on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Category: Lessons from my Father (Page 2 of 3)

My father taught me a lot in life, especially about how to love others and how to love God.

Humble Roots

This post is the nineteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

My father was a “country boy” who grew up in Tuscaloosa and Hale counties in rural, west Alabama as the youngest of seven children.  His father was a sharecropper during the week and a pastor on the weekends.  His mother cared for the home and children, tended the garden, made their clothes, and canned food for the winter.  She could kill a chicken by hand and prepare it for dinner when needed.  Everyone had chores.

As a young boy, my dad learned how to plow straight rows in the field behind a mule and his “weight lifting program” was pitching the 60-100 lb. hay bales from the back of the wagon into the barn.  He milked the family cows by hand with his brothers.  He walked a couple of miles daily to catch the school bus.

By the time my father was in high school at Tuscaloosa County High, he wanted to play basketball and football.  The problem was the late school bus that left in the afternoon to take the players home didn’t travel as far as my father lived.  When my dad’s high school coach saw his potential, he convinced my grandfather to let my father stay in a room at the gym with another boy in the same situation so he could play ball and not have to come home.  A widow who lived near the school provided his dinner each evening.

When my dad graduated from high school, that same coach put my dad in his car and took him to Samford University (called Howard College at the time) in Birmingham, and walked into the athletic department offices.  He must have been persuasive because by the time they left, they asked him if he wanted to play football and basketball there.  He said yes and started in both sports all four years.

I believe the first twenty-one years of my father’s life taught him about humility.  Anyone who knew my dad would say he was a humble man.  He was always quick to share the credit with others and he lived with a spirit of gratefulness.  He knew and remembered his roots.  His feet were firmly planted on the soil in which he walked and he understood that everything he had was a gift from God.

As Lewis Marler’s son, I fall short in this area of humility. I have had so many more advantages than my father had growing up.  I was a suburban boy who walked one block to elementary school, and my father drove me the three blocks to junior high school each day.  He bought me a car for my sixteenth birthday.  He came to almost every athletic event I ever played in.  I never worried about being hungry, or having enough clothes, and I never doubted I was loved.  I got almost everything I ever wanted.

And still, I want to be more like my father and keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and be grateful for every gift as though it was from God.  Because it is.

My father taught me so.

***

How about you?  What have you learned from others by who they are/were?  Will you share your story in the comments section below?

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Living with Depression

This post is the eighteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

When my mother died in 1965, my father battled with various levels of depression off and on for the next thirty-three years until his death.  I do not mean he was incapacitated by his depression, because he was able to work and be effective as a pastor in three congregations.

And for some persons who knew him as their pastor from 1965-1994, this might surprise them.  But I do believe his deep grief and family history presented him with one of the biggest challenges of his life.

The first time I heard about his depression was when we met in Nashville, TN and my father poured out his heart in a way I had never known before.  It was during that discussion that I understood how painful and how deep this struggle was for him.  He told me that he had been seeing a psychiatrist for awhile and that he had been on medications.  He added that he also supplemented that support with counseling from a therapist.

I was a seminary graduate by this time and had done my residency in a psychiatric unit of a hospital, both inpatient and outpatient.  I had an understanding of mental health issues and told him I was glad he was seeking help.

But like many persons today, Dad came out of the “old school belief” that mental health issues were a “weakness” rather than something that could be treated medically, emotionally, and spiritually.

He didn’t believe this to be true for other people as he referred many persons to counselors, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals over the years.

But he also thought that somehow if he prayed hard enough, that he should not have to take medicine personally or see someone for it.  But the important thing is he did get the help he needed.  Because deep down, he knew better.

We had this conversation about getting support for his depression many times in his life.  I am thankful that he talked to me about it and I am glad he got the help when he needed it.  This support from doctors and counselors made it possible for him to help hundreds of other people through their own grief during his ministry.

Depression is the most treatable mental health illness of all.  Encourage loved ones to reach out for the help they need.   If you struggle with depression, see a counselor and talk about it.  Talking really does help, and the right medication can make all the difference in the world.

Even though my father struggled with depression at times, as well as getting the help he needed, thank God he got it.

