Series 25: For The Love LIVE! | Episode 03
Failing, Learning, Beginning Again: For the Love Live with Shauna Niequist
We’re on the road again with the For the Love Live Podcast Tour! And this stop reunites us with old friend and New York Times bestselling author Shauna Niequist. Shauna fills us in on her family’s big move from the Midwest to New York, and all the rewards and challenges of creating a life in the Big Apple. Shauna also confesses what it’s like to sit across from Queen Oprah while she asks you questions about words that you wrote in your very own book that Oprah herself has read cover to cover (!). Shauna closes the loop from the last time she visited For the Love and gives us the real skinny on the “alternative bra situation” story—apparently she wasn’t totally forthcoming last time (one word: “stickers.”) Shauna and Jen also take questions from the audience and offer poignant and sometimes hilarious advice, including Shauna’s words to anyone trying something new: “We’re not dumb, we’re just new. We’re not failing, we’re learning. We’re not falling behind, we’re beginning again.”
Jen: Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show.
So right now we’re in a series where I am bringing you each of the wonderful conversations I had on my very first live podcast tour. This was last fall. It is the delight of my life to talk to interesting people with so many of you in the same room with us. Just amazing.
So if you were not able to bring yourself to one of the live shows. Don’t sweat it, because here I am, right this second, bringing them to you. I hope these conversations feed you as much as they did me and everybody in the room at the time.
So speaking of feeding me. That is something that this particular guest has done for me many, many times—like actually feed me with food—but also with her kindness and her generosity and her wisdom. She was our very first guest for our very first episode when we launched the For the Love Podcast almost three years ago, I couldn’t think of anybody else I wanted to kick it off with more than her. We were so excited to sit down once again with a terrific author and all around good human being Shauna Niequist. She has been such a dear friend to me for so many years now.
We’ll hear about how she’s doing now that she’s become a Manhattan resident, what it is like for her to have kids entering their teen years. So heads up on that, mommas, what kind of tables she has been sitting down to lately without any pressure of having anything perfect, of course, that’s not her brand. Everything Shauna has to say always makes me just nod my head in agreement and it makes me want to grab a pen and paper so I don’t forget it because she just effortlessly speaks with so much wisdom. And you’re going to feel that way today, too.
So grab a cup of tea and listen into my live conversation with the irreplaceable, wonderful friend Shauna Niequist.
Jen: So not only am I thrilled to be here with you, I am thrilled to be here with my friend, my guest tonight. Of course, it’s Shauna Niequist, and she’s going to be here in just a minute, right? Let me tell you about her.
[She is] easily one of my favorite people in the world, easily, and I am on record saying that. She is an incredible, gifted, special writer, and friend and mother. Obviously, [she’s a] New York Times bestselling author of the most amazing books. I know that you’ve read Bread & Wine, or her most recent one, Present Over Perfect. And if you have not read them yet, you are in for a real treat. That is your next move tomorrow. Cancel your day and pick up one of her books.
Shauna is married to Aaron, who is a friend of this church for sure, a very gifted pianist and writer and pastor. They have two sons, Henry and Mac, who we’ll talk about. Their family loves all things Harry Potter, Marvel, and Cubs, okay? They are delightful. You probably know that they are lifelong Midwesterners who moved to New York last year, which I have all kinds of questions about, mostly because of jealousy.
She has been a tried and true friend to me for so many years. She has been by my side, and with me, and for me through every sort of season, both up and down, as good behind the curtain as you think she is. She is as genuine as you would hope she is. She’s exactly who she says she is everywhere in public. It’s my absolute joy and delight to have her tonight. So you all help me welcome Shauna Niequist.
Hey, pretty. That’s fine. Come on, get up here, and just pull this in.
Shauna: I don’t have a bodyguard. He just needed to get Jen’s mic. I walk places by myself all the time. I don’t want you to think now I live in New York, I have a handler, that’s not how it works.
Jen: Just can’t walk down a church aisle by myself anymore.
Shauna: No. I don’t do that by myself.
Jen: Fun fact: Shauna and I saw each other in the hotel right before we came here, and very easily, with clothes that we each have brought, we could have been wearing identical outfits. She has this jumpsuit and these shoes, I have that jacket. So it’s a real miracle that we’re not sitting here twinning.
Shauna: Which doesn’t even matter, because when we travel together, people confuse us all the time.
Jen: Very true.
Shauna: People are like, “I think you are so funny,” and I’m like, “Thank you.” And they’re like, “The story is about your five kids…” I’m like…
Jen: Yeah, absolutely.
Shauna: “That’s the other one, that’s not me.”
Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s the same. But as you know, when that happens, and it happens a lot, I just answer for her.
Shauna: Yeah. Totally.
Jen: I just go ahead and [say, “Thank you, yeah.”
Shauna: Being that it happens when we’re traveling with Nichole Nordeman…
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Shauna: …and people are like, “Your song moves me.” And I’m like, “Thank you.” I don’t know, what am I going to say? So yeah, we just take all the credit.
Jen: Okay. So let’s talk about how long we have been friends.
Shauna: Since Henry was a baby.
Jen: I always tie it to Henry’s birth.
Shauna: And he is thirteen.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right. Correct me if I’m wrong. The first time we ever met in person was at—What was the name of that conference? It was in McLean, Virginia.
Shauna: It was something about the Bible.
Jen: It was about the Bible. After Eve.
Shauna: After Eve.
Jen: After Eve was what it was called. It was for young adults, and Shauna and I were both teaching at it, and this was pretty early in both of our careers. Very early on.
I didn’t prepare you for this, but on our very first podcast episode, you told a story about that. I did not know, because we weren’t close enough yet then for you to confide in me behind the scenes what exactly was going on. But you had a struggle.
Shauna: What’s great about this is I remember telling you about it on the podcast. And the funny thing about podcasting—I’m sure some of you do it or listen to them—it’s a real weird thing, because in this situation, I’m not going to forget that you all are here, because I can see you. But when you’re podcasting, you’re like, Here I am in my jammies, laying on my bed, maybe folding my laundry, just talking to Jen, and it’s very easy to forget that this is going on the actual internet.
Jen: Right. That’s right.
Shauna: So I remember getting about halfway through a story, and being like, I want to rewind. I want out of this story. I want to exit, and I couldn’t do that because she was excited about it. And I tried to stop telling the story, and she did not let me stop telling the story. Now, you’re doing it again.
Jen: I know, asking again in front of live humans. So it’s real funny, and I didn’t know it, and it made me laugh so hard I couldn’t speak for a minute. So just keep in mind, this is Shauna speaking at an event in front of, I don’t know, 2,000 young adult women who are all impeccably styled. They were all twenty-four, they all belonged to the cover of a magazine, and we’re like ladies at that point.
Shauna: I was extremely post-baby.
Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Shauna: So one of the pieces of advice that someone had given me about speaking was: here’s the deal, enough difficult things are going on. You’ve got to talk and also think and also use your body and people are looking, so do not wear something uncomfortable. If there’s something that you can make easy about this, wear clothes that feel really, really comfortable. The last thing you need is mess with your clothing, right? I’m like, “I hear you.”
So I find this outfit that I think hits all the things, and I feel comfortable and it’s fancy enough, da-da-da. Except the problem is—and this is where I am already regretting this.
Jen: That’s true.
Shauna: And also, there are men here. I apologize.
Jen: Okay. Well, we’re sorry. We didn’t know you were coming.
Shauna: Jen apologizes.
Jen: Okay. We see you. We see you there. You’ll be okay.
Shauna: And we’re so sorry.
Jen: It’s only an hour, okay? It’s fine.
Shauna: So my outfit requires a strapless bra. Can you think of anything more uncomfortable or distracting?
Jen: No. Nothing.
Shauna: I have received good advice, and I’m going to take it, and I am not going to wear a strapless bra. Absolutely not. So much more information than you need, but I need you to know I wasn’t wearing like a halter top on stage. It was a shirt with a neckline, but I had a jacket over it. Totally decent. I was totally decent.
Shauna: But when I went to the store and said, “I need a strapless bra. It needs to be so comfortable, and I hate them, and they always just go straight down and they end up like a belt, and I can’t do that. I really need to be very, very, very comfortable.” And she said, “Well here, we have this other thing. It’s totally going to solve your problem.” It’s stickers.
Jen: It’s stickers.
Shauna: It’s stickers.
Jen: Okay, see, you didn’t divulge this on the first…
Shauna: I know. I was trying to not say.
Jen: You pulled an alternative bra situation. So I didn’t know what you were talking about, I had no idea what you meant. Stickers, now I get it. Now I get it.
Shauna: I flew here on an airplane to tell this story.
Jen: I’m so sorry. You know you can’t trust me.
