Giving It Forward
About the Guest
Ann Voskamp talks about the thrill of “giving it forward.” Whether it’s through a smile, a financial blessing, or a cup of cold water, we can always find ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Giving It Forward
Bob: Is there an antidote to discouragement and depression in our lives? Ann Voskamp thinks there is.
Ann: In the midst of our own brokenness, in the midst of our own depression, in the midst of our own anxiety, we get really inward focused—we think about ourselves. The way to fix that is actually the exact opposite of what you think—it’s to think about other people’s brokenness and reach out to live like those out-stretched arms of the cross. If you can get others-focused in the midst of your own brokenness, you can find yourself feeling filled up with a much deeper and more meaningful joy.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 6th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. In the midst of the swirl of life, how can we take our eyes off our own circumstances and begin to focus on the needs of others? We’ll explore that today with our guest, Ann Voskamp. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. It just feels like, when you’ve got Ann Voskamp joining you, you should begin every program by going around the table and listing things you’re thankful for. You want to start with this?
Dennis: I would love to—I’d love to give thanks here. I’m thankful for listeners. We do what we do here, at FamilyLife Today, to be able to strengthen your life, your marriage, your parenting—if you’re a parent/grandparent—and leave a godly legacy for future generations.
Barbara and I were recently speaking, and a young lady stood in line to talk to Barbara. She finally came up and said, “I just want to thank you, Mrs. Rainey, for doing the radio program; because I started listening when I was 13 years old.” Barbara said: “Thirteen?! Did your parents turn on the radio program?” She said: “No, no, no. I dismissed myself after dinner.
“I’d go up to my room, shut the door, and I’d turn on FamilyLife Today. You mentored me, and coached me, and gave me a great model of what marriage and family ought to be. I kept listening through my teen years, all the way through college. Two years ago, I got married. Now, I’m really listening to the broadcast.”
I thought, “You know, what’s that worth to that young lady?”—I mean, a decade of listening to FamilyLife Today and impacting her life; and now, she’s starting her marriage and her family. I think that’s worth investing in, Bob. You and I invest our lives here. We also give financially; and we’re inviting friends, right now, to join us with a matching challenge that’s been made available by donors to give generously to keep FamilyLife Today coming on this station, all across the country, to literally tens of thousands / hundreds of thousands of listeners—marriages/families—and a lot of godly legacies.
Bob: And when you give, that’s who you are giving to.
You’re giving because there are listeners who need what FamilyLife Today is providing every day. It’s easy to give—you can do it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a yearend donation. And we’re starting to hear from listeners, and that’s encouraging.
Dennis: It is.
Bob: We still have a ways to go if we’re going to take advantage of this matching-gift opportunity. So, we’d love to have you be a part of the team and help us reach more people in 2018 with the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: And I just want to say, if you’ve given, “Thank you.” If you haven’t given, let me invite you to go online or pick up a phone and to make a generous gift right now. It’s going to make this broadcast possible for, maybe, some 13-year-old young ladies—perhaps, young men—who need to know what a godly marriage and family look like.
Bob: When you’ve got somebody with you, who wrote a book called One Thousand Gifts, talking about things she’s thankful for, it may be hard for her to nail it down to one thing. Do you think she’s going to have trouble with this?
Dennis: I don’t know. Let’s ask her right now: “Ann, what are you thankful for?”
Ann: I am beyond thankful to be sitting in the same room with Bob Lepine, Dennis Rainey, and Barbara Rainey talking about Jesus. It doesn’t get much better than that. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, the honor is ours.
Barbara: It is.
Dennis: We’re grateful too. That is Ann Voskamp, who has authored a number of New York Times bestsellers—the latest, of which, is called The Broken Way. She and her husband Darryl live west of Toronto in Canada. I haven’t heard her use the word, “eh,” yet.
Bob: Do you have an “eh” in you?
Ann: Yes; sometimes, I do say, “eh.”
Ann: Eh. Canadians finish every statement as a question mark.
Ann: Yes; we really do.
