malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: May 2012

One Down, Two to Go

This is the twenty-first 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 to get her Master of Divinity degree and eventually become an Episcopal priest.  Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“He Said,” by Malcolm

Mary and Malcolm at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, April 2012

As I type these words, I can feel the excitement in my heart and the distractions in my brain at the end of this day at work.

In approximately 24 hours, I will pick up Mary at the airport and welcome her home from her first year in seminary.  One down, two to go.

Mary will arrive Tuesday, May 15, 2012, late in the evening and already has a full summer planned ahead.  I will let her tell you about her four jobs that she knitted together like a beautiful quilt.

My pure joy is that she will be home for three months.  Three!  Right now that sounds like balm for my soul.  I’m taking the rest of the week off so that I can look into those deep brown eyes.

We have survived, adjusted, and even thrived at times during this first year of living in two states, much like we did in our first year of marriage in 2004 when Mary and the children were in Chapel Hill, NC and I was in Birmingham.

A few quick observations.

1.  The first semester was difficult.  Those first few months surprised me how much I struggled personally.  I had to develop a new routine, I was lonely, and lost my way most of the time.  Everything seemed harder including exercise, meals, my work and nurturing my spiritual life.

2. The second semester was better, but not easy.  I remember the day I made a decision to take more responsibility for my daily happiness.  This was a good thing.  I looked in the mirror and realized I needed to exercise more, eat healthier, and start thinking about self-care.  I’ve made some changes and still have a ways to go.

3.  Skype, phone calls, texts, personal cards, and visiting every 2-3 weeks have kept us connected.  However, cell phone coverage is not good in Mary’s dorm, and Skype is inconsistent in our rural home.  But, I don’t know how we would have made it without technology.  Those of you who know me are not surprised by this statement.

4.  Finally, I could not be more proud of my wife who has excelled academically.  But even more than that, I can hear the personal growth, confidence, and the maturity in her voice.  She doesn’t realize how much I am learning from her experience in seminary.  Even if from afar.

Mary is exactly where she is supposed to be.  And so am I.  Of course, we both wish we were in the same place.

Life moves ahead, and I thank God in advance for the next three months.

One year down, two to go.

This is a sacrifice on both of our parts.  But, we can do this.

With God’s help.

Daring to Believe

The Rev. Joel Atong

As people of faith, I wonder how many things we miss out on in our lives when we discount a dream set before us?  What if we embraced the not knowing how things would work out for a little longer?  What might happen?

This means trusting beyond our own capabilities.  This is faith.

A few months ago I was visiting my wife at her seminary in Alexandria, VA.  Mary asked  if I would meet with a classmate of hers who is from Kenya while I was there.  “Joel wants to build a clinic in his village to treat people with HIV/AIDS and malaria.”  Even though I had been a chaplain in a HIV clinic for 15 years, I was reluctant to volunteer because I had a full plate.  I didn’t want to make a commitment I couldn’t keep.  I was afraid that I might fail.

I met with and was impressed with Rev. Joel Atong’s (an Episcopal priest) humility and crystal clear faith.  He believed that God wanted him to build a small medical clinic for $15,000 in Ngunya, Kenya.

After dragging my feet for a few weeks, Mary said she would take the lead.  She has a gift of bringing people together to do extraordinary things.  I tried to protect her, and asked if she was sure?  “Yes, I want to try, who knows what will happen?” she insisted.  I relented.

She began to network within our home church in Cullman.  People like Jerry Jacob and others stepped up to help.  She emailed a new friend who is the priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham to see if he would be interested.  Rich Webster picked up the ball and ran with it.  We asked friends of ours on Facebook to give $10 each.

We brought Father Joel Atong to our home as our guest this past weekend for people to hear his story firsthand in Cullman and Birmingham.  I heard myself trying to soften his  potential disappointment that we might not be able to raise all of the money this weekend.  He just smiled.

And then it happened.  People responded.  Friends, family, as well as people we had never met, came forward with small, medium and large gifts.  While the final tally is not official, $15,000 will be the amount given.

A health clinic will be built in Ngunya, Kenya.

And now I have some praying to do, in fact I’ve already started.  I slipped in a downtown church yesterday and sat alone for awhile.  I prayed, “God forgive me. I believe you can do more than my limited mind and spirit and energy can imagine.  I believe, please help my unbelief.”

How about you?  What are you willing to let go of to see what God can do?  How big are your dreams with God?

If we can see how something can be done through our own planning, maybe we need to stop and dream bigger?

My brothers and sisters, our lives can be so much more joyful and purpose-filled if we take the risk to trust further than we can see.

If we can dare to believe, to trust in God’s voice especially when we don’t see how in the world it could possibly happen, we may discover that miracles still happen today.

Note to self:  3 lessons for me

  1. Do what you can (realize you don’t have to do it all)
  2. Don’t be afraid of failing, not trying is worse
  3. Trust that God will use whatever you offer



Below is The Rev. Joel Atong singing at the end of his talk on Friday, April 30, 2012, on his experience that miracles still can happen today.  Of course he was singing this 48 hours before we knew we would reach our goal.

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