Giving Thanks in Difficult Places
Best-selling author Ann Voskamp talks about the blessing of thanking God in the hard times. She recalls her earliest memory of seeing her sister killed in a farm accident. The pain and fear of that experience caused her to cut herself in her teen years. Voskamp reminds us that God loves us in and through our brokenness, and it is from that place of brokenness that we can give thanks most powerfully.
About the Guest
Ann Voskamp talks about the blessing of thanking God in the hard times. She reminds us that God loves us in and through our brokenness, and it is from that place that we can give thanks most powerfully.
Giving Thanks in Difficult Places
Bob: When was the last time you communicated to your spouse, or to your children, or to members of your extended family that you love them? Ann Voskamp says that’s something we ought to be doing regularly.
Ann: So often, we think love is something big that we do. Love is all of these little things that we do. We don’t have to-do lists; we have to-love lists—it’s all these little moments. Sometimes, we think romance is something Hollywood-like that we do for each other. Really, it’s all of those everyday single moments, where we live broken and given—like bread to each other—that sustains relationships in marriages and families.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 4th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Ann Voskamp joins us today to talk about how broken people love one another well. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So we’re going to do kind of an investigative report you got?
Dennis: I have—I commissioned sixty minutes on this.
Bob: Yes; yes.
Dennis: A number of detectives had some internet gurus who’d been searching the net.
Bob: Wow! You dug deep.
Dennis: Very deep; very deep. We have—we have a guest with us today we have been doing a lot of research on. We have to—well, we just have to find out what the truth is about this; but before I introduce our guest, Barbara is here—she’s not a guest.
Bob: Is she part of the investigative team? Have you [Barbara] been in the research on this?
Dennis: She has.
Barbara: Oh, absolutely.
Bob: Okay; yes.
Barbara: I’ve got to make sure it is done right—
Barbara: —that’s my contribution. [Laughter]
Dennis: I’d like to welcome Ann Voskamp to FamilyLife Today. Ann, welcome to the broadcast.
Ann: Oh, it’s a humbling privilege.
For many, many years the Raineys, and Bob Lepine, and FamilyLife Today have spoken into our lives at the farm. It’s a surreal experience, sir.
Dennis: Well, it’s an honor to have you here. For those listeners who do not know Ann, she is a prolific writer—a number of New York Times best-selling books—and has just completed a new book that we’ll talk about here, in a few moments, after we solve the mystery. [Laughter]
Dennis: The book is called The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.
That leads me, of course, to what the mystery is that we’re trying to solve. Ann, in your writings, you refer to your husband—
Ann: Oh you’re not going to ask this! [Laughter]
Dennis: —as the Farmer.
Ann: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —as the Farmer.
Dennis: I thought—
Dennis and Ann: “Does he have a name?” [Laughter]
Dennis: And so we had all these people looking, Ann—[Laughter]
Dennis: No! [Laughter]
Barbara: —he’s nameless.
Dennis: We’ll meet him in heaven! [Laughter]
You’ve been married since—how long?
Ann: We are 23 years this past June.
Dennis: Yes; have seven kids.
Dennis: You’re a mama.
Bob: Do you call him the Farmer?
Ann: Only when I’m out and about. At home—actually, at home, I call him “D.” I don’t even say his name—I always call him “D”—his name is Darryl.
Dennis: I thought that was it!
Ann: Yes, Darryl. In his family, he is the youngest of nine. Every single child was named after somebody else in the family. When they got to him, they had run out of people; and they named him their own. [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s a great name. I just heard all these stories—I’m going, “Who is the Farmer?!”
Ann: The Farmer—[Laughter]
Bob: I thought you took it from Pioneer Woman and the Marlboro man. [Laughter]
Ann: —it works; right? It works!
Dennis: So, let’s talk about—how did you meet Darryl? You grew up with him in the same town.
Ann: Yes; yes. So he lives on—we both lived on the 12th Concession. I lived on the 12th Concession of Grey Township / he lived on the 12th Concession of Elma Township.
Bob: Now wait; we have no idea, in America, what you’re talking about. [Laughter]
Barbara: Yes; what’s a concession?
