For 30 weeks Ann Voskamp’s book has earned a place on the New York Times bestseller list – and her neighbors don’t have a clue. People at her church found out only because the pastor shared his congratulations the first week.
And now the mail lady knows because her niece told her about a book she was reading called One Thousand Gifts. The mail lady happened to recognize the name of the author as the woman on her route who rarely leaves her farm in southwestern Ontario. The woman whose life is intentionally the same as it has always been, except for the occasional interview with a reporter and a mention on national TV by Kathie Lee Gifford, who tells the “Today” audience that the book is life changing.
“I never thought anyone would read it,” said Voskamp, adding that she and her husband hoped her story of writing down 1,000 things she was grateful for would at least sell enough copies to earn the advance from the publisher. It did. Before the book was even released.
Now 337,000 copies are in print, and it recently won an Award of Merit from Christianity Today. A free One Thousand Gifts app helps people track their gifts on their mobile devices, and Voskamp’s blog – aholyexperience.com – is no longer a private way for the shy woman to process her thoughts and find quiet time with God. She suddenly has an audience.
Most of that audience adores Voskamp, her wisdom and her poetic writing. And they appreciate the glimpses into her life: her struggles with depression and anxiety after the accidental death of her sister; her joy of chasing a harvest moon; her learning to take the hands of God and to trust.
“In some ways, writing is my personal handicap” because I need it to process my experiences, said Voskamp. “Some people can live through experiences once and learn from them. I have to live them twice in order to unpack and unfold the lessons.”
That’s why the mother of six continues to write what she is thankful for, to slow down, to see God’s gifts. “Counting gifts makes me realize who I can count on.”
It also reminds her of lessons she learns and then forgets – something she calls soul amnesia. “My default is not Pollyanna,” Voskamp said. “My default is perfectionism. I see all the mistakes, all the holes.” But gratitude, grace and joy point her to a different way of life, one that is content and in communion with God. “I often think God needs my hands to work but what he needs is for my knees to bend in prayer.”
So, she practices. She finds time to write on the fringes of the day. She prays at set times and between gathering the eggs from the hen house and homeschooling the kids, between the 45-minute drive to the library and writing assignments.
“When you establish time for prayer, you establish who is the priority,” said Voskamp, who attends a non-denominational church and travels for Compassion International, where she contributes to a blog for the ministry that helps children living in poverty.
On one of those trips, she met a pastor who brought clean drinking water to children living at a dump in Guatemala City, and he had dreams of building a recreation and educational center with computer labs, an English academy and a music studio. That pastor can now break ground on the project, thanks to royalties from One Thousand Gifts.
“One Thousand Gifts, a book about thanksgiving now becomes a story of thanks-living,” Voskamp writes in her blog.
And there it is. The woman who gets anxious about travel and about being in the spotlight, the woman who never mentions her success to her neighbors, is quietly changing the world. One gift at a time.