Barbara: They all go up at the end.
Ann: We do. Our intonations always go up, and we say, “Sorry,” a lot. [Laughter]
Dennis: I do also want to introduce my wife again. Barbara, thanks for joining us, Sweetie.
Barbara: Delighted to be here.
Dennis: Yes. So, Ann, you don’t know this; but one of my favorite questions to ask—
Ann: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —any human being—
Ann: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —but I thought, “I can’t wait to hear how Ann Voskamp answers this question.”
Ann: I’m feeling nervous now. I’m feeling very nervous. [Laughter]
Dennis: You have lived quite a life! I mean, you live on a farm, and are raising seven kids, and travelled the country speaking occasionally. Here’s the question:
Ann: Yes, sir.
Dennis: “Out of everything you’ve done in all the world, what is the most courageous thing you have ever done?” And the answer is not: “I’ve never done anything courageous,”—that’s not the answer—that is the most frequent answer that I get. But it’s this: “Courage is doing your duty in the face of fear.” Have you got it?
Ann: Yes; yes. Can I do a two-part? [Laughter]
Dennis: You may.
Ann: I think, number one, each of those seven kids was an act of courage. [Laughter] I think, lots of times, when we do something that’s courageous, we are given the greatest gift.
I think each of those kids—just loving them / their hearts—has been the greatest gift of my life.
February, 2014, there were 21 Coptic Christians martyred in Libya by ISIS. Three weeks after their martyrdom, I was asked to go to Iraq and to sit with refugees that had tried to escape ISIS and lost family members. I think that was a decision that we, as a family, all had to go ahead and make because it was stepping into a very volatile, dangerous situation. My husband said to me, “You are [in more danger] here at home, out of the will of God, than you are going to Iraq and being in the will of God.” We had friends that have distanced themselves greatly because of the decision we made, as a family, that I would go to Iraq and tell those stories.
After you have given thanks for thousands of things, you really realize that you are Esther living in the palace for such a time as now—that you have been given all that you’ve been given, not to keep it or to hoard it for yourself, but to live broken and given—to risk it all for those outside the gate. I sat in a shipping container in Iraq, looked into the eyes of a woman, who ISIS had beheaded her husband / shot her brothers. She had to escape—this was before Sinjar—they were all escaping up Sinjar Mountain. She—she said: “I only had two arms. I had to decide which of my children I had scoop up into my arms.” [Emotion in voice]
Dennis: Oh my goodness!
Ann: She had a little boy. She didn’t know where he was; and she said: “We lived a middle class life—we had a garage / we had a car. My husband had a good job.” I thought: “That could be me.
“That could have easily been me.” I would hope that there were people in the world that would care enough to listen and to say: “We are Esthers in the palace for such a time as now. What will we risk for those outside of the gate?” It could have been me! Just by grace / by God’s graciousness, I am where I am now to use the gifts that I’ve been given for those outside the gate.
So, that has been a crazy act of courage; but you look in the eyes of the women and these fathers, who—they are living incredibly courageous lives, where they have to believe in hope in the midst of a very dark, despairing place. I sat, last week, in Iraq with families, who said, “If I got to say anything to ISIS, I would say: ‘Thank you. Because of this war, you have driven us straight into the arms of Jesus.’” I sat with people, over and over again—their testimony was: “I am so grateful that, even in the midst of we have lost everything, we have now experienced Christ or the church meeting our needs.
“Now that we have the riches of Christ, there is nothing we need in this world.” Their faith was phenomenal.
Dennis: I couldn’t agree more. We just need to look around us. It may not be—
Ann: No; no.
Dennis: —travelling across the pond to be an Esther. It may be walking across the street.
Ann: Walking across the street—but each of us is called—
Ann: —right where we are living / right where we are right now for such a time as now. Just look and say, “Where are the broken people around me, right now, that I can live a cross-shaped, cruciform life, broken and given, into their brokenness?”
