An Enterprise for Women Built on Love with Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms
Episode 2 in our “For the Love of Women Who Built It” features the fearless and heroic (CNN even awarded her with nomination as a 2017 CNN Hero) Becca Stevens, the president and founder of Thistle Farms. Becca describes her “aha” moment 21 years ago when she no longer could stay quiet about what she was seeing regarding women who were subject to sex trafficking and abuse (before “trafficking” was even a widely-used term). She started the organization with the Magdalene Center which welcomed women who had been subject to sex trafficking or abuse by providing free residences; taking care of their housing, medical care, therapy, and education for two years. From this, she moved into a social enterprise that creates beautiful and healing products for the body and employs these same women in need. The global market of Thistle Farms employs over 1,800 women worldwide, and the national network has over 40 sister communities. Becca’s new book (and mantra for her entire organization) is “Love Heals.”
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey guys. It’s Jen Hatmaker. Welcome to the show. This is the For The Love Podcast, and we are in the middle of an amazing series called “For The Love of Women Who Built It.” We are talking to entrepreneurs, and builders, and creators, and business women, and they’re just fascinating, and smart, and courageous, and that describes my guest today in spades. If you already know her, you are going to love this next hour.
My guest today is Becca Stevens. Becca is an author. She’s a speaker. She’s a priest. She’s a social entrepreneur, and she’s the founder and the president of Thistle Farms, which you may have heard of already. So, she is going to tell the whole story, but essentially Thistle Farms started 21 years ago with a sanctuary house offering survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking a loving community.
So, from there, she built this huge business that, at this point, spans the globe. She continues to welcome women in with free residences that provide housing, and medical care, and therapy, and education for two years, and then they earn income through one of four of her social enterprises. I mean, fascinating. The global market of Thistle Farms employs over 1,800 women worldwide, and the national network has over 40 sister communities.
So, Becca’s amazing. She’s been featured everywhere. New York Times, ABC World News, NPR. She was recently named a 2016 CNN Hero. That is an elite group of world changers right there. She was named a White House Champion of Change.She’s been featured everywhere. She was Humanitarian of the Year, named by the Small Business Council of America. She went to Vanderbilt Divinity School. She’s been given two honorary doctorates. What do we have to do to make that happen, right? How cool is that?
Her latest book,Love Heals, is fabulous and wonderful. I’m going to have the link to all of this on my transcript, but basically you guys, this is an amazing stellar human being, and our conversation was so good that I told her right in the middle of it. I started thinking, who can I tell about this conversation? I need to tell somebody what an amazing woman this is, and what a great discussion we are having. So anyway, you are going to love it, and you’re absolutely going to love her. Help me welcome Becca Stevens to the show.
Okay. So, Becca, Becca, Becca. Becca Stevens. Welcome to the show.
Becca: I am so happy to be here. I love what you do. Love it.
Jen: That’s nice. I love what you do, too. This is going to be a mutual admiration society, then. I know that a lot of my listeners, obviously, are going to already know who you are and what your work is, but I’m so excited for everybody who doesn’t. I’m thrilled that they’re about to hear your story, and find out about your work and your company, and listen. We’re going to make some converts today, lady. Me and you.
Becca: Yay. We need it. We need to convince people to really put their money where they get inspired and where their value is.
Jen: Yes. I love that. Oh, my gosh. Let’s just jump right into it. This is a series that I’m really excited about it. We’re talking to “women who built it,” and so we’re talking to women who have built companies, and organizations, and ministries, and amazing spaces where people are thriving and flourishing, and when we were coming up with a list of who we really wanted to invite, you were at the very top of our list. You really were.
We are watching you with just awe and admiration, and really proud of your vision, and your execution, and you have truly built something amazing. So, we’ve got a hundred things to talk about. I want to start with the Magdalene center. Let’s start there and then we’ll kind of work our way backwards. Can you tell my listeners what that is, and how it came to be, and then we’ll go backwards and pick our way forward?
Becca: That sounds perfect.
?Becca: What that is; it’s a sanctuary for women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. I opened the first house 21 years ago, and it was just saying, I want to do something just outside the systems. I don’t want it to feel like a treatment center. I don’t want it to be a halfway house. I don’t want it to be a shelter. I don’t want it to be ordered by the courts. I just want women coming together who are survivors, and that can love each other, and just have a free place to live, and stay there for a couple of years, and have no authority in the house. It was that simple, and just that I wanted to do it where it felt healing, and lovely, and extravagant.
Becca: What that is; it’s a sanctuary for women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. I opened the first house 21 years ago, and it was just saying, I want to do something just outside the systems. I don’t want it to feel like a treatment center. I don’t want it to be a halfway house. I don’t want it to be a shelter. I don’t want it to be ordered by the courts. I just want women coming together who are survivors, and that can love each other, and just have a free place to live, and stay there for a couple of years, and have no authority in the house. It was that simple, and just that I wanted to do it where it felt healing, and lovely, and extravagant.
Jen: That’s amazing. I love that. I love that vision. It’s 21 years old? Golly. I want to go back to that moment, because you’re just … You know, you’ve built this amazing business, and you make these beautiful products, and you’re also a speaker, and a preacher, and a real leading voice for social justice, and you’re pulling human trafficking into the forefront of attention where it belongs. So, tell everybody a little bit, when you first got started in this world, what did you know? What did already understand about trafficking? What brought you into it? What was your front door to wanting to love these women?
Becca: That’s such a great question, and the thing is I didn’t know much at all, and people were not using, back in the day as I like to call it, people weren’t using that term. There was no human trafficking term.
