"God's Green Earth:" A Poem from Love Heals

"God's Green Earth:" A Poem from Love Heals

Image Credit: Peggy Napier 

Image Credit: Peggy Napier 

 

In celebration of my new book Love Heals coming out on September 5th, I wanted to share some of my favorite passages on here with you. Let's start with a poem: 

The story of faith begins with the unfolding of God's love over the earth. Love is written into the very fabric of creation. Throughout Scripture we read about love's healing power, from the first vision of a garden with a tree of life until the last vision of a kingdom where that same tree stood, with the leaves that were made for "the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2). Today we can imagine the roots of that tree running under our feet, calling us to remember God's healing power all around us and in us...

God's Green Earth

There are days when hillsides blush in tenderness

And moments when valleys are unshadowed. 

There are seasons when streams roll with justice

And all creation blooms where it is planted. 

There are times when we feel God's pulse

Through lapping waves, clapping trees,

And the woodpecker's happy drumming. 

There are mornings when we feel the sunrise

Like warm tea on the backs of our throats.

There are spaces where even weeds

And crawly things call us back to grace. 

That is when our hearts sing "alleluia" 

As we fall in love with God's green earth. 

(I can't wait to share this book with you. So excited. Thank you to everyone who has preordered it.)

#LoveWelcomes: A Guest Blog

#LoveWelcomes: A Guest Blog

A Syrian Refugee preparing materials to be woven into a welcome mat 

A Syrian Refugee preparing materials to be woven into a welcome mat 

This blog was written by Regina, a Survivor-Leader, Magdalene Graduate, and founding member of the Thistle Farms community. In April of 2017, Regina went to Greece with Becca and the Welcome Project Team to help start a new social enterprise for Syrian Refugees. The following is Regina's reflection on her experiences in the camp. 

I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue the work that started in this community long ago. I am amazed that Survivor-Leaders in the community of Thistle Farms continue to light the candle, not just for the addicted and abused women still walking the streets in our own backyard, but also for the Broken Hearted All Over This World. As a witness to this, our community--that God birthed through Becca--took the Spirit of hope, faith and love across the ocean to a refugee camp in Ritsona, Greece.

Wooden looms, strips of fabric ripped a world away in preparation, life jackets cast aside on the ocean by refugees from Syria after surviving the treacherous journey from their homeland to the camp became the seeds that helped a group of eight displaced and impoverished women turn into a social enterprise right before my eyes.

People that felt hopeless found healing love from our community. Light, laughter and love was palatable in their weaving. It's an awesome feeling to know that this grace we've been given can be passed on, even when circumstances seem insurmountable.

I'll never forget the faces of those women or the hope that began to show in their eyes when they realized that we were there to help them produce a livelihood for themselves through something that up until then had brought death to them all in one way or another. They now have a positive outlook on something tragic and designed to destroy.

After coming back home, I find myself tired, emotional, and full of the joy that comes from having witnessed that The Welcome Project's confession #lovewelcomes made good on its promise. As of this post, there are nine women weaving and healing their community, and I am humbled by the chance I was blessed with to give back once more in gratitude for all I have received. 

I have been a Survivor-Leader for twenty years now, and I believe in this justice work more than I ever have because I know the community of Thistle Farms welcomes anyone who is lost, broken, and searching for a way to the Circle. And, in the end, we believe that through community we all can find our way home.  

Now you can join the #lovewelcomes movement too by preordering your own welcome mat here. 

Sermon: Easter 2017 –The Sacred Thread

Sermon: Easter 2017 –The Sacred Thread

An image of a woman weaving in Thistle Farms' new social enterprise

An image of a woman weaving in Thistle Farms' new social enterprise

As dawn was breaking on an Early April morning, I was sitting near the windows at the Chapel weaving some of the 1000s of prayer ribbons created by the community of St. Augustine’s. We committed to spend this lent writing prayers on ribbons to hold our thoughts, the names of those we love, the history of our dead and what we long for. For six weeks, acolytes processed torches bearing thistle farms candles tied with our handwritten prayers. As I was weaving, I read the prayers slowly for all sorts and conditions of humanity penned with love. It’s beautiful watching how a single word woven with other words allows a community to pray for the whole world.  It occurred to me how weaving and praying are in communion.  As I picked up a ribbon, I was praying with the child who wrote simply, “my mom." 

I was praying for peace as I read the names of the worn-torn places scrawled onto ribbons interwoven with prayers for strength. As the light grew brighter the weaving was coming to life in the secret hours of the morning. Prayer feels hallowed when our hands do the work so our minds settle to see the sacred threads each day offers.  In such moments we  feel the blessedness that we have woven from the love, longing, and life we have made.

I remember the holy weaving that depicted the resurrected Jesus with a bright green background surrounded by images of the four gospels.  It was a three story high tapestry made by one of the official World War 2 artists, Graham Sutherland. It hung behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral, erected to bring reconciliation after the war dropped a bomb on the original cathedral. During a summer in my early twenties I gave tours in that sanctuary and learned about the amazing tapestry woven by French women who worked 11 years to bring the image to life.  The tapestry took the place of the usual high altar carvings or windows to invoke wonder not just for the image itself, but for the way single strands coming together offer a glimpse of heaven. 

There must have been a thread of hope to lead Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the story of Matthew to face the soldiers on Easter Morning. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body.  And that single sacred thread is enough to weave together the love story. Such a thread was enough to lead her through despair, to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love.

That thread of hope after Jesus’s crucifixion became the beginning of a story that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the shame and fear that keep us from experiencing hope. It sustained Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake and catches her when she fell at the feet of love resurrected.  That first fragile thread was strong enough for all of that and to lead her to be the first preacher, to offer those threads for generations to proclaim love as the most powerful force that still ties us together.  We still sing of those threads even as we face death: Blessed Be the Tie That Binds, May God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

It makes sense to be drawn to weaving in the face of the despair, such as experienced by survivors of war who have fled Syria and have nothing when they land at beaches in Greece except a few items and a life vest.  And so for months Thistle Farms under the direction of Abi Hewitt made plans with Luma Muflah from Fugees Family, Ann Holtz from Awakening Soul, Rev. Frannie Kieschnick A Thistle Farms Board Member and visionary, and I Am You to begin the first social enterprise in Ritsona with a group of women to weave the life vests into welcome mats. 

Last Sunday, Tara Armistead, Cathy Brown, Ryan Camp, Regina Mullins, Luma, Frannie, Ann and I flew to Greece, none of us sure if the fragile first threads from those vests would be enough.  We didn’t know what we would be confronting and if weaving with the women was going to be possible.  The luggage holding the spools of thread and the shuttles had been lost.  The not for profits who ran the camp were unsure about where to weave and how to help manage a social enterprise that would pay women to weave. It is hard enough to start a business, but to start in the midst of a setting where people walk slowly because there isn’t anywhere to go, where lines of identical boxes form a quarter acre of densely populated sects in the middle of an abandoned and dusty military base, where language barriers flourish, and where lines look like snakes and people in charge have massive key rings, is really difficult. 

