A Rocky Beginning
About the Guest
God can redeem a troubled past. Mary DeMuth, author of the book Building the Christian Family You Never Had, talks about her rocky start as the only child of a drug-addicted mom. Mary tells about the abuse she encountered at the hands of neighbor boys and her eventual faith in the God of the universe.
God can redeem a troubled past.
A Rocky Beginning
Dennis: That's right. Our mission here at FamilyLife is "Every home a godly home," and you know what? To do that, I need to ask you to help me right now. FamilyLife Today is experiencing some pretty serious financial challenges as we've gone through this year, and so what I'd like to ask you to do is to do what you can do financially to come alongside us right now. FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported broadcast, and I just have to tell you, we can't do what we do without your help.
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Bob: Mary DeMuth is a mother of three. When she got married, she knew she wanted something different for her family than what she had experienced growing up.
Mary: I never saw parenting modeled, and so, for me, it was finding mentors who would show me what does this look like? What does a Christian parent look like? How does somebody respond in this situation or that situation? And, in a sense, God almost had to send me people who would re-parent me, and that has helped me tremendously – just seeing it modeled by other parents.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 6th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about what to do as a parent if you're the first generation in your family to trust Christ. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, I think all of us, as parents, pick up some of our parenting from what we experienced when we were growing up, and then some of our parenting we go, "I don't want to do some of what I saw when I was growing up," and then some of it we just go, "I don't know what to do," and that's where we look around and look to friends or look to books. We're just trying to get a bead – parenting – it's one of those things that you're thrust into before you're fully trained and equipped to do what you're supposed to do, you know what I mean?
Dennis: Do you think? I mean, I don't care if you came from a great family, I don't think anyone enters into parenting cocky. Well, maybe you do start out kind of cocky.
Bob: Yeah, you start off cocky for about six weeks, right?
Dennis: At the long side, six years, but if we did come from a home that was somewhat less than ideal, I think that contributes to the fear factor, and we have a guest with us today on FamilyLife Today, Mary DeMuth, who knows all too well what happens when the canvas is painted with – well, with some sorrow and grief and tragedy.
Mary, welcome to our broadcast. We're glad you're here.
Mary: Thanks, I'm glad to be here, too.
Dennis: Mary is an author. She and her husband are church planners in France.
Mary: Yes, the south of France. It's a beautiful place.
Dennis: It really is. Barbara and I …
Bob: Now, wait, when you were picking church planning assignments, was it, like, "Okay, we could go to Lebanon or we could go to India, or the south of France. Lord, where would you send us?" Is this how this went?
Mary: No, actually, it's kind of the opposite of that. When my husband and I were married 10 years, and we were in our first semester of Dallas Seminary, he surprised me by sending me to France on our anniversary trip, which was – whenever we tell that story, the women in the audience will kind of jab their husbands, like, "Okay, he surprised her with a trip to Paris."
Bob: Wake up, husbands.
Dennis: Well, it took me an extra decade. I surprised Barbara on our – well, I think it was our 25th when we went to Paris.
Mary: There you go.
Dennis: Yeah, a decade and a half later than Mary's husband. But it is a beautiful country. I do have to say, although magnificent in setting, the French people, from a spiritual standpoint, are a hard nut to crack.
Mary: Yes, and that's what got us to France. I think, in a sense, we just kind of said, "Okay, where's the hardest place to go, and where is Jesus not named? And when we were walking in Paris, we just saw the darkness, and our hearts were convicted, and we decided to go there.
Dennis: We saw a bunch of that, too, and pray for them. Pray for Mary and her husband as they hammer out this church planning ministry. The Gospel needs to thrive again in Europe.
Dennis: Proverbs 24:3-4 says, "By wisdom a house is built and by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches."
Now, you know it's easy for those words to roll off our tongue, Bob, as we look at the Scripture and hear of all the benefits – "wisdom builds the house," "it's established through understanding," "knowledge fills the room with precious and pleasant riches."
Mary, you wrote about this in your book, "Building the Christian Family You Never Had." You didn't grow up in a home that was filled with these kinds of qualities.
Mary: Exactly, and I would say maybe the opposite of those qualities. And so when I approached parenthood, I was freaked out. I was so afraid that I was going to duplicate that home that I was raised in, and the more and more I talked to parents who are in the same stage as I am in, I see that fear behind everybody's eyes.
They're just so afraid that what if they grew up in an alcoholic home, what if they grew up in an abusive home, what if they were molested, what if these were the things that typify the way that they were brought up, and that's why I wrote the book. Because we need to know that we're not alone, we pioneer parents, and that God is big enough to take the most horrific situations and turn them around for something positive.
