malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: April 2010 (page 1 of 2)

The Value of Teamwork

This post is the fifteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

As I have written before, my father and I shared the love of sports.  While he was a basketball and football star in college at Samford University, I attended Clemson University in South Carolina on a scholarship as a defensive back and started most of my time there.

Throughout my life, my dad and I talked about the value of teamwork.  When I would have a good game at Clemson, he would also point out how our defensive line played particularly well that day, or how one of our linebackers had a great game too.

In other words, while he affirmed my play and was a great encourager to me, he also made it clear that I, nor any of my teammates, were individually responsible for how well, or how bad, we played as a team.  It was a team effort.  Win or lose, we all contributed to wins and losses.

You can’t take the total blame for the games you lose,” he would say.  “And no one person wins the game for the team either, regardless what the fans think.”  He was right.

And the lesson of teamwork spilled over into my vocation as well.  He would remind me years later when a church I was working in was growing and people were excited about things happening, to be thankful for it and to recognize the efforts of all of the persons involved.

A few years later, I went through a particularly hard time in one church where I was an associate pastor.  There was a small, vocal group of people in the church who were very critical of the senior pastor.  They blamed him for everything.

Dad and I talked about it on several occasions and I remember him saying, “Malcolm, the senior pastor is like the quarterback, everybody wants to give him all the credit and all the blame, but that’s just what the ‘fans” think,” referring to the church members.

“Never criticize a teammate to others.  Be careful about listening to people who criticize your teammate to you.  Just by listening, they may assume you agree with them and tell others the same,” he added.  The latter part of that advice was wise counsel.

Now I know many years later, that “team” refers to many contexts.  My work, my family, and many other areas of my life are about teamwork.

In fact, broadly speaking, the whole human family is a team.

It’s just that we have a lot of fans who are sitting on the sidelines blaming the quarterback and the teammates.  Don’t listen to their criticism of the human family team.  We are all responsible for the wins and losses.  If you win, I win.  If you lose, I lose.  We’re all in this together.

My father taught me so.

***

Where have you discovered teamwork in your life?  What lessons have you learned?

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The Gift of Stepfamily

This post is the fourteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

A long-time friend of my father was Hudson Baggett.  They went to seminary together and remained in touch with one another over the years.  They regularly teased one another, laughed together, and had a sense of humor about the Baptist denomination they served, which I saw as a healthy thing.

Hudson eventually became the editor of the Alabama Baptist newspaper, but I knew him more like an uncle growing up.

A couple of years after my mother died, my father got a phone call from Hudson. “Lewis, I know a very pretty lady in Jasper, AL who I want to introduce you to.  She’s beautiful, smart, and is a school teacher.  Her husband died around the same time Martha Lou did and she doesn’t have any children.  Yep, I should introduce the two of you, her name is Jimmie Ruth.”

All pretty women in the South have double names.

“That sounds good to me,” my dad responded.  “Let me know when I can meet her.”  After all, it was hard to find a woman to date when you ruled out women in your own congregation like my father did, plus had two kids at home.

A few weeks went by.  My dad called Hudson.  “I thought you were going to introduce me to Jimmie Ruth?” he asked.  “Oh yeah, that’s right, I need to do that.  I will soon, I will write her and let you know,” as he hung up with good intentions.

At that point, my dad knew that if he waited until Hudson introduced them, he would be an old man.

So my father sat down and wrote a letter of personal introduction to Jimmie Ruth Mays in Jasper, AL.

Jimmie tells the story at this point, “I knew I was going to marry Lewis Marler when I reached into the mailbox and saw his handwriting on the envelope the very first time,” she still says like a teenager.

Now I’ve heard of love at first sight, but never love at first letter. But it is true.

She said, “When I opened the letter, I read about a Southern gentleman who was introducing himself in a kind, respectful manner.  He told me his wife died about the same time my husband did, and he was wondering if I would like to go to dinner the next time he was up in the Jasper area.  He added he had two children, Marcy (14) and Malcolm (12).  I wrote him back and said I’d love to go to dinner with him and gave him my phone number.  He called me the day he got my letter, and I think it was the next Friday he happened to be coming to Jasper,” she says with a smile.

“I bought a new white dress for that date,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye.  “And I peeked out the window when he drove up to see what he looked like.  I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, he looks pretty good!'”

