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tea

A Lenten Letter

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For God so loved the world By Becca Stevens

I was hosting a justice tea party in Memphis last week.  Tea parties have become part of our story at Thistle Farms, the women’s social enterprise dedicated to survivors, as they demonstrate to participants how we love the world and connect globally with survivors of trafficking, addiction and devastating poverty.  After all the speech and toasting with justice tea, a young woman who escaped trafficking six months ago in Texas and is now living in a new sister program called St. Terese, hugged me and said, “What is unconditional love anyway?”  It was a whisper in the middle of a noisy room that silenced me. I could see Lacy, making her way across the crowd with her heart open enough to hear despite the brokenness and violence that must have filled her life for the past few years. The following is my effort to write a love letter to God and Lacy.

Dear Lacy,

Unconditional love is the truth.  Love is woven into the fabric of creation and so it is part of our DNA.  We have stardust coursing through our veins, oceans for tears, and love in our very fiber.  Love then, is not a feeling we need to search for, but the truth of our lives that calls us to seek justice, offer mercy, forgive all that we have done and left undone and all that has been done and left undone to us.  I have seen women for the past 20 years forgive more than I thought possible for the sake of love.  I have seen women relapse because they couldn’t recognize the truth that they are love.  It took the disciples three years to make their way to Jerusalem, which they could have reached walking from Nazareth in a couple of weeks.  It must have been enough time for them to live into the truth of love and tp prepare their hearts to love the whole world.  The truth of love makes all the clanging bells ring in harmony in such a graceful melody that it can reach past cynicism, fear, brokenness and the sting of death.  Love is the truth, Lacy.

Unconditional Love is the root of all faith.  Dirt grounds all that grows and makes for good roots.  Jesus was all about dirt growing love.  He writes in dirt when a woman is accused of adultery and condemnation, he uses dirt to heal with compassion, and he tells the disciples to shake it off their shoes when they cannot find peace.  When Jesus teaches about love, he focuses not on all the injustices outside in this world that include violence, oppression, and poverty, but on the root of it all: dirt and seeds. The stories of plucking grain on the Sabbath; the sower and the seeds; the wheat among the grain; and the mustard seed are just a few examples.  There is so much injustice experienced by survivors like you, Lacy, who have seen the backside of anger, the short side of justice, and the inside of prison walls, but if we want to find Love, we can’t just rail against principalities, we have to get to the root of it all.   If Love is going to carry us through this world, it demands that we overturn old hard ground, lift old stones that prevent growth, and dig deep furrows to our hearts even though we weep. Such love makes dirt lavish so roots can withstand storms and produce new life.

Unconditional Love is the desire.  Being in Love is unfathomable and sometimes seems unattainable, but it is our deepest hope.  On long nights when worries sit by our beds, on grey days when we wonder how the clock ticks seamlessly as hours drag on, and on lonely roads when longing overshadows community, our desire for love does not cease.  There is always the hope of love. Even when we can’t believe in Love, we can love each other, live in generosity, and break bread together.  We may never fathom the reality of love requited, but our desire to love well will keep us close to the heart of God.  This is how we have tried to live in the community of Thistle Farms.  What started as a desire to believe that love is the most powerful force for change in the world became the truth for me as I witnessed women healing, communities giving generously, and people coming from all over the world to share a cup of tea dedicated to healing.  Love does heal us all.  Love is not a commodity one person bestows upon another, but a grace that fills us as we live in fellowship, with generosity for all as we break bread.

