By Margo McKenzie
In a few weeks, Christians around the world will celebrate the most significant birth in history, that of Jesus Christ himself. Born in a barn, he began his life with humble beginnings. As he matured, he learned his purpose and never veered off its path, regardless of the hardship he would have to endure.
Christ is a model for us all. No fuller life exists than one that discovers its mandate. Today, this column is about Marlene Bagnull, writer, CEO and public speaker who discovered her purpose in life and walks in it with humility.
She grew up in a home with a father, who classified himself as an atheist, and a mother, who called herself a Christian, but never discussed her faith. Suffering from a variety of health issues, anger enveloped Marlene’s father, and she often found herself the victim of his physical abuses. He would slap her and sometimes lock her in her bedroom for hours. Those experiences left Marlene believing that she was a bad girl.
Despite how her father made her feel, her parents did allow her to attend church where people treated her with kindness. There, she learned about God. She didn’t understand the concept of knowing God personally until she heard nuns read catechistic stories that penetrated her spirit and helped her to understand Christ’s sacrifice. In prostrate response, she threw herself on the floor and gave her life to the Lord.
In her teens, Marlene hated her English classes, but she loved reading. Books provided a way of escape to a world of magic. She immersed herself in the pages of the bible and searched for books in the library which helped to explain the era reflected in its pages. Her interest in Christian subjects and her love of words led her to books such as The Silver Chalice, Ben-Hur and The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop..
If anyone told her back then that her future life would include writing books and delivering speeches, she would have said, “A loving God would never give that to me.”
When Marlene was an adult with a family, she was forced to return to work because of her husband’s back surgery. She hated the job and prayed to God about it. She ended up at the editorial office of the American Baptist Church where her job included editing and other production responsibilities. She loved this job, especially the excitement around making deadlines.
When she became pregnant with her second child, Marlene could not return to work. Then, a full-time mom of two, she squeezed in writing time.
In 1979, Marlene attended a writing conference and met Lee Roddy who became a writing mentor. She couldn’t afford to purchase his book, so she asked him to write something in her bible. He turned to Habbakuk 2:2: “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others." In a note, he added, “This was God’s promise to me as an author. Maybe yours, too?”
But even when God gave her the scripture, Marlene was uncertain about what it meant. She felt inadequate and resisted the call because she had never gone to college or taken a writing course. Who was she to teach someone else? Her excuses elevated to, “I don’t know what you want me to write." Since God answers all prayers, he answered Marilyn with this:
“Write out your life experiences, make yourself transparent and vulnerable so others can see what I have done and am doing in your life." The reservations about writing mounted in Marilyn’s mind. “[She] didn’t want people to know that [she] wasn’t a model Christian and that [her] faith falters, and that some days [she] feels overwhelmed and inadequate.”
When she thought deeply about her journey and how far God had brought her, she realized that she could help someone else by sharing her experiences. As difficult as it was for her to do, Marlene put pen to paper and began to share some of her experiences in articles such as “Battling and Defeating Depression,” “Coping with Ingratitude,” and “Praying about Everything.”
She expanded her writing to include articles about her role as wife and mother. It was difficult for her to write articles entitled “What’s the Matter With Me?” and “Taking it Out on the Ones I Love.” But she felt compelled to write them.
Just because she was following God didn’t mean that her writing was unfolding the way she expected. In fact, just the opposite occurred. After pouring out her heart, editors rejected one manuscript after another. According to Marlene, she had to learn how to carry the cross and follow Jesus, understanding that doing so would not be easy.
In her book, Write His Answer, Marilyn says she is still plagued by feelings of doubt and inadequacy, but she has full faith in the God who called her to write; and she has not wavered in following him.
Conferences and Books
To date, Marlene has written over 1,000 articles and eight books. She conducts two writing conferences annually. Since 1997, she conducted the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference in Estes Park, Colorado; and since 1983, the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers’ Conference in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
These conferences are the equivalent of a semester’s worth of college courses. Whether an emerging writer or published writer, this conference offers a rich experience. Topics covered range from information about craft and editing to publication. Roughly 200-300 people could be in attendance choosing from 60 workshops and over 50 faculty members, who represent the writing industry. Marlene promotes this conference as not only one with an emphasis on enhancing writing skills but also as an opportunity to build friendships with people who share the same passion for writing.
In addition to writing, founding a ministry, and public speaking, Marlene Bagnull also has founded a publishing company. This move was not in her plans either, but an eighty-year-old woman who consulted with Marlene for career counseling wrote a book and had it edited. Marlene was walking her through the publication phase when they both discovered the publishing company they were pursuing had closed down. Marlene found herself saying these words to the lady: “Do you want me to publish it for you?” Since the lady wanted a barcode, Marlene had to create a company. She thumbed through a Greek-English inter-lineal Bible in her library and found her favorite verse John 15:4: “No branch can bear fruit of itself; it must remain on the vine” (NIV). The word vine penetrated Marlene’s spirit, and she used the Greek form of the word as the name for her company.
Advice for Writers
When it comes to advice for writers, Marlene offers the following:
Thirty-seven years ago, Marlene Bagnull sheepishly entered the world of writing. Despite feelings of insecurity and doubt, she continued on the path the Lord set before her, and today thousands benefit from her tenacity.
This is a lesson for us all. God places us all here for a reason. In this holiday season, may we be ever mindful that Jesus Christ knew his purpose and fulfilled his mission. May he be our example as he has been for Marlene.
Marlene Bagnull, Write His Answer, (Ampelos Press: PA) 1990
Larry Burd, “Living Truth,” goo.gl/BH1cvG
Patti Shene, “Lit(erally) Speak(ing),” goo.gl/kAp59B
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