Four Steps to a Winning Super Bowl Party — Plus the Wings Recipe You Need

My perfect Super Bowl menu includes Diner Cheeseburger Sliders with Hot Trash Sauce, right around a million hot wings, and anywhere from four to 31 dips. If there isn’t a Crock Pot with a trough of Green Chili Chorizo Queso, is it even the Super Bowl?

Give me dips or give me death. I want chips, veggies, (gluten-free) crackers and crostini as far as the eye can see.

My favorite measure of happiness is how sloppy and saucy and drippy and messy my eaters are mixed with all their “Mmmms” and “Yummms.” Is your juicy burger dripping down your arms? Perfect.

Don’t think for a second that I didn’t include my favorite football food in Feed These People. Hell, that is an entire genre in my family.

Today, though, I want to give four steps to a winning Super Bowl party…

One, share the load. Super Bowl parties should ALWAYS be potluck. Furthermore, ask everyone to bring their award-winning, crowd favorite best appetizer. Weed out the lame, dry, store-bought cookies!

Two, disposable everything. SB parties are supposed to be fun, and what is not fun is two hours’ worth of dirty dishes after everyone goes home.

Three, read the room. At every Super Bowl party, some want to actually watch the game, and some want to eat the snacks and maybe watch the commercials. Have two designated spaces! One for the hard-core watchers, and one for the “go…sports” crowd.

Four, make these wings (or if you have a copy of Feed These People, you can’t go wrong with said sliders or queso, either — you know the ones).

Back to the wings… Maybe no other recipe that hits my favorite football marks more than hot, crispy chicken wings with homemade blue cheese sauce. Nobody doesn’t love them. No. Body. They are a delectable saucy mess. In my family, we make ‘em spiiiiiiicy—and we’re not sorry.

You can fry, bake, or grill these, but be sure to make a mountain of them, because you can’t eat less than six. I don’t make the rules. I’m going to beg you not to skip the blue cheese sauce because Wings + BC = TruLuv4Eva. However you do it, when you gather your favorite people and feed them outrageously good food, you are winning at life. Obviously: shoes are optional for this enterprise.

Chicken Wings and Blue Cheese (excerpted from Feed These People)

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds chicken wings (I’m assuming you want a bunch)
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (or kick it up if you like to party)

Wing Sauce

  • 1 (17-ounce) bottle sriracha
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 stick butter, melted but slightly cooled (that is Lindsay’s weird instruction)

Blue Cheese Dressing

  • 12 ounces blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups buttermilk (you might use less than the full amount)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper

This feeds a crowd, because who makes wings for three people?

Crank your oven to 425°F and let it preheat.

Rinse your wings and pat them totally dry, then coat them with the oil. Put the flour, salt, black pepper, and cayenne in a large bag (I use an old-timey brown paper bag like I’m at the five-and-dime in 1957, but you can do this in a big bowl) and shake it up. Toss in your oiled wings. Shake shake shake. We just want these lightly coated.

Grab a couple of baking sheets and a wire rack for each. Line the pans with foil and set a rack on top of the foil. (Your cleanup now equals trash-and-toss.) Pick up each wing with tongs, shake off any excess flour, and set on the racks in a single layer, not touching. Slide them into that hot oven and bake until the 20-minute mark, then flip and bake until they’re crispy, brown, and sizzling, anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes more.

While the wings are browning up, get your blender out for the two sauces.

  1. For the wing sauce, combine the sriracha and maple syrup and blend. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Take a quick taste. Want it sweeter? Add more syrup. (Not a sriracha fan? Use your favorite store-bought wing sauce. But you don’t get to leave out the butter. Sorry. You remember that I don’t make the rules.) Pour this into a large bowl and rinse the blender jar.
  2. For the blue cheese dressing, combine all the blue cheese ingredients. Don’t add the full pint of buttermilk right out of the gate—maybe start with half. Blend it up and see if you like the consistency of the dressing, then add more buttermilk to thin it if you prefer. Pour the dressing into a serving bowl.

When your wings are done, put them in the bowl with the wing sauce and toss and toss to coat. Serve these with the bowl of blue cheese alongside for dipping.

Black flourishing means American flourishing

I recently spent three days in a little NorCal mountain town with five women who are something north of friends and more in the realm of sisters.

We “met” in the Wild West days of blogging when women wrote on the internet under kitschy site names like Cookie Momster and Swaddles n’ Bottles. We found each other in the lonely space of faith deconstruction, a conversation often unrepresented or unsafe in real life. 

