malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: July 2009

Butterflies before kickoff

Clemson's Death ValleyToday, I am remembering what it felt like just before kickoff when I played football many years ago for Clemson University.  This metaphor describes what I feel like today on July 24, 2009.

This post is not ultimately about football, it is about my life right now at 54 years old and how I physically feel today.  Let me describe the feeling first.

Just before kickoff, there were butterflies in my stomach. Do you know what I mean?  Not a feeling of fear, but a fluttering of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement all at the same time.   My heart would beat about 90 seconds per minute compared to my normal 60.  It was anticipation of a game that I loved to play.  I had dreamed of, and longed for, and prepared for this moment.  I knew who I was and what my mission was.  The time for thinking had past.  It was time to trust all of the practice, all of the coaching, all of my teammates, and all of my deepest instincts.  It was time to let go and react and respond to each and every moment.

I loved being on the defensive kick-off team.  Because when the whistle blew for the game to begin, and the ball was kicked,  I could run like the wind, find the ball carrier, and do my job.

Monarch Butterfly

And today, thankfully I have butterflies again in my stomach.  I had almost forgotten what it felt like.  Today I am feeling the anticipation of the last third of my career.  The ball is set on the tee, I am lined up with my teammates, waiting for the whistle to blow.

I have trained all my life for this moment.  No more waiting.  It is time to trust all of the practice, all of the coaching, and all of my teammates once again.  I know who I am and I know my purpose for being on this earth.  What a gift that is!

My life purpose is to create community and connection for the human family when we are going through difficult times.

When people feel like their whole world has fallen apart, that’s where I want to be.  When grief rips a person’s heart wide open, that’s where I want to be.  When someone feels like God or another doesn’t love them or even hates them, that’s where I want to be.  I don’t want to be there so that I can fix it for them.  My playing experience has taught me that I cannot.

Thankfully, I have had other people walk alongside me in my life when I have felt like that.  And my purpose is to keep the momentum going as best I can.

I have known this purpose deep within my soul since I was called into ministry over thirty years ago.  I have tried my best to do it and sometimes I have not done it so well.  I have lived out this purpose when I was working within the church, and in an AIDS clinic.  There is no difference between the two.  None.  We are all the same.

And so where will I play the last 1/3 of my vocation? What role will I play?  What team will I be on?

The honest answer is I don’t know.   I do not know if it will be where I am now, or where I will be going, in my life.

What I do know is I am ready to play.  Each and every down.  I cannot do it alone.  Thankfully, I don’t have to.

And thankfully, this is not about winning and losing.  It is about fully living.

So, I take that same deep breath I used to take, and with a wide-open heart I say thank you God for the opportunity to play, and thank you to those of you who have been, and will be my teammates.

This is a faith adventure that flutters like butterflies in my stomach.  Something new and exciting is about to happen.  I can feel it.

The butterflies have told me so.

Living with the Questions

questionsAs I turn 54 on July 9, 2009, I am aware I have more questions than I have answers.

When I was younger, I had more answers.

However, now that I’m older I can remember other times of questions and transitions in my life and how God has helped me to survive and thrive through them all.

I remember when I was 10 when I sat in our den as my Dad told my sister and me that my mother had died suddenly during the night.

Thankfully, a dozen “mothers” promptly stepped forward from our church over the next few weeks, months, and years for me.  And then I was blessed to have Jimmie Ruth Hudson to become my stepmother three years later and she is still in my life 41 years later.

I remember when I was 15 sitting in an empty high school football stadium with my Dad as he contemplated whether to accept becoming the pastor of a church moving us from the only home I had known to an unfamiliar one for my high school years.  I only knew that I wanted to play football at the local high school I knew because they had been the state champion for recently.   My Dad eventually accepted the position in the new town, and I ended up having a wonderful high school experience there.

I remember when Alabama and Coach Bear Bryant didn’t call and offer me a football scholarship my senior year (hint — I was 5′ 8″, 160 lbs), and I thought it was the end of the world.  But then my former childhood buddy in Montgomery, Billy Eley, mentioned to his neighbor’s brother (who happened to be the head recruiter at Clemson and a former All-American) that they should look at me; and a few weeks later I was offered a full, four-year scholarship to attend Clemson.   I was starting at defensive back at Clemson during my Freshman year living the dream to play college football at a major university.

I remember trying to figure out if I was going to live in Connecticut for the rest of my life in 1994.  I loved the church I was serving and my friends in New England as well.  I weighed if I would try to save my wounded marriage and follow my former wife back to Alabama.   My father was also ill and I moved back home and tried to repair my marriage.  My Dad died a few years later and I eventually divorced.  But I am so thankful I made the move that allowed me to be a chaplain at The 1917 Clinic (HIV/AIDS Clinic) for the past 15 years.  It has been an amazing experience.

I remember when I gave up on the idea that I would ever find a life partner after looking for 8 years after my divorce.  So I let go and decided to build a house on the lake to live the rest of my life alone.  And then what a surprise it was when I fell in love with Mary Sullivan six months later.  I was even more shocked when my new family wanted to come to live with me on the lake in the middle of nowhere.  It has turned out better than I could have imagined.

Life goes by quickly doesn’t it?  And now I am at another crossroads with plenty of questions.

What do I want to do for my vocation during my last 10-15 years of full-time work?  Where do we want to live?  The questions grow.

Do I want to continue as the chaplain at The 1917 Clinic as I have for the past 15 years?

Do I want to return to work in the church as a priest in my new faith home in the Episcopal Church?  Could both Mary and I both serve as Episcopal priests together someday?

Or do I want to do something entirely different? And what would that look like?  Maybe direct a Pastoral Care Program in a hospital, return to pastoral counseling, or go on the road to train congregations and other organizations how to care for persons?

Do Mary and I want to sell our home on Smith Lake and live more simply as we experience an empty nest in August?

Or will Mary and I move to a foreign country for a year and see what we can learn from our human family there?

I have so many more questions than I do answers as I turn fifty-four.  I am thankful to have a life partner whom I love with my whole heart.

But most of all, I am thankful I can remember that I have faith in God who has met my needs in my life through all of my previous questions and transitions.  God has not only met my needs, but has woven all of the threads of my life into a new quilt that is more diverse and colorful than I could have imagined.  Nothing has been wasted.

So, today, I think I’ll just make friends with the questions for awhile, and trust.  The answers can wait.

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