I hope you, and those you love, will too.

My father taught me so.

Resources for Depression:

  1. From Google Health
  2. Depression Resources
  3. Web MD
  4. MedicineNet.com
  5. National Institute of Mental Health
  6. Mayo Clinic

***

How about you?  Do you find yourself having a double standard for yourself and others in regards to getting help?  Do you believe it is ok to get help for depression and other mental health issues?  What are some barriers for you to get over in order to be able to do so?

Will you share your story with us in the comments section?  Or contact me by email?

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The Burden of Worry

This post is the seventeenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

None of us are perfect, and neither was my father.

Lewis Marler would have been the first person to tell you so.

If he was reading this blog he would say to me, “Malcolm, you’re making me sound too good.  I made lots of mistakes.  People are going to think too highly of me.”

There are not many of us who would worry about being thought of “too highly.”  But my father did.

In fact, he worried about a lot about of things.

He worried about what others thought of him. He worried if he had disappointed persons.  If he made a promise and for some reason couldn’t fulfill it, he would worry himself sick over it.

If he bought a new car, he worried that people in the church would think they were paying the pastor too much.  He turned down salary raises many years.

He worried about what he said to others, and would ruminate over it trying to determine if it was the absolute truth, and if it was a kind thing to say.

“I hope Richard Francis didn’t think I was criticizing that other pastor too much.  I shouldn’t have said what I did,” I remember him telling me one day.  Of course, when he eventually called Richard and apologized for it, his friend would laugh it off and say, “Lewis, I don’t even remember you saying anything about him.”  But my father remembered.

At times, his worry meter was on steroids.

He worried about whether or not he had told the absolute truth and nothing but the truth to a friend, colleague or parishoner.  Thank God he was never asked to testify in court.  That would have been torture for him trying to make sure every word was exactly the truth.

One April he called his tax accountant, Harry, and told him that he wasn’t sure if he had reported an honorarium for one wedding (maybe $50) on his taxes as miscellaneous income.  “Do we need to add that to my income line?” he asked.

Harry, who was more used to people calling him to see if they could get a deduction for some questionable circumstance, finally had to be clear and direct with my Dad.  “Lewis, I do not want you to call me one more time about a $25 or $50 gift you might have received,” Harry chided.  “I’ve got too many other things on my plate right now.”  Harry wasn’t used to such honesty from his clients.

In essence, my father struggled with the human condition more than many.  No one is perfect, though he wanted and strived to be.  He wanted always to do the right thing, and always wanted to say the right thing.

He gave grace or forgiveness to everyone else but parceled it to himself crumb by crumb.  Although on some occasions, he could see how ludicrous his efforts were and could laugh at himself.

I do not know where he inherited this “worry gene.” My hunch is his mother taught him to be an expert worrier.  After all, she had seven children to feed and a husband who didn’t make much money.  The Great Depression started around 1929 when my dad was 8 and lasted until through his college years.  Worry was in the air he and others breathed.

Some lessons are taught by our parents in reverse fashion.  Instead of us wanting to do something like they did, we grow up saying we want to do or be the opposite.

The reverse lesson in this story is, “Don’t worry so much.  Give yourself some grace and forgiveness.  Be gentle with yourself.  Nobody is perfect.”

We have a saying in the South for my father that fits nicely here, “Bless his heart.”  He tried hard to practice what he preached.  But we all have clay feet.

And by the way, I hope you don’t think I’m being too critical of my father in this post.  I worry about that.

My father taught me so.

***

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Reaching the Unreachable

This post is the sixteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

One man had rough, calloused hands from his construction work.  He cussed and sometimes wasn’t kind in the way he spoke to his wife.  He thought religion was for sissies.

Another was a successful businessman who lived in a large, comfortable home with his wife and three children.  He drove a nice car, and they went on impressive vacations.  He believed God was something people used as a crutch to get through life.

And there was the high school football coach and teacher in a nearby community.  When he was a boy, a local minister had embarrassed his father in front of the entire church by calling out his name in a worship service for a personal indiscretion.  This coach had vowed never to darken the door of another church.

