malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: July 2011

Lessons from the Road

This is the fifteenth in a series written by Malcolm Marler and Mary Bea Sullivan, husband and wife, about their journey as Mary, an author, prepares to go to Virginia Theological Seminary.  Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“She Said”  by Mary Bea Sullivan

Malcolm and Mary at Hanging Lake, CO

We left for vacation on July 9th with a couple of suitcases, sleeping bags, a brand-new tent, and GREAT snacks.  We didn’t have any accommodation reservations, or a firm destination in mind.

Based upon advice from others we agreed upon a few “guidelines” for our road trip:  no eating in chain restaurants, being “hemmed in” by reservations, or technology.  We intended to choose a direction each day and then drive as much or as little as we liked, free from the pressures of schedule and pace.  Mostly, we wanted to savor our time together; create a reserve of connection from which to draw before I leave for seminary.

We had a blast! And we learned a lot, so much that we could write for weeks about the vacation.  But time is short, so I will consolidate the greatest learnings.

  • Spontaneity still requires decision-making.  When we left the driveway I asked Malcolm, “Which direction?”  It was hot, he said, “North.”  As we approached Nashville I queried, “Where do you want to have your birthday dinner?”  He replied, “Louisville.” (Which by the way was what I was hopingfor.)  Sometimes making these choices was fun and exciting, other times, it felt like work.  Whether we plan ahead or chose in the moment, decisions are required.
  • Spur of the moment gatherings are grand.  When we arrived at the restaurant in Louisville, Malcolm called some old friends and before we knew it, they were sitting across from us laughing.  It seems as if we are usually planning months in advance just to get together with friends who live nearby.  Yet, time and again when we rolled into town, we were able to connect with special friends.  One who we would’ve loved to have seen generously offered us her condo instead.
  • People matter more than places.  The first Sunday morning we were trying to decide whether to go to the Episcopal Church, the denomination with which we are currently affiliated, or St. Matthews Baptist Church, where Malcolm served as Associate Pastor for many years.  We went to St. Matthews and it was one of the highlights of our trip.  Malcolm was able to reconnect with many dear friends and I was able to meet folks I have heard about for years.
  • The journey is the destination.  I know I am not the first to say this, but it was probably one of the most significant experiences of our trip.  Because we were not hostage to an agenda, we found ourselves immersed in the sights, sounds, people, feelings of the MOMENT.  If we were enjoying a particular park or museum, we didn’t worry about getting to the next stop–we just stayed with what was in front of us.  Who would’ve thought one of our favorite hotels would be in Dumas, TX?  I believe there is a component of what is meant by “heaven on earth” in operating this way.
  • Listen.  Malcolm is a gifted listener.  At each new town he would ask, “Where do the locals eat?”  Often the person he asked would feel pressure to figure out what Malcolm wanted.  Malcolm would assure them, “I want to know where you like to go.”  And then he would listen.  This strategy took us to people and places far off our radar screen.  In Amarillo, TX we ate some of the best burgers at the Golden Light Cafe on historic Route 66 and met regulars who had been coming there for lunch more than 30 years.  There was even a mural of them sitting at the bar with their buddies–some who had died, others in ill health.  When the young, blonde waitress walked us over to the mural she pointed to each of the men in the mural, saying their names and telling a bit about them.  “This one, he doesn’t come here anymore.” She giggled.  “He got mad that we cut him off so much.”  “Oh this one, he’s my baby.  I visit him in the nursing home twice a week.”
  • Rules were made to be broken.  For honesty’s sake I feel compelled to share we did eat at a Subway and a Waffle House. Hey, before you go judging us, both times we were in desperate need of food and options were limited–and Malcolm gets cranky when he’s hungry!  We used the iPad to scout out deals and happenings and that truly enhanced the trip.
  • Only break the rules for a good reason.  Since our home is on the market, and there was some “action” on it while we were gone, we decided I needed to check email once a day to communicate with our realtor.  I was like a recovering alcoholic with a gin bottle holding my iPhone.  I pushed that little “mail” button multiple times a day.  Every time it took me away from where I was.  I wouldn’t do that again.  Even though we had one amazing experience after another on our spontaneous “plan,” I panicked and made reservations at a B &B in Hot Springs, AR.  You see, we were turning toward home and I began to wonder, “What will we do in Oklahoma and Texas?”  If I had it to do over again, I would have continued trusting that we would know the answer to that question when we got there.  Days later when we pulled up to the B & B I had reserved, our hearts sunk, we could “feel” this was not the right place for us.  Meeting the proprietors confirmed our suspicions.  We apologized and told them we were only going to stay one night. They informed us that was a problem because we had committed to two.  Even though we couldn’t get a refund, we left immediately and drove all the way home-fueled by chocolate and coffee, arriving at 3am.  I made one mistake making the reservation, why compound with staying?
  • Vacation is a state of mind.  At home we stayed in vacation mode and didn’t reconnect with the world for a couple of days.  Divine!

