Melissa: I got the book and immediately started taking notes, highlighting, and writing, writing things to myself outside of your words, which should encourage you, because they’re causing me to think in some ways, some new and exciting ways. I’m just really proud of the book, and I thought, Dang, somebody needs to talk to her on her podcast about these words.
Jen: Welcome to the Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire series on the For the Love Podcast with me, Jen Hatmaker. I’m so happy you’re here today. Today my hilarious friend Melissa Radke interviews me about my book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, and manages to pry a few other things out of me.
Melissa: Hi everyone and welcome to For the Love. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, Wait, that is not Jen Hatmaker. That voice is way too sexy. And I get that. I actually 100% agree with that. No, it isn’t Jen Hatmaker. Instead, it’s a friend of hers. My name is Melissa Radke. Now I’m just going to go right ahead and tell you there’s a very real possibility that you have no idea who I am. But let me just get this out of the way: You’re going to love me. You are. You are going to fall absolutely slap dab in love with me, although none of that matters right now. The only thing you’re thinking is, Where is Jennifer Ann Hatmaker? I listen to this podcast for Jen Hatmaker. And listen, I get that. I do too. I’m a For the Love listener. I’ve been listening to her for a really long time.
The first time I ever heard the name Jen Hatmaker was in a little book called Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that book, but honest to God, it’s a wonder her and I are friends to this day. Anyone who knows me can tell you firsthand I believe in excess in all things. Words, hairspray, Netflix. Less is not more, more is more, and I sat through an entire Bible study praying that Jen Hatmaker would suffer a bad perm or at the very least get strep throat. That is honest to God how I felt about that Bible study. But I couldn’t help falling in love with her. She has a way with words. And soon I was either following her online where I was reading her words, or I was traipsing off to hear her speak those words. Wherever Jen Hatmaker was planning on being or teaching, I wanted to be there, front and center, taking notes.
Four years ago, I began traveling and speaking myself. Then the things came, then the social media came, and then the book deal came, and then my family had a reality show on USA Network and my social media numbers went up and up. And it was around that time that Jen was doing a series on this very podcast, this one right here, and it was a series called For the Love of Laughter. And at the end of the series she would ask the community who they wanted to hear from. And she asked them who, and wouldn’t you know it, they voted on me. I was who the people wanted, which really felt like sweet vindication after not being voted cheerleader in the ninth or tenth or even the eleventh grade. Okay. Moving on.
Jen Hatmaker was doing what I wanted to do before I knew I even had it in me to do it. Jen Hatmaker was treading into territories that I had no idea I would one day venture into. Jen Hatmaker was skating on the thin ice that one day I would need to skate across.
She’s the one who went first. Through the triumph, through the tears, through the fire. There she went. Ahead of us. And that is why I told Jen, “When your book comes out, I’m interviewing you right there on your podcast for your people. We will celebrate the books, the lessons, and the life of a friend who went first, and then loved us enough to come back and tell us how we can do it.” I hope today that as you hear me conduct this interview with our friend Jen, that you feel a little bit like it’s you doing the questioning, because chances are you and I are a lot alike. We’re strong at times. We’re bold at times. We’re also timid and afraid and nervous and unflinching. We are all of those things rolled into one on any given day, aren’t we? We just really want to know that it’s okay.
I bet like me, you want to be fierce, free, full of fire. You just want to have coffee with someone who went first. Well if that’s the case, pull up a chair and fill your cup, because Jen Hatmaker has come back to give us a first hand guide to being our glorious selves.
Jen: My friend Melissa, welcome to the For the Love Podcast. And in a strange twist of events, you’re in charge today.
Melissa: I was just about to say, “Excuse me, you welcome to the For the Love Podcast.”
Jen: I’m really happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Melissa: Who’s welcoming me on my own show that’s yours? Don’t you dare do that.
Jen: That’s yours.
Melissa: How does it feel to be in the hot seat?
Jen: You know what? I’m remembering how to flex these muscles now. I’ve been on the other side of the microphone for some time, and so I’m like, Oh, here we go. And who knows what you’re going to say? You’re a loose cannon.
Melissa: You know what? That is so funny that you said that, because right before I walked in here and shut the door, David looked at me and he said, “Remember, your audience is used to what you do. But maybe her audience is not used to what you do.”
Jen: I want you to be exactly who you are. And I just need to say right off the top, this is so great, and I love you. And this was your idea, by the way. Everybody listening, I want you to know that Melissa texted me and said, “This is what I want to do. I want to come on your show and interview you.” And I went, “Well, that is just plum nice.” And so thank you for being a good friend and for thinking of this in the first place, You’re just, I just love you.
Melissa: Well, I love you too. I want to jump right in. You and I, we’ve got some things in common. People might not know that. First of all, we’ve got two girls the same age, the same name.
Jen: That’s exactly right.
Melissa: Two Remys, can the world handle it? I don’t know.
Jen: Both spicy.
Melissa: So, so spicy.
Jen: Yeah, it’s real.
Melissa: But the other thing is we both grew up in small towns. We both grew up really, really indoctrinated in the church and what we believed. And for a good majority of my life, I didn’t even have to pray the prayers, because I knew my mama was praying them for me. I never questioned what I believed because they just told me, and I was like, “Okay.”
Jen: Absolute same.
Melissa: You and I have that in common. And of course you’re from Kansas, I’m from East Texas. But let’s start at the beginning of this book, because I bet if we put all the women that raised us under one roof—and you know what I mean by raised us, because back in the eighties, it wasn’t just mamas who were doing the raising. Did your parents give everyone permission to spank you?
Jen: All my friends’ parents have spanked me. Every single one of them. My parents’ friends have grounded me. They’ve grounded me in my own life that I live. Also my grandma’s friends. My grandma’s friends grandparented us extra, too. Yeah, we had a whole world of women out there ready to—I’m going to say semi—keep us in line, because it was parenting in the seventies and the eighties, so they kind of kept one eye on us, but the other one totally not. We were kind of feral, and so it was just a different time.
Melissa: Oh, my mother played the church piano on Sunday nights. If I was acting up, sitting with the youth—because I would have been a youth at this point—she would say from the piano, “You go sit with Claudia.” And I would have to get up and go sit, and I knew I’m in trouble.
Melissa: But whoever it was, “You go sit by Martha.”
