The Gift of Ann Voskamp


She looks like a college student, not the mother of six kids, all spritely in her cute black dress and knee length boots. You expect a high voice, but it is a husky one that begins, “I’m in over my head.”

I don’t have time this morning to tell you about her humble spirit, her potent words, her exhortation to slow down, wake up, pay attention and above all to give thanks.

But you can hear her message to Wheaton College students yesterday here.

What I Owe My Father-in-law

The short answer: a bunch.

When I consulted with my 19-year-old self, I decided that one vital point I would look for in a potential husband was a guy who had a robust relationship with his dad. I craved children; even more, I wanted a man who would be a good father to those future children. Specifically, I wanted a man who had lived with an example of strong leadership, who knew firsthand what a good dad looked like; a man who wanted to be like his father.

[Disclaimer: I know that men who have had passive, indifferent, distant, or abusive fathers are capable of being good dads.]

Thus, when I talked to a guy who dissed his dad, I drew a mental X next to his name: Disqualified.

When Curt and I started going out, he was working summers with his dad. He came to take me to dinner in his dad’s brand new Triumph Spitfire. There was a confidence and respect that flowed between those two men. Curt introduced me to his parents very early in our relationship. When it came time to marry, Curt did not hesitate in choosing his Best Man: “my Dad“. After we had children, we moved nine hours to our current location (where Curt’s folks lived) in order for our kids to live close to their grandparents. Curt and his dad formed a partnership and worked together 12 years. Ever since Curt was old enough to hold a gun, they have hunted together.

“Dad” poured himself into Curt, and through the man his son became, my sons and I have reaped a boatload of benefits. What did Curt learn from his dad? Motivation to work; equilibrium expressed in the family motto: Let’s get the work done and then have fun!; a willingness to confront tough issues and pursue resolution; the courage to be unpopular; stubbornness; unflinching sacrifice; bluntness; the beauty of order; affection; fidelity; compassion; service; laughter.

He made an investment. He renewed that investment. He continues to invest. And I am the rich beneficiary.

Dear Joan


Dear Joan,

Thank you.  Even though I had never met you before, and I don’t expect to see you again, you made my day today.

I am the woman in Costco Optical who was standing in front of cases of frames, forlorn, perplexed, indecisive…inadequate.  Still coming to grips with the transition from contacts to glasses.

And there you were: an older woman wearing black tights, an herringbone skirt and black turtleneck, your elegantly coiffed hair framing a face as beautiful today as it was fifty years ago.  Everything about you reflected exquisite taste.  Your deep-set eyes told me that kindness was spiraled into your DNA. 

“Would you mind giving me your opinion?” I appealed, looking as helpless as I felt.  You smiled your assent and we got straight to work.  Which ones have you tried?…Let’s see that one again…No, that’s too harsh….Oh, I really like those!Yes, those are very nice.  You voiced your responses freely but not forcefully.

Here’s the thing: you attached yourself to my need, converting it to our project, fully invested in finding the best frames out of all available.  Halfway through the process I gave a wry grin and said, “Hi, I’m Carol.”  You said, “Hi Carol, I’m Joan.”  And we were comrades.  We chatted and laughed.  You didn’t act rushed, impatient or put upon.

When we had reduced the decision to two frames, you took your leave.  It occurred to me later that you really had no business in the optical department.  You were just there! And then you left. 

I hope that my new glasses remind me of you often, that I remember to be thankful for our ten-minute friendship.  I would love to be like you when I grow up.  I can’t aspire to your beauty, but I can be friendly and available.  Today you reminded me of how refreshing it is to be connected.  To be humans together in this fragmented world.

Thank you.

Yours fondly,


P.S. I ended up choosing the plainer frame.  I know you preferred the ones with pizazz, the sparkles on the corners that matched my coloring.  Someday I will be brave enough for sparkles, but all my life I’ve chosen safe over brave.

Everyone Needs Help Sometime

“It’s okay…I’ve been there before…Everyone needs help sometime…”

Deana was calling our store’s adopted “Christmas family” to get specific items they needed.  The person on the other line was overwhelmed.

Hearing Deana’s side of the phone conversation took me back to a time when one of my husband’s colleagues showed up on our doorstep with four or five bags of groceries.  It was 1983 or 1984.  My husband was teaching high school, I was home with a baby. We didn’t have two dimes to jingle in our pocket; it was a paycheck to paycheck life. 

Then the flu flattened us. The fridge had free space on every shelf. It was all we could do to make a fire, wrap a blanket around our shoulders, and stare at the wall. Dave Steen, a legendary high school baseball coach, called to check on our Thanksgiving plans. He listened to Curt’s explanation and heard the unspoken pathos between his words. 

