Get in the Game

with Jenna Bush Hager

The TODAY Show’s Jenna Bush Hager sits down for a wide-ranging conversation with Kate Bowler. Together, they share about the importance of family and intergenerational relationships (Jenna shares such tender stories about her grandparents), how they hope to let their kids make mistakes and be met with grace, and how they both (try to) find beauty in ordinary, regular days and regular problems.




Jenna Bush Hager

Jenna Hager is co-host of NBC’s TODAY with Hoda & Jenna and an editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope, which she wrote after traveling to Latin America in 2006 as an intern with UNICEF. She is also the coauthor with her mother, Laura Bush, of the children’s book Read All About It! Most recently, Hager co-wrote a book with her sister, Barbara Pierce Bush titled Sisters First, which released in October, 2017 and became a New York Times best-seller. Hager holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin.

Show Notes

Read along with Jenna’s Book Club.

Global Health Corps, is a non-profit started by Barbara and Jenna Bush that helps develop leaders that can change the health of a community.

John Swinton is a theologian and mental health nurse, who has such beautiful insights into the relationship that God has with us when we are lost. Listen to John and Kate’s conversation about The Speed of Love and The Art of Presence.

Jenna mentions the scary statistics on teenage girls mental health with anxiety and depression. The CDC released their report U.S. Teen Girls Experiencing Increased Sadness and Violence, that shows these alarming statistics. You can also learn how you can support teenage girls in this PBS Analysis: There’s a mental health crisis among teen girls. Here are some ways to support them. 

Caring for someone with Alzheimers disease is hard in so many ways. The Alzheimer’s Association has resources for those who are caregivers to someone with dementia or Alzheimers.

Discussion Questions

Discuss this episode with a book club, friends, or bible study group. Here are some conversation starters:

    1. Jenna talks about her sister Barbara, who was her first love, the one who taught her how to love and how to be in a relationship. That first love teaches you how to compromise, fight, forgive, and be forgiven. This first love could be a sister, parent, or friend. Thinking back to your first love, who was it and what did they teach you about love and relationships? (We realize not everyone had a healthy first love and we are so sorry if that was you)
    2. Kate describes John Swinton’s theology when working with people with memory loss, “When we can’t see ourselves and that beautiful long love story, that is intoxicating and beautiful. That like when we lose that thread, that God is the one who remembers and holds it for us. And that gives the fullness of us back to ourselves.”  In Psalm 139, we learn how intimate God’s love is for each of us. God knits us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16), God knows where we go, what we do, and what we think (Psalm 139:1-6). There is no place we can go that God will not find us (Psalm 139:7-12). God’s thoughts of us can not be counted (Psalm 139:17-18). God knows and holds us with such love and care that we can never be forgotten or lost. How can we learn from God’s love and care to help carry and honor the stories of those around us? How do we carry the stories of those we love when they can no longer remember for themselves?
    3. We all need people in our lives who say “I will be a witness to your life!” People who will “get in the game,” who will remind us when we forget “I am the one who loves you,” and people who will sing the song of life to us and with us. The loves of our lives are those who know our stories, who are witnesses, and cheerleaders. Who are the people who get in the game with you? How can you get in the game with those you love?


Kate Bowler: Hello, my dears. I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens and it feels so good to say that. Oh, my gosh, I’ve missed you! We are back for Season Eleven. Can you even believe that? That is nuts! And it’s been fun because I’ve been thinking about it all summer. We have been working on a really great season. And look, I promise I took breaks, but, like, this is what I did all summer. It was just thinking about how we talk about embracing the bad with the good, with the great, with the okay with the ‘bleh’ and the ‘meh.’ And just the fantastic and transcendent. We also thought this might be a really nice time to go visit some of our guests. So for this episode, my team and I went to go see (well, I don’t want to tell you who it is yet, it’s very exciting). But it was a really fun trip. We went to New York, which always makes me feel like a fancy lady. And then I sing a song to myself called “Cosmopolitan Ladies,” which is not a real song. It’s just one I make up when I go to a big city. But it was such a great chance to have that journey feeling, like when you are living in a way where you really want to discover something. I went to go visit Suleika Jaouad. Do you remember her? We did a couple episodes together about her experience with leukemia, and she is so kind and so wise and also does not live in the Manhattan area. And I thought she did. So I went to go visit her and then like 2 hours later, I was still walking. And that’s when I learned some things are not close together. And also, you can really get your step count in if you if you don’t know where you’re going. But it was exactly what I hoped, this feeling of journey and wisdom and discovery. And especially now because we are starting a new year together.

