Over the years I’ve tried a number of art and crafting projects.  One thing I’ve just dipped a toe into is making jewelry.  Until I took a beading class, I was not really aware of how big the world of jewelry making is:  wire, beads, resin, glass, precious metal clay, shrink plastic, paper, fabric, beads.  And that’s just scratching the surface!  Unless you’re into jewelry, you might be surprised at all the materials, techniques, and trends out there.

My last jewelry project involved wire and beads.  Now, wire is a great material, especially for beginners, because it is so easy to bend and manipulate.  Expert jewelry makers also like it because it can be formed into very intricate patterns and designs.  My friend Kat makes some unbelievably beautiful wire pieces.  But the very attributes that make wire such a great material also make it a challenge to use; because it is so flexible, it can be flimsy, especially when beads or stones or anything else with some weight is added to the mix.

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So how do you strengthen wire to make it sturdy?  You pound it flat with a hammer against a steel block.  No, seriously.  Jump rings, those little wire circles that hold charms and other pretty things on a necklace or bracelet?  Those you make stronger by repeatedly opening and closing them with pliers, twisting them back and forth, back and forth.  You might think that would weaken the wire and break it, but it doesn’t.  Working it in this way, called work-hardening, actually changes its molecular structure.  And if you accidently overwork the wire, making it too stiff to manipulate, you can restore it to its former malleability by heating it, called annealing.  See?  Lots to learn about making jewelry, and that’s only wire!

We can be just like that wire.  Subjected to adversity, to the equivalent of being hammered on a steel block, we can become stronger.  Our faith matures when we endure life’s challenges.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:1-5).  God is completing us, perfecting us, through the trials we endure.  Matthew 5:48 tells us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”    If you’ve always thought those words mean we have to do everything perfectly, this is good news!  Our perfection is a work God is doing in us, not something we can accomplish ourselves.

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Of course, being overworked by life can harden our hearts.  Perhaps you know someone, or perhaps you are someone, who has endured so much pain and suffering under the hammer of life that you felt you had to protect yourself.  Your heart might be locked in a fortress behind stone walls and a moat (with alligators).  But life in a fortress is lonely.  Yes, a tender, open heart is more easily hurt, but it can recover from that hurt because love comes in to repair and strengthen it.  A hardened heart might be able to resist pain, but eventually it becomes a rock, a weapon that hurts us and others.  And no amount of isolation can protect a person from life’s troubles—it just means that person has to face adversity alone.

A hardened heart is not a permanent condition.  Like the overworked wire, we can be returned to our living, growing, malleable selves by the annealing fire of God’s love.  No matter how hard and inflexible we become, love has the power to restore us to tenderness.  Love strengthens us and enables us to persevere, to continue growing toward maturity and wholeness.  As we allow God to do his perfecting work in us, we can more clearly and brightly reflect his glory to people who have been seriously overworked by the hammer and steel block of life and desperately need to experience the restorative power of God’s annealing love.

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