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TITLE: A Hidden Heart
By Donna Howell

Are we listening with our hearts?
Today, I learned a family in our church would be moving to another state. I can't really say that Debbie, the wife and mother and I, were friends, but as is sometimes the case in church, you become acquainted, you say hello and goodbye, you smile, you even sometimes hug, but do you ever really know what's in the heart of another? It would be wonderful to think the smiles were genuine, indicating all is well, and life is good. How could I possibly know differently? I did. I chose to look the other way. I saw the pain that was sometimes there, telling myself, it isn't nice to pry, so I walked away.

I recognized the actions of a mother who just wanted her adolescent daughter to fit in. Her little girl looked very nice in the new clothes, and the cute, contemporary haircut. Why didn't the other girls take notice of her? I wanted to help, and I even spoke to my own daughter about reaching out. She said; "she's a little different mom," so I let it go. Maybe I should have tried harder. It wasn't that long ago that I felt that same sadness when my own daughter was struggling. What a great lesson to have reminded her.

I sometimes wondered why Debbie's husband had such a far away, sad look of late. Again, I didn't ask. Did I even care? Even so, each time I said hello or put my hand out in greeting, she smiled, and took it, then we went our separate ways. When I heard where her family would be moving, I felt a ray of hope. It was a large city, but one in which I had a family member. Maybe he could help them learn their new town, and tell them where the best schools and neighborhoods are. Maybe he could in some small way, make up for me.

Our church was having potluck after the service, so I made my way over to the table where they sat, alone. When I placed my hand gently on her back and began to speak, I thought it odd that she didn't look up. She just continued to eat her meal, and nod her head in acknowledgement of my words, as she pulled an address book from her purse and began writing my nephew's name. It was an awkward moment to say the least, so I continued by making small talk with her husband. When I asked why they had chosen to move so far away, as if I "really" cared, it was hard not to notice the hint of a shadow falling over his face as he spoke. He had lost his job here six months before, and a job was awaiting him there. Oh my, it was even more awkward now. What could I say? I expressed sympathy for their plight, asked about his new job, and we talked of the big changes in store for them as they left their hometown and all they'd ever known. I learned more in those few moments than the entire time they had attended our church. I wished them well, and returned to my own table, as words from the book of Proverbs came back to me. "Guard you heart." It"s what she had done, until today. She guarded it with a smile or a wink that betrayed her loneliness, her pain for her child, and the loss of her husband's job.

Today, her guard was down. She would try no more to make others feel comfortable. It was over now, and why should she? My heart is heavy as I write, yet why did she hide behind her smile? Why didn't I dig a little deeper? Try a little harder? I know when we speak of guarding ones heart, we are encouraged to guard our own from the wiles of the world and Satan himself. I just couldn't help but draw a parallel to her story. What about my story? In the book of Jeremiah (17:9) we learn that the heart is deceitful above all things. Mine was constantly telling me to look the other way. Let it go. Think about it later. God kept prompting me to "look now," "think about it now." I didn't. "Guard your heart, above all else, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23.

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