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Praying with Penny

Just when we think we know what prayer is, God has a way of taking us back to square one--and sometimes He uses the most unexpected guides.

By Amy Julia Becker

 

A few weeks back, I got into a fight with my four-year-old son William. I can’t remember the details, though I’m sure it had something to do with getting dressed for school.

I know it had been a rough night of sleep the night before. I know my husband had left the house early. I know I yelled at all three children when they danced and bickered and lounged around instead of putting on their clothes. And I know that eventually I grabbed William and pulled him up from the floor, inadvertently creating a rug burn on the top of his foot. He sobbed. And then, after trying to comfort him, I put my face in my hands and started to cry.

My youngest daughter Marilee, who is almost two, couldn’t understand it. “Why Mommy cwyin’ ?” she was still asking 30 minutes later. William giggled uncertainly, as if he hoped I was putting on a show. But Penny, my eldest, knew immediately that this was for real. She came over to offer a hug, and then she said, gently, “Mom, should we pray?”

Penny was born seven years ago. Her delivery seemed unremarkable. My epidural had worked wonders on the pain, and since the baby weighed a mere five pounds five ounces, I pushed for only 20 minutes before she shot into the world. Her vital signs were good at birth, and she cried a hearty cry upon exiting the womb. For two hours, we experienced the euphoria of many a new parent—the relief that labor and delivery were over, the giddy excitement about what would come, the childlike wonder that we had been entrusted with caring for another human being.

But then a nurse called my husband out of the room, and when he returned, his eyes were brimming. “The doctors think Penny has Down syndrome,” he said. And euphoria turned to dread.

Penny’s birth and the doctor’s recognition that she had Down syndrome, a third copy of chromosome 21 in every cell of her body, rendered me silent before God. I was a seminary student at the time, so I had all sorts of theological resources on hand, but I was afraid to pray. It felt too risky, as if another unanswered or misdirected prayer might silence my faith altogether.

And so, for the first few months of Penny’s life, I depended upon the prayers of others. I felt no guilt or anxiety about my prayerlessness. I relied upon Galatians 6:2—“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” It seemed as though God had given me permission to let other people do my praying, and we could sense the Spirit’s presence within our home in the early months of Penny’s life. She was healthy, with a few medical procedures needed down the road, but no immediate physical concerns. She was easy to take care of, sleeping through the night at seven weeks and rarely crying. And she was beautiful, with full cheeks, a button nose, and big blue eyes that reminded me of deep pools of still water.

A few months into my life as a mother, I knew it was time to talk to God again. My husband once remarked, “Every emotion provides an opportunity to pray,” and I surprised myself by beginning my prayers with anger. They were one-word prayers—a word I had been taught not to say as a child. I wrote it in my journal, dozens of times, and then wrote, Amen.

As I groped in the dark towards some language to use with God, the Psalms gave me permission to pray honestly. God had accepted the prayers of the psalmists who offered their hopelessness (see Psalm 88:18 NIV, where the writer calls darkness his “closest friend”), their rage (see Psalm 137, in which the psalmist hopes his enemy’s infants have their heads dashed “against the rocks”), and their desolation (see Psalm 22, whose opening line Christ Himself quoted on the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”). God accepted my anger. And then my fear. And finally, as I got to know my daughter more and more, God accepted my prayers of gratitude and celebration.

Over the years, once I was able to pray again, and once Penny had emerged from infancy into a chatty toddler (first with sign language, and then with spoken words), we began to pray together. And, in an unexpected turn of events, Penny began to teach me about prayer. By the time she was three, she bowed her head and closed her eyes whenever she heard sirens outside, and she often initiated prayer for friends and family who I only later learned were in need. There was the time she asked to pray for my grandfather, whom she hadn’t seen in two months.

My mother called the next day to tell me he had broken his leg. Or the time she asked to pray for two of her friends. She didn’t know that their dad had just said goodbye to his 39-year-old brother, who was dying of cancer. I still don’t know exactly how she knew to pray for them, but she increased my confidence in God’s desire for us to intercede on behalf of others. She increased my faith in the truth that prayer matters.

Then there was the phase, when she was four, in which Penny wouldn’t tell me much about her day, but she would curl up, with her head to her knees on the floor, and talk and talk and talk to God. She told Him everything. And I yearned for that same abandon before the Lord, that same willingness to pour out my memories and experiences and hopes.

That was the year she and her brother started giggling a lot as they prayed. I recorded one time when Penny squeezed her eyes shut, tucked in her chin, and said, “Thank You for every people in our lives. Thank You for our family.

And help us be kind to each other at the ballet becital. And the cow jumped over the moon. And three little bears sitting on chairs.” (Giggle) “And a hat.”

Peter and I shared a bit of a sigh, and he said, “Penny, do you think God likes jokes?”

“Yes,” she replied.

We looked at each other again, and we knew she was right. She had taught us about prayer once more.

Now that Penny is in first grade, her prayers have become more conventional. She thanks God for various aspects of her day and for her friends and family. But she is still teaching me.

