It's beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving, so it's time to publish edited excerpts of an interview with writer Ann Voskamp conducted last month before students at Patrick Henry College. Her best-selling (and extraordinarily good) One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan, 2011) is about giving thanks even in-especially in-adversity.
At age 4 you encountered death. Can you talk about that? My sister was 18 months old and crushed by a farm delivery truck in our family's farmyard in front of my mother who was standing at the kitchen sink. My father never shadowed a church door for probably 18 years after that. His line was, "If there really was a God, He was definitely asleep at the wheel that day." The death of Aimee was my first memory.
How did that event shape your family? It seriously, detrimentally impacted my parents' marriage. It shaped who I was as a person. I was raised in a non-Christian home. My life was formed by fear. One Thousand Gifts was working my way back to living open-handed and accepting the sovereignty of God and that all is grace because all is being transfigured to bring glory to Christ. When we understand that God sustained the Israelites on manna-which literally means, "What is it?"-then can we be sustained in situations where we don't understand the why, but we trust the Who.
How did fear affect you? By my second year of university, I was experiencing anxiety attacks and agoraphobia. I was on anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants.
When did that start to change? My husband Darryl is firmly, firmly rooted in Scripture. His mother ran a Bible club through Child Evangelism Fellowship for 23 years, with an average of 60-80 kids every Friday night. She was a beacon of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our community. When I was 16, Darryl's family started picking me up and taking me to church every Sunday. Marrying him at age 20 and entering into the family-the lens of the world was through Christ. That began to change me.
Where do you live now? My husband and I and our six children live on 600 acres of land in southwestern Ontario. We farm corn, soybeans, and wheat in a three-year crop rotation, and we have 650 sows with a thousand little piglets, so we feel very blessed.
Your house is at the end of a gravel road? It is off of the far side of one road. I face out to bush one way and bush the other way. I feel very secluded and quiet.
Lots of books? My husband is not a reader. We close every meal with Scripture-morning, noon, and night-so he reads his Bible and the farm newspaper. My side of the bedroom is books floor to ceiling, literally.
One Thousand Gifts sometimes feels like you're preaching to yourself. Exactly. I do it in the house all the time. I preach the gospel to the person who needs to hear it the most: me. I need the truth of God's word, and to encounter afresh the grace of Jesus Christ.
Do you have a sense that your children are growing up without fear? Yes, definitely because, in our home, my default is still to go back to fear. And I will out-loud preach the gospel to myself. My children hear me quoting Scripture back to myself, giving thanks in situations, being very intentional about focusing on the Lord. And they're writing their own one thousand gifts. Their default. We're constantly reorienting ourselves to truth that I didn't grow up with, and had to re-learn sometimes.
Not an upbringing like yours. I wish I'd had a different upbringing, but God uses all things for His purposes and His glory. So I wouldn't change any bit of the story, but I'm grateful that their lives are growing into a different story from my own. I didn't want them to grow up the way I grew up. Being very intentional about my motherhood and the baggage I was still carrying: How was I going to be a different kind of mother than my own mother had been with her own baggage?
Being a mother of six, and homeschooling them, is hard. There are really hard days in mothering. A mother does eternal work in hidden, quiet places. I'm stumbling through it. It's not my default to get it right. My default is I am fallen, I am vulnerable, and how do I intentionally reorient to the cross and to Christ and to God?
How do you describe One Thousand Gifts? It's about looking for the grace and the goodness of God and beginning to see that He was using all things to conform me into the image of Christ. I didn't have to be afraid of the world anymore because everything was being used to bring glory to Christ.
Do people send you letters asking for advice? Yes, and a lot of those are emails I'd love to answer. My husband says-and he's right-every time I say yes to that person, I say no to my children and my home. So you don't want to see what my inbox is like.
What letters touch you so much that you have to respond? I'm very intentional about responding to women who have lost children, or to women who have lost a sibling. I understand to some extent what that does to a family. ... Women who are in marriages where there is infidelity, I don't know where to speak of that pain. Women who have come out of horrific family stories, and they're struggling with: How can all be grace?
How do you respond to laments? God wants us to lament. That's very different than complaint. Complaint doesn't see the goodness of the character of God. Lament is honest and authentic about the feelings but knows the goodness and the benevolence of God.
How do you respond to questions about the sovereignty of God when there is great pain? I wrestle through this. Can I give thanks in the dark, because if I can't give thanks in the dark, if I can only give thanks in the good, what does that say about who God is? When I can give thanks for the things that make no sense to me, the things that hurt, that is my public manifestation of what I say I believe, which is God is in control, that nothing happens randomly.
He is at work in all things. If I believe He is real, and He is using all of these events in my life for His ultimate good, it may be painful for me in the moment, but it's ultimately to shape me into being more like Christ. I can trust Him.