The Story of Annie's Blooms
"What's one of your most embarrassing stories?"
I think that's such a weird ice-breaker question. But I do have a go-to that I (and especially the people who were there) like to tell after that prompt.
It was the first week of my freshman year of college. Classes hadn't started yet but everyone on our hall was trying to get to know each other. The smell of eagerness to be impressive and accepted was in the air. Most of us on our hall were freshmen and there's nothing female Christian college students love to do more than sit in a circle on their dorm room floor and have "deep" talks. They're great. If you're a female Liberty student, then you've definitely been a part of one of these. It's like a ritual. Or a rite of passage. I'm pretty sure they hold your diploma if you haven't sat on a gray and white patterned rug from the Wards Road Walmart, eating gold fish and talking about theological issues.
Anyway, one night that week I walked into one of my friends' rooms to a circle of girls as described above, Walmart carpet and all. They were already pretty far in the conversation, so I sat down quietly, joining the circle. As I sat, one of the girls graciously invited me into the conversation by asking me "what are you passionate about?"
Now, as a disclaimer, I had no idea the context of the conversation or how deep the other girls' answers were, but I was a little homesick and missing my old job as a florist back at home. So naturally, I responded by saying,
"I'm passionate about flowers."
I thought nothing of it until the conversation moved on from me and the other girls started talking about their passions for caring for the elderly and handicapped. One girl talked about her yearly mission trips to Haiti. Another girl said she was studying Special Education because she was passionate about helping the mentally disabled.
And I'm passionate about flowers.
I felt like an idiot. I'm sure they all thought I was a shallow idiot too. I was pretty embarrassed about it for a while. Thankfully, we laugh about it now. But looking back, I can see that I was right: I am passionate about flowers. I'm deeply passionate about flowers.
I want to tell the story of how I got here. Please bear with me because it might be a long one. But I hope, like me, you'll see God's fingerprints all over it. It's really not my story at all. It's God's story about how He can capture our hearts with beauty, how He reveals Himself to us in everything, and of His unrelenting faithfulness.
It was the spring of my senior year of high school. Translation: I was broke and it was time for me to get a summer job. In high school, I was like a serial summer job-er. I had worked summer jobs as a server at a waterpark, a maid for a rental house company, and an activities director at a local hotel. I'd always have a summer job, but never worked the same one twice. So that year, I applied to be a cashier at our local grocery store, Price Chopper.
After my interview, the woman who interviewed me said she had some good news and some bad news. There were no cashiering positions open, but they were going to hire me anyway and put me in the floral department until they could transfer me to an open cashiering spot. Great. I didn't care for flowers then. They die and they don't serve any useful purpose. Why spend so much money on something so temporary? But I accepted the job anyway, hoping to be transferred quickly.
My first day on the job, I showed up with my apron and my rubber slip-proof shoe covers to meet my boss and lead floral designer, Susan. I walked into the department and she gave me a big hug and said "I'm so excited to work with you! I know they want to transfer you, but I'm not gonna let them. You can design. I just know it." So we got to work. She taught me how to make table arrangements with the cheap flowers that get thrown away at the end of the day. Every once in a while, I'd make something good enough to be displayed for purchase in the cooler. As time went on, Susan taught me the most important things she knew about floral design. I'd start making the arrangements for the customer orders, then I started being able to work by myself. I now look back at the pictures of my work and cringe at how juvenile they look, but at the time they meant so much to me. And they got me to where I am today. By the end of that summer, I was smitten with flowers.
I can't really explain it. The feeling I get when I'm designing. Over those few months, the Lord softened my heart toward flowers and I started to see them in a deeper light. Yes, flowers die quickly. But in the time that they are alive, they bring beauty and joy to people. And the temporary condition of their beauty points us to the only beauty that is eternal. We have flowers at two of the most emotion-filled ceremonies we experience: weddings and funerals. I think it's because we know more deeply in those emotional times that our souls crave beauty. Beauty fills our hearts and brings us to a higher plane of thinking. It reminds us that we are so much more than just what we do. We remember to slow down, to take it all in, to actually experience life and not just have life experience us.
The summer between high school and college was a big turning point in my life for a lot of reasons. It was around that time that I decided to major in music. See, for most of my high school career, I wanted to be something important. It didn't matter what the job actually was, just as long as it mattered and made a lot of money. I remember my mom asking me if I'd ever pursue ministry full-time. I sort of laughed her off and beating around the bush, implied that I was too smart for ministry. The world needed my intelligence for something more important. I now cringe at how foolish I was. I was the embodiment of Matthew 23:12, "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." My selfish desires to exalt myself in doing something "important" brought me absolutely no where. Creative work was humiliating to my prideful and ignorant self. But when I humbled myself to do the beautiful work I was cut out to do, the Lord started me on a path that would lead to greater intimacy with Him and, by His grace, success.
That summer, the Lord began that humbling work in my heart. He turned my path to pursue music instead of being a brain surgeon or an actuary. And He made me fall in love with flowers, something I had no care for before. I started to see myself as a creative person instead of an intellectual person I had built my identity to be.
I went to Liberty that fall and, just like for most freshmen, it was a big adjustment. Everything was different. But I still missed flowers. And I talked about it a lot, hence the story above. For both winter break and the following summer break, I went back to Pennsylvania to work with Susan. Each time I went back, I got better and better at designing, and fell more and more in love with it.