We were women on a mission then, happily accepting every invitation for an internet fight. Twitter? Was a place to go toe-to-toe with seminary theology bros who underestimated our linguistic prowess and the focused rage in which we were prepared to wield it. We fought like wildcats in defense of women in church leadership, women’s bodies, anti-racism, LGBTQIA+ folks, bridging the wage gap, confronting church abuse, dismantling colonizing missionary culture, toxic theology. God, we were pissed. 

Having come up through evangelical subculture, we were accustomed to valuing certainty (and the sound of our own voices). Speaking for myself, I harnessed the exact same self-righteous fury I was raised with and swung it around without – and this is important – actually being a member of those marginalized communities (exception: women). I knew what to do. I knew how to think right. I used that white saviorism FOR GOOD this time (sic). The moral imperative was well-placed but the methods were cringeeeeey. 

Sitting around the fireplace with my girlfriends last week, talking about everything that basically ever existed, I noticed the evolution of our analysis ten years later:

“I was a bull in a China shop.”

“I should have passed the microphone.”

“I still have a lot of blind spots.”

Turns out, we aren’t the banner holders for every march. Usually we are best placed somewhere in the middle of the pack following the better leaders up front. 

So this is the more humble, less centered energy I am taking into Black History Month. Seven years ago, I would have told you EXACTLY how to “fix racism.” I had thoughts. I had ideas. I had data. I could bludgeon you with words. I came armed with history, facts, dates, references. I wrote a million words blasting white supremacy and alienated endless people maybe *three feet* behind me in the work, because no one is more self-righteous than a freshly woke white anti-racist who knows just enough to be a menace.

Now I am far more interested in centering the black leader, the black experience, black leadership, black wisdom. The only reliable source of truth will come from the black community, and any attempt to replicate their bone-deep knowledge of white supremacy is a pale (yikes) version of the full story. 

Now, I fully know white people, white women specifically, have their place in anti-racism. I am not suggesting we throw our hands up and let the black folk deal. It is our imperative responsibility to confront our own internalized white supremacy, do the hard work of unlearning and relearning basically everything we were taught about American history, and examine our privilege to use toward racial justice at our own expense and labor. 

And before I rush past that list, this work is major: majorly essential, majorly disruptive, majorly extensive, majorly challenging. A walk in the park this is not, not if you are taking it seriously. It will require white people de-centering ourselves from the conversation, and this has never been required of us. We’ve had the privilege of prioritization which snuffed out the need for self-examination. If scrutinized, default to “good intentions”, that one black friend you have, and a notable nonuse of the n-word. If that doesn’t work, cry. Our perception? Assumed accurate. Our fear? Justified. Our fragility? Defended. Our version? Believed. Our power? Protected. 

This work is not simple, fast, or comfortable. 

I would say it took me the better part of six years. 

And that only got me partially there at best. 

My boyfriend is a 6’2” black man with dreadlocks, and I experience the world now at his side. I have two black children but they have grown up mostly under the protection of their parents’ whiteness and notoriety. They caught the edges of white privilege. Being in an adult relationship with a black man has thrown a light on my own lingering white supremacy, no matter how much “work” I thought was in my rear view mirror. The number of times I bypass a rule, assume safety, presume belonging, or even hail us a cab (with success) has revealed my own innate sense of privilege. Whereas my partner says: “I would/could never.” For me, daily racism is out of the realm of theory and into the space of experience. 

In the work of anti-racism, the lived black experience is the leading voice, added to the helpful resource of true American history, and there is no better classroom than actual proximity. That’s just it. White folks, that makes our work pretty straightforward:

  1. Listen to black people. Read their books, download their podcasts, follow them on socials, hear their stories, heed their pain. They are telling the truth. Believe them. Stop telling them they haven’t experienced what they have experienced. Just listen and learn and be quiet. This is how it really is, and how it has always been. 
  2. Unlearn whatever garbage version of American history you were taught and get really serious about confronting the white supremacy this country was literally founded upon. Abandon American exceptionalism and learn the truth. America is not great but she could be. 
  3. If your world is all white, change it. You know what we get to choose? Friends, doctors, dentists, pediatricians, coaches, neighbors, school districts, pastors, churches, clubs, restaurants, leaders, teams. Sure you may have to drive further or take more time or make big changes, but that is why this work is called work. Proximity will change you. 

Black flourishing means American flourishing. White supremacy keeps us all in a prison of our own making. Anti-racism turns into representational leadership, a higher GDP, safer communities, better schools. It means brilliant black minds unleashed to the same degree as brilliant white minds, elevating dialogue, culture, art, innovation. It results in more just legislation and equitable policies. It is a solution to poverty, violence, and despair. Anti-racism will hasten the reversal of our outrageous school-to-prison pipeline and a prison industrial complex that suspects, charges, indicts, and sentences black men five times more than white men. 

