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The Pearls
Submitted by KT Callen - Originally Published in Brio Magazine - ©2003 Elizabeth Banham

Every morning was the same for the young girl and her father. Very early they’d head down to the Oyster Bay in search of perfect pearls. The girl loved her father and playfully skipped down the path to begin their day’s work. As they walked, the father taught her about pearls and their care.

“Pearls are formed when layers of nacre surround and build around an irritant inside an oyster shell,” said the father. “The more layers one has, the larger and more valuable the pearl. Shape and color also add to a pearl’s value.”

Pearls selected to become part of a strand were of greater value than a pearl by itself, and the father could take a pearl—no matter how small or insignificant—and turn it into a striking piece, by simply by placing it on a strand. The father was a master of his craft and enjoyed working with pearls more than any other gem. Their unique ability to reflect and absorb light made them very fragile and soft.

The girl loved to learn from her father, and she treasured these times alone with him. Together they had found many beautiful and perfect pearls. “Handle them carefully,” he’d say, “because their surface is soft and can easily be scratched or chipped.” The girl knew pearls required special care, so she kept her own in a velvet-lined box and hid them in a special place.

One of a Kind

As the girl grew older, she gathered more and more pearls. They were different shapes, sizes, and colors. One morning the father handed the girl a very special pearl. Never had she seen such a pearl. It was so large; the light seemed to dance all around and inside it. Its surface was perfectly round without a scratch or chip. She couldn’t speak when she saw the incredible gift her father had given her.

“Only one thing could make this pearl more valuable,” the father said, “and that would be for it to be part of a strand. Let’s take the pearls you have and form a necklace with the large pearl in the middle and the smaller ones working their way to the clasp at the top.”

So, everyday they worked to create this priceless piece. It would be the father’s greatest work, created out of love for his daughter.

Meant to be Given

Within a few years the necklace was complete, and the little girl was now a young woman. The strand of pearls was beautiful, a true reflection of the time the girl and her father had spent working on it. Never had there been a lovelier strand. Yet the young woman seemed anxious as though something was missing. One day she spoke to her father and said a bit shyly, “I have this deep desire to give this strand away. It’s the most precious thing I have, and I can think of no greater gift to give but this strand.”

“It’s meant to be given away,” replied the father. “But I must caution you about how you do this. The strand is to be a gift given bit by bit, yet in its entirety, to one man. When you find the right man, give him one or two of the smaller pearls near the clasp, then watch how he handles them. If he handles them gently and respectfully, give him a few more, and as your relationship and commitment increase, give him more and more of the strand. The largest pearl, my gift to you, is not to be given away until the day you become his wife. It’s then that he will have the honorable gift of the full strand. I love you, my daughter, and I don’t want your pearls to be hurt. But if anything should happen to your pearls, come to me right away, and I’ll restore them. I’ll always be here for you.”

Broken

And so the young woman left. She went to a town not far away and found a man for her pearls. He was everything she’d hoped for and more, so she loosened two pearls near the clasp and gave them to him. He glanced at them and then tossed them into his pocket, never giving them a second look.

The young woman thought he must not have seen them for what they were so she gave him a few more. His rough hands scratched them, and he even dropped one. She picked up the chipped pearl, and a small tear fell down her cheek. She slipped it into her pocket hoping another man could somehow make things right.

It wasn’t long before she found another man. She gave him a few of her precious pearls, and although he played with them a bit, tossing them around, she was sure this man wouldn’t hurt them. But when she asked him to handle her pearls carefully, he laughed, saying, “Your pearls aren’t worth what you think they are.” With that he walked away, stepping on the pearls carelessly. She stooped to pick them up and noticed that some had been lost. Her strand was in shambles and only the large pearl and a few others remained intact.

By this time her spirit was broken, and she desperately searched for someone to care for her pearls. Her heart longed to hear words of hope and love, and it wasn’t long before she found herself giving what few pearls she had left to men she knew didn’t love her.

It was to one of these men she gave the last pear, her father’s precious gift to her. She was hopeful this would buy her the love she so desperately wanted. She closed her eyes as she entrusted the pearl to him, but the next morning she found herself alone. He was gone, and the pearl lay next to her on the bed. She couldn’t hold back the tears. Deep scratches and chips marred it’s beauty, and it no longer absorbed or reflected the light with any grace. She was abandoned with a few broken and chipped pearls, nothing of value, and her sense of shame and disgrace was overwhelming. She knew her only hope was to go back to her father, but so many questions ran through her mind.

Will he accept me or even want to see me if he knows what I’ve done? Is he still there for me? Does he still love me? Could he ever restore me? She took the long walk home. Each step was fearfully taken, and yet she felt compelled to continue.

Returning Home

The house stood at the end of the ocean. She walked along the familiar path and up the three steps to the door. She’d arrived home, but guilt kept her from knocking. She stood there crying, and soon the door opened. Her father took her in his arms and held her while he whispered, “It’s going to be all right. You’re back home, and I’ll take care of you.”

The young woman pulled away and said, “You don’t know what I’ve done. All the pearls are lost or ruined, and I’m not worthy of your love. “ She looked into her father’s eyes and saw that she hadn’t changed. He still loved her. “Will you show me the pearls?” he asked.

Slowly, she took them from her pocket. Each chipped, scratched and broken pearl was laid before him. One by one they revealed her pain and exposed her sin. Yet her father showed no look of alarm, only compassion. Seeing this, she gave him all she had, including the last and largest pearl. The father’s eyes welled with tears.

“I can restore these,” he said. “They’ll be smaller, and you have to live with the reminder that they aren’t as they originally were. But even the lost ones can be replaced, Spend some time with me, and I’ll make your strand beautiful again.”

She watched him pull a small knife from a drawer in the kitchen. He sat down and began to peel layers of nacre off the marred pearls. It was hard to see them shrink to a smaller size, but soon the pearls’ luster reappeared, and the light was once again absorbed and reflected on their surface. The daughter wept with joy as the father worked on every pearl. Even the largest pearl was restored. Its beauty had returned.

The young woman spent a lot of time with the father, gathering pearls to replace the lost ones, creating a new strand. These were precious months of discovery. As the strand began to take shape, her confidence returned. She held this strand more precious than the first, because in its restoration, she saw the depth of her father’s love.

One day, she met a wonderful man. She asked her father what she should do, and relying on her father’s wisdom she gave the man two of the smallest pearls near the clasp. He, too, had spent much time with his father and knew how to respectfully handle and care for the pearls, so this time none were lost or broken. Pearl by pearl, the man received the gift of the young woman’s strand. And then one very special day, in a white dress, she gave the man the last of her precious pearls.

And the father was pleased.