A portrait made from tin foil: seeing the treasure within trash

A few days ago, my daughter made a picture of my pastor on tin foil. We had gone to a fast food restaurant after the Sunday service, and her food came in a tin foil wrap. She gobbled down the chicken-and-cheese taco, folded and smoothed out the crinkled foil, and drew the face of our pastor with her plastic fork.

If I look at it from a certain angle, from a certain slant of light, it looks remarkably like him in the eyes. I catch a glimpse of his beard and nose, too. If you didn’t know better, you might see only folded up crinkled tin foil; but she saw things through a different set of eyes. 

I saw trash. She saw a canvas, begging for an artist to create beauty from what we might otherwise discarded with leftover tortilla chips, bits of shredded cheese and lettuce, glops of salsa. 

 I’ve seen other people do this, too.

 I’ve got a book of T-shirt transformations. Well known arts and crafts personalities contributed ideas for how to take a basic T-shirt, slice-and-dice it, sew, glue or tape it back together until they have something entirely different. Scarves, knit with turkey basters. Crocheted bath rugs and yoga mats. Lampshades, pillows, tote bags, kitchen curtains. Halter tops. A ping-pong ball necklace. Gym shorts. What I saw as a basic T-shirt was a playground for their imagination.

Back in college, I knew two brothers who had a broken down car. They needed a specific part to fix it—I don’t remember what it was—and so they had a friend drive them to the junkyard. For hours, they waded through junk metal and old tires. They were filthy, covered in suspicious-looking bugs, and smelled horrible—but they emerged triumphant, part in hand.

I’ve been guilty of looking at someone and quickly glancing away. They’re too big of a mess for me to handle, I think. In my very first graduate class, an older guy sat in the desk behind me. 

His very first words were, “I’m getting a divorce.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Nah, don’t be,” he replied, “Should’ve done it years ago when she gave me a STD.”

I choked, and not just from the nicotine smell on his shirt. This was a guy who had ridden around the block more times than an ice cream truck in the summertime. Vietnam vet with post traumatic stress syndrome, ex-alcoholic, bipolar—I didn’t see this man as friendship material.

Sometimes he threw around obscenities. Sometimes it was uncomfortable for this sheltered, church going, Bible Belt girl to be around him. Sometimes I felt like I got more of an education from him than from the professors; trust me, I wouldn’t be quizzed on this material in my thesis defense. 

But as a mutual classmate said, “He made you be his friend.” He grinned and everyone in the class had to smile, too. He had a unique, quirky perspective on life and literature. Once I got past the rough exterior and his sometimes offensive language, I made a friend.     

It takes work. It takes a willingness to get messy. It takes imagination, ingenuity and inspiration. But there’s value in looking past the obvious—the trashy, junkyard-destined, external obvious—to see what potential lies within.

How do YOU try to look beyond the surface “messiness” in other people and see the potential in them?


6 thoughts on “A portrait made from tin foil: seeing the treasure within trash

  1. Have you heard of “Appreciative Inquiry”? It’s been of help to me. Appreciative Inquiry holds that we look at what’s wrong, we’ll keep seeing more of the same. However, when we try “to appreciate what is best”, what we’ll find is “more and more of what is good.” (from the wikipedia page)

    You’ll find whatever you look for, so why not look for the good? (I freudian typod that last word as “god” 🙂 Tell us, Laura, how did *you* overcome “the messy” and find a new friend?

    For some practical “here’s how we did it” rules-of-thumb at the organizational level, here’s a case study on World Vision’s use of Appreciative Inquiry:


    1. Overcoming the messy involved realizing that I was messy, too. I also had to realize that we had more in common than I thought at first glance: we both love art (he was an art studio major, I was an art history minor), we both love literature, and we bonded over reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which we both felt we understood after some difficulties we had faced in our lives. (Me with depression, he with the stress of whatever he went through in Vietnam–he wouldn’t tell me.)

      I love that freudian typo of yours! We need to look for the value in everyone; after all, we are made in God’s image and no matter how broken that image is, it’s still there.


  2. Laura

    You don’t know how this post endeared me to you. You are a wonderful young woman with her head screwed on straight. Your child is obviously thriving under your leadership as well as your husband is I am sure. You are a welcome breath of fresh air for me because I deal with so many dysfunctional women.

    Heartfelt blessings on you and yours


    1. Well, I’m not sure that I’m not dysfunctional. 🙂 I can be pretty messed up some of the time (okay, a lot of the time!) I pray that I am able to nurture my children and love my husband, even as messy as I am.
      Blessings on you, John


  3. Jesus wants us to look beyond the exterior,,, to see people as He sees them. The Lord looks into a person’s heart, directly upon their souls, and He Loves them.

    That was beautiful how your child was able to see an opportunity to create where others would only want to see waste. Even more beautiful than this is how you looked deeper into a person, and found more personality than what was originally perceived.

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂


    1. Melody, you nailed the point I was trying to make with your first paragraph! I’m glad you picked up on the implications for Christians. It’s also a great reminder that this is how he sees us! Thanks so much for reading.


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