2018 Commencement Address by Shalom Alumna Kelly Perry

I may not look like a construction worker, but today I’m here to prepare a highway. I’m here to smooth out the road and remove the boulders that stand in the way. (Is. 62)


The road is one of return. It leads to a place we’ve all been, as we were being gently, carefully, honorably knit together in the womb of our mothers. This road is life and it leads home, to the good, gracious heart of God.
The God who sees us as we really are. Light, bright, and courageous — visionaries.


As I look out on this group of graduates, I can feel the sheer delight of God. He is pleased. His love is literally bursting. I sense promise. I can feel dreams rising in your hearts.


This highway is where you’ll discover those dreams. It’s where you’ll partner with the Creator and all of creation to see them realized in fullness. And these dreams, oh how they matter. The world needs more dreamers. More people who choose to think deeper than a college choice or a career path. We need believers who understand that their work and their rest build the kingdom of God. You will bring heaven to earth.


As you follow area of passion, however “spiritual” or “unspiritual” it may appear to an onlooker. Know it is very spiritual. He will help you make the connections between heaven and food, or science or tractors – whatever it is you’ll do with your life. As you learn to move by the Spirit, you will naturally enrich the people around you in deep, eternal ways. You will call out leaders of industry, you will wake up sleeping influencers in media. You will ignite the next generation of artists. You will help someone realize they are a thought-provoking educator. YOU will raise up family. You will help someone know they can make a difference in government. You will ignite a generation of evangelists.
All this simply by being you.


I’m a floral designer. It’s not what you’ll find as my chosen career path in the 2006 Shalom Christian Academy yearbook, but what I thought was a little comical as I revisited that time in my life, is my top had a bouquet of fabric flowers cascading down the side. It was my favorite. If I examine my life, I see flowers laced throughout it all. From the time I was a little tyke making dandelion bouquets in the backyard.


I imagine you’ve recently taken some career assessments. Some of you had a grey shaded section on your paperwork, and I bet a few of you multi-passionate individuals had a big, black question mark come back as your anticlimactic result like me. It’s ok, either way. It’s just a quiz, and I am proof it all works together.


The important thing is you keep note of the things that naturally interest you. The things you lose track of time when you think about or do. The things that cause that unexpected lump in your throat…What brings emotion out in you? More importantly, what is underneath those things? What are you really doing when you do them? Is it teamwork? Is it love? Is is healing? Redemption? All these things are clues about what makes you, you and the unique role you play in bringing heaven to earth through things that seem very unrelated to heaven to an untrained eye.


And while the dots may seem distant and disconnected, I am also proof the creator has placed every dot with purpose and the process of connecting them with him is very fun. Doing it on your own, with the world’s logic isn’t as fun. So stick with the one who made the map and you will experience that same delight towards the Father that he is experiencing towards you now. He doesn’t hide things from us, he hides them for us. It’s like an easter egg hunt!


When I left this campus and took my place at a college campus I remember deep feelings of overwhelm. I was homesick, and I had a lot of questions about what I was doing with my life, mainly, am I doing the right thing with my life.
I was deeply aware God had plans for my life and I did not want to mess them up! But it turns out He plans life with you. You’re a friend, not a slave. (John 15)


I suppose I thought the plan was really specific, and I was so worried I missed it! I do believe sometimes it is, but I never experienced one of those specific moments, like Esther standing up and walking towards the king, and so, in the meantime, I followed the general things. They’re all right here (in the Bible). He will teach you and guide you in the way you should go, he will counsel you and watch over you (Psalm 32:8.) When specific things come, those Esther moments, you’ll be looking, you will NOT miss it, I promise.


In college, I did the things that I was naturally drawn to. Entrepreneurship, principles of design, philosophy of education. And I planned a lot of events. Just like I did when I was here. If you start digging you’ll see there’s something underneath each activity you enjoy. Event planning is about the magic of people coming together, shared moments, teamwork. As a tyke I loved playing school and put stickers on everything. Encouragement is laced into my DNA. Start paying attention to what’s underneath, because these gifts you’ve been given can come out in a million little ways that look so much different than you thought.


I ALWAYS thought I would be an event planner. And I was for a couple of years when I graduated college. But something happened. A woman ran red and nearly t-boned my car. I walked home from the scene of the accident with a headache and this headache followed me every day for about three years. The trauma of daily pain led to other issues and for the majority of my twenties I didn’t feel well. I had to leave the career I thought was meant for me. Oh, but that good heart of God. In my weakness, I learned to lean. And in my leaning I learned the heart of God is much different than I had believed up to that point. I realized it’s all true – the things champions of the faith said. That it REALLY IS the weak, broken people God is attached to.


