Ann Voskamp: "Finding the Way to the Life You've Always Dreamed Of" | Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts and our free, daily meditations with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen, and we can remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God.
Now, let me introduce you to my guest today. Today, I have the privilege of speaking with Ann Voskamp. Ann is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Broken Way, The Greatest Gift, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, and the 60-week New York Times bestseller, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. In her bio, Ann also writes that she’s the wife of, as she says, a very fine farmer – his name is Darryl – and she’s the mother of seven children.
Ann’s a superb writer and poet, but it’s her bare-bones honesty that captivates readers. Central to her writing is her determination to point to Jesus, the very center of her hope.
Ann, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.
Ann Voskamp: What a privilege and an honor to get to be with you. Thank you.
Karen Pascal: Ann, I’m amazed at what a prolific and excellent writer you are. I have to ask, where do you find the time? How do you do it?
Ann Voskamp: Oh, life Is full for all of us. And I think for me, actually, I think it was Henri who said it, something to the effect of, “when we write words, we meet the Spirit of the Word.” And for me, that’s been a very spiritually formational journey. When I pick up my pen and I start to write, when I open up my laptop and sit there with the keyboard, or even with my little typewriter, that process – waiting on the Word, God himself, as I write words – it’s holy space for me.
And I believe that if the words are going to do anything in the heart of the reader, they first have to do something in the heart of the writer. So, for me, the Lord is meeting me as I write, and refining me and speaking to me. And inspirational writing has to come from beyond yourself. It has to be inspired, coming from the Lord. So, it’s really a holy experience for me every time I sit down and write.
Karen Pascal: Well, I could certainly feel that. I’ve just read the book, WayMaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of, and I was so struck by the way you interweave your story, your feelings, and in a sense, you inform it with the word of God as it’s speaking to you.
So, what you just described is certainly… I’d never read a book quite like it, to be honest with you. And it was really powerful for me, because I felt like you were giving me the tools to go through crisis, because you understood how to go through crisis. So, that’s a real gift. That’s an amazing gift given.
Ann Voskamp: It’s interesting. I honestly really believe that we can go to church and we can listen to sermons, we can open up scripture and we can read the Bible, but if we don’t know how to take the theology and put skin on it, if we don’t know what it looks like to live this theology out at the kitchen sink, it’s actually stillborn theology. We have to actually know how to incarnate the words of Jesus. So, when I write, I am taking theology and trying to put skin on it. What does it look like to actually live out this scripture? What does it look like to live out this doctrine and to wrestle with it and to falter and to fail and to experience God’s grace and encounter him personally as he picks you up, sanctifies you, refines you, and carries you further along the way?
I really believe that there’s so much rich theology we can be reading, but what we remember has to come to us in an envelope of emotion. So, when I write, I am taking theology and bringing the truth of scripture into an envelope of story that hopefully is going to be emotive for you. And as you feel something, as you’re reading, the theology and the truth of what you’re reading is actually, Lord willing, going to embed deeper in your mind, so that you can incarnate the truth, that you can actually then live it out in your own life. Jesus, when he taught, he teaches in story all the way through the gospels. He teaches in parables. He teaches poetically and lyrically, in a way that is memorable. So, I believe that when we write about the truth of scripture, when we write about God’s way, when we write about what it means to keep company with Jesus, tell it to me in a story. Tell it to me the way Jesus told it, so that I remember it, too.
So, I hope when you open up an Ann Voskamp book, you are stepping into a story, because I honestly believe that God writes better stories than we possibly could write. A true story, a real story that actually is a page-turner. Then, you’re actually, through the process of story, you are staying in the greatest story – Jesus’ story, the Word itself. And then, you know how to live that word out.
“Oh! I, too, wrestle with this.” I’m hoping when you read an Ann Voskamp book, you’re like, “Oh, wow, I wrestle with the same things. Oh, I’m not alone. Oh, she’s saying the things out loud that I didn’t know how to even put words to, that I didn’t know it was safe to go ahead and say out loud.”