The end of white supremacy is good for every single heart, mind, soul, and body in this country. It will heal our brokenness.

Racism is a scourge on the American landscape, and the only way through it is with confrontation, reckoning, repentance, and restitution. Then we would all be free of its insidious grip and could get on with the business of maybe, just maybe, actually making this country great. 

A good place to start? We’ve had incredible guests on the For The Love podcast. Check out their work and learn from them here.

Try Being Gentle with Your Earlier Selves

I’m writing a book right now. It’s a lot. The last trade book I wrote was in 2018 (came out April 2020…excellent timing!!). I had, truly, an entirely different life.

Anyway, I am deeeeeeeply examining all the systems and hierarchies and sub-cultures and biases that built me (easy breezy), and I’m doing so through memories and moments and snapshots…

  • 11-year-old Jen being called domineering by her teacher
  • 13-year-old Jen in the first class of True Love Waits
  • 18-year-old Jen sitting across from her parents with a budget on a legal pad explaining why she should get married

One recurring feeling is, surprisingly, a sense of compassion for the young versions of me. Current me wants to pull my hair out and wail at the absurdity of so much of it, the doomed-ness, the naivety and foolishness and limitations, but I can honestly say I was doing the absolute best I knew at the time.

I was earnest. I thought whatever I had was whatever there was, or at least was the right thing, or the good thing, or the true thing, or the faithful thing.

Who among us can’t look backward and realize how far we’ve come or how much we’ve learned or how deeply we’ve changed? This is how growth works, and there is no fast forward button; it is a function of time.

If you are tempted to disparage the earlier versions of yourself, berating her for not knowing or doing better, could you try being gentle with her instead?

She was probably doing the best she could with what she knew. She got you to where you are today, and that counts for something. She ran her leg of the race. Be proud of her for trying her best and going as far as she was able. She was probably handed some harmful narratives that take most of us a lifetime to dismantle, so good on her for surviving those.

Sending so much love to the young versions of you today, dear ones. Proud of them for getting you here. Let us be tender with our earlier selves, like wiser older sisters, like nurturing aunts, like good, good mothers.

“i hope
when you come home to yourself
there are flowers lining the front porch
that were left from all the women
you were before”

@maiapoetry
When the Waves Come

Fear Isn’t the Problem

I was raised by a mother who is something of an… under-responder.

I didn’t even know moms regularly worried about, well, anything. My mom’s motto was basically: “It’ll be fine.” She didn’t “over” much: overreact, overprotect, overrule, overkill, overcorrect, overbear.

I asked her once when my kids were little, “Mom? Did you and your friends worry you were doing everything wrong when we were kids?” And she famously responded, “God, no. You and your friends “parent” (air quotes employed). We just raised you.” Welp. 

You are forbidden to interpret this as criticism. My mom was the only calm human being in our house. While the rest of us ran up and down the scales with our hair on fire — the embodiment of melodrama — mom held a low-register steady note that never faltered. So rather than an entire family in the rafters, mom nonchalantly filed her nails waiting for us to descend from whatever ceiling we were glued to that day. 

However, because she was so unflappable and under-responded to things that should have arguably raised at least an eyebrow, we grew up and had no idea we were supposed to be afraid of stuff. I could fill 50 books with things I have absolutely no fear of that I should. No hint of a lie, I did not own a key to my own house for a solid decade. “What if someone breaks in??” gasped the friends. “Who on earth would break in??” replied Jen, truly baffled. Against substantial evidence, I steadfastly believe no one means any harm, people won’t swindle, nothing will go wrong, and everything is safe. I live in the upper portion of the top half of the glass. (This is no exaggeration. Ask anyone who loves me.) 

So it was genuinely disorienting to lose my marriage after 26 years and discover I was now afraid of everything. I didn’t sleep 15 seconds between 2:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. for six months, lying awake in complete fear, my mind a soupçon of panic. It would be quicker to list the things I wasn’t afraid of than outline everything that felt unhinged. Dread wrapped its tentacles around my brain, and I was certain I would never feel safe again. 

I was afraid I might die of pain. I was afraid I might live with pain. I was afraid I couldn’t do it on my own. I was afraid for my kids. I was afraid for our future. I was afraid about money. I was afraid about my career, my community, my church, our friends, bills, yard maintenance, our cars, my in-laws, my unborn grandbabies, loneliness, being broken, my credibility, Legacy Collective, faith, college, retirement, trauma, holidays, my own patterns, my foolishness, my naivety, my ignorance. 