And the next day there he was on our front porch.  Cheerful, matter of fact, generous.  Paper bags spilling over with groceries.

I felt embarrassed, relieved, exhausted, awkward, thankful, humbled, uneasy, shy. Reluctant to admit that we needed help and yet incapable of arguing otherwise.  
How grateful I am for that Thanksgiving. That pitiful, miserable, rotten Thanksgiving that turned a corner when our front door opened.  Admittedly, it’s easier to be thankful for hard times when they are in the rear view mirror.

Any of you been there?

Everyone needs help sometime.

Love Continuing in Gratitude


We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births. 

For time is told also by life. 
As some depart, others come. 
The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome.

[…] And time that is told by death and birth
 is held and redeemed by love, which is always present.
 Time, then, is told by love’s losses,
and by the coming of love,
and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost. 

It is folded
and enfolded
and unfolded
forever and ever,
the love by which the dead are alive
and the unborn welcomed into the womb. 

The great question for the old and the dying,
I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough,
but if they have been grateful enough
for love received and given, however much. 
No one who has gratitude is the onliest one. 
Let us pray to be grateful to the last.

~ Wendell Berry in Andy Catlett

Aroma of the Soul

I’m grateful for a slice of time,
that slippery, elusive commodity,
to be with our kids and their kids.

For Carson,
whose little bum I wiped,
offering me pointers on the art of diapering.

  We take pleasure in watching this man
giving baby-baths and piggy-backs.

For Levi, who at three weeks’ age
has the visage of an octogenarian.
His furrowed forehead seems to say,
“I reserve the right to withhold my opinion
until more data is in.”

For family extended,
our daughter-in-law’s parents,
whose lives are braided with ours
through our mutual grandsons.

Last night they taught us Hand & Foot,
soundly defeating our novice hands
and awakening that competitive urge for a rematch.

The joy of cooking is magnified
in a large kitchen with a common goal:
chopping vegetables,
gathering rosemary,
mixing biscuits,
slipping skin off peaches,
blending pastry,
stirring soup,
watching the pie.

We wait for you to wake up,
to hear your happy vocals.
You repeat the sounding joy,
a face tilted back in laughter,
trying out every word you hear;
every word but one,
that ponderous word no.

I bless the day that Taryn entered Carson’s life.
She enriches those around her,
bringing beauty, depth, laughter and grace.
Feet pitter patter,
toys toggle between shelf and floor,
hungry stomachs growl.

Sleep deprivation can’t stifle
the aroma of this home,
 wafting up from contented souls.
The fragrance of good memories remains.

Be Always Coming Home

Audrey and Carol in the middle, circa 1965

Several years ago, while reading a biography of Laura Bush, I discovered she takes an annual vacation with her childhood friends from elementary school.  I remember the very spot I was sitting when I read that. I loved the loyalty, endurance and comfort of those friendships.  It made me wistful.  Ah…wouldn’t that be grand?

Grand is too tame a word.  Wouldn’t it be…magnificent?

There were six girls that grew up together.  We didn’t all go to the same school, but we were together up to three times a week at church.  Our parents were the pillars. We are all the same age. We all have older siblings.  It seems strange by today’s nomadic standards, but our entire childhood was at the same church. 

1967 Lombard Awana Olympics Team

By the time we graduated from high school three families had moved to different parts of the country; we all went our ways.  And we just lost contact.  You know, the Christmas letter connection that fades away as life’s busyness intervenes.  Too many moves.

This summer, thanks to Facebook and siblings, we found each other.  And emails began flying back and forth at a furious speed.  Audrey is overseas, but planned to be in the states in September.  Would we, could we get together?  It seemed impossible, too grand.  But it is true! We booked a cabin so the six of us could reconnect.  We’re coming together from Albania, Arizona, Georgia, Oregon, Texas and Illinois.

I often tell my adult sons: Be always coming home.  

I see this reunion as a home-coming.  We shared the roots of our lives.  We are familiar with the incipient underground growth before we started greening up and blossoming.  How many friends know the entire structure/dynamics of your family of origin?  We’re eager to hear all those chapters that happened after the 1970s.  We want to know and be known. Between us, almost every heartbreak common to mankind has happened (lost a young parent, lost a young child, lost a marriage, family members with disabilities).  We all have a story.  And, amazing grace!, we all still love God. 

We simply want to be under the same ceiling, with time to talk. I am certain that I will learn things about myself just being with these friends.  We’ll have about 66 hours together.  We want to talk, laugh, cry, sing, pray, eat, giggle and sleep only if we must.  I anticipate healing will take place. 

I consider this coming weekend one of God’s great gifts in my life.  It is profound love. It is extravagant grace. It is a magnificent mercy.  Color me thankful.