Friday, January 21, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

Ann Voskamp. Could she be the woman who has the power to change my life? To change me from a bent over, tear releasing, withering woman to one who learns how to feel joy again, no, more than feel it, to live joy? To live His joy-the joy He surely must have meant for me when He created me as a speck in my mother's womb? That day, nearly forty-six years ago, when He reached deep within her thirty-eight year old tired body, already the carrier of eight lives before my own, and changed me from His thought to a real, living human being?

I've been reading Ann's A Holy Experience blog ever since I started to write Imprisoned in my Bones in my effort to release the God that for too long I had kept bottled up inside of me, as if I were trying to contain the essence of EVERYTHING and seal Him back up within this real, living human body that He created. My first visit to Ann's place and I fell in love. Everyone does. Who could not love that little farmer's wife, mother to a brood of six homeschooling wonders, who turns mere words into wisdom and poetry and love; whose heartbreakingly beautiful piano music and photography of her family and her farm makes me turn to her page again and again; who took her own pain- unspeakable pain- and lifelong depression, and turned it into joy with a list. That's it. A list.

I've made a few stumbling attempts to follow her example, you've seen them right here on several Mondays. But, I didn't number my gratitude like she does. I simply wrote it. Maybe that will change now. Her book came in the mail this week. The book that I had pre-ordered online over a month ago; the book that arrived on a day so busy that I was going to go right from work to the school gym where I was signed up to volunteer at the admission table for my son's basketball tournament, collecting dollars from guests who came to cheer on their sons; the day where I would leave the house at 6:45 in the morning but wouldn't arrive back home until 10:30 at night.

But first...

First, I placed a quick telephone call home to say hello to my husband, and breathe a word of love to him through the phone line. He said, "Do you have a minute to stop at home and get your book?"

He didn't have to tell me what book he was speaking about. "It came? YES! I will be right there!"

Walking in the back door, I saw it, still in the cardboard cover, right next to a sandwich brimming with ham, lettuce and tomatoes for my supper. My husband loves me well. I quickly unwrapped One Thousand Gifts and embraced it close. I took my book, my sandwich and my daughter and headed to the gym where the rest of our family would meet us when it would be time for Jack's game to start.

In between taking the dollars from the sports fans-parents, grandparents and siblings who were bursting with pride for the young basketball player in their lives, and in between bites of my sandwich, and in between conversations with my daughter about her future hopes for marriage at age twenty-two with two children to follow, ("Not five, or seven, or ten?" "No, Mom, they might be bratty children and how would I handle so many of them?" "No life in a convent praying to the God you are so madly in love with?" "No, Mom, I will always, always be madly in love with God, but I don't want to be a nun.") -I began to read Ann's words. Her words of wisdom, poetry and love.

And when I read these words on page twenty-six-
"For years of mornings, I have woken wanting to die. Life itself twists into a nightmare. For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I'd be bound to just 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. The stars are blinking out. 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 it 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 live tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, find enough, do enough?"

I could feel my head nodding. Me too, Ann-Ann without the fanciful 'e', as she puts it. We share a name with or without an 'e', and we share pain. But, we both know that Ann(e) means "grace" and who better to show me how to live His grace, to accept His grace, to deeply live His grace, than a kindred Ann(e).

And I haven't gotten very far in the book. This morning, two days after receiving it, I open the book that I thought I would finish before leaving the basketball game and find that I am only on page forty-seven where she shares her story about how writing her list of One Thousand Gifts makes her feel happy. She says:

"Long, I am woman who speaks but one language, the language of the fall-discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied...Well, if all these were gifts that God gives-then wasn't my writing down the list like...receiving. Like taking with thanks. Wait. 'And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them...' Gave thanks. This crazy-dare gift list-it's language lessons in eucharisteo! For real: But eucharisteo-it's the word Jesus whispered when death prowled close and His anguish trickled down bloody. He took the bread, even the bread of death, and gave thanks. I look down at my list. This thanks that I am doing-it seems so...crude. Trivial. If this list is the language of eucharisteo-this feels like...guttural groanings. But perhaps the "full of grace" vocabulary begins hauntingly, simply, like a child, thankful for the childlike. But doesn't the kingdom of heaven belong to such as these?"

I thought that I would pick up Ann's One Thousand Gifts and not put it down until I had devoured every last word along with my sandwich. The sandwich is long digested, but the book is going to take me forever to read through-each page gives me so much to consider, to contemplate. This book is taking me deeper into who God means for me to be. Thank you, Ann, without the fanciful 'e' for sharing your lessons with me, with everyone, and for carrying us along with you in your quest for gratitude.

It's time for me to really start my list...

1. rebellious son who wakes and finds me here typing, holds me long with his stretched out arms and whispers love, then asks "What time will you take me to confession?"

2. husband chef, who makes delicious sandwiches that nourish with love

3. kneeling low at a Holy Hour for life before an elaborate golden monstrance that houses the Author of life, and words from transitional deacon Christopher Klusman spoken in that glorious American Sign Language reminding all of their beauty that comes from the One who formed us fearfully, wonderfully, and I believe him, I believe that I am beautiful

4. words-words that drift from my mind through this keyboard and are shared with everyone on this blog, and with a few in intimate email messages, words of mine and words of others that have healing properties, words spilled out from me and words graciously meant for me, given to me by others, words that give love

5. women like Ann Voskamp who bravely share their pain and their searching for His grace so that I may learn how to find His grace as well

Thank you, Ann, for One Thousand Gifts!


  1. Beautiful. I am trying to decide on the format I want to or hardback...
    Grateful for your blog on this frigid morning.
    Pax Christi, Elizabeth

  2. Thank you for letting me know that Ann has published this. I didn't know that - good information. Her site always warms my heart.

    I'd also like to invite you to join me on my site. I've just posted a meme called Weekend Wrap-up. If it turns out to be something folks like, I may run it weekly. I'd love to hear your answers.

    God bless you, and, as always, I'm thankful for having your blog be part of my life!

  3. This is an absolutely beautiful reflection on "One Thousand Gifts", and how Ann's book has touched your life. She really is a woman of grace isn't she.

  4. She really is a woman of grace. I began my list in March and it is transforming me....God is, through Ann.....full of grace.