Mary DeMuth

Mary E. DeMuth is an expert in Pioneer Parenting. She enables Christian parents to navigate our changing culture when their families left no good faith examples to follow. Her parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House, 2007), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005). Mary also inspires people to face their trials through her real-to-life novels, Watching the Tree Limbs (nominated for a Christy Award) and Wishing on Dandelions (NavPress, 2006). Mary has spoken at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, the ACFW Conference, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, and at various churches and church planting ministries. Mary and her husband, Patrick, reside in Texas with their three children. They recently returned from breaking new spiritual ground in Southern France, and planting a church.

Response to a Pulitzer

I read the amazing Pulitzer Prize–winning book Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. It took my breath away. Such beautiful, deep, thick, rich prose, like the finest of dark French chocolate. One paragraph I read stuck me in the heart. A dying man relays what he sees as he watches his young son play:

You are standing up on the seat of your swing and sailing higher than you really ought to, with that bold, planted stance of a sailor on a billowy sea. The ropes are long and you are light and the ropes bow like cobwebs, laggardly, indolent. Your shirt is red—it is your favorite shirt—and you fly into the sunlight and pause there brilliantly for a second and then fall back into the shadows again. You appear to be altogether happy.

Robinson’s use of simple language coupled with the perfect positioning of words like laggardly perfectly reveals the voice of the narrator—a wise, needy, wistful man facing death.

The more I hone the craft, the more I realize it is simplicity that beckons readers. I used to write flowery, pithy phrases—pretty things I’d admire on a mantle—but they were stripped of vitality because I loved big words more than telling a story straight. I’m thankful to read books like Gilead or The Kite Runner that pack powerful emotional experiences in spare, gut-wrenching prose.

I feel it from time to time, a dull ache beneath my heart, a yearning to stop time and gather in the moment. But there are other times, often more frequent, when I dash here and there like Roadrunner pursued, forgetting to relish the beauty of now.

As a mother, I feel this ache, this longing to be present with my children. And yet, I strap the yoke of guilt around myself days upon days because I fail to measure up. I don’t spend enough presence time with my children. And the ache I feel from the guilt stifles me to try again, to be like those ancient monks who simply fell down and got up, fell down and got up.

On Mother’s Day, I read the end of Gilead. This portion jumped at me, beckoned me:

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave—that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.

God populates our lives with people, and I am blessed to have children as a part of His portion to me. Oh, to honor them, to revel in their beauty. I’ve been growing old lately (I’ve seen the lines on my face). Frankly, it has alarmed me. But when I’m quiet, really quiet, I hear the gentle whispers of God against my aging face, welcoming me to consider real beauty.

I won’t always be youthful. I’m headed toward heaven with every step on this earth. What will be my beauty then? Certainly not the way I look when arthritis curves my back, or the shock of losing my memory. Beauty comes from deep inside. From loving others. For cherishing them in the moment. From letting the trials of life sand the edges of my sometimes prickly soul.

I want to wear a beautiful soul as I age. I fear I’ve pulled away from that, preferring solitude over relationship. Perhaps reading Gilead was God’s gracious reminder to me to honor the people He places in my life—my husband, my children, the mothers at school, the new friends He’s bringing to me. To do that, I need to shed the guilt straddling my heart over not being present.

The picture I have is of a swing, the kind dangling from an ancient tree whose roots run deeper than its limbs reach high. God beckons me to get on, but I circle it, making excuses, wondering if the limbs will hold me. It’s not until I sit, push off with tired feet and feel the wind against my face as I pump to soaring that I understand freedom, grace, beauty, joy. And when I stop, breathless and a little dizzy, my friends and family encircle me, laughing, asking to be a part, cajoling.

I want to swing in the arms of Jesus, surrounded by the beauty of others.

Mary DeMuth