every heart

It’s crazy when you realize that your life has just been changed.
Ten minutes ago was one of those moments where a truth you’ve known your whole life comes suddenly in full force. That truth tonight is that every person has a story; no one is ordinary. Everyone has struggles, hurt, and depth. So often people get brushed aside as having it “all together” and just being another face in the crowd. But then something happens that shows you just how important each one is.
At Dandelion School, the homeroom teacher of each class visits their students’ homes once a year. I had heard of these home visits, and was excited when a teacher invited me and Rachel to come with her to one of our students’ homes (her English name is Maria). I didn’t really know Maria, but I recognized her face when I saw the picture. She was a nice, but not out-of-the-ordinary student, and seemed quiet. I kind of wished I was visiting the home of one of the student I know better.
The girl’s father met us at the school gate; he was well dressed in a button up shirt and nice black slacks. He led us to his home, which was just across the street, in an alley off of the market that Rachel and I visit every day. Considering his attire, I assumed that the shabby appearance of the house was merely exterior, and waited as he fumbled with the padlock on his flimsy door. I was wrong.
This father led us inside. It was very cramped in this tiny, dim room, smaller than an American mud room. There was more light coming from the next room, which was clearly a bedroom. There were two mats with mosquito nets over them, and clothes hanging to dry overhead. I scanned the walls for a door that would lead farther into the house, but realized that there wasn’t one. These two, 6-or-7 sq. ft rooms and the things contained therein were their entire residence.
Just as I was wondering where their whole family slept, the teacher who spoke the most English explained to us that Maria’s mother was not with them. We weren’t sure if they were simply separated, or something else. But Maria’s father was raising her alone.
I turned to look at Maria’s father while he talked with the teachers. He was obviously nervous, and the presence of two foreigners probably didn’t help his feelings. Even so, he showed us the utmost respect. He had just bought a large clump of bananas which he offered to us. He pulled out enough small glasses for all of us, and from how new they appeared I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to buy them just for us. After pouring hot tea into the glasses, he handed us each a glass, beginning with Rachel and me. He handed it to us with both hands, the Chinese sign of honor and respect. I don’t know if I have ever felt less worthy of honor in my life, knowing how much this man had sacrificed for his daughter.
At one point, I had the opportunity to say something. I probably could have said something brilliant or inspirational or… I don’t know. But all I could say was that we loved Maria, and that she is special. And I hoped her father would realize we meant it.
It was hot in the tiny house, so we soon moved out into the alley to finish the teacher’s report. Meanwhile, our translator told us more about this father. She said he works at the airport, which means he has nearly a three-hour commute each way every day. On the weekends, he and Maria go to his mother’s home. They were discussing the fact that Maria had had a boyfriend at school in the last term, and I made a comment that she seemed a little young to have a boyfriend. Our translator said, “Yes, but I think her mind is… adult. Mature.” I found a picture of “Peter” on my phone; it was another face I recognized, but had never really taken much notice of.
In less than ten minutes of arriving at the little house, we were leaving again. But we were different. Rachel hadn’t really had dinner because of the gluten and meat in the meal that day, so I asked if she wanted to get anything while we were walking back through the market. All she could say was “Not anymore.”
Our translator told us that Maria’s boyfriend, Peter, had no father, and that his mother lived in the hospital. “He feels very alone,” she said.  An eighth-grader living alone.
I realized that I would never see Maria and Peter the same way again. Every time I saw them, I would think of everything I knew about them, even as limited as it is. That face that had been “one of my students” just an hour ago is suddenly a story, a history, a heart that is hurting.
And then I realized… there are 500 other students. 500 stories. 500 histories. 500 hearts that have felt joy, pain, happiness, sorrow, fulfillment, and emptiness. Every single face. Tom. Alice. Linda. Bill. Sherry, who just walked into the room. Cocoa. Jerry. Tina. Joe. Lisa. Brandon, who also just came in. Rose. Oscar. Julia. John. Lily. Kitty. Tim. Annabelle. Tori. Harry. Jenny. Jim. Alison. Frank. Julie. Hannah. Bob. Daizy. Evan. Annalisa. Eric. Eva. Chris. Anna. Tad. Sara. Xavier. Cindy. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. 
We live in a world full of stories, full of people, full of hearts. This week, we’ve been teaching about “tolerance,” and most of our class consists of reminded the students that every person is important, no matter how different they are from you. My favorite part is when Rachel says:
“Everyone has a heart, and every heart needs love.”
Don’t pass by someone who has become just another “face in the crowd.” There is no “basic” person. Whether it’s someone in your home, someone at your church, someone at the post office, or someone you pass once in the airport, each of them has a story.  Each of them has value. Each of them has a heart. And every heart needs love.


  1. So, SO good Shelby. I had a similar experience here in the Philippines recently, but you put it into words so beautifully.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. We are each so unique and our stories are not like anyone else's story. You touched my heart! Something important to remember. Every day!

  3. This is beautiful! God loves all these people, so we should as well. Yet we often forget that. But they need love as much as, if not more than, we do. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shelby. It's an excellent reminder to love as Jesus does and see them through His eyes.


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