But on the second day as the sun was climbing on a clear blue Greece spring morning, new weavers and the group from thistle farms gathered in our first circle to welcome one another. One by one the women from the Ritsona camp shared their hopes to help the community, to remember how their ancestors in the middle east wove, to have purpose and meaning, and to help their children. Once they started talking I knew the thread of hope would be enough.  That circle is a circle we know.  We have seen that circle a thousand times; in the hills of Rwanda and the farmlands of Ecuador and right down the street on Charlotte Avenue in our Thistle Farms Circle.  

That circle binds us, even if it is in the face of trauma, broken hearts and inadequate space, and it is enough to start wharfing a loom and weave vests and scraps of cloth. Soon Arabic conversations filled the weaving room as the shuttles from the two looms called out a powerful rhythm.  That beating of threads together on big looms became more powerful than all the other issues, and the mantra for the week became simply, “no matter what, keep weaving." 

Thread by thread we tore and bound the vests that had traumatized so many.  They spoke about the cost of those vests as they ripped them into strips and talked all day about whatever came up. When the first mat came off the loom everyone cheered.  There are another 1000 mats to go. We are committed to helping make this business work since less than .01% of any of the refugee families there will be invited to immigrate.  And while the women of the camp may have fled war, they cannot flee the violence of poverty.  That single thread, woven into a single mat and laid on our altar, is enough to build a community. 

And It has always been that way. 

Like a first ribbon tied, like a thread from a tapestry woven from the ashes of war, or even like a string from a discarded life vest, we are holding on to an ancient hope that binds us together in love. And the Easter story preaches to each of us that when we take hold of that thread, hope can pull us beyond grief itself. The stone has rolled, shroud has fallen and we are free. We are tied to all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. It binds the wilderness of lent to the garden in Jerusalem in a single band of love. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain.

It's not hard to imagine the Magdalene and the other Mary running to the disciples, starting to weave the story together. The meaning still fragile and not accepted easily.  But, Magdalene picks up the the pace as she cannot contain the hope and needs to share it. Let us weave our prayers into the hope fashioned into the first morning of creation. A single thread is enough to bind us to the Easter story.  No Matter What, Keep Weaving.  It means we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing we are connected to all that is love.  The thread is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Read more about The Welcome Project here

Sermon: The Ethic of Love

Sermon: The Ethic of Love

Image Credit: Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Ethic of Love: The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount has been discussed by numerous theologians throughout the ages. Many have interpreted the teachings as law, making this reading some of the harshest words Jesus ever spoke to his gathered community of wayward fishermen, dispossessed people, and searching souls. The sermon is generally thought to be gathered isolated sayings from the early church communities. Each is a summary of something, like an original sermon of Jesus or the essence of a piece of his teachings, that could have taken the form of a question and answer. Joachim Jeremias, a German theologian in the 20th century, wrote that when the Sermon on the Mount is read as certain scholars have defined it as law, three understandings follow:               

1. A Perfectionist ethic: Jesus is a Teacher of the Law who tells his disciples what is required of them—perfection. He says he has come not to destroy the law as old vs new prescription is contrasted. You have heard it said, but I say....” He is giving the disciples a clear directive of the will of God.               

2. An Impossible ethic: Jesus is the Preacher of Repentance. When Jesus makes such unattainable demands, we know we cannot reach perfection, so despair at our own efforts sets in. Then guilt awakens in us a consciousness of sin, leading us to repentance and the possibility of mercy.           

3. An Interim-ethic: Jesus is the Apocalyptic Prophet. Jesus was preaching to men who knew they were living in a time of crisis, that there was not much time left. It was a time to love your enemies. Pull yourselves together and live a death-bed lifestyle.              

Joachim questions whether Jesus was any of these. He concludes that we are called to read the Sermon on the Mount not as law, but as Gospel. Another theologian of the 20th century Howard Thurman who was a peace activist and mystic, wrote about the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel. He was one of the fathers of the Civil Rights Movement, who influenced Dr. King so much that he carried Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, with him in his brief case. It was Thurman who wrote in the 1940s in the South under the oppression of Jim Crow that when we read the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel and live it out, “We are free at last.” The Sermon on the Mount explains an ethic of love that calls us to radical freedom. In an ethic of love, Jesus is the embodiment of the Sermon in deeds. As long as we see it as a legal prescription, something we have to live out as an obligation, we become slaves to it. But living into an ethic of love, we glimpse at the miracle of the haunting words, Don't worry about what you are to eat or what you are to wear, Take neither walking stick nor traveling bag, “Love your enemies,” Do not return evil for evil, Proclaim good news to the poor.              

When Thurman describes this ethic of love, he begins by talking about loving people where there are rifts in our own world—the people we are close to in our circle. But then he talks about rifts in a separated world. These are the “others” and it is where people live in fear, shame, anger, and cynicism. For example, how the people on the hillside listening to Jesus might feel towards the tax collectors, their oppressors. This ethic of love does not ask us to condone the act, but the act does not cause us not to love. It’s not condemning the enemies’ actions; it is penetrating their thickest resistance so that we can all lay bare our interior walls and get to the heart. This person or group of people you consider an enemy is what holds you back from the altar and this person or group still belongs to God. When we awaken this gospel understanding in us and in our former enemies, change is possible. We all know that enemies of religious or political nature, can derail any of us. But politics are not our religion. Take Rome, for example, from the perspective of the occupied people in Jerusalem. Jesus lifted individuals out of that general classification and saw them face to face as equals—willing to teach, heal, and comfort them. It doesn’t mean there is not accountability, resistance, or that it doesn’t come at a great cost to the individuals stepping out of their bounds. But it means we change the balance of love in the world in the most powerful and poetic way. It means we reexamine our own prejudices and live as freely as possible with this guiding gospel.              

This week I spent 4 days in LA as part of the CNN Heroes Award given to Thistle Farms. We were there to learn more about running not-for- profits and hear from the other nine groups that also won the award. CNN touts this award as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As I sat and listened in light of this Gospel, I heard stories of communities wounded and underserved and realized the award should really be about extraordinary people who do ordinary things. I heard the story told by Luma Mufleh who began her talk with, “I am an immigrant, a Muslim, a lesbian, and I serve refugees. I guess you could say I hit the jackpot.” Luma founded the Fugees Family. The Fugees Academy (6- 12 graders) she heads has a very successful football (soccer) team. She told the story to a tear-filled circle of friends about an extraordinary thirteen-year old who was a refugee from the Congo. He had witnessed the death of his father, the rape of his mother, and experienced the hard journey refugees make to our country. Luma described this young man’s anger and how he hit another player on the field. She ran out onto the field and was herself struck. She then embraced the young boy and held her hand over his heart and kept repeating in Arabic, breathe. He placed his hand over her hand, so they were both holding his heart as he began to calm down. Slowly and surely over the next several years, he began the journey from woundedness and anger towards a world of enemies into becoming a passionate student and healer who has gone on to earn a full scholarship to college. It all began simply by holding his heart in an ethic of fearless love. 

