Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions


There is a 4,000-year-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions according to The year-end is a perfect time to reflect back and set goals. I haven’t set very many New Year’s resolutions, apart from my continual resolution to lose five pounds and exercise more. I just wait for Ash Wednesday and make my resolutions then. Resolutions are simply decisions to either do something or refrain from doing something. We resolve to make amends or change, not just on January 1st or on Ash Wednesday, but when we feel like we need to do something different. It isn’t hard to make them. The problem lies in keeping them.

We need community to keep resolutions. For example, If you resolve to practice Yoga in 2013, it helps to have a friend to sign up with, a class to go to, children who are patient when dinner is late, and a workplace that offers you time to go. Anyone seeking recovery knows they need a community to hold them up and hold them accountable. We need each other because the role the community plays in the nature and implementation of resolutions is huge.

But beyond community helping foster individual resolutions, there are communal resolutions because as the community thrives, our individual lives of faith thrive. Common resolutions foster the common good, which affects us all. The gift we offer one another is to live out our faith together. We promise to be there for one another in good and bad times, that we will hold each other up and hold each other accountable, and that by being together the sum will be greater than its parts.  Common resolutions should be at the heart of our resolutions since they are key to living in gratitude and meaning in our lives.

St. John Chrysostom lived in the 4th century and was the archbishop of Constantinople. His preaching echoed the themes of hospitality and charity as noted in Matthew 25“when you did this to the least of these, you did it unto me." He spoke eloquently about the need for all Christians to work together towards the common purpose of caring for one other. "This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good ... for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors."

The early Christian communities were rooted in a common concern for one another in worship and service. In the readings this week for the celebration of Holy Family, in the letter of Paul to the Galatians, he says that we are all children of God. In other words, related. We are all heirs together, bound by the wellness of the whole community. The story of the birth of Jesus as told in the Gospel is the story of a community of faith, recognizing the gift of Jesus, celebrating with the family, and ultimately helping make sure the child was safeguarded. Not just for Mary and Joseph, but for the sake of the whole community. It took the shepherds, the magi, the parents and a slew of people to get the Holy Family to Egypt and back.

Recently, a new resident came to Magdalene directly from prison from another state with nothing. She came into community with common goals and purpose. She told me that a when she arrived, her new roommate gave her clothes, shampoo, new underwear, and towels. She said she had never been treated with such kindness. Right after she said it I wanted to say, “well you know its because your roommate had just received all of those things so she just gave you what was given to her.” But as soon as the thought popped into my head, I knew that is just what we all do. We think at first that we give to others as if it was ours in the first place, when truly it was given to us and we just share it. Whether it is a towel, a prayer, or a common resolution to share with the world. This is the week to celebrate and make some common resolutions for 2013.

My hope is that we can resolve to:

1.  Celebrate each week the newest people in the circle as the honored guests of the banquet.

2.  Launch the cafe and the sewing studio.

3.  Hone the message of inclusion and love without judgment.

4.  Open a new residence inside and outside the prison walls.

5.  Cast our nets wider and speak unapologetically as a unique community without formal membership about freedom offered, when we focus on right action, not right thought.

We are called to love the world, so we all have to keep changing to love it better.  We need a community with a common resolve to help us live into our resolve for the sake of the world.

Peace and love,
Becca Stevens---
Thistle Farmer

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Timeless Gift of Christmas

Time seems rigid; it marches us forward and waits for no one. It ticks away years off lives and carves our pasts in stone.  Tonight, we celebrate that Christmas doesn’t adhere to the rules of time. Time turns to liquid in Christmas’ presence. It becomes merely a fluid concept through which we can travel. All at once, we can be carried back two thousand years to the story of the birth of Jesus and then, in the next breath, we can remember a Christmas from childhood, or wonder about what tomorrow will hold. It is a powerful spirit that can break open time and offer it to us like a soothing hot tea. When we drink from it, we move into the space where the temporal and eternal kiss and believe things we spend our days questioning. When we taste the Christmas spirit we can imagine a peaceable future, a reconciled past, and present filled with the gift of hope.

Photo by Peggy Napier

Last week in the circle at Thistle Farms, the spirit of Christmas settled into the room. We had outpaced all internet sales, had raised enough money to open the new cafe to welcome seven new employees, had hosted - under Carole’s leadership - 51 events, and watched LaTisha, who works in shipping, drive up in - what she calls - her first “legal car." So, 50 of us gathered like we do every week, and immediately the tears flowed. Time was set aside in that space to make room for a spirit that held us captive. Women, without prompting or rehearsal, recalled Christmas pasts spent on the streets, looking for money and eating White Castles out of hotel rooms rented by the hour. Women remembered childhoods of visiting their Moms in prison, or grieving having no memories of Christmas at all.  Women wept as they grieved relatives and friends they had lost or who were sick this Christmas. Then a woman talked about celebrating the birth of Jesus for the first time in her life. The conversation moved freely into comments about Christmas present and the joy of being in community. In that circle, we traveled through Christmas seasons with each other, not boxed in by time but moving through memory and hope.

