Looking for treasure in trash

| November 6, 2011 | 0 Comments


Are you among the numbers of people who have never visited or even seen the dump (not talking here about the retail discount chain)? Perhaps you’ve seen news reports on “sanitary landfills,” or watched a documentary about recycling programs, but you’ve missed-out on the total sensory experience of the local dump–mountains and layers of smelly, gooey, garbage.

As a kid, I loved trips to the dump. We arrived with a pickup stacked high with our dump donation. We backed up to the appointed place, dropped the tailgate, and shoved our offering out as quickly as possible.

While others were finishing up, I wandered around a bit, looking for broken, discarded, trashed treasures. It seems like I found something every trip. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t care for the garbage and goo, but even the gross stuff gave me a great story for school on Monday.

The dump was filled with decaying, discarded, broken, busted stuff, but somehow I was able to find a treasure, a thing of value for me hidden in that festering field. On those “Dump” days, I’d arrive with trash and leave with treasure.

That childhood memory helps me understand what Jesus said about the Kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. At every turn the field is piled high with disappointments, financial meltdowns, broken lives, discarded dreams, abandoned homes, and good-intentioned disasters. We pray for God to wipe the mess away, but he doesn’t work that way. He begins there in the dump, with the mess, and reveals a treasure. He creates an unexpected wonder, something beyond imagination. He fashions “new life” in the middle of the mess.

I can identify with Rick McKinley, in This Beautiful Mess, “After learning all the appropriate ‘spiritual language,’ I determined to live my life for him, as long as I could be in charge…Eventually the bubble burst. I realized that Jesus did not want to help me be a better king. Neither did he want to be king of my kingdom at all. Really, He wasn’t there to endorse my agenda.”

It’s not his tendency to wipe away the difficulties we face, but it gives him joy to introduce us to new-found treasure in the middle of the mess. Can you see it yet?

In Enterprise, Alabama, there is a strange monument to a bug…the boll weevil. It seems that in the early 1900’s the boll weevil devastated the cotton crops of the region. The fields were worthless and the farmers desperate. Then, in the middle of all the disaster, one man planted peanuts. The weevils didn’t bother them and the peanuts were easier to raise. A whole new way of farming came from the boll weevil catastrophe. So a couple years later, they put up a memorial to the pest.

Found the treasure yet?


Years ago I worked once a week at Hearts & Hands in Arlington Texas. On that day a cross section of poverty came for food and clothes and the waiting room was always filled and overflowing. All they wanted was food for the week, but we offered a little more, conversation and prayer and a dose of dignity while they waited.

Hands were dirty, noses running, and eyes watery. Hearts were ashamed, some belligerent, some bitter and demanding, and some so beaten-down they could barely lift their heads and they never lifted their eyes. The clients represented the demoralized remnant of society, devalued, broken-down, out-of-work, and out-of-time–a human dump.

I walked among them asking, “How you doing today?” Some would show me bags of medicines, a few would show me their scars. And, the stories of unfair conditions, lost jobs, problem kids, broken families, and unending hopelessness echoed over and over. It was emotionally draining.

One-on-one, I asked, “What can I pray for you about?” The standard answers: Health, jobs, kids, families, cars, places to live, and thankfulness for Hearts & Hands.

Each prayer-visit was a replay of the last, until Delphina came through the door. “How you doing today?” I asked. This grace-filled woman looked deep into my eyes and smiled and said, “God has sent me here today to bless you, honey. I’m here to encourage you and pray for you.”

She grabbed my hand and began talking to God in a compelling voice that demanded my attention. She was a treasure in the midst of messy humanity.

That day I saw the kingdom of God in an incredibly unexpected field.


I know, it seems like there are messes everywhere, especially as we prepare for the holidays. Yes, there is uncertainty in the air.

Are you praying for God to wipe away the mess, or for him to show you the kingdom…the treasure hidden in the middle of the mess?

It’s tough since we’ve been trained to think that the mess is not supposed to be there in the first place. So here’s the prayer for the week, “Thank you God for the field, the mess, the dump… without it, I might not even see the kingdom, the treasure, the “new life” right in front of me.”

Time to see the unseen…time to be gracious and get thankful.

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Category: Faith Notes

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