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Aug 12, 2014 | The Rev. Becca Stevens

Healing Can Be a Journey or a Moment


[Diolog Magazine] During our regular morning meditation at Thistle Farms—a body-care products enterprise run by survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution—one could feel the stress of the upcoming holiday season among the 100 employees and volunteers. The air itself was thick with anxiety.


Thistle Farms had grown steadily since our founding in 2001, but more recently, we had grown exponentially. Great news for the program and the women, but during the Christmas rush it is a lot to manage. 


Thistle Farms began four years after we founded Magdalene—homes for survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution. In order to help the women regain their dignity and gain some economic independence and work experience, we began a social enterprise to accompany the two-year residency program, “Love Heals.” 

Shana, a recent graduate of the residency program and sales team leader at Thistle Farms, sat in the circle, listening to the meditation. Shana had been sold to a drug dealer at the age of 13 instead of starting the seventh grade. She began a life of forced prostitution and addiction that kept her on the streets for 20 years. 


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When Shana was 15, she was branded across her chest with a huge tattoo that said, “Trust No One.” Shana said she used to fear that her “new” life at Thistle Farms was all just a dream and that she would wake up one morning and it would all be gone. It was hard for her to trust anyone, but she spent several months working with the sexual assault center in Nashville, working on her computer skills, reconciling with family members, learning the twelve steps of recovery, finding a spiritual home that felt right and going back to court to testify against one of her rapists. Slowly, she began to feel that she could trust a community that talked about love and healing.  


In the middle of the circle on that particularly stressful morning, right smack-dab in the midst of the meditation, Shana jumped up and did the first cartwheel of her life. If you have ever wondered what healing looks like, it looks like an adult woman feeling so much joy that it cannot be contained. It looks like a beautiful fumbling spin that catches everyone by surprise, like resurrection itself. Her healing felt like a long and arduous walk from “trusting no one” to “trusting everyone in the community will love me.” 


Shana was not stressed by the holidays. She was grateful to be busy, to need to buy presents for other people and to anticipate receiving gifts from others. She was not self-conscious, but inspired to give everyone else a dose of much needed laughter. She felt excited for her new sense of mission—that what she was doing was not for her, but that she was becoming a voice for other women still trapped on the streets. 


When I think of healing and the time and energy and community that it takes to see this kind of healing unfold, the stunning cartwheel that carried everyone at Thistle Farms through that holiday season inspires me to keep working and to keep being open to my own needed healing. 


Healing is not something that one person possesses and can “give” to another. It is a grace that washes over all of us as we love without judgment, work towards a vision of wholeness and stay open enough to be changed by the community that surrounds us. Healing is sometimes a long walk, and sometimes it’s just a moment of unbounded joy so powerful it sets us free. Thank you, Shana, and thank you to the whole community of Thistle Farms for letting me glimpse the healing power of love in this world. 


Stevens is an Episcopal priest and founder of Magdalene, residential communities for women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. She founded Thistle Farms, which currently employs nearly 50 residents and graduates of the two-year program of Magdalene. She was named by the White House as one of 15 Champions of Change for violence against women in 2011.