Ann Voskamp on

The hour drive it takes to get to the lake on a Sunday afternoon, I think of the Sunday morning sermon.

The preacher was preaching pure gospel, how to be born again.

Twenty-five years he’s been preaching it in our little country chapel, to the hog farmers, the corn-croppers, the mothers with babies in arms.

How you can’t work for it, angle for it, or jockey for it —

You can’t earn God’s love. You can only turn towards God love.

When we all unpile, the little girls run and cousins squeal and holler happy at the water’s edge.

My mama and I stand there, toes in sand and the wind blowing back hair —

Our faces turned straight into the sun.



It’s the gift, that’s what the preacher said.

Salvation is the gift, the one wrapped in God taking on skin, laying His bare love out for the world, arms spreading to the very ends of the limbs of the tree of life.

There is their giddy laughter.

There is their young, wild running.

There is my mama smiling.

There is that singular sea gull writing across the sky. These are gifts. They beg praise to Him.

Holy joy lies in the habit of murmuring thanks to God for the smallest of graces.

Sure, I mess it up and gripe a thousand times, but just like you keep doing the laundry, you just keep beginning fresh again — The habit of thanksgiving is the one habit to wear for a lifetime.

And the thing is, really —

There is only one gift — the one ocean of Christ that falls as rain over us in a thousand ways.

Christ is the offering and salvation is the gift and repentance is what makes us recipients of grace.

Christ is the gift. Christ is the bridge Home. Christ is our joy. How can I forget this, ever stop giving thanks for Him alone?

Happiness is not getting something — but being given to Someone.

Communion with God is possible anywhere.

Yeah, it’s wild, but you’d better believe it, because that’s what believing is: Communion with God is possible anywhere.

A million little things will happen this week — and there are always really only Two Choices:  You get to decide whether you want to Complain.  Or whether you want Communion.

Life’s complicated. That’s clarity:  Complain . . . or Communion.

Some pundit sipping carbonated knowledge said it somewhere: Reality – Expectations = Happiness

The equation supposedly goes like this:  if your reality is greater than your expectations, then you’re happy.

[Reality (25) – Expectations (6) = Happiness (19)]

But if your expectations turn out to be greater than your reality, then you’re unhappy.

[Reality (25) – Expectations (35) = {Un}Happiness (-10) ]

There’s the beach, us at the edge, and there’s the figuring, figuring life out:

Your Reality in Christ is that you’re 100% saved, redeemed, accepted, carried, cared for, watched over, provided for, comforted, loved. Christ isn’t just sort of for you, Christ is 100% for you your Reality is 100% safe in Him.

As for expectations — your expectations have a direct correlation on your irritations. The higher your expectations, the greater your irritations.

Mama’s watching the girls run down the shore and she’s about told it to me as many times as the waves keep lapping the shore: Expectations kill relationships.

Your Expectations in Christ are that you don’t deserve anything, can’t earn anything, don’t merit anything — your expectations are 0% in and of the flesh. It’s all grace.

The formula for life turns out to be blessedly simple:

Reality in Christ (100%) – Expectations (0%) = A Happiness — that has nothing to do with what Happens

The waves just keep coming and they can.

I turn to my Mama, the water washing up over our toes.

The whole sea’s rushing up to meet the feet turned and surrendered . . .


And there’s the Father always there, catching . . .

all this happiness —

just in Him —

right into last light.

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You can’t earn God’s love. You can only turn towards God love. {Tweet this!}

Q4U: Is life feeling a bit messy for you right now? Are you finding it hard to give thanks? Find happiness? Receive Grace? Give Grace? So what do you think — how can you dare to be grateful, right where you are? Christ is 100% for you!

  • Jas

    You can’t earn Gods love, you can only turn toward Gods love. It speaks volumes, I do often let doubts creep in the negative self worth why would God love me, what do I do to deserve his love etc its sometimes hard to grasp. but as you put it, his love is already there regardless I just have to believe and embrace his love. Turn towards Him as He has me, always has carried me and will continue to do so. Thank you Ann for the great and important reminder.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Jas, He loves you, He loves you, a thousand times He loves you! Believe it, sister! And He stretches wide His arms and offers us eternity through that Cross. Reaching over and squeezing your hand, beautiful Jas. He’s got you.

  • Kris Camealy

    Turning towards His love today, tucking that bit of truth in and holding on tight to it. What grace it is to know it doesn’t depend on me, I don’t have to work for it, beg for it, perform for it–just turn towards it, just turn towards Him and let Him wrap me in it.

    Thank you Ann. I always appreciate the reminder. How prone I am to forgetting His love.

