Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land

Targeted at Target: Wearing a Cross

Yesterday I was at Target comparing brands of facial cleanser. I am super-cheap about this kind of stuff. A woman said Excuse me. She was in her thirties, I would guess, a woman with an olive complexion and dark hair. She had an infant strapped onto her chest.

She said, I ask you in the name of Jesus.

I must have looked confused, because she repeated it twice more. Finally I got it, and said, Ask me what?

She gestured to her shopping cart, which had 4 cans of Enfamil in it.

Do you need money? I asked.

No! No! I need help buying these. Her English was broken.

Do you need help with your food stamps or something? With WIC?

I no have papers. I no ask for money, she said. I ask for my child.

Do you want me to take these to the register and buy them for you? How much do they cost?

Forty, she said.

Jiminy crickets this stuff is expensive!

The baby started to squirm. She pulled a small bottle out of her bag. She proceeded to feed the baby, looking apologetic.

Is that your baby? Can you nurse it?

No, I have Crohn’s disease, she said. She gestured toward her breast, inviting me to notice that it was not full. She and I had full eye contact with each other. She looked tired and worried. The baby had a full head of dark hair, but was probably only two months old.

I thought: Maybe she is scamming me.

I thought: OK, maybe she is. I can live with that.

I told her: Let’s go, and put 2 of the cans in my cart. I wheeled to the register and paid for them. The clerk gave me a good coupon with the receipt — $7 off the next purchase of Enfamil — so I gave it to her, along with the receipt. We were both all teary-eyed. I said, God bless you, and she said, Thank you Jesus.

I’ll admit I was afraid — that she would ask more of me — so I ducked back into the store. But I couldn’t stand it. I had to come back out and see what she did next. She put the coupon away very carefully into a wallet. Then she pulled out a scarf to cover the baby’s head, and went out into the sunny day. She walked with just a bit of a waddle to the very far corner of the parking lot, to where a minivan was parked under a tree. She put the baby into its seat, then drove away.

I have no idea what I expected to happen.

With tears rolling down my face, I texted my husband: At Target. Spent $80 on baby formula for a stranger. The phone immediately binged with his response. Sounds good.

I couldn’t think why she approached me. Then my hand went to my neck, to the small Jerusalem cross I wear on a chain.

I don’t think that wearing a cross ever cost me anything before.

What would you have done?


64 responses to “Targeted at Target: Wearing a Cross”

  1. Sam G Avatar
    Sam G

    Ruth…and to all of your readers and posters…PLEASE Google “baby formula scamming”. You’ll find all sorts of articles about this scam, as well as other similar scams. You’re not being un-Christian to be suspicious. Just like Anita (who wrote to you saying that she had the same thing happen to her and some of her friends), it also happened to me in New York City last year. I bought some formula for a lady, spending $40 for one large container. The owner of the shop later told me that the lady is a “regular” (and a drug user) and that I was scammed. She apparently re-sells the formula and pockets the money. As for your lady, if she’s so broke, how does she own a minivan (which she also able to maintain and put gas in…as well as having a proper baby seat)? And, why was it conveniently parked at the very far corner of the parking lot? Most people wouldn’t have watched her as long as you did and would have just assumed that she was walking and totally on foot…more sympathy. But, you watched her long enough to see where she went. Also, didn’t it seem like a red flag that she approached you with four (4) containers of formula? Why not one or two? And, why go to a store with no money? Why not go to a church or shelter and ask for assistance? Or get help through WIC? They supposedly give baby formula for FREE. I would venture to guess that the lady at Target saw your cross and thought, “Easy target”. Don’t ever feel guilty about avoiding being scammed. Yes, be Christian, but also be smart. And, again, please Google “baby formula scamming”.

    1. “Give to every one that asketh thee, and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.” The gospel of St. Luke VI:30.

      Interesting that I don’t see any qualifiers on that like: unless the person is from a different culture, or broke, or doesn’t look like she needs, or that you might be scammed.

      1. Hi Anthony. Yes, and aren’t the implications of that rather shocking?

    2. Thanks for your comment Sam. I hear your concern that I was scammed. I may have been.

  2. Chris Avatar

    You did the right thing. Most of us (myself included) wouldn’t have thought to be as generous, and I applaud you. This is true Christianity in action – something that is often forgotten when we see people claiming to be Christian use the faith to justify hatred of others. I wish you only the best, and to keep setting an example for others to follow

  3. Martha Shaver Avatar
    Martha Shaver

    I would have done the same. Scam or no scam you presented yourself in the way God would have wanted you to.

