As I tucked my 8-year-old into bed on Christmas Eve, he whispered into my ear, “Do you think I’ll get the pocket watch? Can you just tell me that?” His face held that look of excitement that nears desperation when you just don’t know if your wish will come true. And of course, being the understanding mom that I am, I replied with, “Get to sleep. The sooner you sleep, the sooner you’ll know.” I needed him to get to sleep fast, so I could wrap that pocket watch and get it under the tree before I fell asleep on my feet.
Early on Christmas morning, with the pocket watch safely tucked into a box, carefully labeled, and resting securely beneath the sparkling lights of the Christmas tree, both of my boys struggled to contain their excitement. When it finally came time to open gifts, and I was able to see their reactions, it was easy to tell which of their gifts made this the “best Christmas ever!” For my older boy, it was the pocket watch. For my five-year-old, it was a cleaning set. Yes, a cleaning set, complete with kid-sized broom, dustpan, mop, and duster. Why a cleaning set? Why not the Lego set or the remote-control battle robots? For the past sixth months, the one and only toy my little guy had requested over and over (and over) was this cleaning set. On the weekends, he helps me around the house. His specific chores are putting away his laundry and cleaning the bathroom, which includes mopping and scrubbing. He does this to help me, his mom. He knows how much I love and appreciate the time he spends making my day easier, so he asked for something that would bring us both joy – the tools that make mundane tasks a bit more fun. At his age, just past his fifth birthday, he has discovered something that it takes others a lifetime to understand: sacrificing a bit of ourselves to help and serve others is one of the biggest and best gifts we can ever give. In so doing, we become someone else’s hero.
As the first scenes of When Calls the Heart: The Wishing Tree open, Elizabeth spends a few minutes reflecting on her year and how Jack is “keeping people safe…He is brave, so I must be brave, too.” Throughout the 90-minute movie, she will learn that, just as we have the ability to fulfill each other’s wishes, we have the power to become each other’s heroes. Heroes aren’t just the ones who are brave in the face of danger; they are the everyday people who consistently lay down their lives for their friends. (John 15:13) These people demonstrate such strength of character that their heroism is not defined by one single act of selflessness but instead by maintaining an attitude of serving in love, of relying on faith and hope to sustain them, and of choosing to do what is right, even when no one is watching.
The Christmas Season is synonymous with generosity and kindness, so it is no surprise
that many of Hope Valley’s townspeople go the extra mile to make their neighbors’ wishes come true, but what is truly miraculous about it is that these wishes aren’t fulfilled by visiting Yost’s Mercantile. In fact, each wish requires some type of sacrifice by the giver: a sacrifice of time, of materials, or even of one’s own comfort. Cody spends all of his extra time during the school break to fulfill a wish Abigail’s son Peter made as a child – a person he has never even met – all in the name of love for his new mom. Dr. Carson Shepherd visits cranky Mrs. McCormick multiple times, with the only intention of bringing a bit of joy and love to her lonely life. Robert uses his one wish on a crib for his new sibling – all to let this new little person know that it is truly wanted. What’s even more incredible is that Robert becomes a bit of a hero for his parents, who are quickly losing hope. By maintaining his own faith and hope in the power of wishing, he keeps his parents’ hope alive, as well. Even Jack, who only has a handful of days to spend with his fiancee, sacrifices his time to join in the town’s festivities, saying, “If I can contribute while I’m here, then I’m happy.” If the looks in
Elizabeth’s and Robert’s eyes are any indication, Jack’s hero status is elevated with those words.
This brings us to Jesse Flynn. Not one many would call a hero, Clara certainly sees him as one. “You don’t see yourself through my eyes,” she counters when Jesse doesn’t believe he is in the same class as Jack, Bill, Lee, and Carson. It is Clara’s own faith in Jesse, her consistent belief and hope that he will make right choices, that encourages him to step into the hero role. When he is presented with the temptation of stealing money from Dottie Ramsey, money she doesn’t even know exists, he thinks twice. In the end, he reveals it to Dottie but tells her he doesn’t want any credit. Instead, he explains that “You have to be honest because it’s the right thing to do, not because you are trying to impress your girl.” It would have been easy for Jesse to accept a reward and earn Clara’s affection by flaunting his decision, but he has learned that quiet sacrifice and the satisfaction in doing right just because it’s right is what has put Jack, Bill, Lee, and Carson in a class of their own – and Jesse decides that he wants to be part of that group.
The most profound truth about a hero, though, is how it can truly be anyone – even a
villain despised by an entire town. As I watched Jesse hand Clara the Christmas gloves he worked to earn, I couldn’t help but compare him to the former mayor, Henry Gowen. Somewhere in his growing up, Henry never learned the lesson Jesse has learned. He never had a hero who loved him unconditionally or made sacrifices for him. Only recently has that person walked into his life, in the form of Abigail Stanton. While the majority of the town believes that Gowen is only out for himself and will forever give in to his sinful nature, Abigail believes otherwise. She continually sacrifices her time, her goods, and her voice to show Henry that she sees good in him. When Henry tells her that “Maybe you see what you want to see,” he seems to be echoing a similar sentiment as Lee when he spoke with Rosemary about her own way of viewing people: “That’s because you see potential in everyone and everything.” Even Henry Gowen has the potential to be someone’s hero.
Somewhere along the way, in those few days leading up to Christmas, Henry must have begun to see himself as Abigail sees him – the way Clara sees Jesse. Sacrificing his safety and risking further punishment by the law, Henry rides out to bring Becky home for Christmas. As he galloped back into town through the cold, dark night, stunned Bill Avery and Jack Thornton look while Henry fulfills Abigail’s wish. In fact, Abigail acknowledges that it is a very merry Christmas, thanks to Henry’s actions. Henry Gowen, the town anti-hero, has become the hero for at least three people in Hope Valley: Abigail, Cody, and Becky.
While it is true that some stars shine brighter than others, and some heroes stand out from the crowd for their super-heroic deeds, there are just as many heroes in this world as there are stars in the sky. As Elizabeth reads to the class at the very beginning of the movie, “Look within and you will see the magic of the wishing tree,” there is a special Spirit within us that gives us the power to fulfill others wishes. Our gifts, talents, and inner character allow us to bless our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Just as Elizabeth hopes she will one day be a hero to her own children, saying “When the time comes, I just hope I’m up to the challenge,” we, too, ask ourselves if we can truly be heroic enough when the times comes. And, just as Jack continues to convince Elizabeth that she already has what she needs – it is a part of her character – the same is true of us. Being someone’s hero isn’t about a single extraordinary action in response to a specific extraordinary situation but about living daily as a person of integrity and selflessness. If we follow our Guide and live out the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, “ and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22: 37-39) we will be ready when the time comes. Chances are, for someone in your life, you have already become a hero.