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Views from the Farm: Speaking Trip to Montgomery, Alabama

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This is a guest post by one of the amazing assistants, Jordan, who is reflecting on his first time being out on the road with the Thistle Farms travel crew. He is way too kind---but his tender words are a gift to those still searching for their place in the circle. Peace, Becca,

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I must say that now having a trip under my belt I feel ever so slightly more official in my Thistle Farmer status...

During the first week of May 2016, I had the great opportunity to head down to Montgomery, Alabama--my first time in that city as well--with Susan, Jennifer and Rita. We met Becca, who was coming from another engagement, down there. Along the way, we made the obligatory fast food stop, listened to NPR, reflected on our journeys thus far, and enjoyed the blessing of extending love's great reach to even more hearts and minds. Without question, some of the most important work that a Thistle Farmer can do is speak her truth, and the fact that so many events and organizations make space for us to do that is testament to why we all fell in love with love from the first time we lit a Thistle Farms candle, heard Becca speak, or worked in service to the amazing women who are changing the course of their destiny with each success they have in recovery.

Of course, for me, one of the highlights of the whole experience was hearing Becca give a keynote. Speaking about the power of "Acting Globally, Helping Locally," the Boss did what she does well: combined humor, compassion, insight, conviction, and hope into a journey that her audience thoroughly enjoyed taking with her as they learned about why the movement to end human trafficking locally must be global. While there are many things that stood out for me in hearing these truths once more, I was personally convicted by hearing Becca talk about the fact that she's never taken a salary for her work with Thistle Farms:

"I offer this work up as a free gift, for this community and in gratitude for all the mercy that people have shown me in my life."

That wasn't my first time encountering such a sweet truth that undergirds the foundation of all that we do at Thistle Farms--this lavishness of love--but it was the first time that I was able to make such a personal connection to the message behind it. There has yet to be a day when I haven't been blessed in some way by being in service to this community. Even looking back on my internship back in 2011, something about Becca's work called to me then, and such a calling ultimately brought me back to that stretch of earth on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, TN where the ground is bursting forth with the unfolding promise of love as the most powerful force for social change.

As such, I feel the gift that Becca has extended to me in taking me under her mentorship, and I feel the path unfolding before all of us as we strive to create a national housing-first network in all 50 states over the next few years. Accordingly, I conclude this entry with sincere thanks, not only for the opportunity to have traveled, but for being welcomed back into this circle when I needed it more than I ever realized.

With love, Jordan

Original image credit: pixabay.com

Views from the Farm: CNN Shoot with Becca

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Continuing with our guest blog series, here's an update on some great news from our community. Thanks so much to the CNN crew and Ryan Camp for being such a faithful thistle farmer. This was written by one of my assistants, Jordan.

Love, Becca

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“Now, to me ‘love heals’ means that you take all these lofty ideas and actually do something. It also means to love without judgement.” --Becca, CNN Interview, April 2016

Whether you’re new to the Circle at Thistle Farms or have heard the story of how this community came to be a million times over, it just takes one new detail, one nuanced slant of light falling as the words come forth, or even just one fresh breath of laughter blessing the stories of trauma, healing, and recovery to provoke fresh tears over all that love can do. Trust me, I speak from experience.

A crew from CNN recently came to film a segment about Thistle Farms and Becca, and they were with us for two days. They interviewed survivor leaders, got footage of our products being made and shipped, and of course, heard from The Boss about how the dream she had of creating a home--“not a rehab center, not a halfway house, a home”--for women who have survived violence, addiction and prostitution grew into a 2 million dollar social enterprise, cafe, global shared trade network, and the largest survivor-led organization of its kind in the nation.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the logistics crew on the Thistle side of things and spent the better part of those days listening once more to all the narratives that are woven together in the tapestry of our community. I was able to take pictures, live tweet Becca’s interview, meet our Whole Foods media contact in Nashville, and see these amazing women sharing the truth that love is the most powerful force for social change, as their journeys attest to like nothing else.

This all came together for me as I sat in on the crew’s interview with Becca the last day of the shoot. I spent most of the time they were filming her sniffling, both from the recent onset of allergies that only the South can cause and from tears that began to stream as she took us back to the one of the most powerful spiritual principles that guide our community: “Remember You Have Been in the Ditch.” This call to humility in times of personal growth and reflection has always stopped me in my tracks. More than anything I find it arresting because it’s a reminder that we must all check our egos and suspend judgement if earnestly intend to pick up the plough that is required of all Thistle Farmers. None of us our saints, but none of us are lost causes either. By remembering our ditches we are able to see both our mistakes and our redemption.

With this, in the ever evolving scrapbook of experiences I am collecting as a servant to this community and assistant to Becca, I am blown away by such opportunities as these--to really see what this justice work can look like and how big our dreams can get if we are willing to accept help and to “lean into our faith more than our doubts” as Becca says in her poem, “I am not more faithful.” So, thank you to CNN for helping us spread the word, and thank you to Becca and the women of Thistle Farms for continuing to make space for all of us who gain more in being of service to you than you will ever know.

Original image credit: pixabay.com

Views from the Farm: A Photoshoot with Becca at Radnor Lake

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as part of a new series i want to feature on here, this is the first entry in a set of reflections from some thistle farmers that work, travel and love the world with me. i'm so grateful for all of the people that help make this work possible, and i'm glad to share part of their story here with you, too. this was written by one of my assistants, jordan.

love, becca ---

"What we are feeling and experiencing is not a sense of being lost but the wonder of discovering something new..."