We all heard other stories of extraordinary people doing ordinary things: a young cancer survivor taking a kayak ride, a foster youth who aged out of a system and got his own apartment, a child with cerebral palsy riding a horse, a survivor of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction taking her first cruise, and a young man from public housing learning to ride a bike. Extraordinary people doing ordinary things not because they followed laws, but because they were casted out and then loved. An ethic of love can overcome any barriers, any divisions as we live out this Gospel in fellowship. Every time we walk out onto a field, take a hit, and then put our hand over a heart in response, every time we step out in love, every time we forgive what we once thought was unforgivable, every time we love an enemy, we are extraordinary and doing the most ordinary thing we were created to do… love. Love. Love.              

What is it that still makes you read this Gospel as a perfectionist law we can never attain? What is it that you think you cannot forgive? Who is the enemy who prevents you from loving? That is a good place to feel the freedom embedded in these strange and compelling words. We hear these words, and then step out into a pretty harsh and scary world and remember the common worth and value of every single person we meet, in our circle and beyond our circle. The calling of this Gospel is not to condemn, but to free us.

Do. Love. Walk.

Do. Love. Walk.

Do. Love. Walk.

January 29, 2017

Micah 6: 1-8 Matthew 5: 1-12

The prophet Micah preached in the 7th century BCE during the time Samaria fell. He was watching Jerusalem being destroyed because of an invasion. Micah prophesied the fall of Jerusalem specifically because of the dishonestly in the marketplace and the corruption in the government. You probably think he would be ranting and railing and calling everybody out, saying how bad everyone was. Instead Micah calls upon the old prophecies of Moses and Abraham and asks the people, “What does the Lord require of you?” It’s not all gloom and doom; it’s a chance for restoration. What does the Lord require of you, but to do three things—do, love, and walk. “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.”

January 29, 2017 Fast forward seven hundred years. Jesus gathers a group on a hillside. Same war, different invaders. Same oppression, different people. Same fears, same cynicism. All of it. He picks up, like Micah, the old truth of how we are to live and to love in our faith. Jesus then preaches the Beatitudes: Blessed are you when you are peacemakers. Blessed are you when you are meek. Blessed are you when you are mourning, when you can still weep for love of those who are oppressed. Blessed are you. Do, love, walk.

It takes him three years to move from those Beatitudes to Jerusalem—a journey he could have made in a week had he been on a warpath. But he was on a peace path. He took three years to make that journey because he saw people hurting, and he loved them. He saw people lost, and he helped them find their way. He saw people mourning, and he comforted them. He saw people in prison, and he took the time to visit and send good words back. All the while—doing, loving, walking. That is our call today. For all the years the world has suffered under powers and principalities that do injustice and harm, we are called to do, love, and walk. We don’t numb out; we don’t freak out. We don’t do anything, but what we have always been called to do. We keep doing it. I believe there are three ways for us to keep doing this—to keep doing, loving, and walking. 

First—we do justice in communal cooperation. We don’t act in silos. We come together to do justice. Recently Thistle Farms welcomed an initiative called Pathfinders for International Justice in Benin, Nigeria, to come and speak. The director shared the statistics that nine out of ten girls who are trafficked in Europe and Eastern Europe are from Nigeria. Specifically, from Benin City where one out of three girls before the age of 13 are approached by traffickers. It’s what happens to people because of the vulnerability and the violence of poverty. They are also working to help free the 276 Chibok girls who were kidnapped from their school by the Boko Haram. About 180 of the girls are still missing more than a 1000 days later. Pathfinders international is working with groups all over the world to work with and share the story of these girls. We all need to work together to do justice on the young girls’ behalf. Helping one another to tell the story is how you do justice.

Second— we love kindness by keeping a proper perspective. No one’s candle is brighter than anybody else’s. We all have a candle. If you think your light is so bright, you are misled or that it is so small that it doesn’t make any difference, you are misled. We all have this beautiful light within us. When we keep that proper perspective, we can appreciate the kindness of someone lighting ours and when we are able to light someone else’s. The proper perspective on this work and kindness is that we are humbled in the right way, that we are courageous in the right way.

I just got off a cruise with Dorris, a powerful survival leader at Thistle Farms. Dorris tells her story of how she was trapped in a ten-block radius for 20 years and not being able to figure out how to get out. She tells the story about touching the ocean for the first time, feeling the tide, and wondering, “Has this been doing this my whole life?” Last week out on the rough, wide-open seas, she stood on the stage and preached with amazing grace about our light in this world. We are not the light. We receive it and we give it. We can move from a trapped unjust system of ten blocks to the rocking, wide-open seas and be grateful all along the journey. Dorris eloquently spreads her message, “We have a lot of work to do. Let’s keep going; there are so many folks who need help.” We keep loving the kindnesses we see and offering love to the very next person.

Finally--to walk humbly is remembering to ground ourselves in the truth that loves lies down for the sake of others. We can do no more than do the same for one another. Nothing we do in justice work is new. It's old and grounded work that is humbling. We are rooted in the most radical way, the humble roots of loving the whole world one person at a time. A community interested in doing justice and loving kindness is humbled enough to keep going back and working harder.

That is how we live. We practice communal cooperation, we have a proper perspective, and we ground our ministry. That’s the way it has been and that’s the way, God willing, it will always be. We all have been given a great tradition. 

A New Poem: "Hearts a Leaping, Christmas Morning 2016"

A New Poem: "Hearts a Leaping, Christmas Morning 2016"

On the morning after O Holy Night,

When bleak mid-winter greys the sunrise,

clouded by news and unwrapped wishes,

Christmas becomes a spirit pulling

Hearts made for more than beating.

 

Hearts search like a newborn for the breast

Over the pulse that they knows best.

Hearts skip a beat like a shepherd

Wailing to the wind because a sheep is missing.

 

Hearts quicken like a magi who glimpses a sign

From the heavens that cradle a billion stars.

Hearts ache like all sojourners on cold mornings

Who long to touch skin of beloved back home.

 

Hearts harden like the tyrant who can’t fathom

How poetry changes the world.

Hearts harken angel music that brings courage

In places where fear wants to tighten its hold.

 

Away in the mangers of our thoughts

hearts swell as we revel in the kindnesses offered

This day in the name of the Prince of Peace.

 

Then clinch throats as we recount all the ways

We have failed our truth

And let lesser gods rule our lives.

 

Our hearts leap and flush our cheeks

In the presence of divine wonder that

 eternal and temporal kiss before us.

 

They still, flutter, pound, and then still again

In the space between the light and the dark.

 

On Christmas morning, above all, we remember

Our hearts are made for more than beating

They are made to love

Each

Other

Deeply.  

