Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Studios: A Dedication

Earlier this summer, we dedicated The Studios of Thistle Farms to Carlana Harwell, an integral part of the Magdalene and Thistle Farms community.

During a board meeting in August, Dr. Sandy Stahl, Board President, opened with a recognition of Carlana’s years of service as Board President, Housing Consultant, Friend to New Women, Events Chair, Generous Donor, Fundraiser, and Endless Compassionate Heart.  

We gave thanks for the leadership of Anna Saterstrom, who along with Penny, Jennifer, Nita, Betty, Betty, Joan, Tonya, Grace, Babs, Gaile, Margot, Mary Ann, Ken, Jim and Carolyn, have helped make the space a creative sign of love’s healing power and grace.   

Magdalene and Thistle Farms founder, Becca Stevens, led the group in a prayer:

Almighty God, we thank you for letting us share in the healing of your world through the work of our hands. Receive the work in this place, restored and set apart for making paper and sewing, to help heal broken bodies and spirits, to give work to women, and to share the story of healing with the world.  Let this space honor everyone who works here, all the volunteers, Anna, Penny, and Jennifer and to honor the work of Carlana.   Peace be in these studios.  Amen.

The Studios are dedicated in gratitude to
Carlana Harwell
 For years of personal commitment and loving service
to Thistle Farms and Magdalene.

We love you, Carlana, and are grateful to you!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Global Circle


I was raised by the Harpeth River, but never learned how to skip a stone. The rocks I tossed plopped, and instead of seeing them skip across the top, I got to observe over and over how series of perfect concentric circles grow larger as they move through water. Being in The Ryman tonight is a huge ring in a circle that is bigger than any of us dreamed of when we tossed in our small, rounded stone of hope that consisted of a house and five women in 1997. We have watched the ripples make their way through troubled and beautiful waters and tonight bask in the beauty of 2,000 people in a sacred circle that helps us all believe love grows exponentially.

It is right for us to be here on one of the oldest stages of storytelling in Nashville. The story we share tonight is older than the oldest country song. It’s a story that dispels the myth that prostitution and trafficking are the oldest forms of abuse, and proclaims that child sexual abuse and trauma are at least a generation older. It’s the story that calls us to remember that love is older and deeper than the oldest scars we carry. It’s a story of day to day struggle and glorious transformation. Dorris Walker, who leads the packing team at Thistle Farms and sings like an angel, traveled with me to Florida to share her story of healing and hope. Now, while Dorris, like most of the women of Magdalene, had experienced the underside of bridges, the short side of justice, the back side of anger and the inside of prison walls, she had never seen the far side of the horizon from the coast. I got to be with her as her feet hit the sugar sands for the first time and as she stepped into the ocean and felt the tide pull her. She threw her arms open wide and said in a lilting voice as beautiful as any singer who has ever graced The Ryman stage, “Has this been doing this my whole life?” For as long as the moon was tossed into the atmosphere of our planet, concentric tidal circles have come in waves. The power of the circle and the healing of love are the oldest and most powerful stories of humanity. But we need each other to get down to the shores to feel its pull and to remember that the circle of love can ripple across the whole globe.

For years we have been growing the circle of Thistle Farms. Last year sales were close to $700,000 and we are on track to surpass those numbers so that we can meet our 1.6 million dollar budget. This year, we have welcomed nine new employees and have nine women waiting in the wings to come on board to work. This year we opened the Thistle Stop Café and our Sewing Studio to keep expanding the work opportunities. We are launching new initiatives this year, including the first Magdalene Circle inside the prison walls, under the leadership of Dorinda Carter and Shelia McClain, and a women’s shared-trade initiative that includes overseas partnerships and sales’ teams across the country. We also have our eyes set on a new residence and want to continue our commitment to help launch similar residential programs in more cities.