They fell in love quickly. I noticed my father smiling more, having more energy, and a spring in his step.  He talked about Jimmie and brought her to meet us.

I noticed her beautiful smile, her kindness, and the way she looked at and treated my dad.  It didn’t hurt that she was an amazing cook and I had grown tired of eating at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and other fast food places the last couple of years.  She was seven years younger than he.

On August 2nd, 1968, I was the Best Man and my sister was the Maid of Honor at a small wedding among friends.  Hudson Baggett of course, officiated at the ceremony.  My Dad and Jimmie were married for almost 30 years until my Dad’s death, and Jimmie is still my stepmom forty-one years later.

I learned from my father that one could love again, even after a terrible grief.  Both he and Jimmie took a risk in life to give love a second chance.  Jimmie was and is a gift to me as my stepmom.  She gave me the time and space to call her whatever I wanted, and so I chose to call her by her first name for a long time in those early years.  She told me, “I’m not trying to replace your mother, no one can do that.  I’m just trying to be a loving adult in your life.”

It is ironic that many years later my graduate work for the doctor of ministry degree in seminary was focused on understanding the dynamics of a stepfamily and developing a ministry to couples who had children from previous marriages.

And my dad and Jimmie’s relationship also gave me the courage after my divorce in 1996 to eventually marry a beautiful woman with a double first name, Mary Bea, who also happened to have two children, Brendan (12) and Kiki (11) in 2004.  She, too, is seven years young than I.

And now I have the opportunity to be a stepdad and finally have the children I always wanted since I didn’t have children from my first marriage.

Thank you Dad and Mom for showing me how a stepfamily can work, and for teaching me that love deserves a second chance.

My father (and Mom) taught me so.

***

What relationships in your life have given you new hope again?  Will you share with me and my readers in the Comments section below?

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An Unfortunate Dream That Came True

This post is the thirteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

On August 4th, 1965, my father, sister, and I went to peek in my parent’s bedroom where my mother was asleep.  She was resting comfortably and we decided not to wake her to kiss her good night as we had done previous nights.  She had come home from the hospital a few days before following a hysterectomy.

During that night I had a dream. I dreamed that someone close to me was slowly, gently moving away from me.  I remember reaching out to them and felt frightened at first, but I heard a voice in the background that was calm and reassuring that said, “Malcolm, you are going to be alright.  Don’t be afraid.  It’s going to be ok.  I will take care of you.”  And I can remember being at peace and relaxing in the dream.

The next morning, August 5th, I was sleeping like any ten year old kid would be at 8 or 9 o’clock on a humid, August summer morning.  I got up, walked down the hall to our den and opened the door.  I looked up and saw a woman from our church on the phone.  She saw me and had a worried, startled look on her face.  I quickly returned to my room trying to figure out why she was there. I learned later she was making phone calls to other church members and friends.

It wasn’t but a few minutes later that my father came to my room and picked me up out of bed and said, “Malcolm, let’s go into the den.”  We stopped and got my twelve year old sister, Marcy, up from the bed in her room and the three of us went into the den and sat down by ourselves.

My father sat very close to us, took a deep breath, looked us in the eyes and said, “Malcolm and Marcy, I have some very bad news to share with you.  Something happened to Mama this morning and she died.  We don’t know if she had a heart attack or what, but it was very sudden.  I am so sorry.”

Marcy began to sob understandably, and my father held her close to his chest and cried with her.  I sat there stunned, in shock, and confused.  My dad reached out to me with one arm and told me it was ok for me to cry, but at that moment I couldn’t. I wanted to but I couldn’t.  I would eventually cry myself to sleep for months later.

All I knew was that the person my daily life revolved around, my “Mama” as we called her, was dead.  She was my life anchor, the one who always made it ok when something bad happened to me.  But she could not this time.

For my sister, Marcy, who was adopted into our family before I was born, had been through a traumatic experience of being in several foster homes before my parents brought her home, had now lost her second mother.  Her biological mother had given her up for adoption, and now the only mother she knew was no more.

For my father, Lewis, he had lost the love of his life.  His forty-one year old beloved was gone.  She was the one who could light up a room and relate to any person young or old.  She was the one in their relationship who was the extrovert while he was a bit shy and reserved.  And for him, he was thrust into the role of a single parent in the blink of an eye with a large church to pastor while he grieved himself.

What did my father teach me through this crisis?  What was the lesson or lessons I learned?

