Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More Happiness In Giving

Written by Thistle Farmer (and Country Music Artist) Sara Evans
originally published on the blog A Real Fine Place

‘Tis the season to be thinking of gifts! So in the truest sense of giving, I decided to collaborate with Thistle Farms this holiday season to provide gifts that keep on giving!
Thistle Farms is a beautiful place (social enterprise) that is run by the women of Magdalene. Magdalene is a residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. By hand, the women create natural bath and body products that are as good for the earth as they are for the body. Purchases of Thistle Farms products directly benefit the women by whom they were made. It was founded in 1997 by Becca Stevens. On a personal note, I have witnessed throughout the years all of the dedication that Becca has given this cause. I met her when I first started writing songs with her husband Marcus Hummon, who is an amazing songwriter! We wrote so many songs together, including Born to Fly, however I think Rocking Horse fits this occasion perfectly.
And it was something magic out of something frightening
That’s how I live my life,
I take it as it comes
And I find the hidden love
They are salt of the earth people and I am happy to share their gifts with you all. Go and give and be Merry!

Holiday Candle
Holiday Bath Salts
Individual Healing Oil
Lip Balm
packaged together in beautiful eco-friendly Love Heals brown bag and ribbon
*note: scents will vary

Thermos & Tea Survival Kit
Thistle Farmer Mug
Becca Stevens’ The Way of Tea & Justice Book
Thistle Star Book Ornament
Gift Certificate to Thistle Stop Cafe *note: must be used at the Thistle Stop Cafe in Nashville, TN
package together in beautifully wrapped basket and ribbon
SPECIAL BONUS: Some of the baskets may even contain a random, hand written, holiday wish from Sara herself!

Merry (early) Christmas, and shop ’til you drop!
A Thistle Farmer

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Way of Tea and Justice

Rev. Becca Stevens, Founder of Magdalene, Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Cafe, is proud to announce her latest book: The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from Its Violent History.

Becca started the Thistle Stop Café to empower women survivors. But when she discovered a connection between café workers and tea laborers overseas, she embarked on a global mission called "Shared Trade" to increase the value of women survivors and producers across the globe. 

As she recounts the victories and unexpected challenges of building the café, Becca also sweeps the reader into the world of tea, where timeless rituals transport to an era of beauty and the challenging truths about tea's darker, more violent history. She offers moving reflections of the meaning of tea in our lives, plus recipes for tea blends that readers can make themselves.

Not only is tea the most widely consumed beverage after water in the world, it is the oldest cultivated plant, comes from a single species, and is connected to justice, revolution and religion like no other plant. While tea has helped usher in great economic and spiritual growth in its 3,500 year history, it has been part of the oppression of women. It is tied to the work and mission of Thistle Farms through the stories of sexual violence in the fields of India and the trading of opiates in China. But tea has a noble story too, as its rituals and traditions are great companions for cultivating a contemplative heart. Through our attention to how it is grown and by whom, a tea rooted in justice is a great companion for our spiritual journeys.

In this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for café workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on earth.

You’re invited to a book signing Wednesday, November 5th at 6 p.m. at Thistle Stop Café. Becca will be there to sign copies of her book and, of course, share tea.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Justice Tea Just Tastes Better

Thistle Farmers, ready for something new? We've just launched a new collaborative project, extending economic freedom to women in 5 social enterprises in 4 different countries.

The Tea Survival Kit provides everything you need to fill your cup: four blends of tea, honey sticks, spoon, tea filters and even a thermos! Wrapped in a tote sewn in Kenya, you’ll also be styling your favorite print. Through a new initiative at Thistle Farms called Shared Trade, we’re creating collaborative products like this to spread the message that love heals around the world.

Bringing five social enterprise partners together for one beautiful product is no easy feat. First, we had to source our four blends of tea.  Ajiri Tea is grown and harvested in Western Kenya at the Nyansiongo Tea Factory, a cooperative owned by small-scale farmers. As independent growers, our friends at Ajiri handpick the leaves and ensure the highest quality for our kits. The Moringa Black Health Blend is a blend of moringa, black tea, and lemon grass. The blend features the tea leaves of two Shared Trade partners: Moringa Madres in Mexico and Hope Tea in Uganda.

