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First Lady of Tennessee Crissy Haslam: Grateful for Second Chances – Also featuring Brenda Wilson

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Jesus Calling Podcast episode 70: "I have invested my very life in you".

As the First Lady of Tennessee, Crissy Haslam believes in the power of second chances. Her priorities have been focused on working with change making organizations who are empowering families, women, and orphans. Crissy shares why it’s important to her to serve others, and how thankful she is for the influence she has to make a difference in many people’s lives. Our second guest is Brenda Wilson from Thistle Farms. Brenda was devastated after the death of her grandmother who was her biggest caretaker and advocate. Left alone in an unfamiliar city, she lost her way. After 20 years of wandering, she walked through a door that God opened for her at Thistle Farms. Given the chance to begin again, Brenda shares how the love of God and others showed her she could live differently.

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today, we speak with the First Lady of Tennessee, Governor’s wife Crissy Haslam. Since 2011, First Lady Crissy Haslam’s priorities have been focused on education and empowering families with resources to help children become more proficient in reading. She frequently travels the state with the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation in support of Tennessee’s Imagination Library and also supports important work that is being done through organizations like “The Next Door,” a faith-based rehabilitation center in Nashville, Tennessee. And, Thistle Farms, a social justice enterprise that embraces the survivors of trafficking, and Tennessee Fosters, a program that paves the way for children to be adopted into loving families. Crissy shares why these causes are important to her, and how thankful she is for the blessing of serving others through her work as governor’s wife.

First Lady of Tennessee Crissy Haslam: Grateful for Second Chances – Also featuring Brenda Wilson – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 70

Crissy Haslam: My name is Crissy Haslam and they call me the First Lady of Tennessee. I’m just married to the governor of Tennessee: my husband, Bill. I’m a mother of three children, and a grandmother of seven children, a wife, a daughter. Lots of different roles.

I was born in Houston Texas and I lived there until I was eight and then we moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

First Lady Crissy Haslam host's students from Crieve Hall Elementary School at the Tennessee Residence for a day of planting in the newly constructed kitchen garden.My family went to church; we went to a Methodist church. I remember my mom and my grandmother teaching Vacation Bible School and Sunday School and being with them in the classroom, which was always very special. Our family was very focused on education. I think education is what brought my parents to a different level of earning, and of living, and so they thought education was very important.

I went to an all girl school from fourth grade to 12th grade, an Episcopal School, which is very academic, but I loved it. I was very involved there. We had chapel every morning, which I think a lot of the graduates now look back at that time and say, “What was your favorite part of being at that school?” and they’ll say “chapel”. I think it made a big impact on my life and the direction I would go.

Bill and Crissy Haslam at their wedding.So, after I graduated from high school I went to college in Atlanta, Georgia at Emory University. That’s where I met my husband. I majored in business, and finance, and marketing and he majored in history. We had a couple of classes together but not a whole lot.

I met him three times the first week of school, so I should have known something was something was up there, but we didn’t really start dating until the end of school. We were friends for about three years. Then a year later, after we graduated, we got engaged. After we got married we moved to Knoxville and that is where we raised our children. That’s where he was from and his family is from.

From Mayor To Governor: God’s Calling

My husband was in business for 20 years and as we were raising our children, he was always involved in things in the city, trying to make it a better place—through committees and commissions. So someone came to him and said, “I think you should run for mayor.” At the time he kind of laughed and said, “No, I don’t think that’s for me.” But he ended up thinking and praying about it, and then kind of changing his mind and running for mayor.

It was a tough election, but he won, and we campaigned across the city and got to know many, many people we didn’t know. You think you know a place until you campaign there, and learn about every single neighborhood. So that was terrific. He was mayor for two terms.

Bill and Crissy Haslam when they were dating.At the end of that time, someone came to me again and said, “We think you should run for governor.”

I said, “You’ve done such a great job as mayor, I think God is calling you to run.”

