on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Living with the Questions

questionsAs I turn 54 on July 9, 2009, I am aware I have more questions than I have answers.

When I was younger, I had more answers.

However, now that I’m older I can remember other times of questions and transitions in my life and how God has helped me to survive and thrive through them all.

I remember when I was 10 when I sat in our den as my Dad told my sister and me that my mother had died suddenly during the night.

Thankfully, a dozen “mothers” promptly stepped forward from our church over the next few weeks, months, and years for me.  And then I was blessed to have Jimmie Ruth Hudson to become my stepmother three years later and she is still in my life 41 years later.

I remember when I was 15 sitting in an empty high school football stadium with my Dad as he contemplated whether to accept becoming the pastor of a church moving us from the only home I had known to an unfamiliar one for my high school years.  I only knew that I wanted to play football at the local high school I knew because they had been the state champion for recently.   My Dad eventually accepted the position in the new town, and I ended up having a wonderful high school experience there.

I remember when Alabama and Coach Bear Bryant didn’t call and offer me a football scholarship my senior year (hint — I was 5′ 8″, 160 lbs), and I thought it was the end of the world.  But then my former childhood buddy in Montgomery, Billy Eley, mentioned to his neighbor’s brother (who happened to be the head recruiter at Clemson and a former All-American) that they should look at me; and a few weeks later I was offered a full, four-year scholarship to attend Clemson.   I was starting at defensive back at Clemson during my Freshman year living the dream to play college football at a major university.

I remember trying to figure out if I was going to live in Connecticut for the rest of my life in 1994.  I loved the church I was serving and my friends in New England as well.  I weighed if I would try to save my wounded marriage and follow my former wife back to Alabama.   My father was also ill and I moved back home and tried to repair my marriage.  My Dad died a few years later and I eventually divorced.  But I am so thankful I made the move that allowed me to be a chaplain at The 1917 Clinic (HIV/AIDS Clinic) for the past 15 years.  It has been an amazing experience.

I remember when I gave up on the idea that I would ever find a life partner after looking for 8 years after my divorce.  So I let go and decided to build a house on the lake to live the rest of my life alone.  And then what a surprise it was when I fell in love with Mary Sullivan six months later.  I was even more shocked when my new family wanted to come to live with me on the lake in the middle of nowhere.  It has turned out better than I could have imagined.

Life goes by quickly doesn’t it?  And now I am at another crossroads with plenty of questions.

What do I want to do for my vocation during my last 10-15 years of full-time work?  Where do we want to live?  The questions grow.

Do I want to continue as the chaplain at The 1917 Clinic as I have for the past 15 years?

Do I want to return to work in the church as a priest in my new faith home in the Episcopal Church?  Could both Mary and I both serve as Episcopal priests together someday?

Or do I want to do something entirely different? And what would that look like?  Maybe direct a Pastoral Care Program in a hospital, return to pastoral counseling, or go on the road to train congregations and other organizations how to care for persons?

Do Mary and I want to sell our home on Smith Lake and live more simply as we experience an empty nest in August?

Or will Mary and I move to a foreign country for a year and see what we can learn from our human family there?

I have so many more questions than I do answers as I turn fifty-four.  I am thankful to have a life partner whom I love with my whole heart.

But most of all, I am thankful I can remember that I have faith in God who has met my needs in my life through all of my previous questions and transitions.  God has not only met my needs, but has woven all of the threads of my life into a new quilt that is more diverse and colorful than I could have imagined.  Nothing has been wasted.

So, today, I think I’ll just make friends with the questions for awhile, and trust.  The answers can wait.


  1. joe

    Turning fifty four is wonderful. I learned that 11 months ago. As one who has had major (big major) changes is his life, I know that we are given the ability to adapt and even prosper (not in the financial sense)when they occur. So I will leave your questions for you to discover the answers to, with one comment. With the love that I detect on an almost daily basis that you have for your house and its location, I can’t imagine you leaving it.

  2. Michael Stewart

    Malcolm let me first wish you a happy happy birthday. I will be 53 in October. Your family has been a blessing to me and my family for such a long time. I remember that very day that your mother died. I cried and cried and ran to my neighbers house to tell Louise Griffin. I can still see your Mothers face, I remember when i had my tonsils out she brought me a basket of gifts to open every day. I loved your father I remember Brother Marler as my pastor. He baptized me. He married my parents and my brother. He died on the same date as my father. He prayed at my father’s funeral and he was one of the few people I remember at the funeral. I remember playing at your house on North Anton Dr. and still drive there occasionally. I remember your commercial on the USS Alabama. I remember seeing you on CNN. I know the blessing you have been to Simon. I love that we have reconnected in the past few years and am still waiting to visit you at the lake. I can’t believe that I have known you for almost 50 years. Yes I have more questions than answers but its wonderful to know that I have friends like you that will be there for me to answer life’s questions that allude me. I love you Malcolm. Yes we will always have questions but the Lord provides. When one door closes a window answers. God bless you and may he always keep you in the palm of his hand.

  3. Malcolm

    My dear Michael, there are few people in my life I have known as long as you and have kept in touch with which is very grounding for me. Our families have been close over these five decades and I am so thankful for you, your brother, mother, father, and grandmother. I am blessed and honored by your words. I love you.

    Thank you so much,

  4. Sharon Ryder

    Dear Malcolm, I didn’t know you personally during our high school years. However, I knew your father and appreciate so much the role he played in the life of my family. As of recent, I have enjoyed corresponding with you and reading your blog and probably getting a much more personal idea of who you are than I’d have ever have gotten as a high school friend. I too will turn 54 this September. My prayer for you is the same one I pray for myself. My prayer is that God allow you the wisdom to recognize each opportunity that is placed before you to make a difference in the life of another. My prayer is that you would have the discernment to rightly divide His word and the willingness to follow a new path if the Father should so lead. My prayer is that you would find a source of joy in each and every day knowing that sometimes we must walk through the darkness to enter into the light. Your steel has been tempered by the fire. Therefore you have been made strong. That strength will allow you to be more usuable as you travel the next 50 years, spreading the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Happy Birthday.

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