Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

By Ann Voskamp

Grand Rapids MI, Zondervan, 2010

237 p. Spiritual

Last week when it was 5° above zero, the sun rose as we were eating breakfast. My husband exclaimed about the beauty of the sunlight on the hard crystals of snow; I complained that I wished we were out of here and in Florida or someplace warm. It was in that atmosphere that I picked up One Thousand Gifts, a book that I had just purchased for the church library. It was good that I picked it up, because by afternoon I was out walking in the sunny snow.

Ann Voskamp is a Canadian farm wife in southwestern Ontario. I can envision where she lives because we drive through that area on our way to Stratford Ontario and the Shakespeare Festival. She has six children that she home schools, she runs a blog called “A Holy Experience” and has written this small inspirational book, which itself has spawned a website. The theme of the book is finding thanksgiving or eucharisteo in the everyday.

I was reminded of the book I read in May last year, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. However, there are two distinctions; Rubin’s book is secular, Voskamp’s is religious, and Rubin’s plan for happiness comes from a need to organize anxiety, Voskamp’s from a need to quell anxiety. Both women were concerned that the mundane necessities of family life were dragging down their feelings of joy and self-worth, and both found security and peace in looking for the good in their lives. I was reminded frequently of the old saying, “If Mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

The questions I faced as I read One Thousand Gifts was: “What can a 60-something woman gain from reading an inspirational book written by a much younger mother of small children?” “How can a religious skeptic grow from reading a book by a more traditional Christian?”

Voskamp writes in a sing-song poetic style that is more fragmented than cohesive, more impressionistic than linear. Sometimes, I felt that she got caught up in the flow and beauty of her words. “Get to the point, already!” Sometimes, but not often, I felt her thanksgivings were simplistic. Mostly, however, I gloried with her in her thanksgivings, her eucharisteos. What I especially appreciate about her writing is that she backs up her own thoughts with the writings of the great thinkers, theologians, and writers. She inserts quotes from C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Teresa of Avila, and Henri Nouwen, among others. Bible verses and stories form the basis of most of her ponderings. She rises above platitude, which would have been easy in this type of inspirational book, primarily because she doesn’t follow the simple “praise God” path. She acknowledges weakness, failure, and fear; she acknowledges that sometimes grace is hard to find; yet, she continues to cook her meals, teach her children, and wash her dishes, celebrating the sunlit rainbow in the soap bubble.

Even I, 30 years her senior, could understand and appreciate her prayers and her thanksgivings. I particularly liked this statement. “Endless thanksgiving, eucharisteo, has opened me to this, the way of the fullest life. From initial union to intimate communion—it isn’t exclusively the domain of the monastics and ascetics, pastors and missionaries, but I, domestic scrubber of potatoes, sister to Brother Lawrence, could I have unbroken communion, fullest life with fullest God?”

There are probably many ways to find purpose in living, joy in the mundane and the sacred among the secular. Ann Voskamp has discovered that among the huge challenges of living, finding joy in the very small gives life purpose, clarity and eucharisteo. I can celebrate that for her and with her.

I had trouble finding a review of this book in a regular reviewing tool, such as a newspaper, but there are many reviews in the blogosphere. Here is one of them:

Here is Ann Voskamp’s website: http://

Here is the One Thousand Gifts website begun by Ann Voskamp and Zondervan, the publisher:

Here is a recent article of Voskamp’s in the Huffington Post. It pretty much summarizes her book:

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