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