What happens when the plans you have for your life don’t match reality? Some people blame God, some blame others, some blame themselves.
And for some folks, it’s a mix of all of the above.
Amber Hill lost her heroic husband to an ambush in Afghanistan. Now, two years later, she’s left in Kentucky with the bittersweet memories of his presence and the responsibility of raising her beautiful, eight-year-old girl, Bree, as a widow.
As the former director of a church choir, Amber was known around town for her angelic voice and her love for God. But when her husband lost his life in battle, she lost her faith in the Almighty.
Now the only hope for resurrecting Amber’s detonated dreams lies in an unlikely new romance, Amber’s close connections with a handful of friends and the innocent heart of a remarkably resilient child.
Amber has been dealt a difficult hand. And, understandably, she struggles with moving on in her everyday life after her husband’s death. But even though she’s wrestling with depression, anger and confusion, Amber chooses to go forward for her daughter’s sake. She’s a warrior at heart who now shoulders the unwanted burdens of being a widow and single parent. And so she valiantly fights for the good things that remain in her life, even as it seems almost everything is being torn away from her. (Especially her faith; more on that below.)
There is a genuine sense of hope, healing and perseverance in the small community that surrounds Amber. Her friends drop everything to help Amber and her family. That includes Amber’s difficult mother-in-law, whose well-intentioned plans for her granddaughter often stir up conflict. Gradually, Amber and her mother-in-law are able to work through their differences and put their past battles behind them in an effort to move forward.
Bree, meanwhile, is a bright young girl who loves and encourages her mom. She shoulders a lot of stress, but Bree still strives to care for her mother in her darkest times. (At times, it seems the young girl is doing a much healthier job of processing her grief than her mother is.) Amber and Bree work together to rebuild their lives, piece by piece. They also move toward a sense of necessary closure regarding their raw emotions in the months and years after Amber’s husband is killed in action.
Another important character here is Cody Jackson. The race car driver is new to town and dealing with his own anger issues in the wake of a painful accident on the track. Cody works with a friend to help troubled youth in the community. As the story unspools, Cody also plays an important role encouraging and challenging Amber (even as their romance slowly and predictably blooms).
Several members of the military community graciously try to reach out to Amber to give her the support she needs. They are accurately depicted as people who will lay down their lives for others, and as fellow soldiers who understand the depth of Amber’s loss.
Before Amber’s husband died, she was a faithful member of her local church and often taught her daughter to “sing God’s praises for the gifts we’ve been given, even when we don’t feel like it.” Forgiveness, prayer and hopeful dependence upon God were all themes that found their way into Amber’s home in those happier times. At one point, Bree is taught in Sunday school to have faith the size of a mustard seed, which she explains to her own mother by caring for a plant she names Matthew.
But after her husband’s passing, Amber’s relationship with God withers and wastes away. She avoids reading her Bible, praying or taking time to process her hurt. She bottles her grief and anger until she can no longer bear the weight of it, then yells in anger at God. She also wrestles with difficult spiritual questions, such as, “Where is the reward for my faith?” She is devastated that the God she put her trust in would let her husband perish.
Cody, for his part, is back in town after being involved in a nasty racing crash that resulted in significant injuries. Cody’s challenge? Learning how to exercise caution and wisdom instead of reacting recklessly and emotionally. His racing coach teaches him to take his time not just on the track, but on the raceway of life, too. Cody eventually admits, “If we go too fast, we may not realize the blessings right in front of us.”
We hear a number of Christian worship songs in the soundtrack, both current and classic, such as MercyMe’s “Greater” and the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” among others. Posters on a wall proclaim encouraging scriptural messages, such as, “The Lord Is Our Strength.”
Amber’s friends pray for her often and are willing to speak truth into her life, even when it’s hard for the grieving widow to hear. The minister at a local church, Pastor Williams, encourages his congregation to “seek and save the lost.” He also teaches them biblical principles and offers words of encouragement such as, “When we learn to let go of that fear and put our faith in God, He will show us the way.”
Cody pursues a relationship with Amber. They go on a date. Later on, she kisses him on the cheek.
Some women wear slightly revealing tops.
A fierce firefight erupts between American soldiers and their Afghan adversaries, a battle that includes automatic gunfire and RPGs. Two Americans are shot, and Amber’s husband is killed (though without showing much blood).
Cody has a terrible crash while racing (and we hear about a previous wreck as well). His car flips multiples times, sending Amber into an almost PTSD-like anxiety attack when she fears he’s been killed in the accident.
Bree gets into a fight defending her friend at the playground.
We hear a few uses of “oh my gosh.” Someone is called “stupid.”
Amber is often lost in her own sorrow and anguish. Because of that, she can be inattentive and unnecessarily harsh with her daughter. And she becomes a workaholic to avoid her sorrow.
Amber also disconnects from her church community, even her close friends who are trying to support her. Additionally, Amber makes some unwise financial decisions, such as pawning the family’s most valuable possessions and taking out loans at exorbitant interest rates.
In a moment of anger, Bree tells Amber that she hates her and wished she would have died instead of her father.
Cody also grapples with anger, resentment and arrogance as he tries to figure out his direction in life. Initially, he doesn’t receive instruction or correction well; he’s dismissive and careless at times, too. And when he learns that Bree got into a fight at school, his only question is, “Did you win?”
Amber’s mother-in-law can be harsh, nosy and judgmental. She talks down to Amber and at times undermines her parental authority. She walks into Amber’s home uninvited, opens Amber’s mail and asserts herself where she is not welcome. And she criticizes Amber for trying to get over her deceased husband.
Bree and her babysitter watch a scary movie together (which Bree thinks is inappropriate). A young girl runs away from home. (She’s quickly found.) Other people can be harsh and emotionally unsupportive.
“I’m not ready to trust Him with our lives again,” Amber tells a friend.
And anyone who’s ever struggled to trust God after a tragedy can likely relate to that revelatory statement. When the plans for our lives don’t match a suddenly harsh reality, life can become suffocating and debilitating.
The question then becomes, “What do I do now?” And there is no easy answer.
God Bless the Broken Road wades into that difficult question. It depicts the struggles of a woman who feels as if she’s lost everything, depsite having put her trust in God.
The story pulls no punches when it comes to revealing Amber’s deep disorientation after her husband’s tragic death. Moving moments help us feel her pain. Even the scenes where hope begins to blossom again, such as Amber going on her first date with Cody, depict her sense that she is somehow betraying her decesased husband. In these ways, this Christian film realistically explores the gritty, grief-filled aftermath of a terrible loss.
Amber’s well-intentioned friends sometimes offer biblical counsel that feels a bit shallow or two-dimensional in contrast. Still, they’re doing their best to support her as they try to help their friend reconnect with God after her faith is shattered. And for some viewers journeying through similar grief themselves, God Bless the Broken Road could prove to be a cinematic catalyst to help them take their next steps along that hard path.
Be sure to check out our interview with God Bless the Broken Road star LaDainian Tomlinson here.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).