Overcoming Abuse God’s Way: Rags To Riches, by Janet Marie Napper and Brenda Branson
[Note: A review copy of this e-book was provided to me free of charge by BookSneeze.com/Thomas Nelson Publishers. This has not influenced my book review in any way.]
Overcoming Abuse God’s Way: Rags To Riches is in large part a gripping and deeply personal memoir of one woman’s life of abuse in a series of dead-end relationships, including the abuse of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs as a way of filling the God-shaped void in her heart that started from an abusive childhood. It is a brief but powerful memoir that combines a chronological account of her life from early childhood abandonment, abuse by her foster father, and a young adulthood filled with disastrous choices in search of love and acceptance with reflections on the larger patterns of abuse that are shared by many readers. The account is both personal as well as deeply biblical, and the book should appeal especially to Christian women who have struggled with a background of abusive families and relationships.
The book as a whole is full of sad and touching ironies, beyond its uplifting main point. For example, the authors comment on the sadness that resulted from Christmas and Halloween, from the discouragement of the lonely for the one festival as well as the habit of dressing up and pretending to be someone else for the other. The book as a whole manages to strike a fair balance between the reality of God’s undying love for us no matter how corrupt and broken the state of our lives, as well as the immense ethical demands (expressed most bluntly in God’s laws and in the prophets, whom the authors cite often) that God places on us for our own benefit. It is only by accepting that God alone (through Jesus Christ) can fulfill our messianic longings and by accepting His rule over our lives that we are free to let go of our own rather pitiful attempts to control our own destinies. This book is a poignant reminder of the brokenness that is far too common in the lives of believers.
This great strength of the book is also somewhat of a weakness. As the memoir of a woman who with the love of God rose above her brokenness and sought to serve and help others who have suffered from abuse like she did, this is a powerful book that will hopefully bring encouragement to many women. But as a man who has struggled both with the effects of sexual abuse as well as the lashing out of women who are struggling with their own history of abuse, this book alienates as many readers as it draws in with its clear gender biases. Unfortunately, the corpus of sexual abuse recovery literature (of which this book is a part) is filled with books written by, about, and for women and the concerns and issues specific to men tend to get short shift.
Though this book touches occasionally on the struggles with intimacy faced by the author’s two oldest sons (struggles which I share given my own history), as well as the suffering faced by her father and other abusive men, this book seems a bit heavy-handed in the way it deals with men. Given the horrible problem of abuse, whether one is dealing with abusive authority figures or peers, it is vital that someone addresses the male side of the picture with the view of stopping the abuse of defenseless children or wives and girlfriends, and in dealing with the insecurities and concerns of men so that fewer women and children have to deal with the unpleasant aftereffects of abuse. So, if one is a woman looking for an affirmation of God’s love and the dignity and respect and honor that a woman should be treated with by any decent gentleman, regardless of one’s past history of abuse, this is an excellent work. However, it ought to be understood that this is a book written by, about, and for women, and thus the book is somewhat incomplete if it is viewed as anything more than a woman’s deep and sincere and heartfelt memoir of brokenness and redemption, in turning a history of abuse into a passion for helping to provide God’s healing to other broken women like her.