How Love Heals
Featured Guest: Becca Stevens
Today’s guest is Becca Stevens, an author, priest and social entrepreneur. She founded Thistle Farms over 20 years ago to welcome and empower women who have experienced trafficking, prostitution and addiction. Today, Thistle Farms has grown to become America’s largest justice enterprise, and Thistle Farms Global helps employ over 1,800 women worldwide. Becca has been named a White House "Champion of Change" and a CNN Hero, and she sat down with me at the Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare conference in Nashville to share how practicing love can impact economies, heal lives and change us in the process.
David Condos: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted, a Podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos, and today’s guest is Becca Stevens, an author, priest, and social entrepreneur. She founded Thistle Farms over 20 years ago to welcome and empower women who’ve experienced trafficking, prostitution, and addiction.
Today, Thistle Farms has grown to become America’s largest justice enterprise, and Thistle Farms Global helps employ over 1800 women worldwide. Becca has been named a White House Champion of Change and a CNN Hero. She sat down with me at the Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare Conference to share how practicing love can impact economies, heal lives, and change us in the process. Now, here’s Becca.
David: Well, Becca, welcome to our 53rd National Conference here at Innovations in Behavioral Health Care in Nashville. Such an honor to have you open up our conference with your keynote this morning on the healing power of love. Thank you for talking with us.
Becca Stevens: We’re happy to be here. You don’t even look 53 years old to be able to do this.
David: Yes, well, thank you. I appreciate that.
Becca: That’s a long time to be holding the conference. That’s pretty amazing. I didn’t realize they had that long history. I love that. That just shows you how foundational foundations is to this work and how it’s been an innovator for years.
David: Yes. During your presentation this morning, you, of course, referenced Thistle Farms, The Residential Program Justice Enterprising started over 20 years ago. To start off, could you give us a quick intro to your backstory and what led you to want to want to find new ways to heal and empower women?
Becca: Sure. Well, I’m from Nashville, right where this conference is being held. I was raised here. When I was little, my dad was killed. I went through some sexual abuse after his death and really had both the heart and really the tender side of what trauma does in children’s lives about both resiliency and compassion but also about fear and dysfunction. I went on, got ordained as an Episcopal priest, went on to do some work, but I really wanted to open a sanctuary for women and do it in a different way where it was free for women for two years to come and live with no authority in the house.
Did that for a few years and then realized that, really, what women needed in their journey of recovery was economic independence and freedom. We started this justice enterprise called Thistle Farms, and that’s really how the whole community has taken off. We made our way right here to you guys.
David: Yes, and you’re getting into it a little bit. I think it’s cool how when you look at Thistle Farm’s model and the work you’re doing, it really takes a long view of the issues these women are facing. Could you say a little bit about why it’s important that you’re not only helping them in a moment of crisis, a moment of emergency, but you’re really helping them build up their worth, their dignity, their identity for the long-term and building them up for long-term success?
Becca: Yes, I think for all of us, it takes us a while to learn things. It’s probably why we have to go to college for four years, right? [chuckles] It takes a while to get recovery, to get healing. Especially if you’re doing a lot of trauma work and going back to things that were hard growing up. We’re going to stick with you when you have good news and when you have bad news and when you get triggered, when you have panics that– We can walk you through it, and we can help you make that long, which is a long journey of recovery. We all know that our bodies, our minds, our spirits, they don’t all recover at the same rate, and I think your heart takes the longest. For us, we want to stay long enough to be heart healers.
David: Another one of the themes you covered in your presentation this morning was putting love into practice. What are one or two practical daily ways that you would tell listeners that they can do that in their everyday life?
Becca: I would tell listeners that any way that they can find ways that are making them feel peaceful, like whether it’s walking, knitting, saying a prayer, or lighting a candle, whatever you have access to that’s not too hard to get to in a daily way and whatever really does bring you some grounding and peace, that’s what we practice, and we practice it every day.
In our community, we use oils a lot. We make oils, we sell oils, and we use oils as a way of being at peace, of reminding us of our worst in our body, and as a beauty care product, to say like, “I want to feel and look pretty.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Especially, you got to remember that 100% of the women I served have been raped. They know trauma in their body, and the idea of something as simple as anointing ourselves with oil is a great little discipline. Also, we light candles; we sip tea. There’s a lot of rituals that we have that we practice in a daily way to make space and time, just sit down, to open up a place if you need to say something and to remind ourselves of how loved we are.
David: Yes, and just taking those little ways to heal yourself, even physically.
Becca: Yes. Especially physically. Especially, especially physically. You got those things you do?
David: Yes, I’m still working on it.
Becca: Give one example.
David: Let’s see. Every morning, I do a hot lemon water, just sipping it.
