malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Category: Simplicity (page 1 of 6)

Accepting the Gift

Open HandsThe best way to learn how to care for others is to say thank you when this sacred gift is offered to you.

But so often we miss the opportunity to learn this skill because we say, “Thank you for offering, but I’m fine.”

We have cut off the lesson in mid-sentence, and the seed with so much potential to grow and transform our lives, and others, falls onto the hard packed dirt and is lost forever.

But if we will take a deep breath, swallow our pride, and understand that this is indeed a sacred gift, then we can respond with, “Thank you, I appreciate that.”

Then we will learn what it feels like to be loved, cared for, and we  won’t be able to keep it to ourself any longer.

The world needs us to accept the gift of this precious seed into the soil of our hearts so that we can share the fruits with others.  

I am thankful to so many of you who have offered me these seeds of hope.

Let us pass it on.  Pass it on.

Transforming Trash

I was inspired today by children in Paraguay who live on a landfill, and wanted to share it with you.

Children make their own musical instruments, transforming trash into music.  This is about love, courage and creativity.

Their creativity has me wondering.  Maybe if we take whatever we have, as little or as much as it is, and offer it freely to the world, God can use us in ways we never dreamed?  What do you think?

Thank you to Sonya Sutton of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC for passing this along on her church’s blog.

Please see the video below.

Peace be with you,

Malcolm

Caring for Less

I have come to a point in my life where I am ready to care for less.

I am not talking about caring less.

I am talking about caring MORE.

I want to care enough to have less so that I have more to share.

My stuff beckons me. It demands my time.  But I will be deaf and blind to it.

I will use my time to do what I am called to do–to be present and care for the people that God brings into my life.

I am ready.  Less cars, less house, less yard, less things, and less stuff.

Life is short and there are no guarantees.

What about you?  What do you care more or less about?

 

The Hope of Spring

I sat on the deck overlooking the lake this morning and sipped my coffee, feeling the sixty degree breeze on February 27, 2011.

This is one of the things I love about living in the South.  Spring comes early, which means that hope is just around the corner.

Yes, we’ll probably have a couple more “cold snaps” but they will soon give way to the buds and the flowers and the green that paints the landscape all around the lake.

Spring causes the winter of life to fade, literally and figuratively.

Hope is vital to our lives.

What gives you hope?

Is it a friend who cares for you when you thought you were all alone?

And how do you give hope to others? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Just when all seems lost, hope saves the day.

Thank God for hope.

 

 

Steps on the Simplicity Journey

I was a little hard on myself in my last post, Why Do I Want to Simplify? Do you ever do that?

I am usually hardest on myself when I want to be at a certain goal but I’m not willing to do what is necessary to get there.  I just want to be there now.   Which of course is the quickest path to discouragement.

I have appreciated hearing from several of you through comments and email that I am not alone in this struggle to simplify, to be free of the stuff that takes personal time, energy, and resource to sustain.  This “stuff” may get in the way of living our lives more meaningfully.

One of the blogs I read is by Everett Bogue called Far Beyond the Stars who wrote an interesting blog recently on The True Purpose of Simplicity.  He said that the reason he is a “minimalist” (one who lives with as few possessions as possible) is freedom.  Simplicity or minimalism gives him the freedom to choose more intentionally.

For me, there is another reason I want to live more simply.

I believe my spiritual connection to God, our Creator, beckons me, calls me, invites me to do so.

The ultimate goal is to use the freedom from stuff to be free to serve others.

I want my time, my resources, and my skills to be used to make the people’s lives better.

So as I wait for our house to sell, I realize that there is much I can do now.  I can make choices now.

I can start by my cleaning out my closet again and giving those extra clothes away.  I can tackle that section of the garage that just accumulates stuff and give or throw it away.  I can sell our ping pong table on Craigslist and go through the stuff that has grown in the basement of our house.

I won’t arrive at my goal this year, but like many things, it will get me moving in the direction I want to go.  Steps along the journey are better than being hard on myself for not arriving already.

My prayer in the meantime is I will see the people and opportunities I encounter every day as steps on that journey to live more simply and to live more freely.

How are you living more simply? Will you share your steps in the comments below?

Peace to you on the journey.

(If you don’t see the comments box below, click on the Comments link.)

Why do I want to simplify?

This is a hard blog to write.  I am embarrassed.

I’ve been exploring how to simplify my life more lately and I read several blogs (see bottom of left column) daily about how to do so.  If I read enough about simplification, write enough about it, then my life will be simpler.  Right?

Wrong.  As a person of faith, it’s kind of like reading the sacred scripture of your faith and agreeing with the concepts in your head, and saying “I believe that,” whatever “that” is, but ultimately it changes nothing.  My behavior is the true evidence.

So, the real question is why do I want to simplify my life?