Bob: Well, you were part of our Christmas celebration last year; because we started a tradition, years ago, with our kids where, at Christmas, we give a gift to some kind of mercy ministry in their name / in their honor as one of their Christmas gifts. In fact, my daughter has said, “That’s my favorite Christmas gift every year.” I asked them, ahead of time: “What has God put on your heart? What are you passionate about?” One of my kids said, “The refugee situation,”—and she said—“and Ann Voskamp recommends this organization…”
So, we gave,—
Ann: Yes; thank you!
Bob: —in honor of that child, to that organization as a Christmas gift; because I can’t go to Iraq.
Ann: No; no. I think each of us—with whatever we have been given—that’s a gift to somebody else—even for that little child, if it’s 25 cents. I think, so often, we think meaningfulness is us getting to do something. When we actually get to give something—actually, Elisabeth Elliot said, “Maturity comes from being willing to live given.”
In this day and age, it’s really easy for children to fall into this sickness of entitlement; but can we go ahead and show our children: “How do you live broken and given? How do you live a life of being broken and given, like bread?—generosity out into the world. Be the gift, and give it forward every single day,”—that’s what starts to change the world in little places and starts to make a big difference.
Actually, on the blog, every month, we have what we call the “GIFT List”—it’s a GIFT: Give It Forward Today. You can actually have a calendar—put on the fridge.
Each day, just challenge your kids: “How can we go ahead and do this one little prompt?” It might be “Smile at everybody today.” It may be “Go ahead and pick up every piece of garbage that you see today.” If we can start to have a mindset of “How can I use the gifts that I’ve been given to give it forward every day?” we start to meet the suffering and the brokenness in the world with the hands and feet of Jesus.
Dennis: So, you do touch on this in your book. I loved the illustrations you gave of buying a dollar lollipop for a kid in line at a store and how your own children bought a bunch of tennis balls and left them on a tennis court / donuts—gave away donuts—just kindness.
Ann: Yes; yes.
Dennis: So, Ann, you write in your book—actually, you ask a question / you say, “How can you be an Esther and break a thousand gates?” What are the thousand gates representative of?
Ann: Yes; yes—all kinds of brokenness, and oppression, and marginalization, and suffering in the world that might—
—yes; it might be on the other side of the world; it might be a crisis pregnancy center in your own community; it might be a single mom. There are all kinds of people who feel like they’re not at the table in all kinds of ways.
Dennis: —like a homeless guy?
Ann: Totally!—like a homeless guy. It might be a kid at your church, who is at university, and he’s a thousand miles away from home.
If we can just open our eyes, there are people who feel lonely and broken all around us. If we can go ahead—not only do this for us—because lots of times, in the midst of our own brokenness, in the midst of our own depression, in the midst of our own anxiety, we get really inward focused—we think about ourselves. The way to fix that is actually the exact opposite of what you think—it’s to think about other people’s brokenness and reach out to live, like those outstretched arms of the cross.
Bob: But when you are depleted—when you are drained, and exhausted, and discouraged—
Ann: Yes; yes.
Dennis: That’s once every five years for Ann Voskamp. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, if you only knew. [Laughter]
Bob: I think The Farmer might be able to share some stories that haven’t made into print yet. When you are in that place, how do you give?
Ann: Yes; I think there are two things. I think Scripture makes it really clear—God is so kind and gracious—there is Sabbath / there is rest every week. Go ahead, on that seventh day, you need time away. Part of The Broken Way is: “Can you break the schedule? Can you break the agenda and come away with Me and have intimacy with Me so that I fill up that bucket?—so that I fill you to overflowing?”
Too often, we think we pour out, out of ourselves. That’s where the depletion comes from. If we can go ahead and say: “I’m only going to pour out of my intimacy and my communion with Christ. I need to stay in close company with Him. So, I’m going to break the schedule. I am going to break the routines and have time apart with Him.” Then, it might be: “You know what? I am in a really depleted place. There might be only one thing I can do today,”—that might be paying close attention to somebody / smiling, intentionally, toward people.
It’s the same thing as gratitude. There’s always, always, always, something to be thankful for.