Jen: In our church, in our Southern Baptist church growing up, our choir was up behind the pulpit, and they stayed up there the whole service. They never came down. They sat in the choir loft all during the sermon. Well not only was my mom up there, all my friends’ moms and dads were up there, and so all Sunday mornings, all those parents were giving us the death stare. Everyone’s [parents], not just mine. My friend Nicky’s dad would give us the death stare, and he’d point at us, “You be quiet. You be quiet.”
Jen: And so I don’t really remember anything I had ever learned from a pastor on a Sunday morning. But I did get in trouble for tearing open the offering envelopes and passing notes. Did you know what I’m talking about?
Melissa: Oh, of course. My girlfriend Kristen says her favorite memory ever of growing up at church—isn’t this sad? Her favorite memory ever of growing up in church was my mother sitting on the piano on a Sunday night, and she started singing. My mother did. She sang and played. We were a one man band, and she literally said this into the mic, she went, “I’m going to sing for you.” She went, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. Melissa Paige, shut up. I can see you.”
Jen: It can’t be true. That’s not true.
Melissa: It’s 100% true. And the youth still talk about it today.
Jen: Melissa Paige. That’s great.
Melissa: But anyway, we watched these women, and they showed us the way. They showed us how we should be. They showed us that we should be pretty, that we should be quiet in school, and quiet in church. We should be helpful to our neighbors and we should be nice and we should be accommodating and we should be quick to please and be funny without being offensive, Melissa. Be smart, but don’t be domineering, Melissa. And we should know our scriptures and we should clutch our pearls and we should know how to make a pot roast. And it was a lot. It was a lot, all of these things.
But I want to talk about the women that were on the periphery, that were there on the side. The women who were willing to break the mold, go against the grain. These were the ones that were swimming upstream. I want to know from your childhood experiences growing up, who were they? Who were you watching? Talk to me about them, that you got even the idea for this book.
Jen: Yeah, totally. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of the outlier women. I couldn’t make sense of their existence, the way they were moving around in the world. I’m like, Well, they are just not following the rules at all are they? And I didn’t really know any different. I was a rule follower. I was very type A, firstborn, really wanted to please, super addicted to approval. And so I was a 100% complicit in the template. I’m like, Sure, this is what it means to be a good girl slash good teenager slash good young lady. Well I’m doing it. I’m going to be the best, most well behaved person you ever saw. And that was my idea of ambition back then.
And so I do remember one of the very first women that ever just blew my freaking mind was when we lived in south Louisiana for a little spell, and this was fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh grade for me. One of my mom’s best friends from church, her name, just hands to the heavens, her name was Miss Prissy, and I can’t explain how much her parents must have known about her trajectory when they named her that. And so Miss Prissy was and is to this living day, just capital F fabulous. Leopard print, head to toe. I can’t explain to you how out of bounds that was for me back then. Long like Carmela Soprano fingernails, tons of makeup. All her jewelry was just so big and heavy. I don’t even know how she walked around, and she kept it all in this double decker tackle box, like a fishing tackle box.
Me and my sisters and her daughter Bridget, we’d open up that tackle box, and it was like, “This is what Heaven looks like. This is it. We’re experiencing Heaven on earth right now.” And she was sassy and she was spicy and she’s like, “Oh, I’m going to become real acquainted with plastic surgery. I’m not going down like this, jokers.” And we just couldn’t get enough of her.
Melissa: “I’m not walking around like some loser with my regular face.”
Jen: “Don’t be crazy. Who even knows what my God given hair color is? Not one of you are ever going to know it.” We literally just wanted to drink her with a straw, and she’s still in our life to this very day. She was in Austin just a few months ago to see us. And she gave us all nicknames. She was just wild. And my mom and them were—I have the greatest mom in the world, I wouldn’t pick another one in the whole entire planet—just kind of more proper. She was kind of ordinary and sort of—not ordinary—modest, and dressed like you would think a mom would dress. And so, Miss Prissy just came out of left field like a wrecking ball, and I just remember watching her in those formative years, late elementary school, early middle school, just like, Well, what is this? What’s this possibility?
I didn’t know that women can take up that much space. I didn’t know that was allowed. I wasn’t sure how long she was going to get away with it, but I’m telling you, here I am forty-five years old, still talking about it. It made a real impression on me to watch a woman live in her own skin in a way that didn’t fit my template.
Melissa: I love that. We watch these women, and I think sometimes we see things that don’t even matter to us at eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, as much as we’ll recall them to our memory when we’re in our thirties and forties and go, “Ooh, I remember what I saw there, and I liked that. That stuck out to me, that impressed,” you know what I’m saying?
Melissa: We don’t learn these lessons when we’re in our teens. We learn them [when we’re] older, and the Miss Prissys come to our mind, and we just go, “Yeah, she took up space and she was okay with that.”
Jen: That’s right. Exactly, exactly. And I can go back and sort of identify the source material of what felt to me, like a little bit of tension looking at her, thinking, My personality is closer to that zip code. I got a lot of words, I got a lot of big ideas. I feel like I have the real capacity to take up more space than I’m being told to. But you can’t articulate that when you’re ten. I just knew that something about the way she was just walking around this earth felt exciting to me.
Melissa: Well that leads me into the next thing, and this is my Oprah move. That’s what I’m calling it.
Jen: I like it.
Melissa: I’m fixing to “Oprah” you, and that means I’m going to read your own words aloud to you, and then I’m going to close and I’m going to ask you to explain them.
Jen: Okay, let’s do it.
Melissa: Actually, I’m going to be doing this a couple of times today, just because I love your words, I always have. I’m going to be reading you things that I feel the best way to describe it is they’re kind of invading my personal space right now. And I mean that in a good way. Okay.
This is what you say right at the outset of the book: “I finally clearly know who I am and how I was made, how I thrive, what I’m here for, what I believe and what I care about, and I’m not afraid to walk in that even when it doesn’t fit the mold. I am finally the exact same on the outside as I actually am on the inside without posturing, posing, or pretending. I discovered the world is hungry for women who show up and tell the truth, unafraid and free, expanding it to the very edges of who they were always meant to be. Once I learned to understand and boldly claim the real me, my inside voice became my outside voice. Polished me died, and real me came to life.”
I ate that up with a spoon. Especially “once I learned to understand and claim the real me, my inside voice became my outside voice.” Those are good words. Why do you think now is the time for bold and brave truth tellers?
