“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?” (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago. He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up. Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.
Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them. Thus came Allen’s mission for our family: find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.
What started as a game ended up changing our lives. Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them. We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc. Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.
Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make. My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right. And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.
As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again. Are there terrible things? Yes. Are there sad things? Yes. Are there things that are just downright wrong? Yes. But are they the only things? NO!
I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either. I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.
One does not negate the other. They both matter. They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter. I am bombarded from sun up until sun down. And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it. Those “pennies” might be just what I need. And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me. This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.
Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today? Pennies from heaven. Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college. What was yours?