For a long time, we’ve explained to her that whenever she feels frightened or alone, she can pray, and God will be with her. Just last night, we were together at a concert and the music got too loud. Penny covered her ears through one song and then asked me if we could leave. I escorted her home, and once she was safely under the covers, she asked, “Mom, can we talk about the concert?” I told her how proud I was that she had been brave, that she had covered her ears and calmly asked for what she needed. And she told me, “Mom, God was with me.” In the midst of her fear, she had prayed, and God had answered her.

Seven years ago, I didn’t know when I would pray again, or how. I certainly didn’t know that my daughter would be the one to teach me about paying attention to the whispers of the Spirit when others are in need, or that she would show me how to pour out my heart or giggle with God. I didn’t know she would demonstrate persistence in prayer and testify to God’s faithful response.

Seven years ago, I didn’t understand what a gift—what an answer to prayer—my daughter would be.

 

Amy Julia Becker is the author of A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.

 

Photography by Christopher Capozziello

Copyright 2014 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. www.intouch.org. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.


31 comments
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  • July 10, 2014 02:22 PM

    by

    I'm just beginning to read your book....and just stopped to tell you it's wonderful.God bless you for sharing this story with me.
  • June 25, 2014 01:42 PM

    by

    What a precious child and beautiful witness! Thank you for sharing.
  • June 06, 2014 01:43 AM

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    Precious in His sight. Dee
  • June 03, 2014 09:20 PM

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    Thank You So Much LordJesusChrist
  • June 02, 2014 12:50 PM

    by

    Excellent teaching.Penny is a blessing,thanks araba.
  • December 12, 2013 02:22 PM

    by

    wonderful - need to read this book!
  • May 31, 2013 11:10 AM

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    Thank you for sharing and reminding me of the power of prayer! Penny is a blessing to so many. I thank God for her willingness to be used by God May He continue to bless you and your family. Jackie
  • May 28, 2013 06:13 PM

    by

    :) thank you, dear God Almighty, thank you
  • May 28, 2013 03:09 PM

    by

    Penny sounds like a real darling! She's been gifted with true sweetness, you are indeed blessed.
  • May 27, 2013 10:14 PM

    by

    GOD bless Penny, with pure heart clean hands, likel Penny little children we are to be like them. LOVE GOD , LOVE ONE ANOTHER NO MATTER what , uncondiitional love.,
    thank you Amy Julia GOD BLESS U AND YOUR FAMILY.
  • May 27, 2013 04:22 AM

    by

    how wonderful!!!! inspiring.i love ot.
  • May 21, 2013 02:37 PM

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    Penny from Heaven! :-)
  • May 21, 2013 08:12 AM

    by

    Thanks for sharing with us this amazing story. May God continue to pour His blessings upon you and your family. Thanks again!
  • May 20, 2013 10:19 AM

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    My gratitude to Penny, Julia and her family for blessing us with this very hopeful and touching article. I pray That GOD continues to bless you and work through you So more and more people may be filled with hope, humility and gratitude.
  • May 18, 2013 01:35 PM

    by

    Thank you so much for your story.
  • May 18, 2013 08:43 AM

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    I find that god never cease to amaze me. When i look into the eyes of penny all icould is the purity of god and his warmth of his love brimming out of penny. God said he would confuse the world by using the one's that the world would disgard but because he is God he would let you see his power through just a child like penny.
    I love you penny with god's love and what is man that you are mindful of us
    Roseann Hinds
  • May 16, 2013 06:27 PM

    by

    remarkable Penny . She is here to teach grownups to lighten up and creat more faith when things are going wrong .. She is an angel sent from God to teach us to be more childlike and gentle . I love her and respect her
  • May 16, 2013 02:38 PM

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    This is precious, there is no doubt that the Lord uses these very special children, they are truly gifts sent from Heaven. Lord Bless Penny & The Becker Family.
  • May 15, 2013 11:55 PM

    by

    I just loved your story. I know how you felt almost exactly. When my oldest was born with a cleft lip and palate I was angry at God for about a day. Until my husband came in the hospital room the next morning after going home to get some rest from the long day before, entered with a smile on his face, a huge horse stuffed animal for our little girl and telling me Jesus gave us a beautiful healthy girl! He adored her from the moment she was out. I did to, but I was upset that God didn't give me a "perfect" first child. The doctor told us of all the complications she was going to probably have. As soon as the doctor left the room, we prayed over her to not have one of those complications enter her life. Eleven years later, not one of those complications that the doctor said she would have happened to her. PRAISE AND GLORY TO GOD!!! He does answer prayer. Thank you for sharing about your beautiful, cute and funny little Penny.
  • May 15, 2013 04:15 PM

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    I cried reading this story, it's a lesson about how simple it is to talk to God, to be like a child not changed by this world.
  • May 14, 2013 06:43 PM

    by

    This really blessed my heart. These children are so precious and such a blessing. Thanks for sharing.
  • May 14, 2013 12:15 PM

    by

    What a touching beauitful story of truth and love God has blessed you .and all of us who read it.
  • May 13, 2013 10:02 PM

    by

    Thank you for sharing - we are adopting a little girl like Penney and she is already such a joy in our lives!
  • May 13, 2013 05:53 PM

    by

    Beautiful! God uses the one we least expect!
  • May 08, 2013 12:01 PM

    by

    Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for reminding me to pray and listen more to God.

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