Tag Archives: Nashville

For the Love of a Tea Party :: Thistle Farms Changes Lives

There was a party in Nashville, Tennessee, this week and I really wanted to be there. I would have brought the tea cups.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, on a trip to see my sons in Nashville, Tennessee, I ran across a quaint little café on the northwest side of the city. Thistle Stop Cafe sits in a corner storefront on Charlotte Pike. With giant purple thistles painted on one the side of the building and a huge metal thistle sculpture on the other, it’s hard to miss.

The café serves wonderful breakfasts and lunches, as well as specialty coffees and teas. A display to the side of the coffee counter offers Thistle Farm’s natural bath and body products, handcrafted fair trade items and books.

Photo: Thistle Farms

The food and the service were both delightful, but the most remarkable feature of the café was the lighting. Hanging from the ceiling were chandeliers made of china tea cups.

I rarely make a trip to Nashville without stopping in the café, but when I visit the city this weekend, I’ll have to pass. The café is closed for remodeling and expansion and will reopen this summer. When it does, my tea cups (which I’ll deliver on my visit) will be hanging from the ceiling along with thousands of others from throughout the country and around the world.

More important than my need for a great meal, or my appreciation for the intentional work of the company, or even the beautiful tea cup chandeliers, is the mission of Thistle Farms — to heal, empower and employ women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. The women who cook and serve and create the body care products are doing a healing work, living out the ministry’s motto “Love Heals”.

Founder Becca Stevens, right, helps prepare a display of skin care products made and packaged by the women living and working at Thistle Farms. (Photo: Thistle Farms)

As for the party I missed, Thistle Farms hosted a concert and celebration marking 20 years of dedication to its mission. Founder Becca Stevens, country singer Reba McEntire and the women of Thistle Farms gathered at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville on May 3 to honor program graduates in an event that raised funds for the ongoing work of Thistle Farms.

“This week’s event celebrated work that is firmly rooted in the belief that love is the strongest force for change in the world. We do this by providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners.” Founder Rev. Becca Stevens

Last year, customers and donors of Thistle Farms helped make the following possible:

  • 59 women survivors employed by Thistle Farms, earning over $1m a year in salary and wages
  • 9,215 nights of safe, supportive housing provided to women recovering from life on the streets
  • 14,100 hours of counseling and therapy for survivors, ensuring their physical and mental well-being
  • 40 organizations across the country replicated our housing model, currently offering 185 beds for women seeking sanctuary from the streets
  • 24 shared trade partnerships around the globe, supporting the economic freedom of more than 1,700 women

These words from the father of a young woman healed at Thistle Farms express the heart of this project:

“Knowing Rachel had a safe environment for her journey, gave me, as her father, the comfort and confidence to continue on my recovery journey, which I began during her incarceration. Once a week I now attend two 12-step programs for parents and families with addiction, Al-Anon and Families Anonymous. The strength of the Thistle Farms program provided a secure environment for Rachel, which helped me to pursue my recovery from co-dependence. We were on parallel journeys to recovery.”

My china tea cups belonged to a dear friend who has survived three bouts with cancer and to my step-mother, who passed away last summer at age 88. They’ll be wrapped in newspaper and placed in a box along with half a dozen cups I purchased at a thrift store run by a domestic violence agency in my hometown. Profits from sales at the thrift store help provide services for survivors of domestic violence and their families. It seems appropriate that they should be hanging in a space where women are finding hope and healing.

A God Who Wastes Nothing

I sliced my thumb today. A pretty solid gash from a freshly-sharpened knife instantly covered the peppers I was chopping for a breakfast scramble. I ran to the sink to inspect the wound, letting my son clean up my mess and take over the chopping.

“Is it as bad as that time in Nashville?” he asked. Ah, yes — the time I sliced open my thumb when visiting him in Nashville. A much bigger cut caused by a porcelain knob that broke off in my hand when I turned on the shower, that one called for a visit to an emergency care facility. I won’t give you all the details, but I was in the shower, he was at work and I had no idea where the nearest facility might be. I pulled on my “big girl pants” after nearly passing out on the floor and found directions on my phone. Six stitches later, my gauze-wrapped thumb and I drove across the city to visit him at his work site.

It’s what moms do.

I rub my fingers over the numb spot on my right thumb and remember that day. It was exactly five years ago this month. I wrote about my visit to Nashville at an important time in my son’s life for Topology Magazine. I’m writing about him again — this time for an entirely different reason.