Thistle Road Update: December 2016

Thistle Road Update: December 2016

PIc of wild coyotes taken by Becca on a morning walk 

PIc of wild coyotes taken by Becca on a morning walk 

An Update Written by Becca, as she and the Travel Team were preparing to board a plane back to Nashville from San Francisco: 

I wanted to share a few highlights from the past few weeks. Frannie Kieschnick, our amazing board member, welcomed us with hospitality fit for royalty and helped plan a full and amazing couple days. Her friend Amy Rao hosted a two-day market place at her house, with our team doing sales over $18,000 of Thistle Farms and Thistle Farms Global products! 

From there, we had the chance to have a gourmet meal with Wendy Schmidt, who committed to funding our dream of the welcome mats through buying looms, shipping, and plane tickets. Wendy has even agreed to pay for a consultant to help with design and project management. She said at the dinner she believes the welcome mats made from life jackets by refugees will go viral. 

Then she said, "These mats remind us the whole world is woven together". 

It was a huge gift.  Marcus is composing a melody to accompany the words on the Statue of Liberty--"Bring Me Your Tired and Poor." 

We also had breakfast with the Isabel Allende Foundation. Seeing them all again was like a family reunion, and they recommitted to Thistle Farms for the 2017 year. Everyone we met sends their love to the whole community. They have paired down how they want to be involved and get more involved with the groups they are recommitting to. It's a season for them of digging deeper and getting closer to their communities.

Throughout the whole week, Abi (Director of Thistle Farms Global & The Studios), Tiffany (Currently Magdalene Resident & Thistle Farms Employee), and Regina (Magdalene Graduate & Outreach Coordinator) were amazing. It is a joy to share our message of hope in the wider world.

On our last morning, I took a walk with Frannie and Amy, as the sun rose. 

Two wild coyotes walked across our path, reminding me that we are scavengers looking for pockets of grace in a pretty harsh world. We get to stay on the edges and search out where we are fed and bring a bit of inspiration back with us. They were a great sign.

As we left, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge where Tiffany saw Alcatraz, that island rock that has come to symbolize the cruelty and isolation.  So today, feel free to howl like a wild coyote for justice on behalf of women still isolated and in need of welcome around the world. 

There is so much to do--everyone is working hard--but it is a wild and exciting journey.  

A New Poem: "Trying To Give Thanks In 2016"

A New Poem: "Trying To Give Thanks In 2016"

An image of the mountains taken by Becca 

An image of the mountains taken by Becca 

Weep with the willow, as the forest burns

And the land cries out,

"I thirst." 

 

Dance with the girl banging her tambourine
Who sold her heart to play
For those who can still hear music. 

 

Wail for the wilting kudzu,

Once your enemy,

That is choking from judgement. 

 

Search for pilgrims who lost their shores

To poverty and war

Combing the beaches for home. 

 

Raise your arms in an act of peace,

Which defies the laws of gravity,

Holding up a rusted ploughshare.

 

Pray for sanctuaries desecrated

Because they withhold bread

To uphold stale doctrine. 

 

Lose everything we took for granted,

Stored in secret closets,

With graceful surrender

 

Then use what is left and offer it
To the neighbor who needs it more,
For Love's sake. 
 
 
peace and love,
becca
 

Thistle Road Update: November 2016

Thistle Road Update: November 2016

L: Our first woven welcome mat, made from life jackets at the AwakeningSoul Conference, R: Thousands of life jackets left behind on the beach after Syrian Refugees made the hazardous journey in life boats to Greece 

L: Our first woven welcome mat, made from life jackets at the AwakeningSoul Conference, R: Thousands of life jackets left behind on the beach after Syrian Refugees made the hazardous journey in life boats to Greece 

The Thistle Farms Travel Team and I had a great weekend at the 2016 AwakeningSoul Conference in North Carolina. Our time together was a great reminder that we are not just residences, not just a cafe, not just a network, not just a home and body company, and not just a global trade company. We are a movement that loves women.

We are about women's freedom---unequivocally, unafraid, formidable, passionate and powerful. 

At the conference, our team serendipitously connected with a weaver who is coming to Thistle Farms to work with our Global Team on the new welcome mats that will be part of a new social enterprise to help women in Syrian Refugee camps.  (By the way, they can be used as covers for altars as well. What a perfect place to lay a welcome mat!)   We made our first woven life vest into a welcome mat at the conference. It's stunning. 

Driven by the truth that love is the most powerful force for social change, we are going to keep our mission-driven focus like a laser on offering sanctuary.  We are going to rock this holiday, help women refugees in Greece, and lavishly welcome the next survivor coming off the streets of Nashville. 

We will welcome all of our sisters still lost on the streets home, and anyone else seeking refuge. 

peace and love, 

becca

 

Guest Blog: Magdalene Omaha Kick-Off October 2016

Guest Blog: Magdalene Omaha Kick-Off October 2016

I have never been a part of something so powerful – and all of that comes from your absolutely tireless and courageous efforts to ensure sisters can find their way home here.

Thank you to Teresa, a dear sister on the Magdalene Omaha Board, for this guest blog thanking Thistle Farms for visiting Omaha for the Magdalene Omaha kick-off celebration (October 14-16, 2016).

My heart is too full of thanks for your recent visit and efforts here in Omaha.  I don’t even know how to put into words what you have done here.  How much you have transformed me, the board, Trinity Cathedral, the Omaha community, and all the good that’s already rippling through the state as a consequence of you lavishly sharing your love with us here this weekend!  I have never been a part of something so powerful – and all of that comes from your absolutely tireless and courageous efforts to ensure sisters can find their way home here.

Some of you know that I’m in recovery – clean and sober 18 years in August.  Many years ago, when I still lived in the Washington, DC area, a woman named Donna who had a lengthy history of being trafficked and of addiction asked me to be her sponsor.  We went through a long and winding journey together that included me visiting her in jail, hospitals, treatment centers, and half-way houses.  She was not the last woman who had been trafficked that I would sponsor, but she held a special place in my heart.  I watched how hard she tried to leave the life, and how horrible the system was time and again.  And every time it seemed like she was turning a corner and just about to make great progress, there was a new obstacle – most especially lack of employment opportunities because of her record.

Donna didn’t make it, and while I have lost other friends in recovery over the years, losing her hit me hard and I never gave up believing that there had to be some better way to help survivors.  Then, after we launched the Friends of Tamar here and started to realize what a growing trafficking problem Omaha had, Bishop Scott Barker and Trinity Cathedral Dean Craig Loya provided funding so that I could attend a Thistle Farms Education Workshop.  I got to chat with Penny in the café as people gathered before the day started, and with Anika briefly after she gave the group I was in a tour.  Although I read everything that I was provided, it was my conversations with them that made me an absolute believer in this model.  I swelled with hope as I came back here and started to try to share all that I had learned.

