malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: December 2011

A Great Gift

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

“She Said” by Mary

Happy New Year! Malcolm, Mary, Brendan, and Kiki

I, like all of us, have been on both sides of the “leaving” coin. Depending upon where one is going, it is frequently easier to be the one heading off to a new adventure, than the one left behind. The two most difficult “left behinds” for me were when my friend Rhonda died, and when Brendan and Kiki went to college. And so I can relate to Malcolm’s deep sense of loss when I went to Virginia.

This move has been different for me than any I have previously experienced because I didn’t really “leave.” I still see Malcolm, Brendan, Kiki, and the lake as “home.” Yet, I spend most of my days in Virginia. The challenge has been to be fully present in each place when I am there–to appreciate and enjoy the gifts each has to offer.

Believe me, there were many nights when I just wanted to be home in Malcolm’s arms. But the overarching experience for me these past five months has been one of excitement and gratitude for finally being able to immerse myself in prayer, study, and community. I wish Malcolm and I could share the experience in the same place. We both feel he is where he needs to be in his role at the hospital– for professional, personal fulfillment, and financial reasons.

I am not the only one at VTS who has left a spouse at home. There are a number of men and women commuting back and forth to loved ones–to Florida, Missouri, Georgia, and other far-flung places. One night at dinner, we were sitting together and someone commented that they were able to endure the separation as a “sacrifice” for God. I have been pondering this comment quite a lot and am not sure how that translates for me. In our situation, it seems that Malcolm is the one making that sacrifice.

What I have greatly appreciated is Malcolm’s ability to offer this gift without resentment, even though, no, especially because, it comes at great cost to him. In all of my 49 years, I have never received so great a gift. In the beginning I felt guilty. It was hard for me to hear Malcolm’s sadness. I was too closely aligned with the creation of his pain and tried to distance myself from it. But this is an unsustainable approach. You and I both know suppressed emotions will eventually surface, gasping for air like a swimmer who has ventured too deep. We are recommitted to allowing one another to “feel what we are feeling” and to listen to each other.

Some of the ways I intend to honor Malcolm’s great gift are to:

  • stay connected with God through prayer, writing, and listening devoutly to life and the people around me
  • stay connected with Malcolm–through, phone, skype, love notes, and flights
  • fully embrace my experience at school and avoid the temptation to wish away the time until I am home
  • take advantage of the unique opportunities available in the DC area and bring those experiences back to Alabama
  • look for opportunities to “pay it forward,” to be as open-hearted and generous as Malcolm

Today, this last day of 2011 is a day for reflection. As I look back on this past year, I am so very grateful for the many gifts which I have been given. Sharing life with you is one of those great gifts. May 2012 be filled with much laughter, love, and meaning. Thank you for all that you do to bring the presence of LOVE into the world.

When is a time when you have been given a great gift? How did you honor that gift?




Welcoming Feelings

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

“He Said” by Malcolm

I am happy to report that Mary and I both survived her first semester of seminary.

Mary settled into her dorm room in Virginia, met new academic challenges, made new friends, and immersed herself in a new learning adventure.  I am proud of her for meeting the challenges.  But these experiences are for her to write.

As for me in Alabama, I was surprised that my adjustment was more challenging than I had anticipated.  After all, Mary and I talked on the phone more than once a day and saw one another on Skype every night.  We visited each another every other weekend.

But I was surprised by the grief and loneliness I experienced in our first semester.

I have walked with many people through grief throughout my ministry.  I am also well acquainted with personal grief.  I know the signs, the symptoms, and the outcomes.  I know what to say to others, and what not to say.

But when I tried to ignore these feelings within myself, they dug themselves deeper in the trenches.

What we cannot do is avoid grief or avert loneliness if we live long enough.  It is like a flowing stream that will not be denied.

Of course, there is good reason why I felt these feelings because I love my wife and when I am not with her I missed her deeply.  I missed our casual conversations, her quick glance or kiss, and I missed making Mary laugh.  Oh my goodness, my wife has a great laugh.