I first shared our son’s journey through anxiety, panic and depersonalization in a post for Amelia Rhodes’ book Pray A to Z.  An expanded essay is featured in this month’s Redbud Post.

I’m honored to be part of Redbud Writers Guild “a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith.” Each month, guild members submit essays to be considered for The Redbud Post. This month’s theme is “Perspectives on Mental Health Issues”.

When I wrote the essay, our son was climbing out of a season of debilitating anxiety. He had moved home after five years of living in Nashville and was receiving therapy to overcome a condition that was taking over his life.

Six months after beginning treatment, this is our son today. Recently, he traveled alone six hours round trip to visit the city where he hopes to relocate, a big deal when we remember there was a time when even leaving the house was a struggle.

I’ve shared my son’s story with his permission because we both are praying that it will help others traveling the same road. You can read about “A God Who Wastes Nothing” on The Redbud Post.

The first time I sat with our son while he was experiencing a panic attack, everything in me wanted to wrap my arms around him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass. Anxiety and panic are all too familiar to my son’s generation. It’s estimated that at least half of young women born between 1980 and 2000 suffer from an anxiety disorder and a third of young men. Our adventurous, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic in his early 20s. (more…..)


Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is a beautiful anthology of essays and poetry by authors from The Redbud Writers Guild. It’s now available for purchase here and at book stores. I’ll share more about this lovely book and give away a free copy on May 12, but you can order copies now for the mothers in your life. It would make the perfect Mother’s Day gift.


Nashville: Making Culture in Community

Where we are — the place where we are breathing, working, loving and living — that place, that community, forms us, even in the midst of trial and change. One of my adult sons was making a new life far from home a few years back, wrestling with change and trying to get a handle on the future. I was able to drop in on his life for a few days and wrote about his world from my perspective. My essay is included today at Topology:

The slap-crack of skateboards hitting cement punctuates the air. The town park vibrates with laughter, conversation, dog yelps, honking horns. Overhead, dark clouds roll, hanging low, heavy with moisture….(read more)

Topology is the online journal of *culture is not optional, an intentional community based in Three Rivers, Michigan. From their website:

“The mission of *culture is not optional is to model and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond. Perhaps our first value is in our name: *culture is not optional. But what kind of culture? And why is it “not optional?” We believe humans are created to make something of the world, and what we make is “culture.” We can’t help but make culture in our homes, neighborhoods, churches and workplaces. The culture we make can be life-giving or destructive, beautiful or scarring, compassionate or self-centered. As followers of Christ, we aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.”

I’m engaged in making “culture” today as I write and, later, as I handle issues faced by my aging parents. This morning, my community is the farm where I live in northeastern Indiana. Later, it will be a small town hospital where my Mom is being treated for multiple challenging health problems. Wherever today finds you, be present and let your presence be life-giving, loving, just and joyful.

One more thing ~

You may notice a lovely new icon on the right side of the page. I am beyond delighted to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild. This international community of authors, writers and speakers exists to “communicate in order to empower women to use their voices to be world-changers.” My affiliation with these many gifted women sets the bar high for any writing I do in the future.




Tending the Garden: Pour and Listen

The dry spell was broken over the weekend and finally my outdoor plants received a showering that did not come from my watering can. Everything is lush and green this morning, and for that I am grateful.

I have more than one watering can, but only the galvanized metal one gives the nice steady flow that ensures my plants get a good watering. So, I carry it everywhere, refilling it as I go. A week ago, as I toted my old metal watering can from plant to plant, from the pump to the porch to the patio, and stood patiently, letting the life-giving water sprinkle down in measured amounts, I thought “Why don’t I just drag the garden hose over here and drench the thing and be done with it.” But, honestly, I prefer taking the time to give each basket, tree or bed special attention. I like noticing the new blossoms, taking stock of the growth, plucking dead blooms and leaves, and listening as birdsong fills the air and leaves rustle overhead.

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I haven’t always taken the time to tend the plants that looked so lush when I loaded them in car at the nursery. Years past, my baskets have withered in the heat and beds have filled with weeds, and, truthfully, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again this year, around mid-July when summer takes hold and I get distracted.

