malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: April 2010 (page 2 of 2)

Affirming Children

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

Most people who knew my father would say he had a gentle spirit.  Never was that more evident in the way he loved and related to children, the elderly, and to persons who were sick.  In this post, I’ll focus on children.

One of the routine traditions for a pastor in a Baptist church when I was growing up was to stand at the door after a Sunday morning worship service and greet persons as they left.

I watched my father bend his knees and crouch down hundreds of times to be on a child’s eye level when talking with him or her after church (or at a community event), and regularly be greeted with hugs around his neck or “high fives.”  This simple act seemed to give him a special connection with children.

He also listened to children, and made a special effort to relate to them.  He would find something to affirm in the child and he made sure he pointed it out to them.

One of those children who knew my dad as his pastor the first thirteen years of his life (and is now almost 40), wrote me recently when he saw my blog.  He said,

I’ll never forget sitting in your Dad’s office as a child when I was wrestling with what it meant to follow Jesus.  He was so kind and gentle in the way he listened and offered guidance.

Many of my first impressions of what it meant to be a man after God’s own heart came from your Dad. I treasure his influence in my life and am grateful for the stories and insights you’re sharing with all of us. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to me to hear from and learn more about Lewis Marler. Thanks for this unexpected gift!

As his son, one of my favorite memories was with him after dinner.  I would sit in his lap in the den and he would hold me close to him with his strong arms wrapped around me.  He would whisper in my ear, “Malcolm, you can be anything in this world you want to be.”

He must have said that to me a hundred times, before I actually heard it.  I still remember thinking to myself, really?  I can do anything?  I got it, and I believed it, and it opened a world of possibilities for me.  He planted a seed of self-confidence that I will be forever grateful.

Are you aware of how you treat the children that you come in contact with in your life?  Do you encourage them?  Do you find something to affirm in them? Do you believe in them?  Do they know it?

Love the little children of your world. It is one of the simplest ways you and I can make a significant difference in our lifetimes.

My father taught me so.

***

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Lessons Through Sports

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

My father and I shared the love of sports when I was growing up. We tossed a football in our yard on a regular basis.  He taught me how to catch a football and baseball.

We went to major college football games, which in the deep South rivals any religious commitment.  We cheered for our favorite team, but we also talked during the game and afterward about particular plays or players in the game, and what made them stand out.  We listened to games on the radio together (before the days of cable tv and multiple channels).

Before you think my father lived his life through me in sports, I never experienced pressure from him to play.  One day, I came home frustrated after a bad practice and told him I was quitting.  He listened to the reasons why I wanted to quit.  He then let go and said, “If you decide you do not want to play football anymore, that is ok with me.  All I ask is that you try one more time tomorrow and see if you still feel the same way.”  The next day was a new day, and I kept playing for years.

Life lessons he taught me from sports were: 

  1. Start with humility,
  2. Make sure you show up, and
  3. The value of teamwork.

Humility

It was not until my high school years did I learn that my dad was a starter on both the varsity football and basketball teams in college at Howard College (now Samford University in Birmingham, AL), and was president of his senior class.  He only talked about those years when I asked about them.  It was just the way he was.  I had to hear about his past athletic skills from other teammates over the years when I met them.

He encouraged me to do the best I could, which was always separate from whether we won or not.  He would say, “It’s the only thing you are in charge of,  just do the best you can.”  After a game, he would say, “I’m so proud of you, not only  because of the way you played, but more because of who you are.”

Showing Up

My father came to almost every athletic event I ever played in from the first grade through varsity football at Clemson University.  He showed up.

When I played at Clemson University, he drove or flew to see me play in 38 of the 44 games I played in from Maryland to Florida to North Carolina, to Georgia, to Texas in my four years there, and made it back to preach on Sundays.  He was the first person at the airport my teammates and I would see when we got off the plane for away games.

He was an encourager and coach for me in life as well.  Here is an excerpt from one of the letters he wrote me in college.

“Dear Malcolm, I wish every Daddy had the joy of having a son like you.  You have never brought me anything but joy since you have been born.  I am proud of you just as you are.  I love you as much as any person could love another.”

