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'A Slow Burn': The Legacy of Abuse

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Tuesday, October 6, 2009

'A Slow Burn': The Legacy of Abuse

October 6, 2009

Several months ago I gave a rave review to Mary DeMuth's novel Daisy Chain. Today I want to mention that DeMuth has a sequel to this book coming out soon, called A Slow Burn. And I want to recommend this new book as well.

As if the first book in this series weren't heartbreaking enough, with its focus on abuse, neglect, and kidnapping, the second book is even more difficult to handle. But I believe that those who stick with it will find it equally rewarding.

In Daisy Chain—and be warned, this will be a spoiler for those who haven't read it yet—13-year-old Daisy Chance was found dead after being kidnapped from her small Texas town. A Slow Burn focuses on what happens to Daisy's mother, Emory, after the loss of her daughter.

Emory was presented as something of a villain in the first book—a cold, uncaring, neglectful mother. But when we get a chance to see things through Emory's eyes, we discover a more complex picture—a lonely, frightened, drug-addicted woman, herself a victim of abuse, who doesn't even know how to show love.

This is one of Mary DeMuth's greatest gifts—the ability to show that there's so much more to people than what we can see, and that the person who is hurting others may have been badly hurt herself. There aren't just abusers and victims in her stories. There are long chains of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment stretching down through the generations, just as we often find in real life—and as I've talked about before on Breakpoint, sadly we find it in the Church as well.

But DeMuth doesn't sugarcoat things or make excuses, either. When the local handyman and amateur preacher, Hixon, starts to becoming a loving and supporting presence in Emory's life, Emory fights him like a wild animal caught in a trap. Although Hixon is sure that God has called him to love this embittered woman, he appears likely to get nothing but pain and humiliation for his efforts.

At the beginning of the book, DeMuth quotes a passage from Henri Nouwen, which reads in part, "Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames?....Who can take away suffering without entering it?"

DeMuth's novel bears out the truth of this idea, a truth that we have seen played out in our prison ministry many, many times over: Loving the unlovely, the ones who have learned to see themselves and everyone else as worthless, can often be greatly rewarding, but it can also be a thankless and bruising task.

You can't just show up with a few Scripture quotes and pep talks and make things all better. It takes enormous amounts of time, patience, and trust in God, and a willingness to invest oneself fully, in order to let Him do His greatest work through us.

Whether or not we get to see the results, this is the kind of approach through which God can turn the ugliest life into something beautiful.

And in A Slow Burn, Mary DeMuth has provided us with a wonderful picture of how that works.

She once again shows that good fiction, crafted by a talented, thoughtful writer, can lead us into deep truths. Visit our website, BreakPoint.org, to order a copy of this powerful new book.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.