By Nicole Gomez
Her eyes closed as she mentally prepared and praised God. Karen Simmons heard the welcoming applause, took a deep breath, and then took the stage. She was the keynote speaker on the topic: Woman on a Mission, Purpose-Driven Woman. Surveying the audience, she examined their faces, looking deep into their eyes to establish a connection. She could feel when someone wanted more from her. They had longing in their sullen eyes. Then the moment took her. She began to minister, first with words, then with song.
Karen had sung all her life, beginning with a mother’s conference in Buffalo, New York, at the tender age of 2. She learned early on that song connects with the soul. Her words and lyrics pushed upon the souls of her audience to move them out of the mental block prohibiting them from finding and fulfilling their purpose. Her message: Everyone has a purpose, even those who thought they were not worthy. Karen told stories from the Bible of women of ill repute who served God, then sang “To God Be the Glory” out loud.
Upon ending the final note, she surveyed the room and saw that her voice had broken through. Their eyes radiated hope. Their lips curled into smiles. She smiled back. God had filled the room; His presence was unmistakable.
Karen Simmons began The Lotus Flower Experience to bring hope and empowerment through worship songs, her testimony and motivational speaking.
Like the lotus flower rises through muddy waters to emerge at sunrise, she says, each person can be renewed daily and fulfill potential they didn’t know they had. The ministry’s aim is to empower people stuck in broken cycles to push through, with God’s strength, to new life.
She speaks confidently, sings joyfully and counsels professionally, but it took years in the cycle of abuse to become the empowered woman she is today.
Toxic relationships, low self-esteem, loss of identity and destructive lifestyles all require the change she seeks to inspire in others. Each of these she experienced herself and now pushes through each day.
Born in Titusville, she grew up in Alachua. A bright student, she stayed on the honor roll even after she started drinking liquor at 13. Getting away with it made her feel cool. Later she started smoking marijuana, and at 21, an eleven-year addiction began with a joint she didn’t know had crack cocaine in it.
She became angry at God for the abuse she suffered growing up. But through it all, she says, she never forgot to pray. And even incarcerated, she kept singing.
“That was my outlet,” she said. “That was how I dealt with the hurt, the emotions, the resentment.” She found it brought comfort to others as well: other women in jail often asked her to sing them to sleep.
“I’m a big romancer to Him,” she says. Her favorite songs are “I Need Thee,” “To God Be the Glory,” “I Belong To You,” and “Nobody Like You, Lord.”
Today she incorporates them into Lotus Flower Experience engagements to touch more hearts.
“Where I might not be able to reach you with my words,” she says, “everybody will listen to a song.”
Blooming at Sunrise
In 2001, she became sick of the cycle. She was incarcerated again and scheduled to be released, but she had $50 in the commissary and knew that if she got out at that moment, she’d use it to relapse.
So she asked the judge to let her stay. He laughed, said he’d never had anyone ask to stay in jail before, and gave her fourteen more days. Karen stayed and prayed for the strength to emerge as a new creature.
“If you strengthen me and rejuvenate my brain cells, I will go back and strengthen others,” she said. She asked God to make her crooked places straight and open the doors to sobriety and recovery.
Then she ran through those doors without looking back any more.
“From 2001 to 2014, I became addicted to school,” she said. From Santa Fe College, and later Capella University, she earned two associates’ degrees in biomedical engineering technology and in psychology, a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in mental health counseling.
She works as a counselor at Phoenix House, in Citra, and Open Arms Village in Ocala. Both counseling and in The Lotus Flower Experience, she works to keep an open mindset, meet people where they are and not minimize their feelings.
“They’re yours to feel,” she says, “but the awesome part is that no feeling is final.”
Karen thanks several godly influences from her youth for helping her become the empowered woman she is today.
But despite conflicts, Karen’s mother, Beatrice Flagg, was ultimately her strongest influence and ally. Beatrice spent many hours working instead of at home.
“I felt like she was never there the way I wanted her to be,” Karen said. Bitterly, she thought that if her mother had been more available while she grew up, she might have learned to avoid the heartache of her experiences.
But when Karen reached the decision to leave addiction behind, she realized how much her mother’s determination and love of God had really done for her. Beatrice had worked every day, even if she was sick, to provide for her family, and now Karen pulled on the same determined strength to fight her own battle. When she asked for friendship and support, her mother was there for her.
Since its launch on March 28, 2016, the Lotus Flower Experience has engaged audiences throughout Marion County and at Karen’s Gainesville home church, The Community Praise Center.
Not limited to substance problems, The Lotus Flower Experience applies to virtually any situation in which life feels hopeless.
“It’s about life,” she says. “Surviving life. In anything we do, we’re starting from a humble beginning and we’re working our way up.”
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