malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: November 2009

All That Matters

heartmonitorThe call came into our Pastoral Care office and a young nurse was on the phone.

“Hi, my name is “Jill,” she said, “we have a critically-ill patient on our floor and the family has decided to withdraw life support at this time. Could you send a Chaplain to be with them, to maybe say a prayer with them?”  I assured her “someone” would be up soon.

Our on-call chaplain was detained, and so I decided to go directly to the room.  I walked in to find the adult daughter and her husband by her father’s side.  I introduced myself and told her I was very sorry to hear about her father.   “Tell me about your Dad?” I asked.  And she did.

The warmth of their relationship was evident in her story as she stroked his hand and spoke softly and lovingly about him. I asked her if she would like for me to have a brief prayer with her and her husband.  They nodded yes.  We prayed.  We thanked God for who he was and what he had meant to so many.  And just a few words more.

I have probably visited over a thousand people in the hospital over the last 30 years of my career.  I haven’t counted.  But until this particular day, the only person I had actually been in the room with when the patient took his last breath was my own father, and that was over a decade ago at home.

But this day was to be different. To be with a person in the moment that he or she breathes the last breath, when the heart beats its last, is a gift. A holy gift.

I decided to stay after my prayer and just be quiet.  We could tell by the changing numbers on the monitors that it would not be long.  Jill stood by in the doorway, one foot in the room and one foot out.  She answered the family’s questions while reassuring them that he was receiving the comfort medication he needed to make sure he was not in pain.  She gave them privacy and presence whenever needed.

And so today, I was there again when one took his last breath and his heart beat for the last time.

Experiences like this are a reminder to me.

There will come a day when I will die  too. There will come a day when I will take my last breath, and my heart will not beat again.  Some people call it passing, or passing away, gone, and others call it dying.

Whatever name we call it, it is a humbling experience to say the least to consider our own death even for a few moments.

So much worry over things that did not matter.  So much inattention to the things that did.

Life is short.  Each breath and each heartbeat is a gift.

Love God with each breath.  Love your neighbor with each beat of your heart.

This is all that matters.

Five Dollars and a Prayer

Holding handsThis past Sunday our pastor did something you rarely see in church just before the offering plate was passed.

Bob said, “I want a representative from each family to take $5 OUT of the offering plate and be open to giving it away this week to someone who needs it. No strings attached.  Just see what happens in your life.  You’ll know the right time to give it away.  Become a hilarious giver.  See what that feels like.”

When the offering plate came by, I took the $5 out of the offering plate and put it in my wallet.  I was tempted to buy lunch with it one day but thankfully I resisted!

And so I was in my office recently in the Pastoral Care department when Cynthia said two persons had just come in and they wanted to talk with a Chaplain.

I came out of my office to find a young man, not yet 21, with his mother.  They told me their story about having a family member in the hospital and that it didn’t look like the patient would live.  They had been here for a few weeks and were from out of town.

We would like someone to pray with us and for our family member,” they said.  “We also want to know when your worship service is in your chapel so we can come.”  The young man added, “I want to give my life over to God.  I haven’t really lived the way I should, I’ve done some stupid things in my life.  I have taken a lot of things for granted.  I know this isn’t the way to get God to do what I want, but I just need to do this for my own sake, no matter what.”

We talked for awhile longer and I had held both of their hands and prayed with them. I asked God to help “Mark” know there was nothing he had ever done, nor anything he would ever do, that would keep God from loving him.  I thanked God for Mark’s openness to welcoming God into his life.  I prayed for strength and peace and healing in their lives and for their loved one.

Before they left, I remembered and pulled the $5 bill out of my wallet.

I said, “This isn’t much but one of you can get a Subway sandwich with it.”  They said together, “No, no, no, we didn’t come in here looking for a handout!  In fact, we wanted to give you a tithe of our money.  Can we give you this $20?”

“Thank you, but I can’t,” I added.  “But let me tell you the story of this $5 bill.”

I told them what my pastor said on Sunday and added, “I’ve been waiting all week to know who I was supposed to give this to, and now I know you are the ones. This is a small gift that has been waiting for you.”  With tears in all of our eyes, and a lump in my throat, I got tight hugs from both while they thanked me as if I had given them $100 bills.  I wondered if it was for the money, or the prayer, or both?  It doesn’t matter.

I want to be a hilarious giver in my life. But sometimes, I hold on to money too tight.  I dole out my time in small increments.  Too often I worry too much about running out.  Do you do that too?  Or am I the only one?

Next week, I want to use my own money, and my time, and I will give it away when it is needed.  No strings attached.  I don’t want to hold back.  It’s so crazy, it’s hilarious.

Will you join me?

