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The good news is this: there is no grass growing under our feet in the Studio! These past few months have been about big developments and exciting plans. Here’s the lowdown:

New Website

Our brand new website is www.prayerworksstudio.com and we are so excited to share it with you! It has more information and photos, more resources on prayer beads, more ways to connect with us and keep up to date with all we are doing. This site will also house our blog, which means we will no longer be using the blog at http://www.abeadnaprayer.com.

Thus, if you are subscribed to the original “A Bead ‘n a Prayer” blog, please take time to subscribe to our new blog here. All you have to do is enter your email address and you’ll be all set! If you have never subscribed, now’s a good time to start!

New Prayer-Bead-Making Video

Y’all love to make prayer beads! How do I know? Our no-frills prayer-bead-making video received so many views that The Upper Room decided it was time to spiff it up. They hired a professional film crew to redo it, which gave me the chance to hang out with Sharon Conley and other Upper Room staff while we worked on it. Everyone did a great job because the video looks great! Check it out!

New Blog Reader Submission Series

Our blog is one of our favorite ways of sharing prayer and prayer beads with y’all, so we’ve decided to expand it and add even more elements to it! There will be weekly posts that include prayer bead devotions, guest blog posts, Studio updates, and other fun things.

What I’m most excited about, though, is our new reader submission series: “How Prayer Beads Helped Me To . . .” We’d love to hear from you! What difference have prayer beads made in your life? How have they helped you? We invite you to submit your story. We’ll choose one story each month to feature on the blog. To submit, send your story to: support (at) prayerworksstudio.com.

Remember to subscribe to the new blog!

New Daily Meditation Series

Beginning today, we will send out a daily meditation. Every meditation will consist of just one line, making it quick to read and take with you throughout the day. The meditations are designed to be repeated, helping you to calm yourself, focus, and hear God’s voice in your life. Thus, you can use them with your prayer beads, while you’re doing the dishes or sitting at a stoplight, etc. Meditations will be posted via social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Connect with us for your daily dose of centering prayer!

New Monthly Giveaway

Free stuff! What’s not to love?!? On the first Monday of every month we’ll be giving away something fun, whether prayer beads, books, or other cool stuff. Stay tuned!

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My sister, Jackie, and me

New Staff

So many new things! Clearly, I’ve had some help! Meet Jackie Mills, Prayerworks Studio’s new Director of Marketing. Even better: she’s my sister! Jackie has been working with me since March and has already added wonderful energy, brilliant ideas, and multiple talents to our work, not to mention wicked humor (following the new video she has taken to cackling and calling me Martha Stewart because of my voice). Welcome, Jackie!

We hope you are as excited as we are about all these new things! We are excited to take this prayer bead adventure to a whole new level!

Y’all! I have a new book out!

I know this comes as a surprise to most of you. I haven’t talked about it recently so you didn’t know to expect it. And that’s primarily because I didn’t know exactly when it was going to be available. You see, it’s taken six years to get this book out. That’s right: SIX YEARS.

9781490875712_COVER.inddIt began in 2009 when my friend, Mark Johnson, whose memoir this is, experienced a call to write a book on love. Good friend that he is, he asked me to help him write it. Now this was just as the whole prayer bead adventure was just getting started, and at that time I had never written a book before. But I knew I wanted to be a writer and jumped at the chance. We spent the first year conducting interviews, doing research, etc. Then I spent the second year writing it. In November 2011, I presented the completed draft to Mark and said, “Congratulations! Here’s your book!” I thought I was done, aside from some editing.

That was four years ago.

Since then, there has been A LOT of this: “Let’s change this. Can you redo this chapter? You know, we haven’t even talked about this.” Edits. And more edits.

To be fair, there were also major life transitions in the midst: funerals, weddings, moves, etc. And there was a moment of doubt or two: “Will people even be interested in my story?”

But we forged on. And now we have a book: I Love Today: A Story of Transformation, published by Westbow Press. I am so pleased and proud of it!

You see, Mark is a longtime, close friend of mine. More than that, he is a nationally-known disability rights activist and community organizer. He currently serves as director of advocacy for the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2007 Henry B. Betts Award, the New Mobility Person of the Year in 2001, and the National Council on Independent Living Distinguished Service Award in 1990.

Here is a little slice of his incredible story:

Growing up, Mark Johnson was smaller than – different from his peers – which made him uncomfortable. After a diving accident left him paralyzed, he was different in a new way.

Living with a disability, Mark struggled with the social attitudes that labeled people with disabilities as inferior. He took the prejudicial treatment personally and decided to do something about it.

In 1983, he had the opportunity to co-found ADAPT, a grassroots network of people with disabilities that played a role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Confronting—and changing—social attitudes certainly requires boldness and tactics such as civil disobedience; Mark’s arrest record is proof of this. However, Mark is better known for his engaging style that puts people at ease and encourages them to consider the benefits of accepting our differences.

