About Marlena

Photo: Courtney Ranes Photography

Marlena is a writer, deep thinker, and speaker who is passionate about the eternal implications of our life in God. She is a lover of beauty - especially the beauty of her family, others, and creation. Marlena is a justice seeker—trying to overcome evil with good. In addition, she seeks answers to these types of questions: What does abundant life look like (John 10:10)? If God is good and we are his deeply beloved children and safe in his kingdom, how then should we live? Marlena deeply believes that spiritual formation and justice should never be separated. She is most concerned with those who profess to follow Jesus but speak and behave so unlike him. She includes herself in the mix and therefore seeks to bridge the gap between what Christians profess to believe and how they live. She speaks regularly to congregations, university campuses, and to retreatants about the implications of following Jesus. Marlena loves to laugh and be around others and then recover in silence and solitude! You can learn more about Marlena's speaking topics and invite her to speak by clicking the button below.
  • Credentials

    Marlena received her M.Div. from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York and his pursuing her PhD in American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH where she is researching the influence American culture has on Evangelicals’ view of immigration, race, and poverty. Are Evangelical views and behavior really ensconced in biblical teaching or are Evangelicals, white Evangelicals in particular, more influenced by cultural forces of which they are unaware? Marlena has been on the pastoral staff at several churches, worked at non-profits, been on the residence life staff at a university, and worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) – for and with migrant farmworkers in the Midwest and South and the minority community in Toledo, OH. She continues to labor alongside others for justice, for human rights. Since 2015, she has been an adjunct professor at Winebrenner Seminary in the areas of discipleship and spiritual formation. She has written for a wide variety of venues like Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics Blog (now CT Women), Womenleaders.com, and Our Daily Bread where she was a bylined regularly contributing writer. And also for places like, Think Christian, Faith Street, Relevant, and publications by (in) courage and the Zondervan Women’s Study Bible. Marlena is a former member and board member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Currently she is a board member of Evangelicals 4 Justice, works in partnership with Freedom Road, and also belongs to INK: A Creative Collective. As a Puerto-Rican influenced by many streams of the faith, she feels as if she dwells on the borderlands of Evangelicalism.
  • Current Projects

    Marlena's book, "The Way Up Is Down" (with IVPress) released July 2020! In these pages she describes the process of emptying herself that allows her to move upward toward God and become the true self that God calls her to. Drawing on the rich traditions of Eastern and Western Christian saints, she shares stories and insights that have enlivened her transformation. For Marlena, formation and justice always intertwine on the path to a balanced life of both action and contemplation. If you long for more of God, this book offers a time-honored path to deeper life.
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  • "Why do you hold back?" Enneagram Nines are often asked questions like this by others who want to invite them to share their gifts. Marlena Graves describes her own experience with deciding whether to speak up: "I know what it's like to be run over and rendered invisible. I don't want to do the same to others." Nines are easy to be around because they seem to instinctively put others before themselves. In these readings Marlena reflects on what it's like to be a Nine with a spirit of honest self-assessment and a desire for personal and spiritual growth. She draws wisdom from the deep wells of both counseling and spirituality, using illustrations from Scripture and life. She writes out of her personal context, drawing on the lessons learned from her Puerto Rican Abuelita and from growing up in poverty. But she also writes for all of us. Each reading concludes with an opportunity for further engagement such as a journaling prompt, reflection questions, a written prayer, or a spiritual practice. Any of us can find aspects of ourselves in any of the numbers. The Enneagram is a profound tool for empathy, so whether or not you are a Nine, you will grow from your reading about Nines and enhance your relationships across the Enneagram spectrum.
  • Family Life

    Marlena married her best friend, Shawn Graves, 20 years ago and they have a happy and healthy marriage. Shawn works as a philosophy professor at University of Findlay. Aside from the Lord, Marlena describes her marriage and home as "the one safe refuge I have in this life". Together, Marlena and Shawn, have three daughters - Iliana, Valentina, and Isabella.