I’m not usually moved to tears when listening to a person speaking to room of a hundred people, but I was so moved earlier this week when I had the privilege to hear one of the most moving and inspiring stories of healing I have ever heard. Ty, a woman in her late 40’s, shared her story with over a hundred clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago as part of our annual clergy conference.
Ty was a victim of physical and sexual abuse as a child. She ran away from her violent home at the age of fifteen, soon finding that the only way she could survive on the streets was to sell her body. In order to endure the pain and degradation of prostitution she soon turned to drugs and quickly became addicted to heroin. The next twenty-five years of her life consisted of a repeating cycle of despair. The cycle consisted of getting arrested, going to prison, getting clean, and then, because she had no safe place to return to when she was released from prison, getting arrested again for prostitution or selling drugs. As these were the only ways she knew how to survive at that point in her life, the cycle would start all over again.
There was only one thing powerful enough to break this cycle for her, and that was the power of love. Six years ago, Ty experienced love for the first time in her life through a residential program for women in such despair entitled Magdalene. The Magdalene program, located in Nashville, Tennessee, was started in 1997 by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest and chaplain at Vanderbilt University. There are now Magdalene houses and programs across the country serving other women like Ty. The motto for the Magdalene program is, “love heals,” because that is exactly what happens for the women in the program.
The Thistle Farms website (www.thistlefarms.org) offers the following description of the Magdalene program:
Magdalene is a residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. Thistle Farms is our social enterprise where many of our women are employed.
For two years, we offer housing, food, medical and dental needs, therapy, education and job training without charging the residents or receiving government funding.
Our six homes function without 24-hour live-in staff, relying on residents to create a supportive community, maintain recovery, and share household tasks.
Ty shared with us her story of healing. She reported that what healed her, slowly but surely, was the love of other women who had also been healed through the Magdalene program. Ty has healed her addictions and her deep wounds of abuse, and is now helping other women do the same. Ty now works in the social enterprise arm of the Magdalene Program, called Thistle Farms, which employs over fifty women who have graduated from the program. Thistle Farms, run entirely by the women from the Magdalene program, produces and sells lotion, shampoo, candles, and lip balm through its online store and through over 250 retail stores, including Whole Foods.
Ty’s story is every one of our stories–if not the part about abuse and life on the streets, then certainly the part about how love heals. Each of us can tell our own stories of when we were hurting in some way or another and what healed us was love. As important as it is to hear and remember the stories of how love heals, though, it is even more important to continue to write those stories in our own lives and the lives of others. May Ty’s story inspire us all to do just that.