All of these men believed that a connection with God was for other people.  They didn’t stop their wives or children from going to church, but you better not bring it up to them unless you wanted a sermon of a different kind.

And yet my father had a special way of relating to each one of them. He would seek them out at community ball games and use non-religious, common language they understood.  He would find them in a local coffee shop, or drop by their work or home at a time when impromptu visits were acceptable.

Each would expect him to lecture or “preach” to them.  But they were always surprised.

His main goal was to become a friend, to earn trust, and to set his own agenda aside.

During my father’s fifty years of ministry, these three men and hundreds more like them, would eventually be the ones asking him the deeper questions of life.

And he would respond with gentle, non-judgmental, caring answers.

Some would eventually find a connection to God, others never did.  But regardless of their response, he would meet them where they were, and remain their friend.

So now, when I meet people from different backgrounds, or people with different religions, or persons with no faith at all; it seems natural for me to look for common ground.

My father taught me how to meet people where they are, to be their friend, and to put my own agenda aside.

What a gift.

My father taught me so.

***

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a relationship?

  1. What was it like?
  2. Why did it surprise you?
  3. How were you changed?

Would you share in the comments below?

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The Value of Teamwork

This post is the fifteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

As I have written before, my father and I shared the love of sports.  While he was a basketball and football star in college at Samford University, I attended Clemson University in South Carolina on a scholarship as a defensive back and started most of my time there.

Throughout my life, my dad and I talked about the value of teamwork.  When I would have a good game at Clemson, he would also point out how our defensive line played particularly well that day, or how one of our linebackers had a great game too.

In other words, while he affirmed my play and was a great encourager to me, he also made it clear that I, nor any of my teammates, were individually responsible for how well, or how bad, we played as a team.  It was a team effort.  Win or lose, we all contributed to wins and losses.

You can’t take the total blame for the games you lose,” he would say.  “And no one person wins the game for the team either, regardless what the fans think.”  He was right.

And the lesson of teamwork spilled over into my vocation as well.  He would remind me years later when a church I was working in was growing and people were excited about things happening, to be thankful for it and to recognize the efforts of all of the persons involved.

A few years later, I went through a particularly hard time in one church where I was an associate pastor.  There was a small, vocal group of people in the church who were very critical of the senior pastor.  They blamed him for everything.

Dad and I talked about it on several occasions and I remember him saying, “Malcolm, the senior pastor is like the quarterback, everybody wants to give him all the credit and all the blame, but that’s just what the ‘fans” think,” referring to the church members.

“Never criticize a teammate to others.  Be careful about listening to people who criticize your teammate to you.  Just by listening, they may assume you agree with them and tell others the same,” he added.  The latter part of that advice was wise counsel.

Now I know many years later, that “team” refers to many contexts.  My work, my family, and many other areas of my life are about teamwork.

In fact, broadly speaking, the whole human family is a team.

It’s just that we have a lot of fans who are sitting on the sidelines blaming the quarterback and the teammates.  Don’t listen to their criticism of the human family team.  We are all responsible for the wins and losses.  If you win, I win.  If you lose, I lose.  We’re all in this together.

My father taught me so.

***

Where have you discovered teamwork in your life?  What lessons have you learned?

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The Gift of Stepfamily

This post is the fourteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

A long-time friend of my father was Hudson Baggett.  They went to seminary together and remained in touch with one another over the years.  They regularly teased one another, laughed together, and had a sense of humor about the Baptist denomination they served, which I saw as a healthy thing.

Hudson eventually became the editor of the Alabama Baptist newspaper, but I knew him more like an uncle growing up.

A couple of years after my mother died, my father got a phone call from Hudson. “Lewis, I know a very pretty lady in Jasper, AL who I want to introduce you to.  She’s beautiful, smart, and is a school teacher.  Her husband died around the same time Martha Lou did and she doesn’t have any children.  Yep, I should introduce the two of you, her name is Jimmie Ruth.”

All pretty women in the South have double names.

“That sounds good to me,” my dad responded.  “Let me know when I can meet her.”  After all, it was hard to find a woman to date when you ruled out women in your own congregation like my father did, plus had two kids at home.

