Beads on a String

It was an incongruous place to be stringing pearls. Her hair was a memory, and her face was puffy with swelling, but those beautiful, shapely fingers were quick and steady. One by one she picked out the beads, setting them aside to become an integral part of her latest creation. The others sitting nearby looked on curiously as a slow drip ran varicolored fluids into her chest beneath the collar bone. They, too, had bare metal trees flowing toxic sap, infusing hope. But they did not have the beads, the flashing silver spacers, the diamond-cut glass spheres, and the pearls that ran from her fingertips onto tiger-tail circlets.


Her smile was out-of-place, too, in the clinic. Most people tried to sleep the hours away while burning liquid invaded their tissues. But if a cocky beret and an inviting countenance were not enough to induce a conversation from her neighbors, there were always the beads. If you wanted to try, she would let you choose your colors from her box of surprises, show you how to handle the pliers, how to close the crimp beads to just the right tension. So that when you left you would have something to remember: a bracelet, a keepsake, a connection.


She gave them to all her friends in those days, a little bit of herself that sprang from the dark hours. A little bit of herself that glittered with life. She let me make my own one day, but I’ve never been very inventive, and she had to help me choose the colors. We picked a handful of blue beads in turquoise, powder and midnight, pearls in white and silver-gray. Some of them looked nearly black to me, dull and uninviting. Others were unusual, with bits of contrasting glass stuck on at odd angles. And several of them were my favorites. I would have made the whole circle of just those beautiful beads: creamy white with soft blue accents and elegant gold trim.


She knew better than I, however. Because when I had inexpertly strung all of them together and she had helped me finish off my bracelet, it was a little work of art. I stare at it now, examining each bead and the way they all meld into one eclectic whole. That was her wisdom. Each bead is unique, some dull, others wild, a few lovely. But when the artist has finished, they blend into a satisfying creation that can never be duplicated, a song from the heart of its maker.


As day upon day is strung on the cord that becomes a life, it is a gift to hold each one in our hands and notice without rancor whether they are troubling or luminous or ordinary, dull or wild or lovely. The uniqueness and delight of God’s work comes not from a bland sameness of beauty, but from His blending of the light and the dark in a pattern which can only be fully appreciated from afar. And thus the Creator is glorified, taking pleasure in each story which reflects His sovereign artistry. Year upon year, life upon life, like pearls on a string, our days are meant to reflect the heart of God – just as surely as my sparkling bracelet still reflects her love in a world she has long transcended.


I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the work of Thy hands.  Ps. 143:5


Rose thorns

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”  (Gen. 3:17b-19)


Thorns are thick on the ground this week. People close to me have been wounded, and the garden seems foreign and menacing. This dimming of the world’s beauty has taken me by surprise, and I am tempted to raise my fist in anger. I’d forgotten about the thorns. Oh, I’ve pricked my finger on a hybrid rose and pitied myself for a moment, but I’d forgotten about the real thorns, the wild thorns, the brutish kind they used for Jesus’s crown.


Dangerous barbs grow side by side with luscious fruit and lovely flowers in God’s kingdom. I used to think they wouldn’t grow here, shouldn’t grow here, and in those days I did raise my fist in anger. But now, in my head at least, I know that the world doesn’t magically change its character when the Gardener King adopts me. We live in the now-and-not-yet that theologians talk about, that space between realizing we are royalty and taking up all the privileges of royalty. And in that space the thorns continue to thrive.


So what advantage prayer? What advantage faith? If I was in control, I would arrange things for my children with partiality. But in God’s garden the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. So, too, the thorns. What difference, then, between our lives before belief and after? Two things, at least, two things I’ve been holding onto this week.


First, the thorns are no longer futile. They are good for something. That’s not what I want to hear when a thorn has been driven deep and the blood is flowing, but later, when my heart is still, it helps to know that there is purpose even in disaster, that in some mysterious, future way, the pain will reap a harvest of beauty – a glory that will be specific to us and our story (Rom. 8:18). We don’t have a choice about the thorns. Our only choice is whether our wounds have value or not. It helps me to believe they do.


Second, we don’t suffer the thorns alone. I want someone to go with me to the hospital when I’m in pain. God promises to go where even humans cannot go, to comfort, strengthen and watch over us in our need. We don’t have a choice about the thorns. Our only choice is to suffer them alone or never to be alone again.


pruning shearsNo, the world doesn’t magically change into a verdant, fairy tale meadow. It is and stays a fallen place filled with entangling vines, muddy pits, biting insects and giant thorns. God’s kingdom comes first in our hearts (Luke 17:21). Our job is to create beauty in the midst of the mess, and that’s what God is doing, too. He has planned this fallen abode to weed out the thorns in us, to produce the most beauty in and through us (and sometimes despite us). Does He answer prayers and bring sudden good from certain disaster? I believe He does – but rarely. In general, His good grace walks us through the suffocating mire and the slashing briers so that we become more than we are and prove our faith to ourselves. But this week I remembered that it hurts like hell.

Safe Inside Cancer

“You have cancer.”  Are there any words you dread hearing more than those?  Let me tell you that we who have already heard those words shudder at the memory.  Nevertheless, it is possible for the worst thing that ever happens to you to also be the best thing that ever happens to you.

I just received my copy of Safe In The Storm: The Grace of God, In the Midst of Cancer by my good friend, Steve Hatcher.  I have watched him walk faithfully through a year-long journey with multiple myeloma.  His honesty and wisdom have encouraged me and many others.  I hope that, after you read the excerpt below, you will use the link above to purchase your own copy and embark on an adventure you won’t soon forget:

All: I am still in waiting mode.  The initial shock of having to delay my transplant for a week wore off after a day. Thanks to many of you who gently reminded me that God controls all things in the life of the believer (Romans 8:28), including the timing of my transplant!  I had to remember that waiting patiently is part of the Christian pilgrimage.  Here I was, failing to trust God with my admission date when at the same time I said that I trusted Him with the much more amazing mystery of designing stem cells to engraft into bone marrow.  Another example of how I often trust Him with the big things, but not the small ones, specially when I am impatient.

So, if God wishes it so in His timing, I will enter the transplant unit Wednesday.  That will only occur after I have a chest x-ray and a doctor visit to see if I am “all clear” to go forward.  Please pray for that success with me.  Most importantly, however, pray that God moves me into the unit in His perfect timing, regardless of any schedule I have set in my heart.  Then pray that I will hear Him during that period of relative solitude.  Pray that you can hear Him, too, even without going into the desert.


Follow Steve’s continuing journey on his blog: