One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp – Susan’s Newsletter April 2012

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Susan’s Newsletter April 12, 2012
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Good morning!!  Spring.  Tulips.  April.  Birds.  Beauty.  Filler with a little coffee (grin).  Life.  Beginnings.  Searching.  Desiring.  Morning.  The day before us.  What will it hold?  How will we respond?  I love the fresh start of mornings.  The angel of dawn.  Remember that poem?  The gift of a new day.  The gift of new life.

I don’t know how to put into words the influence of the book I want to write about this week and how I’ve devoured it.  I have never written this, but I believe this book has influenced my life as much as Gift from the Sea by Anne Lindbergh did in 2007.  It’s taken 5 years to match her influence.  One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  On finding meaning in life.  On finding God.  On God being everywhere.  His gifts and goodness present in all.  What I’m going to have a hard time with is not making the book sound “trite” or “naive” or “childlike” when it is heavy with questioning, searching, desiring, accepting. 

Ann Voskamp refers often throughout the book to her first glaring memory.  Of her mother holding her 4-year old sister bleeding and dead after being hit by a truck in their farmyard.  How her family suffered the unanswerable questions the rest of their life, including turning from God and serious mental sufferings.  She also goes into a scene near the beginning of the book where her brother-in-law tells her how good God is.  She can’t look him in the eye, for he had buried two of his own children, each under the ages of 5 months, during the previous years, both suffering from the same lung disease.  She can’t correlate the goodness of God with the pains of reality.  I will just write some of her thoughts…hoping I can wisely choose some thoughts to give you a taste of the beauty within this book. 

Ann is dared to list “One Thousand Gifts” on a paper…to just list them as they occur.  I began my list on a plain white sheet of paper two days ago…I’m now at #57.  The constant noticing of grace…of gifts from God…of the word she studies through the entire book, Eucharist…being thankful.  And through the book she finds that thankfulness brings her the reality of the goodness and presence of God.  Everywhere.  Even his presence in the darkest moments.  I almost beg you to get this book…I’m finding the most simple idea to be changing my outlook on moments…on life…on the idea that I always end my notes with, “Will we live our day having our moments be worthy of writing in stone on our epitaph?  Will the moments we will never get back be worthy of print?”  I now realize nothing I do is worthy of print.  All that needs inscribed is, God was present. 

Here are excerpts from this book…I hope you find a desire to read more…to make our lives a continual thanksgiving…Eucharist…constantly noticing how good God is.

…I think of buried babies and broken, weeping fathers over graves, and a world packed with pain, and all the mysteries I have refused, refused, to let nourish me.  If it were my daughter, my son?  Would I really choose the manna?  I only tremble, wonder.  With memories of gravestones, of combing fingers through tangled hair, I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.  To see through to God.  That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond.  To Him.  To the God whom we endlessly crave. …How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places?  How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy?  Self-focus for God-communion.  To fully live – to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal.  So this story – my story.  A dare to an emptier, fuller life.

eucharisteo…Thanksgiving
charis, meaning “grace”
chara (Greek) meaning “joy.” 

It was a dare, one November morning, could I write a list of a thousand things I love…not of gifts I want, but of gifts I already have. 
She discusses how this seems “childish” – but then she quotes the beatitude, The kingdom of heaven is for those who are like children.  She discusses how children have no expectations, therefore all is a “wonder” – “joy” – “delight in beauty”.

Another entire section is on how do we add to our list if we are experiencing complete pain?  Death?  Deep hurt?  How is God good in the pain of her sister’s death at the age of 4?  How is God good in many situations.  How do we show thanksgiving to God in reality?  Show Eucharistic?  And, in showing this thanksgiving, can we have inner joy in the midst of reality?

She writes on the endless riches of God’s grace, how real his gifts are when we begin to write them.  To write our 1000.  Camden & I figured out that if we were to write 30 per day, after 90 years we would have one million listed.  Could these lists of sheets of white papers that have been taped to our refrigerators be added to through generations if we were only to begin?  She writes on how our desire is to close our fists & our hands around tangible good gifts.  In the midst of so much hurt, when we have something beautiful, our desire to hold the gift of the moment tight. 

If I close these fingers, try to hold, hoard the river – dam up the grace – won’t the water grow stagnant?  Long the children and I once looked at photos of the dead Dead Sea, and we read how the Jordan River streams into the sea and nothing flows out of the sea and the salt content rises and everything dies.  I think of this.  That fullness grows foul.  Grace is alive, living waters.  If I dam up the grace, hold the blessings tight, joy within dies…waters that have no life.  I turn my hand over, spread my fingers open.  I receive grace.  And through me, grace could flow on.  Like a cycle of water in continuous movement, grace is meant to fall, a rain…again, again, again.  I could share the grace, multiply the joy, extend the table of the feast, enlarge the paradise of His presence.  I am blessed.  I can bless.  (This reminds me of a writing on The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans where a father wanted to stop a moment in his child’s life.  He wrote, “If I were to hold the note I would stop the song.”  You can read this newsletter on this link:  music analogy, November 2006)

She finishes her book with the realism that eucharisteo are thanksgivings of God’s gifts that we then continue to give and pass on.  In eucharisteo, I count, count, count, keeping the beat of His song, the love song He can’t stop singing, this long song of longing.  That He sings love over me?  What else can all these gifts mean?  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 honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4).  “For you are a chosen people…God’s very own possession” (I Peter 2:9)…The discipline of giving thanks, of unwrapping one thousand gifts, unwraps God’s heart bare.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  (Malachi 1:2, Jeremiah 31:3)

A few months ago I wrote out of a book by Teresa of Avila, written in the 1500s.  On entering the inner recesses of our soul, entering the castle where God is.  She is referred to in One Thousand Gifts with this poem, written also in the 1500s.  God has given us the gifts we can list, and she emphasizes that the greatest honor to show the one who gives us gifts is to delight in the gifts.  Here is Teresa of Avila’s poem.
Just these two words He spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.”  What a burden I thought I was to carry- a crucifix, as did He.  Love once said to me, “I know a song, would you like to hear it?”  And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky, After a night of prayer, He changed my life when He sang, “Enjoy Me.”

I have always loved the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, Yesterday is History, Tomorrow is Mystery, Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.”   After reading this book I realize tomorrow is not a mystery.  Tomorrow is God’s presence.  God’s gifts.  Every single person in our life will die.  Does that mean God is not present?  That God is not good?  All of these questions she wrestles with in these pages.  I cannot do her words justice, but I can encourage you to get this treasure.  A book that I believe you will keep on your main bookshelf, or beside your bed.  Keep for your entire life.  Look across the room to see the cover and remember – no matter the grief, no matter the pain, God is present.  God is good.   Susan


Latin for this week:
veritas, bonitas, pulchritudo, sanctitas – truth, goodness, beauty & holiness

Works Cited:
Evans, Richard Paul.  The Christmas Box Collection.  New York.  Simon & Schuster Pocket Books.  1998. 
Voskamp, Ann.  One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  Grand Rapids.  Zondervan.  2010.