For sentimental reasons pennies found on a prayer walk are my favorite. It was on my daily outing six years ago that penny finding started–a penny or more a day for six years now.
My most memorable find last year came in May. I was walking with my neighbor Kelly. When we passed the spot where the penny finding started, I told her that I’d recently met the man who owns the home. Still embarrassed by our encounter, I admitted to telling him a clumsy version of the story.
“I would have just said hello, but I’d found a penny minutes before running into him. I couldn’t help myself. The story spilled out. He was polite enough to listen.”
“Did you tell him you were praying when you found the first four pennies?” she asked.
“Yes, and I apologized for taking them because they must have been his.”
“What’d he say?” she asked.
“I shouldn’t be sorry–they weren’t his. He would never leave pennies on the sidewalk. He said he picks up pennies and saves them to show his kids how change adds up.”
“They weren’t his?” she asked.
Then, to our amazement, we spotted a penny not a foot in front of us. We were floored. I’ll never forget that find.
“You see God is making Himself known to you.” Kelly said.
“I know it’s surreal. I have so many questions.”
I knew she was right. Often the left-side of my brain works overtime to find a logical explanation for things. I’m a problem solver by nature. If the guy didn’t leave the pennies who did? Kelly reminded me this is where I get into trouble. The kind that landed me in doctor’s offices the year the first pennies were found.
I’d been sick for ten months. There didn’t seem to be any hope for figuring out the root of my symptoms. There were theories, but no definitive diagnosis. It wasn’t just my body that was being examined from all angles–every facet of my life was under the microscope. I was a diamond in the rough. Someone wanted to find my flaw.
The entire left side of my body was seized with a burning sensation from head to toe. It felt like dry ice trapped inside me, freezing me only to the point of pain. I never reached comfortably numb. “Stress” was the common non-medical opinion. Every doctor I saw disagreed with this diagnosis.
I wasn’t convinced the doctors were right about anything. Not having answers was as painful emotionally as the physical symptoms. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. This is why the pennies took on such significance. When you’re grasping at straws, a handful of pennies are something more tangible.
I knew the penny was the first coin given the inscription, “In God We Trust”. Absent any other theories, I assumed this was the message for me. Trust God. He would take care of me, but how?
Six months later a doctor friend in California heard about my struggle. He emailed me with an idea. Many of his patients had been helped by one of his colleagues– Dr. John Chia. He was an infectious disease specialist getting attention for his research with entero-viruses. Maybe he could help?
Traveling anywhere seemed risky. Taking a thirty minute walk exhausted me. How could I handle all that travel would entail? “Trust me,” the pennies shouted while I fretted, until I found a penny leaving a drug store. It was sitting under a display of Chia Pets. Cha-cha-ching that’s it–I knew I had to go!
Two months later I saw Dr. Chia, and he had answers. A cure wasn’t possible but remission with the steps he outlined was. I finally hit the road to recovery with a combination of unconventional therapies and the dramatic lifestyle changes he’d recommended. It was a bumpy road but God’s grace and the pennies He provided helped me every step of the way.
I assumed the pennies would stop as my health improved, but they didn’t. I rationalized the penny experience as it continued the next couple years, by assuming God thought I needed the encouragement.
Last year however, my life changed at a more normal pace. For the first time I can remember I didn’t feel overwhelmed. Why then, did I find more than double the number of pennies than the previous year? God must have some point He wanted to make? The logical side of me wanted to know. What’s it all about?
My conversation with Kelly and the penny we found brought me back to the hard lesson learned previously. I will never figure it out, just like I will never figure out lots of things. More importantly, I’m not supposed to put the time and energy into trying to understand it all.
This is why I got sick in the first place. I’d worn myself out striving for answers to questions I’d been carrying around for twenty years. I was continually preoccupied with a relentless series of “what-if’s” regarding my autistic children, troubled marriage, and dysfunctional family. I lived in a whirlpool of hypotheticals. Was it my fault? What could I have done differently? What could I do to fix-it it? What was the next step?
Plagued with doubts, my logical side wasn’t letting the experiential side get a word in edgewise. I wasn’t letting God through either. I was paralyzed by uncertainty. My immune system responded by shutting down. This created the opportunity for a common virus to run rampant in my body. I had worried myself sick trying to understand and solve all my problems.
Discovering why I was sick confused me in terms of the pennies. I equated the answers Dr. Chia gave me to trusting God with my questions. He’d led me to him. I hadn’t considered that the bigger issue was trusting God through my uncertainties.
While walking with Kelly this epiphany finally came with two simple realizations. I never find pennies behind me and I have to stop whatever I’m doing to pick one up.They’re a metaphor that illustrates God’s supernatural presence ahead of my concerns. The Red Sea was parted before the Israelites had to cross it– not after. How God chooses to work isn’t something you can explain. If you could it wouldn’t be called “faith”.
A balance between understanding God and just experiencing God is essential to living without dis-ease. Striving to understand how God works at the expense of your sanity is a vain pursuit. It’s an attempt to be your own god. You want to figure it out–to fix it–even if it’s not your job to do so.
That’s the greater penny lesson. My understanding of God and the way He chooses to work is not what pleases Him. My faith pleases Him. Trusting God enough to keep moving forward in life when you don’t have it figured out requires a pause. It’s a “penny stop” that re-orients your perspective back to Him.
This is what I finally understand after 21,304 pennies. You can know this too. Don’t let striving to understand God’s ways interfere with your living in His presence today and tomorrow. Worrying yourself sick could cost you a lot more than a penny it could cost you your life. I am 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.