The Murray Family on Picnic Island, FL in 2015.

My heart is filled by the ones I love the most.
I was born on November 24, 1976 in Jacksonville, Florida to the young 19-year-old Melinda Goodman and her 20-year-old Naval Seaman, Randy. Both too young to have any idea what love really was, let alone raise a child, but did the “right thing” and married when mom was just a few months pregnant in the hopes of becoming a functional family unit. Once Dad’s Naval tour was through, we moved home to Cincinnati when I was somewhere between two and three. I was loved and very blessed, but there was much conflict. When I was five, my sister, Emily was born. Back then I tried to understand why my home seemed “different” than most of my friends’ happy Catholic families. Now that I’m old enough to understand how tough life can be, I know my parents did their best to raise a functional family, but they were lost souls themselves.
My dad and his baby girl on Jacksonville Beach in 1977.

My father was raised in a strict home by two Dutch immigrants - my "Oma & Opa". Now retired, he was a hard working blue-collar electrician who loved his family, and I never doubted that. I witnessed first-hand how difficult it was for him to be a single parent after mom left when I was around 12. He shuttled my sister and I to and from out-of-town soccer tournaments, softball and basketball games and practice, school functions and church. We were his life, and he took care of us with all his heart and soul. I knew it wasn’t easy for him back then, but I especially respect now what it must have been like for him raising two daughters on his own.

Dad is a much different man now than I ever knew as a child. He is kinder, gentler, less abrasive and far more nurturing than the man who raised me. He's enjoying retirement catching up whenever he wants to, on whatever he wants to do, with his partner of many years, Tim. And, when my boys are old enough to ask questions, I will tell them that we all love a bit differently. It is my hope that they will learn acceptance in its purest form from their “Papa” who loves them more than he could ever love himself.
Owen, my Dad, "Oma" and Tim on Christmas 2009.

I grew up knowing God and Jesus, thanks to my "Papa" and my "Keeta".  Both of these individuals are the reason my faith grew as a child, and well into adulthood. They set a Christian foundation for me, representing God’s grace and peace in their own unique ways. They were the people in my life that first taught me the importance of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ through faith and genuine Christian living. Deuteronomy 7:9 “Therefore know that the Lord your God is a faithful God who keeps his covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep HIS commandments.”

I had a very special connection to "Papa." He would take me to St. Thomas More Church every Sunday. All the way up to his death in 2003, I would attend church with him regularly - whether it was St. Thomas More or a Pentecostal Church up in Bethel (…and, YES, I said Catholic and Pentecostal in the same sentence!).  He’s the one that taught me the importance of reading my Bible every day – even if it was just a chapter, and even if I didn’t quite understand every word – God would make it make sense. Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Little did I know it back then but he was the first one to teach me the importance of nurturing one’s soul through the word.

I looked up to "Papa’s" faith, and thought he was such a hero when he traveled to the Holy Land in the late eighties, only a few years after being one of the first recipients in Cincinnati to receive a heart transplant. I loved his courage – the courage that made him picket the St. Thomas More parish festival every year, in good health and bad, because he felt it was wrong for his church to raise so much money off others' losses in gambling. He was a man of strong faith, who knew and loved the Lord.

"Papa" and Chris's Dad circa 1996.

My mother’s older sister, "Keeta",  could never have her own children. Having not only weathered infertility, but an alcoholic husband and an ugly divorce, her wisdom was beyond measure.  She was not just an aunt, but my Godmother, and my saving grace through the years.  Growing up, I had my very own bedroom at her house, complete with a pink canopy bed.  She took me rock picking in her backyard, and shopping for special treats. We regularly dined at Friendly’s, where I always ordered a Fish-A-Magig Sandwich and a tall sundae. She took me to Orlando for my first Walt Disney World vacation at the age of 12, because she knew it was something I needed after my parents' recent separation. "Keeta" showed me what to do when I had my first menstrual period on Christmas morning of the seventh grade. She comforted me when I felt confused and alone. She was there when my mother couldn’t be – mentally, emotionally and physically. And as I grew, she continued to fill that role, being my sponsor when I was confirmed and even my made of honor when I wed at the age of 23. Today,Keeta is the Godmother to my two boys, both of which adore her.
"Keeta" with my boys on our boat in 2014.

