Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hope Rises with the Sun, Easter 2014

I starting walking before the sun rose on a smooth beach, where yesterday’s footprints were erased by an eternal tide that gracefully lives in the moment. In real time that rushes to grow children and deepen lines of worry, there was a pause. There was no question which direction to walk; its an instinct to turn towards the east where love is painted in lavender on a bluing canvas.

Sunrise starts before dawn. It was probably just a slight change in tone that called Mary Magdalene to head to the garden. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light had not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body. Light transformed from grey to pink like water to wine is enough for her to see the stone rolled away and to run to Peter and John. As they run back to the tomb, in a race with the murky light of dawn, they see enough to know Jesus is gone. Mary stands alone as the light breaks through and she sees angels and linen on the floor. Even though she cannot make out what she is seeing, she hears Jesus calling her. Then the light of hope fills her from within, and she reaches for Jesus.

It's hard to hope for resurrection, especially after crossing through wildernesses bruised by thorns that caught us on the way. The wake of death casts a huge pall over dawns, and on those mornings, sunrise is a surprise, no matter how long we have waited and hoped. I can imagine Mary’s surprise as the sunrise poured light into the tomb and hope caught her unexpectedly. We all carry grief to the tombs of those we love. After the unexpected deaths this year in the community of St. Augustine’s of Lisa Froeb and Bob Feldman, whom we buried a day apart, I found myself this lent sitting in the chapel before work with their ashes that rest in the altar. On those mornings, as the light seeps into the chapel in unadulterated beams of white, I have felt hope rise with the sun. Sunrise in the story of Easter is not just a time of day; it is a state of the heart. Sunrise is the space where nighttime fears move aside for hope, where we feel peace about our mortality in the scope of the universal truth that love abides and where we feel light crest the dark horizons of hearts we have kept walled.

There was an eight hundred year old marbled Cathedral with beans of light filtering through stained glass in the early morning that our group from St. Augustine’s visited in the mountains of Ecuador last month. At the altar dedicated to Magdalene, there were a group of indigenous women chanting prayers that carried this sunrise story of deep grief and unbounded hope with a melody through the rose-colored air. Several of us hovered near to catch a ray of that love story as we lit candles, wept for Lisa and Bob, and felt hope rising in the truth that for thousands of years grieving hearts can sing.

Last week as the sun was rising, I received an email from Rev. Canon Gideon in Uganda. He is the founder of an organization that works with children and families who are HIV positive and runs a school and wants to begin a social enterprise for women this summer. He wrote about speaking with donors from the World Bank asking them for continued financial support even after Uganda’s harsh legislation against gay and lesbians that threatens not just their safety, but of all the people who support and preach love without judgment. He is leading like a bright light with courage and a prophetic voice as a witness to justice and freedom for all people. The sun rises all over the world, all day long. And when we get a glimpse of its brightness, it is so beautiful it makes me weep.

When the orange globe peeks above the horizon in bursts of resurrection each morning, the moon takes a sweet bow. As we turn towards home under the rising yellow force, or leave a chapel holding friends we love, or walk away humming a love song we don’t even understand the words to, or feel the courage of fellow pilgrims preaching radical love, we follow a sixty-foot shadow with an aftertaste of joy that is gratitude.  We can walk like Mary Magdalene who left with the sunrise preaching, “Walk with hope in faith because love lives.”  Its not that we are more faithful than we are in the dark of night, its just that our pace is lighter.

When we follow in the footsteps of Magdalene, we can dance a jig that on this endless spinning earth, we have seen the light. The stone has rolled and all those we love who have died live on in love and the memory of God. All we grieve is rising, like the sun did on Easter and on the very first morning. That is the hope that shines in the darkness leads us home. Sunrise calls women with grieving heart to sing, it enables priests to dream of equality in desperate times, and paints each morning in colors so tender they turn stone hearts to flesh. Sunrise means that we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing the light will never leave us.  The light is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Peace and love,

Photo by Becca, Coast of Florida, March 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Healing Oils Help Ease through Life's Difficult Transitions

This past winter was a busy, and at times difficult season, in our home. Aside from the usual comings and goings, celebrations and challenges, both my husband and our oldest son were presented with serious health issues.

Friends have asked how I managed my worry and stress through these difficult days. The answer to that question is Community.

I don’t have any immediate family here in the U.S so I have created a ‘family of choice’ over the 20+ years that I’ve lived here. Many of my new family members are the women of Magdalene/Thistle Farms.

