In the fall of 2003, our family collected handfuls of acorns at Colonel Beatty Park in Matthews. We sealed them in a plastic container and tucked them away in the back of the refrigerator to simulate the winter that acorns require before they will germinate. It was to be a lesson in forestry for our 8-, 6- and 3-year old kids that would turn into much larger lessons about life and thanksgiving.
Just a few weeks earlier, a 12-year old, red-haired dynamo at our church was diagnosed with bone cancer. Her name was Hope, and there could not have been a more fitting name for this child. If you lived around Charlotte back then, you will remember Hope Stout’s name and her inspirational story. In November of 2003, after a summer of painful chemotherapy treatments, Hope was contacted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Most terminally ill kids wish to travel, or be a princess, or meet a celebrity, or get a dog. “You know,” Hope told Make-a-Wish, “I am lucky. I have been to Disney World, swam with the dolphins in Cancun, and I go to the beach all the time. You say there are 155 kids on the waiting list? Well, my wish is to grant all their wishes – all 155 of them.”
The expected cost of granting Hope’s wish exceeded $750,000, but Hope and Make-a-Wish sprang into action. The Charlotte Observer ran a story just before Christmas. WBT radio personality Keith Larson interviewed Hope on the air in a segment so inspirational the station replays it every year. The Super Bowl-bound Carolina Panthers and the entire city rallied around her audacious, selfless effort. She even planned a black-tie Celebration of Hope event to push her fundraising goal over the top.
By January 4, 2004, Beth grew tired of the acorns in “her” refrigerator and, on that sunny Sunday afternoon, the kids dutifully planted them in the garden. A few hours later, the phone rang with news that Hope had finished her earthly journey. It would be April before those acorns sprouted, but from that afternoon, we were already calling them “Hope Oaks.”
For two years, the kids watered and weeded and transplanted more than 100 young Hope Oaks before distributing them in a fundraiser for the March Forth with Hope Foundation, which the Stout family started to provide financial assistance to families in medical crisis. Those trees are now 11 years old and thriving throughout the Carolinas in living memory of Hope. The one we planted in our own backyard is now 30 feet tall and produced nearly 1,000 acorns this fall.
Hope didn’t get to see her wish fulfilled. She died 12 days shy of the gala fundraiser she orchestrated. More than 1,000 people attended, though, and by the end of the night, the funds had surpassed $1.1 million. All of the kids would have their wishes granted – including Hope!
The funny thing about an acorn is that it has to quit being an acorn to become a tree and bear more fruit. That’s Hope’s story, and she continues to bear much fruit in the lives of everyone she touched – including three little kids who collected acorns in a park and learned about so much more than how to grow a tree.
Be thankful this season in sickness or health. Be thankful for your children and for every minute you get to love them. Be thankful for lessons learned in life and through death. And be thankful for the heart and wisdom of a fiery little redhead from Charlotte.
Dan and Beth Meyer reside in Matthews, N.C.