Move Toward the Mess (and a book giveaway!)

She practically shuddered with a hand over her heart. “You took your baby…to Africa?” she asked my friend Ginger, and we laughed.

“Yeah,” Ginger smiled. “It was fine, and our kids were able to experience so much of the culture. We can’t wait to take them back again.”

I think of that moment every now and then, when I realized that comfort is a very, well, comfortable thing. It’s difficult to step out of that comfort, to walk knowingly into uncertain situations even when we are doing so in order to spread Jesus’ love.

Being uncomfortable is hard. Moving into the mess is difficult. But that is right where God wants us.

I’m finishing up the book Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick, who is part of the leadership team at Buckhead Church, within North Point Ministries. (Scroll down – I’m giving away a copy today!) What John has found is that too many of us are too comfortable… too isolated… too bored within our faith. But “if you’re bored,” he writes, “don’t waste another minute. If your church service feels like a failed pep rally that never leads to the actual game, then it’s time for you to follow Jesus onto the field where the opposition is real and the stakes are extraordinary.”

I’ve been contemplating this a lot when it comes to my family. I’ve been asking myself not only what am I helping my kids to learn about the Lord, but also what am I showing them about what it means to give of ourselves, to love others the way Jesus loves us? Because doing this, truly doing this, usually means stepping outside of ourselves, outside of the areas that bring us comfort.

When we first got the opportunity to serve at a local winter homeless shelter, we didn’t hesitate to sign Connor up too. He was 5 at the time, and he was assigned the job of handing out little packs of snacks and water after the individuals came through the dinner line. There is a lot of mess among that group. We’ve heard some interesting things, and we’ve seen a fight or two break out. But it’s a real chance to be a part of Jesus’ love, and I feel like I’m looking at the face of God as I hand out bottled waters and say hello and smile.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there’s nothing heroic about showing up once a month for a single dinner. But it’s a start, and the first step in moving into a life of less talk and more action does begin with showing up. I know we have a lot more to learn, a lot more to give, and much, much more love to offer. And reading Move Toward the Mess has deepened my resolve and heightened my reflection for how our family can meaningfully live this out.

One of my favorite points in Move Toward the Mess was an analogy John used to describe what is happening in churches across the country. He likened Christianity to a sporting event, with the locker room strategy, followed by the big highlight: the game. But today, he pointed out, we’ve busied ourselves with talking strategy in the locker room so much that we’ve been abandoning the game.

“…What if the team didn’t show up on the field? When we Christians start to confuse the locker room with the game, things get boring…We talk about love and generosity and grace. Those things come alive and get exciting when they’re running loose in the world. But if we only ever talk about those things in church, and never practice them outside the church, things get stale. It might be more comfortable inside the walls of the church, but excitement is found where Jesus is at work – out in the world.”

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When I think about what it means to move toward the mess, I think of my friend Kathy, who played an integral role in getting hundreds of beds built in a Charlotte NC apartment complex for the homeless. I think of my friend Kristin who organized a group of friends to host a fundraiser that collected months’ worth of toilet paper for low-income families in our community.I think of my friend Julie who mentors young, homeless mothers each week. And I think of my friend Ginger who serves with her family in Sierra Leone, working to bring education and the Christian faith to the people there.
I know that it takes not only a willingness, but also specific, passionate action to move into the places where we can make a deep impact – and I hope to continually seek out these places to connect with others in grace and love. Wherever God is calling us – from the international ministry to the local nonprofit to our neighbor’s home – the most beautiful parts of life are found in the mess.
Today, I’m giving away a copy of Move Toward the Mess! Just leave a comment and I’ll select a winner by Friday, January 20 at 5 p.m.!

My Favorite Books Read in 2016

Reading is such an important part of my life and something that I absolutely love doing. Learning from others’ experiences and imaginations feels like such a gift. For me, the only other things I’d rather been doing when I’m not spending time with my family are reading or writing. (And when I’m reading with my kids – best part of my day!)

I set a goal of reading 40 books this year and surpassed it to reach 58! You can see all of them here – not including a couple releasing this year that I got to preview. (You can also check out my favorite reads from 2014 here, and my favorites from 2015 here!)

Here are my favorite books read in 2016, in no particular order:

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Nonfiction

  1. Deep Work by Cal Newport. This book argues that we as a culture have let distraction take over our lives, to the detriment of deep attention and in-depth work. It came recommended from a friend, and it continues to challenge me in how I spend my attention each day.bookdeep-work-cal-newport
  2. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch. This book contains some wonderful stories and a great overall message about allowing our kids fail in order to learn how to stand up again and be responsible and accountable. I pre-ordered this one before it came out, and I’m really glad I own it, because I’ll be referring back to it in the years to come.
  3. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Probably my favorite book read this year! I happened to be chatting with a community leader about local issues, and she recommended this to me. I was captivated by it, and have been recommending it ever since.bookhillbillyelegy
  4. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. This book made me cry, laugh, and want to read everything in sight. A very touching story of a man who began reading books with his mom while she was undergoing chemo treatments.
  5. The Legacy Journey by Dave Ramsey. I’ve read several of Dave’s books, but this one is probably my favorite, because it focuses on your wealth legacy – how what you do now with your money can have an extremely beneficial impact on your family and others for a very long time.
  6. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This book transformed my soul and opened my eyes. I didn’t agree with everything (I rarely do in a book!) but Half the Sky has truly heightened my awareness and compassion about world issues regarding the oppression of women in the developing world and deepened my resolve to doing what I can to aid in some of these international problems.bookhalfthesky
  7. Grit by Angela Duckworth. I found this book to be more exploratory than results-based, but there are some key points that have continued to stay with me. It makes the case that while our culture loves people who are “naturals” – those gifted with athletic talent or extremely high intellect, for example – no one really achieves high levels of success without passion and perseverance.
  8. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. This book has changed the way I think about getting old and confronting death. SUCH a good read. This is the second book I have read by Atul Gawande, and I love his thoughtful writing style.bookbeingmortal
  9. On Fire by John O’Leary. This book recounts John’s experience getting horribly burned in a fire when he was nine years old, and what his pain and experience taught him about the will to live and what it means to live a life of great purpose and passion. On Fire is an uplifting and powerful read.

Fiction

  1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I’ve recommended this to several people, who then say “Oh, I don’t like to read horror.” But this isn’t a typical Stephen King book (I don’t like that genre either!) It’s a well-researched novel with a fascinating storyline, and even though it’s more than 800 pages, it goes quickly for the most part. I couldn’t put it down!book11-22-63
  2. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I almost didn’t read this because if I’m being honest, I think the title is terrible and the cover is terrible. But it was highly recommended, so I gave it a chance, and pretty soon, I was wrapped up. It’s a YA novel, and though it moves a little slow in some parts, it explores some tough themes with likable main characters and has a fantastic ending.
  3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I got on a Young Adult kick last year, which has continued. I listened to this on audio during a drive to Nashville for a writing program and really enjoyed it. A compelling story with an unexpected outcome.bookeverything

We’re a week into the new year, and I’ve bought about 10 new books on my Kindle and have been keeping the library busy with my requests; there are so many I can’t wait to read this year. (Which is positive momentum to have, since I’m aiming for 75!) I’d love to hear what has been on your favorites list or what you’re looking forward to reading next. Any recommendations for me?