One Bottle of Maple Syrup
By Sue Swartwood as told to Faith Bogdan
“…Who satisfies your mouth with good things….” Psalm 103:5
Living on eighty-five dollars a week in those early days as a pastor’s wife wasn’t easy. My faith, and our meager salary, were constantly being stretched.
The year was 1977. Dave and I pastored a small congregation in Wilmore, Pennsylvania. We were a young family, poor, yet enjoying our busy life of Sunday services, weekday visitations and community outreaches in the heart of coal mining country.
On a chilly autumn morning we buckled six-month-old Megan into her car seat and bounced along country roads in our blue Chevy Nova to deliver a modest paycheck to the bank. Next was a routine trip to nearby Portage for a week’s supply of groceries.
Dave placed baby Megan atop a shopping cart, and we screeched through the parking lot toward the automated double doors of The Grand Union. I pulled my woolen jacket tighter around my chest. The air was as crisp as the new ten-dollar bill I clutched in my pocket.
Ten dollars. Would it be enough to feed our family of three for the next seven days?
Within minutes we found ourselves once again in aisle seven, placing in our cart what had become the lone cupboard staple: pancake mix. It was a cheap solution for every meal. Thrice daily we dined on pancakes—sprinkled with sugar, spread with jam, dusted with powdered sugar as a seldom treat, or on rarer occasions drizzled with luxurious melted margarine (never costly butter!).
What I longed to pour over my “breakfast meals” more than anything was warmed maple syrup. For days, I’d mentally savored the perfect salty-sweet union of margarine and syrup soaking a steaming Hungry Jack stack. I could almost taste its sweet stickiness on my lips.
But a small bottle of generic, imitation maple syrup cost twenty-nine cents in those days—a quarter and four pennies we’d fallen short of each time we totaled the cost of the items on our grocery list.
On this day I was especially hopeful after reading promises of God’s provision in the scriptures that morning. Stacking cans of baby formula next to the pancake mix, I looked at Dave and ventured, “Do you think we might be able to get a small bottle of maple syrup this time?”
“Let’s wait and see.” His eyes twinkled with expectation. Dave’s faith was one that I’d come to depend on for added strength. I could sense that we both felt sure of God’s plan to finally bless us with the prized syrup.
I checked “milk” off our grocery list and found the cheapest plastic bottle of fake maple syrup, placing it on the metal rungs of the grocery cart as gently as I had handled baby Megan. Dave calculated the total as we took our place in the checkout line.
We were nineteen cents short.
Tears spilled onto my hot cheeks as I all but slammed the syrup back in its rightful place. On the drive home, my emotions were as gray as the coal-dusted snow falling on the road. An angry outburst broke the silence. “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but He can’t even spare us one bottle of maple syrup!”
“Be glad we have pancakes,” Dave murmured.
He was right. After whimpering in self-pity for a while, I silently confessed my ungratefulness to God. We went home to another syrup-less pancake dinner.
Two evenings later the phone rang. It was the elderly Mrs. Templeton, one of our church pillars. Would I be offended if she and her daughter brought over a few bags of groceries?
I held my composure and chirped, “Of course not!”
We said good-bye and I leaped, whooped, and then fell to the dining table, stunned. The phone conversation replayed itself in my mind. How did she know? Dave and I had been careful to keep our financial struggles a secret. We were determined to hold our hands up to the Lord, and not out to people.
That Friday night at seven o’clock there was a knock at our door—and three brown paper bags full of groceries. Luxuries I’d only admired on supermarket shelving displays—a no-bake cheesecake kit, soups, corn bread mix. And yes, at the bottom of the last bag, a medium sized bottle of Log Cabin maple syrup.
But no pancake mix.
Who would give syrup with no pancake mix? I smiled. The One Who knew we just needed a new topping.