I’m thrilled to introduce you to Amy Julia Becker as we round out our month’s discussion on trust. Amy Julia’s book A Good and Perfect Gift was praised as one of the top 10 religion books in 2011 by Publisher’s Weekly and she’s recently been on the national scene discussing her family’s story (Time, New York Times Motherlode blog, the Huffington Post, Parents magazine, to name a few!). Keep reading — and share this post with friends who may find encouragement in Amy Julia’s words.
Thanks for having me! I am a mother: Penny is 6 and has Down syndrome, William is 3, and Marilee just turned one. I’m also a writer, and as a result of my kids, I mostly write about faith, family, and disability.
This month on my blog we’re talking about trust and what it means to intentionally trust God in our everyday life. Your book A Good and Perfect Gift explores trust on a variety of levels. So before we get into the topic of trust, can you tell my readers a bit about your book?
A Good and Perfect Gift is a memoir about the first two years of our daughter Penny’s life, from the initial moments of shock and sadness that she had been diagnosed with Down syndrome to the love and joy we experienced as we got to know her. It’s really a spiritual journey of how I came to receive Penny as a good gift from God.
When you first stepped into the journey of having a newborn daughter with Down Syndrome, you write about how you were faced with the reality that your daughter may not ever meet some of the expectations or hopes you’d originally had for her. Can you share a bit about that? And for any of us in each of our own situations, do you think trust means surrendering expectations?
It wasn’t until after Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome that I realized I had expected her to be just like me. At first, it was really hard. I had to admit how much I wanted my child to conform to societal standards of beauty and achievement. Then I had to let go of those expectations, which involved a fair amount of what I’ve taken to calling “ugly” grief. Grief because I was losing the daughter I thought I would have. Ugly because I knew my expectations were self-centered in many ways. But as I went through that ugly grief and let go of expectations, I began to experience great freedom.
Six years later, I can say that my grief has turned entirely to joy, and that I have been freed up to try to help all three of our kids discover who they are as beings created in God’s image, not as beings created in my image.
Your question makes me wonder whether trusting God almost always involves grief, and almost always leads to freedom.
In A Good and Perfect Gift, you write about feeling particularly challenged by the ending of the Gospel of John: “I couldn’t stop thinking about the very last chapter, where Jesus told Peter that when he got older, ‘Someone will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ And then Jesus said, ‘Follow me!’ The words came as a message across the years, although I wasn’t sure whether to take them as a command or an invitation. Follow me where you do not want to go.” How can a Christian balance being honest with God about her struggles (about where she might not want to go, per se) with being obedient and living in trust? In other words, how ought we handle emotions (especially negative ones) as we try to fully trust God?
There’s one part of A Good and Perfect Gift I had to edit in order to comply with the rules of my publishing house. I write, “I started to pray, and my prayer took the form of words I had been taught not to say as a little girl.” Originally, that sentence was in the form of a journal entry that read, “Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit. Amen.”
All that is to say, I very much believe in honesty with God. My husband recently said that every emotion—be that anger, guilt, sadness, gratitude, compassion, joy—every emotion is an opportunity to pray. The Psalms are my guide in this trust that God can handle the most extreme and honest versions of who we are.
Penny is now a lovely 6 year old girl. Looking back over the past 6 years, how has God changed you during this journey of trust? And, I’m curious, what has Penny taught you about trust?
Earlier this fall, my husband was applying for a job that would require moving our family. I didn’t want to move, and I worried that if we moved it would be detrimental for us, and particularly for Penny. I prayed a lot about the decision, and I had a sense that Peter should continue to pursue the job. But I still worried. So first I told Peter all my questions and doubts, especially for Penny, if we were to move. I talked about fear a lot.
We showed up the next morning at church, and it was an unusual Sunday because there was a theme for the service that ran throughout—from the Scripture reading to the songs and hymns to the sermon. The theme was fear. As our pastor preached, I heard God’s still small voice: “Even if you make the wrong decision, I will take care of Penny. I will take care of your family. I will be faithful to you.” Already, I could feel the reassurance chipping away at my fear. And then, we stood to sing the concluding hymn, “Be still my soul.” It contained the words, “Be still my soul, thy God doth undertake to guide thy future as he has the past.” It was as if God had sent me an email. Later that afternoon, we went to a funeral. The concluding hymn was, “Be still my soul.”
The next week, Peter got the job, and we have both felt a surprising amount of peace about it. I still don’t know how Penny’s schooling will work out, but I trust that it will.
In some ways, this story sums up what Penny has taught me, or perhaps I should say what God has taught me through Penny. I’m responsible for her life (and for my own) in some temporary sense, but I’m not ultimately in control of it. God is, and God is good.