Jen: Thank you for reading that. I have such a tenderness toward my own self when I think of the last five or seven years when I have had to learn this. And I can speak to my own experience, but the reason I wrote this book is because I see this as a through line in my whole community. I see women raising their hand saying, “I am not telling the truth. I have all these desires and wants and needs and thoughts and ideas and convictions that are rattling around in my brain. And I’m either too afraid to give them a voice, to give them life, or I don’t know how to, or I’m worried about the cost,” which is real. We’ll probably get to that later. But the problem is I identify so much, because I spent a big chunk of my adult life like that. You know this, Melissa, I was just a real shiny darling there for a minute.
And I built my work, and my career, and my ministry inside of a space where I had some star power, which meant I just had the right personality for it. Like, I followed the rules, and I didn’t step out of any lines that weren’t allowed, but I had just enough edge, like just enough, to make it cute. Like really not enough to step on anybody’s toes, of course, just enough for people [to be] like, “Oh, she’s just a real character. You know, you have character. She’s always just saying stuff.”
Yes. But what was really happening on the inside of me was way darker than that. I mean, I had some real tension, and what I came to understand is that the price, the cost of me letting this stuff on the inside be real and live on the outside, the cost is going to be belonging. That’s what I’m going to have to forfeit. That’s what I’m going to have to pay. The price of belonging here in this community is my silence, and it is my complicity, and it is my willingness to continue to fit this mold that was handed to me. And not just to me, to tons of women just like us.
You know, that’s how you and I started this conversation. We know, we learned early on—every girl does—we are very much handed a set of rules and boundaries and constructs from the time we are little girls. Like, telling us, “This is what you should look like. This is how much space you can take up.” Depending on how we were wired, some of us were told, “You’re too much, you need to be less.” Others of us were told, “You’re not enough. You should do more.” And so we learned, we got the message.
Melissa: And I want to make sure the listener that is listening right now and going, I wasn’t ever handed those. Yeah you were. We’re not talking about a pamphlet that is handed to you. Trust me. It came down, it came down in our teaching and it came down in our conditioning and it came down in the way we acted around the family table or didn’t.
Melissa: So trust me, you’ve been given these things. And I think that it starts to rattle. Something in us starts to rattle and shift.
Jen: That’s it. It started to rattle, and I started to feel that. It’s important work, and it’s good work, and I’ll acknowledge right out of the gate it’s hard work and it’s some heavy lifting and it’s not free. Like, there is a cost built in. But here’s what I would say. We’ll talk about the middle part. Just real quick at the top of the interview, I want to jump to the last page of the book, the last page of the story, and just say to everybody listening and thinking, Oh, I don’t have it in me. I don’t have it in me to mine this stuff out and to put it on the surface of things and to say what’s true and real about me, listen to what I’m saying to you. This work is so worth it. I am on the other side of it now.
And so essentially, Fierce is the book I needed five years ago. I put into it every single thing that has instructed me, that taught me—every leader, every teacher, every resource, every script I included. You can be whole, you can be true, and you can be free. We walked through that together. And here I stand, and I am telling you, if you would have told me a few years ago that I could live right where I’m living right this minute, leading how I am leading, speaking my mind as I do, having rebuilt a community after losing one so severely that I love, and that it’s my honor and my joy to serve, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m telling you I wouldn’t have. And so this work is worth it.
And the end game is freedom. I’m telling you, it’s freedom. And then here’s the good news about that. Like, look, I’m getting excited. I’m preaching in my office. But, you know this too, Melissa: one of the narratives that we’ve heard—that package that you just talked about that we’re all handed—is that women who are honest and have a lot of ownership, they have agency over their own life, over their own desires, over their own boundaries, over their relationships, over their talents and convictions. You know, sometimes that has a word called feminism to it. And we’ve been told that those are the worst women. Right? That’s the end of society as we know it. They’re selfish. They’re ready to put their children and their marriages on the altar of their own selfish desires.
That is just not true. That is a lie, and it’s a trope. What I have seen in my own life, and what I’ve experienced from the women around me who are incredibly whole and honest and brave and integrated, is that those are the best women. They’re the greatest friends. They’re great parents. They’re strong in their families. They are beautiful in their gifts. They’re good neighbors. So, that’s just not true. I think what this work does is ultimately produce women who are flourishing, which means everybody around them is flourishing, too.
Melissa: I am literally loving doing this interview, because this is hitting me a little bit later in life, but I’m starting. There’s some places in me that are starting, there’s little fires everywhere. That’s what it feels like. And I think that’s why I’m marking this book up and just eating it so much. But I was reminded just now when you were talking about feminism, we think that it’s the women who burn the bras and leave their families, and it’s not. It reminded me that you came out and wrote something on gun reform. I remembered reading it, and you know, in Texas, that’s a big deal.
Jen: I do know.
Melissa: That’s a hot button issue. And when I read it, I read it to David, and I said, “David, someone is saying what I can’t say. And it’s that it doesn’t have to be black or white. There can be a ground where all of it makes sense and it works for the common good. Like, that can happen. And she’s saying these words.” And I knew that you were saying them to people that were going to get fired up, and be behind you 100%, and you were also saying it to people who just wanted to knock you to the ground. But it’s the same way with feminism. Like, it doesn’t have to be all one way or all the other. There can be beautiful sacred ground right in the middle.
Jen: Yes. This is one of the tricks of the trade to keep us silenced and siloed and sidelined. This is it. You can either be this or you can be this as a woman. You can either be good or you can be selfish, right? And so we’ve been handed these really outdated [ideas], like just this truckload of outdated conventions that don’t work, and they’re not real. They’re invented. They’re made up. I’m telling you, they are made up, and I just can’t help but look at some of the more insidious forms of patriarchy and how it has just broken people’s hearts for so long. And I think one of them is pitting women against each other.
Like, if women can just take each other out like this, if we can create such binary ideas where we are unable to hold nuance with one another, or tension, or to say there’s a huge spectrum here, you know, with a lot of points in between, nobody has to do that work for us. We’ll do it ourselves. And so I deeply believe in the power of dialogue, and of mature discussion. That’s a real through line in the book, which is how do we purge our relationships of these, of drama, of these binary ideas, of unnecessary conflict? I think all that’s possible. I really do. I think we’re grown up enough to manage our relationships, our own ideas like this, without just throwing in a towel and saying, “Well, I’m either 100% this, or I’m zero.”
