Over the weekend, my two boys were invited to an evening birthday party - complete with dinner and a movie, so this left my husband and my daughter and I to plan an outing of our own. I can't remember the last time the three of us went out together...probably when my daughter was about 2! (Little brothers ruin everything, don't ya know?) We decided to hit Longhorn Steakhouse, which is only a few miles from our house and likely not too crowded since we would be there early, before the big dinner rush.
Everything was going swimmingly - we bantered playfully over the dinner table while drinks and salads were delivered, and a short time later our entrees showed up. But just a few minutes after we started enjoying dinner proper, the cutest little boy suddenly materialized out of nowhere and promptly slid into the empty spot right beside my daughter. He was probably 8 or 9 years old, about the same age as my youngest, dressed nicely and wearing a warm winter coat, and he was carrying a small pastel pink gift bag in one hand, and a shiny quarter in the other. He set his bag on the table as if he was part of the family and belonged there, then immediately started spinning his quarter, not making eye contact, but strangely at ease sitting there with the three of us.
Bewildered, we looked at him and then at each other. "What in the world? Do we know this boy? Does he not notice that we are not his family?" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another little fellow carrying an identical blue gift bag and making his way around the other corner of the restaurant. We starting scanning the room for concerned parents who must be looking for their two bag-toting boys, but there was no one. And so, we started up a conversation with him.
We asked where he came from and where his parents were. He answered, "Why does everyone always ask that?" And I told him, "Well, it's a little unusual for a boy your age to enter a restaurant all by himself and sit down with total strangers." He told us his brother and sister were outside waiting for him. And then, still without eye contact and still while spinning his quarter atop the table, he delivered his pitch.
He told us he was doing a special fundraiser. In his bag was cotton candy, he said, and he wondered if we would like to buy some to support his soccer team. My husband asked him the name of his team. No answer. Then he asked what position he played. There was a long pause, and then - as if he'd been asked this question before and suddenly remembered the right answer..."I play forward." The lightbulbs were slowly illuminating in our own brains, and I took a brief second to pray about how we were supposed to handle the situation gently and wisely. My mom instinct kicked in, and I inquired if he'd had any dinner yet, thinking we could at least buy him a meal. But he said he was going to eat later and, um...by the way, would we like to buy his cotton candy?
By this point, folks at nearby tables stopped what they were doing and took note of the intriguing little scene unfolding at our table and elsewhere in the restaurant. Clearly something mischievous was taking place with this little boy and his pint-sized business partner. By this time it was very evident the duo had been recruited and well-trained for this particular money-making mission.
We asked, "Well, how much does this delicious cotton candy cost?" He delivered his answer boldly and without hesitation - $10! My husband half-choked and half-chuckled at this amount, and asked if he'd be willing to accept $5 instead. Indeed he would! Just as the money was exchanging hands, the restaurant manager appeared before us and addressed our uninvited visitor with a firm and punitive voice, "You'll have to leave now. You are not allowed to be in here." There was a brief delay, as if the boy was going to wait and see what would happen if he didn't obey, and then finally after a second strong directive, he skirted out. The manager apologized to us for the awkward interruption to our meal, and we gathered that this sort of thing had happened previously and that these two boys were repeat offenders. (Side note - I thought we might get a free dinner for our trouble and our absconded $5. But no. Just an apology).
Less than an hour later, we saw the other blue-bag boy enter the Starbucks down the road, and pocket a donation from a generous lady enjoying her hot beverage and sweet treat. We watched from just a table or two over, wondering if we should say anything. Apparently the team of two was working the whole strip of establishments that evening, looking for "donations".
It happened knowingly of course, and if it hadn't been an elementary school student doing the scamming, I'm sure the whole event at Longhorn and at Starbucks would have gone down much differently.
I have been thinking how to relate this experience to health and wellness, because I know it wasn't pure coincidence that it happened to us. This evening the thought came to me...
We are all getting scammed, and even though it should be obvious - only a few people recognize the clever ruse. It feels a bit like the Emperor with No Clothes.
The twisted dietary guidelines, the conflicting recommendations from "experts," the $cientific research, the anti-meat propaganda, the peddling of pills, the pharmaceutical and surgical quick fixes (that fix nothing), the ridiculous array of junky Frankenfoods and liquid sugar, the walks and rides and runs "for the cure"...It's all a scam. Someone is reaping outlandish financial reward as a result of our naivete.
I'm sure many individuals are just cogs in the wheel, probably blind to the fact that they are perpetuating lies, and maybe even convinced they are doing good for the benefit of humanity. But others know full well what they are masterminding, and they continue forward with deranged pleasure and nefarious intent.
Do you not see it?
Are you constantly looking to the folks in white coats to tell what is true and what is not? What is healthy and what is not? Or are you evaluating the evidence on your own, weighing it all carefully, and using the common sense God gave you? Psalms 118:8 tells us - It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men.
As I heard on the radio today, "If your enemy can't convince you, he will confuse you."
Don't be confused! Pray for wisdom and seek understanding, and the scams become easier to identify and avoid.