My faith invites and requires me to do so.  That matters to me.

And this is where I am uncomfortable, and for good reason.  I work hard at two jobs so that I can provide for myself and family to have enough food, water, shelter, and clothing.  And so much more.

My faith is important to me.  But unless I can see it in the way I live, I am a fool and liar.

To put it more simply, my faith says I am supposed to care for the “least of these.” As a start, the least of these include the thirsty and hungry, and those who do not have enough clothes.  I am supposed to visit persons who are sick and care for them, and I am supposed to visit those in prison.

As a chaplain in a hospital, I’m working on visiting and caring for the sick.  But on the rest, I flunk the test on a daily basis.  Except sometimes at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I have fooled myself into thinking that by tipping God at my church (10%), the rest of my resources can be used any way I want.  Not true.  And my behavior right now really does reflect what I believe.  I don’t like what I am seeing one bit.  I am not satisfied with it.

I know I’m being hard on myself, but I have to be in order to get my attention!

How can I live in a radically, clear way that validates my faith.  One step at a time.

Does anyone else struggle with this issue?

I’d love to hear how we can work on this together.

I would appreciate some company.

Dreaming Anew

Friends have asked about the process of us putting our home on the market and moving into Birmingham.

So why are we open to selling our home on the lake that we love so much?

Not long after I built my house in 2002, I was at peace with the idea that I would be single for the rest of my life.  Seriously.  With no children from my sixteen year marriage, I dreamed of living on a lake and inviting friends to visit on the weekends.  I would create my own extended family and go from there.  I went from sleeping on the floor in a one bedroom apartment with no furniture to building this house six years later.

After moving into my new home, Mary and I met a few months later and all my priorities shifted.  All I knew was I wanted to be wherever she was.  I was ready to move to NC where Mary lived and let the lake house go.  We married eighteen months later and surprisingly Brendan and Kiki wanted to move to the lake.  Six years later our two children are beginning their sophomore years in college, and Mary and I are looking to downsize, own less, and simplify our lives.

A new dream helps me to be open to moving into the city of Birmingham.

I wrote about my simplicity journey this Spring.  But what exactly do I mean now?

I dream of the day when I can:

  1. Live close enough to walk or ride a bike to work after commuting one hour each way for eight years.
  2. Own one car.
  3. Downsize from a 4BR/3BA home to 2BR/2BA condo and own less.
  4. Cut our mortgage in half and eliminate all of our debt in the next ten years or less.
  5. Invest more time in family, friendships, and hobbies outside of work.
  6. Be more extravagant in giving away my resources to be more congruent with my faith values.

I could go on. But that is enough for now.

And speaking of now, what do we do in the meantime?  After all, we do have to wait for someone to buy our house in a tough market.

We all live in the “meantime,” the now.  I’ll write about that in my next post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear you have downsized your life, or how you are living more simply.  What does that mean to you? How have or how are you doing it?

Peace.

The Grief of Leaving

“I CANNOT believe you are leaving that place!” one friend wrote on my Facebook page.  “Why in the heck would you want to sell this jewel?” another one asked.

Other legitimate questions have come from friends and acquaintances since Mary and I put our lake home on the market a few months ago.  This is not a “second home,” but rather our only home where I have lived since 2002, and where my new family has lived with me since 2005.  I designed and built this house with the encouragement of friends, a bank, and a builder.

Now there is nothing unusual about people selling their house. And to be honest, most people really don’t care what we do since it is our personal decision.  On the other hand, just because our house is on the market, it doesn’t mean we are moving into the city of Birmingham anytime soon.  Most people say it couldn’t be a worse time to sell a house.

And even if we do get an offer, we may discover that emotionally it is too difficult to sell and we decide to stay.  We are open, and we shall see.  We are living into the mystery and cannot know until we know.

The deeper question I want to explore with you, my readers, is why would any of us want to let go of a dream that has been realized?  What process do we go through to leave something we love for something that we do not yet know?

For me personally, this is a process of grief. It is also a process of realizing new possibilities.  But first, I have to experience the grief.

When I was a kid, I went to the lake with Steve Hope and his family.  Steve was one of my boyhood friends who lived two doors down from us in Montgomery and his family had a cabin and boat on the lake.  They would invite me to go with them and I loved water skiing, swimming, and riding in the boat.  Water has always been life-giving for me.  I loved hearing the night sounds of the lake and seeing the stars that I could not see as clearly in the city.

When I lived in Connecticut and had a day off from my church duties, I discovered a state park that had a lake where I could go and swim and relax in the sun.  I loved skinny dipping when no one was around, and I still do.

After I moved back to Alabama and my divorce was final in 2006, Libby Potts gave me the keys to her family’s lake house for a couple of days.  I sat in silence, staring at the water for hours, and felt the cool, healing water against my skin.  I dreamed of the day when I could have a place on the lake.  This dream seemed impossible on the salary of a chaplain who was struggling to pay off debt and start over at forty years old.