He starting showing up for Marcy and me.  He showed me that a father could be present.  I don’t know how he did it, but he rearranged his work so that he could be there for us when we needed him.  He asked lots of mothers in our church to help us, and they stepped forward too.  That is another story in and of itself how I was mothered through my grief.  But I was also “fathered through my grief.”  And when he made mistakes in parenting, he would sit us down and apologize, and ask for forgiveness.

His deep, abiding faith was authentic, soothing, and encouraging.  And he held me close to him, a lot, at night.  That one act by itself, the holding me close, as well as the open affection and kisses he gave me, is what helped me to survive.  More than words.  It was a tenderness that is often reserved for mothers and their children.  If he had withdrawn and not been there physically for me, I don’t think I would have made it.

It was not until fifteen years later in Nashville, TN when I finally told my father about the dream I had the night before my Mama died.  He listened, he nodded his head as tears rolled down his cheeks, and he asked me what I thought it meant.  I told him I didn’t know for sure, that it was a mystery to me, and that it wasn’t as important for me to know who the voice was or the exact meaning of it anymore.

What was important about the dream was that the message had become true for me.  The voice was right.  I really was going to be ok, I really was going to be alright.  I really did not have to be afraid.

Thank you Lewis Marler, for being there in my grief, even when you were grieving yourself.

My father taught me so.

***

  • What did this story remind you of in your life?
  • Has someone been there for you during a time of grief?
  • What dreams have you had that have come true in your life, whether they were night or day dreams?
  • Will you share with my readers in the Comments section below?

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When Tragedies Happen

This post is the twelfth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

I never knew my oldest sister. But my father told me about her.

She was born approximately three and a half years before I was born.  My mother had a couple of miscarriages in her first two pregnancies, but finally was able to deliver their first daughter in Selma on January 2, 1952.  My father told me what an amazing experience it was when I was an adult.

Those were the days when fathers paced outside the delivery room waiting for the news.

He heard her cry when she was born and the nurse came out to tell him they had a beautiful healthy baby girl.  He got to see her and hold her for a few minutes.

He drove the few miles home from the hospital and began making phone calls to his parents, brothers and sisters, my mother’s parents, and church members.  The celebration began.  After praying for the possibility of having a child, their prayers had been answered, or so they thought.

And then the phone call came. It was the doctor and he said to my Dad that he needed to come back to the hospital as fast as he could.  “Something has gone wrong and we don’t know what it is,” said the physician who was a friend of my parents.

When my dad arrived he got the terrible news. Their only child, their little girl had died.  Both of my parents were in shock and were grieving as you can imagine.  What was a celebration one moment changed quickly into mourning.

She never had a name. But she has affected my life because she had an impact on my parents.  My father described it as one of the darkest moments of his and my mother’s life.  He said the grief was overwhelming.

Back in those days, couples were not encouraged to name the child if they died so quickly.  We know better now.

So today, April 17, 2010, I am going to name my sister for my own sake, and call her Maria Marler.

Somehow my parents got through the experience as they were told they could not have any more children.  It would be “too dangerous for my mother,” was the counsel from her doctor.

And so they eventually adopted my sister Marcy, who was born on October 25, 1952, but wasn’t brought home until some nine months later in the spring of 1953.  Much to their surprise two years later I was born without medical problems.

One of the things my father taught me was that tragedies happen in everyone’s life.  God can help us through anything we face, even losing a child.  My dad and mom took that life experience and had a special ministry to reach out to friends, and friends of friends, over the years who had similar grief over the death of their child.

“God gave us a lot of opportunities to care for other people who felt like they couldn’t go on.  We understood what they were going through and it also helped us to help them,” he told me after I was grown.

He told me one day, “I don’t believe God caused our little girl to die. God is a God of love.  It just happened because of what we learned later was a RH-Negative factor in her blood.  But I do believe that no matter what happens to us, God never leaves us, and he grieves with us.  And if we are open to it, he can use even our tragedies for good in our lives.”

My father did not believe in a God of punishment who says one day, “Hmm, what tragedy can I give this person so s/he will learn a lesson?”  Instead, he believed in a God who says, “I’m so sorry this has happened.  I will give you strength to get through this, and then we can see how we can use this in your life to help others.”

I have held on to that lesson.

And now my parents are buried next to their daughter.  And I try to remember, that God can take anything that happens in my life, and can cause good to come from it, if I am open to it.