Turns out, I should have been afraid all along. 

Which is the exact sentiment I took into therapy: I’m scared now. There is reason to be scared. I should have been scared. I will always be scared. Please teach me how to live as a scared person for the rest of my days. I have no training. 

As you might surmise, my therapist thought this approach to the next 40 years was ill-conceived. She would ask me horror questions like, “What are you exactly afraid of?” And I was like, “Ma’am, this session is $125 an hour. I will get to the end of the list and owe you a quarter of a million dollars.” But because I am an Enneagram 3 and wanted to win therapy, I listed my fears and begged her to tell me how to make it stop. I wanted none of it. I wanted to sleep through the night. I wanted to feel my old sense of confidence for 15 minutes a day. I wanted this in my rearview mirror and needed the therapist’s secret formula for making bad things end. 

“Jen, there is how you feel, then there is your resistance to how you feel. The first is hard. The second is catastrophic. You are afraid right now. This makes sense. This is appropriate, because you are a human person who experienced trauma. This is a normal response. But your refusal to face your fears with open arms, welcoming each and every one like the fitting companions they are right now, will delay your healing more than a single other factor. Your fear isn’t the problem. Your resistance to fear is.”

I didn’t care for this. My $125 an hour was meant to evade the suffering and resurrect the sparkling person who didn’t own a house key. All I did was resist my fears. At no point did I sit with my feelings and just let them exist. I fought like a wildcat against every worry, every doubt, every possibility of future anguish. I argued with my terror, gave myself every Girl Boss lecture, seized any 60-second burst of optimism and declared myself “healed.” I resisted fear like it was my paying job. 

Only because I couldn’t tolerate the suffering anymore, I reluctantly tried to figure out what my therapist was saying. I literally had no practice with this. I was a shiny girl born to a shiny dad with a zen mom and a historical nonchalance toward fear. In a sentence that cost me $2.08, I said to my therapist: “Talk to me like a kindergartner. When you say ‘stop resisting your fear’, what that means is… that I would… I want to say… just decide to be happy?” (I was definitely not winning therapy, and this is why counselors need their own counselors.)

With much guidance, I learned the rudimentary practices to embrace fear instead of resist it. I learned to go soft when a fear rose up, to unclench, to relax my forehead and hands and shoulders. I learned to breathe in for eight seconds, hold for four, then exhale slowly for another eight, and I’ll be damned if BREATHING didn’t help calm the internal panic. What on earth? Even babies know how to breathe! And they didn’t even have to pay to learn! 

I learned to let a scary thought ride its own wave without trying to squash it or fix it or deny it; I just let it live in my scared little mind while breathing helped me endure it. I would tell myself: “It’s okay that you feel scared about this. It is a normal way to feel. You’re not doing something wrong. Relax your forehead. Check if your hands are clenched.” Low and behold, the thought would find its end and I didn’t die from it. 

It doesn’t make sense, but facing a fear, letting it be what it is, letting yourself feel how you feel, while intentionally staying calm and keeping your body soft is better than resisting. I don’t know how it works.

Resisting fear seems smarter. It seems like kickass, Annie Oakley, mind-over-matter shit, and I can promise you I’d still be doing that if it worked. I’d be sparring against scary thoughts and terrifying what-ifs, talking myself out of every emotion. But some transmutation happens when you let the fear rise, peak, and recede without a fight. It forfeits a great deal of its power, like it feeds off the strain and without the tension, it goes slack. 

I wonder if whatever you are resisting might find a quicker end if you just let it exhaust its energy without your participation? Can you just let it come, knowing it will also go? What if you shifted your attention to your forehead, your hands, your shoulders, and your breath? Most fear is not productive anyway; inventions that are uncontrollable, unchangeable, or unlikely. When I think back to my litany of fears, almost zero percent of them came to pass. Well, to be fair, I don’t yet know if my unborn grandbabies will make bad choices because of my divorce, but I’ll let you know later if I should have hung on to that one. 

I’m less shiny now, sure, but I’ve developed some tolerance for fear when it comes. I’ve learned to shrink its run time, and that’s about the best we can do. The less oxygen I give it with resistance, the quicker it moves through. I would say I’ve returned to the bottom portion of the top half of the glass; fear didn’t permanently change my orientation but just lowered it a few degrees. You still cannot convince me the streets of New York are dangerous at 3:00 a.m., I’ll ask a stranger to hold my purse, and I never think any football player flagged for a face mask meant to do it. 

