Pennies found on a prayer walk are always my favorite for sentimental reasons because it was on my daily outing five years ago that the penny finding started – a penny, or more, a day for five years now. It’s wild the way pennies come to me and if you’re someone who has hung out with me for any length of time you know this to be true. If you’ve ever been on my prayer walk with me you also know how tightly I hold on to those pennies.
My most memorable find this year came in May. It was an unusually cold day so I was bundled up to the point I couldn’t see much more than right in front of me. I was walking with my neighbor Kelly and as we approached the house where the penny finding started I told her the day before I’d met the man who owned the home while he was cleaning his boat. Still feeling a little embarrassed by my encounter with him, I explained that I’d found a penny right before I made the turn in front of his house. When I saw him with the boat for the first time since July 11, 2006 my penny find minutes before prompted the story to just spill out all over him. Poor guy he listened politely though.
“Did you tell him you were praying when you found the four pennies?” she asked. “Yes, and I told him how they just keep coming. What’d he say?” she wondered. “Well when I finished my story I apologized to him for taking the pennies because they must have been his. He stopped my rambling though and said I shouldn’t be sorry they weren’t. He would never leave four pennies on the sidewalk. He picks up pennies and saves them to show his kids how change adds up.” Laughing she said, “I love it that’s so cool. I know it was a nice validation because sometimes I think I’m just imagining this.” Then, to both our amazement what do we spot a foot in front of us as I’m talking? You got it, a penny. We were both floored.
“You see it’s real. God is making himself real to you Karen. I wish I had that. It’s so cool” Kelly said, as I reached for the penny. “I know but sometimes I can’t make sense of it. I think maybe this whole experience isn’t real. I have so many questions.” Kelly shook her head and said, “Stop questioning it, you’ll just get in trouble with that. Take it – enjoy it” and with that thought I knew she was right.
You wouldn’t think my neighbor’s validation was necessary but it helped, because more often than I like to admit the left-side of my brain screams for a logical explanation. If the boat guy didn’t leave the pennies then perhaps his kids did. He insists that didn’t happen so because I don’t believe they can fall out of the sky I can come up with a whole list of other tangible explanations. This Kelly reminded me is where I get in trouble. The same kind of trouble that landed me in one doctor’s office after another the same year the first pennies were found.
I’d been sick for ten months with no hope in sight for figuring out what was at the root of my symptoms. Lots of theories were floating around but there was no definitive diagnosis and it wasn’t just my body that was being examined from all angles. Every facet of my life was under the microscope. I was like a diamond in the rough that someone wanted to find a flaw in. Nothing gets everyone’s attention like pain and I was in a tremendous amount of it.
The entire left side of my body was seized with a burning sensation from head to toe. It felt like dry ice was trapped inside me freezing me only to the point of pain without ever reaching comfortably numb. I was losing weight, my balance, my blood pressure was dropping, and my lymph nodes were the size of golf balls. Stress was the most common non-medical opinion. Every doctor I saw disagreed with this diagnosis. If the neurologist hadn’t gone out of his way to say he didn’t see any need for a psychiatric evaluation I would have had one just to cover that base.
I wasn’t convinced the doctors were right about anything and not having answers was as emotionally painful as the physical symptoms. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. This is why the pennies began to take on so much significance. When you’re grasping at straws a handful of pennies is at least something tangible. It was such a strange sign though I wanted to make some sense of it. (Pardon the pun!)
With a little research I learned that the penny was the first coin given the inscription, “In God We Trust”, and without any other great theories I assumed this was the message for me. Trust God, he would take care of me. Five years later this simple thought still makes me smile but I’ve come to realize that was a fraction of what God was saying and what kept me from seeing that was actually hitting the road to recovery even though it was penny lined.
When the last specialist I was referred to turned out to be the one with answers I thought it was finally over. Not because he told me I could die if I didn’t take matters seriously. I believed I was done because now I knew what I could do to restore my health. A cure wasn’t possible but remission was with the steps he outlined. This news alone assured me God was taking care of me because I finally had answers to my questions.
I’d had the same mindset when my boys were diagnosed with autism and seen results so I was optimistic. Knowledge is power and God was making sense of things for me. I tackled the challenge of doing what it would take to restore my health and I got better. Not overnight but fairly quickly compared to how long I’d been sick. By this time, I thought the pennies would stop but they didn’t. I rationalized the penny experience continuing the next couple of years simply because so much “change” was going on in my life that I needed the encouragement.
This last year, however, I can’t say the same thing. My life has been very steady and changing at a pace that feels good. So why with the smooth sailing did I find more than double the number of pennies from the previous year? My logical side wanted to know and Kelly in that moment with our conversation brought me back to the hard lesson learned. I will never figure it out just like I will never figure out lots of other things. More importantly, I’m not supposed to put the time and energy into trying to understand it all.
This is why I got so sick in the first place. I’d worn myself out striving for answers to questions about the burdens I’d been carrying for years. I was anxious, frightened, and continually preoccupied with a relentless series of questions regarding my children, my marriage, and then my health. I lived in a whirlpool of scenes, conversations, and hypothetical outcomes that I could never fully answer. What could I have done differently? Was it my fault? What could I do to change it? How could I protect my children? What was the next step I should take?
My logical thinking side wasn’t letting the experiential intuitive side get a word in edge wise, not to mention God. Any childlike love of a mystery in life was gone. I was so paralyzed by uncertainty my immune system shut down. This created the opportunity for a common virus to run rampant in my body tricking my central nervous system into sending constant pain signals to the left side of my body. I had literally worried myself sick with too much left-brain thinking.
However, finally figuring out why I was sick confused me in terms of the pennies. I equated the answers too trusting God with my questions rather than trusting him through my uncertainties. Yes, I believe God wanted me to put my questions before Him but He was also telling me to just keep walking out in faith when I didn’t have answers. You see, I never find pennies behind me. They are always ahead of me or next to me which is the same with God. He’s walking beside me today and He’s out in front of my tomorrow. Believing Him means I’m aware of that. The pennies aren’t found to tell me to trust Him nearly as much as they are found to re-orient my perspective. To remind me He’s present in my today and already inhabits my tomorrow. I can fear not. Sometimes I will understand how he’s working but other times I will never figure it out. Just like I don’t usually know how the penny got where it did and that has to be okay. If I had the answers to all my questions it wouldn’t be faith it would be logic.
A balance between questioning God and just experiencing God is essential to living without dis-ease. To trust God in your uncertainty then requires shifting your focus from your circumstances back to the nature of God. It’s a prescription in remembering. Remembering his presence in the past so that you can step out into the future without a map to tell you how it’s all going to work out. That’s the full penny lesson. I’m supposed to remember the finds (God’s faithfulness) while facing forward, stepping out, and experiencing the unknown. A penny may or may not be there but God will be.
This is what I finally know not just in head but in my heart after 15, 025 pennies. I hope you can too! Don’t let striving to understand God’s ways interfere with your living in His very real presence today and tomorrow. Worrying yourself sick could cost you a lot more than a penny or two – it could cost you your life. I am forever grateful it didn’t cost me mine. One penny and one day at a time God has proven His trustworthiness to be something I can count on.