As I made my watering rounds last week, my thoughts turned to the women in my life that God has appointed me to “pour into”. Women with real, life-changing, heart-breaking needs, as well as women in seasons of joy and exciting changes. Each of those women brings beauty to my world, each in a different way. And as I tend to those friendships, cherishing them, looking for growth, even attempting to prune and pluck as they allow, I’m learning to listen as each shares her heart. I’ve discovered how important it is to be fully engaged, to move slowly and with intention as, through me, God pours life-giving water on their souls.

There are times, of course, when I’m not called on to be part of the watering, when the Lord speaks directly to them or when others are tapped to use their own methods for pouring into them. But when He sends me, I can only use what I know, what is familiar to me. Like the old galvanized watering can, my source is time-tested and proven faithful. As I dip into God’s word or offer up a prayer on their behalf, I draw from my well of past experiences, of scriptures that have guided me, and ask God to use them to reveal truth to another.

While in Nashville, Tennessee, recently the work of a “master gardener” caught my eye. Becca Stevens centers her ministry to wounded women in a healing garden at Thistle Farms near Nashville. I walked to the ministry’s diner, The Thistle Stop Cafe, each morning for coffee and delicious food served by women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Becca founded Thistle Farms in 2001 to provide employment and, more importantly, nurturing and hope for 50 residents who work to create a line of natural body-care products as well as serve in the café, and in the sewing and print shop. She has also established Magdalene, residential communities for women.

This woman, an Episcopal priest, writer and entrepreneur, ministers alongside her volunteers as they pour into women with profound needs in Nashville and throughout the world. My “garden” is considerably smaller than that of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, but it is no less important and I, too, work alongside sisters who share my desire to minister to wounded women.

This summer, I am harvesting wisdom from one of Becca’s books, “Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life”. Today, I glean from a chapter about praying to get out of the way:

“Listening is the way we stop tripping over ourselves in the midst of trying to serve another….we simply listen and respond with the word of love. It is a simple and spiritual practice.”

With watering can in hand, I’m learning to pour and to listen.









At the Halfway Mark, Some Thoughts on Lent

We will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in less than three weeks. Halfway through Lent, I’m pondering what the Lenten season means to me, and revisiting an experience from two years ago that turned around my thinking on the tradition of “giving up” for Lent. Reflecting on that experience helped me see that maybe it’s not what we give up that defines our commitment to Christ, but what we do…..or don’t do.

Here are some thoughts on penitence from March, 2014:


One year it was chocolate. Another, caffeine. A couple of times, it was television. And growing up as a good Catholic girl, it was always meat on Fridays.

What did you give up for Lent?

Perhaps the better question is “What will you GIVE?”

It’s the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday — the first Sunday of Lent — and we’re sitting in an old brick church in downtown Nashville, Tennessee with two of our sons who now call this city home. Surrounded by folks who mostly exhibit a bent toward the “artistic”, it’s obvious we’re from out-of-town. But the warm handshakes and familiar worship music remind us that we’re all “the church”, whatever our roots.


Worship ends and a young woman with purple hair takes the microphone to share with us her recent experience as a missionary at Rapha House in Saigon where children are rescued from sex trafficking. A beautician by trade, she is passionate about the work being done there and says she didn’t want to leave. She hopes to go back.

We hear of upcoming events in the church — retreats for men and women, outreaches in the community. This small congregation with a focus on missions is also meeting needs in its own backyard.

But it’s when the young pastor takes the stage that God pulls me toward the heart of His church with this message:

“We define ourselves by what we don’t do.”

As he draws attention to this Season of Lent, the pastor talks about fasting, reading the Book of John weekly, slowing down to listen. But then he returns to it……

……what we don’t do.

The words have hung in the air all week. As we approach this second Sunday on our journey to the cross, I’m still rolling them around in my head.

“Works” are not what God requires. I understand that. It’s not what we DO that earns us the right to call ourselves followers of Christ. Then again, in the literal sense, NOT doing something — eating meat, watching television, consuming caffeine — does not define me, either. During these 40 days, I can forgo luxuries as an act of penitence, but I also know that I need only ask and I am forgiven. Sacrifice in the name of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice is a good thing. But does it define me?

Here’s what I think: It’s a two-sided coin.

  1. Choose not to indulge in practices, attitudes, thoughts that are not God-honoring. If this is what I don’t do, it is good. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:5-8
  2. Choose not to reach out to those in need, to travel across the world and show love to a violated child, to spend time reading God’s word and beseeching Him in prayer. If it is these things that I don’t do, how is that good?  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ” Matthew 25:45; and “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.” Psalm 49:3

Choose either side of the coin, and I am defined by what I don’t do.

