Cultivating…new thoughts

So, it’s February, and I’m still hanging in there with my process of cultivating new things in my life in 2020. I wrote about cultivating new relationships in my last post. I want to share with you something I’m working on along with that: cultivating new thoughts.

I’ve carried a lot of thoughts with me through the years that I have had to learn how to toss out. Most of these thoughts were handed to me by toxic people in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t just dismiss those thoughts. I allowed them to become part of my daily journeys…part of what I thought about myself and the world around me. As I have grown through the years, I found found a place of strength and healing where I have learned to let go of those words. If someone judges me or places their own negativity on my path, I can now recognize their words as toxic and know to leave them there on the path to be washed away by the next rains.

But if I am getting rid of thoughts that I don’t need to carry with me, what am I replacing them with? When I’m waking every morning or walking or meditating with my dog beside me, what thoughts do I allow to settle into my mind? Where do I look for new thoughts that will offer me hope and will carry me instead of pulling me down into their treacherous waters?

There’s not one place alone that I search. For me, I often turn to the words of Scripture, not to the toxic interpretations handed out by people seeking their own comfort and wanting to control others, but to the words as they were written…words of love and hope and a call for peace and true community.

I also turn to poetry and music. Today, I have read through several poems written by Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Mary Oliver. These words fill me with hope and sense of being a part of a larger community and a world full of beauty. I can relate to their struggles and find comfort in their understanding. I am given a new glimpse of the beauty of the world around me.

I also seek out the words of encouragers in my community. There are people who can say such kind things and offer words that make me laugh and make me feel such hope and joy. Sometimes I just listen in on conversations in restaurants or as I walk along a busy sidewalk. People can be inspiring as they help others along the way. The kindness doesn’t have be directed toward me to appreciate it.

The more I cultivate new thoughts, the more I find that I can be an encourager as well. When I was with these new thoughts in my mind and in my soul, I find it easier to share them with others. I can spread hope and love when I am walking with both of them.

What thoughts are weighing you down? Can you find a way to leave them on the path and walk with new thoughts? Don’t let others pull you down with their harsh judgments or their negativity or desire to control or harm.

Cultivate thoughts that will bring you hope and healing, that will make you strong and help you see your own worth and your own gifts and talents. You are loved and have much love to offer. Let that thought soak in. Share that thought with others.

Just a Day Part One

I write often about organizations that change lives. I also post my podcast episodes here. I frequently talk about people who change lives. We hear stories about the work of Greta Thunberg and see the news that the biography of Sara Cunningham (who founded Free Mom Hugs) is being made into a movie. We all talk about the power of one person and know on some level that one person can bring change, but what happens in an ordinary day of a person trying to make a difference?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the work of others and thinking about those people who have made a difference in my life. I hope I know what I would do if I was faced with extraordinary circumstances. I would call 911 if I saw someone being hurt or saw a house on fire. I would rescue people if I saw them in need. But those moments are rare. If I’m going to be a person who truly makes a difference every day, what do I need to do during my ordinary days? Each person who brings change lives through hundreds of ordinary days just like the rest of us. So what do I do when the day is just an ordinary day?

First, I need to listen. How can I help meet the needs of those around me who are hurting or are hungry or are lonely if I don’t listen. We often think we are changing the world by charging into a situation and solving things the way we think they need to be solved. Many of our solutions are just temporary fixes, however, and some don’t even change things temporarily. The innovators of our time are people who listen to those with a need a create a product or devise a plan to meet that specific need in a way that has a lasting impact for the person or group of people.

For example, I read several articles about fire alarms that are the most effective for waking children during an emergency. The trick wasn’t to put the alarm closer to a child’s bedroom or make the alarm louder. Those methods weren’t working even though they seemed logical. Researchers found that children wake fastest when they hear the voice of a parent calling them. Developers used that information to create alarms that used the voice of a parent to call the names of the children if smoke was detected. This product proved to be very successful.

On a personal level, I have told the story of a woman in a neighborhood who was very lonely and seemed withdrawn after the death of her husband of 50 years. People kept inviting her to luncheons or dinners, but the meals weren’t helping her to reconnect with others and process her grief. Finally a young neighbor asked what this older woman most needed to begin to heal her broken heart. She said that she had always started her day with coffee with her husband and that she was most lonely early in the morning. So the neighbor started coming over very early and sitting with her during morning coffee. They joked together and talked about the happenings in the neighborhood and in the world. The neighbor then headed to work as her husband used to do. Within a month’s time of this new routine, the woman was back to her old routines of volunteering in the community, going to church, and having occasional meals at the local senior events. Other people tried to give her what they thought she needed; one person asked her what she thought she needed.

Listening is a great skill that we don’t use enough. I’m learning to listen to the people I love who struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m learning to listen to people who have faced struggles that I have never faced. I’m learning to listen to people who grieve differently from me. I’m learning to listen to people who have different backgrounds than I do.

I don’t spend hours doing this. I don’t stop all of my work and just listen. When I am talking to people, though, I listen. I ask questions. I try to push aside my own thoughts so I can hear what the person is telling me. Sometimes these conversations are only ten minutes or so. In that time, however, I can get pieces of information, get a glimpse of a life, that I can piece together from what I learned in other conversations.

I stood outside a McDonald’s in L.A. once and listened to homeless young adults talk about their struggles. I learned so much in just 15 minutes. I had never listened to their goals before or to their fears. They weren’t talking to me, but they were sharing with each other while I was waiting for a bus. Those 15 minutes changed the way I thought about the needs of young adults who struggle with family issues or poverty or homelessness.

Who have you listened to today? It’s just a day…but you can make a difference by just listening.

www.chrispepple.com

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.