This is the twentieth in a series written by Malcolm Marler and Mary Bea Sullivan, husband and wife, about their journey as Mary, an author, goes to Virginia Theological Seminary. Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“She Said” by Mary

Happy New Year! Malcolm, Mary, Brendan, and Kiki

I, like all of us, have been on both sides of the “leaving” coin. Depending upon where one is going, it is frequently easier to be the one heading off to a new adventure, than the one left behind. The two most difficult “left behinds” for me were when my friend Rhonda died, and when Brendan and Kiki went to college. And so I can relate to Malcolm’s deep sense of loss when I went to Virginia.

This move has been different for me than any I have previously experienced because I didn’t really “leave.” I still see Malcolm, Brendan, Kiki, and the lake as “home.” Yet, I spend most of my days in Virginia. The challenge has been to be fully present in each place when I am there–to appreciate and enjoy the gifts each has to offer.

Believe me, there were many nights when I just wanted to be home in Malcolm’s arms. But the overarching experience for me these past five months has been one of excitement and gratitude for finally being able to immerse myself in prayer, study, and community. I wish Malcolm and I could share the experience in the same place. We both feel he is where he needs to be in his role at the hospital– for professional, personal fulfillment, and financial reasons.

I am not the only one at VTS who has left a spouse at home. There are a number of men and women commuting back and forth to loved ones–to Florida, Missouri, Georgia, and other far-flung places. One night at dinner, we were sitting together and someone commented that they were able to endure the separation as a “sacrifice” for God. I have been pondering this comment quite a lot and am not sure how that translates for me. In our situation, it seems that Malcolm is the one making that sacrifice.

What I have greatly appreciated is Malcolm’s ability to offer this gift without resentment, even though, no, especially because, it comes at great cost to him. In all of my 49 years, I have never received so great a gift. In the beginning I felt guilty. It was hard for me to hear Malcolm’s sadness. I was too closely aligned with the creation of his pain and tried to distance myself from it. But this is an unsustainable approach. You and I both know suppressed emotions will eventually surface, gasping for air like a swimmer who has ventured too deep. We are recommitted to allowing one another to “feel what we are feeling” and to listen to each other.

Some of the ways I intend to honor Malcolm’s great gift are to:

  • stay connected with God through prayer, writing, and listening devoutly to life and the people around me
  • stay connected with Malcolm–through, phone, skype, love notes, and flights
  • fully embrace my experience at school and avoid the temptation to wish away the time until I am home
  • take advantage of the unique opportunities available in the DC area and bring those experiences back to Alabama
  • look for opportunities to “pay it forward,” to be as open-hearted and generous as Malcolm

Today, this last day of 2011 is a day for reflection. As I look back on this past year, I am so very grateful for the many gifts which I have been given. Sharing life with you is one of those great gifts. May 2012 be filled with much laughter, love, and meaning. Thank you for all that you do to bring the presence of LOVE into the world.

When is a time when you have been given a great gift? How did you honor that gift?