on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

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.


  1. Eleanor

    I never met you while a student at Clemson but I could see that you were not one of the “regular” football players. I happened upon your blog several months back and have found your words to be such a blessing to my life. I am very sorry for the loss of your “Jimmie Ruth.” From your desciption, I know she was a great lady and will leave a void in many lives.
    Prayers and Blessings to you and your family.

  2. Malcolm

    Dear Eleanor, thank you for taking the time to write.

    Well, I knew I wasn’t a “regular” football player at Clemson when I showed up at 5’9″ and 160 lbs. My hunch is that you have other references or metrics you are comparing me to as well.

    In any case, thank you for your encouraging words about my blog and I’m glad my words are a blessing to your life. A high compliment.

    I will miss Jimmie in my life. I have learned from my father’s death that her influence will be with me for the rest of my life. I hope and pray I could be that for another.

    Peace to you,

  3. Robin Easley Pichelmayer

    Malcolm, I’m not sure if you remember me or not, but my parents are Gene and Sherry Easley. and I’m Bryan’s “kid” sister. This is such a sweet tribute to Ms. Jimmie. I didn’t know she had passed until Paula Bentley Vickers posted a message on facebook to a group called “Gardendale Youth 1970s”. I’m so sorry for your loss; she was such a sweet lady. I remember so well from G’dale First Baptist when your dad was our pastor. I was probably in grammar school and you were a teenager then. I remember when you went off to Clemson, we all thought that was so cool to have someone from Gdale go out of state to college to play football, LOL!!! Your dad and stepmom were such a huge influence on my youth. Thanks for sharing this……..

    Robin Easley Pichelmayer

  4. Malcolm

    Dear Robin, thank you so much for writing. Your words and memories are very meaningful to me as I try to put the final touches on a very short part in the service tomorrow. I am so glad to hear about my parent’s influence on your life.

    Your words challenge me to try to be that for others and pass it on.

    Peace to you,

  5. Ciro Piccirillo

    Malcolm, I am sorry for your loss. What a lucky man to have had two Mothers ! Positive parents seem to leave their finger prints on their children to perpetuate the good and encouragement for the next generation. I know you have spread so much good and encouraged all those you’ve touched with the positives given to you. Her spirit will live forever, so celebrate her life by telling many stories about her.

    Peace, Ciro

  6. Malcolm

    Dear Ciro,

    You are right, I am a fortunate man to have had two wonderful Mothers. My hope and prayer is that their finger prints on my life will be a legacy that I can pass on to others.

    Thanks for writing, and its great hearing from you.

  7. Leigh Anne Brown

    My name is Leigh Anne Nicholson Brown, my parents were Ernie and Terry Nicholson. Like the earlier post from Robin Easley Pichelmayer, I too went to Gardendale First Baptist. Robin and I were friends and the same age.

    Your Dad was pastor when I got saved at the age of 6 (about 1971) and he baptized me. Your “stepmom”, which I did not know until today that she was your “step” mom, was my Training Union teacher. I loved her, I thought she was so pretty.

    I too, have been married and divorced with two beautiful daughters. I have remarried and the man I married 13 years ago, had not been married and had no children. However, he has treated my daughters as if they were his own. They don’t call him Dad, but if they are talking to friends they do refer to him as their dad. They have Eric (my husband), who is a christian and who has been more of a Dad to them in the 13 years we’ve been married than the 23 years my oldest daughter has been here. It is amazing what a “step” parent can bring to children’s lives.

    I’m so sorry about your Mom and your Dad we actually didn’t even know your dad had passed until we found your blogs today. My mom and dad send their condolences as well.

    And like Robin, I thought it was so cool that you went off and played at Clemson. However, it would have been cooler if you had played at Alabama. haha!!! I still to this day, when I see Clemson play, we too are huge football fans, tell people that you played there. In fact, I tell my husband all the time and he just smiles and says, “I know, you tell me everytime you see Clemson playing.” HaHa! I still think it’s cool. Anyway, have a great night.

  8. Robin Naramore Reid


    I was saddened to hear of Jimmie Ruth’s passing. I have been at the beach since 9/1 so I just saw this today. I have always had ‘steps’ but we siblings just said we were gaining brother’s and sister’s and it was a good thing and a great feeling. I just lost my mom July 5th this year so I know how hard this can be. I can relate to eveything you posted on your 9/8 post – and was comforted so much when you spoke of the how the world around us is continuing on while we are going through yet another life altering loss and thinking ‘How can this be’. I thought I was the only one who thought that way – I was glad to know someone else felt this way as well.

    With mother, she was the one I always turned to with my many questions – like ‘How many eggs goes in the cornbread?’ It’s those little things I seem to miss the most, especially the sound of her voice. I find myelf listening to saved voice mails from her that I intentionally kept when we found out she had cancer. The sound of their voice is some thing I realized I really missed after my husband died and wished very much I had something to listen to on those days when I searched to remember the sound of his voice.

    You seem to be on top of this grief thing but I will pray for you and your family daily none the less.

    Love ya brother,

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