Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Interview with Ann Kroeker: Contemplative Mom

Today I am so excited to bring to you an interview with Ann Kroeker, the author of the book Contemplative Mom: Restoring Rich Relationship With God In the Midst of Motherhood. (Now out-of-print, but you can get a used copy on Amazon for a great price.)

I have been reading Ann's blog for awhile now, and when she posted this: "10 Ways To Deal With Blogger's Block", I took her idea from #9: "Enlist the talents of a guest blogger", and decided to ask her for an interview. She complied gracefully, and I was eager to begin asking this "Contemplative Mom" about some of her tools in becoming one. :)

So, without further adieu, my interview with Ann Kroeker: Enjoy and learn!

{Andrea}First things first. How do you like your coffee?

{Ann}When we pick up bagels, I’ll enjoy a cup of organic, whole bean, medium-roast Trader Joe’s coffee made by The Belgian Wonder, with cream and a tiny bit of sugar. Otherwise, I drink tea. If I’m out with friends, I’ll occasionally order a vanilla latte, but my daily morning beverage-of-choice is tea. Black tea with sugar. In the evening--and I know you didn’t ask how I take my tea, but I’m telling you anyway--I sometimes pull from my secret stash of Candy Cane Lane, a decaf green tea that’s only available during the Christmas season. I bought a couple of extra boxes this year. It’s really good with honey.

Sounds yummy! I like tea at night too, but it has to be herbal tea of some sort.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

I’ve written quite a bit about myself on the "About" page, at my website, and even more about my writing life at both the "Creative" and "Corporate" pages. What I don’t say much about is my family. I try to keep my kids fairly anonymous on the blog, but I will say I have three girls and one boy, all energetic and full of life, love and creativity. Yet, they are all so different, with distinctive strengths and personalities. Generally, we enjoy hanging out and living a fairly simple, relaxed, slow life. We don’t handle hectic very well. And The Belgian Wonder is truly a wonder. He frees me to develop my interests and explore my various writing pursuits. As long as I’ve known him, I feel like he has allowed me to be completely myself. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s huge to me.

How wonderful your husband allows you to do that! Sorry, but every time I read "Belgian Wonder" on your blog, I immediately think of belgian waffles and start wanting to eat them!!


Ok, serious now.
The book that you wrote is titled "Contemplative Mom". Can you explain the term "Contemplative Mom"?

A book came out several years ago called Finding God at Harvard, and there was an essay in there by Kathryn Donovan Wiegand. She referred to herself as a “contemplative mom,” even as she dismantled Play-dough sculptures as a mom to preschoolers. The paradox and tension of that phrase stuck with me. The image of a mom in the midst of all the chaos of childrearing seeking something as quiet, prayerful, Christ-centered and thoughtful as a contemplative life really hit home. That’s all I really want--a life fully devoted to Christ. How could I do that in the midst of motherhood? As the Lord revealed some really simple ways to stay connected with Him throughout the day and also ways to make time to pull away for reflection and deeper study, I kept thinking about how it sounds impossible--a mom? Contemplative? But the reality is that it is possible, and that’s what I wanted to explore in the book (and in life). The bottom line, I concluded, is that God Himself is pursuing a relationship with me. That relationship starts with Jesus Christ, who builds that bridge by way of the cross. His sacrifice makes it possible for me to be a so-called “contemplative mom,” privileged and invited to connect with the Lord, turning my thoughts to Him, depending on Him, asking for His help, giving thanks, and worshiping Him.

I really like that: The only way we can be a "Contemplative Mom" is because of His sacrifice. That helps reminds me not to just "do, do, do" to be a Contemplative Mom, but to really draw that strength from Him.

Yes, that’s a great distinction. You said it well--moms are so used to “doing,” we forget that just *being* with Him is how we get that strength.

I have just started reading the book Last Child in the Woods. I think it's so important not to forget some of our most powerful moments with God can be found in His natural world. This is something we can experience not only individually as a "Contemplative Mom", but together as a family.

You speak in your book about the importance of being outside and how that helps us connect with God better. What are some ways you do that personally and also with your family?

You know what? I just got a copy of Last Child in the Woods, too! It’s sitting on my desk! I haven’t opened it yet, but I love the premise, that contemporary kids are suffering from nature-deprivation disorder.

Well, I love what you just said, that some of our most powerful moments with God can be found in His natural world. When my kids were teeny-tiny, I read a book by Charlotte Mason. We were considering her philosophy of education, and I was struck by her recommendation that kids be outside for several hours every day—something like four to six hours. If it was chilly one morning, she said just wrap up in a blanket and go outside anyway. She placed a high value on that, and it really sank in with me as a parent. I agreed with her, that kids needed to be out interacting with nature and letting the beauty of God’s creation be part of their memories and learning—not to mention the benefit they’d get from the fresh air and exercise. So I tried to commit to getting them outside as often as possible.

So for an example, just the other day I blogged about an outing with my kids. (Here.) It will give you a glimpse into one day-in-the-life of our family out in nature.

Just like you said, there’s just something about being outside in a natural setting that helps me really connect with the Lord and humbly acknowledge His power as Creator and Sustainer. I try to take the kids to a park that’s close to our house, or take a walk with them and let them roll down a hill in their snowsuits and collect pine cones and acorns. I don’t try to make a big lesson out of these outings, but if something takes my breath away, I’ll say so. Now and then in the warmer months, we’ll spot a blue heron soaring overhead like some kind of prehistoric creature, and I always point it out with a sigh of awe, “Oh, wow….look!” The same with a hawk. When I spot a hawk, I hold my breath and hope it doesn’t take off before the kids get a chance to admire it. We spent time at a nature center’s bird observation area not long ago, and I loved watching the kids make their childlike observations. They admired all the birds’ colors and personalities as the chickadees and cardinals flitted from feeder to branch to the snow-covered ground. Occasionally we take bigger trips, like a vacation near the ocean where we see wild creatures like an octopus and jellyfish. But mostly I encourage simple, everyday interactions with nature. It’s hardest for me in winter, because I hate to be cold. But we just go ahead and throw on our coats (and mittens and hats and scarves) and go outside anyway, at least for a few minutes. And if it’s appropriate, without being cheesy, I might drop a well-placed comment that might get them thinking about the Lord as Creator. But I don’t say much. It can so easily seem trite. Over time, eventually, I hope that they’ll make deeper connections on their own.