So back to our question. What will you GIVE for Lent?

While 17 percent of the adult population, according to a recent survey by Barna Group, will be giving up some form of food or technology for Lent, maybe the rest of us can decide what we will GIVE.

To give our time, love, devotion, energy, attention, wisdom, affection — all things we sometimes don’t do. Lay these alongside things we’ve determined that, as new creatures in Christ, we don’t do — anger, rage, malice, slander. Isn’t this the ultimate gift?

Given in the name of the Christ, who freely gives us grace, mercy and forgiveness, these may be the greatest acts of penitence.


When Life Is Aflame With Hard Things — Ashes

It’s enough to make a woman give up traveling.

A month ago, during a much-anticipated trip to Nashville, TN, to spend the weekend with our four sons, I wound up languishing for 24 hours in a hospital with cardiac issues.

Fast-forward to last week’s long-awaited trip to Chicago for the Moody Bible College Founders Week –– where I gracefully tripped down the steps of the shuttle bus and landed in an ambulance headed to a local hospital. The arm that got tangled in a railing during my descent was fortunately not broken or dislocated, though it dangled weakly at my side for the next 24 hours.

In between those two trips, my husband and I journeyed five hours one-way to gather up some furniture our oldest son won’t be needing for a couple of months so that we can store it at our farm. On the way home, full with emotion over our son’s circumstances and my recent brush with mortality (“You only have one heart” were words the doctor used to convince me to be admitted and monitored under protest), I had a meltdown.

A pity party in the cab of a pick-up truck is not a pretty site.

Like I said, maybe this woman shouldn’t travel.

On the back side of those three incidents, I prayed for a way to make sense of it all. Then I heard these words from author and blogger Ann Voskamp at Moody Bible College, the morning after I fell out of the bus:

“Ashes are the best soil for life. Do not be afraid of ashes.”

The hospital visits, the son who’s picking up the pieces from a failed marriage, the dear friend who’s living with a debilitating disease, my own perceived failures as a wife and mother.

Ashes. All of it.

When life is aflame with hard things, when hopes and dreams and plans crumble before our eyes, we find ourselves sifting through ashes. Voskamp pointed out in her talk at Moody, ashes add nutrients to soil, promoting growth.

I’ve got some growing to do. Don’t we all?  What if my handful of ashes can actually help me grow stronger and wiser? What if, in the ash heap, I send down deeper roots and pull myself up to dig deeper into God’s word for sense and sustenance.

Life is going to bring hard things. It just is. We’ll probably always find we are “less than” when our circumstances call for “more than.”

God’s economy means the hard things in our lives aren’t wasted. They are redeemed by Him, the Master Redeemer, the One who gives ashes the power to bring new life.

We can’t stop living just because we take a tumble, or because of a new diagnosis or a loved one’s heartache.  Fear shouldn’t cause us to quit loving and caring and opening our arms. Or traveling to places where maybe hard stuff waits. Because there are no guarantees that it will all be easy, or that things will go the way we want.

The only guarantee is that God will be with us in the hard stuff. And, He makes beauty from ashes.



What’s Brewing? On Hipsters, Conservatives and the Power of Coffee

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)Coffee’s just coffee — right? Maybe.

I spent the weekend in Nashville, Tennessee recently, visiting three of our four sons. Yes, all three left Indiana to live in that great little city to the south and I love going there. Nashville has a unique flavor that has very little to do with country music. There’s just this wonderful creative vibe that really does vibrate from the riverfront, down Broadway, through the Batman building (look it up) and out into east and west Nashville.

Every time we visit Nashville, I try to convince my sons to take me somewhere new. This time, however, I was there just to see them and our only trips outside their neighborhood were to Target, a book store, a couple of thrift stores, favorite restaurants, a dog park and a couple of coffee shops.

Coffee shops. I love them. I work in one. Let me catch a whiff of a new coffee house brew and my barista antennae go up.

Two of the guys aren’t coffee drinkers, but on Saturday afternoon, I convinced my youngest (a college student who sometimes resorts to coffee) to stop with me at Headquarters, a quaint shop I visit whenever I’m in the city. There, I got a stout, highly-caffeinated pour that lasted me well into the evening, and was even better later over ice. Nice.

On my second morning in the city, I headed down the road to the nearest spot for really good coffee — Star Bagel on Murphy Road. I was hopeful, but it was Sunday morning and the place was packed. Young couples with kids in tow, single professionals carrying laptops or books, neighborhood regulars in jogging clothes or with a dog on a leash — all of them had already queued up for their morning java and bagel.