This circle tonight is especially beautiful because it is the culmination of our first National Conference. The sold-out conference is welcoming 250 guests from 31 states who join us in the truth that together our communities can widen this circle enough to change a culture that continues to buy and sell women like commodities and forgets that we don’t ever have to leave anyone behind on our journey to the shores of hope. They will carry this story back and help us see the next big ripple tearing through the water like justice rolling out across a sea of pain. We know in this circle that if you want to kill a village, rape the women, and if you want to heal the village, heal the women.  All of our individual efforts in healing a village may be a drop in the bucket of solutions, but you gather enough drops together and you can change the tide. Magdalene and Thistle Farms are about healing the whole community. Women go back and deal with dysfunctional families, make court restitution, get their kids back, and just by being on Charlotte Avenue, we help the city save and receive income of more than $600,000 annually.

The holiday ornament created by our paper studio this year is a globe. It is made up of 20 individual circles. This global image celebrates that we are a movement of concentric circles, and that we are allowed to dream big, especially on the stage of The Ryman, that we can love the whole world together, one person at a time. We are gaining momentum fast.  We were featured this week in the New York Times, we will be featured in a PBS documentary this year with Nicolas Kristof as a best practice model in this country, and we are becoming a voice for change in this country. Yes, we have come far, but there is so much more work to do to make the next ripple; there are a hundred women on our waiting list, there are thousands of women in our prisons that long for community, there are thousands more in alleys tonight where the light of hope is all but extinguished as they can’t see their way home. So we will keep casting our stones wider and farther until we can help change the world so that child sex abuse is no longer a secret, and women who have been raped will see the healing light of justice, where there is no tolerance for the buying and selling of human beings, where women feel like they can seek help with addictions without fear, and where there are hundreds of recovery homes offering long-term, community-based healing with meaningful work.

It is going to take all of us to lift a rock of hope big enough to open the circle to welcome more and more survivors. It’s a lot to open new programs, to open new homes, and to create new businesses. To fund our current programs and the ones ahead, we need to raise $400,000 tonight. We can absolutely do it if we can imagine all the love rising tonight from everyone gathered---from new residents, old friends, and brand new faces, and see ourselves as a force that longs for love as big as the moon.  Then we can carry that love through these doors into the wider world and make a circle big enough that it can reach the farthest shores of our hearts and the ends of the world.

Peace and love, 
Becca Stevens---
Thistle Farmer

We are grateful for everyone who joined us in the circle at The Ryman last night. 
If you weren't able to make it, but you still want to donate, 
go to to make a secure donation via Paypal.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Set Free

Stephen Owens was 12 years old in 1985 when he discovered his father at home badly beaten and near death. Evidence proved Stephen’s mom, Gaile, had hired a hit man to carry out the murder, and she was sent to death row. Stephen and Gaile did not see each other for decades, but through an amazing series of life transformations and revelations about the tragic event, God opened a door for both of them to be set free -- one from a prison of unforgiveness, the other from a literal prison cell.

Stephen recently wrote a book about his experience and reflections on forgiveness called Set Free. His mom, Gaile, now works at Thistle Farms. Here together, they share their thoughts about what it truly means to be set free.

Gaile Owens:
The choices I made in 1985 destroyed a family. The most important people in my life were understandably filled with hate and trying to find their way. My prayer every single day was, "God keep them safe, let them know they are loved and please let me see them one day.” As I tried to find forgiveness for my choices, my focus became centered on, one day, being able to ask my sons to forgive me. Though there would never be any justification for my choices and I could never make it right, I did hope I would at least hear the words, “I forgive you, Mom.”

As the years went by and still no contact from my sons, I felt that I deserved this and the reality of never seeing them again was an actual possibility. My prayer became, “Please God, let me see them just one time. I just need to ask for forgiveness.”

Stephen Owens:
For many years following the death of my father and the incarceration of my mother, I was filled with intense anger and resentment. I was exposed with open wounds, refusing to see the path to healing. My journey towards forgiveness and my healing began more than a decade after the tragic events. My first child was born and his birth marked the gradual death of my anger and resentment. This gift of new life sparked an immediate desire to examine my heart and reflect on my future. The next several years were filled with specific, God-appointed events leading me directly to a life altering decision. I could choose to endure the pain, the torments and the anger… or I could choose healing. After over 20 years, I walked into the prison and I offered my mother forgiveness and healing. I chose to accept healing from a God who loves me and saves me from a life consumed with relentless suffering chained to my past.

