Probably a moment of procrastination in retrospect. But sometimes procrastination leads to good things. It's the only nonfiction book I remember that had me in tears from the first chapter, and not just a few tears, but a very genuine fit of crying--from release, and wonder, and the deep, healing cleansing of it.
I started this year by reading One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. It was wonderful; and it gave me a perspective that I hope will continue with me throughout the year.
I'd like to share a review of it with you today.
When Ann was just a small girl, her baby sister died in a tragic accident that turned their whole family into hollow shells of emptiness. Just to cope with it, they shut out life, shut out God--her mother ended up in a psychiatric ward, and Ann herself went through some pretty traumatic ups and downs.
She stabilized, but she didn't really heal. Not until six years later, when she had six little ones of her own, and had layered more heartache and loss on top of the early one that began it all. She and God were having 'trust issues' as she put it, and there was so much groaning sorrow in her world that she wondered how a Christian could possibly live a full life of joy and peace.
That's when she discovered the one word that has altered her world, and the world of thousands, perhaps even millions more, when her book hit the New York Times bestseller list.
Eucharisteo--A word in another language, yet a word so vital to our spiritual health and view of God that it's commanded again and again in Scripture, and even saved one man from a terminal illness.
A friend dared Ann to count up to 1,000 gifts God had given her. So she took the dare, and started writing them down. Slowly, painfully, the hard layers of scabbed hurt peeled away, and the wounded trust and hope and love of years began to heal. As she became whole, her joy turned into a wild thirst to know God fully, and to count His gifts to her.
She learned to count the good gifts as love from Him. Then she learned to find His grace in the hard gifts as well. Drops of grace turned into a stream. A stream turned into a river. And a river turned into a torrent of seeing God's blessings in the tiny details around her. A torrent of Living Water, that quenched her thirst and healed her pain.
That same torrent is there to heal the pain, as well, of anyone else who is willing to stand still, and open clenched fists. To accept what God places into our hands with loving trust--and to give thanks for what is given.
This is a book about a dare of joy--a dare to hurting people to find God's gifts and receive healing. A book about thanking the Giver of all things. A book about blind eyes made to see--by taking the Joy Dare.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~1 Thessalonians 5:18
Ann Voskamp doesn't offer sugar-coated, plastic 'women's ministry' that so often gets turned out in today's devotionals and self-help books. She's real, and messy and transparent, and goes right to deep-rooted personal issues with the water of God's Word. You come away from anything she writes feeling as if you've been offered a nourishing meal and a warm hug and a re-forged weapon for battle all in one. That is true women's ministry, and though I think her book would appeal more to the feminine audience, I hear that many men endorse and enjoy it as well. Because, after all, giving thanks should never be strictly a woman's thing.
I cried multiple times reading it, and the tears were good. The same first chapter brought me to tears the second time, and chapter after chapter followed. Even though I haven't lost a little sister in a tragic accident, we all have our own struggles in life to live through, and the thought that God wants to give me grace again and again--that He loves me so deeply He likes to give me gifts--was almost more than I could take in. I've been so focused on working for Him, and giving glory to Him, and giving love to Him, that the simple idea that He loves and wants to give me pleasures was breathtaking. Yet He does, and He delights when I take pleasure in them.
At first when I started my gift list, I wondered if I 'was doing it right'. It seemed too easy, to write things down that I took delight in and recognize them as gifts. But giving thanks is simple. It's like a child delighting in something and running up to give a breathless 'Thank-you!' to their parents before running right back to enjoy it again. Adding in the hard graces was definitely challenging, but that too was a wonder, learning to see them as gifts. I had to remind myself several times that there was no right or wrong way to count gifts. This was my list, not Ann's. Perhaps not every gift would read like a line of poetry, like hers, but that was okay. I was giving thanks to God, as He made me, with the eyes He gave me to see with. They'll be different eyes and a different way of expressing things, and the difference is beautiful.
Before I ever read One Thousand Gifts I read some of the articles on Ann's blog. She posts almost daily, and once a week does a post with 15 links of encouraging news stories, photo links, and videos that are designed to showcase the good in the world. Her words on the blog (some of the posts are excerpts from her book) are just as thirst-quenching as her book, and I highly recommend following it for encouragement. I catch up every couple of weeks or so, but some people like to get it delivered daily to their email inbox.
Due to the sorrow in Ann's own life, I recommend this book for teen on up. The principles of gratefulness are good for all ages, and certainly some children who have gone through deep sorrow may benefit from reading her book; but overall I think it's older in perspective, and I think older people may need it more. Children see gifts instinctively in little things. Adults have to re-learn to see them.
It was the evening I finished the book that I caught another glimpse of the full scope of what I was learning. I was struggling with a particular thought unconnected to her book, and I looked up a passage of Scripture to see how the Bible said to overcome it. I almost laughed when I saw the answer--give thanks. Go figure. And that clinched in my mind that giving thanks is not just connected with joy and gratefulness, but with love, with friendship, with family relationships--in short, Eucharisteo lays the foundation for how we see everything around us.
Or perhaps more truly, Eucharisteo lays the foundation for whether or not we see at all in the first place.
Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts touched my heart in a myriad of ways, and I'm living out one day at a time, slowly wrapping my mind around the gifts that my loving Heavenly Father has given me. As Ann says in her book: "God is always good. And I am always loved."
This book, in the end, is about starting us on a journey so that we can engrave those two sentences on our hearts as we live the gift of life God gives us.
My Joy Dare
Before I even read the book I wanted to take the Joy Dare to reach one thousand gifts. I started it in a little notebook, and then read the book itself. Some days I write down six. Some days I write down two. And I like it that way, but I still make sure that I discipline myself to write things down. I'm almost up to 100, and going strong so far. Little graces, big graces--sometimes the hard graces. They all go in there. I've never been one to journal, but I think this gives me the opportunity to thank God and keep a record of life at the same time. So far, it's been much more fruitful than writing diary entries that begin with "I have decided to keep a journal" and then abandoning the project the next day.
When we count God's graces--the hard graces, as well as the pleasing ones--it helps us to stop. To refine our sorrows into joy. To take our joys and make them holy. To pause and wonder in the moments at God's sustaining goodness to us. It changes our perspective from a hurried, frantic pace that often leads to depression to learning to mark time just slowly enough so that our hearts slow down even when our lives tick fast.
It's a journey, learning to rejoice in all things. But it's one I've started, and it's a road worth travelling on. I would encourage all of you to read One Thousand Gifts and see how it shapes your perspective towards gratefulness and Eucharisteo. It's a wonderful book, and I for one hope to read it again and again.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. ~Psalm 136:1