    ((Love you, my friend))

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Oh, friend, so with you today. Remembering, the grace we give ourselves comes first from God, because of His offer of grace through the Cross of Christ. And because of Jesus, nothing we can do can will make Him love us more — astonishing grace. May we never get over it, Kris! Sending so much love your way…

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Thank you for taking me to the beach with you in your beautiful pictures…they make my heart smile. Complain or Communion…what will my choice be today? That makes it amazingly simple. I pray that I will keep growing in the habit of Thanksgiving! I love your equation 100% Jesus minus the expectations…again, amazingly simple. Thanks for the encouragement to keep my eye on Jesus; stop trying to earn anything, but instead revel in the beauty of the gift of grace…

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Eyes on Him with you, Bev. That Jesus would take me and never let me go, that blood was shed for my sins, that I’ve been grafted into God’s family — staggering grace, indeed!

      • Bev @ Walking Well With God

        I didn’t know how to contact you personally and directly…I’ve read of your work with Preemptive Love Coalition and I’ve tried to approach them about venturing into Pakistan (where ISIS is making deadly inroads). I work and support a Christian School for orphans and destitute children there and desperately need a group like Preemptive Love to come alongside us…perhaps be a fiscal sponsor until we have enough funds to register for non-profit status ourselves. I would love to talk with you more…if you are able, please contact me at my email address. So thankful you have a heart for what’s going on in the Middle East…most in the US don’t know about the atrocities over there…Blessings,

  • Angela

    I love this quote: “The habit of thanksgiving is the one habit to wear for a lifetime.” Can someone PLEASE turn this quote into one of the beautiful images I truly enjoy sharing with friends and family and printing for the walls in my home? :-)

    • Sue

      Check out the site ” wallwords”. Create your own wall graphics!

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Ann, thank you for such a beautiful post today, for such a glowing reminder. It’s amazing that I am reading your post just literally after I commented on another blog about how, when I was younger, I was not practicing communion, but proffering complaining. The Bible calls it grumbling. When you think about it, that is a pretty staggering and selfish thing to do, for one lavished such as I lavished with grace, for a wretch such as I flooded with the oceans of Christ’s love in salvation. Yes, through no merit of my own, I had been showered in His love. And if that were not enough, I had also been showered by Him with so many gifts. So to remind myself of His grace, His goodness, His gifts, I started to keep what I called a joy journal. And daily, on those pristine pages (pages that I thought were empty, just like my grumbling soul), I began to record my joy–I wrote daily to God in praise and thanksgiving about the many blessings that He had given me, the many gifts. Besides salvation, one of His greatest gifts to me was my daughter when I was forty. The thought of having her was a shock to my system, and an upheaval of my selfishness. I did *not* want to be pregnant at forty. But daily, as I would look to the Son, He showed me what an undeserved gift she really was….and showed me the multitude of undeserved blessings with which He had lavished my life. How could I *not* sing His praises in surrendered satisfaction. What you are also saying about expectations is absolutely true. And yet, the more I wrote, the more joy I found through His grace, the more of His love I expected to experience, despite my undeserving. And I have found, just like you, He has never disappointed. Oh thank you, sweet Ann for such a grace-filled reminder. We need to remember every, single day of our lives to turn toward the Son, because (amazingly!), we are prone to forget !!! Bless you, dear one, for your love for the Son!

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Lynn! Thank you for sharing, sister. God just bless you abundantly today with more of Himself!

    • Penny

      Isn’t it miraculous Lynn? As Ann summed it up, He loves us.” Which also means to me He knows what’s best for us. Thank-you for sharing with us your heart……


      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Amen, Penny. So true. And in my case, the Lord knew it was best for me (despite my age at forty) to have a child. How I thank the Lord for her! Thank you for reaching out to me.

        • Penny

          You are more than welcome Lynn,

          Take Care,


          • Lynn D. Morrissey

            Hope to chat again. Thank you sweet Penny.

    • Beth Williams

      I was/am a grumbler some. To change my attitude I started a “Thankful Journal”. I would list ALL items I was thankful for from God, Home in Heaven, to electricity, walking, brain, pens, pencils, etc. Then daily I would write down the thanks for the day. It may be Friday, work over, weekend here, nice weather. In that way I taught myself to think of the blessings God gave me and not complain!

      P.S. my parents had me at 40 also!

  • Angela

    I love this quote: “The habit of thanksgiving is the one habit to wear for a lifetime.” Can someone PLEASE turn this quote into one of the beautiful images I truly enjoy sharing with friends and family and printing for the walls in my home? :-)

  • Penny


    What a wonderful perspective and it’s really not so complicated the way you helped to sum it up , “You can’t earn God’s love.” Period

    I am grateful for the Lord’s comfort, guidance, His Love and grace.

