Living Fulfilled: The Infectious Joy of Serving Others is Lisa Thomas-McMillan’s inspirational memoir about helping the plight of America’s hungry that is equal parts harrowing and uplifting. With a decidedly spiritual message, she tells of her life growing up impoverished in Alabama, settling down in Los Angeles, then traveling back to her hometown to help the plight of the poor. She is also a fierce advocate against the death penalty.
What makes Lisa Thomas-McMillan such an effective narrator is that she literally walks the walk. The book is punctuated by two long walks – one in Alabama, and a 900-miled trek from Alabama to Washington DC to raise awareness. She also raises spiritual awareness within herself. The book is at once a call to arms for volunteerism and a powerful spiritual message. Even as she is witness to so many people’s misery, Thomas-McMillan is filled with joy and hope – the joy of being a servant to a greater cause.
Though the spiritual message will be quite meaningful to those who share her faith, it may be so strong as to put some people off, which is a shame because her intentions are so worthwhile. Hunger, or even the death penalty, are not religious principles, so one doesn’t need theology to understand their impact. If Thomas-McMillan’s goal is to bring attention to these pressing issues, the book could have had a more universal message. There’s a significant percentage of readers who will by sympathetic to her cause, but less sympathetic to her beliefs.
However, this is Thomas-McMillan’s story, and she tells it with great empathy and enthusiasm. So whatever religious reflections there may be should not dissuade any reader from giving the book a try. Her main message is that people should help to take care of others. That may be Jesus’s message, but it’s also common sense, so beyond whatever proselytizing there may be, the core of the book is uplifting and effective.
What makes the book work is that Thomas-McMillan is plainly a good writer. A book with this topic could read like a brochure, or feel like being lectured to. Such is not the case at all with Living Fulfilled. This is first and foremost a memoir, not a political screed, and her tales of her life are as moving and evocative as her mission in life.
The most moving part is when she tells tale of her long walk from Alabama to DC. It evokes memories of reading Parting the Waters, the story of the civil rights movement, which effectively makes Martin Luther King the leader of a movement of Biblical proportions. Likewise, Thomas-McMillan’s story reads not just like a traveler’s diary, but an important religious pilgrimage.
Ultimately, this is a book about selflessness and the importance of caring for one another. Volunteers for any kind of socio-economic issue will find her book meaningful and inspiring. If you’re not religious, there is much to be gained in this book, because Thomas-McMillan isn’t just a good writer, she’s a good person, the kind of person we should all aspire to be.
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