An Encounter in a New York Minute

I had an experience on Monday that I just can’t stop thinking about.

If there’s one thing that New York has taught me, it’s that A) every single person has a story. And B) every single person is fighting a hidden battle.

Steven and I had our first meeting of Pre Cana marriage prep on Monday. It was at the parish office, which is attached to the big, beautiful church on one of the busiest streets in the world, literally, in lower Manhattan.

Two things you learn about New Yorkers: 1) Everyone has a story. 2) Everyone is fighting a hidden battle. Sharing an abrupt encounter that stayed with me all week. #catholic #faith #newyork #christianity #church #god #jesus #love #evangelization #newyorker

Having attended Mass there for ten years, believe me when I say, I have seen a lot of things. lol

But as Steven and I were leaving the parish office that night — it was around eight o’clock — we opened the door to the street, and almost ran into this very frenetic young man.

He dodged the door, and realizing that we were coming from a church — looking all doe-eyed and in love, having just learned we were eligible candidates for the sacrament of marriage — he pulled out one of his headphone ear buds, and asked us…“Oh my God, do you know of any church that is open right now?”

He looked frazzled and super stressed.

Steven and I racked our brains….Unlike the midwest where most churches are perpetually open, due to NY’s crime and homeless problems, nearly all NYC churches remain closed, except for Mass times. “Oh gosh, I don’t know! We were just at the office, and the church building is closed. But the church on 14th street might be open.”

Steven asked him, “Hey man, are you okay? Can we help?”

And the young man just kind of half-laughed – seemingly at his wit’s end, and said, “It’s been *a day.* Oh well, doesn’t matter. God is everywhere, I guess, right?” And with that, threw his hands into the air exasperatedly, and whirred off into the sunset, J-walking across the busiest avenue in New York.

Steven called after him, “We’ll pray for you, man!”

That interaction stayed with me for the rest of the night — and clearly, here we are four days later and I’m still thinking about him: Wondering how he’s doing; If his situation has gotten any better.

It broke my heart that there was no church that he could go to, no comfort to seek at a physical place.

I’ve come to realize that, even if you’re not a person of faith, churches — just the very building itself — can be a very comforting place. I’ve had friends who have told me, that on really hard days, they’ve just gone and sat at a church during their lunch hour. And I get it, it’s a beautiful place that is quiet and peaceful.

And it just made me sad that we couldn’t offer him a place to go, when clearly he needed it.

I think it’s really easy to forget that the world is full of hurting people. Which is a really really depressing thing to think about, honestly. But sadly, it’s true

Big or small, every person has something weighing on their hearts…especially right now with inflation, with the baby formula shortage, with gas prices and the cost of food, with loneliness, with loss, with illness.

People are carrying heavy loads, whether they show it on the outside or not.

But there was something that man said, that was profoundly accurate: God is everywhere.

He was absolutely right about that.

The real question is, do we realize that? And what’s more, do we appreciate that?

Yes, God is absolutely in a church building, but He is everywhere. His beauty is in the nature around us; His voice is in the Bible; His touch is in the hug of a loved one or the gentle breeze on our cheek; His comfort is in a beautiful piece of music: if we really look, we’ll see that His fingerprints are over absolutely everything.

And what’s more: He lives in the hearts of His children – yours and mine.

How differently would we treat people if we recognized that last truth?

How much more respect, reverence, dignity and compassion would we show others, if we recognized the sanctity of the human person: created by God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit?

That young man on Monday: he is a creation of God, and was desperately seeking his Father. I don’t know what turmoil had befallen him leading up to that moment, but his soul was hurting, and the whole interaction happened in such a whirlwind of 30 seconds (aka: a New York minute), that he was *poof* gone before we could even process what to do.

What gives me comfort is this truth: that when we seek God, we WILL find Him.

God always shows up when we search for Him. Because He is always pursing us.

I pray that’s what happened with that young man. That even though he couldn’t sit in a beautiful church with stained glass windows, and gaze upon the cross and the statues and be in the stillness, that He found God in his heart. That he experienced His comfort in a real and tangible way.

Where do you feel closest to God? Is it in a physical church? In nature? With your family?

To hear my story, click here.

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29 responses to “An Encounter in a New York Minute”

  1. Beautiful story! God is indeed everywhere; that truth is astounding. But that is most clear when we encounter people whose lives clearly demonstrate the love of Jesus. Not the syrupy kind of love in a plastic facial expression; rather, genuine compassion expressed in loving words and grace-filled acts, with all glory given to The Creator.

  2. You are so right, Caralyn, He is everywhere! Look into the night sky, there is His beautiful creation. I so hope that this man has found the peace he is searching for. πŸ™πŸ»βœοΈβ€οΈ

  3. So interesting. I was pondering a related point this week.Such a shame finding ourselves having to lock churches, much as I understand why. It seems to defeat their purpose to some extent. I wonder if and if so how he churches on the east side are able to adopt a different approach.

  4. Lord,
    Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast. –Psalm 139:7-10

  5. Your hearts of compassion may have been the extension of God that the troubled man needed. I never underestimate the power of “I’ll pray for you,’ spoken sincerely and followed through.

