Blessing our ACTUAL Lives

with Kate Bowler & Jessica Richie

Kate and Jessica talk about their work on the Everything Happens Project and podcast over the past 10 seasons. They also talk about their new book The Lives We Actually Have, which is a book of blessings. Blessings are more than prayers, they also help give you language to describe where God is in real life situations.




Jessica Richie

Jessica Richie is a producer and writer. She serves as the executive director of the Everything Happens Initiative at Duke University and the executive producer of the Everything Happens podcast, which hosts wise, funny, and tender conversations between Dr. Kate Bowler and guests about lives that don't always work out. Based on their work together, Kate and Jess co-wrote a book of spiritual reflections called, GOOD ENOUGH: 40ish DEVOTIONALS FOR A LIFE OF IMPERFECTION and a book of blessings called THE LIVES WE ACTUALLY HAVE: 100 BLESSINGS FOR IMPERFECT DAYS. Jess received her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and lives with her family in Wilmington, Delaware.

Show Notes

Keep updated on Season 10 of the Podcast by signing up for the newsletter here.

Read more about Kate’s research on the prosperity gospel in her book  Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.

You can also find all her interviews with celebrity Christian women in Kate’s book The Preacher’s wife: The precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities.

Of course you should check out Kate and Jess’ new book of blessings, The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days.

We have free Lent guides for you to use by yourself, with a group, or with your church. Click here to get started.

Share this podcast with your Lent group as a great intro to The Lives We Actually Have book or your Lent Devotions.  Here are some conversation starters:



Kate Bowler: Well hello there. Hey I’m Kate Bowler and welcome to season ten. Holy crap. Season ten of The Everything Happens podcast. Which just yeah. Everything happens and it just keeps happening, for ten seasons. I started this podcast as a way to create language and community around some of life’s most painful moments. I was so overwhelmed by the question of how do we live in the after? After a diagnosis, after a death, after a divorce, after something that changes our lives or takes it apart. I had just been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and I was only 35. And I just I was, I was so lonely and I felt so devastated. I had a two year old at home with this giant lovey Disney eyes. And I had the job that I loved, like the very. The only job I’ve ever wanted. And then suddenly I had a picture of a future that was just never going to be. And so I wanted to know, like, how do we do this? How do I do this? How do you find joy and hope and love even after life comes undone? And after years of treatment and years of uncertainty, I guess I realized somewhere along the way that this wasn’t really a one and done kind of question. This is the sort of work that evolves over time as life continues to contract and expand, and break our hearts and then put us back together all over again. And so thank you for being the people that I’ve had along the way. These are not, of course, the conversations anybody really wants to have, but we do, you and me and this gorgeous community here at the Everything Happens project. You really are my people and I honestly can’t believe that we are starting the 10th season. That has been 120 heart expanding episodes later and so many more to come. It turns out that this is actually not just like, you know, a series of a series of episodes, but a way that I’ve learned how to relate to the world. And it’s something that I only got to do because we were doing it together. And this season, we’re going to be talking to tender and wise and so funny people about what they’ve discovered in their before and afters. People like Beth Moore, who has been in front of millions of people and in her life came undone. We’re going to talk about that long faithfulness when life really doesn’t work out the way you thought it did. And talk to Mary Louise Kelly from NPR All Things Considered. We’re going to talk about empty nesting and rediscovering yourself after the kids leave. Rabbi Steve Leder about what tragedies teach us and how we can just see beauty somehow. Frank Bruni about right sizing our gratitude in the face of aging and so many more. I can’t wait for you to hear them and join in on the conversation. But before we jump in, I thought we could do something a little fun and let you in on the behind the scenes of this new project that we have releasing today. Yes, today, the most romantic of days, Valentine’s Day. The perfect time to release a book of sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes terrible blessings. And I really want to tell you all about it. But before I do, I just, I want to introduce you to someone who’s been there a whole time. This is one of my very best friends in the whole world and the producer of this podcast and also the coauthor of this book. Her name is Jessica Richie. And she hates being on mic. So this is just. I want you to just quietly clap wherever you are because she’s she’s about to reveal herself. Hey, Jess.

Jessica Richie You know. I’m really I’m going to make you pay for this. Keep all or so Hello.

Kate: I like I was just so close to busting out the whiskey to just let this go down smoother because it is going to be me forcing Jessica Richie to uh. Man, we’ve been working on something for such a long time. We always wanted to think about what is the right way to say spiritually true things, but not be super bright side. And we started talking about blessing. When do you think we started doing this on the podcast?