My shiny tendencies have mostly recovered, although on my best, most regulated day, I will never under-respond like my mom who, upon learning my brother drove her Jeep into a river, shrugged: “Well, it’s just a car.” Jesus, give me one-tenth the restraint of Jana King, but so help me if one of my sons drives my Bronco into a river, I will have to forfeit my salvation.

Hello rafters, my old friend. 

How I Want to Kick Ass and Take Names (KATN) in 2024

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a position where I just had to “kick ass and take names.”

Let’s call it KATN for short.

This was part of my KATN list at the time:

  • I had to get my life in order.
  • I had to get my money in order.
  • I had to get my home in order.
  • I had to figure out what it meant to be a single mom.
  • I had to figure out what it meant to be in charge of my own budget.
  • And so on.

Maybe you have a list that looks a little or a lot like this, too.

Somewhere in the middle of that whole process, I was like, “I am kicking ass and taking names.” And it kind of stuck with me and resonated with many of us.

So, I wanted to tell you how I am hoping to KATN in 2024. This is all aspirational at this point of course, but I have a couple of things that I’d like to tackle.

How I Want to KATN in 2024

  1. Content creation.

2024 is going to be a year of content creation for me, because I’m writing a book.

It has been a long time since I’ve done this in my world. I wrote the cookbook, Feed These People, most recently — and that is definitely a writing project — but I haven’t written a book-book since I wrote Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, which started in 2018.

So this is a year that I want to make what I hope to be my most meaningful content that I’ve ever created. Certainly, in the book project, but also everywhere — in the For the Love podcast, on the socials, and in all the places that I communicate.

I really want this to be meaningful. I want to be careful. I want every word to matter. I want to give it my all.

As we were preparing for this book project, my agent, Margaret, told me something, She told me: “Save nothing for the swim home,” and I love that. I’ve hung onto that sentiment.

Swim so far and hard out to the middle of the ocean and don’t hold back; don’t save energy for later; don’t leave any content for the future. Truly, save nothing for the swim home, and that’s what I hope to do.

  1. Mom-ing.

I really want to figure out what it means to be the best version of myself as a mom this year.

This is going to be a big year in 2024. My oldest kid gets married, so we have a wedding coming up in March. Then, in May, my youngest kid graduates from high school.

We are growing up. Our little family is growing up; my kids are growing up, and so I want to finish strong.

I want to finish this last leg of the race with my youngest in a way that is special and connected and celebratory — and I want to cheer on my oldest son as he starts a whole new life with his wonderful fiancé who we all love.

I want my kids to feel so loved and so supported. I want to figure out what my role looks like, and I don’t want to waste a lot of time being weepy about it all.

I want to be thrilled, I want my kid to feel like their mom is proud and she has our back and these changes are great. I want to be a part of their happy, happy memories with these big milestones.

So, that’s my KATN list for 2024.

To make sure it happens…

  • I am willing and ready to offload a bunch of other stuff, so that I can do those two things well.
  • I am willing to say “no.”
  • I am willing to say “not this year.”
  • I’m willing to say “this needs to be triaged.”
  • I’m willing to say this particular thing has come to an end.
  • I’m also preparing to subtract, so that I can do these two things really well.

I am willing to do it all to be the best mom for my kids and the best me for my community.

How are you going to KATN in 2024? Make yourself a little list of a couple ways — and think about what you’ll add or subtract or say “no” or “yes” to, to make it happen.

Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love

For the month of December, we’ve been celebrating the four weeks of Advent and the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

I’m sharing each one of those short little video sessions right here for you.

All are welcome to our little “church” time. Sending you hope, peace, joy, and love.

Week One: Hope

Hope is a word that gets used a lot, but it’s not flimsy, wishful thinking. It’s not weak-minded or naive; it’s not silly.  

Hope is powerful and helps us withstand fire and trials and despair. Hope can live in the white-hot center of the flame.

We don’t only access hope when the hard thing is over. Hope can live in the middle of it. 

Watch Hope

Week Two: Peace

The idea of Peace might feel farfetched right now. There is so much going on in the world. But maybe we are also waging war against ourselves, our bodies. Maybe we might be waging war with things happening in our relationships, the people in our lives, or our thoughts, or our struggles. 

But what about waging peace? We can do this. This the perfect time to commit to pursuing peace, well-being, wholeness, and “shalom” in our lives and in our communities.

Watch Peace

Week Three: Joy

It is possible to have Joy even when we are not experiencing happiness. Happiness happens to us but Joy is a choice purposely made.

