What’s a Penny Worth?

I’ve leaned over and picked up three pennies and a dime this week. My favorite place to find coins is Chauvin Grocery. Rare is the time I stop at Chauvin Grocery or River Grille that I don’t find something on the ground. I bend over and pick them up…even the pennies.

penniesI’ve noticed a lot of people don’t bend over and pick up pennies anymore. “It’s not worth it!” they say. They may be right. At least, our government thinks so. President Obama recently said he would favor getting rid of the penny. One U.S. Representative actually introduced legislation entitled the COIN act (Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation–COIN, get it?) in 2006 that would eliminate the penny altogether. That’s probably not a bad thing since it costs the U.S. government 1.8¢ to mint a penny in 2013, and the cost to mint them has exceeded their value since 2007. Of course, I can’t figure out how to pay for an item that costs $9.99, or $9.96 if you shop at Wal-Mart. How do I get my change back if I pay with a $10 bill? I bet they round up, and I end up losing money. That’s what I need! Wal-Mart making more money off of me.

There’s not a time I bend over and pick up a penny that I don’t think of Ed DeBusk. Ed was a retired Air Force Colonel and a bus driver, and he was a member of a church I pastored.  Ed had a passion for pennies (and all other money he found lying around–literally). Maybe Ed’s passion was not for the pennies, but in the pursuit of pennies. Ed hunted pennies. For more than ten years, Ed spent his spare time hunting spare change.

Ed and his wife would go to the grocery store, and Ed would walk the parking lot looking for pennies while she shopped. They’d go to Wal-Mart, and Ed would walk the parking lot. They’d go to the mall, and you guessed it, Ed would walk the parking lot scouring the ground for pennies. Why? Because Ed saw the value of a penny. Ed collected those pennies for missions.

Every year at the church there was a penny contest during vacation bible school. Children would be challenged to bring their pennies and other spare change, and everything that was collected would be given to missions projects. Boys and girls would bring their pennies to be weighed each day. Whichever gender brought the most pennies was declared the winner on that particular day. Ed was the penny man, and he’d bring his pennies to divide among the girls and boys so that there was some equity in the contest throughout the week.

Each year I served as pastor, we collected well over $3,000 in pennies and pocket change that was used for projects like Grace Camp, Heifer Project, the Children’s Home and others. Ed’s parking lot finds were responsible for about 25% of the total collected each year. Ed’s willingness to bend over and pick up those pennies made a difference in the lives of a lot of people he never knew. Children of incarcerated parents got to go to summer camp because Ed picked up pennies. Maybe one of them met Jesus there. Somewhere in the world, there are families who have goats or chickens or pigs or cows to help them survive because Ed had a passion for pennies. Somewhere there’s a child whose pallet has been repaired because Ed spent his time scouring parking lots looking for lost change. Lives were changed because of those pennies. Lives were changed because of Ed’s passion. What’s a penny worth? I don’t know? You tell me.

Sometimes, I wonder if we don’t treat lives the way we treat pennies? We see someone who has struggled with addictions and we wonder if they’ve thrown their life away. We see the homeless and wonder why they’re that way. We see a prisoner and we think, “good riddance.”  We encounter a person who is caught in a trap of moral failure or sin, and we think, “What a waste!” God doesn’t see any life as wasted. I think Ed had a little of God’s heart when he picked up those pennies. He could see the value even when no one else could. That’s why God sent His Son, Jesus to die for our sins. The cross was God bending down to pick us up, dust us off and say, “That one is worth picking up.”

Ed’s gone now, but I still don’t pass a penny on the parking lot that I don’t reach down and pick up the penny and thank God for Ed DeBusk and the passion God gave him for pennies.  God called Ed to spend the last ten or so years of his life picking up pennies. I would estimate that Ed picked up over $20,000 worth of pennies in those years. I thank God every day that Ed DeBusk saw the value of a penny. I thank God every day that He sees the value in us (and, in me).

Until next time, keep looking up…

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