“They say memory jolts awake with trauma’s electricity. That would be the year I turned four. The year when blood pooled and my sister died and I, all of us, snapped shut to grace.
Standing at the side porch window, watching my parents’ stunned bending, I wonder if my mother had held me in those natal moments of naming like she held my sister in death” (Kindle Location 45).
In those paragraphs from the opening chapter of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp word-sketches the incident which defined much of her life. Then with quick strokes she moves us forward to her adult self as a farmer’s wife, mother of six, a fearful and unhappy woman on a quest for joy.
Combining personal story and teaching she takes us on a journey that begins with the discovery of “eucharisteo” – a Greek word that holds within it the concepts of ‘giving thanks,’ ‘grace’ and ‘joy.’ At about the time she is contemplating that word, a friend challenges her to name and list one thousand things for which she is thankful. So begins her practice of keeping a gratitude journal where she records her appreciation of everyday life:
“Rays reflecting hues off translucent globes
Sound of spruce cones thumping buckets with spring
Cackle of crows high in the limbs, iridescence on wings
I am a hunter of beauty and I move slow and I keep the eyes wide, every fiber of every muscle sensing all wonder and this is the thrill of the hunt and I could be an expert on the life full, the beauty meat that lurks in every moment.
I hunger to taste life.
God.” (Kindle location 944).
The book is an album of sorts – a series of narrative snapshots from Voskamp’s day-to-day life, through which she braids explanations of what she has learned about God and time, fear, trust, beauty, humility, service and more. Of course framing it all is the practice of seeing, noticing, appreciating and listing – eucharisteo.
She is a masterful story teller with the ability to extract meaningful subtleties from situations and communicate them with telling details. Her honesty and vulnerability moved me often. It will be a rare mother who will be able to stay dry-eyed through this book.
Voskamp’s prose is poetic and in a style that reads like a combination of ancient mystic and modern contemplative. She buttresses her points with quotes from sources as varied as often-quoted C.S. Lewis to obscure Alexander Schmemann, ancient as Saint Augustine to the contemporary John Piper. The result is a rich, stimulating text that begs to be read slowly and savoured.
Thousands read her blog A Holy Experience where she regularly posts writings in a similar vein to One Thousand Gifts. From it has grown the Gratitude Community whose members likewise list, on blogs or in journals, items for which they are thankful to share in a weekly meme.
I have joined the Gratitude Community and so the book impacted me on a personal level. As I explored with Ann the source of this practice, journeyed with her down its twisting course, and discovered its many tributaries, I came to see in new ways how living with a thankful heart has the potential to nourish all the land that is my life.
One Thousand Gifts is a powerful and convincing apologetic for thankfulness. It illustrates how gratitude to God expressed in attention to His daily blessings can morph from a mere game of accumulating 1000 items on a list to a joyful lifestyle.