My father taught me so.

***

What does this story remind you of?  How has God taken something that was difficult for you and some good has come from it?  Will you share in the comments below?

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Color Blindness

This post is the eleventh in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

I grew up in the heart of Dixie during the most tumultuous times of the Civil Rights Movement.  I was born in Selma, grew up in Montgomery, and went to high school in a Birmingham suburb called Gardendale, AL from 1955-1973.

My father became the pastor of a church in Montgomery, AL when I was five years old in 1960 and we were there until 1970.  It was a racially tense time to say the least.  Blatant discrimination was part of the culture and fabric of society and rarely questioned.  I can remember separate public water fountains for the “white” and “colored.”  School integration was supposed to start in 1963, but I never saw a classmate with a different skin color until 1967.

My father and mother were different than the society in which we lived.  As were a few others.

In our home, my sister and I were taught that all persons, regardless of skin color, were children of God. They were constantly teaching us different ways of thinking and acting than everything we heard outside the home.  When other people in our neighborhood and church used the “N” word to talk about persons who were black, my father always referred to African Americans as “colored.”  This was progressive for a white man to do so in the 60’s in Alabama.

One particular story I remember was when integration in the high schools was finally becoming a reality in 1967-68.  The church where my father was pastor happened to be on the street that was on the geographical dividing line that determined where students would go to high school.  If your house was on the same side of the street as the church, your children went to the traditional white Sidney Lanier High School.  If your house was across the street, your children were zoned to attend the traditional black Carver High School.

I remember seeing almost every house on the opposite of the street go up for sale in the same week when the zoning districts were publicized.  Hundreds of houses had for sale signs in their front yards, as white families protested by selling their homes and moving to the white side of town.

And the church was not exempt from this discrimination. One Sunday I overheard some of the deacons talking to one another as they smoked under the big oak tree, “What are we going to do about that trouble-maker King?”  They said a lot more than that.

Later in the week, during an open church business meeting one of them stood up and said, “Pastor, what we are going to do if some of those Negroes try to come to our church?”

Now first of all, the likelihood of anyone who was black wanting to come into our lily white church was almost zero.  Our worship services were downright boring compared to their own.  But fear ruled the day.  The deacon persisted to put my father on the spot.  “Brother Marler,” he said, “What do you want us to do?”

My father walked up to the podium and leaned into the microphone and called the deacon by his first name and said, “Well, I hope you will help them find a seat,” and he sat back down.  End of discussion.  Silence.  Someone made a motion for the business meeting to end.

I remember to this day how proud I was of my father at that very moment.

And years later when I became the Chaplain in a HIV/AIDS clinic I asked him what he thought about me caring for persons who at that time were primarily gay white men.  He said, “Malcolm, its not any different than those days in the 60’s.  Everybody needs someone to love them and care for them.”

And he was right. Black or white, gay or straight, we all need someone to love us.  Whatever the cultural issue of the day is, anytime we exclude rather than include members of the human family, we are missing the mark.

How do you draw your circle in the human family?  Who is in?  Who is out?

Lewis Marler taught me to always love people first.

My father taught me so.

***

Are there people in your life who have taught you important lessons that were different than the way other people believed?  How did they do so?  How have you applied that to your life now?  Would you share in the comments below?

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Aunt Malissa’s Grace

This post is the tenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

My father was one of the most honest persons I have known. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but there was a part of him that wanted to make sure that what he said and what he did were consistent with one another.  He had integrity and taught me about it too with his life.

When I was about six years old, my family was visiting my father’s sister,  Aunt Malissa who lived in Moundville just outside of Tuscaloosa, AL.  Aunt Malissa and her husband, Uncle Rufus, owned a cafe and drug store called “Miss Melissa’s Cafe.” It is still one of the best places to eat near Tuscaloosa fifty years later even though it is obviously under different ownership.

While we were there and no one was looking, I decided I wanted to take a couple of things from the store and I discreetly slipped them into my pocket.  When we got to the car, I pulled the stolen property out as we were about to drive off (not smart).  My father looked back at me in the car and said, “What do you have there?”  I showed him and he asked me if I had paid for it.  I ducked my head and said, “No sir.”

He turned off the car and asked me calmly to get out of the car.  He explained, “Malcolm, we don’t take things without paying for them.  We are going to go back into the store and I will be with you.  I want you to give this to Aunt Malissa and tell her you are sorry that you took this without paying for it.”  It was my first lesson in coming clean.

