Thursday, June 23, 2011

Figuring Out Ann Voskamp

Update: This post below was meant as a quick, quizzical wondering about a blogger I'd read. Note that it was written  in June, 2011. Since that time, I've done more digging into Ann's writing, my initial questions have been answered, and more have surfaced. Thus, I wrote  this post. And then I began reading her book.
  For my chapter-by-chapter reviews of One Thousand Gifts, click on the following numbered links: Chapter One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. And one other post. I hope to finish my review of her book in due time.
NOTE: Please notice that I have now begun my reading of Ann's book, probably more in-depth than most readers. So the post below, which was written quite a while ago, has been superseded by other, more current and accurate posts on this author. Comments on this post are now closed.

You know Ann Voskamp. If you're a female blog-reader, you've probably come across her blog, A Holy Experience. Indeed, you may be one of her avid followers. I'm not, but I do read her sometimes, picking out those posts that dig deeper than her poetic style, into the heart of issues that cut into the Christian life.
This photo lifted from the WORLD Mag article.
I've been bemused by Ann Voskamp. At first I thought she was just another homeschooling mommy blogger, with a really nice site. I read her posts on my Google Reader, because I don't like to fight with her music, pretty as it is. And her posts are so huge, they load slowly. Massive pictures. Nice, quirky photos, but too many close-ups of people's hands and feet.

At first I was truly put off by her writing style. Yeah, I know she's a poet, but does that mean she has to remove all prepositions and articles? Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it's the first thing I noticed about her posts. I'm an English teacher; I can't help it. That minimalist style is okay in a poem, but in prose? Nails on a chalkboard to me.  And I'll say that in the past two years or so, she's moderated her style. I cringe though, when I read other bloggers who are clearly imitating her. Ugh. She's writing like herself; that's what they should imitate -- be yourself, bloggers!

Ann gives an impression of great intimacy on her blog, as if she's speaking to you, her best friend. Blog ladies find this very appealing. Intimacy, however, requires two, and I found early on at her site that if I wanted to contact her, I had to enter the name and email address of another friend first, and that left a deep sense of "ick!" with me. I didn't go back again for a while. If you want to know how friendly she is, here is her hello-to-the-new-reader page.  And for what it's worth, I think she's sincere. But I also think this is a business now, a big business, probably bigger than she was anticipating.

Ann's most known for her new book, One Thousand Gifts, a best-seller and appreciated by her many fans. I haven't read it, but from what I gather, it's a book about being thankful for the gifts God gives us. She did this on her blog -- made a very long list of the diverse things she's thankful for. One thousand of them, I think. And many other bloggers are following her example. If you see a random list of bizarre items on the bottom of a post, numbered #377, #378, #379, you know you've found a Voskamp reader.

And she's been a huge help to so many people. I was prompted to do this post on her, because today I read an article in World Magazine on Ann. The writer noted that Ann does have detractors. I suppose every well-known person does. And I was forced to ask myself, "Self, are you a detractor?" And I am not. I think Ann Voskamp is wonderful. Some of her style and her schtik do not appeal to my preferences, but what are preferences? Phooey, as Nero Wolfe would say. The woman doesn't answer to my preferences.

It's her content that intrigues me. A recent post, "What to Sing in Your Storms," is a good example. She's watching their bean seeds get washed away by rain. A farm family's income for the year. She sits with her daughter, who is thanking God for everything, for every drop of rain! And Ann's assessment of why we must thank Him for absolutely everything was as deep, and hard, and shocking, and as Biblical as it gets. Voskamp says:

"...we have no knowledge of good and evil apart from God; my seeing, it is not omniscient. Can I really see if a death, disaster, dilemma, is actually evil?" (Let's count the human tragedies in history that have eventually worked out for immense good. Corrie ten Boom? Ann Frank? Solzenitzen's imprisonment? Bonhoeffer's death?)

"Giving thanks is only this: making the canyon of pain into a megaphone to proclaim the ultimate goodness of God." (Excellent imagery there)

And this one, this one cut me to the quick, and I have returned to read it over and over, wanting it to cut again, and deeper, so that the incision remains, a scar that will remind me of its truth:


"But this is not easy: That which I refuse to thank Christ for, I refuse to believe Christ can redeem."

All of the things that I refuse to be thankful for, I am denying that God can redeem for my benefit, and for His glory. It doesn't mean He won't redeem them, but it means He will do it while I stand by, saying, "I don't believe." What shame that is for the child of God.


