A book review by Jen
One Thousand Gifts is the beginning, a game of sorts, to list one thousand things in life for which to be grateful. Ann Voskamp discovers that with each listing, her joy enlarges and she is soon addicted to the joy, in the very best of ways. It’s easy to dismiss this itemizing as an amusement for the immature, but as I began my own list, I chanced upon a switch.
- that breathtaking moment when I first saw Lake Huron, horizon melting into sky
- that perfect Labor Day at South Jetty in Florence, the warm sand, collection of seashells, children digging, laughing, running from waves
- dried desert mud that crackles under your bare child feet
- the park bench across from the White House in D.C. that supported my lonely, peaceful lunch breaks in ’93.
The ticking of the thanks triggered something. It’s like when a circuit breaker trips in the house leaving you powerless and dark, only you don’t know where to find the electrical panel to reset it. This is it, my friends! It is the giving of thanks that corrects the problem that caused the breaker to trip in the first place. A ground fault is one reason why the power can go off, and Ann Voskamp identified the root cause of this fault: ingratitude. Breaker! Breaker! Let’s give thanks!
Ann scatters herself, her humanity, just right throughout this book, and I am left knowing that she is an authentic woman who has deep places of pain just like the rest of us. We learn of the death of her little sister, her mother’s mental illness, her own dark interior struggles. And so I connect, I engage, I truly learn.
I had shadows of doubt about Ann Voskamp at various points in OneThousand Gifts, but Ann is like that children’s word game where Grandma loves poundcake but hates chocolate cake, she loves Pringles but hates chips, and you have to know that Grandma’s secret is that she only loves things that begin with “P.”
So it is with Ann. She loves the Christian mystics but hates the idea of wisdom found outside of Christ; she loves to run with the moon and lie prostrate in fields but hates nature worship; she digs deep into her soul to share it raw with the world but hates narcissism. You have to know that Ann’s secret is that she is indeed a woman after God’s own heart.
I did come to a certain point in the book where I thought I couldn’t go on. Voskamp spends an entire chapter describing a bubble of soap, its shape, its color, its chemical composition, more of its color. It was the night I had hit the wall of exhaustion and emotional overload and my husband had to tuck my crying eyes into bed, pulling the patched quilt up over the worry, hurry, fear, condemnation, the crush of life that threatened to undo me, then he finished the dinner I had abruptly left and tended to the four children’s bedtime. And I’m supposed to draw comfort and wisdom from the sudsy bubbles?
I still don’t completely get it, but I understand that a writer has a certain style, and Ann Voskamp is a poet and I love words like she does, though we may play with them differently. So I will let her talk about suds in the sink all day long if she wants because in the end, I rose large the next morning, new grace upon me, and I remembered how much I loved bubbles as a child, the endless joy in swooshing the wand to create the perfect sphere to run after and chase with the wind, and the sheer delight in catching it before it burst into another dimension.
Here’s the thing. I am working really hard at this thing she calls eucharisteo–what Christians know as the Eucharist, or communion, the taking of the bread and wine. This charis grace, chara joy, eucharisteo thanksgiving. I’m working harder than I have in a very long time, because I have to or I will shrivel. There are some tools in this book to help this jumble of myself to begin to conquer life-smothering fear, to reach for a firm grip on His everlasting love for me, to give thanks in all things in such an unceasing way that the power is restored in this short-circuited woman.
A thousand thanks to Ann Voskamp for writing this book.
P.S. I want to know why the sows were losing their litters. A small complaint, but she never tells us.
P.S.S. Thank you, Ann, for ending in Paris, the place where God says, “Enjoy Me.”