The Overflow! where souls are filled and faith is spilled

Why I’m Serving Pennies for Thanksgiving Dinner

The turkey is in the oven and the potatoes are peeled.

The pies are baked and the cider is simmering.

I haven’t burnt any bread yet or placated any sibling strife, but, in all fairness, the day has just begun.

I’m not banking on a flaw-free Thanksgiving dinner, but I know without a doubt, that I’ve got the perfect garnish!  My potatoes might be lumpy. The turkey could be dry, but no matter how the food turns out, I’ll decorate each plate with a copper coin.

Yep, I’m serving up pennies for Thanksgiving this year.

And if you’ve got a minute before you bake that green-bean casserole or carve that bird, I’ll tell you why…


Our family’s penny tale began years ago when the kids were small and my patience was stretched thin. I was slogging through a season of discontent, weary from a decade of diapers and discipline, toddler tantrums and time-outs. I knew in my head that I was blessed beyond measure; still, I woke each morning with a sense of subtle dread.

I couldn’t reconcile the emptiness in my heart with the fullness of my life, and something deep within ached for more.

More than closet-grumbles and stumbling steps. More than sheer survival and quiet complaints.

I begged God to change my circumstances but He decided to change me instead. From the timeless pages of scripture, He whispered this gospel grace—

Give thanks in all things.

I’d read those words a thousand times before, had glazed over them and nodded my good Christian nod–Yes, yes, of course, I’m thankful.

But, then a friend challenged me to put that little verse into action, to take God at his Word and to deliberately give thanks despite my circumstances. In my monotony. In my discouragement. In my pleasure. As I told you on Monday, I accepted the challenge. (If you missed it, you can read more about that here.)

I scribbled thanks in a little striped notebook, counting the simplest of gifts—the scent of just-bathed babies, the feeling of pudgy fingers clutching mine, the sight of freshly-folded laundry piled neatly in a basket. And moment by moment as I willfully acknowledged the gifts God chose to give rather than wishing for the ones He didn’t, gratitude opened the door to joy. It tiptoed in unexpected, like a long-lost friend and settled quietly into my soul.

And one day I woke up and realized that even though my hands were still full, my heart was no longer empty.

Of course, once I discovered the power of thanks-living, I wanted my kids to experience it, too. Since not all of my children could write at the time, I knew that the concept of a gratitude journal wouldn’t allow my little ones to take ownership over the habit, so I began to pray for a simple way to prompt praise within our home.

Then, one morning, as I read this story in Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I knew what I had to do.

Annie writes about hiding pennies as a youngster for someone else to find… 

I would cradle (a penny)at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write, I labeled the arrows:  SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited during all this arrow- drawing at the thought of the first lucky passer-by…

Once she tucked those pennies in the tree roots, little Annie would hide and watch with great expectation. Often people would slow to read her carefully chalked words and follow the squiggly arrow to it’s end, but never once did anyone ever stoop to gather the copper coin she’d so eagerly planted. And squatting in her hiding place, she wondered why anyone would choose to forgo a treasure freely given and clearly proclaimed.

In reflection, the grown–up Annie wisely writes,

The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But-and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?  [Yet], if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

With Dillard’s words mulling in my mind and God’s promises stamped on my soul, I decided to try a little experiment.

Maybe our family could use pennies to prompt praise.

photo 2

I hid five hundred pennies in our home that day–behind picture frames, in underwear drawers, tucked in bookshelves, and scattered in plain sight across the carpet. I spread those copper coins in every nook and cranny of our house and prayed that God would transform us all as we developed a lifestyle of gratitude.

The next morning, I told the kids that I’d filled our home with pennies, and I handed each one a small basket for a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. But before we began, I explained the catch–every time a penny was found, the finder had to halt and thank God for something.

One penny. One praise.

Never have I seen such excitement over pennies! My serious twelve-year-old romped about the house with a goofy grin and my toddler squealed with every step. Praise rang out with every copper coin and our home burst with giddy delight.

When all five children had exhausted their search, we gathered again and counted their loot. Three-hundred and fifty-six pennies. Three-hundred and fifty-six reasons to give thanks.

Some simple math reminded us that one-hundred and forty-four pennies were still stashed somewhere in our house, a great incentive to keep our eyes open in the days to come.

Of course when I introduced my simple experiment, I had no idea that our family would develop a mild obsession with copper coins. Or that those five hundred pennies would somehow multiply beneath our roof in supernatural ways. I can’t explain it–but like the widow’s flask of oil, that stash of five hundred pennies never ran dry. We left a jar on our kitchen counter as a reminder to offer daily thanks and for the next five years, we continued to find pennies beneath our roof day after praise-giving day.

photo 3

Not surprisingly, we see pennies everywhere now–stuck in the cracks in the sidewalk, lying under other people’s couch’s, tossed on the dusty aisles of grocery stores. After practicing the habit of penny praise for so long, our eyes have been trained to see the gleams of copper that we would have once missed.

And on this day when we pause to celebrate the gifts in our lives, I wonder if that’s the real miracle of gratitude.

Thanks-living changes our eyes. 

Thanks-living takes the Apostle Paul’s poignant plea in Ephesians 1:18 and turns it into an every-day reality.

“Open the eyes of my heart …”

When we choose to look for those gleams of grace cradled in the roots of our pedestrian lives, we begin to notice the One who scatters blessings broadside from a generous hand.

Quite simply, it’s impossible to acknowledge a gift without thinking of the giver.

So those pennies? They remind us of our gifts.

And those gifts? They shift our gaze to the Giver.

And when gratitude pries open the eyes of our heart, we find Jesus framed in every moment…

The gift and the Giver all wrapped up in one. 


Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.  

May your holiday be filled with favor, family….and pennies!


3 thoughts on “Why I’m Serving Pennies for Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Annie Dillard has opened my eyes in many ways too, Alicia. Just stopping by to catch up, my friend, and wish you a happy Advent season. Nice to “hear” your voice. Much love to you.

    December 2, 2014 at 3:12 am
  2. “Open the eyes of my heart”…oh, yes Lord. This is just beautiful…I may never look at a found penny the same again. Bless your giving heart!

    December 2, 2014 at 11:02 pm
  3. Jill

    Each penny reminds the grateful heart
    ‘In God We Trust’.

    July 1, 2015 at 4:46 pm

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