Read Melissa and Ray's engagement story.
Maybe it was divine intervention. Or perhaps just a long series of coincidences. Whatever you call it, Melissa Williamson and Ray Crawford knew they had something special the moment they laid eyes on each other. And if you ask them, stronger forces were at work.
A random meeting on the streets of Washington, D.C. ignited a natural spark. "I noticed the twinkle in his eyes, and he noticed the shimmer in mine," describes Melissa. Even though she was in another relationship, they still kept in touch. "I closed on my first home and shared the news. I got a response from Ray saying, 'You'll never guess. I closed on my first home on the same day.’"
The pair finally reconnected at a lunch spot located on the street of their first chance meeting. This time, their fate was sealed. "We talked and laughed for hours," explains Melissa. "From then on, we were inseparable." A year later, on that same momentous street, Ray proposed to Melissa in the exact spot of their first meeting. Despite down-pouring rain and curious passersby, the world slipped away and she said yes.
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Melissa, who dubs herself a true “Carolina Girl,” always planned to have her wedding in her hometown of Charlotte. So when the couple first visited Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, it was a natural fit. "We went in the dead of summer, but somehow it cooled off enough so we could enjoy the beauty of it. The earthy elements really captured our personality," says Melissa. And yet another coincidence, Stowe was the maiden name of Melissa's mother, whom she lost years earlier. "It was as if our ancestors were plotting from heaven," she laughs.
Days before the nuptials, tragedy struck. Ray's dad, lovingly nicknamed Big Ray, suffered a brain hemorrhage and was rushed to a Virginia hospital. "To think I spent the last year praying for good weather and hoping the details would come together, and I didn't even pray for everyone I love to be there." Melissa left the decision on whether to postpone the wedding up to Ray. A passage from the Bible brought him the clarity he needed to continue with the plans.
"We got through the rehearsal dinner, but with heavy hearts," describes Melissa. Ray's mother was by his father's bedside and couldn't make it. On the day of the wedding though, an early morning phone call left the couple elated. Overnight, Big Ray took a turn for the better and was doing well. So well in fact, that Ray's mother was on the next flight to Charlotte.
The warmth and comfort exuded by their guests made the day seamless. Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden's splendor set the mood with everything in full bloom, marking the first day of summer, June 21, 2009. The bride wore a sleek lace halter gown set off by a broach-embellished sash. Her mother's and grandmother's wedding rings were stitched to the inside close to her heart. Bridesmaids in turquoise cocktail dresses carried kissing ball bouquets in intense hues of pink, orange, and purple.
Because of the chain of events, the couple each penned their vows just hours before the ceremony, but that didn't make them any less heartfelt. "Ray and I were both dealing with not having a parent there. Amazingly, sadness never crossed my mind," tells Melissa. "I was comforted by the fact that my mother was protecting Big Ray." Melissa's father escorted her down the aisle and placed a white rose on the empty seat next to him.
After the ceremony, guests were greeted with their own mini seafood buffets brimming with crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops, and other deep-sea delights. Edible Arrangements created a four-layer cake covered with thoughtful phrases describing the couple, while a custom groom's cake featured a microphone symbolizing Ray's love of poetry and acting. Guests sipped personalized cocktails like vodka gimlets for "something old" and a 'Carolini' creation for "something blue."
"After all this time, it felt like something bigger than both Ray or I brought us together," Melissa recounts. It may have been a roller coaster of emotions, but Melissa and Ray's fate was finally sealed that day. This time, with a kiss.