on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

It’s Not That Simple

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

She Said… by Mary Bea Sullivan

If simplicity were the only measure we used to make our life choices, we would never have children, bring puppies home from the pound, or attend seminaries far from the ones we love.

Life is never that simple. Competing values, interests, goals, and demands are usually in the mix.  Oh, and then we have the frequently inconvenient nudgings of the Holy Spirit.

For me, there has never been a “one size fits all” formula for making life decisions. When Brendan and Kiki were small and my ex-husband and I decided to move to Tokyo, it seemed like a very complicated choice.  Surprisingly, the novelty of experiences like riding my bike to the market, taking the train for outings with the kids, and learning Japanese provided the framework for a beautiful life focused on enjoying one another and exploring this exotic, and new to us, world.

In order to make space for the Tokyo experience, I had to let many other things go: my career, ability to easily see family and friends, and drive-through lattes (OK that is really shallow, but honestly it was one of the things I missed most those first few days).  For me, walking away from what “is” toward an unknown “what may be” requires fluidity, trust, and perhaps most important, clarity around why I am letting go.

The choices Malcolm and I are making aren’t really that simple. Living in two different states (again!) and returning to school with the energy and memory of a perimenopausal woman, these are not the first ingredients you would pull of the shelf to mix up a batch of SIMPLICITY. And yet for us, at this time, they seem to be steps in the “right” direction.

Why?  I keep asking myself the same question. Attending seminary is a dream that I have picked up and put down many times for over ten years.  I am running out of excuses.  If I truly want to seek ordained ministry, and I do, the time is now.  When Malcolm and I visited Sewanee, VTS, and Yale in February we knew they were all excellent choices.  VTS simply caught my heart.  I loved the urban feel and energy of the faculty and students.  From the ashes of the recently burned down chapel the community is creating dialogue around “what does ‘church’ mean today?”  I want to be a part of that discussion.

Is this the “right” decision? We don’t know, but having made it, we hope to live into it as if it were so.

Given the complicated landscape we are painting for ourselves, we feel the need to limit the colors on the palaette. If I am only going to see my beloved husband and children on weekends and holidays, I don’t want to be pushing a Dirt Devil around a big, albeit beautiful, house.  If leaving some furniture behind means Malcolm won’t spend 10-15 hours per week in the car, may the new owners love and enjoy those pieces as much as we have.  (Don’t even think about touching the framed giraffe Kiki drew or Brendan’s 4th grade face jug, I have my limits!)

We are all required to implement “big issues first” decision-making. Sometimes the major decision is starting a family, or perhaps reducing work hours to help with disaster relief, or working a second job to support a family member in need, the possibilities are endless.

In my experience, if I stay true to the practice of being still and acknowledging the love and support of that Divine Imminent Presence many call “God,” I am better able to remember the WHY.

What choices are you weighing now?  How do you discern which are the “big issues?” 


1 Comment

  1. Susan Gammon

    I have thought of you both so much over the past several weeks. I’ve wanted to express my sincere thanks to you of your continued support of Stephanie at UAB. I can’t tell you how much it meant to Robert and I to know that you were in Birmingham and Stephanie could depend on your wise counsel. It’s wonderful how our lives reconnected and you encouraged Stephanie through college academics and athletics. There were several times I knew she was stressed and my words over the phone didn’t seem to help, I would tell her ,”Maybe you need to call Malcolm and Mary”.

    I am praying for you in this new transition to Virginia.

    Once again, I am so grateful to you both. Thank you for caring for “my girl”. I cannot think of a greater gift!

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