Shauna: Of course, ten minutes in, I realized pretty sure one of my stickers has become unstuck, and my shirt is loose, and it could just fly out onto the stage. And the stage is black, but the sticker is definitely…
Jen: It’s nude.
Shauna: Nude, shaped like a flower…
Shauna: …covered with glitter.
Jen: Okay. This is better than I thought.
Shauna: So because I’m so comfortable and experienced, while I’m speaking, I’m also in what I’m sure is a really natural way tucking in my shirt, [saying] another thing about Eve, and then I’m buttoning my jacket. It’s the kind of jacket you totally don’t button. So I’ve tucked in my shirt all the way around, and I’ve buttoned my jacket all the way up, and I’m walking around, because then, I’m afraid it’s going to go down my jeans and come out.
So I’m speaking and making meaningful eye contact, but they’re just waiting until I need to step on my sticker and cover it. It was the most stressful event of my life.
Jen: I can’t even believe you got one sentence out. That is amazing.
Shauna: Who knows what I said?
Jen: Yeah, who knows? It’s fine.
Shauna: I don’t know.
Jen: Thank you for telling that story, and I’m sorry that I asked a second time.
Shauna: You’re welcome, yeah.
Jen: Okay, let’s talk about this, because what’s fun right now, what I love about following you online right now, is it’s dazzling New York every day. I just love it. I love watching you talk about it. I love watching you flourish there. I love watching you experience New York in all the ways I’ve always wanted to. The envy is so fierce.
So can you talk just a minute about you moving to Manhattan, and what are you doing there and how do you live there and how do kids live there? And where do you get your groceries?
Shauna: I can talk about those things.
Jen: How are you making this work? Do you just walk everywhere?
Jen: Manhattan is so fascinating, but every time I’m there, I’m just like, How do real people live a life here with children? So I’d love to hear it all.
Shauna: Yes. Yes. Number one, I like this topic of conversation matter. Stay on this for a while. Well, it’s so fun. Jen actually was in New York last week, and got to see my apartment and walk around and see where we live and stuff. And she asked me specifically, “How do you get groceries?”
So Aaron—some of you guys know Aaron. We lived here in Grand Rapids for six years, then we moved back to Chicago where both our families are, and we were there for ten years. And for nine of those years, every year, Aaron said, “When are we going to have an adventure?” And I was like, “Like a trip?” And he was like, “No. I want to live somewhere else.” And every year, I was like, “It’s not the year for that,” until it was.
And I actually wished we would have done it sooner. That’s a much deeper conversation for another time, but when I look back on our marriage, there were a lot of ways in which I think I’ve been a really good listener, and this was a way where I really wasn’t a good listener, because if I had listened to him, it would have cost me something that I really wanted, which was to stay in my hometown, and I really, really regret that.
I’m trying to be a better listener in a lot of different areas from here on out, even if it costs me something. So every year, we had this conversation, and we would look at other cities. We went to Seattle, we went to San Francisco, we went to Houston. And we always had this sort of Goldilocks experience, like it’s just not quite right.
Shauna: I don’t know, like it is, but it isn’t. And right during that same time, we had some friends who are pastors of a church in Manhattan, and they invited us two summers in a row to come stay in an apartment. One of their church members had an apartment that they were not using, because they were out of town, and we would stay there and do the Sunday service and we got to have a couple of weeks in Manhattan.
And we never really considered it, because again, it doesn’t seem like something normal people do, you can’t just move there. But after scouring the country, it’s like the romantic comedy where the guy dates all the different girls, and his cool best friend was there all along. Manhattan, we’re like, “Why did we never consider this?”
We love this place, we keep going back, we have great relationships here, we’re happy when we’re here. And in all these different places, we had this feeling—and I’m sure you’ve felt this in your life, where you knock on the door and it is closed. It’s not cruel, but it is not going to open. And with New York, it was like before we even got to the door, it saw us coming and opened, and there were very few other things in my life [in the way]. It felt like God’s provision in such a clear way.
So there’s a church there that we just absolutely love, which is really important to us. That’s very central for us. And we ended up living on the campus of this incredible seminary, and Aaron is a student there, and I will be at some point, but I keep deferring, because also, I’m supposed to be working on a writing project, but we love living there.
Jen: Let me just interrupt here real quick, because you just heard her say she lives on the campus of a seminary, and I can’t imagine what that means in your imagination. I don’t know what that looks like to you, but let me explain it to you because I was there last week. It is a movie set. It is the most beautiful seminary, first of all: old, gorgeous, historical, beautiful Episcopalian church, chapel. And then it has this lovely—I can’t call it a dorm, I don’t know what to call it—sort of apartment wing off of it, and the whole thing encases the most precious New York courtyard with trees and grass and benches that you have ever seen in your life. This is like trees…
Jen: …and little stores and benches and little dogs. Am I doing this right? Am I painting the correct picture?
Shauna: Yeah. Yeah. No, you’re totally right.
Jen: It is darling, is what it is.
Shauna: One of the things that’s funny is all the time, people say to me, “You live in Manhattan? I could never live there.” I don’t say to you, “You live in Ada? I could never live there.”
Jen: That’s true. That’s so rude. Yes.
Shauna: Great. You never have to, I think. I won’t make you move to Manhattan. But people really want to let you know. But it’s funny to even say like, “I love to visit, but I would never live here,” where I was like, You don’t even have to yell about it. You don’t have to live here. But I think when people come to visit, like we did our first couple of times, when you’re staying in a hotel—and you’re usually staying in a little bit more of a tourist area, and you’ve got a list like seven miles long of things to do, and you’re absolutely exhausted, and you don’t know where you are, and you’re seeing like a million things a day.
Shauna: We just have normal lives, where we watch, I don’t know, Mac is really into Bunk’d right now, the one that’s like a spinoff of Jessie.
Jen: Nice, yeah.
Shauna: I don’t mind telling you that, but we watch a lot of Bunk’d. We have a normal life, we have a normal grocery store, the kids go to school. I think people think we live in Times Square.
Jen: Right. Totally. Yes.
Shauna: Where I’m dressed as like the inflatable Statue of Liberty all day.
Jen: That’s true. That’s true.
Shauna: It’s a normal place to live in a lot of ways. The grocery thing is tricky, but I’m getting there. I have a running grocery list 100% of the time. And no matter what I’m doing, if I pass a store, I buy three things on my list. So we could be on our way to a Broadway show, and I’ll be like, “I’m going to get cream cheese and peanut butter and something-something and just stick them in my purse.” I’m always accumulating groceries.
The other thing that you wind up doing is you end up thinking about things by weight. My kids would be like, “Get orange juice and apple juice.” Are you kidding me? Two juices? What am I? A muscular mom?
Jen: A Sherpa.
Shauna: I could never. We can’t have two juices in the same trip. You just have to think about things differently. Like marshmallows, we can get a lot of those.
Jen: Sure. Fill the pantry. One thing that you wrote not too long ago about your experience thus far in Manhattan, you said, “I feel like a beginner again.” You’ve talked a lot about that, and it’s been really instructive to me, this sort of wonder and curiosity that you have reclaimed, and to have to live such a different kind of life than what you’re used to. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Shauna: So when we first moved to New York, if any of you ever moved even two hours from where you grew up, just like a big-enough move, this is what I’m getting at. Okay, so for a lot of you, a big-enough move is where you have to find a new person to do your hair.
Jen: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a good filter.
Shauna: That was my dividing line. Would I drive two hours to see Nick? Probably, but two and a half, I wouldn’t. I miss my dear person in Chicago. So I had to find a new person to do my hair. That’s a really big deal.
Jen: Yeah, it is.
Shauna: It’s not going great. Well, I found a person, his name was Colt, which cannot possibly be his real name, but I like it. And I asked him, I said, “How long have you been in New York?” He’s from Portland. “How long have you been in New York?” “I’ve been here three years.” And I said, “What advice do you have? I’ve been here like a minute.” And he was like, “Okay. I do actually have a piece of advice.”
He said, “When I first got here, I was so concerned with people thinking I was a tourist or thinking I was a rookie, so I did not ask for help. And if I couldn’t figure out how to do something, I just didn’t do it.” He said, “For six months, I didn’t take the subway. I didn’t hail a cab. I didn’t go all these places and do all these things because I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.”
And I remember thinking like, okay, that’s really important. And then right at that same time, right around the sixth week mark, our kids were coming home from school. There were gaps in their curriculum. There’s some things in Barrington they were ahead on, but then there were things that they were behind on. Like in one of the schools, the kids were learning piano, and in the other one they were playing guitar. In one school, it’s Spanish, in the other school, it’s French. And they were asking all these questions, but I realized the question under their question was, “Am I dumb? Am I falling behind? Am I doing it wrong? Am I making mistakes? Am I failing?”
