Is forgiveness the answer to your bitterness? Author Mary DeMuth talks honestly about the change that took place in her life when she chose to forgive her abusers.
About the Guest
Is forgiveness the answer to your bitterness? Author Mary DeMuth talks honestly about the change that took place in her life when she chose to forgive her abusers.
Is forgiveness the answer to your bitterness?
Bob: This is Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Today, and we need to interrupt the beginning of today's program so that we can talk straight with our listeners and …
Dennis: That's right, Bob. You know, Barbara and I have had to take a hard look at how we're spending our money in these challenging economic times, and in that equation, we've looked at who and what we give to.
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Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Mary Ann and I had some friends of ours – this was a number of years ago – a couple who went to church with us, and they were in their 30s and did not have children and, at one point, we broached the subject with them about children and I remember they said that they had decided when they got married that they weren't going to have any children.
And we probed that a little bit. We were in a small group with them, and so we were talking about these things, and the wife said, "Given my background, I don't think I can do it. I don't think I can be a mom," and they'd made the decision not to have children just because she was afraid of how she would be as a mom.
And I think there are probably folks who grew up in very difficult backgrounds who …
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Bob: … face parenting with that kind of fear.
Dennis: You know, Bob, at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, we run into couples all the time who are just like you're describing, and they hear us talking about being a mom, being a dad, and some principles from Scripture around that to encourage that role in life, and their arms are up in the stop position. It's like they're not ready to handle it and, frankly, I think there is an entire generation of young people coming out of this culture of divorce who are broken, they're fearful, and they lack confidence when it comes to being a parent.
And we have a guest today who has written a book called "Building the Christian Family You Never Had," and I think that title is going to resonate with a lot of our listeners. Mary DeMuth joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Mary.
Mary: Great to be here.
Dennis: Mary and her husband are missionaries in France. They are planting churches in the Southern part of France near Nice, is that right?
Mary: That's right.
Dennis: A beautiful area of France, and this book is, as we discovered earlier, is – begins, really, with the tragedy of her childhood where she endured sexual abuse, the lack of safety, a lot of fear, a lot of fear of death, grew up in a home where there were abusive substances being used, a lot of partying, your mom had three divorces, and so this very topic, Bob, you and I are talking about is one that was on Mary's heart.
Mary, in the book, you tell the story about a vow you made when you were 12 years old, which really captures the essence of what we're talking about here. You and Brandy decided something.
Mary: We decided – we both had grown up in pretty similar circumstances, and she was my best friend, and we both decided, let's not grow up and be our moms. We both had some difficult moms that we were dealing with, and it was just something that – it was kind of a little pact that we made, a little girl pact.
It was interesting, because later I met her at a high school reunion, and it was interesting, because she had turned into her mom. She had not met Christ, and she was living the lifestyle of her mom. She had turned exactly into her, and it was like this picture to me from the Lord of "Look what I have done in your life and look where you could have been." Wow, what an interesting gift God gave me.
Bob: Well, you had a situation after you'd been married and had three children. You hadn't really turned into your mom in the same sense, but your husband came to you and said, "You know, there's a sense in which you are like your mom."
Mary: Oh, yeah, and that was really hard to hear. He gave me a really good metaphor. He said, "It's like you're on top of a high dive, and you're pacing back and forth, and you're looking down, and down inside the swimming pool, I'm there with the three children, and we're playing, and we're frolicking, and we're just having a great time, and we're screaming, and saying 'Come on in, Mary, the water's warm, come on,' and I'm pacing back and forth and back and forth." And he says eventually I get off the high dive and walk down, and I sit on the edge of the pool and dangle my feet in.
And it was really good for me to hear that, because I thought, you know, that typifies my struggle as a mom is to connect with my family, because my tendency is to protect my heart at any cost.