Jess: I know I think it was before the pandemic, so before the whole globe felt like it kind of was coming undone and living in the uncertainty that, like you and our beautiful listening community, knew all too well already. Yeah, and we used it kind of as a way as you and I, like, listened in on an episode with the, like, profound conversation that you had as a way to, like, wrap it. Like, what do we want to give the listeners? Like, how do we want them to close this moment? Like, what is the gift that we could pull out of this conversation? And maybe, maybe blessing is the right format for that.

Kate: I felt this recently to the feeling that. Some people just want you to say everything that’s certain. And God is good, you know? Everything is always going to, you know, just like the language of assurances. And I think one of the ways that you and I have really connected is spiritual language around things that are barely sure at all.

Jess: Mm hmm.

Kate: And listening to people like our amazing podcast guests and we both read all the books, and really think about all the questions, and care so much about what the, what the nonreductive gift is inside of every person’s life story. And that’s something I think we just want for all of us is it sounds so funny to be like we’re anti self-help pro-Hope, but that’s like precisely what we believe.

Jess: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. That needle, it feels like we’re just adding a lot of asterisks, you know, like. Yeah, Asterisk, footnote, asterisk, footnote, asterisk, footnote. Like, we really do try. We we know this needs to be more nuanced.

Kate: Yes, exactly. And I’ve been obsessed with anti hashtag blessing since, you know, I started writing about the prosperity gospel and spent I don’t know, gosh, maybe 13 years interviewing televangelists and then five years interviewing Christian women celebrities. And that was just like, that was a solid, that was a solid 15 years of looking at looking at. What we imagine our cultures spiritual heroes are. So I guess I want Taylor Swift’s style for there to be some serious anti-heroes, I guess of the faith.

Jess: Oh, that was good. After studying, spending so much of your life studying this, seeing that like a punitive side of maybe the hashtag blessed bikini bodies, hashtag blassed look at my new car, hashtag blessed my family is all matching and looking at the camera at the same time. And no, this isn’t photoshopped at all. How do you draw a distinction between hashtag blessed and blessing?

Kate: Yeah, because the hashtag blessed has this shellacked, look at me, I’m spiritually lucky. But it’s a language that implies that you put yourself in the right place at the right time. Look at me, I’m happy helping wealthy, I’m grounded, I’m, you know, etc.. Because I my faith, my positive attitude, my whatever has positioned me to be first in line. And like, we need, we need something else. We need. Well, to try to figure that out, I, I, you know, work in a seminary. You have an M.D. from that seminary. I just kind of poked around at the Divinity School to be like, So my friend Stephen Chapman, he’s an Old Testament scholar, and he’s writing this beautiful book on blessings. And I was like, Stephen, what’s the what’s the distinction between our account of blessing? And he said, Yes, Blessing is poetic speech. It is lovely to listen to. Yes, it is sometimes a little bit like prayer. It can say, God, please help me or. But it’s different because it is an act, he said of placement. And I kind of immediately thought of like spiritual interior decorating, Like you’re just trying to rearrange all the furniture to put everything in its right place. This goes here, that goes there. And so Blessing can let us say things like, you know, God, you are. I’d say all the big, lofty things. God, you are sovereign over all things, etc., etc.. Maker of the earth, whatever. And also in the day I have it is here all my ordinary problems. Here is my devastation. Here is my tragedy. Oh, look, there’s a sunset. And in all of it it kind of like it’s sort of takes a world that’s fully out of order and it feels like it’s reordering it in light of the true thing we can say. And I thought, wow, that’s much more realistic. And simultaneously, it creates a kind of shelter for people like us who are never going to be able to be hashtag blessed, but still truly want to know that somehow our lives are good.

Jess: Even in the midst of this insert, terrible problem. Like, I think I’ve been so surprised how much they’ve resonated the blessings that we and the podcast with or that you post on social media every week. Like just last week we posted asking people like, what do they need blessings for? And we got 300 responses of the most tender hearted moments in people’s actual real lives that they like are craving the language for blessing, craving the acknowledgment for. What they’re feeling. And maybe God could be present in that. Maybe their life in all of its, heartbreak and hope is worthy of a blessing to.

