Pennies from heaven?

I find pennies.

A lot of people do of course. If you google “What does finding pennies mean?” you’ll see loads of answers.

Finding a penny means variously:

It’s a message from someone you love who has passed on.

The Angels are watching out for you.

Great fortunes are heading your way.

Heads up, it’s lucky. Tails up, not so much.

And so on.

I like a story I heard some years ago.

A very wealthy man pulled up in his Rolls Royce to a fancy restaurant. He was going to have dinner with a friend. As he climbed out, he spotted a penny on the sidewalk. He bent down and picked it up.

His friend laughed, and said: “Don’t you have enough money without the need to pick up a penny?”

The wealthy man turned the penny heads up in his hand.

“It’s not just a penny. It’s a message. What does that say?”

“In God we trust,” said his friend.

“I might be wealthy but that doesn’t mean I’m without worries. I’ve been concerned about something all day long. When I find pennies, it’s almost always when something is on my mind. I believe it’s a message from God. Telling me to simply trust.”

After I heard that story, I started finding pennies.

First it was just on the sidewalk. Or a parking lot. Where you might expect to find them.

And then something strange happened.

They started turning up when something was on my mind. A worry. A concern. Money. Work. A decision I had to make.

What’s more, they started turning up in unlikely places.

On a table when I know there wasn’t one there moments before. Or sitting there on a shelf in a cupboard I had opened just a little while earlier.

Then it got stranger.

Just when I was thinking I hadn’t found a penny for a long time, one would turn up. Within minutes of me thinking about it. Sometimes, seconds.

You’re probably thinking I’ve gone off my rocker.

But I tell you, it’s true.

I have quite a collection of pennies that I’ve found over the years now.

Are they all a message from God?

I don’t know. But here’s the thing. In a funny way, I guess that God/The Universe/my mum/Arthur are all looking out for me.

If I ever run out of money, I’ll just put all those pennies they ‘might’have sent me in a bag and cash them in at the nearest Coinstar machine.

Postscript in the “You can’t make this up” department:

Less than an hour after writing the passage about finding pennies, I was standing in line at the supermarket checkout, editing and rewriting the passage in my mind. I looked down and there on the ground a few feet in front of me—heads side up—was a penny.

And I kid you not—there’s absolutely no writer’s embellishment here—it was glinting in the sunlight.

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I like church though.

Even with my doubts about God, I love going to church.

I try to arrive early. I like watching the pews fill up. I love listening to the choir warming up. I love the singing. And even though I am tone deaf, I love belting out the hymns from my childhood.

“Praise him! Praise him!”

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, wrote directions for singing. I take them to heart every time I’m in church.

He wrote: Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.

“To Thee with heart and mouth I sing.”

John Wesley should know about singing. He and his brother, Charles, published fifty-six collections of hymns over five decades. Charles alone wrote an astonishing 8,989 hymns.

Regardless of where I stand with God, hymns move me. Literally bringing tears to my eyes.

As the writer, Tom Ehrich, once said, who can fail to be moved by “How Great Thou Art.”

Look at the passion in these words:

And when I think of God,

His son not sparing,

Sent Him to die,

I scarce can take it in;

That on the cross,

my burden gladly bearing

He bled and died

to take away my sin.

There was one occasion though, when a hymn moved me to tears and I was troubled by it.

It wasn’t until weeks later that I seemed to understand why.

It was a Sunday late in 2014 and the choir at the Presbyterian church I had started attending sang “In the Garden” as the chorale offering that day.

I had heard the hymn before of course, but it wasn’t one I counted as a favorite. As they sang—it was a lovely arrangement—I suddenly was aware that tears were streaming down. A lump came to my throat. But there wasn’t the usual awe or joy in these tears.

Instead, I was agitated. Unsettled.

And that uneasiness stayed with me all day. I even called a minister friend the next morning to chat about the experience.

In February 2015, my sister died.

Only she and her husband had known the seriousness of her illness until the very end—she was always a very private person and never wanted to worry others.

I later learned that her illness had been diagnosed late in 2014. Right around the time I had been upset by the hymn in church that Sunday.

My brother-in-law asked me to speak at the funeral. I flew to England.

The opening hymn my nieces had picked was “In the Garden.”

I had forgotten until that moment, until seeing the order of service, that the hymn might not have been my favorite but it wasmy sister’s.

I gave the eulogy. Just barely.

The gathering of our family afterwards was a wonderful experience. We are a large family, living great distances from each other, and don’t get together often.

It was like a final gift from my sister.

