Ann Voskamp is a wife, mother of six, blogger, and the best-selling author of One Thousand Gifts. Her second book, an Advent devotional titled The Greatest Gift, has already spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Voskamp recently spoke to Her.meneutics writer Sharon Hodde Miller about how her life has changed since the publication of her first book, and the challenges of keeping a Christ-centered focus in an ever-demanding world.
Reading The Greatest Gift is like meeting an old friend, because it captures the voice and heart of your first book, One Thousand Gifts. However, the format is rather different from the first. Why did you decide to write an Advent devotional?
Whatever I'm writing comes organically out of my life. The same thing with One Thousand Gifts—that book came out of what I was wrestling with. Over the past dozen years, I've written Christmas devotionals for the month of December, just for our family, about four times. I rewrote them as the kids grew older and their understanding deepened and widened. The Greatest Gift has been birthed out of the past 12 years, long before I was an author or blogger.
As you wrote this book, did you have a particular reader in mind? Was there anyone out there that you hoped to nurture or encourage?
It's Christmas for adults, again! Adults are tempted to produce and perform Christmas for their kids and their families, and they arrive at Christmas Day weary and disillusioned. So the book really was born out of prayers for adults to be recaptivated by wonder. Christ came to do it all, and we have nothing really to do but to receive and to experience the babe in the manger—and he's a near-weightless babe.
That's the essence of the book, that every page will lift the weight off you, and to experience that grace is utterly weightless.
I'm a brand-new mom trying to figure out our Christmas traditions. My husband and I are asking questions like: Santa or no Santa? How many presents should we give our kids? How can we keep Jesus central when Christmas is so commercialized? As I think through these questions, do you have any advice for women like me?
A simplified Christmas isn't about circumstances as much as it is about focus. How do we focus simply on Christ?
This year we hung our Christmas tree upside down. We have this little tree that's hung from the ceiling to remind us that we want an upside down Christmas, that Jesus came to turn things upside down. And if we're the Advent people awaiting the King who's going to bring an upside down kingdom, how are we going to live an upside down Christmas?
It's a beautiful reminder to us: If we're just consumers, we can be consumed, so how do we turn that around and give the gift back in some beautiful way to the people who need it?
The Holy Spirit is going to lead every family differently. I don't think there's a right or a wrong way to do this. Remember, Jesus came to bring grace, and grace is weightless. So—no burden on anybody. If anybody chooses to do it differently, there's no law to this. There's lots of grace for everybody, right where they are.
Since your first book came out, your life has changed a lot. I imagine the demands on your time are more pressing than before. How have you managed, with the world pressing in, to stay focused on Christ?
In our family, God graciously tied our family rhythms very tightly. Little did we know what was coming around the next corner, but he did.
My husband is Dutch, and his family, when you sat down to eat food at the table, you never left the table until you ate living bread and drank living water. They never left the table until they'd read Scripture together. So morning, lunch, suppertime, Scripture was always read at the table, and then there was prayer to close.
When we got married, that was what we did. You never left the table until you ate the Living Bread. As the topography and landscape of our lives have changed, and as our kids have gotten older and their schedules and lives have changed, that has been an anchor for us, tying Scripture reading to something that everybody does. We eat no matter how crazy it gets. Tying Scripture reading to meals has kept Christ at the center of our home and our family. We're always going to break real bread together.
Whenever I go to your blog, your life looks so beautiful. You live on a farm, your pictures are gorgeous, your writing is lovely, and I think, I wish I had Ann's life. What would you say to people like me?
You know what, Ann writes because her life is so incredibly messy. I write to see the hands of God in the midst of messiness. There's a term I use in One Thousand Gifts, "the ugly-beautiful." In the midst of the ugly, can I shift perspective and frame things to see the beauty and the grace?
Photography is about the art of subtraction—what are you going to subtract out of the frame, and what are you going to focus on. And that is so much like what Scripture tells us—whatever is good, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and righteous: Focus on these things. So I can go ahead and focus on beautiful things, and the rest of my house can be a disaster.
My default is to look at the messes and the ugly. I am constantly infected with that disease of perfectionism. It's where I came from and how I grew up—nothing was ever good enough—and coming to the realization with Christ that he is all my perfection, he is all my peace, fighting for contentment and gratitude. Gratitude is really the antidote to perfectionism, so how can I go ahead and give thanks?
My writing and photography [help me] change my defaults and change my perspective, to see what is good and beautiful. If you just look at the pictures, you'll think, Oh yeah, that looks pretty, but if you read the blog you're going to realize there's a lot of mess in Ann's life.
As much as I'm fighting for the joy in the mess of six kids and a lot of baggage from my past, think: If Ann can fight for joy in Christ, then maybe in the midst of right where I am, I can you take the dare to look for the hands of God, the grace of God, the beauty of Christ redeeming the messes and the ugly. I pray that's the encouragement.
Editor's Note: Some portions of this interview have been condensed and edited for clarity.