So, I campaigned with him all across Tennessee, kind of like we’d done in Knoxville in the city. It was hard. It was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed it in the end. Again, you got to learn about your state, you got to meet so many people. You got to hear what they’re interested in and passionate about. We campaigned for almost two years, almost nonstop, it felt like at the time.

At one point I remember telling him, “I think maybe God’s just called us to run for all the things we’re learning in the running.”

But then, he did win. So he was called to serve. It has been, I think, a really good fit for him.

Sending The Message Of Jesus Calling

When we were on the campaign trail, several people gave us Jesus Calling. So the first one that gave it to me said, “Have you ever heard of this?” I said, “Yes, I have it, but Bill doesn’t have one, thank you!” I gave it to him, so he had his own copy to read. It really was, during the campaign, it really meant a lot to us. We would read it together and it often just hit us right where we were.

What an opportunity He has given us to serve people, and to learn, and to try to make this a better place to live and to work, and to raise a family.

I got to know Sarah when we moved to Nashville, I heard that she had moved here. So we met through a mutual friend, and then later had her over to lunch at the residence, and just really enjoyed getting to know her. What a wonderful person, what a sweetheart. We started talking about how she gives a little paperback copy of Jesus Calling to any incarcerated woman.

Most of the women in prison in Tennessee have a copy of Jesus Calling. And I thought, oh that’s just wonderful. So I said, “Could I help get more of those copies of Jesus Calling into prisons in different states? Would you allow me to tell all these other first ladies how to do that?” And she said, “Of course, that would be great.” So I told several first ladies and tried to make it available to all of them. So, several of them have picked up on that idea and ordered the books.

Many first ladies have actually taken them into the prisons, and visited with the women, and handed them out. They’ve told me it’s just been an amazing experience, and that the ladies appreciate it so much.

What an opportunity He has given us to serve people, and to learn, and to try to make this a better place to live and to work, and to raise a family.

Helping Children: The Imagination Library and Tennessee Fosters

I’ve been involved, in the early years, I’ve been very involved in the Imagination Library here in Tennessee. You may know that was started by Dolly Parton in Sevier County and then was taken all across Tennessee. It’s in every county in Tennessee and we are one of the only states, we were the first state to have it in every county, in all 95 counties. It is a program that sends an age-appropriate book to every child who registers from birth through their fifth birthday, with their name on it, in their mailbox once a month receiving this book. It’s just a tremendous program to encourage reading in the home.

Bill and Crissy Haslam reading a story book to children.

Another thing that I’ve started working on this past year is a program that we have just gotten involved with in Tennessee called Tennessee Fosters. Tennessee does a really good job of getting children adopted, once they’re out of foster care, once they’re adoptable. But we have about 370 (now it’s down to 350), children who’ve been waiting to be adopted. A lot of them are sibling groups, or teenagers, harder to place kids, I guess. We’re working with some organizations to try to get those children adopted.

I have this dream, It won’t happen while we’re in charge, I know, but I have this dream that one day we’ll be able to say that all the children in Tennessee get a forever family.

Certainly, we can all help those families. We can wrap around them and we can take them a meal, or buy them a bunk bed if they need that, or help them babysit every once in a while. We can help these families who are helping these children by bringing them into their family.

Being Thankful For What The Lord Had Done

I also think there’s some wonderful work being done around trafficking in Tennessee and there’s End Slavery Tennessee and Thistle Farms is working with those women who have been in slavery. Just so many things to work on, and so many wonderful things happening.

Obviously, I’m very proud of my state. I think part of that is because I’ve gotten to learn so much, and I’ve gotten to see so many these things happening, and that has been a real blessing to me.

First Lady Crissy Haslam reading a book to children.

Being thankful is one of the most important things for us to remember. I think it helps us take our eyes off our self, and helps us look at things with a different perspective. We realize we can’t do it on our own and we need the Lord, but we also need the people the Lord’s put around us and the gifts that He’s given us. I think, gosh if I want my grandchildren to know one thing, I’d want them to know how to be grateful. This Thanksgiving, we’ll be gathering and enjoying each other and hopefully focusing on all those things that we are thankful for and grateful for. I hope everyone else is able to do the same thing.

