During the eighteen years that we lived in Southern California, either our house or our church were broken into eleven times; eight times the church—three times the house. It was just simply an occupational hazard.
In one of the ministries I served in California, the church building sat on the front of a narrow lot on a main boulevard, nearly two acres in length; and the parsonage we lived in sat at the back end of that lot with a huge yard area in between. On one side of our lot was a street; but on the other side was a landscaping nursery whose lot was the exact same size and shape as the churches; and it ran parallel to our church the full length of our lot.
The lot the nursery sat on had a store at its front on the boulevard, adjacent to our church building. However, the back of their lot was used to store landscaping trees in large pots and wooden containers that were lined up in rows so the workers could access them for sales. All day long workers would wander through the trees watering them, trimming them and fetching them for sales. In between our properties was a flimsy wire fence about waist-high.
My daily routine every morning during the week was to walk from our home up the driveway to work in my office at the church on the front end of our property. My wife would join me in the office most days later on in the morning unless she had another appointment. And typically, around noon, we would walk back to the parsonage for lunch.
That year we had done our Christmas shopping and wrapping early and we had gone all out to make sure our Christmas was going to be the best ever. Without question we had spent the most ever for presents for our kids and each other, and the space beneath our tree was overflowing with presents. I was just like a kid when it came to Christmas anyway, (maybe even more than my two sons) but this year I was flying high in anticipation of Christmas morning.
One mid-December weekday morning I went to the church office as usual and my wife went to an appointment. At noon I sauntered back to our home for lunch. When I opened the front door all I saw was wrapping paper everywhere. It took me about five seconds to process the obvious.
I screamed, “No, No.”
In my panicked state I darted through the house to see if someone was still there, or if the thieves had ransacked anywhere else in the house. They had, but at least they were gone. Then I came back to the living room where all the chaos was and frantically looked through the presents and wildly strewn paper to see if the more expensive gifts had been taken. They had. Then I called 911, and then my wife to tell her the awful news.
Surprisingly for Southern California, the police arrived rather quickly. They asked question after question but while they did I noticed through the window one officer wandering around our back yard. In time he came in and asked if I had been walking in back earlier that day.
I said, “No. I went straight to the church this morning. Why?”
He took me out side to the fence between ours and the nursery’s property. He pointed at the ground and there in a small puddle of mud was a fresh shoe print.
He said, “If you weren’t out here today, this print was probably made this morning because it just so happens that it rained last night.” He continued, “I’ll bet my lunch that one or more of the workers at the nursery have been watching your comings and goings and when they saw that your whole family was going to be gone this morning, they hopped the fence, jimmied the door and took what they wanted. They may have even staked out your house earlier this week to see if you had any Christmas presents displayed. We see a lot of that this time of year.”
At that he jumped the fence and walked through the potted trees until he disappeared out of sight. A few seconds later he shouted to me to jump over as well and come to where he was. I obeyed and when I arrived at his location, there against the block wall on the other side of the nursery property was one of our blankets gathered into a bundle and filled with our Christmas presents and some of our household goods. The irony was…they had gathered our Christmas presents into a bundle to take them rather than give them as Santa is rumored to do each Christmas.
He pointed at the bundle and asked, “Are those your Christmas presents?”
I said, “They certainly are.”
And he said, “Take them and make sure you put a dead bolt on your back door.”
It was clear what had happened. The workers had taken our things and stored them against the wall until after work when they would drive their car around to the alley in the rear of the property beside the block wall. There they would hop the fence, grab the loot, pass it over the wall into their running car and be gone.
They were never able to identify the culprits, but our mourning was turned to joy none the less.
Our Christmas was especially blessed that year, not because we got all of our stuff back after all; but because God had been faithful to watch out for his kids (one big kid and two little kids!).
“Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.” — Psalm 91:9-10
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