Because she was ill in August 2017, author Ann Voskamp was unable to make it to Detroit, Mich., to speak to attendees at the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Inspire 2017 gathering.
But the author of such books as The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is now healthy and set to open Inspire 2019, to be held Aug. 1-3, 2019, in Windsor, Ont.
“We are grateful to be able to invite Ann Voskamp and have her speak at Inspire 2019. I know many people are looking forward to hearing her,” said Steven Timmermans, executive director of the CRCNA.
“I believe she will provide words that inspire us and help to unify us at the foot of the cross, like many of our plenary presenters, as well as the seminars, workshops, and times of worship.”
Response to Inspire 2017, which drew nearly 900 CRC ministry leaders from across North America to downtown Detroit, was overwhelmingly positive. In written evaluations, participants said that they felt renewed and reinvigorated for ministry after participating in the event held at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.
“Church members and leaders really appreciated the chance to gather to learn from one another and to be inspired for ministry,” said Timmermans. “As we move on to Inspire 2019, I anticipate it will include even more opportunities for people to learn and grow in Spirit-led ways.”
Inspire 2019 will be held at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts, a convention center in Windsor, Ont., just across the Detroit River from where Inspire 2017 took place.
Each day at Inspire 2019 will include worship led by a diverse team. In addition to times of worship and plenary speakers such as Voskamp, there will be dozens of breakout sessions and workshops on topics covering every aspect of congregational life.
In a journal entry on her website, Ann Voskamp gives a look at who she is and what she believes. There we see a down-to-earth, pull-no-punches writer acutely aware of and sensitive to the small wonders and challenges of life.
“I’m Ann Voskamp, a plain Ann without even the fanciful ‘e,’ wife to The Farmer, mama to 7, and honestly, I’m a bit of a mess. It’s okay, really. Grace is the most amazing of all,” she writes.
Voskamp adds that her laundry basket is never empty and she tends to lose library books. She homeschools her kids and says, “Most days I feel just a tad bit overwhelmed and crazy. When the kids and the washing machine sleep, I wash my real dirt down with words and The Word.”
Her first book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,was on the New York Times bestseller list for 65 weeks -- proof, she writes, “that God really does use broken, messed up, and fallible lives anyways.”
As she has written other bestsellers, Voskamp has come to see more fully how sharing her broken-hearted story, she says, “is simply telling how The Greatest Story ever told has completely changed mine.”
She keeps writing every day, using words that flow like poetry to portray “this wondrously messy, everyday-holy life . . . about finding the beauty and quiet, about slowing to see the sacred in the chaos, the Cross in the clothespin, the flame in the bush.
“Just listening – laundry, liturgy, life, — all of life, holy ground. A holy experience — because God has flaming bushes everywhere.”
Readers such as Affie Duifhuis love Voskamp’s honesty and how she describes the small things of life that reflect the big things.
“My sister Greta and I traveled together to the Inspire 2017 conference in Detroit. We were very excited to attend this conference -- to be part of such a large group of people all there to worship together, to attend workshops, and to listen to keynote speakers on . . . how we as a church are to reach out to our neighbors, share God's love to everyone,” she said.
They were especially excited that Ann Voskamp was planning to be there. A few years earlier on her birthday, Duifhuis’s niece, Kim, had given her Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts.
“It was an amazing book — how Ann could find good in everything and every situation. It showed me that we can learn to give thanks at all times too, because, as she said, ‘There is a good God leading and working all things into good, and it's safe to trust him.’”
Even though the other speakers at the conference were amazing, Duifhuis said, she and her sister were disappointed Voskamp could not make it. “I'm excited she's speaking at the 2019 Inspire conference, and I'm going to do my best to be there,” she said.
Greta Groen, Duifhuis’s sister, also finds inspiration, by reading Voskamp, to live a rich, full life and at the same time not to avoid the hard things.
“Ann shares deeply and so honestly of her faith and love of her Savior that I desired to grow in all the truths she shares to radically change my life too,” Groen said. “Ann always talks about living fully and by extravagant, outrageous grace. From our Reformed faith we know that every square inch of our world belongs to God. Glory be to God!”
During her quiet time one recent morning, Teresa Wolfert, a public school teacher and another Inspire 2017 attendee, found herself thinking about Ann Voskamp.
“Ann, as a typical, struggling saint, has given a testimony of what it means to live in step with the Spirit in the renewing of our minds using the Word of God,” she later wrote in an email.
“As Christians, we can sometimes get caught in the inertia of ideals and theology and do precious little actual personal transformation.”
What impresses her about Voskamp, says Wolfert, is that “she writes about her daily, gritty practice of gratitude, and I feel inspired to pick up the weapon of the Word, ask for the help of the Spirit, and actually do the attitude work I need to do.”
In her journal, Voskamp writes of what she believes and how it fills her life and helps shape her relationships — beliefs that thousands of readers share.
She believes in God, “who created the whirling galaxies, the birds soaring in the sky overhead, the endless crashing waves, and all that dances within them. . . .
“I believe in Jesus Christ, the One with no earthly Father, with the dust of this earth between his toes, and with our names etched onto the palm of his hands, right beneath the nail scars. . . .
And “I believe in the Holy Spirit, moving, whispering, indwelling our very being. I believe in living by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and producing fruit in the Spirit . . . in the Spirit who helps us in our weakness with groanings that can’t be expressed in words.”
To stay up-to-date on Inspire 2019 as additional details are announced, click “interested” on the Facebook event page or subscribe to email updates at the bottom of the crcna.org/Inspire webpage. U.S. attendees who plan to drive are reminded that they will need a passport or enhanced driver’s license to cross the border into Canada.