In all honesty, it may seem an unusual book for us to be reviewing on the Sophia website. It does not speak of women in leadership. It quotes John Piper a little too often and is rooted very firmly in the everyday llife of a Canadian woman who sees her highest calling to be that of serving her husband and her children.
But let me nail my colours firmly to this mast: I loved this book! As life has journeyed through the days of 2011 and 2012 I have found it to be a significant travelling companion. And once again this Christmas time it will be wrapped, ribboned and gifted along with a notebook in which to begin writing thanks, to one of the few friends I have remaining who have not already
received a copy!
With an unusual, distinctive, poetic style of writing – reminiscent of the quirky, playful, grammar of the poet Emily Dickinson – Voskamp has a style of writing prose that is all her own. Within moments of glancing down the first page you will know if her style resonates. I think it would be fair to say that you will either love it or not…
‘A glowing sun-orb fills an August sky the day this story begins, the day I am born, the day I begin to live.
And I fill my mother’s tearing ring of fire with my body emerging, virgin lungs searing with air of this earth and I enter the world like every other person born enters the world: with clenched fists.
From the diameter of her fullness. I empty her out – and she bleeds. Vernix- creased and squalling, I am held to the light.’
Probably due to its unexpected use of grammar and language and its distinctly pretty, occasionally jarring prose that at times becomes poetry as well as the fact that it is steeped in the day to day life of a farming family and home schooling ‘mama’, One Thousand Gifts has been critiqued as a book for women. I could not disagree more. With themes deeply rooted in Scripture and thoughts inspired by Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, Henri Nouwen, Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, Annie Dillard, Brennan Manning and Dallas Willard to name but a few, Voskamp’s carefully chosen words become
tender sentences that carry the weight of the world; invoking the neither male or female themes of suffering, gratitude and joy.
Voskamp’s story begins with the deeply tragic death of her two-year-old sister, who was knocked over by a delivery truck driver who simply did not see her, as she played. ‘In November light, I see my mother and father sitting on the back porch step rocking her swaddled body in their arms…Blood seeps through that blanket bound. I see that too, even now. Memory’s surge burns deep.’
How, ‘can there be a good God?’ The question that her life had felt bound by, ‘when a crib lies empty through long nights, and bugs burrow through coffins? Where is God, really? How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind? Where is grace bestowed when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die, break off without reason, erode away.’
To cut an acutely vulnerable and penetratingly personal story of 227 pages very short, Voskamp discovers in her Jacobesque wrestle with the questions of suffering and the elusive search for joy that many of the answers lay in a shift of position; a shift from ingratitude to gratitude.
She names it Eucharisteo – the Greek word for Thanksgiving.
Encouraged by a friend, she begins to list one thousand gifts of God’s grace that she sees in the here and now: ‘1.Morning shadows across the old floors; 2.jam piled high on the toast; 3.cry of blue jay from high in the spruce’.
This list – in all its childlike simplicity – begins to change her. ‘In eucharisteo, I count, count, count, keeping the beat of His song, the love song He can’t stop singing, the long song of longing. That he sings love over me?...Crazy, I know, but until eucharisteo had me write the graces on paper, in my own handwriting, until it alerted my mind to see the graces in the details of my very own life, I hadn’t really known. With every grace, He sings, “You are precious to me. You are honoured and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)’
Practicing the spiritual discipline of thankfulness awakened her to God in a way that she had not known before. And so she encourages her reader to pick up a pen and begin to scratch out their own list of one thousand gifts.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp was my number one…
This Christmas time we have a copy of One Thousand Gifts to give away. If you would like to receive it please tell us which book has been especially inspirational to you this year in the comments below. We will select a winner randomly in the age-old tradition of pulling a name out of a hat. Happy Christmas!