book review: one thousand gifts
I soaked in it until my soul was like a plump raisin. Her words were bubble bath, refreshing, cleansing. Scrubbing until raw, and willing to be raw, transparent, like she.
"Where do I begin?" writes Lisa Whelchel. "Do I tell you that Ann Voskamp writes like a poet with the heart of a mystic?"
"A series of prize-winning photographs ... in memorable, mesmerizing prose, " commends Allison Pittman.
I'd been hearing little whispers about this book, then more than whispers, and I wanted it but figured I'd check it out from the library. Then I was asked to share with a ladies' Sunday School class in my home church, and they surprised me afterward with a box of books to select one from.
There it was. One Thousand Gifts. It was their gift to me. And at first, it was so precious, I didn't write, but I was making too many mental notes. And then, I made it mine, and filled it with notes too personal to pass on. (I will have to buy a second copy to loan out, or multiple copies to give.)
One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.
It is hands-down the best book I've read in so long. So poetry, so spiritual, so transparent, honest, real. Raw grace. And that it's achieved NY Times Bestseller gives me hope that God's still working across this nation.
She starts with her own birth, the beginning of her story, and by the third page of text (page 11), Ann is mentally cradling her buried sister in the Mama-made Humpty Dumpty quilt, and it's somehow appropriate that it's Humpty Dumpty, because everything's broken, hopeless.
So often in Scripture we see those words together. Just this past Sunday, Tim Higgs preached from Acts where the proud Herod Agrippa accepts the accolades of the crowd boasting him a god and not a man, and then God doubles him over and makes worms to devour him from the inside out, for five days of excruciating humbling (according to Josephus) before he meets his Maker. And then Luke writes, "But the word of God increased and multiplied" and it's obvious that the point of the story is not Herod but God.
I had spoken, that Sunday morning I received the gift, from my own book, No Matter What ... You Can Rejoice. Psalm 104, the Creation Psalm. I often think of that psalm as taking a hike, noticing from so many different vantage points the greatness of our God. That morning, the ladies in the class and I jogged the trail together, catching a few photographs of our own along the way, gorgeous glimpses of our great God. For me, the crux of Psalm 104, the portion that drew me back and deeper in for nearly two years, is in verses 27-28:
"These all look to You,
to give them their food in due season.
When You give it to them, they gather it up;
when You open Your hand, they are filled with good things."
And as I got to page 18 in Ann's One Thousand Gifts, I sat in awe. "Choose to say yes to what He freely gives. Could I live that--the choice to open the hands to freely receive whatever God gives?" (bold mine). And I wrote "Psalm 104:27,28" and "No Matter What ... You Can Rejoice" right there on the page.
I think what was so awesome to me was that here was another woman in whose life God had etched--no, carved out--the same lessons as He had in my life. Same generation, obviously same God, but through different circumstances, from different communities, and presented in different genres, in her own unique voice. And I just thanked my God for being God and for teaching each of us and for allowing us to teach others also, in our own ways.
Here is a woman who seeks God. A very down-to-earth, farmer's wife, mother, homemaker, educator, author, lovely woman who desires to know God better and to make Him better known. I love (page 36), "That's when I begin to track it whenever I open my Bible ... pen in hand, hunt down the trail...." Is that not how we all, students of Scripture, disciples of Jesus, learn?
I love how much Scripture is in this book. How much Jesus. How "Jesus, on the night before the driving hammer and iron piercing through ligament and sinew, receives what God offers as grace... Oh. Facing the abandonment of God Himself (does it get any worse than this?), Jesus offers thanksgiving for even that which will break Him and crush Him...." (ibid).
And Ann is a learner--a literary omnivore, methinks--with a developed palette for classics--meaningful and rich. She quotes Martin Luther: "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen" (page 49). Piper, Erasmus, theologians present and past. F.B. Meyer: " I used to think that God's gifts were on shelves one above the other.... I find now that God's gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a questions of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down... to get His best gifts" (page 171). And J.R.R. Tolkien and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She teaches us Greek and Hebrew and how the Latin root humus connects to its derivative humility "that good humus that grows gratitude that yields abundant joy" (page 170). Music, science, history, farming.
But more than literature and learning, Ann has learned to devour life. She's an eyes-wide-open woman and one gifted to communicate what she sees in her family and her community, in her own heart, with a poetic voice that befriends and endears.
She speaks practical advice in a voice easy to swallow because it's beautiful and she's living it too, that warning against busyness (pages 64-65), that life is a vapor and it's important to get outside with the kids and notice the beauty before it passes (page 68), to give thanks even in piles of laundry and soap bubbles. And I'm reminded of Beneth Peters Jones's Sunshine on the Soap Suds, dear precious lady speaking and writing these same truths to her own generation, still encouraging us younger women in these things, if we'll listen.
And by page 72, I feel she's given us her crux, and it's marked with an "!" in my margin: "Jesus embraces His not enough ... He gives thanks ... And there is more than enough." And I think of the sermons Jim Berg preached while I was in university.
At the end of chapter four, I write: "When your kids catch on to the excitement of beauty--that's cool. Micah points, jumping up and down, 'Come, see! Come, see!' A bluebird in our own front yard. Oh I hope he stays around. And I hope my son always gets excited about 'little things'--and that he points them out for me--and that I do come see!"
And now I am soaking, and "every moment is a message from the Word-God who can't stop writing His heart" (page 86). And I don't ever want to get out of these bubble words.
And I write my own story in the margins of Ann's. "Gramma Evelyn Mason (Thompson) wrote this verse in the letter to my mom, when her husband died when Mom was just four days old" next to "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21 NKJV, qtd, page 92).
And I begin my own list in the back of the book:
1. light reflecting pin-prick sharp in baby eyes
2. wrinkled nose
3. four-tooth happy smile
4. back and forth peek-a-boo, through make-shift tunnel--afghan over Pooh gym
5. clean kitchen
6. cozy chair
7. this book
8. pen in hand, writing as I read
11. dew-fresh, red-ripe strawberries
I write "vineandshoots" on page 102, because this passage reminds me of the purpose of this blog:
"It's late and I've got an even later dinner to dish onto eight empty plates. A half dozen children noisily, happily, ring the table with their hardly washed hands and silly jokes replete with snorts and grunts and dirty feet still needing bathing. And I haven't served the dinner yet, haven't sliced up the loaf of bread yet, haven't put away the basil, oregano, parsley, the peelings of carrots, the skins of onions, the jars of tomatoes...."
14. food on stove--fresh from the Farmer's Market, boiled/baked, ready to savor bite by bite.
And I marvel again:
15. God teaching me and Ann V. the same truths, different ways, variedly expressed, but bringing us along
16. and letting us write about them.
The last chapter is bold, and whereas I may be shy to speak so strong of that "mystic holy union" in terms of falling in love with Christ, shy for fear I had painted too vividly that relationship so indescribable, Ann's explanation link is very helpful, and I am not offended in the least but rather stirred to ponder deeper that profound mystery of marriage that Paul notes as actually being about Christ and His Church even more than a man and his wife, and Ann's last chapter is so much more than a Sabrina moment, finding herself in Paris, a photograph of her epiphany in the Louvre. It is a human trying to grasp, straining to communicate, that indescribable union that is ours--human creation with Creator God, God Who calls Himself my "Husband." Yes, Paul, "this is a great mystery."
And I am thankful again and again for this book, and excited for what God will continue to do in and through Ann and this work that is already praising her in the gates. Congratulations, Ann. And thank you!
Grace & peace, with love,
"The truly saved have eyes of faith and lips of thanks" (page 115).