“A Window into a Different Kind of Living”
A review of
One Thousand Gifts:
A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.
By Ann Voskamp.
Reviewed by Zena Neds-Fox.
[ Read an Excerpt here… ]
Ann Voskamp wrote a book. And that’s a big deal because people wait for Ann’s words. About six years ago she started scratching out words in the dark on a dark screen during the dark days of motherhood. She began a daily blog that has changed as she has. She lives on a hog farm in Canada, raising six children and writing out the daily life of waking, working and loving. She embodies a motherhood that has struck a chord with women reading alone in the midst of the messes of their own figurative hog farms and children waiting to be fed. Her blog became an international sensation for one reason and one reason only. This girl can write.
I remember finding a link to a link to aholyexperience.com and landing in the quiet space and reading words in sentences that transmitted thoughts of a true generous, regenerated mind. As a mother you are always waiting for someone to tell you everything is all right, someone to tuck you in at night and wake you gently in the mornings. Ann is more than a mother to her own children; she mothers her readers. Word spread quick online that she’d written a book and the excitement grew. Finally! A manual that could point out the way to the life Ann lives.
But this book, although it is a dare, is not a how-to. I scanned the pages waiting for the secret formula to be revealed. It didn’t come. Instead I read the beginning and my heart broke. Then I read to the end and my heart broke again, because more than anything Ann is a broken woman who has seen too much death and with scarred arms reaching out, she clings to Jesus. That’s all.
That’s Ann’s secret.
By the time we’re eighty and we’ve buried our spouse, maybe a child and most of our friends, we stare death straight in the eye and start to wrestle with its very real presence. Ann’s match began when she was four years old. The book opens with the story of her younger sister’s death. One day a truck came onto their family farm and the driver unknowingly took the life of an eighteen month-old baby girl. Her family grew out from that root and it was no strong tree that came up from the ground. Instead it’s branches twisted and strangled and held hope always just out of reach and a family lost its right to joy. Ann grew up there. She’s told more of her story in various posts online, of the divorce and dysfunction that rushed in and made up the difference for as long as it could. The dams all broke and the waters of pain that built up over the years found a home in Ann, now a mother herself, and one morning, after another night of anxious dreaming, she was done. She was done waking up living half a life. She wanted something else than fully empty life. She wanted what she’d been told about. She wanted Jesus.
The book chronicles the road Ann walked in order to find Him more fully. It begins with a pinprick in the dark with Jesus giving thanks at the last supper. She lingers there with the Spirit and like a detective she sets to solve the mystery of a life with God. Eucharist becomes the cornerstone of her journey to find out what more there is to this life.
“Penetrating the mystery is like discovering galaxies; there is always more.”
Ann’s eloquence with spiritual reality is the first gift on all of her reader’s ‘one thousand gifts’ lists. She puts thin letters around truths that we trod and know, but never have had the eye or pen to put down on paper hold up and say, “See! This is what it means to love Him!” And she does love him. It’s like hearing six hundred times that you should get up and have devotions in the morning. You always feel guilty and know that you’re not going to ever do that until one day someone else says it and you know it’s the right thing and you find yourself up before the dawn the next morning. What was the difference?
The difference was that last person who told you it was a good idea actually wakes up early and has for years. When they told you it had power to persuade because they were talking about the life they actually live, not the one they heard tell of and repeat because it is what you’re suppose to say. Ann is like that. She can tell us to be thankful and it matters because she’s been doing it longer and better than we have. Her day-to-day life with God is like the yeast she’s been kneading into all those loaves of dough for her babies. The rising of the bread of her life has multiplied and the bread rises over until the five thousand and more are fed from the kingdom coming in this one woman’s life.
Ann’s writing reads like letters from a poet or a priest. She is caught up in the world where God is expressing love through the gifts which show her he can be counted upon. There is a section where she describes contemplating a soap bubble while washing dishes. I read with marvel as she over and over finds another way to express God’s truth and reality’s frailty and beauty here. Ann is able to find Jesus in ten thousand places and has gifted us all with a window into a different kind of living.
Zena Neds-Fox is a mother and a writer; she blogs at Considerate Neighbor: http://neds-fox.com/zena/
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com