In her Bible Edie read the promise that “hope does not disappoint,” and she clung to that promise even when hope seemed to dim and almost go out.
Friday, March 16, 1956. Edie Hall, age 12, pressed her nose against the window and tried to see whether the storm had stopped. In the background she heard her
mother, Elsie, shuffling through a collection of music albums. Soon, gospel hymns, sung by Del Delker, flowed out of the battered record player.
Edie took a deep breath, savoring the fragrance of fresh bread baking in the oven and onions frying on the back of the cast-iron Franklin wood stove. Briefly, the sweet scent of wood smoke and tomato stew overpowered less pleasant smells of anger, hatred, and violence that smoldered inside the cluttered and dilapidated farmhouse.
Unable to see what the storm was doing, Edie scrambled into her boots and jacket, lit the old kerosene lantern hanging by the door, and pushed the front door open for a closer look.
A blast of arctic air sliced through her jacket as she stepped out into the blizzard. All month long it had snowed, covering the village of Lisbon Falls, Maine, with four feet of snow. Shivering, Edie held the lantern as high as she could. Snow surged around her so thick and fast she could barely see her father’s pickup truck, parked a few feet away. Blown by fierce winds from off the North Atlantic, snow drifts, sculpted like massive sand dunes, climbed higher and higher.
Inside, she could hear her father, Charley, screaming at her brothers. “I’ll put this stick upside your head!” he roared.
Two contradictory experiences framed Edie’s life. First, there was violence, seizing her like steel jaws on a bear trap. Her father was an angry, vicious man. He beat his farm animals, particularly the horses, with clubs until they screamed in pain and rage. Worse, he beat her three older brothers with anything handy—if he could catch them. Half blind and increasingly crippled with arthritis, he was usually easy to dodge.
He didn’t physically abuse Edie’s mother. For her, he reserved venomous words, taunting her with sarcasm, talking to her as if she were something from the barn he scraped off the bottom of his boots. A timid, nervous woman, she rarely smiled. At 40 her shoulders sagged in utter defeat.
Edie shivered again, not from cold but from revulsion!
This chaos and violence, however, was countered by another experience. Only this one surrounded her with an embracing warmth: hope rooted in faith. Edie had an unshakable trust, a conviction that God loved her and cared about her struggles—no matter how things appeared at any given moment. This trust freed Edie from the violence and despair that dominated her home, filling her spirit with a hopeful optimism that defied logic.
Tomorrow was supposed to be a milestone day for her. After months of attending baptismal classes and learning Christian doctrine, taught by Pastor Reese Jenkins, he would baptize her, along with others in her class—Carolyn Jenkins, Henry Buck, Marilyn Le Blanc, Herbert Pratt, and Ida Titus—during worship service at the church.
She closed her eyes and tilted her head up toward the sky. Snowflakes and shadows from the kerosene lantern danced around her face. She knew it would be late the following day before county snowplows reached her house in the country. Her mother would never be able to drive her to church. Dear Jesus, she prayed, how can I be baptized tomorrow if it keeps snowing?
Later that evening Edie climbed the steep stairs to her attic bedroom. Thick frost covered the inside of the window pane, blocking her view of the storm outside. The only heat radiated from the chimney, which ran from the basement up along one wall of her room. Her bed pressed against the bricks.
Quickly, she climbed into bed with her goose neck reading lamp and Bible, and pulled the covers over her head. Heat from the bulb kept her warm and provided light for her to read. A year earlier she had decided to read through the entire Bible. She loved the stories and doggedly read through difficult parts that she didn’t understand.
Opening to Romans 5, she started to read. The words jumped off the page: “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”*
Hope never disappoints, she thought. I hope I can be baptized tomorrow, she prayed before falling into a deep, contented sleep.
Edie awakened before dawn, excited that the day of her baptism had finally arrived. She dressed quickly and rushed downstairs, nearly tripping over the cat sleeping at the bottom of the stairs. It was still black as midnight, so she lit the kerosene lantern and hurried outside. Her heart sank. Menacing drifts blocked her view of the winding country road 50 yards south of the house. And snow continued falling.
A sullen light pushed through the slate gray sky and crept over the snow-covered landscape. Edie continued getting ready for church, stubbornly refusing to accept the possibility she might not go. Her older brother, Melvin, offered to help her shovel a path down to the road so they could check on conditions.
After an hour of furious shoveling, they reached the road. Towering drifts blocked any sign of the street. Edie knew the snowplow wouldn’t come for hours. Nothing was moving. Her world was blanketed in total silence—and mountains of snow.
“I guess that’s it,” Melvin said.
Edie wasn’t listening. She waded through the hard packed snow to the other side of the road.
“Look, Melvin!” she yelled. “There’s a little path through the snow.”
Melvin climbed over to where she was standing. The wind, blowing from the south overnight, had cleared the snow down to the pavement on the south side of the road. Huge drifts covered 90 percent of the highway, leaving a small two foot-wide path on the edge of the highway as far as they could see.
Her mother Elsie wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Edie walking three and a half miles to Lisbon Falls to catch a connecting bus to Lewiston. “What if the streets aren’t cleared in town and the bus isn’t running?” she asked. “You can’t walk 15 miles to Auburn!”
“The snow plow will clear the road,” Edie insisted.
Finally, Elsie agreed on condition that Melvin go with her. The two started walking at 7:45 A.M. A ferocious wind kicked up the snow around them, stinging their faces. Occasionally, the path narrowed to less than a foot wide. Their legs and lungs aching from the exertion, they kept plodding mile after mile.
Just outside of town, Edie stopped. “Can you hear it?” she cried.
Over the wind they heard the growl of powerful engines and the sound of a steel plow scraping against the asphalt. The streets were cleared as they walked into town.
The bus was only 30 minutes late, getting them to church with time to spare.
Later, as Edie climbed down into the water of the baptismal tank, she barely noticed the chilly water. She held the handkerchief over her nose, just like Pastor Jenkins had instructed. “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!” Pastor Jenkins said.
As he dipped her under the water, Edie pushed up against his arm to make sure she was totally submerged. I don’t want to be half baptized, she thought.
Later that night, safely back in her attic room, Edie wondered about the events of the day. Had God performed a miracle for her in causing the wind to blow a path through the snow? What if she had not shoveled a path to the road? The path on the road still would have been there, but she wouldn’t have known about it—except for her stubborn hope that God would make “something good” happen.
Even at 12 Edie knew she wouldn’t get everything that she specifically hoped for, because everybody faces many disappointments, regardless of their hope. So what did the Bible mean by claiming “hope does not disappoint”?
Suddenly, at some deep intuitive level, she captured a fleeting glimpse of what it meant: Hope, rooted in faith in a loving God, is a choice, an orientation toward life as it comes, whether ugly or beautiful. She understood that she was free to choose hope and faith—or cynicism and despair. Each choice paid its own reward.
It’s really true, she decided as she drifted off to sleep: No matter what happens, hope never disappoints.
Jeris Bragan writes from Antioch, Tennessee.