this isn’t a gift
“This isn’t a gift,” she says, passing the gift bag across the table. The bag is cool teal, like one of the stripes in her shirt.
Except for the clear absence of tissue paper, it certainly looks like a gift. The twisted paper handles slide down her fingers as she extends her hand.
“No, I mean it isn’t,” she says, glossing, “I just ordered this lotion and you have to order three to get one, so.” My friend gives the way we should, without even thinking herself a giver.
I peep into the bag: two boxes, labeled medicinally. The block-lettered brand conveys some level of seriousness but tells me little.
“I just didn’t want my hands to crack until they bleed this Winter,” she says, continuing. What she doesn’t say out loud is that she remembers this about me too, that my Lowcountry skin screams through the bleak season, thirsty; that I itch and break and bleed. It’s the kind of detail that spills out over years of history, the kind of thing confessed miserably while drying dishes together or exposed when I wrap my hands around a steaming mug of her hospitality. Dismissively, with her gift not-a-gift, my friend reminds me that Love knows what I need; that not a detail of my longing will be missed. Below the denial of her generosity rests a matter-of-fact comment my friend actually doesn’t say out loud: Well, I love you. Of course I would take care of your hurting hands. I lift the bag, feeling the weight of love, thinking about the way Jesus spoke of caring for our needs as God’s big “well, of course.” I wonder if it’s doubt of that love that causes us to worry. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you (Matthew 6:33), Jesus says, and I think sometimes His hands giving are the hands of a friend, passing over a gift that looks for all the world like something precious masquerading as practical.
“Thank you,” I say simply, sitting the crisp little bag in the seat beside me, certain that those two plain words couldn’t possibly contain the fullness of my gratitude. In honor of her humility, I let the conversation drift to kids and work and God. We meander from trivialities through deep wells and back, but somewhere deeper still my friend has me wondering how many gifts God gives me just this way–His wealth of love deceptively delivered without fanfare. After all, the best gift ever given came with a startled cry in a dank dark barn, all wrapped up in downy baby skin. Even His name –Jesus– was unexceptional in its time. The angels celebrated, yes, but not right there, not in that place smelling of animals and sticky with straw. Who would have imagined, looking upon that human mess, that within that baby dwelt all the fullness of God?
We know this really, don’t we, that it’s not only the glistening things that carry love? That it’s crosses and broken hands, mason jars and patches and cocked lids over ancient pots? Sometimes I forget. I get soul amnesia (as Ann Voskamp says) and I have to relearn how to measure love, how to trust it when my resolve feels as weak as my body. So God comes through a friend, slides into the chair across the table, hands me love in a paper bag, and says, “This isn’t a gift.” It just is, me caring for you, me knowing what you need. Because real love is the most extravagent gift-not-a-gift; it’s God’s great of course, as basically necessary as bread and water, as opulent as hidden treasure, as rugged as a king on His knees washing feet; a king crowned, finally, with thorns. The real value never could be measured by the wrapping.