malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: January 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Swept Off My Feet

Six years ago today, January 29, 2003, I was swept off my feet by Mary Beatrice Sullivan in the afternoon just outside the Southwest Airline terminal at the Raleigh-Durham, NC airport.

It happened the moment Mary got out of her car and walked to open the trunk for me to put my luggage in the the back. She gave me a welcome hug and I couldn’t believe how beautiful she looked. “Wow, you look great!” I blurted out.

I had traveled to Chapel Hill, NC to lead a two-day Care Team Leadership Training that I had taught dozens of times in dozens of states.

Our “story” is told well by Mary in her book, “Dancing Naked Under the Moon, Discovering the Wisdom Within” so I won’t go into detail here.

We were married on July 4th, 2004, after we planned a wedding in a couple of days and eloped with Brendan and Kiki. We didn’t know the answers to where we would work, or where we would live, or how everything would work out.

All we did know is that we wanted to be married to one another, and to be a family. We would figure out the rest as we went.

I did not look for this relationship, it was pure grace, an amazing gift.

And now, 6 years later to the day when I fell in love with Mary Bea Sullivan, I cannot imagine a soul partner better fit for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually in this world. As a huge bonus, I have two open-hearted stepchildren who are willing to make room for another adult in their life.

I shake my head, close my eyes, and say, “Thank you God.”

And to Mary Bea I renew my vow,

“I promise to love you with an open heart, to listen deeply to your innermost thoughts, and to be considerate and tender in my care of you. With God’s help, I vow to continue to be your best friend, to encourage your spiritual growth, and to walk with you in times of joy and sorrow as long as we both shall live, AMEN.”

Hard Listening

Usually, I’m a pretty good listener, or at least I think I am. I get lots of opportunities to listen to hard stories at the clinic. Frustration, anger, and fear are just a few of the themes I hear.

Yesterday, one of our new patients called me and said in a self righteous and loud tone, “Things aren’t going so well for me there!” “Oh really?” I asked, “tell me more,” feeling somewhat responsible because I want everyone to love us here.

Wayne Oates, one of my seminary mentors, once told me “the louder someone yells, the harder I listen.”

Sometimes the louder people yell, the more defensive I become.

But what Wayne was saying was that everyone carries emotional baggage with them, and sometimes the person standing in front of you, or the person on the other end of the phone, has decided to unload the whole load on you. And it ain’t about you.

Sometimes I remember Wayne’s counsel, other days I forget.

You’ve heard of Easy Listening music? Well, Hard Listening ain’t easy. Careful listening to what’s going on behind the scene is a challenge.

But if I can remember that everything the person is saying and feeling is not all about me, I have a chance to be helpful.

Of course, sometimes the frustration, anger, or fear is about me. But that’s another story.

The 1917 Clinic Video

This is an inspiring 8 minute documentary on The 1917 Clinic at UAB where I work. It was created by a couple of UAB students for a cinematography class project.

In this video, you will meet some of my extended family and friends at the clinic. It will give you a glimpse of the spirit of The 1917 Clinic at UAB.

I hope you enjoy it!

Click here to view the video.

P.S. Where does the name of the clinic come from? The 1917 Clinic at UAB gets its name from its original address, 1917 5th AVE South in Birmingham. It was originally called “The 1917 Clinic” because confidentiality was critical for a person’s safety in the late 80’s. When we moved to a new location in 1994, we kept the name. Thousands of persons have found it to be a safe and healing place over the years. You can read more on our website, www.1917clinic.org.

Lessons from Robin

Robin taught me some important lessons soon after I came to The 1917 Clinic at UAB, and I still use them on a regular basis.

One day I was asked by one of our nurses if I would talk with a single mom in her 30’s in one of our exam rooms who was recently diagnosed with advanced HIV disease and “was crying a lot.” I seemed to get called for a lot of these situations.

I walked in, introduced myself, and sat down.

She could hardly talk through her tears. After a few minutes she stopped her tears and blurted out, “I just want to know the answer to three questions:

1. Does God still love me?

2. Will anybody ever love me again?

3. Will I ever get another hug?”

I sat quietly for a moment. It felt like a pop test but in real life. I hoped the answers would come.

“Stand up Robin,” I asked her. I walked over and offered a bear hug that soon turned into a hold.

“That’s the answer to your last question,” I said as she leaned into the hug and wept.