Teamwork

My junior year in college was the toughest one for me athletically.  It was a hard year because our team’s expectations had been high after a good season the previous year, but this year we were losing a lot.  I lost my position as a starter due to a nagging shoulder injury that later required surgery.  I called my father and he could hear how discouraged I was on the phone.

After talking for awhile, he said, “I know that you have been used to being a starter all of your life in sports, and this is a hard time.  Do you remember how much it meant to you to have your teammates encourage you and slap you on the back?  Since you are on the sidelines for now, what if you were to watch your teammates on the field, find the ones who did something well, and go up to them when they come off the field and tell them what a great job they are doing.  Encourage them, make that your role for now.”

I took on that new role of encourager with a passion, and discovered my own disappointment softened in the process.

Applying Lessons

So what about you?  What have other people in your life taught you who are no longer living?

1. Are you aware that life is not about always getting the credit for the good things you do?

Live life the way you want to because you have a passion for it, not for the accolades.  Share with us how you do that.

2.  Are you showing up in life for those who are important to you?

Your presence means more than you know.  Can you give an example?

3.  Finally, can you take on the role of encourager and catch people doing things well?

Whatever team you are playing on, whether it is your family, your work, or your faith, how do you encourage others?  Your life will be richer if you do.

How do I know?

Because my father taught me so.

****

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A Timely Visit

This post is part of a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler.”

One of the earliest memories I have of my father was when I was about four years old.

My father, mother, sister, and I were eating dinner in our kitchen. My Dad and Mom were talking and I heard my Dad say, “After dinner, I need to go back up to the church.  Tonight is visitation night.” This meant it was a designated evening when the pastor and deacons met at the church to visit prospective or elderly members.

When I heard my Dad say he would be leaving and going visiting that night, I blurted out innocently, “Daddy, why don’t you come visit us sometime?”  There was silence at the table.  Nothing else was said.

My father left a few minutes later, and I went about playing as usual.  After a little while the doorbell rang.  I ran to the door, opened it and saw my father standing there.

He extended his arms and said, “Hello Malcolm, I am your father, and I have come to visit you tonight.”

I threw my arms around his neck and he lifted me off the ground and hugged me hard!  It was a hug that turned into a hold, if you know what I mean.  I had been missing my busy father and he heard me.

I learned later when I was an adult that he had left home that night, gone to the church and told everyone he needed to visit with his family that night and left.  He didn’t give them an explanation, he just did it.

All I knew as a four year old boy was that I had the undivided attention of my father when I needed him most, and that is all that mattered.

So what did my father teach me?  What life lesson did I learn?

Family relationships trump everything else when needed.

Have I always done this as an adult, no, I have fallen short at times.  But this is one of those stories I need to remember because I knew what it felt like to be on the recipient side.

And what about you? Have you heard the request for time from someone who is important to you?  What are your relationship priorities?  Do you make adjustments when needed?

Relationships matter.

My father taught me so.

***

My father, Lewis Marler, was born on July 23, 1921 and died on May 26, 1998.

Hearing Your Call

This post is the second part of a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler.”

My father, Albert “Lewis” Marler, was born on July 23, 1921 and died on May 26, 1998.

He was the youngest of seven children, and raised in rural Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.  His father, Robert S. Marler, was a Baptist preacher and a sharecropper, meaning they never owned the land he farmed and his family moved to wherever the help was needed.

When my father was 16 or 17, he overheard his parents having a “spirited discussion” about him as he lay in bed one night.  His mother, Suzy, was asking her husband to talk with Lewis about “becoming a minister.”  She thought she had sensed his struggle, and she figured a little encouragement from his father wouldn’t hurt.  She was a person of strong faith, and I imagine secretly she hoped her youngest would be a preacher but never said a word to him about it.

My grandfather said in his rugged, determined voice, “If the Lord is going to call Lewis to be a preacher, the Lord is going to do it.  Nothing I say is going to help.”  End of discussion.

It was decades later when I was a junior in college that my father first told me this story in response to my own struggle as I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life after college.  I had already changed my major and potential future vocation a few times at Clemson.

I called him late on Sunday night as was our custom and asked, “Dad, how do I know if God is calling me to be a minister?”  He shared the above story, though he had a softer tone with me.