I eventually returned to America on a Saturday in March. I went to church the next morning.

The opening hymn was “In the Garden.”

The great Brazilian writer, Paulo Coelho, said: “Every human being should know two languages; the language of society and the language of signs. One serves to communicate with other people, the other serves to understand God’s messages.”

I can’t help thinking to this day: If only I had understood the sign that previous year—that that hymn “In the Garden”was telling me something. I might have got to my sister’s side before she died.

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I’m not sure about God

I’m not sure about God. 

Not the one I learned about in Sunday School anyway.

I know there’s a force in my life and heart that’s greater than me. Something that gives me strength and courage. Something to hold on to. I have no doubt about that.

But if it’s not God, then what?

A Higher Power of my own choosing?

The Universe?

Guardian Angels?

The forces of Mother Nature?

Maybe it’s my mum who died in 1984 and whose presence I still feel every day.

Many years ago, I met a man named Arthur. He lived in London’s East End. I had never laid eyes on him in my life before that Saturday morning at my niece’s house in Forest Gate.

He told me we were destined to meet.

Then he told me things about myself that only I knew. 

He told me things that would happen to me and they did.

He told me my mum was standing next to me, watching out for me, and described her perfectly, right down to the grey streak that ran through her hair. He had never met her either. What’s more, she had been dead for over ten years at that point.

I asked him how he knew so much about me and he said without further explanation: “It’s what I do.”

I should have been freaked out. But for some reason, I wasn’t.

I’ve often wondered whether Arthur was God. Or that God appeared in the form of Arthur because he wanted to speak to me directly.

I was at a pretty low point in my life then. The sadness of a divorce I didn’t want. Feeling estranged from my children. Battling the alcoholism I wouldn’t admit to. I remember distinctly saying to my sister: I am so unhappy.

I talked to Arthur a couple of times on the phone after that. I told him I’d like to write his story but he said no. Then we lost touch. Or maybe we haven’t. Maybe Arthur is watching over my shoulder all these years later as I type the introduction to this book.

Arthur changed something in me.

It was at that point I segued from writing advertising copy to writing personal essays that made me happy. I wrote about my childhood. I wrote about the joy I felt when I went to Sunday School at the London City Mission. Mr. Phipps was the minister and Mrs. Phipps played the piano. I loved the choruses we sang: “In my heart there rings a melody…”  

I wrote about the day I was awarded a New Testament Bible for memorizing verses.

John 3.16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. That whosever believeth in him…

And I do.

I believe there was a man named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago and who walked from town to town in what we now refer to as the Middle East.

I guess it follows that if I’m not sure about God, then I’m not sure that Jesus was the Son of God.

I know I don’t believe this man named Jesus had otherworldly gifts.

I don’t believe he could turn water into wine. Or that he could raise people from the dead. Or that he could heal people just by touching them.

As far as the miracles are concerned, I like to read between the lines on those as you’ll see later in this book when I talk about TheFive Loaves and Two Fishes.

Although not miracle performing, I do believe that Jesus had a special gift. Or rather, he gave them.

He gave the gift of kindness. 

And compassion. 

And generosity of spirit.

He looked out for the downtrodden. He felt the rich could do more for the poor.

He preached gratitude. Being thankful for the things we have instead of wishing for things that we don’t.

He taught us humility. How not to overate our own importance.

He taught love—a gift we could allgive if we wanted to.

These are perennial lessons, don’t you think?

And look at the gift of all those great expressions he gave us that we still use today: He thinks he can walk on bloody water!

If he really told them as documented, I think his parables were brilliant insights. They also show how little the world has changed. 

In the parable of The Hidden Treasure, Jesus explains how little realhappiness there is in worldly possessions. Try telling that to a world where we have to have everything and have it instantly. Priority shipping only!

Here’s the thing about the miracles and what you can take away by reading between the lines—by not taking everything in the Bible literally. 

Let’s talk about the Resurrection for a moment. So what if Jesus didn’t actuallyrise up on Easter morning?

His resurrection is real nonetheless. He came back from the dead in a sense, didn’t he?

Look, two thousand plus years later, we’re still talking about him. He’s as alive today in people’s minds (and hopefully, hearts and actions) as he was back then.

Just like my mum is alive in my heart and mind and the hearts and minds of all my brothers and sisters.

And it’s not just life after death. It’s love after death.

Especially if you live like Jesus did. Putting others before yourself. Trying to see the good in people. Not rushing to judgement because someone is different from you.

Yes, I know, we’ve heard all that stuff before. And naturally we say, YES! That’s how I live.

But do we?

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