The third week of Advent, often referred to as Gaudete Sunday, (Gaudete is a Latin verb that means rejoice.). Gaudete Sunday calls us to a contemplative joy, one that recognizes the sacredness of the season. 

No matter where this season finds you, we have access to joy. Joy to the world! The Lord has come.

Watch Joy

Week Four: Love

Let’s talk about Love that knows no boundaries — reaching out to the farthest corners of our hearts.  This love beckons us no matter where we find ourselves. 

What small simple act of kindness can we extend to make a difference in others’ lives? Love just isn’t an idea, it’s a verb. Let’s actively participate in love and choose love.

Watch Love

Why taking the weekend off is self-care

“Self-care” as a term has gotten weird. 

It’s almost like it got co-opted from its original intent and now it just applies to things like manicures or massages.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love those things. But I am more interested in the broader idea of self-care.

So, self-care for me looks like taking the whole weekend off. 

That’s not lazy; that doesn’t mean you’re not a hard worker; and it doesn’t mean you’re just phoning in your job or your career. 

Rest is mature. Rest is wise. 

What rest looks like in my life is that, on Friday, I identify what’s outstanding on the task list and I prioritize which of these things literally has to get done before I check out at the end of Friday. 

I make sure that I have any time-restricted tasks finished — anything that has a deadline, anything that’s due — so that I give my brain the possibility of actually taking the weekend off without feeling anxious or guilty or behind. 

It has worked wonders for me.

Whatever your work life looks like — whatever day or two days that you get to build in for days off — prioritize what you need to get done, so that your 3:00 a.m. brain thoughts aren’t racing about what you didn’t finish. 

Gently lay your work down and say: ‘I will see you on Monday; you will be there waiting for me, I know that you will. But in the meantime, I’m going to take these two days and I’m going to rest; I’m going to relax; I’m going to recover; I’m going to be with my people; I’m going to cook long meals in my kitchen; I’m going to take walks.’

All of this isn’t just a luxury, it is imperative to the long game.

Take your weekend, so do whatever you have to do to ensure the weekend feels restful and relaxing to you instead of anxiety-provoking.

Then on Saturday and Sunday (if those are your days), you get to not have care of the world. Watch football, cook pot roast, hang out with your family and friends.

We always need rest; this isn’t just a holiday season suggestion. But, especially now we need it if we want to have enough gas in the tank to get to 2024.

How to Preserve Your Joy This Holiday Season

In some holidays’ past, I have not excelled at preserving joy and making the most of this really busy time.

Eventually, I realized that there has to be a better way. 

So when I received a thoughtful question from one of our community members, Kelly, about this very thing, it really made me pause and reflect on what I’ve done to turn this ship around.

So here are some easy hacks I’ve personally put into place that might be helpful to you.

1. Establish and then manage expectations. 

If you kind of act as the keeper of the holidays, then this probably starts with you. Think about what your expectations really are — and what’s also reasonable. This might be even more crucial to consider if you have grown kids — or if you’re divorced. I check the box on both of those.  So there are a lot of moving parts. 

Ask yourself:

  • What are my values here?
  • What do I wanna stick to? 
  • What matters the most? 
  • And what can I let go of? 
  • What’s not worth it?

Establish your own expectations and then communicate them clearly to your people. 

Sometimes we don’t even know the little stories that our people are telling themselves in their heads about how the holidays are going to go. This would have saved me 40 million hours of holiday drama. 

For example, this year for Christmas, I decided early on that I wanted to do the whole thing differently this year. I wanted a completely different environment than what we had last year. So we are doing a destination Christmas, with very, very few gifts, but a trip. Just me and the kids. I set that expectation early on and now we’re all thrilled about it.

2. Put the word “no” in high rotation. 

The thing about the holidays is that there are a million opportunities for fun things.

There are so many parties. There are so many get-togethers. There are so many gift exchanges. There are activities and parades. It’s kind of endless.

Nobody’s being a bad person inviting you to their fun thing. It’s just how it is. And so, again, link it up to your expectations and what you want to experience over the course of this holiday.

Then, just use the word “no” as often as you need to. For example, say: “Oh, thank you so much for inviting me for that. I’m not going to be able to make it this year. I hope you have the best time.”

That’s it. You don’t need anything else. You do not have to say yes to everything, and if you do, you will regret it. The word “no” is your friend.

3. Instacart. I said what I said.

It’s my favorite tool to use during the holiday season.

The one place where I tend to feel like I get in the weeds is cooking. There’s just so much cooking and I’m in charge of my whole family and my home.