After a few more minutes, I said, “I will introduce you to persons who will love you,” as I began to explain the volunteer Support Team approach model that we had developed for our patients who were all alone.

As we talked, I learned the two of us grew up with similar faith backgrounds. Before I left the room I added, “Robin, I believe there is nothing in all of this world that you or I can do to cause God to stop loving us. It’s a gift, some call it grace. Isn’t it amazing? God will always love you no matter what.”

When people are hurting, they need “Yes” more than they need “No.”

Robin taught me about some of the emotional and spiritual needs of a person living with HIV through her three questions that day. And to tell the truth, we all want to know the answer to these questions.

1. Does God still love me?

2. Will anybody ever love me again?

3. Will I ever get another hug?”

Sometimes the best medicine we give out at The 1917 Clinic is a well timed hug, and a response that says, yes, yes, and yes.

Drinking Colored Water

There were two water fountains at the park near where I grew up in Montgomery, AL.

One was cold, clean, and refreshing. The sign above it said “White.”

The other fountain looked as though it had never been cleaned, and it dispersed warm water on sweltering summer days. The sign above it said “Colored.”

One day, when no one was looking, I drank from the Colored Water Fountain to see what it was like. I quickly spat out the water that was almost hot.

And even though I was a little boy, I knew deep within my soul, “Everyone deserves a cold drink of water.”

I was born in Selma, raised in Montgomery, and attended high school in Birmingham, 1955-1973. This was in the heart of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.

During those tumultous years, I learned a song as a child in Sunday School in the South:

“Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Today, unfortunately the signs of color, discrimination, or injustice have been exchanged for new signs that declare that it is ok to act unjustly to persons who are gay, or to women who want to be clergy, or persons living with HIV/AIDS, or to persons living in countries like Sudan.

Giving a cold, refreshing drink of water to a thirsty soul is the right thing to do. There are dry, parched lips all around us.

I still believe everyone deserves a cold drink of water.

An Unheard Prayer, Sort Of

Normally, you will read my words on this blog. Today is an exception. The following opening prayer of the Presidential inauguration for Barack Obama was given but not heard live on TV or radio. I wanted to share it with others.

You can watch and hear it here. Text is below.

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

AMEN.”

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Dreams of my Own

Today is the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and his dreams, and I find myself wanting to have dreams of my own.

Dr. King continues to inspire my life which may seem odd for a white boy to say in the heart of Dixie. But it’s true. As a Baptist preacher’s kid in Alabama, I heard Dr. King speak a familiar language of faith, justice, and hope for all God’s people.

As inspired as I was, I want to confess that I have often wanted to make a difference in the world like Dr. King, but when I compared my efforts to his accomplishments, I became discouraged, disillusioned, and disheartened.  Just the opposite of his intention. But I ask myself, “What could I do in comparison with his life?”

I know there is only one Martin Luther King, Jr. and I am not him.  I am Malcolm Lewis Marler and that is enough.  It is all I am.

When I compare my gifts with anyone (usually to someone who does things better than I), my effectiveness is diminished. Do you know what I mean?

So today, in honor of Dr. King, I will dream my own dream and see what gifts I have to offer my community in my own unique way. 

Today, I am choosing to STOP comparing my gifts or my life to others. I will choose to use the gifts I have been given, and just be Malcolm Lewis Marler.

How about you?

Know this . . . Who you are and what you have to offer is ENOUGH, and is important to your community, state, country, and world.

So… let me start with one dream I have for the next few years.

I dream of a day when the barriers for persons getting medical care for HIV in Alabama will come tumbling down.  

In 2009, we know that if a person can see a HIV specialist 2-4 times a year, and then take the needed medicines correctly, he or she can live a full life. But if the individual cannot get to the doctor, no medicine can be prescribed. So let’s take one step at a time. Get them to the doctor.

Together, we will find ways to break down the barriers that make it difficult for people to come to the doctor for HIV care.  Transportation, depression, stigma, substance abuse, and other mental health issues will be overcome.

This dream is enough for one day.

So today on Dr. King’s 80th birthday, which is 15 years to the day when I accepted my job to be the Chaplain at The 1917 Clinic at UAB, I dream of a new day when barriers will dissolve, and neighbors and family and churches and friends will lead the way for the least of these.

Thank you Dr. King, happy birthday, and thanks for inspiring me to have my own dreams.  It’s time to get to work.

