One Thousand Gifts (Review)

As I think back over the years, three books stand out to me as ones that have especially impacted my life.

  • Mary Pride’s The Way Home confirmed my conviction that children were a blessing, and that we should welcome as many as God wanted to give us! Her creative, entrepreneurial spirit also sparked ideas and projects that eventually turned into our family business, Doorposts.
  • Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking profoundly shaped my approach to bringing beauty and creativity into the home, and fostered a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in my role as homemaker and mother. I reread it regularly as the seasons and responsibilities of my life change.
  • God at Work, by Gene Edward Veith, led to the “Oh-of-course!” moment when it finally dawned on me that God accomplishes His purposes through people. He has given each of us work to do, and He ministers to others through that work.

I’m quite certain that One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, is going to be another one of those life-changing books for me. When I finished reading the last page a few days ago, I simply flipped back to the beginning and started over again. This book will warrant many readings, because I will need to review its message many times.

When she accepted the challenge of listing one thousand things she loves, Ann found that learning to see and name the beauty and blessings around her led to thankfulness. Thankfulness led to trust in a loving, faithful Father, and that trust led to joy.

Writing about her own journey from ingratitude and distrust of God to a life of fullness and joy, Ann draws from her own study of the Word and her own moments of epiphany as she wrestles to process the events of her life. Her writing is open and honest, poetic and gritty. The first chapter is almost torturous. The emptiness she describes, the fruit of her response to pain and deep loss, eventually gives way to the transforming power of choosing to notice and give thanks for the seemingly insignificant things in life.

Below are a few of the many portions I underlined in my copy of the book:

…That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave.”

“…They are just the common things and maybe I don’t even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like. Gifts He bestows. This writing it down – it is sort of like…unwrapping love.

God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.

Life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.

…Time, that thing we can’t buy, what we sell of ourselves to get more of what we think we want, what we sacrifice to seemingly gain. They say time is money, but that’s not true. Time is life, And if I want the fullest life, I need to find fullest time.

Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I’m always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.

The real problem of life is never a lack of time. The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks – take the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give thanks – and He miraculously makes it more than enough.

I’m amputated. I have hacked my life up into grace moments and curse moments. The chopping that has cut myself off from the the embracing love of a God who “does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow” (Lam. 3:33), but labors to birth grief into greater grace.

Take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fulfills all emptiness…As the surgeon would cut open my son’s finger to heal him, so God chooses to cut into my ungrateful heart to make me whole.

Our endless desires are fulfilled in endless God.

To lack faith perhaps isn’t as much an intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a good God.

This living a lifestyle of intentional gratitude became an unintentional test in the trustworthiness of God – and in counting blessings I stumbled upon the way out of fear.

Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks – from known to unknown – and know: He holds.

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.

The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy – nothing else.

But when Christ is at the center, when dishes, laundry, work, is my song of thanks to Him, joy rains. Passionately serving Christ alone makes us the loving servant to all.

One Thousand Gifts is a book I plan on reading many times. I recommend it to anyone wrestling to find joy in the midst of pain, evil, and even the mundane, and to those who long for life to slow down enough to enjoy it and to enjoy God. Read it. Then grab your notebook and start naming the God’s demonstrations of His love and grace all around you!

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  1. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve been following Ann’s blog/website for almost a year now. I LOVE reading her posts! She has a beautiful gift with words, and God has used her in so many ways to encourage me and to challenge me to be more thankful for the day to day seemingly “ordinary” gifts that God has given me. I’m learning that God is using these “ordinary” gifts (which are really extraordinary and amazing when I think of what my life would be like without God & all of His blessings & gifts) to shape me and mold me more & more into His image. Thanks for your sweet review of this book. I need to get it and read it myself! :O)

  2. This looks really good for the excerpts you posted. I have read the first two books you listed that impacted your life, and fully agree. I have been homeschooling for 15 years and have more years to look forward to teaching my younger children. The older I get, the more I see that God is so much more interested in using us, no matter what we think we bring to Him, than he is concerned with what that “package” we have to offer Him looks like!

    Thanks for sharing this book. Next time I’m in the US, or maybe before if someone can bring it here (!), I will look forward to reading this book.

  3. Dora, I noticed that Amazon offers the book as a Kindle ebook. If you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon also offers a free program that allows you to read an ebook on your computer or other device.

  4. I should also add a couple disclaimers I neglected to include while writing this review in my post-eye doctor, dilated eyes stupor.

    I certainly don’t agree with everything the author says in her book. How many books have any of us read that we totally agree with? We must always read with the truth of Scripture as our measure, embracing what is true and rejecting what is not.

    It is certainly true that we are to give thanks in everything, and that a grateful heart leads to a deeper humility before Christ and a deeper joy in Him.