A few weeks went by.  My dad called Hudson.  “I thought you were going to introduce me to Jimmie Ruth?” he asked.  “Oh yeah, that’s right, I need to do that.  I will soon, I will write her and let you know,” as he hung up with good intentions.

At that point, my dad knew that if he waited until Hudson introduced them, he would be an old man.

So my father sat down and wrote a letter of personal introduction to Jimmie Ruth Mays in Jasper, AL.

Jimmie tells the story at this point, “I knew I was going to marry Lewis Marler when I reached into the mailbox and saw his handwriting on the envelope the very first time,” she still says like a teenager.

Now I’ve heard of love at first sight, but never love at first letter. But it is true.

She said, “When I opened the letter, I read about a Southern gentleman who was introducing himself in a kind, respectful manner.  He told me his wife died about the same time my husband did, and he was wondering if I would like to go to dinner the next time he was up in the Jasper area.  He added he had two children, Marcy (14) and Malcolm (12).  I wrote him back and said I’d love to go to dinner with him and gave him my phone number.  He called me the day he got my letter, and I think it was the next Friday he happened to be coming to Jasper,” she says with a smile.

“I bought a new white dress for that date,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye.  “And I peeked out the window when he drove up to see what he looked like.  I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, he looks pretty good!'”

They fell in love quickly. I noticed my father smiling more, having more energy, and a spring in his step.  He talked about Jimmie and brought her to meet us.

I noticed her beautiful smile, her kindness, and the way she looked at and treated my dad.  It didn’t hurt that she was an amazing cook and I had grown tired of eating at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and other fast food places the last couple of years.  She was seven years younger than he.

On August 2nd, 1968, I was the Best Man and my sister was the Maid of Honor at a small wedding among friends.  Hudson Baggett of course, officiated at the ceremony.  My Dad and Jimmie were married for almost 30 years until my Dad’s death, and Jimmie is still my stepmom forty-one years later.

I learned from my father that one could love again, even after a terrible grief.  Both he and Jimmie took a risk in life to give love a second chance.  Jimmie was and is a gift to me as my stepmom.  She gave me the time and space to call her whatever I wanted, and so I chose to call her by her first name for a long time in those early years.  She told me, “I’m not trying to replace your mother, no one can do that.  I’m just trying to be a loving adult in your life.”

It is ironic that many years later my graduate work for the doctor of ministry degree in seminary was focused on understanding the dynamics of a stepfamily and developing a ministry to couples who had children from previous marriages.  Not a coincidence, nor something I thought about at the time.

And my dad and Jimmie’s relationship also gave me the courage after my divorce in 1996 to eventually marry a beautiful woman with a double first name like my mother’s (Martha Lou).  Mary Bea also happened to have two children, Brendan (12) and Kiki (11) in 2004.  And she, too, is seven years young than I am.

And now I have the opportunity to be a stepdad and finally have the children I always wanted since I didn’t have children from my first marriage.  I could not love or admire two children than I do in Brendan and Kiki.

Thank you Dad and Mom for showing me how a stepfamily can work, and for teaching me that love deserves a second chance.

My father (and Mom) taught me so.

***

What relationships in your life have given you new hope again?  Will you share with me and my readers in the Comments section below?

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An Unfortunate Dream That Came True

This post is the thirteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

On August 4th, 1965, my father, sister, and I went to peek in my parent’s bedroom where my mother was asleep.  She was resting comfortably and we decided not to wake her to kiss her good night as we had done previous nights.  She had come home from the hospital a few days before following a hysterectomy.

During that night I had a dream. I dreamed that someone close to me was slowly, gently moving away from me.  I remember reaching out to them and felt frightened at first, but I heard a voice in the background that was calm and reassuring that said, “Malcolm, you are going to be alright.  Don’t be afraid.  It’s going to be ok.  I will take care of you.”  And I can remember being at peace and relaxing in the dream.

