Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hearts and Treasures

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
    (Matthew 6:21; also Luke 12:34)

One day when I was in fourth grade, I visited my Aunt Ruby. Glancing at her mail table, I saw the words, "Win these prizes!" printed in bold letters on a catalog.

"What's this?" I asked my aunt.

She told me that she sold Stanley cleaning products door-to-door. The catalog showed the prizes she could get by selling different amounts of brushes, detergent and "degreaser."

As I paged through the catalog, my eye settled on a picture of a mirror. It was oval, with white scrollwork around it, trimmed in gold. I thought, "This is so beautiful. I bet my mother would love this mirror for Mother's Day."

There were some problems I'd need to overcome, though. First, I'd have to hide what I was doing from my mother, so I wouldn't spoil the surprise. Second, I wasn't even allowed to go out in the neighborhood when my mother wasn't home.

I figured I could sneak out between 3:20 pm, when I got home from school, and 7:30 or 8:00pm, when my mother got home from work. It would be worth sneaking out, to have the world's most beautiful mirror to give to my mother as a surprise.

Aunt Ruby let me take some order forms and also cut out the picture of the mirror from her catalog. 

The next day after school, I began ringing doorbells up and down the streets around my house. I showed each person who answered their door the picture of the beautiful mirror that I wanted to give my mother; then I showed them the list of products they could order.

It took many weeks, but at last I had mailed in enough sales. One day, I got home from school and saw that the postman had left a cardboard box with my name on it. I wrapped the whole box in pretty paper, hid it in my clothes closet, and waited for Mother's Day.

I've never been more eager to see someone unwrap a present, either before or since. The moment my mother held out the unwrapped mirror, though, we both gasped. 

I gasped because the mirror didn't look nearly as beautiful as I thought it would. The solid wood scrollwork with delicate gold inlays turned out to be cheap plastic, painted white. All that work for an ugly mirror!

But when I looked at my mother's face, I saw that she had gasped in joy. "Where did you get the money for this mirror?" she asked me.

"I earned it selling Stanley products," I mumbled.

"You did? It's the most beautiful thing I ever saw," she said.

I looked at her eyes: they were moist with tears. She really meant it!

Twenty years later, that mirror was still hanging on the wall. An adult now, I begged my mother to take down that embarrassingly cheap mirror and get a lovely antique instead. 

But no amount of begging changed her mind. That mirror was a treasure, she said. It could not be replaced. Ever.


That plastic mirror taught me something I've never forgotten: Money is just paper; its only value is the value we give to it. Therefore, what matters is not the money itself, but the good things that come from using it. 

As a grown-up, to be sure, I realized that I had given my mother a piece of painted plastic. But in my heart - and in my mother's heart - I had used my love for my mother to turn my treasure into part of my heart, so I could give it to her.

When we talk about church stewardship, then, we ask you, too, to use your treasure as a part of your heart. Pledging money to God is a way to turn our money into love. When we put our treasure where our heart is, we are more connected to God - just as that simple plastic mirror become a form of love for my mother and me to share.

You see, what we do as a church with this money is bigger than what any of us can do by ourselves. Just as a cheap mirror can be transformed into something loving and life-giving, so our pledges - perhaps not always large amounts individually - can be transformed into larger acts of love and service to our loving God.


But back to my childhood: Every morning, when my mother and I left our house, we stopped in front of the plastic mirror. We looked to see if we'd correctly put on our lipstick and arranged our hair.

But much more importantly, when I looked into that mirror, I saw how much I loved my mother.

And when my mother looked in that mirror, she saw her greatest treasure: her daughter's love.

Blessings, Rev. Pam

Friday, July 24, 2015

Newfoundland, Houseparties and Jesus

After a month in Newfoundland, Doug and I boarded the ferry back to Nova Scotia. A few days earlier, we had gone, by chance, to a fishing village on the first day allocated to "recreational cod fishing." (Commercial cod fishing was closed by the Canadian government in 1992.)

 On this video, I talk about being invited - a total stranger - into a fisherman's "house party", how it reminded me of a story about Jesus and his fishermen friends - and what it makes me dream of for North Community Church, when I return.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Icebergs and Whales

I am still in Newfoundland. On July 4, Doug and I took a boat tour from St. Anthony harbor, at the northern tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.

We saw an iceberg up close. Even more unusually, we saw a humpback whale do all the tricks they are famous for, including breaching 4 times. Quite a show!

Over the last days, we also learned a bit about the way of life for those living here.

 All these things have made me aware of ordinary miracles, near and far.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

First Glimpse of Newfoundland

Join me for my first glimpse of Newfoundland, still aboard the ferry from Cape Breton. I talk about a small miracle and send greetings to my church folks back home.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hopping Around Haiku

Since I last blogged Doug and I have been to a retreat center in NJ, a 4 day writer's conference at Princeton, and traveled to Canada.  We've watched the sun rise over the Bay of Fundy, driven the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, celebrated National Aboriginal Day at a Mi' kmaq village and crossed the ocean in a ferry to Newfoundland.

About the workshops—
The retreat was focused on the work of Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit Indian priest who used story to unite the teaching of Christianity with a Western way of prayer. I was reminded to be aware.  Aware of when my spirit needs the rest. Awarer of creation. Aware of hunger. Aware of others. Aware.  Aware. Aware.

Awake and alive.
Silence calls us to sit still.
So present—not here.

