Miriam Powell | Beauty is in the eye of the bead-holder

Kristine Miller spends a good portion of each day beading bracelets at her home in Lancaster.
Kristine Miller spends a good portion of each day beading bracelets at her home in Lancaster. Photo provided

Like most women I know, I love jewelry. It does not have to be expensive or elaborate. Sometimes the simplest pieces make the biggest statement.

I have always loved jewelry with a message. In elementary school, I remember thinking I was hot stuff with my half-heart necklace imprinted with the word “best.”

The only way to make that heart whole was to stand next to my friend Heather, who proudly wore the other half engraved with the word “friends.”

Thought-provoking accessories have become a staple of popular culture.

When I taught at a parochial school in the late 1990s, almost every student coming into my classroom wore a bracelet that instantly questioned his/her moral compass with the letters WWJD (What would Jesus do?). Many Thon supporters and participants sport wristbands stamped with the letters FTK (“for the kids”). Glance at the wrist of a Nittany Lion basketball player and you’ll see a bracelet emblazoned with coach Patrick Chambers’ favorite mantra: “Attitude.”

My husband won’t be surprised to learn that I have invested my fair share in this trend. I have a bracelet that encourages me to “Seek Joy;” another one that reminds me to practice patience and share peace; and one that says, “Love Never Fails.”

I take comfort in knowing I can find practical advice by simply looking down my arm. I even have one that boasts my love of bacon! Money well spent.

But what about that piece of jewelry that has not a word upon but which carries a message of inspiration that is deeper than you can imagine? I have one of those, too.

Kristine Miller spends a good portion of each day beading bracelets at her home in Lancaster. Kristine was born with limited vision and mild to moderate mental impairment.

She also suffers from a seizure disorder. Doctors told her mom, Evelyn, that Kristine would likely not live to see her first birthday. She is now 33.

From the moment she was born, Evelyn never gave up on her daughter. Evelyn tells me doctors called her a “hopeful optimist.” Evelyn called it being a mother.

Kristine is Evelyn’s only child, and Evelyn says, “you do what you have to do” to raise a child. She knew Kristine was a fighter.

While doctors continued to doubt and question, Kristine continued to prove them all wrong. In 2002, she walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma.

Then, on June 8, 2005, Kristine’s life changed forever when she was involved in a serious car accident. She suffered a lacerated spleen, tremendous blood loss and a serious brain injury, leaving her completely blind and unable to walk.

Kristine remained in critical condition for weeks and had to learn to do everything all over again.

After spending more than 78 days in the hospital and countless hours in rehab, she finally returned home to continue therapy. Part of that therapy included using her hands and fingers to string beads.

It didn’t take long for that therapy to become a hobby. Six months after her accident, Kristine was invited to sing in her church. Along with the gift of song came a gift of love as Kristine proceeded to hand out her beaded bracelets to the members of the congregation.

Since then, Kristine’s bracelets have circled the globe. She’s provided them for the Operation Christmas Child program and sent them to soldiers serving in Iraq.

A few years ago, after learning about Pink Zone, Kristine shared her talent with us. We give a gift bag to each breast cancer survivor who registers to attend the Pink Zone game at Penn State (1 p.m. Sunday, Bryce Jordan Center).

For the past three years, Kristine has made a bracelet for each survivor in attendance.

She and her mom have the system down to a science. Because of her vision loss, Kristine has her mom cut the string and set the first bead in place. From that point on, it is solely Kristine’s operation.

Evelyn sets the beads in bowls and Kristine counts the bowls by feel to keep track of the colors.

Once the bracelets are done, Kristine places them in baggies and drops in Hershey’s Kisses for good measure.

These bracelets are so much more than just plastic beads on a string. They are symbols of the hope, strength and courage of a young woman who refuses to give up.

At this year’s Pink Zone game, we are thanking Kristine and her mom by inviting them to serve as our honorary coaches.

No one embodies the spirit of Pink Zone like Kristine. Each year she provides her bracelets as a gift and asks for nothing in return.

Today there are three things that bring Kristine the most joy — singing happy birthday to friends and family; spending time with her English springer spaniel, Beau; and making bracelets to give to everyone she meets.

On Sunday, she’s going to meet more than 700 breast-cancer survivors at the Pink Zone game, and she’s made a bracelet for each of them.

Kristine has never battled breast cancer, but she is certainly a survivor. You cannot put a price on the jewelry Kristine makes. Sometimes the bracelet with no words sends the greatest message of all.

Miriam Powell is the executive director of Pennsylvania Pink Zone.

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