So I wrote on a piece of paper, and I taped it up on our wall with a piece of tape, and it said, “I guess I just haven’t learned that yet.” And I said, “You guys, we’re going to say this every day, all four of us. ‘I guess I just haven’t learned that yet.’ You guys, we’re not dumb, we’re new.”
Jen: That’s good.
Shauna: We’re not failing, we’re learning. We’re not falling behind, we’re beginning again. And it gave us shared language to talk about it, and of course, like any smart thing you ever do for your kids, it’s more for you than it is for them.
Shauna: I was the one that really needed permission to say to myself, “I guess I just haven’t learned that yet.” I was forty-two when we moved there. A lot of people said things like—and this is probably the same kind of people who said, “I would never move there”—”I would only move there if I was twenty-two.” I was like, “I can’t time travel back. I’m here now.”
But I think there’s an idea. We were definitely in that phase in our lives. So I was forty-two, we had our kids, I was living in my hometown and my husband’s hometown, and my kids were going to the schools we went to and we knew their teachers and we knew everybody and we knew their little league coaches. You inch your way into the expert position, right?
I know all the things. I know where to go, I know how things work. And as a writer, the weirdest thing happens. You write a book, and people hand you a microphone, you’re like, “I didn’t know that’s how it was going to work.” But people think of you as an expert. So I was getting pretty far down the expert road, and all of a sudden, I literally was like, “I get the subway wrong fifty percent of the time.” That is very humbling.
Shauna: I cannot figure out how to buy only the right amount of groceries where I don’t have to text Aaron from Ninth Avenue because I’m crying because I got too many bags again.
Shauna: So that phrase became really useful for us, and really life-giving. And I started becoming a person who every time I met someone, I’d be like, “How long have you lived here?” “Ten years.” “How do you do this? Where does the E Train stop? Why doesn’t it stop at twenty-third? Only sometimes? How do you get your groceries?” Every cashier. Every time I went to Trader Joe’s, I was like, “How do I get the right amount of stuff, sir? How do I do it?” And they were like, “There’s a way. There’s totally a way.” And I was like, “Thank you.”
Jen: That’s so good.
Shauna: I became a person who just asked for help everywhere I went, and people love to be asked for help.
Jen: It’s true.
Shauna: They love to feel like they’re an expert in something. It’s been really life-giving and really freeing.
Jen: I love that. For anybody else listening in the room who is staring down an unfamiliar path, which is its own deterrent, it’s hard to feel new. It’s hard to feel like a beginner again sometimes, and it’s hard to feel inexperienced.
And I love that you are bringing us along as you learn to learn with you. I want to talk about the kids for a second, because you just mentioned it earlier, but Henry is thirteen, whoa, and Mac is eight, whoa. I remember when we were praying and praying and praying for Mac. And he’s eight. He’s a whole eight year old. Talk to me about being a mom of a teenager, because it turns a corner at thirteen. I am on record as saying thirteen feels different. They head north about that age. So not only are you parenting a teenager now, but you’re parenting a teenager in a completely different city. How is that going for you and what do you think about it?
Shauna: Well, he turned thirteen last month. So in the last four weeks. He was born in Grand Rapids. I was thinking about this today, Grand Rapids was a place of a lot of firsts for me. My first child, my first book, it’s where I learned to love cooking. There are a lot of really important things I learned in my hospitality and serving people in general.
Okay, there’s two things I would say. We were talking about this last week. So a lot of times, people who live in either more rural areas or the suburbs think that it would be hard to parent kids in the city, and it’s really dangerous and it’s really scary and they grow up too fast. And I totally understand why you say that, but consider this. Think about every kind of out-of-bounds thing you did in high school, right? Where did you do that? The basement, right?
Jen: Yeah. Yeah.
Shauna: Or, at a bonfire, right?
Jen: The pasture.
Shauna: Guess what we don’t have? My kids are going to do something, and they’re going to do it three feet from me.
Jen: That’s right.
Shauna: In our 800 square foot apartment, or outside. How much trouble are you really going to get in on a park bench, right?
Shauna: You’d hold hands.
Jen: You know what I don’t have? A car.
Shauna: Totally. That’s a thing.
Jen: Scene of the crime.
Shauna: An SUV. You’re not doing that stuff in a subway.
Jen: Yeah. It’s a good point.
Shauna: There are some very interesting built-in safeguards. Everything is very public. But the other thing is, I just heard—Have any of you read the book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee?
Jen: What a good title.
Shauna: It’s my number one favorite parenting book. Number one. Someone gave it to me before Henry was born. And a lot of times, I give it to people at baby showers. It has been my favorite for thirteen years. It’s by a woman named Wendy Mogel, she’s a child psychologist in L.A., and she grew up a nonreligious Jew. All these people were coming to her, they wanted her to help their kid, and she thought her worst days would be when she had to give someone a bad diagnosis.
She realized the worst days actually were when there was no quantifiable diagnosis, there was just something going on and it wasn’t working. So she felt frustrated, and she felt like her training wasn’t serving her well enough. So she somehow got connected to a traditional Jewish community, and began to study with rabbis in L.A., and found that a lot of the old Torah teachings gave her more valuable insight into raising children and parenting and family life than her previous education did. So that’s where this Blessing of a Skinned Knee comes from. I love her so much. I saw her at a conference this year, and she said, “I’ve been doing this a long time, and every decade, parents are afraid of something new.”
Jen: So real.
Shauna: It’s all this, and then it’s all this, and then it’s all this. And she says, “Every time, all the parents are wound up about this.” And she said, “I’ve got four decades now of sets of fears, and this is what I know: they’re mostly all going to all be fine. Don’t worry about this, don’t worry about this, don’t worry about this. I told the last generation not to worry about this, not to worry about this, try not to worry about this.” She said, “If you want to improve your parenting all the way today in one step, just do this: be enchanted by whatever is currently enchanting your child. Whatever it is.”
Jen: I love that.
Shauna: “Be as excited about it as they are.” And I have really taken that very, very seriously. So you guys, the amount of time I spend talking about The Avengers is so much time.
Jen: Wow. Wow.
Shauna: So much time.
Jen: Have you been locked into Minecraft yet?
Shauna: No, and I wouldn’t do that. No.
Jen: Well, you know what, you’ve dodged a bullet. Okay. Yeah. Even you cannot be enchanted that long about Minecraft. I’m just saying. But what a great bit of advice. I love it.
Shauna: And actually, I think it’s true for every relationship in our lives, right? I’m a Cubs fan because I married a crazy, crazy, crazy Cubs fan. And if he’s going to watch that much baseball, if I want to see him from the spring through the fall, I have to sit next to him and I want to care about something that he cares about. That’s how we love people, by being enchanted by the thing that they’re currently enchanted by.
Jen: That’s great. That’s fabulous.
Jen: One thing that we have always come to you for is this: you’re such a good role model when it comes to the table, when it comes to gathering, when it comes to having people over and bringing them in tight, feeding them well, breaking bread together. I’ve learned the most from you, from anybody in the world.
Shauna: Thank you.
Jen: You are my key mentor in that. So I would love to hear what kind of tables you’re sitting around lately. What’s it been like to cultivate community in a new place, because you were deeply embedded where you were. So even though you had a handful of really dear friends, you are also starting from a lot of scratch, and you’re the girl for the job there.
Can you talk a little bit about how you have been practicing that in a new place? And I’d love for you to listen to that through the ears of still being exactly where you are, that wherever we are, we can still cultivate community in a new way, in a fresh way, in a special way. So tell us about that a little bit, because that’s one of your highest values.
Shauna: Thank you. Well, I will say—and I mentioned this before—Grand Rapids is where I learned how to practice hospitality. It’s where I learned to host people around my table, it’s where I learned to cook mostly. When I was in Chicago, I had just gotten married, we worked a lot, and Chicago is a very restaurant kind of town. And we were surprised and then also super delighted that when we first got here, people invited us over for dinner.
So I would say people in Chicago do that, but they invite you over for dinner and it’s fancier, it’s catered, it’s an event, it’s a thing that’s happening that doesn’t happen unless there are guests, do you know what I mean? And I remember very distinctly, families in Grand Rapids invited us to their family dinner.
Jen: That’s great.
Shauna: And we sat at the table with their kids, and we ate the food that I think they probably eat other times. And it didn’t feel fussy or anxious, but it felt like we were invited to join people’s family experience, and it changed me. So when I think about the fundamental lessons I learned about hospitality, I learned them here.
And then what I am learning in New York is it’s never about the food, it’s never about the table, it’s never about the stuff, it’s always about the environment that you create. My table is not much bigger than this.
Jen: Fact. Yeah.
