Back in 2016, I worked for a floral magazine here in Birmingham as the digital media specialist. That October they afforded me a trip up to Waterford, VA to cover the very first ever Flowerstock hosted by Holly Chapple at Hope Flower Farm and I could have never imagined the effect it would have on me when I landed in D.C simply to do a job.
I spent most of the next two days, breathing in the entire experience of the event. I studied the ways the leaves turned over when the wind whistled by the branches. I watched the sun settle into the horizon each evening and marveled at how the afternoon shadows somehow made the petals even more alluring all gathered together. And I watched how gently everyone treated one another and how humble and respectful they were as they soaked up the knowledge on display by their floral design peers. It was simply heavenly.
I often reflect on those quiet, early mornings and warm afternoons I enjoyed on the farm and the peace it instilled in me. And to be quite honest, I held on to those memories and that peace tightly knowing that I would most likely never have the opportunity to step back on Hope Flower Farm ever again.
But in November of 2017 (after changing jobs out of the floral industry, a cancer diagnosis, radiation treatment, and so many moments filled with anything and everything except peace), Holly contacts me and asked me to return to Hope. It was an immediate yes, before I even knew what I would be going for.
So May 1, 2018, K.T. and I landed in Baltimore, MD and would return to the farm for me to walk as a cancer survivor model in the Flora and Fauna Fashion show that Holly was hosting at Hope as part of a Chapel Designers workshop. The fashion show would be open to the public and proceeds would benefit pediatric cancer through a sweet organization called Along Comes Hope run by Jenny Weineke, another survivor walking in the show. If cancer is what it took for me to walk on that property again and see my flower friends, then praise the Lord for cancer!
In the 4 days prior to the event, many of the absolute best in the floral industry including Gregor Lersch, Francoise Weeks, Hitomi Gilliam, Susan Mcleary, Alison Ellis and Holly Chapple taught mechanics, design tips, and other mesmerizing techniques that could further the student designers’ floral businesses back home and also inspire the creation of pieces for the fashion show. Each piece the survivor models would don down the runway would be wholly created by these student designers as well as the teachers and be specifically designed for each survivor.
We got into town on Tuesday. We decided to go on and stop by the farm to say hi to those I knew, and also so I could show K.T. around the farm knowing the next day would be a little busier. I wanted to make sure I pointed out all the special details that I had noticed on my first trip in hopes that he, too, would fall in love with the land.
The next morning, we arrived bright and early for hair and makeup alongside the other survivors and took turns telling our healing stories amongst each other as we got ready and dressed ourselves in custom made dresses by sisters Mary Hancock and Shannon Hart. Finally, we were decorated with the most exquisite floral designs. Each survivor would have a quick photoshoot with photographer, Sarah Collier of Fine Art Wedding Photography, and the fashion show was set to begin at noon. (The event was also covered by the Washington Post, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t super pumped to see that story.)
The anticipation of waiting for my first walk was likely enough to wilt the flowers off my head. I honestly hadn’t really taken the time to think about what this experience would feel like before that moment, and from my often unpredictable emotions through treatment there was no telling how this would go either.
I took my first walk slowly down the decorated dairy barn runway as Holly told the attendees the story of how we met and how I ended up back at Hope. My K.T. was looking on proudly next to Holly, and for a moment I flashed back to our wedding when I walked down the aisle towards him and promised him forever. I’ve apologized to him so many days since diagnosis last July because I know this isn’t the forever we envisioned, yet he always assures me that it’s our forever and the forever he always wants to live. Sure enough, the emotions began to build and as I stepped out of the dairy barn, tears made mud on the dry dirt.
It was as if the entire journey hit me all at once. All the pain, the fear, the scary days, the unknowns, and my feeble attempts at processing I had cancer circulated through my veins…but then so did hope. I was walking as a survivor…not a patient (like some of the others were) and even that felt heavy right then. It took me several minutes and hugs from my precious husband and friends before the tears dried up, but I’m certain that moment was and will continue to be pivotal in my continued healing.
It’s truly a weird thing to be celebrated for cancer. It’s happy, and it’s sad. It’s exciting, and it’s scary. It forces you to remember where you’ve been and how much you’ve been through, and with cancer it undoubtedly all happens within a short amount of time. It forces you to choke back down the emotions you’ve worked so hard to swallow, and it forces you to think about the possibility (no matter how slight) of ever having to walk that path ever again.
However, a celebration of cancer is a celebration of going through literal hell and making it out alive. It’s a celebration of the amazing medical brilliance and technology of the world. And it’s a celebration of the healing and mercy of an amazing God.
I took my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th walks down the runway far less emotionally and spent a few minutes in the flower cooler between each to help keep the anxiety at bay. While the tears may have ceased, I was still turning so many thoughts over in my head about it all.
By the end of the event, I was spent. My K.T. had pulled our car up near the barn and packed up my stuff while we finished up group pictures. I said my goodbyes and gushed about how thankful I was to have had the opportunity to return to Hope and participate in such a special event. Not sure I spoke the whole way back to Frederick, MD where we were staying.
It took a sandwich, a long nap, and some mindless tv watching for me to become verbal again. Like I said, I just never anticipated what all this would be like, but after two weeks of reflection, I’ve concluded this.
It. Was. Perfect.
And exactly what I needed.
No one knows better than K.T. that I have been a total wreck the last few months. I have had “health issues” one after another since December and more moments of anger towards the Lord and simply not being able to make sense of anything than I’m willing to admit. I had lost hope in ever feeling like myself again, and it had become a rare occasion that I felt beautiful and worthy of the effusive love my husband never fails to give me. I blamed myself for trapping him in this life of taking care of me, wiping my tears, and constantly having to listen to to me try to piece together my life and feelings into some kind of recognizable picture.
But only the Lord knew that all that brokenness I’ve experienced would lead me back to Him, back to Hope, and back to my warrior friends and the place that gave me hope and peace in a different hard time. Only the Lord knew that I needed that time away with K.T. to celebrate a battle we had fought together to remind me that this is the perfect life for us and that he is and always has been the man I knew the Lord led me to in 2012. And only the Lord knew that the people I would meet at this event would help stand me back up on my feet again and push me forward in healing, in hope, and in assurance that the Lord has plans to prosper me and give me hope for a future.
How beautifully mesmerizing is the work of the Lord? How if we put even a tiny bit of faith in His plan, that we will inevitably find ourselves face-to-face with Him and His promises that will soon be fulfilled.
As I said, I know our trip to Hope will continue to bless us as we think back on the little intricacies and reflect. And I know the Lord will continue to work on my little heart through this.
Cancer is hard, and it truly takes the support of a village. Thankful for mine, and forever thankful for Holly Chapple.
Now, please enjoy these travel outtakes 🙂