Jen: Oh, right. Right.
Becca: This is before all that. I mean, back then, you would just say, “Oh, look. There’s a 14-year-old crack whore on the street.”
Jen: Yeah, exactly.
Becca: Nobody would say like, “Why is there a 14-year old girl walking the streets?” Or they just considered they were homeless or addicts, but you didn’t realize that people were being coerced, and manipulated, and addicted, and imprisoned at a really young age.
Jen: That’s right.
Becca: I didn’t know that much, thank God, and I had had a history of sexual abuse when I was a kid. I didn’t realize that that was probably where my heart was forged, so that when I was meeting women who were on the streets, I was already ordained an Episcopal priest. As it was, I had a lot of compassion. I didn’t know that it was partly because my story was tied into theirs, and not in near as dramatic a way, and not…you know, I don’t like to compare anybody’s #MeToo story.
But I did think, I don’t want to do this where it feels like you’re warehousing women, or you’re giving them such the bare minimum and saying, “Okay. Get better. Get better. How do you feel now?” You know, and bossing them around and stuff. It was like, how about just being nice and saying, “What in God’s name happened to you?”
Jen: Yes. Just so human, and so, I appreciate that so much because even still, even now where this is a conversation that has much more national and international attention, still so much of the mechanisms to address women, and men for that matter, coming out of trafficking is so clinical and so sort of state-sanctioned, and cold. It just lacks human warmth for people who have been so traumatized.
I read that you had sort of an “aha” moment. You were with your son. You’d been volunteering at a women’s day center, and thinking through the systems that were currently in place for women in trouble. So, whatever they were–you know, halfway houses, prisons, whatever the systems were–and hungry for change. Knowing it needed to change, but getting to that moment where you believed, “Oh, my gosh. This could be my thing. I could be a part of this change.” It was like a billboard, right? Can you talk about that for just a sec?
?Becca: Sure, and it’s really crazy that we’re talking about this because this week … so, Love Heals is our mantra, and the son that I’m going to tell you the story about just released a single out there, just was debuted on Country Music Television, CMT, this weekend called “Love Heals.”
Jen: Oh, whoah.
Becca: I know. Alison Krauss is doing the song as a duet with him. It’s beautiful. Love Heals.
He’s now grown up, and he is out there in the world preaching love, too, in a beautiful, beautiful way. But what happened was, my husband, at that point, was a country music artist. He was out on the road, and I had my one son and I was pregnant with the second one. Eventually we had another one after that too, but this was … It kind of felt like single parenting, but you were married.
Jen: Yes. I get it.
Jen: And how old were you at the time? I’d love for everybody to know that, too.
Becca: I don’t know. Let me think. I was pregnant seven, 27, 29. So, I was 30. Right at 30 years old.
Jen: Okay, yep.
Becca: I was working, and I had these kids, and so I was leaving the place where I was volunteering, and I had my son with me. I was trying to put him in the car, and do you know how kids about that age just arch their backs, so no matter what, you can’t get them in a car seat, and they’re like super human-
Jen: Oh, yes. It’s just like some sort of weird super power. Yes.
Becca: It is. It’s like, wow. Your back is so strong.
Jen: Yes, exactly.
Becca: And he was looking up as he was arching his back, and now remind you I’m pregnant with the other one, too. So, you’re just bent over and not at your best, and he said, “Momma. Why is that lady smiling?” I was like, what in the world is he talking about? I look up, and where we were was across the street from a strip club called the Classic Cat, and in front of the strip club there was this huge billboard.
I mean like 10 feet tall of a woman dressed in a very, very, very tiny, tiny glimpse of a catsuit with a tail and ears, and just she was leaning back and just smiling to beat the band. And it was like when he asked me the question “why is that lady smiling,” I thought that is the most innocent question in the world. Someday he’s not going to ask it because it’s going to seem completely normal to him that we dress women up like this, that we buy and sell them as commodities, probably cheaper than you can get a cat.
Becca: I just thought, “I’ve had this idea in my head forever and I’m doing it. I’m doing it for him. I’m doing it for everybody. I want him to know that we love women, and we honor women, and we’re going to do our best so women don’t have to dress up in catsuits and smile.”
Jen: Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. So, you’ve got this dream. You mentioned you’d had it for some time, and it’s time to put it into motion. I mean, you’re pulling this out of thin air, right? How do you get started? How did you get started? Who did you get started with? What did that look like at the very beginning stages?
Becca: At the very beginning, the part that caught people off guard was that we are not going to have any authority in the house. The only people living in the house with a key to the house will be women survivors. So, there’s no live-in-
Jen: No house mom or whatever?
Becca: No. Yeah, none of that stuff because if authority worked, prisons would work. I knew that, and I knew that if I was coming off the streets or out of jail, the main thing I want is somebody not telling me what to do.
Becca: So, that was the thing that was hard at the beginning. The board, I just started a 501(c)(3) and I got a board of friends. My husband, Marcus Hummon, he is in the country music world, and there were lots of people who were saying, “I’ll help. I’ll help. I’ll help.” And so, we never had to take any federal or state money. We got-
Becca: The first house was on the street we lived on, so nobody could say, “Not in your backyard.”
Jen: Oh, whoah. Okay.
