Shoes, Twitter, and Wild Kingdoms : Talking with Ann Kroeker
LL: I remember meeting you at the Calvin festival. I was walking through the breezeway, and from a distance, I saw this cool looking person peering at me inquisitively. It was you! We officially met moments later, then spent a lunchtime together chatting forever. Remember?
Ann: How could I forget how gracious you were after I practically stalked you! I knew you through blogging communities and writing networks online, but we’d never officially interacted. So when I saw your book, Stone Crossings, for sale at the InterVarsity Press table at the Calvin festival, I asked the staff if you were attending. They said you were, and I thought, “Hey, here’s a chance to meet that smart LL Barkat.” Yes, I really thought that, because I admired your clever, intelligent comments and your beautiful yet accessible poetry.
I asked what you looked like, since I’d never seen a photo of you. They described you, so I spent the rest of the day looking for someone who fit that description. When I spotted you down that breezeway, you looked like a promising candidate. I was staring at you, waiting until you got close enough so that I could read your name tag. You must have been thinking, “Am I about to be accosted?”
Instead of running or calling security, you were poised and gracious; and when I explained myself, you invited me to join you for lunch! We packed a lot into that lunch break. I think we talked about books we were reading, books we were writing, publishing, agents, bloggers and blogging. And shoes. We discussed our shoes.
LL: You were just beginning Not So Fast then (or maybe you'd just found an agent for it?).
Ann: I already had a contract with David C. Cook, so the book was in motion. In fact, I was working on some chapters that I needed to get done. I carried my laptop with me the entire festival, and during breaks I’d set up in the coffee shop and tap away.
LL: Do you recall the early moments of that book-writing journey? What was it like?
Ann: This is my second book. The first, which came out in 2000, was The Contemplative Mom: Restoring Rich Relationship with God in the Midst of Motherhood. That’s a long time ago, so launching this one, Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families, was almost like starting over again. But relationships in the industry gave me a chance to meet with some editors and a publisher from David C. Cook. I presented four different ideas to them, and they picked the proposal that became Not So Fast. It was hard to get much momentum or excitement during the long months of waiting while their editorial and marketing teams met to discuss the viability of the concept.
When it was finally accepted and I received the contract, though, the reality set in that I was going to write this particular book. Then the fun could finally begin. I could read, research, and write in earnest, knowing that it was not only for my own edification, but would lead to something I could share with countless others. It’s also daunting to start working on a book. I’d wonder, Can I write this thing? Can I write it well? Getting started was scary, but when it started to take form and the style emerged, I gained confidence and felt I could build on that.
LL: What had inspired you to take the particular journey of Not So Fast?
Ann: Compared with our surrounding society, my family of six (my husband and I have three girls and a boy) does seem to live a simpler, slower pace. So when my husband and I talked with other parents, we began to realize that our choices were unusual. People would ask why and how we created a less frantic, less stressful lifestyle, so we’d share our story, our revelations, our values, and our definition of success. It would lead to some great conversations about what really matters in life, and people seemed grateful to hear our point of view.
Because I’m a writer, it became clear to me that this conversation could take place on a broader scale—spouses could read this book and discuss their pace of life and whether it really matched their family’s values. Book clubs could talk about it together, encouraging each other to make changes. I felt that there was room on bookstore shelves for a book that explored slowing down from a Christian perspective.
Although many people live slower, more contemplative lives than I do, I felt that I had enough of a before/after experience that I could tell my story, weaving it in with research and helpful tips. I love sharing other people’s stories, as well, so I tapped into friends—even some bloggers—and included snippets of their insights and stories in the book. That was a rewarding part of the journey, as well, finding like-minded people who were willing to share their slow-down struggles and solutions.
LL: Not So Fast promises to slow us down, as persons, as families. Do you have a favorite "solution" from the book?
Ann: Oh, there are so many things! Eating meals together and having a family discussion or devotional afterward is a really great one for passing on values and building memories and relationships. And leaving lots of room for creativity and free play is another simple slow-down solution.
But one of my favorites is getting outside in God’s creation. It’s so simple, so doable—except maybe in this bone-chattering, single-digit weather—that I think it’s a great place to start. The high-speed lifestyle that so many families embrace—always on the go, always in the van on the way to something—keeps people whizzing right past the details of God’s creation. Or if kids are outside, they’re often in an organized setting, like soccer practice or a football game, unable to take time to study a flower or a grasshopper. Moms and dads will yell at their little five-year-olds on the soccer field who are distracted by a butterfly dancing in the air or a flock of geese honking and soaring overhead. “Get your head in the game!” they’ll shout. So we’re in danger of pushing that curiosity and interest in nature right out of them.
To counter that, I like to encourage families to go on a walk, even if it’s just around the neighborhood, so they can breathe fresh air and notice squirrels bounding up trees and nests high up in the branches. Families could take just five minutes to stand out on the porch and watch a sunset. This slow-down solution doesn’t require a huge lifestyle change, yet offers almost instant, significant results. Plus, kids of all ages seem to really respond to being together with their parents without a deadline or agenda. It can become a lifelong habit—a tradition. And a lot of quiet kids will open up on a walk and ask questions of their parents they might hesitate to bring up when their parents are doing other things. So I’d urge everyone to spend time in nature together, admiring God’s handiwork and enjoying one another.
