The Christmas Gift

Kirk Walden Christmas, Culture, Values & Politics Leave a Comment

I wrote this story seven years ago; it’s been published a couple of places but never here. As you enjoy the Christmas season and celebrate the birth of a boy who would grow up to change the world, keep in mind that Christmas can be a time of miracles, even today.

This is a work of fiction; from a writer who believes in every day miracles.

Though the date was December 16, Rick Shannon was hardly in a Christmas mood. A Christmas album from Trans Siberian Orchestra was playing on his CD player, but as he sat in traffic watching snow shower his car, Rick could only think of reasons why he could not get into the season this year.

For one, the five-year-old advertising business Rick launched out of his converted garage was skating on ice much thinner than what was collecting on the roadside signs. Today he had hoped to turn things around. But a meeting with representatives from Home Again, a restaurant chain of more than 50 establishments, started fast and–at least in Rick’s mind–appeared to slow at the close.

“We like your work, Rick,” the vice president in charge of advertising told him. “You seem to understand our values. Your ideas may fit now, or perhaps later on. We’ll let you know.”

“When do I need to get in touch?” Rick asked.

“Oh, we’ll get in touch with you. And don’t worry, we will contact you either way.”

Rick had heard the, don’t call us, we’ll call you line many times. If things did not turn around soon, he might be looking for work early next year.

But it wasn’t as though he had children to feed. He and Kim wanted children from the day they were married nine years earlier. They prayed, they went to every doctor they could find, and still no children.

For the last three years they worked with an adoption agency. The wait, they were told, would be at least five years, perhaps more. Maybe seven or eight. As Rick’s mood faltered further, he wondered if he would ever hold a child of his own. And here he sat, two hours from home, with traffic at an almost total standstill.

The snow fell even harder now. Would they close the roads? Would he even see Kim tonight? He picked up his cell phone to tell her the bad news.

A change in plans
Before he could connect however, Rick was startled by tapping on the passenger door. It wasn’t a banging; but more of a gentle, “Do you mind?” When Rick glanced to his right, he saw a young man of about 17 or 18, wearing a faded Atlanta Braves cap with jet black hair. The cap, and the kid’s coat, wet were wet and sprinkled with snowflakes.

“Can I catch a ride up the road to the hospital?” The kid’s eyes were wide open, somehow projecting transparency.

Rick looked him over quickly. Was he sick? Wounded? Or was this kid a thief or carjacker? Rick didn’t have time to think through the situation so he went with his initial reaction. He took a chance, popping the lock. The kid hopped in, taking off his cap. He shook out his hair, running his fingers through before taking a deep breath.

“Thanks man. I’ve got to get to the hospital. Can you run me by?”

Rick mumbled in the affirmative, asking where the hospital might be.

“About two miles up ahead. Not far. It’s on the left. You’re not from here?”

“No, Barrier Cliff,” Rick responded, trying to focus on this new situation.

“You’re a ways from home, man. Is that where you’re headed now? ‘Cause they may not get to the roads up that way for a while. You gonna try to beat the storm?”

“I might try . . .” but Rick was cut off by the chatty young man.

“You’ll need this, that’s for sure,” The kid was tapping Rick’s Bible, now sitting in his lap after picking it off of the passenger’s seat when he jumped in.

Rick smiled at the attempt at humor. “You’re right,” he told the kid, nodding his head as he stole another look at his passenger, trying to size up the situation. If the kid was going to rob him, he could have already done so. Rick chuckled to himself as he considered whether this was a carjacking. Good luck in this traffic, Rick thought. If you shove me out of this car I can walk around and find ten policemen before you can move this vehicle ten feet.

“Have you read it all the way through?” The kid was inquisitive, too.

Ahhh. The Bible. Rick nodded. What was this kid’s story?

“I’ve read it a ton,” the kid told him. “Just started reading a few months ago. Couldn’t put it down. And I’ve read like the whole Bible already. Well, almost. Except for some of the old stuff. And I don’t even like to read much. Wild what can happen, right?”

Rick nodded again, intrigued. Who was this kid? What was his story? Still, Rick found it hard to share the kid’s excitement.

Instead, Rick was wondering where God was at the moment. Was this yet another test? The “You are about to lose your business and I’m going to leave you stranded in a cheap hotel tonight but be kind to the stranger” test?

The kid interrupted his thoughts. “Yeah, it’s been a tough time,” he said as if Rick had asked. “But God pulled me through.”

“My girlfriend had a baby,” he continued. “That’s why I’ve got to hoof it to the hospital. Couldn’t catch a ride, so I started walking. To see my boy. He was just born an hour ago. He came so fast and my cell was off at work. He’s two weeks early.”

He kept talking; Rick was forced to listen. “I won’t see him long, though. We decided to place him in an adoptive home. My girlfriend, Brittany, she told me I can’t say like, ‘gave him up for adoption’ cause we’re placing him. Our choice. She’s doing the right thing though, I guess. We’re just in high school. I just can’t do much for a baby right now. You think it’s okay, don’t you?” He stopped abruptly, waiting for an answer.