Ann: So that would be—concession would be the equivalent of a street. It’s the same gravel road that runs through one township to the next of two townships; yes.
Barbara: Township makes sense.
Dennis: I did fail to mention she is from Canada. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: West of Toronto; right?
Ann: Yes; we’re about an hour-and-a-half from Toronto.
Ann: So right; we were on the same high school bus to high school, but I had met him in Grade six. His mama had a Good News Bible Club with Christian Evangelism Fellowship in her farm—from what? / 23 years—every Friday night, 60-80 kids. I got saved through his mama’s faithful obedience.
Dennis: So you met Jesus Christ through his mother.
Ann: Yes; yes. And every time, on his birthday, I always called her and said, “Thank you so much for praying for the ninth child, because I would have been lost—[Laughter]—without your praying for the ninth son. So, I’m so grateful.”
So, yes; I owed—I wasn’t only just grateful that I got to marry into the family—I came into the family of God through his family’s ministry.
Bob: And he had a Jacob-like experience in marrying you? [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; but not quite. I wasn’t worth quite that much. [Laughter] Yes; he worked four-and-a-half years for my dad before he proposed. Then we moved to a farm about 15 minutes from the farm I grew up on.
Dennis: Now, I want to know how he proposed—how the Farmer proposed.
Ann: You know what he did? It was December the 16th—so it was the anniversary of our first date. Down—just between my farm and his farm / the farms we grew up on—there was Mr. Reeser. Mr. Reeser never got married, but everyone in the whole community thought Mr. Reeser had the most perfect farm. He [Darryl] stopped the car that night. He pulled over to the side of the road, and he gave me the ring; and he said to me—he said: “You know what? Mr. Reeser never got married; but I would thank the Lord a thousand times if you would marry me, and we could have a farm as pretty as Mr. Reeser’s.” [Laughter]
Barbara: That’s pretty sweet. [Laughter]
Dennis: There you go!
Ann: So I said, “Yes!” I didn’t realize it would mean a lot of kids, and a lot of grass cutting, and a lot of pigs; but it’s been grace upon grace.
Bob: Did he really say a thousand times?
Ann: A thousand times; and looking back—
Barbara: Look what that did! You know, it was prophetic.
Ann: The interesting thing is—we had a Bible study group, and the pastor had ice-breaker questions. Everyone had to share their pet peeve. Darryl’s pet peeve—when they opened it up, and someone ran it around, and they had to figure out who said what his pet peeve was—he said, “I struggle with people who complain and aren’t grateful.” I thought, “That’s why I wrote that book on One Thousand Gifts [Laughter]; because it’s not my default, but I have lived with the man who is just the most grateful man, who says—he punctuates everything with “Thank you, Lord.”
Dennis: Bob, the reason you mentioned the one thousand—
Dennis: —there might be one listener who doesn’t know—
Bob: —no; no. They haven’t looked at the New York Times best-seller list recently—a thousand ways; right?
Ann: Yes; One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, which was me just really taking a dare to write down a thousand things I was grateful for.
Dennis: Well, I’m grateful for this book as well. Barbara and I have been reading the book together. This is a thoughtful—not that your others aren’t / they are, obviously—but a very thoughtful book.
Barbara: Well, one of the things that I like so much about this book is that you talk so much about our relationship with Christ and the things that He did for us to redeem us and rescue us. You take us to those places where God wants to intersect in our lives. It’s when we come to Him, in our brokenness and we repent, that we experience Him and we experience the grace that He came to give.
So often, as you wrote—and I know this is so true in my own life—we think, “Well, I’m not—I don’t deserve that / I’m not worthy of that.” So we tend to withdraw and protect when He’s standing there, with open arms, saying, “I want you to come to me just as you are,”—
—like the old hymn, Just as I Am. That’s just a great, great reminder of what the gospel is all about.
Bob: Well, I have to say—writing about gratitude or expressing gratitude is not as threatening as writing about broken places in our lives.
Ann: That’s true; that’s true.
Bob: You had to think and pray long and hard before you decided to go public with your brokenness; didn’t you?
