How can a book be both gut-wrenching and beautiful? In Thin Places: a memoir, author Mary DeMuth pulls it off. This is the moving account of Mary’s life growing up as a child of a broken home, sexually abused at an early age, and struggling to feel like she mattered. It’s the story of how a teenage girl, struggling with thoughts of suicide, finds Jesus, and how He redeems her story.
Mary’s book is not easy to read; it’s gut-wrenching, as I said. Oh, she is an incredibly gifted writer and she holds the readers’ attention with ease as she skillfully intertwines stories of her early life with later events. It’s just that some of it makes you want to scream and throw the book across the room and curse this fallen world where Satan steals so much. Like the 14 year-old junior high student who whispers in Mary’s ear before her wedding, “Don’t worry, it hurts at first but it gets better.”
What makes it beautiful is the courage Mary displays by opening up her life for all to see, all the painful, awful things that happened to her, the ways it still affects her now, and how she’s found, and is finding, freedom. Through her life you see that, while Satan steals so much, he can never destroy. God takes what is meant for evil (such as the con artist who steals the DeMuth’s house) and uses it for good in our lives.
It’s beautiful in the way Mary is willing to put her struggles out there for us without (apparently) feeling the need to tie up all the loose ends. One of my former counseling professors once commented on the way Christians typically (and safely) confess things in the past tense— “I used to struggle with ___ but God gave me the victory.” Mary turns the tables and confesses some present tense things. By doing this I think she demonstrates the truth that we struggle not only with the damage done to us by sinners but the damage we do to ourselves and others as sinners. However we’ve been hurt by sin Mary shows how God provides the healing and forgiveness and love we need and long for.
Frederick Buechner in Speak What We Feel: not what we ought to say, says, “it is Red Smith who is reported to have said that it’s really very easy to be a writer, all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein . . . vein-opening writers are putting not just themselves into their books, but themselves at their nakedest and most vulnerable . . . and many good writers never do it at all.” Mary did it, opened a vein and bled on the page, and in doing so, wonderfully points to Another who spilled his blood to redeem us, our stories. Buechner goes on to say “since I have long since come to believe that all of our stories are at their deepest level the same story, it is my hope that in listening to these . . . say so powerfully not what they thought they ought to say, but what they truly felt, we may possibly learn something about how to bear the weight of our own sadness.” Mary’s story will make you think about your own story, your own sadness, and the ways Jesus shows up in it.
“Thin places,” Mary writes, “are snatches of time, moments really, when we sense God intersecting our world in tangible, unmistakable ways. They are aha moments, beautiful realizations, when the Son of God bursts through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh.” And oh how He bursts through in Mary DeMuth’s book, showing up as He truly is, the Star of all our stories.