Hard times fall on all of us. Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it at all. Sometimes people whom we trust abandon us. All of these things, plus an awful lot of fear and anxiety must have been going through the mind and heart of 17 year old Novalee Nation, the heroine of a beautiful movie that I saw recently entitled “Where The Heart Is.”
The movie begins with us learning that Novalee is a 17- year -old girl who is pregnant and not married. She has bounced from foster home to foster home since her Mother abandoned her. Her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens, has a plan to move across country to become a music star. They depart Tennessee with plans to go to Vegas. However, on the way it is apparent that her boyfriend is becoming less and less excited about the idea that he is about to be responsible for a new baby. When Novalee asks Willy Jack to stop at a Wal-Mart in the small Oklahoma town of Sequoyah so she can use the restroom. He sees his opportunity. He gives her ten bucks, sends her off inside, and takes off. When she emerges from the store, she sees that he is gone, and the only thing he left is her old Polaroid camera sitting on the pavement of the parking space.
If Novalee ever had a reason to simply give up right there and ask God “now what?” it sure would have made sense at this point. However, she sits down in the parking lot for a while, gathers herself and heads back inside the store. For the next several weeks as her third trimester is nearing its close, she lives in Wal-Mart! She manages to keep it a secret, and meets some of the town folks who are immediately kind to her. She meets a woman who is the official town welcome lady who goes by the name of Thelma “Sister” Husband. She gives Novalee a daily planner and welcome basket as well as a buckeye tree. She tells Novalee that she is the phone book and that she should call her anytime she needs anything.
Next she meets Moses Whitecotten, a man who works at Wal-Mart once a week as their photographer. Then about a month later she meets Forney Hull a young man who works at the small town library. She goes to the library to learn how to take care of the buckeye tree that Thelma gave her. It is then that Forney suggests she re-contact the person who gave her the tree, which leads her back to Thelma’s house. Thelma invites her inside and ask her to have dinner with her and Mr. Sprock a fine southern gentleman who Thelma admits to sleeping with even though they aren’t married. She even confesses this in prayer asking for God’s forgiveness for the ‘fornication that took place right on this kitchen table this very morning.’
While this is certainly a major inconsistency with Thelma’s professed Christianity, her hospitality, and love for people speaks volumes. After Novalee has her baby girl whom she names Americus, Thelma takes her in and basically adopts her as if she were her own daughter. Thelma also is a recovering alcoholic and she is also known to have always been willing to pick up fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members who had fallen off the wagon from time to time and give them a ride home. All of these qualities and actions echo how Jesus himself spoke about the importance of Christians to ‘share food with those who are hungry’ (Luke 3:11) and ‘give shelter to strangers’ and ‘water to those who are thirty’ (Matthew 25: 34-40). They also echo what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:2-3 about sharing each other’s troubles and that ‘if you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself (v. 3 NLT).
Throughout this entire movie though is an overall theme of God ultimately being in control and looking out for young Novalee. As is often the case, He works in this movie primarily through people. Take for example night she goes into labor, Forney is outside Wal-Mart keeping an eye on her. He had seen her go inside right before the store closed and decided to watch and see if in fact she actually lived there. When she collapses on the floor in labor pains he bursts through the store window and, though it isn’t shown, we assume he calls the paramedics for her and waits with her there until they arrive.
Another example is how at the hospital she meets a young nurse named Lexie Coop who is a single mother who has had children with several different fathers. Thus, Lexie understands the fears the Novalee is experiencing with being a brand new single mom. Therefore, they become fast friends!
Then there is Moses Whitecotten, the photographer who helps nurture in Novalee the love she has for photography. He gives her an old camera of his, and encourages her to take photos of the town and its people. This leads her to becoming one of Sequoyah’s main photographers as she photographs weddings and various events and people for the town paper.
Another scene demonstrates how God sometimes intervenes directly in our lives takes place about three years later, when during a tornado, Novalee and Americus are inside of a storm basement shelter. As Novalee is coming down the stairs and before she can close the doors, the storm hits its peak and Novalee is forced to hang on for dear life to the railings of the stairway as the winds howl above, Americus, obviously scared begins to run toward her Mom. The teddy bear Americus is holding is ripped out of her hands by the suction of the twister and Novalee lets go of the railing with one arm to try and catch it. She misses the bear, but when Americus herself begins to be sucked up into the storm, she is able to catch her with that same arm that she missed catching the teddy bear. At that same moment is she is clinging to her daughter with one arm and holding on for her own life with the other, the door to the shelter slams shut, instantly blocking out the wind! I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t help but thinking of how that scene shows how God does intervene in our lives when we need Him the most!
Even Willy Jack Pickens five years after he dumped Novalee off at the Wal-Mart, is given a harsh wake up call that ultimately leads him to seek out forgiveness. This to me illustrates how for some people, God needs to allow hard times to hit in order for them to seek Him and come back into fellowship with Him.
One other part of the movie that brings up some thoughts on morality occurs within a conversation between Lexie and Novalee, after one of Lexie’s boyfriends is caught molesting two of her children. Upon being caught, he beats Lexie severely and takes off. It is in that aftermath that Lexie asks Novalee ‘what can I say to my children when they ask me why this (the molesting) happened to them?’ Novalee responds by saying:
“You tell them that our lives can change with every breath we take... and tell 'em to hold on like hell to what they've got: each other, and a mother who would die for them and almost did... You tell them we've all got meanness in us, but we've got goodness too. And the only thing worth living for is the good. And that's why we've got to make sure we pass it on.”
While The Bible does not have a lot of backing for it, I have always believed that most people have a moral compass inside of them that has a sense of right and wrong, regardless of whether they are a Christian or not. Thus in a sense we do have ‘meanness’ and ‘goodness’ in us but the ‘only thing worth living for is the good.’ While have all been born sinners since the Fall of Man, I think there is one specific passage in Romans that sheds some light on the possibility of a moral compass within people. In Romans 2: 14-15 the Apostle Paul writes “Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.” (NLT) That ‘instinct’ in a sense could be a moral compass that guides humanity towards what is right, even if they don’t have Jesus living in their hearts.
To conclude let me say that overall this movie sums up what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 27:19 “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the person.” (NLT) While the people in this movie are far from perfect and don’t always behave in a manner that reflects Christian morals and values, their hearts truly seem to be in the right place. In this story, God uses these less than perfect people to show love to a young girl who truly grows up and begins raising her own child in their midst.
In some ways isn’t that true of all of us who claim to be Christians. We fail often too, yet God still uses us to accomplish His will. As Paul wrote to Timothy that he was writing him so that “All the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5b) You see as Believers we should be motivated to help those like Novalee Nation in our lives. We must demonstrate all of the hospitality that Thelma “Sister” Husband showed towards Novalee and many others in Sequoyah. Once we are Redeemed by Christ, our hearts are pure and we can be filled with His love for each other and the world around us, especially those who are downtrodden and in desperate need of compassion!