Saturday, December 24, 2011

Signs of Christmas

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ -- Luke 2

Early one morning last week under a drizzle and a thick blanket of fog, I headed off to Radnor Lake for a moment of peace from the busiest Advent I have known at Thistle Farms and St. Augustine's. There, perched on a low branch beside the lake was a majestic bald eagle. I know they roost in the foothills of Tennessee, but seeing it watching me 20 feet away was still startling. It was a sign to me, as clear as if I had been a shepherd out watching my flocks at night, of good tidings from an angel of the Lord.

Christmas is the season of signs. The author of Luke's Gospel makes the signs of Christmas, such as stars, angels and dreams, the beginning of his Gospel with poetic mastery. Into the tradition of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, he sows with signs a theological blanket that cover us this holy season with grace, joy, lowliness, peace and universalism. The shepherds were given the sign that they would see a baby in a barn wrapped in a blanket. The magi were given the star as sign. Mary and Joseph were given dreams. Since the celebration of these sign were recognized by the church, this has been the season for all God's people with eyes to see, to find sings that point them to the Christ in this world, tucked away like a baby in a barn, to fill our days with hope and glad tidings.

Looking back at seasons past, Christmas has always come to me in signs. I remember in 2004 when we were building a big new house for Magdalene in a pretty rough neighborhood. I was driving to the construction sight and worrying if this home could ever be a sanctuary for the women in this neighborhood. Then, like swaddling clothes, I saw a red ribbon tied in a bow on a neighbor’s door. It was a sign of peace and hope in the midst of doubt and fear. I remember in 2001 driving home about 10:30 on Christmas Eve after a service. We were just getting ready to launch Thistle Farms and I was preoccupied the whole of advent. All the sudden driving I realized the roads were quiet just as I drove past the hospice at 19th and Charlotte. There was only one light on in the whole place. As I imagined the person keeping vigil on Christmas Eve as someone they loved was dying, the light all of the sudden looked as holy as a star over a manger. I remember just last year how it was the simple dancing of a candle flame that brought the spirit of hope and peace to me. As I watched it flicker on the altar, I thought about how a single candle can cut a path through the darkest night, and how I had gotten to be part of a community that had made about 50,000 candles through Thistle Farms over the past 10 years. It was like the multitude of the heavenly host filling my heart and singing.

You have signs that have carried you through this season like the most treasured gifts of Christmas. Chances are, your signs of Christmas rarely have been found in packages under your tree. It is not surprising that we all have signs, but they always come to us as surprises. This is the season to name them and recognize them as gifts of love that renew glad tidings that Emmanuel, God with us, was born. Your signs and my signs remind us that the eternal love of God is still visible in this temporal world and it can still turn stone to flesh in a heartbeat.

For me the eagle was a great sign of Christmas. The eagle is obvious because it looks like my totem, the hawk, dressed up like Santa. There are probably a million ways to see any sign. In the rainy foggy wilderness, the eagle had to hunt by getting in close, and it didn't look lofty on that dreary morning, it looked determined. The eagle preached that morning with a clarity that I can only strive for -- that its not always visions of mountain tops, lofty cathedrals, and sugar plums.  Sometimes the holiest is lowly, determined and alone.

The sign of Christmas is the moment we remember that our hearts beat to hope. The sign of Christmas is a welling of gratitude that bears the gift of loving the whole world. The sign of Christmas is a community that can take this world as it is -- seeing the horrible in the glorious, the meaningless suffering in the midst of deep meaning, and the sorrow in the midst of joy. And so with grateful hearts beating to hope we never, ever stop searching for signs as diligently as a hunting eagle on a foggy morning, that bring us glad tidings of peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

By Becca Stevens

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last Minute Holiday Cheer

Credit: Chicago Now

It's your favorite time of year:  rushing to get to the airport, long lines at the check in counter and you just realized you didn't get anything for your Aunt Betty!  No need to fear, you still have a chance to pick up some handmade love before you take off for a winter wonderland.

Thistle Farms products are located in the Nashville International Airport (BNA) at Nashville Star and NaSah's Nashville Nails.  Stop in, grab Aunt Betty a Body Butter and spread the holiday cheer wherever you're going!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thistle Farmers at The Farm

The great volunteers at The Farm at Natchez Trace have been lovingly hosting our Christmas party for the last few years and they really know how to treat humans as well as pets. Thanks for everything, Farm friends!


Sunday, December 4, 2011


When I was 15 I bought a quarter-inch square of purple satin that claimed, from the card stock that it was mounted on, to be cut from Marilyn Monroe's bed sheet. When I saw it, the patchouli scented air in my favorite record shop seemed to stand absolutely still and I eagerly gave up three hours worth of hard earned babysitting money to own something that her gentle hand may have actually touched. I don't remember exactly, but surely I was at least a little bit skeptical. Purple satin does seem a bit cliche'.

I guess I wanted to prove that Marilyn could trust me to take good care of her scrap of shiny bed sheet and understand that I would look after this improbable, yet possible, possession with love and care. More than anything else, something unknown made me believe that some of this sweet lady's overlooked goodness could pass on to me if I were to touch something that she had touched. My heart was broken by her "Magdalene-ness" as well as her commonness long before the truths of this type of sisterhood were parts of my everyday life.

That was 30 years ago, and now I have outlived many of the people whose spirits I have admired and loved. I have walked back through hospital rooms and houses touching, very delicately, the possessions of family and friends whose exits from this life left me begging for one last touch. A wedding ring here and a baseball cap there. All intimate emblems of their having "been here." All, in some way, fulfilling that desperate fantasy of "if I just had one more minute, this is the tenderness with which I would hold you…"

It is in that spirit today that I will leave my home office to buy a body balm at Thistle Farms. Although I already have several, I need one from the stock that's on the shelves now. Yesterday, one of our dearest volunteers, Susie, better known as "Grammie" to all of us, died peacefully from an illness none of us even knew she had. Grammie was our chief body balm container cleaner. She lovingly prepared body balms for labeling and gave so freely of her compassion that I am positive that the goodness of her pretty trembling hands can actually still touch me back.

In my first conversation with Grammie she introduced herself very formally as Mary Sue. By the end of that conversation she was "Susie." When I met her a few days later in person she asked me to call her "Grammie." And that's how it happened. As the Volunteer Coordinator at Magdalene and Thistle Farms I love it when someone shows up a few times and we organically find their place in the circle together. Grammie seemed to know that we needed a Grammie before she even got here. Just knowing that was the first of her many gifts to us.

Please forgive an overzealous knowledge of pop culture, but Marilyn Monroe would have been 85 this year. I always think it's sort of funny when somebody's dad spends their life napping in a recliner only to find out that he is the same age as Mick Jagger. I guess our ages are all about what we make of them. Grammie's familiar youthful giggle and innate girlishness remind me that there is a right and a beautiful way to grow old.

Whether you are a celebrity or a volunteer, leaving those who loved you with a memory of the exact way your hand felt on theirs is an important gift. I take that memory with me today, along with my new body balm and the image of Grammie, always looking photo-ready and never once complaining in her blue OSHA-required manufacturing area cap.


by Stacye Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator