• Sheila Harkins

How Do You Trust a Heart?

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

“You don’t care about me! You just want me to be your slave. I hate you!” The eight-year-old boy was screaming and kicking on his top bunk. Then, he turned and started beating his head on the wall.

“I hate you!” He yelled again.

My heart was breaking. This was not just any eight-year-old. This was Kevin.

Kevin, with the cowlick, the warm brown eyes, the snaggle tooth smile and the cute lisp. Kevin, who loved tickle wars and singing "Achy Breaky Heart" and playing uno with us.

Kevin, who lived in our home and who was yelling at my husband and me. We were a young couple without any kids, but a few months earlier Kevin had entered our hearts and our home.

We met Kevin through Philip’s chaplaincy work at an inner city project. In a location full of neglected and abandoned kids, his story was one we kept hearing about because of how many hardships little Kevin suffered. His Mom was a drug-addict living with a drug dealer. We first wanted to help his mother—to help her break her dependance on drugs, to support her as she parented Kevin, and to help her break the cycle of her dependency on abusive men. Since I was off from my teaching job for the summer, I would often pick up Kevin from the projects where he lived and take him on field trips or go to our house to play or make cookies. One day, as I was driving him home, we had a conversation that shook me to the core.

Kevin: Will you come inside with me when I get home?

Me: Why?

Kevin: When I get home, I don’t want to find my Mom dead.

With further questioning, Kevin told me about the fight he had witnessed that morning between his mother and her boyfriend and that when he had left, the boyfriend had his Mom’s head in the toilet. Kevin had lived with those images in his head all day while we were having a wonderful time at the Science Discovery Center and I had no idea.

He then asked one more question.

“If she is dead, will you be my new Mommy?”

I tried to reassure Kevin that his Mom would be probably be just fine, but even as I reassured him, I knew I would never be the same again. And, in my heart, I knew right then and there that if Kevin ever did need a new Mommy, I would be first in line.

A few weeks later, Kevin’s mother was arrested and she asked us to take Kevin in. We were very willing and happy to do so. We wanted to pour all the love we had into his love-deprived heart. And, for a time things went so well with Kevin soaking in all the love and attention he could get.

But, he didn't trust us.

Trust doesn't come naturally. It is something that is earned. When someone is there when you need them, or they do what they say they will do over and over again, eventually you discover they are dependable. And trust is born.

But what happens when you don't get that when you are little? When time and again you are disappointed? When you discover that the person who was supposed to protect you has once again let you down? What happens when the world isn't safe because the very ones who were supposed to take care of you are the ones hurting you?

Kevin came to us as a seven-year-old who had already decided the world couldn't be trusted. For seven years, he had experienced betrayals and broken promises and traumatic events. His heart was wounded and hurt.

Little-boy-Kevin so badly wanted our love. Life would go well for a time, but then he would have a melt-down, or he would go into a rage. Many times he sabotaged our efforts to show him love. We could see his desire to be loved and then we would see him put walls around his heart again as he tried to protect himself.

Teen-age-Kevin seemed to totally gave in to his mistrust. He saw normal actions and expectations of parents and authority figures as controlling and unkind. He wouldn't (or couldn't) see the love behind our parenting. And, this pattern followed him to three different Boys' Homes and several foster homes as his distrustful heart pushed back against anyone who was trying to help him.

Adult-Kevin finally recognized the love that we had for him. As he became a parent, his heart was able to recognize and receive our love in new ways. Over and over he communicated his thanks to us and offered his love back to us.

These words from Kevin that he spoke and wrote to us over the past decade have comforted us during this time of grief. Even though we hate that Kevin's life here on earth is over, we are so thankful that he was able to come to the place to recognize our love for him.

Kevin eventually trusted our hearts.

Words like the following are very precious to us:

"Thank-you for being the parents you didn't have to be."

"I love you both no matter what. My kids couldn't be who they are without you first being who you were."

"Love you both more than life itself. And thank you for being the parents that a kid like me never thought to exist."

"I try so hard to let my kids know I love them, and make memories that will last as you and dad did for us kids."

"I'm glad that my parents gave me an example to live by."

"I love my dad and I love my mother too. But I feel that sometimes as my parents they wonder if there is anything they could have done different. I'm here to tell you that I think they did an excellent job."

"I read through your email and blog today and loved every minute of it. I especially enjoyed your blog and all the pictures. We have such a great family. I think I cried through most of it as I realize that so many people strive to live as you live, and never fully understand how to do it. Nor do they do it near as well. I never quite understood one thing growing up in the shadows of two awesome parents though. Your replies are never in anger, they're never lashing back towards anyone, and they're so full of love. I love you so much. I'm glad that in my short years growing up around you that were cut short because of my greed and selfish behaviors that you and dad we're able to hand down such valuable traits. Traits that followed to this day and you did it it in such a short time. They are traits that I have encouraged my kids to seize and to never let go of. Traits such as love and forgiveness, and most of all understanding. For how could we love someone or forgive someone if we never understood why they did what they did. Even today I am constantly impressed that I am still learning from you. Even if you're physically not here to help make tough decisions, I still am able to make them based off of examples of two wonderful parents 15~20 years later. Thank you for that.

I think that I am a wiser and much better off person because of the right decisions that you have made. I love you very much. Thank you for making right decisions. With so much love from an understanding son."

My heart is so thankful Kevin could recognize our love for him. It was so hurtful when he would rail against us as we tried to show our love to him.

And this makes me curious about what our Creator feels when we don't recognize his love for us. Or, when we do.

I hear the doubts about trusting God often from teens.

"If He loves us, then why do bad things happen?"

"I prayed about something for a long time, but I never got the answer. So, I don't think God exists."

"If the Christian God has such restrictive views about gender and sex, then I can never believe in Him."

"Since God allowed hard things in my life, I can't trust Him."

There is a famous saying that some attribute to Charles Spurgeon's teachings. It says "God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. And, when you can’t trace His hand, you can always trust His heart."

It can be hard to trust the heart of someone you don't know. Throughout my life, I've been in conversations where someone is doubtful or dubious about a celebrity, pastor or boss. Often, because I am acquainted with the person they are talking about (either in person or by reading their writings regularly) I am able to share from a different perspective. I've come to a place where I trust the person whose motives are being questioned. I know them well enough to see beyond one quote or one policy to a bigger picture. I'm able to encourage my friends to give the person the benefit of the doubt because I trust their heart.

I feel that's true with God's heart, as well. I was privileged to grow up with parents who knew His love and demonstrated it day to day. As my own journey with Him has grown, I've seen Him bring peace, comfort and tender mercies in very bleak times. I've realized that He demonstrated the greatest act of love in allowing His son to die in my place. I've recognized the sacrifices He has made on my behalf.

I trust His heart.

For those of you, maybe like Kevin, who have been hurt and don't feel like you can trust God, I encourage you to seek Him. Open up his Word. Spend time with people who know Him well. Ask Him directly the hard questions that you have.

Perhaps, you will come to find that His heart looks much different than you had imagined. Perhaps you will discover, like Kevin did, that the one you have tried to push away is the one who knows you best and loves you most.

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