    It is true that a grateful heart accepts all that God gives us, not counting some of His gifts as blessings and others as curses. He is a good God all the time, and all that He gives to us is good and worthy of our thanks.

    It is true that the grace that God pours into our lives should then gratefully pour out from us and into the lives of others.

    This book spoke these true messages in a real and poignant way.

    Also, as much as I enjoyed Ann’s writing style and the imagery she employed, there were times I wished she would cut to the chase and just say what she had to say. I found myself particularly impatient with the final chapter, longing for a clear and tidy wrap-up of the book’s message, but not really finding it.

  5. I have to admit, I’m surprised at your review. I had never heard of the book until just a few days ago when a man at Church was discussing it with his wife and a few other couples. I guess a group of woen wanted to use it as a study and asked a husband to review it. He actually spoke out against it. I didn’t ask for all the details, but I do remember him mentioning that it has some dangerous elements in the book as well as it mentioning “making love to God”. If you Google this, you will see others have reviewed the book and have found some dangerous elements as well. I think I will wait before reading it until my husband has researched it. Thank you for your review though!

  6. Dearest Pam,

    It is such a treasure to be able to read your posts and to have discovered all of the invaluable resources you have compiled for parenting and instructing your children in righteousness. I just ordered some of your material and my husband and I are loving incorporating it into our home.
    In saying this, I too am a little bewildered by your review of “One Thousand Gifts.” After reading your first blog about it and hearing about it from a dear friend, I decided to recommend it to another friend without reading it. As I was about to email her some information about it, the Holy Spirit nudged within my heart to read some reviews on it before sending the email. In doing so, I came across this review:
    It basically refers to the book as a pantheistic portrayal of God and His essence being within nature itself rather than being separate from i. Also it stated that the author sites many quotations from New Age teachers and philosophers. In a day and age where the name of Jesus is being used too lightly and even portrayed as equal to other “great teachers” I think we must be very leery of reading any type of literature that refers to both Christian principles and other religious ideas and philosophies. I know that you are a very mature Christian, but others may mistake much of what was in the book for truth when in actuality it doesn’t align with Scripture. For example, “Voskamp would likely recoil from the notion that she is promoting pagan nature religion or mysticism. But she does put Christians on the same footing as the pagans by taking them on a journey with her to find God in nature and art. The concepts about God that are distinctively Christian in her book are borrowed from special revelation (the Bible) and brought with her on her journey of discovery. But she never makes a distinction between general revelation and special revelation and by integrating the two so seamlessly, elevates nature to the status of saving revelation. Since God is supposedly in everything, then God can be found in everything.

    Panentheism is found throughout One Thousand Gifts. Since so much of the current evangelical world is being seduced by panentheism, we need to understand what is unbiblical about it. Many are confused and think that panentheism is logical implication from the Christian concept of omnipresence (that God is everywhere). This confusion has left the door open for the New Age to enter the church. That God is not limited spatially (there is nowhere where He is not – Psalm 139:7-10) is a valid, Biblical concept. But panentheism describes an ontological, not spatial category. Ontology is the study of being. It is the study of what something is in its essential nature. Panentheism teaches that God’s essence or being is in everything. This is not the doctrine of omnipresence (though it would affirm it). If God in His essence and essential being is found in everything, then there is nothing unique about Christ (which is precisely the New Age claim). Biblically, nature does not reveal God and His glory in the same way Christ does. Nature reveals God obliquely and only in a condemning, not saving, way. Christ reveals God in His divine nature and speaks God’s inerrant words. Jesus spoke inerrant, binding words that will be our judge on the last day (John 12:48). The moon does no such thing.

    As an example of her panentheism, Voskamp describes an experience where she finds salvation by gazing at a full moon in a harvested wheat field:

    Has His love lured me out here to really save me? I sit up in the wheat stubble, drawn. That He would care to save. Moon face glows. We are head to head. I am bare; He is bare. All Eye sees me (Voskamp: 115).

    Her experience is described in salvific terms: “It’s dawning, my full moon rising. I was lost but know I am found again” (Voskamp: 118). She claims an “inner eye” that sees God in a panentheistic way: “If my inner eye has God seeping up through all things, then can’t I give thanks for anything? . . . The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible” (Voskamp: 118). In Romans 1, “seeing” God through general revelation in a way that makes all humans culpable is true for all, not just special enlightened ones like Voskamp.” This excerpt was taken from Bob DeWaay’s review of “One Thousand Gifts”.

    As I said at the beginning of my post, Pam you are WONDERFUL and I glean so much wisdom, encouragement, and insight from your posts and resources. I am so thankful for the many ways God uses you to spread the gospel to others. Please carefully read the review I mentioned of this book so that others can see the fallacy found within it and not be deceived by the enemy.