I was so embarrassed but I knew my father was right.  What I appreciated was that he didn’t shame me, or give me a long lecture.  And the fact that he was willing to go with me helped a lot.

I walked into the store and my Aunt Malissa said, “Hello Malcolm, I thought you had left.”  With a trembling voice and a quivering lip, I pulled the stolen goods out of my pocket and said, “I’m sorry Aunt Malissa, but I didn’t pay for this.  I am sorry.  Will you forgive me?”  Remember I was six.

She looked at my father and back at me and her face softened.  She bent down and said with misty eyes, “Yes Malcolm, I forgive you.  I love you.”  I threw my arms around her neck and hugged her hard.  She added, “Thank you for being honest and apologizing.”  I felt relieved, free, and forgiven.  It was one of my first encounters with grace.

Aunt Malissa was my favorite aunt primarily because she reminded me so much of my dad, calm, kind, and loving.  She was the last of the Marler children in my father’s family to die in 2002.  I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at her funeral.  The picture to the right was taken at her 90th birthday party.  She and I had a very close bond because we shared a love of my father.  And years later we could remember the above story and smile.

I remember my first lesson in honesty and integrity and doing the right thing with my father and Aunt Malissa.

Many times in my life I heard my father apologize to other people whom he had hurt and asked for their forgiveness, including me.  And now when I fall short and do the wrong thing, I know what I need to do.

I have had to ask for forgiveness a lot in my life.

My father taught me so.

***

Can you share an experience when you did the wrong thing and were forgiven?  Do you remember what that felt like?  What did you do?  What effect did it have on your life?  What does this story remind you of in your life?

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Interrupted Games

This post is the ninth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

I grew up on a suburban street in Montgomery, AL that had approximately ten boys on the same block with all us in the same grade except two of us who were one year younger.  We played football, basketball, and baseball together from the first grade through the ninth grade together in organized team sports.  That would be hard to duplicate almost anywhere today.

Not only did we play organized school sports together, we also played “pick up” or impromptu games in the neighborhood many days when it wasn’t raining.  My front yard was shaped best for most of our baseball games.  But we had to stop when we got too big to hit home runs that would go through plate glass window of the Long’s home.

Craig Kenmore lived across the street to the left and he had the best basketball court with a spotlight on it so that we could play after dark.  Billy Eley had a great yard for football, as well as his next door neighbor, the Cone’s.

Inevitably, we would be playing one of our games on a Sunday afternoon and my father (sometimes my mother) would open the front door and call out my name,  “Malcolm, Malcolm, its time to come in!”  My heart would sink. It was a weekly grief experience.

You see, my father was a pastor of a Baptist Church and we went to church every Sunday morning for 2-3 hours, every Sunday night for 2-3 hours, and Wednesday nights for a couple of hours all of my life.  Even as a kid, I knew this was excessive to say the least.  None of the other boys on my block went to church at all, or maybe a couple of them went on Sunday mornings.

It was a grave injustice for a little boy that couldn’t get enough sports outside.

When I eventually came inside, I would “pitch a fit” as we say in the South.  I would scream, cry, slam doors, and do almost anything I could do to protest the fact that everyone else was still playing, and I was the only one who had to come inside to get ready for church.  My tears were ineffective.

My father would say, “I’m sorry you had to come inside, but you know that it’s time to get ready for church.”  Ugh, it was enough to make a little boy sick. I knew our home was different, not better or worse, just different and I couldn’t fully appreciate my life lessons.

Recently, I found a letter I wrote to my father on December 23, 1992 when I was 35 years old.  I was a minister in Glastonbury, CT at the time.  I wrote,

Dear Dad,

I am thankful for the faith you have taught me.  I know, I used to complain and pitch a fit when you or Mama would call me from the front yard from playing football on a Sunday afternoon.  But you were right.  There are some things even more important.

I have listened to (or sat through) over a 1,000 sermons you have preached when I was growing up.  I can still tell some of the illustrations you used.  But, your life and faith in God is what taught me the most about faith.  You have lived and do live your faith.  I know, I know, sometimes you think you don’t do it as well as you ought.

But I remember talking to you in your office as a 7 or 8 year old boy when I was asking what it meant to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I remember Mama laying the foundation in several talks before that.  And I remember the day I walked down that aisle at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Montgomery and took your hand and said I was ready to accept Jesus as my Savior.  I remember my baptism on a Sunday evening in the same sanctuary.

