Recently, Azalea Baptist Church in St. Petersburg dedicated a beautiful memorial garden. A long-time member of the church, Margaret Riden, had died and her family wanted to honor her memory. They started the fund to make the garden possible. It didn’t happen over night. There were meetings and shared ideas. Shirlene Anthony was asked to speak with Robert Inman, the head of building and grounds, and get a sketch of what the garden would look like. The following was Robert’s reply.
When I was asked to sketch the garden, I went out to look at it. I saw the garden was like our lives, full of weeds—nothing pretty; but one day it could be. It’s just like what the Lord can do for us. He can turn our weedy lives around and make them beautiful. How can God transform “US” into something beautiful? The garden would show the way.
I visualized a cross in the center. I agonized with how to build the cross because of what it stood for. I decided the cross could be a pattern in our life. If we keep our eye on Him, we can’t go wrong. The cross on the ground would represent this also.
Then, the foundation: pavers would be laid in the shape of a heart. God loved us before we were born and He knew our names. The design of the pavers would remind us of God’s heart and of his love for us.
After the pavers were laid, we would add a beautiful Prayer Rock, symbolic of Jesus praying in the “Garden of Gethsemane,” when Jesus asked His Father to remove the cup from Him. He prayed, “Father not my will but yours be done.” He went to the cross to die for us so we could have ever-lasting life.
As I looked at the wall of the church at the back of the garden, I saw the crack in the wall. It was like a symbol of the curtain ripping when Jesus cried out on the cross. This gave us, Jews and Gentiles alike, direct access to our Father in Heaven. Nothing can separate us from God.
The letters on the tall wooden cross would mean “King of the Jews.” The crown at the top would be like the crown of thorns they placed around Jesus’ head at His crucifixion. Our sin made the cross necessary. Jesus represented the sacrificial lamb.
At the base of the cross, I saw the red flowers of the crown of thorns that would symbolize Jesus’ blood that He shed for you and me that we might be forgiven our sins and be saved for eternity.
After I stood at an angle, I saw all the palms and plants in a circle, a circle that would show God’s never-ending love.
To me, the garden would always be “The Whispering Garden.”
“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”
Please come, at any time, and enjoy the peace and serenity with God.
Over a long period of time and with the help of many people, The Garden was completed just as Robert had sketched it, just as he had seen and felt it in his heart.
Each time you walk by the garden and pause, a wonderful peace comes over you and you are reminded that Jesus died for you and He desires to make something beautiful out of your life. One evening as I stopped to enjoy the garden, a thought crossed my mind. Would this garden look so beautiful if one of the palm trees had said, “I want to be over there,” or a few of the pavers wanted to be a different shape, or the large rock had said, “put me in the middle of the garden,” or some of the flowers wanted to be a different color. None of that happened, of course, because each item in the garden yielded to the gardener and his plan. God has a plan for each of our lives. Just as our memorial garden will grow more beautiful as it responds to Robert’s care, so, too, will our lives grow more beautiful as we respond to the Master gardener Jesus Christ and His plan for our lives.
There is a school that uses our building, as well as three Girl Scout troops and a Neighborhood Association. All these children, their teachers and leaders, many of their parents as well as members of the association pass this garden. Who is to say how it touches their lives?
Pastors Ron Holland and Billy Short and the members of Azalea Baptist Church thank all those who helped to make the garden a reality: the Leadership Council, those who had pavers placed in the garden, Bob Harvey for adding the lights, and Robert Inman and his wife, Gayle, who was with him most days as he labored to make the sketch a reality.
Susan Moore is a member of Azalea Baptist Church in St. Petersburg.
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