Ann: After I’d given thanks for 1,000 things—2,000, 5,000, 10,000—and then encountered so many people giving thanks in really hard places / in broken places: “Could you give thanks in the midst of suffering?”—that’s where the rubber meets the road. The Broken Way really is looking at—it’s the sister book to One Thousand Gifts.
In the Last Supper, Jesus takes the bread; and what does He do? He gives thanks for it. Then, what does He do? He doesn’t hoard that grace or keep that grace. He then breaks it, and He shares it—
Barbara: He shares it.
Ann: —He shares it. So, after you give thanks for all that you’ve been given, what do you do with that? Because we often think,” Oh, well, if I get it together / once I get it together,”— that evasive place somewhere up there—“then I will go ahead and be generous with my time; and I will live this given, Christ-like sacrificial life as opposed to…”—no! Perhaps the most powerful place you can live, given out into the world, is in the midst of your own brokenness.
Dennis: That’s where you completely sideswiped me. I picked up your book, and I began reading it. Barbara had started it—I don’t know—a couple of weeks ago. I started reading it; and I’m going, “What is this about?—a little girl picking up a piece of broken glass?”
Ann: Yes; yes. So, One Thousand Gifts opens with my first memory—is being four years old and my sister Amy being crushed and killed in a farm accident in our farmyard in front of my mother and me.
As a young child, it was a horrifying experience, where you just realized, “At any point, someone could die in a very violent, horrific way in front of you.” The world wasn’t a safe place for me, as a child. I was diagnosed with ulcers by the time I was seven. I started cutting in my teenage years, which is where The Broken Way opens. By the time I was 17, 18, 19—and university diagnosed an anxiety disorder.
What do you do when the world feels very broken, feels very unsafe, when bad things happen, when loss can pop up around any corner? I think both One Thousand Gifts and The Broken Way is wrestling out: “Okay; how do I give thanks in the midst of hard places? How do I live life of meaningfulness and purposefulness in the midst of suffering? What is the answer to pain and suffering?”
I think / we think the answer to pain and suffering is out there somewhere. We think, too often, that, as the broken people, “I’m not qualified to come to the table and offer anything,” as opposed to understanding the broken people are the most qualified to be the world changes, because they have deep empathy and compassion for those other people out in a broken-hearted world.
Look at the word, compassion—actually, means co-suffering. Passion actually means suffering. So the answer to suffering in the world is: “How can I co-suffer with other people who are broken?” The people who do that best are the people that understand their own brokenness.
Dennis: There was moment in your life, as an 18-year-old girl—you were in church—
Ann: Yes; yes.
Dennis: —and the pastor said something that—he wasn’t an evil person, at that point—he just said something—
Ann: No; no.
Dennis: —but he had no idea of the context of your life.
Ann: Yes; he looked—kind man. He said something very inadvertently—he said / he laughed and said: “At one point in their lives, they had lived next to the loony bin, which was the psychiatric hospital. People got locked up in there.”
As an 18-year-old young girl, who was the only believer in her family, I just crouched down real low in the pew. He didn’t know my mama had been in locked psychiatric wards for stints of time all the way through my growing up years.
Dennis: That was because of the death—
Ann: —because of witnessing my sister’s death in front of her and how to process that grief. She didn’t know how to do that at all. It was such a—it wasn’t your child dying in a hospital; it was your child being crushed in front of you. Mama has come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and is—actually, since she’s given her life to Jesus that is all in the past. Jesus has been a wound-healer, completely healing her.
There was a stretch of time that was so painful. In reaching out to that pastor and letting him know that, if the church isn’t a safe place for the suffering, the church isn’t for Christ. The church has to be a place where the wounded, and the broken, and the limping can come in and sit in a pew and be embraced by other people who understand brokenness.
That pastor received that so well. He humbly apologized and said he was—actually, not only did he apologize to me personally—he apologized the next Sunday from the pulpit.
Barbara: That’s wonderful.
Ann: It was; it was a really beautiful testimony. And just to create a safe place in our church that we need to be really sensitive with the language we use; because everybody’s fighting hard battles around us that we’re not even aware that they’re fighting; yes.
