Monday, December 7, 2015

What Do I Know About Need?

Every year at this time, my daughter and I spend a day in New York City, since we live so close. We don't do Rockefeller Center or Macy's or even Radio City. We've done all that. After a few years, it gets old.

We do, however love the Union Square Holiday Market with all its funky vendors and artisans, along with wonderful aromas of spices and indulgent foods. We always find some interesting Christmas gifts there--as well as goodies for ourselves! But more than that, we love spending the time together. 

This year, we lunched at the Spice Market, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Meatpacking District (Amy's favorite restaurant). After shopping and eating, we decided to find something sweet in the Chelsea Market, the former Nabisco factory. I love strolling through the old building and taking in the old architecture. Imagining a different sort of tired people who walked these halls when it was a factory.

I took this picture while strolling through the market (in search of chocolate).
Aren't the lights beautiful?

We found our chocolate and headed back to Union Square, where the car was parked.

But of course, nature calls from time to time, and when you're walking along the streets of New York, a bathroom is not an easy thing to find.

We found a Starbucks--always a good place, because they never refuse a non-paying customer a place in the bathroom line (it's actually part of their policy).

While Amy waited in line, I waited outside, since I was taking up space needlessly. 

While I was waiting, an older man, hunched over a shopping cart, shuffled up to the pay phones (yes, they still exist). He had a hard time walking, and the difficulty of life almost visibly rested on his shoulders. His cart was full of newspapers. 


What on earth does he do with those? I wondered. 

A gray woolen blanket lay on top, and he carried what seemed like all of his belongings in the kind of reusable bag I bring to the grocery store. The bag had what looked like a handmade Christmas tag hanging from the handle.It was in the shape of a Christmas tree, made from green construction paper. Perhaps it said, "Merry Christmas" to an anonymous needy stranger from an equally anonymous not-so-needy stranger who felt that packing this bag with a warm blanket might somehow assuage the guilt of not being able to do more. 

Someone like me.

The man parked his cart by the phones and carefully placed the blanket on top. Taking his bag with him, he walked what might have been ten steps to the Starbucks entrance, where I half perched, half leaned on the cement wall next to the door. It seemed to take an eternity for him to reach the door. His steps were small, his balance precarious without his cart, and his demeanor heavy.

He was a big man. I don't know if he was homeless. He didn't smell when he walked past me. 

Who knows? Maybe I smelled to him. Like someone who tried to care but didn't really. Someone who didn't see people like him on a regular basis, so didn't know what to make of him. Someone who smelled people to see if they were homeless. Someone who is ignorant to the plight of the kind of people who pack newspapers into a cart.

I figured he was going in to use the bathroom (remember the Starbucks policy?). While he was gone, I snapped this picture.

I was intrigued by this man and his cart. 

He came out only a few minutes later. Amy hadn't come out yet,which meant she was still in line. So he hadn't used the bathroom. Why did he go in?

He had newspapers in his hand. Day old ones that the management allowed him to take?

He held on to a pole as he gingerly stepped down onto the sidewalk. It seemed to take forever. I wanted to help him, but maybe he didn't want help. Could I just let him have a little dignity?

I watched, as he slowly walked back to his cart, added the newspaper, put his bag on top, and pushed on. Away from me, paying no attention to me, as I have done to so many like him.

When Amy finally came out, I told her about the man.

"Why would he have all those newspapers?" I asked her.

"Maybe he sleeps on them?" she offered. "Or maybe he takes them to the recycling center and makes a little money that way."

As we walked, I thought of the contrasts of what I'd just seen.

The glitz and the glitter/the burdened and the broken.
Starbucks coffee drinkers/day-old-newspaper collectors.
Disposable income/income-producing recyclables.

Living side by side. Each ignoring the other.

And I thought, What do I know about being in need?

In my lowest of lows, I have never known true  poverty. True homelessness. 

But I am familiar with need. 

We all know need. Sometimes, it's clearly visible; other times, we try to hide it out of pride or shame--behind the glitz and the glamour of our life. We don't want to risk allowing someone to see our burdens and brokenness. Still, we all know that desperation of needing someone to care. Similarly, every one of us has been on the other side of that need-being the hands and feet of Jesus.

There is need all around us, not just in the bowels of the city, but maybe next door, across the street, or right on Facebook.

I couldn't help Newspaper Man. It wasn't my job to rush in and be his savior. 

But there is One who delights in that job. 

In our helpless state, in our lowest of lows, whenever we have felt abandoned, betrayed, or unloved...Jesus was there. Still is. Always will be. Even if you don't believe He is who He says He is.

Yahweh. I Am. 

Emmanuel. God with us.

What do I know about need?

I know that I need Jesus. And today, that's enough.

Blessings Along the Path,

sharing this post with some of these lovelies


  1. I loved this story, Mary. How fun to attend a market this time of year in NYC. We got to do a bit of shopping like that when we were there this spring, and it was my favorite part. Unfortunately there were so many beautiful fresh flowers and fruit, but I couldn't purchase any due to the fact that we had to travel on a plane the next day. Still, so much fun! I loved your story about the newspaper man and the way God used him to speak to your heart. Blessings!

    1. They actually had a huge farmer's market where they sold multi-colored carrots of all things! I've never known anything but orange! Thanks for stopping in to visit.

  2. I love NY having grown up on Long Island and frequented Radio City Music Hall as a girl..and so enjoyed your NY stories post and the lessons you of your needing Jesus -- how the newspaper man allowed you to reflect on just how much we need Jesus..all of us! Visiting from #playdatesforGod today!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. MY first draft was a little harsh-I beat myself up. Then I realized that we all have need and we can all help those in need. It is something everyone knows, no matter what the level. And yes, the One who can truly help us is Jesus.

  3. Mary, you echo the same thoughts and feelings that I have when I see homeless people. Part of me is a little scared of them (my stupid fear of germs), part of me feels terribly sorry for them, part of me wants to help, and part of me feels guilty for walking away. I always think to myself, "What's their story?" As soon as I wonder that, I know that God knows every single moment of that story. Every moment that led to the cart, and the dirty clothes, and the shuffling step. At the very least, we need to pray for them as we go on our way.

    Yes, I am needy. And more than anything, I need my Savior's love. And I also need to follow His example, because His love reached out to the most untouchable, marginalized people.


    1. Oh, Sharon, you put it so perfectly! Thank you.

  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story, Mary! It immediately pulled me in as I waited to discover more in each paragraph! Visiting today from the Messy Marriage Linkup.

    1. thanks, Pam. And thank you for taking some time out of your busy day to read it.

  5. I think Jesus really gets a guy like that, Mary, since after all, Jesus was a homeless man too. Not that he lived with a shopping cart full of newspapers or anything, but he could relate to a man who has no place to lay his head. I love your curiosity and thoughtfulness about life and humanity, Mary. And I love that you take us along on your adventures in introspection and then challenge us to be better people to all who need "the hands and feet of Christ." You've inspired me, my friend! Hugs to you!

    1. Yeah, I kind of forgot about that, Beth--the homelessness thing. Thanks for your encouraging words, as usual.

  6. Good morning! Hope you are having a joyful holiday season ;o) I featured this blog post over at Ruby for Women today and will be sharing it to our followers and friends. Of course, I always link back here to your blog. Love this one! Let's set up a time to talk again soon. Hugs, Nina

    1. Aw, you're so sweet and kind! Yes, we need to talk soon.

  7. Wow, Mary . . . this is so profound. You make us all stop and think and hopefully do something. Lord open our eyes to see and our hearts and hands to act. Thank you and God bless you!