Shauna: It is tiny. It flips up on two sides and then it’s just ever so slightly bigger than this.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Shauna: And we never sit at it, and we regularly have twenty-something people, and I’ve learned how to set the buffet up in the kitchen with super not fancy laminate countertops, and we’ve got little ottomans that you can sit on and people eat. It works. It works because people love to be invited into people’s homes.
Jen: That’s right.
Shauna: One of the things I’ve said over and over is hospitality is giving people a place to be when they would otherwise be alone, right? And I would say in New York, that’s very prevalent. A lot of our friends live alone and spend a lot of time alone, and I always want to create a space where if you need to be a part of a family, even just for a night, you can be a part of our family.
So it looks really different, but it’s still the same. I make a lot of soup, I make a lot of pasta. Also, there’s a really good pizza place just around the corner, and I buy a lot of pizza. And we have this courtyard and a big picnic blanket, and we send a bunch of texts and say, “We’ll have cheese and crackers if you want to bring a football.” And it looks different, but the core of it is the same, and you can do it anywhere in the world.
Jen: Absolutely. Speaking of sitting across from people that you love and that are interesting, I want to take a very quick detour [to something] that I asked you if I could talk about just a minute ago.
One time, Shauna got invited to sit across from Oprah—like this, exactly like we are. And I am interested in hearing more about it because, what in the world? Is there a person in here who doesn’t want to sit across from Oprah and have her love us? What in the world? I want to know it all. This is how I got the invite, then this is how I died. This is how I got raised back to life.
Shauna: So what’s hilarious about it is right from the very beginning, you realize that there’s this very detailed, very well-run, very lovely set of things all happening, and it all might or might not happen depending on whatever is happening in her life or schedule.
So they give you like, “You’re in definitely in, unless she doesn’t want to. You’re going to fly here and you’re going to be here at this time, unless she changes the time.” You’re like, “Okay.” But it’s totally fine. You’re like, “I will be there for the next year and a half waiting for a good time.”
Jen: Totally. Totally.
Shauna: And they do an amazing job of prepping you.
Jen: This is SuperSoul, by the way. SuperSoul Sunday if I didn’t mention that.
Shauna: You spend a lot of time with her team asking you a bunch of questions, and they’re amazing. And then you’re on the set, which is at her house, and you’re standing there and your mic is on, but you’re not sitting in the chairs yet. And then you hear everything get quiet, and then you hear a golf cart.
Jen: My gosh. You guys, I would lose consciousness. I can’t. You’re making my heart pound.
Shauna: And you guys, it was like, you sit down in a chair, and she looks at you like you have never been loved so deeply in your whole life.
Jen: I believe you.
Shauna: And also, she has read your book at least twenty-seven times and just cannot get enough of it. And you’re like, I know that’s not true. I know that’s definitely not true. But she’s like, this, and you, and this, and you’re like, Oh no. And she is absolutely, totally zoned in 100%, and then she’s like, “I’m sorry, we’ve got an airplane overhead, we’re going to give it five, four, three. Okay.”
A lot of times, you think that people who are such deep focusers in that way would zone out of everything else, right? Like a producer would have to be like, “Hey, there’s a plane.” No, no, no. She’s super cool. And then you finish, and she hugs you and they take a picture with you, and then she goes screaming away on the golf cart, and then you’re just done.
Jen: That’s it. Bye. Bye.
Shauna: Like, we went out for Mexican food at like ten forty-five in the morning. It’s lunchtime, I guess. We’re done. Did that happen? It was just the most intense, amazing, engaging, looking into your soul, and then like, “Bye-bye.”
Jen: You were so good on it. I was so proud of you, because if anybody could have the capacity to make you lose every thought you’ve ever had, anything you ever knew, like, What was that book even about? I wrote it, I don’t remember its title, it would be Oprah, and you just stayed calm and composed. I don’t know if you were. You were wearing those shoes I loved. I know that much, which was important.
Shauna: The shoes. Yeah.
Jen: How many outfits did you bring to that?
Shauna: Ninety or 100 only.
Jen: Yeah, yeah. That feels right. So okay, you will always have that. When you die, you once were on SuperSoul with Oprah. So congratulations on a life well-lived.
Shauna: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Jen: Okay, I want to talk about this, because if we have ever had one bone of contention, it is this. This and this alone.
Shauna: I know.
Jen: I know. I know you know. Shauna has—I would say aggressively and I would say violently—been an enemy of the fall, of autumn. Like a psychopath. I don’t know how else to describe it. I don’t know what category that is, other than psychotic. But you’re a summer girl, which I love about you, pure and simple. I didn’t watch you make a little bit of peace with the fall this year and I just felt it nurtured me…
Shauna: Thank you.
Jen: …that you worked on yourself like this. Yes, thank you.
Shauna: Okay. I have a couple of thoughts. Number one, it’s so cute that you like autumn, because you know what autumn is for you? Like seventy degrees.
Jen: You’re right.
Shauna: You know what autumn is? Autumn is what creates this.
Jen: Okay, this is fair. This is technically autumn, and there is snow outside. Okay, I’ll receive that.
Shauna: So she’s like, “I like it when I get to wear my t-shirts with sleeves as opposed to my tank top.”
Jen: Yeah, that’s fair.
Shauna: I’m like, “Really? I like it when I wear my coat, like my sleeping bag…”
Jen: Yeah, I know.
Shauna: “…in October.”
Jen: It’s so true.
Jen: Yes. You guys, these coats are seriously no joke. They’re intense. Okay, that’s fair. But let’s even say theoretically…
Shauna: Well, because it brings us to another thing about how I hate cinnamon.
Jen: I know.
Shauna: That’s the core of it.
Jen: You’re right.
Shauna: Don’t put cinnamon in all my food for three months. For nine months of the year, the coast is clear…
Jen: I forgot that you hate cinnamon.
Shauna: …and then it’s in my coffee and then it’s in a cake and then it’s in everything you eat. I don’t want it.
Jen: You don’t want it.
Shauna: Ask me before. You know, because it’s autumn.
Jen: Okay. So that makes you angry at the whole season?
Shauna: The whole system.
Jen: Yeah. Okay.
Shauna: Nature, Starbucks,…
Jen: Yeah, that’s fair.
Shauna: …everybody. Yeah.
Jen: Okay, but here’s a sincere question, because we’re turning into winter, or apparently here in Grand Rapids, we are there. And it gets a little dark. The sun goes down really early, we’re really cold, we’re forced indoors, and you love outdoors. So do you have any practices in those sorts of seasons, sort of literal darkness, to cultivate joy and warmth and connection and keep your spark going when all the things you usually reach for, water, sun, are not available to you? Yes. Yes. That’s all. Water, sun. That’s it. Yeah.
Shauna: I’m a plant.
Jen: Yeah. Yes.
Shauna: Well, I would say one thing. On a winter evening, there are two things I love. I love an impromptu dinner party.
Jen: Yes you do.
Shauna: I love it so much. And I thrive on the last-minuteness of it. There’s a part of me that’s like, “I have half an onion, what could happen?” I get excited about making something out of garbage and then getting things clean really fast. I think it’s because then, the stakes are really low. I’m like, “Of course the bathroom is dirty. You only had twenty minutes notice and so did I.”
Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s true.
Shauna: So I do love a last-minute dinner party, and I will say, one of the secrets to a last-minute dinner party is keeping in your back pocket breakfast for dinner. Everyone loves it and it doesn’t take very long.
Jen: You’re right.
Shauna: So if you keep two pounds of bacon in your freezer, and a thing of either hash browns or tater tots, you always have eggs, or it’s easy to just run out and get those, and just like a little fruit maybe, and then something donuty, you’re done, and people are delighted.
Jen: It’s true.
Shauna: People love breakfast for dinner, especially last minute. This is my favorite thing. The other thing is I really like a super cozy, quiet, cuddly reading zone.
Shauna: So everybody put their jammies on—not the guests, this is when it’s just our family.
Jen: Okay. This is family. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Shauna: These are two different parts.
Jen: Good distinction. Yeah. Sure.
Shauna: I will say, we had a tradition in Chicago that we brought to New York. It’s a pajama party, dance party, breakfast for dinner party…
Jen: Well, that’s fun.
Shauna: …with all the kids and all the grownups, and it’s wonderful.
Jen: Okay. That’s cute.
Shauna: It’s amazing how you can know someone for fifteen years, and then you see them in their jammies, and you just giggle all night. Like, my friend Rachel’s husband, Eric, is wearing slippers. It’s funny and I don’t know why that’s even funny or interesting, but it is. So breakfast for dinner, and then let’s just lock it all the way down, everybody gets a blanket, we all snuggle up on the couch, we all read together. It used to be that I would read out loud to them, but now, we just each read our separate books. That is just about my favorite thing.