He said, “Malcolm, all I can say is you’ll just know.” I wanted more evidence, more clarity.  “Dad, how the heck am I going to know?  How can I know for sure?” I demanded, and wanted him to give me the answer.

He was quiet for a moment and repeated his answer, but softer this time.  “Trust me, you will just know, Malcolm,” in his reassuring voice.  And then he added, “I will pray for you that you will have a peace about whatever you decide to do.”  There was no hint what he wanted for me.  He knew only I could ultimately decide.

Over the next few weeks, I prayed with great frustration. “God, I’ll do anything you want me to do except be a preacher.”  No peace, only anxiety.  Nothing.  Finally, I laid it on the line.  I prayed the same prayer but changed the last phrase to, “even if you want me to be a minister.  But you’re going to have give me a peace about it if that’s what you want me to do!”  As if I could tell God what to do.  But wouldn’t you know it, a peace and calmness came over me over the next day about my future vocational choice.  And it has stayed with me for thirty-four years.

When I called to tell my dad that I had a “rightness, or a peace” about this direction, he repeated what he always said to me when I made important decisions in my life, “I have no doubt you can do whatever you want to do with God’s help.  I believe in you.”  He said the same words when I previously was going to be a businessman, a football coach, a psychologist, and now a minister.

And this has been a life long lesson for me.  Sometimes I have done it well with others, and sometimes I have not.

Encourage the person you love to find their own path in life, their own direction, their own “calling” in life if you will.  Remember it’s simply not your call.  It is their call.  It belongs to them.

I’ve heard so many parents or spouses say over the years, “You can’t make enough money being a teacher,” or “What do you plan on doing with a psychology degree?  Why don’t you consider being a doctor or lawyer?” Always trying to “call” or direct him or her in a direction s/he thinks is best.

My father was right.  There is a still, small voice within all of us calling us to exercise a passion that only we can discover and know.  Follow your heart.

Whether it is your child, or spouse, or partner, believe in them, encourage them, and love them, but don’t tell them what to do in their vocation.  It’s not your call.

My father taught me so.

Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler

I recently completed a 40-day series on my Simplicity Journey which was an effort to start living more responsibly, more intentionally, and more meaningfully.  That journey for me continues. I will add to it in the weeks ahead.

Today I am starting a new series of articles entitled “Lessons from my Father.”  I will write several days each week about things my dad, Lewis Marler, taught me with his life.  Even though he is no longer living, he continues to influence my life twelve years later.

And what’s in it for you to walk down this memory lane with me?

As I share stories, I will ask you to do the same about lessons you’ve learned from people in your life who are no longer living.  Maybe my story will remind you of your stories.  Maybe we can remember important principles that can give us direction in our lives when we have lost our way.  My hope is we can benefit from the collection of lessons as a community.

Here is your backpack with ample food and water and supplies in it, trust me it’s not too heavy, and the trip will not be too far.  We will rest when we are tired, and encourage one another when we need it most.

Will you walk with me on this trail for awhile as we sit around a campfire, or on top of a mountain, or walk through the valley, as we remember stories about people who have made a difference in our lives who are no longer living?

Tie your shoestrings on your hiking boots, it’s time to start walking.  Are you coming?

If you would like to receive a daily email reminder about this journey, you can sign up in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Easter Means — Day 40

Easter Sunday is a day of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus for those of us in the Christian world.

Some quotes I love about Easter include:

This is the Easter message, that awakening is possible, to the goodness of God, the sacredness of human life, the sisterhood and brotherhood of all.  (Anne Lamott)

The joyful news that Jesus is risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.  (Henry Knox Sherrill)

The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is no victory through domination. There is no such thing as triumph by force. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus stops the cycle of violence and challenges the notion of dominating power. He invites us to relational or spiritual power, where we are not just changed but transformed. And not transformed from the top down but from the bottom up, not from the outside in but from the inside out. (Richard Rohr)

While the historical event of Easter has remained the same, I’ve found that Easter has meant different things to me throughout my life, depending on what I am going through at the time.

When my sixteen year marriage ended in 1995, I found the forgiveness I desperately needed to pick up my life and move forward counting heavily on the forgiveness and grace at Easter.

When my father died in 1998, I discovered the peace and strength in the midst of grief that was greater than my own at Easter.