Melissa: Right. Oh, I love that. But we have to start. At the beginning of this book, we learned that Jen is setting these chapters and these sections up. There’s a purpose for them in the way that she wrote them and laid them out in the book. One of the first sections is called “Who I Am.” And we’re going to wrestle with this for a second. We’re going to talk about who we are. We’ve got to know, hey ladies, we’ve got to know. If we’re going to move in this space, let’s first start with who I am.
What do we say? What do you say to those listeners who are like, “How the heck do I find this out?” I mean, referring back to some of your earlier words, what if they said to you, “Jen, I’ve been polished me for so long. I don’t even know where to begin?”
Jen: Totally. I love that woman. [I have] such compassion for her, and I have such hope. I believe that even if we have spent every living second of our lives polishing up the container, it is never too late to get down to the core of what’s real and what’s true and figure out how to live out of that. I really do. I don’t think this is out of reach to a single woman on planet earth.
So to your point, the book is sort of structured to these five huge ideas, which I discovered both in my personal life and in my community of women. People were not integrated. We were not telling the whole truth. There was one thing on the outside, a different thing on the inside, which was “Who I Am,” “What I Need,” “What I Want,” “What I Believe,” and “How I Connect.” And so we’ve got a lot of disintegration inside those categories. But we start with “Who I Am,” because that’s what matters most, way outside of what we do or what we are good at or how our lives are operating right now. We push all that aside. We’ll get to it. But we start with, like, “Who are you? How were you formed? How were you specifically created to flourish on this earth? What is your personality? How are you wired?” This matters so much, because from that core, everything else flows.
Some of our parents told us who we were. Our siblings’ assessment of us has real weird power. What they told us, what other adults in our life told us, the messages we received in the air—like you and I were talking about a minute ago, you know, the world has been telling us how to be since we were in kindergarten. Those labels stick, man. And so I think some of us are operating out of what we might even say, “No, I think this is who I am.” And my question is, “Is it? Is it? It’s worth examining.” Is that true? Is that label over you real? Was it ever real? And even if it was, is it still real? Have you outgrown that? Have you evolved past that? How were you meant to live?”
One thing I want women to know right now when they’re thinking like, I don’t even know if I could do that. I don’t even know if I could get down to the bottom of that. One thing I want you to believe, if you believe nothing else, is that you can trust yourself. Like, you can. You can trust your instinct. You can trust your gut. When your mind says, You know what, that isn’t who I am. She’s been saying that to me for thirty-five years, but that is not who I am. Or, I’ve been pretending to be this for a really long time, but my gut is telling me that’s not real. So I think if we can trust ourselves and settle into the pocket of some self identification, then we’re ready to do everything else.
Melissa: And also, what is the worst that could happen? What if you do the work? What if they called you a certain word growing up, and you did the work, and did the heavy lifting, and found out you still are that? Okay, move on.
Melissa: Won’t it have been worth it? You know, won’t it have been worth it to figure that out? For so long, for most of my life, my mother called me a pot stirrer. “You’re a pot stirrer, Melissa. That’s what you do, you stir the pot.” And you know what, for a good healthy amount of time, she was right. She called me that about six years ago, and I don’t know what it was about that moment, but I just went, “That doesn’t ring true anymore.”
Jen: That’s great.
Melissa: I grew out of that, and when we grow out of it, we get to replace that label. We get to remove that and that’s worth the work. That’s worth the work.
Jen: That’s such a good example.
Melissa: In this section, you actually refer to a young and up and coming. Bless her heart, I hope she can make it. Her name is Brené Brown.
Jen: You know what, she can just keep trying. You know, she can just keep trying. Success may find its way to her, I don’t know.
Melissa: She’s starting now. Go follow her on social media. Let’s just give this kid a shot.
No, our queen Brené Brown has taught us many things over the years. But one of her best lessons, and probably hardest, is about true belonging. How it doesn’t mean squishing and squeezing yourself to fit within a group, but rather belonging to yourself. I would love to hear you explain that concept a little bit more, and what it does to you.
Jen: Oh man, Brené has been such a good teacher to me on this exact concept, on what it means to belong to yourself, as opposed to being beholden to your group norms or the sort of sanctioned elements of your particular subculture. And everybody knows what I’m talking about. Those all look different for each of us. You know, whatever sort of environment you either grew up in, or that you find yourself in as an adult, every group has its own culture. And so we can pretty quickly identify, like, these are the behaviors that keep you in really good standing inside your space, and these are the behaviors that get you kicked to the curb. What’s valued, what isn’t, what’s rewarded, what is punished. I say this about women all the time, we are very gifted at reading a room and giving it what it wants.
You know, we have this very high emotional capacity, emotional intelligence, which can be harnessed for good by the way. But I think what it’s created are adult women who just shape shift, right, to fit whatever the room wants. We were told, “It’s your job to protect the temperature of this room so that nobody else gets either too hot or too cold.” But we didn’t even set the temperature, right? Like, we’re not even in charge of it. We’re just in charge of keeping everybody else comfortable.
So what I noticed in my own world, like, let’s just talk specifically about kind of coming up through what would be considered kind of traditional or conservative, like evangelical women’s subculture. That’s its own thing. It is that regardless of what was actually going on inside my heart, soul, mind, I was constantly trying to just keep the peace in there. Because I knew the rules. I mean, I knew exactly what was going to be rewarded and what was going to be punished. So I was trying to keep the peace inside that ecosystem.
But what I’d learned is, I’m trying to keep the peace, but I have no peace. Or, I’m trying to keep the peace over here in this group, but I am robbing other communities of their peace because I am refusing to stand with them or I’m refusing to be their ally, and so that’s not a peace at all. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls that a negative peace, which is zero peace. That’s fake peace.
And so Brene’s idea of belonging to ourselves is exactly what this work is. It’s digging really deep internally. What do I believe? Like, what am I convicted about? What do I love? What do I not love? What’s bringing me life? What’s not? Who am I? And belonging to that, belonging to who we are regardless of what the rules around us are telling us to do, that’s true belonging, which is why she also calls that the wilderness. And that is how it can feel.