This is getting rather long, and I haven't gotten around to what I wanted to say about Ann Voskamp. Where does the depth come from? This is a woman who is: beautiful, classy, wealthy (yeah, we can see her home, her fabulous school room), with beautiful kids and a devoted husband. She lives near family and has a Christian heritage. From what I can tell, the most gut-wrenching crisis she's ever experienced personally is that she was ridiculed by some other girls in middle school.

I mean, seriously. My daughter's been through that. With one paragraph, I could easily outstrip Ann Voskamp in the category of "personal trials."

And so I'm wondering, where does her depth come from? Because that kind of deep understanding about trials and suffering comes from only one place: experience. She deftly applies God's Word to human suffering, but that's a mechanical task, for anyone who doesn't have the cuts in her heart first.

That's why I'm trying to figure out Ann Voskamp. Because the cuts in her heart that produce these thoughts really should come from more than just some nasty words flung at her out of a school bus window. Not to underestimate the viciousness of an 8th grade girl or anything.

If I could talk to Ann, I'd ask her, where do your deep wells come from? That's what I'd like to know.

30 comments:

  1. I agree with a lot of your opinions on her style and I have not read her book. However, I'm pretty sure she watched her little sister get hit and killed by a semi truck outside their house when they were little. I could have some of that wrong, but I'm pretty sure she does have at least one tragedy of that magnitude in her history.

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  2. Read the first chapter of her book. That will begin to answer your question. I expect your library has it.

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  3. Actually, C.S. Lewis said pain is God's megaphone.
    I've read Ann's book and it is sweet, pure, and stirring. As an English teacher, I bumped up against all those adverbs, but her writing style is lovely. I've known few people who communicate and live like she does and they are called to make an impact. I applaud her and her courage. Fame isn't something that appeals to this little hobbit, and I'm sure sometimes Ann longs for the days before the outpouring of interest flooded into her life.
    Don't you love how personal blogs are? I love my few blogging friends(YOU VERY included!) We ride the waves with each other and pay attention to one another and that is holy and miraculous to me.
    You'd like Ann's book and Carolyn is right. You'll find out where the depth comes from when you read it. I ordered it on my Kindle and wish I had just ordered the real book.
    I love your honesty here, MK!

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  4. Thanks, Pom, but I must admit that when I'm not careful, my 'honesty' can border on rudeness, and I didn't want that to happen here. I think Voskamp is a precious, deep believer, who God has put in an unexpected spot to glorify him. I didn't expect such an immediate answer to my question about her personal trials. I guess it's odd that I can't find reference to these events on her blog. I wonder why she doesn't address them there?

    I may read her book eventually, but I have a strong aversion to following trends, and don't usually read books/see movies, etc. when other people do. Silly, but there it is.

    I didn't mean for my post to doubt that her depth is there; I was just wondering what events were behind it, because their shadows are so discernible, in her thoughts.

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  5. I'm slowly reading through AV's Thousand Gifts and I love it. She does have depth, has been through trials. I know what you mean about reading trendy things, but sometimes I want to know what all the fuss is about. She's worth reading, I think.

    Jody

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  6. Hi! I just found this today and wanted to encourage you to read the book. I'm working on writing a review for my blog, but in the meantime: Ann has shared many of the struggles she has gone through in her blog as well as her book. Witnessing the death of her little sister spiraled Ann into cutting, severe agoraphobia, suicidal thoughts, a father denying Christ, etc. The first chapter is free online here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/46474858/One-Thousand-Gifts-by-Ann-Voskamp-Excerpt. The idea to write a personal list of God's gifts was recommended by a friend and is what God used to bring her out of the depths. I don't think Ann walks on water by any means, but it doesn't sound like you've given her much a chance :-)

    In His Grace,
    Hannah

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  7. Thanks, Hannah! I guess what I was trying to say is that, although I do read her blog fairly often (esp. ones where she talks about her family, or homeschooling, or missions), that I really couldn't tell where her wisdom was coming from. Because she is a blogger (and a big one) I think it's reasonable to assume that a fairly faithful reader should have been able to glean the hugest event in her life, from her blog, especially if it is the catalyst for so much else. I never got an inkling. In other words, I shouldn't have to go buy her book, in order to find out. That's all I'm saying.

    As I said, I think she's wonderful, and has been a great influence on many women online. But she is, now, a very public figure. As such, she is open to evaluation and critique. I tried to be even-handed and open in what I did not prefer about her style, but generous in my praise of what I found praise-worthy.

