Gifts that Give Back 2014: Thistle Farms

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Every holiday season, I like to share a few ideas for “gifts that give back,” products that not only make great stocking-stuffers but that also support organizations and ministries working to care for and empower the very people to whom Jesus first brought the gospel—the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the imprisoned.  And today I want to feature an organization committed to the long and difficult work of true healing. 

Founded by Becca Stevens, and Episcopal priest and abuse survivor from Nashville, Thistle Farms is a social enterprise that trains and employs women recovering from abuse, prostitution, addiction, sex trafficking, imprisonment, and life on the streets. As the women heal through the therapy, community, and training offered by the Magdalene program, they offer healing to others through the aromatic bath and body products they make from essential oils and sell in stores and online. (Check out this New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof, which features one of the program’s graduates.) 

At Thistle Farms, healing smells like lavender, tea tree, peppermint, and vanilla. It feels like lotion and body balm massaged into the skin. It looks like a flickering candle, and sounds like the whistle of a teapot singing from the new fair-trade Thistle Stop Café. And it takes time.  “In making and selling oils,” Becca writes, “we are each reminded that healing is not an event, but rather a journey we walk as we make our way back to the memory of God.” 

In my research and writing for Searching for Sunday, I relied heavily on Becca’s excellent book, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling, to make the important distinction between curing and healing. In a culture (and sometimes a Church) that values quick fixes and cure-alls, the call to heal is the call to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. Healing is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river.  “Healing,” writes Becca, “is the natural outcome of love. When we learn how to love, we learn how to heal.” 

To support Thistle Farms’ healing work, consider these gift options: 

Stocking Stuffers….

Lip Balm: simple, non-petroleum, all-natural, good smelling, no taste.  

Body Balm: a rich, simple emollient with a hundred different uses; a must-have for chilly dry weather

Lotion: goes on silky and light, absorbs quickly and can be used all over the body.

Thistle Greeting Cards: new 5” x 7” greeting cards are screen printed in the Studios on hand crafted thistle paper.

Thistle Farms Mug: start your morning with this hefty cup for coffee or tea

Boys Bowtie: from Shared Trade partner Galeria dos Sonhos, this little bowtie might be the most adorable stocking stuffer out there.

Holiday Candle: choose between two favorite holiday scents, Balsam Fir, like taking a walk in a pine forest, or Holiday Spice, reminiscent of freshly baked cookies, right out of the oven.


Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling by Becca Stevens 

The Way of Tea and Justice:  Rescuing the World's Favorite Beverage From Its Violent History by Becca Stevens 


Healing Oils Kit: five unique blends of essential oils that are as healing for the women who make them as for those who use them. Long known for potent healing qualities, essential oils from native plants were some of the first medicine. The set of all five roll-ons includes a free carrier.

Tea Survival Kit: the Tea Survival Kit provides employment for women in five social enterprises in three different countries. Thistle Farms buys components of the kit from the women and together they work towards economic freedom. Because of this kit, more women are able to break away from poverty, sex trafficking and stigmatizing disease. (See also the Tea Survival Kit & The Way of Tea & Justice Combo.)

Travel Kit: (my speaking agent sent me this as a gift last year and I love it) perfect sizes of your favorite Thistle Farms products for an overnight case and going through airport security

Musician Sara Evans has partnered with Thistle Farms to design two special gift bags. The first, at $45, includes which includes holiday candles, holiday bath salts, healing oil and lip balm. The second, at $100, includes a thermos & tea survival kit, thistle farmer mug, The Way of Tea & Justice book, thistle star book ornament, and gift card to Thistle Stop Café. 


Of course, you can find many more options, including gift certificates, at the Thistle Farms store and you can always simply make a donation to this fantastic organization. Happy shopping! 


So what organizations do you like to shop through during the holidays? Leave the links below for those of us who are getting a late start this year!

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