Jen: That’s cozy. That sounds delicious. That makes me want to have winter. Okay, this is something else you wrote. This is something you’ve said. Almost anytime I’ve made an arbitrary rule about myself or my life, I don’t like this, or I’m not the kind of person who [fill in the blank]. At a certain point, that definition became a limitation. Life is complicated and delicious and surprising and I don’t want to miss out on any of what I can learn or experience because I’ve told myself, I’m not the kind of person who does this. I love that sentiment so much.
How do you think we free ourselves from those arbitrary rules, and how did you do it and what moved you into this a little bit?
Shauna: Well, I think in so many good ways, and also some hard ways, this move kicked me out of my nest all the way, but it unlocked a lot of really good things too, and it forced me to recover a sense of curiosity and freedom. And I think also, some of it is, I look at forty-three, and the people that I’m looking at who are older than me, it seems like they go two different directions, right? Either the cement starts to harden a little more, like, This is who I am, and it gets a little narrower and a little narrower and they’re a little less able to do things, and there are fewer things on their list of things they might try. Or, it goes totally the other way, and they’re like, “I’m learning Italian. I learned to sail.” And you’re like, What is happening?
And I think I realized I want to be on this side of things. I don’t want even stuff like fall. I’m going to hate three months out of every year. That’s dumb. I don’t have to love every second of it, but what would it look like to try to find the beauty in even that? Life is difficult enough. This is what I think: life is difficult enough without finding reasons to be unhappy because you’ve made rules about what you love and don’t love in your life, right?
Jen: That’s great. Yeah.
Shauna: And if your life is so easy that you can just make arbitrary choices so that you can be offended about things, just wait. I don’t say that like as a curse, I’m not cursing you, life is like that. If you happen to have the mental space right now to pick things to be frustrated about, you’re in a lovely season. And there will be a season where you’re like, I can’t believe I gave my mental energy to that.
Shauna: So life is too short to find things to be disgruntled about. And actually, there’s a book I’ve loved recently—is it called Joyful? Her blog was called The Aesthetics of Joy, or something like that, Ingrid Fetell Lee. But essentially, it’s all about figuring out the psychology of joy and what it means to do the small things we can do every day to create more joy and happiness in our lives.
That’s our responsibility. The circumstances of our life will not always line up for happiness and joy. We’re responsible for being on the lookout all the time for joy, for gratitude. So that was the silly fall thing. Life has gotten difficult enough for me the last couple of seasons where I am aggressively hunting for reasons to be thankful and joyful every day, and I find them whenever I look for them, and I’m very disciplined about it because it reminds me of all the goodness there still is in the world, despite any number of challenges, and I think that’s true for most of us. There are always challenges. We’re responsible for being on the hunt for goodness and beauty and hope and joy all the time. That’s our job.
Jen: Yes, I was just thinking that, too. I’m like, That needs a clap. That’s how I actually learned to love cooking. I’m not a big New Year’s resolution type, but before, we had been in Miami, and the kids were younger, it was the turn of the year. And I remember just thinking how every single day, I was really low-key angry at the kids and at Brandon because of how often they wanted to eat food.
It was frustrating. Like three times every day, and I felt like I was put upon to do that, like it was an assault on me. And I remember on January first, I sat down and I thought, What is a thing that maybe I don’t want to be mad about all the time? I wonder if there’s a thing that I can just turn a lever on and maybe create something new. Is there something I could do better? And I honestly thought about cooking, and I didn’t know how to cook it all. My mom didn’t teach me, and it was just a real tragedy up to that point. The way that I cooked for my family is I put things from the freezer onto a sheet pan, and put them in the oven. So everything was sort of beige, like just an entirely beige plate.
So that year, I didn’t know what else to do, so I started reading cookbooks and I started watching the Food Network. All of it was great to me. I didn’t know what garlic looked like. I didn’t know it came in a little thing. So I taught myself how to enjoy it. I read something somebody had said, like, “If you’re a new cook, and you don’t know what you’re doing, or you don’t know if you can like it, create a thing for yourself.” So I would turn on music that I loved and sometimes, I’d pour a glass of wine, or some delicious tea, and I would create this environment that signaled to my brain, Hey, this is a fun hour. This is for you. This is not a chore. And lo and behold, you can change. I was the person who never cooked, just like you said, and you can change your mind and then change your habits and practices and then change your trajectory. It is very possible.
Tonight, I decided, even though I have said before, “I am not this kind of person, I can’t be this person,” I decided that I am a person who wears a jumpsuit. You’ve discovered this already.
Shauna: People can change.
Jen: People can change. I’m like, well, if Shauna can wear a jumper, I can also.
Shauna: The last seven times you’ve seen me, I’ve been wearing a jumpsuit. Yeah.
Jen: You discovered the freedom sooner.
Shauna: I am on the train. I am all the way.
Jen: You’re on it. And me too, now. Now, I’m a jumpsuit person. That’s who I am now.
Shauna: It’s so great until you have to use the bathroom on an airplane.
Jen: Yes. Yes.
Shauna: That’s the design flaw.
Jen: Okay. So we also have noticed, as we read along with your life, that you’re doing some writing, you’re tinkering around with some things. You’re pulling out the old typewriter. So can you talk about that at all? Is it too soon? Can you talk about what that process is like, because it’s been a minute since you’ve written?
Shauna: Thank you.
Jen: When did Present Over Perfect come out?
Shauna: Jen has lapped me seven times. Jen is going to write an encyclopedia from A to Z and be like, “One time, I wrote a book in 2016.” I am writing and I am making very, very, very incremental progress. And one thing I have learned the hard way is never to say what I think the title is going to be, because then, I always want to change my mind. And then your publishing team doesn’t want you to do that, because they’ve already put that on a lot of things.
Jen: That’s good.
Shauna: So I’m not allowed to say what I think the title might be because I don’t want to have to…
Jen: Walk it back? Yup.
Shauna: Yeah. But writing is how I understand life. So I’ll do it whether I publish or not, and I will keep publishing. But even when I’m not working on this project zone, my brain works better and my life works better and my heart works better when I’m writing.
It’s like, I understand things through my fingers and it’s always been that way. So I have a tiny, tiny little desk in our bedroom, and it looks out over our courtyard, and it has been really good for me to spend time there. So there will not be a book for quite a long time. There will be one. That’s what I can say.
Jen: Yay. Hooray.
Jen: Okay. We’re going to do some little rapid-fire questions.
Shauna: Thank you.
Jen: But I did want to say this to you first, before we run through these real quick. And in a few minutes, we are going to take some questions from you, if you are interested in asking them. And we, 100% reserve the right to pass. So just know that that is absolutely a tool we will use, or we don’t know, or my favorite thing, “Why don’t you take it?” And I will 100% say that. So it can be for Shauna or for me or for both of us. Just know that’s coming in just a few minutes, and we’ve got microphones down here for you.
Okay. Here is the first one. Can you just fire them off, some books that you are loving, have loved, would recommend right now?
Shauna: Yes, absolutely. This is one of my two favorite questions, “Where should I eat?” and “What do you read?”
Jen: Right, which I asked you both on a regular…
Shauna: Constant. Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Jen: I just read it.
Jen: You told me to.
Shauna: I love it so much.
Shauna: Yes, thank you. I’m so glad you did.
Jen: Yes, it’s adorable.
Shauna: Yes. Dearly Beloved. I don’t tend to like books about churches and pastors just because they tend to feel really different than my experience. I don’t know, it almost feels ill-fitting, I don’t know. I loved this so much and it’s really different than my experience. Totally different tradition. Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. I loved it so much.
Jen: That was one of the book recs from my guest last night.
Shauna: I made a friend. I came home and I told [my husband], and I was like, “I made a friend, a random friend all by myself.” And he was like, “What?” “There is a woman who lives in our apartment building, and I fully crashed her conversation because she was talking with someone else about this book and I was like, ‘I love that book.’”
Jen: Yes. I love to do that.
Shauna: And now, she and I have a coffee date.
Jen: Yay. Good. You’re the second person to say that book in the same week.
Shauna: It’s really, really great.
Jen: It must be worth it. Okay.
Shauna: A Woman Is No Man.
Jen: I don’t know that one.
Shauna: It’s a very difficult story. It takes place in Brooklyn. It’s about a Palestinian family. But I think if you’re going to understand the way that women still today are being treated in a lot of environments, it’s really, really great, a beautifully written book. And then I feel like there was one more that I was so excited about. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, did you read that?
Jen: Of course. You know I did. I read it in like two sittings.
Shauna: I love that so much. Circe?
Jen: No, I don’t know.