LL: Was there ever a moment when you doubted the project? If so, what encouraged you to keeping pressing into it.
Ann: There were times when I’d spot another book release and see that the title was loosely related to mine. I’d worry that by the time Not So Fast was out, someone else would have effectively covered the same subject matter and my book would be pointless. But then I’d get a copy of one of the other books and realize that it was either quite a bit different than I initially thought, or that Not So Fast would in fact complement, rather than compete with, the other book.
Also, in terms of doubt, I can be rather insecure at times. I’d actually start thinking of other people who I felt could write about this topic far better than I. I’d question my abilities. But God used people in my life to reassure me and provide honest feedback on my work. Encouraging e-mails would come at just the right time. Countless little things would address or counter my concerns, and I’d feel I could carry on.
LL: I know that with my own writing, I often look back and say, "Oh goodness, did I really say that?" and I wish I could more deeply live the very things I recommend to others. Is there an area of "slowing" that you wish you could better lean into? Maybe a favorite quote that makes you think, "Yeah, that. I'm still reaching, hoping."
Ann: It’s impossible to live in this fast-paced world without being affected by it, tempted to speed up and aim for a definition of success that doesn’t at all line up with scriptural values.
In the book, I explore a very wide range of topics, and one is how technology speeds us—and our kids—up, sometimes in dangerous ways. I continue to seek a healthy balance when it comes to gadgets of all kinds. I love how technology can be a powerful tool—your use of technology to conduct and publish this interview being an excellent example. But I also worry that some of the things I’m experimenting with will pull me away from family or keep me from a rich relationship with God.
Someone forwarded an ironic but challenging tweet from John Piper, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” I think this nails the heart of my fear—that I’ll neglect my faith, my devotional life, my connection with the Lord in prayer because I’m caught up in the speed of technology. So I’m cautious, seeking to use it for good—like building a relationship with you long distance, for instance—while watching that I not fritter away my life with tweets about tea and cookies. But don’t get me wrong … I love tea and cookies! It’s just that if I’m not careful, I could really get to loving Twitter a little too much and miss some important moments and memories with my kids.
LL: Stress is such a relative thing. My stress might be your energizing elixir. What kinds of stress do you just love? What kinds do you wish you could diminish in your life?
Ann: That’s a good point—that stress if relative. And the relativity points to our different personalities and capacity. Each of us has a different capacity; for example, you might be able to handle a lot more activities than I can before showing signs of stress and panic.
Stresses I love? This is a hard question! I’m a fairly low-capacity person. If I get too many activities going at the same time, I start to feel overwhelmed and stressed pretty quickly. So I like to avoid having a long to-do list where everything is due at the same time. Even cooking can be stressful if I’m having trouble timing everything to be ready at the same moment.
The things I love aren’t typically stressful. For example, I love creativity and learning—and encouraging it in my kids. I have found, however, when talking with parents, that some people really don’t like to change what’s working in their family’s day-to-day routine. For them to allow free play in their house would invite too many unplanned, unexpected, unwelcome requests, questions and messes. And that, in turn, would increase their stress levels.
They might go nuts at the Kroeker house where wild kingdoms are set up with stuffed animals corralled under tables and cordoned off by yarn or a board game is invented that requires hundreds of scraps of construction paper cut into bits for money or food. You never know what you’ll step into. I like all that fun and creativity, until their inventions cut off a path to my desk. Then I might start to get a little stressed. Eventually it must be picked up and put away until another round of crazy creativity takes off.
LL: You're a Content Editor for HighCallingBlogs now. Could you tell us about that?
Ann: This is still a relatively new role, so I’m still learning the ropes. Already I can say without a doubt it’s a joy and honor to be part of this network of creative thinkers and quality writers who are celebrating the intersection of faith and work. I love seeing how each day of the week, HighCallingBlogs works hard to encourage and inspire people through a variety of topics.
The “family” posts are scheduled for Wednesday mornings. One of the contributing writers is Billy Coffey, an inspiring, gifted storyteller—what a treat to get to know him better as we provide something meaningful for readers to read each week! We’re putting together and seeking out material that explores how our faith in Christ relates to the work of parenting, work in spite of parenting, and our work in the midst of parenting.
LL: What's on the horizon for you? Any dreams, writing or otherwise? We'd love to know.
Ann: I’m staying open to new ideas and inspiration while I wait for the opportunity to develop a new project. Right now my publisher seems to be waiting to see how Not So Fast does. In the meantime, I’ll be working hard to create great content for my personal/author blog, annkroeker.com, my book’s blog NotSoFastBook.com, and HighCallingBlogs.com!
LL: Thanks, Ann. Your profound and amusing words here (and a nice dose of flattery that made my week) remind me: it's good to have lunch with a stranger and talk shoes sometimes. On that breezy, sunny day, we had no idea we'd be here a few years later, talking simple solutions, working side by side.
Ann Kroeker and L.L. Barkat touching toes at the Calvin Festival. Photo by L.L. Barkat.