  4. Debbie Wandel Avatar
    Debbie Wandel

    You did what was right. Your husband supports you because he understands this. We can not have all the practical help for those in need being done by government or charitable organisations. These have their place but their existence does not mean that we should not offer practical help on the spot. Moreover, given that you were wearing a cross and the lady asking for help recognised what that meant – what message would you be sending her about who Jesus is if you simply told her to ask somebody else for help?

    Yes there is always the possibility of being scammed – but it is better to be scammed occaisionally than to be mean spirited in your response to all those who ask for help just because you don’t know them. Besides, you gave the lady formula, not money she could spend on just anything.

    1. Thanks Debbie. You see all the nuance here.

  5. Tanya Webster Avatar
    Tanya Webster

    Ruth, a trusted elder said to me when I was worried I was being scammed, “Better to err on the side of charity” and I have found that if I keep that in mind I am at peace. Yes, we may occasionally be scammed but it is more important to be open to helping others. Well done, and thanks for your honesty in putting it out there for comment.

    1. Thanks Tanya! So nice to see you here!

  6. Seethroughfaith Avatar

    I would have done the same …

    But being European I’d have wondered at the economics of having a vehicle and not being able to feed a child /or self …

    Thank you for being Jesus to this woman and her child. Thank you for risking being scammed.

    1. Seethroughfaith Avatar

      Sitting here pondering the post and my response.

      My father became an atheist. He got scammed when helping a neighbour in need. His response? Better to have been scammed than have risked becoming hard hearted! That motto has influenced me to risk doing good.

      Ps he became an atheist because he could no longer find Jesus in the church – in the narrow mindedness and stinginess of the people in the church, and abuse that took place in the church. He decided that God couldn’t exist because if he did he would have broken through and transformed lives. Actions like yours would have helped him in his journey of faith I believe.

      1. I understand why people become disgusted with the church. I say this as a faith leader.

    2. Maybe that was why I felt compelled to watch what she did after I gave her the formula. But who knows other people’s circumstances?

  7. Zoe Brain Avatar
    Zoe Brain

    Oh I see. A Christian who actually follows His teachings. So while you’re a threatened species, you’re not actually extinct yet.

    Do you have a Paypal donation account? The reason I ask is not to compensate you, but to give you something so you can do the same kind of thing again. Hope you don’t mind that I’m atheist, but you strike me as the kind of person who wouldn’t let such trivialities get in the way of doing good, just as I volunteer to help charitable organisations like St Vincent De Paul, not because of whose name they act in, but because they help.

    1. Hi Zoe — or is that your name because you want to communicate that your brain is alive? Thanks for stopping by the blog. If you read the comments you encounter a myriad of Christians who love Jesus — maybe that will give you hope. I know it does that for me.

      Thanks for asking about donations. I certainly appreciate it when people buy my books. But I am not regularly engaged in giving out aid, so I don’t think I need to collect anything.

      I don’t mind that you’re an atheist. I wonder if you do, since you asked. I wish for you every good thing.

  8. Connie, what a good heart you have!

  9. Elssy Zapata Avatar
    Elssy Zapata

    This is what anyone who calls themselves Christian is called to do. American Christians in general practice what I call cushy-comfy Christianity, if there can be such a thing!

    You did exactly what Jesus would have done. You were His eyes, His hands, His feet, His heart. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ, that is so rare to see in the US, where Christians are largely affluent. God gave you the money for such a time as this. Open your heart to become Jesus here on Earth, and many opportunities will follow. Money belongs to God, not to us. It is for our needs, but really for whatever God ask of us.

    She saw the Cross around your neck and she called you Jesus! What an honor! She knew Jesus would not disappoint her.

    1. Yes, I have long been fascinated with the Benedictine practice of looking for the face of Christ in the Other. To wear a cross is a doorway to that kind of practice.

  10. Dana, stories like yours are what break a person’s heart! Thanks for not being bitter but compassionate in response.

  11. Robbin Avatar

    I would have done the same, in probably the same manner as you. I would have also questioned her, wondered if I was being scammed and then thinking, but what if I wasn’t and she needed the help. These are the situations I rely on my gut instinct, which I trust is God speaking to me in these situations. I probably would have peeked to and watched as she left, out of curiosity. 🙂

    1. Hi Robbin — Yes, I don’t think “sneaking and peeking” is anything more than wanting to know the end of the story!

  12. Rhonda Avatar

    Here’s the heart of the whole experience, in your very own words:
    “I thought: Maybe she is scamming me.