Kate: Today’s conversation is kind of the perfect starter for the “Hey, let’s get this going.” It’s it’s also a time to revisit some of the primary themes that I’m trying to learn, that Jessica and I wrote about a lot in our book, Good Enough. Which is like, gosh, in a world of perfection, maybe we just need to lower the bar a little and settle for something a little bit closer to good enough. Or my other favorite slogan, “Okayest life now!” But today and really together, we’re just going to keep exploring how we keep going, how we find joy and courage and just a hell of a lot of reality. And let’s do it by talking with some of my very favorite people to learn from, like today’s guest who has so much to teach us about the importance of family and how we borrow courage from one another. My guest today is Jenna Bush Hager. You’ll probably know her from The Today Show, where she co-hosts with the absolutely lovely Hoda Kotb. She’s editor at large of Southern Living magazine and she’s a New York Times bestselling author of many beautiful books and memoirs and kids books. Her memoirs include Everything Beautiful in its Time and Sisters First. She is the daughter and granddaughter of two American presidents. She knows deeply what it means to serve and is, according to every single person I know who’s met her, a complete and utter delight. So, yeah, you’re really going to like this one.

Kate: I thought maybe we could start at the beginning because you are part of a pair. I had a two-peas-in-a-pod sister situation where I answer to everything that sounds like a close approximation of my name. Amy? Katie? But you’re a “Jenna &…” Tell me about what that experience was like for you.

Jenna Bush Hager: Yes, I am. I mean, I was born with a twin and I think it was the best thing that ever happened to both of us. And I also feel like having her in my life who accepted me. I mean, the things about being twins is that you’re at the exact same age at the exact same time. And therefore, you don’t have one sibling who’s older and therefore thinks that their life is cooler or whatever that looks like. We had such a shared perspective and history that we just loved each other. And I think that kind of partnership, whether it’s a sibling or a best friend or cousin, can make you feel so brave. I mean, I feel like both Barbara and I are doing things now as adults, and probably even as teenagers if I look back, that were risky, you know? But we’re we were living really full lives. And I think that’s the beauty of it.

Kate: When they like mirror back to you things that you might not have seen in yourself? Or just yell, “Go for it! No, seriously! I know you can do it.”

Jenna: Yeah, No exactly. And I think also, like, you know, we just had a book party. I’ve started a book club at the Today Show and we had a little (it’s our fourth anniversary) so it’s just a little celebration at an indie bookstore close to my office. And I got really emotional because it is something I really care about. And I look down and first of all, not only was my sister there, but she was like weeping in the front row and she was sort of like taken aback at how emotional she felt. And she just kept saying, “I’m really proud.” And I think that’s how I feel about her in spades. You know, she’s my biggest cheerleader. And I think when you have somebody that has your back like that from the moment you were born. One time we were on book tour talking about sisterhood and somebody came up and they were like, “You’ve made me feel so bad because I fight with my sister.” I’m like, “No, no, no. We fight.” And we probably still would, you know, or get grumpy at each other. But deep down, she believes in me. And I feel that and I hope she feels the same. And so it empowers us to act, to live, to you know, not to sit on the sidelines.

Kate: I don’t think I would know how to fight unless someone who really loved me was like, “This, not that. But don’t say that again.”.

Jenna: Yeah, totally.

Kate: Oh, wait your tendency is to…No, I would never hang-up on somone.

Jenna: No, you’re right. Learning how to fight. I mean, she was my first love, so she taught me, you know, all of the things about love, about being in relationship. You know, that then I’ve utilized as a mom, as a wife, as a friend.

Kate: I totally believe that I don’t think I would know how to be a person unless I was like, externally scaffolded like a badly built building, where if I didn’t have something on the outside, pushing and holding me up. I’ve always felt, I mean, especially in good times of course, or just like you want that person, you want them to be there. But then in the bad times, you need them there just to say, “His love isn’t the end of your story.”