Now, I hope, as C.S. Lewis says, that we read so that we’re not alone. I hope when you open up an Ann Voskamp book, whether it be WayMaker, or The Broken Way, or One Thousand Gifts, or any of the devotional books, that the person who’s reading them on the other side of that book, not only do they not feel alone, I hope Jesus meets them on the page.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because it’s actually that level of honesty, of yourself and of what you’re going through, that reminds me so much of Henri Nouwen. I mean, people who read Henri were sometimes undone by his honesty. And remember, he was writing at a time in which there was an awful lot of, I would say, spiritual leadership kind of glossed over and sat at the top. And Henri’s ability to be so honest and so vulnerable made people say, “Oh, that’s just like me. I feel that.”
His ability to say what made him angry or what made him self-conscious or how poorly he felt about himself, I mean, all of those kinds of things. It’s funny how you remind me of that. And at the same time, what I find that you both share is a kind of Christo-centricity. I always find that for Henri, he had this big pendulum that was swinging, but at the center of the pendulum was Jesus. So, he’d go way out, you know, and he could be really, maybe I’d say off-base, and then he finds himself back to this thing that’s the center line. And I found myself going, “Wow, I really do see a kindred spirit as I’m reading your work.”
Ann Voskamp: I can’t think of another theological sage in recent history where … I mean, Henri wrote letters to himself, notes to himself, that became published books. That kind of level of vulnerability and humility. I mean, when you read him, it can feel like, “Oh, I am reading your diary. I don’t know if I should actually know all of these things about you.” But he gives us the gift of, God doesn’t want a washed, clean, sanctified version of us. God wants us to come into his presence with our bare heart, our honest heart, because that’s when we bring our honest, broken places. I mean, Henri gave us that phrase that only Henri could have given us: the wounded healer. Only the wounded healer can touch the broken parts of our heart and heal us. But if we bring God a mask, if we bring him a fake version of us, he can’t actually do the real healing.
So, I hope Henri and I both grant a reader permission to be really honest with God about the broken parts of our stories, about the parts of our stories where we have questions, the parts of our stories where we feel abandoned or wounded, the parts of our stories where we feel forsaken and utterly left alone, and then to come back to Christ himself. That we are not alone, that God himself, Jesus on the cross, said, “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?”
He knows what it feels like. And yet he also knows that the Lord never forsakes. The Lord says, “I’m Emmanuel. I’m the God who is with us.”
So, I hope the vulnerability that both Henri and I bring to the page allows a reader to be very vulnerable with God. Because ultimately, all of us want intimacy. And the only way we can get to intimacy is through a door of vulnerability. And whether that’s intimacy in relationships, intimacy in a relationship with God is going to require us being really vulnerable of what our human experience is like. And, “Lord, you need to meet me in this place, right where I am.”
Karen Pascal: There’s an incredible honesty in this book. You aren’t afraid to talk about your marriage, which at points looks like, you know, it’s a walkaway moment. And you’re not afraid to talk about this incredible struggle to adopt this little girl, Shiloh, in China. I think one of the things I felt about the book is it’s not a fast read at all, because of this density of layers and layers of processing what’s going on in your life. But I would say that it is a book that really matches that human journey. None of us have necessarily pretty, perfect journeys. We have stuff that happens in the most important relationships we have, in the most critical situations that we face. And I feel like in the process of you honestly solving it in your writing, you’re giving us tools to solve it, too. And I love that. I really value that.
Ann Voskamp: WayMaker really does unpack, just as you said, these two very, very tender, intimate relationships. One being my marriage, my relationship with my husband, and the other relationship being that of adopting a child and becoming a grafted family, where she is grafted into us and we are grafted into her. And both of those stories are so incredibly vulnerable, and there’s times I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to be this vulnerable at all.”
But both of those stories, the marriage story and the adoption story, are brought to the page as a metaphor – marriage and adoption – as a metaphor for our relationship with God, that he means communion with us. He means intimacy with us. So, my husband would say, “Of course, Ann, you need to go ahead. Because as writing it was so difficult, and there were times I wanted to shirk back, and I don’t want to be this honest and this vulnerable, my husband would say, “But you have to go ahead and talk about the most intimate relationships in your life, because they’re metaphors for the intimate relationship God is calling us to.”