    Since I don't generally like her writing style, it's unlikely I'll buy her book. I read through her posts looking for content, but I don't want to sort through a book. But I'm glad you enjoy her, and many others. We each have our favorites. I'm very glad she's a blessing.

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  8. Perhaps you should have done your homework and researched more thoroughly before passing judgement on Ann Voskamp... I find it odd that you have so much negative to say with so little solid basis for those presuppositions! As an English teacher it would surely take very little effort to read her book.
    Please check your motives.
    Ann connects well with her blog readers in what I discern as a very real, sweet, and sincere manner. Something not everyone can do... for real.
    Elizabeth

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  9. Elizabeth, I was assessing Ann as a blogger only, pure and simple. In doing so, I'd done my homework: I'd read her blog fairly consistently, searched around on it for info, and tried to message or comment there. I don't prefer her writing style, and that's my prerogative. If you like it, that's perfectly fine! I should NOT have to buy her book and read it (which, by the way, was not yet published when I was reading her blog and first wondering about these things), in order to understand the intensity of tone that pervades her blog. I have no motives here, in fact I'm quick to note the things I admire and appreciate about her work and influence. I think you did not read my post carefully. You may call it "passing judgment," but I believe it is simply assessing a blogger whose writing is very public. If you have your own opinion, get your own blog, and post it! It's a big blog world out there.

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  10. I believe the comment box is meant for my opinion on your blog and I believe that is my prerogative.
    Elizabeth

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  11. Hahaha! You crack me up! Your comments only remain here because I allow them to. All parts of this blog are my space, Elizabeth. I'm fine with you stating your opinion here, because it doesn't offend me or make me feel insecure, and I believe in allowing people to state their views, even if I don't agree. Usually it just allows them to show their own temper or foolishness.

    I might need to do a new post on Voskamp, or more particularly, on why a person cannot assess a public blogger without getting smashed for it.

    I sincerely commended Ann in this post for the deep Christian content of her thinking, and in my mind, that's the highest compliment I can give. She writes thoughts that compel us to face our sins and flaws. What did I criticize? Her style. That's about it. I imagine if I could converse with Voskamp, she would be the first to say that I'm free to take or leave her style, as I wish.

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  12. May the Lord bless you in your efforts to blog.
    I hope future readers will feel warmly welcome to leave a comment.
    In His Service,
    Elizabeth

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  13. So I took a look at this blog too before reading the book (which I haven't finished yet) and found that I didn't really get what all the fuss was about at the time. I, personally, am enjoying the book and as a result enjoy the blog more. I think we'd all agree that her blog is mostly geared at encouraging her book readers so, being that you are not an Ann Voskamp book reader, I understand why you wouldn't get much out of her blog. I guess at the end of your article where you get into - what qualifies Ann to such an opinion? or as you put it -'Where does the depth come from?' Can I just say that I find the normalcy of Ann's life to be what I find most attractive about what she has to say. I'm kind of tired of the opinion that someone has to have degree in theology, or an extreme life story of hardship, or a 'big name' in the evangelical church circles or conference circuits to have something to say to me as a Christian, as a woman and as a Mom. This flocking to the 'Joyce Meyers' and 'Beth Moores' (having nothing against either of those women) but not to the everyday Christian Mom slogging it out day in and day out with a brood of kids in the home is getting so old. In short I'm saying I almost respect what she says more because she's ... ordinary. She's not underprivileged, overeducated and what she has to say has come out of living a very ordinary life while having a very extraordinary communion with God. It encourages me, a VERY ordinary young mom to also pursue an extraordinary communion with God and hey... even write about it.

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  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  15. Just wanted to say that I deleted the previous post by "Anonymous" because it was double posted, that's all.

    As I've said before, I'm very thankful and glad that Ann is an encouragement to many women. It's great! And in answer to this last comment, what I was trying (unsuccessfully, I guess) to communicate is that I could not tell, from her blog alone, what life experiences she'd had that gave her such a close acquaintance with grief and suffering. From her writings, I suspected that she's had such experience, but she never said WHAT. I did NOT mean that because she wasn't famous or on TV, or a professor, that she shouldn't be listened to. That was not my point at all. In fact, I agree with you that she is probably more in tune with her readers b/c she shares so much of normal life with them. I would say that she seems much more wealthy than most of her readers are, but that's only my own speculation.

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  16. I think lesson here M.K. can be summed up as 'don't judge a book by it's cover'(or read it before you critique).