With given-ness, there is always one small way that you can be given today.
Bob: I was still a very young Christian when I came across 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh—his depletion—where I read that, in our weakness, God is made strong.
Ann: Yes; yes.
Bob: That, again, was a paradigm shift; because I’d always relied on my own strength for everything.
Bob: And to go: “Wait! In those moments when I am weak, God shows up; and it’s better than if I was trying to do it in my own strength.”
Bob: That’s how we’re supposed to live!
Ann: That’s a completely upside down way of thinking. In my brokenness, that brokenness drives me to—what?—dependence upon God. Then, God is all the strength in my life.
Barbara: It reminds me of a story you told, in the book, that I really liked, too; because you wrote about a trip to Israel. Dennis and I have been—I can’t wait to go back. [Laughter]
Barbara: But you talked about listening to a shepherd talk about the way he cared for the sheep.
I think that’s relevant to this, too; because we have to have that communion with the Shepherd. We have to be following the Shepherd to know who He wants us to bless, where He wants us to go, what He wants us to do, what He wants us to say. So, you might want to tell that story.
Barbara: I love that story.
Ann: It was a very interesting experience. He was a Messianic Jew, and he was telling us—you know, too often, we think that the shepherd breaks the legs of the sheep so that they don’t run away. But he said, “Actually, our understanding of break is that he actually puts a weight on the leg of the sheep to, literally, brake him—as in not go further away.” He keeps him closer to the shepherd so the sheep hears his voice.
So, again and again, it’s about “How can I keep close communion and intimacy / keep company with Christ?” He tells me: “Walk this way,” “Do it this way right now,” and that He is all of our resources and our sufficiency, and we’re not doing them in and of ourselves.
Barbara: And the word, brake, is B-R-A-K-E. So, it’s like the brake on a car—
—it’s the controlled; right?
Ann: “Slow down and come closer to Me.” I think one of the most beautiful verses in Scripture is “A bruised reed He will not break.”
Ann: Christ is for you in the midst of what you feel—like: “I’m so broken,” “I am despairing of hope, Lord.” No; that bruised reed—He will not break / that sheep’s leg—He will not break—but He may put weight on it to brake it so it doesn’t go further off this way but, actually, comes closer to Him; yes.
Dennis: So, Ann, I’m listening to our conversation here and reflecting back over all the conversations this week. There, undoubtedly, is a person listening, right now, who is on the outside, looking in. They haven’t taken Jesus Christ at His offer to: “Come to Me, and I’ll forgive you. I’ll make you a fisher of men. I’ll turn you into somebody who is a giver.”
They are so broken, though, they think, “Man, I don’t know if I can do that.”
Well, the reality is you can’t until you encounter Jesus Christ and He comes to live inside of you. What would you say to that person, who is, I’d say, borderline hopeless?—they’re just discouraged—maybe, in a marriage, that is not working; a prodigal child; a health issue; a job loss—catastrophe after catastrophe. You’ve faced a few in your life.
Ann: Yes; I have / I understand. I think—understand that you are not alone. God says He is Emmanuel—“God with us.” I believe with-ness breaks brokenness. So, I’d like to turn to that person and say: “You are not alone where you are right now. You are not the only one who has every walked this way. Jesus walks with you, right now; and all you need is need. Scripture tells us, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’
“You may feel broken, and hopeless, and feel like you have nothing to give. Jesus says: ‘That’s perfect. Come to Me right now, and I will carry you the rest of the way.’”
I think, if we understand that dependence upon Jesus is all that we need, where we say: “I’m letting go of everything. I’ve got nothing left here to give at all, Lord.” He says, “I will do the rest.” I think, if we can come to that place of: “I’m poor. I’ve got nothing; all I’ve got is need,” that’s exactly the best place to meet Jesus and let Him carry you the rest of the way.
Dennis: And He will do that. I’m looking at another one of the books that Paul wrote—2 Corinthians, Chapter 5—it says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; and behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ, reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
The thing I like about that passage, and what you’ve said all week, is that—first of all, God meets us in our point of brokenness,—
Ann: Yes; yes.
