on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Category: He Said She Said (Page 1 of 3)

Still a Challenge

Flight from DCA to BHMAs much practice as Mary Bea and I have had putting one another on planes the last two years, one would think that it would get easier.

For the record, it does not.

I am not complaining because we chose this path together. But I must be honest as we look towards finishing the second of three years, it does not get easier.

We believed that when we visited Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA just outside of DC, that it was exactly where she was supposed to be. We both “knew” that VTS would be where she would get a 3 year Master of Divinity degree as part of her path to becoming an Episcopal priest. We decided together.

At the same time, we also believed I was to stay in Birmingham as the new Director of Pastoral Care at a hospital because I also felt called to be here as well.

Some may have thought we were foolish, but we have made our relationship a priority and have called, written, texted, Skyped, and gotten on airplanes as often as possible. And sometimes I wondered if we were foolish.

In the past, I remember times when I believed if I chose the right thing to do it was supposed to get easier.  That hasn’t been my experience.

Thankfully we have been given some hope and light recently.

Mary will finish a semester early in December 2013. This past week, we both met with our Commission on Ministry, Standing Committee, and Bishop and have been told we are on track for ordination as Episcopal priests. This encouragement has arrived like a fresh drink of water to parched lips.

When have you chosen what you believed was the right thing to do, and it got harder?

My prayer for you is that God will give you hope when you need it most, some light for your journey as well. You can do it. Stand firm.

May God’s peace and strength be yours.

Not Alone

This is the twenty-third 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 become an Episcopal priest.  Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“He Said.”

Mary is finishing the third semester towad her Masters of Divinity degree.

Though not experts, we are no longer rookies in this dance of “living in two states.” We develop some routine in the midst of constant changes.

But my faith is often weak, and I find myself wondering why we couldn’t both be doing what we are called to do in the same place?

And yet dealing with living apart as husband and wife is something people deal with regularly.  We are not alone.  I look around to find seeds of hope.

One couple in our church is living with what I believe is his third extended multi-year military deployment in a war in a distant country.

What Mary and I are experiencing is nothing like what they live with every day.  I have great gratitude for our veterans and family members who have done this for generations.

They are an encouragement to me. And I realize, I am not alone.

And isn’t this true for many of our life challenges?  It helps to remember we are not alone.  We are not ultimately by ourselves, even when it feels that way.

My hope for you is that you will be reminded during this Advent Season that God intervened into this world to remind us that we are loved, and that we are not alone.

I am thankful.

The Routine of Gratefulness

This is the twenty-second 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.

Sunset in downtown Birmingham from our new urban digs.

Routine gives us stability in a chaotic world.  When change is happening all around us, we crave predictability where at least some of our decisions are familiar and easy.  Without routine, frustration and feelings of disconnection are common.

After having a great summer with Mary home from seminary from May-August, we both cried this past Sunday as we packed up her car and she began the 750 mile drive to Virginia to start her “Middler” year (2 of 3) at Virginia Theological Seminary just outside of DC.

A week earlier, we had sold our home on Smith Lake in North Alabama and moved to downtown Birmingham close to my work.

I find myself this week trying to develop new routines which I know will take some time.  There are still pictures to be hung on the walls, but that’s ok.  I feel slightly better prepared in this second year of “our” seminary experience, though it is still unsettling and challenging.

I’m thankful that I can walk to the gym for my workouts and to my office.  Our aging lab, Daisy, and I are learning a new route for walking in the downtown area.  She is grateful to walk anywhere together, and I’ve found her to be a good teacher.

Last evening, I took a picture of a sunset from our balcony in Birmingham, which I had done hundreds of times from our deck at the lake.  Somehow, that helped to see that beautiful sunset.  Thank you God for sunsets.

Finding little things to be grateful for helps with transition.  And this is something I can choose, to be grateful.  It is good medicine.

And so we begin Year Two.  I mark on my calendar when I will be flying to DC to see Mary in a couple of weeks, thank you God.  And I refocus on my challenges and joys in my ministry which I am so thankful for at the hospital.  Thank you, thank you.

When have you developed new routines?  What did you learn in the process?  I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, thank you.




New Dreams

Sunset at Smith Lake, March 2012.

Change can be exciting, challenging and exhausting all at the same time.

Mary Bea has been home from her first year in seminary for this summer and her presence has been a wonderful gift for me.   I’m so thankful.  But it is almost time for her to go back.

Many of you know that we have had our house on the market for the past two years.  For many people in the country, this has also been one of the hardest time to sell a house.  We finally have a contract to sell, and have decided to rent in Birmingham close to my work until Mary graduates in 20 months.

First, the grief of leaving.

Ten years ago, just a few months before I fell in love with Mary Bea Sullivan, I built this house on a bluff overlooking beautiful Smith Lake in North Alabama and have enjoyed countless sunsets, clear clean water, and a canopy of stars on clear nights.  This is where our love for one another was nurtured.  Our children lived here through their high school and college years.  Our house has provided the space to share meals together, swim, water ski, laugh, and cry together.

The first night after we signed the contract to sell it, I had to let it go.  Mary was wise and just held me while I cried.  Sobbed would be more descriptive.  No words were necessary.

I learned again that good, wise decisions in our lives can be painful, and yet still be the right thing to do.

Second, sometimes we have to let go of old dreams in order for new ones to be born.

We have decided to rent for the next couple of years so that we can be “lighter on our feet” when Mary graduates.

Our new place is ONE mile from my work.  After driving 40,000 miles per year for 10 years, I will walk or bike to work each day.

