A short story by Kirk Walden
Though the date was December 14, Rick Shannon was not in a Christmas mood. Carols were playing on his car radio, but as he sat in traffic watching snow shower his car, Rick could only think of the reasons why he could not sing along this particular Christmas.
For one, Rick’s five-year-old advertising business he launched out of his converted garage was skating on ice much thinner than that which 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 600 establishments, started fast and seemed to fizzle at the close.
“We like your work, Rick,” the vice president in charge of advertising told him. “You seem to understand our Christian 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 Joanne had always desired children, since 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 had 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 moving at a snail’s pace. The snow fell even harder now. Would they close the roads? Would he even see Joanne tonight? He picked up his cell phone to tell her the bad news.
A change in plans
Before he could dial the number however, Rick was startled by a banging on the passenger door. The boy couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18; his hair was black, wet and sprinkled by the snow.
“I’ve got to get to the hospital!” He yelled through the closed window.
Rick looked him over quickly. Was he sick? Wounded? Or was this kid a thief or a carjacker? Rick didn’t have time to pray over the situation. The banging on the door was that of desperation. Rick popped the locks and the kid hopped in.
“Thanks man. I’ve got to get to the hospital. Can you run me by?”
Rick mumbled in the affirmative, asking where he was to go.
“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. 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, which he had pulled off of the passenger’s seat when he jumped in.
Rick smiled at the attempt at humor. He decided he could be friendly, even with all that was on his mind. The kid was talkative, and seemed honest enough.
“Have you read it all the way through?” The kid was inquisitive, too.
Rick nodded. What was this kid’s story?
“I’ve read it through too,” the kid told him. “Just gave my life to the Lord three months ago. And I’ve read like the whole Bible already. Wild what happens when you really need the Lord, isn’t it?”
Rick nodded again, but found it hard to force a smile. Rick was wondering where God was at the moment. Did the Lord even care about his struggles with his business? And where was the child he and Joanne so desperately wanted?
The kid interrupted his thoughts. “Yeah, it’s been a tough time,” he said as if Rick had asked. “But God pulled me through.” He was oblivious to Rick’s lack of interest in a conversation.
“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; all Rick could do was listen. “I won’t see him long, though. We decided to place him in an adoptive home. 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. She even asked the adoption people to pick the family. Then when they came to—like—talk to us about all of it, they talked about the Lord and He just started changing my life.” The kid was quiet for a moment, then kept going. “Funny, huh? It’s like God reached down and snagged me when I wasn’t even expecting it.”
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?” To go with “talkative” as a character trait for the kid, Rick noted “nosy.”
“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 Mike, and after a while they were talking as traffic broke loose and began to move. They talked about sports, a shared love of baseball and even about their spiritual lives.
Though Mike was young, Rick marveled at his insights. A few minutes later, the hospital came into view. There, Mike directed Rick into the parking lot. “That’s where I can go in. Hey, will you come in with me and see my boy?”
Mike hesitated for a split second. “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 help the kid a little. The snow was still coming down; he would need to find a hotel for the night anyway. Rick would call Joanne 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 Mike.
Rick punched the buttons on his cell phone. In a moment, Joanne answered and Rick shared his story of a strange finish to a frustrating day. Joanne listened closely, then had a question.
“Have they already picked an agency?” she asked.
Yes, Rick told her, everything was settled.
Joanne wasn’t finished.
“What if God wants us to . . . well, if they wanted to pick a 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,” Joanne 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 Mike. Mike stood 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. Mike responded with a nod.
“And look at his hand. Isn’t it cool?” Mike pointed at the infant’s left hand. And there, between the thumb and the forefinger, Rick saw an unmistakable birthmark. Immediately, he understood what Mike was talking about.
“The nurse told me about it, and when I saw it, I knew she was right,” Mike 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,” Mike said quietly.
“That must be his pitching hand,” Rick said with a smile.
Mike grew silent again. A minute, maybe two, passed.
“I’ll be back in a little while,” Mike explained. “Will you stay?”
Rick said he would, and Mike was gone in a hurry.
A gift offered
Rick sat in the waiting area reading a sports magazine while he waited. He glanced at a clock on the wall. After a half hour passed, Mike 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 Sara—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 Mike’s eyes and saw nothing but honesty and conviction. A surge of elation quickened his pulse. He thought of Joanne, 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 drive home through the snow, get Joanne and be back by mid-morning. As soon as the adrenaline began to flow however, Rick was struck with a sense that he needed to slow the pace.
“We can’t do that,” he said without conviction. “You two made your plans already. Someone is probably waiting by the phone to hear about your baby boy.”
“We can change it,” Mike said. “They said whoever got picked 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. It’s okay.”
Rick thought about Joanne and the long wait they had endured together. And now, it could be over. “Give me a few minutes, okay?”
A gift given
The kid had no problem with that, and Rick called Joanne. Something kept gnawing at Rick as he went to the phone, but he dismissed any thoughts. God had worked the whole thing out, hadn’t He?
During the phone call with Joanne 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 Mike.
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. The kid looked like he was about to cry as well.
“But you—or I guess the agency—has already chosen the couple they believed God has for your boy. We’d better not change things at this point. Our day will come.”
With that, Rick thanked the kid 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 found a hotel a block away. 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 joy as he drove into his neighborhood. The day before, he had spent his time dwelling on the missing pieces of his life. Today, he was reminded that he had given the gift of a son to a couple he would likely never know. Though he and Joanne 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 Joanne talking much more about Mike or the baby. There were things to do, and they were heading to Joanne’s parents this year—tomorrow—on Christmas Eve.
Joanne 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.
“Yes!” 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!” Joanne said, not understanding Rick’s excitement. “Phone is for you, Santa Claus.”
Rick picked up the phone, handing Joanne the letter. He gave her a thumbs-up sign as he said a quick “hello” into the receiver.
“Yes,” Rick replied as he attempted to catch his breath.
“That must have been Joanne. 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 Mr. Jensen kept talking. “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,” Mr. Jensen said. “He’s a cute boy. And I remember from the biographical information you turned in that you said something about being a baseball fan. You won’t believe this baby’s birthmark . . . .”