So yes, I am talking about a marriage story and an adoption story, but those stories, again, are envelopes to talk about the greater and deeper meaning of what does it look like to have this kind of intimate communion with God. Like, he has this metaphor all through scripture that he’s like our husband, the bridegroom coming for his bride. What does it look like to have that kind of communion and intimacy with him? And he talks about, throughout scripture, “You’re adopted into my family. You’re grafted into my family. You are now my child.” He’s not just King Jesus, but the etymology of that word “king” is “kin.” “You are part of my kin, you’re part of my family.” So, he is king, but he is also brother and father, and we are now part of his family.
So, I think WayMaker really is unpacking, we want a way through life, because like as you said, we all have such tender stories and obstacles and hardships, and things don’t go the way we planned or expected. And we run into all kinds of Red Seas where we’re caught between an obstacle that we cannot cross and the horde of the Egyptians coming after us. And we think we want a way through, but more than a way through, we need a way of life, a rhythm of life, a cadence of life that keeps us in the Way himself. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We need to have communion, an intimate relationship with the Way himself, who then carries us through, who then parts the Red Sea, not into the place we think we want to arrive at (which is often my default cerebral setting), but he actually carries us into the Promised Land, which is his presence, communion with himself. So yes, I tell intimate stories because I want you to step into the Promised Land, the intimate relationship with Jesus himself.
Karen Pascal: And the book is laced with wonderful lines that take away all sense of pretense. Like, I love this one: “How do you let yourself feel love when you’re drowning in rejection?”
Ann Voskamp: We all have those moments where that is actually, “Oh! Those are words for that experience,” right?
Karen Pascal: That’s right. And then you write, “How can you believe you’re chosen if you would never choose you? There’s no pleasing God without trusting him here.” I find that’s fabulous.
Ann Voskamp: So much of my thinking around chosen-ness came from Henri. Henri talked so much about what does it mean to be chosen. Because I think Henri touched on, he was not just a student of the word, not just a student of the heart of God. He was also a student of what does it mean to be human and to be really honest about what it means to be human.
And I think Henri was honest about his own sense of, “where do I belong? Where am I chosen?” And he felt a sense of rejection in all kinds of places. And again, he comes back to, “I’m chosen by God, I am chosen by Christ.” So, I think WayMaker really does look at, right from the very beginning of the book, is that I felt rejected in my own marriage, which I think – regardless of whether we’re single or not – our stories hold these really tender, bruised places where we felt rejected. And then what does it look like to be chosen by God, that God came? We want a way through, but wait: Can I pause and see God has come the whole long way because he chooses me. Because he chooses to be with me.
Karen Pascal: I love what one writer wrote about you, and if you don’t mind, I’m just going to quote it. She said, “She has cut open her chest and laid her heart out so people don’t feel alone and Jesus doesn’t feel far off.” I love that. In a sense, there’s one reason to do this. You know, the reason of honesty. And there is the sense of, this is the real story. But you are actually, in being honest, in being vulnerable, inviting people into a place where they go, “Oh, that’s just like me and I’m okay, and I can make my way to God from this.”
Ann Voskamp: WayMaker really unpacks not just a way through – do I have a way of life that keeps me in the Way himself – and it unpacks an acronym, SACRED, that becomes my sacred way of life. And that acronym stands for, the S is stillness, A is attentiveness, C is cruciform, R is revelation, E is examined, and D is doxology. The C of SACRED: cruciform. How do I live a cruciform life? Which is exactly what you said off the top; just that Henri and I are coming back to, how do we live a life that is centered in Christ, a life that regardless of the waves, the pendulum that moves us back and forth, how do we keep coming back to center, which is the cross? How do I live a life that is formed and shaped like the cross?
How do I live a cruciform life that is shaped like a cross? I’m reaching out to God, I’m reaching out to other people physically, metaphorically, figuratively in my mind. The way I live my life is shaped and formed like a cross. And I think even as I write, it is coming with my whole heart and laying it on the altar. That is the posture of cruciformity, a posture of surrender. Because, if we live, I really believe that cruciformity is everything. Cruciformity is the heart of Christianity. To walk in the way of Jesus, to keep company with him and live in the way of Jesus, you need to have a life that is shaped and formed like a cross, which we see that is surrender. If I lay my life down on the altar, I’m going to lose something. There is sacrifice.
