Every day we pass by people in the routines of life. They could be driving a car, strolling through a grocery store, or enjoying a breakfast of oatmeal with brown sugar. Sometimes there’s a story of courage or healing behind such ordinary acts. These living stories of victory are all around us and if we happen to stumble upon one it can open our eyes to the sweetness of God’s redemptive power.
In the late 1960s single-parent households were not yet commonplace. Neither was using food stamps, buying clothes from the thrift store, or checking out roller skates from the “Toy Loan” in my upper-middle-class town, but for me, that was my normal. Add in some layers of dysfunction, a mother with mental illness, and “voila”, you had my family. Saying we were trendsetters might be stretching it a bit, but those who did notice us either added to the chaos or were too afraid to venture in.
One Saturday my mom sent me to the neighborhood market to buy a few items. Since my rock-selling business was in a slump she gave me permission to buy penny candy. The errand was going well until the moment Art handed back all that change. I still don’t remember purchasing two of every kind of sweet from behind the counter, but I do recall enjoying my trophies of goodness while sauntering down the sidewalk.
As I turned onto my street I started sobering up. What have I done? I spent our grocery money on candy?! Fear began to fill up every part of me. As quickly as I could, I consumed the remaining clues and hoped for the best. By then I was three houses away and could see mom on the porch waiting for me. This was not going to go well. Being the clever kid I was, I blurted out my crime – which was a pretty good idea since my face was covered with confections shrapnel.
“Sugar? Do you want sugar?! I’ll give you sugar – wait here!!” my mom shouted at me.
As quickly as she set foot in the house, she charged back out with a one-pound box of C&H Brown Sugar in her right hand and a spoon in her left. With controlled desperation in her voice, she shoved them in my face and said, “Sit down, and don’t get off these steps until you’ve eaten all of it!” With that, she stormed back into the house letting the screen door slam behind her.
By the second mouthful, I was rethinking my whole “treat diversion therapy” and went into creative survival mode. Looking down at the flowerbed on my right, it occurred to me that the same spoon in my hand could serve me well as a shovel. Casting a quick glance to see if the guard was making her rounds, I frantically started digging, flinging dirt everywhere like a Water Wiggle sprinkler. When I heard her steps coming closer I tearfully inserted another spoonful into my mouth, grit and all. We locked eyes. She seemed satisfied with my progress. Then a wave of panic swept over me wondering if my little excavation project was out of her line of sight. Thankfully, it was and she marched back into the house. I’m not sure how long the whole process of emptying the box took, but eventually, all parties concerned were happy to see it come to an end.
To my mom’s dismay, her punishment did not deter me from consuming candy, but I did vow to never eat brown sugar again. It wasn’t just the taste, but the very smell of it was a reminder of all the pain my family had endured during that period of time. Eventually, my mom’s mental health issues took a toll on all of us and she was committed to a psychiatric hospital. As various relatives stepped in to help raise me, I felt less and less connected, lost interest in school, and made one bad decision after another.
It wasn’t until I moved in with my best friend’s family that life started stabilizing a bit. That year of support gave me the courage to graduate late from high school while I worked two part-time jobs. One night a co-worker shared her faith in Jesus with me. I was so intrigued by her enthusiasm that I began attending church and reading the Bible for myself. I pondered the consistent message that God was the only one who could truly release me from the pain of my past and the sins of my not so past.
A couple of months later I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I didn’t know how I was ever going to hold up my end of the bargain to trust in Him, but I had a hope in me I had never experienced before. I embraced my new life; imperfect and empowering, with a hunger to learn God’s plan going forward. I did my best to forgive my mom and others who had impacted me in negative ways, but at the same time, I kept my emotional distance. I didn’t know how to have healthy boundaries and didn’t want to get stuck in that emotional mess again. Brown sugar I avoided like a plague.
After several years of trying to outrun those deeper hurts, I came face to face with them through a unique gift. My husband’s ministry was relocating out of state and one week before the big move we heard he had relatives in that same town. Uncle Ron and Aunt Judi not only invited us over for dinner upon our arrival but asked us to stay with them when our moving truck was delayed. Between their kindness and faith in Christ, we bonded instantly. A few days later while unpacking in our new home there was a knock on the door. When I opened it up there stood Judi smiling ear to ear and in her arms was a 25-pound bag of brown sugar! I can’t begin to describe the conflict of emotions that began swirling around my head… “Aunt Judi – Yes!! Brown sugar – Nooo!!!”
In her sweet sing-song voice Judi explained, “Ron and I wanted to buy you some groceries so we got you paper towels, coffee, cereal, blah, blah…” (shock was setting in and I couldn’t quite decipher what she was saying) “….and this bag of brown sugar. Christmas is coming up and I thought we could bake some cookies together.”
Before I could say a word, she plunked that enormous sack in my arms and walked cheerfully back to her car without any idea she had just violated my “No Brown Sugar” policy. I just stood there, frozen in the doorway. For years I had successfully avoided brown sugar and everything attached to it, yet there it was in my arms the size of Paul Bunyan’s pillow.
Baking cookies sounded like a wonderful idea, (something I had not done with my children or my own mom), but I knew this wasn’t about me enduring a cooking lesson. Brown sugar had always been my reminder of all the heartache, fear, and crises that I had endured as a child. At that moment I sensed the Holy Spirit say to me, “Brown sugar is sweet. I intended it for good, not for evil.” I let that soak in. There was a layered truth in that message. The truth that I had worked hard to dodge my painful memories instead of allowing God to carry them and the truth that my unforgiveness was preventing me from experiencing all that God had for me.
I wondered, “How many other things had I avoided that the Lord had intended for good?”
Back on the porch, the bag and the weight of the moment were sinking in. Would I let anger, shame, or fear continue to be my filter or would I allow God to rescue me from their grip? Taking a deep breath, I decided I was ready for whatever the Lord had in mind. Then I marched my gritty granules into the kitchen.
Just a couple of years later my mom experienced a housing emergency which resulted in moving her from out of state to our home. It was an intense situation. Thankfully, the Lord had begun a deeper level of forgiveness in me through that sack of brown sugar. Eventually, she was placed in a nearby adult family home and for the last ten years of her life we grew into a loving and contentious relationship despite her mental illness. We hugged each other, laughed, and at times had conversations about deeper issues. Someday I will see her again and she will be her best, whole self. I miss her every day. The other pains I so needed the Lord to heal have faded too, as things tend to do when exposed to the Light. I know some of those relationships will never be “as God intended”, but I do know Jesus will be faithful to continue showing me how to love in new ways going forward. Brown sugar and I have made up too – now I can’t bear to eat my oatmeal without it! For most, hugging your mom or proclaiming brown sugar on your favorites list might seem ordinary, but for me, they will always be my tangible reminders of how powerful God’s redeeming love truly is. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8.
Written by L. Osmon.