spoke about my dad’s strength.

And I don’t know how much longer my dad has left on this side of Heaven, but he isn’t wasting time either.  He took a moment to bless his grandkids, demonstrating a strength much more powerful than the muscles he once used to drive baseballs over center field walls.

My kids held hands because their grandpa was willing to cast aside awkwardness and say what he needed to say.  The Author of his story handed him a moment, and he spoke.


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