Lisa Hall-Wilson: An Interview with Ann Voskamp
Ann Voskamp, the Canadian author of the New York Times bestseller One Thousand Gifts, released her new book, a follow-up book of sorts, called The Broken Way in October. Voskamp sat down with Christian Courier to talk about her new book and the legacy of faith that came from a Dutch heritage.
The runaway success of One Thousand Gifts surprised Voskamp, who says she wrote that book in a quiet cabin and recorded a vertical conversation with God. “I don’t consider myself a writer but more of a waiter, to be still and listen,” Voskamp says. “It took me quite aback to think of One Thousand Gifts being in a million people’s hands. It was a little disorienting to say the least.”
That success saw readers send Voskamp personal notes, stop her in elevators, have a quiet conversation after a speaking event, and share with her stories of brokenness they admitted they’d never told anyone else before. The heartbreak, brokenness, struggle and grief in those stories fueled Voskamp’s passion to write The Broken Way.
Stewarding a message of hope
Could she have written The Broken Way without having first written One Thousand Gifts? “I don’t think so,” says Voskamp. “The themes of The Broken Way come out of One Thousand Gifts. The books are two beats of the same heart.”
Being entrusted with all these personal stories left Voskamp feeling a stewardship to translate that hurt into a message that was both helpful and encouraging. Every single person has broken bits from hurts and disappointments and grief – much of it unspoken. An “unspoken broken,” she calls it.
In The Broken Way Voskamp walks ahead of her readers on a path to embrace the broken parts of our hearts and souls and live authentically through it. “I believe with-ness breaks brokenness and I wanted them to know I was with them.” Her voice cracks with emotion. “I fell deeply in love with people and how brave and courageous people are.”
An appetite for God
Voskamp is a wife, mother of seven children, and with her husband farms 800 acres in southern Ontario. At any given time, they have 650 sows and 1,000 piglets in the barn. She writes in the fringe hours, early in the morning and late at night. Voskamp admits she’s very busy, but wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think a writer’s life has to be full of much living or their writing is not very life-giving to the reader.”
Voskamp’s husband is the youngest of nine siblings, raised by refugees who came to Canada from Holland in the early 1950s. Hard work, living on a one-piece faith as she calls it, a faith that is expressed in your heart and soul but also in the way you speak, you love, you walk each day is something she credits to the family’s Dutch heritage. “You didn’t sit down at the table without opening Scripture and that is a legacy we have continued around our table,” says Voskamp. “Opening the Scripture three times a day around the table instilled in our children an appetite for God that is infallible in a changeable world.”
Following the success of One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp travelled to Iraq. She spoke with the mothers of the 21 Christian Coptic men from Egypt martyred for their faith in Libya by ISIL. Listening to those women, to other refugees forced to flee ISIS with only what they could carry in their two arms, completely changed her faith. So much so that her family sponsored a Syrian refugee family to come to Canada – a couple with four children – and fixed up a house for them.
Risking what we’ve been given
Voskamp rallied readers on her popular blog and raised one million dollars in just a week, which she used to help the internally displaced women she’d met in the camp start small businesses and provide microloans through a non-profit.
“I went to Iraq after writing One Thousand Gifts because a gift isn’t meant to be hoarded, it’s meant to be given,” Voskamp says. When she returned, someone commented that it was good that she cared about the people “over there” but Voskamp grew emphatic at this point.
“No. We are all like Esther living in the palace in the West. None of us did anything to be born here and the freedom we have – everything we have – is a gift. It’s all grace.” The broken emotion in her voice from earlier is replaced by heated passionate tones. “We’re Esther in the palace and we have to take everything we’ve been given and risk it all outside the gate.”
This same thread of peacekeeping, thoughtful listening, brokenness for the plight of others and being ambassadors of peace is evident through the writings of other successful Canadian authors like Sarah Bessey and Sheila Wray-Gregoire. Is there something about being Canadian that uniquely influences her writing? “I feel grateful to be Canadian,” Voskamp answered. “I think it affects the writing and keeps you low to the earth. It keeps you writing from real raw gritty places. It’s part of the DNA. It does inform and shape the writing.”
Voskamp admits there’s a paradox to brokenness because when we allow ourselves to be broken and vulnerable and fueled by grace for the things that grieved Christ, the more abundant and whole we become. Out of that abundant wholeness is healing that propels us to embrace that brokenness and give of ourselves to others all over again. “I hope readers can come and enter into a space where their brokenness isn’t something they need to hide from in any way. The shortest distance between any two hearts is sharing our brokenness,” says Voskamp. “Good brokenness breaks bad brokenness in the world. That’s what I hope people experience.”
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