Photo by Stacye Wilson

The story of the birth of Jesus in The Gospel of Luke begins this way. He sets the time and place. The emperor Cesar Augustus in 4 A.D. called for a census. Quirinius was Governor of Syria. Into that unpeaceful occupied nation, burdened with the same themes of suffering and politicizing that we know, the story begins. It begins by rooting the birth in the stump of Jesse. It seems like into this space the people will need a militaristic messiah who can fight against all the injustices. But even as Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem and had a baby, the birth broke through it all like an angel.  Into that particular time and location where the violence of poverty called Mary and Joseph to birth in a barn, Love, manifested in the Christ Child, burst forth and shattered time and space. Suddenly Angels sing from dark nights. When we taste the eternal present in our midst, our hearts stir and we rip open the box we have been held by. Inside is the vision of Isaiah, that promises the yoke of burden and the rod of the oppressor, is broken and the boots of the tramping warriors will be burned as fuel for the fire.  For a child has come to break through all time and space and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. When time is torn asunder in the presence of love all the other mythical absolutes that we are bound by are shattered. We are allowed to dream timeless dreams and speak of peace and hope. We are welcomed into a new space where then and when turn simply into here and now. And it will be this way forever.

So the gift is offered to you and to me this night.  We are given the gift of standing together, the homeless and cosseted, the wounded and innocent, the cynical and guiless and work towards women's freedom and healing from the oldest wounds this world has known. Accepting the gift means that the Christmas spirit lives in us and tomorrow is already here. Whether we grieve or shout for joy in this moment. Whether we are run ragged by solitude or family. Whether we believe it all or not. The gift is given to us.


Merry Christmas -
The Rev. Becca Stevens

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Witness

The following video and note came from our dear friend and super-volunteer, Marcie Brolund.

Thought you all would enjoy these video highlights of moments I've shared with the women this year. From exercise to gardening, smoking cessation classes, driving lessons, pressure washing, cooking together and craft times, to cleaning together, and refinishing outdoor furniture, we have had some GREAT moments. I have also been privileged to see some of them get new cars, new homes, and witness other special touching moments. What a blessing to witness up close and personal how Love Heals!  The first song was recorded by Jennifer Whitmore, a young girl who had come along with me for the better part of the year before she left for college. 

Marcie, thank you for being such an integral part of our our community and being a true witness to the healing power of love.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reflections From A Student

This spring, Shana, Dorris, Becca and Tim went to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. This fall, we received the following letter from one of the students who attended the event where we spoke.

Dear Magdalene Community: 
Earlier this year, a few women from the Magdalene community came to Elizabethtown College to talk to us about the Thistle Farms program.  I wanted to thank you for informing us about your magnificent program.  As an occupational therapy student, I realize the importance and need for a program like Thistle Farms.  I know that even when a survivor is out of the immediate troubling situation, it can still affect the individual’s daily life occupations.  Areas of work, education, home management, parenting, leisure, and social participation may all be affected.  
It was a powerful experience to hear the womens' stories about how far they have come and how much they have grown through the wonderful community of Magdalene.  The women of the Magdalene community join hands to provide each other security, protection, and strength.  Women from all different lifestyles come together and form this incredible bond and relationship that strengthens each other more each day.  They encourage each other to believe in themselves and to recognize they have the opportunity to start a new life. The womens' testimonies of how they survived and intervened with their lives, sheds so much hope to the women just starting out on this journey.  The bravery and courage of the women of Magdalene provides gifts of life and growth, which demonstrates more love and respect than anyone could attempt to explain. 
To me, the community of Magdalene truly exemplifies continuous love; which speaks volumes to an outsider looking into your community.  I love that Thistle Farms program illustrates the beauty, strength, and worth of a woman and expresses how love can conquer everything.  Through the unconditional love the Magdalene women have to offer, it conveys the truth that EVERY woman deserves a life filled with gifts; gifts of hope, strength, and love. 
I want to acknowledge the womens' hard work and continuous effort throughout their journey.  In addition, I need to commend the women on their remarkable strength and devotion to helping their fellow Magdalene members.  By overcoming their own personal struggles and obstacles, they are creating a difference not only in their life, but also in the Magdalene community, and in others lives as well.  The women of Magdalene community live by way of example of what truly genuine love and support looks like. 
Ashton Morgan, MOTS

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Ashton! We are so glad to have had a chance to meet you and are grateful for sharing your thoughts with us.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hope In Rwanda

This fall, we welcomed Dr. Nicolas Hitimana, Founding Director of Ikirezi, a farming co-operative in Rwanda that serves genocide widows and orphans, to Nashville. Seven women from Thistle Farms met Nicholas in 2008 on our trip to Rwanda. It was then that we began a partnership to blend Ikirezi’s geranium essential oils with a Thistle Farms recipe to make a natural bug repellant

Nicholas came and spoke to us about the value chain in this world, and how it is the producers that are usually at the bottom of that chain. He said that by creating social enterprises and successful partnerships, we move the producers directly to the consumer and increase their place on that value chain. Our partnership with the farmers of Ikirezi is encouraging to them because they know their stories are being heard in the world. Nicholas closed by saying the most valuable gift he has been given is hearing widows and orphans from the 1994 genocide speak about hope and forgiveness. 

One of the Thistle Farms' employees said, "Having Nicholas and the aroma of African geranium finally land on our soil after 5 months of waiting made me realize the sacredness of this cooperative."

We were all inspired by Nicholas’ grace and passion to work towards reconciliation and freedom for women who have suffered so much. 

To hear Nicholas' sermon, click HERE.
To learn more about Ikirezi Natural Products, click HERE.
To order Thistle Farms Geranium Spray, click HERE.