Please don't let him die! Sarah prayed as she raced to the hospital. Turning the car into a no-parking zone, she sprinted to the emergency room. "Where's Dr. Parsley and my husband, Ray Saunders?" she cried as she frantically scanned the room.
"Mr. Saunders is in the intensive care unit on the second floor," the nurse gently replied.
Sarah slumped in a chair by Ray's bed for what seemed like hours. Her oldest son, Jacob, kept busy by calling relatives, friends, and church members. Please let him live, she silently prayed as she pushed down the bubbling hysteria.
Pastor Stanley, church members, family, and close friends trickled in and out throughout the next week. "We're praying for Ray. Please call us if you need anything," echoed multiple times from sincere lips.
At midnight Sarah woke-up in a panic. Her two sons also dozed in the waiting room. Like a stealth airplane, she flew to Ray's bedside. Relieved to hear his breathing, she sat down and clutched his hand. Lovingly, she lifted the string of pearls from her oversized purse. She smiled as the memories flooded her senses. Ray and the boys often hunted for freshwater mussels along the Mississippi River. The pearls inside the mussels rendered precious treasures to the trio.
Sarah gently stroked the first pearl. After their first child died, Ray handed her a small black box. She found a single pearl inside. He told her the story of the oyster. When a tiny grain of sand gets into the oyster, the irritation stimulates the production of a pearl. The oyster, unable to rid itself of the unwelcome intruder, seeks to reduce the annoyance by coating it with a special substance called nacre. Ray gently stated, "A beautiful gem is produced from the oyster's pain. The pearl represents our trials. God takes our sorrow and replaces it with a pearl. The photo album is for our good times and the pearls are for our bad times." Ray hugged her tightly.
Sarah fingered the second pearl and laughed. She wrecked their new car and waited anxiously for Ray to return home from work. Another black box. "Sarah, we'll have a few problems, but together we'll turn the lemons into lemonade," Ray calmly stated.
The third pearl was rubbed. Ray fell off the roof and broke his back. The months of recovery proved to be long and overwhelming. The bills piled up and the future looked bleak. "God will provide," Ray exclaimed. Eventually, he found another job with a higher salary, better hours, and excellent health insurance.
The fourth pearl represented Jacob's broken nose during baseball season. "My baby, my baby!" Sarah cried as she rushed to the pitcher's mound. Jacob chewed her out later for embarrassing him in front of his team. Ray didn't laugh. He comforted her with a pearl and a surprise dinner at a fancy restaurant. "You're a good mother," Ray commented.
The fifth pearl brought a snicker. Sarah decided to be a den mother for the Boy Scouts. On her first camping trip she stumbled into poison ivy and became covered from head to toe with an itchy rash. Ray joked about the pink calamine lotion that coated her body for several days.
The sixth pearl still evoked emotion. Her brother died in Vietnam. Grief turned into weeks of depression, but Ray patiently cooked the meals and cleaned the house. "God carries us during the hard times," he stated.
The seventh pearl arrived after their house burnt down. "God is still in control," Ray replied as he comforted his family. They built their dream house with the insurance money.
Sarah purchased the eighth pearl when Ray's father died of a heart attack. It was her turn to comfort him. Heart attacks were common in his family.
She touched the ninth pearl. John, her youngest son, wrecked the car immediately after receiving his driver's license on his sixteenth birthday. His ribs and his pride were broken. Ray convinced her to allow John to drive again.
She didn't like the memories of the twentieth pearl. When menopause hit, she became irritable and snappy. Ray and her sons spent many evenings at the river. "Honey, you're acting strange again, but we love you!" Ray shouted as they drove off to hunt for mussels.
The twenty-fifth pearl came in a box with a wig. Her hair fell out during chemotherapy but the breast cancer went into remission. Ray stood by her during the entire ordeal.
Ray regained consciousness for a few days. "Read the Psalms to me, Sarah," he requested. The hospital room was filled to capacity with flowers, but Ray instructed the nurse to give them to other patients. When Ray spent time alone with Jacob and John, Sarah would sneak away to the hospital chapel to plead with God. Please let him live. I can't live without him! She bargained and made promises.
The day of the funeral was chilly and a blur to Sarah. Her grief blocked out all other emotions. She couldn't pray; the pain wouldn't let her. The funeral home was full of family and friends. Ray was well loved in the community and in his church. Sarah questioned God as she slumped against the casket.
Time passed slowly after Ray's death. Sleepless nights made her irritable. Sadness invaded her dreams. Her appetite dwindled. Isolation, her constant companion, visited daily.
Six months later, Jacob handed her a small box. "Dad asked me to give this to you on your fortieth wedding anniversary." Her hands trembled and the tears revisited. She hurriedly opened the card. Ray had scribbled Matthew 13:46. She opened the Bible for the first time since his death. 'The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went out and sold all that he had, and bought it.' Ray wrote, 'You are my pearl of great value' at the bottom of the card. Sarah added her last pearl to the string. A peace settled over her weary spirit. Holding the necklace to her chest, she prayed to the Creator of the earthly pearls.
Her ministry to widows lasted for fifteen years. She would often transport a group of solemn women to the banks of the Mississippi where they scouted for mussels. Sarah shared the story of her pearl necklace and reminisced about Ray. The women felt comforted by the narrative. Sarah was glad that her oldest son passed the tradition of the pearl necklace on to his wife.
On the twentieth anniversary of Ray's death, Sarah and her grandson strolled along the banks of the river. She rambled on about her life as she removed her necklace of memories. One by one, the pearls were thrown back to their watery home. Smiling, she pictured Ray standing by the gates in heavenwaiting for her to arrive. Sarah would soon see her pearl of great value.
Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.