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  17. Oh, ugh! How many times do I have to say it! This blog post is NOT, I REPEAT, NOT a review of her book! It's a review of her BLOG, which I did read, often and faithfully for several years. Perhaps, "Anonymous," you should read my post more carefully before you comment!

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  18. Hi... I happened upon your BLOG unexpectedly because I wanted to once again see a photo of Ann Voskamp. A recent e-mail I got from her I think via (in)courage (I subscribe to too many and I get confused!) included something about at one time not feeling physically appealing to her husband but of course said much more meaningfully and poetically. And I thought that I remembered that she is such a beautiful lady (physically and spiritually) that I could not understand why she would feel that way. So I clicked on the photo that led me to your BLOG. Anyway... all I really wanted to say to you is that I appreciate your opinion and I am in agreement with you in that I sometimes have a hard time following all of her thoughts because of her style of writing. However, I strongly recommend that that you read "A Thousand Gifts" and particularly the first few chapters and then you will understand that she has been through a lot more human turmoil and pain than probably most of us have. But again, I enjoyed your BLOG post and appreciate your opinion.

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  19. http://www.aholyexperience.com/2007/05/on-mothering/

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  20. I connected with your blog while researching Ann and One Thousand Gifts. At first I was put off by your critique of her book, but kept reading because I felt I needed the whole picture.

    After finishing your post and reading all the comments I just wanted to say I understand your perspective.

    I read Ann's blog daily, but I have to work through her writing style. I continue to read because of her depth, but I often have to pull back because of her angst and complicated style.

    We have room in this world for all types of writing styles. Some will completely appeal to one and thoroughly alienate the other. The Gospels are a wonderful place to encounter contrasting writing styles. I love the book of John because of the language, the metaphor and the analogy. But I also am drawn to Mark because of his sparse immediacy. We need it all.

    We live in an ugly world, and the ugliness often smears off on us. I say this because this world (and I am a part of it) is hungry for honest beauty. We are starved for something lovely in this hard place we live. Ann’s writing is lovely and contains beauty in its structure and depth in its content; therefore, it meets a deep-seeded need in many women.

    M.K., keep writing. Ann, keep writing. Pioneer Woman, keep writing. I will keep writing. God will use us if our writing has been given to him. He will use us to fill those hungry places.

    May you meet him in the most unexpected places today,

    Tamera Rehnborg

    www.tamera-thechamberednautilus.blogspot.com

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  21. Thank you, Tamera. Thank you for reading to the end. I have left this post up, with the comments, because I do value honesty, and even the opinions of those with whom I disagree. I value what Ann's doing. I no longer read her blog, although it's not because she offends me at all. I just felt I had gleaned what I could from that particular site. And I definitely AGREE with you -- this world of reading needs all kinds of writers! Just because her style isn't my personal favorite, obviously doesn't mean others don't find it very appealing. Blessings on you!

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  22. As someone who reads Ann's blogs consistently, I will admit your post bothered me quite a bit. If the fullness of homework had really been done- it would have been made aware that Ann has been through quite a bit and has made those things well known to all of her readers. Not only in her book, but in her blog.

    Ann is a humble, beautiful woman who does not keep up with the latest "things", whether she is "wealthy" or not. She is a simple wife of a farmer. Period. The picture you painted of her was completely off, and I would suggest that you make an attempt to do more of your homework before writing a post like this in the future.

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  23. Hello, Anonymous, (Why do people leave critical comments, and then not tell who they are?)
    Again, I'll say what I've said repeatedly here: This is not an assessment of Voskamp's character, nor of her history, nor of her book. It's just an assessment of my regular reading of her blog, for about 2-3 years. So, considering what this post was attempting to do, I consider myself to have more than done my "homework." I read her blog quite a lot, I praised her for what I liked, stated what I disliked, and noted what was missing. That's all. It's always interesting how personally people take an assessment of their chosen celebrity. If I'd stated that she was a perfect human, would anyone have objected to such a lie? I wonder.

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  24. First, can I just say the comments on this post cracked me up? *smiles*

    Then, I was going to add: I had seen Ann's blog on and off over the years. I think my take was quite similar to yours. I loved some of what she had written but everything took too long to load, etc...

    A friend gave me her book awhile back. The book is breathtakingly beautiful (and I hate having to say that because, as my sister-in-law jokes, "If it's popular, Tasha automatically dislikes it.") but it truly is. I still read her blog from time to time and everything in it makes more sense now.

    I started my blog in hopes of building a platform much like she did. I do think it's wise to look at what she's done and decide what to keep or discard based on our own abilities and personality.

