Friday, January 31, 2014

Love Heals. Chocolate Helps.

Here at Thistle Farms we are in the business of healing both the body and the soul. All of our products are handmade by women who are survivors of prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. Each time you purchase from Thistle Farms your contribution goes towards helping women heal.

This Valentine’s Day we’re taking healing to another level. Every year on this day thousands of different kinds of chocolate are given and received around the country. Why is chocolate so popular? No doubt because of its sweet decadent taste, but did you know that there is healing power hidden in the richness of chocolate? Aside from being the perfect snack, chocolate also acts as an antioxidant and helps prevent aging. That’s why this year Thistle Farms has partnered with local chocolate company Olive and Sinclair to create a chocolate facial mask that is as good for the body as it is for the soul.  Made with rich chocolate nibs and other natural products such as rhassoul clay, shea butter, and cocoa powder, our new facial mask exfoliates and purifies the skin. To sweeten the deal, when you buy the chocolate facial mask it comes with an Olive and Sinclair artisan chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Ghana. This decadent combination of chocolate reminds us all how lavish love really is—how love can heal us and make us whole.

 Do we really need another reason to buy chocolate? Not really, but this is the best one I’ve heard lately. This Valentine’s Day lavish someone you love with chocolate and shower them with love. Give them a gift that heals both the body and the soul. Help them remember that love heals and chocolate helps.

To purchase our chocolate facial mask, visit our online store!

Story by Julia Nusbam
Thistle Farms Intern

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Justice Can Roll Like A River

Hearts don’t break. They pour out like a flooded river forgetting her boundary and upturning old oaks and fallow fields. Hearts pouring out flood us with tenderness and tears as their unstoppable force draws us in. When hearts pour out, it is possible to imagine how justice can follow in its wake.

The exilic prophet’s heart did not break amidst the pain of banishment and loss of his nation. Instead Isaiah pours out his heart in a servant's song offered to a God of love who never abandons the people. His words in the fortieth chapter are strong and speak of how God hid him like an arrow in a quiver, waiting for the time to shoot out and speak about the power of love poured out for this world. His life is like a rushing river whose course just carved a path deeper and wider as the rains came.

The story from the first chapter of John describes the calling of the first two disciples who take a journey of the heart to follow Jesus. The story in many ways is heartbreaking as they leave their homes and jobs and embark on a three-year mission in an occupied nation to heal the world, ending with their martyrdom after witnessing the crucifixion of their leader. But their hearts poured out with a clarity and guilelessness that changed the whole world. Their meandering path from the foothills to Jerusalam was as winding as a river, but was always heading toward Justice. Their witness to love itself is beyond measure and exposes the old, stone bedrock of our hearts that sank eons ago, and they open the flood gates of generosity, compassion, and tenderness so no one has to live isolated, cynical, or in fear.

The story of love being poured out like a river has continued down through the ages and is the powerful calling of our lives still.  Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced over and over how to live into the tremdous power of love. In his speech on the day before his assassination he said, “Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, "When God speaks who can but prophesy?" Again with Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."  He called it Ahimsa, the term meaning non-violent soul force that he borrowed from Gandhi in the movement to free India. Ahimsa is as old and deep as the waters running through this earth. It is the basis for the message of Jesus, the Buddha, and all the prophets. Love is a force as old as the earth and when it is poured out for the world, nothing can stop it.

The harsh realities and hurt imposed by violence, poverty, racism, disease, and frailty cannot break hearts. I know love is stronger than that. Today I celebrate the one-year anniversary of the unexpected death of my sister, Katie Garrett. I am remembering with gratitude that even death cannot break us and love keeps flowing. When Thistle Farms started to make healing oils, we chose Ahimsa, the soul force of love as our oldest blend of clove, cinnamon and olive oil. We have tried to be a witness to love’s force, beginning in St. Augustine’s chapel almost 20 years ago.  There have truly been seasons where the creek bed was dry, but we went on faith that water was running somewhere. Many times we have witnessed love pouring out and seeing the glory of a rushing river flow by. On Monday I sat in our meditation circle at Thistle Farms and marveled at the packed room with folks from England, Iceland, Bolivia, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia who had heard about our healing message of love and wanted to sit with us. One woman said she drove from Kentucky for a cup of coffee and a good word. People are thirsty for the waters pouring from the river of love where the promise of justice lives.

Let us pledge our whole lives to pouring our love out for the sake of the whole world. It is how we live into the truth of the prophecies of Isaiah, James, Peter, Martin, and the community of Thistle Farms. Let us pour out our love as we embark to spread this good news of Ahimsa. We are living proof that the war on poverty and freedom is still being waged in the name of love. We are a living testimony as long as we keep preaching every day of our lives in our words and deeds that love is the most powerful force for social change in the world.

