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A place of tranquility

Just one year ago, it was a tangle of blackberry brambles, nettles and rotted stumps — a gnarly mess just a hundred yards from a church sanctuary.

Today, it’s an inviting asylum, beckoning those who seek a peaceful surrounding.

Sunrise Gardens is the inspiration and labor of love of Federal Way woman Peggy Horton. And it is where her remains will stay after God calls her soul home.

Horton knows she may be on borrowed time. Diagnosed with a form of rare, chronic cancer in 1995, she has already outlasted doctor’s predictions she would live for only five years.

She has terminal Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, a disease causing abnormal white blood cells to multiply out of control. She is now 61, spry and vivacious — the very antithesis of the cancer-patient stereotype.

“Whenever you see someone with cancer, you expect them to be bald and puking. That’s not necessarily true with us,” she said, referring to Waldenstrom’s sufferers.

The garden on the property of the Sunrise United Methodist Church at 150 S. 356th St. isn’t her only project. Since 1999, she has cultivated a statewide support group that had six initial members, but grew quickly. These days, 90 families from across the Northwest are included, she said.

Sunrise church pastor Pastor Bill Brackett said he’s very happy to see the results of Horton’s applied energies.

“Peggy is a very creative energetic person who has a way of setting goals and achieving those goals,” Brackett said.

The once-useless corner of the church lot now brims with color and light, he said.

“It was a way of taking an unused area of our church property and turning it into place of beauty and peace and, I think, meditation.”

While some older Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic churches have sprawling cemeteries near their churches, Brackett says he believes Sunrise is among the first Methodist churches in the state to neighbor a memorial garden.

Yet the idea for Sunrise Gardens actually germinated from the rejection of another. After learning she was dying, Horton’s three daughters flatly refused to pay respect to their mother in a gloomy mausoleum.

“My daughters just totally freaked out. They said they would not come into a house of death like that,” she said.

They “were so opposed to me being a little building somewhere,” said Horton, adding they reminded her: “You always taught us how to see the beauty in God’s creation.”

The entire family was immediately able to see the beauty in the garden plan. In fact, all three daughters sang “Holy Ground” at the garden’s dedication on Sept. 30. About 100 people attended the event.

The garden might not have grown at all if an old friend of Horton’s, Harry Stone, hadn’t helped Horton make it happen before he died. In his will, he left Horton a few thousand dollars, and it was shortly after her daughters refused a mausoleum interment — June 12, 2000, to be exact — that she was struck out of the blue with the idea for the garden

“It had to have come straight from God,” Horton said.

She and her husband, Robert, went through the process of obtaining permits, planning and landscaping before the site began to transform — with the help of dozens of others — in July.

“The city of Federal Way has been marvelous to work with,” Peggy Horton said, noting city staff waived some procedural red tape to keep the garden project on track.

Now finished, it boasts a large, lighted gazebo. At night, it’s a beacon for peace-seekers.

Robert Horton, a custom furniture designer and builder, erected the gazebo with help from several church members. He also added to his wife’s financial contribution, giving $3,000 to create the garden. Other donations from church members included a small table, teak benches and landscaping rockery.

At first, some church members weren’t sure what to think of the memorial garden next to a children’s playground and a picnic area. But already the garden has been the site of a pet blessing service, and will be featured prominently in future wedding pictures.

“That’s mostly what this garden is for — good things,” Horton said.

Her next project will be even more personal. She is compiling a book mapping sites where remains will be interred in the garden. The memory of each person will be honored with a bronze plaque on a brick wall that girds the garden’s east edge. Only those associated with someone closely tied to Sunrise church will be eligible to have their remains interred.

Horton plans to finish that project, too.

While some stricken with Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia don’t even survive a year, her drive to finish the garden has kept her too busy to leave this world on anyone else’s schedule, she said. The Hortons, who have been coming to Sunrise church for more than three years, live nearby in the Lake Geneva Estates neighborhood.

“Since it’s come together, she’s had a serenity about her,” Robert Horton said of his wife.

“When you have that kind of disease …” he started before trailing off.

Peggy finished for him: “You make every day count.”

She went on: “My whole life I was a stay-at-home mom. I always knew I would do something, but I didn’t know what it was.”

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