It can feel really scary to step out there where you’re not hitting your marks anymore, because that means no group is telling us who to be. We’re going to have to decide that, I’m going to be entirely integrated and entirely true all the time with all people in every circumstance. Which is going to make exactly none of them happy. So doesn’t this seem like fun work everybody?
Melissa: It’s not at all, it’s awful.
Jen: I know, but I’ll tell you what, there is something inside of that that is so liberating. I care so much about injustice and I am a deeply convicted and principled person, and I’m a leader and that carries a lot of weight and responsibility to me. So I just couldn’t, I couldn’t keep the lid on. And so I came to a point where I knew, Jen, you are either going to get to hang on to your career as you know it, or you’re going to hang onto your integrity, but you cannot have both.
I picked my integrity. And I knew the cost. And I said, “I’m going to pay it, come what may.” And I told myself moving into that season, “Jen, you’re going to stand in the storm. You are not going to reverse. You are not going to walk it back. You are not going to soften it. You’re not going to repackage it. You’re going to stand.”
And what I learned is living in integrity is its own reward. It is. It is its own comfort and it’s its own end. And so it was such a relief to finally be telling the truth. I really held loosely to anything that came after that. I didn’t know if I was going to rebuild. I didn’t know if I would have a community left. I didn’t know who would ever have me or where I’d ever land, but the relief built inside doing the right thing, telling the truth, true belonging was worth it all by itself.
Melissa: You end that chapter—there was one line that just stuck out to me—you say, “We must show up truthfully, because it is in the diversity of our souls this world receives all it needs.” The importance of that to your listeners, that the world is waiting on our truth. The world is waiting on it. Man, it’s a challenge. That is a challenge for sure. I want to talk to you about a chapter called “I’m Strong In My Body,” which you say right up front was one of the hardest chapters for you to write.
Melissa: That surprised me. I want to talk about that.
Melissa: Here’s what she writes in the chapter, “I Am Strong In My Body,” and it’s a beautiful, beautiful, long writing, and so guys, I’ve had to paraphrase it or narrow it down a little bit.
Melissa: “I’ve been so mean to my body. Outright hateful, I disparage her and call her names. I loathe parts of her and withhold care. I insist on physical standards she can never reach. For that is not how she is even made, but I detest her weakness for not pulling it off. And yet every morning, no matter how terrible I’ve been to her, she gets us out of bed, nurtures the family, meets the needs of the day. She tells me when I’m hungry or tired, and sends special red alert signals when I’m overwhelmed or scared. She has safely gotten me to and from a thousand with fresh energy. She flushes with red wine, which she loves, which is pretty cute. She prays without being told to. Sometimes I realize she is whispering to God for us. She walks and cooks and lifts and hugs and types and drives and cleans and holds babies and rests and laughs and does everything in her power to live another meaningful connected day on this earth. She sure does love me and my life and my family. Maybe it’s time to stop hating her and just love her back.”
Jen: Oh man. Oh man.
Melissa: Come on. Somebody throw a shoe at Jen Hatmaker.
Jen: Oh man.
Melissa: That is good stuff. So yesterday, in Texas, my daughter Remy and I put on our bathing suits for the first time.
Melissa: Now, if you know me and follow me on social media, I’m a plus size woman. There’s no debating that. I’m not one of those women that’s like a size eight, but I say I’m plus size. I am corn fed.
My daughter is thirteen, and she’s starting to notice who fits in where, who wears what size, and how that matters in the grand scheme of things, she thinks. And so yesterday, she’s asking me questions about her belly. And I remembered your words.
Melissa: We’re sitting out by the pool, and she’s pointing to what she’s calling a pooch of her belly. And I look down at that belly, and I didn’t think about my inadequacies in this moment. In that moment right there, I didn’t think about, Oh God, what does she think of when she looks at me?
Melissa: I thought about those words, and I looked down at her, and I took her a little face in my hands and I said, “Remy, be kind to her.”
Jen: Oh, Melissa.
Melissa: “Be nice to her, and she will be one of your closest companions.” It literally, Jen, was the first time I’ve ever even referred to a body as a she. As this part of me, right?
Jen: I know, I know. That is so beautiful, and puts a lump on my throat. That was some good parenting right there. And you’re not wrong. This was the hardest chapter for me to write, because it’s the one I’ve integrated the least. And I even got to the end of it, and went, This is my struggle, and I want to be healthy here so much. And I love that you just talked about Remy, because the way that I am able to start bringing this for me, a complete paradigm shift, the way that I’m able to bring this conversation to the front of my mind for repair, for recovery, for a complete reinvention, to be honest with you, is to think of my daughters. I think, Would you ever in your living life be okay with them thinking about their bodies this way, speaking to themselves this way?
And so, I know that we are not alone in this, Melissa. I know that we are not, and the thing is, I’m learning, and I put into chapter two that this isn’t our fault. I mean, it really isn’t. We are the intended recipients of an industry absolutely hell-bent on making sure we hate our bodies, and thus are able to spend billions of dollars a year trying to squeeze them and pluck them and peel them and shrink them and essentially abuse them into some sort of container they’re never meant to be in.
Dr. Hillary McBride is the one who really has been one of my best teachers in this, the one who taught me to consider calling our bodies a she and a her, because she is every bit a part of me as my mind, as anything else I do. She is me, and she has served me through every single beautiful moment I’ve ever had since the day I was born. And so, I want this chapter to serve women, and I want us to step out of the narrative. I really do. I want us to begin developing just not only the internal capacity, but our communal capacity to grab each other’s hands and say, “We do not have to be players in this game. We can literally walk away from it. We can do better than this and we can definitely teach our daughters differently.”
And so, even as I got to the end of writing and realized, I still have a lot of work to do here, I believe in possibility here. I believe that we can be good partners with these bodies that we have, and [we can] love them well.
Melissa: I want to move to a section that was really so good. You said something that made me mad, and I’m going to tell you what it is, because it was a challenge for me. And here’s what you said about it. “You might see someone who started after you bypass you, and despair and jealousy seeps in. It’s a pile of garbage. Don’t fall for it. There is enough, enough, enough. There is enough business for all, creativity for all, big ideas for all, innovation for all. No one is stealing from anybody. Just put your head down and do your work.”
Jen: It was, it did come out.
Melissa: But talk to us about that. How do we balance being content with what we have, but yet we’ve got bigger dreams, bigger fish to fry?