    In Christ’s Love,

  7. Thank you for this review Pam. For those who have concerns about the final chapter, this link may prove helpful… I too found this book highly helpful. I found myself wrestling right alongside Ann and growing by her insights as she expressed with greater beauty and depth than I ever could what seemed to be my own struggling heart. After reading it the first time, I bought the audio version and listened to Ann tell her story once more. God continues to use this book and Ann’s blog posts, and the grace journal I now happily keep, to encourage me to enjoy His love and grow in gratitude to Him. I’ve read many segments to my husband and children who also have begun to keep grace journals. I highly recommend this book!

  8. Thanks, Leanne, for your comment and concern. It’s good to carefully evaluate anything we read or hear, and to weigh its message against God’s Word. I certainly plan on reading the book again, and will look for the elements that have been criticized. I certainly am not condoning pantheism, but I don’t believe Ann Voskamp is either. But I will read it again with this concern in mind.

    I can’t take time to look for it now because we’re working on a getting a book out the door to the printer today, but I remember a statement in the book that I felt made it quite clear that the author was not equating God and nature. She is simply helping us open our eyes to the many manifestations of God’s grace that surround us everyday, everywhere, a grace that should move us toward greater thankfulness, and a deeper love and trust of our Savior.

    Thanks for your comment, and I would encourage those who may read the book to keep your concerns in mind as they read.

  9. So glad to see you feature Ann’s book here. It is among the most beautiful books I’ve held in my hands, one that I return to again and again. It is a book that I’ve recommended and purchased for many friends and family members.

    Ann surely sees the beauty in the moon — and the stars and the snow fort and the soap suds and the slips of cheese — and she certainly gives thanks for them. But I have only and ever known Ann to write and speak of a saving faith that came through Christ. These other things? They are what illuminate the glory of Christ all around us. “I am all eye, seeing through life as glass to God.” (209)

    May God bless us all as we open our eyes to the wonder of His presence. And may everything we see, eat, do … be unto the glory of God, and a reminder of the greatest sacrifice, His Son, Jesus Christ.

    (A pleasure to “meet” you, Pam.)

  10. I’ve been surprised to see all this controversy come out about Ann’s book. I personally think some of the critics are taking things out of context and that is why they are grossly misunderstanding her. Leanne – I read that link you posted but to be honest, I felt is was very flawed. I have been aware of the Emergent church and the new age theologies for some time but I in no way see that in Ann’s writings (book OR blog). My concern is that people are so freaked out about avoiding those errors in theology that they start seeing it everywhere – even where it’s not. The author of that review continually twisted what she said in the book and put meanings behind her words that I simply don’t think were there. Her “moon” story for example. She never said, as the author of that article implied, that she was saved by a harvest moon. On her blog she always speaks of being saved by the blood of Christ alone. Now we all have a place where we first came to a saving faith – maybe it was a church pew or in our home – but certainly someone can come to Christ outside under a moon. Just because she writes in a poetic style (that maybe some don’t understand) doesn’t mean she was giving the moon credit for salvation. We don’t have people accusing us of saying a church pew saved us just because that’s where it first took place. I felt like the author of that article did that same thing time and again with every quote he pulled from the book. I love what Jennifer quoted in the comments above from Ann’s book: “I am all eye, seeing through life as glass to God.” (209) That is what I saw Ann’s heart to be – “seeing God in everything” doesn’t mean you are claiming God is IN the tree or the moon (or the cheese) 🙂 – simply those are the ways we see His love in our life – His gifts to us!

  11. I’m on my fourth time through this book and certainly would not be if I found it to be pantheistic. One of the great values I found in the book, among many, is that Ann clearly points to God’s Word as the lens through which we need to see and understand this life we’ve been given. After quoting a number of passages that communicate that God does speak via His creation to a certain extent (see Psalm 19: 1-3 and Romans 1:20 for examples), she writes plainly that it is only in His Word that we have “blade words that kindly cut the tissue back to where soul and spirit join, tenderly laying bare the intents of the heart.”…she continues on page 87 to say: “To read His message in moments, I’ll need to read His passion on the page. Only the Word is the answer to rightly reading the world, because The Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, ‘I know. I know.’ The passion on the page is a Person, and the lens I wear of the Word is not abstract idea but the eyes of the God-Man who came and knows the pain. How does the Word read the world?”

    Another great value is that she helped me grow in my understanding of the heights and depths of the great love of my Savior by encouraging me to see and count His gifts when my eyes have all to often focused on the brokenness found in this world. God has made us physical beings in a physical world…is it not right to see these things as gifts from God’s hands? I have not seen in Ann’s writings (taken in context) or in the testimony of her life any attempt to communicate that the gifts ARE God, but always a pointing to God Himself as He reveals Himself in His Word and as we receive all He gives as grace from His hand. She wrestles with a depth and honesty I found incredibly helpful in my own Christian walk. It is her love for God’s Word and her desire to grow in her understanding of it and to be conformed into the likeness of Christ that draws me to her writings.