    And I think you added a well-balanced perspective.

    Blessings! (and I hope you've made it through the worst of the scalding comments.)

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  25. My dear MK,
    Sometimes, a person deep wells come from deep, inconceivable hurt and pain. And it is not something a person would want to share. Just because she has chosen to use the beauty she was given (her writing and faith) out of the sorrows that she faced, in a very public way, does not mean she needs to divulge what or where those springs came from. That, MK, is hers entirely to give, to tell, to voice whenever (if ever) she wants to. I found that comment you made "I mean seriously, my daughter's been through that? With one paragraph, I Could easily outstrip Ann Voskamp in the Category of "personal trials", very telling of what is really behind your entire article. It comes across bitterly jealous. "why don't I have as many readers, the successes, etc, that she has?! I've been throw more!!!!". There are no "categories" for ppl to "outstrip" each other in. Especially fellow sisters in Christ. I am deeply sadden by your article, Not because I am a huge Ann fan (never read the book, rarely read the blog) but because we, as Christians, stand against so much opposition and criticism from "non-believers", the last thing we need is to turn on each other. God gives and takes away, he is behind everything Ann does. He has given her her success and her gift of finding beauty, who are you to question (and question, you did) what God has done with the sorrows she felt? Each person's sorrow is their own, each one feels it different than the other. A death in the family affects everyone differently, the reactions and life lessons are different for each. There is no barometer for pain that produces deep wells of wisdom. I am speaking from experience. I am young, 26, and ppl ask me where I get my wells...my faith...the quiet pain. I would never in a million year tell to someone I know and love that I was violently gang raped as a girl. That is mine to keep. I am only happy (and blessed!) the Lord has taken my deep hurt, pain and memories and changed them to something good, something that maybe one day he can use to help HIS kingdom. Anyway, all that to say, this article left me disappointed.

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  26. Dear "Anonymous,"
    (Again, the ones with the most mean things to say, don't seem to want to identify themselves, even with a name at the end.)
    You make as many ugly assumptions about me as you claim that I make about Ann. Ann Voskamp did not choose to keep her deep, hurting experiences private; she printed them openly in her book. But this blog post was never meant to be a review of her book, which I'd never seen at the time. My issue was that she never mentioned it on her blog, and I couldn't figure out why.

    I am in no way jealous of Ann Voskamp. If I wanted more readership or fame, I' monetize my blog, but I really don't want to do that. I'm very happy with it the way it is. I've had 15 minute of fame (years ago), and I thoroughly disliked it. No thanks!

    Sorry that you didn't appreciate this post, but then, I don't expect everyone to like everything I post. That's life. If you want rosy things about Voskamp, there are a hundred good sites for you. I made it VERY CLEAR the things I sincerely admire and appreciate in Voskamp. It's a shame you didn't read that part closely enough.

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  27. I'm shocked that any writer would give such a strong opinion about someone without even reading the book, or at the ever least the paragraph on Amazon. You would know of the tragedy she lived through. I'm not sure how many have witnessed the gruesome death of a sibling, have a mother in a lock down psychiatric ward, battled cutting, agoraphobia, depression, etc.

    I hope you don't consider yourself a journalist! It's embarrassing, to say the least.

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  28. Joanne, thank you for leaving your name. Like others, you have thoroughly mistaken the intent of this blog post and did not read it carefully, although your criticize me for not reading carefully! This post has nothing to do with Ann'a book and never intended to do so. It is only a review of her blog posts, until the time of this post of mine, nothing more.

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  29. I guess I need to read your blog to understand why you would even consider or think you should analyze another person's blog. I definitely would not want this to seem like an attack on you. I do not know you, nor you me. I just find it strange that anyone would even take the time to blog about another persons blog especially if it were anything of the negative. I admit I only read through a few of the comments posted too. One thing that I am sure you know is that our walk, life, love and even what we do with our blog is between us and Christ. We have no business worrying about another persons life and if it truely be yielded to Christ. I do appreciate Ann and all she posts and writes. I also can accept that many may not feel this way as I do not care for anything by Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer. I pray that you accept this comment as just my little opinion and I do not judge you on whether you post it or not. We all have our opinions. Are they in line with the Word? Are they opinions that glorify the Lord?

    Be blessed and have a sweet evening in Jesus.

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  30. Excellent post. I agree with 98% of what you've said. To agree more would sound like I was trying to be too darling.

    As to the comments about the tragedy of her sister's death, I was aware of that after reading the book, and know that you've read that part as well now.

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