Christopher Lee Murray came strolling into my life on June 12, 1993. He was a talk, dark, handsome farm boy, who had just graduated from a rival high school and was preparing to head into the United States Air Force a few short months later. I was a 16-year-old high school soccer player who longed to have someone sweep my off my feet - I was mature beyond my years and was "ready" to meet the "love of my life", so I thought. He was my breath of fresh air, and I adored him. I fell head-over-heals in love at the age of sixteen, and knew this was the man I would someday marry. Upon his departure for the military that November, we learned the first of many life lessons God had waiting for us: endurance.
The first picture ever taken of Chris and I in the summer of 1993.
Nearly two years after joining the military, Chris was granted an honorable discharge due to his father’s permanent heart condition. The transition back to civilian life was challenging for him, but Chris managed to land a stable career in telecommunications, and worked the family farm on the side to help his dad. Less than two years later, his father, Denver Murray, died of a heart attack out in the field with his cows at the age of 48 years young. It forever changed the heart and soul of the man I loved.
Denver, Chris and I at Lackland Air Force Base, TX in 1993.

I married Chris Murray on July 29, 2000. That day was a wonderful celebration of love. We were joined by nearly 200 family members and friends. We vowed to ourselves and to our God to always love one another…to forgive…to be there until death do us part. Little did we realize the challenges that lied ahead for our marriage and family.
Six months later, my maternal grandma would fall ill and pass in January of 2001.
Then, her husband, my "Papa," would pass two years after that in 2003.
And then…the one that shook my entire family to the utter core…my 48-year-old mother, Melinda Stranko Goodman would pass of a brain hemorrhage two years after that.
My mom and I on my wedding day in 2000.

Then, God gave me my babies. Just 10 months after my mother's passing, on November 13, 2005 Connor Lee Murray entered this world after 23 hours of labor that ended in a c-section, and a very scary delivery. I was finally able to hold my strong-willed baby about 12 hours after his birth. He was the motivation I had to get up out of my wheel chair and endure that "pelvic of fire" that C-section mommies must endure. By the time I got to him in the nursery that next morning, the air dome had been removed from around his head and he was breathing on his own. To this day, he's still so strong and everything he does! He is my little "gear-head", and loves anything with a motor - most notably his quad and our boat. He plays for the school basketball team and band. Just like his mommy, he's a visual learner, and loves Language Arts, Social Studies and Religion (his daddy is the "Math parent"). And, although Connor's head is as hard as a rock, his heart is equally just as soft and kind.
Connor Lee Murray 

My precious Owen Christopher, born June 15, 2008 via a planned c-section, is my happy little spirit. His enormous smile says it all! He lives life passionately, yet seems so very content with the basics in life - sports, video games and Cheetos. He's silly and friendly, and doesn't know a stranger! What's even more awesome about my youngest is he has been blessed with the "sixth sense" my mother's side of the family inherited. The night of his brother's First Communion in 2013 (he was just a hair shy of six years old), he and I lie in his bed as he told me he could "hear Jesus." He described a cloudy, white man who was in his room with us that night who was "dressed like 'Fr. Bill', and had a long, dark beard." He said Jesus was talking to him about my mom that night, and I whole-heartedly have no doubt that both Jesus and my mom came to us that evening through my little sweet boy. Owen's heart is innocent and completely open to all God has in store for him. He says he wants to be a professional athlete some day. And, when I asked him if he would take good care of his mommy and daddy if he got lots of money playing sports when he was a big boy, he said "of course," but that he first has to "buy a laptop and have a shopping spree at Toys 'R Us."
Owen Christopher Murray

I am also blessed with a nephew, Gabe. He was eighteen months old when mom passed, but says he can still remember her. She adored my nephew and couldn't wait for Chris and I to give her more grandkids. In fact, the last conversation I had with my mother was right before I got on a plane for a business trip to Kansas. We were just chit-chatting about our day. She told me about a great homemade mac 'n cheese recipe she planned to make for Gabe very soon, and then she described in detail a dream she had the night before about me being pregnant with a little baby girl. I then proceeded to tell her that Chris and I were finally ready to start a family. I had the opportunity to tell her what she had longed to hear for nearly five years - I was ready to make her a grandma again! Four days later I returned home from my business trip and awoke to her fiancĂ©'s tearful phone call that something was terribly wrong - he needed next-of-kin information for the medics. Four days after that, my beautiful mother passed on February 3, 2005.
My boys and their "big" cousin, Gabe at the lake in 2014.