But, as happens with all of us in this kind of work, earlier this year, I just hit a wall.  I felt like I was not making a difference here, we were not making progress fast enough, and I feared we may never be able to truly get this thing off the ground in Omaha. During that time, because I subscribe to the Thistle Farms e-newsletter, I received the May 25th e-newsletter with a link to the Thistle Farms - Magdalene 2016 Graduation video.  When I watched this – and I have watched it countless times since, as have several other people I shared it with including the members of our board (I call it my sunshine booster shot) – everything changed.  I got fired up again and redoubled efforts here.  Fabulous new board members joined the circle here in Omaha, and together we expanded efforts to build community partners.  Seeing these beautiful women exemplify the truest meaning of freedom and joy made the point better than any words of mine or anyone else’s here ever could.  That’s also exactly what all of you being here did so very, very powerfully – you drove home we need a Magdalene house here…now.  When Brooke gave me the names of who would be joining Becca on this trip, I just about fell out of my chair.  I asked if I had it right that Jovita & Lori, in this very video, would be with us – and how blessed are we that they were! 

I love that the four of you joined Becca here, and The Fantastic Five gave everything you had to help us get this going.  You sharing your experience, strength, and hope so generously truly built the foundation of our house here.  I love that you already are hearing and knowing the difference you made – your visit absolutely was a game-changer.  I know you gave so much for us, but know this too – feeling like we are part of the larger community has meant the world to all of us, and most especially me.  When Jovita answered my question in the October 15th Saturday morning Expert Roundtable meeting by talking about community and accountability as part of that, I realized that for me and for the board, that’s the change we all were experiencing this weekend that made it so special to us.  We aren’t just out here trying to do this alone now…we are a part of, and now we need to pay forward the love and energy you shared so beautifully with us, and all that you all taught us by what you shared.  We will make this happen here!  And from this moment forward, know that in more ways than you ever realized, you all are as much a part of Magdalene Omaha as any of us here!

With more love and gratitude for you than I know how to say,

Teresa H.

SCALABLE & SUSTAINABLE

SCALABLE & SUSTAINABLE

When people ask me if this model can be replicated elsewhere, I say, yes, because the wells of love and faith will never run dry when people come together and commit to treating the stranger as God, living in gratitude, and to loving without judgement.  

In the world of social entrepreneurism there are two basic questions: are you scalable and are you sustainable? I am so grateful that after two decades of this work, I can answer both easily, “Yes!” When we started Magdalene, the only vision we held was to keep a sanctuary open for 5 residents, at no cost to them. Now, we reach hundreds of women annually through the prison community, referrals, counseling, and legal services, as well as supporting 5 residential communities. The number of women employed by the Thistle Farms global effort in the Shared Trade network has reached more than 1,500.  When Thistle Farms started, we were employing 4 women for  6 hours a week and making candles in the kitchen of St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt. Now, we employ more than 50 residents and graduates in our 11,000 square foot facility, as well as operate a Cafe, sell in more than 500 retail outlets, and bring in over 2 million in revenue annually.

Given that we are now the largest survivor-led social enterprise in the country, I can say in gratitude the community’s vision grew exponentially in proportion to how much we desired to love women, who have graced the doors and joined in the movement over the years. Given the exponential ripple effect of love, it's not hard to understand how we accomplish this rate of growth year after year. Our goal has been to be transparent in fundraising, remembering that all of us have been in the ditch, giving from a place of gratitude, being willing to take a leap of faith when called upon, learning to follow the lead when a new idea is good, and the earnest belief that love is the most powerful force for social change. So, when people ask me if this model can be replicated elsewhere, I say, yes, because the wells of love and faith will never run dry when people come together and commit to treating the stranger as God, living in gratitude, and to loving without judgement.  

Together, anything is possible. The more success we have, the more resources we draw in, the more women we are able to help. Last year, Thistle Farms put more than $850,000 back into the hands of residents and graduates of the Magdalene program, who are turning their pain into purpose. There are now over 30 sister programs in different cities in the United States that will expand the model and potential for growth even faster.  As our vision for this work expands in direct proportion to the healing power of more than 150 graduates of the residential program, I say we are just beginning to see the power of this work.

Photo courtesy of Taro Yamasaki

We Are Not Alone

We Are Not Alone

We believe grace, humility, and compassion are the principal attitudes that should direct how we relate to everyone. We are all interdependent; no one is self- sufficient or perfect. In the local dialect, ubuntu is translated ‘grace’’ -- Nicholas Hitimana, Ikirezi

The word Ikirezi means “precious pearl” in the local Bantu dialect where the organization, of the same name, was founded by Dr. Nicholas Hitimana in 2005 and employs women in Rwanda to harvest geranium. When I think about the impact Ikirezi has had locally with 80% percent of its employees being orphans and widows of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,000,000 million people, I am humbled. When I think about the impact this organization has had on Thistle Farms, as one of our Shared Trade partners and suppliers of geranium oil, I am called to continue proclaiming the truth that we are all beholden to each other as global citizens and part of a family greater than ourselves. Nicholas has become a close friend of mine. I am inspired by the love he has for the women of Rwanda and the world.

 

A woman from Ikirezi and Thistle Farms share practices.

A woman from Ikirezi and Thistle Farms share practices.

On Thistle Farm's third trip to visit the Ikirezi community, Nicholas told me that our ecommerce partnership was important, not just because of the added economic value, but because it was a reminder that he wasn’t alone in this work. What he meant was that despite the overwhelming obstacles one faces in justice work out in the fields, we can overcome our times of loneliness and heartbreak if we work together. I feel similarly when I think of Nicholas and Ikirezi. Making global friends and hearing the healing stories of women in Rwanda, it makes me feel stronger in my work here in the US.

I am comforted by the promise that I am not alone. I have a network of survivor leaders all over the world who are part of our local efforts through the Shared Trade network of people. We are not alone, and we will continue the work of telling women all over the world who have been trafficked that they are not alone either. Such knowledge as this is a precious pearl, and I carry it in my heart, always.

Homily: "I’m Looking for the Shepherd"

Homily: "I’m Looking for the Shepherd"

Image Credit: Pixabay.com 

Image Credit: Pixabay.com 

 

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:1-10

There are seasons for all disciples to wander: to be the widow looking for the lost coin, to be again the lost sheep, and to try to figure out where you are. This journey in Luke is about remembering when all of us are in that season. It is a great period and a great way to start this fall. Jesus takes these ideas of the lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin to say that’s who you need to be. You need to be remembering when you are lost and when you have been wandering. We have all been in those seasons. Whether we’re wandering fisher folk, or we’re students inquiring and asking questions about everything, or just remembering that all of us are broken vessels, trying to find that place where we take that brokenness and move it into compassion. We’re supposed to question, lose our way, and feel that sense of rejoicing at being found. Jesus takes that as a launching point for the next four chapters. It’s amazing. Jesus is going to say this is how the lost sheep lived deeply with intention, this is how those who are lost and have been found live. He gives us all these beautiful attributes of good discipleship: How do we live as found people who have a sense of rejoicing after this feeling in our season of amazing wandering?

