Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

I'm a pretty even-keel sort of girl. I don't get angry often, don't usually raise my voice, and I rarely cry. It's a calm and relatively stress-free life I lead, and I am grateful for that. But on the flip side, I also don't often experience the thrill of belly laughs, tears running down my face in glee, pure joy (unless I'm watching a dear sister slide backwards, fully dressed, helpless to stop her progress, into Lime Lake while her husband stands by doing absolutely nothing because he doesn't want to get his new shoes wet). And although I haven't often felt that incandescent feeling of joy, I want to. I've been in pursuit of it now for years, and that search led me to this book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

One Thousand Gifts

Ann is a farmer's wife, a home-schooling mother of six, and a writer whose prose reads like poetry. She has a gift for finding the beautiful in the common-place, in what others might shrug off as mere part and parcel of everyday life. Ann's life has been one of stunning early loss (her young sister was killed in an accident), mental and spiritual anguish as a result, and finally, a sense of peace won through hard-fought battles with her self. She has found this peace only through daily communion with God. And this is the message that threads through the book.
Here is a transcription of the notes I took as I read:

- Satan's greatest lie is that God is not good. God is all and only good.
- Mankind's first sin was ingratitude: God had given everything, and we wanted more.
- Sin blinds us to God's goodness.
- Eucharisteo: a Greek word meaning "he gave thanks." This is the foundation of the sacrament of Holy Communion and of this book.
- Eucharisteo comes from the Greek word charis, which means "grace," but it also comes from that word's root, chara, which means "joy."
- We are designed and compelled to give thanks in all things and for all things.
- The act of thanksgiving is integral to faith.
- Ann began keeping a daily gratitude journal, in which she listed the gifts she already has.
- Erasmus said: "A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit." We can overcome a bad habit (complaining, discontent, anxiety) by replacing it with another habit (gratitude, peace, service).
- The importance of naming things goes back to creation. Naming, counting, listing our blessings is a valuable exercise.
- J.R.R. Tolkein: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Words to live by.
- We stress often because we feel we don't have enough minutes in a day. But giving thanks creates time because the attitude of thanksgiving in all things redeems time we waste in apathy, inattentiveness, and boredom.
- G.K. Chesterton: "Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian."
- All is grace; all is God's plan. Even that which seems bad, ugly, painful. She says: "God is always good, and I am always loved." There is grace in that, and great joy.
- Faith is in the (constant) gaze of the soul: a soul that is always seeking, seeing God in His creation.
- Deeply seeing leads to gratitude, which leads to joy.
- Complaints about setbacks, trials, tribulations: these are actually blasphemy because they doubt God's divine power to work good through all things. This is painful to consider, isn't it?
- Joy is always present. We must not turn from it but turn toward it and receive God's ever-present gift.
- G.K. Chesterton: "Our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again." Recognizing God's gifts to us in the familiar is one of the key steps to the daily practice of gratitude.
- Although dark times may loom heavy over us, we must remember that it is in those troubled times that God is closest.
- We must make ourselves small, must humble ourselves in order to truly stand in awe.
- Anger, pride, fear: these things smother joy.
- We open our hands wide to receive God's grace and joy--and then we keep them open to give it away. If we clench our fists tight around what we've been given, it molders.
- This act of service--of giving and sharing grace--is central to the faith-walk. We cannot just sit back and accept. We must in turn share God's goodness.

This book was full to the ends of each page with moments that made me think, made me breathe deeply, made me ponder who I am and who I can be. After reading it, I set a blank journal near my Bible, on a table in the dining room. In it, I began a list of things I am grateful for, gifts God has given me this day.

At lunch, with my family gathered around, I read my list, talked about this book, and encouraged Clint and the kids to add to the list. At dinner, I read what had been written: 18 things in one day! We plan to keep adding to the list throughout the year, maybe reaching Ann's goal of one thousand--or maybe surpassing it. It is our first step in a conscious journey toward gratitude for the grace God showers upon us, and in this list and the path it will inevitably take us down, we will all find the joy He longs to give us.
If you long to find joy, to find a spot of peace in your fast-paced life, I urge you to read this book. Also, Ann's blog is a place to find peace, encouragement, and joy. Check her out; check this book out.