The third tea in the kit is the Thistle Stop Café Herbal Blend. Made of Milk Thistle, dandelion root and cardamom, this tasty blend of flavors is a natural tonic for liver health. And finally, the Gunpowder Green Tea Blend is made of green tea, orange peel and ginger root, and aids digestion. The gunpowder leaves are closed until they open in the water.

We think you’ll enjoy sweetening up these teas with ten organic honey sticks that have been regionally sourced. The spoon and filters are the last tools you need to enjoy a cup of tea! If you don’t have a cup, the new Love Heals thermos will keep your drink warm and delicious.

Each tea kit ingredient has a special pocket in the satchel that folds up and is easy to carry. In consultation with the Thistle Studios, women at New Visions Sewing Group created each satchel. New Visions is an enterprise of Lwala Community Alliance, a nonprofit initiative to empower women in Kenya through education, healthcare and employment. New Visions also sews the Evening Survival Kit and will be a Shared Trade partner.

Well, each of these pieces arrives separately at Thistle Farms here in Nashville. Thistle Farms then put the pieces together in the satchel. We even blend the Moringa tea in manufacturing! The finishing touch to each Tea Survival Kit is the leather tie sewn on by the team at Thistle Studios.

The Tea Survival Kit is a great companion for your next adventure. The sale of each kit supports women artisans from around the globe. The Tea Survival Kit is now available online. Order and we’ll ship it out to you, or drop by the café to buy your favorite satchel print in person! 

Look for more SharedTrade products coming to you in October!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Home Grown: Best of Nashville

It's that time again! The Nashville Scene has opened its electronic doors to Nashvillians to choose the best of the best things in town. Won't you take a moment to vote for your favorite social enterprises, Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Cafe?

Here are our suggested choices -- be sure to CAST YOUR VOTE by September 5th:

Section 1 of 7: Food and Drink
Best Coffeehouse: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Menu: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Patio: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Place For A Business Lunch: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Restaurant: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Restaurant Ambiance: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Service in a Restaurant: Thistle Stop Cafe

Section 2 of 7: Home, Goods and Services
Best Nonprofit: Thistle Farms
Best Place To Buy A Gift: Thistle Farms
Best Place For A Wedding Reception: Thistle Stop Cafe

Section 3 of 7: Music, Arts and Entertainment
Best Charity Event: Thistle Thursdays (at the Thistle Stop Cafe)
Best Concert Series: Thistle Thursdays (at the Thistle Stop Cafe)
Best Local You Would Like To See Make a Cameo On Nashville: The Thistle Stop Cafe!
Best Place To Hear Live Music: Thistle Thursdays (at the Thistle Stop Cafe)

Section 4 of 7: Media and Politics
Best Facebook Page: Thistle Farms
Best Local Twitter Account: Rev. Becca Stevens

Section 5 of 7: Kids
Best Family-Friendly Restaurant: Thistle Stop Cafe

Section 6 of 7: People and Places
Best Community Role Model: Rev. Becca Stevens
Best Place To Take Out-of-Towners: Thistle Stop Cafe
Best Religious Leader: Rev. Becca Stevens

Once you vote, spread the word by sharing this blog post (and this I VOTED sticker!) on your social media outlets. Thanks for your help in naming Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Cafe the best of in Nashvile! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Loving our Community Partners: Interfaith Dental Clinic

Since the earliest days of Magdalene, we have relied on the generosity and love of our Nashville neighbors to help spread our message. Coming off the streets, escaping prostitution and homelessness, our women have many needs. From medical and psychiatric to legal and financial, these needs are met by an integral support system of community partners committed to the wellness of our residents and graduates. Ever thankful for the aid they give us, we want to highlight the role of our amazing community partners in proving that love heals.

Interfaith Dental Clinic, one of our most valued partners, helps us to fulfill the women’s need for oral healthcare. You might not think of dental hygiene when envisioning the recovery process, but Executive Director, Dr. Rhonda Switzer-Nadasdi and her staff, believe it is an essential part of the journey. With the motto: “A smile changes everything,” Interfaith Dental hopes to bring superior oral healthcare to the working poor and income-insecure seniors of Middle Tennessee.

