erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

When the SWAT team arrived at our school, they took over.  They gathered the reports from the students and watched the surveillance video.  Everyone was sure it was the gunman, and he was inside!

The police were after him the day before.  Some students saw him holding a gun near Sonic, sending them running, and somewhere out there, he was still at large.  That’s why the district secured our school two days in a row, and it’s why a police officer found her way into the English Department.

She checked each office.

“Clear here,” she said to her partner.  Then, she saw me at my desk.

“Sir, we’re asking everyone to make their way to the auditorium.”

I grabbed my backpack and followed her into the hallway.  Later, I discovered police had identified the gunman’s location in a classroom downstairs.

A SWAT team leader stood at that classroom door.

“I want everyone to put their hands on their desks where we can see them,” he said, very calmly.  Students obeyed, and men in black Kevlar vests and tactical gear walked into the room.  One student was asked to lift his hands and stand up.  He obeyed, and the men grabbed each of those lifted hands and walked him out.

On another side of the school, I stood among hundreds of anxious students gathering in the auditorium.

“Mr. Ahnfeldt, what’s this about?” one of them asked.

I didn’t know.

Another student got a text about a SWAT team.

I didn’t know about that either.

Worried parents texted kids.

And kids, trying to be calm, asked about siblings in other parts of the building.

Then one of the counselors shouted from the stage.

“Hey!”  His booming voice echoed through the auditorium.  “Quiet down!  You might need to hear an announcement!”

Finally, we were dismissed.  The threat was over, and all of us stepped out of the auditorium back into what was left of our day.

When the bell dismissing students rang, Meghan, my TA, waited for me at the classroom door.  She had arranged for us to see her sister Bella—a former student of mine—and her sister’s new baby.  The two of us moved quickly downstairs, dodging students and security guards.  An intercom reminder came about a staff meeting at 3:20, but we had to see this new little life.  We crossed the river of students pouring out the front door and squeezed into the front office.

Then I saw them.  Meghan gave her sister a smile and ran to the car seat carrier.

“Isn’t she beautiful, Mr. Ahnfeldt?” she asked, facing the carrier toward me.

Peering into that cushiony cave, I saw an angel.

“This is Elora,” Bella said, a proud smile spreading across her face.  Little Elora’s eyes were closed, her pacifier slowly moving back and forth.

“She’s beautiful, Bella,” I said.

People rushed past us, but we all stood there, staring into that little sleeping face.  Bella watched us as we watched her little girl.

“And I have something for you,” she said, handing me a painting.  The sunset she painted, the lake, the cross, and the silhouette of the mountains captured the peace of the moment.

I held it in my hands, looking at it like I looked at little Elora, soaking up the wonder of it all.  Then I read the verse written on it:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

I needed to go.

“This is so special, Bella,” I said, giving her a side hug.  “I’ll treasure this, and your little girl is beautiful.”  I waved goodbye to all three of them and hurried out the door.

In the meeting, our principal told us the SWAT team got the wrong guy.  A few miles away, police caught the real gunman in his house.  The student from our school was released, and his attitude was amazing.  He even thanked them for doing their job.

A few days went by, and when Friday came, we did Instant Replays.  Anyone could share words that meant something to them, and the words Jonas shared in that 8th period class stirred something in all of us.  I wondered if it would be better if I didn’t share an Instant Replay.  Then I saw Meghan sitting at her desk and thought about her sister and the painting.  I had to say something.

Once again, Meghan played Maroon 5s Payphone, and I walked up to the podium.

The music faded, and I lifted Bella’s painting.

“Meghan’s sister painted this for me,” I said, smiling.  “Isn’t it beautiful?”  I told the class about Bella bringing her daughter and how peaceful she looked sucking on that pacifier.  And I read the verse.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Reading that verse out loud somehow helped make sense of it all.  Bella, the sleeping baby, the sunset–all of it stood in stark contrast to the chaos of the gunman, the lockdowns, and the anxious students.

“The ‘pattern of this world’ is chaos,” I said.

“I got this painting the day the SWAT team came to our school looking for a gunman.”  Some of the students looked up at me.  “I think maybe God knew I needed that moment with Meghan and her sister more than I realized.”  I smiled at Meghan.  “We don’t have to get wrapped up in all the chaos.  There’s peace for us.”

Kids politely clapped, nodding their heads.

Later, processing the day with my wife, it hit me.

“Hey, that’s what Jesus did!” I said.  Placed in a pile of hay, He brought beautiful contrast to the chaos of our world, just like baby Elora.

My soul longs for the peace of that baby in a manger, but the world screams for me to conform to its chaos—to speed up, to get anxious, to screen-stare and miss His nearness.  This Christmas, I’m thankful God sees our troubled hearts.  And I’m thankful He’s still bringing His peace, doing what we can’t–releasing the pressure from our balloons and interrupting our chaos with babies.

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