We are grateful for the time together and hope to carry some of the lessons from this trip with us as we move to this next step on our journey.  We also hope you are enjoying some wonderful R & R this summer.

What are some “lessons from the road” that you have learned? 

For those who are interested, here are some of our favorite stops along the way.  We drove over 3800 miles.  In Louisville we ate brunch with one of my college buddies at the Bistro Bar and Grill.  Downtown St. Louis is fabulous.  We loved the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial-great museum under the Arch, Forest Park near Wash U, Ranoush Cafe-amazing Syrian food and charming waitress.  McPherson, KS is home to my dear friend Rhonda’s parents.   A surprising 5-star find in Goodland, KS was On the Bricks Cafe-another great waitress.   Vail, Co favorite hikes–Beavercreek Lake Trail and Hanging LakeZaccaza’s for killer deep pizza and Pepi’s for Austrian fare.  Aspen Chapel for a unique interfaith experience. Oklahoma City Memorial is beautifully done and moving.  Across the street is a statue of Jesus with the inscription, “And Jesus Wept.”

Technology Fast

My technology fast begins.

Email, texting, Twitter, and Facebook will have to wait for a couple of weeks until July 24th.

Peace be with you,

The Art of Surprise

This is the thirteenth in a series written by Malcolm Marler and Mary Bea Sullivan, husband and wife, about their journey as Mary, an author, prepares to go to Virginia Theological Seminary.  Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“He Said” by Malcolm Marler

Wedding Day, July 4, 2004; L to R Kiki, Mary, Malcolm, Brendan, and Sarah Shelton. Photograph by friend Judy Bridgers.

A friend of mine and Mary’s who works at UAB called last Friday and said, “I’ve never seen the Pastoral Care department at the hospital, and since I’ve been asked to lead some continuing education sessions for your Residents, can I come by soon to look at the layout so I’ll know what to expect?”

“Sure,” I said, “when would you like to come?”

“How about this coming Monday, July 4th? Are you working at the hospital on the day that everyone else takes off?” she said innocently.  “I sure am, I’ll be here.”

“Great, me too, how about 10:30?”  she suggested.  “That will work, I will see you then,” as I typed it into my calendar.

At 10:30 a.m. this morning, I was listening for the door to our department to open and I got up to see if it was our friend who had come to get the 5 minute tour.

To my surprise, there stood Mary Bea, looking as beautiful as the first day I met her.  “I hope you aren’t disappointed, but actually I am your 10:30 appointment.  I’ve come to kidnap you for an early lunch,” as she grinned from ear to ear.

I had been set up, and I loved the opportunity to have a surprise lunch with my bride!

Mary drove me to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens where we stood seven years ago in the Rose Garden and said our vows to one another.

I promise to love you with an open heart, to listen deeply to your innermost thoughts, and to be considerate and tender in my care of you. With God’s help, I vow to continue to be your best friend, to encourage your spiritual growth, and to walk with you in times of joy and sorrow, as long as we both shall live. Amen.