We recently popped in to visit our friends at Interfaith Dental and they were very kind to give us a full tour. Pictured from left to right - Deb Markland, Thistle Farms, Education & Outreach; Dr. Rhonda Switzer-Nadasdi, Exec. Director of Interfaith Dental Clinic; Ashlyn King & Laura Herrod, Thistle Farms interns; Keri Seay, Magdalene's Assistant Program Director and pictured on the far right, one of Interfaith's beloved volunteer dentists.

In 1994, Dr. Tom Underwood, with the help of the Nashville Dental Society and the Outreach Commission of West End United Methodist Church, set out to bring their ministry to the people of Middle Tennessee. They began in a church basement and worked their way to a beautiful clinic on Patterson Street with state-of-the-art equipment.

Dr. Switzer-Nadasdi was called to work for this mission by Dr. Underwood’s own example. “His passion for the cause, and the obstacles he faced starting it but succeeded anyway, made me believe I could make an impact.” She states that her favorite part of the job is witnessing the private moment of a patient smiling at themselves in the mirror on their way out when they think no one is watching.

Speaking of their partnership with Magdalene, Dr. Switzer-Nadasdi claims, “physical healing is a big part of the women’s journey. Sound oral health can be a major step towards overall improved health. In their psychological journey, their mouths often reveal a past of struggle they are trying to put behind them. Through our partnership we can give a new healthy smile that shines with promise and wholeness.”

Magdalene and Interfaith Dental Clinic are working together to spread a message of love, healing and peace. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Peace begins with a smile.”

Story by Ashlyn King
Thistle Farms Intern

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remember This Day

The Magdalene Graduation is joy-filled event where we celebrate women who have achieved incredible milestones and completed the two-year program. This year as hosts for the event, the women of St. Bartholomew's once again showed us what hospitality looks like. They let us use their lovely sanctuary, gave gifts to honor the graduates and fed us until we were physically, and spiritually, full.

Our honored speaker this year was Carole Hagan. Carole has served the women of Thistle Farms & Magdalene for many years as a full-time volunteer events coordinator, a chair for the fundraiser, a gifted photographer and editor, former recipient of the Thistle Farmer Award, and a mentor and role model to many women. We asked her to share a message of encouragement and inspiration at the ceremony this year.

May is a month full of joy - a time of celebrations. Catalpas and peonies harmoniously trumpet commencement tidings. Graduations abound. Candidates are being awarded degrees: doctors of medicine, law, phd’s in theology. Dissertations following years of research are complete and ready for publication. Processions of academia robed in black gowns trimmed with velvet and shiny colored satin are parading on campus lawns with tasseled mortar boards in step to the strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.

None, not one, can compare with this graduation. None of those accomplishments can compare with what you have achieved. Those of you graduating today, our past graduates and our residents. Remember this day. Remember how you feel and who is sitting beside you. Who you are holding up and who is holding you to do what none of us can do alone, but we can do together.

Having taught school for about 25 years, I have heard many graduation speeches. I do know that everyone who has ever given a graduation speech, wanted it to be inspiring. I am no exception. So I thought I might share with you some of what has inspired me.

On my desks at school and at Thistle Farms, I taped quotes to guide my day, to keep my priorities in check. At school one of the quotes was one from Anne Frank, who with her family went into hiding when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands. They were betrayed and sent to the death camps where Anne died in 1945 at the age of 16. As oft-quoted part of her diary reads:

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.  I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.”  

Anne Frank had risen above, had  transcended the atrocities of the Holocaust. You, my friends, are forging ahead, remembering the past, but not letting the past define who you are today. You are building up your hopes on a foundation of healing love.

Another quote on my school desk was from an educator, Charles Fowler, who said:

“If we fail to touch the humanity of students, we have not really touched them at all.” 

Inspired by his quote, my goal for each of my students was to find her voice and cherish it - then use it to go out into the world and touch humanity.

My granddaughter, Maddie, at the tender age of either four or five taught me about finding your voice. I was driving her on a ghastly hot summer day to meet the bus for Camp Whippoorwill. She asked for my help on a personal problem. “Gitty," - the name she gave to me -  "I have been trying to decide whether to try to fit into the group or just be myself.” Weeks later I asked her if the problem had been resolved.  With bewilderment that it had ever been a problem, she cheerfully replied,

“Yes, Gitty, I found that when I am myself, I fit in just fine.” 

