good things in February and One Thousand Gifts

I am not a grateful person. For the past few years, I have written down good things. I sometimes miss weeks at a time, but the practice of writing them down has made it easier to remember what was good about each day.

For that reason, I was interested to read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I thought it was a good reminder to look for the ordinary graces of life, though perhaps her examples are more geared towards stay-at-home moms. In the book and on her blog, she recommends writing down things for which we are grateful. I can see why so many people are making gratitude lists, and I think that any practice like that would be helpful.

However, there were several things about the book that concerned me. First, Voskamp lists gratitude as the most important thing, the key to spiritual life. And it may be the key to her spiritual life, but that doesn’t mean it can make meaning out of everything (as she claims it does for her) for everyone. This article touches on what concerned me about her emphasis on gratitude. I agree with the article that she stretched the idea of gratitude so thin as to be almost meaningless. Additionally, Voskamp used verses from various Bible translations throughout the book, including two different translations on a single page. This felt as if she was trying too hard to prove her point.

I also had a problem with the idea that we should give thanks for everything, because “all is grace” and because our perspective is not enough to be able to tell blessings from curses so we must see it all as gifts from God. I do think it is possible, eventually, to give thanks for what we learn or experience from difficult situations. But I would stop short of saying that I am thankful for them, or that painful things like death and cancer are, themselves, the grace of God. In fact, Voskamp herself talked about this idea of radical thanksgiving for others including things like abuse and cancer and death but then neglected to explain how she herself was thankful for the death of her sister. I know that to some people that this is simply semantics, but I felt that this was a theological difference I had with her.

I had two smaller concerns of very different natures: first, that from a mental health perspective, Voskamp mentions that at one time she took medicine for anxiety and wonders if she had just been more grateful if she would have had to take medicine. I feel like there is enough of a stigma against taking medicine for anxiety and depression, and while I do agree that the work of focusing on the positive in our lives is helpful, her thoughts smack of the idea that if we just try harder we can be more happy. And, finally, I thought it was a little bit tacky that, early on, she mentioned receiving a DaySpring card from her father-in-law. Voskamp writes for DaySpring’s blog, and there weren’t other brands mentioned in the book, so it felt like product placement (or Denise Hildreth mentioning her husband at the time, Jonathan Pierce).

Much has been said about Voskamp’s “poetic” style. I have never enjoyed reading her blog, so I knew that her book would be similarly challenging for me. I prefer a more straightforward style. The book read to me like an extended blog post, and I felt at times (the chapter on the moon, especially) that she was stretching things out to get an entire book’s worth of material.

The book challenged me to think about gratitude more in my life, but overall I think the same message could have been communicated more clearly and without overemphasizing the importance of gratitude in our daily lives.

With that said, how about good things for February? I had planned to get this up earlier, but it ties in well with a book about observing the things around us and being grateful, so let’s just pretend I planned it this way.

1-Wonderfully predictive comments about The Hunger Games from my book clubbers.
2-Lovely walk after school.
3-Friday night pizza.
4-Breakfast and then coffee with two different friends. Downton party at Alisa’s.
5-Atticus had fun with the animals at the Male Bakeoff.
6-Doctor’s appointment in Durham meant I got a Trader Joe’s run.
7-Tough day with my sick boy. Having Mike to help was my good thing.
8-Pizza with my book club boys.
9-Alisa brought us breakfast after Atticus’s surgery.
10-My mom came to stay while Mike was gone for the weekend.
11-Mom and I took Atticus to the Natural Science Center and to get smoothies, both of which he loved.
12-Atticus woke up early, which was terrible, but he was sweet and snuggly, which he isn’t usually.
13-Not having anything to do after school was great.
14-Fajitas! As one does on Valentine’s Day.
15-Really wonderful mac and cheese on the early release day.
16-Lovely walk in the neighborhood.
17-Mike and I had wine and pizza rolls for dinner while watching Downton Abbey.
18-Mom had Atticus, so Mike and I lounged. It was glorious.
19-Watched the snow fall.
20-Snow day! It wasn’t really a snow day because it all melted by like 10:00, but I had a productive day at work.
21-Yoga with Alisa.
22-Mike and I were able to go out to dinner after the Ash Wednesday service.
23-Finished The Hunger Games with my boys. On to Catching Fire!
24-Went to a birthday party at the Children’s Museum after work and Atticus loved it.
25-Alisa and I saw/stalked Lauren Winner.
26-Atticus played the piano at church with a friend of ours. He loved it. My plan to make him a piano player is working.
27-Work on our house is progressing. Meanwhile, we are enjoying running around the front room with no furniture in it.
28-Yoga was hard but good.
29-Had a reading group meeting and it was fun to see the girls get hooked by a book.

