Forty Years of Grace

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On Saturday Ray and I celebrated forty years of marriage. In August John, Bethany, and Mary Evelyn and their families sent us on our first and only cruise–to Alaska. On Saturday our girls and their families made us breakfast and took us out to lunch. In the evening we went to the same place we go every December 27–a dinner and singing at the home of our friends Gary and Jo. The evening always honors the birthday of a wonderful church song leader. This year was his 90th. He and his wife have been married 67 years. No wonder I feel like a newlywed.

Christmas and Norton Party 150

In my twenties I used to say that I wasn’t smart enough to pick Ray out. I am still amazed that God would be so kind as to give Ray to me. I am sure I don’t know everything God put in place to bring us together, but I know enough of them to be in awe.

The path I walked from my high school graduation line to Ray standing at the end of my childhood church aisle three and a half years later is an unlikely one. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have a clue where I would end up. Only God could have led me from that graduation line to Ray.

From Graduate to Cashier

I met Ray in college. The fact that I was in college at all was an act of grace. My parents showed their love in many ways and made sure that Steve and I were at church every time the doors were open, but I remember no guidance at all about what I should do after high school. I had taken the ACT and thought about college, but I had no clue how to get there. My parents didn’t have the money to send me and I didn’t know how to go any other way.

Daddy worked at his daddy’s grocery store. His brother was the butcher. His mother was a part-time cashier. My brother and cousins were sack boys. After graduation, Daddy Leland hired me as a cashier, too.

The Traveling Photographer

About the time I graduated, I met a young man who was a traveling photographer. At the time it was common for companies to send a photographer out to a store, where he set up a portable photography studio and took portraits of children and families. The photographer and I quickly became an item. This worried my best friend Judy. She did one of the most loving things anyone has ever done for me. She asked one of our mutual friends whom she knew I had a crush on to ask me out on a date. It was all a set-up, just to shake me up and bring me to my senses. The scheme worked and I was rescued from what could have been a gigantic mistake.

The Dean of Admissions

My mother did alterations for a clothing store in our hometown. The owner’s wife brought sewing to Mother, too. Over the summer, she took an interest in my situation. Mrs. Reeks contacted a friend who had connections at what was then Cumberland College (now Cumberland University) in Lebanon, Tennessee.

One day in August, I was in my usual position behind the cash register when the Dean of Admissions himself walked in. He talked to me about the financial aid resources Cumberland had for needy students. About three weeks later, I was moving into the girl’s dorm.

The Professor and Vacation Bible School

I graduated from Cumberland two years later; and again, I wondered what to do. Many Cumberland graduates went to Middle Tennessee State University. My favorite subjects at Cumberland were in political science. At the time, MTSU had a degree in urban planning, that was centered in the political science department. Thinking that a degree in urban planning might actually help me get a job, I went to MTSU.

While I was at home for the summer between Cumberland and MTSU, someone at church asked me to teach vacation Bible school. I had never lost my faith at Cumberland, but I knew many of my choices there fell way short of what God wanted. During that week of teaching VBS, I decided to turn my heart back to God.

Part of my financial need scholarship included being a work-study student. I was assigned to work ten hours a week for my new academic advisor Curry Peacock (his real name), professor of urban planning and, more importantly, a devout follower of Jesus Christ. When I got to school in the fall, Mr. Peacock became an academic and spiritual mentor and he and his family picked me up regularly for church.

The Mature Student

Another student named Ray Notgrass also worked in the political science department, but he was away that first semester to do his student teaching in history. I met Ray when he came back in the spring. He soon asked me for a date. I was worried. He seemed more mature than the other students and I was afraid he might be a married graduate student. Before I agreed to go, I asked Mr. Peacock for his advice. He assured me that Ray was a nice young man.

The Whirlwind

Our first date was March 1, 1974. Ray impressed me immediately. I loved his wit and his intellect. Pretty soon, I loved him, too. We got engaged on the steps of his family’s ancestral church in Maury County, Tennessee, in May and were married on December 27.

God’s grace brought us together and His grace has kept us together for forty years. We have needed lots of grace from each other, too.

. . . He made from one man every nation of mankind
to live on all the face of the earth,
having determined their appointed times
and the boundaries of their habitation . . .
Acts 17:26

I am thankful that the boundaries of our habitation in March of 1974 was the town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and that we have shared the exact same house number, street, and zip code since December 27.

Have your children heard their mama and daddy’s story of grace? Maybe today would be a good day to tell it.


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