I bought four copies of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. One to keep, one to give to Luke and Sarah, one to give to Curtis and Grace, and one simply to give. This weekend we went to Dallas because I’d been invited to a baby shower for Sarah and Naomi. I planned to give Luke and Sarah their copy, but before I did that, I wanted to get a picture of me with the books to add to Ann’s photo collection. So I took all four copies with me.
Saturday afternoon my sister and I took my camera and the books into my parents’ back yard for the photo shoot. We’d just returned from shopping for a Mother-of-the-Groom dress for her, and we had a smallish window of opportunity before she had to leave for an event. On our way outside we passed through the dining room where my parents, George, Jacob, and my mom’s friend, Madeleine, were eating a late lunch. We said our hellos, explained our mission, and left them to their chicken salad.
Most of our photos involved a lovely old live oak tree and its weathered swing. We also tried some other poses, including some that involved my climbing the tree, and some that involved my lying in the prickly brown grass. Those will not make the album, but they did make us laugh.
When we decided we’d exhausted our non-life-threatening-and/or-neighbor-confusing options, we headed back inside, still laughing. The lunch was long gone, but the group had lingered at the dining room table. I would have breezed right by, but George called me back.
“I was just telling Madeleine about the book,” he said.
I held up a copy. “This book?”
“Yes,” he said. I wondered what he’d told her, since he hasn’t read it yet, but then again, he’s certainly heard no end of me talking about it.
“It sounds wonderful,” Madeleine said in her thick French accent. “Where can I buy this book?”
“You can buy it anywhere,” I said. “Bookstores, online . . .”
“We can give you one of these copies,” George interrupted. He reached for the top book on my stack of four, and as soon as he did, I realized how very right this was. He extended it across the table to her.
“Oh, no!” she insisted. “I will pay you for it.”
In that instant her history flashed before my imagination. Madeleine, who was a teenager when Nazi troops occupied her home town of Alsace, France. Madeleine, who spent her seventeenth birthday in solitary confinement in a concentration camp after she was caught participating in a middle-of-the-night tag team that guided escaped prisoners through the Black Forest. Madeleine who escaped prison herself by slipping through a hedge and jumping into an icy river when out with a work crew and two guards, and who remained active with the French Resistance, later using forged papers to impersonate a German official and rescue her infant nephew who’d been born in a concentration camp. Now sitting at my parents’ dining room table, asking to pay for a book about God’s grace.
“No, you will not pay for it,” I said, smiling at the perfection of this moment — a moment I had almost missed. “Please take it. You’ll absolutely love it.”
She did, gently caressing the title with her weathered hand. “One Thousand Gifts,” she said. “Counting your blessings.”
A few minutes later, Madeleine said her good-byes. To her friend, my mother, whose memories are rapidly deserting her one by one, she said, “Je t’aime, Patsy. Je t’aime avec tout mon coeur.”
“Je t’aime,” Mom responded, placing a fragile arm around her friend’s neck.
Then Madeleine hugged me and said, “Thank you, again, for the book. You need to gain some weight. Five pounds. Just five pounds.”
I laughed. “You’re welcome for the book.”
After she’d made the hugging rounds, she drove away in her little red car with its American flag waving over the window. I looked at my stack of three remaining books and smiled. Gifts for my gifts. My Luke and Sarah. My Curtis and Grace. My ever thoughtful George. And Madeleine, my mother’s dear friend, one who has not only survived, but thrived, a living, breathing picture of eucharisteo.
I thought of her parting words and smiled. “Je T’aime,” I whispered to Jesus. “Avec tout mon coeur.”
Giving thanks in community:
#45 For the kind of grace that could turn Madeleine’s one thousand trials to one thousand blessings
#46 For the reminder that God is always good, even when disaster strikes or evil temporarily wins
#47 For friendships that keep giving long after one friend can’t give anything in return but gratitude
#48 For a precious weekend with many of my beloveds
#49 For Sarah’s improved health, and the sight of her curled up on the couch with One Thousand Gifts first chance she got
For more gift counting, visit Ann Voskamp’s site.