In 2012 while living in Nashville and working in the wedding industry, I connected with Lauren Atkinson, an incredible floral designer, dog lover and even more amazing of a person. Through various events, our friendship grew quickly and we have been blessed to walk many seasons together as friends. The seeds that God planted in her heart as a child are just beginning to flourish and ya’ll, can I tell you, seeing this girl grow, overcome and impact her community in the ways that she does, gives me such joy! Enjoy Lauren’s story!
Lauren was born in New Jersey and is the middle child with two brothers. Her family had a very close dynamic growing up. In addition, she had close friends through church and getting to attend the same school, K- 12th. “(My) school partnered with another school next to ours, the students at the other school had special needs. We got to interact and play regularly and I loved it.” She reflects back on those fond memories with such joy and the seeds placed in her heart.
Lauren’s grandfather was a flower farmer from Holland who moved to New Jersey. When Lauren was young, she and her siblings went to work on the flower farm. “I used to love taking leftover flowers and making arrangements and working with the guests who were looking for smaller floral elements. That wasn’t our niche so no one else really wanted to do that stuff, but I loved it!”
Lauren’s older brother had a Christian band that toured in the tri-state area that her dad managed. As a family, they traveled together and attended a lot of his concerts. “I remember loving the concept of everything coming together for an event, the logistics, helping others, it was so fun. I looked up to him and wanted to do everything just like he did” She realized at that time that she wanted to be more impactful and involved, possibly ministry work or pediatric physical therapy, but still had no idea what she wanted to do. As a junior in high school, Lauren went to visit her older brother who was attending Belmont University in Nashville. “We got off the interstate in Nashville for 10 minutes and I remember getting this huge overwhelming feeling that ‘this is the place I needed to be.’” Her parents’ only requirement was that she needed to go to school for something the school was known for. Music Business it was. She embraced the degree and the idea of corporate business, but secretly dreamt about “one day” opening a flower shop when she retired. Her last semester at college, she realized that the music business was not the industry she wanted to be in. She focused on event production, enjoying the logistics and the aesthetics of something being created out of nothing. Still not knowing what she was going to do, she filled her last available credit hour in college with a social work class. It awakened her heart. Through the social work class, she remembered thinking, “Maybe I will go back to school once I graduate and focus on social work.” She interned with a few local nonprofits in town and found that she loved the impact for the good they were making.
After graduating, she needed to fill the gap between figuring out her career, dream of helping people, and taking her GRE, so she accepted a job at a local flower shop. Immediately Lauren loved the design process and the close-knit family at “A Village of Flowers” in Nashville. She was originally hired to help their lead event designer, who became like family to her and her involvement continued to grow. About six years into working there, Lauren wanted more connection with her clients. The wedding industry can be a lavish one, and she had always had such a heart to bridge the gap into the extra and working with organizations to give back. She didn’t have the capacity to do anything more with her time to fill the desire she had, due to the number of hours she worked, but she knew something needed to change. “I was even beginning to dislike flowers.” Around that time, a friend of hers asked her to do flowers for her wedding in Knoxville, TN and it was the first experience for her to do flowers on her own.
“I remember sitting in one of my best friend’s parents’ basement doing the wedding flowers, and how much I did enjoy and love working with flowers and creating things for weddings and celebrating that major step in people’s lives and being able to reflect people’s personalities through flowers and have their vision come alive to make such a big day more beautiful than it already is.”
After college, Lauren began dating a guy she met at the wedding. He really encouraged and pushed her to venture out and start her own business. As their relationship became more serious, they continued conversations about their future. “Ultimately I made the decision to leave my job and just go out on my own. I knew I had some income through weddings coming in for the fall and that I could focus on starting this company and this business with the support of my boyfriend and friends. I put in my two weeks notice, my last day was May 31st and then on June 4th, my boyfriend called me and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Turns out, he had another relationship on the side and was not honest about what he wanted. Here I thought that we would be living in the same city after school as he started a job in Nashville… That was so hard.” She was shocked and completely blindsided. She threw herself into her company in the midst of her grief. After a few months, she began counseling. She realized there was a lot in her relationship with her ex that wasn’t healthy. “It was a long healing process. Christ was not the center of our relationship. I do think that would have made a huge difference. It was sad because I thought I would be doing it with this person, but once I finally let go of it, a lot more doors opened up.” Her biggest focus in counseling is, “I would not change any part of my story because I know it will all come to fruition in God’s timing. I am so thankful for these things but I am tired of doing it alone. And it’s something I can absolutely not control. That is so hard as a planner, logistics, go-getter, I cannot control this area of my life. I just have to trust God.”