Jenna: Yeah. And you sort of want the people. And, you know, I know a little bit of your story, but you want the people that I feel like show up without asking. You know? I mean, I think it’s really hard because it’s everybody is living in silo with their own lives and their own problems. And obviously, the world is pretty heavy, too. But you want somebody that’s like, I’m going to be there for you. And you’re going to be okay. You know?

Kate: I will make this totally insane situation feel normal.

Jenna: Or funny or fun or whatever it is.

Kate: And be bossy for you. One of my very best friends. She’s just like, “There is not a world in which I’m not getting a pillow or a blanket warmed. She just bursts in!”

Jenna: Which is something that probably you would feel embarrassed to ask for, but your bestie would be thrilled to say, “I’m going to make you feel as comfortable as you possibly can.”

Kate: She’ll be like testing the integrity of a door to see if she can lift it from its hinges if it separated us.

Jenna: My sister when my babies were born would like move my hospital bed to get like the good lighting so she could take the picture on her iPhone of like me holding the babies. My husband I’m sure it was like, y’all are insane, but Barbara’s like, “We’ve got to get the natural light!”

Kate: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I. “I love you. I know what looks bad. I know what you’re going to want.”.

Jenna: Exactly.

Kate: Oh love. And I’m just thinking of your dating stories with your husband made me gently weep, as you introduced a different person into your dynamic. And it sounds like he went all in. If you don’t mind telling me the bicycling story? Because it slayed me.

Jenna: The poor guy. I mean, now, you know, we’ve been married for almost 15 years, which I can’t believe. So, you know, this was probably 20 years ago now because we dated for a bit before then, too. And my dad loves to mountain bike. And my husband, I guess he does. He’s a great mountain biker, but I don’t know back then if he actually really was or just was like trying to..

Kate: Volunteered as tribute, Katniss Everdeen style

Jenna: Yeah, totally. Just try to, like, “be in.” I don’t know. But my dad because he loves to mountain bike had like a proper mountain bike, a nice one. And my husband I think had like his Schwinn twin speed from college and so they were mountain biking and the issue … and by the way, I was in Africa with my mom. I wasn’t even there. I was like, “Dad, take Henry too.” And also we couldn’t really call. I mean, this was before cell phones. It was the before times. And we were also, you know, they’re working. So it wasn’t like we were at a hotel and could just like lounge and call. So, I don’t think I heard the story till I returned home. But the issue with mountain biking with my dad, which is one of the reasons I’ve never done it, especially then, was that there were like suburbans of Secret Service following him. So if you slow down, you’re going to get like just exhaust in the face and suburbans passing you. So it’s not relaxing, nothing’s senic. And then when you get past, you feel bad, you know. So Henry Schwinn twin, the chain broke. So he pulled over, got passed by all these suburbans, was like, slowly trying to fix it. And then, of course, I’m sure, although I don’t know that he would say this, he was trying to keep up. He was like probably 28 or whatever. He was young. Yeah, my dad was older. So he was on a hill and he was going full speed to catch up. And a Secret Service man opened the door and hit him. So he like, flew, you know, in the air, but he landed on all fours, so he was fine. But the point is, you know, he stuck around after that and after so much more. I think, to even be there biking. I mean, again, it’s something I don’t do for that exact reason.

Kate: In case you get “doored.”

Jenna: And by the way, these doors are bulletproof. They’re not like a normal suburban door that just like would hurt. This is like very painful and very heavy.

Kate: I think what I like so much too, about the way that you talk about the people you love is like they’re all people who, like, get in the game. And they’re all going to have to laugh and how ridiculous and stupid and fun, but it’s kind of like, like double Dutch. Where you’re like, pick it up bud. Everyone’s got to keep moving.

Jenna: No, I definitely, I think I gravitate towards people and I think everybody does who get in the game. I actually had, and this is probably going to make me cry, but I had this weird realization. Last week. I got to take my kids away for spring break. We put the Today show on tape and so that Hoda and I could both take our kids away. And it was pouring rain and we had just arrived at a beach, you know, so you’re like, oh, gosh. And my kids were like, “Let’s go swim in the rain!” And so we jumped in the pool and it seems magical and it it is, but it’s cold!