You, my friends, have found your voice and speak your truth. You and your courage have touched so many lives, brought so many people to their knees.  We cannot begin to comprehend the enormity of your sacred work.

One more quote that was on my school desk is from Albert Camus, a French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

You, my friends, have discovered your invincible summer, realizing that you can push back against the world with the stronger force of love.

On my desk at Thistle Farms I taped a quote from Micah, one of the lesser prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

“What does the LORD require of you? To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Every time we light the candle in our mediation circle for the women who are still out on the streets and every time you tell your stories, we are fighting injustice.  In Nashville, in Africa, in South America. Even in Asia, that group of sweet ladies from Korea who loved our Holli. We are part of a global movement committed to women’s freedom.

God knows our world is in dire need with hundreds of terrified young girls captured in Nigeria, sexual assault rampant and our waiting list of one hundred women on our very streets praying for the sanctuary of Magdalene.

The last quote I ever taped to my Thistle Farms’ desk was:

“Dear God, Please help me live my every day through the lens of abundance rather than that of scarcity and that I end the day with more things done than left undone. Amen”  

That was written by Lisa Froeb in March 2013 three months before her death. We all loved Lisa and miss her deeply.  Lisa was a lover of mercy, a fighter of injustice, and she walked humbly with her God. She was a dedicated warrior for Magdalene and Thistle Farms.

We are charged with what Becca wrote about Lisa -
She walked with grace upon this earth.
We grieve her beautiful bounded body’s passing.
Seen in signs and memories she helps us walk through our mourning.
She calls like a saint for us to keep walking, keep loving, keep close, till we reach the other side of time on love’s eternal shore.

By Carole Hagan
Magdalene Board Member and Longtime Thistle Farms Volunteer

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Putting Down Roots

Life at Thistle Farms is made up of small victories, from recovery anniversaries to new jobs and promotions. For Chelle, a 2005 graduate of Magdalene and Thistle Farms Administrative Assistant, her newest victory is becoming a homeowner.

When Chelle went to the bank to get approved for a loan, she wasn’t thinking she would really buy a house. She knew her credit had improved greatly over the last few years and she just wanted to see if she could get approved. There were a few bumps in the road, like an old student loan that had been paid off but was still on her record, but Chelle knew her credit was good. A few month before she had applied for a credit card and been approved. “I knew I was growing up and my credit was climbing,” she said. When she was finally approved her first though was to tell them no, she didn’t want it. The thought of being a homeowner scared her. It was such at big step. But she knew she was growing up, and growing up met taking big steps.  

Chelle spent eight weeks searching for houses. “I didn’t want to rush the process, I didn’t want to end up with something I hated.” The house Chelle fell in love with was not as new as she was hoping (built in 1953) but it had been recently remolded and had a huge back yard, which was what really sold her. Chelle has three children between 6 and 14; the thought of having a big backyard with a back deck was more than enough for her.

The process between when Chelle started the paper work for the house to become hers and when she actually closed on it was the most stressful few weeks of her life.  “I really thought I was going to wake up one morning and someone was going to yell ‘psych!’” But no one came running around the corner to tell her no and before she knew it Chelle was the owner of a house. “I have moved so much. With my addiction I just kept moving. Putting down roots is another step in the healing process.”

“I still don’t feel like the house is mine,” Chelle said a few days before moving in. “I think I am still in shock.” In shock or not everyone at Thistle Farms is excited for Chelle and her family. They are putting down roots and growing together in ways they never thought possible.

Story by Julia Nusbam
Thistle Farms Intern

Photo by Peggy Napier

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Products with Purpose: iSanctuary and Thistle Farms Partnership

This year for Mother's Day, Thistle Farms has partnered with International Sanctuary to help mothers, daughters, sisters, godmothers and grandmothers on two continents celebrate the gift of freedom: freedom from the bondage and oppression of human trafficking. The Gift of Freedom pairs a handmade 23" brass and champagne bead necklace from iSanctuary with an award-winning Lip Smoothie from Thistle Farms.

The beautiful necklaces from iSanctuary symbolize a movement offering women freedom from lives of human trafficking. Founded in 2007, the organization has helped more than 200 women in Mumbai, India and Orange County, CA move from the sex trade into lives of safety and economic independence. Like Thistle Farms, iSanctuary offers so much more than a job. They provide their employees with vocational training, medical services, and a safe haven to heal.