I have wandered beautifully all summer. Never, ever have I had that time in my life. Never that I remember. I have learned to see the cicada as a gift. That was huge for me. To really vibrate with that timbre, that sound they make with their wings, to be able to dance and move in the woods with them was awesome. Getting to learn how to do the crow in yoga was huge for me. Closets cleaned, television watched, book written—check, check. This whole book on how love heals.

Nothing will make you feel sicker than to try to remember what it is we truly believe and to wander for hours and hours out in the woods. What I have learned in that wandering about lost sheep is—lost sheep don’t really want to hang out with other lost sheep. It is good to be alone in that. You don’t need other people who are wandering and confused. I’m looking for the shepherd. I’m looking for some answers. I’m looking for some clarity. And when you are in that space, that is what it is like. When people are grieving, they ask, “Tell me how can I negotiate a path through this?” When people are in pain, “I would like some helpful hints for relief from this pain.” When I am questioning everything, I want to feel there is a place that will ground me again. Lost sheep are looking for that rooting, as I, when I am wandering and looking for that rooting.

The second thing I learned about lost sheep is that they spook easily. When you are wandering and wandering, anything that stirs in the bushes can wish you harm. You know you are in that place where every fortune cookie might really mean something. Where all that free-floating anxiety you think might actually be a cancer in your life could be real or some kind of illness not yet manifested. When we are in that space, we remember lost sheep are not hard to find. You can look around you and see them all day long. What’s hard is to keep them in a fold where they feel safe enough to get healing and help—to know that sense of rejoicing. Another thing I have learned about lost sheep is there is nothing like the rejoicing of finding some clarity and hope in our lives. When Jesus talks about that rejoicing, that is real.

One of the places I went this summer was New Hampshire to a community that is starting a whole anti-trafficking program for women around the whole diocese. I took with me Karlee, one of the emerging leaders of Thistle Farms, who is doing beautiful work. I baptized her baby, Skye, a couple years ago. She was talking to the group and in the middle of her talk, she said, “God believed in me enough to come find me.” We have heard a million times, “I believed in God enough. I wonder about God enough.” But the idea that God is believing enough in us to come find us again is a beautiful testimony to what it is like to be lost and found and then rejoicing. God is faithful. God is not the issue in lost sheep’s lives. There are a lot of other issues, plenty, but the faithfulness of a God who comes searching for us is a holy beautiful gift that we are called to remember. God believed in us that much to come one more time looking and gathers these beautiful sheep in a community.

Luke’s Gospel lays out beautiful attributes about what you and I are supposed to do with this knowledge, that it is okay to be lost and amazing to be found. What do we with that? That is the reality of our discipleship. So Jesus starts off and says that the first attribute is you need to be shrewd. Shrewdness is good. He tells the story of the shrewd business guy. The community of St. Augustine’s is about that. We are going to take that attribute as we have bought into this idea of a green burial. We are going to have the first conservation cemetery in Tennessee. We are going to bury each other cheaply, and we’re going to conserve land with theological integrity. We can use those business concepts and turn it around to be good for the kingdom. We don’t need to be afraid of it.

Then Jesus takes the concept of being grateful. He uses the story of the lepers, the tenth chapter of Luke: ten get healed and one comes back and says, “Thank you.” The idea that people got cured, but one was made well with gratitude.

The following Gospel is the story of the persistent widow. So not only do we have to be shrewd and grateful, but we have to be persistent, we have to be dogged. And my persistent thought this whole sabbatical has been about those Syrian refugees stuck in Greece. You’ve heard those stories, and you keep hearing about how they were so persistent, risking their lives to escape, and how there is no place to welcome them. I keep thinking about how I want to go, and I want to figure out something to do to give them hope. I want to figure out how to start a powerful social enterprise for the women who are going to be in Greece for a long time in those refugee camps. It may be taking those life vests and turning them into welcome mats that we can have everywhere as a sign of welcome and have real economic empowerment there. New ideas that build up in us could be lost, then found and become persistent in our dreams about justice. We are not giving up. We are going to keep going. We are going to think of a million new ways to do it.

Then the next attribute is humility. Jesus talks about the tax collector standing and beating his chest, with the Pharisee saying, “I am glad I am not as bad as that guy.” So the idea is we have to be humble. We have to do the work that seems so little, the work that seems as though it may be beneath us, to get us back to the earth. I love that we can never get past the same call to discipleship that is about repentance and humility and knowing how much we are indebted to each other.

The fifth attribute and the last in this cycle is generosity. Zacchaeus is in the tree and this idea of his generous gift is huge. All of us could be more generous of the things we are hoarding and holding onto. So tightfisted, it gets us nowhere, but this idea of generosity we are creating, this beautiful place where there is plenty for all, fills us and keeps us great. It lingers for a moment, then is rooted to rise.

So that’s the story. You and I go through various seasons, and we come back together. We rejoice that God believed in us just enough to come find us one more time. To remind us to be shrewd, to be grateful, to be humble, to be persistent, and generous so that we can be part of a powerful community witnessing to God’s love in this world. And to go seek out all those sheep who are still wandering. Amen.

The Woman Standing in Front of Us

The Woman Standing in Front of Us

Every time a new partner comes on board the global trade network, it makes the whole effort stronger. Thistle Farms seems to keep growing in proportion to the calling to keep proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change in the world. We can’t live into that calling without global vision. We can’t talk about healing without knowing the communities of women producing the oils or growing the tea. Just as the trafficking of drugs and people has global and local impact, our work must include multiple dimensions: a local residential program and social enterprise, a national education and outreach alliance, and a global market for women around the world. In this movement for women's freedom it is always glocal. It’s always with an eye toward the global issues and an eye toward the woman standing in front of us facing the hard choices about how to deal with broken relationships and dreams and trying not to run.

The local work happens all over the globe where women sit and make candles, natural products, or tea, and share their journey as healing unfolds. The healing happens one person at a time as stories are shared, and in the laughter and tears as they recognize themselves as beautiful. The healing happens through the daily promise that we will be here for one another. Twenty years ago the seeds we sowed in opening one house have blossomed into a successful social enterprise that is sustainable and scalable, as well as a Global Market that thrives in our partnerships with 24 organizations in 18 countries. All of us are committed to women’s social and economic freedom, and we have learned that freeing women requires all of us working together, because when we leave one woman behind, we are all in danger. The stories we hear of violence, degradation, rape, and pain are the same. It is one story told a million times over in a million different places.

--Becca 

A Prayer of Faithfulness and A Prayer for Mercy

A Prayer of Faithfulness and A Prayer for Mercy

A Prayer of Faithfulness

Prepare me, dear Lord, to start this day again.

I am ready to keep climbing even though the mountain is steep.

I am willing to keep searching even though the fog is thick.

I am able to keep praying even though my words sound hollow.

Take these offerings and use them to open my heart to a new song.

