Franciscan Spirit Blog

Pennies from Heaven

Welcome to day one of our celebration! Today, Maureen O’Brien encourages us to put our trust in God—just as the psalms advise.

Finding a penny is such an ordinary thing. Just a near-worthless coin fallen in a parking lot or in cinders on the edge of a road. I absolutely love finding a penny. I keep them in a woven dish my daughter made in middle school, and when it overflows, I donate them all to the American Cancer Society, even if it’s only eighty-six cents.

This began when I had the blessing of attending—or should I say the “lamps under my feet led me” to—a monthly support group with the great healer Bernie Siegel. A nebbishy Jewish pediatric surgeon from Yale who changed the face of cancer care in the 1980s with his breakout book Love, Medicine, and Miracles, his work has impacted the entire landscape of modern medicine ever since. His international, bestselling books—with titles like A Book of Miracles and 365 Prescriptions for the Soul—are uplifting and useful to anyone, not just individuals and families traveling the unfamiliar road of serious illnesses.

We’d sit in a circle of metal folding chairs at his son’s New Age bookstore, Wisdom of the Ages. Bernie’s ratty, matted rescue dogs snored and panted in the center. Our group was comprised of vulnerable people in various phases of disease. Bernie holds the belief that all people long to be healed. Not cured. Healed. “Death is not a failure,” he frequently said. “It’s going to happen to all of us. But instead of being afraid of death, do something else. Send yourself life messages.”

Author Maureen O’Brien encourages us to look for minor miracles all around us.

I remember a man who was terminal; we all loved his kind smile. He had recently purchased his dream car, a vintage canary-yellow convertible Corvette, and would tell us how he traveled thirty miles (one way) each morning to go get his favorite smoothie. Bernie always praised his attitude, how the man prioritized joy and sent his body life messages.

Bernie believes in finding signs of God everywhere, including the “In God We Trust” messages imprinted on random pennies waiting for us on the ground. Bernie is a delightful storyteller, and if I recall this correctly, he tells a story of running a marathon and spying a penny many miles into his route, bending to pick it up, and hearing a spectator on the sidelines witness this and gasp, “Wow, that guy must be really poor.”

A line from the psalms can glint like this.

I’ve flipped forward and backward through the pages. Read them right to left, from Psalm 39, turned the pages up to Psalm 116. It’s just the way it is, being with them. And as I near my yearly cancer test, I tell my friend Alex how vulnerable I know I will feel in my hospital Johnny, the intimacy of being on the G.I. floor near others in their beds and just curtains between us, the chance that a stranger might see you undressing by mistake, the doctors and nurses in their New Balance sneakers, and the wait to see if Dr. Vignati found anything, and the dehydration and the anesthesia, and Alex offers, “Well, I am really glad Madeline is taking you to the test, how wonderful,” and I agree.

I am very grateful my children take me, and as the day of the test draws near, I am sitting on my deck with my Bible open to the Psalms and I find this glinting: The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; you turn down his bedding whenever he is ill. (Ps 41:3)

I have never read those lines before, and there they are, a perfect penny found, In God We Trust.

Wisdom from the Psalms

Sometimes, in the challenges of our lives, we can feel far from God’s help. The images in these lines can help us remember God’s nearness:

“He will shelter you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield” (Ps 91:4).

Take some time today to recognize the ways that God is alongside you—never missing a step—and that you can trust God completely.

Find refuge in the psalms


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