But as I’m unpacking WayMaker, the Hebrew understanding of sacrifice comes from that word, korban, K-O-R-B-A-N, which actually, the Hebrew understanding of korban sacrifice, surrender, when you sacrifice something, you are not losing. It means to actually come near. You are gaining, you are gaining presence. You aren’t losing something that you’re going to be missing. You are gaining the thing that you actually want the most. So, I think when we think about, be it me writing, and here’s my heart on the altar. Which is not to be trite about it. Every time we live a surrendered life, a cruciform life, there’s a cost and it’s painful and it’s not easy. But to also remember that as we live a cruciform life, a sacred way of life that has cruciformity right at the center of it, that’s our core bond to the Lord.
And we are not losing something. We’re actually gaining more of his presence. So, I hope readers, as they read, think about, okay, do I have a sacred way of life that keeps me in the Way himself” And that C of sacred: How is my life cruciform? What does it look like to surrender my agenda, my plans, to reach out to God and to reach out to people? What does it look like to sacrifice so that my life looks like cruciform love? That it isn’t guarded with my arms protecting myself, but is a posture of the cross that is a posture of vulnerability, which is ultimately a posture of embrace. A posture of intimacy.
Karen Pascal: I was amazed at the number of words that you put on the page that kept coming back. And you were informing me with, you were giving me, they are rich in you. The cruciform life. It was right here in my list of things to ask you about. So, I’m so glad you shared that.
Another one, and I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing it right, hesed. Tell me about that. What’s that? Because it keeps coming up throughout the book, and I want to know why.
Ann Voskamp: Really, really Important. It’s over 200 times in scripture. That word, hesed, is used when God first tells us his character, he uses the word hesed. It doesn’t have a direct – like so many words from Hebrew Old Testament language into English – doesn’t have a direct translation. And actually, when the scripture was translated into English, they had to come up with a word to translate hesed. And it’s a word we don’t use very often in modern-day language: the steadfast lovingkindness of the Lord. So, we almost have two words to describe hesed, but hesed really is a faithful love. It’s a loyal love, it’s a steadfast love that is not going anywhere. It’s a love that is kind, and for us. It’s an all-encompassing word that we think, oh, God calls us to be faithful to him, loyal to him.
God calls us to a hesed love to him. But we have to understand that first of all, God has a hesed love to us. God is loyal to us. God sticks with us. God doesn’t abandon us or forsake us. He never lets go of us. He’s steadfast, lovingkindness. So, ultimately, the love that saves us is a love that is bound to us, that is attached to us, that heals us through the bonding to it. That’s the kind of love God has for us. And then he asks, then, for us to have the same kind of faithful, hesed, loyal allegiance to him, that kind of love back to him, and that’s a picture of the union and communion. So, I think in WayMaker, I talk about expectations kill relationships, and we do that in our relationships, in our family and work, in our faith communities, but we also do it with God.
We have these expectations of what God should deliver to us, give to us, sort of transactionally in terms of, “I have this relationship with you, God, now you need to give this back to me.” And I think to understand, expect God to always come, but just don’t expect him to come the way you thought he would. The only thing you can really expect of God – now I’m going to get teary when I think of it – the only thing you can really expect of God is his hesed lovingkindness. You can always expect hesed-ness from the Lord. So, no matter what is coming at me, my perspective has to shift and go, ah, remember, nothing can come through (I think it’s Kay Arthurs that said it), nothing can come into my life unless it’s filtered through his fingers of love. Nothing can come into my life unless he determines. This is a hesed lovingkindness. Sometimes, something might be painful. Oh, can I remember? This is the hesed lovingkindness of God. This is like a surgeon. It might cut and it might hurt and it might be very, very painful. But ultimately, I can trust the heart of God. It’s a hesed heart that is for me, that is for my healing.
So, I think for us to have an understanding of him . . . I mean, there’s some theologians that believe that hesed is the most important word in all of scripture for us to understand the heart of God. And if we don’t understand that his heart is a hesed, loving, kind heart, we can be wearing a lens: “Oh, look at God. God has forsaken me. This is not a good gift from the Lord. This is a bad gift from the Lord.” If I can go, “Wait, wait, wait! His word tells me who he is. His word says that he’s a hesed, steadfast, loving, kind God.” That means, then, whatever’s coming into my life, God means it ultimately for my good and his glory. I will accept and embrace it as a gift.