And so between all the days and all the meals and all the gatherings and all the special events, I have let the tail wag the dog on this before and regretted it. So I use Instacart. I load up every single thing I need in my Instacart and have it all there.

There’s no mad dash calling my neighbors for sour cream. Or that I forgot to get more butter, or whatever the thing is.

When I have all my ingredients ordered and delivered — and I’ve planned it out — I’m not helter-skelter trying to figure out what to do on the day of. It eliminates so much anxiety and stress off my shoulders. 

These are the tools that I’ve added that have changed our holiday season from being manic and over-scheduled and disappointing to actually delightful. 

Pare it down to exactly what you’re hoping to experience with each other and with your friends and family this year. You can do it. 

 

What If Your Faith Looks Different This Time of Year?

This is a time of year where we have a lot of traditions that revolve around church. So I am thinking a little bit about what YOUR experience might look like if your faith looks different or has changed.

Turns out, there is space and room to worship and connect with God and the birth story of Jesus in other ways. Advent is everywhere you can access it right in your own little home. 

My suggestion is to go inward and feel around with a lot of intention and grace about where and how you feel most connected to this beautiful, sacred story that we treasure together at this time of year. 

Think about what helps you feel personally connected to the sacred story of Jesus. Maybe that’s walking outside… that’s a faith practice. Maybe it is hosting a beautiful dinner where your conversation is intentional and meaningful with the people around the table. That’s a faith practice.

Maybe it looks like the music that you listen to over the course of the month. It could be what you’e reading, what you’re listening to, who you’re learning from. 

What feels precious and sacred and holy to you at this time of year can be anything and it can be everywhere. You are not exempt from it.

Remember: Faith practices in general are meaningful in the broadest sense of the term. Maybe some of your traditions aren’t going to be under a steeple this year. Maybe you’re not going to be involved in the church programs. And that’s okay. 

It’s so very normal for your faith to grow and evolve. 

This is what I consider to be really faithful work. I see it as someone taking their belief seriously, examining their own practices and biases, and taking a good hard look at structures and where any injustice is baked into the sauce. 

There’s no room in this conversation for any sort of guilt or shame. None. If your first impulse is to feel as if you’re doing something wrong, it isn’t true.

I’m thrilled for whatever this journey looks like for you. I honor it and I think it is valuable and meaningful. 

If you’re in the process of asking questions and growing and evolving in your faith journey, I encourage you to dig deeper in my Me Course on Deconstruction and Reconstruction with Evolving Faith co-founder Sarah Bessey. I have a special promotion running on this five-part, on-demand e-course for the holiday season. It is $25 for a limited time only. Learn more here.

What Advent means to me

Ask any member of my original family and they will tell you: I was the can’t-freaking-wait-until-Christmas kid.

I was all Christmas cheer, zero Grinch. I am not kidding. In my 20s visiting home for Christmas, I would still wake every single person up on December 25th by 6:00 a.m. including my own toddlers.

Growing up, my dad would make us wait for gifts until he read the Bethlehem story from the Bible, and listen, I love Baby Jesus, I do, but no man has ever read slower in the history of literacy than Larry King slogging his way through Luke 2 at 6:13 a.m. on Christmas morn. Make it stop, Holy Spirit. 

When I was in sixth grade, I literally could not take the anticipation, and one night in mid-December under the cover of darkness, I carefully opened every single present of mine while my parents slept peacefully in their bed, assuming their square firstborn would never break rules (surprise, Larry and Jana! Your own personal Buddy the Elf committed a Christmas crime). I split the tape on one end with a steak knife, slid each box out of the wrapping with the precision of a surgeon, opened the present without messing up the interior tissue paper, and slid it back and re-taped it. Every. Single. Present. 

Christmas letter, circa 1985

Unfortunately, it utterly ruined Christmas 1985 because I had nothing to look forward to and had to fake surprise. (I tell my kids this story every year as a cautionary tale, which never stopped them from snooping once. If they want to ruin their own Christmas, it wasn’t because I didn’t warn them of my errant lawlessness.)

That year, I learned that anticipation is part of what makes the day beautiful. 

I didn’t grow up knowing what Advent meant. I’m not even sure I heard that word until I was an adult. Do not get me wrong: my family was all in on Christmas. In our Baptist church world, we had the Christmas cantata, the handbell choir, the children’s program, the Living Christmas Tree, the Bethlehem drama, O Holy Night by the uncontested soprano soloist, the one who always got the big songs (tip of the hat to Erin Wright!). So we handed all of December programming to Baby Jesus for sure, but it was only later I learned the word “Advent.”