Kate: Be just like blessed. Blessed for mothering stepkids, blessing for incurable cancer, blessing for my divorce, blessing for not being sure writing a book matters.

Jess: Blessing for that middle place, blessing for taking care of my aging parents, blessing for, I mean, everything. We’re like the world is so delicate. If you just like, take a little bit closer of a look.

Kate: Yes, that’s right. One of the things I noticed after I got sick was how nervous sometimes people feel if you don’t always just say the good thing. As if  some other whole if you pull a thread and the whole thing unravels. But I’ve  like, like I need to be like getting chemo and yelling God is good. Although somehoow God is not good at that very moment. But like I do find that it’s really had the opposite effect. It made me feel like I could stop waiting for my life to get better before feeling like I could. I don’t want to say deepen in my faith, I don’t want to sound sanctimonious but like, not feel left out.

Jess: Yes.

Kate: Of all the people who want to be spiritual, too.

Jess: Yeah. And there’s something about a written prayer that you can kind of, like, fold yourself inside of. Whereas, like, even if it doesn’t feel very true that day, even if you are at a loss for words, which is what happens so often when we’re faced with the realities of our like, unfixable days and unfixable lives. Yeah, that you can just read these prayers alongside of everybody else.

Kate: Yeah. I think one of the nice things about season ten and the guests we have is that they’re so honest about something, but they’re not just trying to take like, Oh, this was the worst. They’re trying to give something back. Like, this is what I learned in a nonreductive, nonsimplistic way. And that’s so much of our hope for all of us for the next few monts, is we’ve got a season of Lent we’re walking into. A season where we still want our lives to matter. A season where we know we’ve already failed our New Year’s resolutions. If people wanted to.

Jess: Speak for yourself Kate Bowler.

Kate: You’re like, I am using free weights like nobody’s business. If someone wanted to say use the blessings over the next little bit, like have a layer of reflection in their life, how could they use it?

Jess: I imagine a few different ways that people could use it. First of all I,  it feels so funny to be like, I really love the way that we organized it because I do, but I do, but I do, but like we like put it into these sections of, you know, for our garbage days, for our lovely days. It’s supposed to be the kind of book where you could kind of just like flip to whatever day you’re having and use that as something to help ground you in the morning when you wake up, at night, in the carpool lane as long as your car’s in park. We have like Lenten guides, too, for people who want to feel this as a little bit more guided of a season. Individual guides and group guides that they could use with friends, and sermon guides if you’re the kind of person who leads churches or schools or want to lead a group through this whole thing. So we’ve kind of created a whole bunch of ways to kind of infuse this season as like a time of blessing, like blessing our actual days, our actual Lenten days.

Kate: So if people buy the book, thank you or not. It’s great. I’m so glad you’re here. We don’t care. We’re just so glad you’re here with us. This community is our place to see life as it really is. When it is beautiful, when it is terrible, when it is full of hope or despair and everything in between. So thank you for being human with us on that journey. Let us just continue to be human together

Kate Bowler: And before we go, let’s do it. Let’s just bless the lives we actually have. All right. This is for you. And whatever week you’re having. So bless this, this ordinary day when absolutely nothing seems to sparkle or this lovely day that bursts with wonder. This overwhelming day when we don’t know where to begin or this garbage day when everything goes wrong, this pain filled day when every moment is a reminder of what little we can control. Or this day, marked by deep grief when getting out of bed feels like too big of an ask. Bless them all. For these are the days we have, the lives we have. May we be met with enough hope or courage or rest, honesty or shared commiseration to get us through this day and then the next, as we trust that our actual lives with all our actual problems are worthy of a blessing. So, blessing, my dears, honestly, we’re so grateful you’re doing this with us. We’ll see you next week. It’s going to be fun.

Kate: This episode of The Everything Happens podcast was made possible because of our generous partners Lilly Endowment, The Duke Endowment, Duke Divinity School and Leadership Education. And of course, nothing is possible without the wisdom and expertise of my absolutely fabulous team. Jessica Richie, my Heart, I love you. Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Gwen Heginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Hope Anderson, Jeb Burt and Katherine Smith. This really is my very favorite kind of group project. So if you want to know what else we’re up to, head over to so you don’t miss a thing. We’re going to be back with brand new episodes every Tuesday. And our Book of Blessings, if you’re interested, it’s available now wherever books are sold, and you can learn more at All right, my love. Bless you. Have a gorgeous week. We’ll see you next week

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