Narrator: To find out more about all of the great initiatives First Lady Crissy Haslam is supporting, please visit JesusCalling/podcast and you’ll the find links to all the organizations in the transcript to this podcast episode.

We’ll be right back with the second part of our program right after this message from Lifeway Christian Stores.


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Brenda Wilson: The Road To Recovery At Thistle Farms

Narrator: Our next guest comes to us from Thistle Farms, a social justice enterprise that embraces and supports women who are survivors of trafficking, abuse, and addiction. Brenda Wilson’s life imploded after the death of her grandmother. Alone and in an unfamiliar city that seemed full of danger around every corner, Brenda lost her way. After 20 years of wandering, she walked through a door that God opened for her at Thistle Farms. She goes on to tell us what happened when she realized that she does actually matter to God and to others.

Brenda Wilson: My name is Brenda Wilson.

I grew up in the countryside of Huntsville, Alabama.

As a child, I can remember running through the fields chasing butterflies and picking berries. My grandmother cooked a whole lot. Climbing trees, and getting peaches, and apples, and pears. It was always something good cooking in the kitchen; the smell was always phenomenal. We could always be excited about a fresh pie, or cobbler, or something that evening. For me, there was no place like home. It was always a good feel of family and love in my household. I had lots and lots of cousins, and we would just run and play all day long. The country was a real safe place for me.

Brenda Wilson with her friend.

Later in life, we moved to Nashville, which to me was a frightening place, because the city had so many people, It had far too many people for me and far too much chaos. There was always something happening. I’d never heard the sound of sirens and people squabbling. It was just a different place and a different feel for me.

Feeling Lost In A Cold, Heartless City

I was in seventh grade when we moved to Nashville. It took me a minute to adapt to the city life, because every chance I got, I went back home.
I started spending more time being in Nashville. But I was still being exposed to so many things, so many different people, and different attitudes, different personalities, different characters. But I still had my country upbringing embedded, which made me naive and shy.

I could always hear my grandmother in my ear telling me “Now, you know I’m not going for that,” so it was hard for me to go for it, but still I found myself being associated. A lot of times, I was along for the ride, and thought to be more knowledgeable of what was transpiring than I really knew.

But I was always under the protection of my grandmother. I just loved her. She was like my right-hand man, you know? My mom was in my life as well, but she was a single parent, so she worked a lot. So my grandmother; I had more personal and molding time with her.

I believe that the love of God led me to this place of healing for my brokenness. I found this place, Thistle Farms, to be where love heals.

When she passed away, I was 30 years old when my grandmother passed away. I began to suffer with separation anxiety and depression, and I began to lose my way. I found myself wandering aimlessly in addiction for some 20 odd years.

I know to some that may seem old, or up in age, but you have to understand, the difference between being thirty in the country and being 30 in the city.

There’s more compassion, there’s more empathy, there’s more consideration on the country aspect. I found the city to be cold, and heartless, and empty, and lonely, and dangerous. Very dangerous.

It was a very dark time in my life and I felt hopeless and worthless, because my life was just torn. I was just tossed upside down and I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t have any skills, all I had was grandma’s love, and it was gone.

Gaining Control Through Christ

So, in the attempt to gain control, I admitted myself into a recovery program called The Hope Center. This was a spiritual based recovery program. There I was introduced to a daily meditation book entitled Jesus Calling. It was written by Sarah Young. This book was so powerful to me, because it was if I was in the presence of the Lord, and He understood all my disparities. Every day Jesus would walk with me, and talk with me; assuring me that I was His own. He would say “Lean not into your own understanding, but to acknowledge Me in all My ways,” He loved me and He would never leave me nor forsake me.

This passage says that “Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.”

Brenda Wilson working with volunteers at Thistle Farms.

