What makes a hero? Is it flying? Laser vision? Mind-reading? Is it stature? Tall and handsome, slender and beautiful? Are they born with it?

Is it character traits? Is it love? Compassion? Bravery? Perhaps it’s kindness or selflessness? Better yet, perhaps it’s a willingness to stand in the face of anything.

In my life, I have had the privilege to know two people I would consider to be my heroes. Neither, to fit the adage, wear capes. Their headquarters are classrooms, and their superpowers are God-given. Heroes that have been with me through some of the darkest times of my life, and who have never once given up on me. For a time, they were my teachers. Now, they are my mentors and friends.

Through the influence of the heroes in my life, I have come to a definition of true heroism: Heroes are all in. Let me explain what that means.

Heroes care. Compassion is an active choice. We are called to be like Jesus, who “when he saw the multitudes . . . was moved with compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36). Heroes are willing to set aside their own wants and their own needs to focus on those of others. The minutiae of life are ignored for a moment.

I’ll never forget the many afternoons I sat, dejected, in the front row desk of that U.S. History classroom. “What’s on your mind?” became the hero’s question. He set down his red pen—grading could wait. For that moment, I knew I mattered. A listening ear was all I needed, and there it was. Heroes care and let others know they are cared for.

Heroes show up. It’s hard to help when you aren’t there. Despite the very real temptation to run from conflict, true heroes take a deep breath and walk toward it, unafraid of what may come. True heroes love hard enough to be there. “I’m here for you,” is no empty statement. It is the love of Christ poured into action.

I sat on the bench, took a deep breath, and hit the little green phone icon to call the hero. I didn’t expect an answer, yet there was one. A questioning “Hello?” was followed by my over-explanation of what was going through my mind. Then silence. Not awkward silence, but present silence. The knowledge filling my heart that someone was there for me, even when I had nothing to say. Heroes help, but they must first show up.

Heroes persevere. It’s easy to be someone’s hero when things are easy. Making jokes and sharing successes bring joy into the lives of all involved. But when things get hard, true heroes don’t give up. Heroes are there through thick and thin—not just the easy, not just the hard. They simply follow the biblical command to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

It was the end of the first semester of my sophomore year of high school. Amid troublesome times, I reached out to this hero for help. He barely knew me then, but his kindness had impacted me already. “I want you to know,” he wrote back, “that I will stand by you through all kinds of hard things.” These words are true to this day. True heroes don’t run when things get hard. They persevere through all of it.

Heroes are all in. This simple statement encompasses every previous description. “All in” is a commitment based on one’s position as a brother or sister in Christ. The relationship need not be defined by bloodlines. Heroes jump headfirst into the responsibility of the spiritual family—the body of Christ.

One of my own heroes defines it this way: “Investing in the lives of others cannot be selective. I can’t only be involved in just the happy times.”

Heroes care, show up, and persevere. They are all in, all the time.