Ok. I will give it to you straight.
Here’s how I came to the decision to read this book. A few women I knew were reading it; my church’s summer book study, my good friend, Lauren, and Carolyn, my friend and mentor. So, we began.
I ordered the book on amazon and packed it in my holly aiken bag alongside all of my other books that made my medium size tote into a large.
I had just finished Mary Beth Chapman’s book, Choosing to See, Memorial Day Weekend. (On a side note, I LOVED THIS BOOK. and recommend it to you. any and all of you.)
Lauren and I start reading in Chattanooga. This trip I call the Hampton Inn trip. We – with our babies – spent A LOT OF TIME in the Hampton Inn. We were glad when we waved goodbye.
And we were also glad for the time there because it gave us time to read.
We got lost in Ann’s poetry, swept up by her pen’s imagery, and consumed in thanksgiving to the Lord. We sat leisurely outside of Chattanooga’s downtown Starbucks, kidless and young, slowly eating our meal, thankful we did not have to rush or feed little mouths. (We are grateful for the little mouths… and we are grateful for daddies who gifted us by watching over the babes.)
I did notice how I had felt so much more with Mary Beth than I did with Ann. I laughed and cried and prayed my way through Mary Beth’s page-turner. However, with A Thousand Gifts, I saw what Ann was writing – and I wanted very much to feel with her – but for some reason for me personally her poetry kept me at arm’s length.
I’m not sure if this is because of my personality – sometimes I like to get into the pool one inch at a time – or because of the way that Ann’s writing works on her readers. Does anyone have anything to say to this?
We get home after our Hampton Inn Trip. I’m reading in bed. And then the chapter about her son. Emotion hits. Ann, a mother of six, relays a time with her son. She’s caught up. He is too. She in her work. He in his frustration. And they wrestle it out together. She gets on his level. She gracefully, graciously communicates the gospel to her son. And I about lost it. I read it out loud to Tyler (which is what I like to do with all that I read, but I have to contain myself.) I’m almost relieved – because now I have come into a stride with Ann.
We are in Destin, Florida. Lauren and I keep reading. We are both trying not to read every word to our respective husbands. Ann shares openly with her reader that as a young girl, she cut herself. I cringed. But I keep reading. She concludes the chapter and shows the Lord as Redeemer. I burst out the door and smile at Lauren. We sit on the front porch sans husbands and beam at each other. We are so in love with the Lord, so glad we are friends, so happy in the sunshine, the warmth of His love.
We drive to Panama City. Lauren has finished the book. In an effort to finish it with her, I take every napping moment and read. I get to the last chapter. Pause for thought. Has she taken poetry too far?
Lauren and I have the same question. We search for reviews. We are stunned at the results. Well-regarded apologist blogger lambasted her (that same night we find out that he apologized. But still, we are sad.) We talk it over together. We talk it over with everyone. We lay out the opinions. We read over her words. We share our thoughts. We think. We read Scripture. We are just…
This is where we settled.
~ Her book is poetry. Ann Voskamp doesn’t seem to set out to write a theological treatise. That being said, we’d love to read a second edition. It seems only some words need changed; only a few sentences added for explanation.
~ Of course I do not know Ann personally but what I gather from her book is that she has a melancholy personality. She takes life into her. She lets it seep in and really affect her. Ann has been through some really hard situations, some very dark days. And because she takes it all into herself and because this book is a bit of a memoir, the book can be dark at times. Which I think, looking back and after talking it over with friends, is why it was hard to relate to her. I am not a melancholy person. And I did not readily want to enter her darkness. But oh was I glad when she got to the LIGHT!
~ She writes in a sort of stream of consciousness. The philosophy behind stream of consciousness is that truth is relative. Here is where the problem lies. Ann writes her thoughts. She then writes an objective truth, a Scripture command and promise. Stream of consciousness philosophy falls apart and this can be hard on the reader. Personally, I am not a huge fan of stream of consciousness, but I as Ann’s sister in Christ, I appreciated reading her thoughts, and her bravery to write them. So I read her with grace, held what she was saying loosely, and clung to the truth of the Scripture in her book. Others didn’t necessarily take this approach.
~ In her last chapter, where she opens the conclusion to her book, “…make love with God,” jaws dropped. Heads titled. Eyes re-scanned the words. Lauren thought, “Can you say that!?” I thought… ‘oh poetic liberty perhaps taken a little far.’ And kept reading. My response to the chapter was, well it doesn’t seem needed for her overall thesis but I see how she was bringing her journey of thanksgiving to a full, rounded circle. And I can live with it. Some reviewers hated it. and gave good theological reason. Others seemed to go right along with it. Here’s Ann’s blog post response. Gracious, what do you think?
~ There are some times when the Lord shares with us through His Word and through our experience devotional thoughts, devotional take-a-ways. It may be that He applies His word to something quite particular in your life in such a way that the application is not exactly or particularly what the Scripture easily communicates, but you know in that time that the Lord through His Word with the Holy Spirit was teaching you in that moment. I think this happened for Ann as she relates her time in Europe in the last chapter of the book. The issue is, friends, with these times we cannot relate them to others especially in such a way that we are trying to teach our experience to another. Because what happens is we can misrepresent and even malign the Scripture. If you have read Elisabeth Elliot, I think she does a wonderful job sharing in her books ways in which the Lord personally spoke to her through Scripture without asking you to accept it for yourself. The thing is, though, it seems in Ann’s book that she is attempting to teach you something, she wants you to get it. And we just cannot wholeheartedly accept it. I especially speak directly to the part where she writes about the mystical union. Friends, do you know these times with the Lord? I think we can look to Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Scripture, where she ‘hides these things in her heart.’ When the Lord speaks TO YOU, hide these things in your heart. Share them with your spouse, perhaps, with your closest friends. They are to be pondered, not taught.
~ For us to recommend this book, Lauren and I decided we would do so with reticence, sadly, because some of what Ann writes could be interpreted a little not-so-orthodox. And at the same time, if you are a wise reader, a discerning mind, a gospel-centered believer, thinker, person who would appreciate honesty and encouragement, then I think you could stand to read Ann’s One Thousand Gifts.
My heart ended here – and I am grateful to the Lord for preserving me and growing me through this book, this good time with a good friend, and through the sultry summer.
Bless the LORD, o my soul, o my soul, worship HIS holy name. Psalm 103:1