Jen: Totally. Again, this is one that sits real down deep in my bones. I’m an Enneagram three, which means I value achievement and accomplishment and success. I’m a producer, I’m like, What can we build? What can we do? I’m a big idea person like that. Also, the underbelly of that, the dark side of that is that one of my best measuring sticks for how all that is going is how much people like it, right? How much applause there is, where it is falling in the ranks, and of course if you’re worried about where you fall in the ranks, that means you’re looking who’s ahead of me and who’s behind me. That was me telling myself, Put your head down, Jen, and just do your work. Just knock it off, you maniac.
And so, I have discovered that for me, this is a little bit how I’m wired, this kind of go, go, go type. There’s only one antidote I have ever found that is really incredibly useful to help reverse some of this competitiveness, this sense of, Oh why bother? I’ve started too late in life. Some of my listeners are thinking that today. Like, Oh, I’m too old to start something new or I’m in a completely different space right now. You know, I’d have to have a full overhaul to start it off.
There’s a lot of reasons why we can say no to the things we have dreams about. But the only thing that I have found that is sincerely useful to squash that competitive impulse is to do the exact opposite, which is wildly—and I mean embarrassingly so—cheer other people on.
I started doing that as a practice. Let’s see, I actually know when it was. It was probably about eight years ago when a friend of mine—I’d written Seven & For the Love, and so I was feeling pretty much like, I’ve written seven books. I know some stuff, peeps.
And so, I had a friend call me. I didn’t really know her that well, we were ancillary. She was like an ancillary friend to me. We had a person in common, and she said, “Can I take you to lunch? I’ve really sensed this thing in me that I really want to write a book, and I don’t have anywhere to start. I don’t even know anything about anything. I’ve never done it.” So I’m like, “Sure.” So we go out to lunch, and I roll in like, “Okay look, I know a lot about this, you know what I’m saying?” Like, “Just get out your notepad. I learned from my wisdom and my knowledge.” And I start in, and I’m like, “This is going to be hard, sister. Look, people are going to say no to you constantly. No one’s going to read your stuff. You’re just going to have to claw your way forward, so you need to make sure you’re really committed here, because it’s going to be just ages until you hit anything remotely that looks like success.” I did pep talk her. Can you imagine how encouraging that lunch was?
So cut to probably one year later, and I’m standing in my kitchen and my friend, our mutual friend that connected us in the first place, called me and she said, “Hey, have you heard about So and so’s book deal?” And I was like, “No. What is it?” And she proceeds to tell me about a book deal that is so over the top, like it is more than anything I have ever seen in my life. I mean, I had not even come near it, not even near it on a single contract I’d ever had. And I’m telling you, I remember where I was standing in my kitchen. I remember what I was wearing. I have never in my life been so furious. I hung up that phone, Melissa, and I went out to my porch sobbing like a born baby, like tears, like melodramatic tears, pouring down my face, like, “This is unfair God. This sucks. I hate working for you. I’ve been doing this for all these years.”
I mean, she bypassed me like I was going in reverse, right out of the gate. Her very, very first offer was more than I’d ever even imagined. And I remember sitting there, just absolutely furious at God for letting this happen, and I’m like, “I work for you. You don’t even care. You don’t even notice.”
And I was in my dark little prayer heart, sitting out with my dog, I felt this sense in this space, like this Holy spirit, “Jen, are you saying to me right now that you want your friend to struggle like you did? You want her to have to burn the midnight oil? You want her to have to scrape and claw and really struggle in the same way you did?” And I was like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, God.” And so, in that moment, that very day, that very minute with the tears dripping off my chin like a jealous baby in a diaper, I went, Whoa. Whoa, Jen? I don’t even believe that. I don’t believe in scarcity. That is not my worldview. I do not operate like this.
And so, when I noticed how quickly that beast was prepared to take me over, just like that, in the blink of an eye, I decided on the spot. Okay. I can’t give into this. And I decided that from that day on, when something incredible happened to a peer, to a friend, to really anybody in my sphere, I was going to do the opposite, and I was going to be their loudest head cheerleader they’d ever had. I was going to bang the drum, I was going to hoist them on my shoulders, I was going to promote their work, I was going to celebrate their successes. And I started doing it that day. At first, it was fake. I was like, “Oh, you’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list. Oh, good for you.” It was all fake.
But, when you practice that enough times, it becomes real. And that dropped into my bones, and I want you to know that when you see me do that now, when you see me cheer for friends and colleagues and peers, I mean it. Like, I really, really mean it, and it collapsed something gross inside of me, and replaced it with something better, and so, I believe that if we just do the gritty work of cheering one another on instead of deciding that other women are our competitors, it’ll change our communities.
Melissa: I love that. That is a great story. I like it when you share stories that are self-deprecating for sure, but make us feel so much better. I mean, it may be embarrassing to you, but it makes us feel great. So thank you.
Okay, moving on to this part right here. I want to just preface it by saying I’m really honored to get to travel down this next bit of path with you. I am literally taking notes. I’m going to start with a quote by your friend Sarah Bessey, who you quoted in the book as saying, “Anyone who gets to the end of their life with the exact same beliefs and opinions as they had at the beginning is doing it wrong.” That quote made me laugh out loud.
Jen: I mean…
Melissa: I have never felt like a quote yelled at me more. It was wonderful, but it was actually something that you wrote in the paragraph just before it that I kept going back to and reading and rereading. Here is what you said. You say, “A person asking hard questions of her faith system cares, and that means something. You are committed to mining the diamond out of the rubble, you stubborn thing. Believe in something good and just and loving as Jesus insists He is, and you are determined to sift. This doesn’t indicate an anemic faith, but the greatest kind.”
Melissa: I love that. It confirms some things that I’m feeling in my heart right now. I know that we could talk about this for hours, this part of your story and your journey, but just tell me this. Jen, when did you begin to feel some of the bricks of your beliefs begin to rearrange and knock loose? When did you begin to feel that happening because I want to know now what you hold loosely? You even said those words earlier. You said, “I needed to just hold some things loose.” I want to know how that served you? Let’s go back to when that happened, because you were this darling of a subculture that told you what to be.
