Three years ago, a couple residents of Magdalene and I went to Chattanooga, Tennessee to help some friends open a community for women. On the way there one of the residents told me that our old friend, Vicky, had died of an overdose. I felt sad and guilty, because she had written me a letter from jail with questions about God that I never answered. After the trip I wrote her a prayer letter asking her about god and asking her forgiveness. The letter was included in a book I wrote last year. This summer while I was making lunch for my kids there was a knock on the door. When I answered it, Vicky was standing there. It was startling and joyful. She was fine and working at Honey Baked Ham. I told her how sorry I was and about the letter. She laughed and cried with me in the living room and told me she was just coming by to thank me. I can’t believe how much I still have to learn. The work continues to be a huge surprise and love always humbles us.
Sometimes doing something for ten years seems way too long. In Magdalene years it means we have been housing women for 3,650 days, non-stop. It’s also how long most women walk the streets. It’s how long we have heard the stories of women almost dying or killing themselves with phrases like: I was at the point of begging from beggars; I felt like jumping in the Cumberland river again; that was when I crossed the sea in a truck tire; that was the day I knew I was going to die; at least he drove me back to town after the rape.
Sometimes doing something for ten years seems not long enough. It’s the tender age most women who end up on the streets learned the horror of rape. It feels like it’s just been a blink of an eye and over a hundred women have come and gone through the doors. It seems like just yesterday we were beginning to form the words that described the realities we were learning about. It’s barely enough time to figure out how to help women move from street walking to home ownership. It’s not enough time to grow up. It’s a pause in history. It’s nothing in the eyes of God.
Then sometimes doing something for ten years seems like the right amount of time. It’s been the perfect time to learn to speak our truth in love and set our foundation and blossom. It’s the right amount of time for all of us together to learn our instruments and play as an orchestra. We can finally play in harmony and still can hear our own parts. It’s been so full of great moments and memories. One moment I will never forget is when Clemmie Greenlee, a graduate of Magdalene and her son stood up at an event and gave a testimony for Magdalene. They talked about three generations in their family getting clean and sober and what it meant. Rodriguez was a beautiful 19-year-old boy who was shot on the side of the road months later. Clemmie talked soon after about wanting to visit the young man who killed her son, because now his life is going to be spent behind bars. She wanted to go to the jail and hug him. She keeps teaching us to speak up, speak truth and keep trying to heal the world. It’s been the right amount of time for us to learn that the scars people carry from childhood and the streets will stay with us---but that there is healing that runs deeper even then those scars
It is just long enough to learn that we are truly a global program. Not only have we welcomed women from Indiana, Wisconsin, Virginia, New Mexico, Texas and Honduras, we have made friends in programs in Russia, Rwanda, and Ecuador. We have learned that while there are stories in the Times about girls sold into sexual slavery in places like Cambodia, we have the same issue in Georgia, Miami, and Nashville. Globally people want to hear the message of truth and hope that we bring. When we had our Launch party in New York to celebrate the new products and marketing events, everywhere the women went they were welcomed and honored for their courage and the hope they carry with them. They preach you cannot buy and sell women-- that even though prostitution may be one of the oldest forms of abuse in history, women don’t have to stay in it or addiction for the rest of their lives, and that all the women came to the streets with a story of broken community and so it is the community that has to welcome the women home.
We want to keep going for ten more years. We want to witness a 100 more graduates and support for 500 more women, one at a time. Our vision is to launch a network of body healing products made by local women’s communities globally. Grow Thistle Farms twenty fold into a company that earns $5 million a year. We are going to need a plant, a serious operations system, but we are beginning to hear our voice on the national level. If we can grow, we can help residential communities like Magdalene have income, establish an endowment, and provide meaningful training and work for more residents. We want the spiritual lessons we have learned to become part of the recovery process for all kinds of people, so we are going to publish a book.
My vision beyond the work of Magdalene in the future is to be buried out by the Potter’s field near Lisa’s mother-- in the cemetery between the sewer treatment center and the gas storage surrounded by chain link and some maples-- the place they bury all the Jane Does who don’t find their way home in this world. And I hope to have on my tombstone: consider the Thistle, because that is where I have learned about grace in this world.
My vision beyond that is to imagine our great-grandchildren living in a culture where little girls will not know sexual abuse; where drugs are used for healing and where women feel the freedom to speak their truth without fear. It is only possible if we walk ahead together. Working and living toward the witness to the truth that in the end love is the most powerful force for change in the world. Preach the truth you know with respect for the dignity of every human being.