I associate my mom with the chatter of keyboard keys on early Saturday mornings. She’s always been a writer. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve snuggling next to her on our forest green futon as she read the latest pages of her novel. Characters from small town Ohio crowded into our game room as she brought them to life with her voice. After hours of edits, thousands of words, and many tears, she found an agent, then a publisher. We squealed and jumped when her first book went to print.
As I’ve sought to understand the value of a story, she continually comes to mind. So I decided to pick her brain. My mom is a former church planter in France, the author of more than thirty books, and the host of the Restory Show. —Sophie DeMuth
Briefly describe your story for our readers.
I grew up in a broken home of three divorces, neglect, neighborhood sexual abuse, and death of a parent (my father) when I was ten years old. As an only child, I often felt terrified and alone. I would often run home from school, afraid that perpetrators would find me. I also feared death, particularly because losing your father at ten makes you feel entirely vulnerable to dying. In Junior High, everything boiled over inside myself, and I thought about taking my life. My mom’s third marriage broke up, leaving me fatherless again (I had grown very close to my stepfather). Thankfully, in the ninth grade, a friend invited me to Young Life where I heard about Jesus in such a fresh, compelling way. The following year at a weekend camp, I heard the whole gospel and surrendered my life to Jesus at fifteen. Since then I’ve attended college, got married, had three children, and pioneered a writing and speaking career. All through that I’ve been walking what seems to be a very long and drawn out journey of healing.
How does it feel sharing the darker parts of your story? Why do you feel it’s necessary to share those things?
To set others free who also have dark stories. The church has often done a disservice to victims, especially on Sunday where we are all buttoned up and look happy and fine. That seeming perfection prevents people from being honest, and it intensifies their loneliness and feelings of alienation. But if someone walks up to the pulpit and is honest about a struggle or a painful element of their story, they free the people in the congregation to do likewise. I’m tired of fake. I’m tired of pretending. None of us have it all together.
How do you feel you or your story has been most misunderstood?
I recently had an interview where the interviewer assumed I was somber and sad because of all that had happened to me. I grew frustrated because I felt I was supposed to convince her that I was fine and happy. Perhaps it’s because I write such dark stories (albeit with redemption) that people might assume I’m joyless. But if you meet me or hear me speak, hopefully you will see that I am full of gratitude for what Jesus has done. I love him so much, so much so that it’s sometimes hard for me to contain it.
How have you seen God use your story?
I’m completely surprised that my story has impact in the world, but I’m profoundly grateful. Just today I received an email from a struggling wife, and I prayed back a response to her. Daily I receive emails from my readers and listeners who tell me their angst and hurts, and I do my best to minister to them. I see book writing and speaking as an avenue toward ministry. The books and speaking are small flashes, but the real ministry comes when I have conversations with people and have a chance (such a privilege!) to pray.
What does “restory” mean?
Restory means “so what.” In other words, I believe God gives us a new story when we meet him, but there’s more to our story than our own personal transformation. There’s a so what to our story. He redeems us so we can be an agent of redemption in the world. I have had the most joy in my life the more I let God use my little story for the sake of his kingdom.
Where did the idea for your “restory” brand come from? What’s your hope for this ministry?
As I said above, it was a stirring from the Lord that our healing from the past is not simply for us, but it’s part of God’s larger narrative of redemption for all of humanity. Your story has a so what. And in that process of restorying your life, God is also calling you to help others find their restory.
Why do you think stories are important?
I believe God hardwired us to learn from and encounter each other through stories. I recently took a vacation with new friends. I saw it as an opportunity to tease out their stories, to figure out when God intersected their pasts, and how best to love them. Stories invite us into people’s hearts, which is why I love to write stories even in the nonfiction I write. Stories highlight the commonality of the human condition.
How do stories deepen your relationship with God?
Jesus is the hero of my story, so it makes sense that his overarching story seems to be the metanarrative of all stories. I also think there’s something profound about the stories we tell about ourselves. We can tell them in such a way that remind us of God’s faithfulness, or we can tell fatalistic stories (spinning them a different way), highlighting injustice more than the power of God.
What stories have been influential in your life?
A lot of Jesus’ stories have stayed with me: the prodigal son, the widow’s mite, the Good Samaritan. To Kill a Mockingbird has stuck to me like tar, perhaps because I have a desire to help anyone that’s been victimized. I have long wanted to write a novel like that—one that has a profound impact on culture, but that also points to Jesus as redeemer.
What role does redemption play in stories?
The central role. Our lives hinge on redemption, at least mine does! I would not be alive today (which means the writer of this article would also not be alive) had it not been for God’s rescue of me at fifteen. That doesn’t mean we only tell happy ending stories. Our ultimate redemption awaits us on the other side. I remember author Ted Dekker warning writers not to simply write sweet books. He said, “The light of redemption shines brighter on a darker canvas.” In other words, when you write about the darkness honestly, it causes the stark beauty of redemption to shine all the more.
Why do you think it’s important for people to share their stories?
It sets them free. I’ve seen it over and over again in ministry. I believe God tells all of us two words: go first. We tell our stories, being brave enough to go first. We do that to hear two more words: me too. We tell stories to show others they are no longer alone.
What is the most valuable element of someone’s story?
The denouement. Most people’s stories climax on their surrender to Jesus. But what do you do in the aftermath of that? Some people spend their denouement living as if they’d never met Jesus, only to live with regret later. We are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It’s a daily grind of joyful sanctification. How we live for Jesus when no one sees us is probably the bravest thing a believer can do, especially in this strange paradox of celebrity Christian culture. The best story ends with John’s proclamation: He must increase, but I must decrease.
How should people go about telling their stories?
I used to vomit on people (not literally, but just way too much information too soon) when I started telling my story. I think I had held it in for so long, it came out like a waterfall. Now I am more cautious. My advice is for people to find the safest person they know and slowly entrust their story to that person. There’s a lot of damage that can be done when a careless listener doesn’t dignify the story, cheapens it, or blames the person who told the story.
What would you say to someone who is hesitant to tell his or her story?
As I mentioned before, find someone truly, truly safe before you do tell your story. Your story is precious and is worthy of a dignified listen. Ask God to lead you to the right person. And of course, you can always practice your story by writing it down first, then giving it to God as an offering.
How do stories help the church?
People find themselves in narrative. They place themselves in different characters, and they view their own plots through the lens of other plots. I would caution, however, that telling our stories isn’t always the point. It seems some leaders these days are so interested in telling stories that they forget the grandest narrative of all: the gospel. That story of Jesus rescuing humanity from sin should always be the underlying story.
What is your hope for Christians in terms of story?
That they’ll be so enamored with Jesus that they’ll joyfully share their redemption story with the people God puts in their path.
Cover image by Jan Mellström.