How does she do it? 6 life questions for busy best-selling author Ann Voskamp

A regular column featuring everyday women and their secrets to juggling life and career that runs every so often (hey, we’re busy too, you know).

Photo by Jonathan Bielaski

In One Thousand Gifts, a book that spent a dazzling 60 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers’ list, author Ann Voskamp showed us all how to be grateful for the little and the big things in life.

But we also know that managing our time with those big and little things we’re so grateful for takes some work.

Which is why we were delighted to talk with Voskamp, whose latest book, The Broken Way, releases next week, about how she looks at her life—and how she gets it all done. And Voskamp gets a lot done! In addition to writing books, Voskamp keeps up her ever-popular blog, travels frequently for speaking gigs, raises her seven children (ages 21 to 2!), takes nearly weekly date nights with her husband, helps with barn chores on their family’s farm, and in her spare time is helping resettle a Syrian refugee family to Ontario, where she lives.

The Broken Way Ann Voskamp

In it all, Voskamp and her husband try to maintain what they call a “one piece” life, one in which family and vocation and spirituality are not fragmented and compartmentalized, but whole and loving and beautiful. Here’s what she had to tell us about how she does it.

(Interview has been lightly edited.)

 

Ann Voskamp

Photo courtesy of Hope Voskamp

What do your mornings look like?

Ann Voskamp: Mornings start around 5:30. I beat everyone up by a half hour. We have seven children, five of them still living at home. Four of those five kids will go to the barn first thing in the morning and do barn chores for two hours, while I am in the house with the baby. If I can get up up a half hour before the baby, I can get my own private prayer time. If not, I get her changed and have her snuggle in with me for my quiet time with the Lord. I also get in some writing time before all the kids head in from the barn.

Then I’m up and running by 8:00 with everybody.

How much sleep do you get every day?

[Laughs.] I aim for six hours every night. It probably isn’t enough. But considering everything else, it’s enough. And I probably don’t get six hours in a row with a little one, but that’s okay too.

What’s a typical weekend with your family? Do you get a day of rest?

Our weekends are different because we usually have one person working with us full-time in the barn and that person always gets their weekend off. So, we all take on a little more work so someone else can get a complete break.

On Saturday mornings, everyone goes to the barn for chores. But when they come in, we all go to the farm bakery (which is in the middle of nowhere!) to get some sticky buns. Nobody has their hair done. Nobody has anything nice or pretty on.

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It’s really beautiful to have routines as a family—so that everyone can count on those—and to have rhythms that celebrate life.

For us, those sticky buns are just a way to celebrate, to say, “Hey everyone! We were given the grace of another week.” It’s a way for us to all exhale together.

On Saturday afternoon, we always have at least one—if not two—communal cleaning hours. Collectively, we all “wash our bowls” together, to say, “We’re all in this together.” So that it’s not like one person is carrying the load alone.

Then my kids get some downtime, and if my husband doesn’t need to be in the fields and if I’m not up against a pressing deadline, my husband and I will get to go out on Saturday nights.

On Sunday, we only do bare minimum in the barns. We don’t do any work in the fields on Sundays at all. So we do have a day of rest.

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Our older boys are usually home from university. So we have Sunday morning with our faith family at church. Then we come home, have supper, and usually games all afternoon.

With farming and the pressures of day in and day out—we have barn chores every single day that don’t stop for holidays or Christmas or anything—we need that hard stop. Or we have crashes and burn outs. God gives us the Sabbath as a gift. And we’re grateful to have the rest of God.

How many emails do you get every day?

I probably get between 50 and 100 emails a day. It takes me a very long time to get through emails. But as I process them, it helps me to remember that every time I’m saying yes to one thing, I’m saying no to something else. And I want to make sure I’m saying yes to “eternal” things—like relationships—and not just focusing on things that would make me feel accomplished.

I constantly pray that God will work in people’s hearts and they will be forgiving of me forgetting emails.

But, probably twice a week, I’ll sit down and do something called the “Email Game.” It helps me keep my inbox under control. Where if an email requires decision-making, I usually sit and over-think it, the Email Game and its timer forces me to make decisions on things. Having the timer helps me say, “You don’t know for sure, but step in one way or the other.”

What are some ways your work and motherhood sometimes collide?

When my husband and I were first married we talked and prayed a lot about living a “one-piece life.” We didn’t want life to feel fragmented and compartmentalized, but a life where the Lord, where family, vocation all wove together. In one piece.

So for us that looks like: We’ve homeschooled the kids, but that doesn’t mean that’s been a perfect thing—or an easy quiet experience. It can be chaotic. It was a little bit crazy, but it’s about weaving all of our lives together in the beauty and chaos and communion of that.

Also, we do things like read scripture around the table together. This also means often times if I have to travel, one of the children is coming with me. It means writing with a child beside me. Doing interviews while holding a baby.

But it’s important to show our children and model how we work, how we pray, how we live life together in all of its richness. How do we make decisions? I don’t know that there’s balance, but there’s communion where I’m living intentionally.

What are the things around your house or farm or in your work life that get left undone too often?

It’s really important to realize we can’t do it all. Well, we can do it all only in the sense that there are seasons that allow us to do different parts of our life—we just don’t do it all at the same time.

So this season of my life is very different from when my kids were all under the age of 10. When we had 6 under the age of 10: things that got left would be: the laundry. It would get washed, but it might not be folded.

Today, my garden gets left. I have grand hopes at the beginning of the year, but September, I’ll have deadlines and school and harvest, and my garden will go terribly awry. I live in a rural Mennonite community where women have gardens of perfection. So it’s painful.

But now my identity is not in whether my laundry is done or whether my garden is perfect or if my floors are washed. My identity is in Christ.

I’ve learned perfectionism is slow death by self and I need to break all those false gods and idols in my life. So for instance, I will say this: Our family loves popcorn. At any given time, you can walk in and the floor may not be vacuumed. And when they were little kids, they’d want popcorn, and I’d say, “No, it makes such a mess! We’re not having popcorn.”

But now we actually have on a big glass movie-popcorn maker on one of the counters in the kitchen. So that there’s popcorn at all times.

Life is too short not to embrace the mess. And life will involve a mess but the mess is where the blessing is. If you walk in my house, there will be popcorn on the floor, but there will be a lot of happy kids here.

For more about Ann and her work (and to win a trip with Ann to Africa!), check out her web site, A Holy Experience.

Ann Voskamp’s family

Photo by Jonathan Bielaski

 

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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