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Mother’s murder put in perspective at the cross, seminarian recounts

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Six-year-old Howie Harden anxiously
crawled under the Christmas tree in search of gifts bearing his name.
Suddenly, his 10-year-old sister, Sarah, darted out of the house
screaming and crying.
“Mom was a disciplinarian,” Harden recalled. “I thought maybe she
got a spanking. So I walked outside, ‘What’s the matter ‘sis?’ … It
was like my sister was speaking a foreign language … because she was
crying and shaking so hard. She was in such shock, I literally couldn’t
make out the words.”
“I finally put it together: ‘Mommy’s dead.'”
On Dec. 22, 1980, Harden’s childhood ended when his father found
his wife’s dead body lying in a pool of blood in the couple’s bedroom.
Harden’s “typical, comfortable, loving” family life in Jacksonville,
Fla., was no more, recalled Harden, now a 23-year-old master of divinity
student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
What followed was a series of seemingly unanswerable questions, a
torment of the mind and soul that drove Harden’s father to alcohol and
his son to years of rebellious behavior. For the next several years,
Harden’s life went into a tailspin. Shortly after his mother’s murder,
Harden began seriously contemplating suicide. The thoughts persisted for
several years. He even went as far as setting dates on the calendar to
take his life.
“I remember that I was mad at myself because I knew where my
father’s gun was and didn’t have the courage to use it,” he said. Two
years after the murder, police arrested the killer, who eventually
confessed to the heinous crime. The murderer, infamous serial killer
Henry Lee Lucas, is currently on death row in Texas. Lucas, now 61,
claims to have killed 165 people.
“Lucas was once quoted as saying, ‘When I see a woman alone, she’s
mine,'” Harden said. Lucas had stalked Brenda Harden, who worked the
night shift as a chemist at a dairy factory. Lucas followed Brenda home
as she returned from Christmas shopping. Harden’s mother had
inadvertently left the keys in the door while unloading Christmas
presents, making her an easy target.
“There was a severe struggle involved,” Harden said. “(Her death)
was slow and hideous.”
Harden said he longed for a new identity, something to distance
himself from the painful memories of his past. “Growing up, I was always
known as ‘that kid whose Mom got butchered by the killer we saw on TV,'”
Harden said. “I wanted to be known as anything other than that, and if
that meant being known as a troublemaker, it didn’t matter.”
A move to Oklahoma at age 11 with his father and stepmother
created more problems when his parents turned to alcohol and their
marriage went sour.
“Life was so miserable,” he said. “I missed her more than ever.”
Confused and disillusioned, Howard didn’t know where to turn.
“I remembered what a godly woman my mother was,” Harden recalled.
“I remember her constantly telling me how much Jesus loved me. I
remembered that and it confused me, because even as a child, I wondered,
if God really loved me, why would he allow my mother to be brutally
stabbed to death and terrorized. … It was like there was this wall of
bitterness that surrounded me, and part of me didn’t want to let God
inside of that wall.”
Then God spoke.
“The more and more I pointed to my mother, the more and more he
pointed to the cross,” Harden said.
“The more and more I asked, ‘God, why did you allow my mother to
die?’ The more and more he asked, ‘Why did my Son die?’
“When I asked, ‘Why did she have to die this kind of a death?’
once again he pointed to the cross. ‘Why did My Son die this kind of
death?’ Although what my mother went through was very terrible, when you
compare that to what Jesus went through on the cross — the crown of
thorns, the nails, the scourging — it didn’t compare.
“When I asked, ‘Well, God, how come I’ve always been rejected?’ He
said, ‘Well, why was my Son rejected?’
“So basically, God took my perspective off of myself and (focused
it on) the cross.”
God reminded Harden of something else.
“Had she picked me up (from his grandmother’s) like she was
supposed to, I would not be alive today,” Harden said. “That’s something
that’s stuck with me for many years … and that really led me to
believe that God had a plan for my life.”
The pain, the questions, the answers, being spared death —
“Finally, I just ran out of gas running from God,” Howard said. He
accepted Christ on May 24, 1987, and the healing began.
“When I entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ, I had
someone who could take that baggage off of me and bear it. Since then,
(I’ve had) this sense of freedom, a sense of relief from all of this
hurt I’d been carrying around with me. It was amazing. God took someone
who wanted to die and gave them the heart of someone who wanted to live
life to the fullest.”
Two years after surrendering his life to the Lord, Harden
dedicated his life to full-time ministry and began preaching regularly
at the age of 15 at a nursing home. Another year passed and Harden’s
father, William, accepted Christ and gave up alcohol.
After graduating from high school at 18, Harden said, another
turning point in his life occurred when he returned to Jacksonville to
spread his mother’s ashes on the beach.
“I remember a very serious commitment I made there on a beautiful
Sunday afternoon,” he said. “I remember looking back at all the pain and
stuff that God allowed me to go through. And I remember thinking, ‘Lord,
if just somehow, some way, you can use this to benefit your kingdom,
then so be it, it’ll all be worth it. But, Father, whatever you do,
don’t let it be in vain.’
“I have a vision of one day standing up in heaven with my mother
and seeing this person who was saved and nodding at my mother and
saying, ‘Yeah, it was worth it.'”
By most standards, Howard Harden should be an emotional and mental
wreck void of accomplishment. He has every excuse for failure. So why
isn’t he a disaster?
“God’s grace,” he said. “You wanted a longer answer? God has a way
of taking individuals from the ash heaps, taking individuals (who)
aren’t supposed to become anything, taking individuals (who) are
destined to failure. Sometimes he allows certain things to happen in our
lives so that it appears all hope is gone, simply so he can demonstrate
his power and grace in their life. I believe that God acted in such a
way that only he could receive the credit from it.”
Harden arrived at Southeastern Seminary in the fall of 1996. He
currently pastors Gethsemane Baptist Church, Whitakers, N.C., near Rocky
Mount. The young man with light brown hair and boyish looks, who lives
alone in the church parsonage, preaches the Bible with the conviction
and maturity of a man who has been refined by fire. He shares his
testimony openly and in straightforward fashion, but he doesn’t dwell on
Harden, who is engaged to be married in June, hopes that one day
he can stand face-to-face with the man who killed his mother. “Every now
and then, I’m reminded, that I have unfinished business as far as Henry
Lee Lucas goes,” he said.
“As far as personally forgiving him, I feel I have, and I feel
that if he was (before me) right now, I would share with him what God
has done for me and what he can do for him as well.”
Asked if he would want to spend eternity with the man who murdered
his mother, Harden replied, “If God were to save him, he would no longer
be the man who murdered my mother.
“There was a long time where I struggled with bitterness and
hatred, and many in my family still do,” he said. “I’ve found that the
key to forgiving individuals, even of the most heinous of acts, is to
pray for that person who has wronged you.”

    About the Author

  • Victor Lee