Remove from me all that is keeping me unwilling or unable to sing.

So that I can praise the wonder of clouds parting and love revealed. Amen.

 

A Prayer for Mercy

In your spirit of mercy, as solid as the ground upon which we make our stand, help us recall

when we were hungry, afraid, sick, or imprisoned by bonds and burdens. May that mercy be

forged into compassion that loves the whole world without judgment. Forgive us again when we

fail to show mercy or come into your temple for solace and not for strength. Pardon our

blindness when we didn’t see you in the person we called our enemy. Help us let go of tired old

bitterness passed on by generations who forgot the freedom of forgiveness. Unite us in the truth

that love is the most powerful force for change and teach us to preach love in action.

Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

 

"Walking with Grace:" New Poems

"Walking with Grace:" New Poems

i just wanted to share some recent poetry I have been writing this summer on sabbatical.  some of it was written in Wyoming, some in the woods in Tennessee, and some is just the outpouring from the gift of time. 

love, becca

 

tripped up

I cross my heart at the altar,

then trip over my own two feet.

I get in my way so easily

that roots, open doors, or tiny cracks

throw me for a loop.

Walking with grace is a dream

Offered to flawless women I pass.

I know my mistakes so well.

They are scarred on the back of my hand,

tattooed on my lower back,

and etched on my heart.

I wonder if people see them in my eyes

or read them into every line

I write about mercy.

The times I have tripped

Kept me close to the ground.

Mistakes have taught me everything

I have ever known about love.

My missteps lead me to the place

Where I can trust that

Tripping puts me into love’s arms.

 

still mountain lake

Her silk water reflects landscape in watercolor perfection. 

Clouds sail past like four-masted ships on her canvas.

Wind becomes incarnate, rippling her surface.

The thimble weed and delphinium share the shoreline 

where we come to her curved boarders to quench longing.  

The faithful pine and aspen suiters watch over her.

We are parched for her life-giving water formed 

In the mystery of mountains and carried down canyon aisles.

Mica adorns her with hints of jade that add to her calm majesty.

Silt and mud sink at her feet in quiet repose; 

Their glacial journey long ago laid to rest.

She laughs as rainbow trout swim in her belly,

Hungry for the next hatch of flies she offers with grace.

Breathing in thin air on your way makes you dizzy with dreams.

In her deep black eyes, you look perfectly young again and know--

This is why you love still waters.

 

pearls of great price

When I still spoke as a child

And dreamed of being a dancer

my innocence was traded

For a precious secret pearl.

I placed it in a silken purse

bound to my heart for years,

praying a moth would eat through it

Or a thief cut it loose.

Instead of dancing,

I dreamed of forgiveness

That would let me offer the pearl

More valuable than a widow’s mite.

I could lay on the altar of my youth,

And watch the stone roll away.

Burn the purse as a sign of grace,

And dance around the flame.

Marveling at my unbridled heart,

Done grieving things I can’t change

And holding on to useless treasure

I would be free at last.

 

the edmond-pettus bridge

I drove down to Selma

About 50 years late

To see What its like to cross

That bridge when I finally

come to it.

Weary signs marked the way

Where heroic black men and women took

The high road against violent terror.

Stopping under a Lob Lolli pine

I saw the spans from a distance

And wondered if forgiveness lives

Like an old troll under the Pettus buttresses

Or if its more like water flowing,

long since carried out to sea.

Maybe we are alone in thought,

But maybe its planted in us

By more faithful pilgrims who

Knew their way here without signs.

 

dancing with cicadas

The cicada’s high-pitched,

Wavy, tymbal song

At first blush is incarnate stress.

It builds from white noise

Into the forefront of thought

Pushing peace to the recesses of memory.

The woods sound like a loud club

Where the noise rises beyond reason.

People are drowned out of thought.

Suddenly the whirring becomes the music

and the cicadas call us to the floor with

fluorescent disco wings twerking.

The pulsing sound shifts from stressful

To delight with dervish drumming.

I hope they don’t quiet down until

I feel dizzy from this dance.

The cicada is not made to stress,

But to help us find rhythm and dance.

 

lofty dreams

The storm is brewing in the mountain top.

Clouds are a stage for lighting dances

As thunder rolls in a distant heaven.

Hawks soar low as they scan the meadows

Looking for the needle in a haystack of prey,

Like pilgrims searching for a thought.

Moses saw God near predators gliding on updrafts

Where lofty thoughts dwell

As longings are sated by inspiration.

Mountain tops roar with of power.

Born in the depths of sea, they are the survivors.

We climb their backs to rest with mountain dreams.

 

Photo Credit: Becca at Radnor Lake, Peggy Napier

UNIVERSAL LOVE AT THE HEART OF OUR BEING

UNIVERSAL LOVE AT THE HEART OF OUR BEING

There is a vast expanse we can see from the lenses in our eyes out into interstellar space.  There is also a vast expanse from the iris, inward, through the stardust coursing through our veins and into our imagination. Both ways of seeing carry us to the far reaches of the universe. Both visions are critical and lead us to new frontiers. Both journeys of the heart help us keep our place in the world in perspective with a longing for connection. The issues women experience around the violence of poverty and trafficking hold both of these visions as well. They are universal and timeless to be sure, but the deepest scars from such violence are borne in the hollow of the heart.

Statistics, like the two below, paint a picture of the vast web of pain these injustices inflict on our sisters:

At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor...Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Source 
Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking hotline, operated by Polaris, has received reports of 14,588 sex trafficking cases inside the US.  Source 

Because this is a universal issue experienced by individuals, the Thistle Farms community has to be both universal and particular in its response. As the largest social enterprise run by survivors in the US, this community has an opportunity to respond with a powerful vision to see how we can help connect survivors globally, so women feel connected and know healing is possible from the inside out. As we commit to this vision with renewed vigor and bold faith, Thistle Farms Global will work as a community of support, shared learning, and product development. Partners will help each other grow in order to bring the next women into employment and safe recovery. As long as we remain undaunted by the task of uniting women through shared trade and global ecommerce, we can help small communities of women find their path to economic freedom. And just as importantly, help them start the interior work of healing that is just as vast and powerful. 

This global healing and economic justice work has taken me to search the meaning of vision again. When I stand in geranium fields in Rwanda or hold the child of a sister working in Ecuador, I remember when Thistle Farms had no vision of a global network. But as we grew in our reach and vision and met powerful leaders doing similar work around the world, we felt that a woman sold anywhere on the planet has the right to know she is a part a community, whose roots are deeper than any injustice she has known.

 

Freedom lies in being bold, and in that spirit, I know that the work Thistle Farms does has to be global in order to be about love’s deep roots.

At a national convention last summer I was standing next to one of the survivor leaders at Thistle Farms, who is part of the global initiative. We were selling products from the global partners, and people were buying into the hope of what we were selling. In the middle of the second day, she turned to me and said, “I get it. We are helping more and more women find their way home. I’m down with that.”