And so I think it was a gift that he gave me, a difficult gift, you know, gifts are sometimes wrapped in funny wrapping paper, but it's been something in my mind ever since that I have pursued with Jesus to try to connect deeply with the heart of my husband and the hearts of my children.
Bob: When you first thought about marriage, was there something in the back of your mind going, "I don't know that I can do this?"
Mary: Yes, definitely, and I did not have a lot of relationships before I got married. I was petrified, and I did the weird thing that girls who have been abused do, where you are longing for a daddy, so you kind of – each other pursues each other, but once the man shows an interest, I would run 4,000 miles the other way. It just freaked me out.
I was in one relationship where he, I think, wanted to marry me, and I just couldn't do it. I was running away and, actually, in the midst of that, I was going to counseling and trying to figure out, is it me, is it me? But then I met my husband, and there is this peace that came over me when I met him, and I never wanted to run away.
So I think it was just that God chose the right person and the right time for the man that I eventually married.
Dennis: You say in order for a person to begin to become a pioneer parent, and you and Patrick, at some point, started having your three children, and so you were faced with the realities of hammering out that marriage in the midst of having children.
One of the things you have to do is heal your heart and that, for you, was the beginning step. You had to go forgive your parents. How in the world did that happen? I mean, I'm just thinking back to all that had happened. That was a big step for you, wasn't it?
Mary: It was a huge step, and it was work that I had started right after I became a Christian. I had good people in my life who said it was important to forgive, so during my college years I worked on that, and I wrote letters and, you know, my father was deceased, so I wrote him letters and forgave him, and just really worked through that.
But I've learned that road of forgiveness that we walk on is a long road. It does take that initial decision, but I am still peeling away the layers of the onion of my childhood, and every time I peel another layer away, I weep. And then I have to forgive afresh.
It was a difficult journey, and I'm still on it today.
Dennis: Where did you get that kind of discipline? Did you go to a counselor or did a good friend put their arm around you and say, "Mary, you've had a lot of bad things happen to you. You've got to decide whether you're going to be a victim or whether you are going to proactively embrace the Scripture and forgive those who abused you, who haven't protected you."
Mary: Yeah, I think during college what really saved me, and it was interesting, because much later I did go through counseling just for a couple of years, but it was years and years later, and the counselor said, "I can't believe that you haven't gone through counseling before because you've come so far."
And part of that was in college – I had people who believed that God would heal my heart, and those people just loved me through my weeping. I basically cried through college, and Jesus met me there and began to heal the broken parts of my heart.
So I really believe that parenting is an inside-out endeavor. That what is inside of our hearts will come out in our parenting. And so for us, who are pioneer parents, what we do is we buy all these books, and we try to impose – superimpose parenting methods upon ourselves that our hearts are broken, and they're not healed, and we need to run to Jesus first to get healed.
Dennis: Yeah, and I want to take you back to that first pivotal point where you've initiated forgiveness toward your mom.
Mary: I think I was in high school at that time. I had a good youth pastor who said, "First of all," he said, "you're under your mother's authority, and you need to ask her where she wants you to go to college," and that was very difficult for me, because I just wanted to go to Bible College. I didn't want to go to a secular university at all.
And I chose to obey the youth pastor, in a sense, and also, I think, the Lord, because the Lord really worked through that situation, and I just said, "Mom, where do you want me to go to college?" And my mom told me, and she gave me two choices, and I went there, and right after that was when I started to communicate with her that I forgave her, and I did it in several different ways – verbally and through writing, but there was never really a response to that, and I still haven't really received a response to that, but it doesn't matter, because Jesus wanted me to do it so I just did it.
Bob: And I want you to explain what forgiveness looks and feels like in this situation, because I'm thinking there are folks who are saying, "Okay, I've tried to express forgiveness," but they're still in an estranged relationship, and they're going, "Is this forgiveness? Have I done it?" You know what I mean?
