Halfway through her new book, Love Heals, Becca Stevens writes about Shelia, a graduate of the nonprofit community that Stevens founded in 1997. “Duct-taped and thrown into the Great Salt Lake,” Shelia was “beaten so badly that her head split open”—and now plans to speak at the United Nations this year “about how love is powerful enough to heal hearts around the world,” Stevens writes.
Shelia was also the subject of a New York Times op-ed column by Nicholas Kristof, a piece that catapulted both Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms, her nonprofit organization, into nationwide social-justice conversations: Stevens was named a “CNN Hero,” a White House “Champion of Change,” and the Small Business Council of America’s “Humanitarian of the Year.” After writing a series of memoirs and devotionals, Stevens tries her hand at self-help with this book, whose title shares Thistle Farm’s tagline, “Love heals.”
Thistle Farms, among other undertakings, has a two-year residential program in Nashville that transforms women from lives of prostitution and sex trafficking to lives of education, employment, and self-sustaining endeavors. Stevens, an Episcopal priest, mixes stories from these survivors with her own original poems, short devotions, Bible passages, and calming photos in Love Heals. Her goal: to “walk toward healing together.” The compact result is part Brené Brown, part Anne Lamott (with a little more talk about Jesus), and part advertisement for Thistle Farms products: “Using essential oils, drinking a healing cup of herbal tea, and walking in nature are three very simple rituals that can bring more healing into your day.”
Each chapter of the square, small-format hardcover begins with “Love Heals.” In “Love Heals upon the Mountaintop,” for example, Stevens opens with an original poem—“Mountaintops roar with power. / Born in the depths of sea, / They are the survivors”—moves into a short meditation on Christ’s transfiguration on a mountain, and ends with a “Prayer of Joy.” Stevens follows this text with a four-step plan that might come in handy when hoping to enjoy a real mountain: pack wisely, plan for mishaps, enjoy the storms, and give thanks. Also included in the chapter are two photos of a snow-capped mountain and a railroad-tie staircase on a nature path. The rest of the chapters follow this pattern.
The book ends with a section about Thistle Farms and includes the community’s twenty-four spiritual principles (among which are included “Let God Sort It Out” and “Lose Gracefully”) and an invitation for readers to visit the nonprofit online or in person to “be encouraged on your health path by those receiving new life in beautiful and exciting ways.” Musician Amy Grant and actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley praise Stevens in the book’s first few pages, and fans of either woman will soon be on the path to becoming a fan of Stevens herself. This book, a self-help devotional from one of Nashville’s big names in social entrepreneurship, will help ensure gratitude, love, and hope along the way.
Win Bassett’s work has appeared in publications including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Oxford American, The Paris Review Daily, and Guernica. He lives in Tennessee, where he teaches and coaches at a boys’ school.