SALT LAKE CITY — The new book, “When God Calls the Heart: Devotions From Hope Valley,” by Brian Bird and Michelle Cox (Broadstreet Publishing Group, 176 pages) offers fans of the Hallmark Channel drama inspirational messages through the fictional characters they love.
“When Calls the Heart” is set in Canada in the early 1900s. Residents of the fictional town of Hope Valley overcome challenges together and work to create life’s many joys. From episode to episode, the focus on family values resonates with viewers.
Hundreds of fans have sent messages to Bird, executive producer and co-creator of “When Calls the Heart.”
“They watch the episodes over and over because they love the ‘God moments’ and wished they could do more study about those themes,” Bird said in an interview with the blog From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring. “I’ve often wondered how I could take that conversation deeper.”
In 2017, Bird found the opportunity he was looking for at a writer’s conference in North Carolina.
Whether by chance or divine design, Bird discovered he was seated next to friend and best-selling author Michelle Cox.
“Over pizza, we explored the idea of a devotional based on the series,” Bird said. “By the end of that conference we agreed to partner on the writing and we actually had an offer from our publisher, Broadstreet.”
Janette Oke is the author of the books on which “When Calls the Heart” is based and wrote the foreward for Bird and Cox’s new book.
“Life is filled with bumps. We all experience them,” Oke wrote. “It is so easy to say that God allows them to build our faith — to make us stronger — to show others that God really can and does see us through the tough spots.”
Bird is among those intimately familiar with “bump times.” His popular television show, now in its fifth season, did not always show such signs of promise.
“The day Lehman Brothers went belly up (in 2008), so did our source of funding,” Bird said. “A half-finished film is worthless. It has no value. Not only that, as producers, (Michael Landon, Jr. and I) were left holding the bag on $1.4 million in debts.”
The challenge was so overwhelming that Bird considered quitting the entertainment business entirely. But an inspirational meeting with his pastor, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, led Bird to persevere.
It took another four years, but he finally finished the “When Calls the Heart” movie.
“Had we been able to finish it in 2008, it would have been a nice little ‘one-off’ movie,” Bird said. “But because we went through, and survived, the four-year crucible, by 2013 Hallmark was contemplating entering the one-hour TV series business.”
“We’re now in season five with 56 episodes ‘in the can,’” he added.
The format of “When God Calls the Heart” is designed to help readers more fully understand and apply inspiring themes from the television show such as faith, redemption and perseverance.
“Each chapter uses an episode as a jumping off point, highlighting some of the God moments woven into the storytelling,” Bird said. “And then we expound on those moments with deeper implications and applications for our lives today, all combined with an appropriate verse of scripture, a prayer template and questions for further reflection.”
If the idea of having spiritual experiences based on a work of fiction seems strange, Bird suggests the theme is not all that unfamiliar to Christians.
“I feel like we were able to take a lesson from the way Jesus used parables … telling relatable fictional stories about earthly circumstances in order to illuminate heavenly spiritual principles,” he said.
Jen Heebink is among fans — known as “Hearties” — of the Hallmark show who organized an online devotional for the book.
“Every week (I) pray and post the next chapter of devotional questions and #hearties from all over the USA respond to encourage and get real about what God is doing in their life,” Heebink wrote on Twitter. “It’s been powerful. God meets (in) our conversation every time.”
We started a twitter devotional chat! Every week i pray and post the next chapter of devotional questions and #hearties from all over the USA respond to encourage and get real about what God is doing in their life. Its been powerful. God meets is in our conversation every time.
— Jen Heebink (@mnheartie) February 25, 2018
Jordan Truex is a student at Utah State University who also sees God within the pages of the book. “’When God Calls the Heart’ epitomizes what life, love and developing a relationship with God is all about,” Truex said on Twitter.
When God Calls the Heart epitomizes what life, love, and developing a relationship with God is all about. It takes the heart of a wonderful Television show and combines it with spiritual messages to strengthen faith and hope in God. #Hearties
— Jordan Truex (@JordanTruex28) February 26, 2018
As far as Bird and Cox are concerned, it is no accident readers like Heebink and Truex come away with these insights.
“The One who wrote the symphonies of our lives has wired all of us with violin strings in our souls,” Bird and Cox wrote in the book. “We hope you’ll leave the pages of ‘When God Calls the Heart’ with your heart touched in a powerful way.”
*This was originally published in the Deseret News on March 22, 2018.