Dennis: Yes; and what you said in your book—I—really touched me. You said: “As a teenage young lady, I wanted someone in that church pew next to me to reach over and touch my shoulder and say, ‘Shame is a bully—
Ann: —“’grace is a shield.’”
Dennis: —“’grace is a shield.’” But I love this last—“You are in a safe place here.”
Bob: I have often requoted Matt Chandler, who says, “It’s okay not be okay.”
Ann: Yes; “It’s okay not to be okay.” I think The Broken Way is so much about—sometimes, in the church, we think we can be broken until we come to Jesus.
Once we come to Jesus: “I better find a mask really quick—
Ann: —“and stick it on; and show up at church that ‘I’ve got it all together.’” I think, if we can go ahead and give each other the gift of going first: “I will share my brokenness,” and say that “This is a safe place for broken people,” all around us. You can’t get to intimacy without vulnerability.
Dennis: So true.
Ann: Vulnerability means you need to break the masks off and come with your brokenness. Because what we really want, more than anything, is that intimacy / is that that communion—not only with Christ—but with each other. The only way to get to the communion, paradoxically, is to come with your brokenness.
Bob: I have to tell you that in the very first recording session we ever did on FamilyLife Today, back in 1992—we’ve shared this story before—in the middle of the interview, Dennis says, “Well, last week, Barbara and I got into an argument.” He starts talking about the argument. I’m sitting here, thinking: “Do you really want to talk about your argument with your wife on national radio? I mean, you’re the head of a marriage and family ministry.” [Laughter]
So, I let it go; and at the end, I said, “We can edit that out if you want us to.”
Dennis said, “Well, first of all, it really happened.” And then he said, “Secondly, I’ve learned, over the years, that when I share my victories, it becomes unattainable; but when I share my struggles, people go, ‘Tell me more.’”
I think that’s part of when we can be vulnerable and transparent with one another and say: “This is my stuff. This is my junk.” It really opens up and allows healing to start. In fact, it’s when we keep things in darkness that there’s kind of like a power that resides there. When you turn on the light, the power is drained—it starts to go away; right?
Ann: Yes; exactly. I think secrecy is the enemy to intimacy. If we want to go ahead and have authentic genuine intimate relationships with people, we need to go ahead and be vulnerable and destroy the secrecy.
Barbara: Exactly. It reminds me of a story that I loved in your book, which was about a time when your husband, the Farmer—
Ann: I know where we’re going. [Laughter]
Barbara: —came in at 11:00 at night, which I’m assuming must be in the middle of the summer—for him to be working until 11:00 at night—
Ann: Yes; yes.
Barbara: —because you have so much more daylight than we do.
Ann: We do; we do.
Barbara: But he came in—and he was dirty, and he’d worked hard, and he was weary—he came over to you, and you were sitting in a chair. He began to rub your feet. I just loved that picture, because it’s so like Jesus.
Ann: Part of living The Broken Way is not only you live broken, given out to the world, but you also accept “I am broken, and I can receive love too.” To let him go ahead and kneel down at my feet and rub my feet—I knew all the things I’d gotten wrong that day and all the things that I had fallen so far short of; and that he was being so Christ-like and being like Jesus, who loves us in the midst of our own brokenness. Can we receive that?
Bob: That memory is still—
Ann: Oh, I just—I think, “I’m just humbled by his love, and his grace, and his kindness.” There’s a story that I tell in The Broken Way—I came out of the back of the house, and he has a ladder up against the house—he’s up there working on the eaves. I said to him, “Hon, what are you doing up there?” He turned to me and said, “I’m loving you.” [Laughter]
I think, so often, we think love is something big that we do—love is all of these little things that we do. We don’t have to-do lists; we have to-love lists—it’s all these little moments. Sometimes, we think romance is something Hollywood-like that we do for each other. Really, it’s all of those everyday single moments, where we live broken and given—like bread to each other—that sustains relationships in marriages and families.
Barbara: To me, that’s a part of what was so beautiful about that story—is it reminded me of all that Dennis and I have learned in our marriage—that I feel safe with him, even though there are times I want to withdraw.
But I’ve learned that there’s safety in our marriage / there’s safety in our relationship. If I can’t be safe there, that’s the starting place for us is to have that intimacy—that communion, that comfort, that safety with one another. From there, then, we can practice that. It starts, of course, with Christ; but that first relationship in marriage is the place where we can experience that and learn that; and then, take it out.