My two Godchildren, Carter and Rylie, are also my nephew and niece. The children of Chris's sister, Lisa, we have been fortunate enough to raise our four kids to be the best of friends. They are very close in age, attend St. Bernadette Catholic School together, and are pretty much inseparable - especially when they get to go up to their Gram's 80-acre farm! Connor and Carter are only nine months apart and greatly enjoy one another's company. And, Owen and Rylie are in the same grade at school and are more like brother and sister, but they take good care of each other despite it all.
I was in the delivery room when Rylie was born - a very special opportunity I will never forget. Her "MelMel's" index finger was the first "hand" she ever held.
Rylie, Owen, Connor and Carter after their first day of school in 2014.
I have an unbelievable mother-in-law. The product of an alcoholic father and a hard working mother, Sally Ann Murray Littleton managed to raise two self-sufficient, independent, nurturing children in my husband and sister-in-law. She was their constant in the face of peril when my father-in-law took them through several years of heavy drinking and a sometimes-unstable lifestyle when her children were young. When he nearly died, and was subsequently diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at 35, she carried the load of her family, and still nurtured her children and ill husband unconditionally despite the emotional and financial strain that situation must have delivered. And, when her husband passed at 48 years, she put her own grief aside to deal with a broken 22-year-old adult son who just lost his best friend, and her impressionable 15-year-old daughter who could have easily taken a wrong path.
Today, she is "Gram" to my two boys and loves them like none other. She is re-married to their "Paw", who treats my boys like they are his very own flesh and blood. As a mother myself, I admire Sally's selflessness, as well as her ability to find love and joy in the simplest of every day life. My mother-in-law has created a family that's far thicker than water, and will someday leave a legacy that will never be forgotten among her children, grandchildren and extended family. She's an angel here on earth.
"Gram" with Owen and Chris (and photo-bombed by kindergarten teacher, Sr. Judy Crooker) in 2014.
I have read that having a sister is like having a best friend you can't get rid of - you know whatever you do they'll still be there. There's nothing more truer in my past than this statement! I am blessed to have two sisters - one by blood, and the other by marriage - both of which are a huge part of who I am. My blood sister, Emily, has grown into an unbelievable mother of four. She not only has her own son, but took on her fiancĂ©'s three beautiful daughters as if they are her very own (the girls lost their mother the same way we did - to a brain aneurysm - when they were young). She's patient, and kind, and just like our mother, she travels through life with a cup half-full and the skies partly sunny. She's an eternal optimist that I could take a few lessons from! And, then there's my sister-in-law, Lisa, who has been in my life since she was 11-years-old. Lisa is a lot like me - very strong-willed, driven and passionate. Often times our similar personalities have worked against our relationship, but thanks to our God, we're healing in ways we never knew possible. We are proud of where we've been and where we're headed. I am truly blessed to have these two in my life. When we all three get together, the laughter is unending (especially after ta few drinks!).
Me, Emily and Lisa on Easter 2012.

I have a handful of fantastic girlfriends who are family to me. Molly, Kelly and I have been the best of friends since middle school. And, although we can go weeks and months without chatting, we can pick it right back up where we left off as if no time ever lapsed. Molly and Kelly are two friends that knew my family when we were "whole" (whatever that means), and love me for exactly who I am.
I met Ginger about a decade ago, a year or two after her family moved into my neighborhood. It didn't take long for me to feel like we were long-lost sisters. We can make each other laugh, and then in the next moment look at each other and just know something is not-quite-right. Whether I need an egg, or some prayers, I know she's just  a few doors away. Between our kids, our faith, similar political views, our love for the water and the mountains, and our need for "a good sweat", we have forged a bond over many miles of pavement that will last a lifetime.
Me, Ginger and Connor in Hilton Head, SC in 2009.

In recent years I have also been blessed to befriend "First Mate" Tonya. Christ Renews His Parish at our church forever bonded us, as have our husbands' similar love for their boats and seaside living. Our oldest boys are in school and sports together, so we often spend hours a week at practices and school functions just chatting. God tossed away the mold of gold he used when he created Tonya. She's truly a genuine person who I trust with all my heart and soul.
Tonya and I at the Riverside Marina dock on The Ohio River in 2015.
Then, there's Amy C...that little girl I knew through mutual friends we shared back in elementary school. Our lives ironically intersected again just a few years ago, and not by happenstance, but by our God, who always knows exactly what he's doing. We too went through Christ Renews His Parish together and became forever bonded to one another through HIM. Now we are the best of girlfriends. I'm in touch with Amy nearly every day whether it's at school pick up, over text, or sitting on the deck of our boats out on the water somewhere in the sun while our "captains" obsess over their vessels. She is truly my sister-in-faith, a trusted confidant, and a Godsend to me.
Me and Amy C. "somewhere in the sun" in 2015.
Last, but not least are my "puppers" - my dogs. Both rescues, and a not more than six months apart in biological age, they are siblings at heart, and make me smile (and yell) on a daily basis! Both adopted into our family in 2013 when we were on "the rebound" from Wheezie, who went to "doggie heaven" in December of 2012, they are total "nut-jobs" and we love them anyway. Growing up, there was always at least one cat, dog, or combination thereof in my house, and Chris grew up on a farm. So, we both appreciate the unconditional love animals provide. Our household will never be without a houseful of animals! Right now, we have 2 dogs, a kitty, a pond full of outdoor fish, and three indoor fish. It's a zoo around here, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Lacey-bug (the basset) and Lucky-boy (the mutt) keep us on our toes!

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