I never imagined that the simple act of creating paper out of cardboard and cotton t-shirts could be a life-altering experience. Last weekend at Thistle Farms in Nashville, I was proven wrong. Thistle Farms is a social enterprise operated by the women of Magdalene, a two-year residential program founded by Becca Stevens (C’85, T’91) for women recovering from prostitution, drug addiction, sexual abuse, and violence. The women at Thistle Farms create a wide variety of bath and body products from otherwise unused materials including oils of thistles, a plant conventionally thought to be a weed. Thistle Farms aims to take what seems broken, from thistles to the women themselves, and transform it into something beautiful.
Sewanee’s Faith in Action group was privileged to work alongside one of the women who completed the two-year program and is part of the transition program at Magdalene. Our project of the day was to make paper. We made each sheet of paper by hand out of a pulp of ground-up cardboard and cotton t-shirts mixed with water. The process was messy, but incredibly fun nonetheless. We blasted music, laughed, and exchanged stories with one another. All the while, this woman told us her life story—one that had far too much pain and struggle for many lifetimes. However, she was joyous the entire time. She truly believed in Thistle Farm’s mantra and motto—love heals. And from all of our smiles and laughs that day, we all believed in it a little more.
Sunday morning, the group worshipped with the community of St. Augustine’s Chapel on Vanderbilt’s campus. Becca Steven’s preached and the congregation was filled with God’s people of all ages and backgrounds. The varied music, prayers, and people reminded us just how diverse and loved God’s people are and how important it is for us to remember that motto - love heals.
-Emmie Oliver (C’16)