Karen Pascal: Oh, that’s lovely. And I’m going to say that it’s exactly what I have found in your story. And that’s why I think I want to encourage our listeners: If you’ve not read one of Ann’s books, you need to go get an Ann Voskamp book. You must do that. Because in a way, we often understand these things by hearing them in story, by saying, “Oh, that’s how it works.” That’s how it worked in her life when she was facing a problem, a crisis, self-doubt, fears – all those different things. How does God work in that? And I think it’s a very special gift to be able to voice what that intimately looks like, because sometimes people can’t. And it’s not a sermon that comes from afar, it’s story.
Ann Voskamp: Each of the books – from my first book, One Thousand Gifts – each of the stories are really my life. I am telling them in … as I am spiritually formed and grow deeper in the Lord, the books are telling that story and that journey. One Thousand Gifts tells the story of how I was, as a young girl, diagnosed with agoraphobia. I was terrified of so much of the world, because my very first memory, as the book opens, my very first memory is I was four years old standing at the kitchen sink, helping my mama wash dishes. And we looked out the kitchen window. And in the farm yard where I grew up, my 18-month-old baby sister was toddling across the farm yard after a stray cat, when a propane service truck came into the yard and ran over her and crushed and killed her, in front of my mama and I.
And I grew up as a little girl just terrified that the most unimaginable thing could happen in front of you. So, I grew up really – I was diagnosed with ulcers by the time I was seven, in Grade Two, and then cutting myself throughout my teen years, just to try to release myself from all of this pain. And then, by the time I was at York University, at the corner of Jane and Finch [in Toronto], diagnosed with agoraphobia. So, I grew up really terrified, but One Thousand Gifts is unpacking about someone gave me a dare. Could I count a hundred things that I loved? And I thought, well, I can do a dare. I’ll write down a thousand things. And as I did it, I realized, oh, I’m not just writing down a thousand things I love, I’m writing down a thousand gifts God is giving me because he loves me. I’m counting all the ways he loves me.
And it was this radical journey out of fear. You can’t simultaneously feel fear and gratitude at the same time. You start to realize, oh my goodness, I’m living in a grace universe where God is providing gift upon gift, upon gift. As I’m picking up a pen and writing it down every day, all of these gifts, I’m not just counting gifts. I’m not just counting all the ways he loves me. In a world when I don’t know what I can count on, when people can die in front of you, what I’m actually learning is I can always count on the grace and provision of God. So, One Thousand Gifts is unpacking how gratitude, counting a thousand things, opening up a gratitude and writing down a thousand gifts, radically changed my life.
Which moves into The Broken Way, where I realize, okay, now that I’ve taken all of these gifts that God has given me, what do I do with them? Which is a very Henri Nouwen way to think and act. I mean – oh, I’m going to get choked up. Henri profoundly informed my thinking around living a eucharistic life: to take everything and give thanks for it. And now that I’ve taken it, what do I do? How do I live broken and given out into the world? So, The Broken Way is really about how do I live a cruciform life. I live shaped and formed like a cross. That vertical beam of the cross that everything comes down from heaven as a gift, and then my praise then rises up to him. And then I take the gifts that he’s given, and I live horizontally, like a cross, out into the world, and pass those gifts on out into the world. That is what The Broken Way unpacks.
WayMaker, then, is taking, how do I live a way of life that keeps me in the Way himself, sacred ways: stillness, attentiveness, cruciformity, which goes back to The Broken Way, revelation, examine, and doxology thanksgiving, which goes back to One Thousand Gifts.
So really, when you pick up an Ann Voskamp book, you are on a journey from One Thousand Gifts, and this person who was so afraid of a terrible, awful things that can happen in your life, to The Broken Way, which is like, I’m not going to be afraid of a broken thing, because every broken thing is exactly where God is resurrecting a new thing. How can I live a broken life, a broken and given life, a cruciform life, this WayMaker living, a sacred way of life?
Actually, actually, WayMaker was handed into the publisher the week before my father was killed in the same farm yard, crushed and killed under the wheels of a tractor, just like my sister was at the beginning of One Thousand Gifts. So, when I went back to edit WayMaker, at the top of every single page of WayMaker was the date of when my editor had gone through the manuscript for the first time, which was the very same date that my father was killed, the same way that my sister was killed.
