Podcast Episode: Thistle Farms Cafe

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

 

Transcript:

Honestly, the Café wasn’t what I originally planned to talk about today, but then I saw their Facebook post this morning and they made me really, really hungry. Since I can’t get to the Café for a few weeks to eat there, I decided to just change the order of my podcasts and talk about them.

Thistle Farms Café is located in Nashville, Tennessee, located along West Nashville’s revitalized Charlotte Pike corridor, and is tied into the Thistle Farms complex with their headquarters and social enterprise facilities. Thistle Farms is a nonprofit organization that lives out the idea that “love heals” through all of their projects. The organization was founded by Reverend Becca Stevens twenty years ago and serves to offer a place of hope and healing to women survivors of prostitution, sex trafficking and addiction. Stevens, who was honored in 2017 as a CNN Hero, wanted to offer women a way out.

Thistle Farms now has 5 residential communities in Nashville where women can stay for two years at no cost. The women support each other through the healing process. The organization grew from just being a residential program, however, when Stevens and the residents started making bath and body products. That aspect of the program grew into a $2 million company with more than 75 employees—2/3s of whom are graduates of the residential program. Their products are ow sold in certain retail stores worldwide.

So, you can see that this is truly a life-changing program. It changed Stevens’ life. You can read more about her story on the Thistle Farms website (https://thistlefarms.org) or through the CNN Heroes project from 2017. She has also written several books, with the latest being titled Love Heals. It was released in September 2017 and shares the principles of the organization that have transformed individual lives and really the community as a whole. I was honored to interview Stevens for a Southern Writers Magazine article about this book and I can tell you that she is a truly inspiring person. Her genuine love for the women and the communities she serves is very evident. She lives by the belief that love does heal.

So, you have the residential program and the manufacturing and products aspect of Thistle Farms, but Stevens and her fantastic team didn’t stop dreaming there. They wanted a place to invite the community into and spread their love and share their principles of healing. In a StyleBluePrint article by Kay West titled “The Café at Thistle Farms: Renewed, Repaired & Ready to Serve,” West quotes Stevens as saying that she first had a simple plan of just a tea shop next to their shop, but it turned into a completely different thing.

And this different thing is what made me so hungry today. I did a quick morning check of my social media sites and there it was: the picture of the black bean quinoa veggie burger with roasted carrot aioli, pickled onions, lettuce and tomato on a house-made butternut squash bun. That’s all I could think about today. It’s on my list now to make another trip to the Café as soon as I can, and I hope it’s on a day when I can eat something on a homemade butternut squash bun.

On my first visit to the Café earlier this year, my teen and I each devoured one of their herbed chicken salad sandwiches on a croissant. They came with a homemade pickle and chips. Even the fruit tea was delicious.

So, you get amazing food here and you are supporting a cause that’s very close to my heart. If you are lucky enough to be there for breakfast, you can choose between menu items such as fresh buttermilk pancakes, a quiche, a yogurt bowl with fruit and local honey, and a breakfast biscuit with local farm eggs, Sweetwater buttermilk cheddar, pesto mayo, and bacon or sausage.

Is your mouth watering yet? Follow the Café at Thistle Farms on Facebook and you’ll be treated to photos like I saw this morning that show their daily specials or some of their more regular menu items such as a grilled cheese and avocado sandwich, a pesto chicken wrap, or their homegrown BLT. Their salads are just as scrumptious as their sandwiches. And let’s definitely don’t forget their house-made pastries and dessert treats. I’m a Southern girl who loves to have a sweet treat after a meal.

For a special treat, make a reservation for one of the afternoon teas served daily between 1 and 3 p.m. You can check their website for current pricing a reservation information.

So, you can see why Thistle Farms and the Café have a special place in my heart. Yes, they have amazing products in their shop and incredible food in the Café, but more than that, they are looking to see the women in the community who needed hope. Stevens and her team take the time to know their names and their stories. And then they love them because it is love that heals the deepest wounds that we too often fail to even see.

The thistle is the symbol for the organization because it represents the truth of so many lives—the thistle is resilient—it grows in the dirt and dust beside the roads that so many women have had to walk to survive. The thistle is strong—tough—and beautiful all at the same time. That’s what Stevens saw in the women she has worked so hard to serve—a strength and a beauty that others failed to recognize.

Café General Manager Courtney Johnson Sobieralski started volunteering at Thistle Farms after graduating MTSU. She eventually oversaw the construction of Café, which had to be renovated after a roof collapse in 2016. When the Café opened in 2013, it started with basically just tea and coffee service with not much else available until the following year when they acquired a little more space and equipment and added soup and a few basic sandwiches.

