Sunday, March 22, 2009
I’ve been looking for ways and means to expand my spiritual life for awhile now, knowing that my daily reprieve and daily bread depend upon regular spiritual renewal. Along comes a book that amazes me with its simplicity and knocks my socks off with its depth of Love. That book is Finding Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart by the Women of Magdalene.
“Magdalene is a two-year residential and support community for women coming out of correctional facilities or off the street who have survived lives of abuse, prostitution, and drug addiction” (111).
Magdalene was founded in 1996 by Reverend Becca Stevens, an Episcopal minister in Nashville, Tennessee who had the simple goal to “create a safe place for the women, a home where they could find love as well as space, and time to work seriously on recovery” (112). Magdalene is guided by twenty-four spiritual principles which are, Stevens says, “practical ways we can love one another without prejudice or judgment” (10). The ministry has grown from one house with room for five women to five houses—several of which have been donated by the community, outright or through fundraising events.
One of the principles, Proclaim Original Grace, states, “Our journeys all start and end with God, and everything we do is a step toward our return to wholeness. Because grace is our beginning, we are worthy of all good things” (19). Each of the twenty-four principles are described in several ways, facet-like, and then followed by the written testament of the residents, staff and volunteers of Magdalene.
The ministry is supported in part by Thistle Farms, a non-profit business producing and marketing bath products. It is operated by the Women of Magdalene, teaching them job skills, responsibility and a sense of unity and cooperation. Found on the website, thistlefarms.org, is this explanation to the question, “Why the Thistle?”
Considered a weed, thistles grow on the streets and alleys where the women of Magdalene walked. But, thistles have a deep tap root that can shoot through thick concrete and survive drought. And in spite of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center makes the thistle a mysterious and gorgeous flower.
And now, three years in the making, they also have a book to help support their community, a book written by the women of Magdalene. The book is small in size—it could probably be read in one sitting—but don’t let that fool you. Like good literature, it inspires one to action. The principles that guide and heal the women of Magdalene are ones that can be used to guide and heal any life. As a person who already does her best to follow a spiritual program for living, Find Your Way Home is a wonderful resource for daily spiritual renewal.
To promote the release of their book, the women of Magdalene and Thistle Farms are launching a blog this week, The Voices of Thistle Farms. Please visit & visit often!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Today is my mother’s 83rd birthday. I made her dinner this evening: turkey breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered corn, and my husband made a fruit salad (amazingly tasty for this time of the year).
I picked Sage up, and we went shopping. I finally got to see where he has been living—his first real residence away from home—and it wasn’t nearly as nasty as I’d made it out to be in my imagination. It wasn’t clean by the most generous standards, but I didn’t have to wade through the living area, and I could actually see the floor in his room.
We went to Lowe’s to get a few things on my list, then to K-Mart because it was right next door. Jade had her warm sweats stolen during indoor track season, and now that outdoor has begun, K-Mart was as good a place as any to find replacements. Joe Boxer’s were on clearance. What we didn’t find was a gift appropriate for an 83-year-old woman who doesn’t need anything else. I considered and rejected several books. She already has a “devotions” library. An abuse memoir would depress her. Anything that might have a sex scene for some reason I can’t fathom embarrasses her.
When we were near the end of our errands, at Martin’s to pick up a cake, we finally chose several plants for her garden. Green chrysanthemums. White tulips. Purple hyacinths. The ghost of the hyacinths still lingered in my car when I took Sage home many hours later.
Lately, I’ve been regretting not asking my mother more about her life. She has dementia, precursor to the Alzheimer’s that reduced both my grandmother and my aunt to children late in their lives. Ma’s memory is affected, and she’s losing her words, but she hasn’t yet lost her faces. Sometimes she’ll refer to my brother as my uncle, or my children as my siblings, but most of the time, she’ll merely lose our names, or forget who did what for her.
Last weekend, when I took her shopping, I had to admit that it hurt when she could only recall (and recount, over and over) what my brother and his wife have done for her, and then today—she seemed to have no recollection that it was me who took her to pick out and buy her new bed. It hurts, even though the truth of the matter is that I slip in and out, doing only what I need to do, whether it be taking her shopping, arranging her financial matters (usually without her direct involvement, so how can I expect her to acknowledge that?), or, like tonight, busy myself in the kitchen while she tries to engage one of my children in a discussion about the wonders of Depends.
Then I heard her tell me about my brother’s role in the purchase of her new porch furniture. She said something. She said, “I didn’t ask him. He just brought me what he thought I should have.” Then she told me that his wife picked the cushions for the chairs. And I wondered—when did she ever get what she wanted? When I took her to buy the new bed, who made the decision? I led her to the best mattress and box springs set in the store. I directed her to lay down on it. I chose the headboard, based, of course, on where the bed would have to be placed, assuring that the window would not be blocked. If I took a seat and let her roam the store, would the outcome have been different? I suspect we would have left empty-handed.
It seems it’s always been this way. My father named me. My mother wanted to call me Susan, but my father felt differently. Somewhere, she has notes that he’d leave for her before going to work with suggestions. What he wanted. Of all the notes she put in his dinner bucket, there aren’t any that say more than “I love you.” He made the decisions. My uncle and aunt named my brothers. I strain to think of one decision (other than demanding she not go to an “assisted living” home) that my mother has made for herself.
I want to ask her questions about this, but her eyes are shallow. They twinkle only when her birthday cake is placed in front of her, one solitary candle lit in the middle, and we remind her, “Make a wish!” She hesitates. She begins to say, “I wish I’m alive another…” Then her voice trails off, and she begins to blow. It takes three tries before she gets it right and the candle is extinguished. Another what, Ma? Another how many years? Does she get her wish? Just this one?
George asked me if I enjoyed the evening, and I said yes. I don’t know if it's the truth.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
And in thinking about it, of course I'm writing about it, too, trying to get at the roots of what attracts me to it. Then I find the prison letters.
It seems that between September 1983-January 1985, I was quite the prolific letter writer--mostly to men in prison, but to some military men as well. I say "seems" because the whole period is rather foggy. I do remember that my sister gave me the picture of one of the guys (rather, his mug shot--no idea how she got that) and asked me to write to him when her new husband expressed jealousy. She would never tell me why he was in Pennsylvania's roughest state prison. He told me it was for simple assault, the first time he'd ever had trouble with the law. Personal experience ten years later taught me that you don't get four years for that. I later found out he was a rapist.
And another, one I knew from the neighborhood. Last summer, he was arrested for raping a four-year-old girl. I wrote to him for over a year, and other than being overly obsessed with Ozzy Osbourne and being a horrible speller, he was just like any of the other guys.
There are two names on the envelopes of letters I have yet to read that I don't even recognize. I put them all in chronological order and have been reading through them off and on all day. Those should be interesting. Maybe I have an honest-to-goodness murderer in there?
Most of the folks I correspond with today are doing what they can to make their lives better. The guys (always guys) I wrote to when I was fifteen, sixteen years old (and why, I wonder, did my mother allow it??), at least the first two, never seemed to do anything with their lives. The first one--I googled his name and found an article from last year. He'd been arrested after leading the cops on a high-speed chase. Back in prison again. Wow.
I'm just thinking about this. I have a lot of friends today, but outside of my immediate family (husband, grown or nearly grown children), I can't say I have a "best" friend. Not a face-to-face friend. I'm wondering, then and now, if I've used these epistolary relationships to fill some sort of lack. Hmm...