Shauna: Madeline Miller, Circe. Okay. The way to get me excited about a book is not to say it’s a retelling of a myth, a Greek myth, that’s not exciting to me. I don’t want to read that book.
Jen: No. Same.
Shauna: It’s so great. It’s so beautifully written. You miss the characters when the book is over.
Jen: I love that. Circe?
Shauna: An American Marriage.
Jen: That was great.
Shauna: Tayari Jones. Whatever year that came out, that was my number one. Two years ago, that was my favorite. Maybe a couple more. I wrote them down. I was trying to do it off memory, but I can’t. There’s one that I forgot. Well, The Lager Queen of Minnesota.
Jen: I haven’t read it.
Shauna: Did you guys read that? It’s so great. It’s by the same person who wrote a book with the word kitchen in the title, Kitchen House, The Big Kitchen? Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I didn’t read that one.
Jen: I knew that. Yes.
Shauna: But The Lager Queen of Minnesota, I loved it so much. I don’t know anything at all about craft beer, and this is like a real deep dive into beer craftory. It’s very interesting. And then the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache series.
Jen: Yes. Totally.
Shauna: This is my favorite. In my secret dreams, I want to write a series of fiction that makes people as happy as Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series makes me. It’s my life dream.
Jen: That’s a good North Star. Okay, how about, what is the last TV show or series that you binged? I can’t turn it off, so I guess I just won’t go to bed.
Shauna: So our family right now is watching Black-ish. Do you guys watch that?
Jen: We love that show in our family.
Shauna: We just started at the beginning just this fall. So we’re around season two maybe.
Jen: It’s so funny.
Shauna: We love it so much. We have great conversations about it. If you’ve seen the show, Tracee Ellis Ross is Bow, Rainbow Johnson. And if I ever am wearing an outfit that I’m like, “I think this is really cool, but it could also be the worst.” If my kids say, “You look like Bow.” I’m like, “Yes.”
Shauna: Yeah. She’s my style guide.
Jen: I love her. I love that whole show.
Shauna: I’m probably watching episodes from 2012.
Jen: Yeah. That’s true.
Shauna: Only a couple of years later, she looks great.
Jen: I love that show too, because they do some pretty serious heavy lifting on issues of race and culture. They weave it in masterfully, but we’re obsessed with that show. What song or playlist or album are you just loving right now?
Shauna: Okay. I am going through a major Vampire Weekend moment. I’ve loved them throughout the years, but this new record, I am crazy about. And especially this song “Harmony Hall,” for whatever reason, I love it. It makes me feel happy. We saw them at Madison Square Garden. It was my first show at Madison Square Garden, and they were just amazing, and it was like the first week of school so everyone felt like they had come through something difficult. It was like the Friday night of the first week of school. So all the parents were like, “We made it.”
Shauna: I am wearing out Vampire Weekend and Maggie Rogers.
Jen: Okay. Perfect. This is a question that I would, can, and do, always ask you because whatever city I’m in in the world, I touch on it.
Shauna: I love this.
Jen: I’m like, “Where should we eat? I’m in Amsterdam.” It doesn’t matter. She knows. She’ll be like, “Number one.” You are our go-to person. So let’s just say some of these folks are going to go to New York City at some point in the season.
Shauna: Well, I love that you ask that, because my friend Ange is here somewhere, maybe.
Jen: There she is.
Shauna: Hi. And she just texted me and told me. Angela. I’m sorry, Angela is her name. Ange.
Jen: It’s fine. It’s very casual.
Shauna: Like I’m her sister.
Jen: Very, very casual.
Shauna: Angela is here, and she was saying that her family is going to New York next week. So my number one favorite is Buvette, Jody Williams, French Cafe in the West Village. I think it’s just absolutely perfect. It is teeny tiny, you’ll probably have to wait. You will probably be touching legs with a stranger because it’s so small, but it is just absolutely perfect. It’s my favorite. Shake Shack, they’re all over, but they’re just delicious.
Jen: They’re good for a reason.
Shauna: They’re everywhere for a reason. And the one at Madison Square is the original one, and it’s outside and it has these twinkly lights and it’s right by where we live, so we love the walk to Madison Square. Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick. It’s kind of a hike, but it is absolutely incredible pizza. If you just want a slice of pizza, Pizza Suprema by Penn Station I think is the best, although Elma Towne and Gotham are both very good.
Jen: You are a pizza connoisseur.
Shauna: I am.
Jen: That’s like our favorite food.
Shauna: Yeah, I at least regularly keep myself up on the product as a service. Bubby’s has great southern food, but really good pancakes. If you’re a breakfast person who likes really good pancakes, Bubby’s makes famous fluffy pancakes. Danny Meyer has a new bar called Porchlight, which has good southern food as well.
We love Chelsea Market, and especially with kids, that’s really fun because it’s basically every kind of food there is and everyone can get what they want. So if you have a family like ours where you all desperately want something completely different from the other person, you can get that. And our favorite, their Los Tacos, Creamline for the milkshakes, and Miznon for the Middle Eastern and Israeli food.
Jen: You understand why I texted her, right? When we left our house, we ate at Tao. Have you been there?
Shauna: I have not yet.
Jen: Run. Run and eat there as far as you can. Okay, last question, and then we’ll take yours. And I’ve asked you this before, and we ask all the guests this, and you answer how you want, but it’s Barbara Brown’s. What’s saving your life right now?
Shauna: Maybe six weeks ago, I hit a really hard spot. Things had been fine, and a lot of things have been good, and then you know how sometimes it’s like the jet just runs out of fuel, and you’re like, “We just hit the bottom.” I don’t know if it’s like the adrenaline or trying to get the writing done or something where I just hit the bottom in a pretty dramatic way. And I reached out. I called you, I called a handful of other friends, I sent a couple of emails, and I asked really specifically, “I’m asking for your help. This is my question. This is the pain I’m feeling. Could you reflect back to me any advice or wisdom or perspective? I’m really right in the middle of it right now.” And I think what’s important about that is I tend to not ask, and I tend to not be super specific when I do.
So if someone says like, “You’ll be fine,” I’m like, “Thank you.” So this time, I rang all the alarms. And I said, “This is bad enough where I need some voices to get all the way in, and I need them to be people that I’ve known for a long time who have known me through a lot of ups and downs, and I need something real specific from you. How do I handle this part of my life, and how do you see me in the middle of this?”
And it was so incredibly valuable. I’m going to keep those messages forever. I took notes on the phone calls, and I’m going to reach out next time when the pain level is at a five, and not at an eleven. And I’m going to reach out with specific questions like that. And 100% of the people that I reached out to got right back to me and gave me something valuable.
So I think we play a lot of games in our mind about, People don’t really want to help, they don’t want to know this part of my life, they don’t want to get involved in my business, they’re too busy, they’re only around for when I can help them, or whatever sort of stories we tell ourselves. It was such a good reminder that people want to help. They want to carry hard things, they want to reflect wisdom and goodness back into our lives, and most people just need to be asked in a specific way.
So what’s saving my life right now is good people who have poured wisdom and perspective into kind of an empty spot that I really needed help with, and I’m so, so, so grateful.
Jen: I love it. I love it. I love you. Okay. Now, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to come up here to this microphone and you’re going to ask a question. And we may or we may not do a good job with it, but we will do our best. So there they are. There’s one and I think here’s the other, and don’t be afraid. These people don’t know you. They won’t remember if you’re weird. Okay. One up. Hi.
Audience Member #1: Totally was on the edge of my seat. I will be the first one up here.
Jen: Attagirl. Good job, you.
Audience Member #1: So no apologies for anyone.
Jen: Good for you.
Audience Member #1: First Jen, love you. Been on your launch team for the last two books. You are a dream.
Jen: Thank you.
Audience Member #1: Shauna, I might be your biggest fan in the world. I could cry that you’re right there. I wanted to ask. So, I was a young pastor. Being a woman in ministry is kind of dicey.
Jen: It’s a thing. It’s great. Yeah, it’s great.
Audience Member #1: Yeah. I think I’m still navigating the trauma of my early years as a woman pastor. But I read Cold Tangerines, and found myself doing watercolors of quotes of Cold Tangerines. And there wasn’t a curriculum for it yet, so I wrote my own curriculum for it, and led a bunch of church women through it. I was in a college town, so lots of young women, and I just want to know, how did you feel? I know that you have like a pedigree, but you wrote that book on your own merit with your own name. So I want to know, how did you feel writing that book, getting that out there in the world, and then what does that feel like in contrast to writing another book right now and birthing that?
Jen: That’s a great question.
Audience Member #1: Because I’m a young writer and I’d love to hear it from you.
Jen: That’s great.
Shauna: That’s a great question, and also, thank you so much. That was so kind.
Audience Member #1: I love you, love you, love you.
