• Sheila Harkins

Where's the Love?


A country divided by war and our missionary neighbor being murdered were the main reasons that had led to my family leaving our mission station that we loved and moving into town. The combination of the preceding events and the reality of already being a sensitive child resulted in a scared, anxious girl sitting in her new sixth grade classroom. My teacher was a strict, abrasive man who used bullying and shaming tactics.

It was not a good combination.


As the first few days of the school year crept by, I entered his classroom daily in fear and trembling. Outwardly, I looked very similar to the other students in my green uniform dress and my black shoes, but inside I was very aware I was from a different culture and I didn’t quite fit in.


As the routine went, daily we jotted down our homework in our homework notebooks as Mr. B went around the room, from desk to desk, and checked to make sure our parents had signed the work from the night before. On this day, when Mr. B got to me, he stopped. Instead of putting a checkmark in my homework notebook, he picked it up.

“You signed your own homework?”  He asked loudly enough for others to hear him.


“No, sir.  My mother signed my book.”


“Oh, you can’t fool me. I know that’s not a parent’s signature.” His voice got louder. “This is not allowed.” 


I shriveled up inside.


“What do you have to say for yourself? You might as well go ahead and admit it.”


“I-I-I didn’t sign it.”  I stammered out quietly.


“You are lying!”  He declared definitively and loudly. He continued berating me and said he was going to let the principal know what I had done.


I was so ashamed. I had done nothing wrong, but I was being accused and labelled as a liar and a cheat in front of the entire class. For a child who desperately worked at being good, nothing else could have been as humiliating as being accused unjustly in front of my peers.


When I got home that afternoon, my Mom had the usual snacks sitting on the table for all four children and we gathered around to share not only the refreshments but also our stories from our day.  I couldn’t choke down any of my favorite cheese puff sticks as my sad story came out between sobs.


My family entered my sadness with me. My mother felt terrible that she had simply signed “Mrs Randall” instead of some fancy signature like the teacher obviously expected. 


A few minutes after our snack time, my older brother sheepishly returned to the kitchen, holding his uniform pants which now had a huge hole down the center seam.

“I was so mad at what Mr. B said to Sheila.” He explained. “I was expressing my anger in my room and kicked the air really hard as I was changing.  But…I…uh…I didn’t realize that one foot was still in my shorts, so instead of flinging them across the room, my kick split them.”


Who knew a pair of shorts with a hole in it could be so healing? The laughter began spilling out of us all bringing desperately needed relief from our sadness.  

The miracle of that memory–one that was so incredibly embarrassing and painful to me–is that, as it resurfaces through the years, the love of my brother also comes to mind.


We all go through traumatic events in our lives. Some are Big T traumas and some are little t traumas. And, even though this story from my sixth grade year is a little t trauma, it still impacted me and left a wound in my soul.


In my story, the redeeming quality–the love of my family–was also seen.

But, sometimes, we go through things that are so dark, it seems impossible to find any love or redemption. A big T trauma can leave us reeling. Or, a series of little t traumas can leave us without any hope.


I hear some stories from teens that make my stomach hurt. I’ve witnessed incredible stories of poverty and dysfunction from slums in Cambodia, villages in Zimbabwe, the inner city of Birmingham, Alabama and from asylum seekers living in Bangkok. And, even in the lives of teens from well-off families who attend the international school where I work, I have heard stories of intense pain.


It often leads me to question God’s love. Can we find His love even in the hardest of circumstance and the darkest of times? Do we believe that Jesus coming to earth and living and dying was truly because “God so loved the world?”


I’m thankful that I’ve walked with God a long time and I’ve had opportunity after opportunity to see His faithful love. Time and again, He brings good out of a hard situation by showing me His love in unexpected ways.


The new friend.


The beauty of a rainbow.


The kindness of a stranger.


The old, old stories in the Bible that suddenly hit my heart in a new way as His love whispers tenderly to me again.


I think of the woman, who had endured so much for so many years and how she wanted to go unnoticed as she touched his cloak. Isolation and shame were her daily companions. But Jesus wanted her to know that she was seen and loved as he healed her. He spoke peace to her heart.


I think of the tears dripping down Jesus’ face as he wept with Mary and Martha in their grief. He entered their pain, even though he knew the rest of the story. He knew that their brother, Lazarus, would be resurrected.


I believe he weeps with us, too. He sees and knows and cares. I know there are times in our lives where we are only aware of the pain and we are unable to see the redemption. Even though Jesus knows the end of the story, I still believe He enters our pain with us.

Sometimes we need others to remind us of the gospel. Sometimes we need to once again  speak the good news to our own hearts and remind ourselves that He entered this hard world to be with us.  To remember that it was love that prompted His wounds, through which we are healed.


Many years ago, when Mark ripped his pants, a measure of healing and love poured over my wounded heart as I experienced my brother’s love in a fresh way. Today, no matter what hard times we may be going through, I pray that we would also see God’s love in a fresh way.  May we be reminded of the grace and healing He longs to pour upon us.

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