The door slammed.

As the noise of that slam died away, the room was filled will a great, empty silence. After a moment, perhaps it seemed to be in slow motion, Grandpa turned to his startled children—my aunt remembers that he looked as if he were going to cry—and he quietly said, "Your mom has gone, and she's not coming back."

My aunt doesn't remember what the argument was about. "There was a lot of shouting and a lot of anger," she recalls. It wasn't the first argument her parents had ever had. But apparently Grandma had had enough. She had grabbed her coat, opened the front door, and stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

My grandparents were good-hearted people. They both had the best of intentions. But they brought to their marriage traits that made their relationship a rocky one. A big factor was probably the way they had grown up in rural America. Both were the oldest of several children, and because of circumstances in their families both were required early in life to assume a parental role and adult responsibility toward their younger siblings.They had to work to survive, and they worked hard.

My grandmother's mother died when she was 13. Her father died a few years later. My grandfather's father passed away when my grandfather was in his teens. Because of his health and other circumstances he was unable to care for his children even before he passed away. My grandfather's mother had crippling arthritis that kept her from providing adequately for her children. So my grandfather worked in mines and on the railroad for years to put his siblings through school and to provide for their needs. My grandmother watched over and cared for her siblings too.

My grandparents grew fully into their early responsibilities. They were stubborn, intelligent, and anxious to do things in their own best way. Often those ways came into conflict.

Perhaps one of the greatest miracles of their lives was that they stayed married. My grandfather was wrong. His wife did come back after the anger and despair of that slammed door. It must have taken great courage and humility and a strong faith in God and in the importance of families. But she came back, and he came back to the relationship as well. That wasn't the end of their difficulties of course. They had other moments of conflict, other flashes of anger. But they were stubborn and intelligent, anxious to do things in the right way. They believed in marriage and desired to make their marriage work.

By the time I came along to the family, I'm sure they had solved most of their worst conflicts. But as far back as I can remember, I was aware of their difficulties as I'm sure most of their other grandchildren were.

But they stayed together. I remember my dad and others through the years shaking their heads in awe and saying that Grandma and Grandpa had pretty much removed all excuses for divorce—if they could stay married through all those conflicts and difficulties then anyone could.

That may or may not be true. It's difficult to know people's individual situations and the reasons they sometimes do not stay married. Some marriages appear to be lethal and toxic. Some spouses are unwilling to try to make things work. All I know is that my grandparents stay together in spite of the challenges they faced.

They didn't just stay together in misery, living out the same, stale scenarios of conflict over and over again. That kind of emotional separation would have been the same as a physical one. In spite of their tremendous conflicts and differences, they kept working on their marriage. They kept working to make it work because they believe in the importance of marriage and they believed they could make it work.

If their grandchildren were aware of my grandparents' conflict, the grandchildren were also aware of their grandparents' commitment. At my grandmother's funeral, my father spoke about Grandma understanding at some point that she had to learn to love Grandpa with all her heart in order for her to live according to God's will. If she didn't learn to love him, she was refusing to forgive where her Lord forgave, refusing to love where He loved. My grandfather learned the same thing. And we knew it from watching them and seeing their love and commitment for each other.

Theirs was a liberating realization. They could choose to live together in love or they could choose self-imposed misery and isolation. They could make that choice independently of what their spouse chose. They each did independently make the decision to love (even when they felt "unlovely" as Madeline L'Engle once said).

So once my grandmother wrote home in a letter when they were serving together as missionaries, "This mission is going to teach me not to be bossy and critical of Dad. I've got to make myself change. . . . There has to be harmony, and a good, loving, charitable spirit before the Lord's full power comes to our aid."

And when his wife complained about her wrinkles, my grandfather would write, "I have always told her that wrinkles were beauty marks, far more beautiful to me than a smooth face would be."

They learned to laugh at their differences instead of fighting over them. And so when Grandpa was dying of cancer, Grandma was always by his side, caring for his needs. And when she was slowly dying in bed ten years later, one of her most dominant and persistent thoughts was for her husband who had passed on a decade before. Often she would write him notes in a script only she could read, longing for a visit, hoping for his company.

When I think of Grandpa and Grandma, one major image persists and often returns, a good image for a grandchild to have. I wasn't there when it happened, but my brother told me about it, and I can see it in my mind.

My brother and Grandpa are preparing to go somewhere. They are both sitting in Grandpa's old, white van. For some reason they need a flashlight, and Grandma, who has accompanied them outside, scurries back into the house in her usual energetic way to find him one. Grandpa watches her go, and then softly, as softly as the deepening twilight, not intending for his teenage companion to hear but not minding if he does, my grandfather murmurs, "Oh, I love that woman."

And he smiles, just as softly, in the twilight.