erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Apparently, smashing your thumb with a sledgehammer can be a win.  Who knew?  While doing demolition in my bathroom, I steadied the drywall with one hand while swinging a sledgehammer with the other.  Not my smartest move, but with each swing, the two-by-fours were coming loose.  It was working!

Encouraged by my progress, I got a little more aggressive.  Visions of Thor, the God of Thunder, began to play in my head.  I pulled the hammer back, and with one mighty blow, I slammed that hammer as hard as I could right into my thumb.  So much for my masculine daydream.

“OOOOOUCH!!!” I screamed, dropping the hammer.  The hot throbbing pushed against the inside of my nail.  I started hopping like a crazed rabbit, shouting, “No!” in between each hop.

The damage was done.  My nail went from purple to black, and in a few days, it started coming off.  It looked like rotten zombie flesh.

Here’s what’s crazy.  For years before the accident, before I did my best Thor impression, that nail had a hairline crack from the cuticle all the way up to the top.  When the nail grew, it would split.   And that split would snag on everything—bedsheets, clothing, coats.  Talk about annoying.

When I asked the doctor to fix it, he shook his head with a resigned smile.

“There’s nothing you can do?” I asked, shocked.  “Seriously?”  Doctors can use robots to repair knees, but they can’t fix a split nail?  He said even if he took the nail out, there’d be no guarantee it would grow back without a split.

I left the doctor’s office with a sigh.  My split thumbnail would just have to join me as I walked my daughters down the aisles or tossed baseballs with my grandkids.

But the doctor was wrong.

Apparently, sledgehammers are great healers.

A few months after my little accident, the new nail grew back, and guess what?

No split.

Problem solved.

If the doctor had told me before my little accident, “Just hold still while I swing a sledgehammer on your nail,” I would’ve walked out.  But a sledgehammer did the trick.  Looking at that nail as it grew back, I looked for the split to reappear.

Is God doing something here?  I wondered.

And He was.

I know it seems small, but God cares about the small stuff.  He took that painful moment that led to that messy looking piece of zombie flesh and made a new nail, something my doctor and I could’ve never orchestrated.

That’s encouraging because when I look around, I see a whole lot of pain and mess—pain much worse than smashed thumbs.

Stacy’s pain was very real the moment I saw her in the hall.  She’s a counselor at the high school where I work.

Students were in class, so the halls were empty.

“Erin, I could use some prayer,” she whispered. The two of us, along with a small group of staff, were used to sharing prayer requests.  Every Tuesday morning, we would circle desks in room 212, read a verse and then pray.

I held my breath, waiting for what Stacy was about to say.

“Some doctors did some tests,” she said, taking a moment to get the words out, “and I have cancer.”

She tried to be positive, saying they found it early.  Her faith that God was with her was beautiful, but she was human, and in that vulnerable moment, she wasn’t ashamed to say she was scared.

“Oh no, Stacy!” I whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

I asked a few questions and tried to be positive along with her, but the darkness of her news was hard to shake.  I put my arm around her, assuring her I’d pray, and then we walked back to our offices.

After a few weeks, Stacy wasn’t at school.  Her surgery and treatments suppressed her immune system, so she stayed home, but she still prayed with all of us via Zoom.

Nobody was giving up, but cancer’s sledgehammer was falling hard, and the pain was real.  The fear, the nausea, the questions all turned her world upside down.

Finally, Stacy came back, and after a few weeks, the cloud of cancer lifted.  When she told our prayer group her tests came back negative, people cheered, praised God, pumped fists—anything to express the relief and gratitude we all felt.

And the celebrating didn’t stop there.  A couple weeks ago, Stacy appeared at my classroom door with the biggest grin.  I stopped talking to my students from the front and looked up at her.  We made eye contact, and then the words poured out of her like a shaft of light in a dark room.

“Mr. Ahnfeldt,” she shouted, “look at this t-shirt, Amy made me!”

The whole class turned to look.  Amy is a science teacher, and the t-shirt she made captured what we all knew.  Tears glistened in Stacy’s eyes as she held it up.

“Heal Cancer,” it said across the front.  They were simple words, but the “He” in “Heal” and the “Can” in “Cancer” were all colored in pink.  “He can heal cancer” was the real message, and just below were the words, “for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

“He did it!” she shouted, with all the students staring wide-eyed.

“He sure did, Stacy!” I shouted back.  The students in my classroom may not have known it, but they saw joy in its purest form.

They got to see what happens when someone discovers God in their pain.  It wasn’t just that her cancer was gone.  Just like it wasn’t just the fact that my thumbnail was healed—happy circumstances can’t stir up joy.  And for reasons only God knows, some people don’t experience healing on this side of Heaven.

Joy goes deeper.

It comes from finally understanding–on the other side of pain–the wonderful truth that no matter how messy and painful life becomes, we matter to God.  The split in my nail and the cancer, the traffic ticket and the broken marriage—no matter how small or big our pain might feel, He sees it all.  And He uses it like the cold, black dirt of our lives to bring the flowers of newness and joy we could never grow on our own.

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