Marilyn Gnekow had learned a lot about adjusting to change in her four decades on Navigators staff. But this one was a doozy!
She’d always longed to be married—to do life and ministry with a soulmate—and never sensed God tell her to let the dream die. But as she reached her 70s, she began to plan for being single into old age.
Then at a senior staff conference in September 2018, she ran into an old acquaintance in the hotel lobby, a widower named Larry Hardie. After talking for a while, they went to listen to live jazz. Later in the conference he approached her and asked if they could get to know one another better.
“I was like a deer in the headlights,” she says. She stammered, “I guess so.” Texts and phone calls followed over the next few weeks, and they got together again when she visited Navigator headquarters in Colorado. It seemed obvious that God was orchestrating something. By the end of October they were engaged, and they married in December.
It was a joyful development. Still, she wondered, what would it mean to move to Colorado and live with a husband? To pack up the home in Minneapolis where she had lived for 30 years, and to say goodbye to dear friends, her church community, and life as she knew it?
Fortunately, Marilyn had had many opportunities to learn about change and adjustment. She had worked with college students and eventually trained staff on two different Midwest campuses, ministered to women in the workplace in Minneapolis, and taken a break from ministry to earn a master’s degree in biblical counseling in Colorado. After returning to Minneapolis she mentored and counseled staff women and laborers.
“Change and adjustment were a regular part of my life,” she says. Those changes included living with at least 30 different women during those years! “During those adjustments, I learned that God is my sufficiency, my stability, and my adequacy. There was lots of change, but He was always the same, my safe place to run to.”
At times, “I felt like I was on a trapeze and had to let go of the bar I had clung to for years, and that I would be in mid air before grabbing the next one,” she says. But she saw God open exciting new doors once she relinquished her grasp on the familiar.
Marilyn does not want to miss out on what God has for her. “It’s easy to get stuck in ruts of what is safe and predictable so that no faith is required,” she says. “But Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.
“Clinging to what I know and can manage keeps me from growing in my trust in the One who promises to shepherd me and be with me always. It keeps me from knowing God at an experiential level. I will miss new relationships, new experiences, and new places where God might want to use me.”
Still, Marilyn says, “Change has rarely been a piece of cake.”
In the late ‘90s, she felt God was leading her to join a different ministry. Unanticipated aspects of that situation, along with caring for her aged mother, left her burned out and depressed after two years. She resigned and moved back to Minnesota. “I was so broken I didn’t know if I’d recover,” she recalls.
But when people continued to love and care for her, even when she felt she had nothing to offer, she began to experience a new freedom. She could finally hear God saying to her, “I love you because you’re my beloved daughter. I just love you.”
“God brought me to a point of relinquishing my self-effort,” she says. “It was a severe mercy.”
Adjusting to married life in Colorado has been much more pleasant. “The last year has been a bit of a blur,” she says, “but each part involved God’s grace in the disruption of my ordered life to embrace something new and exciting.” She is greatly enjoying ministering with Larry in Staff Care, as well as investing in the lives of young women God brings her way.
“God’s abundant grace overcame my fears,” she continues. “I wondered how I would adjust to marriage after a lifetime of making my own decisions, having abundant alone time, and feeling a sense of control. I have been amazed at how easy the adjustment has been. Marriage has felt like a fun new adventure. It has been a joy to enter this new chapter of life that the Lord had in mind for me.”
Marilyn realizes she needs to hold even this delightful new development with an open hand. “I’m loving this season but I can’t hang onto it,” she says. “Life is a river that keeps moving.”
“God is a God of change, and each change causes us to lean on Him in a new level of dependence. I have seen the utter faithfulness of God to go ahead to prepare the way, to carry me in my feelings of fear and inadequacy, and at times to use what I might not have chosen to take me places He thought best for me. Isaiah 33:6 promises He will be the stability of my times.
“I know there will continue to be disruptions and change in my future—some delightful and some perhaps painful. The promise that a loving Father with a kind heart and great wisdom orders my day allows me to savor the moment and trust Him to be enough in future changes. As Larry says, ‘We must kiss the joy of the moment’ and leave the future to the Lord.”