Shauna: Thank you.
Audience Member #1: My girlfriends are videoing me right now. Like, She’s crazy.
Shauna: That’s a great question. There’s something great about the first of anything in two ways. A, because you’re completing a dream that you’ve held for so long and also, because you don’t know anything else, right? So there’s just like this incredible freshness. I literally remember the day that the book was printed or at least, arrived at Zondervan. And I was staying in Saugatuck with friends, and I left my friends to drive to Zondervan, and they gave me one copy. I was like, “Never mind. Thank you.”
And I held it in my hands, and it was like all I ever wanted to be was a writer. I didn’t want to be like an astronaut or a ballerina, I wanted to be a writer. So there is nothing like that first accomplishment. And I wish that for everyone. For everyone who wants to write, do it. There’s room in this world for all of our stories. We always need more stories.
Traditional publishing is a little complicated, and the good news is it’s getting edged out by a million other ways of publishing, and I still do traditional publishing. They’re both good options. So if you have anything inside of you that wants to write, do it times 1,000. Don’t let anything stand in your way. And I would say, the harder thing now is the voices are louder. You get more feedback and it’s more mixed.
Shauna: So when you write a first book, it was not resounding, it wasn’t like the world stopped.
Audience Member #1: It was from here.
Shauna: For you and like seven other people…
Audience Member #1: In Grand Rapids.
Shauna: Yeah. That’s okay. That’s okay. And it is okay. It’s totally okay. Once you’ve published more, there are more people looking and expecting, and more people have opinions about what you do. And a lot of what you have to do is discipline yourself to never write for a critic and never write against what you’re afraid someone is going to say about you before they say it.
And actually, this is when I teach a writing workshop, one of the things I say is, “If you’re ever stuck, think of a person who loves you and write their name at the top. ‘Dear Jen, this is what I want to tell you.’ Write to someone who loves you and sees you and supports you, and that’s where good writing comes from, whether it’s your first book or your tenth or you’re just getting started.”
Jen: That’s great advice.
Audience Member #1: Thank you so much.
Jen: I love that.
Audience Member #1: I will treasure this forever.
Shauna: Thank you.
Jen: Thanks for being first. You did it. First to the microphone. Okay, let’s come over here.
Audience Member #2: Hello. I’m so excited to be here, and I can barely talk, but here we go. So this question is for both of you. If you had the world’s attention for thirty seconds, what would you tell them?
Jen: What a great question. Well, brevity is not my strong suit, so you have completely handed that to the wrong girl. I would have to give some version of the speech that I so wish every woman would internalize. And the way that I think of this, my daughters a lot too, I think, What’s the thing? What do I say? What am I here for? What’s the messaging? I think about my girls a lot. What do I wish I knew at their age? What I want them to know at their age.
But I really do deeply believe, and I’ve spent a whole adult life hopefully trying to be a good messenger for this, that every single woman is so incredibly valuable to this earth right now, and gifted in ways that are unique and special to her, and they matter and they’re powerful. And I would just love to see women stand a little more firm in their power and in their voice, in their experience, in their crazy love for other people and for the world.
Have I passed the thirty-second mark? Yeah. I just deeply believe women are the answer to most of the problems on earth. I do. I do. I mean that sincerely. So I would love for us to see ourselves as a lot of answers sitting around, a lot of solutions sitting around. Let’s get in the game and really be change agents toward equality and toward healing and redemption and restoration and being good neighbors and hospitality. We hold a lot of keys to a lot of locks, and I’d like to see us use them.
Audience Member #2: Awesome.
Jen: What do you want to say?
Shauna: That’s amazing. Add goodness and connect, keep going.
Jen: Shauna, I knew she could do it.
Shauna: One of the big themes in my life right now is I can’t solve all the problems, but I can discipline myself to add goodness into every situation that I’m in. There are enough people breaking things and there are enough things that are broken, and I’m not going to gloss over a single one of them, but I’m going to be one who adds goodness every chance I get, who adds hope, who’s a good listener, who sees people.
So every situation you’re in, no matter how difficult it is, there is a way to, with your presence, with your words, with your actions, add goodness and connect. We live in an increasingly isolated culture. People want to be seen for who they are, not for the image that they present. And the more you can show the truth of your own heart and offer it to people in a really honest way, people are desperate to be connected.
We’ve seen that over and over again in New York. Every single person I think is just absolutely too cool to talk to me, who wants to come sit in my tiny little apartment and have a cookie, right? Everybody wants that because people are lonely generally. And then keep going. Every single one of us in this room has gotten to a point in any number of situations where you’ve thought, I can’t take one more step.
I’ve hit the wall, I’m down for the count, this is too heavy, this is too hard. Keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going.
Jen: That’s great. I’d like the record to reflect that that was more than thirty seconds.
Audience Member #2: Thank you.
Shauna: Thank you.
Jen: Thank you for your question. Hi.
Audience Member #3: Hi. This question is for Shauna. I was really struck. I’m about the same age as you, and I have a couple of boys that are very similar to your boys’ age, and I’m working in ministry. And you were talking about your desire to go to seminary, so I was just curious what your desires are for that kind of midlife and young kids and how you see that working and that experience will be moving forward for you.
Jen: Yeah, that’s a great question. We skimmed through that really fast.
Shauna: We did. And some of it is the intention was that Aaron and I would both go to seminary. We both applied all of a sudden. And then we got there, we moved. The move went different than we thought, because our house sold really fast, and we’re going to end up paying rent in New York, and also, renting our house back. Everything got thrown off.
And all of a sudden, we were supposed to both start seminary, and I realized, I barely know where our children’s schools are. We cannot have four of us all on different class schedules. It’s just not going to work. So I took that first semester off. And then when it came time to start the second semester, my publishers were like, “We love this whole learning thing. Also, remember you have to write another book.” And I was like, “All right then.”
So I am on the slow plan. Aaron is about a year in, and who knows exactly how it will unfold for me, but the core was, again, it comes back to that. I guess I just haven’t learned that yet. When you’re in ministry for as long as Aaron and I have been, you are the expert in a lot of situations, and you have to know the answers to a lot of things, and you have to know of all the answers, the best answer, or the best answer for your tradition or your church or this or that. And we both just said, “I want to be a learner. I want to be a person who asks questions.” Nothing is ever lost when you put yourself in the learning position.
Shauna: So we’re not Episcopalian, we’re not on the track to becoming priests or ordained in the Episcopal Church, we’re just there to be a part of their community and to learn. We don’t have a real specific idea of how it will go after that. We’re both still working on other projects, but we had the opportunity to put this learning part into our lives, and obviously I’m not doing it yet, but I’m watching Aaron do it, and he loves it. He absolutely loves it.
He’s been a worship leader for nineteen years, almost every Sunday, all year round. It’s a lot of answers. That’s a lot of giving. It’s a lot of microphones. And all of a sudden, he’s learning things from people who have been doing this for way longer than we have, and it’s really, really energizing.
Jen: I love it.
Audience Member #3: Thank you.
Jen: Thank you for that. Hi.
Audience Member #4: Hi. Jen, I’ve been listening to your podcast as I paint a bedroom in a new house my husband is building for us. And when I say building, he is building it.
Audience Member #4: And it’s been a real…
Jen: So it will be done in like seventeen years. Yeah. Yeah.
Audience Member #4: Twenty-two.
Jen: Yeah. Yeah.
Audience Member #4: And counting. And I’m imagining that when I walk into that room, I’ll hear Rachel and Sarah and Jeff as I’ve talked to you. It’s really what I think about when I pass that room now. And Shauna, you’re new to me, and I suppose the next bedroom I paint, I’ll be listening to your books. But my question is for Shauna. You mentioned you’re in love with the new church in New York, and I wonder how you find Jesus there differently than maybe you did in the Midwest.
Shauna: That’s a great question, and I would say there’s nothing magical about this church. It just happens to be a really good fit for us. I know better than to believe that there’s a perfect church, and certainly, a perfect church for everyone. Aaron and I each have a list of non-negotiables, and they’re both weirdly long because we’re very opinionated people, especially in this genre, and this church happens to be just the Venn diagram of both. And there are so many other wonderful churches that you will never hear me say a negative word about. This one just happens to be a great one for us.
A couple of things that we really love about it is it’s a really great mix for us of an evangelical service style, and a high church liturgical style. It feels like those two things got married and had a lovely little baby at our church. And there’s a little bit of contemplative space. A couple of times during the service, we’ll be invited to be quiet, to slow down for a minute. I really love that. And then I would say the biggest thing is our kids want to go. Before I had kids, I heard people sometimes say, “Well, this church wouldn’t be my first choice, but it works for my kids.” And I was like, “They’re small. You can take them anywhere. You can carry them.” And now that I have kids, I realize what a treasure it is. If your kids are excited about that, that’s a really big deal. So I would say there’s nothing perfect or magic about it, it just happens to hit right where we are right now, Aaron and I, and it works well for our kids.
