I opened my door on that blustery February morning and there it was – a book tied with a pale blue ribbon. I could see the now iconic cover with the picture of a robin’s nest holding two blue eggs. I traced the title script, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. My heart-friend had placed this gift on my porch. She told me it was a book I must read. In the days and months and years to follow, this little book became a map, a manual, a manifesto, leading me through a new life of daring gratitude in the face of adversity. In short, this book made a lasting impression.
After reading the first chapter of One Thousand Gifts, tears welled up. I knew this was exactly what I needed for this season of life. Maybe even for the rest of my life. In One Thousand Gifts, my friend Ann uses the original Greek word “eucharisteo” from the Bible to light her path to healing, to teach her language lesson. Eucharisteo means “thanksgiving.” This word knits together two other Greek words: Charis = grace and Chara = joy.
“Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle,” writes Ann. These words, this thesis, this enlightenment-made-mantra now penetrates me daily. I can’t stop thinking about it, seeing it everywhere in the Bible, experiencing it in my footsteps. Jesus thanks God before he turns five loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands. Twelve baskets of leftovers sing of the miracle.
Through her poetic prose and personal story, Ann unfolds a theology of gratitude. She dared me (and now millions of others) to start writing down gifts – the daily graces in my life that are pure love notes from God. “How do you count on life when the hopes don’t add up?” she boldly asks. And then she taught me to “count blessings and discover who can be counted on” (151).
During that first read, I was in a season of waiting. Our family was embarking on a new calling – moving to Haiti after the massive earthquake of 2010 to serve with a non-profit my husband was leading called Christian Friendship Ministries. In the waiting, I clung to Ann’s words and we crammed in Haitian Kreyol language lessons. We anticipated leaving our beloved community and starting a new life in the developing world. While I waited, I counted gifts. When our house wouldn’t sell after months and the roof leaked through the rainy season, I counted gifts. I created a list in my journal, shared it with friends, and began to post it on my blog and Facebook as an act of public, wild gratitude to my God, the Bridge Builder of trust. My attitude and heart tasted redemption.
During those months of counting, I learned to adjust my lens. Whereas before I might have followed my human instinct to complain, put on a hat of cynism, even a robe of jealousy, now there were grooves of habit prompting me to pray and see each moment as a gift. I learned that it doesn’t help to just put a positive spin on the hard parts of life. We need to dig through the soil, unearth the painful shards of glass and see the beauty in that traveled journey.
I penned the following on April 18, 2011: “It’s no accident that later this year – around the Thanksgiving holiday – a new baby will join our family. It’s no accident that in this year of waiting to follow God’s call to Haiti, in this season of giving thanks in all things God has gifted us with a wild surprise – a new life. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled to add a new baby to our family. We may have four or five one day, and I would be perfectly happy. But this way was not my plan. We were on the road to adopt from Haiti. We planned to wait a few years through piles of paperwork and jumping through hoops. We had this little dream, this rising passion, that we could give new life to an orphan, maybe two, who needed a forever family. And now, because we will have more than two biological children that door to Haiti may be closed. I mourn that today. Tears pool in my lap for the orphans of Haiti. Hot tears of righteous indignation as I know how hard it is to adopt, how difficult for millions of orphans to be united with a loving family. I feel a kind of helplessness as I can barely stand up without losing my breakfast. First trimester sickness. I feel the emptiness.”
Then Ann whispered these words to me: “And emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy (97). I turned to God. I learned to trust Him with my fears, my plans, my future.
A few years later, when my dear friend’s husband was killed in a cycling accident, I clung to Ann’s words again. At the time, I was leading a group of women through the book study of One Thousand Gifts. No accident. We wept and counted gifts together. We learned “the hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty” (100).
Last year, when my own husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer, I pulled out the book again with trembling hands and reread the lines I had highlighted, the pages I had dog-eared. This was my fourth reading and much of the book was already tattooed on my heart. God had faithfully prepared me for that devastating season of losing my love, the daddy of my three daughters. I already had learned the transforming wonder of counting gifts. I already had made it a habit to turn my face toward the Son with my list of gratitude in the midst of the suffocating darkness.
Ann’s words soothed me in my suffering: “The good news is that all those living the land of the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart – and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty” (100). She pointed me back to hope and His Presence.
If you are in a season of waiting, a season of loss, a season of wondering why there is so much suffering in our world, you need to read this book. If you feel like you are just mucking through the everyday tasks of being a mother or a job that makes your shoulders pull tight with the weight of stress, you need to read this book. If you want to live fully right where you are, you need to read this book. I dare you.
Interested in reading One Thousand Gifts? Check it out here!
Image Credit: Caleb Roenigk, Creative Commons