Bob: You had to think twice before you sat down to share. I mean, when somebody comes from a dark background, you really do have to think wisely and judiciously about how much you want to share, what you want to share. I don't know how many of your family members are still alive, but that's a factor in all of this, right?
Mary: Yeah, boy, it sure would have been easier to wait. I think a lot of people do that. They wait until those members of their family are deceased before they write, but I was so compelled by the Lord to write this story and not out of any sort of vindication or vindictiveness, but I just knew, and God just kept at me over and over again to write this book.
And even when I was under contract for it, I was willing to walk away, and there were many times I wanted to, but God just kept sending these amazing messages to me that kept saying, "Keep at it, Mary, I want you to keep going." But I was very cautious as I wrote the book, and I had many, many people pray for me, and I had a lot of people read through it before it even went to the publisher.
And then I gave it to my editor, and I knew he was totally – he didn't know me at all – he was totally neutral, and I said, "I want this to be an honoring book. I want it to be about what God can do. I want God to be the hero of this story not what those people did or how my life was growing up." And he felt like it said that.
But then I sent it to my family after it had been edited and got kind of the response I expected, but what I did in that case was if they strongly objected to something that I wrote in there, I just removed it. It wasn't worth it to me, and I took it out.
So it is controversial, I think, in one sense in that it does tell the story of my upbringing, and it's not very pretty sometimes, but I do believe that I wrote it with God's redemptive hand in mind.
Bob: Tell our listeners about the home you grew up in. What can you share about your childhood and your experience?
Mary: Well, I remember always being afraid of death. I grew up in a home that was very unsafe. There was a lot of substance abuse going on at that time. I just never felt protected. I was an only child, so I felt incredibly lonely, and I think maybe if I'd had some siblings things would have been a little bit differently.
When I was five, things got really bad. I had been removed from the home for a while, and then I went back into the home, and it was just a chaotic environment. And during that year I would go to a babysitter's house, and during that time, the babysitter would allow these certain boys to come over and play, and they molested me for a year.
It took me a really long time to be able to tell the babysitter that these things were happening to me. It took everything within me, because God, even at that point, had seared this white-hot conscience into my heart, and I knew that the word that they were using to describe what they were doing was a swear word, and I was so afraid of saying that swear word, so it took me a while to share with the babysitter what was going on.
When I finally whispered the swear word in her ear, she said, "I will tell your mother," and then it continued. And she allowed it to continue and later, of course, I found out, obviously, to the credit of my mother, that the babysitter never told my mom that those things were going on.
But even in that time, I was acting out, and I was having all those symptoms of a child who is being sexually abused, but because things were so chaotic in my home, nobody knew.
And then when I was 10 years old, my father died, and my mom had been divorced twice by then, so he was my real father, and I would see him on weekends once in a while, but there is something about – and I think other listeners who have had parents die when they're young, there's something about having your dad die when you are 10 years old that just makes you think you are always going to die.
So I just grew up with this feeling of – I didn't really know about Jesus, I didn't know about heaven, I didn't know about hell, but I was petrified of dying, and that was kind of controlling metaphor of my life for all that period of time, just this little girl who was afraid, lonely, shaking.
Sometimes I would cry at night about my father dying, and my mom, who was having her own struggles at the time would just say, "Don't cry anymore, you should be over it," and it was just a really lonely upbringing, and after I became a Christian, I just thought, first of all, I'm freaked out and scared. I just don't want to do this, I'm afraid.
But the biggest fear was will I duplicate this? Will I end up being what my parents were, that my broken parents were?
Dennis: Let me ask you about, again, that babysitter and those boys. Who in the world were they? I mean, you were, again, five or six years old?
Mary: Yes, yes, I was five years old.
Dennis: Were they boys – teenage boys?
Mary: I can't see their faces anymore. I used to have nightmares, but I think they were probably 14, 15 years old, and it was just a terrible thing. They would take me to their bedroom while their mom was making cookies in the other room. Sometimes they would take me to ravines in parks, and the only way I could endure what they were doing was to watch the tree limbs and to concentrate on something other than what they were doing.
But they were just boys. They were neighborhood boys, and I don't know where they are now. They could be – I don't know, I didn't track them down. I've forgiven them since then.
Dennis: You know, our friend, Dr. Dan Allender …
Dennis: … has contributed greatly in this area, and he calls sexual abuse the hardest stone the devil of hell can throw at a human being.
Mary: I agree. I've read his "Wounded Heart," and gone through the book and all that.