Mary: I really know what you mean, because I struggled with that in my mind. For a long period of time I thought, "Why aren't we reconciled?" I equated reconciliation with forgiveness, and Scripture says, "so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men," in Romans. And I finally got to that point where I realized I can forgive but that does not mean that we're going to be in relationship with each other. And that is a two-way street.
So I can walk 100 miles this way toward my parents, but if they never take a step toward me, that is not an indication of whether or not I've forgiven them. That's kind of how I'd phrase it.
Bob: If your mom called you today and said, "Mary, why don't you come spend a couple of days here?" Or "I'd love to come to France and spend a week with your family." Does forgiveness mean you say okay, or does it mean you keep some boundaries there? What do you do?
Mary: That is a great question. I keep boundaries, because I have – there was a period of time in my 20s where I thought that to love my mom and for her to come to Jesus, I had to be ultimately vulnerable before her and share every pain and every hurt, and I threw my heart out there. I did not guard my heart at all. I thought, "To be this Jesus follower, and to have my mom come to Christ, I've just got to be open, honest," and it did not work.
So I have learned and matured and gotten wiser in my older years, and I have put some boundaries around my heart, so I'm very limited in the contact I have with her.
Bob: And why is this whole process important if you want to be a Christian parent? It doesn't seem connected, you know?
Mary: Yeah, it's really important, because you're raising a new generation, and you're plowing new ground for your children, and it's important that you protect your children sometimes – not always, but sometimes, from the negative influence of their grandparents.
Dennis: And I'm listening to this story, and I know your husband, Patrick, has to be a key conduit of healing and hope in your life. Now, when he married you, did he realize everything that had taken place in the past, or generally did he have an understanding? And then I'm interested in knowing how did he help you in this inside-out parenting that you now share together as a couple?
Mary: He has been a tremendous blessing, and I've always been a real authentic, open person. So he did know all the facts of what had gone on in my childhood. But as we've talked later, he did not know at all the emotional impact, especially, particularly, the sexual abuse would have on our relationship, especially our sexual relationship.
It's taken us all this time to kind of work through it, but how he has helped me is he has been an example of Jesus Christ to me, and he has loved me unconditionally through this very difficult time of healing and shown me what it's like to have someone who is constant and abiding – such a blessing.
Bob: One of the keys to pioneer parenting, as you talk about it in the book, is to make sure that your marriage relationship is solid. You grew up in a home where your mom had three husbands by the time you were 15 years old. You really emphasized the whole issue of leaving and cleaving as a key parenting principle. Explain why that's so important to parenting and explain how it's been a challenge for you guys.
Mary: Boy, that's a – I think that is one of the biggest issues facing marriages today, is that when we leave home, we need to leave it behind. And Patrick and I – obviously, for pioneer parents, it's such an important thing because, for me, I really need to leave that behind, because I'm really going to start something new.
But the way that you can build your Christian marriage in a different way than maybe you saw it modeled, is to forsake all others, and that means your family, and go forward with your spouse – that there is a camaraderie. There were times in the very beginning of our marriage where we were having difficulty with my husband's parents, and he stood up to his parents and said, "Don't you ever treat my wife that way again."
And we had to separate from his parents for a period of time because it was so difficult. But he initiated that. He protected me, and I have the utmost respect for my husband for loving me and choosing me above his parents.
Bob: You see, I would think, in your situation, leaving is kind of the no-brainer, because, sure, who wouldn't want to set behind – who wouldn't want to say, "No, we're done with that," and yet it's not that easy to just say, "Okay, I've left." Because it follows you, doesn't it?
Mary: It does. And I thought initially, "I've left," you know? And it wasn't until I moved across the country, when I was removed from that situation that I realized I hadn't left at all. I was still emotionally tied. I was still worried about what every member of my family thought of me, and I was still living for my reputation within that family rather than living for Jesus or living for my marriage.
So it took that physical move for me. It's not necessary for everyone to do that, but that physical move was God's blessing on me to be able to have kind of a bird's eye view of what was going on.
