I was raised by the Harpeth River, but never learned how to skip a stone. The rocks I tossed plopped, and instead of seeing them skip across the top, I got to observe over and over how series of perfect concentric circles grow larger as they move through water. Being in The Ryman tonight is a huge ring in a circle that is bigger than any of us dreamed of when we tossed in our small, rounded stone of hope that consisted of a house and five women in 1997. We have watched the ripples make their way through troubled and beautiful waters and tonight bask in the beauty of 2,000 people in a sacred circle that helps us all believe love grows exponentially.
It is right for us to be here on one of the oldest stages of storytelling in Nashville. The story we share tonight is older than the oldest country song. It’s a story that dispels the myth that prostitution and trafficking are the oldest forms of abuse, and proclaims that child sexual abuse and trauma are at least a generation older. It’s the story that calls us to remember that love is older and deeper than the oldest scars we carry. It’s a story of day to day struggle and glorious transformation. Dorris Walker, who leads the packing team at Thistle Farms and sings like an angel, traveled with me to Florida to share her story of healing and hope. Now, while Dorris, like most of the women of Magdalene, had experienced the underside of bridges, the short side of justice, the back side of anger and the inside of prison walls, she had never seen the far side of the horizon from the coast. I got to be with her as her feet hit the sugar sands for the first time and as she stepped into the ocean and felt the tide pull her. She threw her arms open wide and said in a lilting voice as beautiful as any singer who has ever graced The Ryman stage, “Has this been doing this my whole life?” For as long as the moon was tossed into the atmosphere of our planet, concentric tidal circles have come in waves. The power of the circle and the healing of love are the oldest and most powerful stories of humanity. But we need each other to get down to the shores to feel its pull and to remember that the circle of love can ripple across the whole globe.
For years we have been growing the circle of Thistle Farms. Last year sales were close to $700,000 and we are on track to surpass those numbers so that we can meet our 1.6 million dollar budget. This year, we have welcomed nine new employees and have nine women waiting in the wings to come on board to work. This year we opened the Thistle Stop Café and our Sewing Studio to keep expanding the work opportunities. We are launching new initiatives this year, including the first Magdalene Circle inside the prison walls, under the leadership of Dorinda Carter and Shelia McClain, and a women’s shared-trade initiative that includes overseas partnerships and sales’ teams across the country. We also have our eyes set on a new residence and want to continue our commitment to help launch similar residential programs in more cities.
This circle tonight is especially beautiful because it is the culmination of our first National Conference. The sold-out conference is welcoming 250 guests from 31 states who join us in the truth that together our communities can widen this circle enough to change a culture that continues to buy and sell women like commodities and forgets that we don’t ever have to leave anyone behind on our journey to the shores of hope. They will carry this story back and help us see the next big ripple tearing through the water like justice rolling out across a sea of pain. We know in this circle that if you want to kill a village, rape the women, and if you want to heal the village, heal the women. All of our individual efforts in healing a village may be a drop in the bucket of solutions, but you gather enough drops together and you can change the tide. Magdalene and Thistle Farms are about healing the whole community. Women go back and deal with dysfunctional families, make court restitution, get their kids back, and just by being on Charlotte Avenue, we help the city save and receive income of more than $600,000 annually.
The holiday ornament created by our paper studio this year is a globe. It is made up of 20 individual circles. This global image celebrates that we are a movement of concentric circles, and that we are allowed to dream big, especially on the stage of The Ryman, that we can love the whole world together, one person at a time. We are gaining momentum fast. We were featured this week in the New York Times, we will be featured in a PBS documentary this year with Nicolas Kristof as a best practice model in this country, and we are becoming a voice for change in this country. Yes, we have come far, but there is so much more work to do to make the next ripple; there are a hundred women on our waiting list, there are thousands of women in our prisons that long for community, there are thousands more in alleys tonight where the light of hope is all but extinguished as they can’t see their way home. So we will keep casting our stones wider and farther until we can help change the world so that child sex abuse is no longer a secret, and women who have been raped will see the healing light of justice, where there is no tolerance for the buying and selling of human beings, where women feel like they can seek help with addictions without fear, and where there are hundreds of recovery homes offering long-term, community-based healing with meaningful work.
It is going to take all of us to lift a rock of hope big enough to open the circle to welcome more and more survivors. It’s a lot to open new programs, to open new homes, and to create new businesses. To fund our current programs and the ones ahead, we need to raise $400,000 tonight. We can absolutely do it if we can imagine all the love rising tonight from everyone gathered---from new residents, old friends, and brand new faces, and see ourselves as a force that longs for love as big as the moon. Then we can carry that love through these doors into the wider world and make a circle big enough that it can reach the farthest shores of our hearts and the ends of the world.
Peace and love,
We are grateful for everyone who joined us in the circle at The Ryman last night.
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