In a Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl Named Penny, Amy-Julia Becker thoughtfully reflects on the deep suffering and deep beauty she experiences in the midst of the birth and first two years of life of her daughter, Penny. Prior to Penny’s birth, an ultra-sound technician told Peter and Amy-Julia that Penny was completely healthy. Yet, within hours of Penny’s birth, they were told that Penny had Down Syndrome. Needless to say, Penny’s diagnosis blind-sided the Beckers.
Amy-Julia admits she has lived a privileged life. Her father, a successful businessman, her mother, a pre-school teacher. She went to a boarding school and then through hard work, made it into Princeton, receiving early acceptance. Her entire family, her parents and three sisters and her–they all love each other deeply and enjoy each other’s company. She married her high school sweetheart, Peter, who is also a very well-educated man. Becker is acutely aware of her privilege and even mentions how many have commented that her family of origin was “perfect.” But privilege doesn’t shelter one from suffering or humanity.
While her husband Peter adjusted more quickly to the news of Penny’s diagnosis, it took Amy-Julia a while longer. What would her friends and the intellectuals in her circles think? Would they accept Penny? How developmentally delayed would Penny be? What of Penny’s health? How severe would her heart trouble be? Would she die young? Becker, a self-admittedly bookish woman, even wondered whether or not she’d ever be able to discuss literature with Penny.
I was fully astonished by how beautifully forthright and honest Amy-Julia was about her struggles. How vulnerable she was. From the outset, I felt like I was observing, in person, each of the scenes Becker described. I was privy to her inner life. Becker doesn’t sugar-coat her own struggles. She doesn’t make excuses for what others might consider horrible thoughts. She eloquently utters the often unutterable. For example, though she never ever wished Penny away, she once had the thought that if she and Peter would’ve just waited to conceive at a different point in time, she wouldn’t have had this child, her Penny. Becker’s humanity and consequently our own, come to the fore in this book. So does her deep, deep love for Penny and her family.
I really appreciate how Becker skillfully addresses some of the unintentionally hurtful remarks she received amid Penny’s diagnosis. Several people said things along the lines of, “Well God has a special lesson to teach you (through Penny)” and “You’re such a wonderful family that God knew you could handle this.” None of these struck her as being quite right. They don’t strike me as right, either. For as Becker notes, either they are profoundly deficient human beings in some fundamental way and Penny came to teach them a lesson, or they were superior to most of humanity and so were given a special assignment.
A Good and Perfect Gift is about Becker’s struggle to accept Penny for Penny. For that matter, it’s also about humanizing Penny, and others with disabilities. Penny is not a problem to be fixed. She’s not a diagnosis. Sure, her Down Syndrome diagnosis is part of what makes Penny, Penny. But there is so much more to her. She is a beautiful human being made in the image of God with her own skill sets. The skills may be be different from her mother’s but they are not less than. Some are superior. Penny is a gift to her and others. Throughout the book, Becker illustrates the gift Penny is as she describes Penny’s character and how others respond to her.
In reading the book, I had the privilege of walking with Becker as she learned to “receive this child,” her child, in the name of Jesus. But not only did she learn to receive her child, even through difficulties, she eventually learned more about God and the way of goodness in the world. She learned how to let go of the opinions of others, how to love Penny, how to love others. She realized what an amazing husband she has. Her thoughts and expectations about what the perfect life was and what perfection is, changed. Her thoughts are more accurate. And after reading this book, so are mine.
I also had the privilege of getting to know Penny, as much as one can without actually knowing a person. What a privilege it has been.
This book is critically acclaimed by Publisher’s Weekly and all sorts of other venues. And for good reason. Becker is a most excellent writer, bringing to life on the pages of a book her family and her innermost thoughts. Not everyone can pull that off skillfully. So, whether you have a disability, know someone with a disability or do not–it doesn’t matter. The book will enlarge your soul.
* I received this book from Bethany House Publishers.