Great ideas. The key is to keep it simple and just get outside. It's hard for me to be out in cold weather, too, but I want to make more of an effort with that this winter.
Next question. What is *one thing* you can suggest to moms to do to have better communion with Jesus amidst busy family life?

Slow down. The commotion--noise, activities, continuous motion--it all drowns out the Lord’s voice and occupies our minds and schedules so much that we don’t have much of a chance at hearing or interacting with Him. Worse yet, we forget Him. Or we lose perspective and start to put other things as a higher priority. So I would recommend taking some small step to slow down--maybe you say “no” to something next week that you would have normally said “yes” to without really thinking--and then set aside that time to sit with the Lord and pray. How’s that? I hope that’s a start for someone.

Anymore practical ideas?

Interact with Him every single time you think of Him. And if you don’t think of Him very often, figure out ways to start reminding yourself to. For example, to remind you of His presence first thing in the morning, maybe you could put a little piece of paper in your shoe the night before that says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” The next morning, you’ll put on your shoe and there’s that bit of truth to remind you, “He’s right here with me. Right now. And always. Thank You, Jesus.” And then talk to Him about your day.

Dangling from my rear view mirror is a little cross made from pipe cleaners and spools that one of the girls brought home from VBS one year. It helps me distinguish my gray minivan from the seven hundred other gray minivans in the parking lots around town. When I see it, I know that’s my van. But it’s also a reminder: “Hey, I belong to Jesus.” And then, once more, I have an opportunity to talk with Him simply because I’ve thought of Him—I’ve remembered the One who first loved me.

I hear you have another book coming out. Want to tell a little about it?

Well, it’s still in draft mode, so I’m a little hesitant to say much until we’re closer to a release date. Sorry to be vague, but I’ll drop hints here and there on my blog. If you pay attention, you might figure it out.

Ooh. Can't wait. I'll look for those hints.

What are 3 books you can say changed your life? (Besides the Bible.)

This is hard. Narrowing down so many categories of books that have impacted me for such different reasons. I think I wormed my way out of answering a similar question when Nicole asked me.

But I’ll try. This is just off the top of my head.

I’m a little embarrassed to mention this to your conservative audience, but Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird encouraged me to keep pursuing the writing life. She’s a very honest and raw writer--a bit raunchy in her language--but her refreshing approach made the pursuit of a word-life seem doable.

Another writing book that made a huge impact on me when I was very young was called Write to Discover Yourslf, by Ruth Vaughn. I think I was a junior high kid when I came across it at our local library. Her encouraging style helped me believe I really could become a writer someday, and it made such a difference in my life, I decided to write to Ruth and thank her. She wrote back, and we struck up a correspondence that has lasted over 20 years. I explain more details in this post.

Way back in college, I read R.C. Sproul’s book The Holiness of God. I don’t really remember any details about it now, but I remember at the time finishing the book and being in complete awe of God and so grateful for His love and making a way for me. I’d have to read it again to see what Dr. Sproul said that took me to a place of such grateful humility, and I wonder how it would mean impact me today. I just know that it was instrumental in deepening my faith in the Lord when I was still a fairly young believer.

I could go into classic fiction and creative nonfiction and children’s books, but I just don’t even know how to narrow it down, so I’ll just stop. But I admit that I feel like I’ve betrayed the hundreds of other books that have been part of the mental and spiritual food that nourishes me. I’m a lifelong learner type of personality and very curious, so I feel like I take something helpful away from nearly every book I read.

What a great list! Thanks for sharing. And thanks for sharing your ideas with us. It was so fun doing this interview with you!!

Thanks for hosting me—I love your reflective, contemplative style of writing. You’re a deep thinker with a deep faith, living it honestly and openly, encouraging sisters in Christ to seek something richer with Him. I’m so glad we’ve “met” through the world of blogging. You’re a treasure.


If you would like to be put in the Bloggy Giveaway at Ann's for a copy of her book Contemplative Mom, go to this post and put your name in the drawing!! It's a great book.


laurel said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and have now added the book to my (huge) amazon wishlist. But maybe she will pick my number and I will get the book for free!! :)
Thanks for the great post!

Ann V.@HolyExperience said...

Thank you, Andrea, for gently prodding us mamas to flourish--this interview was the perfect soul food.

Ann, sincere gratitude for giving practical helps on how to live out a "one-piece life."

Oh, to stay present to His abiding Presence.

Mary Brooke said...

Andrea and Ann,
Thank you for this treat! It would be fascinating to hear about living a simple, non-hectic family life when your children are older and in activities (mine are not school age yet). I guess the obvious is to be very careful with activities. We love homeschooling and "hectic" is not part of our goals :-))).
Mary Brooke

monica said...

ann is one of my favorites. great interview.

L.L. Barkat said...

I liked the part about going outside (no surprise there, yes?).

And the little cross in the minivan.

Great pictures for a cold, windy day!

Hooked on Houses said...

I'm also a regular reader of Ann's blog, and I just have to tell you I'm glad I'm not the only one who pictures Belgian Waffles every time she mentions her Belgian Wonder. ;-)

Thanks for the interview. Your blog is lovely! -Julia K