It’s All About Grace

Ladarrious ThompsonI decided to take a different path into the hospital where I work in Birmingham, AL recently.  I walked through one of the newest sections of the hospital and was still amazed at the gorgeous architecture.

On this day, I prayed silently with each step I took, “God, help the patients in the hospital today to find a healing and caring place.  Thank you. Amen.”

As I walked down the wide corridor where our “Sanctuary” room is located, a quiet room where staff and families can prayer and reflect, I decided to stop in to say a few more prayers of my own.

As I walked up to the door, I could hear someone preaching with great energy and enthusiasm.   “I didn’t know we had a worship service in here,” I thought to myself, so I decided to go in and listen.

The preaching stopped when I opened the door and a bright, articulate, young man named LaDarrius said, “Come on in, I’m just practicing my sermon.”  I looked around and noticed we were the only two people in the room.  “What are you preaching about?” I asked and encouraged him to keep going.

“I’m preaching about grace.  It’s all about grace.  I want people to know that we don’t live by the law anymore and that we are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.”  I asked him to tell me more, and we sat down together and began a 15 minute conversation on grace and what we both believed it meant in our lives.

I learned that LaDarrius was preparing for his first sermon that he will preach in his church in a couple of months.  His pastor has been shepherding and guiding him.  I was impressed with his preparation for his sermon so far in advance.

I encouraged him and told him that many preachers preach all of their lives and miss this important truth that he is preaching.  I asked him if I could pray for him and I said a short prayer as we grasped hands sitting next to one another.

“God give LaDarrius the confidence and boldness to keep on preaching about grace all the days of his life.  Help him to remember that without grace (undeserved love and forgiveness) every single one of us would be in trouble.  Amen.”

As we left LaDarrius told me he is a Patient Care Tech at the hospital and that he transports patients to and from surgery in order to get them where they need to be.

As I walked away, I thanked God for LaDarrius and many other staff at the hospital, who by their presence, will make this a healing and caring place.

LaDarrius, you are right, it’s all about grace.   Preach on, my brother, preach on.


Minnie — A Human GPS with a Heart

MinnieOne of the persons who has made each day enjoyable for me in my new job in the hospital has been Minnie.

Minnie is a loving, outgoing soul who stands in one of the busiest intersections of our hospital corridors where hundreds of people walk daily. I met her on the first day of my job because her purpose is to “read people’s faces and look for that lost expression” as she describes it, and then ask the question, “May I help you?”

I obviously had question marks on my face that day.

In her gentle, loving style, she smiled and said, “Oh, I can help you find that!” with great enthusiasm and wamth. Not only did she give directions, but she looked at my nametag and exclaimed, “Oh my, you must be our new Director of Pastoral Care!  We are so glad you are here!” I could feel any anxiety slowly drain away. Before long she was encouraging me and said that I would find my way around in no time. And I believed her.

Since that first day I have stood and talked with Minnie and discovered she has worked for the hospital for several decades, and is now with Guest Services. She has the ideal experience, knowledge, and personality for her job. She has the gift of hospitality. I have watched her give directions to families who are trying to find their loved ones in the hospital, and ask others how their family member is doing when she sees them later in the day.  And they stop and tell her.

Minnie is a human GPS with a heart.

On this All Saints Day in the Christian church, I am reminded of persons who have shown me the way when I needed someone to give me guidance or directions at critical times in my life.

School teachers like Mrs. Rushton in the fifth grade who gave me special attention the month after my mother died suddenly and encouraged me daily. Or Tom Jennings, my math teacher, who took the time to design a workout and rehabilitation program for me in the 11th grade following my shoulder surgery during football season, and met me after school for months to make sure I got back into shape. Tom is one of the reasons I got a football scholarship to college.  He showed me the way.

I could name dozens of others like my Dad who listened carefully to me on the phone during my junior year of college when I asked him, “Dad, how do I know if God is calling me into ministry?” And his answer was reassuring when he said, “you’ll just know, Malcolm, you’ll just know. Trust.  I will pray for you to know what God wants you to do.”

And so as I begin a new chapter in my life, I want to be like Minnie, Mrs. Rushton, Tom Jennings, and my Dad for others who have questions on their faces. I want to give them encouragement during difficult times and be willing to walk beside them on their journey.

And what about for you? Who has shown you the way during difficult times? Who has given you directions when you needed it most? Who has welcomed you when you were a stranger and given you the gift of hospitality?

I want to be that person for others.  I invite you to do the same.  Will you join me in looking for question marks on people’s faces?  They are in front of us every single day.

As for me, I make sure I go by Minnie’s post to get a hug, to share a smile, and just to learn from her as she helps others on their way.  Sometimes I just playfully bow towards her as I walk by to honor her gift.

Thank God for the Minnie’s in this world, and for all the saints who show us the way.

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