malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: September 2010

Relationships Matter

I was reminded today that relationships matter.

A former football teammate of mine at Clemson called me.  Ogden and I have only talked one other time in the more than thirty years since we graduated.  He called because he heard my stepmom died recently and he wanted to know how I was doing.

It was good to hear his voice, and to know of his genuine concern for me.  I talked about my loss for a little while, and he listened well.  He didn’t try to fix it, tell me how to get over it, or how it wasn’t that bad.

The conversation shifted and we updated one another about what we were doing vocationally, where we lived, and specifics about our families. We remembered the good old days, and affirmed that life in the present is good too.

We concluded our conversation promising to call one another more, to stay in closer contact.

When I hung up, I felt connected more to my past, and more grounded and grateful.  My spirit lifted, I looked up from my desk.

Others called today as well. Rick from Connecticut checked in, and Tolly wanted to know how things were going from Georgia.

I received a beautiful handwritten note from Scott thanking me for a simple task in the recent past.

Friends, your effort makes all the difference.

So make the call to the person you’ve been thinking about.

Pick up a pen, write a brief, thoughtful note.

Get in the car, and go see the one who has meant so much to you.

There will come a day when you cannot.  But in the meantime, make the effort.

Relationships matter.

When have you been touched by someone reaching out to you?

When Grief Comes

When grief comes, I am not alone.

  • Friends show up, pray, call, write, text, email, and send cards.
  • God’s presence understands, comforts, and guides.
  • I hear about other people’s grief and I pay attention to their pain.

When grief comes, I feel:

  • Tired–because grief steals your energy.
  • Thankful–because my loved one is free.
  • Sad–because that same person’s voice is no longer audible.

When grief comes, the world does not wait.

  • People get up and go to work as if everything is the same, even though it is not.
  • You see how ridiculous it is to sweat the small stuff.
  • You know that life goes on, and that one day that funeral will be your own.

When grief comes, I will open the door:

  • I will not push it away nor will I hide from its shadow.
  • I will not act as though it is not there, nor will I be dramatic in the telling of it.
  • I will welcome it, feel it, and go through it.

When grief comes, I will remember the lessons it has to teach me.


A Positive Step

One of three Americans are now a stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling, or some other member of a stepfamily according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center.

And yet many times when we use the prefix, “step,” in regards to family there is an assumption that the relationship is less than or not as good as.  While this can be true, we all know biological families can be a positive or negative experience as well.

My stepmom gave a new, positive meaning to the term “step” for me.  And she changed my life for the better.

One of my friends recently said to me, “Apparently she was your “Stepmother” because of the way she stepped into your life with love and grace.”  She is right.

My stepmom did so many things well in our relationship.

She stepped into a daunting situation in 1968 following my biological mother’s sudden death three years earlier.  Imagine never being a parent previously and having a 13 year old son and a 15 year old daughter.  In addition, she was on public display as the pastor’s wife in my father’s church in Montgomery where my mother had been loved for many years.  Jimmie stepped in with love and grace.

As a young teenager, I remember thinking that I couldn’t love her because I would be disloyal to my mother.

One of the first things Jimmie said to me when my Dad told Marcy and me that they were getting married was, “I cannot, and do not want to replace your mother.  I just hope I can be a positive adult in your life.  We’ll figure out the rest later.”

I heard myself say the same words to my own stepchildren years later when I became their stepdad.

She handled questions like, “What do I call you?” by asking me a question, “What do you want to call me?”  I said I didn’t know.  She said, “Well, why don’t I call you by your first name, and you call me by mine?”

Over the next forty-two years, I came to love Jimmie for many reasons.  The way she cared for others, her encouraging words to persons who were grieving, and the thousands of meals she delivered to friends and neighbors when they needed it most.  I admired, looked up to, and loved her.

She stepped into hundreds of children’s lives as an elementary school teacher and loved them as if they were her own.  She was one of those “favorite teachers” that generations of adults look back on as making a difference in their lives.

Jimmie had a positive attitude about life.  She was a romantic with my father and looked for ways to have fun with me.  I watched the way she took time to care for most of her siblings in their dying days, and was amazed and grateful for the way she cared for my father at home over the last five years of his life.  I am thankful for the way she accepted and loved Mary, Brendan, and Kiki.

When I was in seminary, I did my doctoral studies project around helping stepfamily couples blend their families more smoothly. I know now it was because I wanted them to have as positive of an experience in their stepfamilies as I did.

And today because of her, I am proud to be a stepson and a stepdad.

Thank you Jimmie, for stepping into my life forever.

Malcolm Marler’s stepmom, Jimmie Ruth Dodson, died on September 4th, 2010.

I Remember

I remember:

  • How pretty and stylish she always was.
  • She made my father laugh when I thought grief had stolen his laughter.
  • She sat in the middle of the bench seat in the car so that she could be closer to my Dad.
  • How she gently taught me to use proper manners in nice restaurants, what silverware to use and when, and how to treat a woman with respect and dignity.
  • Her kindness and patience with a 13 year old son and 15 year old daughter, though she had never been a parent.
  • What a wonderful cook she was.
  • She took apples and other snacks to share with her second grade students whose only meal for the day was the one in the school lunch room.
  • She fed the hungry, visited the elderly, and encouraged the discouraged.
  • She listened.
  • How I had the cleanest football uniform on the team in middle and high school because she washed it all every single night.
  • When the two of us were driving to church one Sunday night she said, “You want to skip church tonight and get some ice cream?”  As a preacher’s kid I loved her for that one exception.
  • How she loved every girl I ever dated.
  • The way she believed in me and loved me.
  • Her authentic humility.
  • How she was the best caregiver of the sick and dying I’ve ever seen.
  • She believed that every person needed a spouse or someone special to be happy.  And Garland, Lewis, and Bill were her proof.

As I sit by her bed, I remember.

What do you remember of the persons who have touched your life?

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