Love is the truth, the root of all faith, and our deepest desire.  Beyond that, it is the pearl of great price, the widow's mite offered, the one sacrament of the church, the plowshare made from swords, the measure of our worth, the eternal kiss on our temporal lips, the substance of our dreams, and the connection between two strangers.  I pray you never quit asking the question or let the answer trip you up.  I once led a small funeral for a woman who died in state custody at 85 pounds with a feeding tube, chained to a bed.  Even as she was dying, when it looked like the whole brokenness of the world had landed on her back, she longed to feel love.  I was afraid to preside at her funeral because it seemed like love did not win; that trauma in youth, devastating addiction, institutional poverty, and poor choices were more powerful.  The fears that maybe we are not capable, that the problems are too big for us, or that people just die, were on my mind.  As the tiny grouped gathered to hold a service for her, with her ashes in a cardboard box, we divided the tasks of praying, offering words of comfort, and a singing a song.  Before the first line of the prayer was uttered, though, we all began to weep.  Love was so thick in the room words could not cut through it.  When there is nothing else, Lacy, love fills a space.  I knew in that room if there was ever a chariot “coming for to carry” a soul home, it had come for her and carried her to the bosom Abraham.  Love does have the last word; God does so love the world.  If the world can do its worst, and love—unconditional and lavish--- can speak that loudly, we can lay down our lives for the sake of it.  Such love is enough to assure us that we will find our way home and remind us that we were enough all along.

peace and love,

Becca Stevens

Interview about "The Way of Tea and Justice"

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The following is an interview Becca gave about her most recent book, "The Way of Tea and Justice." Tell me a little more about how Thistle Stop Café started.  The Thistle Stop Café began in June of 2013 in response to the number of people coming from around the country to learn more about the housing-first model of Magdalene and the social enterprise of Thistle Farms.  The residential program started in 1997, and we had launched Thistle Farms, the manufacturing and distributing company, in 2001.  Both are considered best practice models and hundreds of visitors and volunteers were coming through our doors every month for day-long immersions.  It seemed like it was time for us to show hospitality to the stranger by offering healing teas and healthy food.  Opening a café also enabled Thistle Farms to increase the work force of women who are survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution.

What instigated you to write your latest book, "The Way of Tea and Justice"?  The more I learned about tea, the more I was drawn to it.  I quit drinking coffee altogether and soon found myself immersed in the history and culture of tea.  Looking back, I think after writing a book on essential healing oils, it makes sense that tea would be my next venture.  Hot water tinctures and teas have a rich medicinal tradition.  Also, as a priest in the Episcopal Church, I love rituals, and tea is literally steeping in them!

What main takeaway do you hope people have after reading it?  I hope people fall in love with justice teas produced by women getting paid fair wages.  I also hope folks see how they are active participants in the commodities sold in this world.  What we drink, the market will offer. What we buy, people will sell, including our own bodies. We need to cultivate rich tastes and sweet rituals for this most-consumed beverage in the entire world, after water.  More than that, I hope people read the stories of the survivors in the book and learn about the link between tea and trafficking.  The story of tea’s history and the story of trafficking and abuse is pretty horrible.  The story of Thistle Farms and this movement is a story of hope.  People can buy the teas we sell, they can share their story over a cup of tea, and they can help remind the whole world that women heal from the oldest and deepest scars.  We don’t have to tolerate the buying and selling of any human being.

This is your ninth book. Does the writing process get any easier with practice?  I waste so much time writing.  I have learned to postpone writing by getting more distracted by all the busyness of the world.  If you want me to get the laundry done or watch reruns, just ask me to start writing.  The best discipline I have learned is to get up and start writing as quickly as possible before I can start the mental list of 100 reasons not to write or start reading emails and get bogged down.

What are the best and worst parts about writing a book?  I love a thought rising like incense from my heart.  I love reading back on a sentence and recognizing that the words reflect with some accuracy what I felt at the time.  I love sharing the stories of the people in the community that are a witness to the truth of how love changes the world.  I love dedicating a book to my children that I wonder if they will ever read.  The worst is everything else about the process.  I am so grateful that I get to write---I wish I wrote better.

When you're writing, what is your must-have? (A favorite writing utensil, certain music playing, etc.)  I must have water. I must have hot water for tea and hot water to soak in as I conjure up words.

Since 1997, you've founded Magdalene and Thistle Farms, opened the Café and been recognized regionally and nationally for your work…what's next?  There are three things on my horizon.  A national marketing plan to sell our all-natural bug spray made from Rwandan Geranium (it's our million dollar product!;, a new capital campaign to double our manufacturing and meditation space; and a small book to young idealists searching for faith and justice called “Letters from the Farm.”