Kate: Cold. Yeah

Jenna: I am actually very cold. But they were, you know, loving it. But I was thinking, when when I just had this moment of realization, because when my grandfather was much older and was dying, he, like, whispered to me, it was hard for him to even talk. And we were sitting at dinner and he was like, “don’t forget to be in the game. Don’t forget to live in the game.” And I think, you know, his point was like, it was the end of his life and he couldn’t do the things he wanted to do so much. And even though swimming in the rain wasn’t some like, you know, it seems more sort of beautiful than it actually is. It’s like, no, no, no, I’m going to be that mom, or that friend, or that colleague who’s like going to give it my all, you know? And not only because he said that to me, but that’s in my DNA. It’s who I am.

Kate: That a big theater of life feeling where you’re like, It’s happening now. Yeah, it’s happening. Right? I’m a I’m someone who has a really hard time doing all the, like, live in the moment. Yeah. There is something about the little fairy dust feeling where, like, a kid destroying your laundry. Yeah. Was then folded and just like kid in a warm towel.

Jenna: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s finding the beauty in that. Because if you can’t find the beauty in the laundry, like and I remember some another when I was doing an interview, somebody said to me, a father said to me, like the first time I had, he had kids of different ages. So the first time I had the kids, I’m like, oh, I got to go change the diaper, got to go change a diaper. And now with his youngest, he’s like, but changing the diapers is living. Changing the diaper or doing the laundry, like if you can’t find the joy in those things and it’s not always like that. Also sounds like so Pollyanna, because you can’t always, but you have to try because otherwise you’re missing out on like 98% of life.

Kate: Yes, yes, yes. Yeah. The ordinary isn’t always extraordinary. And if the ordinary is most of life.

Jenna: Yeah, but you’re right. It’s like looking at the the the baby, you know, in the warm towel and finding the joy in that as opposed to the hardship of having to refold it. Who cares?

Kate: Yes. Yes, I guess I, I do feel the, like intensity of the challenge of wanting to be, like to feel all the like suck the marrow out of this beautiful life feeling. Especially when you’re around people who make you feel alive, you know, like the dumb fun things. You watch your kids in like super fast shutter speed, change in front of your eyes. And then you can feel, I don’t know, like my my friend’s dad always says, “Some people die with the song still in them.” And I always think of that as like, what’s this? What’s the big song here? And then who do I get to.

Jenna: Sing it with? Sing it too? Totally. I mean, I feel extremely lucky because, and I know some people don’t like that word, but I don’t mind it. Because I, you know, I get to, first of all, work with a woman who Hoda, who is joyful and chooses joy, you know, And I think.

Kate: And like locks in on people and stays with them.

Jenna: And locks in on people. And we both are, you know, love to listen to each other and share. And it’s and we’re open hearted, you know. And so it’s I don’t feel like the first of all, the fact that I get to wake up and go into work with somebody like that who I see at the crack of dawn, and I’m excited for that. I always say to women in particular, like if they don’t have that crew, if they don’t have those people that like I have at work, to find them. Because it makes life so much richer, you know, to be surrounded with people that that you can go to. But like can also, like you said, just laugh with, you know, and or if you have some sort of question, you can feel free and vulnerable then to ask. So first of all, I get to sit next to her every single day and that feels like such a privilege and one that I don’t think either one of us take for granted. And then, you know, I have these three kids and I don’t take, I always wanted to be a mom, and so I don’t take them for granted. I enjoy them. I think I have fun being a mom. I think they would say like I’m kind of crazy, but I think.

Kate: You’re like, your mom’s a good hang.

Jenna: One of the little girls, one of their, Poppy’s friends on spring break said we were playing telephone under the water. And I said, “your mom’s crazy.” And I’m like that, so like, I love it. You know, it’s like that I’m there and dancing and having fun and being part of it as opposed to sort of laying back reading, which I also really like to do. I’m also like Mommy has to read, shhhh.