The next morning, August 5th, I was sleeping like any ten year old kid would be at 8 or 9 o’clock on a humid, August summer morning.  I got up, walked down the hall to our den and opened the door.  I looked up and saw a woman from our church on the phone.  She saw me and had a worried, startled look on her face.  I quickly returned to my room trying to figure out why she was there. I learned later she was making phone calls to other church members and friends.

It wasn’t but a few minutes later that my father came to my room and picked me up out of bed and said, “Malcolm, let’s go into the den.”  We stopped and got my twelve year old sister, Marcy, up from the bed in her room and the three of us went into the den and sat down by ourselves.

My father sat very close to us, took a deep breath, looked us in the eyes and said, “Malcolm and Marcy, I have some very bad news to share with you.  Something happened to Mama this morning and she died.  We don’t know if she had a heart attack or what, but it was very sudden.  I am so sorry.”

Marcy began to sob understandably, and my father held her close to his chest and cried with her.  I sat there stunned, in shock, and confused.  My dad reached out to me with one arm and told me it was ok for me to cry, but at that moment I couldn’t. I wanted to but I couldn’t.  I would eventually cry myself to sleep for months later.

All I knew was that the person my daily life revolved around, my “Mama” as we called her, was dead.  She was my life anchor, the one who always made it ok when something bad happened to me.  But she could not this time.

For my sister, Marcy, who was adopted into our family before I was born, had been through a traumatic experience of being in several foster homes before my parents brought her home, had now lost her second mother.  Her biological mother had given her up for adoption, and now the only mother she knew was no more.

For my father, Lewis, he had lost the love of his life.  His forty-one year old beloved was gone.  She was the one who could light up a room and relate to any person young or old.  She was the one in their relationship who was the extrovert while he was a bit shy and reserved.  And for him, he was thrust into the role of a single parent in the blink of an eye with a large church to pastor while he grieved himself.

What did my father teach me through this crisis?  What was the lesson or lessons I learned?

He starting showing up for Marcy and me.  He showed me that a father could be present.  I don’t know how he did it, but he rearranged his work so that he could be there for us when we needed him.  He asked lots of mothers in our church to help us, and they stepped forward too.  That is another story in and of itself how I was mothered through my grief.  But I was also “fathered through my grief.”  And when he made mistakes in parenting, he would sit us down and apologize, and ask for forgiveness.

His deep, abiding faith was authentic, soothing, and encouraging.  And he held me close to him, a lot, at night.  That one act by itself, the holding me close, as well as the open affection and kisses he gave me, is what helped me to survive.  More than words.  It was a tenderness that is often reserved for mothers and their children.  If he had withdrawn and not been there physically for me, I don’t think I would have made it.

It was not until fifteen years later in Nashville, TN when I finally told my father about the dream I had the night before my Mama died.  He listened, he nodded his head as tears rolled down his cheeks, and he asked me what I thought it meant.  I told him I didn’t know for sure, that it was a mystery to me, and that it wasn’t as important for me to know who the voice was or the exact meaning of it anymore.

What was important about the dream was that the message had become true for me.  The voice was right.  I really was going to be ok, I really was going to be alright.  I really did not have to be afraid.

Thank you Lewis Marler, for being there in my grief, even when you were grieving yourself.

My father taught me so.

***

  • What did this story remind you of in your life?
  • Has someone been there for you during a time of grief?
  • What dreams have you had that have come true in your life, whether they were night or day dreams?
  • Will you share with my readers in the Comments section below?

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When Tragedies Happen

This post is the twelfth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

I never knew my oldest sister. But my father told me about her.

She was born approximately three and a half years before I was born.  My mother had a couple of miscarriages in her first two pregnancies, but finally was able to deliver their first daughter in Selma on January 2, 1952.  My father told me what an amazing experience it was when I was an adult.

Those were the days when fathers paced outside the delivery room waiting for the news.

He heard her cry when she was born and the nurse came out to tell him they had a beautiful healthy baby girl.  He got to see her and hold her for a few minutes.

He drove the few miles home from the hospital and began making phone calls to his parents, brothers and sisters, my mother’s parents, and church members.  The celebration began.  After praying for the possibility of having a child, their prayers had been answered, or so they thought.

