I just finished Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts yesterday and wanted to write a short review. Looking at the title and the book description I thought this book would be primarily about keeping a gratitude journal, and that is part of it, but the journal itself is a gateway to more fully understanding God in the face of all kinds of circumstances.
Voskamp opens her story recounting the death of her sister when they were both young girls. She speaks about growing up in a household where the resulting deep suffering was the everyday reality. It was this first chapter that drew me in. I have led a very charmed life with very little real suffering, but I have found just in these past few weeks that I have been directly confronted with the deep wounds that this world can inflict on people in the faces of my friends and acquaintances. I do not know, honestly, if God is sharing these stories with me to prepare me for my own hardships to come (sometimes it feels that way), or if He is simply wanting to change my heart in some way to be more tender to those who are grieving. All that to say: I bought One Thousand Gifts almost immediately after reading that first chapter online.
My main criticism of the book, which is more about personal taste, is that I'm not a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing. For me it is much like when you are reading something out loud and realize mid-sentence that you've gotten the subject, verb or rhythm of the sentence wrong. Then you have to go back and read it again to figure out what was actually said. But, it is also in this writing style that Voskamp gets her point across: keeping a gratitude journal, however trivial it seems, is a first step to thinking Biblically, and once we can think Biblically, we can start to internalize those truths and really live them out amidst the worst kind of suffering, or the litany of our daily life, or even more fully appreciate the great joys we are blessed with. She moves deep into the idea that most Christians give lip service to: "Yes, Lord, I'm thankful for all you have given me" and insists that we need to be specific and deliberate about thanking God, not for everything, but for each thing. When we are specifically thankful for even the smallest gifts and when we are actively looking for those small gifts, our thinking about joy, life, suffering, God, and His love really changes us.
I appreciate that Voskamp quotes Lewis and Piper, as well as some more heavy theological texts, and the Bible, of course. She didn't just write a touchy feel good book about thanksgiving. She grounds all of the feelings and introspection into Biblical principles. But the book isn't preachy. She bares her own domestic failings for all of us to see as we read how she is discovering what thanksgiving means during those moments when we are less than thankful for the kids breaking a glass door, or worse, when a precious child is injured or lost. She deals eloquently with the question of a sovereign God amidst the worst kind of pain, and these passages really struck me so that I read them over and over again, convicted of my own lack of grace amidst trivial suffering, or worse, amidst great blessings!
What do we do when we are so deeply wounded that all we want to do is be angry at the God who would have us feel this pain? How can being thankful for small things help us here? She lays her emotions and thoughts bare on the pages of her book so that we can see her transformation. Her writings about thanksgiving show a woman wounded, wooed by Christ and ultimately transformed by His love in the little gifts He gives.
So, yes, this is much more than a book about keeping a gratitude journal, and proof reading this review, I notice that I have failed to really capture the beauty and depth in Voskamp's book, but there are many more reviews more beautifully written on Amazon, so go look at them, and then pick up a copy of this book for yourself.
(I do not know Ann Voskamp, nor is my review in any way sponsored by her or anyone else, in fact, she'd probably prefer that someone with much better writing skills review her book! She does blog at A Holy Experience with beautiful photos and words.)