These feelings are simply confirmation the love we have is the real deal.  Thank God.

Does feeling the grief and loneliness mean that we have made the wrong decision about Mary going to seminary in Virginia and me staying in Alabama? Far from it.  This is a decision we made together over several years.  I have no doubt Mary Bea Sullivan is exactly where she needs to be.  And so am I.

Just because a decision is difficult or challenging does not mean it is the wrong one.

My challenge now is to welcome the hard, uncomfortable feelings, and to lean into them.  It is the difference between arms open wide and a stiff arm.

This is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to trust.

Welcome grief, what lessons do you have to teach me today?
Come, let me hold you close.
Welcome loneliness, what lessons do you have to teach me today?
Come, let me hold you close.
Welcome Holy Comforter, give me peace while I hold the questions.
Come, let me hold you close.

When you experienced grief and loneliness, what did you learn about yourself?  About your faith?  About your relationships?

Would you be willing to share some of your discoveries in the comments below?

Peace be with you.


More Resources:

The Wisdom of Emotions – Mary Bea Sullivan or in her latest book, Living Awake Forty Days Toward Renewal

The Welcoming Prayer – Meaning and Authenticity blog


Presents or Presence

Most of us have given or received great presents through the years that we hoped would prove to another how much we loved them, or make us happy upon receiving them.  Deep down, most of us knew better.

But today, I want to encourage you to think about giving a different kind of presence that makes a difference in people’s lives.  Your presence.

My thoughts are on the people, maybe even you, who feel a sadness this season no matter how many people are in the room, or how many Christmas carols you sing or how many Christmas movies you watch.

Many people experience great sadness during the season of joyful expectations.  And for good reason.  You are not alone.

This sadness may come from having a loved one to die in the past year, or standing around the bedside of a loved one who is very ill.  Others of you have gone through broken relationships that magnifies the emptiness you feel.  Or you may just have unexplainable sadness.  No matter.

I want to suggest you give at least one of these gifts of presence in the next year:

1.  Pick up the phone and call someone you love.  Tell them why you love them in detail.

2.  Write a note of thanks to one person who has impacted your life positively.  Be specific.

3.  Mark on your smartphone calendar the day that your friend’s family member died.  Call them on that same day in 2012.  You won’t be reminding them of their grief, you will be reminding them they are not alone.

4.  Get in the car when you hear about the serious illness or death of a friend or family member.  Show up.  Don’t worry about what to say, just tell them you want to be with them as soon as you heard.

5.  Write down the wedding anniversary or birthday of someone who is no longer with us, and talk to the one who is grieving that event they used to celebrate.

You get the picture.  Show up with your presence.

That’s what God did for you and me in the form of a baby.  God showed up on earth and was present with us in the newborn skin of a baby.  God promised we would never be alone because of this divine presence.

By offering our presence to a person who is sad or hurting, it may be one of the most accurate ways we mirror what God has done, and is doing, in a world filled with pain.

Showing up in the flesh.  This is what we are called to do for one another.

And this kind of presence lasts.

Being Still

May I ask you a question?

Do you ever feel like you are rushing from one thing to another each day?

Sometimes, we need to be still, and to listen.  Join me for one minute down by the water at our home.

Peace be with you,


A Chaplain’s Prayer

As I was walking in to work today, I was very aware of the awesome responsibility and amazing opportunity we have at our hospital every single day (1:13).

A Chaplain’s Prayer


I would love to hear your ideas about how I could use an Audio or Video blog to help you (or others) in terms of the topics or people that could be featured.

What would you like for me to talk about in one of these new kinds of media on my blog?

My Buds

I’m trying something new on my website called an Audio Blog.

Sometimes, I don’t have time to type on my computer, but I do have time to tell a quick story.

I will try to keep my stories to 1-2 minutes in length to respect your time.  I would love to have your feedback in the comments section.

L to R: Billy Eley (front), Malcolm Marler (back), Tony Wright (front), Gary Partridge (back)

Click below on the left arrow to listen:



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