Dennis: I'm just picturing a little girl. You know, little girls were designed by God to be protected by a mom and a dad. They were designed by God to grow up in this Proverbs 24 home that I was talking about – homes that are full of peace and safety and understanding and good relationships. But here you were, growing up in the opposite.
Now, I'm picturing you moving into adolescence, having no daddy, feeling like you're going to die, afraid, terribly unsafe – were your adolescent years just a rollercoaster ride of horrific proportions?
Mary: Well, you know, that's where I just give God the credit. I did not know the Lord when I was an early teenager. In fact, when I was about 10 years old, my family thought I should get baptized, even though they didn't ever go to church. And I remember going to Sunday school once, because that was the requirement, and longing to go back and begging my mom, you know, "Please let me go back to Sunday school, and she just wasn't interested in doing that.
I remember someone saying to me at that point, "Okay, now you're going to go to heaven, and you're not going to go to hell." I thought, "Well, that's just the best thing," you know, it's like the get-out-of-hell free card.
But still, even during that time, I was praying to God, and as I reached adolescence, my life fell apart. My mom was on her third marriage, I had connected deeply with my stepfather by that time, because I had no one else, and my mom was gone all the time and wouldn't get home until 10:00 at night, and then my stepdad would come in at maybe 10:30 because he was working swing shift, and I had nobody in my life.
And so God provided a counselor in my 7th and 8th grade year at my junior high school, the public school, and I believe he was a Christian, and he gave me a hall pass that allowed me to get out of class at any moment if I burst into tears.
Thankfully, I was one of those people who rebelled positively. I was a type A, 4.0 type person, and so the teachers didn't mind that I would run out of class and weep, and I just wept through those two years.
Dennis: I want to stop you there.
Mary: Okay, good.
Dennis: Why did the counselor give you that pass?
Mary: I think he saw that I was ready to take my life.
Dennis: Had you shared with him what was going on?
Mary: Yes. I was very honest with him, and he knew everything that was going on.
Dennis: You know, Bob, when you think about the ministry that public school teachers have and, for that matter, teachers in private schools, they can intersect with a life like Mary's and literally save their lives at a key time. What a gift from God that counselor was to you.
Mary: He was, and he listened to me, and I wept and wept and wept, and, you know, thought of different ways to take my life. I just didn't want to live on this earth anymore. I had nobody advocating for me and I remember this time we went to my grandparents house for Father's Day, and I knew my parents were getting a divorce, and I knew it was the last Father's Day with him and the whole family, and I just broke down and wept, and I was ready to just die.
I had that nice baptism that got me safe, you know …
Bob: Into heaven, right.
Mary: Yeah, so I got my ticket, so I may as well just be done. Thankfully, I was pretty chicken about that whole idea, but …
Dennis: Did you ever try?
Mary: No, no, I never tried.
Dennis: You entertained the thought.
Mary: I just really entertained the thought a lot – wrote poetry, you know how you are, a 7th and 8th grade girl, you write poetry about death.
Bob: And on that Father's Day when you were weeping uncontrollably at your grandparents' house, did anybody come along and say, "We've got to help Mary?"
Mary: Well, yes and no. My mom got angry with me and finally, after she was saying a few choice words to me, my grandmother pulled her away from me and kind of protected me, and then I was able to spend the night at my grandparents' house that night, but for that little moment of time, yes, but nobody was really helping me.
One of the chapters in the book is about making vows, and so I knew that one thing that – and I still struggle with it today – one of my vows was, if anyone is going to protect Mary, it's going to be me; if anyone is going to ever take care of me, I cannot rely on not one person in this world.
And so that has been hard, as a Christian, because obviously that's not true. It's Jesus that needs to take care of us, so I've had to wrestle through that. But eventually the story comes to a good conclusion where, again, you talked about public schoolteachers and public school. I met Christ through Young Life. I was 15 at the time. I had a really good friend who had been changing, and I could see it in her life. She had a similar upbringing to my own, and so I asked her questions. "Why are you different? What's different about you?"
And she said, "Well, just come to Young Life and see." And so I would go, and they were doing all these crazy things that they do at Young Life, but I would wait for those last 15 minutes. I longed to hear about Jesus. I didn't know who He was, but every time they would spend those 15 minutes talking about Jesus calming the sea or Jesus healing people, my heart would just beat and beat, and I just thought, "I want to know who Jesus is."
