Before August 5, 2006, I was not much
of a gardener. Shortly after Renee was murdered, I went to her house and took some of her perennials….I just wanted
to have a little piece of her to let her memory live on. I certainly didn’t realize then the symbolism this “garden”
would take on.
the years since Renee's death, I have seen God’s hand so clearly, speaking to me and guiding me. I see how he was
working to prepare me for this very day way back when I was in high school. When I pulled a copy of Corrie ten Boom’s
THE HIDING PLACE off the shelf, it wasn’t coincidence. After reading her book, she became my human hero….her
courage and faith have inspired me all these years. Corrie was in the Dutch Resistance during World War II, and was imprisoned
under Hitler. Renee shared with me a few months before her death that she was close friends with Diet Eman, also a Dutch Resistance
survivor, who had penned her own story in THINGS WE COULDN’T SAY. It turns out that Diet was in the same prison as Corrie,
and became personal friends with her after the War. I vividly remember telling Renee that I wanted to meet Diet, and to get
to know her….and for my kids to get to know her. I had met Diet a few times and had heard her speak, but it was only
through the death of our dear mutual friend that she and I have become the closest of friends.
I went into Renee’s house some time
after the murder, and found a book entitled PRISON LETTERS…it just “happened” to be authored by Corrie
ten Boom. Inside the front cover, Diet wrote, “To Renee, I translated this book for Corrie. Love, Diet--Ecuador ‘91”.
That book has become one of my most prized human possessions.
Is all this coincidence? I don’t think so. I no longer believe in coincidence, but instead
that God orchestrates all events, as Romans 8:28 says, for His good.
So many people have come into my life since Renee's brutal death….people I wouldn’t
otherwise know if Renee were still alive. John 12:24 says that “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” A single seed has fallen to the ground and died….and
many seeds have been produced….and grown…into beautiful flowers. One of the beautiful “flowers”
that has grown in “Renee’s Garden” is Sherrie Coke. Sherrie was in a situation very similar to Renee’s
and was encouraged by her friends to visit Renee’s website. She contacted me and our friendship began.
On Thanksgiving Day a few years ago,
Sherrie and Mr. Virgil Westdale, another World War II hero, and another “flower” in this garden, were at my house.
God orchestrated the meeting with Virgil a few years ago at Burger King….he happened to be working on his book, BLUE
SKIES AND THUNDER, and was wearing his WW II hat. Diet and I talked to him, and our friendship began. As I introduced Sherrie
and Virgil to my family, Sherrie suggested that I write a book and call it “Renee’s Garden.” A few years
ago, when we began planning the 5-year commemoration of the anniversary of her death, I thought about sharing some perennials
that at one time belonged to Renee.. Then Sherrie, the artist, shared her idea with me of making a piece of artwork….with
flowers, and here you have the beginning of what we hope to be a beautiful tribute to Renee, and to all the lives she touched.
We hope that in ArtPrize, others will be inspired and that perhaps lives will even be saved!
You’ll notice that Renee’s
Garden will have butterflies and dragonflies in it….these are not just any butterflies and dragonflies, but very special
ones. Tami Keenan, who has become a very dear friend of mine, and her grandsons very special to my family, once told me a
story about her daugher, Julia. Julia was murdered and one day while Tami was at her grave, on a day which according to Tami,
was just too cold for butterflies, a purple butterfly came and landed right beside her. Renee’s Garden will have a purple
butterfly in it in honor of Julia.
Renee’s Garden will also have dragonflies. Every time I see a dragonfly, I’m reminded
of my dear friend, Linda French and her son, Ean. Ean was murdered in the house right next door to Renee’s house, before
Renee had moved there. Detective E.J. Johnson connected Linda and me, and she has been a pillar of strength throughout the
past several years. Detective Johnson just “happened” to be the lead detective on both cases. If you look into
her vehicle or go into her house, you will see dragonflies all around, which are reminders of Ean. So, in honor of Ean, Renee’s
garden will have dragonflies….
A hummingbird will reside in Renee’s Garden in honor of Julie Abbott, whose mother, Lynne McKenna,
has been a loving support over the past 5 years.
There are others who have lost loved
ones to murder who will be represented if they so choose to be....like the family of Ella Comella, Jeff Owens, Brandon Whitby,
Janna Kelly, and Lee Priester.
I still can’t say that I’m
much of a gardener, but I sure enjoy having Renee’s beautiful flowers to remind me of her. I also don’t know how
I’d make it through this time in life without being surrounded with all of the walking, talking “flowers”
that God has planted in my life.
I encourage each of us to contemplate and celebrate the good that has come out of this tragedy…..to
celebrate the wonderful memories we have of Renee, the lessons she taught us, the relationships we now share…. Reflect
on John 12:24, and embrace the seeds that have been planted through this beautiful woman’s life. Like any garden, it
will continue to grow and live on…..as will her memory and legacy.