?Becca: Because it was two years, we didn’t even have to change the codes. It was just a house, and we just moved in and did it. It was crazy. It took a couple years to get all the funding, and the board of directors, and the 501(c)(3), and I was very frustrated for those couple of years. I birthed another son and had two kids, and so it took a little bit, but when the house opened, it was a crazy joy. I can’t even explain it. It was just like, “this is beautiful. We are going to be lavish. We’re going to be economical, and we are going to change all these stupid myths out there about why women are on the streets, and how women recover.” I knew it. The women were so powerful, and so ready to be leaders.
Jen: Tell me about the women that you started with. You started with five, right?
Jen: How did you get connected to them?
Becca: Well, I had been visiting women in prison, and like I said, I had met tons of women down on the streets. One of the women was a woman named Regina, and Regina now is the national outreach director for Thistle Farms. She and I have been together for 21 years. She’s one of the national outreach directors, meaning that she helps run 47 communities throughout the country now. [Check out this great Waking Up in America interview with Regina to hear more about her story.]
Becca: I mean, sister organizations that are doing amazing work, and she came in just like a powerhouse. She had a cast on her leg. You know, on average the women that we serve are first raped between the ages of seven and 11, and they first hit the streets about 14 years old. She had been on the streets, beaten up, and she came in. One of the first memories I have of Regina is she was dancing with her leg in a cast, just dancing to some music to a radio like she was still so hopeful-
Jen: Love it.
Becca: … and so full of joy, and it was like, “I want to live like this.”
Jen: Yeah, yeah.
Becca: I mean, when’s the last time you just turned on the radio and started dancing?
Jen: Right. I mean, straight off the streets with a cast on your leg.
Jen: That’s really powerful. So, these girls come in. They’ve got this beautiful home. You’re not lording authority over them or making this a really complicated situation to succeed in. You’re making it beautiful, and wonderful, and warm, and welcoming, and inviting. Eventually you were able to open up the home for more women, right? And then you started a business. Did you know that this was going to come to … Was this always a part of your plan, to follow it with a business, or how did that start?
Becca: You know, I think I’ve always not been afraid of business or starting things. I’m not afraid of it. I didn’t have a plan for it, but I wasn’t afraid to try to raise money, or make money, or do any of that. What I realized pretty early on with the women is like, “Awesome! They are not with old johns, they’re free, and they’re poor as dirt.” They have felonies on their records. They’re never going to find a place to live. They’re never going to get a job. So, let’s make something really healing and delicious for the body. Really healing. The best oils, the best balms, the best lotions. I still, I promise, I have not met a woman in 21 years who hasn’t been raped.
Becca: So, to think about going, let’s start a business and you can take of your body, and it will take care of other people’s bodies, and we’re going to go out onto, just go out into the marketplace. See what your values are worth. You know, what will people pay for a candle that says love? We found out it’s about 20 bucks.
Jen: Yeah. The going rate is $20 as it turns out.
Becca: Yeah. It’s not 15. It’s not 25.
Jen: Talk a little bit about how you named it Thistle Farms, and where that sort of came from.
?Becca: Well, I love everything, but I love flowers too. I love everything they have to teach, and how healing and everything is, and I noticed that when we were going down to the alleys where the women were walking, and sleeping, and turning tricks, you would see thistles growing. It was like anywhere that nobody ever did any landscaping, there were thistles growing. You’d go to prison, and in the chain link fence there were thistles growing, and people have identified them as a noxious weed, and it kind of reminded me of the story of the women; that they’ve been labeled these noxious weeds, and they thrive in these desolate places.
But they’re beautiful, and they can survive drought and flood. I mean, deep as taproot, and how I remembered the scripture; “Even Solomon and all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” There’s this deep, beautiful purple center that’s soft, and that is how we are all made. So thought that’d be a great name, and then I just said “farms” with the idea of growing. We don’t actually grow thistles.
Jen: Right. Right. You make the most beautiful products, and I cannot love enough what you said about making beautiful and healing products for bodies, by bodies who have been harmed, It’s so full circle. It’s such a beautiful ending to a story that started really hard, and I’ve often found in a lot of ways, ?that sometimes the place of our greatest injury turns out to be the same source of our greatest healing.
You know, it’s hidden, it’s turning our car into the curve in the slide, where really sometimes we can finally straighten out, and I just, I love that you pressed into that specific space. You could have picked anything to start a business with. That is so profound and beautiful. So obviously you start employing women from the Magdalene House, right? Those were your first employees?
Becca: Oh, yeah.
Jen: Tell me how this business started growing because at this point, your company supports women survivors all over the world. Can you sort of talk about the progression of your company, how that … because that’s a complete separate enterprise. I mean, now you are in retail work, and you are in spreadsheets, and I mean, this is a business. A huge business, actually.
?Becca: Well, I will say this. Right when you were talking, I just started thinking about how for the hashtag #MeToo and the life after #MeToo, I was just thinking when you were talking. It’s like, oh my gosh. I wish we would almost say like, okay. The practice is going to be not to get a t-shirt that says #MeToo, or “enough is enough.” People are going to buy really good, beautiful products for their bodies because we’re going to embody it. We’re not going to be afraid of it. We’re not going to be afraid that we’re in this body that’s both broken, like you’re saying, we’re going to steer into it. I love that.
Jen: I do, too. Listen, everybody listening right now, that’s what we’re doing. We are going to buy everything that Thistle Farms ever made, and that is our own little private resistance.
?Jen: That is our way of saying, “No. These bodies are beautiful, and they are of God, and they are beloved, and they are blessed. And whoever harmed it, whoever exploited it, whoever took advantage of it is not going to have the final word here.”
Becca: And we can anoint our own bodies.
Jen: Yes. I love it.
Becca: Oh my gosh.