    Bless you Ann and thank-you for the in depth beauty you put into words…..


    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Yes, Penny. And the truth of it? Lays this sister right low and I whisper thanks to Jesus for you. We’ll keep pressing on to Jesus together.

      • Penny

        Thank-you so much…….Ann


  • joy thacker

    Thank you Ann, such a fresh word for the greatest love story ever. Much joy from reading your toughts today. Caught myself grumbling too much lately. Complaining or communion — beautiful, simple, memorable.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Joy, so with you friend. Forward, together.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    As one who’s strived to live up to others’ expectations for most of her life, this truth is freeing. Though I’ve known it for years, learning that 1) I don’t have to live up to others’ expectations, and 2) Jesus loves me no matter what has been a slow, thought-retraining process. It’s truly an amazing realization when we come to embrace Jesus’ unchanging love for us. He loves us . . . just because. I want to spend the rest of my days thanking Him for those small graces.

    Loved this post (and your pictures, as always), Ann.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Crazy grace that we all get to be down in the trenches together, leaning on His everlasting arms right with you, ((Jeanne ))

  • Jae

    Thank you for your beautiful, inspiring, encouraging words that mean more to me than you will ever know:). They are seeing me through the absolute darkest time in my life when I am going through a horrible divorce from a man that I love so deeply, but CANNOT be with anymore because of the abuse and addiction that has laid waste to our marriage and family for far too long. My girls and I are finally rescued and God has saved us from that dangerous situation, but sometimes it feels as if we’ve been harpooned to a very lonely island and we are so incredibly lonely and lingering out there on our own…..It was lonely before living a lie of a marriage and hiding the dark secrets inside, but now that we are on our own and everyone knows the truth, the loneliness, guilt, shame, and depression are almost more than I can bear. On the days when I feel like I need strength to simply breathe one more breath, I read and re-read your posts and they are oxygen to my soul. I honestly can’t even think one day into my future without feeling a panic attack coming on, so please keep my little ladies and I in your prayers……

    • Bev @ Walking Well With God

      I have walked a similar road to yours…not exact, but I know abuse. I never thought the weeping of the night would turn into joy in the morning, but it did. I did, however, walk for a long time in the desert and it was there that I let go of my husband’s hand and put my hand in God’s and He drew me near in all my pain. So many times I just called out to God and to Jesus. He heard the groanings of my heart and He hears yours. I am lifting you and your precious girls up before Him right now. May He surround you with love, comfort, strength and HOPE! Please seek professional help (medical and counseling) for the panic and depression you are experiencing. I had to…there is no shame in that. Divorce is hell…praying for your recovery!!
      Blessings and ((hugs)),

      • Jae

        Thank you! I am actually in counseling and God even provided a Christian counselor experienced in working with victims of abuse for FREE:). My older daughter is also in counseling that is covered by our insurance, and both counselors are Christians and have been such a blessing. I’ve been walking through this divorce and all of the other hearings that have come along with it (custody, protective order, criminal proceedings, child support, and upcoming divorce) for the past year and I’m so ready to experience the “joy that comes in the morning”. I keep praying, believing, and waiting expectantly for that because I am so incredibly weary of it all…..thank you for your prayers and encouragement!!!

        • sue

          Jae: Try to get the book “Practicing the Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. God never intended for us to “figure out” everything for all time… right NOW… nor did He intend for us to bring all of our fear, worry, regrets and anxiety about the future and the past into each moment. YOU of all people certainly have a REASON to do this… but my hope for you is to just live in THIS moment. Just “being” with what is in front of you at that moment is a skill that has taken me deeper in my faith and given me that “…peace that passes understanding….” It also is demonstration that we are truly TRUSTING God to miraculously care for us! It doesn’t mean we don’t stop thinking, working, planning, etc…. it just means we learn to do it without a knot in our stomach because we know His “manna” is enough… for THAT DAY….

          • Jae

            Thank you for your encouragement!! I will certainly look for that book for additional guidance and inspiration. I appreciate your prayers:)

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Oh, Jae, tears streaming here, friend. I am praying with you and your girls, an army of us, and we won’t stop… O Lord, hear our cry.

      • Jae

        Wow! Thank you so much, you don’t know how much it means to know that you and others are lifting us up in your prayers even without ever meeting us! We truly are in the same body of Christ and I appreciate you being His hand extended….

    • Penny

      I don’t know what more I can say that hasn’t been already. But please know that you and your daughters are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope that you find peace as you move forward.
      All the best to you…

      • Jae

        Penny- that really means a lot to me! To know that there are so many people lifting me and my little girls up in their prayers is humbling:). Thank you so much!