When Deb brought me one of the first sets of oils, I knew I had received a special gift. But I was unaware just how important these oils would be in the following months.

I have a small area in my home where I sit, pray, cry, meditate, sometimes just to be alone. It’s a quiet spot that I return to again and again, where I make contact with the God of my understanding, and with the abundance of Love and undeserved Grace that surrounds me. In this precious space I practice a few simple rituals that connect me to home. Home to myself.

I light a candle, sometimes burn incense, and choose one of TF five healing oils. Depending on day, time, what I’m feeling, and what I need…. human kindness (Mitzvah) reflection (Contemplation) love (Ahimsa) new dreams (Inspiration) or mindfulness (Compassion)   

Rolling oil on both temples I ask for clear thoughts and ease of mind. And in that hollow place at the base of throat, I pray for loving and helpful words. Smoothing oil on both wrists, I ask for tenderness and strength for me, and my loved ones. At the breastbone, I ask for energy, and the steadfastness to go through another day of doctors and hospitals.

Soon, I am surrounded by the scent of compassion, understanding and peace. I then know, I remember, that family holds me - here, across the ocean, and in the Heavens.

I give thanks for the oil, for the women who prepare the oil, for those who bottle and label the oils, for my friend, Becca, and her mission that declares, Love Heals.

And I give thanks for this simple space and time where I come back to Home.      

Click here to buy a set of healing oils for yourself.

By Fiona Prine,
Thistle Farmer

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hey Mom, I Need Some Compassion!

I’m a believer in the power of positive thinking, so the idea of using healing oils for moving through life’s small difficulties is very appealing. We all experience times when the stress of a situation looms large or emotions run high and we need help hitting the reset button. A great way to work through these times is with a simple routine like sitting in a quiet space, stilling the thoughts and setting a positive intention. I’ve found Thistle Farms’ Healing Oils to be a great anchor for this type of ritual. Here’s a recent example from my own life that worked like a charm:

My son John was born sensitive. I knew it from the start when he waited ten long days past his due date to leave the cozy womb. At 13, he’s still a procrastinator! He comes by his sensitivity naturally inheriting his relatives’ penchant for anxiety. John's Grandpa Ed had OCD and couldn’t handle loud noises, so sometimes when we were little, we’d drop the dictionary on the floor just to see him jump.

As a younger child, John had a few more significant issues including a tree nut allergy as well as a debilitating fear of loud noises like fireworks just like Grandpa Ed. He refused soft textured food. He didn’t like new shoes or socks with seams (thank God for tube socks). Fortunately, he grew out of most of it. To most people, he seems like a typical teenager – boisterous and quirky, but I see the times of vulnerability.

Recently, John started a new school known for its academic rigor. He was gifted with a good brain and is an excellent student, but he is a worrier and gets overwhelmed by fear when too much work piles on. Exam week was tough. Having anticipated his anxiety, we had a full set of Thistle Farms healing oils on hand. The “Compassion” healing oil seemed especially suited for the task. Made with geranium, chamomile, lavender, and myrrh essential oils, these essences naturally promote relaxation and calm. I applied the oil to his temples and the back of his neck and had him set the intention to let go of his fear and be compassionate with himself. Thirteen is a funny age and I wasn’t sure if he really “bought in” to the idea, but he calmed down and went back to work. About two hours later, I heard a voice from the other room, “Hey Mom! I need some of that Compassion!”

Six months later, he’s gotten used to his new school and has grown in confidence. But just the other day, he poked his head in looking for more “Compassion.” It has become a simple ritual he can use to gather himself, set a positive intention, and move through his fear so he can get back to work.

There are many ways healing oils can be helpful in moving through life’s trials. Find a quiet place, still the mind, apply the healing oil and set the intention.  Take a few moments to reflect. Here are some ideas:

*To ease hurt feelings and diffuse anger after an argument:  AHIMSASow seeds of universal love and non-violence with sweet orange, cinnamon, clove and cedarwood essential oils in olive oil.

*When feeling resentful, confused or disappointed e.g., hearing bad news, needing perspective on a situation, feeling out of control. CONTEMPLATIONRestore body and mind for reflection with jasmine, frankincense, myrrh and grapefruit essential oils in olive oil.

*Feeling bored, blocked or stuck. INSPIRATIONUplift the spirit and invite new dreams. Bergamot, cardamom, sweet orange and lavender essential oils in coconut oil

*Having to perform a task you’d rather not do, seeking to forgive when treated unfairly, wanting to act out against someone.  MITZVAHEncourage acts of human kindness. Mandarin orange, lavender, and ginger root essential oils in sweet almond oil.