Jen: Here, here, lady.
Becca: I’m so excited about what you just said. Now I need to get off the phone and start marketing. I guess it is marketing.
Jen: Spoken like a true business woman.
Becca: When we started, I’m an Episcopal priest and I’m set at Saint Augustine’s Chapel right on the Vanderbilt campus, this little A-frame, and we had space, and we could start just blending body balm and candles. So, the first four hires were all women residents, and we said, “Okay. We can pay for 15 hours a week, and just raise enough money to buy raw materials and pay their salaries for the first three months. Then it’s like, if we might sell any candles, then we’ll keep going. If we don’t, we won’t.”
Becca: And again, this is back before you can major in social entrepreneurship or anything.
?Jen: Right, right.
Becca: This is just old school women sitting around like a sewing bee, and that’s really … people have made all this stuff so, so complicated and I want to be a peaceful entrepreneur really rooted in a justice enterprise that loves women. That’s all it is.
Jen: I love that.?
Becca: That’s really all it is, and so, we just started saying, “Is there any, any chance you would buy a candle and light it, and then buy one and give one to a friend? Would you buy two body balms instead of one? Use one for yourself, and maybe tell somebody else about us?” ?People have been so loving and kind that we kept going. Then finally we got a building, and then we opened a café, and we just slowly by slowly, we made it work. You know, if you really want to grow a business rooted in justice, it’s not a quick run. It is a slow jog.
??Jen: That’s right. I appreciate you saying that because I have a lot of listeners who are smart and capable, and they’re hungry for justice, and they are really good-heartened and well-intentioned. And sometimes engaging the work of justice can be really disillusioning because there’s sort of a shiny narrative that we prefer, which is it’s quick, and it’s tidy. ?I mean, as you well know, working with survivors of trafficking is not tidy. It’s messy and there’s a lot of disappointment built into it, and two steps forward, one step back. I mean, as you well know, working with survivors of trafficking is not tidy. It’s messy and there’s a lot of disappointment built into it, and two steps forward, one step back.
I appreciate your tenacity, and even just your … I thank you for telling us that, that this is a long road. It’s a long road in the same direction, and it’s a good road. But I see sometimes a tendency, especially in the Christian world, when we push into hard spaces like this, and then it is actually hard, which it’s going to be. There’s this tendency to sort of dial it down and over spiritualize it.
Like… “this must be God telling me ‘no’,” or “this must be a closed door,” or whatever the things that Christians say. You know, “I’m not getting a green light anymore,” when in fact, the work of justice is hard. It will always be hard. It will never not be hard, and so it requires more tenacity, not less, which is exactly what you’ve done. I mean, 21 years and I want everybody to remember that you built this before the internet. So, I mean-
Becca: Guess how old she is, people.
Jen: … listen, we can just put something on Instagram now.
Becca: I know, and the thing is, is that what I keep thinking too, is that we keep separating everything. Like, okay. This is our worship. This is our justice work. This is how we have our leisure time, and what I have to do to kind of stay in that space is; the justice work is the worship. To offer these body balms, and candles, and this book Love Heals, that is the offering. That is the worship.
Jen: It is.
Becca: If you built … I mean, could you imagine how radical it would be if you started building shelters like cathedrals, and how inspiring, and it wouldn’t be exhausting. Not like we have to put all this money and all this effort, and this is just the worship, and now we have to go out and do something else.
Becca: It makes it feel like I have been being pretty faithful and worshiping, even though I hardly know what I believe any more in words, I can show it to you in a bottle, and this is-
Jen: That’s beautiful.
Becca: … geranium from a woman in Rwanda. This is blended by a woman who came out from under a bridge in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s on a shelf in Houston, Texas in the Whole Foods, and its story. It’s a healing, beautiful story.
?Jen: I could listen to you talk about that all day long, and I think there’s something really profound embedded in what you’re saying and it is that everything can be sacred. Everything. Everything. The way that we live our lives. The way that we love one another. The way that we spend our money. The things that we build and put our time into. It can all just be incredibly holy ground. All of it. It’s not compartmentalized like we tend to do. Your life is such a testimony to that.
Jen: So, you mentioned that all of your products carry the phrase “Love Heals.” It’s the name of your book as well. This is your mantra. This is the mantra of your company, and for you, for everybody who comes through your doors for help. I wonder if you would mind talking a little bit, because you have a really personal story about abuse, and you are a living example of “Love Heals”. Do you mind talking a little bit about your story, and your history, and how you managed to not let your experiences just devastate and decimate you, but rather, you turned it into something beautiful?
?Becca: Well, I don’t mind talking about it all and I do feel really, really grateful that any time in my life, or any time I get to witness it in anybody else’s life, when brokenness gets transformed into compassion. That’s such an amazing thing to see, and it goes back really, Jen, to what you were saying. Like, the places of brokenness become places of strength. So, the story is my dad, who was an Episcopal priest, moved my mom–she was 35 and five kids–from Connecticut down to Nashville, Tennessee to start a church, and he was killed by a drunk driver that year. So, my mom was 35 years old with five kids. She was a daycare worker, and so she … God bless her is all I can say.
?Jen: I can imagine.
Becca: The guy that stepped in to help in the aftermath of my dad’s death, he was one of the elders in the church, and he started sexually abusing me, and it began right in the church. Not in the sanctuary, but in the fellowship hall adjacent to it, and it went on for several years. I have memories that are scattered throughout that I’ve pieced together for about three years, which makes you very, very fearful, and questionable, and it’s like you really don’t even have the words to explain it. It wasn’t like I was keeping a secret. I didn’t even understand it all. I just knew it was like-
Jen: Right, of course.
