This past year has been one of opening doors, new horizons, and seeing God’s blessing unfold like the blooming rose on the bush in the garden. At a time when I had grown disillusioned with teaching and irritated with the impossible expectations of the classroom, I felt lost. Inspiring young minds had lost its luster and I “couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” While blessed with an adoring family and settled in a comfortable routine, I began to wonder what life held around the next bend. Then I discovered a world beyond my little microcosm of suburbia. You see, as executive producer Brian Bird so wisely notes, “Hope and happiness are something we choose.” Disillusionment and frustration can only weigh us down if we focus our eyes, ears, and heart in the wrong direction.
In this latest installment and season finale of When Calls the Heart, we see three significant examples of how it is possible to choose hope and happiness while imprisoned in the middle of the valley of the shadow. While stuck with an inward focus on her own pain, loss and anger, Carson’s sister-in-law, Miss Bennet, doesn’t emerge from her valley until she notices the sadness of others as they gather for the prayer service on Cody’s behalf. When she finally looks around and moves beyond her own tiny world, she discovers that the hurt she knows is what they all are feeling. In the discovery that she can help Cody by simply joining in the community prayer, she passes through her own valley of pain and learns forgiveness.
Carson’s valley is different from that of Miss Bennet. Carson’s fear and heartache have shackled him in the middle of a valley of guilt and self-doubt. When he finally sees the desperation in Abigail’s face and encounters the reality of Cody’s precarious situation, Carson crosses the valley and chooses hope. He puts Cody’s life and Abigail’s happiness above his own, which later allows him to find himself as a doctor again. Not only does he save Cody’s life, he discovers that, in helping Cody, he has saved his own.
However, the most significant and shocking discovery is the heart within Henry Gowen. Here is a man at the end of the line, preparing to head to court under very serious charges, who could very well ignore the rest of the town and pity himself for being caught. Instead, he chooses to take a step out of the valley of greed, selfishness, and egotism to show love for a little boy. By praying for Cody and mentioning his health to Abigail, Henry has found in himself a hope for the future. As many have questioned, who knew Gowen had a heart? It is likely that Gowen himself didn’t know how much he cared until he moved beyond himself and focused on others.
So what about these characters? If this is a simple fictional story, what significance can it have to our real flesh-and-blood selves? It is quite miraculous, really, the impact this little show has had on so many. Fans across the country, and around the world, have discovered something in When Calls the Heart that they didn’t know they were missing.
You see, the central character is a teacher. All Elizabeth wants to do is change lives for the better. She wants to see them excel and discover a joy in learning. Each week, I watch this character approach her students with kindness and understanding. I see outside of my little valley to the possibilities beyond as I see my students mirrored in hers. Each week, I see a community link arms to encourage and support those who are hurting and struggling. In that community, I see the friends who encourage me and the family that loves me through the challenges. Each week, I watch best friends confide in, counsel, and comfort each other. So as my friends come to me, I learn to move outside of myself and my bubble of worries to become the friend they need. My world has expanded beyond the walls of my classroom to people and places all over the globe. Others ask, what is it about this show that so intrigues you? I suppose it is because I find myself in Hope Valley.
Even in the midst of a trying year in the classroom, or when my boys are sick and my heart breaks for them, or my husband and I are so tired we cannot see straight, I will find hope in the valley. When my friends endure illness, heartache, separation, and setback, I will help them find hope in the valley. Because, by setting ourselves and our own trials aside to love our neighbors, we unknowingly heal ourselves. Each act of kindness, of love, of sacrifice, is a footstep that transforms the valley of the shadow into the valley of hope, shining light into the darkest corners of our lives. And then, we find ourselves in a place filled with joy and possibility, even in the face of heartache, because we enter Hope Valley.