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6 Comments

  1. Your article good things in February and One Thousand Gifts is good. Thanks for sharing it.

    Posted 3/19/2012 at | Permalink
  2. I really appreciated your thoughts here, Kari, and I think you’ve given “One Thousand Gifts” a fair and just review. I read the book a little over a year ago, and at the time, it was just what I needed to read. I’d never heard of Ann Voskamp before, never read her blog (for the record, I still don’t), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Her language took some getting used to, but — despite being a stickler for grammar — I wound up really enjoying it.

    That being said, I do also remember struggling just a bit with how “easy” gratitude seemed. Like you, I believe God ultimately uses the pains and hurts in our lives to show us more of Him (perhaps, even, the parts of Him that we might not want to see), and although gratitude and thanksgiving are such important and crucial responses to His movements in our lives, I believe there is also plenty of room for tears, for anguish, for frustration, for questions, and for anger. It’s been a while since I read the book, but I do think there were times when I felt like she glossed over that particular point. Also, as someone with a husband who struggles with anxiety, I really do disagree with the idea that counting our gifts can somehow “cure” us from unhappy thoughts and worry. I’m not sure I could have said that without experiencing anxiety so personally, but now I am certain that while gratitude undoubtedly helps, often medication and counseling are needed. Counting our blessings doesn’t always make unhappiness go away, and there were times with “One Thousand Gifts” felt a little too easy for my taste.

    When I read the book last February, though, I came away inspired and encouraged, and I think that has a lot to do with where I was when I read it. The fact is, counting our blessings and finding gratitude in the every day is not a new or original idea. It’s just one I, personally, had forgotten, and Ann did remind me of that.

    All that to say: It is hard to be critical while also being gracious, and I think you’ve done the book a service by offering up your thoughts and critiques. It is more than okay to read books wisely, thoughtfully, and carefully, and it is certainly okay to aks questions. I think pairing the review with your own list of good things shows: There is truth to be found in “One Thousand Gifts,” and mostly, it’s an ancient truth that is found in Scripture, this idea that there is so much to be grateful for, if we’d just take a few moments to look.

    Posted 3/19/2012 at | Permalink
  3. Atticus had surgery?!

    Posted 3/19/2012 at | Permalink
  4. i appreciate this so much kari. i love ann, and am obviously a poet myself whose own writing style has been compared to ann’s, but i find the gratitude thing a bit much too… i mean, i get nervous, making it the whole of the gospel… i think there is something to be said about life sucking big time. and we should be allowed to say that, without having to make it sound pretty, or feeling guilty that we’re not finding the “hard eucharisteo.” look at lamentations? anyway. i found this greatly refreshing. thank you for not being afraid to go against the status quo. xo

    Posted 3/19/2012 at | Permalink
  5. I wasn’t sure what kind of response this would get since the book is so popular, but I got such thoughtful comments. I love my readers. :)

    Hannah: He had tubes in his ears. It was a rough week because he had a high fever that turned out to be roseola, so he was feeling really lousy on top of that. Thanks for asking about it.

    Posted 3/20/2012 at | Permalink
  6. Thanks for having the guts to say this! I bought One Thousand Gifts because a good friend raves about it and says it’s revitalized her entire life, but I’m not that excited about reading it yet. I also unsubscribed from Ann’s blog because it was just bugging me in a nebulous way. I’m glad I’m not alone in my “blasphemy.” :)

    Posted 3/20/2012 at | Permalink

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