Can a penny help you pray? Author’s tips ‘make cents’

Categories: Around the Diocese,Book Reviews

June 6, 2014, edition
By Dave Hrbacek
The Catholic Spirit

How can a penny help someone draw closer to God?

For Marion Amberg, the answer is simple. It lies in the four words placed at the top of the front side of the copper coin, directly above President Abe Lincoln’s head: “In God We Trust.”

That brief-but-powerful message worked its way into her life during a difficult period back in 2006. She was living in south Minneapolis at the time and attending Annunciation parish. After growing up Catholic in Morris and leaving the church after graduating from high school, she had come back to the faith in 2004.

And now, she was wondering about her future.

“I was walking around the Diamond Lake Road area of south Minneapolis around Annunciation Church,” said Amberg, 61, who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M. “I had a lot of decisions to make and I didn’t know what to do. So, I happened to look down, and there was a penny. I always picked up pennies, but this time I picked it up and I really looked at it. And, I saw the words, ‘In God We Trust.’

“And, something prompted me to make it a prayer. And so, I just said, ‘God, I trust in you.’ And, as soon as I said that, it was like a warm blanket just kind of descended over me, and I had a sense of peace that everything would be OK.”

Touched by prayer

That experience — and the prayer — stayed with her as she struggled through health issues and the discernment process of where to live. She eventually chose Santa Fe in 2008 and works there as a freelance writer and author.

In fact, her first book came out Jan. 1 of this year and centers on experience with the message on the coin. The title is “Penny Prayers: True Stories of Change.” The 102-page book is an easy read, and is filled with stories about those who have been touched by the simple prayer on the front of every piece of U.S. currency.

Amberg got the idea for the book after writing an article about her penny experience in 2009 for the St. Anthony Messenger.

“It came out in February of 2009, the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny,” she said. “And, reader response to that article was really good, and I got to thinking, ‘Why not a book?’ So, one day I submitted a query to Ligouri and they picked up on it.”

She followed up on readers’ responses to the article for testimonials about penny prayers, and also searched the Internet for other tales. More than 40 short stories made it into her book, including her own, which kicks off the first chapter.

Life changing

There are many instances of people struggling with illnesses, job changes and other difficulties, and they happen upon a penny as they are mired in intense thoughts and emotions about their situations.

Some even have started websites and blogs, such as www.cantsparethechange.com and www.pennyfinders.com. One person, Nancy Roberts of Woodbury, wrote a book called “Heaven Cent Prayers” that was published in 2009.

The inspiration came shortly after Roberts was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was sitting on a bench with her husband in a shopping center waiting for another doctor’s appointment. What happened next changed her life, according to the story that appears in chapter two.

“Then, Nancy looked down at the floor, her eyes spilling with tears, and spotted a lone penny,” Amberg writes. “It was the words engraved above Honest Abe’s head that jumped out at Nancy. ‘In God We Trust,’ they said. That’s it, Nancy thought, her heart exploding with faith. We need to trust.”

For Amberg, it’s the spiritual message of these four words that captivates her and stays in her heart.

“Part of the reason I wrote the book is I wanted it to inspire, to give hope to people who may be hurting financially, who may have lost their home, who may have lost a loved one.”

Learning a lesson

Times are better, with her writing career blossoming to the point where she now is working on another book. But, as recently as four years ago, another penny sighting helped her through a difficult time.

“In 2010, I really experienced some financial setbacks,” she said. “And, I would go for a walk and there was a speed bump. I would go over it every day, and there was a penny in this speed bump, and I would jump on it and say, ‘God, I trust in you that somehow this financial setback is going to turn around.’

“I got down to 59 cents at one point. So, it was desperate. The reason I remember that is because my parents lived on Highway 59 south of Morris. So, every time I would go for a walk, I would just step on that penny that was embedded in the speed bump and just pray, ‘God, you’ve got to do something. I don’t know what to do.’”

God answered that prayer, as he had many others in her life. He also taught her an important lesson about what it means to trust completely.

“We’re not meant to worry,” she said. “We’re supposed to turn all this over to God. We’re supposed to be like the lilies of the field, just blow in wind and soak up the sunshine. But, we hang onto all this stuff, and I think by saying ‘In God We Trust, Jesus I trust in you,’ it takes those burdens, it takes those worries and puts them back on God where they’re supposed to be.”

Amberg hopes that many people will find comfort and divine help in the penny prayer. She also believes it can have a collective impact. And, that’s one of her reasons for writing the book.

“I’m hoping that this will spread across the country and people will start praying their pennies,” she said.