* * *
The neighbors in the apartment began to whisper about him the first day he moved in from the farm. He was a plain man made uglier by age and the constant scowl on his face. He walked slightly stooped. His calloused hands shook.
His clothes were wrinkled and seemed on the verge of dirty. The stubble on his face added to the suspicions that he might be a dangerous man. Of course, it didn't help that his third floor neighbors were all elderly single women who had been subjected to many years of TV murders and crime.
The ladies tried once to meet him, but he only opened the door a darkened crack and stared at the floor. He mumbled when he spoke and shut the door. This sent the ladies fluttering back to their secure, well lit cages, locking the doors behind them.
* * *
She was a busy homemaker. Generally a cheerful woman with the usual bouts of sad days and mad days. Her air was even lighter- it was Christmas. The tree stood stately in front of the window glittering with red and gold. It scented the small living room with pine. Freshly baked gingerbread lay on the blue gray marbled counter ready to be eaten by the eager children who lived in the home. Karoline kept the Christmas music on while she wrapped the presents in multi-colored shiny paper.
This was a particularly special holiday, for it would be their first Christmas in their new home. She would often pause in her day and stroll through each room thanking God for this gift. Her husband had always liked the idea of a brick, bermed home. She had wanted three bedrooms and two bathrooms so children and guests would feel comfortable. Kerwin had a place to plant flowers and a manageable lawn to mow. Karoline loved the easy to clean windows and the real maple wood cabinets.
They had enough money to pay their bills and make Christmas special. They were not rich, but they had enough.
* * *
He, in his dark, lonely life had never had enough. He needed more, but got less. The farm he was forced to move from had been his life, but farming was hard. The weather, the thistles, the insects, the economy, eventually sent him out of business. If there was a God, God did not take notice of him or hear his vague pleas for rain. Farming made him bitter and he pushed all away who tried to offer hope. No one had the courage or cared enough to break the shell around his growly heart. People thought he liked his anger, so they left him to it.
He really needed more of love, but got less.
* * *
The Barclay Box Company earned its highest profits at Christmas, of course.
The management prided itself in having the finest gift boxes in America. Each year a new design for the boxes would be developed. There were all shapes and sizes. No matter what vibrant color they used there was a splash of silver on every box. Boxes were sent all over the country filled with a delicious assortment of nuts, candies, cookies, fruit, cheese, ham rolls, biscuits, teas, coffees. The variety was up to the buyer.
It was an easy way to send love.
* * *
Uncle Hal had always enjoyed sending the four box gift set to his sisters who all lived in three different states---Kansas, California, and Oregon. He chose white boxes, splashed with silver, that had green leaves outlined in gold. The four boxes were piled on top of each other and held together by a large gold ribbon cascading over it like a waterfall. The largest box was filled with soft ball sized pears, oranges, apples. The second box had cookies- shortbread with strawberry filling, chocolate pecan, peanut butter toffee, and brandy balls. Box number three- an assortment of light and dark chocolates. The last, smallest box on the regal tower contained roasted almonds and cashews.
This Christmas he sent an extra box to the one sister in Kansas, whom he knew had extra bills with their first new home. The second tower of purple and blue striped boxes, splashed with their trademark silver, included ham, cheese, crackers; with a Christmas tree shaped box of cocoa for the children, Janine and Andy; flavored coffee for Karoline and Kerwin. With that order he sent a message of celebration for their new home. He was satisfied as the orders were made. Christmas shopping was done for him. He enjoyed picturing the squeals of delight as his gifts arrived to each of their destinations.
Nevertheless he always wished he could do more.
* * *
The glow of the TV was the only light penetrating his darkened room. He was not heartened by the reminders that it was the Christmas season. It had done nothing for him, except remind him how empty his life was and fueled his resentment for the smiling, jovial programming coming across the screen. "Hypocrites!" All these happy-ending stories were not reality to him.
The apartment manager occasionally tapped on his door to remind him to empty his mail box. The task was easily forgettable. There was never anything personal in it anyway. But it irritated him to see the growing Christmas decorations appearing on his neighbor's entry ways. "What a waste of money and time," he muttered to himself. Isolation had aged his heart, made his bones brittle. His miserable life would soon end either from neglect or by his own purposed plan.
* * *
The children were home for Christmas break and kept a steady watch for the mailman. Their enthusiasm added to the festive feeling. Every morning Karoline lit the scented candles and turned on the Christmas lights, so when Janine and Andy crawled out of their warm beds they saw and smelled the glow of Christmas. The baby Jesus sat in a prominent place for the children to look at and touch. Karoline allowed them to play with the nativity scene. They made up little stories and moved the pieces accordingly. They were being carefully taught that Christmas was more than the gift.
The day before Christmas the children were so excited none could sleep, or that's what they told their mother. But one by one they quieted down and drifted off.
"The boxes are running late this year," Karoline said to her husband. "But then what if he didn't send them this year? After all, Hal is self employed and business has been down for him. Should we call Hal and ask?"
"Let's wait," Kerwin replied. "They may come after Christmas."
