There is nothing sweeter than seeing a dream come alive before your waking eyes. Nothing revives your spirit like the promise of a community gathered in a spirit of love. Nothing moves you to action like seeing the regeneration of a majestic chestnut or a new resident of Magdalene embrace the healing power of love. On behalf of the community of Magdalene, thank you for being the waking dream, the promise of change, and the revival of love. This summer as temperatures climbed into the 100’s, a small group drove to the sage field in Maury County. It had been our hope to grow a sage field to harvest in order to make our own healing essential oils in the Cato still. When we arrived at the field, the size and quality of the sage was a bit shocking. The plants’ leaves were turning black as if they were being scorched in the sun. I turned to one of the women farming and said, “Oh, Lord, what are we supposed to do?”

“Weed and water,” she said.

There is something beautiful about a vision of a vast and perfect field; there is something deeper and tenderer in the truth of a troubled field that will not survive without a community tending it. A vision without work fades in the morning light.  A vision that can sustain a dying crop is love made manifest. There is no revival of sage or chestnut trees, no miracle for the women of Magdalene, without days and years of watering with sweat and tears.   

Magdalene and Thistle Farms are beautiful, troubled fields with deep roots like the sage that doubles its yield in a single season. Magdalene and Thistle Farms have seen new shoots sprout up this year that will produce exponentially greater harvests.

1. We have welcomed 12 new residents into the work of Thistle Farms. And will welcome another 7 in January. 

2. We have opened the doors to 15 new residents, and offered outreach and services to more than 100 women.

3. We have expanded our markets into 23 Whole Food stores across the southeast, are vendors in more than 200 other stores, and have attended over 400 events in the last year.  

4. We are in the final stages of raising the needed capital for the Thistle Stop Café, have a design by David and Leigh from HAA, and have secured a general contractor. We will be open in the early months of 2013, hiring five women.  We have been collecting old tea cups with the idea that there will be a story in every cup at the café.

5. We are still receiving letters from women in prison hoping to find their way to us. Just this week there was a letter from an Indiana prisoner talking about childhood trauma and PTSD. She said she was not looking for sympathy, but a chance.  She will be with us next year.   

6. The Paper studio that opened two years ago is thriving and branching out into sewing this year with a gift of 12 machines from Singer.  

7. We have expanded our partnerships with women’s cooperatives throughout the world to include our newest venture in Ecuador.  

8. This year we welcomed Dr. Nicholas Hitimana to Thistle Farms where he talked with grace about the work of Ikirezi in Rwanda. He said the job of our social enterprises that work with women is to increase the place of producers on the value chain.  

9. Our education and outreach program has grown to welcome more than 500 individuals from more than 105 cities over the past 12 months, to learn how to replicate the best practices of this model. We have helped begin programs in St. Louis, Iowa, Nebraska, Milwaukee, as well as Eden House that recently opened in New Orleans and hired Clemmie Greenlee, a graduate of Magdalene, as their first outreach director.  

We are in the midst of a love revival, no less miraculous that the American chestnut trees’ comeback that grows from a dead stump. It looks like hope itself growing. There is hope in things like thistle and chestnuts that remind us that we never have to give up on anybody.

Magdalene and Thistle Farms have never been only residential communities or a social enterprise, but a movement that calls us to go to troubled fields to use our God-given gifts to reap a harvest that can feed us all. This gathering holds the hope for all who want to believe LOVE HEALS.

There is so much work to do in our fields. Sometimes a hundred women are waiting to come in. Sometimes there is not enough work at Thistle Farms to keep us manufacturing. Sometimes it is as daunting as a wilting crop of sage, but we never waiver in vision or hope. We are developing a national model of sister communities and believe someday we will grow into a movement big enough that we will help change the world so that child sex abuse is not a secret, and young women raped feel like they will see justice, and where there is no tolerance for the buying and selling of human beings, and where women feel like they can seek help with addictions without fear, and where there are enough recovery homes offering long-term community-based healing with meaningful work.

Many of you have been a part of this for a long time. Magdalene and Thistle Farms’ work is truly as old as the fields in which we are working. We are just a drop in the bucket compared to the vast forces of injustice, poverty and addiction. I know that we may never see the fruition of our vision in our lives. But I also know such vision and hope is our greatest inheritance and that the troubled fields of this world are thirsty for our drop. We are allowed to dream big, to speak of that dream, and to work on it our whole lives. Tonight is a glimpse of how beautiful that field is when hearts gather in hope. It’s a revival of love. 

I was recently with Doris, Thistle Farms packing manager and a graduate of Magdalene, on her first flight. Doris has known trauma and the horrors of the streets for years. She and I were traveling to an event called “Take Back the Night” in Pennsylvania.  As the plane was ascending Doris couldn’t believe the beauty of the clouds from the top-side. She was laughing and smiling and asked me if I thought this was as close to God as she would ever be in this world. I told her, “I don’t know, but honestly, your face is the closest image to the face of God I have glimpsed.” It's time to weed and water our fields again. 

--written for Magdalene's Fall Fundraiser, October 4th, 2012