The gift of being a Thistle Farmer to me has always been that once we start down the path we never know where it will take us on any given day. A few weeks ago, such an expected turn came my way when The Boss, otherwise known as The Reverend Becca Stevens, asked me if I wanted to go to Radnor Lake with her for a photoshoot we’d arranged as part of some upcoming projects Thistle Farms is about to roll out for our Beloved Community. Becca was literally heading out the door, and while my fresh Hummus Helping from the Cafe was just calling to me, the promise of new Spring air and the chance to experience flowers blooming with one of their biggest fans was too great an opportunity to turn down.

On the drive over, The Boss and I discussed a little of everything. (If you ever get the chance to chat with her about life at large, I highly recommend that you take it.) Of particular note to me was the way that she interwove all the details of not only her life and work as a Thistle Farmer, but also as a priest who still feels called to light incense while praying, visit the ailing, and spread the kindness of her vocation whenever she can.

While I realize that it’s not good to make heroes out of people, I can say in clear conscience that Becca has become a possibility model for me in terms of how she’s shown me that it’s possible to love the world and love how you do it at the same time. That’s been a huge gift to me as an emerging professional.

After we arrived and greeted the rest of our party, Peggy and Kren, we took a luxurious walk around the lake, scouting the perfect location for Becca to do something she does very well: be photogenic. During our wandering, The Boss pointed out flowers left and right, detailing their name, medicinal properties, and the way they grow out of the ground. If there were any question about the depth of love she has for the earth from which we harvest our thistles, spending time with her outside will clear that up in heartbeat. Several steps and funny stories later, a location was chosen.

Becca removed her signature Ugg boots, and then sat amongst the earth that was blooming before us. I had the privilege of holding the reflector as Peggy worked her magic. You’ll see the full fruits of her labor shortly, but I can assure you that the combination of her artistic eye, the sunlight, Radnor, and Becca made for some gorgeous results.

All too soon, we had to pack up and head back to the cars. But the sweet experiences of that day still remain vivid in my mind. It’s not too many folks my age who can say that they’ve had the vast variety of professional development experiences my time with Thistle Farms continues to offer me. Just when I think that we’re settled into a week of the good work of proving to the world that is the most powerful force for social change, something new will crop up and allow me to experience our mission in ways I had not yet imagined.

This has made for a very grateful Thistle Farmer who thanks you for spending some time reading about his great day with his great Boss.

Love heals, Jordan

blog image credit: pixabay.com

Guest Blog: "The Noose of a Single Narrative: Holy Week 2016" by David Hutchens

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i've heard before that a writer is only as good as the material she reads. in light of this, i want to start sharing some writings with you that inform my journey. this is a piece written in reflection of holy week this year by my friend david hutchens. i pray his words are just as convicting for you as they are for me.

love, becca

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My eyes kept being drawn back to the image of the silver coins being dropped into Judas’ hands, which disappointed me because I didn't want to write about it. The Passion narrative is so rich in pathos, in beauty, in archetype, why even bring up money? It seems tacky. But this image kept calling, so I should listen to what it has to say.

I stay with the picture, and I feel my breath deepen, and now I see images of glass meeting rooms in big organizations where my career in leadership development keeps putting me in these flawed and compromised places so that my friends ask me questions: How can you support a national food brand when they are depleting ground water in India? By supporting a national beauty retailer, aren't you contributing to the objectification of women?

It’s not that I see myself as a Judas. I believe in my work. But I’ve been sensitive to my role in systems that are deeply fractured (which I think may be all systems). I sometimes feel in my gut the tension between positioning myself as one of the good guys who is there to make it better, while at some level enabling the dysfunction simply by showing up without a picket sign.

I just came back from a program -- with the national beauty retailer, as a matter of fact -- and it was a room filled with young leaders which is my favorite scenrio because they still have some fire flickering in their eyes, before 20 years in supply chain management can turn them into zombies who believe that all they are doing is moving numbers around on an Excel spreadsheet. They have not yet abandoned the possibility that they might bring their whole hearts to the work. I told them the thing I always tell leaders which is that they are creating their world through the stories they choose to tell, and if you want to change the world start by changing the metaphor. The young business leaders are hungry to embrace this calling, I see the light burn a little brighter, and I feel a moment of hope for the organizational world.

My eyes focus on the painting again. I like that it is an action image. We see the coins falling from the hand of a Sanhedrin priest into Judas’ hand. Money is one of those topics like sex that is always a metaphor, so that when we are talking about it we are probably really talking about something else. What the money represents to the priest is different than the meaning that Judas assigns to it, and so something has shifted in that short journey as it falls from one hand to another.

So what meaning does Judas assign to the money? I sense desperation. I think it’s plausible that he was hungry, or that he was worried about his house payment, or a family member had growing medical debt, or maybe his teenager needed braces. When you’re scrambling at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for basic survival, it’s amazing how quickly you can rationalize away all of the higher-order self-actualization stuff. I know because I’ve done it.

But what is sad about this story is that Judas never gets to make the choice that my L’Oreal leaders made. There’s a special form of discourse that I like to call The Art of Talking About What Things Mean. In the scripture Jesus was especially good at this but it seems like almost no one else was, and that includes Judas who found himself isolated on his last day on earth, unable to change the metaphor.

It’s tough work, this Art of Talking About What Things Mean. It has to happen in community, and I think the final agony of this text is that Judas was up for the task but at the crucial moment community failed him. Listen to how the story goes in Matthew chapter 27, which to me now sounds like a modern parable for Wall Street:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” the leaders replied. “That’s your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

And as I take one last look at the image, I notice that the hands are close enough to touch, a possibility of human connection that for Judas never happened. And so maybe this painting, which I resisted, has for me not a rebuke but a call. A call to new stories and to building something beautiful as a community. Otherwise, all we are left with is a handful of coins… and the noose of a single narrative.

image credit: pixabay.com