Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp began as something of a teasing dare: a friend had named one hundred things she loved and asked Ann if she could name 1,000. Ann began keeping a notebook open in her kitchen to record things she was thankful for, little dreaming how it would impact her life.

But this is no Pollyanna-ish “glad game.” Ann discusses finding joy even through loss and pain and circumstance that don’t make sense and childish skirmishes. And giving thanks, she finds, does more than engender gratitude and praise to God, though that’s plenty: it also wards off things like anxiety, because when we’re in the habit of giving thanks, we’re in the habit of seeing evidence of God’s love and care all around us.

Ann’s writing style here is much the same as it is on her blog, and it is hard to know how to describe it: it has a poetic quality to it, somewhat ethereal, seemingly stream-of-consciousness, though it is not random: there is definite movement and flow toward a purpose and end. And it’s not fluff, for there is serious study underneath. My own writing style is more practical and straightforward: neither is right or wrong, better or worse, they’re just different, and my different way of thinking left me feeling a little lost sometimes, but other times I was moved to tears or touched to the core.

I wish I had jotted down notes from the main points in each chapter. Some of the main ones are repeated and easy to take with you from the book. But here are some quotes that I marked:

Daily discipline is the door to full freedom, and the discipline to count to one thousand gave way to the freedom of wonder…(p. 84)

Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living. (p. 84).

Can it be that, that which seems to oppose the will of God actually is used of Him to accomplish the will of God? (p 88).

I am beset by chronic soul amnesia. I am empty of truth and need the refilling. I need come every day — bend, clutch, and remember — for who can gather the manna but once, hoarding, and store away sustenance in the mind for all of the living? (p. 106).

How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily, domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an everyday cathedral? (p. 120-121).

Peace can shatter faster than glass (p. 174).

My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy (p. 178).

I wouldn’t agree with every little theological point, but that could probably be said of many books that I read, and I am not going to dissect the differences here. I will just mention a couple of things, though.

In the last chapter, titled “The Joy of Intimacy,” Ann uses what could be called sexually charged language to describe intimacy with God, such as, “I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God” (p. 201) and “To know Him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin” (p. 217)…and others I am not comfortable putting here. I know how she means it: she doesn’t mean anything physical or inappropriate: she’s merely discussing spiritually unfettered union and communion. There are Bible passages that speak of God as a husband, the church is called the Bride of Christ, and the last few verses of Ephesians 5 say that the marriage union is symbolic of that between Christ and the church. But still…it’s jarringly graphic, and sadly, I think a stumblingblock to many readers: some have only discussed that chapter on their blogs, and from comments there and on various book reviews, some people have laid aside the book after coming to or hearing about those passages. Personally I wouldn’t lay aside the whole book because of those references, but I would just say read cautiously and with discernment, as we should with any book. (Update: Ann comments on her use of language in this chapter in the second comment here.)

Another disturbing thing to me was a quote from Mother Teresa — not the quote itself but the regarding of her as a spiritual authority, which I don’t believe her to be for these reasons. I don’t want to offend my Catholic friends, but as I have said before, a person is not saved by or because of their denomination: we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

For these and other reasons, I couldn’t endorse the book 100%, but I did benefit from it in many ways.

There is a book club discussing this book at bloom (in) courage where two other ladies discuss the individual chapters with Ann. The videos are long, about 10-12 minutes for each chapter, and I’ve only watched five or six of them. Some of the discussions are more helpful than others, but they did help to relate to Ann better, hearing her talk in everyday language.

A little taste of the book and it’s style can be seen here in its trailer:

(See also Tim Challies’ review here.)

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)


19 thoughts on “Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

  1. I would share these same concerns, Barbara. I appreciate this discerning view. The touchy feely terminology you allude to is very difficult for me to get around. I have enjoyed some things I’ve read by this author, but if the descriptions got even more explicit than what you’ve given here, I would probably have been one to move on to something else.

  2. Great review, Barbara. I agree with your basic impressions and sense of things… I had very similar reactions. (Though my overall appraisal ended up a little more negative, I admit. I had a hard time with the self-focus of the book overall, and the last chapter made me very uncomfortable — almost like the reader was being put in the role of a voyeur.)

  3. I didn’t read everything you wrote because I didn’t want it to color my thoughts if I read the book…I like the premise of what she did, though.
    Mama Bear

  4. Huh! This book sounds fascinating on more than a few levels. I think I would be really bothered by the chapter you mentioned (to a great degree) but reading your thoughts didn’t spoil it for me. I rather like to know what i’m getting into sometimes and found your thoughts helpful and glad you pointed those things out! I think I would like to pick it up and see what this book is all about. But I’m not sure when. =) Everyone is talking about it – so it seems the time to be reading it! However, pressed for time. So it may have to wait a bit.

    At any rate – very glad you shared your more detailed thoughts at the end here! Thanks!

  5. WOW! You are skilled…that was fabulous! There were a few things that bothered me at the end of the book. I was honestly hesitant to tell anyone about them…because I knew they would flat reject the book on that info. alone. I may share your review with those who’ve asked me about the book. It was much more coherent then I’ve been!

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  7. I would agree with you too on the last part (though I didn’t read the book, and I probably won’t because of that). I don’t feel comfortable with “banal-izing” the Almighty God. Somehow it cheapens the place of God, I think.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this and wondering what others on your blog said.

    I too felt a little strange about the last chapter. As I think about it though, I’ve honestly had the very same thoughts in a way that is very challenging to my heart but I haven’t blogged because I’m not sure you can put that into words without having it taken wrong.

    The Bible does refer to God as our husband and groom and so I don’t think it’s wrong to go there… I don’t think that we are used to that though.

    I think the thing I had the most difficulty with was the things that seemed so Catholicey to me even though I know she’s not.

  9. I just discovered you on another blog where you stood out like a sore thumb. Then I came over here and read just a little bit and I’m agreeing with you again.

  10. I got bogged down and still haven’t picked this one back up, but I appreciate your to-the-point review! One day I’ll get back to this one. I really appreciate Ann V.’s ministry (which I only know through her blog, ‘though she has responded to an email of mine with a very lengthy and helpful response), but that doesn’t mean I’ll “get” or agree with everything she writes, either.

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  12. Thanks for this review. I have not yet read this book myself, but a friend had recommended it to me, and I was already a little wary.

    However, I am looking for a book that might appeal to my grandmother. She is not a believer, but still would like something that maybe the Lord can use. Would you have a recommendation for a book that may be similar that does not have some of the very glaring issues?

    Normally I do not read books such as these, but I am hoping to keep digging to find something good. Thanks for your help!

  13. A wonderful honest review! haven’t read the book, but maybe will one day…a friend suggested I read it, so was looking for reviews and came to yours. Thanks!

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