I loved Jesus. I was ready. They could have picked me off the tree, I was so ripe. But eventually I went to a weekend conference where the Gospel from A to Z was presented, and one of the most beautiful things was just meeting Jesus at that time, and I sat under this big, huge evergreen tree, and it's kind of a neat metaphor, because here I was, this little five-year-old using the tree limbs to be distracted for something horrific, and yet here I am, sitting under a tree, under the pock-marked sky and giving my heart to the God who would never, never leave me, unlike my earthly fathers had.
Dennis: Mary, I recently spoke at a fundraiser for an evangelistic youth ministry to teenagers, and it's interesting how many stories like yours among youth occur where these young people are intercepted by great ministries like Young Life, Student Venture, youth groups at church. The teenage years really can be a turning point in a young person's life, and I think for those of us who are way beyond those years, we need to make sure we're investing backwards into those ministries that are touching youth and impacting those youth because, as in your case, that ended up bringing you the hope you needed to take what was a life into a real life, and you became a real, living person at that point.
Bob: You know, having heard this story, you said you sent the manuscript, edited, to relatives, to your mom, and you said you got the response you expected. What was that?
Mary: My Mom and I had always had difficult relationship, but at 15 and a half when I came home and told her I had met Jesus, from that moment on, things got really rocky, and it's amazing to me that Jesus has just been so close to me during those years. I never had a period of promiscuity or rebellion or – for all intents and purposes, I should have been drug-addicted, sex-addicted, all of these things because of my past, and I am amazed that Jesus held me that close that I didn't walk that path, and that's only by God's grace.
I think because I turned out well, they now can kind of take the credit for how I've turned out, and I am here to say that it was Jesus Christ who changed my life, and I would not be where I am today, parenting in the south of France, you know, had it not been for Jesus.
Dennis: I think what happens many times in our parents, when we do come to faith later on as a teenager or a college student or as an adult, there is some kind of – and I'm not sure exactly how to put it into words, but our parents take it as a failure. That you, as a child, needed something that they couldn't provide and, in this case, it's – duh – God.
I mean, you know, a parent isn't God, but to a parent who doesn't know God, you know, they are the center of the universe. And so I think it's the double whammy of feelings of failure, looking back, going where did I fail but, secondly, what did I do wrong that my daughter has to turn to this crutch called religion or this person called Jesus? And if you don't know Him …
Bob and I interviewed a man earlier, some months ago, that was off in sin, and his conscience was totally seared. He couldn't see right or wrong, and so he had no ability to look at the past and say, "No, my adultery was wrong, my lies were wrong, and I should have felt like I was a failure." But he didn't. And I think, in many cases, our parents, as we grow up and become Christians and become followers of Christ, don't have a grid – as you said, don't have a worldview to fit it into, and so they take it personally.
Bob: Well, yah, and you stop and think about the kind of background that you had, and then you face your own marriage and your own parenting, and you think, "Okay, I know a bunch of things that I don't want to do, but I'm not sure about what I ought to do," and that's where a book like the one you've written gives folks help if they grew up in a similar situation, or just grew up in a situation where they would say, "My home isn't exactly what I want to replicate with my family. I want to start fresh. I want to do it differently."
The book that I'm talking about is called "Building the Christian Family You Never Had." You refer it, Mary, as a practical guide for pioneer parents, and I want to point those pioneers to our website, FamilyLife.com. You'll find information about the book that Mary has written on our website. Again, it's FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can order from us online if you'd like. You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY if you need more information about Mary's book or if you'd like to order over the phone.
Again, it's 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and let me just mention here Mary has also written a book for moms, a devotional book called "Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God," a two-month-long daily devotional that addresses a lot of the common issues moms face and we do have a limited number of those books available. So if folks are interested in getting copies of both of your books, they can either order online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
You know, this Sunday is Easter Sunday where we'll be celebrating what is the central message of Christianity – that Jesus, God in human flesh, rose from the dead and, in doing so, demonstrated His power over sin and death – His power to forgive and to transform lives.
There is a new movie that has been produced that tells that story in a very fresh way. It's a movie called "Magdalena, Released From Shame," and it tells the story of a number of women in Jesus' day whose lives were touched by the Master. We'd like to send you a copy of this DVD to view for yourself or to share with friends. It's our way of saying thank you this week when you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
If you're making your donation online, and you'd like to receive the DVD, just type the word "Magdalena" in the keycode box – m-a-g-d-a-l-e-n-a, Magdalena, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and ask for the DVD you heard us talking about on the radio. It's 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and let me just say thank you so much for your financial support of this ministry. We do appreciate you.
Now, tomorrow we're going talk about what was probably the biggest hurdle that Mary DeMuth had to overcome in order to have a pioneer family, a first-generation Christian family. We'll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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