I had another theme in mind for last week’s post, but what follows begged to be written. In fact, I attempted to comply on what would have been my dear husband’s 60th birthday since it wasn’t possible to regale him with a surprise party as I would have preferred. Instead, I opened the drawer of memories surrounding our life together and tenderly extracted a few to savor. I asked others to share their recollections. By the end of the day, my efforts to celebrate Ray’s life brought about an unanticipated consequence. I was overwhelmed with sorrow, having been reminded of all I lost on a warm spring evening nearly 21 years ago, when Ray died a few weeks after his 39th birthday.
In the ensuing days, I’ve regained a more balanced perspective and can unequivocally say with Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’” Thus, I’m finally ready to record my reminiscences.
Ray entered the world in a small South Dakota farming community on February 6, 1958, the sixth of seven siblings. From what I’ve been told, he was a good kid who didn’t give his mom or his teachers any trouble. He loved animals and even thought about going to veterinary school, though I, somewhat selfishly, am glad he chose horticulture instead. Not only did his decision eventually lead him to study in Delaware, where our paths crossed, but it contributed significantly to my own passion for plants years later.
We met at a church-sponsored singles group, attending for the first time on the same night. I watched as Ray interacted with other attendees throughout the fellowship time, listening with interest to their various tales. When we finally had a chance to talk, his kindness and warmth were evident. After several months of persistent pursuit by this handsome young man, I was won over by his gift of a single red rose on my birthday in December and we began dating in earnest. With the blessing of our families and friends, we became engaged shortly before my next birthday and were wed the following August.
I struggled in those early months as we adjusted to married life. As an only child and an introvert, I wasn’t accustomed to sharing space with anyone else on a full-time basis. Nevertheless, Ray patiently accepted my shortcomings and God in his goodness gradually knit us together as one.
We purchased a townhouse in 1984, welcomed our first daughter in 1986, and moved to a single-family home shortly after the birth of our second daughter in 1989. Ever-supportive, Ray was all-in when it came to our relocation to Georgia in 1992, a move precipitated by my employer. We were partners, working demanding jobs and raising our girls, teaming up to tackle the to-dos required to keep our household running. Until April 19, 1997 when it all came to an end.
Or did it? At Ray’s funeral, one of our pastors said he hadn’t accomplished anything that brought him great fame or world renown. Not many of us do. But, as Rev. Allen went on to say, Ray was a godly man, who consistently lived his faith, who could be counted on by those who depended on him. As they shared their recollections last week, friends from Ray’s grade-school years through his adulthood recalled the same qualities – kindness, a warm smile, a gentle soul, an unforgettable laugh. A well-lived life affects others for good, no matter the size of our sphere of influence.
I am forever grateful for the gift of Ray’s presence in my life. I wish it had been so much longer, but I’ve come to realize it is a gift with lasting significance, one that has begotten many other gifts. Our wonderful daughters top the list. Sure, I might have married someone else and even had two girls. But they wouldn’t be Mary with Ray’s beautiful brown eyes, or Jessie with his sense of humor. Furthermore, Ray’s unconditional love changed how I viewed myself, his steadying influence kept me grounded in truth and his death caused me to depend on God like never before. They still do.
Ray was a kind, godly, gentle man whose life displayed the fruits of the Spirit. But he wasn’t perfect. Scripture makes it clear only One has lived a sinless life. Moreover, He did it on our behalf, so that we might partake of his righteousness and be reconciled to God. Ray believed that. I believe that. Thus I look forward to being reunited some sweet day. In fact, I hope Ray and I will get to work and worship side by side in God’s perfect garden.
Lord, thank you for your many good gifts, including love and relationships and precious people like Ray. May we be life-givers as he was, impacting others for good and pointing them to Jesus, the greatest gift of all.
 Ray was only 5 years old when his father passed away suddenly of a heart attack shortly before his 41st birthday.
 For more on our courtship, see “A single red rose” in Archives, December 2014.
 Genesis 2:18-24
 Galatians 5:22-23
 Romans 5:1-11
 1 John 3:18