Amy Julia Becker is the author of Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl Named Penny and What Every Woman Needs to Know About Prenatal Testing: Insights from a Mom who has Been There. A graduate of both Princeton University and Princeton Seminary, her essays have appeared in The New York Times, First Things, and The Christian Century.
Amy Julia’s blog at Patheos engages issues of faith, family, and disability, and is generating some vibrant—and sometimes heated—conversations among her readers. Here she talks about her experience as a mother of a child with disabilities and what that has taught her about how the Christian church can better love “the least of these.”
JM: Tell us a bit about your oldest daughter, Penny, and how she has inspired your writing.
AJB: Penny is seven years old. She is in first grade at our local public school. She goes to ballet class. She loves reading and writing. She struggles to understand math concepts. And she desperately wants to be able to conquer the monkey bars. Penny also has Down syndrome, which was diagnosed a few hours after she was born.
Penny’s diagnosis catapulted me into a disorienting place in which I questioned almost everything. When Penny was given the label “disabled,” I became the “mother of a disabled child.” I had inadvertently conflated identity and ability, so with this new label, I no longer knew who I was. In time, loving Penny for exactly who she is instead of who I once expected her to be transformed me. It’s not just that I began to see people with intellectual disabilities differently, but I began to see the entire world differently.
Penny’s birth changed my perspective on what it means to be created in the image of God, what it means to be broken creatures, what God’s idea of wholeness for us looks like, and what God’s redemption of our bodies might look like. Writing has always been the easiest way for me to grapple with my thoughts and emotions, so it was natural to write and write and write about all the new thoughts and feelings Penny’s birth provoked.
My memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift, is based upon hundreds of pages of journal entries from the first two years of her life. It’s the story of how I came to receive her as a gift.