What I am trying to say is that you have taught and given me faith, hope, and love in my life.  And the greatest one of all is love.  Thank you for loving me unconditionally, especially when I did not deserve it.  What greater gift could a father give his son?  What greater gift could a son want from his father?  I know you love me.  And that’s what is most important.

And I love you.
Your Son,
Malcolm Lewis Marler

I guess there were things even more important than sports that my father taught me. And I am thankful.

My father taught me so.

P.S. But it is no coincidence that once I went to college, six of the seven churches I have worked in or have been members of, did not have Sunday night services.  Thanks be to God.

***

And what about you, my readers?  What did your parents or others teach you that you didn’t appreciate at the time, but you do now?  Will you share with me in the Comments section below?

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Grief Unleashed in Nashville

This post is the eighth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

I graduated from seminary in December, 1980, and I was fortunate to get a job at a large church in Louisville, KY as the Minister of Pastoral Care. At the same time, my father was the senior pastor in a similar size church 350 miles south in Alabama.

About a year into my new job, I got a call from my father.  He said, “Why don’t we both drive 175 miles tomorrow and meet halfway in Nashville and have lunch together just for the fun of it.  Can you get off work?”  It was an impromptu opportunity that I didn’t want to miss.  “That sounds great,” I answered, “where can we meet?”  He suggested a restaurant at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel.

We met the next day and sat down in the restaurant and began talking.  The conversation flowed freely.  Before long, I asked him to tell me stories about my mother who had died suddenly when I was ten years old.  As you can imagine it was an incredibly traumatic experience for my family.  She had died at home without warning at 41 years old, a few days after a hysterectomy.  A blood clot broke loose and went to her lung.

“How did the two of you meet?” I wanted to know.  “How did you know she was the one you wanted to marry?  Tell me again about her personality?  Do I remember correctly that she took every course in seminary with you but couldn’t get credit because she was female?  Tell me, tell me.”

He became misty eyed as he talked about my mother and apologized.  I encouraged him to keep talking and reassured him he could cry all he wanted since we didn’t know anyone at the hotel or in Nashville anyway.

The waitress grew tired of our two hour lunch and we finally paid our bill.  I wanted to hear more.  “Let’s sit down in the lobby,” he suggested.  Three hours, four hours went by.  It started to get dark.  “Do you want to check into a room and get some dinner?  I’ll buy.” he offered.

“Yes, I would love that,” I smiled.  We both called our wives and told them we wouldn’t be home that night because we were going to stay with one another at the hotel.

We had all the time in the world to talk without interruptions, and both of us chose to be vulnerable and honest with the other.  I realized we had both kept our grief about my mother bottled up for sixteen years.  Sixteen years.

We talked through dinner.  We went to the room and stretched out on the beds and talked until 3 a.m. He poured out his heart about the grief he had carried.  I was the counselor, he was the client.  And then we intuitively reversed roles.  He asked me to say a prayer for him at one point and we held hands in the hotel room and prayed out loud.

It was the kind of opportunity that parents and adult children rarely have, and even more rarely take advantage of.  We were real with one another and held nothing back about the most painful time of our life.  Adult to adult.

As hard as it is to imagine, we had never talked about my mother in great detail after she died.  It was an unhealthy way to deal with grief.  My dad had tried to be “strong” for his two kids (not cry in front of them), and my sister and I had tried to be “good” so as not to upset him.  We loved and encouraged one another over all those years, but we had never talked in detail like this.

I learned during the weekend he had sought therapy and medication for deep depression over the last 16 years because of the grief.  My father heard for the first time how I had stuffed my grief and withheld a portion of my heart in relationships.  Eventually, I too would need years of counseling to unpack my own grief.

He had lost the love of his life when she was 41 years old.  I had lost my mother who was my whole world as a 10 year old boy. My father and I had both been lost, and that weekend helped us both to find a new way.  Sixteen long years.

The next morning we had breakfast together, walked to our cars, hugged and drove back to our homes.  It was a life changing experience for me.

Ironically, my father had helped hundreds of people through their grief since my mother’s death.  And I had developed a passion in doing the same in my work.  We teach what we need to learn, don’t we?

When it comes to grief, my father and I both had to learn the hard way.  We needed to get help and to find companions in the journey.

My father taught me so.