Part spiritual memoir, I Love Today is Mark’s reflection on his life as a son, husband, and father; as a person with a disability; as a community organizer; and as a child of God. It examines the fears behind our social attitudes and offers insights for a more inclusive world. Along the way, it inspires us all to learn to love today.

I am deeply honored to share this book with you. What I love most about it is that it addresses the way we deal with differences in our society, but it does so from a place of deep faith, grace, and humor. It was such a joy to be a part of this amazing project.

The funny thing about this book is that it is the first book I ever wrote . . . and the third to be published! Clearly, a lot has happened in six years! But the timing of this book is perfect as we get ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July. I hope you’ll check it out.

The book is available for sale in my Etsy shop. It comes in both softcover and hardcover.

Yesterday, my friend and fellow author, J. Dana Trent, posted an article on Patheos titled, “Marked by Faith: The Spirituality of Tattoos.” The article was inspired by an experience she and I had last summer when we attended the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. We were there to lead a workshop (her), sell prayer beads (me), and sign books (both of us). The Festival was a first for both of us and, along with our friends from The Upper Room, Joanna and Whitney, we made the most of it.

One of the things that caught our attention was an exhibit called Faithmarks, which featured photos of people with tattoos. While the tattoos varied dramatically, the common link was that they were all expressions of the person’s faith. They reflected individual beliefs, profound experiences, moments of grace, and messages of love. Each photo was paired with the person’s story, allowing us a tiny glimpse of each one’s faith journey. I looked at every photo, read every story.

Photo courtesy of Faithmarks

My faith mark – photo courtesy of Faithmarks

One reason I was drawn to the exhibit was that I have a faith mark. In August 2013 I got a tattoo on my left wrist. It is made up of three hebrew letters that spell the word “hesed” and has seven prayer beads above it. Relative to many other tattoos, it is small, but BOY did it HURT! I almost fainted! I’m not kidding, y’all: at one point the tattoo artist had to lay me down and give me a sugar pill to chew to keep me from passing out. But here’s the deal: it was SO worth it. That tattoo means so much to me.

Why?

As part of the exhibit, the Faithmarks people invited Wild Goose attendees to share their own faith mark stories. Here’s mine:

When I was 7 I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. Even worse, he threatened to kill me if I told anyone what he had done, so I stayed silent. I didn’t tell my mom until I was 31.

Though the rest of my childhood was fairly good, still, I lived life from a place of fear. Years of therapy provided some relief, though I was never able to get past a certain point. I didn’t trust anyone, particularly myself.

By the time I reached my mid-forties, I was sick of being afraid. I began to pray for peace. God led me to a program that encouraged me to be still. In the stillness I discovered my spirit had more than a few issues with God. Over the course of two years I aired out those grievances, reconnected with my spunky little 7-year-old self, and realized that God had never abandoned me. In fact, God loves me DEEPLY.

My faith mark celebrates this new place of peace. It’s made up of the Hebrew word “hesed,” which describes God’s love for us – a love that is deep, steadfast, and perfect. Above this are seven prayer beads. Prayer beads have played a significant role in my healing and are another reminder of God’s abiding presence in my life. What I love most about this faith mark is how it surprises me; when I least expect it I am reminded of God’s deep love for me. And I am at peace.

Prior to Wild Goose, I would have simply referred to my tattoo as just that: a tattoo, albeit one that expressed my theology. But now I understand it for what it really is: a faith mark. A mark that witnesses to the deep love of God in my life, a life filled with grace.

As Dana noted in her Patheos article, our bodies can be a way to tell our stories of faith. Do you have a faith mark? Share it with us!

Kristen:

Christ is risen! Allelluia! I am reposting one of my favorite prayer bead devotions, which allows us to enter the story of Mary at the empty tomb. Happy Easter!

Originally posted on A bead 'n a prayer:

Oh!  I’m so glad you’ve come!  You won’t believe what’s happened!  I can hardly believe it, myself.

Mary and I got up early this morning to come to the tomb.  We haven’t slept well since Friday.  Like everyone else, we’ve been so distraught, so lost.  So we decided to bring spices and anoint Jesus’ body.  We needed something to keep busy, plus, we just wanted to be near him one last time.

But as we approached the tomb the ground started shaking and there was this terrible sound of thunder.  All of a sudden that huge stone they had placed in front of the tomb rolled to the side.  You know Pilate ordered the stone to be sealed because the Pharisees were so concerned that someone would steal the body.  But I’m telling you, the stone just rolled to the side!  We were terrified.

