Ann Voskamp's Gift to Her Mother

Mother’s Day is approaching. Maybe you know this because of all of the TV ads telling you to hurry up and buy your mom a gift. Ann Voskamp shares with us an idea for a gift that’s better than anything you can buy.

She keeps it by her Bible. Clay shaped by hands, a pottery jar, there on the kitchen table, always there by her Bible, both open for the taking. I don’t ask her about it.

At the end of a phone call, late spring, leaves unfurling, Mama brings it up. “Ann … the jar.”

I pause at the sink, pause in the scouring, the scrubbing it all away. “Yes, Mama?”

I gave her the jar, thrift-store find, for Mother’s Day last year, filled it with slips of paper.

“I just wanted you to know what it’s meant to me. I pick out one every day … sometimes more.”

The Manitoba maple outside my window glints with coming green, and I watch the light ponding across the floor, smile for Mama gathering … “Things in that jar I never would have remembered … things I didn’t know you remembered.”

There were Jesus’ words read on Sunday, the living it out during the week now: Give thanks anyways—do this in re-membrance of Me.

God says to give thanks, to do this in remembrance of Him—because in the remembering to give thanks, it’s our broken places that are re-membered— and we are the ones made whole.

A joyful heart is good medicine and our broken bones can be re-memembered when we remember to thank a good God.

Standing at the sink, watching the spring winds bring hope and life again, I remember sitting in the sun of a May day last year, writing out those slips of paper … dipping back into pool of memories and specifically winding them in and writing them down, line by line.

Thank you, Mama, for all the nights you sang me to sleep, me so scared of dark and of dying in my sleep, and you so tired. You never got frustrated with me… just kept rubbing my feet and singing … Thank you. 

Thank you, Mama, for quizzing me on all of the dates for Mr. Manoryk’s world history tests … I passed!

Thank you, Mama, for still loving me, always loving me, even when I was a saucy 12-year-old with hair-sprayed bangs who thought she knew what to wear and what to eat and where to go and was really too hard to endure …

I scratched down a sheet with spontaneous gratitude, memories I too had forgotten before pen found page. But gratitude is a magnet, attracting filings of goodness out of the expanse of the past.

I remember having written some of the memories slow … looked through the shadows of the past and remembered the good … and saw how it was happening: Authentic thanks in all things is possible because our God is a God kneading all things together into a bread that sustains. Through hard, lean years—Mama and I, we had been the busted up who had hurt each other, the unlikely still sustained. And we both had lived it, come out the other side of it.

When we stop seeing reasons to give thanks, we stop thinking there are reasons to live.

When we don’t focus on what we can thank God for, we can’t focus on living for God.

Giving thanks can help us want to take the next breath.

“When I read those slips of paper, one little thanks at a time, it’s like—a long hug from you.” Her voice is breaking up and the tender coming leaves outside the window blur a bit in wind, in me brimming. Her brimming. “It’s like the past redeemed. Thank you.”

I can hardly hear her whisper through the feeling. I can see her though, my heart can, my heart can see my mama unfolding each note. I had felt it too as I wrote each memory, line by line: A bit of gratitude for the past goes a long way to redeem the past.

The therapy is in the thanks.

Thanks therapy is God’s prescription for joy.

“Oh, but the thanks is all mine, Mama. All mine.”

Thanksgiving is always the gift back. The late spring winds blow away a bit of the cold, the warmth surely coming.

And there’s this way that one can sit silent with a mama who was brave and gave.

The mama who tried, who could use a thousand thanks for all her worn and comforting grace.

Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife, the home-educating mama to a half-dozen exuberant kids, and author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, a New York Times bestseller, and The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today, she’s a writer for DaySpring, a speaker with Women of Faith, and a global advocate for needy children with Compassion International. Ann loses library books, usually has a sink full of soaking pots, and sees empty laundry baskets rarer than a blue moon.

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