Gifted and Giving
When everything you have is a gift, the reasonable response is to give it away.
Ronny and Nikki Sullivan, parishioners at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Arlington, give their time, their faith, their wisdom, and their love to each other, their family, and their parish, all in service to God.
As sponsors for engaged couples, they share advice based on their nearly 20-year marriage. Nikki tells them, “You’re not planning a wedding; you’re planning a lifelong commitment with one another. Focus on the rest of your life.”
Her words reflect similar thoughts expressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family).
The pope writes, “The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual, or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church” (Amoris Laetitia, 72).
The Sullivans shared with the North Texas Catholic some of their thoughts on faith and family.
STRONG START: Ronny and Nikki met at a birthday party in June 2002 and felt an instant connection. Three months later they were engaged. Nikki said, “I feel like God made him just for me.”
MARRIED: June 7, 2003, at St. Maria Goretti Parish.
TURN IT OFF, TALK IT UP: The couple has always prioritized intentionally communicating with each other every day.
Even when they had three sons under the age of 5, they squeezed in a daily conversation of at least 15 minutes.
“You have to take that time, together,” said Ronny.
“Even when we are flat exhausted and can’t take it anymore,” said Nikki.
During together time, they turn off all the electronic devices and concentrate on each other.
Now that their four sons are older, it’s easier to have a dinner date or a weekend getaway, they said.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER: They have sponsored five engaged couples, because “along the way, we’ve learned those little bits of wisdom that have helped us out,” said Ronny.
Nikki explained, “We feel like all the blessings that we have directly come from God. They are gifts that are given. It’s almost like they are borrowed — ‘Here, I’m giving you this gift. Now what are you going to do with it?’ Our marriage is definitely a gift that God gave us.”
Nikki said they emphasize to the engaged couples that God must be at the center of the marriage.
MASS MOVEMENT: “We are at Church every Sunday. That is not negotiable,” said Nikki.
The children serve as hospitality ministers or altar servers, and Ronny and Nikki are both Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.
Ronny said, “There’s nothing more beautiful than giving that gift to the rest of the community.”
Nikki added, “It’s food for my soul. I definitely appreciate being a vessel to serve Christ,” and she gratefully remembered being able to bring the Body of Christ to her father when he was hospitalized.
SEE HOW WE GROW: The house is filled with Catholic art, which Nikki thinks “helps plant that seed” with their children.
Ronny said, “We try to role model. They see how we grow in our faith” — through books, apps, podcasts, television, and movies — and the couple shares highlights with their sons.
“I’m hoping that’s their sense of normal,” Nikki added. “They see us do it, making God a priority, not just in the center of our marriage but in the center of our family.”
BETTER TOGETHER: “It’s life. It’s not always going to be hunky-dory,” said Ronny. “You’re going to have tragedies; you’re going to have hard times. It’s better to weather those storms together.”
“Remember you are stronger together than apart, alone,” said Nikki.
ROCK OF AGES: Getting through life’s ups and downs is possible, said Ronny, because they are “grounded in knowing that God is always there for us. Obviously, there are times it’s easier to recognize that than others, but we’re centered on that fact, even in bad times. We know He still has us. That’s made all the difference for us.”
“There have been times in my life I don’t know why He gave me this cross to bear, I really don’t understand it, but I have to remind myself during those low moments, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’” said Nikki, referring to Psalm 46.
BEAR ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS: “The gift is that we’re there to remind each other, to help each other through those times when you’re not able to hear the voice of God or you feel kind of lost,” said Ronny.
“We rely a lot on prayer,” said Nikki, who advises their sponsor couples that praying out loud together may feel odd at first, but in time becomes comfortable.
MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN: Nikki said, “There is nothing more amazing than being married to your best friend.”