“You two made a wise choice. You tell your girlfriend she’s a brave girl,” Rick offered.

The kid was ready to talk again. “She is,” he said quickly. “She picked the adoption agency, even made the phone call. She liked the people there. Spent like days picking a family. Then when the man and the lady from the agency came to—like—talk to us about all of it, God came up and I just started asking all kinds of questions. It got me thinking about what I was doing and how I needed to change some stuff.”

The boy wasn’t finished. “It just came down to doing like I always did or deciding to follow–you know–Jesus. It’s weird. It wasn’t like I expected. Lots of stuff is still screwed up, but I’m trying. Once we get through this, we’re going to do this dating thing right. She’s the kind of girl I could marry–I just have to be a guy that’s worth a . . . well, I mean a good guy.”

Rick smiled, knowing the kid was trying to keep his language clean in a new environment.

“I’ve no doubt you will be a great man for her, when the time is right,” Rick said. For a moment, his mind escaped his own issues. A sense of rest–for just that moment–swept over Rick. Maybe he needed to listen more to the kid and worry about his problems later.

“Yeah, it’s like God reached down and snagged me when I wasn’t even expecting it.”

Rick nodded. He could use one of those snags.

Finding an answer
The kid’s next question caught Rick off guard. “You got any kids?”

“Uhhhh. No.” This wasn’t a subject Rick wanted to touch.

“Why not?” Not only was “talkative” a character trait for the kid, Rick noted “nosy” as well.

“It’s not that we don’t want kids,” Rick said sullenly. “It’s just that . . .” Rick’s voice began to trail off. What could he say to a high school kid? “It’s just that it hasn’t worked out.” The kid was silent, for a change. For a few moments, nothing was said.

The kid broke the silence, starting with some small talk. He introduced himself as Jake, and the conversation began to flow. They talked about sports, a shared love of baseball and as Rick started to refocus his attention on his passenger, he asked more questions about Jake’s faith and found the kid to be an open book.

Though Jake was young, Rick marveled at his insights. While nearly an hour went by before the hospital came into view, it seemed like only minutes. There, Jake directed Rick into the parking lot. “That’s where I can go in. Hey, will you come in with me and see my boy?”

Before Rick could answer, Jake added one more piece of information. “My parents,” he said slowly. “They uh, they didn’t want—they couldn’t, you know—make it.”

Rick understood. Even if the day wasn’t what he expected, maybe he could at least be a decent human being. The snow was still coming down; a hotel was within walking distance and looked far from full. Rick would call Kim and let her know he would be home as soon as the roads cleared in the morning.

“It would be an honor,” Rick replied. “Let me give my wife a call.” Rick dropped off Mike and checked the signs for Labor & Delivery. He would find his way there in a little while, he told Jake.

Rick tapped Kim’s number on his cell phone. In a moment, Kim answered and Rick shared his story of a strange finish to a frustrating day. Kim listened closely, then had a question.

“Have they already picked a couple?” she asked.

Yes, Rick told her, everything was settled.

A thought
Kim wasn’t finished.

“What if God wants us to . . . well, if they wanted to pick another couple . . .” Her voice sounded hopeful.

“They’ve already worked it out,” Rick told her softly. “I’d better not get into our situation with them. It just wouldn’t be right.”

“I know, I know,” Kim said, her voice failing to mask her pain. “You’re right. We’ve just waited so long . . . .”

The conversation ended and Rick went inside. After a few wrong turns in the halls of the hospital, he finally caught up with Jake, standing outside the newborn window; gazing quietly at a tiny bundle on the other side of the glass, wrapped in a blue blanket. Rick walked up beside him and admired the little boy.

Both men, caught up in private thoughts, watched silently for a moment. This time, it was Rick who spoke first. “He’s a beautiful baby.” And he was. Jake responded with a nod.

“And look at his hand. Isn’t it cool?” Jake pointed at the infant’s left hand. And there, between the thumb and the forefinger, Rick saw an unmistakable birthmark. Immediately, he understood what Jake was talking about.

“The nurse told me about it, and when I saw it, I knew she was right,” Jake said. “It looks just like . . .” he didn’t get a chance to finish before Rick jumped in.

“A baseball,” Rick said with a chuckle. “You can almost see the seams in that little hand. It’s amazing.”

“He’s going to be a ballplayer I guess,” Jake said quietly.

“That must be his pitching hand,” Rick said with a smile.

Jake grew silent again. A minute, maybe two, passed.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” Jake explained. “Will you stay?”

Rick said he would, and Jake was gone in a hurry.

A gift offered
Rick sat in the waiting area, absently flipping through a sports magazine while he waited. He glanced at a clock on the wall. After a half hour passed, Jake was back, walking straight up to Rick and giving him a hopeful, yet piercing stare.

“You said you didn’t have any kids, right?”

Rick started to get an idea of where this was going.

“And since it hasn’t worked out for you, me and Brittany—that’s my girlfriend—we want you to have this baby.”

Rick simply stared back, not knowing what to say.

