The Mockingbird’s Song by Curt Iles
Chapter Four: The Thin Red Ribbon of Hope pages 8-15
My first thought was, “Hey, who turned out the lights?”
Here I was in the woods between the main campgrounds and “The White House.” The White House is our adult center that is loved by all. It is an old two story white school building.
On this particular night I was rolling Mrs. Beverly Crider, seated in her wheelchair, from the Dining Hall, through the woods trail, to The White House. As another lady used a flashlight to illuminate the narrow trail through the darkness, Beverly and I had laughed and talked. She and her late husband, Bob, had been two of Dry Creek’s greatest supporters for over forty years. All four of her children have worked at the camp. She is a very special friend and it was a privilege to escort her back to her lodging.
On the other end of the woods trail, headlights shone in from her son Lee’s car. Lee Crider and his wife Missy took Beverly for the next leg of her journey. After we said goodbye and remarked about the wonderful evening it had been, we parted with a warm feeling in our hearts. We had just experienced a wonderful evening session at our yearly Bible Conference. Additionally, I had enjoyed the company of so many special friends like Beverly Crider.
All of these warm thoughts were on my mind as I walked back on the woods trail toward the main grounds. Suddenly, the entire world went black. They had turned off the car headlights and the flashlight was in the hands of the other lady who was with Beverly.
Instantly I was plunged into total darkness. It was cloudy so there was no moonlight to guide me. I could see the faraway night lights of the camp and nearby grocery store, but where the two-foot wide trail went, I had no idea.
I thought back to several years ago when a ladies group, armed with flashlights, had gotten turned around on this same trail. I had gone to check on them and there were twenty beams of flashlights shining in every direction throughout the two-acre heavily wooded area. It looked like giant fireflies were in the woods as lights shone in every direction.
Standing by myself in the darkened woods, I didn’t have a flashlight or any lightning bugs, so I knew I must ease along carefully. Off the trail was a boggy area as well as thickly treed and briar-filled areas. As I took small steps, something brushed against my left arm. It had a feel to it that was not a bush or tree. Instinctively, in the black darkness, I touched it. All at once I realized what it was and gladness filled my heart. It was a string of inch wide plastic ribbon.
Several months before, someone (probably a camper who’d gotten lost in the dark like I was right now!) had taken red surveying ribbon and starting at one end of the wood’s trail and continuing on the trail until the other end, had tied an unbroken red ribbon along the trail. The type of ribbon he or she used is commonly seen along roadways and property lines. Usually it is seen in bright colors such as orange and red. It is a thin tape, but does a great job of flagging areas.
When I had first seen the long unbroken red ribbon along the wood’s trail earlier that year, I had wondered how many rolls of flagging it probably took to do this entire trail. It is over 100 yards from one end to the other. Earlier, I had started to tear the ribbon down, roll it into a ball, and throw it away. In my estimate, it looked kind of tacky through this beautiful wooded area. Still, for some reason I had refrained from pulling it down.
Standing tonight in total darkness grasping the red ribbon, I was thankful someone had put it up and that I hadn’t torn it down. I knew that this ribbon went onward to the north entrance of the wood’s trail. It was simply a matter of sliding my hand along the long ribbon. When I would come to where the ribbon was attached to a tree or shrub, I would simply feel my way along to the next section of flagging.
Doing this, I made my way in the dark back to the main campground. It didn’t take long and I did it by simply grasping the guiding ribbon and following it section by section, step by step.
It was later, as I thought about the red ribbon, that a few spiritual principles grabbed me:
First, the red ribbon would take me where I needed to go if I would only grasp it. However, I had to “hold on loosely.” If I pulled too hard on the stretched plastic ribbon with its paper-thin thickness, it could easily break. If the taut ribbon broke, each end would have dropped into the woods, and I would have been forced to get on my knees and feel for the ends to find it.
So, carefully in the inky blackness of this night, I grasped the red ribbon. I confidently took hold of it but also realized that I must tenderly remain connected with it.
Thinking of the past struggles that I’d faced, this long red ribbon came to represent hope. In life we are also guided by the thin, fragile, essential red ribbon of hope. As long as we have hold of a “heart-thing called hope,” we can make it through the darkness. It is simply a matter of carefully and slowly taking it step by step, trusting the ribbon of hope to take us where we need to be.
However, if that ribbon snaps and we find ourselves in the darkness, seemingly alone, lost, and confused, it is one of the scariest places to be. You see if a man or woman has hope, they can endure practically everything. Conversely, when a person loses the precious gift of hope, it seems impossible to carry on.