It looked like a long wait, so I drove further down Murphy Road toward a coffee shop I’d spotted earlier.  Dose Coffee and Tea is in a corner strip mall right by the interstate. It was busy enough, but looked more promising than Star. My patience was rewarded with a fine vanilla latte (half the syrup) and a delicious gluten-free cinnamon scone (and a banana).

Early Monday morning, as I pointed myself north for the journey back to Indiana, I swung by Star Bagel again and this time, I came away with tall dark roast and a gluten-free lemon blueberry muffin. Perfect.

So, what did I learn on my coffee shop tour of Sylvan Heights in East Nashville? Location is everything and coffee-drinking folks of a certain stripe tend to congregate where they’ll find their tribe. You can learn a lot about human nature just hanging out in a coffee shop.

Headquarters is a quiet, hip joint, squeezed into what was once an alleyway with just a few tables, an exposed brick wall and outdoor seating off the back stoop. I get the feeling I’m invading someone else’s space when I walk in the front door and I stand out like the out-of-towner I am. It’s usually not very busy and the service is good. I just don’t hang around very long.

Dose is definitely a hipster watering hole and, if I’d taken a poll, I’m betting most of the clientele would like to see a certain 74-year-old gray-haired Socialist in the White House.

Star Bagel on a Monday morning was an entirely different shop than on the weekend. The young professionals and families were replaced by tables of graying regulars or plugged-in students. Standing in line to place my order, I heard this opening line in a conversation between a retired couple and a dark-suited businessman.

“Rick, Ben Carson needs your help.”

The older guy, who had been reading a newspaper, proceeded to tell his friend what the top conservative candidate for president needs to do to cinch the nomination.


Coffee is just coffee and we can certainly make our own at home. Maybe it’s the folks who share your favorite coffee-drinking spot that make going to a coffee shop worth the effort.

An astute American businessman about my age (Howard Schultz) said this:

“I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community.”

Me, too. Something to think about on a weekend trip to the city.

Nashville at Night. Photo by Jamison Shaffer

Nashville at Night. Photo by Jamison Shaffer





What’s Brewing? In Search of the Perfect Blend

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)On a recent trip to Chicago to visit my son and daughter-in-law, I visited two coffee shops. In the same day.

Whenever I’m traveling, I love checking out coffee shops, soaking up the unique ambiance, people-watching and, of course, snagging a good cup of coffee.

A coffee shop that stands out in recent memory is Headquarters, a tiny sliver of space on Charlotte Pike in Nashville, TN. I met a sweet young friend there last summer for a cup of stout coffee loaded with cream and sugar, and a nice, long chat. I like that the proprietor says she is “committed to carrying only local vendors, because we believe that doing so creates jobs, revenue and our neighbors’ success.”

That coffee shop visit is memorable as much for the company as for the coffee.


My friend, Robin, in an outdoor nook at Headquarters in Nashville, TN.

My recent Chicago coffee stops were about as different from one another as they could be. The first was discovered on an early morning walk. A quaint corner shop on Lincoln Avenue, Red Eyes Coffee is run by a very cute Asian couple. The shop appears to be a popular hang-out for writers and students. The owner was occupied in the back when I stepped in, but a call-out from one of his customers brought him scurrying to the front, where he poured me a delicious cup of dark, rich Guatemalan brew and wished me a good day. If I’d had the time and my laptop, I believe I could have spent a couple of pleasantly productive hours in a quiet corner. Instead, I pulled a chair up to an iron table in the outdoor seating area and watched other early morning walkers.

My second stop was a quick “fuel-up” before my drive home. Just down Lincoln from Red Eyes, this chain with a well-known name was chosen for convenience — which is about the only positive take-away from that visit. When I asked the kid behind the counter to make a change in my order, he expressed dissatisfaction, then made the change without adjusting my price. The lady behind me in line leveled an impatient gaze in my direction while I waited for the frozen drink the “barista” was quickly blending up behind the counter. It was crowded and noisy. Even if I hadn’t been in a hurry, I wouldn’t have been inclined to stay.

Working at my favorite local coffee shop, I’ve come to appreciate how important it is to offer not just great coffee, but also an atmosphere that’s conducive to conversation, contemplation or creativity. Throw in convenience, and you get the perfect blend.