Becca: … really awful, and I knew that you knew stuff that you should never have known how things work without even knowing the words for it. So, in the midst of all that, I don’t think it was ever like … As far as I can remember, it was never like I questioned God. I remember I hated going to church obviously, but I always felt like, I think, that this wasn’t right. This wasn’t the right story. This wasn’t the story that I wanted or needed for my life, and so it was going to change, and I did.
I had a beautiful mom, and there were lots of folks in the community who I got other lessons from. So, I was messed up in a lot of ways. I mean, even when I started the Magdalene House. I could write a whole book just on my husband going through this journey with me of 30 years of marriage, and how he is a healing force in my life that is unbelievable, but like when we were first married, he would say, “You are like a landmine.” Like, you touch me wrong and I will go after you.
?Becca: It was like I was not well, still. I will just say that, and he stuck with me through all that stuff. Good counseling, and then just lots of hard work. I think all of that helped, but looking back, it wasn’t like I was sick and then I got better. It’s like in every stage of your life, you’re different. The way that I came to understand myself was like if I had an injury that I lost my leg, people wouldn’t ask me to keep trying to run.
Jen: That’s right.
Becca: In the same way, it would be like, there’s a different way to run now. There’s different things, and it’s like I was different from it, but I was no less loving, or hopeful, or energetic. I was just different.
Becca: And I was pretty lost.
Jen: Yeah. I mean, of course. So, you would say you pressed into your healing work as an adult. You’re in your 20s, your 30s, and that’s when you’re finally sort of taking ownership of that story and doing the work that is required. I wanted to talk about that for a second because I’m sitting here looking at your book right now. It’s so beautiful, Becca. It really is.
Becca: Thank you. Thank you.
Jen: It is just gorgeous and you should be so proud of it. I mean, it is really, really wonderful and the title isLove Heals, obviously, and it’s a beautiful picture of who you are. It tells stories of people also like yourself who have transformed their lives, and it’s just, it’s encouraging, and it’s inspirational, and it’s also practical, which I love. I like that you sort of take us by the hand and say, “Let me show you how to adopt some daily rituals that can bring peace and healing into your life.”
I mean, it’s incredibly useful. So, I’m thinking about you, somebody like you who does so much on a daily basis. This has got to be key to your sanity even still. I mean, not just the path to your own internal healing, but probably your continued path of health. Can you tell us a little bit about some of these daily healing rituals, and how you learned them, and what they mean to you, and how you would teach the rest of us?
Becca: Sure. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.
Jen: Ha, ha, ha. Very good. I asked you first.
Becca: I will definitely. I’m happy to. I would just love to know more about yours too, though. That’s just curiosity.
Jen: My healing rituals?
Jen: They’re small for me. I mean, a small handful I should say. For me, it’s always my really close-knit community is incredibly healing to me. That’s one of my very best tools ever–when I am unwell, when I am unhealthy, when I am lost–are my best friends, my family. My family is my life, and my whole entire extended family lives here in Austin. So, my parents, and all my siblings, and Brandon’s whole family, and it’s just amazing. I know I need them when I am unwell.
I do better outside. If I can just put on a pair of shoes and just go outside and be in the grass, and walk around the block, and have fresh air in my lungs, and have sunshine on my face, it’s like a magic pill. Just being outside is really healing for me. Less internet.
Becca: Oh my gosh.
Jen: Yeah. That’s real. I know it. I have to shut it down, and shut it out, and live in my skin in the real world. Music is real healing for me, too. Different music at different times. Those are some of the ones that I reach for right away that soothe the wild, chaotic compass in my heart. How about you?
Becca: So, I actually even, I have three bracelets. These beautiful little beaded bracelets on my wrist. There’s three of them and they remind me of the three things this year that I have been doing every day. They change over the years, but I have really again, like you, simple, simple things that really help me going.
I know if I can drink a cup of tea…
Jen: Okay. What’s your favorite?
Becca: It’s definitely a Moringa tea. Moringa tea because we helped start that company, but I’ll drink any kind of herbal or green tea.
Jen: Okay, yep.
Becca: Second one is, is I need to knit. I need to … what puts me in a chair. Like, if you tell me I have to sit down and be quiet for 20 minutes, I am not about to waste my time.
Jen: Okay, right. Give my hands something to do.
Becca: But if I knit, I can breathe. I can chill. I can relax, and then my third one is I have to, it’s either walk or yoga, but it’s some kind of physical activity that I can do. If I can get those three things done, then it’s like I can show up grateful to work and not feel overwhelmed.
Jen: I love it.
Becca: And the beautiful thing, and this is for anybody that’s building something that’s listening on this series, for me at least, is every stage when it gets bigger and more complicated, it’s not like it’s less stressful. It’s different stresses, but you have to keep being willing to change to grow with it.
Jen: That’s good.
Becca: You know, my role has changed. In some ways my role is smaller because the company and the community is bigger, and learning to accept that and say, “Okay. I’m still, I know what I can do. I know what I’m about. I can be grateful and peaceful in this space, too.” Even though it’s like now I can’t really deal with any of the spreadsheets, and I can’t understand how margins work, and it’s really bigger than me, and it’s so humbling.
Jen: Wow. I really appreciate that perspective because there is something. I mean, let’s just be honest. There’s something wonderful for our self-esteem and our ego in the early stages of building because we’re so central to it.
