My first conversation with Ann Voskamp was at Laity Lodge near Kerrville, Texas. Writers and editors for The High Calling were having a late night get-together. Looking for something to drink, I walked into the kitchen and smack-dab into a spirited conversation about national health care. Ann turned to me and rather passionately asked, “What do you think?”
“I think I want a glass of water,” I said. But she wouldn’t let me off the hook, and I was drawn into the debate.
A few months later, Zondervan published Ann’s book One Thousand Gifts. It has spent more than 30 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. Her blog, A Holy Experience, has thousands of fans (including me). Through her book and her blog, we’ve come to know Ann, her family, the farm in Canada where they live, and what seems like a hunger she has to find the gifts and the grace in the moments of each day. Recently, we caught up with her and talked about the book and the remarkable response to it, her family, and what happens next.
Glynn: Ann, of all the things that One Thousand Gifts is about, at its center is an answer to the question: “How do I fully live when life is full of hurt?” Who did you write the book for?
Ann: I wonder if some authors write primarily for the person who desperately needs to uncover the answer—themselves.
One Thousand Gifts was written out of my own wrestling, my own struggling questions—my own hurt. I wrote it very much in a vertical space—writing out my own brokenness, confessions, failures—and then a stilled waiting on God for insight.
Glynn, the book was about God doing deep, necessary work in me. And then if He used it for anyone else—unexpected grace.
You use a term in the book: eucharisteo. Can you explain what that means?
Yes, it’s all Greek to me, but this is the word that can change everything: eucharisteo—it comes right out of the Gospel of Luke: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them … ” (Luke 22:19 NIV). In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Charis. Grace. Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Chara. Joy.
Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo; the table of thanksgiving. The holy grail of joy, God set it in the very center of Christianity. The Eucharist is the central symbol of Christianity. Glynn, doesn’t the continual repetition of beginning our week at the table of the Eucharist clearly place the whole of our lives into the context of thanksgiving?
One of Christ’s very last directives He offers to His disciples is to take the bread, the wine, and to remember. Do this in remembrance of Me. Remember and give thanks.
This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give thanks, eucharisteo.
Why? Why is remembering and giving thanks the core of the Christ-faith? Because remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust; to really believe. Re-membering, giving thanks, is what makes us a member again of the body of Christ. Re-membering, giving thanks is what puts us back together again in this hurried, broken, fragmented world.
You find blessing even in pain. The book starts with a story of profound pain—the accidental death of your sister as a very young child, and how it affected all of your family, especially your father who turned his back on God. Ann, is there a gift even in the face of intense personal tragedy?
Ah, the ache of this wounded world, yes? Like the Israelites, God sometimes feeds us manna, that which literally makes no sense to us, the “what is it?” food, and He asks us to eat the mystery of circumstances we don’t understand. How to find gratefulness when we weep? Does it comfort at all to know that in the midst of our pain, God is keeping a list? A list that turns us and the cosmos inside out and changes everything, changes me and my perspective and the way I brain-film my life:
“You have recorded my troubles.
You have kept a list of my tears.
Aren’t they in your records?” (Ps. 56:8, NCV)
God does not slumber for He cannot cease to bear testimony to our hurt. God keeps a list. It’s the wildest Love that drives the Father to record his child’s every lament. We never ache without God attending, and he can’t stand to see a tear fall to the floor. God cups our grief and puts our tears in his bottle.
Glynn, it’s Love that makes God a list-keeper of our brokenness, and it’s love that can make us list-keepers of our blessings. In this we might meet together in communion.
You lay yourself bare in One Thousand Gifts. There’s no question it’s one of the key—amazingly encouraging—strengths of the book, but there’s also personal vulnerability involved. Yet I sense that this is part of being a bearer of the image of God. Did you experience any personal discomfort in writing the book?
Yes, Glynn, yes. I had an editor who read each chapter and insisted that the words be maskless; that this coming to the page was coming to an altar, a laying down of the self, stripped of any facades.
It’s one thing to write in the silence of the late hours, the words quietly finding their way onto the light of the screen. It’s another thing to release those words, those stories, out into the world. When I have wanted to quickly gather up those words and slip away home, I surrender to what it means to do this work: All art is a call to come to an altar, to come lie down and die to self. So be it. He is enough.
Ann, I want to ask about family. The sense of family permeates the book, as it permeates your blog. There’s a keen sense, too, of generations, of events and stories and experiences that move from one generation to the next and shape us and our children. (I confess that one of my favorite photos on your blog is the one of your father-in-law instructing your oldest son in the cab of the tractor, while your husband stands nearby in the field.) Why is this sense of family so important to your writing?
I came to the blogosphere to create a deeply personal space, to chronicle the story of God in one family’s life, written for an audience of One.
The first blog post I wrote back in 2004 tried to convey what I was stumbling into. We were cutting corn on the front porch:
Today … we cut corn. Joshua and Hope unclothed sun-kissed cobs, Kai and Levi danced in the warmth, my sister and I blanched, cut and poured sun-filled kernels into freezer bags to be revisited on the dark days of cold. I could feel the warmth of sunlight on my hair as I stood on the afternoon porch, cutting juicy golden away for winter days.
And I wanted to bag the whole sun-drenched day up to retrieve in the winter of my life. Kai’s curls. Joshua’s questions. Levi’s wonder. Hope’s dancing eyes. Cale’s creations. To be savored much later.
But it is not to be. I must consume the abundance of moments now. Days I am overwhelmed, wanting to write the music of my life in a slower tempo … yet this is the glorious dance of now.
So I shall dance in bare feet. For I am on holy ground.
That is why I write the family stories. A bagging up of all these hallowed moments, gifts from God, for us to return to on the winter days—to bow low and give Him glory all over again.
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful
In Philippians 4, Paul invites people to rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Even when Christians are being persecuted by Rome? Even when Paul himself is in prison? Always? Even when someone I love is dying? Even when I have lost my job? “Do not worry about anything,” Paul continues. Instead, we are called to present our worries to God with thanksgiving. Many of our readers in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, with a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. We invite you to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness and consider sharing some thoughts with your family this week from our theme Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.
Image by Molly Morton-Sydorak. Used with permission.