I’ll never forget my first encounter with Ann Voskamp and her book One Thousand Gifts. It is no secret that I love this author and her writings. I’ve written about my love for Ann many times before now.
I remember sitting in Barnes and Noble, book in hand, settled deep into an overstuffed chair. I opened One Thousand Gifts, a gift from my sister, and began to read words that line by line, page by page changed my heart and changed life. Instantly absorbed in Ann’s words of hope, and joy, and thanksgiving, I sat and read transfixed.
I remember, distinctly, the passage that broke my heart wide open. Referring to her camera as a hammer, Ann writes about her husband finding her spellbound by a plate of grated cheese:
“When he comes in from the barn, the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight. It is true. I do feel foolish. I mean, it’s curls of mozzarella and cheddar piled high in a pond of golden day. And I’m changing the settings for macro, pulling in for a close-up frame. He’s fed 650 sows with one strong arm this morning, flicked on a welder and melded steel. It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him.
“I like finding you just like this.” He wraps one arm around my bowed middle, draws me close and up into him strong.
“Crazy like this?” I blush silliness, and he brushes close with four-day stubble. He laughs.
“Perfect like this.” He nods toward the cheese plate. “You being happy in all these little things that God gives. It makes me very happy.”
Happy in all these little things that God gives. Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese. That I am, and it’s wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs. Me! Changed! Surprised by joy!
Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap, the gift given: joy.” ~ From One Thousand Gifts pg. 56-57 ~
Despite the public world around me, I poured out tears of knowing, tears of longing, over these words that stripped me bare before God.
I saw in these words my husband, Chris, and me like we were the ones in this story. I could see this being him, and I wanted, so badly for this to be me, but I knew that it wasn’t. These words, spoke to me of something my heart was desperate for. To be found happy. In the eyes of my husband, in the eyes of my own heart, in the eyes of my God, happy.
Chris had told me, years ago, in the newlywed days of our marriage, “Jen, I don’t need you to be perfect. I just need you to be happy.”
I knew he was telling the truth. For Chris, to find me happy is to also find me perfect.
I remember hearing his request. I remember finding it impossible. What does he mean, happy? What does that look like? I can pretend, and masquerade happy, at least for a time, but true happiness? Sustaining, unshakeable happiness, the kind of happiness to which he was referring? I didn’t know how to do that, to be that kind of happy.
Time passed, and I struggled. Always wanting to be happy. Always striving, grasping, and trying to make it so. When I read Ann’s words, and my heart cried, “Yes, Chris, I get it now. And, yes, I want that. Oh, how I want this too.”
What followed in Ann’s book, and in my life, was an awakening to happy, to joy, to hope, and thanksgiving. A realization that true happiness flows from a thankful heart, a life of what Ann calls “Thanksliving.” Of living in the love of God, of living in love with God, of seeing God’s love and grace in each and every aspect of my life.
For a while now, I’ve felt the change, the overall switch to happy, the overall switch to joy. I’m learning and growing, and so often I fail, but more and more I see it. Last weekend, perhaps for the first real time, my love, my Chris, saw it too.
On a whim, we piled our girls in the car and ventured out on an early spring afternoon to the city of Chelsea, MI and a store called Mule Skinner Boots.
For quite some time Chris has been on the hunt for a pair of cowboy boots. I love being married to a cowboy so when we read about this store online and discovered that it stocked over 3,000 pairs of genuine boots, we decided to go and check it out.
We found the store, nestled into the quaint and charming main street of Chelsea, and went inside. The staff, warm and welcoming, made us feel right at home. As Chris roamed the aisles in search of his perfect pair of boots, I wandered into the women’s boot section, curious to see their display.
Knowing, my affinity for footwear, Chris instructed the kind saleswoman helping us to, “Keep an eye on her.”
He knows me so very well, for as I meandered the aisles, a special pair of boots caught my eye. I like to say, that I didn’t find the boots, the boots found me. I’m not kidding; it was love at first sight.
I think Chris knew, by the look in my eye, that he was done for, and sure enough, less than an hour later, we were headed home, with two pairs of boots in tow.
As Chris strapped our girls into their seats, I slipped my feet into the luscious leather of my new boots. The whole way home I was giddy and so very much in love. In love with my boots, my husband, my life.
One of the precious lessons Ann’s book has taught me is that in these moments of love for things that make our hearts soar, for our loved ones, for precious moments of life, our love for all of this harkens back to our love for God and His love for us.
Chris looked at me, his smile wide, and said, “I love it when you’re happy.”
Hearing these words, from him, from him, made my heart swell to a new depth of joy, for I knew in that moment that it was happening, that it had happened, that he was seeing me now, as the Farmer saw Ann, curled and hunched over her plate of cheese. “Crazy like this. Perfect like this. Happy like this.”
I smiled back, my crooked smile, looked him in the eye, and again, again, I fell in love. Because this is how to be happy. This is how to find joy that permeates, even in the hard, the sad, and the dark.
Joy is given, and happiness is found in moments, (and cheese, and cowgirl boots). Moments of Thanksgiving. Moments of falling, again and again, in love with God.