By Becca Stevens

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Replacing Money With Love

Shana, a Magdalene Graduate and Thistle Farms Sales Representative, shares her story of a tattoo removal and the man who replaced "Money" with love.

"I got the tattoo in a motel room off Murfreesboro road. It was a dollar sign—another symbol that I was for sale. I hate to think back to that time in my life, it had no meaning other than the name I was given by my pimp — "Money" — because I gave him a lot of it. It is sad that I was okay with just being a dollar sign. After coming to Magdalene and Thistle Farms, it is like a blinder was taken off my eyes and a beautiful world appeared and I was part of it no longer just a dollar sign! Yet, every time I look in the mirror, there was the dollar sign staring back at me; an ugly reminder. I never want to forget my past or the women I have left behind, but I am so much more than just a dollar sign. 

I searched the Internet for grants that might help me get the tattoo removed. When that did not work Cary Rayson, Magdalene's Executive Director, and I spoke at a women's business group in Nashville. I told my story and afterwards a woman approached us and said she knew someone who could help me. Cary did all the corresponding with the woman and the doctor, Dr. Biesman, and even went on my first appointment with me. 

Dr. Biesman is great! The treatments, however, are painful and the tattoo does not come off overnight. Because my face was not responding to the laser, Dr. Biesman asked if I wanted him to cut the tattoo out. I said, “YES!” He set up a surgery room, put in some Metallica and cut it out. I was scared that I would have a scar, but when the stitches came out, my face looked great! I am still having work done on my other tattoos, but when I look in the mirror, I see ME and not a tattoo. I see a new life, one that is not for sale!"

We spoke to Dr. Biesman about his experience with Shana's tattoo removal:

"I really wasn’t sure what to expect when working with a woman from Thistle Farms. I know that many, and probably all, have been through terrible experiences that I can’t begin to imagine. Suffice to say,  I was a little nervous before meeting Shana for the first time. I wasn’t sure what she needed, how she would respond psychologically to undergoing uncomfortable treatments, etc.  However, my concerns were quickly allayed once I met Shana. She has been an absolute delight. My staff and I all love her. She is so sweet, kind, and genuinely appreciative of all of our efforts. I never asked her to talk about what I was doing for her but she wanted to share it. I wanted to help the women of Thistle Farms because I am blessed with the ability to do so, not because I was seeking publicity or PR opportunities. I was floored to learn that Shana was interested in both sharing her experiences with her treatments as well as the fact that I am doing these treatments for her. She is a pleasure to take care of and it gives me true joy and satisfaction to be able to help her.” 

We are grateful to Dr. Biesman for providing this service and sharing his experience. Just another way to show how Love Heals.

You can share your thoughts with Dr. Biesman and Shana on twitter at @DrBiesman and @shanaavoice4all.

Story by Julia Nusbam
Thistle Farms Intern

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Light of Epiphany


The New Year is a perfect time to reflect back and set new goals called resolutions. And it is perfect that it falls in sync with the Feast of the Epiphany, the season of light where we celebrate not just the star of Bethlehem, but all the occasions of seeing light that include the baptism of Jesus and the turning water to wine in Cana. Light in Epiphany is the symbolic and tangible reality of seeing a new truth and walking towards it. This year I set my resolution bar low to simply eat less and practice yoga more as my individual goals. But it’s really cold, and I was tired after the holidays, and I have gotten the resolutions reversed -- eaten more and practiced yoga less. In addition to just being lazy, any simple resolution kind of feels mundane in the face of the big issues of this world and the mountain of work before me. In 2014, I just haven’t been able to muster much energy around my small attempts to rally. Iraq is falling into another violent civil war, more than 1.3 million Syrians were refugees in 2013, the number of women trafficked and raped in our cities has increased -- just to name a few of the seemingly insurmountable issues facing this world. In addition, when I think about the need to start fundraising again and dealing with births and deaths, it feels like a daunting way to start out a new year. Sometimes the scale of work, the foggy path ahead, or just the enormity of this great big ole world undoes us all.  

So I headed to the cold and barren woods to sort out how to move forward in the mire of my inability to keep simple resolutions in the wake of deflating injustices. I walked with expectation that I would find an epiphany, even though I was unworthy and a bit lost. I looked and looked in the sky for a hawk, a sign of spirit, but the skies were quiet. I prayed psalms I know by heart, but the words poured out of my mouth in puffs of cold air. There was nothing... but light. Pure, unadulterated light that poured over me through leafless trees. The same light that shines on the rich and poor; the same light that rises in Iraq and sets on Syria. Light that has shined since before the first war or the first person died from the human institution of poverty. That light that forgives us for stumbling in our petty resolutions and gives us energy to move forward.