To learn more about Thistle Farms Global, visit here.

All photos courtesy of the respective global partners.

Sunrise Starts Before Dawn

Sunrise Starts Before Dawn

I hope this letter can serve me as a reminder that hope rises as an unexpected joyful gift. I do not believe we can expect hope. Hope lives in us and is a gift of grace that washes over us. It is by nature a transformative reality of living into our greatest desires. If love heals and hope transforms, then it's helpful to remember that every dawn can break forth with a sense of hope. The first inklings of that sense of hope begin by remembering that sunrise starts before even the dawn. It was a slight change in tone that called Mary Magdalene to head to the garden. The story of the resurrection begins with the words, "While it was still dark."
--Becca

Excerpt from Letters from the Farm

Original Image Credit: Pixabay.com

LEARNING TO SAY YES TO LOVE

LEARNING TO SAY YES TO LOVE

I remember when the idea of our Global Marketplace, Shared Trade, came into being in the summer of 2014.  I was standing on a train pulling out of Oxford, England with the Thistle Farms contingency and felt the shift of muddled thoughts moving from the world of feeling and taking on shape. The idea of launching a Thistle’s Farms Global initiative started after an international gathering with inspired music and justice advocates speaking in wishes about how economic justice could change the story of many women. My mind was racing in that beautiful way it feels like when the sky opens at sunrise, and we started talking about connecting groups of survivors through story and commerce, through an alliance that increased the value of the producers in the market chain.  We could start a global market called “shared trade”, cut out distribution fees, while at the same time help small not for profits find their way into social enterprise. It made sense: loving women to find new paths so they could gain economic independence. We could connect globally so that women could feel freedom locally. What was stunning was how gracefully the funding came and how excited people were to launch a new venture. 

What became clearer as our vision grew was that this global market could help us increase profits to other established groups around the world. The shared trade network could be like a seal of approval for new groups trying to make their way in a crowded market, and it could connect us to new stories and women who share the story of violence and childhood trauma that could empower everyone. When we started this work, twenty years ago, I couldn’t have told you how far this circle would stretch, eventually giving life to a social enterprise, a global shared trade network, a national alliance network, and a net that is cast wide enough to hold the suffering of women who have experienced the universal issues of sexual assault on their individual backs. 

The height, depth, and breadth of our witness is bold. We are unwavering in the proclamation that the story of a million women around the world being trafficked and abused is actually one story of one woman that we’ve met time and time again. Our experience, after 20 years, has always been that when we go to the streets or prison, we encounter a part of ourselves. This growth and expansion is not saying yes to everything; it is saying yes to one thing, Love.

Love connects us all and asks us to share its grace and mercy with the whole world, one person at a time. Such a mission will take our whole lives and hopefully sweep us up in a global movement that can end the cycle of trafficking, abuse, and the violence of poverty for the communities we serve.

Whether we are pouring wax for candles we light for the next woman finding her way home, sharing fabrics from Indonesia that tell the story of our sisters’ journey to financial freedom, or serving a cup of hot justice tea to a sojourner who visits the Thistle Stop Cafe, this work is about one thing: women’s freedom.

The market that treats human beings as commodities and barters their worth down to a global average of about $30 dollars seems insatiable, and so we are responding in kind to insidious injustices with unstoppable love and compassion. Thistle Farms is not done expanding or dreaming.  There are cities looking to us to help them open new residents. There are global communities needing to find new markets for distribution and better access to services for women in trauma. There are more jobs with better wages to be created and a deep need for more sanctuary. We are just beginning to hit our stride for the journey ahead.

Peace and love,

becca

Top photo courtesy of Thistle Farms Global partner, Heshima Kenya, Thistle Farms meditation circle courtesy of Taro Yamasaki.

 

Views from the Farm: First Time Down the Thistle Road

thistle-176201__180.jpg

This was written by Brooke Byers, my new Executive Assistant and the National Travel Coordinator. Her generous spirit and talent are such a gift.

---Becca

...

There was a day in the not so distant past (I can still see it in the rear view mirro, lthough it's fading) that fear would've kept me from this work. I grew-up as a sheltered preacher's kid in the Deep South. Diversity wasn't a word I knew or really understood. I didn't have a clue about my privilege in the world until a veil slowly started to lift while living in the great Pacific Northwest a few years back. Self-awareness can be life-changing.

Fast forward to mid-April when I found myself boarding a plane headed to Kansas City. I had the opportunity to travel with Becca and two Thistle Farms survivor leader (Regina & Tiffany) to Kansas and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Becca travels globally spreading the message that love is the most powerful force for change in the world, and she typically travels with to 2-3 of the Thistle Farms women and a road assistant. I was anxious to get to know Regina, so I plopped down in the seat next to her. She is Director of our Thistle Farms Residential program, Magdalene. For 20 years she has extended her heart and hand to women still on the streets so they can find their way home. She is one of the most courageous women I've ever met. We talked about what it's like to find our own freedom and we shared stories about our kids. It was such an honor to hear some of her story. We laughed, cried and had fun cutting up on the plane.

As the road assistant, I had a few tasks for the weekend: keep us on time, drive the oh-so-hot mini-van and sell products on a POS system I'd never used. No big deal, right? Usually pressure like this would give me a migraine and put me under, but I had a great sense of pride and was overwhelmed by gratitude. This is my life-work now (I'm still pinching myself!). Tiffany is such a rock star and patiently helped me with the POS. She knows so much about our products and is great with customers. I really enjoyed getting to know her. She is a strong, courageous woman and has overcome so much. I truly admire her great strength and consider her my sister for life!

The weekend was full of messages about the "good news of healing", "daily practices and rituals to keep the spirit moving," and contemplative practices. It was awesome to see Becca in action. I’m such a geek and even took notes while Becca spoke. I was hanging on every word! These beautiful quotes by Dr. Rev. Becca Stevens particularly impacted my heart and are still resonating with me.

“We need to be reminded about the good news of healing.”

“Love is the end of the story.”

“How do I speak my truth in love?”

“Good news is not oppressive.”

“We need to have space and a moment to dream about what healing looks like in our own lives."

We enjoyed a feast of some of the finest BBQ in KC with Becca's friends, met some amazing folks in Mission and Fort Smith, devoured some of the best guacamole at an Ecuadorian restaurant in Fort Smith, sold over $10k of Thistle Farms products and traveled through 6 different states in 4 days. We had a fairly quiet and (thankfully) uneventful 4.5 hour drive to Ft. Smith, but I’ll never forget how the lyrics hit me when Becca ooked up her phone to the sound system in the van and playe the song "Make it Love." I remember feeling a great sense of joy and was reminded that I’m not alone by the line “let’s just make it love and take each other’s hands.” I was in a van with three amazing women who make it love EVERY DAY! Check it out here!

It's easy for me to sit behind a computer, type up the travel itineraries and coordinate all of the logistics from afar but to be on "ground zero" with the heroes from Thistle Farms is truly a great gift.

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