*Being too hard on oneself, to free the mind from obsessive thinking, thinking negative or harmful thoughts. COMPASSIONOpen the heart to prayer and mindfulness. Geranium, chamomile, lavender and myrrh essential oils in jojoba oil.

By Beth Preston, 
Thistle Farmer

To discover which healing oil is best for your life, go to our online store 
for more information and purchasing options. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Becoming Stewards of Children

Every woman who comes through the doors at Magdalene has a story about how she got to the street. Listening to  hundreds of stories  has taught us that human sex trafficking and prostitution are rooted in childhood trauma. While each woman's story is unique, their collective journey begins in a childhood marked by sexual abuse and neglect at the hands of parents, family members or trusted caregivers. Current statistics indicate that 1 in 10 children in the US are sexually abused by the time they are 18.  Research suggests that 90% of these children don’t tell anyone about the abuse. Both the short and long term impact of sexual abuse makes it likely the most serious health problem children face. Children who have endured sexual abuse and neglect at the hands of family members are those most vulnerable to being trafficked.    

Credit: Andrew C.

At Magdalene and Thistle Farms we believe the best way to prevent human sex trafficking and prostitution is to prevent child sexual abuse. To that end, we’ve joined the Sexual Assault Center, Tennessee’s Child Advocacy Centers, Our Kids, Family and Children’s Services, Nashville Children’s Alliance and Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee to create the Nashville Child Protection Coalition. On April 15th, with support from  The HCA Foundation and The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial,  the Child Protection Coalition is launching a regional initiative to provide adults across work, faith, school, recreational and neighborhood settings with education and practical tools to prevent, recognize and respond to child sexual abuse in our community.

Stewards of Children is an evidence informed, two hour training that empowers adults  to protect children from sexual abuse. The training can be facilitated anywhere there are adults who love a child or care about their welfare.  It specifically equips adults to create safer environments for children and to respond protectively should they suspect abuse or encounter a child who has or is being abused.  With initial support from HCA and TriStar, Nashville’s Child Protection Coalition aims to provide the training to 5% of the adult population in Middle Tennessee—considered a ‘tipping’ point in terms of creating new cultural norms and changing behavior across a community.


Like other successful campaigns that address public health issues across  ethnic and socio-economic boundaries—wearing a seatbelt, vaccinating against disease, eating a healthy diet to prevent heart disease-- the Stewards of Children curriculum is based on the idea that once adults can sit with their discomfort about the topic long enough to acquire new information, they are empowered to change their own behavior and in turn,  protect the children in their lives from harm. Lauren Looser at Tennessee’s Children’s Advocacy Centers will work with you to schedule a training for your co-workers, your faith community or your child’s school or sports league. I’m a trained Stewards of Children facilitator and will be delighted and  honored to  present  the curriculum in your community.  

Cary Rayson
Executive Director, Magdalene 

Find Out More:
Watch a trailer on Stewards of Children 
Learn more about Darkness To Light's Stewards of Children training program 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Healing Oils – Deep Healing for the Body and Soul

As our signature tag line -- Love Heals -- states: the mission of Thistle Farms is to promote healing. For the women who come into the program, and for all who come into the community circle. Thistle Farms Healing Oils were created to aid in the process and are derived from plant essences steeped in a long history of healing.  A blend of essential oils, when combined with a carrier oil and loving intention, can help in many life situations.

In our modern day, the use of essential oils is generally relegated to the realm of ministry. Baptism at the beginning of life and Extreme Unction at the end of life are rituals performed by clergy using essential oils. We’ve lost the art of performing sacred ritual for ourselves in our daily lives.  Over the next few weeks, we'll be highlighting stories of people who have used the healing oils to make meaning out of ordinary life events.  Anyone, anytime, and with loving intention can perform a simple ritual using an essential oil to mark a major transition, to honor a milestone, or to ease a burden.

The first story comes from Jennifer, a 2012 graduate of the Magdalene program. Jennifer came to Thistle Farms skeptical of what essential oils could really do for her healing. “I have always been searching for things outside of myself to make my insides feel better,” Jennifer said when remembering how the healing oils changed her life. Her days at Thistle Farms revolved around healing oils from the very start. Placed in manufacturing, Jennifer handled the oils on a daily basis. The aroma of the healing oils had an impact that she never expected. When working with the oils Jennifer’s moods would shift depending on what oil was being used, “…my moods would alternate between calm and serene to happy and joyous.”