***

And what about for you?  Have you had grief in your life through a death, a divorce, or other areas?  And what have you done with that grief?  How have others helped you through it?  I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

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Visiting the Sick

This post is the seventh in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

There was something about visiting persons in the hospital that my father loved for as long as I can remember.

Personally, I think he sensed the vulnerability of the patient, the anxiety of the family members, and the importance of being present as a reminder they were not alone.  I’m not sure where he learned this skill.  But I know where I did.

Visiting church members in the hospital was something he enjoyed, which may seem strange to some of my readers.

He could walk into a room, sense the emotional and spiritual temperature of the room, and with a calm Southern drawl start a conversation that put the patient or family member at ease.  He seemed to  know intuitively how to bring peace into chaos and leave the situation better than he found it.

As a senior pastor of mostly large, suburban congregations, he also taught me how he got his exercise for the day by always taking the stairs at the hospital, regardless what floor the patient was on.  Tenth floor?  No problem, I could hardly keep up the few times I went with him as he took two steps at a time.  Getting to a gym was hard for him with night meetings and being on constant call to his parishioners.  So, he just worked it into his daily routine.  He even parked his car in the corner of the parking lot so that he could walk farther.  I thought he was crazy at the time.

Early in my career, I was the Minister of Pastoral Care in a similar size church in Louisville, KY.  We were talking on the phone one day and I asked him why he didn’t ask his associate pastors and other staff members to do all of the hospital visiting so that he could concentrate on other responsibilities.

He said, “Well, Malcolm, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if people know that you genuinely care for them and love them, they will forgive you for other shortcomings in your ministry.  This is one of the ways I can do that.”  He laughed and added, “And believe you me, I have plenty of other shortcomings.”

I am grinning as I write this because I am now the Director of Pastoral Care in one of the hospitals he often visited.  I can sometimes hear his voice in my own phrases or inflections as I visit and pray for a patient in the hospital.

I think of him when I take the stairs instead of the elevator and realize that his shoes walked on these same steps.

And I love to walk into chaos, and see if I can leave a little peace.

My father taught me so.

***

Have you ever been in the hospital, or a family member, and someone made a difference for you?  What did they do?  How did they help?  Would you share how someone has walked into your life when it was in chaos and they somehow gave you peace?

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Caring for the Elderly

This post is the sixth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

During my junior year at Clemson University, I finally made the decision that after I graduated from college I would go to a seminary and become a minister.

I had the unique opportunity to work in my father’s large congregation as the youth director in the summer of 1976, and as an associate pastor in the summer of 1977 in Gardendale, AL.

I experienced my father as a professional mentor for the first time in my life as I served on his large staff.  It was a unique time where I could appreciate his expertise and multiple gifts with new eyes.

One day he asked me if I would like to go visiting with him to see some of our elderly, homebound members.

As we visited several persons in their homes, I watched and listened to the way he related with gentle humor, natural Southern charm, and inquisitive questions about their fears that was sprinkled with encouragement.  He would respectfully ask at the conclusion of each visit if it would be ok to have a brief prayer together before we left.  No one ever turned him down.

One of the many persons we visited was a silver-haired widow who had a quick wit and an angel’s heart.  We had a fun visit with her and lots of laughter.  As we prepared to leave this time, without warning he turned to me and said, “Malcolm, why don’t you lead us in prayer this time?”

I looked at him as she reached out and grabbed my hand and bowed her head, and somehow words flowed out of my mouth naturally, because I had heard him do it.  She thanked me so much for my simple prayer it was embarrassing.

As we drove away, my dad asked, “I hope it was ok that I asked you to pray without asking you ahead of time,” as I noticed a slight smile in the curl of his lips.

“Yep, no problem,” I said.  “I enjoyed it.”

That same widow became my pen pal when I went to seminary.  She wrote beautiful hand-written notes to encourage me and to let me know she was the one praying for me now.

My father taught me to love persons who were older by showing me how to do it, not by telling me.  He always said, “They have a lot to teach us if we will listen.”

Following seminary, I developed a program for the homebound called “Operation HUGG” at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, KY that is still active twenty-seven years later.

Love and respect our elders. It is good for them and for us.

My father taught me so.

***

  1. Who has taught you to appreciate or love senior adults or the elderly?
  2. How did they do so?
  3. How has an elderly person made a difference in your life?

Please tell me about in the comments section below.

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