Becca: That’s awesome. That’s a very good practical one.
David: It’s healthy.
Becca: It’s very healthy.
David: It’s a nice little ritual for me. Thanks for asking. [chuckles] Doing this work in the healing profession can be taxing. It can lead to burnout as you described in your presentation Seasons of Gray, and you even told a great story where you were feeling that, and I think a lot of listeners can probably relate to that. Then something that one of your Thistle Farms graduate said to you kind of shook you out of that and reminded you why you do what you do. What would you like to tell people who are in this work, doing it every day, probably or certainly feeling that at some point? What would you tell them just to encourage them to keep that hope and keep it going?
Becca: I would say that you have to trust the work. For me, I have to always trust, I don’t always have to be inspired to go to work, but if I can show up and just do the work, at some point, the work will inspire me. The stories of recovery and hope are inspiring. Period. In other words, the spirit inspired. It fills you back with life. If I can trust that, then I’m okay.
I think of it like when my kids, my kids don’t ask me, “Mom, are you inspired to make dinner?” They’re just like, “I want food on the table.” That’s how the communities, all of us serve are, it’s like, “Go to work. Do your job. Blah, blah, blah.” It’s not a requirement for you to be inspired, but I think for us to keep doing it, we have to have moments where it’s like we’re re-energized, we’re refueled to do it. I’ve learned to trust the work and to trust the stories and to be really open to hearing the very next story and saying, “What healing is in that? What inspiration is in that that feeds me?” It doesn’t drain me to hear a story. It feeds me. Does that make sense?
David: Yes. I think part of that, what it makes me think of is just the sacrifice of saying, “Well, maybe I don’t feel like doing this, but I’m going to do it.” You’re putting others above yourself.
Becca: Also, too, it’s like, why do people think you have to be inspired all the time? I have no idea, but like a farmer, it’s like you just go out water and weed. That’s what you do. You’re a farmer, and trust that the harvest will come. That’s how I think about it. It’s not noble that all of us are doing this work. It’s beautiful, but it’s also what we do. We’re healers. We’re people that want to believe that recovery can make a difference in a life, so we keep doing it, and sometimes, it’s really, really humbling. Sometimes, it’s really, really hard, but sometimes, it’s really joyful and fun. You think, “I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
David: Back to the farmer analogy, you’re not going to see the harvest every day, but you still have to do the work with that in mind.
Becca: Yes. Our job is to water and weed.
David: In your talk, you, of course, described the immense power of love and community in the way that can change the world but also change ourselves. Looking back at the last 20 years, the people you’ve met, the transformations you’ve seen, how would you say that this has changed you?
Becca: Oh my gosh. It just formed so much of who I am and how I see the world. It’s changed how I pray; it’s changed how I can trust the hard stuff. I think it’s made me just be full of hope. I think I used to long to believe that love could be powerful enough to change this story, my story, someone else’s story. Now I just get to bear witness to it because I’ve seen it. I’m so grateful. Above all, after 20 years, the feeling that I come out with is like nothing but gratitude.
It’s like I cannot believe that I’ve gotten to be a part of thousands of women’s lives and seeing families reunited, seeing women who I thought were dead come back with a force and a voice, it’s powerful enough to change other people. I just love it. I don’t know what else to say except that I think for everybody listening, for you, and for me, it’s like if we do our work in love and we do it well, gratitude is the overwhelming feeling that rises in us.
David: Becca, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Before you go, what’s next for you? What’s next for Thistle Farms?
Becca: I’ve written a book called Love Heals. It’s really a lot of the story of Thistle Farms. It’s a gift book. It’s beautiful. Cracker Barrel just picked up thousands of copies of it. It’s in all the stores, and it’s kind of made me want to write more and more to put some of these thoughts on paper. I really have this desire to write a murder mystery. I think what I’m learning, and I’ve just started this process, but you can tell a lot of truth and fiction. My very next thing is to write the next book, but really to also continue to do all these global programs we’re doing. I’ve loved getting to meet women all across the world, hear about the universal issues of trauma but also about how individual women carry heroic stories with them everywhere.
David: Yes. All right. Becca, thank you so much for your time.
Becca: Okay. Buy our products. Thistlefarms.org. Peace.
David: Thanks again to Becca for joining us. Now we get to introduce another installment of our ongoing segment called Minute of Mindfulness. Together we’ll take the next 60 seconds to slow down, take a deep breath, and focus on this present moment. As always, I’ll open things up with an inspirational quote, and then I’ll rejoin you to close out the episode. Today’s quote comes from 18th-century British poet, author, and linguist Samuel Johnson who said, “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today, we’ve heard from Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms. For more on their work visit thistlefarms.org. Thank you for listening today. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it as well. I always appreciate your help spreading the word. See you next time.