Presenting at the Frederick Buechner Writer's Conference was Barbara Brown Taylor, Phillip Gulley, Rachel Held Evans, editors, publishers, agents, teachers. I was reminded that before I learned to dislike my writing—I loved writing.  I loved the process of sitting down and trying to shape words into images of colors, sounds, and feeling. I painted pictures with words in poetry or story.

Then I fell victim to my own inner critic. Barbara Brown Taylor has named her inner critic Aunt Marge.  She often has to ask Aunt Marge to leave the room when she writes.

My inner critic is named Mrs. Lyndon.  She is tall and thin with a reedy voice, wears dark cat-eye shaped glasses and fake pearls. She smells like mimeograph ink and Evening in Paris perfume.  She wears sensible shoes and keeps a lace-edged hankie in her alligator purse.  She is meticulous and favors grammar over content and outlines over images.  Mrs. Lyndon is constantly walking up behind me and clearing her throat so I know she does not like my work.

But what if I sent Mrs. Lyndon on a long vacation? I could get back to loving the process of writing.   I could wander around in my own imagination writing poetry, stories or even haiku.

I discovered haiku in 8th grade and fell in love with the process.  Short little 5,7,5 syllable verses that build a world. Any world. Here are a few of mine.  Try some of your own.

Country and Western Song Haiku

A man and his dog
Walking down a lonesome road
Cause she got the truck

My man is long gone
My life is my own again
Guess camo does work

Southern Haiku

Fried Chicken and Taters
Sweet Tea and stories of home
Southern Communion


Tall purple mountains
Rolling cobalt blue seas dance
God's fiddle keeps time

Here are some photos to keep you till I get home.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chicken Dreams

Isn’t it odd how old hurts can make your life smaller? How old fears can make something joyful in the present seem dangerous or impossible?

As a child, I loved art. Every time I had the chance, I colored. I especially loved drawing one color over another to see how the two colors mixed. I felt powerful: I could make my own greens and purples.

My mother encouraged my love of art. As poor as she was, every few months she took me to the Tandy Hobby Store and let me get whichever craft or art kit I wanted.  I painted, dyed fabric and even did copper enameling in my own tiny kiln.

One day, I looked inside a matchbook and saw a cartoon drawing of a little dog. Below the drawing, it said, “If you can reproduce this little dog, you might be ready for a career in art design.” That sounded great! I drew the dog and knew I was ready—and at 9 yrs. old too!

But as I entered the middle grades in school, I discovered that the teachers didn’t have my mother’s desire to encourage my passion for art. We became segregated into the “talented” and the “not talented.”  Sometime in sixth grade, I became convinced that I was not talented enough to continue learning art.

In the following years, I watched with envy and despair as the “talented” kids got to keep doing art. They painted, did block prints, drew, made papier-mâché.  I longed to keep taking art classes, even in high school, but unless you were “talented” there was no room for you in the high school art classes.

And so I gave up on art. Over the years, I became afraid of trying art. I think the longing of my childhood to be an artist twisted up with my shame over not being “talented”—and I simply gave up.  In the absence of a single teacher believing in my ability to learn, I didn’t have the tenacity to fight for my artistic dream.

But, as you know, I’m now four weeks into my four-month exploration of spirituality through the senses. From the moment I conceived of this journey, I knew it would include trying to reclaim some of my childhood connection to beauty through creating my own art.

This week, I spent 5-7 hours a day painting with water colors at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.  The school was founded in the 1920’s on the premises that everyone can learn, that folk art and folk culture are valuable, that learning can be fun, and that competition can stifle the joy of learning.

I showed up for my first day of water color painting, feeling both excited and apprehensive. I sat in the spacious studio in the North Carolina mountains and looked around at the nine other students. I found myself believing that they were among the “talented,” and that I would fall short.

But our teacher, Jane Voohries, encouraged all of us constantly. She encouraged us to look at our surroundings - the beautiful clouds, trees and mountains - to determine color values.

Soon, I found myself noticing all the colors in leaves and trees—not just green and brown. I learned that trees can be purple and orange, that white can have lots of colors in it, and that God’s creation is a kaleidoscope of layered colors.

It was not easy to confront my feelings about being the worst in the class, not knowing anything about painting, or not being able to make my hands produce what my eyes see. But the hardest part was revisiting the feelings of childhood.

I often felt overwhelmed and shamed. Neither of those feelings made sense in this course; I was taking it for fun and no one was judging me. So I prayed to heal my long-ago child-self, who wanted to do art. I prayed to remember that the feelings, which seemed so real, were feelings from my past—and I didn’t have to act on them or let them keep me from painting.

I prayed a lot.

And you know what happened? I painted!  I painted things that make me happy.  I painted chickens! 

The more I engaged with the painting, the more the colors made me happy.  Painting made me happy. I even had moments of realizing that someone else’s ability to paint better than me is irrelevant to my
love of painting. I have my own unique abilities.  If I keep painting, they will improve —but I can feel enriched by playing with colors just exactly as I am.

I also learned (yet again) that my old fears don’t control me. The feelings they bring up don’t need to limit my living. Praying and pushing through irrational fears are both spiritual disciplines that draw me closer to God and also closer to who I was created to be.

I am loving painting chickens. Tomorrow I’m going to try goats and then maybe more mountains or the ocean or trees or an old 1946 Chevy truck or a buffalo or a…. 

Want to know about my teacher for this week, Jane Voorhees? Check out her work at She is both a very talented artist and an amazing teacher.