It was not until a family donated a still to Thistle Farms, however, that Jennifer began to learn about the healing properties of essential oils. “After being the one called on to run the still I thought it would be nice to research the oils we were distilling. I learned that when we rub essential oils into our skin they absorb within twenty minutes and start to act like other nutrients that would normally be absorbed though food and other sources.” After researching the oils and running the still to make the oils, Jennifer started to use them herself. “I believe in these oils, and I know for a fact that they really do work. My personal favorite is Ahimsa that contains cinnamon and clove. This oil is really good for circulation and always sooths my knees and feet after a long day.” One of Jennifer’s other favorite oils is the geranium oil, which soothes her migraines.

Jennifer’s story does not stop with the affect that the healing oils had on her body and spirit. Earlier this year she met Nicholas Hitimana who started Ikirezi, a farming cooperative that works with survivors of the Rwandan Genocide. The group produces the organic Geranium oil that Thistle Farms uses. Upon meeting Nicholas at the Thistle Farms National Conference Jennifer’s life was changed. While speaking at the conference Nicholas invited Jennifer up on stage and apologized to her on behalf of all men. “I couldn’t believe what happened,” Jennifer said, “He said he was sorry for the harsh and brutal ways that men have been treating me all my life. He said he was sorry that I was treated like an object with no dignity…up until that moment I had not realized that I was looking for or even needed an apology. At that moment something inside of me lifted. It was as if a heavy weight that had been holding me down was suddenly pulled away.” Jennifer discovered that, “healing comes from within and from the most unusual and unexpected places. Who knew that these strangers and essential oils would be the most important piece of my healing.”  

To purchase your own healing oils, go to our online store.

Story by Julia Nusbam
Thistle Farms Intern

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Looking For The Thistle Among The Shamrocks

St Patrick’s Day has become a confusing holiday for me; a mysteriously marbled mixture of Scottish and Irish folklore and traditions. I come from a long line of both Scottish and Irish clans. As a child, I attended the Scottish Highlands Games and Festivals. My little brother and I delighted in all things Celtic. (As in “Braveheart! FREEDOM!!”) We also knew the story of how St. Patrick used the Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Pagan Irish and his supposed banishment of the snakes. We wore green on March 17th and looked for pots of gold, leprechauns and fairies. We figured if the Blarney stone was worth kissing, it must be pretty darn lucky. My mother, being gifted in the ancient art of storytelling, stitched trinkets of both Irish and Scottish lore into the patchwork quilt of stories from our Appalachian heritage. Life was so simple. 

And then it all changed.  I became a Thistle Farmer, pretty much overnight. My path in life took a new direction; all things childish were set aside. After many years of letting thorns and weeds choke my very life, I experienced the healing power of the thistle. Now, those beautiful, purple blossoms that stand tall enough to be seen from a car window, are much more fascinating to look for than “lucky” 4-leaf clovers or those pots of gold that I never found. I now spend my time looking for the thistles among the shamrocks.

The Irish celebrate “Luck o’ the Irish” on March 17th. I was surprised to learn that the very first St. Patrick's Day celebration in America was held at a place called the “Thistle Tavern.” Even though there isn’t a national holiday for the “lucky thistle”, the Scottish consider the thistle as bearing good fortune much as the Irish do the shamrock. 

Becoming a Thistle Farmer has brought me far more than shamrocks. More precious than gold is the strength and love of our volunteers, watching as our events calendar fills, being present on a resident’s first day of work… and her second… and her third. More precious than gold is seeing the courage and resilience of the women as they strive to regain custody of their children, hearing the gratitude they share in morning meditation, and building reciprocal relationships with compassionate, community-driven organizations. Those are all rainbows in my book, and way better than that tarnished pot of gold that will never appear.
It is not a coincidence that I ended up at Thistle Farms. God has strategically placed me here. Not for my purposes, but for His. Whether it be from thistles or shamrocks, I figure either way, I have all the luck and love in the world. After several false starts, graduating Magdalene and working at Thistle Farms, I consider myself blessed beyond measure.  On this day of “Wearing of the Green," honoring St. Patrick, and unconsciously looking for the end of rainbows, I am also celebrating the thistle. I thank God for the salvation it brought to my distant kinsmen and now for the way it is healing my own life today, hundreds of years later. 

Unlike those illusive pots of gold at the ending of rainbows, I have found actual rainbows sweeping upward and outward, like the stroke of a multi-hued paint brush, from the end of the stalwart royal purple thistles. 