So, it was like reading, doing the edits for WayMaker, do I really believe that the Lord makes a way through when you’re drowning in grief, when your story is framed by such trauma, not just once, not just that your first memory is losing your sister? Can you live a life of gratitude and gratefulness when this horrific thing is your very first memory and shapes your entire life? Now, as I write WayMaker, now that’s happened to me again. My father is killed in the same farm, killed the same way as my sister. Can I believe that the Lord is still good, that he will still make a way through, that his presence is still the Promised Land?
And so, my story is framed by a lot of trauma and a lot of heartache, just like everyone’s is. And yet, I believe with every fiber of my being that his presence is the Promised Land. And though I don’t understand his ways, I don’t understand why each of our stories has such grief and heartache and pain in it, this is a world made up of more than Adam’s. This is a world made up of stories. This is a world made up of ways. And you change one person’s story, the way of one person’s life, you don’t know how it affects the story, the way of somebody else’s life. The only one who can navigate and orchestrate all the stories, all the ways, is the Word himself, is the Way himself. So, I am going to trust that though my story and my way isn’t the way I would’ve wanted it, that God himself is still ultimately writing a good story, writing a good, redemptive way out of our broken places.
Karen Pascal: I am so grateful that that’s the task God has put on your heart. I’m really grateful. I look and I say it’s interesting, because you are like a full cup. You’re just running over with the fullness of the Lord. And it’s a real pleasure to talk with you.
One of the things that I got to see, and I want to share this with our listeners, if they are not familiar with your website: Go and see, because it’s full of generosity and opportunities and possibility. I was very struck by the way that you are offering lots of things that are free, that people can access and will enjoy. It‘s obviously a great way to get ahold of books, but I really appreciate it that you’re really interested in using, in a way, the presence you have and the draw you have to make sure others benefit.
So, tell me just a little bit about some of the things that you’ve got going, like you’ve got the interesting gifts that you can get, and there’s a purpose in it. Tell me just a bit about the vision for community, I think.
Ann Voskamp: I really, strongly feel we are a people who are supposed to be like cruciform, like Christ. What does God give us? He says, “I’m Emmanuel, God with you,” and he’s the God who sees us, El Roi. So, we’re supposed to give each other witness, and with-ness. So, I hope if you come to annvoskamp.com, you’re going to experience witness – someone sees you – and you’re going to experience withness – someone is with you. So, we have a lot of free tools on the website. If you go up to the top toolbar there, we have a whole library that is more than 10 years deep, of all kinds of free resources. Because what I feel deeply is that when we get to be on the way with each other, keeping company with the Way himself, we need these spiritually formational tools that form and shape us more like Jesus.
So, we have all kinds of prompts. We actually have what we call a “joy dare,” that gives you prompts for you to go ahead and think through every day of the month. So, we send out the joy dare at the beginning of the month. Every day of the month, it’ll tell you one thing. Today is the 11th of January or the 12th of January, the 13th of January. What are the things that I’m looking for? Three things that I’m looking for to be grateful for today. So, it actually is priming the pump, because our default setting – I don’t know about you, but my default setting – is to look for all of the things that are going wrong, the things that I have to fix, the work that I have to do, as opposed to looking for the gifts and the grace and the goodness.
So, we have this joy dare. Can we dare you to look for gifts and to be expanded by gratitude into a life of joy and Thanksgiving? We also have a calendar called Be the Gift, “gift” being, again, an acronym. Give It Forward Today. So, not that we have to pay it forward, because everything is a gift, but how do I live a cruciform life? That I take all the gifts that I’ve been given and be a gift and pass that grace on out into the world. So, we give you, again, a calendar that says, okay, this is one thing I could do today. Just a really easy thing that I could pass grace on. I could give some kind of encouragement, a smile, joy to somebody else. So just really easy, accessible ways.
And both of those things actually, not only are they rooted in scripture, they’re rooted in deep, scientific research that can only prove the truth of scripture. That our way into joy, the two strongest, most robust ways into joy are, do you have a habit and practice of gratitude? And do you have a practice and habit of not just random acts of kindness, but intentional acts of kindness?