And then the phone call came. It was the doctor and he said to my Dad that he needed to come back to the hospital as fast as he could.  “Something has gone wrong and we don’t know what it is,” said the physician who was a friend of my parents.

When my dad arrived he got the terrible news. Their only child, their little girl had died.  Both of my parents were in shock and were grieving as you can imagine.  What was a celebration one moment changed quickly into mourning.

She never had a name. But she has affected my life because she had an impact on my parents.  My father described it as one of the darkest moments of his and my mother’s life.  He said the grief was overwhelming.

Back in those days, couples were not encouraged to name the child if they died so quickly.  We know better now.

So today, April 17, 2010, I am going to name my sister for my own sake, and call her Maria Marler.

Somehow my parents got through the experience as they were told they could not have any more children.  It would be “too dangerous for my mother,” was the counsel from her doctor.

And so they eventually adopted my sister Marcy, who was born on October 25, 1952, but wasn’t brought home until some nine months later in the spring of 1953.  Much to their surprise two years later I was born without medical problems.

One of the things my father taught me was that tragedies happen in everyone’s life.  God can help us through anything we face, even losing a child.  My dad and mom took that life experience and had a special ministry to reach out to friends, and friends of friends, over the years who had similar grief over the death of their child.

“God gave us a lot of opportunities to care for other people who felt like they couldn’t go on.  We understood what they were going through and it also helped us to help them,” he told me after I was grown.

He told me one day, “I don’t believe God caused our little girl to die. God is a God of love.  It just happened because of what we learned later was a RH-Negative factor in her blood.  But I do believe that no matter what happens to us, God never leaves us, and he grieves with us.  And if we are open to it, he can use even our tragedies for good in our lives.”

My father did not believe in a God of punishment who says one day, “Hmm, what tragedy can I give this person so s/he will learn a lesson?”  Instead, he believed in a God who says, “I’m so sorry this has happened.  I will give you strength to get through this, and then we can see how we can use this in your life to help others.”

I have held on to that lesson.

And now my parents are buried next to their daughter.  And I try to remember, that God can take anything that happens in my life, and can cause good to come from it, if I am open to it.

My father taught me so.

***

What does this story remind you of?  How has God taken something that was difficult for you and some good has come from it?  Will you share in the comments below?

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Offering a Seat

This post is the eleventh in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

I grew up in the heart of Dixie during the most tumultuous times of the Civil Rights Movement.  I was born in Selma, grew up in Montgomery, and went to high school in a Birmingham suburb called Gardendale, AL from 1955-1973.

My father became the pastor of a church in Montgomery, AL when I was five years old in 1960 and we were there until 1970.  It was a racially tense time to say the least.  Blatant discrimination was part of the culture and fabric of society and rarely questioned.  I can remember separate public water fountains for the “white” and “colored.”  School integration was supposed to start in 1963, but I never saw a classmate with a different skin color until 1967.

My father and mother were different than the society in which we lived.  As were a few others.

In our home, my sister and I were taught that all persons, regardless of skin color, were children of God. They were constantly teaching us different ways of thinking and acting than everything we heard outside the home.  When other people in our neighborhood and church used the “N” word to talk about persons who were black, my father always referred to African Americans as “colored.”  This was progressive for a white man to do so in the 60’s in Alabama.

One particular story I remember was when integration in the high schools was finally becoming a reality in 1967-68.  The church where my father was pastor happened to be on the street that was on the geographical dividing line that determined where students would go to high school.  If your house was on the same side of the street as the church, your children went to the traditional white Sidney Lanier High School.  If your house was across the street, your children were zoned to attend the traditional black Carver High School.

I remember seeing almost every house on the opposite of the street go up for sale in the same week when the zoning districts were publicized.  Hundreds of houses had for sale signs in their front yards, as white families protested by selling their homes and moving to the white side of town.

And the church was not exempt from this discrimination. One Sunday I overheard some of the deacons talking to one another as they smoked under the big oak tree, “What are we going to do about that trouble-maker King?”  They said a lot more than that.

Later in the week, during an open church business meeting one of them stood up and said, “Pastor, what we are going to do if some of those Negroes try to come to our church?”