Through referrals, event planners, and word of mouth, the business took off. A year and a half in, she began looking for studio space. “There were flowers everywhere, which sounds magical, but it is a messy job and with stuff everywhere, you never feel like you have a break from work when it’s all at your house. I had a vision of what I wanted, but was also terrified to take on a lease and pay staff.” Fellow entrepreneurs encouraged Lauren to take the next steps. Finding a studio took about a year. “I remember moving in, thinking, this place is huge and I will never fill it up! Now we are overflowing, at capacity and currently looking for a bigger space.“ In the fall of 2015, Lauren’s dad passed away. The weekend he passed, she had 7 weddings. When everyone in the industry found out the news, countless vendors called Lauren and offered to help. “It was at that moment I realized, I can take a step back and allow staff to handle things for me. I thought I had to be there for everything and realized I couldn’t be there for it all.” It was a turning point in a lot of ways.
Around the time of starting her business and in the midst of her grief, Lauren became very involved in CrossFit and fell in love with rowing. Lauren had always run the half marathon in Nashville but decided to row one year. She loved that the money went to St. Jude’s, but she wanted to be apart of the money impacting someone’s life directly. She joined forces with a fellow CrossFitter and threw together a rowing charity event, Row for a Reason. They decided to benefit “Gigi’s Playhouse” which is an organization to help change the way the world views Down Syndrome and empower the individuals and their families with free therapeutic and educational programs. “I remembered how much I loved working with people with special needs. I began reading how fitness is so instrumental in helping them develop as an adult. That first year we raised $7,000. We rowed on West End with about 60 people.”
The second year, they trained some of the adults with Down Syndrome to row on teams with them! Eventually, Lauren became a certified CrossFit coach and continued reading and researching the various ways that fitness could benefit adults with Down Syndrome. “We started training them every other week. Basic things, squats, standing up, sitting down. Everyone just doing what they could at their mobility levels.” In 2018, Row for a Reason celebrated their fourth year, 225 people showed up to row and they were able to raise $20,000.
In June of 2018, Lauren was approached to teach a floral class to incarcerated women. 12-15 applicants complete an 8-week program called “The Wild Ones.” “The title came from a bible study/worship night where the women study women of the Bible that are seemingly “wild” or forgotten, and how God specifically used the most unlikely of women to work through in big ways. Over the course of the 8 weeks, the women spend time walking through their own stories, learning about God as a spiritual father and how to make better choices- in health and finances, along with art and floral therapy. My heart just immediately knew that this is why floral therapy had always been on my heart and I was created for this.”
“This has been a learning curve because I had no idea how to correlate flowers to therapy. And some days- all we do is just teach design and it gives these women an outlet to be creative, to touch beautiful things and smell life. Our very first class, the women walked into the room and said- “it smells like life in here.” Even just the fragrance of flowers to them was so powerful. A unique and beautiful and very God woven part of my story is that my personal counselor/therapist used to be a florist. So she has spoken with me about how to connect designing and healing- which has even changed the way I view flowers. After we complete each design, we go around and talk about what we were thinking or feeling while we were making it- It can be so simple but so healing- sometimes they say- “for the first time in a long time I was not thinking and just turned off and let my hands create.” or they tell us about their kids or growing up or how they wish they had known floral design could be healing because maybe they wouldn’t be in the situation they were in if this had been their career. The women are unable to keep the flowers, so they always talk about who they can give their flowers to to bless after the class. This is so humbling. Despite everything going on in their lives, they come together to agree upon the organization or group of people together of whom they’ve chosen to bless with their flowers.”
“My favorite class to teach is floral crowns. I always start off reading Isaiah 61.
We talk about a crown of beauty instead of ashes and then go on to make our floral crowns. When they put them on their heads, their whole demeanor changes.
They truly feel so beautiful and seen. We even have the officers participate in the class and share with us, which just makes us all united in those moments which is probably so rare for them to feel.
This has been a unique class for me to teach this past year because of circumstances in my life that felt burnt to the ground and how those ashes can become beautiful and will become beautiful over time.”
“I think the beauty in (hard seasons) for me has been to learn to just let people sit with me and walk through (it) with me. I don’t need for someone to have all the answers because there is no way for anyone to have those so just sitting and being with someone has been so powerful for me. To not feel alone.”
“My older brother wrote a note to me when I graduated high school that called me a game changer and it has forever stuck with me even in the times when I don’t believe what I am doing is impactful.” Lauren encourages women who are thinking of starting a business, “Just start. It’s helpful to have a side gig to allow some money in the transition, but just start.” As Lauren walked through many seasons, she was encouraged by the strong, wise voices in her life. She reminds us, “You are not alone. And beauty will come from ashes.”
Lauren as a Catalyst Woman:
-She follows her heart and God’s promptings
-Accepts wise counsel
-Invites others in, extending trust, proving to herself that she didn’t have to do it all alone
-She found healthy outlets when the inner grief was too much to bare
-She pursued opportunities to give back and bless others even when she didn’t have it all figured out
-She has allowed her story to be used for God’s glory, trusting the process and always pressing on.
My prayer is that as you read her story, you take away hope, encouragement and a change of perspective. Know that the tiny dreams in your heart are there for a reason, lean into the opportunities around you that you could make an impact in and trust God. He is at work, always working things together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes. You are a Catalyst Woman.
Visit Lauren’s site! www.laurenmarieatkinson.com.