At the end of May, I had a serendipitous encounter with a couple who knew Stephanie, but had never met me. They had purchased jewelry from her and expressed their appreciation not only for her creativity but also for the message of “The Cracked Bead” which was the name of her jewelry business. At one point during the conversation the wife asked if Stephanie’s story was written down somewhere, and I realized that I didn’t know. I looked through the files on our computer and found remnants of her business but not the story. Eventually I worked up the courage to look through some of her papers and found some notes about “The Cracked Bead”, so I decided to type it and share it with you. Parts of what I discovered were in narrative which I will present as I found them, but parts were in outline form, so I will cautiously elaborate to keep the narrative flow going. So here is the story of Stephanie Welty’s , “The Cracked Bead”.
As a little girl I already loved jewelry. I made rings and bracelets out of the small colorful wires inside telephone cords. I dreamed of having a real birthstone ring and when I turned ten, my grandparents gave me a smoky topaz in a heart box. Then came the day I looked forward to, receiving that most precious piece of jewelry – a flawless engagement ring. But it wasn’t flawless. The jeweler had been dishonest. It was so upsetting to us that we returned it and had a new one made. We wanted the symbol of our new life to be perfect and flawless, without blemish or defect – it needed to match our ideal of our new life. We had a lot to learn.
One year while on vacation, my daughter Emma and I went into a bead store in Damriscotta, Maine called “Aboca Beads”. The store was breathtaking, a visual Eden – thousands of beads arranged by color families in hundreds of small round tins. I found myself saying: “Emma look at this”, and “I don’t know where to look”, over and over again. I was so over-stimulated that I left the store without purchasing anything. But the beads and their possibilities had captured my imagination, so I decided to try it out.
As Jim would say, “let the beadings begin”. I learned as much as I could about beading. I bought magazines and books, purchased tools, design boards, little round stackable containers and of course, beads. I was thoroughly immersed in the bead world and was having a grand time.
One afternoon I had once again taken up residence at our kitchen table in front of our large multi-paned window. The natural light provided a great environment for choosing colors. I like the idea of a completely tone on tone necklace, and I was “designing” on my board using clear beads.
I strung several clear beads in a row and then a cracked bead and then more clear beads. I liked the pattern I was creating. As I admired my work, my eye was drawn to the cracked bead. “Looked how the cracked bead reflects the light”, I thought. Then my mind took off, and I realized thatI am a cracked bead.
How did the bead get cracked? I remember my friend Linda telling me that when she was a child, she and her siblings would put marbles in a frying pan on the stove, turn on the heat, and eventually the marbles would crack. Stress and heat cause beads to crack.
My life was already cracked and fractured due to my childhood and some traumatic experiences and negative messages that were communicated to me by my parents. The extremes of my childhood created stress: the extremes of wanting to give my life to God and love him with all my heart but being terrified of his arbitrariness, the extremes of being told that I was made in God’s image but practically speaking I sensed that as a girl I was seen as less valuable than men, the extremes of wanting to reach my world for Jesus but not being allowed to participate in my world. I kept thinking that it was me who just wasn’t getting it right, and so I must try harder. The more I tried the more helpless I felt. I longed for the childhood of others around me. As a little girl I spent years yearning for the perfect, flawless childhood and rehearsing the “if onlys”. I thought of myself as Jo from “Little Women”. “My life is hopelessly flawed”.
What are the characteristics of the cracked bead? They are whole on the outside and cracked on the inside. I worked hard to create a whole life for my family and me. I desperately wanted to feel normal. I didn’t want to lose my individuality, but I didn’t want to be thought of a weird. I wanted to throw everyone off the trail that the truth was that I felt like a second class citizen. I was going to behave my way to change. I didn’t want to let God down by showing that somehow his love and grace weren’t covering everything for me. Appearances became more important than reality.
On the inside, however, I was fractured. I struggled with pain, depression and sadness. I couldn’t understand why I knew God’s love but couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t understand why phrases like “being used by God” or “created for His pleasure” made me angry. I couldn’t understand why no matter how much I did for God, I couldn’t feel His delight. Then 2001 came and brought panic attacks, fear, anxiety and sadness. I didn’t sleep for months. I didn’t think I would live through that summer. I had to get help.
Cracked beads are also transparent, so I realized that I had to get honest. I had to start telling the truth: the truth about my family, the truth about my definitions the truth about my view of God. I had to put everything on the line and tell the truth. But Jesus said in John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Finally cracked beads are reflective. As I have stopped trying to be perfect and flawless and have become more honest about my fractures, others feel free to share their fractures with me. “You’re broken? So am I” I have openly told the story of my healing journey and what my Heavenly Father is doing in my life with many women, believers and non-believers alike. . God is redeeming the brokenness and allowing it to catch His light. Paul said it this way: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The beads that I used for my jewelry making taught me a lot about myself. Ultimately they taught me to embrace the cracks.
A closing comment from Jim:
Writing these words was a good but difficult exercise. It was good in that I was reminded of the wonderfully creative, gifted and talented woman that I had the privilege of being married to for nearly thirty-five years. She was truly a cracked bead who strove to allow the light of God’s grace to shine through the flaws in her life that were inflicted by living in our fallen world. Her awareness and observations of the wonder around her humbled me because I am often a man on a mission who can miss the beauty right in front of me. She often made fun of me using the lyrics from a song of our youth, “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride”. Meanwhile she was taking in everything. She marveled at the world around her.
This process was difficult as I could hear her saying the things that I wrote. I typed the words from her beautiful handwriting and remembered all the times she used that beautiful handwriting to communicate her love and support to me.
This experience taught be something valuable about the importance of community. The morning after I typed this up, I was spending my morning time in reading, reflection and prayer, and I came across these words from Kent Ira Groff. He said, “A life-giving church is one where human brokenness is lifted up like bread and wine to be held, and touched, and blessed – to heal the world.” Stephanie gave us all the gift of honesty about her brokenness and by that hopefully brought healing.