Jen: Totally. And I think a lot of people who are operating in some sort of faith space can relate to this, and it’s because this story has a version in several different spots. Religion is one of those places where the insider versus the outsider status is very concrete. Right? Like, we’ve got it right. We’re practicing this correctly. We are the ones who understand this is the way it was meant to be understood.
Certainty is a very high value. And I know that. I grew up in that, and I craved it. It felt comforting to me. Certainty felt very, very comforting. But as I got older, certainty started to feel like a prison, because number one, I was growing up, and so what to me seemed like the whole world—I grew up in a very small niche, but I thought that was the whole world because it’s the only one I’d ever known. But I grew, and my exposure in general started expanding to people, to the rest of the world, to other ideas, to other traditions, to different interpretations, to women in spiritual authority.
I didn’t ever have any women in spiritual authority in my life. That wasn’t allowed. And so I’d never heard a woman preach. I’d never heard a woman dissect a bit of scripture. I’d never been exposed to a body of scriptural work by women. So, as a scriptural work by women, as I started to learn those ideas and then learn from people of color, well, all my categories started dissolving. Everything that felt certain, I noticed was really only true, and good news for me and my little subculture. It fell apart when it had to be applied to most of the rest of the world. And so I thought, Well, gosh, if it’s only true for me and mine in this little world, is it true at all? Is there any way there’s more to this than meets the eye?
And so for me, that’s where the bricks started to really fall off the wall, when I started noticing that when applied as directed, my faith doctrines were causing a lot of harm. So not just neutral, not just like, “Oh you should probably ignore this because this has no bearing on your actual life. This only works for us in white church.” But when I started to notice that my faith was causing trauma, that my faith system was protecting abusers and leaving women and girls and children hanging out to dry, when I started to notice that in literally every context, only men and virtually white men were in charge everywhere, and that women had no agency over their own gifts, over their own ideas, over their own spiritual authority. And I started to see communities of color left out. I saw the LGBTQ community harmed beyond all measure. I mean, beyond all comprehension, traumatized and abused, and it scared me at first, and I wanted to hold a little bit of room for anybody listening who’s like, “I’m scared to challenge some of the faith ideas I’ve been handed, because what happens if they all fall apart?”
I understand that. I understand that fear. And also, by the way, again, we’ve been conditioned to think that. Of course you and I know what it’s called, the slippery slope. We were told early on that we weren’t to ask questions and we weren’t to challenge what we’d been handed, because that was a slippery slope. And once we started, well, we were just going to go straight to the devil’s hell. Right?
Jen: And so I want to tell you that’s not true. That’s a lie. That was a fake idea invented to keep everybody cemented into structures of power. So just know it. Back to Melissa’s quote, it is not an anemic faith that asks hard questions. It’s a sincere one. And so I started saying, “Whoa, if it’s not good news for everybody, I wonder if it’s not good news.” And then, that’s when in some ways the wheels came off with my career.
Melissa: What has this done? How have you seen your faith relationship with God? How has it changed? What does it feel like now? I mean, I have to think that a listener is like, “But what if he gets mad at me?”
Jen: Oh, sure.
Melissa: This is a sin.
Melissa: I’m sinning to ask these questions, and I don’t want to ruin my relationship with a heavenly father that I’ve known to serve my whole life. What did that look like for you?
Jen: That’s a great question, and I honor it because I think on one hand, most people that are really deeply embedded in a specific faith community, you understand that belonging is at stake, as I mentioned earlier, and that’s its own scary thing. Like, Oh, I don’t want to lose my communal standing here. I don’t want to lose my sense of belonging. However, to your point, there is another side of it which is sincere, and it’s simply that people don’t want to be wrong. They don’t want to be disobedient, they don’t want to be unfaithful, right? They want to honor God and they want to honor what they believe in their values and their scriptures. And so I think that’s a very genuine and sincere place to operate out of. And I did too. And I honor that space. What I can tell you is I think God is way less fragile than we were taught to believe.
He is not this fragile deity willing to either fall out of the sky at first blush, or turn His back on us for asking really hard and good and important questions. In fact, and I walked through this in the book, but faith communities have done this for every generation. Every single generation pushes hard on the forms. It’s good, it’s good work. It’s our work. This is our turn. Our parents did it. Their parents did it. Every culture has done it. This is positively how faith was handed down to the Jewish community. The Jewish community holds spiritual curiosity with wonderful open hands. It’s just that we don’t. Western Christianity is very rigid and very, very inflexible.
And so to your question, I feel like giving myself permission to let my internal convictions and questions finally live on the outside where I was willing to talk about them, I was willing to explore them and examine them. I was willing to rethink them and I was willing to lead out of them. It gave me my faith back. It gave me God back. It gave me Jesus back. I was ready to throw in the towel. I’m like, “I don’t like this God. I don’t like this church. I don’t like these people. I don’t like the structure. It causes too much harm. So if this is true, I don’t want it.” And this, I have God back and He is better than I ever thought He was.
I grew up really, really afraid of God. Fear and shame were the two levers that were always pulled to keep us in line, and they worked great on me. Those are incredibly effective tools for me. And so when I put fear aside, and then I put shame aside, I’m like, “Oh, there’s God. There He is.” And what a wonder. What a wonder to have returned to me. I feel so grateful. I feel like I’m back to life, and I’m in my full spiritual integrity, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Melissa: Well, we’re almost at the end. I want to tell you, listeners, we haven’t even scratched the surface of everything you’re going to learn in this book. But you may have heard her use a phrase of being an integrated woman or when we become integrated. She said that a couple of times, and I want to tell you what that means, but I can’t. So she’s got to. In the words of Whitney Houston, how will I know? Okay, how will I know when I’m an integrated woman? I thought I was, for the love of God.
Jen: Oh, oh, love it.
Melissa: How will it feel?
Jen: I can tell you maybe the shadow side of it as a good beginning indicator. The shadow side is how does it not feel, which is that red flag that’s getting waved internally when you realize pretty clearly, I’m this way in this place, and a different way over here. Or, I act one way with this group and a different way with this one. Or, I am saying this one thing, I don’t believe a word of it. Or even less than that, I’m not sure I believe this, right? I’m not actually this certain like I’m pretending to be.
And so I think again, trust your own self. When your own self is saying self, You’re lying, you’re not telling the whole truth here. You’re saying yes when you mean no, or you’re saying I don’t mind at all. When you’re actually seething with fury or you’re saying Yes, I think that that group doesn’t belong, and you really are not sure that you think that, or you are saying, No, no, no, this is fine, but you really have this different dream burning a hole in your gut.