There have never been words that meant more than “I forgive you, Mom.” I had waited over two decades to hear these words. The day Stephen left, I had no assurance of seeing him again, but my prayer had been answered in seeing him this one time. I would have to accept it if this was my only time to hug my son and hear him say he loved me and forgave me. Little did I know, we would look back today and see God’s hands all over our lives.

“There is no justice in taking her life. There is no justice in denying the healing power of forgiveness.” These are the words I spoke to Governor Bredesen, just over three years ago in pleading for my mother’s life as she sat on death row in the State of Tennessee. Our story, our lives, our relationship are proof of the healing power of forgiveness. By the grace of God, my mother was gifted with a commutation from Governor Bredesen and later released on parole. By the grace of God, I was released from a personal prison of anger and resentment. By the grace of God, we were both gifted the healing power of forgiveness. Choosing to forgive was the first step in the process of healing. My mother and I will spend the remainder of our lives in this healing process and each day brings new challenges and new triumphs. Forgiveness is not the easy choice. Letting go of the past, moving forward and celebrating the blessings in the life of someone who inflicted severe pain is not for the weak. Forgiveness is a difficult and challenging day-by-day effort. Forgiveness also brings indescribable peace and freedom. The healing received from the love of God and in actively loving one another binds up the wounds and gives us a life full of hope.

Shortly after my release and my return to the outside world, I knew finding a job with my record was going to be a challenge. I met with Rev. Becca Stevens, who offered me a job at Thistle Farms. She told me that Thistle Farms was a place for healing and a safe haven for women and that Love Heals Every Body. She was right and it’s been almost two years since I joined this non-profit and I have been on a path of healing ever since.

Thistle Farms has been an answered prayer ever since Mom walked in the doors the very first day. She was scared and fearful and Thistle Farms became the instant safe place that offered Mom the opportunity to transition at her own pace. The core of Thistle Farms, forgiveness, love and healing, has been essential for Mom's progress and has allowed her to share and use her personal experience to give back to others.

Stephen and Gaile have both been set free – Gaile, from the prison and Stephen, from years of unforgiveness. They hope that somehow their journey will impact other’s lives and they will know that once you forgive, you too, can be set free. We are grateful for their life lessons and presence in the Thistle Farms community.

To purchase SET FREE, click HERE.  For more information on Stephen Owens, click HERE.

Special thanks to Lisa Owens for compiling Gaile's and Stephen's stories.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thistle Thursdays

In addition to a hot cup of coffee brewed by Just Love Coffee or a health-conscious, healing tea brewed from Possitifitea, guests of the Thistle Stop Café will be able to enjoy a new layer of goodness: live music every Thursday night.

Beginning October 17, we will launch the live music series Thistle Thursdays

In addition to an eclectic line up of artists, local food trucks will be on site from which you can buy your dinner, eat in the Thistle Stop Café and our head barista, Terry, can make you what is becoming known as THE best latte in town.

Terry, as well as other Thistle Stop Café employees Arletha, Tasha and Christy, are all residents or graduates of Magdalene, the two-year residential community for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Fifty percent of Thistle Thursdays' cover charge will benefit the Thistle Stop Café and Thistle Farms, the social enterprise that is run by the women of Magdalene.

The inaugural event on October 17 will feature Universal Republic Records artist, Erin McCarley. While she has performed all over the world, Erin calls Nashville home and understands the importance of supporting local organizations for women, like Thistle Farms. “I know about music being a healing process through writing and recording my album. I’m so thrilled to share some of those songs at the Thistle Stop Café, a place that is all about the healing power of love.”

Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens says, “The theme of the Thistle Stop Café is ‘a story in every cup’ and by adding live music on Thistle Thursdays, we can honor 'a story in every song.' We want to offer this space for artists to share their gift of music with the community and to give the women of Thistle Farms a stage in which to share their stories.”

The first announced lineup of shows can be found on the Thistle Stop Café website. Like Thistle Stop Cafe on Facebook and follow @thistlestopcafe on Twitter for Thistle Thursday announcements,  photos and live tweets.