In my life during the deepest days and weeks of depression, there were times where it seemed that my ribbon of hope had broken. It was too dark, the pit was too deep, and I could not seem to move. It seemed as if the simplest and best thing to do would be simply to give up.
However, always in that darkness I would fall to my knees searching for the ribbon of hope. It seemed as if I sometimes would never find it as I scratched among the leaves, twigs, and grass of my seemingly broken life. Then every time when I had nearly given up on finding hope, someone (or Someone) would place the broken but intact end of the ribbon back into my hand.
I now know, and I’m sure you also, that it was God who placed it back in my hand.
Sometimes He did it with a verse from His word, the Bible.
Often He restored my hope through the words of a friend.
Many times the ribbon returned to my hand through a compassionate card or note.
Several times it was simply the fact of being outside in the sunshine and hearing the birds singing.
Fortunately, God used some gifted doctors to put hope back in my hand and heart. However, each time it was God. However he chose to do it was His business, but it was His mighty hand that helped, guided, and encouraged me.
Hope is such a big four letter word. Although a small word, it is an irreplaceable word in the heart of a human being. Amazingly, it can be found in the worst of circumstances and equally amazing, a person with no trials or sorrow can also lose hope.
Late August and September of 2005 is a time we will never forget in south Louisiana. Our experience with Katrina evacuees from the New Orleans area was a life-changing time for them as well as our camp that hosted them. Their month with us taught me a great deal about what hope really means. I saw the difference hope makes.
Because of their city being flooded, many of the evacuees didn’t know what to do or where to go. They were stunned. On about the third day after the flooding of the city, we called a meeting of leaders of each of the families and church groups present. As they sat down around our office conference table it was quickly evident how they were all under tremendous stress and despair. We let this group share and talk and they had a lot to get off their
chests. It was emotional and heart-wrenching as they shared. There was definitely a tension in the room that was hard to describe.
After listening to their concerns and problems, we simply told them, “Folks, our staff has talked and we’ve consulted the board that operates Dry Creek. A decision has been made to be your hosts and treat you as guests until things clear up.”
An audible gasp came out of the men and women gathered around the table. Several leaned back in relief while others openly cried. Our staff present in that room realized that the evacuees were carrying a fear that we were going to evict them. In fact some probably came to that room expecting eviction to be the very reason for our meeting.
This group of leaders, whom we designated as the Dry Creek City Council, became the nucleus of the wonderful relationships that occurred during our month of working together. It was during that first post-Katrina week when we named our shelter, “The City of Hope.” We had come to realize that these New Orleans area folks needed hope much more than they needed voucher cards, long term lodging, jobs, Red Cross supplies or FEMA funds.
So our mission was clear – to provide hope for these souls by taking care of their needs. Our job, as led by God, was to place that thin, fragile, red ribbon of hope squarely in their hand. Many times during that September these evacuees would drop that ribbon. They would receive bed news – the confirmed death of a missing loved one, a quick visit to New Orleans only to discover their home had eight foot of water standing in it. They battled financial woes and the uncertainty of jobs, benefits, and security. But each time in the midst of daily crisis, they were reminded of the importance of hope. A belief that things could, and would, get better in the future.
Paul Powell, one of my favorite speakers and writers, told a personal story that says more about hope than anything else I can write or say. I close this chapter with his account:
Dr. Powell was speaking at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. One of the school administrators told him of a 20 year old student who was in the local hospital with advanced leukemia. When he was asked, Dr. Powell readily agreed to go visit the student. He told of entering the hospital room to encounter a beautiful yet very ill young woman.
They made small talk, and then she shared honestly about her illness and told of her dreams of school. After this there was silence as the two of them sat there quietly. Finally, the young student looked him directly in his eyes and seriously inquired,
“Dr. Powell, do you know what it’s like to lose hope?”
Paul Powell related that he mulled this question in his mind as she intently awaited his answer. Finally he honestly answered, “No, I have to really say that I don’t know what it’s like to lose hope.”
The young woman, still intently looking at him, smiled as she replied, “Well, neither do I!”
Hope… it’s a small four letter word.
It is also a thin red ribbon that you need, especially if you are in the dark.
If you’ve got your hand on the ribbon of hope, hang on, and follow it.
If your ribbon of hope has broken, get down on your knees. I know Someone who knows exactly where it is and He wants to put it back in your hand.