Kate: This is actually a huge part of my life. I love too, the sense of choseness this that you have in your family’s story about wanting you so much. Like the framed, the framed proof of how much they wanted you

Jenna: Yeah. My parents had a difficulty getting pregnant. And so and I think, you know, they wanted children. My mom was an only child. Her mother was an only child. Her great grandmother was an only child. There’s like been fertility issues on that side of the family for a long time. And so when they couldn’t get pregnant, they decided to to pursue adoption, which they were really excited about. But I think this sort of is the way that God works sometimes, too, is when you like, sort of let go of some of the fear and then, you know, and the control. You know, sometimes there’s these miraculous, blessing,.

Kate: Surprise.

Jenna: Yeah. Surprises. Yeah. So they had put in the paperwork and they took a photo. I’m like, my mom’s wearing a red sweater. They’re on behind the fence in our backyard is like, behind them. And they had, I guess, a friend come and take the picture of them for the application, which is what I used to have to do. I don’t know, you may still. And and so and then right when they got the information back that they had been accepted for the next round, she found out she was pregnant. So they framed that photo for us so that we would always remember. Yeah. That we were loved.

Kate: Yeah. That feeling of being, like, pulled into a story about yourself. I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than someone who loves you. Being like, this is a love. It’s from here to hear. Yeah. I’m like, even before you were you.

Jenna: Well, I think kids yearn for that. I mean, I remember just being desperate for my mom to tell us stories of her time teaching because it was before we were alive. And I think to think of our parents as humans is something that’s so interesting for kids to do. But then, as you said, to elevate it and where it’s also includes. You know..

Kate: When were you a we? Yeah. When were we gonna? When did these characters meet?

Jenna: Totally.

Kate: We’ll be right back.

Kate: I really love the way you talk about your grandparents. We get to talk to a lot of lovely people who are like, you, soft hearted people who love the who are like, open to the world, breaking their heart. And one of the kinds of people we get to talk to a lot is people who are caregivers. So they, they love even when the story of who they are kind of gets lost through memory loss. The story that you wrote about your mom’s dad. Yeah, you could have rewritten it a different way. Yeah. How hard it was to watch him lose his story about himself.

Jenna: So my grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and he was the type of man before that would, that I mean, and, like, shame was, like, not part of who he was. I think both of my grandparents, my grandmother had two, had three stillbirths after my mom, possibly one before my mom two after. And so she, you know, they had wanted a large family. And my mom was totally aware of that. You know, she knew that they had always wanted more at more kids, that she had always wanted more siblings. And so I think when we were born, it sort of quenched this desire in him. He had these, he loved babies and he would come over every day and see us during, you know what would usually wake us up from our afternoon nap, which I’m sure my mom was like, they just went to bed. But he was such a joyful person and he was he would never reprimand us. Like, I remember him testing him, like I would throw out this, he had like sort of one of those old oldsmobiles where you had to roll up the windows manually and I would throw out a Kleenex box from his car over and over again.

Kate: You were just like if you are going to bring it, bring it.

Jenna: Rolling it down and throwing it out. And he would just pull over, get it out, and would pick it up. And there was never any sort of like shame inflicted upon us, ever. And then, you know, watching him lose who he was, because that part of him sort of left to. You know, he was such a joyful person. In fact, his favorite thing to say, which is so sweet when we were young and would spill things, which is like kids do often,.

Kate: It’s like their full time job.

Jenna: Yeah. He would just like yell out “happy days”. And I think it would. I think it would to remind us or, you know, my parents probably that like, who cares if you’re, don’t freak out because your kids spell something. Like it just doesn’t matter.

Kate: Gosh, what a perspective shift every time, your right. There’s no small tragedies in that version. Of course, there’s just accidents.

Jenna: Totally. And so he. But yeah, he he had Alzheimer’s probably when we were about 11, ten or 11. So we really got to, you know, witness it. It was at that age where we understood things, too, you know, and and understood it and yet couldn’t understand because he was so different than the person that we loved. You know, I mean, and lost sort of. I mean, it was it was it’s really hard. And I’m sure many of the people you’ve spoken to have already articulated this. But it’s a really hard thing to witness because there’s sort of an agitation, or at least in his case that came with it, that was not there. And there also was a shame because there’d be moments where he would be lucid. So, for example, I remember he asked my dad for he thought he had gambled his money away, so he asked my dad for a loan. And then in the middle of the night, he woke up and, you know, was crying to my grandmother because he realized he just was embarrassed that he would do that. But, you know, I think I also believe that there’s a better place where, you know, he’s clear of mind.