It says, “You are mine for all times. Nothing can separate you from My love. Since I invested My very life in you, be well assured that I will always take care of you. When your mind go into neutral and your thoughts flow freely, you tend to feel anxious and alone. Your focus becomes problem solving. To get your mind back into gear, just turn toward Me. Bring yourself and your problems into My presence. Many problems vanish instantly in the light of My love because you realize you are never alone. Other problems may remain, but they become secondary to knowing Me and rejoicing in the relationship that I so freely offer you. Each moment you can choose to practice My presence, or to practice My presence in your problems.”

I believe that the love of God led me to this place of healing for my brokenness. I found this place, Thistle Farms, to be where love heals. It’s the most powerful force of change and I am a living testimony of how “love heals” has changed my life.

Healing Through Brokenness

I became a resident of a two-year recovery program called Magdalene.

It was a blessing, because they took all my anger, my frustrations, my hostilities, my pain, my guilt, my shame, my sorrow, and gave me the opportunity to address those issues. I had a therapist, I had a psychiatrist. They attended to my physical needs, my dental needs, provided a nice place for me to stay for two years rent free. I just did whatever they suggested. I didn’t go in self-centered and and headstrong; “Well, I’m 59 years old, how are you gonna tell me what to do?” I was just open for suggestions. Whatever it was they told me to do, I committed myself to doing it. I’m so grateful today that I did.

It’s amazing how so much brokenness can give so much healing.

There’s a lot of shame, guilt, and remorse that comes along with addiction, and it’s because you’re making spontaneous decisions that don’t have any basis, any value, little consideration to anything, or anybody.

It allowed me to put myself on the opposite side of the fence. How would I feel if somebody was reacting to me? It showed me myself.

We all laugh together, we cry together, we support one another. They check you if you’re wrong, they hug you if you’re right, you learn to give and and share unconditionally. It’s not about poor, poor, pitiful me anymore. And that’s a powerful statement.

It’s amazing how so much brokenness can give so much healing.

Thanking God For Second Chances

I now have four years clean. I’m active in my recovery, and my recovery is my responsibility, and I take pride in being a more whole, more complete person.

I love the life I live now. I am so grateful to God for second chances, because when I entered the program I was 59 years old. I’m 63 now. I was convinced me that my life was over; that there was nothing, that there was no good in me left that could serve anybody. Becca’s vision and God’s love showed me differently.

I’m an active part of Thistle Farms. I do speaking engagements. I represent the company kinda well, I think. I do sales events and I lead my team.

I’d been in a 30-day program before, and for years of being lost, 30 days just don’t seem to be enough time to cut it. But she envisioned 20 years ago, that it took more than just a book, or a piece of paper and just saying “I won’t do it anymore” to change lives. Women needed someone and something to be invested in them. God gave her a vision to invest in the broken woman. I tell you; her purpose in life is just to save. What’s so amazing is that it’s not a selfish attempt. She’s spread her love all around the world. It’s just not the women right here in Nashville, it’s injustice, and cruelty, and brokenness, to women everywhere. That’s amazing to me.

It’s amazing that her heart is so big, she had room for me in it.

Narrator: To learn more about the work of Thistle Farms and the Magdalene program, please visit ThistleFarms.com.

Today’s featured passage comes from the January 22nd entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook.

Strive to trust Me in more and more areas of your life. Anything that tends to makes you anxious is a growth opportunity. Instead of running away from these challenges, embrace them, eager to gain all the blessings I have hidden in the difficulties. If you believe that I am sovereign over every aspect of your life, it is possible to trust Me in all situations.

Don’t waste energy regretting the way things are, or thinking about what might have been. Start at the present moment, accepting things exactly as they are and search for My way in the midst of those circumstances.

Trust is like a staff you can lean on as you journey uphill with Me. If you are trusting in Me consistently, the staff will bear as much of your weight as needed. Lean on, trust, and be confident in Me with all your heart and mind.

Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments, so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.

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