The senior pastor said no. So did the church's associate pastors. Even Jeanette's mom and dad were against this marriage — that is, until we told them we would forego looking for a minister and instead drive the five-hour trip to get married in Las Vegas, an easy-way-out suggestion that the senior pastor had made to me.

I truly understood the reluctance of both the ministers and the parents to encourage or affirm a marriage between a raised-in-the-church 20-year-old choir member and a 28-year-old almost-fresh-out-of prison, ex-bank robber and ex-armed robber.

So what if we had only known each other for three months. Jeanette and I were truly in love with each other and weren't about to take no for an answer. Both parents agreed to go with us to Las Vegas, as did Jeanette's grandparents on both sides of the family. Not so much for our sakes, but because ...well, you know, gambling's legal in Vegas! And so, on Valentine's Day 1976 and an hour or so before sunrise, my bride-to-be and I jumped into a 1968 Mercury Cougar and the in-laws-to-be crammed into her dad's car.

Off we went into the wild blue yonder. If Jeanette was even a bit apprehensive, I couldn't tell. What I could sense and feel, however, was that a magic moment was about to take place that was designed by God to last our lifetimes. Sure, it would take five hours before that magic moment occurred. But it was going to happen.

As we drove toward our destination and as the night gave way to Cupid's dawn, the most spectacular attention-grabbing, molten lava hue of a Mojave sunrise either of us had ever seen slowly was divinely sketched across the morning sky. A sign from God! We both were awestruck, to say the least.

Thank you, Jesus, we both spoke gently out loud and at the same time.

That was 42 years ago. And though we have seen much death and sorrow in the lives of both young and old and dearly loved family members, though there were times when the debt was high and the funds low, though at times storm clouds raged like category five hurricanes across the peaceful shores of our lives, though there were moments when we felt like letting go, and even when we did let go, one thing held tightly onto both of us and just wouldn't let go.

The anchor of our love held on to us even when at times we couldn't hold on any longer. An anchor that told us 42 years ago that we were right for each other. That anchor is the one who, in the Bible, is called the God of love. And the one Jeanette and I also call our Ultimate Valentine.

—Tom Alexander, Bakersfield