With the remodel in 2016, they added a full commercial kitchen and an entirely new menu. The Café sources its fresh, produce-driven food and beverage offerings from a variety of Middle Tennessee farmers and makers. The Café is definitely cozy with an inviting atmosphere that gives you a moment to catch your breath. And while you are doing that, stop and remember the love poured into each meal. Love poured in by the founder and the entire team who dreamed up the idea and believed in it enough to make it a reality. Love poured in by the women in recovery who are working to make the café a success and turn their lives around. They start their days with meditation and a time to give thanks.

I’m thankful for this nonprofit organization that offers hope and love to so many people. I think of it every time I wear my love heals hat I got from the shop next door to the café. And I’m definitely thankful that I can plan a road trip soon to get back there and eat another homemade meal that I’m sure will be delicious. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine what it’s like from the Facebook posts.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the podcast and will return for the next episode.

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The Rising

The Rising

I remember the

falling and

the feeling of

failing—the

flight down

took one word

to begin and

years to finish.

Tethered by shame

and pain, I stayed

down until that

one breath—the sigh

that turned into

a whisper …

a small call to

an identity free

from the chains in

the depths of defeat—

and I listened and

I whispered more truths

before finally speaking

my own hope aloud.

And I felt myself

rise first to my knees;

then in prayerful

belief that life awaited,

I felt the pain

of muscles straining

to stand and felt the

flesh tearing as

the chains fell.

But this pain was

affirming my hopes,

and I rose to my feet

and pulled myself

from the pits of your hell,

and as the air reached

my wings, I knew

I had survived.

I rose. I flew.

I began to thrive. 

                                     –Chris Pepple ©2017

Healthcare and Humanity

If you care about mission work, then you should care about making sure every person in this country has access to medical care. That’s a local mission opportunity–to bring healing.

If you care about ending domestic violence, you should care about making sure women (and men) and children who leave abusive relationships can have access to healthcare.

If you care about the dignity of our elders, you should care enough to make sure they have healthcare no matter what their life circumstances are.

If you believe life is sacred, then you should make sure that every infant born can then be cared for.

If you love your community, your state, your country, care enough to sure make people in it have the chance to be healthy so they can all live up to their fullest potential.

If you care about mental health, make it accessible.

If you care about persons who have disabilities, you should care enough to make sure they can live as healthy a life as possible.

If you care about ending drug addictions, make rehab accessible.

If you care about our teens, make sure they have medical coverage.

If you volunteer to teach someone to read, but don’t also fight to get them medical coverage, have you ministered to the whole person? If you donate to a shelter for temporary housing, but you don’t fight for healthcare so people can be healthy enough to change their circumstances, have you completed the mission at hand?

Healthcare needs are woven into many of our needs in this nation…fighting crime, ending poverty, ending abuse, improving mental health, aiding those who fight addictions, improving the lives of our children, enriching the lives of all people who have disabilities, respecting our elders and providing them with a better quality of life than many face….

Yes, tutor kids
Yes, donate to shelters
Yes, visit a nursing home
Yes, mentor a teen….
But don’t stop there…. fight for what will truly help change people’s lives…fight for healing, fight for health-mental, physical and emotional, fight for testing, fight for answers!

Providing healthcare can be done. It takes all of us to agree that this should be the goal. Then we can talk about how to achieve this goal successfully. It will take sacrifices on all sides. But we have the wisdom and the courage in this nation to find out how to make it work. We have to drop party labels and religious labels and personal labels and come to the conversation with the common goal because it is the right thing to do.

Love Heals

Thistle Farms in Nashville has a quote that they use a lot. “Love heals.” That is such a powerful statement even though it seems so simple. What does that mean? For me, yesterday brought two perfect examples.

First, my best friend in Nashville sent me a beautiful picture for my wall. She became my best friend because we loved each other enough to listen to the life story of the other. We are nothing alike and many times she confesses that my story is so hard for her to understand. She’s happily married-I was married to an abuser who still creates problems in my life. She lives comfortably. I struggle financially because of the past and because of current medical bills for my daughters. The list of our differences goes on. But when I am struggling the most, her “love heals” because she never gives up on me.

Second, when I sent out an announcement about my book, I had someone email back saying she had lost contact with me because she knew of some of the challenges in my life but had no idea what to say. It was awkward for her. But now the conversation is started. She told me what she knew, and I told her what would have helped. Silence hurt. Love heals.

I hope the characters in my novel, Without a Voice, help paint that picture of how love does heal. That includes loving ourselves enough to take the first steps to healing!