I stayed in Lynchburg the summer between my sophomore and junior year, so I wasn't working with flowers for the first school break in a long time. I thought about them daily. Until one day when I was at work, I got a ton of Facebook notifications that several of my friends tagged me in a post. It was a post on a page called Only Girls LU where Liberty girls buy and sell their belongings and ask for help. This particular post was a from girl who was getting married and needed a florist who was looking to build their portfolio for weddings. My heart nearly burst out of my chest. I knew this was for me. I knew it was from God. She reached out to me because so many people tagged me in it, and we arranged that I would be the florist for her wedding. I don't even remember the drive home from work that day. I was on cloud nine. I felt like I was floating. I remember legitimately thinking "I will never be sad again. It's impossible to be sad after being this happy."
Honestly, I confidently struggled through that first wedding. Yes, I knew how to design, but where was I going to get the flowers from? And how much were they going to cost? I don't have the resources we had at the shop back home at my house here. What if all the flowers die immediately?
There were a million questions racing through my head and countless doubts and insecurities about my ability to actually do this. But above it all, there was this constant presence of peace like a cloud covering my life. I was frantic and clueless, but I was also confident and competent. I knew this work was ordained by the Lord and I didn't know where, but I knew it was going to lead me down a wonderful path.
That first wedding went great. I learned a ton. And by the grace of God and at the recommendation of bride after bride, I started booking more and more weddings. Each wedding, I learned more and increasingly developed my vision. Annie's Blooms became more professional and I became more confident.
My plan after graduation was to go to grad school somewhere far away. I wanted to be a professor and teach music theory. But at the end of junior year when my professor and I started talking about the next step in that journey, I froze up. Typically, I'm pretty confident that I can handle whatever life throws at me. I'm good at adjusting and I'm a fast learner so thinking about change doesn't really throw me. But this time was different. I felt a heaviness and anxiety in my heart about leaving Lynchburg and going to grad school. I started to mourn that I wouldn't be able to continue with Annie's Blooms where I was.
A few months later, I had begun praying daily about my future. That God would lead me where He wants me, that He would prepare my heart for whatever is next, that He would open the right doors and keep the wrong ones shut, and that I would be in tune with Him enough to know which is which. One morning in particular, I wrote my prayer on a note card and stuck it in my prayer jar so I could read it later and know how faithful God is with answering our prayers.
I shut my Bible and went to the gym, but my mind was wandering the whole time. A thought crossed my mind about a place I heard about called Liberty Flower Farm. In the locker room at the gym, I decided to call them and Nancy picked up. After asking her a few questions, she said "Wait, are you Annie? from Annie's Blooms?" I was shocked that she knew who I was. But after talking for a few minutes, she asked if I would come to the farm to help her with a wedding that weekend. I'll jump at any chance to design, especially with locally grown flowers, so of course I said yes. She said to me "You have no idea how much this helps. I don't believe in coincidences. I know our paths crossed for a reason. I'd love to talk with you about your plans after graduation."
It was one of those God things when you know that something just went on behind the scenes. I knew that situation was so much bigger than me and it would be a catalyst to something great. Once again, I felt such a pull in my heart with a fondness toward flowers and design. My heart lights up when I think about it. That's when I knew. I asked for guidance from God, and I felt like He was telling me to pursue this flower thing for real and possibly stay in Lynchburg. I called my parents to tell them about it and they gave me confirmation that they received the same revelation from the Lord: that I was going to stay in Lynchburg and pursue Annie's Blooms full time.
I wept. After we hung up the phone, I knelt on my living room carpet and tearfully praised the Lord for His sovereignty and tender care over my life. In the last year, I launched a website (visit at www.annies-blooms.com), started booking a year in advance, created a client contract, bought an LLC, hired a bookkeeper, and started budgeting for a brick and mortar shop in the next few years. Other local florists, including Nancy Thompson from Liberty Flower Farm and Katelyn Sandy from Urban Flora have graciously asked me to work with them, designing for their events. As I step into these doors that God is opening for me, I continue to encounter yet another one being opened to grow this business.
So that brings us to the present. My plan after graduation is just that. I don't know exactly how it's going to happen. I don't know how I'm going to be able to provide living off of the revenue alone. I don't know why the Lord directed me to major in music only to direct me away from it. But maybe that's okay. I don't have to know. Because I serve a God who keeps His promises and provides for the plans He makes. And I'm sure in a few years, with some perspective, all of those questions will be answered. Plus, I've been walking with the Lord for a while, and I know that He uses situations just like these, when we don't have a clue but step out in faith anyway, to be glorified. My favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 "But He answered me 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
I can't tell this story without screaming out God's praises. None of the past, present, or future growth of this business has been in my own power, ability, or knowledge. His name is all over it, and all over my life. If you get anything from this story, just know that the Lord is incredibly faithful. That He is tender and merciful. That He redeems our self-destructive tendencies and transforms our hearts to look more like Him. That He can take the little that we have and grow it into something beautiful and strong. Know that He kindly reveals Himself to us in small ways, like flowers. Know that He is the creator of beauty and He uses it to speak to our hearts in ways we can't describe. Know that He so passionately cares about you and the intricacies of your life.
Thank you for reading this story that is so dear to my heart and experiencing it with me. Please pray for the future of Annie's Blooms and that the Lord will receive all the glory that He is due.