Like many who begin the journey of seminary, Marilyn was searching for a meaningful theology degree.
Her desire was to discover one that matched both her ministry goals and was convenient for her schedule and stage of life. She was, and still is, a lay minister at her church and works full-time outside of her church. Yet she knew God was prompting her to move forward with a theology education, and it was important to find the right fit.
Marilyn soon discovered Openseminary at Palmer Theological Seminary.
She already had a Masters in Organizational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, so she desired to focus on learning theology in a way that would inform her ministry at a greater level. At the time, Rodney Ragwan was with Palmer’s recruitment department, and he helped Marilyn to discover that the Master of Practical Theology program (Openseminary) was the right decision for her.
“During the pandemic, I discovered I had breast cancer.”
Although still in the early stages, it would require Marliyn to undergo surgery and a series of treatments. The thought of Marilyn facing this journey during the pandemic when no one could accompany her into the doctor’s office or the hospital seemed overwhelming.
Marilyn’s church, like many others, was closed at this time.
This made Marilyn’s journey even more isolating, as she wasn’t able to access the spiritual family that she’s so close with. “I really missed being a part of the community Bible teaching, worship, and fellowship; areas where I normally gain great strength and encouragement.” Marilyn now recognizes that this was a perfect setup for her to depend on God in every way.
While preparing for surgery, the doctor’s discovered a growth in Marilyn’s lung.
Marilyn was not a smoker and her family did not have a history of lung problems of any kind, so this was a shock to her, her family, and her friends. She now not only had breast cancer, but lung cancer as well. When Marilyn received the second diagnosis, she ran straight to the Father and waited to hear from Him.
It was natural for Marilyn at this time to be unable to rationally think, make a decision, or communicate what was going on in her life. While she did not know what to pray for, she did know how to run to the One who could sustain her as she cried out for His presence during one of the darkest trials of her life.
Psalm 23 became very real for Marilyn in her life.
As she traveled through the dark valley, she was learning to trust in the true Shepherd to lead her through and protect her from the perils that were along the way. She fully trusted that God was her Shepherd and that He truly would provide everything she needed. She discovered at a deeper level the presence of God’s peace and His ability to give her rest from the difficult battles she faced. Read Psalm 23.
Marilyn now sees the breast cancer diagnosis as a miracle.
Had it not been for the breast cancer, Marilyn says that the lung cancer would have been undiscovered and symptomless. As a result of the discover, she had immediate surgery that removed the lung cancer entirely. Marilyn reminds herself that things aren’t always as they initially appear.
“A struggle with our theology is a struggle to understand who God is and apply it to our lives.”
Marilyn first went to Openseminary to learn theology in a classroom. As it turns out, through her trials and time in school she discovered and nurtured a deeper and richer relationship with God. Because of the intense introspection and setting of spiritual goals throughout the program, Marilyn emerged on the other side of Openseminary knowing God in a more personal and intimate way.
One of the meaningful takeaways from Openseminary was the focus on inner spiritual work.
This was necessary in each model throughout the program. Students spent a lot of time working through the “Immunity to Change” Personal Inquiry process, which results in examining each person’s own theological beliefs before they were able to examine a particular area of study.
This process was painful at times.
Each experience revealed layers of everyone’s own theological foundations and forced them to get to their core beliefs, revealing that it was sometimes not what they initially thought it was.
It was always an exercise of personal theological reflection. While painful at times, Marilyn says it always produced a result that was unexpected, complex, and required growth.
“Sometimes, what we believe about God is not big enough or true enough!”
Marilyn likes to use the example of the father in Mark 9:17-25 to describe what our position should be in these situations. “I do believe, help me to overcome my unbelief!” Marilyn says that we can wait on Jesus for the impossible like this father did.
“Intellectually, we know God can do the impossible.”
Through Marilyn’s education and personal trials, she’s discovered that it’s often our own unbelief that suppresses our ability to believe that God will do it for us. Marilyn’s encouragement is to discover and believe that God desires to do miracles in all of our lives.