The Twelve Thousand Dollar Penny

The Twelve Thousand Dollar Penny

Trusting God in the Helpless Moments

by Leslie Ludy | March 1, 2013

It was a cold January evening. The roads were icy. Snow was coming down in torrents. I had just finished packing for a two-week family vacation to sunny California. The car was finally loaded, and I was looking forward to crawling into bed after a very long day of laboring through eleven loads of laundry and cramming swim vests, floaty toys, princess dresses, and Legos into overfilled suitcases. Around 9 p.m., five-year-old Harper came running into the kitchen. “I don’t feel good,” she whimpered, holding her chest. Assuming she must be dealing with some kind of indigestion, I had her drink some water and searched the vitamin cabinet for some kind of tummy-aid. She continued crying and carrying on inconsolably for ten or fifteen minutes. No amount of comfort or physical help seemed to be working.  

Finally, she admitted the truth. “I swallowed a penny,” she reluctantly told me. “It’s stuck in my chest.” Of course, I had a lovely lecture on the tip of my tongue, along the lines of, “Um, exactly how did you get a penny at nine o’ clock at night? Weren’t you supposed to be in bed? And why in the world did you put that penny in your mouth and swallow it? You are way too old to be doing such a thing!”  

But now was not the time for an inquisition. I could get the details later. I bundled Harper up and headed to the emergency room, praying all the way, not only for Harper’s health but also for our safety through the hazardous driving conditions. It was well below zero outside. The roads were slippery and the visibility was poor. We finally made it to the hospital with the help of my dad, who met us en route and took over the driving.

I assumed that when we got to the E.R., they would give her some kind of special drink to make the penny slippery enough to go down into her stomach. I didn’t really expect it to be a big ordeal, just a minor inconvenience. Well, not only did it turn out to be an ordeal, it was also one of the scariest and most miserable nights of my life. After taking x-rays and waiting for two hours, the physician finally came in and told us we needed to transfer her to another hospital where they could do a special “procedure” to get the penny out.

So we bundled up again and headed across town on the slippery roads. The next hospital was crowded and stressful. We were in a semi-private room shared by about twenty other people, with only a curtain to shield us from the disconcerting sounds of the injured and ill a few feet away. That was when I started to really feel my adrenaline pumping. I texted Eric, who informed me that he’d just been hit with a severe stomach virus and was flat on his back. He could hardly move, let alone get up and come to the hospital. My parents were there to lend their support. But it was going to be up to me to make all the decisions. My knees started feeling a little weak. Inwardly I reminded myself of Christ’s promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you…” and recited the words over and over in my mind.  

After another set of x-rays and another long wait, the new physician told me that she needed to have emergency surgery. It wasn’t exactly the simple “procedure” I’d envisioned, where I could sit right by her side and hold her hand as they gently guided the coin down into her tummy. Rather, they would need to put her completely under and take her to the operating room. They would have to put her on a breathing tube and put a scope down her throat and into her chest. They assured me it was a “safe” process but meanwhile asked me to sign a legal form that said I understood all the risks of such a surgery. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the list of possible dangers. They had called a specialist surgeon to come to the hospital, and he came bustling into the room still in his jeans, hat, and jacket, hurriedly telling me he would get into his scrubs and meet me upstairs to prep her for surgery. Everything was happening quickly and urgently.  

I was scared. Really scared. It didn’t help a whole lot to hear the nurse say, “This is a routine surgery; lots of other kids swallow coins too!” This wasn’t any other kid. It was Harper, my precious little treasure whom I’d nurtured and cared for since she was a tiny baby. She seemed so little and helpless as they put an IV into her arm and wheeled her away in a rolling hospital bed.

I had only a few moments to kiss her, pray for her, and reassure her before they whisked her into surgery. They promised it would be quick, and that I should hear an update within 30 minutes or so. An hour went by and there was no word at all. I was pacing the waiting room floor, praying a mile a minute, and crying out to God for help. It was probably the longest hour of my life. I was truly in agony, wanting to know that Harper was okay and unable to hear any news.

The nurse finally came in to say it was taking longer than they expected, because instead of pulling the penny up into her throat, they had inadvertently pushed it down into her tummy.  But they had to find an x-ray specialist in order to take another picture and ensure that it was indeed in her tummy and not in her lungs or another risky location. They had given her more anesthesia, and she was still on a breathing tube, because they could not wake her up until they knew for sure where the penny was.

At this point, it was nearly 3 a.m. and I had been at the hospital for six hours. Eric was extremely ill and could only text a word or two at time. I felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do practically to help my daughter. All I could do was cry out to God for His divine intervention.

Whenever I’ve faced a scary storm cloud in my mothering, I’m faced with two options. I can pay attention to the fear, the “what ifs” and focus on the wind and rain raging all around me. This choice always leads to utter despair. Or, I can choose instead to dwell upon the faithfulness and promises of God. And even though I might feel the emotions of fear or desperation, He has given me the power to take those thoughts and feelings captive, instead of allowing them to rule me.

So at that moment, I called upon the grace of God to bring my tumultuous emotions under His control. I began to meditate upon His faithfulness in my life, especially all the supernatural ways He had worked in Harper’s little life. I knew that He had not rescued her only to forsake her now. Though my heart was still racing and my knees were still a bit weak, I had the assurance that He would be faithful in this situation; that He would take care of His little princess named Harper; and that even though I was completely helpless in that moment, He was certainly not.

The nurse looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, you are doing well. Most mothers would be lying on the floor in hysterics right about now.”

Even though I didn’t feel very strong or resilient at that point in time, I realized that her observation was the evidence of God’s grace upon me. Though my emotions were in agony, my spirit began to trust that He was in control and that He would be faithful. 

For the next forty-five minutes as I again waited for word on how Harper was doing, I repeatedly commanded my emotions to line up with my soul’s declaration: I will not fear, He will be faithful!  

Yes, the adrenaline and concern were still present. But I determined I would not allow panic or despair to set in.  My focus had to remain on Him, and not on my circumstances. The moment I started looking at the wind and rain, and not at Him, I knew I would begin to sink – just like Peter had when attempting to walk on the water.

Finally, the surgeon came out to tell us that the penny had landed safely in her tummy, and they were waking her up from the anesthesia. I began to rejoice in God’s faithfulness. Yet, it wasn’t until they allowed me to see her about an hour later that my heart really began to beat normally again. There she was, sleeping safely and peacefully, sporting a large gap where her loose front tooth had been knocked out during surgery. The words of Psalm 34:4 began resounding through my soul: “I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Oh, what a trustworthy God we serve!

A week or two after the hospital visit, I got Harper’s surgery bill in the mail. The penny she swallowed cost over twelve thousand dollars to remove from her chest. A one-cent coin had somehow turned into a twelve thousand dollar ordeal.  But the spiritual reminder God gave me that night was truly invaluable.

As a parent, I must realize that I am not capable of protecting my children from all danger. There will be moments in my mothering journey when I will feel helpless to take away their pain; when I will desperately want to remove them from harm’s way and yet be unable to do so. But even when all I can do is cry out to God for protection, help, and deliverance, I am not helpless. Because He is not helpless. He cares about my children more than I ever could. And He will never leave or forsake me – or them.

Though I’m not a huge fan of Harper’s super-expensive penny, or the hospital bills to be paid, I do believe that experiencing God’s perfect faithfulness firsthand is a lesson worth spending twelve thousand dollars – and more – to learn.*

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