I want to share a story from Reader’s Digest, December 2002, which was taken from a story by Lee Hill Kavanaugh, of the Kansas City Star. It goes like this:
Perry Bice turned off the engine but remained behind the wheel. Parked in his driveway was a wheelchair-accessible van, a huge red and gold bow spanning the windshield. Bice began to sob.
"Why is Daddy crying?" asked nine-year-old Branson. Scrambling out, the boy ignored the van; he’d spied the trampoline and the basketball goal near the newly constructed wheelchair ramp. It was still early on Christmas Day, 2001. But already the Bice family had been blessed beyond its wildest dreams, thanks to a group of anonymous volunteers in the Kansas City area – the Elves of Christmas Present.
The Bice family has seen more than its share of sorrow. In just a few short years, Perry’s car engine went out, and a fire destroyed the house he shared with his wife, Kathrine, and their children. And then Perry lost his job.
But even deeper troubles were beginning. When Kathrine’s mother died suddenly, tests revealed a rare condition and helped unlock a family medical mystery. Doctors finally were able to diagnose what was wrong with the Bices’ youngest daughter, Rishonn: She had a related genetic disorder, mitochondrial disease, a condition that can lie dormant for years – or end a life in weeks.
Before long, the Bices learned their oldest daughter, Chambris, also had the disease. And then Mishayla tested positive. Two other children, Branson and Talaessa, were healthy. Kathrine, it turned out, was the carrier. For months, the couple lived in a daze of grief, denial and sleepless nights as the illness racked their children’s lives. Three-year-old Rishonn died soon after her diagnosis in 1999.
At times, Perry, a deeply religious man, railed at God. But neither he nor Kathrine was ever bitter. "We’ve found a God that cares for us tenderly," she explains. They were grateful when, two weeks before Christmas, a man identifying himself only as the chief elf called them at their Gardner, Kansas, apartment to ask if his group could bring their children some gifts. Perry and Kathrine agreed, knowing their kids would love the surprise.
What the Bices didn’t know was that as soon as the sun set on Christmas Eve, an elf crew was dispatched to the little house the couple recently had struggled to buy. Although they’d closed on the property two days earlier, they weren’t given a key (the Realtor was in cahoots with the elves).
Old carpet was pulled up and hauled off. New rugs and floors were installed. Twenty-six volunteers rolled on a coat of paint. Hours later, 26 more painters put on a second coat. Eight finishing carpenters nailed in moldings and baseboards. A building crew constructed a wheelchair ramp. Gifts were wrapped, and the trampoline was set up.
A Christmas tree was decorated with twinkling lights and ornaments. An elf who is also a car dealer donated a van. Another elf donated several months of mortgage payments. Others followed suit, bringing the total to more than $17,000. Each month’s payment was tied on a note that dangled from the tree’s branches. One last loving touch was nestled inside the tree – a tiny card, printed in script, courtesy of an elf who had kept his print shop open late.
By 6:30 a.m., as the etchings of Christmas morning streaked pink across the sky, the gifts were finally ready.
A rookie elf, a girl about 11 years old, presented the key to the Bices later that morning. "What’s this?" Perry asked. "A key? To what?"
Like a little phantom, the elf smiled, softly wished them a Merry Christmas, then ran off.
It dawned on Perry that perhaps the elves had left the gifts at their new home. He and Kathrine bundled up the kids and headed over. When the family opened the door, they couldn’t believe the sun-splashed walls, fresh Berber carpets and tiled floors. The lights of the tree drew them closer. Then they saw the mortgage payments and were overwhelmed.
After their tears were wiped away, Perry stood back and looked at the tree once more. That’s when he noticed the tiny envelope that was perched on a branch. Inside was the last gift, a gift of three precious words: “God loves you.”
Bice smiled, then nodded and placed it at the very top of the tree.