The Point of a Pen

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Nov 21, 2015

“Write out 1,000 things for which you are thankful.”
Ann Voskamp

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought I would tell you about Ann Voskamp. When Evie and I heard her begin to speak in front of 7,000 people, we thought she had a relatively easy life made up of just a few minor speed bumps along the way.

But as she told her story, we realized her message had grown out of something deep inside her soul. And that was a soul that had been pulverized by indescribable pain.

Voskamp was only 4 years old when it happened to her toddling, little sister. Here are her words as told in her book “One Thousand Gifts.” 

“Memory’s surge burns deep. That staining of her blood scorches me, but less than the blister of seeing her uncovered, lying there. She had only toddled into the farm lane, wandering after a cat, and I can see the delivery truck driver sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands, and I remember how he sobbed that he had never seen her. But I still see her, and I cannot forget. Her body, fragile and small, crushed by a truck’s load in our farm yard, blood soaking into the thirsty, track beaten earth. That’s the moment cosmos shifted, shattering my cupping of hands. I can still hear my mother’s witnessing-scream, see my father’s eyes shot white through.” 

How do you ever recover from something like that? On the stage that day she answered that question. Her book also captures her discovery. But it did not come easily!

For years she struggled. Depression. Despair. Hopelessness. Personal battle after personal battle. Preferring to die rather than to live. She wondered if the ache and pain would ever go away. College. Marriage. Starting a family. Even in the middle of great events, her joy evaporated as quickly as it appeared. 

Then one day while sitting at the hairdresser, she saw the woman next to her reading a book titled, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” Gradually an idea was birthed in her soul. What if she made a list of 1,000 things for which she was thankful?

Eventually she realized “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.” And so she started: 1. Morning shadows across the old floors; 2. Jam piled high on the toast; 3. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce. 

On and on she went as she wielded her pen like a sword, writing down her gratitude list. Then life began to change. A friend observed, “You’ve changed.” Voskamp replied, “I have?” Her friend said, “Yes, you have. It’s that list you’ve been writing, isn’t it?” 

Throughout Voskamp’s book, this pig farmer’s wife and mother of six, shares story after story of how her list-making lifted her out of darkness into light. Here are some of her words which she calls “the language of gratitude:”

•Joy is a function of gratitude and gratitude is a function of perspective.
• If you write down three things each day for which you are grateful, you will be 25 percent happier.
• In the micro-moments we can give thanks.
• I want to see beauty in the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.
• The prayers we weave into the matching of socks, the stirring of oatmeal, the reading of stories, they survive the fire.
• Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant  — a seed — this plants the giant miracle. 

That day when we heard Voskamp speak, she held a pen in her hand during her entire message. That visual remains before me to this day.

As Voskamp would say, “Grab your pen like a sword” and capture the reasons in your life for which you are thankful. Who knows? Your list may grow to 1,000 and beyond before you know it.

 The point of a pen really can change everything. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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