    I thought: OK, maybe she is. I can live with that.”
    You knew the risk and chose to live into your faith instead of your fear.

    1. Oh it’s fun to read all these preacher comments. “Live into your faith instead of your fear.”

  13. Rhonda Avatar

    This has happened to me. Fill their basket with what they need.

  14. Scam or no scam, who knows? What matters is that lived up to the commitment you you make by wearing the cross. I can’t remember the authors name but I will quote the first line of a poem that I love. “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day”

    1. joanna hogan Avatar
      joanna hogan

      OMG, I can’t believe how expensive that stuff is. In my day I thought a can was about 4-5 dollars??

      1. Right. It’s only free when you’re in the hospital and get a sample can. (Do they still do that?)

      2. Seethroughfaith Avatar

        It’s horribly expensive.

        Here in Finland almost every mother (who can) breastfeeds …and maternity leave is long so that the mother can continue and also recover better from labour and all those sleepless nights.

        I’m proud to be a European in that respect (though not in others)

        The downside of it is we do expect the state/welfare to step in …and that relieves us of our responsibility and helps us to renage on our responsibility as a Christian to help the poor (among us).

        I feel somewhat irritated by the increase of beggars on the streets here (right up yo the door of the cathedral) but I still don’t know if the right response is to give money or not. I always try to get eye contact and acknowledge the women and men begging …. But I really can’t find it in my heart to help this way.

        I worry that this puts Christians in a bad light.

      3. Giving to beggars is a sticky wicket. I’m surprised it has become a problem in Finland. What has changed?

    2. I love your comment about a cross being a commitment. Not just an accessory, right?

  15. Thank you Ruth. My mother has always said that we are to do the work of Christ, regardless of what others do and what their motives are. Thanks be to God for your obedience and faithfulness!

    1. What a wise mother you have, Aileen! Thanks for passing along her words.

  16. Katherine Avatar

    I had a similar experience. The pharmacy where I pick up my prescriptions is on a military base, and while I was in the line-up one day, a young man was getting formula. His credit card was declined, as was his debit card, so he asked the salesclerk to hold the formula while he went home to get some cash. After he left, I told the cashier that I would pay for it. Then I left.
    Later that night, she called me, and told me that he had come back to get it, and couldn’t believe that it had been paid for. He was very grateful – although that’s not why I did it. I know that our military people are not really well paid, and it was my way of saying thanks.

    1. Oh, thanks for sharing that story! I’m so glad you stepped in. Bless you.

  17. Beth Royalty Avatar
    Beth Royalty

    Sitting here trying to write a sermon about compassion, which is the core issue, I believe, of the Gospel reading from Luke appointed for this Sunday: (Luke 7:11-17) so I have been thinking about how easy it is to preach compassion and how hard it is to practice it, and also how hard it is to ask for compassion – in a way, whether this was a scam or not, a woman would have to allow herself to be completely vulnerable to ask for help from a stranger. I’m trying to follow Jesus, and he showed compassion. Period. Always for those on the margin. Hard to give, hard to receive, but as F. Buechner says in his definition of compassion,” ..the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

    1. Blessings on your sermonizing! Buechner is a good friend to the preacher, saying so much in so few words.

  18. Of course, a wonderful thing you did. God be with you and that Mom.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Carla!

  19. Anita Avatar

    Ruth, I’m so sorry to hear this but this is most likely a scam. It’s happened not just to me in So Cal and to my friends too many times to recount :(. And the similarities are uncanny. I’ve not wanted to write about this for a long time but I think I’m going to have to. There’s a couple of ither things that are also troubling.

    I do however commend you for your generosity. I’ve thought a great deal about this and researched what the major religions beyond Chtistianity too advise. Bl: Love, compassion trumps everything. God bless your loving, compassionate heart.

    1. Thanks for contributing your perspective, Anita. I would like to hear more of the back story.

      Truth be told, I expected to hear a comment like this much sooner. Approx 3450 people have read this post. Who knows, maybe many of them thought the same thing you did/do? And maybe for good reason.