Dennis: —and He begins the work of healing; but then, gives us a message. He turns us outward, which is what you’ve done all week. You’ve just—you’ve poked, and prodded, and encouraged, and—
Ann: Gently—so gently. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; that’s right. It was a gentle shame, but it was a good kind—to say: “Be a giver! Be about the ministry of reconciliation and tell people about the Savior. These are eternal beings that you are relating to, day in and day out.”
Ann: Only because you’ve been starving yourself and you’ve tasted bread: “How can you not, now, be broken and given out to those others around you who are starving?”
Dennis: Well, I agree. I’m glad you’re breaking the bread and have been—
Ann: —only in the midst of my own—
Dennis: Yes; I’m thinking back to a little girl who cut herself—
Ann: That’s right.
Dennis: —because she didn’t know what to do with the pain of the loss of her sister.
Ann: But you know what? Jesus stands there, at the cross, with His wounds and says: “Here, by My wounds, you can be healed. Come and take all the woundedness and press it into my wounds.” Jesus says: “Just come. Just come just as you are.” Let Jesus meet you. Let Jesus take all the brokenness—I mean, it’s mindboggling to think: “He’ll take all the brokenness; and He will give you, literally, all of His wholeness.”
Dennis: —and He is alive.
Dennis: He can make a promise like that because—
Ann: —and keep it.
Dennis: —He has defeated death.
I just want to thank you for being a Christ-follower and for using your gifts—my, my—what a wonderful gift you have of writing and—
Ann: All glory to God.
Dennis: —wordsmithing. Thanks for joining us on the broadcast. And I hope we haven’t offended you in too many ways—
Ann: Oh my goodness; no!
Dennis: —or the Farmer or the Farmer.
Ann: All I ask is—someday you come to the farm and have a good plate of bacon with us someday, Dennis. [Laughter]
Dennis: I might do that someday.
Bob: We do have copies, of course, of Ann’s book, which is called The Broken Way in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The subtitle is A Daring Path into the Abundant Life. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800-358-6329. Once again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I know this is a busy season of the year for most families—it is for our family. I just want to ask you to carve out a little bit of time during the month of December and remember to pray for FamilyLife Today. This is a critical month for ministries like FamilyLife Today.
It’s in December that some people, who have been ministered to throughout the year, will decide to make a yearend contribution to support the work of FamilyLife Today.
What happens in December is largely determinative of how extensive our ministry can be in the months ahead. If listeners are generous this month, we’re able to do more in 2018; and if, for whatever reason, we don’t hear from listeners this month, then, we have to make cutbacks. We look at where things are today and think: “This is not a time to be cutting back. This is a time to be expanding the influence of this ministry.”
So, we want to ask you, if you are a regular listener, “Join us in what God is doing through FamilyLife Today by making a yearend contribution.” And this is a uniquely good time to do that as our friend, Michelle Hill, is here to explain today. Hi, Michelle.
Michelle: Hi Bob! It is a uniquely good time to join in, and I’m glad to report that as of today over a thousand people have made that decision…one thousand two hundred and forty nine people to be exact…so first let me say a big thank you to folks like Linda from Reston, VA and Mark from Greenville, SC
Because of folks like Linda and Mark and over a thousand others, today we’re at one hundred ninety thousand, three hundred seventy nine dollars given toward the two million dollar match… which really is a nice bump up from yesterday…so Thank You! We’re very very grateful and of course Bob we’ve made it as easy as possible and there’s still plenty of room to hear from more folks…
Bob: Well, it’s easy for listeners to join us in the matching-gift challenge. They can give, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate; or they can mail their donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Thanks, Michelle. We’ll see you back here again tomorrow.
And we hope you’ll join us again tomorrow. Sally Lloyd-Jones is going to be our guest, and we’re going to talk about how you can communicate the truth of Christmas to young children—she knows something about that. Sally, of course, is the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible. I hope you can tune in to be a part of tomorrow’s program.
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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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