The Rest of the Story

Susan Hetrick

Read: James 4:11-17

But who are you to judge your neighbor? (v. 12)

About 15 years ago, I worked as a substitute teacher in an elementary school. Normally the teacher would leave a note about what to expect from the students, what lessons to cover, and anything I would need to know about the classroom. One December day, however, I was called in to a 1st grade class in an emergency, and there was no note. I did my best to improvise, and gave the students some worksheets to do.

At 10:30, an unkempt little girl walked in to class. She was wearing a pair of shorts, flip-flops with mismatched socks, and a coat that was easily three sizes too big. She sat down, put her head on the desk and promptly fell asleep. I couldn’t help wondering what sort of family this child had. Clearly no one cared enough to dress her appropriately, or get her to school on time! “She’s obviously neglected,” I thought, getting angrier by the minute.

At lunch time, I asked another teacher about the girl and if Child Protective Services was involved. She told me the rest of the story: “She and her brother are living at their grandma’s. On Thanksgiving, they saw their father shoot and kill their mother. The dad’s in jail, but they’ve lost both their parents. Grandma is overwhelmed and traumatized, too, so they have no structure. The kids feel safe when they’re here, so we make sure they eat, and if they’re tired we let them sleep. Everything else can wait.”

—Susan Hetrick

God, teach us to have compassion, not judgment, for others.