Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A book I tried to avoid, but couldn't.

Half (or more) of the Christian-mommy-blogosphere is talking about One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp, the well-known blogger of A Holy Experience.  Her book, which was released just weeks ago, has been highly anticipated and is already apparently a best-seller.

I'll be blunt and say right off that I didn't want to read the book. See, the author's writing style just doesn't work for me. (And judging by the reviews, I am the only person on the planet who feels this way.)  Where others see "poetic prose," I see odd syntax.  Honestly, it's a little hard for me to read phrases like "my eyes have rolled haughty" or "the radical wonder of it stuns me happy," sentence construction which would earn a red mark on a composition assignment.  Then there are sentences like "I fly  to Paris and learn how to make love to God" which is, grammatically speaking, a perfectly fine sentence, but is way over the top for me. Actually that entire chapter ("the joy of intimacy") is over the top for me.  But enough of that; let's get on to the good stuff.

Anyway, I did buy it.  Last week I was feeling lonely and edgy because the seminarian was going camping for a couple of nights and I was going to be the sole adult in charge at home. I just don't like that. So, I wanted some comforting reading.  I wanted something new.  And I read yet another blog post about it and... went right over to Amazon and placed my order.  It was inexpensive, I got free shipping, and I had it in my hands less than 24 hours after ordering.

And so I started reading, and I found that... it's a good book.  In many places, a very, very good book.

The basic premise is simple, though not easy:  start being grateful for the gifts in your life, and you will see more and more to be grateful for.   You will experience God and your life in a different way. You may find the joy you've been seeking. This idea of hers has been around for a while; you may have seen blog posts with gratitude lists.  Maybe you've posted one yourself.  If not, you can see what that's all about here. I think it is true, that the more we find to be thankful for, the more we will see God, and the good, in our lives.  It's the stopping to see and notice that's so hard to do.

There is more. She quotes Isaiah:
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
 then shall your light rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be as the noonday.
11And the LORD will guide you continually
   and satisfy your desire in scorched places
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:10-11 (ESV)

Yes, the more we give of ourselves to others, even to the point of emptiness, we will be filled.  Fulfilled.  This is good to read on a night when you're exhausted, and anxious, and feel like you've given away too much.

One review I read (don't ask me where, please) included the comment that Mrs. Voskamp is not "someone who's studied theology in a seminary for years" (paraphrased) as a positive about the book.  I like theology students; I'm married to one. But this is not a theology book and it should not be read like one. It's a very personal book about one's woman's experience with God and loss and gratitude. And change. It's raw and emotional and sometimes painful to read.  Her doctrine and theology may not be a perfect fit for yours. But it's her own story.

So after all I'm glad I read the book.  I'm glad I could separate the message from the style.  I still think it's odd that I felt compelled to buy it after I hadn't wanted to.  It's also interesting that just about every word she wrote about worry applies to me right now.  I'm in a sort of worrisome time of life these days.  So it was good. Comforting and convicting:
If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting,
then to choose stress is an act of disbelief... atheism. 
Yikes, right?  Hard to read, hard to think about. 

Oh, and I started my own gratitude list.  I'm not likely to blog it; I enjoy reading others' but it's a little too personal for me to share with the world (small as my blogging world may be).  It's been only a few days but I can see the value in it, particularly when I turn something scary or annoying or worrisome into something to be thankful for.  And that, of course, is the point.


wayside wanderer said...

You are not alone. Her writing style doesn't speak to me, either. I have felt guilty about that fact when everyone else quotes her posts or links them on facebook. I think I must have been passed over when the soft, squishy gene was handed out.

However, I do like gratitude lists and I think doing one for close to 9 years has really helped train me to see the good in my life.

An example of the sort of thing that encourages and blesses me is this quote John Piper tweeted tonight: To manage a life of pain, as a believer in Jesus, remember: This is all the hell you will ever bear. (M'Cheyne)

On an altogether different note, I would be very interested and would enjoy reading a blog post about your bread baking. :)


Sandy said...

I can see why you don't enjoy her writing style, it is very different from yours. I don't see any reason you should feel badly about not liking it, I don't think she would feel badly about your not liking it. I do read her blog...but not every post because it's always heavy and I'm not looking for that every day. I do plan to read the book, but knowing a little of her story from her blog I'm already dreading the sad parts. I think it's important to note, as you did, that this is her story and she's telling it in her voice. It's not meant to be theological, it's simply how she found her way to God and to some peace with the tragedies she has endured. Sometimes people have a great story and it doesn't do anything for us at all; sometimes someone has a great or even a not-so-great story and because it's what we needed to hear, the author gets a lot of credit. I'm also still keeping my list, but I stopped posting about it. I think my journal is a better spot for it. I'm glad you posted this. Even though I love Ann, I think we sometimes need to be reminded that we're all only human.

Alice@Supratentorial said...

I also find her writing style difficult. I often like the message but not the medium. I have been keeping my own gratitude list this year. I have found that very helpful and really eye-opening. I started it back around Thanksgiving before stumbling onto her blog, and now feel a bit late to the party but ah, well, that's not really the point.

I've had her book on my TBR list also as I've thought it's sort of a must read right now if I'm thinking about gratitude. Good to hear that someone else that doesn't always like her style enjoyed the book.

LivingFree said...

Thanks for the review on this book. I also struggle with her writing style, and thought it was just me because of all the rave reviews. I did order the book just this week because I felt the message was worth reading even if I struggle with the writing style.

I also enjoyed your home-school philosophy post. If I stopped to write up a philosophy for my family it would be very similar.