By Marilyn Perry
Listen to Marilyn's introduction in worship.
I'm so excited to be joining the Crossroads community as the new Student and Family Ministries Director. Over the past couple of weeks, I've had the joy of getting to meet and visit with several of Crossroads' children, students, and their families. It is immediately evident that this community is overbrimming with brilliant lights, with each and every soul reflecting God to the fullest!
To share with you some of my story so far, I'm a native Virginian who was born in a Catholic hospital, baptized in a Baptist church, and raised Episcopalian. It was clear at an early age that I deeply loved Jesus and his teachings. Even before I could understand the words, I would sit in my favorite cushy chair with my Children's Bible sprawled across my lap and would determinedly recite "read-a read-a read", clear in the conviction that the deeper meaning of the stories and verses contained within those pages would be evident to anyone listening, just by virtue of the devotion and enthusiasm conveyed in my delivery.
Once I could understand the words as they appeared on the page, I became a voracious reader. I felt a particularly strong affinity for the heroines crafted by L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables being the most famous "kindrid spirit" of the bunch), and they all greatly enhanced my early notions of faith, kindness, grace, compassion, hope, and oneness with the Divine. I was right alongside Anne when she mused, "Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I'd look up into the sky-up-up-up-into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I'd just feel a prayer".
I brought my "feeling prayers" along with this sense of curiosity, openness, and occasional precociousness to my Confirmation studies. Rather stunningly to me, Confirmation training was the first time I can recall hitting a "wall" with my spiritual beliefs. My questions were either dismissed or rarely satisfactorily answered. I was encouraged to learn within parameters and boundaries, rules and restrictions. God had never felt like a boundary to me before, and my beliefs never appeared as restrictions until that time.
Confirmation studies began a whole new period of questioning in my life, mainly centered around if I truly could believe in something that now felt so limiting and confining. As the next few years passed, it became harder and harder for me to feel any sense of connection to God, and eventually I stopped trying altogether.
In college, I channeled my compassion and fervor for inclusivity, activism, and social justice into an honors degree in English and Gender Studies, which focused on the transforming power of personal narrative and autobiography, particularly honoring the voices of women who were typically all-too-often shunned, dismissed, harassed, and discounted by society. My work as an undergraduate led me to pursue a Masters degree in London and later a PhD program in Southern California.
By the third year of my PhD program, it felt as though I was hitting "walls" again, this time within the confines of my redirected faith in academia and educational institutions. Eventually, my body began to react and break down from the unrelenting stress. I went to doctor after doctor seeking answers, but little could be concretely explained or comprehensively treated. I was given many vague diagnoses and told I'd likely need to take medication for the rest of my life to keep the range of symptoms at bay.
Then, very clearly, a still, small voice within me said, "No. There's another way." Following this inner guidance, I began seeing a spiritually-based counsellor/Practitioner. Gradually, my Practitioner helped me to become comfortable with prayer again, as she taught me a new way to pray called affirmative prayer, which was much more akin to the "feeling prayers" I'd experienced as a child. Many of my symptoms started to ease, and I became hopeful as I sensed that life was urging me forward again.
I sporadically started attending the spiritual community where my Practitioner studied and worshipped, the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City, California. Though I didn't know I'd been seeking it at the time, Agape provided me with a way back to God, to Truth, to Love Itself along with the understanding that even though I had stepped away from my faith, God had never, ever left me.
Ever the devoted student, I started taking classes at Agape, which eventually led me to the Practitioner Studies program. I graduated with a license in spiritual counselling in 2014.
Shortly after I was licensed, I began working at Agape in their pastoral care ministry, where I was blessed to be a space of prayer, comfort, strength, compassion, and encouragement for numerous individuals. My experience in pastoral care combined with a continued call to activism and social justice drew me to explore a call to ministry, and I began my studies at Agape's Michael Bernard Beckwith School of Ministry at the start of 2016.
Towards the end of last year, I began to feel an increasingly strong urge to return back to the East Coast. Through the great blessing of technology, I'm able to continue with Ministerial Studies virtually, and I'm looking forward to bringing what I'm learning in my coursework (along with my existing "toolkit" of spiritual practices and perspectives) directly to my contributions here at Crossroads.
The process of relocating from Los Angeles to Ashburn has been an exemplary experience of witnessing God's Grace made manifest. I continue to marvel at and give thanks for every single blessing and outpouring of support, encouragement, and love that I've received along the way and for how these blessings continue to show up.
I begin each day with prayer (both "feeling prayer" and spoken prayer now!), which often includes a line shared by Marianne Williamson, "Use me, dear Lord, that I may know the joy of being used by you". It absolutely is my joy to be a part of Crossroads' inspiring, uplifting, and love-centered community. I know that there is a call upon my heart and upon my life to bring the love of God, of Jesus and his teachings, and of the exquisite magnificence of Life Itself to all that I do. I trust that God has placed me here at Crossroads right on time and right on purpose, and I am committed to staying open and available to how I can best serve Crossroads' children, students, their families, and beyond. Thank you for giving of your time in reading this - not-entirely-brief! - introduction to me, and thank you for including me in this shared walk of faith as a part of the Crossroads family.