    • Laurie E

      My daughter has been going through a divorce for over a year… and more yet to go. I lift up prayers for you and your daughters as I do for my daughter and her son. The loss is hard, and the legal process adds layers of weariness. But you are not alone, and Jesus says to you (in Matthew 11) when you have no more strength: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
      Today I shared with my daughter this encouragement from Joel 2:25: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten”.

      • Jae

        Thank you so much! My father has shared the verse in Joel 2:25 with me so many times and he’s assured me that God is faithful, that He wastes nothing, and that one day the girls and I will experience peace and even (gulp!) HAPPINESS:). It’s hard to imagine, but I know we will reach a place of healing, restoration, and joy, and I anxiously await that time. It’s strange because I know the months pass quickly, but the minutes are LONG….and I really am weary of the process at this point. I desperately want to be “over it” and “over him” so that I can move on and hopefully, God-willing, one day be blessed with a Christian man in my life who will treat me with respect and love my little girls as his own. I’ll be praying for your daughter as well!

    • Beth Williams

      Prayers for healing for you and your children!! May God bring peace & contentment to your heart, mind and soul! I am praying for God to supernaturally come to you now and wrap you in His loving arms!
      Please come now to Jae and her girls bend low and hear their plea for peace and friendship! Help them to heal from the abuse and remove the devil from their lives entirely!! Help them to reach out to you daily!

      • Jae

        Thank you for your prayers!

  • Rebecca Jones

    What revelation! Complaining or communion, I will definitely work on this. What a wonderful article full of wisdom. Thank you, Ann

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Rebecca, God’s got us. More love than these thin letters can hold, sister!

  • LaRay Williams Mason

    It’s sooooo easy to complain instead of commune. This post is PERFECT, today, Ann! I’m having health issues that just won’t stop…with few answers. Thank you so very much for your post. I’ve read this one several times!!! I enjoy my daily “communes” through A Holy Experience! It was exciting to see you here, also!!! EUCHARISTEO!!!

  • Katie King

    Thanks, Ann. Came upstairs to take a break and not yell at my kids and found your sweet words…complain or communion. Taking this moment to rest in Him. Blessings!

  • Nancy T.

    Ann, you have taught me about the blessing of giving thanks – in all things – all the time – no matter what the circumstances. It has changed my life!!! Because of that, it has also changed the lives of many around me! In less than 2 years, I have written 3,400 + notes of thanksgiving in my notebooks. JOY (Jesus Over You) fills my life, to overflowing! You have an amazing gift of encouragement and I pray that our God will continue to bless you, super-abundantly with His gifts!!! Huge thanks to you, and to all your precious family!!! Amen!

  • Laurie E

    Today I really needed SIMPLE. And life is so complicated—partly because there are so many choices that the world offers us… Sometimes it seems that the world “programs” us (and our kids) to expect unlimited choices everywhere we turn. I become so overwhelmed with so many choices and so many unmet expectations. After reading your post today, I remembered back when I was homeschooling my oldest (who was easily distracted–an understatement) and the perfect advice I got from a learning expert: keep it simple, and one way to do that is use the binary system. In other words, keep the choices between #1 or #2 (examples: do you want to wear jeans or a skirt? do you want to start with math or science? do you want to do an oral or written report?). It feels like freedom for me today… to know I can choose what to do with God’s gifts: complain or communion. It is truly amazing.

  • Dawn

    This is a truth that we need to keep reminding ourselves, over and over. Christ is all. We have everything in Him, and it’s a beautiful thing. Thank you for these wise words, Ann. I was blessed to read them.

  • Mikki Jo Polly Howard

    Yesss Yesss….God’s grace and praising Him! This is what He has tucked into my spirit all week. Beautiful post!

  • Katherine Alviar

    I needed to hear this. Thank you Ann! God bless you more!

  • Kaye Hall

    Thank you for grace! Thank you that I am 100% saved, carried, cared for, watched over, provided for, comforted and loved by Jesus! Thank you that my happiness has nothing to do with what happens. Walking in His grace.

  • Paige Estes

    God, strip away my expectations, my prideful entitlement, my ungratefulness. I love my life circumstances. YOU make me happy in the deepest sense. I choose to depend on you, not others, to fulfill me and make me happy. Give me your power to accept, receive and give out GRACE. Thanks so much for sharing, Ann.

  • Beth Williams

    Such beautiful pictures! I love the beach! It is so calming and I can talk to God there!! Each Sunday our church does communion. We have a song then a communion meditation, then come the passing of the bread & cups. Each time I tear up telling God I don’t deserve His love. I’m only a sinner saved by His grace and mercy! Loved the equation of Reality-expectations= happiness. We should not expect anything in this life. God said in this life you will have trouble, but rejoice I have overcome this world and love you all with a Crazy love!!