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I was ten years old, when Ray used to come to our house for youth group meetings. My parents were the sponsors, and would tell my brothers and I to play in our rooms so as not to be underfoot with the teenagers. They meant well. :o)

I used to sneak down the hallway to peek around the corner at the cute redhead who sat two pews up on the other side of the church.

Four years later, his mom stood up during announcements, and said that Ray had gone to Carbondale for college. She was sure he'd appreciate letters from home. What was I to do? It was my Christian duty! I wrote. He wrote back. And we corresponded for the next two years ... often he asked advice about how to handle relationships with girls, and I ... through tears ... would respond.

Shortly after Ray graduated, I turned sixteen. He caught his thumb in the grain auger, and I convinced Daddy to let me take him on a picnic ... you know, to distract him. LOL

Well, THREE long months later, when he hadn't so much as called, I held a Sunday School swimming party at our house. Ray stayed after the others left. "If I ask you out," he wanted to know, "will your parents let you go?" I didn't know, but you can bet I was anxious to find out!

The next weekend we went on our first date: Mr. Mom at the movies, Pizza Hut and the Bethalto Homecoming ... where we ran into Ray's best friend and my cousin, Keith. "Pay up," he said, and my heart sank. Keith was quick to explain: It seems Ray had bet Keith he could wait until I graduated from high school to ask me out ... thinking the six years in age difference would be a factor in our relationship. Keith bet him he couldn't. Keith won. Ray paid the dollar, and Keith folded it into the tiniest square I've ever seen and put it in his wallet. "I'll give this back to you on your wedding day," he said. And he did.

Six weeks after that first date, Ray asked me to wear his class ring. I called my parents who were visiting friends, and mom said, "When I pick your dad up off the floor, we'll be home." Their arrival brought a mini-lecture: This is the only guy you've ever dated, Julie, and if it gets serious, you need to consider backing off ... you're very young, and you've never dated anyone else.

Six months later, it got serious. I gave back the class ring, and Ray exchanged it for an engagement ring instead! We were married seventeen months later, and we've been happily married ever since ... I'm happily ... he's married. ;o)

On the night he proposed, I said to Ray, "I haven't given up on my dreams ... and I dream BIG."

Ray said, "I will support you 100%." And he has. Neither of us anticipated all those years ago that those dreams would change shape the way they have, that I would hear and answer the call to ministry, or that it would change our lives, yet Ray has remained faithful to his promise throughout. He is the love of my life. He is a wonderful father and a supportive husband, and I often find myself asking, "How does God know? ... how does God know to weave our lives together in such a way that sparks of love kindle and grow into a flame that burns throughout the years no matter what life throws at the relationship?" It is because of Ray that I am able to see this project completed, and I am once again reminded how blessed I am.

Thanks, Ray~

Forever yours,




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