erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

I struggle with anxiety.  Sometimes it feels like I’m trapped like my pet lizard, Spike, baking under a heat lamp in a glass cage.  But in those moments, my cage doesn’t have a screen top; it’s solid glass, and I can’t breathe.  Anything can set it off.  A bad conversation, a pile of ungraded essays, a large social gathering, even a football game for crying out loud.

One of those “glass cage” moments came a couple of weeks ago.  I thought I had the perfect lesson plan.  The students and I would act out the end of A Raisin in the Sun, and we’d use the green hand sanitizer as Momma’s plant.   We’d all laugh, and then we’d watch the movie.  The plan seemed flawless.

And it chugged along like the little lesson plan that could until, out of nowhere, it flew off the rails.

The acting, needless to say, wasn’t exactly Kenneth Branagh.  Chase, bless his heart, gave a passionate performance, but Alea and Sara couldn’t stop giggling.

It was rough, but we got through it—barely.

Then came the movie.

Nothing could go wrong with that.  Right?

Wrong!

“Make sure you’re sitting in your assigned seats,” I said.

I was looking at Lilly.  At the beginning of class, she asked if she could move to the back corner with her friend.  I said “no”, but during the acting, she moved there anyway.

“Lilly, back to your seat,” I said, looking at her.

“Can’t I just stay here,” she begged, smiling at me.

“Nope.  Let’s go Lilly.  Back to your seat.”

“Please!” she shouted.

“Lilly, back to your seat.”

She turned her back to me like I wasn’t there, and I waited.

All eyes went to her and then me, like a tennis match nobody wanted to watch.  A cloud of tension filled the room, and the classroom I usually enjoyed felt more like a cage I wanted to escape.

That’s when I heard one of the sweetest sounds I’d heard all day.

“Come on, Wiwwy, you can do it!”  It was Kevin, one of the kids with special needs, and his innocence had power.

Grumbling, she grabbed her backpack and walked across the room.  We were just about to start the movie when Julio started typing on his phone.

I walked over to him.

“Julio,” I whispered, holding out my hand, “you need to give me your phone.”

He wouldn’t look at me.  He just shook his head “no”.  The glass cage was closing in, and breathing was getting difficult.

I leaned in closer and said, “Julio, you can give me your phone or stay after school.”

“I’m not giving you my phone, Mr. Ahnfeldt,” he whispered, “and I’m not staying after school.”

He was visibly shaken by something, and I was stuck.

That’s when the last straw fell.  I turned around, and there was Lilly, again not in her seat, laughing at Julio.

I was done.

“Lilly,” I shouted, “take your stuff to the table across the hall!”

She kept laughing, picked up her backpack, and stepped into the hall.  I watched her walk to the table and then started the movie.

There was no way I would let the period end without talking to Lilly, so I slipped through the door and found her.

The conversation was brief and went nowhere.  With the storm raging insider her, my words felt useless.

“Let’s head back in there, Lilly,” I said.

She walked back into the classroom, slamming her backpack against the wall.  The movie finished, the bell rang, and everyone left.  There was no victory—just this feeling like I couldn’t breathe.

A week later, thanks to Mrs. Schinkel facilitating, Julio and I talked through what happened.  He was wrapped up in a mess of problems I never faced at his age.  We shook hands at the end, and things were different.  We moved on.  Lilly followed his lead, and even though she’s still dealing with storms in her life, she’s been walking into class with a smile.

So what happened on that Friday afternoon?  What was that?

Just hours after that tough class, Deb and I pulled out of our driveway, headed to a marriage conference.  Needless to say, feeling trapped in a glass cage isn’t the best catalyst for romance.

Great start to our romantic weekend!  I thought.  Deb sat next to me, giddy about getting away together, and I felt overwhelmed.

We drove, and I dumped my heavy story onto my wife.  She listened patiently, looking over at me with those big, green eyes, and as I talked, something became very clear—I have an enemy.

The enemy wasn’t Julio or Lilly (Ephesians 6:12).  They’re broken people like me.  My enemy is dark, spiritual, and bent on destruction.  You can call him whatever you like–Satan, Lucifer, or the Snake.  Regardless, the one thing he hates to see in people who follow God is joy.  I’m not talking about happiness that comes and goes with circumstances.  I’m talking about joy, something found only in the unconditional, unchanging love of the Author of our stories (Nehemiah 8:10).

When I looked into those patient, green eyes, the same green eyes that have looked into mine for almost 25 years, I got a glimpse of that love.

That’s it, I thought.  He’s threatened by this.  Walking into the banquet hall, I held the door for my wife, and it all became clear.  The timing of that hard class was no accident.  The slithering Snake hated everything to do with the conference and our marriage?  Why?  Because it all stirs up joy.

If he couldn’t change the fact that God love us, he could at least try to steal our joy (John 10:10).  Exposed, all his power was gone.  Deb’s green eyes and patient smile shattered my glass cage, and I could breathe.  We sat down that night for our first session of the conference, and guess what they talked about?  Rather than discussing finances or communication, the first topic they covered was the “invisible enemy”.

You’re kidding me! I thought, smiling.

God wanted us to know He saw us, and even though we faced a very real enemy, He was in the battle with us and we’d be okay.


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