A Review of
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.
Amy Julia Becker.
Reviewed by Heather Grady.
Her birth story is like most others: the usual excitement and pain resulting in a 5 pound 5 oz daughter – Penelope Truesdell Becker. It is only after the family is called and mother recovering that the life changing words are uttered, “The doctors think Penny has Down syndrome.” And so begins A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny, the memoir of Amy Julia Becker, mother of Penny.
So begins a tale that could enter a place of darkness. Much of the time, family memoirs of this nature take you to a place of heartbreak, veering toward redemption. I am always willing to go there, happy to observe the turnaround brought by acceptance through God or revelation or therapy or whatever was able to heal disappointment or life going to the places unexpected. Penny’s story does indeed take that road; yet not through the darkest of sorrow. From the brief snippets of journal entries and letters prefacing each chapter, we are gifted with the words that were true in the moment–not just the hindsight that allows it all to make sense a few years later. The month of Penny’s birth Amy writes about her Down syndrome baby, “I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s characters, people as sacraments, visible reminders of God’s grace. Visible brokenness that only helps us understand who we all are–broken yet beloved.”. Before she is even taken home from the hospital, Penny is loved – not with the heartbreaking desire to change her, but with ferocity to love her and understand who she is.
Yes, for Amy and Peter it is not an easy road. But their journey is accompanied by Jesus’ words: “Whoever receives this child, receives me.” And receiving this child – their child – is the theme. Perhaps it is the stories, the stories of proud parents sharing the achievements of this child, scattered through Amy’s wrestling through acceptance that make A Good and Perfect Gift less of a story of heartbreak and one of joy. Penny becomes just Penny. Not a child with Down’s Syndrome; not a child with disabilities. Just Penny.
Almost a year after Penny’s birth, Amy journals: “I am filled with contradictory emotions: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’…I don’t want to hope, sometimes, because I don’t want the fear that accompanies the hope.” Penny’s story, just like that of all children and that of Christ, is one that balances hope and fear. Isn’t life really about learning to trust God more; growing into hoping more and fearing less?
Perhaps this is where the joy enters. Amy’s final sentence is one that we all need to embrace: “We weren’t a perfect family, and we never would be, at least not by the standards I would have set out for us earlier. But we were coming closer to our telos, our true perfection, because we were learning what it meant to be human, what it meant to be whole.”
And there it is. Amy Julia Becker’s A Good and Perfect Gift is not about coming to terms with a special needs child. It is simply about coming to terms with life. How many of us continue to live life with fists “clenched tight around a vision” rather than with an open palm in which our own fiction can be “scattered in the wind”? Letting go of us and opening ourselves to God. May it be so for us all.