Clouds overhead keep the midday sun from emptying my pores of sweat as we walk down the narrow broken road, over the trash-filled stream, past the scrawny, scabbed cat, the call of a time-challenged rooster serenading us. At the open door to my friend’s house, I call out, “Peace be to you” as I wait for the customary “and unto you.” Removing shoes, we enter and join the smiles and chaos of kids and friends in a shack where we are always welcome.
I ask again and again for my friend to repeat herself as she talks fast in my second language, not quite loud enough to compete with the excited screams of kids, both hers and mine. She’s a friend who gives a lot, but asks even more. “When you come to my son’s official hair-cutting ceremony, don’t forget to bring an envelope of money,” she says. “I like your daughter’s cloth diapers, please bring a couple of them for me the next time you come... What about that honey you’ve shared with me. Do you have some more you can give me? How much do you pay your cleaning lady?... I want to work for you.”
She is asking me for cash, for honey, for a salary, and for diapers. My gift – its pages painted gold, its words even more precious than silver – hides in my bag. She asks for pebbles while I have a diamond to give her.
I don’t really want to give it to her. I am afraid. The lie that she will think I am trying to change her, that I am her friend so she will become like me shouts in my heart. She will question my motives, I worry. She will turn away from me.
But He has asked me again and again to give her the gift. His truth is clear. He wants to give her these words for free, giving her more than cash or honey or diapers, for goodness’ sake. But life. Hope. Love.
I feel awkward and confused as I follow her conversation. The timing doesn’t feel right. I am distracted with my 3-year-old son who is still learning to share. “Give her the toy,” I tell him as he pulls the stuffed animal away from my friend’s daughter. “You must share!”
I hear the words I speak – the words my own Father says to me – and I pull out the modest bag carrying the extravagant treasure. I fumble over words that fit in her language, not saying it right, as I hand her the bag. I apologize, as if I am doing something wrong. As if she doesn’t really, deep down, long for this Gift of Life.
She accepts it, then sets it aside, her sister grabbing it from her and thumbing through the pages. No big deal. No applause. But no screaming either. I am unsure if she knows yet that she wants it, as she turns back to asking me for something else that looks more like rocks than gems.
To the sound of a domed building’s noonday call to prayer, I finally take my leave, wondering what will happen to the treasure, if its words will be read in that shack. And I wonder how many times I’ve pestered my Father for money or honey or diapers or stones when He wants to give me riches.
My daughter hooks back onto my waist, my son’s hand filling my own as I thank Him for His grace.