* * *
But even the throw of the dice is ordained. "We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall." (Proverbs 16:33)
The boxes were not lost. With planned precision they were approaching their divine destination.
* * *
The day before Christmas was a perfect Kansas Christmas. It was snowing. Puffy, soft, white flakes floated from the sky. Not the blowing blizzard wind the Kansas plains are famous for, but the gentle glide from sky to ground that thickly coated the dirty streets and black trees with milky silk shimmering magic.
Most saw beauty but as the winter sky began to darken early he saw coldness. He shivered. He would not even turn the TV on tonight. He seemed to freeze into his chair, no heart to eat, or read, or watch. Even breathing became a chore. His hands gripped the arm rest, his eyes stared into the black room, willing himself not to think --- a gray, dripping mind.
* * *
He knocked once --- no answer. It was Christmas Eve. Almost done with his deliveries, he wanted --- needed to get home. His family was waiting. But the faithful postal service was feverishly working all over the nation this night so as no little child would be disappointed on Christmas morning. One more knock, then he would leave the boxes by the door and go on to his last delivery.
"What was that?" It startled him. A noise, in the hall? No it was at his door. Someone was knocking. "What does the apartment manager want on this night? Leave me alone," he thought. But out of duty he rose from his chair and shuffled to the door. The light from the hallway momentarily blinded his eyes as he peeked through the crack.
"Good evening, sir. I have a delivery for you. Please sign here."
"This is for you, would you please sign here?" The delivery man was trying to remain civil, but really felt impatient. He slid the two towers of elegantly ribboned boxes toward the door.
The farmer had only seen shadows for days. The sudden color and sparkle of the gifts made him squint--- royal purple and blue , tied with wide silver ribbon; green gold ribbon sweeping over the second tower, all splashed with silver. The cost of this would be extravagant.
"No, I did not order this! You must have the wrong address."
"Is this 115 Palms, apt. 3?"
"Are your initials K.K.J.A.?"
He gasped. There could be no mistake. His parents had named him with pride. They often told him as a child how he was named after Kenneth Kirby, his two grandfathers; and James a follower of Jesus in the Bible...his mother had insisted; and Ankleman, their family name for which as a child he suffered abuse from his peers.
There it was in clear letters: K.K.J.A. It was no mistake. These boxes were meant for him. But from who? He pondered for a moment. The right address, the right name, but still he was sure he was the wrong man.
"Just sign here, sir, and I'll be on my way." The delivery man placed the receipt and pen in his hand. Kenneth Kirby signed.
"Thank you," cried the delivery man as he hurried down the hall. He could almost taste the hot cider that would be waiting for him when he got home.
He stood there in the doorway staring at the beauty. He had not ordered it or paid for it. He pulled the boxes into his empty room and turned on the light.
Shuffling around them, he gently touched the ribbons. He certainly would not give a gift like this to anyone. Questions began to flood his mind that he had formerly refused to consider. But there was one question he had spent a lifetime protecting himself from. It was such a simple question. He felt childish to have it.
"Does anybody care for me?"
Cautiously he reached for the card. This would be the explanation to unravel the mystery. He held his breath as his hand pulled the little cardboard message out of its ivory envelope. He read.
* * *
When Hal learned several days after Christmas of the undelivered gifts to his sister he called the Barclay Box Company. They had delivered the boxes to the old address and they had been signed for, so the company offered a free gift from anything in the catalogue. In the following discussion with Kerwin and Karoline they decided to let it be.
"You know, Hal, we have been trying to teach sharing with the kids and this will be a perfect opportunity to let go of one of the gifts. They got enough for Christmas. I believe your generous gift was still put to good use in someone's life. Are you okay with that?" asked Karoline.
"Yes, well alright. I'm sorry. I want you to know I ordered extra for you this year, sort of a house warming/Christmas gift. I didn't even sign the card. You always know who it is from. Let me tell you and Kerwin my message. I remember how difficult it was to buy your home--- whether it was God's will, the finances and all, so I sent you this message...."
* * *
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38,39)
"He will always be there for you.”
It was uncharacteristic for the tough as leather farmer, but Kenneth's eyes blurred with moisture and his throat tightened. He read it again. He recalled the question he had asked: "Does anybody care for me?"
Gripping the card, he sat down in his worn chair. He leaned forward, put his head in his hands. "Thank you," he whispered.
The dark stranglehold that held Kenneth's heart in a tight stony mass began to loosen and crumble. He stood up and walked to the window. Opened it and filled his chest with the crisp air. He could not see it before, but now he stared in wonder at the crystalline splendor.
Later he would begin the delightful process of opening each gift box and tasting their contents. It dawned on him that there was more than enough, maybe he should pass some on. This would be the beginning of new relationships.
* * *
"I wanted to do more," Hal sighed, "instead I did less."
* * *
Not less, Hal, more. You did far, far more. -- Only heaven will tell how one misplaced gift changed a man. God working all things according to the counsel of His will, broke a stony heart and loved a lonely, abandoned farmer back to life.
* * *