“God does things for a reason doesn’t He? And He put me in your car. We think it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Rick looked in Jake’s eyes and saw nothing but honesty and conviction. A surge of elation quickened his pulse. He thought of Kim, and all of the years of waiting. He thought of calling his attorney and getting the process moving immediately, before any minds changed.

Rick could force himself to drive home through the snow, get Kim and be back by mid-morning to meet their new birth couple. As soon as the adrenaline began to flow however, Rick was struck with a sense that he needed to slow the pace.

“You two made your plans already. Someone is probably waiting by the phone to hear about your baby boy.”

“We can change it,” Jake said. “They said the family wouldn’t even know until we sign everything. And the adoption people said we could change our minds. That’s what we’re gonna do, if you want.”

Rick thought about Kim and the long wait they had endured together. And now, it could be over. “Give me a few minutes, okay?”

A gift given
Jake had no problem with that, and Rick called Kim. Something kept gnawing at Rick as he called, but he dismissed any thoughts. God had worked the whole thing out, hadn’t He?

During the phone call with Kim however, the uncomfortable feeling returned. Their miracle would be another’s loss. They both knew it. Tears flowed as they came to their decision. Rick had to tell Jake.

He found him still in the waiting room, with a smile on his face. It was difficult for Rick to look him in the eye, but finally, he did.

“We just can’t do it,” Rick said, dropping the truth like a hammer. “Believe me; we want to with all of our hearts. We really do. But if we say yes, another couple is going to be disappointed, even if they don’t realize it.”

Rick continued as the emotions began to well up in his voice. “Your offer . . .” Rick paused and tried to compose himself. “It was the greatest Christmas present we could hope for, and I’m not saying ‘no’ because of you.” Rick finished as a tear rolled down his cheek. Jake looked like he was about to cry as well.

“But you two already chose the couple you believed God has for your boy. We’d better not change things at this point. Our day will come.”

With that, Rick thanked Jake again and turned toward the elevator. He knew he had to move quickly. He wouldn’t hold up much longer. Rick shuffled out into the parking lot with his head down, got in his car and slipped over to the hotel. He hardly slept.

The next morning the roads cleared and Rick headed home to Barrier Cliff. Though hardly jovial, Rick still felt a small sense of satisfaction. Somehow, he knew he and Kim made the right decision. They could trust in that much, at least.

The day before, he had spent his time dwelling on the missing pieces of his life. Today however, he was reminded they had given the gift of a son to a couple he would likely never know. Though he and Kim would continue to wait for a child, he would remember this Christmas for a long time. A reminder of what Christmas is all about, Rick thought.

A reminder of the gift given
The few remaining days before Christmas passed without Rick and Kim talking much more about Jake or the baby. There were things to do, and they were heading to Kim’s parents this year—tomorrow—on Christmas Eve.

Kim was running down her list of things to do before leaving town. “Did you get the mail today, Rick?” On the list was the need to pay bills before the end of the year, hence the needed trip to the mailbox.

“Naw, but I’ll get it,” Rick said. Rick eased down the icy driveway, watching his step. A sigh of relief went through him when he pulled out a stack of letters and saw no bills. There was however, a letter from Home Again Restaurants.

The envelope was thin, which rarely meant good news. Rick opened it, expecting the standard two-paragraph rejection. Instead, he saw two pages of correspondence.

The first sentence was all he needed to see: “Congratulations, Mr. Shannon. We look forward to partnering with you as we roll out our new advertising campaign.” From there, Home Again’s vice president followed with an announcement that their advertising buy would be 45% higher than earlier estimates. Rick’s idea had carried the day.

“Yessssss,” Rick barked as he pumped his arm, trying to keep his balance as he raced up the driveway toward the front door.

“Christmas is here!” Rick yelled as he came in the door.

“Great! Kim said, not understanding Rick’s excitement. “Phone is for you, Santa Claus.”

Rick picked up the phone, handing Kim the letter. The traded a fist-bump as he said a quick “hello” into the receiver.

“Mr. Shannon?”

“Yes, this is Rick,” he replied, catching his breath.

“That must have been Kim. I could have told her,” the voice at the other end explained. “This is Paul Jensen from the Hope Adoption Agency, and we have a small Christmas present for you.”

Rick’s heart skipped a beat, or maybe more as Paul kept continued. “He’s eight pounds, four ounces. You can come and pick him up here tomorrow, just in time for Christmas.”

Rick was nearly speechless, trying valiantly to put words together. “Yes . . . Sure—We . . .”

“Well, the baby was born last week and we were able to move things more quickly than we thought,” Paul said. “This young mom and her boyfriend were totally committed–they made this decision two months ago and stayed strong. But I have to tell you, they mentioned they almost changed their minds to another couple last week but knew this was right for them.”

Rick held the phone, stunned, as Paul continued. “He’s a cute boy. And I remember something from the biographical information you turned in. You’re a baseball fan, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” Rick said, trying to pull his thoughts together.

“Rick, you won’t believe this baby’s birthmark . . . .”

This is our third installment in our Christmas Chronicles. Read Pt. 1 here, and Pt. 2 here.

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