on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Lessons from the Road

This is the fifteenth 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

Malcolm and Mary at Hanging Lake, CO

We left for vacation on July 9th with a couple of suitcases, sleeping bags, a brand-new tent, and GREAT snacks.  We didn’t have any accommodation reservations, or a firm destination in mind.

Based upon advice from others we agreed upon a few “guidelines” for our road trip:  no eating in chain restaurants, being “hemmed in” by reservations, or technology.  We intended to choose a direction each day and then drive as much or as little as we liked, free from the pressures of schedule and pace.  Mostly, we wanted to savor our time together; create a reserve of connection from which to draw before I leave for seminary.

We had a blast! And we learned a lot, so much that we could write for weeks about the vacation.  But time is short, so I will consolidate the greatest learnings.

  • Spontaneity still requires decision-making.  When we left the driveway I asked Malcolm, “Which direction?”  It was hot, he said, “North.”  As we approached Nashville I queried, “Where do you want to have your birthday dinner?”  He replied, “Louisville.” (Which by the way was what I was hopingfor.)  Sometimes making these choices was fun and exciting, other times, it felt like work.  Whether we plan ahead or chose in the moment, decisions are required.
  • Spur of the moment gatherings are grand.  When we arrived at the restaurant in Louisville, Malcolm called some old friends and before we knew it, they were sitting across from us laughing.  It seems as if we are usually planning months in advance just to get together with friends who live nearby.  Yet, time and again when we rolled into town, we were able to connect with special friends.  One who we would’ve loved to have seen generously offered us her condo instead.
  • People matter more than places.  The first Sunday morning we were trying to decide whether to go to the Episcopal Church, the denomination with which we are currently affiliated, or St. Matthews Baptist Church, where Malcolm served as Associate Pastor for many years.  We went to St. Matthews and it was one of the highlights of our trip.  Malcolm was able to reconnect with many dear friends and I was able to meet folks I have heard about for years.
  • The journey is the destination.  I know I am not the first to say this, but it was probably one of the most significant experiences of our trip.  Because we were not hostage to an agenda, we found ourselves immersed in the sights, sounds, people, feelings of the MOMENT.  If we were enjoying a particular park or museum, we didn’t worry about getting to the next stop–we just stayed with what was in front of us.  Who would’ve thought one of our favorite hotels would be in Dumas, TX?  I believe there is a component of what is meant by “heaven on earth” in operating this way.
  • Listen.  Malcolm is a gifted listener.  At each new town he would ask, “Where do the locals eat?”  Often the person he asked would feel pressure to figure out what Malcolm wanted.  Malcolm would assure them, “I want to know where you like to go.”  And then he would listen.  This strategy took us to people and places far off our radar screen.  In Amarillo, TX we ate some of the best burgers at the Golden Light Cafe on historic Route 66 and met regulars who had been coming there for lunch more than 30 years.  There was even a mural of them sitting at the bar with their buddies–some who had died, others in ill health.  When the young, blonde waitress walked us over to the mural she pointed to each of the men in the mural, saying their names and telling a bit about them.  “This one, he doesn’t come here anymore.” She giggled.  “He got mad that we cut him off so much.”  “Oh this one, he’s my baby.  I visit him in the nursing home twice a week.”
  • Rules were made to be broken.  For honesty’s sake I feel compelled to share we did eat at a Subway and a Waffle House. Hey, before you go judging us, both times we were in desperate need of food and options were limited–and Malcolm gets cranky when he’s hungry!  We used the iPad to scout out deals and happenings and that truly enhanced the trip.
  • Only break the rules for a good reason.  Since our home is on the market, and there was some “action” on it while we were gone, we decided I needed to check email once a day to communicate with our realtor.  I was like a recovering alcoholic with a gin bottle holding my iPhone.  I pushed that little “mail” button multiple times a day.  Every time it took me away from where I was.  I wouldn’t do that again.  Even though we had one amazing experience after another on our spontaneous “plan,” I panicked and made reservations at a B &B in Hot Springs, AR.  You see, we were turning toward home and I began to wonder, “What will we do in Oklahoma and Texas?”  If I had it to do over again, I would have continued trusting that we would know the answer to that question when we got there.  Days later when we pulled up to the B & B I had reserved, our hearts sunk, we could “feel” this was not the right place for us.  Meeting the proprietors confirmed our suspicions.  We apologized and told them we were only going to stay one night. They informed us that was a problem because we had committed to two.  Even though we couldn’t get a refund, we left immediately and drove all the way home-fueled by chocolate and coffee, arriving at 3am.  I made one mistake making the reservation, why compound with staying?
  • Vacation is a state of mind.  At home we stayed in vacation mode and didn’t reconnect with the world for a couple of days.  Divine!

We are grateful for the time together and hope to carry some of the lessons from this trip with us as we move to this next step on our journey.  We also hope you are enjoying some wonderful R & R this summer.

What are some “lessons from the road” that you have learned? 

For those who are interested, here are some of our favorite stops along the way.  We drove over 3800 miles.  In Louisville we ate brunch with one of my college buddies at the Bistro Bar and Grill.  Downtown St. Louis is fabulous.  We loved the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial-great museum under the Arch, Forest Park near Wash U, Ranoush Cafe-amazing Syrian food and charming waitress.  McPherson, KS is home to my dear friend Rhonda’s parents.   A surprising 5-star find in Goodland, KS was On the Bricks Cafe-another great waitress.   Vail, Co favorite hikes–Beavercreek Lake Trail and Hanging LakeZaccaza’s for killer deep pizza and Pepi’s for Austrian fare.  Aspen Chapel for a unique interfaith experience. Oklahoma City Memorial is beautifully done and moving.  Across the street is a statue of Jesus with the inscription, “And Jesus Wept.”


  1. Linda Fryer

    I really enjoyed hearing about your journey.It is something I hope to do one day. We went on a road trip to visit our son and his family last October. I mapped out the trip so that we could see Bardstown, KY, Gettysburg, and used AAA Travel Book for reference to hotels, some of which were not so great. But we ended our trip in Belvidere, New Jersey and stayed at the Belvidere Hotel. We were not disappointed at all. The owner moved to this little town from New York and renovated this old hotel and it is so very nice. We would certainly stay there again. The town is lovely…right on the Delaware River. I urge you to include this area if you ever take a road trip again.

  2. Katharine

    Sounds like a wonderful trip! I wish you had called us from Hot Springs – you were 45 minutes from me and Jada and we’d have been so happy to show you Little Rock. But I also very much value the desire to just get home. 🙂 May your new adventure in seminary bring you much joy, wisdom, and abundant love.

  3. Malcolm

    Katharine, thanks for your offer regarding Little Rock. I wish it would have worked out for us to see you as well. I value my friendship with both of you and look forward to staying in touch.

    Hugs, Malcolm

  4. Malcolm

    Linda, your trip through NJ sounds wonderful. Mary grew up in NJ and I have no doubt you had a great time. Sometimes we are surprised by people and places if we have an open mind to explore and learn.

    Peace be with you,

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