There is a story that begins with a monk in Croatia and ends with me, in Nashville, wearing a prayer bracelet he made. A woman who I’ve never met purchased a handful from this monk and gave some to a female graduate student living in Salem, Oregon. I visited Salem on my book tour last fall, where this lovely girl interviewed me about my trip to India and sex trafficking before the event began. We shared stories and, quite possibly, a kindred spirit. She had no idea that, soon, the world that had been falling apart inside and around me would collapse into one of my darkest times.
Three days after the event in Salem, I was lying in a bed in Gig Harbor, Washington, after finishing the tour the evening before. A friend of mine sent me a text message that woke me up, as it was 8:30 am in his time zone and 5:30 am in mine. He asked how I was doing, knowing it had been a rough season. I debated in my sleep-filled mind what to say. Do I tell him exactly what I’m thinking? Do I tell him what I’ve done?
At 5:30 am, I count it a blessing I couldn’t think clearly enough to lie. I told him the truth.
Sensing the urgency of my words, he and a small group of people worked together to get me the help I needed. I was going to be able to go away to a center in a desert for thirty days of intensive counseling and healing.
As I packed my bags for Arizona, I was checking my e-mail one last time. One downloaded from the graduate student I met in Salem. She asked if she could pray for me, feeling led to reach out. Only my closest friends knew I’d be leaving, but not counting her e-mail a coincidence, I decided to tell her as well. I gave her the address to the place I’d be staying in case she wanted to write, as I wouldn’t have Internet access there.
If what the Scriptures say is true about our spirits groaning, that is the only faith I could find, and that wasn’t even intentional. God seemed absent, and I didn’t have the energy – and quite honestly the desire – to seek him out. Once I was in my routine in the desert, when people would ask about my faith, I simply said, “I’m searching,” and moved on.
I was empty.
A package came in the mail a week or so after I arrived, and in it, this bracelet from Croatia, with the story of how she received it and why she was sending it. I figured since I was “searching,” surely wearing this bracelet as a reminder wouldn’t hurt. Through therapy sessions, solitude and long, long walks, I fingered the black knots and the silver cross, not really praying anything. The simplest prayer one prays with these bracelets is what is known as “The Jesus Prayer” and states, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” At my best, sometimes, all I could muster was “mercy.”
There was a girl I got to know at this facility who was also searching, also praying. She needed to go to a treatment center more specific to her needs but because of some family issues wasn’t able to afford it. I looked at my bracelet and looked at her as we walked down a hall together.
“Look. I just got this prayer bracelet in the mail, and I don’t know what to think. But I guess since we’re both trying to find our faith, maybe it would be good for me to pray for you to get into that treatment center. So whenever I do pray, I’ll be praying for you.”
I’ll admit. In a way, it was a test. I followed through with my promise to her and prayed. And as it turned out, she was able to go.
I left Arizona a week before the thirty days was over. I was ready. I had found what I needed to find and was able to begin on a steady and consistent path of healing. The bracelet, however, hasn’t left my arm until this weekend. After six months of life, even something as sacred as a Croatian prayer bracelet begins to get a little funky smelling. I zipped it into a delicates pouch and put it in with my laundry.
When it was time for the clothes to go into the dryer, I took out the bracelet and rolled it back on my arm. Now with much more stable footing in my faith, I thought back to the many times I’ve prayed using this bracelet: many times The Jesus Prayer, but for others as well. As I touched each damp knot on my arm, I was flooded with the stories this bracelet has heard. Waves of gratitude washed over me as I realize that I am truly in a new season; the prayers of the past washed away in soapy water, most having been answered – sometimes immediately and sometimes slowly and inefficiently (as I’ve noticed is more the pace for things that require faith). Regardless of when, they were answered with a strong sovereignty I cannot explain in words.
I realize the bracelet I wear holds no magical powers in and of itself. It is made of cloth and metal, and as I mentioned before, even can start smelling foul. However, the many hands that have held it…from its creation in a far away land to its purchase to its travel to its passing down, and finally to its destination in my own presence while I doubted in a purple, quiet desert so beautifully paints the connectedness of our lives to the world around us.
I’m sure the monk in Croatia had no idea as he sewed the black knots that eventually a girl in Nashville’s fingers would progress from knot to knot and would, sometimes with sweaty, nervous fingers, pray over the very threads he bound. And just as the threads in this bracelet hold it together, the threads in each of our stories bind us together as humans, never knowing how one story will lead to the next.