It is the light of Isaiah’s hope, calling his people 2,500 years ago while they were still in exile, to arise, shine, for the light has come. He preached that even though darkness may cover the land, nations will see the light. In the beginning of his writing he reminds the people, “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

It is the message that Epiphany is the season of renewal and hope as we arise and let the light shine on us. When we stumble around and feel overwhelmed, this is the season to see the light. When we are asking, can we try again, the light answers for us with a resounding and brilliant, “yes”. See the light in a flickering candle, in a bright sun on a winter’s day, or in the flame of your stirring heart. Walk in that light and step out of your darkness, selfishness, pride, cynicism, and worry.

When I looked back on last year’s Epiphany sermon and saw the communal resolutions included opening a Magdalene community inside prison, buying a new house, opening a cafĂ©, building a new building in Ecuador, sending a team to Botswana and growing this community. We did all that and more. The light was there, and sometimes our biggest mistake can be taking it for granted and not seeing how beautiful and transformative it is has been in our collective and individual lives.  

Last Wednesday night, as I walked into St. Augustine’s dark and peaceful chapel, lit with 20 votive candles, Andrew Suitter was leading a group of six people on New Year’s day in the rosary. I listened for a minute and then left to tend to some task distracting me. It was in hindsight that the light reached me and I could see the vision before me. There was Andrew, our intern, beautifully transformed into a minister leading a flock with reverent prayers, haloed light, and a guiless heart that shines unfathomable light into weary souls.  The light was stronger because it has been passed on and shared.

The light of Epiphany is a promise that whether we stumble or fly, we are growing in the light of timeless love. Even the bulbs of wildflowers I walked over without a thought are soaking in the light in the frozen earth ready to spring to life in a few months. The light of love, more timeless than the sun, will hold us up so we can see the light in us.

We are being led in 2014. And like the Magi, when we follow we will see new visions and return on different paths. We will fall to our knees in gratitude that we kept. Let us be renewed by the light.  Pray for it. Resolve to live into it even when you stumble. The world needs us to walk in the light and not be discouraged. Let us resolve to hold the light for everyone who comes to this chapel, to help each other when our light feels dim, and to collectively carry our light into the world with healing, peace and love as our resolve.

By Becca Stevens

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Berkeley Divinity School at Yale Collects Funds for Thistle Farms

Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, an official seminary of the Episcopal Church, designated Thistle Farms as one of the beneficiaries of funds that the seminary collects during the school year. Jordan Trumble, a second-year student and co-chair of the St. Luke's Committee (a student-run organization of the seminary), helped to facilitate the relationship between Thistle Farms and Berkeley. Win Bassett, a first-year student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, spoke with her about the evolution of the new partnership and how serving Thistle Farms fits into Berkeley’s mission. 

Will Bassett: How did Thistle Farms, located in Nashville, TN get on Berkeley’s radar in New Haven, CT?

Jordan Trumble: Each year, the Berkeley community designates the money from the offerings at its Wednesday evening Community Eucharists to charity. This year, under the auspices of the St. Luke's Committee, of which I am co-chair (along with Stephen Hagerty), we voted to sponsor three organizations: one local, one national, and one international.  

Once we had decided what types of organizations we wanted to fund, we took nominations from the Berkeley community to ensure that our money would go to organizations and people whose work we value. The St. Luke's Committee distributed information about the organizations, and the community voted, ultimately selecting Thistle Farms as its national beneficiary. We also are funding Chapel on the Green (local) and St. Nicholas Seminary in Ghana (international), as well as a special project for the South Florida Haiti Project.  

Will Stanley, another second-year student, nominated Thistle Farms, but it is also an organization known to many of the students here who view the work of Becca Stevens as inspirational. We also sell Thistle Farms products in the Yale Divinity School Student Book Supply. Many of us in the community (myself included) use their products.  

WB: Do you mind providing an estimate for how much money Berkeley will be able to donate to these charities, Thistle Farms included?

JT: The money we donate is the money we collect during the offerings at our Wednesday evening Community Eucharist services. Based on past amounts, I would guess that Berkeley will end up donating $800-$1,000 to each charity.

WB: How long will Thistle Farms be a beneficiary of funds collected by Berkeley?

JT: Thistle Farms is a beneficiary for the 2013-2014 academic year, meaning that they will receive an equal share of our Wednesday night offerings.

WB: How do the goals of Thistle Farms fit into Berkeley's mission?

JT: Berkeley's school motto, "in illa quae ultra sunt" ("into the regions beyond"), is a phrase we often reference when we talk about ministering in the world beyond the walls of the Divinity School. I think Thistle Farms illustrates this attitude and outlook when it radically ministers to and builds relationships with those in particularly marginalized communities. Thistle Farms offers a beautiful and inspiring model for ministry.

Thank you to Win and Jordan for this inspirational interview! 
We hope in 2014 we all go into the regions and beyond.