      I do agree where you end up. Compassion trumps everything.

  20. I would buy the formula. She didn’t ask you for money, only the formula. Thank you for doing that.

  21. Barbara Avatar

    Wow! I love how blessings flow every which way in encounters like these. It’s impossible to avoid getting showered with some of the blessings.

    I certainly hope that I would have responded as you did. I know there are days when I’m too tired, too stressed, too something-or-other and may not even have appeared approachable to the woman. But then there are days when I get to be part of this blessed encounter.

    Thank you for sharing this experience. Your story has made me smile and will remind me to keep my eyes (and my heart) open.

    1. Blessings flow, that’s right. Thanks.

  22. Pris Quack Avatar
    Pris Quack

    Hi Ruth, Bravo for helping. So many would have quickly walked away, ignored the mother or even berated her for accosting them. Your response to her request is perfect and needs no “tweaking”. I know you are a person who seeks truth, justice and harmony in her interactions with others, so I want you to consider these ideas before your next encounter, since we all have such encounters in our future. 1. Make it even easier on yourself by expecting someone to need your assistance everywhere you go. Maybe holding a door open for someone whose hands are full, giving a word of encouragement to a tired-looking person at a bus stop, complimenting a teen on an act of kindness or social justice that you witness, handing money to a cashier if you sense the person in the checkout line may be short of cash. Just be ready. 2. Decide before you leave the house if you have the means to help people that day. If you decide the answer is “Yes”, then when someone needs your help, give it. You do not need to question them about the purpose or alternatives. If someone asks for money, do you really need to ask them what it will be used for? If a woman asks you to pay for formula, do you really need to ask her about breast feeding or look to see if her breasts appear full or empty? A greater grace is to preserve someone’s dignity and trust that if they ask for help, they need it. 3. Once you have rendered assistance, or not, be at peace. There is no need to follow someone and watch what kind of vehicle they get in, or see if they approach others for more. You are right – it may be a scam. But if that is truly your gut, notify the police. Thanks again for helping.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Priscilla.

    2. M B Butler Avatar
      M B Butler

      I love this. I carry the words of a former priest, “you may be the person Jesus sent to them, and the rest is not your business.”

  23. Cynthia Alvarado Avatar
    Cynthia Alvarado

    You did well. Even if she was not entirely honest, obviously that child needed to eat.

    1. So true. Thanks for your comment.

  24. Laura Frykman Avatar
    Laura Frykman

    Ruth, you did a good thing. It may have changed since 1992, but government programs like welfare and foodstamps have a cookie cutter approach; they decide how much you need, and it is not adjusted for health exceptions like needing $40 of Enfamil. (I got only $97 a month for food, and that was before it was “reformed” !) When someone ran into my car and totalled it, if I had reported that income, they would’ve withheld all my funds…and yet that insurance money wasn’t enough to replace the car, of course… Even if she sold the stuff to someone else, you did a good thing. You looked into her eyes, you listened, you saw her need, and responded generously.

    1. Laura, we both know what it’s like to be broke! Thanks for your comment, and your affirmation.

  25. Velma Avatar

    I would do what you did. I would much rather be out the money than to risk turning away from someone who needed help.

    1. Right, either choice was a risk. Thanks for pointing that out.

  26. Keith Karolyi Avatar
    Keith Karolyi

    Loved how you responded to your thought of, “Maybe she’s scamming me” with “I can live with that.” Truly, you carried out the Lord’s work there! Kudos to you!


    1. Right. Count the cost and go for it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  27. Joy Haning Avatar
    Joy Haning

    Bless you, I would have done the same thing.

  28. Shuna Dicks Avatar
    Shuna Dicks

    I would have done the same. I have a family that appear at my door from time to time looking for food and money. I keep a bag with 2 or 3 family meals worth in it in readiness and if I have cash in my purse they get some cash too. I have no idea if I am being scammed. But on the hope that I am not I give and trust that I am helping.
    Being Jesus in that moment of need, a blessing all round….and your hubby? He is a keeper ?

  29. Wow! Being asked something in the name of Jesus. Real, practical help. Blessings.

    1. Shuna Dicks Avatar
      Shuna Dicks

      That was a ‘!’ Not a ‘?’ In ref to hubby…. Damn fat fingers!

      1. I liked the question, Shuna. Because then I can answer in the affirmative: He IS a keeper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *