One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully right where you are, by Ann VosKamp. Originally published in 2011. 240 pages.
This is an updated and edited review from 2011. I took some time to re-read this book (re-skim is more accurate) since I find so often that my ways of viewing some things evolve as I grow older and, for lack of a better word, wiser.
Ann VosKamp’s grateful heart is evident on her blog which I used to occasionally read. Because of that I decided to read her book when I usually run screaming from “Christian” books which make it onto the New York Times’ best seller list. I don’t do well with the most popular Christian works because the poor handling of Scripture makes me cringe.
However since this was a book about being thankful, one of my many weak areas, I gave it a go. I often struggled to be thankful, but have grown exponentially in this area since I first read this book 5 years ago.
I’m not much of a poet, preferring to cut to the chase while skipping around in politically incorrect minefields despite my best efforts to be graceful when I write. I sometimes enjoy poetic language though, and Ann Voskamp definitely has a poetic way of expressing her thoughts. I admire her penchant for seeing the beauty in every little detail of her days.
Still, I questioned whether I could appreciate her flowery writing style in a book. Poetic language and extensive use of literary device is tolerable, even enjoyable in her blog posts broken up by pretty photographs, but I wasn’t sure I could do 200+ pages of it! With no pictures! If that wasn’t enough, before her book reached my doorstep I stumbled onto a controversy concerning the theology within it. I am thankful that I embarked on a reduction of Internet time just as I began to read it because I don’t know that I could have fully appreciated it if I was still sifting through the critiques it sparked. We’ll get to my thoughts on all that in a bit, because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some.
As I began to read the book, I related to Mrs. VosKamp a bit. I, a city girl and fledgling gardener who kills more seedlings than I harvest every spring, who’s never even seen a snowflake, found that I liked this Canadian homeschooling mother and farmer’s wife as I read One Thousand Gifts.
Throughout my life I have come to sense people who know what it is to experience a ripping away of the veil of innocence and beauty in life at an age too tender to absorb it, all while being taught that we are being cared for by a God who is infinitely good. There are times in my life, in my Christian walk, when I’ve wondered if this would be easier had I heard the name of Jesus for the first time as an adult, from the booming voice of some random street preacher. If I were more like my husband, whose faith has always been rooted in a certainty.
Would the Good News have been better received by me had it not been News I’d heard preach as far back as I can remember? Would the goodness of God seem more real if it wasn’t competing with the questions that inevitably rest in the heart of every child whose life is marked by the stinging pain of loss? More importantly, I used to wonder if there was any other person who “gets” it. Ann Voskamp got it:
For years of mornings, I have woken wanting to die. Life itself twists into nightmares. For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I’d be bound to wreck. Years, I lie listening to the taunt of names ringing off my interior walls, ones from the past that never drifted far away: Loser. Mess. Failure. They are signs nailed overhead, nailed through me, naming me.
Funny, this. Yesterday morning, the morning before, all these mornings, I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get t all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always, the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I lived tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, do enough? (Excerpted from pages 26-27 of One Thousand Gifts)
I could’ve written those words myself. Actually, I couldn’t have written those words because I don’t write that way, but they resonate. Living every day desperately grasping for the illusion of control produced in me the very symptoms Ann penned above. We type A’s don’t particularly fancy the idea that we have no control over what happens to us. Despite the flowery language which I did eventually weary of, I read on to see how Mrs. VosKamp went from that level of dysfunction onto the NYT Bestseller list for writing a book about joyfully giving God thanks every day.
That’s what the book is; at least that’s how I read it. It is a testimony, the story of one woman’s journey from a life marred by pain and loss to a life full of gratitude for all the gifts God graciously bestows upon her each day, starting with the precious gift of His Son’s precious blood as a sacrifice for our sins. It is not an exploration of doctrinal teaching, though the gospel is woven throughout it for those who dare to look.
It was not an attempt to convince any other person to see the world through the eyes of the author, although I was certainly challenged to open my eyes to the blessings I take for granted every day. It is a testimony of Ann Voskamp’s struggle to live a life of gratitude in a world where we are constantly receiving invitations to discontent. I know I have to shrug off the whispers that invade my consciousness, tempting me to gaze at the greener grass on the other side. The other side always beckons us to neglect the abundant blessings God has given us today. This book did exactly what the subtitle says. It dared me to live fully right where I am by practicing the Scriptural command to give thanks in everything.
As for the controversy concerning a particular use of terminology near the end of One Thousand Gifts: I can appreciate the discomfort some bloggers have expressed with the phraseology. Mrs. Voskamp appears to conflate our spiritual relationship to God into what can be interpreted as a sexual relationship with expressions such as “making love to God” , “intercourse of the soul”, and “climax of joy.” I wouldn’t have put it that way, to be sure, seeing that my perception of God tends to revolve around my relationship to Him as a beloved daughter to a merciful Father and less from the perspective of the bride of Christ. That’s because I think of the bride of Christ as the church universal rather than a personal connection between myself and God alone.
Is the intimacy Ann Voskamp referred to Scripturally sound? I’ll let the critics continue to hash that one out. I can only speak for myself and say that I never got the impression that Mrs. Voskamp was saying that she experienced intimacy with God in a carnal way. When I put the book down after reading the last page, the thing that stayed with me was the challenge to give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.I wasn’t so offended by the metaphors used in that particular chapter that I couldn’t appreciate the book’s central theme.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to see a bowl of cheese or bubbles in dishwater the way Ann does. I am either too “grounded” or too fearful of a theology that appears flaky to allow myself to view laundry as something to get giddy about. Life is sometimes hard, tears are warranted, and sometimes even anger is warranted. I still feel a burden to use my small platform to speak about hard things and yes, rock the boat.
However, I have begun occasionally to write the things I am grateful for at the start and close of the day. I recently took notice of the pink wildflowers growing in the median of a 6-lane highway. I hate 6 lane highways. I’m usually too focused on where I’m going to notice things like that. I’m amazed at how little I desire as I focus on what I have. And for that I am thankful. Thankful that God used Ann Voskamp’s journey to remind me that no matter how badly I’ve been hurt or how much I’ve lost in my life, God has given me so much more.