Now first of all, the likelihood of anyone who was black wanting to come into our lily white church was almost zero.  Our worship services were downright boring compared to their own.  But fear ruled the day.  The deacon persisted to put my father on the spot.  “Brother Marler,” he said, “What do you want us to do?”

My father walked up to the podium and leaned into the microphone and called the deacon by his first name and said, “Well, I hope you will help them find a seat,” and he sat back down.  End of discussion.  Silence.  Someone made a motion for the business meeting to end.

I remember to this day how proud I was of my father at that very moment.

And years later when I became the Chaplain in a HIV/AIDS clinic I asked him what he thought about me caring for persons who at that time were primarily gay white men.  He said, “Malcolm, its not any different than those days in the 60’s.  Everybody needs someone to love them and care for them.”

And he was right. Black or white, gay or straight, we all need someone to love us.  Whatever the cultural issue of the day is, anytime we exclude rather than include members of the human family, we are missing the mark.

How do you draw your circle in the human family?  Who is in?  Who is out?

Lewis Marler taught me to always love people first.

My father taught me so.

***

Are there people in your life who have taught you important lessons that were different than the way other people believed?  How did they do so?  How have you applied that to your life now?  Would you share in the comments below?

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Aunt Malissa’s Grace

This post is the tenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

My father was one of the most honest persons I have known. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but there was a part of him that wanted to make sure that what he said and what he did were consistent with one another.  He had integrity and taught me about it too with his life.

When I was about six years old, my family was visiting my father’s sister,  Aunt Malissa who lived in Moundville just outside of Tuscaloosa, AL.  Aunt Malissa and her husband, Uncle Rufus, owned a cafe and drug store called “Miss Malissa’s Cafe.” It is still one of the best places to eat near Tuscaloosa fifty years later even though it is obviously under different ownership.

While we were there and no one was looking, I decided I wanted to take a couple of things from the store and I discreetly slipped them into my pocket.  When we got to the car, I pulled the stolen property out as we were about to drive off (not smart).  My father looked back at me in the car and said, “What do you have there?”  I showed him and he asked me if I had paid for it.  I ducked my head and said, “No sir.”

He turned off the car and asked me calmly to get out of the car.  He explained, “Malcolm, we don’t take things without paying for them.  We are going to go back into the store and I will be with you.  I want you to give this to Aunt Malissa and tell her you are sorry that you took this without paying for it.”  It was my first lesson in coming clean.

I was so embarrassed but I knew my father was right.  What I appreciated was that he didn’t shame me, or give me a long lecture.  And the fact that he was willing to go with me helped a lot.

I walked into the store and my Aunt Malissa said, “Hello Malcolm, I thought you had left.”  With a trembling voice and a quivering lip, I pulled the stolen goods out of my pocket and said, “I’m sorry Aunt Malissa, but I didn’t pay for this.  I am sorry.  Will you forgive me?”  Remember I was six.

She looked at my father and back at me and her face softened.  She bent down and said with misty eyes, “Yes Malcolm, I forgive you.  I love you.”  I threw my arms around her neck and hugged her hard.  She added, “Thank you for being honest and apologizing.”  I felt relieved, free, and forgiven.  It was one of my first encounters with grace.

Aunt Malissa was my favorite aunt primarily because she reminded me so much of my dad, calm, kind, and loving.  She was the last of the Marler children in my father’s family to die in 2002.  I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at her funeral.  The picture to the right was taken at her 90th birthday party.  She and I had a very close bond because we shared a love of my father.  And years later we could remember the above story and smile.

I remember my first lesson in honesty and integrity and doing the right thing with my father and Aunt Malissa.

Many times in my life I heard my father apologize to other people whom he had hurt and asked for their forgiveness, including me.  And now when I fall short and do the wrong thing, I know what I need to do.

I have had to ask for forgiveness a lot in my life.

My father taught me so.

***

Can you share an experience when you did the wrong thing and were forgiven?  Do you remember what that felt like?  What did you do?  What effect did it have on your life?  What does this story remind you of in your life?

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