I asked God what to do and I felt I was to quit my job and go to “flower school.” We did not have a lot of money. Quitting my job was not logical. I needed a sign. I asked for a feather. A feather didn’t fall out of the ceiling tile of my office that day, but as I was walking into work, praying that same prayer a few days later there it was. I jumped over the feather and picked up the pace. Did invisible God just speak to me with something extremely specific I could see? He had, and for a season I prayed very specific prayers and followed very timely feathers. He will not let you miss it. It will be obvious if you are on call for a specific task. Today I partner with God to bring his kingdom culture into the floral industry. I am not your typical crosscultural missionary, but I am, like the flowers I study and work with, a messenger of the creator’s love.
We all are, and we must never forget it or how deeply loved we really are. When we pull the petals off daisies we need only think, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me. There is no question of his affection. We must also remember we are SONS and DAUGHTERS of a father who loves us just as we are, wherever we are on that road of life.


We must preach to ourselves provision is always available, but it comes DAY TO DAY. Knowing this we can be brave with our finances, like the widow, giving her two last pennies for the day, knowing there will be more tomorrow. We can eat all the manna. As you pursue your calling, remember that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to the miracles of God. I imagine all the faith-filled dreamers who have gone before us are busy in heaven. Sometimes I can feel their cheers, like fans in the baseball stadium. Each generation has built upon the foundation of Jesus, we carry on their work. I think of the gardeners who have gone before me, those who had a life dedicated to loving the world through flowers. I’m not alone.


As you and I step up to the plate we keep our eyes on the ball. We don’t hold back when we swing. Elbows up, we lean IN. As we take our place in the outfield, we’re moving, we keep the momentum going before the pitch. We anticipate what is coming as if it is already in motion, because it is. We don’t have time to waste with thoughts that slow us down (Heb 12). We must throw off the weight that so easily entangles us. We must renew our minds and actions will naturally follow (Rom. 12). We must take our place as sons and daughters. And we must learn what this gives us access to. We must learn how this helps us manage stress differently than the rest of the world. Think about what you do when you experience stress. Identify the feeling. Identify what you’re doing. Jesus paid for FULL freedom. He paid for rest. Your worth is not in your work. Out with the old, in with the new. The butterfly models this so beautifully. We know the caterpillar goes into the cocoon and it is transformed, but did you know that it actually breaks down, turns into a DNA “slushie.” The cells it used in it’s old life dissolve and that DNA actually creates a brand new creature. (Inside the Chrysalis, Dr.
Lincoln Brower).


There will be moments the old, dead, stinky person comes out. You’ll disappoint yourself and feel you’ve fallen short of your expectations, maybe your parent’s or friends, God’s. I hope you’ll be reminded of God, the great party planner, sees you as someone to celebrate (Lk. 15). He already paid for your freedom and it’s a joy for him to welcome you back in a place of honor with him. God is in a good mood, and he is just waiting for you to rise and shine. As you leave this platform and this place you will walk under the banner of peace, of shalom. Some of you have been walking under it for most of your life. It’s more than a school sign. I want you to look at it before you go. Take it with you. Because peace is what protect you on this journey. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7). I’ll see you on highway, graduates. Welcome to the next season.




Kelly Perry (2006 Shalom Graduate) is a floral designer and educator based in Boone, North Carolina. She and her husband, Jesse, initially moved there to work with Samaritan’s Purse.  They have now founded two floral related businesses and a charity organization — Philosophy Flowers, a floral design studio (2012), Team Flower, a worldwide floral community and education platform for professional florists (2014), and the Team Flower Foundation, a charitable organization supporting those who serve their communities with flowers (2018).


Philosophy Flowers creates garden-style floral arrangements for life’s special occasions. Kelly sees her job as an opportunity to help people solidify memories and relive those memories through scents in their own gardens for years to come. Philosophy Flowers has been featured with Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, The Knot, and Southern Weddings.


Team Flower produces and sells online courses and in-person events and offers a free podcast, video tutorials, and articles published on the Team Flower Blog. One step at a time, Team Flower is helping professional florists innovate and move forward in their work while reminding them of the deep meaning and importance of their work with flowers.


In another part of her life, Kelly does finance education with her church and as a community service.  She is passionate about helping people experience the abundant heart of Jesus through a renewed perspective on the topic of money.


She recently wrote a book about how flowers intersect with our lives and reveal important life principles. She likes to visit the gardens in England and go on slow walks to learn more about God in nature. On her senior mission trip, she caught the snorkeling bug and enjoys doing that wherever there is an opportunity to do so. She also enjoys butterflies and collects feathers.