Rainbows begin and end in my office every day: stitching the story quilt of Thistle Farms. 

By Kristin V.
Magdalene Graduate and Thistle Farms Event Coordinator

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Strategically Placed

Adapted from the blog of Kristin V., Magdalane Graduate and Thistle Farms Event Coordinator

As a part of a community that constantly shows their love, hope, support and compassion on a daily basis, I am used to hearing of amazing acts of kindness and unbelievable stories of redemption. It is not unusual for people to call, email, or show up at my job to volunteer their time, donate something, share their story or simply be a part of our morning meditation. The volunteers and donors, since the beginnings of Magdalene, have shared the same fire and dedication as the women of the program; turning a small program into what is now a national movement. I have always been so incredibly grateful to those that were involved in creating, implementing, sustaining, and sharing a program that saved my life.

I am so passionate about what we are doing, about what I am a part of, that it is very hard for me not to cry, a lot, all the time. As the Events Coordinator, I handle numerous emails and field phone calls 24/7. And typically have the tell-tale signs of being a "crier" with my mascara starting to run down my face by the end of the phone call. Normally, the first 10 minutes of the call (or first few paragraphs of an email) consist of people explaining how much they love us, how being involved with Thistle Farms has "changed their life," why they want to donate money or asking how they can help. But wait a minute -- aren't I the one who is supposed to be saying "Thank You?" I'm confused, because, it was through their support, their donations, their volunteer time, their love that this program has flourished. However, it often becomes a "Battle of Gratitude," sounding something like: "Thank You." "No, Thank You." "No, no, Thank YOU." You get the idea....

So I don't know why I was surprised when I found myself in the same conversation, repeating how thankful we were, with those pesky tears threatening to ruin my  perfectly applied makeup for the evening, as I was asked to help host an event. (But I was prepared! I now use WATERPROOF mascara on a daily basis and could probably write it off on my taxes as a necessary tool as an Event Coordinator for a non-profit.). I was having a "gratitude battle" with some chicks I LOVE: Carly & Amanda of Aberdeen Green.

These amazingly talented, incredibly sweet and highly motivated women took it upon themselves to plan, promote, organize a benefit for Magdalene & Thistle Farms -- Music City: Women 4 Women -- a musical benefit to raise money for us! They got the venue, food, sound and artists donated or paid for -- as a means of holding a fundraiser for us. 

The whole night was amazing. Jennifer, Rita, Penny, Dorris and I attended, and were completely blown away by the love and compassion displayed by everyone involved. The highlight of the night for me was being witness to another graduate, Dorris Walker, performing her original song "Magdalene", for the first time. Singing a song that she wrote, on a Nashville stage, accompanied by an incredibly talented artist, for the first time, was a huge event that I know she will never forget. And Dorris rocked it!

The talent in that room last week rivaled that of any 10 Nashville venues that night! Every single person and group that played, was simply amazing. At the end of the evening, nearly $2,000 was raised! That money goes directly into the program to help get some of the 100+ women on our waiting list off the street. Women who have been victims of sex-trafficking, domestic violence, prostitution, sexual abuse and drug addiction come to Magdalene seeking a solution to a life that has gotten stuck in a cycle of misery, pain and hopelessness. Through the belief that love is the most powerful force for change in the world, our community is changing that cycle. By providing a 2 year, residential program, at no cost to the women, Magdalene provides a place for healing, compassion, and an unconditional love that, seven years later, overwhelms me every day.

As a graduate, I feel I want to be more focused on loving, instead of being loved. But no matter how much I love, how grateful I am, how passionate I am or how excited I get, I always run across volunteers and supporters that are even more motivated and dedicated that I am.

It is only through the dedicated supporters and volunteers that this program is even possible. If you want to find out more about getting involved with Thistle Farms & Magdalene, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and visit us on Wednesday mornings at 51st & Charlotte in Nashville.

As I travel on this amazing journey that God has strategically sent me on, I cannot help but smile when I think of how He places people in my life. Carly & Amanda sing about a valley: The Shenandoah Valley. I grew up just a stone's throw away, in another valley: The New River Valley. Working with these two reminds me of home, of the mountains and the cool air. I can see the Blue Ridge Mountains & the lake I live on when they sing. And that's about the best thing in the world. I've tried my whole life to run from those mountains and that lake, mostly because of the things that happened during my drug use and addiction. Thank you, Amanda & Carly, for giving me back a beautiful picture of my home.

In Love & Gratitude,