Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens told triennial participants Saturday morning about a Lutheran farmer from Nebraska who said, “You know [thistles] are weeds, right?”
Founded in 1997 by Stevens, an Episcopal priest, Thistle Farms is a natural body care products enterprise that supports a two-year residential community for women in recovery in Nashville, Tenn.
Thistles are a weed, yes, “but that’s the point,” Stevens, wearing a “Love heals” T-shirt, told triennial participants. “To take these beautiful and lovely and much despised weeds that we all are and remember their beauty, their universality and their great gifts.”
Stevens shared her own story, including the loss of her Episcopal priest father, killed by a drunk driver; her mother’s struggle to raise five young children alone; and the sexual abuse Stevens experienced as a child by a respected church elder.
Stevens told triennial participants she felt much in common with the women living at Magdalene, who on average, were first raped between the ages of 7 and 11–some even earlier. “They hit the streets as teenagers, where drugs and abuse continue, addictions set in and a path in and out of incarceration continues,” she said, adding that it keeps women from finding employment.
The prophet Isaiah asks us to take on a big task, Stevens said, adding that it’s easy to feel inadequate. “If you just look [at the statistics of] how many people are trafficked, how many people are abused, how many people are at risk, how many women are suffering domestic violence, what poverty looks like… you think I am not up to that task.” Although Magdalene houses 30 women in each of six houses, and has an amazing “success rate right at 80 percent of women staying clean and sober for two years,” that also “means that about 20 percent of the women didn’t,” Stevens said.
“We’ve buried women who haven’t made it, visited them in jail, [identified] bodies, and come to terms with the idea that maybe the scars are too deep … or maybe the brokenness of the world is just so heavy, not any community can bear that kind of weight,” Stevens said.
“A lot of us come from broken foundations [and] broken hearts,” Stevens said. “These issues are as old as Isaiah’s vision itself… specifically sexual violence against women that are universal and timeless. …It is in coming together, in speaking our truth, in being honest with one another that we begin the rebuilding and restoration process.”
The restoration stretches far beyond Nashville. Stevens described domestic and global partnerships including women living in correctional institutions and women in Rwanda who grow geraniums to produce Thistle Farm’s geranium oil.
The Rwandan women, who survived “some of the most horrific violence this world has to offer, went back into those fields and sowed hope,” Stevens said. Their geranium oils came to Nashville, Tennessee “where another group of women who have known devastation, the backside of anger, the underside of bridges, the inside of prison walls, and the short side of justice didn’t give up,” she said. From there, the oils made their way through prison walls to “be with a woman who was ready to breathe in the fragrance of healing,” Stevens said.
Stevens asked participants: “If a drop of oil can be that powerful, that restorative, that healing, that able to repair, can you imagine what all these drops of your love and power can do in this world?”
Elizabeth Hunter/The Lutheran