Then this man appeared out of nowhere.  His clothes were…

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Last Tuesday I sat down to my journal to determine my Lenten discipline. After reviewing previous journal entries I knew I wanted to focus on health and wellness. This was not about losing weight or giving up chocolate, though both would probably be good for me. I was looking at it in broader terms, thinking about how my health and general wellness affect my ability to serve as a faithful disciple. However, my journal also reminded me of my 2015 star word: simplicity. Lent would be a perfect time to continue to explore what that word means for me. I began to wonder how I could pair my desire for wellness with my goal of simplicity.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, I woke up to find this The Upper Room Daily Reflection waiting for me in my inbox:

SELF-REJECTION IS THE GREATEST ENEMY of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

I realized I had just been given my Lenten practice: to learn to be the Beloved. And it was the perfect marriage of wellness and simplicity. As I wrote before, simplicity is about focusing on God and everything that leads to God, letting all else fall by the wayside. And here was Henri reminding me that if I can learn to be the “Beloved,” I will be expressing, acknowledging, bringing to life, the core truth of my existence: that God loves me enough to create me in God’s image and call me “Beloved.”

And yet, how often I forget that. How often I reject myself by choosing not to take care of myself, making my health and wellness a very low priority, criticizing myself, focusing on everyone else’s needs and sacrificing my own. Turns out, these are all forms of self-rejection, ways of denying my “Beloved-ness.” When that happens, I lose my ability to be a faithful disciple.

Thus, my Lenten practice is learning to be “Beloved;” to accept this gift with deep gratitude and find new ways each day to live into it. Right now, I’m not exactly sure what that will look like.

Many of you have chosen a Lenten practice, whether it’s giving up something or taking on a new discipline. These are all ways for you to become better disciples of Jesus Christ, The True Beloved. And ways for you to live into your own “Beloved-ness.”

Cross: God of Love,
Invitatory Bead: who proclaimed Jesus Christ to be
Resurrection Bead: your Beloved Son, with whom you are well-pleased,
First Cruciform Bead: Remind us that we, too, are your Beloved.
First Set of Week Beads: use each bead to hear that you are God’s Beloved son or daughter.
Second Cruciform Bead: Help us to confess how we have rejected our Beloved-ness.
Second Set of Week Beads: use each bead to confess the ways in which you reject yourself and your Beloved-ness.
Third Cruciform Bead: Open our hearts to accept and feel our Beloved-ness.
Third Set of Week Beads: use each bead to feel what it means to be God’s Beloved son or daughter.
Fourth Cruciform Bead: Guide us in identifying ways in which we can live out our Beloved-ness.
Fourth Set of Week Beads: use each bead to listen for ways in which you can live each day as God’s Beloved son or daughter.
Resurrection Bead: In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
Invitatory Bead: our example for what it means to live as the Beloved,
Cross: Amen

My workshop calendar is full and prayer bead orders are coming in at a rapid rate, which means that Lent is just around the corner. People love prayer beads for this season of preparation. The beads really help to foster a sense of stillness, introspection, and prayer as we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross.

We’ve heard that many people are preparing to lead Lenten studies using either A Bead and a Prayer or Another Bead, Another Prayer. I hope you will include time for participants to make prayer beads. As so many of you know, getting to make your own prayer beads is a fun, creative, group-building activity. And the bonus is, you end up with a great set of prayer beads that YOU created!

Prayer beads made by one of our readers and her prayer group

Prayer beads made by one of our readers and her prayer group

Interested? I’ve included a supply list and full instructions below. There’s even a YouTube instructional video at the bottom of this post for those of you who want to follow me step by step.

All of the supplies can be purchased at your local craft store or online. We also sell kits in our Etsy store, which come with everything you need except the two tools. We generally keep all the kits in stock, though if you need to place a large order for a group, please contact me for information on volume discounts and shipping times. A good rule of thumb is we need two weeks to complete large orders (40 or more) of kits.

Happy beading!

Instructions for Making Your Own Prayer Beads

Materials Needed

  1. 5 large (10mm – 12mm) beads
  2. 29 medium (8mm – 10mm) beads
  3. 36 seed (size #6 or #8) beads
  4. 1 cross or other pendant
  5. 2 crimp tubes (size 2 x 2)
  6. 20 – 24 inches of wire (49-strand, .019 or .018″)