The idea for iSanctuary was born after Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Dailey visited India in 2007. They had to do something. Stephanie calls it her “moment” when her whole life changed. For the past 7 years, Stephanie has lived in Mumbai, coordinating production of a whole line of jewelry and training for the women making it. Now, she and Wendy work from Orange County, CA, overseeing operations and sharing the iSanctuary story. iSanctuary also employs women in Southern California, escaping lives of prostitution and addiction, to inventory, pack and ship the jewelry made in Mumbai.

The Thistle Farms team is excited to start an ongoing partnership with iSanctuary through the Shared Trade movement. Spearheaded by Thistle Farms, Shared Trade: a fair share for women, was launched at the Thistle Farms National Conference last year. Focused on expanding freedom and economic opportunity for women around the world, Shared Trade works to bring women permanently out of poverty through sustainable employment, recovery from violence, stewardship of the environment, and closing the gap between producers and consumers as a product comes to market.

For Mother's Day this year support the gift of freedom for women everywhere. To view more goodies from iSanctuary, visit HERE.

By Laura Herrod
Thistle Farms intern

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Love Reunites: How One Mother and Daughter Found Healing

The relationship between mother and daughter runs deep. It’s a complicated relationship full of heartache and happiness—full of wounding and healing. Genetics link mothers and daughters together, but the relationships go beyond genetics. Most mothers and daughters love one another more deeply—more fiercely—than any two people on earth. At Thistle Farms and Magdalene, we’ve learned that to heal the women, the familial bonds must be healed as well. As Mother’s Day approach we take the time to think about healing bonds between mothers and daughters.

Katrina and Ebony are mother and daughter working together at Thistle Farms, and they are best friends. With their desks arranged close to one another in the sales department, they exchange jokes, laughter, sarcastic remarks, and lots of joy throughout the workday. They could not be happier to be coworkers.

But Katrina and Ebony have not always been so close. When Ebony was a child, Katrina struggled with addiction, living on the streets, and leaving Ebony to be raised by Katrina’s mother. Katrina’s mother was a constant for Ebony, taking care of her when Katrina could not. As a little girl, Ebony would sometimes stand in the living room window of her grandmother’s house, waiting and watching for her mother to come home. “She waited for a long time,” Katrina says.

But Katrina did eventually find her way home. She found her way to Magdalene, where she was given the help and care she needed to get clean and the tools she needed to be reunited with her daughter. For Katrina getting clean met being around a nonjudgmental community. A community that loved her for who she was helped her heal.

Today, Katrina is the National Sales Director at Thistle Farms and her daughter Ebony works as the Whole Foods Accounts Manager. Mother and daughter working together, it is something they never expected to happen. Both women have found healing at Thistle Farms. “It reunited us,” says Ebony, “It gave me back a healthy mom, and that caused me to be a healthy child.”

The best part about working together as mother and daughter for Katrina is watching Ebony create her own story in a place that helped her get her story back. “She is my biggest inspiration,” Katrina says about her daughter. “She has graduated from high school and college, she’s traveled around the world, she is healthy and happy.” And that makes Katrina happy, knowing that her daughter is growing up in a community that is teaching her how to be a strong woman.

Ebony also finds joy in coming to work everyday and working along side her mother. They laugh together and they cry together on a daily basis. My mother created a world for herself, Ebony says, “and now I get to be part of that world. I get to see the lives she has impacted and the people who look up to her. I am proud to say 'that’s my mom.'

Even though Ebony and Katrina couldn’t be happier with the way life has turned out, there is a tinge of sadness underneath of it all. Katrina’s mother passed away last year and talking about their journey without her around is painful for both. Katrina’s mother raised Ebony while Katrina was on the street. “She bridged the gap, so that Ebony always knew I loved her. Even when I wasn’t there.”

Katrina and Ebony’s story is only one of hundreds of mother and daughters (and sons) who have been reunited with help from Thistle Farms. Saving a mother so often means saving a family. So this Mother’s Day, we remember all of the mothers and daughters and sons who have struggled, endured and come out stronger for it.

For Mother’s Day, to support and help broken families reunite and heal, buy a handmade product from the women of Thistle Farms.

Story by Julia Nusbam
Thistle Farms Intern

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