Tag Archives: Thistle Farms

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.

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.

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