Mary DeMuth is an author we need to know better. I caught up with her in France recently (not really) to chat and ask some questions about her most recent non-fiction release, Building the Christian Family You Never Had.
1. In this book you tell your horrifying childhood story. How difficult was that–writing it, as well as letting it go? What advice would you give to writers attempting to do write their stories?
Mary: It was very difficult. I held a lot back, trying very hard to balance what needed to be said so the reader would know I’d been there but not defaming my family of origin or sounding vindictive. Yet, to paint redemption aptly we need to be willing to paint the darkness first. Ted Dekker talked about that at Mount Hermon two years ago and it resonated with me. Redemption is more brilliant the darker the darkness.
I loved that talk too. How many of us are truly willing to go as far as it takes to portray the light in our stories? I wonder. It takes darkness. You did a phenomenal balancing job in this book, both educating and entertaining, but also providing an example for others to follow in breaking free of the past. And for that, I commend you.
Thanks, Mick. As they say in some places in the South, it weren’t easy.
I’ve had writers ask me this question. Everyone has a story to tell, but that doesn’t mean it should be in print. Ask yourself what your motivation is. Am I writing this to gain attention? Or do I genuinely want to help others? Is God asking me to write this? And then the business side of writing comes in. You can’t just write your personal story. It must, must, must be tied to something. For me, telling the story of my upbringing was the backdrop of how God can transform a difficult childhood in such a way that I won’t be repeating the patterns of the past. Parenting was the subject, the vehicle for me to tell my story.
Great point. Connecting to something is crucial. I’m always trying to get writers to give me more of what it meant and what it means to the reader to hear their story. It’s always going to be a challenge to allow editors and professionals to lend their objectivity to our stories, but it’s absolutely vital to ensure not only that there’s effective storytelling, but that there’s sufficient take-away. Did you have readers before you turned it in?
Of course. I had my awesome critique group, Life Sentence, read through almost the entire thing and my friend Suzanne (who makes great comments on this site) offered to edit it prior to my turning it in. I also had friends read it. I asked them if I was being too hard on my past, if I was sharing too much, if I was honoring my family, if the book was practical enough.
2. Do you really think God can be the parent we never had? What responsibility do we have in that process and where do we need to “let go and let God?”
Yes. I think that because I’ve experienced it. And I believe God sends other parents in our lives to re-parent us, to be Jesus with skin on. I’ve needed the embrace of older, wiser Christians to show me what parents should be toward children. Seeing it modeled really helped heal some of my pain and also show me a better way.
That being said, I think most pioneer parents make a lot of vows, but we make them in our own strength. We say, “I’ll never say those things to my children.” It’s a great desire, but the wrong way to go about it because we forget about human nature. Left to ourselves, we may just repeat the patterns we had growing up. A better way is to let go of the vows and lean on Jesus. We can’t do this parenting thing on our own. We need His ability inside us.
And part 2 of the same question: I’m currently working with an author couple on a new book in which they credit Dr. Henry Cloud for much of the early discoveries they made through his book, Changes That Heal. I went through a lot of self-discovery as a result of that book myself. What do you say to the objection that some people have about looking at the past, especially as it seems to support a humanistic view that we can heal ourselves without God?
Looking back is good if we are holding the hand of Jesus as we do so. Left to try to figure out what went on “back there” is pretty daunting and frightening. The truth is, real, dynamic life-change happens in the context of following Jesus, and even then, in the context of community. It’s not like I sit in a room, read Changes that Heal, and then I’m better. I need to go to God about what I learn. And I definitely need the presence and prayers of other Christians alongside me.
Absolutely. I’ve never found anyone who is able to grow in a vacuum. For one, it’s not selfless (so it’s sort of the opposite of growth), and two, it’s really unhealthy in a vacuum. Dead spiders and skin cells.
Ew. Mick, come on here. Skin cells?
3. Where’d you get the genius idea to use Trading Spaces as a motivator for your kids to clean each others’ rooms?
The beauty of that is that I just enjoyed the show and wanted to share it with them. THEY were the ones who watched it, and then ran with it, decorating and cleaning each other’s rooms.
No really, you just have great kids and your secret is anyone can write parenting books if they have perfect kids. You mean, you didn’t even drop a little suggestion about it? “Wouldn’t it be fun to try that with your brother’s room?”
In the infamous words of Dave Barry, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! The truth is my kids are better human beings than I am. They totally came up with this idea themselves. But I must say, they’ve lost site of it in France. Perhaps because we don’t have Trading Spaces here.
4. Your chapter on laughter was my favorite: “Without [laughter], we may produce pious children but not children who will scramble onto Jesus’ lap.” Why are there so precious few Christian jokes? Don’t you think we should laugh more? Is God not funny? Maybe it’s that we’re afraid God might think we’re laughing at him?
Everyone knows God is not funny, Mick.
No, he’s hilarious.
Actually, I wrote this chapter because I needed to read it. I am weak in this area. With my particular upbringing I had to grow up way too fast. I never understood the joy of childhood or what it was like to be carefree. Learning to laugh is actually a task I need to master more. But the more I shrug things off and help my children laugh, the better my home is. I tend to take life far too seriously.
There’s wisdom in that, especially for writers and artists. So many come from fearful, misunderstood childhoods, they learned to fend off the world much sooner. I grew up in a wonderfully supportive, stimulating environment, but I still struggle with overpowering my need for control. It’s interesting how this dynamic has so much to do with faith and realizing that we’re not in control, don’t have to be, and actually are much happier when we realize it.
I’m seeing that too. The more I relinquish, the happier I am.
5. Since this was in the hopper before I got to WaterBrook, do you think there’s any chance we’ll get to work together or are you seriously staying with that Ron Lee character?
Hey! Wouldn’t that be the MOST fun thing? Or would we kill each other? Of course all this is conjecture since I would need a CONTRACT with WB to do another book. Do I get extra points if I request you? Or extra money???
Um…I think I hear my mom calling… You know, actually, if you’d just write what I tell you to, you’d have plenty of contracts. Seriously. Listen to that agent of yours and get on the ball, lady.
Whatever. I’m talking to said agent today. So, don’t get your panties in a wad.
Thanks, Mary. May God continue to use you to demonstrate and model His love.