But six years later, building a house on the lake became a reality.  And now, I have lived here for eight years.

I love living on the water in the country.  I love the spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  I love the wildlife of blue herons, loons, wild turkeys, deer, raccoons, and rabbits.  I love swimming and skiing and boating though I have done it less and less, year by year.

Why would any of us choose to go through the grief of leaving a place we love? Well, our lives change.

There is a yearning for simplifying my life.  I want to own less stuff, instead of my stuff owning me.  I want to cut my mortgage in half this year and eliminate it totally in less than ten years.  I want to own only one car.  The list is growing.  I will share more later.

What have you left that you loved? Why did you do so?  What have you discovered?  Do you have any regrets?

Thank you for walking this part of the journey with me.

Swimming Upstream

When I was in high school I remember saying, “I can’t wait to go to college.” By the time I was a senior in college,  I was excited about graduate school.  Then came my marriage, job opportunities, divorce, houses, remarriage, children, and more.

If we are not careful, we will find ourselves believing the illusion that peace and happiness is just around the corner, instead of being available right here and right now.

If we are not careful, we will miss the gifts of where we live today, the relationships we have in our lives already, and the vocation that is part of our daily routine.

Mary and I have one of these challenges right now.  We have an empty nest with both kids entering their sophomore years in college.  In the past year I started the most challenging and enjoyable job I’ve ever had, and Mary has multiple opportunities for her work and education.

We want to simplify our lives, which is of course complex.  To simplify one’s life in the U.S. is like being a salmon who swims upstream.  Our American culture is the river and our new dream of owning less is the salmon.  To simplify is to go against against the flow.

One of our “simplicity decisions” is deciding where we want to live at this time in our lives–the lake where we presently live, or in the city of Birmingham.

As many of my friends know, when I was a “single again man” it took me six years to get back on my feet financially and emotionally.  And so in 2002, I decided to build a house on the lake.

It was time to go for a dream to live on the water. I went to the bank and borrowed the maximum amount I could, bought a couple of acres, and before long a house was built and I moved in.  Six months later, I met Mary, was swept off my feet and married about eighteen months later.  Much to my surprise, we moved our new family to the lake in the country so that we could all live together.

Our home has been a wonderful place to be family with one another.  Beautiful nature has renewed our souls on a regular basis.

On the other hand, it has been challenging because the grocery store and our church are a thirty-five minute drive one way, and my work is an hour away.

So why and what are we planning to do?  We don’t know yet, but we will when it’s time.

Over the next few days or weeks, I am going to write about my journey of deciding where to live and the reasons behind it.  I need to do so for my own sake.

There is grief to work through and new dreams to pursue.

I hope it will be helpful to you, my readers.

In the meantime, I am thankful for this day, where we live now, and for new dreams in my life.

When have you chosen to simplify your life?  What was it like?  Was it worth it?  Why or why not?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.  Let us learn together.

Peace be with you, today,

Malcolm

Easter Means — Day 40

Easter Sunday is a day of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus for those of us in the Christian world.

Some quotes I love about Easter include:

This is the Easter message, that awakening is possible, to the goodness of God, the sacredness of human life, the sisterhood and brotherhood of all.  (Anne Lamott)

The joyful news that Jesus is risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.  (Henry Knox Sherrill)

The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is no victory through domination. There is no such thing as triumph by force. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus stops the cycle of violence and challenges the notion of dominating power. He invites us to relational or spiritual power, where we are not just changed but transformed. And not transformed from the top down but from the bottom up, not from the outside in but from the inside out. (Richard Rohr)

While the historical event of Easter has remained the same, I’ve found that Easter has meant different things to me throughout my life, depending on what I am going through at the time.

When my sixteen year marriage ended in 1995, I found the forgiveness I desperately needed to pick up my life and move forward counting heavily on the forgiveness and grace at Easter.

When my father died in 1998, I discovered the peace and strength in the midst of grief that was greater than my own at Easter.

When I married Mary Bea Sullivan in 2004, I experienced the joy of mutual love that gave me new hope at Easter.

I wonder what it will be this year? 

And what about for you? What do you need most of all this Easter season?  Easter is more than a day, it’s a season in the Christian Church called Eastertide that lasts for fifty days between Easter and Pentecost.  So you have time.

Think about it.

Eastertide is like an ongoing party for new discovery of what the resurrection means to you.

My prayer is for you to experience all that you need during this Easter season. Everyone is invited to the feast.  There is plenty for everyone.  May your cup runneth over.

Peace be with you.  Happy Easter.

***

What do you need to experience this Easter and the weeks following?  Please share below.

Thank you for reading The Simplicity Journey for the past 40 days.

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