  6. I’d say the Lord did show up when you and Steven walked out that door! But as for places not being open, it’s not necessarily because of crime: there just aren’t enough people willing to volunteer their time to staff places where someone can turn. Or, put another way, the social demand exceeds supply. I saw it in Vancouver, and I experienced it in Victoria outside the Mustard Seed, where I’m one of the pastors — on Easter Sunday, no less! A young woman — a girl, really — was with a group of people across the street who were in various stages of being drugged-out, and this girl was in tremendous pain from what was apparently an abscessed tooth. I went to talk to her, but I’m not a doctor, and she needed medical help. But none of the social agencies that could have helped was open, I called 9-1-1 and was told they wouldn’t send an ambulance for that situation (not surprising); they transferred me to the nurses’ hot-line, where I learned it would be a one-hour wait. Something “checked” me against driving her to the hospital myself, so all I could do was pray for a solution. No sooner had I said, “In Jesus’ Name …”, than a van rolled around the corner, carrying two public health nurses. I flagged them down and they took the situation in hand. Moral of the story: as you say, when you seek God, He will show up! When you ask Him for a solution … well, don’t tell ME that was a coincidence those nurses showed up when they did!

  7. Sad as that encounter is it is even more sobering to realize that in crowded apartments in large cities people are so frightened about the state of our society today they keep to themselves and in too many cases do not open their doors to their next door neighbors. In those circumstances how do you reach out to such people to demonstrate the love of God and give them hope?

  8. Well written and in a timely manner. I’m reminded of a wonderful song that Dionne Warwick sang, “What the world needs now is love sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just to little of.” Love is key in solving the problems of the world.

  9. As I have grown older, I do appreciate more that God *is* everywhere. But growing up in the Catholic church, when I was younger I felt that the only place God definitely was, was at church. When I was in crisis at age 22, in a horrific situation of my own making, I went to the chapel on my lunch break in the hospital where I worked. Kneeling down, by myself, I acknowledged I had no right to ask for comfort or forgiveness because I had created the situation I was in, but I was hurting so bad…God reached out and touched my soul. All the pain I was drowning in vanished. The situation was the same, but by His Grace He took away my pain. Sadly that little chapel no longer exists because the hospital remodeled, but I have never forgotten the life changing healing that occurred there. God *is* everywhere, but sometimes being able to go to a designated spot helps the connection.

  10. The most important lesson to learn from the young man is that he understands what the Church is better than 90% of American “church-attenders.” Though he asked for a “church that was open,” he seemed to understand the Church is not the building. It is where ever “two or three are gathered in [Jesus’] Name.”
    Reading the New Testament, we recognize that the Church (with a capital or miniscule “C”- i.e., Church or church) is NOT a building at all! The Church is the company of the committed, the “body of Christ,” the people who know Jesus as their Savior. WE are the Church. We attend meetings of the Church, but the building can be a prison cell like Paul and Silas were in, the home of a Lydia or Priscilla and Aquila, any place where a group of believers meet.
    ❀️&πŸ™, c.a.

    • Since the COVID pandemic started shutting church buildings, a group I’m with has been meeting via Zoom. Our group is in Australia, central BC, Saskatchewan, Vancouver Island — even California and North Carolina, on occasion. It’s still going, and we’ve been able to pray for one another and see God move in our lives and others: clearly, when two or more are gathered in Jesus’ Name, they don’t even have to be on the same continent!

  11. First, love y’all’s cuuutteee picture!!! Love. It. πŸ’ž

    Praying for that young man! So glad he ran into you!! I just know the prayers are changing his life! ✝️

  12. I love this,and you! Thank you!
    I would enjoy just turning this on its head for a minute. What say you that young man was Jesus and he was there for a New York minute to exemplify your trust and love for Him, and He received it…from Stevens “we will pray for you” and your keeping Him in mind for several days is a prayer in itself. Also, this young man stating “God is everywhere” may have been a more tangible shout out to you both…”Here I am”.
    God Bless you both!!

  13. Even when we don’t see him, he’s working, even when we don’t see him he’s working, He never stops, He Never Stops Working. Thanks for your insights, Carolyn.

  14. My dear daughter in Christ (yes, I’ve adopted you) might I encourage you and Stephen to, if possible and if they’re being offered, an Engaged Encounter weekend. This was super helpful for my Sweetie and I in our preparation, most of which took place in the refrectory of the Parish he where he served in Harlem. While no preparation for marriage is perfect this gave us a lot of perspective and some good tools for better communication as we prepared for what is nearly 30 years.
    Please know too of our continued prayer for you through this preparation.
    Fr. Bill, who prepared and celebrated our nuptial Mass, gave us one bit of advice that sustained us through the journey of wedding preparation, “remember after all of this you will be married.” All of this is part of your journey as a couple.

    Jesus bless you, Mary enfold you in her mantle <3


  15. Isn’t it funny how a complete stranger can sit on your mind for however long? I’m sure not everyone is like that but some of us are. Maybe just those few moments of obvious empathy helped.

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