Jen: You know, we’re leading the charge. We’re at the head of the ship. It’s humbling, and that takes a lot of humility to be able to pass the baton, and realize that you have to. You have to pass the baton, and the company is growing sort of outside of your control.
Jen: Which is amazing. It’s what you dream of, but it does feel strange. I don’t hear a lot of people admit that that’s a strange transition.
Becca: And I think we have it in our parenting. Like, my kids now are big and they’re amazing, and you watch them, but I think what I’m trying to say is that I think it has been these simple daily practices that through all those beautiful, and what you want, and longed for changes that humble you, it keeps you…there’s nothing worse than anybody that can’t change.
Jen: That’s good.
Becca: You know?
Jen: No, you’re right.
Becca: It’s like just, you’re supposed to love the world. That means you have to, no matter if you’re listening to this and you’re 20, or 30, or 40, or 50, or 60. That’s true for all of us.
Jen: That’s right.
Becca: And so, I think that, yeah. The daily practices are a way to at least try to keep us a little bit more honest with ourselves.?
Jen: I like that. You know, a lot of ink has been spilled about self-care and women’s famous neglect of it. We’re just not great at it, but I think we keep hammering this because it’s true. Some of these really simple practices. Everything you said was simple. Knitting, tea, yoga, walking. Nothing is complicated there. Nothing. Or expensive, or out of reach, or out of the possibilities, but yet they are-
Becca: Or new.
Jen: Or new. You’re exactly right. It’s not some newfangled thing to do. You depress the right button to finally be well. It’s just this consistent practice of nurturing your own soul, and it matters. It gives us enough gas in the tank. It does. It really does allow us to continue to flex and transition, like you mentioned, and change and grow forward, and still keep our feet on the ground, and our hearts tethered.
Becca: I think it’s also, when you’re talking about that, one of the things, again, I’ve been thinking about in this whole life after #MeToo thing. It’s like, people want honest conversation, and I was thinking just the other day. I was like, “how are you going to have honest conversation if you’re not honest even with yourself?”
Jen: Yeah. Great point.
Becca: How are you going to be honest with yourself if you don’t really have that time? Things that make you feel safe, not just stress you out, but something that makes you feel healing and safe. It’s like, you know what? I do have several #MeToo stories, but I also have places where I have broken relationships, and I’ve done stuff, and that getting honest with yourself, it is so healing and it makes you more compassionate to other people.
Jen: It sure does. I would just love to hear you talk for a minute about the #MeToo movement since you’ve bought it up, and this is … Well frankly, it’s relevant to almost all women. It’s certainly relevant to the women you work with, and in your industry specifically, and with your employees and your partners that you work with. What’s your take on this? What do you think right now about this climate for women, and do you find this paving the way for even bigger breakthroughs with the work that you do? Are you able to parlay this sort of momentum into leadership as you lead your women?
Becca: I just want to say, that’s my favorite word in the English language; “parlay.”
Jen: Which? It is?
Jen: I’m so happy.
Becca: You just said it.
Jen: I’m just trying to impress you.
Becca: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.
Jen: I’m so glad. Yay. Gold star.
Becca: No, but I hope it does. I hope that … Right now, it feels like there’s a lot of anger. Rightly so, right? Then, there’s a lot of pushback that feels angry and mean too, and I hope at some point that all of us can get past just the anger to get to deeper places where there’s transformation. That’s what I hope.
Jen: I like that.
?Becca: So, one of the things we’ve done for years is, and it’s really interesting to me. We run a school for men who were arrested for solicitation.We have dudes coming up to the Thistle Farms community who are assigned by the court, and they have to come for eight hours, and they learn: what’s the different between safe and legal sex versus unsafe and illegal sex? What are the ramifications if you get arrested again?
But the other thing we do is that there are a couple of women who have been trained as facilitators. They know about trauma-informed care and resiliency, and they’re very, very capable. Years and years of work that they’ve done, and they come in and they talk to the men about humanizing the women and what that means.
The women that teach this talk about that when they first started, how they were ready to go in there and just hate all the johns. Hate them.
?“You were just like everybody else. You thought it was this. This is why it’s called a trick, and really, it’s about abuse, and anger,” and all this stuff. They come away saying, “everybody has a story and we have some compassion for the men who have done this to us.” It was so humbling to hear them talk about that. I think that is healing. That is the story of love healing. You are holding people accountable. You are making good boundaries, and you are taking power in your own life, and you control the story. The story doesn’t control you, and all of those good things. But also, there is room for compassion.
?Jen: That gave me goosebumps. I think that moves one click beyond justice, which we must demand in this case, into true healing for everybody. I mean, that feels like the highest rung on the ladder. That’s the one. That’s the one to reach for, where it is not just the oppressed, but the oppressor who gets to find freedom, and healing, and I’m really moved by that and inspired by it because you’re right. There is so much anger, again, rightly so, around this conversation that I think we’re probably stopping short of the full potential for transformation here.
?Becca: I totally agree with you, and I wish there were ways that we could … Again, it’s so scary to even think about a platform where you can have that kind of conversation around compassion with #MeToo, because you don’t want to ever say it’s sweeping anything under the rug.
Jen: That’s right.
Becca: It’s not saying we don’t love justice, but I think there’s ways to do it, and it’s just going to be some brave women who carry that mantle.
Jen: Yeah. That’s right. I think that’s going to be some really special leaders. I’m hearing the whispers of that hope on the edges of this conversation, and I hope they’ll find their way to the center, which as you mentioned, does not in any scenario look like abandoning justice because there has to be a reckoning, and there has to be the consequences. And yet, to continue to push, because that’s really where the transformation will come from. When our whole society is transformed. Not just behavior modification or just punishment, but rather healing and transformation.
