When White Tube Socks Are Treasured

We climbed into a big van and drove into Philadelphia. The hum of the city coursed through my 10-year-old veins. I feel asleep on the way there, our road surrounded by wide open, snow-covered fields. I woke up to black slush piled around poles, kicked at by loitering strangers. All of us country folk were so unused to the jagged sidewalks and the empty glances and a rectangular skyline uninterrupted by trees.

The air pressed in around me, cold and foreign, and I was scared when my dad and my uncle opened the back of the van to reveal the treasure we carried: boxes and boxes of gleaming white tube socks wrapped in plastic.

“Hey, buddy,” my dad called, never scared, never one to hesitate. “You need some socks?”

The man pushed his cart over towards us, squinting his eyes. He grunted as if to say of course, who wouldn’t want new socks?

My dad tossed him a few pair and the old man broke into a toothless grin. He sat down, right there in the snow, hiked up his threadbare pants and yanked off his old socks, his bare feet thin and tired in the winter air. Then he pulled on those brand spanking new tube socks, and he smiled, and he stared at his feet as if they belonged to someone else, and he wiggled his toes.

He pulled on his shoes and tucked his old socks in amongst his belongings. Maybe he thought we might change our minds at some point, chase him down, and demand he return the new ones. I don’t know. But it was a cold day, and he kept looking over his shoulder as he walked away. Meanwhile, a crowd of homeless men gathered, and we handed socks to them. Small weapons with which to fight the cold.

* * * * *

“How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich? Poverty has many forms. We have to ask ourselves: “What is my poverty?” Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants to dwell! “How blessed are the poor,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:3). This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.”

“We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it. Let’s dare to see our poverty as the land where our treasure is hidden.”
– Henri Nouwen
* * * * *
Is it possible that God would want to dwell in my less-than-ness? Is it possible that when I cover up my lack, I miss an opportunity to discover?
These are new thoughts to me, as Maile and I continue waiting. But I begin to wonder what I’m waiting for, because if what Henri Nouwen wrote is true, and if what Jesus said is true, then my treasure is hidden somewhere in the here and now, and not off in the magical, future land for which I wait.
So I open my eyes and I look around, and I try to somehow allow God to dwell here with me.

16 Replies to “When White Tube Socks Are Treasured”

  1. So very well said. I’ve journalled on this, written on it, even preached on it, yet the impulse to hide my places of need, the places where my life and very soul are as thread-bare as the homeless man’s socks, persists. The truth is that these thin places, dirty and calloused or weeping with sores are where we have the best chance of meeting God and neighbor in a way that truly transforms. May God give us all the grace to sit down where we are, peel off the old, dirty layers of pride, and receive what we need. (Hits home on another level, too, as I’m shopping for fall clothes for my four kids and feeling a little snobbish about white tube socks – a good reminder that people all over the world would receive those same socks with grace and gratitude!)

  2. Your writing is changing; it is richer, thicker and humming with honesty. I know you are taking Nouwen’s challenge, and His, to heart. The same is true for me when I want to pull inward. The only thing that keeps me steady is to look outward. I will be thinking about my poverty today.

  3. This is inspiring. I’ve always wanted to get a big group of people together and make like 100+ sandwiches and just start handing them out in Philly.

  4. Yes, yes, YES! This is perfect, Shawn. And I loved that Nouwen quote when I read it last week. Instead of covering up our ‘poverty,’ we need to ask for eyes to see Jesus there. Many, many blessings as you walk right into the middle of one kind of poverty next week. Praying for all of you as you go.

  5. What a beautiful story about your father. He must be a wonderful person, one of God;s special angels, placed heree to live among us. How did he think of tube socks, a way to help make a lot of people’s lives a little better, in a small way. I worked keeping the books, for a non-profit, a charity of course, for over 20 years, until I retired. I know how much of every dollar donated is used to pay the rent, staff salaries, and much more. I feel I would rather give to our local fire company, ambulance league, The Salvation Army. These are my favorites, as well as the USO. I recently received an email, listing charities – United Way, Red Cross and many others thought of as deserving charities, only to have the salary of their CEO’s at national levels – We are talking high six figure dollars – and I mean before the cents- just dollars. I’d much rather donate to those twho run the soup kitchens, offer shelter, if only for the night, and provide a protective tempory home for an abused wife and children. That is my way of “handing out tube socks.
    Not as direct as your father. What a wonderful person, your Dad……I think you are well aware of that.

  6. I’ve been reflecting on that Nouwen quote since you posted it the other day. I expect you’ll discover another nuance to this during your time in Sri Lanka. Keep pressing on and pressing in, Shawn.

  7. In my similar waiting time, I cried out to God because I needed Him. I wanted the terror, the fear, of not being able to make it–no money for groceries, the credit card bill due now–gone, so I sprawled across my bed and asked for a scripture; I turned to Psalm 62, and my eyes stopped after reading verse 10: “Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.” And then I knew: I had spent every waking hour–and too many of those waking hours had robbed me of sleep–worrying over money. My heart was set on it. I laid there and waited for God to remove it from my heart, to replace the worry with Him–His Spirit, His preoccupations. I got up from the bed lighter, my heart freer, though it still felt bruised. I went forward and fed my children with food provided by our church family. And my husband and I paid the credit card bill as much as we could, knowing full well that things could only get better.

  8. It is such a hard thing to trust on “manna”, particularly when the timing is irregular and we don’t know where its coming from. Going through similar things now — establishing a business, very busy at the moment, but the current projects will run out in a couple months with no guarantee of anything (and very little in the cue) afterwards. Plus, we have somewhat conflicting marching orders: trust in God to provide, but be a wise and faithful steward of what you receive; don’t start to build a tower unless you have what it takes to complete it, but don’t be afraid to step out in faith, because our trust is in the Lord and we walk by faith, not by sight.

    Feeling the ‘poverty’ today. It goes against all of my natural tendencies to embrace it, but I know that is definitely an area where God is calling me to trust him. To paraphrase Job, “Though he slay me, still I will trust Him.”

    1. Wow, Dan, I love that angle. Manna. Taking no more than what I need for today, knowing that he will provide for tomorrow. Thanks for the great comment.

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