Believe yourself, trust yourself, listen to yourself. That’s your body. Your body is your best friend. I am telling you, my body is team Jen. Your body is team Melissa. Our bodies are constantly trying to tell us, “Hey, knock, knock. I don’t think this is true for you. Knock, knock. I don’t think this is real for you. I wish you had permission to say the truth.” We can believe her. We can believe her. She’s never wrong. She’s not going to lie to us. She has nothing to lose. And so I think if we can pay attention to that internal dis-integration, to use the word, then we can begin to turn our eyes and our energy and our work towards, Wow, what would it look like if all of this matched? Which is sometimes just a state of flux.
That’s not saying on the outside, “No, I’m real sure this way.” Sometimes that means saying, “I’m not sure what this is right now. I have some questions.” Or “I’m working it out. I don’t quite know where I land.” But that’s still true. That’s truth. And so my thesis here is that truth is our best friend and that if we will partner with it instead of constantly pushing against it, I believe truth is indeed what will set us free.
Now, does that mean we may go through a little turmoil in the middle? Almost inevitably, because once we start telling the truth, that means we’re going to disrupt the little worlds that we have either helped create or we’ve helped tend. And so yes, it will send some ripples along the way, and people are very used to the version we’ve been giving them. They’re used to the version of you you’ve been putting out. And that’s not even really their fault. They’re just reading you on your face.
And so it’s really, it’s my work, to be honest. It’s my work to be whole and true and integrated. It’s nobody else. Nobody else can do this for me. Nobody else can do this for you. I can’t even really fault somebody for believing me if I’m putting out something that’s pretend. I mean, I put it out there, so it’s our work to dig deep and say, “I think I’d like to be the same all the time. I think I’d like to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.” And again, I cannot help but just keep saying this. I can’t explain to you the joy, the freedom, the beautiful community on the other side of that work. I can’t. I will never have enough words to describe how worth it this is, that whatever losses will be built into the journey will be worth the gains.
And then, I mean, then we can get busy. We can get busy living these lives we were meant to live. That excites me. It excites me to think about a whole community of women just set on fire honestly, from the inside out. Trustworthy, right? Faithful, wholehearted, living out of their dreams and out of their talents and out of their convictions, out of true and sincere love. Now that is a world I’m excited about and I think it’s that woman that will change the world. I think we’ll change our families and our communities. It’s just the most exciting vision I’ve ever had and I want it so much for every single woman.
Melissa: Oh my gosh. I just get excited listening to you talk about it. You made this comment just now about how we build these little worlds of the things we believe and the things that we’re taught and it reminded me of this moment when my kids were really small, and we went to the beach, and they worked all day. Remy worked all day on building a sand castle, and at the end of the evening, the water came up and it just took it all away, and she started crying and it was time to go. We were packing up, and my dad grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s go.” And she said, “But it all washed away. Everything I built all day today, Poppy, washed away.” He said, “But those castles were for today. We get to make new ones tomorrow.”
Jen: That’s great. Love it.
Melissa: That’s what happens when we find our truth and we live our truth as an integrated woman. You even said a good indicator of integration is a lack of secrets.
Melissa: And that’s how we live in that truth. I want to read you one last thing that she put towards the end of the book, and she says, “Your truest self in its fullness, quirks, talents, dreams, beliefs, all is an irreplaceable gift to this world. It is so beautifully and wildly gorgeous. There is not one good reason to hide any of it. Bring it forth, let us know the real, whole you. Own it, embrace it, declare it. Step up and out in truth, we are waiting. We need you. “
We need you, Jen Hatmaker, and we have needed this book. I love you. I’ve loved you for years, and I wanted to say that I was sorry you ever had to live through these things, but I’m not.
Jen: Me neither.
Melissa: I have a feeling you’d do it again if you knew it would bring you to where you are and the truth that you’re living in.
Jen: 100%. I don’t regret a second. And the only thing I would change, if I could go back, is I’d do it sooner, and I would go back and tell myself at a younger age, “You can be free.” And so when I start thinking about my daughter, Sydney, who’s about to turn twenty, I’m like, “Kid, so help me and all of us moms, we don’t want our daughters to have to wait until they’re in their forties like us to figure this out.” I’ll want her to set her young adult life on fire. Absolutely free, absolutely fierce, and I’m telling you the next generation is ready for this message right now. I was not ready for this at age twenty, but I’m thinking if we can hang on here, if we can do the work in our generation, can you imagine what is going to happen when our daughters rise up?
I just can’t handle it. I just, I think they will set the world ablaze. And so we do this for us. We do this for the next generation watching, and it’s worth the work.
Melissa: It is worth the work. I can’t thank you enough for being fierce, for being free and for being full of fire, Hatmaker.
Jen: Oh, you’re so dear to me. Thank you for this, Melissa. I will never, ever forget this.
Melissa: You got me in your corner. I’m here.
Jen: Thank you. Thank you, sis. Love to you and your people today.
Melissa: Well, you’re very welcome, and thanks for having me and I love you as well. I’ll see you soon.
Jen: Oh, that was really special to me. Okay, now you know, now you know what I’ve been sitting on all this time. Like I mentioned, if you are ever going to want this book, you should pre-order it right now, because it comes out next week on April twenty-first, and anybody who pre-orders this book, not only are you going to get it next week when it ships, but you get a whole pile of goodies.
You get a one hour long coaching session by me on video through Rise Conference. You get a couple of the chapters right this minute, you get an audio chapter and probably most importantly, you get access to the most epic webcast coming out on April thirtieth with me, Brené Brown, Angelah Johnson, and JohnnySwim. I can’t even. I cannot even.
Anybody who pre-orders the book gets the webcast. So just go to jenhatmaker.com with your order information. Remember, you can pre-order the book in any format you want from any vendor, so whether it’s audio or digital or hardback and from wherever you got it, bring your order number over to jenhatmaker.com get your pre-order goodies and register for the webcast. It’s a virtual girls night out that’s going to rock our worlds, you guys. I do not want you to miss it. Okay?
Thank you for being here today. Thank you for letting me talk about the book. Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being the community of my dreams. And I am not kidding. You are the community of my dreams. I am so lucky. Love you so.