So, if you’re somebody who feels like, “Oh my goodness, things are so dark right now and things are so challenging and I really don’t know the way through,” can I encourage you? Well, first you can come to annvoskamp.com and we’ll get those free tools into your hands that’ll help you. But can you pick up a pen? Think, oh, there’s going to be one thing I can be grateful for. Just one thing I can write down that I can live into a sacred way of life – that D being doxology. One thing I can be grateful for, one thing I can live into a posture of doxology.
And then, how do I live a cruciform life? What is one thing I can do to reach out to somebody else so that they know that they’re not alone? Maybe that looks like leaving a water bottle and a muffin at the door when the delivery man comes. That might be going ahead and paying for coffee for somebody behind me. I might be going ahead and sending a text message to somebody. I ran into a woman last week at the bookstore, and she was buying a book because a friend of hers – it was so beautiful – a friend of hers had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was starting chemo. So, she was putting together a whole care package of books and treats into this package to send to her.
So, what’s one thing you can do today? We all need to know that we’re not alone. We all need to know. It’s not that we’re not going to face trauma and heartache. But the real, deepest trauma is when we go through something that’s heartbreaking and we go through it alone. So, what can you do that can reach out to somebody else?
So, we have all kinds of tools at annvoskamp.com. We’re on Instagram, where we are daily trying to edify and encourage. I think scripture encourages us only to speak words that make souls stronger. And that is really what we’re all about, because all of us are in the trenches, limping, and we need someone to go ahead, speak words to us that make our souls stronger, to encourage and edify us through our valleys, and for us to realize that every valley that we’re in is ultimately the valley of his cupped hands.
Karen Pascal: I know a lot about the creative process from having lived it out in my own life, and I’m curious if there’s another book being born in you right now. I can imagine there must be. And yet at the same time, I know sometimes it’s not the time to take your baby out. You’re kind of guarded at that moment.
Ann Voskamp: That’s actually a very good point. I’m not writing books to write books. I am writing my story. So, I honestly believe you have to be living out something before you can go ahead and write something. So, I have my “memoir-ish” books that are taking you and they’re either unpacking a theology of gratitude and joy, or a theology of suffering, or a theology of communion within a story: One Thousand Gifts, The Broken Way, WayMaker.
But then, I also write books that are really taking you through scripture. So, my Christmas book, for example, The Greatest Gift, takes you from Genesis all the way through to the birth of Christ, hitting all those 25 days through Advent, so that you understand when you get to the birth of Jesus, oh, look at all of these stories all the way through the Old Testament are building to the coming of Christ himself.
So, I am working. I’m finishing up right now a book that will take you 40 days through the book of John, from Jesus coming straight through to the cross, because I ultimately believe everything is about, “Do you have a way of life that is about keeping company with the Way himself?” So, it really is unpacking the passion of Christ for you. Ultimately, passion is about . . . Jesus is the only one who has ever loved us to death and back to the realest life. So, that book, taking us through the book of John, that should come for Lent of 2025.
And then I have, Lord willing, some journals actually coming out the fall of 2024 that will actually be a gratitude journal to go along with One Thousand Gifts, and a sacred prayer journal that goes along with WayMaker, to help you unpack what does it look like to live a sacred life of stillness, attentiveness, cruciformity, revelation, examined, and doxology, that will allow you to journal. So, it’ll become a hundred days of intimate communion with God.
So, all of the books in process. I’ll finish up these books in February, end of January, beginning of February. And then I will start the next, longer storybook, which is always. . . I find the longer storybooks, like One Thousand Gifts or The Broken Way or WayMaker, it’s harder, because just as you said, you’re putting your heart on the altar. So, there’s a price of vulnerability, and it is far more exposing to put that on the page. So, those books come slower, you can pray for me, because that journey starts in February.
Karen Pascal: You’ve got a very well planned-out life as you look forward. That’s kind of well into 2026. Well done!
Ann Voskamp: Yeah. Until 2026. That’s right.
Karen Pascal: I want to ask you – I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to go back and ask you a very particular question. I got to know two characters really well in the WayMaker. Of course, one was Darryl, who’s your husband. Tell me a little bit about how he’s doing, and I’d like to hear about how Shiloh is doing, the little girl you adopted with the issues of the heart.
