What stands out most in my memory is the heat – oppressive, stifling, nauseating heat that took your breath when you ventured outside in suburban Chicago. Next, I remember that a bridesmaid was sobbing in the un-air conditioned van on the way to the church, and the bride was patiently redoing the distraught girl’s hair. The date was August 16, 1969, and my beloved oldest brother was marrying his college sweetheart, whom I also adored.

They were deeply in love, of course, with the kind of ushy-gushy, almost annoying infatuation common for engaged couples. Clearly, they were smitten, devoted, and optimistic. Who isn’t on their wedding day? What’s remarkable to me is that Larry and Mary Lou Craig have retained that close positive connection for fifty years.

They stayed with my family in Nashville a few weeks ago, and it was sweet to see them revisit the significant places of their courtship. They walked the campus grounds where they fell in love and repeated their first “smooch” as Larry called it on the porch of the dorm where Mary Lou had lived. They went to the Parthenon, a Nashville landmark, and stood between the wide columns where they had become engaged. They stopped at the family-owned jewelry store, still in business, where Larry had bought the engagement ring, and Mary Lou proudly displayed its sparkle after a free cleaning. They were giggly and affectionate – simply older versions of themselves and their bond from fifty years ago.

When I asked them separately about the secret to their long relationship, which is clearly much more than a weathering-the-years-partnership, each first replied immediately, “GOD!” Both spouses also mentioned humility, love, laughter, and gratitude. Certainly, they have had their share of sorrows, failures, and challenges, which are part of life for everyone. Each mate, though, has valued his or her commitment to God and to each other above any difficulty that came their way. They always worked out whatever they faced and came through the bumps with unity.

From their front row seats to their parents’ marriage, Larry and Mary Lou’s adult children reflected about what helped them thrive “through thick and thin.” These “kids,” one who has nearly grown children of his own, consistently described similar dynamics. They listed characteristics – choices, really – of walking out love-as-a-verb, which probably contributed to the longevity of their loving feelings.

The siblings spoke of perseverance and forgiveness, and of protecting sacred time together regularly, while also spending time alone for personal growth. This couple talks openly with each other and honors the other person’s love language. They have accepted what can’t be changed in the other and have been willing to make needed changes in themselves.

Their son said they really exemplify the biblical idea that “two become one flesh.” They are different people and see the world differently, yet they completely operate as one partnership in everything. They consistently presented a united front to their kids in terms of any pressing issue, and there was no dividing them.

The Craigs’ children especially talked about the fun and laughter their parents shared. They appreciate each other’s strengths and bear with weaknesses or quirks. One daughter described an attitude of, “He/she’s so cute” instead of being annoyed by idiosyncrasies. They laugh at themselves and at each other with fondness.

Remarkably, they are such fans of each other that their kids never heard a negative word spoken about the other. “Seriously, never. My whole life. Only positives,” said their oldest. Amazing!

On a hot August afternoon, Larry and Mary Lou pledged from this day forward to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part. This week marks fifty years of keeping those vows. Happy anniversary, dear ones! You encourage and inspire all who know you.

Marnie C. Ferree