By Kim and Rick Kern
“I’ve been called the ‘Erma Bombeck of the Christian World.’ I’m a humorist, so we do a lot of laughing,” declares Marji Stevens with a chuckle! “God had given me the ability to look at the worst things in my life and make it into something funny.” However, her humor is a tool used to drive her insight, express her love, and reach in ministry to those who hurt. “I think it’s important to know that because I don’t want people to think all I do is teach about being a widow and loss and grief,” explains Stevens. “I touch on it, but the emphasis is going forward and my connection with Jesus — remaining faithful and devoted to Him and going forward to whatever happens to all of us, any of us. It’s how to go through these things. That is the emphasis.”
Marji Stevens has been a licensed minister under Elim Fellowship in Lima, NY for some twenty-years. Furthermore, she was ordained in 2014, and is the director of Embracing Grace Ministries (EGM). In 2013, Marji launched a meeting for widows and divorced women as an outreach of EGM called Lives Overcoming Loss. It is a monthly gathering for the purpose of encouragement, inspiration, and fellowship. Additionally, Embracing Grace Ministry is also the parent organization for My Creative Hands, a fellowship for Christian artists that also provides art lessons for kids. She is a seasoned speaker whose speaking engagements often include art demonstrations and creative workshops. But there is much more to Marji!
She gave her life to the Lord at age 21. “I had a friend who just seemed to have her life altogether,” recalls Stevens. “I said to her one day, ‘How do you do it?’ She paused and she said, ‘Well, I get a lot of help from my church.’ I said, ‘Take me!’ I was ripe and interested. She took me to her little country church.” Marji raised her hand when the pastor asked if there was anyone who wanted to give their life to Jesus. “I thought that was something I’d never tried before, so I would try, never understanding at all what it meant. But I thought, I’ll raise my hand and that opened the door enough that the Lord just came rushing right in! He gave me brand new friends, closed doors, opened doors and it was amazing! It’s like a switch went on and suddenly, there was light.”
From that point on, the many talents she had used to serve herself were invested in serving the Lord. Among them was her musical talent which had previously been given to nightclubs and a rock ‘n roll band. Suddenly, Marji found herself singing to Jesus. “I picked up my guitar and I began to write songs about the Lord,” she says. “Every day, I would go to the window and sit in the chair by the window and I would talk to Jesus. He would inspire me across the pages of Scripture with songs and they were beautiful! I don’t read music, but they were beautiful melodies.” Marji continues, “To make a long story short, I began to record. I met someone who said they believed I should record. They said that they would pay for me to record my first album and I did. The Lord just opened the doors. I began to be invited to places to come and sing.”
As the Lord multiplied her music ministry, He also opened the doors for Marji to speak. “I was invited to come to Ithaca and lead a ladies retreat,” she reflects. “I said, ‘What do you want me to do, sing the whole weekend?’ He said ‘No! I want you to teach the Word.’ That’s how I knew that I was the conference speaker and I said, ‘Well, OK! Let’s see what God wants me to do.’” Marji goes on explaining, “I studied and studied and that was my first gig, is the only thing that comes to my mind! It was my first engagement and from that point on, I was only asked to speak and sing. In the beginning, it was only singing and sharing my testimony, but now, it was speaking and singing. The more it grew, the more I went to various denominations all over the area and it began to grow wider and wider.”
As the Lord blessed her ministry, Marji found herself touching lives across the globe in places such as Austria, Africa, and the Ukraine until tragedy struck.
Following a severe accident, however, Marji developed difficulty with her singing voice. Unable to sing without pain, Marji had to completely lay it down in 1998. But, during those years of silence, the Lord led Marji into new areas of creativity as art and writing replaced her singing. Just a few years later, a prolonged illness claimed the life of her treasured husband, Bill, to whom she had been married for 40 years. Overwhelmed with sorrow, she then spent the next seven-years as caregiver to her 92-year old mother-in-law, who continued living in the couple’s home. During this period of grieving and caregiving, Marji wrote and illustrated five children’s books.
Marji learned how to process her unbearable grief and face her fears each morning when she met with the Lord on her porch swing. She now shares those discoveries in her new book called, “Gifts from the Porch Swing.” Released late in 2017, “Gifts from the Porch Swing” chronicles Marji’s journey through loss and grief, offering the gifts of grace that God has given her through it.
The title was found in what became her meeting place with the Lord as she sought Him in her loss and grief. “Every day, even in the dead of winter, I would sit in a sleeping bag in order to survive the cold and I would go out on my porch and my swing,” says Marji. “I could see the sunrise and every day after he died, I needed to see the sun rise because it said to me that God never changes even when everything else in your life changes, God never does.”
She continues, “His love never fails, even when you don’t feel it. Even when you’re offended by everything life is bringing you, God’s love never changes. I would sit on that porch swing and I would get my bearings and the Lord would speak to me and teach me. That is what’s in that book.”
Amazingly, in 2016, before a mission trip to the Ukraine, the Lord miraculously restored Marji’s voice. She is now singing and playing the guitar as if nothing had happened. Her original recordings have been resurrected and are now available in three CD volumes.
Marji continues to write and minister, but most of all, she is devoted to loving the Lord. “Loving Jesus is like being in love with someone who is so perfect, who makes you better,” she says. “It’s a journey of freedom, a journey of joy, a journey of discovering the dreams that God has on His heart for you. It’s a journey of wonderment. It’s just so amazing, I just can’t imagine going through the things that I went through without knowing Him. I just can’t imagine it.”