Ann Voskamp: Yes, yes, yes, because WayMaker really does unpack adopting Shiloh from China, who has half of a heart. And that story, my marriage story, where I broke my husband’s heart, and then my own come-to-Jesus moment, where I actually was literally, physically in heart failure, where my heart was failing and I was in the hospital and how my whole life kind of flashed before my eyes. I’m like, “Okay, how do I not just find a way forward, but find a way of life that keeps me in the Way himself?”
So, Darryl … actually, WayMaker is the first book where I’ve actually named him. I’ve actually been blogging since … we have seven children. I’ve been blogging since Shalom, our sixth, since before Shalom was born, our sixth was born, and Shalom is 18. So, I’ve been blogging, like, 19 years. So, all the time blogging, I never said his name. He was always just The Farmer. And in One Thousand Gifts and in Broken Way, he’s just The Farmer. But in WayMaker, I do say, “Yes, his name is Darryl. Darryl today is farming.”
Today here on the farm, actually, we are just shifting from temperatures around zero, but we are starting to plunge more into Arctic wintry weather. And he is back on the farm that we call the River Farm, and doing a lot of work back there. And he just came in, actually just before this podcast. He came in to get a coffee and he said, “I am so cold.” So, he is taking care.
We have 650 mama sows here at the farm, so always a thousand baby piglets. So, there’s always a lot happening, even in the midst of winter. There is so much happening. And little Shiloh, actually – next week, Lord willing, I head into Sick Kids [hospital] in Toronto, and Shiloh has her clinic appointment, as she does every six months. Shiloh’s had three open-heart surgeries, and someday, Lord willing, will need a heart transplant. But we hope that that’s a good decade or more away. Let’s hope two-plus decades away.
So, Sick Kids has phenomenal doctors. We’re so grateful to live where we live, where she can be monitored. And really, Shiloh is doing fabulously well, and all of our kids say Shiloh is the best thing that ever happened to us. So, we all love her to the actual moon and back again.
So, Shiloh actually is really excited. We are moving towards Valentine’s Day here, and last Valentine’s Day, we released our first children’s book, called Your Brave Song. And it has Shiloh right there on the cover, and the little song that I sing to her every night when I tuck her in. And actually, every time she has heart surgery, or she has regular heart caths, where they have to go in and see where her heart rhythms and pressures are all at. And that is our song that we sing over and over and over again, from Your Brave Songs.
So, yes, I’m very, very grateful. I’m grateful to the Lord that he takes our physically broken hearts, and relationally broken hearts. And as Henri said, the wounded healer comes and meets us and heals our broken hearts.
Karen Pascal: Amen. Amen. Absolutely. What a privilege to talk to you today. I thank you so much for being with us. Wow, what a treat.
Ann Voskamp: I just want to thank you for stewarding Henri’s work so faithfully. He’s been one of the most formational voices in my entire life, so just thank you for your good and faithful work. It’s just a gift to us all.
Karen Pascal: Thank you, and I wish you well on this journey ahead. There’s a pile of books yet to be written, and I promise this: Everybody’s going to find on our website and in our show notes, links to everything we’ve talked about today, all your books, certainly to your website. And I really am delighted that we had this time. It was well worth waiting for. I think I lined up for almost four years to make a time match for the two of us. So, thank you, thank you.
Ann Voskamp: God’s every blessing on you and your next season, my friend.
Karen Pascal: I want to thank all of you for listening to our conversation today. You’ll find links in the show notes of this podcast to Ann Voskamp’s website and to any books or things we refer to in our conversation. If you’d like to watch this interview, you can see it on our YouTube channel.
I hope you have already signed up to receive our daily meditations written by Henri Nouwen. If not, you can do that on our website @HenriNouwen.org. Remember, they’re free and they are a wonderful way to stay informed about the various things we have to offer to those who enjoy the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen.
We would also be so grateful if you would consider donating to the Henri Nouwen Society. Your resources help us share the daily meditations and these podcasts right around the world. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, please take time to give us a review or a thumbs-up, or pass this on to your friends and family.
Thanks so much for listening. Until next time.
Praise from our podcast listeners
Help share Nouwen’s spiritual vision
When you give to the Henri Nouwen Society, you join us in offering inspiration, comfort, and hope to people around the world. Thank you for your generosity and partnership!