When I married Mary Bea Sullivan in 2004, I experienced the joy of mutual love that gave me new hope at Easter.

I wonder what it will be this year? 

And what about for you? What do you need most of all this Easter season?  Easter is more than a day, it’s a season in the Christian Church called Eastertide that lasts for fifty days between Easter and Pentecost.  So you have time.

Think about it.

Eastertide is like an ongoing party for new discovery of what the resurrection means to you.

My prayer is for you to experience all that you need during this Easter season. Everyone is invited to the feast.  There is plenty for everyone.  May your cup runneth over.

Peace be with you.  Happy Easter.

***

What do you need to experience this Easter and the weeks following?  Please share below.

Thank you for reading The Simplicity Journey for the past 40 days.

If You Have Ever — Day 39

If you have ever had a catastrophic event happen in your life where everything was fine one day, and the next day your life was changed forever, you understand.

If you have ever loved someone with your whole heart and s/he died suddenly without warning and you lived in shock and numbness for weeks, months, or even years, you understand.

If you have ever had a friend or family member suffer with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV, or any other illness that caused an enormous amount of suffering for the patient and for the caregiver, you understand.

If you have ever had the hopes and dreams of a marriage crumble before your eyes even when you tried to do everything you could do to save it, you understand.

If you have ever put your trust in someone completely without reservation only to find out that you had been misled or lied to, you understand.

If you have ever been hungry, or without a home, or suddenly without a job, you understand.

If you are ever been so overwhelmed by debt that you could not pay your bills, you understand.

If you have ever pretended to be one type of person to the world when you were another, you understand.

And what do you understand if you have experienced any of these things?

You understand that there are times in your life when you need something or someone who is greater than yourself to get you through it.  You know you simply cannot do it by yourself.

You understand there is nothing left to do except to ask a greater power than yourself, “Please God, help me through this.”

And when we understand this truth, we can ask, let it go, and trust, that somehow the strength will come, and it will.

  • Ask.
  • Let it go.
  • Trust.

Thanks be to God.

New Clothes — Day 38

I grew up in the Baptist church as the son and grandson of Baptist ministers.

Of course, Easter was the big day of the Christian church year when we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus.  I heard the story so often growing up that unfortunately, I took it for granted.

As a preacher’s kid, I also had a little different perspective.

My Dad was always excited about the meaning of the day and I could see his energy reach a new height.  The huge crowds on Easter Sunday were always invigorating and gave him what he needed for the next few months to carry on the hard work of the constant pastoral care needed in a large church.

And the annual conversation at our family lunch on Easter went something like, “If we could only have that kind of crowd every Sunday!”  We were big on counting the numbers of people attending as Baptists.

It was also a day where my sister and I got new clothes to wear to church.

I would get a new sport coat, pants, tie, socks, shoes and even new underwear.  My mother used to tell me that the purpose of new clothes at Easter was a reminder that we are new persons on this day.

It was an outward sign of an inward reality.

Taking communion in church is like that for me these days.  It is an outward sign of something that I am trying to be open to inwardly.  This inward desire is an openness to God being present and working in my life somehow.  It is a trust that even when I don’t always know what that means, it is happening.  Even when I am not aware of it, it is happening.

The concept of new beginnings at Easter is also relevant to our deep longings as adults.

We all need the hope of new beginnings. Whether it is in relationships, or taking care of our physical, emotional, or spiritual lives. We are aware of the need to ask for forgiveness of the things we have done to others, and for the things we have left undone.  And to make things right with those whom we love.

Spring and Easter are made for one another. Nature remind us that change is coming.  The long winter of life will not be with us forever.  New life, new growth, new opportunities are coming.

Why is new life possible?  Because those of us in the Christian faith believe that a man named Jesus loved us so much that he died on our behalf, so that we could be forgiven of our sins or failures, and have the opportunity for a new kind of life.  I know this sounds foolish and naive to many persons.

But if you have ever been in a place in your life where you lost hope, where everything was dark and there was no light to be found, you understand the need for this possibility of a new life.

May the outward signs of Spring and Easter be an inward reminder that a new day is dawning. Hang in there, your new day is coming soon.

Peace be with you.

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