Dennis: If you're going to be a pioneer parent, you've already illustrated how you have to overcome obstacles in becoming a pioneer, and I think of the settlers who settled the Wild West and went to Alaska, you know, they were true pioneers.
But what you're describing, you know, you're breaking new ground. You're moving into uncharted territory. But to do that, you need blueprints. Where did you get your blueprints for becoming an effective parent and building the Christian family you never had?
Mary: Well, obviously, one of those answers is I just loved the Bible and read it voraciously and studied it and studied books about parenting. So going to the Word is a really important thing. But one thing that helped me maybe even more was the fact that 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 so that I could feel that great love and understanding from a parent that I had never really experienced, and that has helped me tremendously, just seeing it modeled by other parents.
Dennis: So it's been a combination of both seeing the written word of Scriptures, but the Word of God lived out …
Mary: … yes …
Dennis: … through mentors and models who have coached you as a wife and a mom in putting together some pieces of the puzzle that you didn't have.
Mary: Exactly, and that has been such a blessing – just the people that God has populated my life with to teach me what to do. I was clueless, so I needed those people.
Bob: How old are your kids today?
Mary: They are – my daughter is 13, I have a 10-year-old son, and a 7-year-old – she just turned 8 – an 8-year-old daughter.
Dennis: Do the teenage years scare you?
Mary: No, they don't, because I feel like since I didn't have much of a childhood growing up, it was really hard for me to be a parent of little kids. So I'm just thrilled that my daughter is 13, and she has been such a blessing in France.
Dennis: Isn't that good of God?
Dennis: To give you a little girl who is growing up to become a woman. You really are, Mary, stopping the cycle that you were a part of. I don't know what your mom and dad's background had been, but, more than likely, it was probably pretty tough for them to end up in the circumstances that they ended up in as adults.
But you decided not to become a victim. Instead, you worked on healing from the inside out to become the parent God wanted you to be, and the wife and the mom, and I think you did the tough work of forgiving and continuing to forgive your mom, now, as an adult.
I just know we have a lot of listeners who hear us talk a lot about this. I've written a book called "The Best Gift you Can Ever Give Your Parents," and it's all about writing a tribute to your mom or dad, even out of tough situations like what you've talked about, and it's all about the 5th commandment – "Honor your mother and father."
And it's interesting, really, the core what you're talking about here in building the Christian family you never had is dealing with the stuff looking backward, so as you relate to the future generation that you're leading, you can do that in a healthy way.
And I just want to thank you for being on our broadcast and, even more importantly, for doing the hard work of working through your stuff and facing the tough issues and doing it in a Christ-honoring way. Thanks for being on the broadcast.
Mary: Thanks, it's been a blessing, and I just want to say it's been Jesus.
Bob: And if we do have listeners, and I imagine we do, who would like more information about the book you've written, "The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents," you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and there is information about that book available there. Again, the title of the book Dennis has written is called "The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents," and it's about this whole process of honoring your mother or your father with a written tribute.
And there may be some of our listeners who, with Mother's Day now about a month away, and Father's Day about two and a half months away, you may want to start on that process right now, and they can get a copy of your book, and that will help them along that journey.
We also have copies of Mary's book in our FamilyLife Resource Center – it's called "Building the Christian Family You Never Had," and if you go to the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, there is information there about the book and also order online. This is really a guide for those who do not have a legacy of Christianity in their background but want to leave a heritage of Christianity as they raise their children.
Again, it's called "Building the Christian Family You Never Had." Information is on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free if you are interested in any of these resources. 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
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Now, tomorrow we're going to introduce you to a man who, at a very early age, had it all. I guess I really shouldn't say he had it all because he didn't have the thing that was missing most from his life, and that is a spiritual center to his existence. You'll meet Wayne Huizenga, Jr., tomorrow, and I hope you can join us for that conversation.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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