Between definition and synonyms, Advent basically means: anticipating, coming, a new beginning, expecting, preparing, hoping, waiting. In different forms, it is like a child counting down the days until her birthday, the senior wild with readiness for graduation, the bride attending to final details the month before her wedding, the woman measuring life in weeks in her third trimester. Something big and important and wonderful is coming. There are preparations to be made, room to be cleared, hearts to be readied, because this big, important, wonderful thing will be the start of something new, something immensely desired, tremendously awaited for. It is the fulfillment of a great hope. 

With crazy anticipation, the special thing is finally coming. 

Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (December 3rd this year in 2023) and ends on Christmas Eve. The church in Europe began celebrating four weeks of Advent somewhere in the fifth century, and mainline churches in the west use it as the beginning of the liturgical calendar. There are tons of practices and rituals associated with Advent that vary across traditions, denominations, and regions. Without a singular narrative, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned and why Advent means something special to me. 

As clearly demonstrated, anticipation is a very familiar emotion to me. How precious something impending feels dictates the level of excitement leading up to it. No one has to teach us how expectancy feels in our bodies: the giddiness, the hope, the can’t-freaking-waitness of it all. Which, in its origin story, takes us back to Israel all those years ago. Every generation was waiting for Jesus. His birth had been foretold by every family to each young set of ears. Jesus was coming, and he would be special. His arrival meant freedom; not that ancient hearers understood what kind of freedom He would bring, but the anticipation was all the same. 

I have always felt impossibly tender about Jesus’ birth story. I just can’t take it. The young unwed mother, the simple family, the baby born in a stable, the announcement only to shepherds, the outrageous ordinary placement of a king. This is how He came. What could ever be more precious than this? Like my friend Amy told me years ago: “I can’t believe that is how he did it.” 

I’ll be honest, if Jesus was born in the palace and his freedom enacted through positional power, that wouldn’t qualify as good news to me at all. The closer most leaders get to power, the further from the margins they become. Power protects power, power begets power, and power reinforces power. It is hierarchical in nature, vulnerable to corruption, self-protective at best and others-destructive at worst. Governmental power has been the source of suffering and misery for millennia. It is predictable and disappointing, and the greatest news about Jesus’ birth is that it happened in a barn.  

My all-time favorite sermon on Jesus’ birth story was by Charles Spurgeon* in 1862: 

By being in a manger he was declared to be the king of the poor…it is not a Caesar that is born today; he will never trample down our fields with his armies, or slaughter our flocks for his courtiers, he will be the poor man’s friend, the people’s monarch…In thus being laid in a manger, he did, as it were, give an invitation to the most humble to come to him. We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. 

Never could there be a being more approachable than Christ. No rough guards pushed poor petitioners away; no array of officious friends were allowed to keep off the importunate widow or the man who clamored that his son might be made whole. The hem of his garment was always trailing where sick folk could reach it, and he himself had a hand always ready to touch the disease, an ear to catch the faintest accents of misery, a soul going forth everywhere in rays of mercy.”

A soul going forth everywhere in rays of mercy. 

This was who Jesus was and this is how He came, and this is why we look forward to the beginning of the story every year. Advent turns our eyes to the most subversive plot twist ever conceived. It is never not magnificent. It never gets old. It never leaves out the humble or excludes the poor. It never shifts into something shinier or fancier, no matter how many watching eyes are on it during this time of year. This story has no nefarious agenda once it reaches a popularity quota. It remains stubbornly anti-establishment and unwaveringly pro-justice. Jesus was, as foretold, good news for the poor, which as it turns out, is all of us. 

The way He came is everything. There was no other way for the story to begin. Everything about Jesus was authentic and true. He didn’t bookend his life with auspicious privileges; he was born in a manger and died on a cross. Jesus was altogether good, exactly who he claimed to be, proved to be, and is to this day. 

Advent remembers the beginning and helps us thrill yet again that this is how He did it. We gently close our eyes to the chaos and frenzy this month has become, and we let our minds wander back to that dark night in Bethlehem, the laboring young mother, the straw under her back, the baby’s arrival to us; Jesus, Lord at thy birth. We approach the manger because all are welcome there. 

With adoration, we welcome hope as it enters the story. He came for us.

*https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/no-room-for-christ-in-the-inn/#flipbook/


Through the month of December 2023, I’ll be gathering my community to walk through this Advent season. Stay tuned for those live sessions on Facebook and Instagram.

SESSION 1: Monday, December 4 @ 8:30 p.m. CT
SESSION 2: Sunday, December 10 @ 8:30 p.m. CT
SESSION 3: Sunday, December 17
SESSION 4: Thursday, December 21