So, you, ma’am, had a pretty big honor recently. It’s so special that I can’t even handle it because it’s something that I love and I pay attention to every single year, and I am so moved by it. You were nominated within a group of people that CNN recognizes every year. CNN Heroes. I mean, it’s such a small group of world-changers, and they’ve named you in it, and it’s so special. It’s such an honor. Everyday people changing the world. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience, and what that was like, and how that has helped, if it has helped, even further the message of Thistle Farms?
Becca: Sure. Thank you for even mentioning it because it was really fun. It was fun to fly up to New York with your family and stay in a fancy hotel with nine other people who are doing great work, and they kept saying “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” That’s like their mantra, and I’m telling you, everybody at CNN was so kind and nice to us, and they treated us so well. But what was really great was making friends with all the other people who were named the CNN Heroes of the Year.
Then, the crazy thing was that when you started hearing all their stories about all the people they serve, and all the communities they serve, to me it was like it was really what all the organizations had in common is that we were serving extraordinary people doing really ordinary things. Like the young woman with cerebral palsy just trying to ride a horse, or the young people with cancer trying to go down a river in a raft, or finding shelter for old dogs. It was really just so many communities doing … just the most extraordinary people, and doing the most ordinary things like loving each other, and feeling hopeful and joyful. It made me feel better about the whole world.
Jen: I love it. That’s exactly how I feel when I watch CNN Heroes. I’m like, we’re going to be okay. Look at all this goodness.
Becca: Yes, and the news is not just what comes on our feed.
Jen: Yes. That’s right. Exactly. There’s so much goodness just going on in the margins of life, just outside of the spotlight, outside of the big stories. I have to remind myself of that often, that what I am reading online doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s what’s going on everywhere. I think CNN Heroes is a great example of that, and that is so exciting. I’m so happy for you that they found you and highlighted your work. I hope that takes the message and the products of Thistle Farms to the ends of the Earth. I mean, I really would love to see that just be an enormous windfall for your company.
?Okay Becca, we’re going to wrap this up. These are some questions we’re doing for everybody in the series, all the women in this series.
Here’s the first one. Let’s say we’ve got a listener and it’s a woman. She’s got an idea. She has a longing. She has a desire for something, to create something, to change something, to start something new, whatever it is. Maybe she’s single. Maybe she’s married with kids. Maybe young, maybe older. It’s doesn’t matter, but what she feels is that she doesn’t have enough. She doesn’t have enough time. She doesn’t have enough resources. She’s not enough of a force to get this going. What would you tell her?
Becca: Okay. So, what I would tell that woman that feels in some way lacking or inadequate, whether finances, time, power, and all the stuff is that I’m a huge believer in communal vision, that I don’t believe that we do it on our own. You know, that’s never been the story. I mean, the reason that women gather and we want to wash clothes together down by the river, and we want to can beans together, and we want to build things together. There is a reason for that because all of us carry some of those fears in us.
So, people can have individual visions, and you don’t have to then design by committee, but you can gather people to really share the burden, and share the joy, and share the load. So, just in my mind, the first thing you said about your practices for healing in a daily way, was you had a close circle. I would say the very first thing is to have a trusted close circle, and to be able to speak your truth about what the dream is and see where it carries you.
Jen: That’s great. I’ve never done a single meaningful thing that did not have the fingerprint of other people in it. Ever.
Becca: I know.
Jen: Not one in my life. That’s the truest and best advice I can possibly think of. Okay, here’s the next one. You’ve been really successful, and-
Becca: Oh, stop.
Jen: You have, and you’re known, of course, for what you’ve built. So, outside of the practices that you mentioned already, is there any other way that you have found to stay really true to yourself. Just apart from your identity with Thistle Farms, or as a leader, or as a CNN Hero, or the beautiful and well-earned titles that you have. Is there anything else that you do just to dial it in and keep it like “this is Becca?”
Becca: I do not take myself too seriously, ever. That’s one of my gifts. Just saying… oh my gosh. What do they call it? “This isn’t rocket surgery. Don’t take yourself that seriously.”
Jen: That’s good.
Becca: Because I think it’s like when you start thinking you are the persona, or you have to be a spiritual guru, or you have to do whatever, you will make yourself really un-peaceful. You know, but I mean, I spent enough years with small kids, and pastoring a church, and running a business and I found myself like everything was trying to make me crazy. People were like, you’re not Christian enough. You’re too Christian. You’re this. You’re this. You’re this, and it was like, “okay. I’m not spinning all these plates. I’m just going to let them fall to the ground, crash, and just eat off paper plates for a while.” You know? Just don’t take it where it’s all so precious and serious.
Jen: That’s so good. Can you tell the whole world that? Can we just disseminate that message to everybody that’s alive? Wouldn’t that take a yoke of burden off all of our necks?
Jen: We’re so precious about every little thing. My gosh. Some things can just drop right to the ground.
Jen: They can just drop right to the ground. I love that. Okay. Here’s the last one. We ask everybody this. This is a Barbara Brown Taylorquestion, and it can be-
Becca: I love her.
Jen: Oh, don’t you? She’s one of my favorite people. I am such a wild, wordy, loud, noisy person. So, having somebody that’s contemplative, and introspective, and wise, and grounded, I reach for those leaders because they’re the opposite of me. So, she asked a question and you can answer it. It could be serious or silly. It could be big. It could be small.