We repeated our vow to one another, had a yummy picnic lunch, and remembered why we are still in love.

There have been a lot of surprises in our lives over the past seven years.  It is one of the things I love most about being married to Mary Bea Sullivan.  There are no dull moments, thank God.

I would have never guessed that Mary would be going to seminary in seven years to become an Episcopal priest. And yet knowing her now, it seems like a natural step.

And as we look forward to this next adventure,  I can’t wait to see how we will be surprised again.

How about you?

How have you been surprised in life?  How has the element of surprise worked out for you?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Be Not Afraid

This is the twelfth in a series written by Malcolm Marler and Mary Bea Sullivan, husband and wife, about their journey as Mary, an author, prepares to go to Virginia Theological Seminary.  Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“She Said.” By Mary Bea Sullivan

I love to run. Since we live in a rural area, I can go miles in-between houses, and frequently never see a  car or a truck.  Many times I have prayed, cried, and left my cares behind tromping these roads–they are a sanctuary for me.

Last month I was running early on a Saturday morning, taking a familiar, but not often-used route.  I was deep in thought, rounding the corner toward home, when a medium-sized dog started barking at me.  I know most of the dogs, cows, horses, and chickens around here.  This guy was new.

“Hey sweet baby.”  I soothingly called as I sidled to the far side of the road. Most dogs will follow along yapping until I go past their “territory.”  This one was different.  He didn’t seem to be “alarm” barking, he was growling.  Instead of slowing down as he reached his property line, he gained speed.  So did I.

I’m not a fast runner, but I picked up the pace as best I could and looked behind. The brown dog seemed to be a chow/pit bull mix and was closing in, snapping and growling.   When I knew I couldn’t outrun him, I decided to try scaring him so I turned around to face him, arms raised , yelling, “Go Home!”  This only proved to incite him more and he started to bear down on me.  I screamed, “Get your dog! Get your dog!”  to no one in particular and ran as fast as I could.  As I veered into the brambles to find a stick, the dog unexpectedly retreated, barking all the way.

Winded, I ran as fast as I could up the hill. Tears of fear slid down my cheeks, honoring the awareness of  a vulnerability that always existed.  And then, when I was half a mile from home I could see four large dogs off in the distance–out on the loose.  I turned for home before they came near and was never threatened by them, but found myself repeatedly looking back to make sure they were not behind me. In eight years of running here, I have never been attacked by a dog.  I have surprised a coyote, jumped over a snake, scared innumerable bunnies, seen soaring hawks, stopped to spot owls, and even had dogs run along side me.  But never had I been threatened in this way.

For weeks, I didn’t run, choosing other forms of exercise. Finally, one day I decided to venture out-going just six tenths of a mile, to “Miss Stella’s” and then running back and forth until I had run my standard amount.  For a number of mornings I allowed myself to be tethered to this “safe distance,” missing the freedom and scenery of my longer runs. One day I decided to muster up the courage to run a little farther (don’t worry, NOT in the direction of the mean dog).

When I passed Miss Stella’s home, the hymn, “Be not afraid I go before you always, come follow me, and I will give you rest” began playing in my head. Over and over again, “Be not afraid….” carried me until one day I was able to resume my regular route.  But I have been afraid.  I can’t seem to recapture my former innocence.  My runs are no longer relaxing, I am having to my urge myself along–every blind corner a new anxiety.

This morning I read,

“your soul is sunken in that cowardice
that bears down many men, turning their course
and resolution by imagined perils,
as his own shadow turns the frightened horse.” –Dante’s Inferno

I also heard myself say to Malcolm, “I am afraid” in reference to all that we are trying to manage right now. It’s not just dogs that have been nipping at my heels.  I have even thought of giving up on going to seminary next month.  But I don’t want to live in this fearful place–nothing good comes from it.  I want to live the words of the song, believing God goes before me always.

“Be not afraid, I go before you always, come follow me and  I will give you rest.”

How does fear operate in your life?  What have you learned about overcoming it?


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