on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Looking Back, Moving Forward

This is the eleventh 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.

He Said . . . by Malcolm Marler

An acquaintance asked me the other day how I felt about Mary going to seminary in Virginia.  It wasn’t the first time I had been asked a form of this question.

I think it is very cool,” I answered with a grin from ear to ear as I had a flashback to the steps Mary had taken to get to this point.

Mary has been discerning her calling in life long before she swept me off my feet on January 29, 2003.  But since that time, I have had the privilege to be a companion in her journey. Previous steps can be read in her first book, Dancing Naked Under the Moon Uncovering the Wisdom Within.

One of the first steps I witnessed was Mary courageously handing off an amazing non-profit organization she founded in 2000 called Project Compassion in Chapel Hill, NC.  This organization still creates community and provides innovative support for people living with serious illness, care giving, end of life issues, and grief.  She hired the first full-time paid director in 2003 and let go to move forward with her life.

I respected her decision to leave a Vice President of shareholders job in a business that met her financial needs but conflicted with her personal ethics.  Many persons would have looked the other way.

I watched with wonder when she started a new business called LifeDesign Studio.  She became a life coach to help persons design their lives to find meaning and purpose in their lives.  I heard her say one day, “What many of my clients need is a spiritual center.”  Looking back now, this was like a slight turning of the head that gave her a new point of view, a new vision and yearning.

I encouraged her sabbatical time when she and Brendan and Kiki moved to Alabama after we married.  She used this time to catch her breath and to write her first book, Dancing Naked Under the Moon Uncovering the Wisdom Within, which helped her to frame where her spiritual journey was taking her.

She soon changed her business name from LifeDesign Studio to Mary Bea Sullivan, LLC, to become a spiritual companion who has walked alongside persons in their spiritual journeys.  She began to lead spiritual retreats, workshops, and to offer individual sessions throughout the southeast and wrote her second book, Living Awake–Forty Days Toward Renewal.  There were several invitations to preach in churches along the way and more affirmation of her gifts followed.  Many persons encouraged her towards a more formal, professional role in ministry.  Many of us could see it before she could.

In my view, there is been one constant through all of these steps.

Mary has been faithful in her own personal, daily spiritual practice.  She has made time for Centering Prayer, journaling, reading the Bible, intercessory prayer, and putting her faith into action in the world.   This daily practice, in my opinion, has been been the compass in her journey that has kept her connected to the Spirit and to the path ahead.

And now in just a few weeks, she will begin a new three-year journey at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria on the path to the priesthood.

This path is so much clearer when we look backwards, isn’t it?  Believe me, it was not always so clear when she was going through it.  But reflecting on the past can help us have the confidence to move forward.  And based on what I’ve seen in the past, Virginia Theological Seminary is the perfect place for Mary Bea.

Pretty cool indeed.

As you look back on your life experiences, can you see more clearly now how the Spirit has guided you?  What has been helpful?  What has gotten in the way?  I’d love to read your reflections in the Comments section below.

Peace be with you on the journey.


  1. Charles Kinnaird

    Malcolm and Mary,

    Last March I was getting back in touch with one of my high school friends. We were both talking about how different our life paths have been from what we imagined back in our school days. I told him about a presentation I had heard by Fr. Richard Rohr where he was using Homer’s story of The Odyssey as a kind of myth describing our life’s journey. He mentions that, like Odysseus, we get to the second half of our lives thinking that we have been making the decisions and plotting our course but we suddenly realize that Someone greater has been guiding, otherwise, how would we have gotten to this point in our lives? It is amazing when we look back and see the events and turns that have brought us this stage, preparing us for that next phase of life that we could not even envision before!

  2. Malcolm

    Charlie, you said it so well, thank you!

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