Becca: I just want to say one thing about Barbara Brown Taylor is that—I had to do a book signing next to her.
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Becca: Right, and she had this huge line, and so the only thing I could think to do was start taking selfies with her. She was like-
Jen: It’s the only sane response.
Becca: It was. I couldn’t just walk over there and stand beside her. There was nobody at my booth, so I felt like I needed an activity so I looked like I was doing something. After like the third selfie of me being silly with Barbara Brown Taylor while she was trying to sell books, she was so patient with me, but I was like, nobody’s asking me to sign the books.
Jen: I’m just going to stand here with you, and hi. We’re on Snapchat.
Becca: Right. Exactly.
Jen: That’s amazing. I would have exactly zero chill like that as well, and so I like hearing that you did that. Sometimes what I reach for in moments like that, I’m like Jen. Jen, what are doing? Anyway, this is one thing that BBT says. What is saving your life right now?
Becca: Oh my gosh. This is going to be so hokey.
Jen: That’s okay.
Becca: This is really hokey.
Jen: It can be hokey. We receive hokey.
Becca: You have caught me on a year where I am in the biggest upswing on my husband.
Jen: I don’t know what that means. What does it mean to be in an upswing?
Becca: I mean that I’m crazy in love with him.
Jen: That’s cute.
Becca: Isn’t that crazy?
Jen: I love it.
Becca: 30 years of marriage, and I’m like, he several times this year … You know, I’m on the road a lot, and I have gotten kind of lonely, and it’s beautiful, and I love. I got out with a team of women and we get to talk about hopeful things, and I could not be more grateful for every bit of the work, and sharing the message, and doing this work. But I mean, just sometimes it’s like, oh my gosh. I am going home to the finest man I know, and we love each other, and it’s like I’ll call him at the airport.
Jen: Love it.
Becca: I quit doing that when we had kids. It was like, I don’t want to call because they’ll want me to pick up something on the way home.
Jen: Right. That’s amazing and true.
Becca: Now, our kids are still with us, but it’s like I just have this freedom that I haven’t had, and I’m desperately in love with my husband.
Jen: That is so dear. I love that so much. You’re one click ahead of us. My husband and I have been married for 24 years, and we have five kids, but four of them still live here. So, we’re still in the weeds. We’re still not calling from airports because I don’t want to get milk.
Jen: But I just love hearing that. Brandon and I dream a lot about our phase next, our next phase and how excited we are to embrace it, and we’re not dreading it, and I think that’s going to be the most fun marriage season ever. Just how old are your kids?
Becca: Our last one is a senior in high school, but the other one is an art major at college. So, I’m sure that means he’s moving home in May.
Jen: That’s amazing.
Becca: You know, and our oldest one is this beautiful, beautiful, like I said, musician. Levi Hummon, who is streaming millions of songs.
Jen: Love it.
Becca: I mean, he’s doing great, and it’s just really tough out there. He has just now gotten his own place just down the road, but we’re all pretty … we’re a tight family.
Jen: I love it.
Becca: When you said your family is your thing, it’s like I love that so much, and anyway.
Jen: It’s so true.
Becca: Yeah. That’s what saves me. That is what is saving me.
Jen: That’s so dear. Okay, listen. Can you just tell everybody where they can find you, and where they can find your beautiful company, and all that?
Becca: You don’t mean my home address.
Jen: No, unless you want to share it. I do want you to give me your cell phone number, though, and I’m not going to let you get off this phone before I get it.
Jen: Easy enough, and listen. To everybody listening, we will have all of these links in the transcript, everything about Becca. Her book, her company products, all of it. We’re going to have everything at your fingertips. If you were driving and you weren’t able to write it all down, don’t you worry about it.
Becca: Also though, I just need to say, that your following is so impressive and amazing, and they are making a difference, and they’re making noise out there. We’re all hearing it, and to be a part of that story and to have this opportunity is huge, and it will save women’s lives.
Jen: That is the nicest thing to say. Thank you. My community of women, they are fierce. They are loyal. They are committed, and it’s so true. They make a lot of noise. They bang a lot of drums, and it’s such a joy to do it. It’s so great, and nothing makes me happier than putting a company like yours, and a leader like you in front of them because I know how much they are going to love you and get behind your work.
So listen, thanks for coming on today. Thank you for your time. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for making this world a more beautiful place and putting so much beauty into ugly spaces, and it’s just been so fun to talk to you. I’m so happy, so happy that we have finally met.
Becca: Me too. Peace out.
Jen: Peace out.
Don’t you just love her? Don’t you wish you could just sit on the couch with her and let her talk to you for hours with tea? Fabulous, fabulous human being. I love that conversation. Guys, everything that we talked about today, I will have linked over on the transcript, which is over at JenHatmaker.com under the podcast tab. That is a fabulous resource for you anyway. I hope you’re using it on the regular. We fill that page with links, and bonus content, and pictures, and everything you could possibly want out of every single episode. So, that is a great resource and I hope you’re using it, and I hope you loved our conversation today. I absolutely did.
This series is fascinating, you guys. We have more amazing women coming your way in “The Women Who Built It” series, and so you’re definitely going to want to tune back in next week as we keep our foot on the gas, highlighting these women who are doing amazing work changing the world, changing the story for women in business. It’s just phenomenal. So anyhow, thanks for being loyal listeners. Thank you for coming in week in and week out, and for subscribing, and reviewing, and all the wonderful things that you do. We are so here for it, and so here for you. So, you guys, have a great week and see you next time.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!