Bob: Don’t you wonder how many couples are wearing masks with one another?
Barbara: Oh, too many.
Bob: They’ve been married 10/15 years, and there are places that—
Barbara: —they’ve never gone.
Dennis: Well, that’s what I wanted to ask Ann: “You’ve grown up in the same township, but did the Farmer know who he was getting and what he was getting?”
Ann: [Laughter] Oh, no; he found somebody from the wrong side of the tracks. [Laughter]
Bob: What did your dad say when he asked?
Ann: “Are you sure you want to do that?” [Laughter]
Bob: He asked for permission to marry you. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; my dad wasn’t sure that was a good idea. I come with a lot heart to the table.
Darryl has made himself, literally, a roof—a safe place for me to come with all my brokenness. I think I’ve realized, over and over, just by the way he’s embodied Christ and truly living a broken way, that—which is really cruciform, which is living with your—if we think of that cross—the vertical of the cross is all of the gifts and the grace come down from God and all of our gratitude goes back up to God. Then those horizontal beams of the cross is: “How do we live broken and given, arms extended? How do we live cruciform?—shaped like a cross?” I see that over and over again in Darryl’s life—we love as well as we are willing to be inconvenienced.
Ann: And he inconveniences himself over, and over, and over again.
Dennis: As I was reading your book, I turned to Barbara—I said, “I think the verse that this book really proclaims is in Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 10. I think this really covers the issue of brokenness and all the places where we’re not whole.
Paul said this—listen carefully: “But by the grace of God I am what I am. And His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I but the grace of God that is with me.” He had experienced healing—he was a murderer; he was not a keeper of the law. None of us are!
If you’re listening to our broadcast, and you’re kind of marveling at the story you’re hearing, I just want to tell you: “Jesus Christ is the one who accepts you exactly like you are. He comes to bring this grace to you in your life, in your marriage, in your family—and not just merely make you a partaker of grace—but one who can end up giving grace.”
Ann: Yes; yes.
Dennis: By the way, that’s the rest of the story with Ann Voskamp and this book.
Bob: We want to send listeners to our website, FamilyLife Today.com, where they can get more information about how to get a copy of Ann’s book—it’s called The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life. We’ve got copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLife Today.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLife Today.com. Or you can call 1-800-358-6329 to order—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Well, as we head toward the end of the year, we want to take just a minute to, first of all, say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are regular listeners and those of you who have provided the funding so that FamilyLife Today could be on the air this year in your community. As we look ahead to 2018, there’s a lot going on, here, at FamilyLife.
In fact, one of the big initiatives we’re working on here is a parenting initiative. We’ve got a new video series called The Art of Parenting that we are finishing up now. This spring, we’ll be releasing it. It will be available in church small groups and also available online. We’re also hoping to get this material into the hands of a million or more people, who are far from God and far from the church. In fact, we’re working on a project, right now, to try to make that happen.
I mention that because the success of these plans for the coming year is really dependant on what we hear from our friends in the next few weeks. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported, and your donations make this ministry possible. What we do for marriages / what we hope to do for parenting in the year ahead—your donations are the key to all of that. The good news is we have some friends of the ministry, who have put together a matching-gift fund so that donations we receive between now and the end of the year are going to be matched, dollar for dollar.
In fact, our friend, Michelle Hill, is here with an update on the matching-gift challenge for the month of December.
Michelle: Thanks Bob…I do have a quick update on our matching gift opportunity. So we’re four days in and as of today our listeners have already contributed over one hundred thirty five thousand dollars toward the match. That’s a great start, so thanks for that response…we REALLY appreciate you…and again Bob every dollar folks contribute during December will be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of two million dollars.
Bob: Well, and we’re hoping folks will respond today and help us take advantage of these matching funds. You can donate, online, at FamilyLife Today.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111. Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, most people are familiar with Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, where she wrote out one thousand things she was thankful for.
But they’re not as familiar with her most recent exercise, where she started making a list of things she needed to repent of. We’ll hear her tell about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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