Domestic Abuse: An open letter to judges, lawyers and anyone who will listen

This month is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I want to write to tell you a few facts that many people don’t know. Most people wonder why victims struggle so much trying to leave abuse. Finances play a huge role in a person’s ability to move on from domestic abuse and truly survive and raise children. Here’s what I would like for you to know:

Only 41 percent of single mothers receive the child support they are owed! Only 41 percent according to the Pew Research Center. Judges, courts, legal system…why is this true? Please tell me we can do better than this and reform our system, fighting for people who don’t have the resources to fight for their own rights.

According to a Huffington Post 2015 article, the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the number of casualties lost during war.

Women are held captive in domestic abuse through physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse or a combination of all three.

Relating to financial abuse, Ludy Green (in her book Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom) talks about the overwhelming power of financial abuse. Part of that continues through attempting to get child support.

Here’s one woman’s documented journey through trying to get child support:

Upon the divorce, this woman was awarded custody and child support of a set amount per month for two children who both had special medical needs. Her domestic abuser (DA) was to also pay half of their medical expenses and for their dental insurance. The dental insurance never happened, so she added them on hers. Half of the medical expenses never happened. Since she was the one taking them in and signing them in for medical appointments, the doctors and medical technicians loaded all of the debt onto her since she brought them in and signed the form saying she understood they had to be paid if insurance did not cover the cost. So she took on medical debt.

The child support amount was only paid for a month or two—would have to look at her court records to be exact, but it soon stopped.

So, she had to pay a lawyer in 2005 to try to recover child support. She scraped together money and paid a large hourly fee and the court filing cost. She was awarded on paper several thousand dollars for back support, but on paper only because Circuit Court in her state does not automatically build in a way for collections. It is just assumed the defendant will pay. He didn’t even show up for court, much less pay. But technically she won quite a bit on paper. She didn’t know she had to file to request garnishment each and every time he switched jobs due to quitting or being fired. How would she have known that and why should she pay a fee to request what is legally owed for child support—to take care of children? And why should she have to track him and his jobs? You have access to his social security number—in five minutes you could track it and find him if you, as the court, chose to.

Now remember, retainer fees for lawyers can range between $2500 and $7500. Hourly fees can run between $250 and $500 per hour. Picking a cheaper attorney, however, can be costly, because if the attorney is inexperienced in handling abusers, the DA (domestic abuser) can come across as a great person to the attorney, and the attorney may go easy on the abuser or may not know how to get to the truth through the manipulation.

Through the years, she threatened to go back to court and would get small amounts paid, but never what was supposed to be paid and never on any regular schedule. She would often be forced to come pick it up. Mostly, nothing was paid. She never had the funds to pursue court action.

This woman saved up again the minimum needed to legally file, and eleven years later she is still in court. She was awarded on paper almost $100,000. Wow! But again, the Circuit Court judges in her state don’t automatically supply any means for that to actually be collected. To have wages garnished, she had to come up with lawyer fees again and court costs to file. Then, a DA can drag it out with modification requests and stalling tactics to run up the other party’s legal bill with the lawyer. The lawyer charges every time he/she has to talk to the opposing attorney or go to court or read material sent. It’s easy for a DA to run up the legal fees for the original victim of abuse, keeping them financially in debt and still not receiving child support owed. It happens daily.

A person has to pay court costs to get a contempt of court charge for failure to pay child support.

Things actually heard by women in court from the referees or judges:

“You don’t really want him to go to jail, do you?”

“Let’s wait and hear what he has to say about why he isn’t in court.  Let’s just see what happens.” (But the Circuit Court Judge never forced this DA to come to court—he just never had a consequence—no warrant—no forced follow up).

“Since you are trying to file without a lawyer this time, why don’t you just make a deal with his lawyer? His lawyer is a really nice guy and a reputable member of the bar.”

Since his last contempt of court thirteen months prior, this woman’s abuser has paid zero child support. She has paid attorney and court filing fees to change that. But he asks for continuances and modifications which stall out the process and allow him to continue to deny his children access to funds that they desperately need.

What are we doing to help children get the child support they deserve? What are we doing to stop domestic abusers from continuing their financial abuse? When will we listen? When will we actively work to stop the abuse the endangers children and kills more women than our wars?

Goals:

Community groups/churches/nonprofit organizations need to have funds established to help provide financial support to pay legal fees for people leaving domestic abuse and people seeking child support enforcement. There’s no excuse for child support to not be received due to an inability to pay the legal fees.

Courts need to build in an automatic enforcement clause with every child support case awarded.

Voters need to bring up these topics in the public forums and question judges about options.

Listen. Please, please, listen. Stop blaming the victims and making excuses. Listen. Hear. Make a difference.