Category: Ann Voskamp

Not your average baby gift

baby giftMy nephew and his lovely wife became parents for the first time almost a week ago. Little Dylan Olivia is the first baby of the next generation in my immediate and local family; my son and his sweet wife will bring us the next one come summer.

It’s always a treat to shop for a new little one, everything on the shelves and racks is so sweet and charming: Spend a few minutes in the baby aisle and you’re soon thinking the world isn’t such an awful place. It’s actually filled with tiny reminders that life is a wonderfully renewing force and should be treasured.

At Christmas time when I am getting out my nativity scene or listening to carols that describe the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus, I am nearly always reminded of what strange presents they brought to welcome him to the world. And yes, I know it is highly likely Jesus was a toddler by the time they arrived since the gospel of Matthew describes the event like this:

And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Jesus is called a child here, and the wise men from the East came to a house, not a stable. But all those details aside, they did bring very interesting gifts, none that I would call sweet and charming. They were strange gifts, and I admit when I was a little kid, I was flummoxed for a little while there regarding Frankenstein at the nativity.

Interestingly enough, the gospels don’t explain the meaning of the gifts. Scholars say that those three items: gold (a precious metal), frankincense (a fragrant perfume), and myrrh (an anointing oil), were the standard gifts given to royalty in the ancient world. Apparently, King Seleucus II Callinicus offered these same three gifts to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus, 243 years before Jesus was born.

I doubt the Magi knew then what we now know about the symbolic appropriateness of those gifts. Gold is symbolic of Christ’s divinity—God in flesh. tells us frankincense is obtained from a tree by making incisions in the bark and allowing the resin to flow out, an allusion to Christ’s holiness and sacrifice. And myrrh, a spice used in embalming, was also sometimes mingled with wine to form a numbing, pain-killing drink, the same beverage which Jesus was offered on the cross and that he declined.

These strange gifts weren’t the usual baby gifts, but Jesus wasn’t the usual baby, and I think this is what still amazes me about Christmas. Nothing about the way Christ came was typical or ordinary or expected. The circumstances surrounding his coming were radically different than anyone would have expected them to be. (Note to self: God sometimes does things very different than you would).

We’ve cloaked Christmas in such an array of lovely, comfortably nostalgic traditions that it’s easy to forget how audacious the first Christmas was. Maybe we do need to see Frankenstein at the manger if only to force us into a double-take. This is no ordinary moment…

“He who carved the edges of the cosmos curved Himself into a fetal ball in the dark, tethered Himself to the uterine wall of a virgin, and lets His cells divide, light splitting all white. He gave up the heavens that were not even large enough to contain Him and lets Himself be held in a hand. The mystery so large becomes the Baby so small, and infinite God becomes infant.” – Ann Voskamp.

Look again, friends… What do you see?



Favorite Books of 2011

I had two sad little moments as I mentally went back through the year to tally up the best books I’d read to list on my last post of 2011. The first sad moment? I hadn’t read that many. Ouch. Just typing that makes me wince. I read lots of pages for research in 2011. Thousands of pages, actually. But that’s “work” reading, and this traditional year-end Best Books Of is always about the books I’ve read for pleasure. (Note to self: In 2012, find more time to read for fun.)

The second sad moment? I was hard to please this year. I am sure it was me and not my favorite writers who had issues. I am usually dancing with joy while reading Geraldine Brooks and Kate Morton and Elizabeth Kostova. Cases in point: I loved Brooks’ People of the Book and Morton’s The Forgotten Garden and Kostova’s The Swan Thieves. But I – gasp -didn’t swoon over this year’s Caleb’s Crossing, or The Distant Hours, or The Historian. I languished. Fell asleep at the pages. Actually put The Historian down one-third the way in and picked up something else.

Sad, sad. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Something’s up, though, and I’m going to have to figure out what it is. In the meantime, here is the list of the books I really enjoyed in 2011, and that I highly recommend. 

For an intriguing example of how to grab a reader utilizing a unique point-of-view, I recommend Room by Emma Donoghue. It’s told from the vantage point of six-year-old Jack, a child born to a  young woman kept hidden in a vault-like room by the man who abducted her years before. “Room” is his world, it’s all he knows. He doesn’t know there is more outside the Room and that he is kept hidden from it. The story is, thankfully, not truly about what his mother has had to endure, but how she managed to love him, care for him and educate him in the prison that is her world, without him knowing it’s a prison. You have to suspend some believability when it comes to his language as a narrator. Overall, a fascinating read.
Catching Fire is Book Number Two in the Hunger Games Trilogy; a YA (that’s Young Adult) series that a whole bunch of people my age devoured for reasons I am not quite sure of. I guess intriguing lit is intriguing no matter your age or the age of the protagonist. Not for the squeamish, Catching Fire is set in a dystopic future where cultural mores have gone to Hades in a handbasket. The stakes are high and the appeal to our deepest held moral values is strong. I wish I could say the third book in this series was a fantastic finish. But Mockingjay was one of the books in 2011 that disappointed me. The ending was satisfying but all that stuff in the middle (as in, plot for the number 3 book) failed to impress me. 

For a much less graphic read than either Room or Catching Fire, I highly recommend Chris Fabry’s June Bug. It has the same headlines-kind-of-story about a missing child but without the CSI-SVU-pick-your-initials graphic material unsuitable for tender eyes and ears. From the book’s publisher-supplied description: “June Bug believed everything her daddy told her. That is, until she walked into Wal-Mart and saw her face on a list of missing children. The discovery begins a quest for the truth about her father, the mother he rarely speaks about, and ultimately herself. A modern interpretation of Les Miserables, the story follows a dilapidated RV rambling cross-country with June Bug and her father, a man running from a haunted past.” Great book. 

Crazy Love
by Francis Chan is one of two non-fiction reads that made my list this year – a new thing for me. I usually just list novels as the fave reads. I’ve known for a long time that the way God loves us is unconventional and intense and amazing and perplexing. And that we’re called to love him back the same way – and others, too.  Love is an action, a verb, a perspective, a responsibility, a privilege. We think we know what it is, because we feel it. But love is more than a feeling, right? From the book’s description: “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts—it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis Chan describes it, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.” Cool book.

Perhaps my favorite book – out of all the books I read this year – is Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. It’s the most poetically packaged non-fiction book I think I’ve ever read. So lyrically written, I couldn’t race through the pages; I had to read them slowly, sipping them like a glass of fine sherry. And it wasn’t just the beauty of Ann’s prose that wooed me, but the audacious concept of training my heart and mind to be thankful for a thousand little things. Gratitude is an attitude, but it’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle that, like love, changes everything. When you start to list all the little things you are thankful for, like thumbs and red-throated hummingbirds and warm socks and orange marmalade and misty mornings, you start to rewire your brain to be content with everything you already have – and everything you don’t. A powerful, powerful read. Highly recommend. And do not read it in a hurry. Think glass of sherry, not cup of Tang.

So there you have it. My list of the best of 2011. Here’s to a fine 2012, with many hours of pleasurable reading at its threshold. See you there…

Friday gifts from Ann

I adore the way Ann Voskamp speaks sentences into art. Her blog is the sweetest confection of words to be found and I love getting drunk on prose whenever I visit there.  For your reading pleasure today, I send you to her farmhouse in Canada and her blog post for today, as she pens a love note to the Farmer, her husband. 

She makes me glad I am a writer. . .