It is the beginning of a new dream.  A dream to live closer to work, to own less, to live more simply.  More about this dream later.

What kind of dreams are you letting go of these days?  And what kind of new dreams do you want to see?

Peace be with you.



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.

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


Finding Our Way

This is the eighteenth 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.

Daily routine can be a grounding influence in our lives.  Lack of routine can be chaotic, where one feels lost and unsure of what to do next.

I work in a hospital where I see people’s routine and expectations get turned upside down all the time. My pastoral care team and I see many who have lost their way.

When I am in the middle of the chaos with them, I feel at home and at peace.  It is a familiar place and I try to help persons navigate through it.  I am aware this help I offer is the result of my training and experience, and a combination of the gifts that God has given me along with the persons who have gone before me to show me the way.

But in those situations, the chaos is happening to others and not to me.  And that makes all the difference.

In the past month I have felt lost at times as I adjust to seeing Mary every other weekend instead of every night since she began seminary.  No surprise here.  I am aware how much her daily presence and partnership means to me.

And now I am the one who needs a guide.  I am the one who needs a community of people who hold me up and give me encouragement.   I am no different than my brothers and sisters.

And so I see a guide (counselor) to help me find my way again.  I talk and I do not have to be concerned about taking care of her.  She listens intently and reminds me of things my soul already knows.

I also have been reminded that I have a community of folks around me who genuinely care and reach out to me in different ways.  But still, I am the one who needs to accept their help and be willing to be vulnerable.

Today, I am thankful for all of you who are helping.  You know who you are.  Thank you for being a bridge over these tumultuous waters.

And how about you?

When did you accept the guidance of another?  When did others reach out to you and you welcomed their assistance?

Who are the guides who have helped you get back on track when you were lost during times of change in your life?

What have your friends done for you that has made a difference?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

May God’s grace and peace reach out to you through the hands of feet of others during difficult times in your life.

And may you have the strength to allow them to do so.


Adjusting to Change

This is the seventeenth 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

One of the lessons Mary and I learned from our recent two week spontaneous road trip is that we can’t really know what most things will be like until we get there.

Mary has settled into her dorm room in Alexandria, attending classes, learning her way around a new city, and making new friends which she has such a gift in doing.  She has discovered many things are better than she had originally imagined, while others call for a new plan.

Brendan packed his car this weekend and moved into his apartment for his junior year at Auburn. Kiki will come home for a few days before she leaves for her junior year at Birmingham Southern.

This is a new version of an empty nest for me.

I am working on developing a new routine at home, sometimes struggling to do so.  I’ve been surprised how much I have been out of sync all week as little seems routine, because well, it’s not, yet.

Mary and I are a great team in our relationship and family, but when she isn’t home it seems as though I forget everything I learned during my eight years of singleness before we married.

I’ve had to laugh at myself when simple things have seemed so hard.

  1. I drank decaf coffee without realizing it for three mornings at home until I realized the cause of my daily headaches.
  2. I left my tie at home (an hour away) one day and had to go shopping at 7:30 in the morning in Birmingham.  Note: Walmart does not have a good men’s tie selection.
  3. On Friday, it took me two hours to get home instead of one because I kept leaving things at work that I needed for the weekend and had to return to my office over and over again.

There were many more examples of my wrestling match with change.

Change is hard for most of us.  When it happens, we have to think about even the simplest details in our day.  It is uncomfortable and it will wear you out.

I’m learning to take a deep breath when I get frustrated or sad, and give myself a little grace and space instead of the negative self talk that I should be doing better.

The truth is . . . we can’t really know what it is going to be like until we get there, no matter how much planning we do beforehand.  Change demands that we go with the flow.

How about you?  What has helped you adjust to significant changes in your life?  What secrets can you share in the comments below?

Switching Gears

This is the sixteenth 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

Anyone who has ridden a bicycle uphill knows the climb is made easier by switching into a lower gear. Timing, especially on steep inclines, is critical.  According to bicycletutor.com “It’s very important not to shift under pressure, as this will cause shift problems and damage your drivetrain.”

I think I have waited a bit too long to shift into a lower gear.  I have seen this hill coming for a long time.  Depending on how you look at it, some would say I have been anticipating the move to seminary for over a decade.  Even if we only count back to March, the month when I decided where to attend school, I have had a good five months to prepare for the upcoming move and next Wednesday’s classes.

But I have been pedaling along as if I were riding through the flat farmlands of Ohio, risking damage to my “drivetrain.”  I don’t see this tardy transition preparation as a lack of enthusiasm for that which awaits; but rather a testimony to the love for that which I will leave.

Cheeks have been kissed, hugs savored, and tears slipped away now and then.  Borrowed books have been returned, new, already beloved ones beckon.  Last Sunday the family and I were formally blessed by a congregation that has blessed us since we first wandered into Grace Church six years ago.  And yet in my “knowing” I have not “known” to shift gears yet.  This gentle flat land is so familiar and in some ways, easy.

Even though I am excited about this new adventure, perhaps my hesitation is due to a healthy dose of respect for the difficulty on the road ahead.  Whatever the reason, it is time to shift into a lower gear, rely on training from former “rides” and pedal.  I know from past hikes, runs, and rides, the biggest climbs are the most beautiful and gratifying at the summit.  And so I will lift my eyes toward the hills…

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip-
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you-the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm-He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

May the Lord watch over you and yours.  I will continue to write as frequently as I am able in my new world.  I am grateful to you, my readers who have encouraged, supported, and given me strength for the road and I will carry you in my heart.  Namaste

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