Shaking Hands with Lazarus

He walked towards me in the waiting room at the clinic and stuck out his hand with a big smile and said, “Do you know who I am?”

We have over 1600 active patients at the clinic, and my brain was trying to quickly match this familiar face with a name. No luck. It’s like having a big church and everyone knows your name because you are the pastor, and everyone expects you to know their name.

I smiled and said, “How are you?” hoping he would give me more clues. And then I looked over his shoulder and there sat his mother and father whom I had gotten to know well over the last year.

Before me stood a healthy, 6’0, 215 lb muscular man in his 30’s. He obviously lifts weights as I could feel his powerful arms and shoulders when I hugged him.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, “Is that you “Lazarus?” He said grinning, “Yep. You didn’t recognize me, did you?” I hugged him again, I couldn’t believe it was him.

You see, Lazarus was in the hospital almost exactly one year ago this month. He weighed 95 lbs on a 6 ft. frame. He had many complications related to his HIV. Most of our doctors couldn’t figure out what his new infections were all about.

I could see it in their eyes, they didn’t think he would live long after going home.

Except for one doc. James is relatively young and was finishing up his “Fellowship” in Infectious Disease at UAB. Now, he is an Attending, supervising other younger Fellows.

James spent hours reading journals, cases, and talking about this gentleman’s symptoms, lab results, and tests. He looked up complicated calculations for Lazarus’ medicines to make sure his dosing was accurate. He took time to talk to this man’s mother when she thought her “baby” was gonna die. He and I talked regularly about Lazarus. James believed he would get better.

I have seen Lazarus 2 times since last January, and each time I have marveled at his progress. The new medicines worked, the patient did his part in taking care of himself–physically, emotionally, spiritually. And so we sat down and I asked him to tell me his story.

Lazarus was full of gratitude, love, and said he has so much to live for in his life. He always thanks us, over and over again.

And so I shook hands with Lazarus, thanked James in our clinic who believed Lazarus could live even when he was dying, and I said a thankful prayer to God for reminding me that the hope of Lazarus in us all, lives again.

Too Far To Walk

The soft voice on the other end of the phone belonged to a 40 something year old African American woman who lives in rural north AL approximately 2 and 1/2 hours from our clinic. She had just found out that she was HIV Positive this week. I called at her physician’s request.

“I don’t have a way to get there,” she said early in our conversation.

“Do you have a family member or a friend who has a car who could bring you to see us?” I added, “Our social workers have gas vouchers that can help with the cost of gas.”

“I live with my mother and daughter, and we don’t have a car. I don’t have any friends,” she said matter of factly. We walk to where we need to go in town.”

I encouraged her to think of people she knew, or people that her mother or daughter knew who could possibly bring her. I told her about the realistic hope of new treatments for HIV and how we wanted to take good care of her and that it would be ok.

She reluctantly agreed to ask around and would call me back if she found anyone. I felt myself losing hope.

I told her I would call her in a week or so if I didn’t hear from her. “Thank you” she said a little more softly this time, “I’ll try.”

I hung up the phone and just sat there. Dang it, there ought to be a way when it’s too far to walk.

Two Big Ifs

When I sit down for Orientation with a newly diagnosed patient, at some point, I lean forward and say,

“We’ve come a long way in treating persons with HIV since I started here in 1994. If you can come to the doctor 2-4 times per year, and if you will take your medicine the way you are supposed to, you can live a full life. If you don’t hear anything else I say today, I want you to remember that.”

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Two big “ifs.” If you can come to the doctor, if you can take your medicine . . .

But if you live 1, 2, 3 or more hours from the clinic like 50% of our patients, getting to the doctor can be difficult to say the least. If you don’t have a car you have to depend on a family member or friend to drive you. If you don’t have any money, you can’t afford the gas. You know public transportation is awful.

If you struggle with clinical depression, or some other mental illness, or you don’t have a routine in your daily life, remembering appointments or taking meds can be difficult.

If you use illegal drugs (cocaine, meth), taking your medicine correctly is almost impossible.

If you miss a few doses of HIV meds here and there, the virus becomes resistant to those meds. Keep that up and your options run out.

Friends and family can make a difference. Give a ride to the doctor. Ask your loved one if they have taken their medicine today. Encourage, love, and listen to them. Make sure they know they know they are not alone.

Two big ifs. If you can come to the doctor, and if you can take your medicine correctly, you can live.

And if you want to help a friend or family member, you can.

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