    She encourages people to open their eyes to the grace of God, to love His Word, to grow in thankfulness to Him (not some generic Him, but the God of the Scriptures), to walk in humility and service to the King of all kings who rescues and redeems and loves His children passionately. That is indeed dangerous material! I hope everyone dares to read it and live it out for the glory of God.

  12. I’m getting close to finishing the book, and have really appreciated what she has to say. She is very flowery in her descriptions, but that is stylistic, and doesn’t make her a nature-worshipper.

    Here is the direct quote from the book. She clearly refutes pantheism.

    “Is worship why I’ve run for the moon? Not for lunar worship, but for True Beauty worship, worship of the Creator Beauty Himself. God is present in all the moments, but I do not deify the wind in the pines, the snow falling on hemlocks, the moon over harvested wheat. Pantheism, seeing the natural world as divine, is a very different thing than seeing divine God present in all things. I know it here kneeling, the twilight so still: nature is not God but God revealing the weight of Himself, all His glory, through the looking glass of nature. I had told it once to a questioning son that theology is but that born of “theos” and “logy”–God and study–and theology is to study God. I had always thought of the hefty concordances on the high shelf in the study, but isn’t this, too, the deep study of the Spirit God? The revelation of God over the farm? (110)

  13. This book is powerful and inspiring! My heart fell more in love with Jesus as I journeyed alongside Ann. Mark 5 says, “…every healthy tree bears good fruit…” and that we will know and discern things of the spirit by there fruit. I have known people have read this book and have given their lives to Jesus, people who were in complacency have read this book and now have a deep burning to know Jesus more and share Him with the lost, and for me; I’m now more aware of His presence wherever I am, my eyes have been opened on a whole brighter light. I read Ann’s blog daily and it always leads me to Jesus and His goodness. I would recommend this book to anyone and have given away as gifts to many! 🙂

  14. Thanks to you all those who have posted comments … I can only hope that those who visit here read all of them, and do not get sidetracked by the perverting review quoted above.

    Finding “error” in another’s writings may make for great attention getting, but should be tempered by the fact that Bob DeWaay was removed from the ministry of his church, and perhaps his tone was tempered negatively by his suffering from alcoholic hepatitis, gained after a long battle that consisted of consuming 2 or 3 bottles of vodka every day.

    This is not the source of “Biblical truth” upon which I would rest any judgement of Ann’s sharing of her “Holy Experience.” I have read “One Thousand Gifts” through twice and am on my third reading now. I have given copies to my two daughters [no that’s not a sexist comment, I have no sons], and to a number of friends.

    As a alumnus of both conservative [evangelical Anglican] and liberal [United] seminaries in theology, and in Rural and Small Town Ministry, I find Ann’s book brings confirmation of my faith, and touches my heart and soul with every reading, and with every visit to my

  15. … rural routes and roots.

  16. Pam, thank you so much for your wonderful review of One Thousand Gifts…I, too, believe her book is already becoming a life-changing book for me, too…not only have I read the printed copy of her book, but I downloaded the audio version of Ann reading her book, and I have listened to it over and over for several weeks…God has really used Ann’s soothing voice and rich Scripture references to comfort me in ways only God knows…what a blessing!

  17. I have only gotten as far as chapter one in One Thousand Gifts, and I read Ann’s blog daily, as I unwind before bed and feel it draws me closer to the Lord. I am by nature a bit cynical when it comes to “best sellers”, for the reason, “If the whole world loves it, what is wrong with it?” So after reading the blog for several months, I purchased the book, funny enough…after reading the above review citing Romans 8 in a critique, I have to smile, because it was really in response to Romans 8 that I thought it so important to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness, so as to not let the sin of not being thankful run it’s course in my household, hence I purchased the book. I am grateful for happening upon the negative reviews as well as the positive, and will be on the watch as I read the book. Thank you all for your comments.

  18. Thanks for your truthful review of Ann’s book, Pam. I have to say that I am deeply disturbed by the comments above suggesting One Thousand Gifts is an example of panentheism. For those who simply rely on another’s review and take their opinion as your own, my advice is to read the book and decide for yourself. I have just finished the book and will read it and reference it and recommend it time and again. Throughout the entire book, there is constant reference to scripture and the truths of God’s Holy word. How anyone could mistake this wonderful book to be misleading and/or New Age is truly baffling. It saddens me to think that in this day and age when Christians should be loving & supporting one another, their remains a whole lot of finger-pointing and criticism. This book has ministered to me in so many wonderful ways and is deepening my walk with the Lord. I have and will continue to recommend it highly.

  19. This book will go on my list of “Books to Read Every Year,” as well as “Books to Give as Gifts.” I wasn’t planning on starting my own “1000 gifts” list, but by the time I got to the end, I decided to give it a try myself.