Students gathered in the Bunn Library thursday evening to hear author Amy Julia Becker discuss her newest book. Titled A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny, Becker’s book describes the early years of her daughter Penny’s life, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome as a baby. Reading excerpts from her book, and later entertaining a question-and-answer session with the audience, Becker discussed themes of perfection and her family’s gradual coming to terms with her daughter’s diagnosis.
Having lived in the Kennedy House with husband and Interdisciplinary Master Peter Becker, Becker chose to read passages from her book that involved the Lawrenceville community. Despite worries that Penny might not be accepted in an academically driven community, Becker discussed how both faculty and students at Lawrenceville welcomed the family with “big open arms.” She described how teachers stepped in to help Mr. Becker with his classes, while Kennedy boys offered their support. Penny’s baptism in Lawrenceville’s Chapel—which many friends in the community attended—marked a symbolic turning point.
Becker then spoke of the main themes of the book, specifically goodness and perfection. Becker described how goodness does not necessarily mean college degrees and money, but rather “relationships based upon love and trust with God and family and friends.“ While “there are things about [disability] that are not good,” Becker continued, “it doesn’t mean that you can’t lead equally good and meaningful lives.” Perfection was another theme that permeated her book. At Penny’s birth, Becker remembered hearing a couple in the room next door exclaiming that their child was “perfect.” Remembering the biblical passage “Be perfect as your Holy Father is perfect,” Becker turned to the scriptures for support. As she describes in her book, perfection means wholeness, maturity, and being who you are created to be. “Penny can do that just as easily as anyone else,” noted Becker.
For Becker, a graduate of the Princeton theological seminary, faith plays an important role in her writing. As the introduction to her book review in Publisher’s Weekly stated, “An unexamined faith is not worth having.” Becker described how her experience with Penny forced her to ask spiritual questions, many of which, she did not find answers to, but nonetheless broadened her faith. “Having Penny in my life has taught me…every person has something to offer me and something I could give to them. It taught me what it means to be human.”
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny, chronicles the life of Penny and her family, from the time of Penny’s birth to the birth of William, Mr. and Mrs. Becker’s youngest child. Structured in three parts, the first section depicts their experience at the hospital, ending when Penny was brought home. The second section records the period from January to November of 2006, during which Penny was baptized at Lawrenceville and became an official member of the community. The final section narrates the next year and a half, and the process of the family getting to know Penny as a full person. As Becker noted, “The process of writing helps me know what I think and feel about something…at first it was an emotional challenge to come to terms with Down Syndrome, but I no longer feel sad. She is who she is.”
Becker’s book has already garnered fame and acclaim. A Good and Perfect Gift was named one of the Top Ten Religion Books of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, and excerpts from her book were featured in Christianity Today. Previously, Becker authored Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, which recounted the story of Becker getting to know her mother-in-law in New Orleans. Becker also keeps a blog entitled “Thin Places -Faith, Family and Disability,” in which she writes about her day-to-day experiences.
-Ben Marrow ’13