Tools Required

  1. 1 pair of chain nose pliers
  2. 1 set of side (flush) wire cutters

Legend

  • L = Large bead
  • M = Medium bead
  • s = seed bead

Instructions

  1. Thread one of the crimp tubes onto the wire, then add the cross. Thread the end of the wire back up through the crimp tube. This will leave you with the two ends of the wire coming out of the crimp tube: the primary length of wire and a smaller “tail,” about one inch in length. Using the pliers, squeeze the crimp tube until it is flattened.
  2. String the beads in the following pattern, taking them all the way down so that the first bead aligns with the crimp tube that sits above the cross. (Note: make sure the beads cover both of the wires—the primary wire and the “tail” that extends from the top of the cross): s L s M s L s
  3. String the crimp tube (this is a critical step!).
  4. String the first section of week beads in the following pattern: s M (7 times), then 1 s. It will look like this: s M s M s M s M s M s M s M s
  5. String 1 L bead.
  6. String the second section of week beads by repeating Step 4.
  7. String 1 L bead.
  8. String the third section of week beads by repeating Step 4.
  9. String 1 L bead.
  10. String the fourth section of week beads by repeating Step 4.
  11. Take the end of the wire and thread it back through the crimp tube that was added in Step 3 (the wire will be heading back toward the cross). Thread it through the crimp tube, the seed bead, the large bead, the seed bead, and the medium bead so that it comes out from the bottom of the medium bead.
  12. Pull the wire tightly, adjusting the beads as necessary to remove any slack in the wire and to ensure that the wire is completely covered up by the beads. This is a good time to count all the beads and double check your pattern to be sure the beads are in the order you desire. If not, make the necessary changes before proceeding to the next step.
  13. Using a pair of chain nose pliers, flatten the crimp tube as tightly as possible.
  14. Using a set of side (flush) wire cutters, cut the remaining wire off as close to the beads as possible.
  15. Enjoy your beads! Blessings!

(excerpted from my book, A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads) (Upper Room Books)

Make Your Own Prayer Beads: Instructional Video

The Year of Simplicity

As I wrote earlier this month, I wanted to try choosing a word to focus on and guide me through the year. I loved the idea of having a word that would serve as my intention through 2015. It provided a nice alternative to setting resolutions that I might otherwise ignore, and a practice that would be grounded in “paying attention.”

And so, for the past three weeks I have listened for the word that would be given to me. As I wrote, I believe it is important that the word be given to me – that it come from some place outside myself, from the Spirit – because, if left to my own devices, I would choose the word chocolate. Thus, I listened, and prayed, and paid attention to the words I was hearing. At first I thought my word might be well. It was a word that had come up several times and offered a variety of meanings for my life. But just before deciding on it, something happened: I was given my word for 2015.

It happened at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. My good friend, Reverend Cyndi McDonald, and I meet there every other Friday to talk, join in accountability, attend midday prayer, share the Eucharist, and laugh. It is always the highlight of my week. Following midday prayer we sit in the balcony of the Abbey Church for 20 minutes of silence. I always sit so that I am at eye level with the stained glass window, a gorgeous image of the Holy Spirit. This is my view:

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My view from the balcony.

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A vision of simplicity.

Two weeks ago, as we were sitting in silence and solitude, I became fixated on the altar area, which was still decorated for Christmas. I noticed how different the decorations were from many other churches, where greenery hangs on anything that does not move. This was simple, some would say austere: just two Christmas trees and a few poinsettias. But therein lay its beauty. And its power. The simplicity of the decor invited me to relax. My eyes didn’t have to work overtime to take in the scene, my attention wasn’t divided. I was thus able to focus on what was most important: the stained glass window, the altar, the cross. In other words, on God.

And that’s when I realized I had been given my word: simplicity. It felt exactly right. Because what I want most in life is to focus on God. I want it. I need it. I was created for it. Yet, it is so easy for me to muck that up and make it complicated. I fill up my time with impossible to do lists. My attention is diverted to Facebook or the television. My time is spent organizing and reorganizing more possessions than I need. I lose focus. And I lose touch with the One who spoke me into being.

As soon as I got home from the Monastery that day, I picked up my Blessing Upon Blessing book and read the entry on simplicity. Here is what it said:

May the God of SIMPLICITY be with you, leading you to a clear vision of all that is real and true and of God, leading you deeply into the mystery of childhood, of newness and awe. May your transparent presence to others reveal the authenticity and integrity that is the hallmark of a simple life. May the God of SIMPLICITY bless you.

Exactly. Simplicity has a lot to do with vision. In order to live into simplicity, I need to have a clear vision of my goal, which is to glorify God. That vision will help me figure out what fits and what doesn’t fit. There I will find simplicity. And if living simply leads to a life of authenticity and integrity, then, my friends, I will count this a life well-lived.

This will all take time and practice. There will be steps forward and steps backward. It will not always be simple. But that’s the beauty and grace of the journey. Along the way, I will experience the many gifts and nuances that simplicity has to offer.

Many of you have shared your words for 2015: awareness, peace, open, financial peace, present, and others. I celebrate these words and pray they will lead you to to the One who spoke you into being. Keep me posted on your journeys and I’ll do the same. Should be a great year.

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