Audience Member #4: Is it different than some Midwestern churches you’ve been to?
Shauna: Not necessarily, no. It’s smaller. It’s the smallest church I’ve been a part of, but I’ve only really been a part…
Audience Member #4: Relative, yeah.
Shauna: Right. Most of my experience is in big churches, and this is a really small church, and it’s great. And one thing I found is someone told me this. I was going to say who it was, and it’s a person from Grand Rapids, but if I’m misquoting him, that’s not a nice thing to do. It’s a person, who’s a man, who lives in Grand Rapids, I think, who’s super smart and I really like, but I don’t want to misquote him.
So sometimes, you just want different problems, right? I think he was talking about a job. No job is perfect, but sometimes, you’re so tired of the problems at your job…
Jen: You want some new ones.
Shauna: …that you have capacity for some new problems, right? It’s just like variety.
Shauna: And I think that’s true in churches. There are challenges. Every church has its set of challenges. We were just ready for new challenges, and we like these challenges for now.
Jen: That’s great. So we’re going to wrap it up with who’s up at the microphone, and we’ll have to answer quickly because I’m getting the eye.
Audience Member #5: Hi. My question is for Jen. What do you miss and not miss about teaching?
Jen: What do I miss and not miss about teaching? As Shauna mentioned earlier, if at this point in my life, I had to go to a job at a time, enclosed, and stay there until it’s done five days a week, I frankly don’t believe that I could do it. I think I would last a week and a half. So I have become addicted to the way that I work, working from home, and working just as an absolute piece of garbage. Yeah.
Shauna: I am going to interrupt.
Shauna: You’ve done three events in three cities this week. So there are moments of jammie life, but also, you get on airplanes and they tell you when to be there.
Jen: Okay, that’s a good point. I have the capacity to sometimes show up at Mars Hill at seven, but it’s limited. It’s limited. What I do miss though are the funny stories from the kids. I used to write them all down, and I could have written twenty-nine bestsellers had I kept going, because kids are so funny and so dear and so clever, but I mostly miss none. I have enough kids. I’m like a teacher in my own home, you know what I mean? Thank you for asking.
Audience Member #5: Thank you.
Jen: Okay, these would be our last two questions. Hi.
Audience Member #6: I’ve just lost my mom and am navigating through grief and grieving well . . .
Shauna: Well, on the topic of grief, a friend of mine just lost his father, and I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. We went out to dinner with him, and he’s a professor, so I think part of the way he processes everything is through books. So one of the questions we asked him is, “What are you reading and what’s been helpful?” And so he mentioned a couple of things to me that then I ended up reading and really loving. There’s a book called Grief Works, and it’s a British author, and her name is Julia-something. And she’s a therapist who does only grief work, and she writes about all the different stories in categories, losing this kind of person in your life, losing this kind of person, losing this kind of person. And then some of the reflections and takeaways and some of what was so valuable to read was that grief manifests itself in some ways.
Audience Member #6: Thanks.
Jen: Okay, look. Here she is. She’s going to land the plane.
Audience Member #7: Hello.
Audience Member #7: So Jen, at the beginning, you were like, “Who are moms that have littles in here?” And I’m like, “Yeah, me, I got a two-year-old and a six-year-old.” “Where are moms with teens?” I’m like, “Yeah, I got a fourteen-year-old.” I do not recommend this as a family planning strategy. And I’m wondering what you guys do to love your kids when they’re acting their most unlovable, because one of my kids…
Jen: Hold on. You got some claps.
Audience Member #7: …is acting so…
Jen: A lot of unlovable kids in this room. Yes.
Audience Member #7: …is acting so unlovable, yet, I know he needs it more than ever. And I’m just wondering what advice you have on that.
Jen: Yeah. Well, I can give you the best piece of advice I got. When we started turning the ship into middle school, Brandon, I, we’re looking at each other like, “What is happening?” Like, they’re possessed. I was talking to a mom a few stages ahead of me, and I was just like, “What’s going on? Everything that was sweet is dissolving into like weird fury that is misplaced and bizarre to manage. And also, out of left field, and then it disappears and they want to snuggle. Help me. What is going on?”
And she said, “Okay Jen.” She said, “You need to think of this season of life as a bit of a roller coaster.” And she said, “So on a normal, sane, regular day, you’re standing on the platform with those children of yours, and you’re all just there because you’re at the theme park and everything is great. But sometimes, those kids want to strap themselves into that ride and go bananas. They want to loopty-loop, they want to go upside down. Maybe they’ll throw up. We don’t know.” And she said, “Your job, no matter the tangent they go off on, is to stay on the platform. You just stand there and you say, ‘Enjoy the ride.’”
Audience Member #7: I love that.
Jen: “I’m going to be here when you get back. I cannot wait for your return. But as for me, I’m not going to strap myself into the crazy train and go with you.”
Audience Member #7: That’s so good.
Jen: “I’m not going to take the bait. I’m not going to get in a fight with a twelve-year-old,” right? “I’m not going to give into this, because I remember what it’s like to be that age, and everything feels confusing and your body is changing and your mind is weird and you are upset all the time and you’re scared all the time and you’re worried.” I remember. I remember. So as I stay on the platform, I try to remember how hard it is to be a kid, how hard it is to be a teenager, and how much I am not getting in that ride. So they come back and they land and they get back on the platform and you’re like, “I’m so glad to see you.” So as much as you can, try to remain the adult in the room.
Audience Member #7: It’s hard.
Jen: It’s hard. It’s so hard. But I found that to be incredibly useful. So I would always just tell my kids, “You’re really going through something right now, aren’t you? I really see that you’re on the struggle bus.” And rather than take all the things to drop, I would just say, “I remember that this season is hard. I remember when I felt the same way. I remember how friends can really make you feel sad.” So give them just enough to feel seen and loved and known and then send them on their way and they’ll be back the next day for sure, right?
Audience Member #7: That’s so good.
Shauna: And I would say pretty similar things. I’m just looking at my friend, Melissa, who I was with this weekend, and we were talking about parenting. I have not a lot of wisdom to impart, but I have a couple of things that I learned from other moms. Number one, water of any kind. Do you need a glass of water? Maybe hop in the shower. Can we drive to Nana and Papa at the lake?
Jen: I’m on record as saying this also.
Shauna: In a pinch, a puddle.
Jen: How about a bath?
Shauna: Water is medicinal. So you might be dehydrated. You probably don’t smell great. We can solve all of this.
Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s fair.
Shauna: And another friend of mine who has boys older than my boys, she said, “Boys are like St. Bernards, and you just have to run them.” And I cannot tell you how many times we’ve been like, “I bet you can’t get from there to there in four seconds. Go.” They’ll be in the middle of a full meltdown and we’ll be like, “Who can beat Daddy around the house?” Sometimes, just blowing off a bunch of steam physically especially, really, really brings them back to normal.
I think routines sometimes. This is a kind of a challenge area for me, because I’m not a very routine-oriented person, but I have learned to be for our kids. And the more I find that they’re out of sorts, the more they need the adult in the room. For me, that’s routines that help them feel grounded and safe. And again, I’m not great at it. When I say routine, I do it like three times, and then don’t do it for seven times, and then do it again two times, and feel like a champion. It’s not my best thing.
But one of the things that I do is when I tuck them in at night, the last thing I do before I leave, I say, “My hands are open. Anything you’re scared about, anything you’re worried about, all your fears, you put them in my hands and I’m going to hold them for the night. I can handle anything you’re afraid of. You don’t have to handle it alone. I’ll take them all. In the morning, if you want them back, you can have them. But my arms are strong enough for all the scary things.”
And they throw them at me and I catch them all and I put them in my bathroom pockets and I leave. And I think sometimes, there are things we can do that just over and over, show them, you’re being taken care of. You can be real crazy sometimes. That’s totally okay. But at the end of the day, I’ve got you. And I think all of us grew up in all different ways, but I don’t know that I totally had a sense that someone could handle my crazy. And looking back, I wish I had a little bit more sense of that. So I really want to give that to my kids. As nuts as you want to be, it doesn’t scare me at all. I got you. So they throw it all from their little bunk beds. I put them in my pockets.
Jen: That’s cute. Thank you.
Audience Member #7: So good. Thank you both.
Jen: Yeah. Okay. On behalf of Shauna and I, we thank you so much for spending a Wednesday night with us in this room. It has felt so lovely and so warm and so generous, and we love you and we appreciate you so much, and it was a delight to be with you tonight.
Shauna: Thank you.