Kate: Yeah.

Jenna: Yes, it’s hard. It’s a hard it’s a terrible disease. And one of you know that I hope there’s more funding for because there’s so little research. And there’s such hope, you know, that I feel like there will be some some hope around it in our lifetimes, at least.

Kate: There’s this lovely man named John Swinton, and he was a mental health nurse before he became a theologian, which is like a fun twofer job, and he’s from Scotland. So he has one of those like on of those charming accents..

Jenna: Yeah, totally.

Kate: And he so he worked mostly with people with memory loss. And that was one of the most deeply hopeful things I’ve ever heard someone describe to say about God, was that when we can’t. When we can’t see ourselves and that beautiful long love story, that is so intoxicating and beautiful. That like when we lose that thread, that like God is the one who remembers and holds it for us. And like, it’s that’s like gives the fullness of us back to ourselves.

Jenna: Yeah.

Kate: And I was like, well, that’s really beautiful. Yeah, and frankly helpful. But when your grandma would say, when he would say who.

Jenna: Yeah, oh yeah. When he would say, so who, who, who are you? Which is also a hard thing. Like, just hard thing for a 10 year old or a 11 year old to hear their grandfather ask who their grandmother was. It was destabilizing, a little scary. And she would just say, oh honey, I’m the woman that loves you. I know.

Kate: It’s really sweet. Makes a really. That story will really stick with me, because I just think that would be the most beautiful thing to say forever. Yeah. For people, we are like, Well, I’m the one who loves. Yeah. Like, even when the people in our life are not.

Jenna: Yeah.

Kate: I mean, we’re not in the part of the story we want.

Jenna: Yeah. Yeah. You didn’t give a disclaimer that this was just going to be like,.

Kate: Oh, I am just so sorry. I just, like, I ran off, like,.

Jenna: Like a total cry fest. Do you serve Kleenexes with your podcast? I’m just kidding.

Kate: We’ll be right back.

Kate: The way you describe your family, which it has, of course, like entirely surreal elements because your life is unusual and yet it has like, wonderfully normal. Yeah, stupid, hilarious stuff. Yeah. Like the description of your mom helping you pack up your room up to move out of college. Yeah. It’s just like, shoves everything in a garbage bag and opens a window. Yeah. Is one the greates idea, ever told. But it shows that you’re like, All right.

Jenna: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think what’s hard for other people to understand, but it isn’t for us. I mean, like, and also, thank goodness. Like, I actually worry about my kids having a normal childhood more than I think about ours. Yeah, because my dad was not president until I was 18. Yeah. So and even though my grandfather was which sounds like. Well, because people would be like, but your grandfather was. Well, we lived in Texas and he lived in Washington, D.C. And so our day to day, I mean, I went to a public I went to public school almost all the way through. I went to public high school. I went to public elementary school. I rode my bike to school. We lived in like a house that’s now been torn down for a big fixer upper. Like we had a very normal childhood. So much so that I think we weren’t really even prepared for, when my dad became president. I think we were like, and which, is which again, sounds naive, but I just think my dad was like, “No, you all can be normal college kids.” Which of course was not the case. But he’s he is, as a dad, wanted to promise us what we wanted, you know, And he also, I know, didn’t want his job to affect our, what, the normalcy. You know, I mean, I think and so I you know, I’m sure people because I know people all the time are like, what was it like living in the White House? And I’m like, well, I never lived there, you know? And I think and although I’m sure it would be very magical in many ways to grow up in that, it was such a wonderful thing for Barbara and I because we had, I think, the best of both worlds. We had a totally normal childhood where our dad was worked in baseball, was home at like 4:35 because it was Texas. And we live in New York and people work like crazy hours so he could, you know, run while I rode my bike next to him like every day. I mean, it was consistent. And then and then, you know, when he wanted to become president, we were in college. Yeah. So we were busy kind of exploring who we were outside of our families, who we wanted to be, what we wanted to study. And so it allowed us this. I mean, there were things that were unusual, but they happened so much later in our life. Yeah, our childhood, really, in our adolescence. Yeah. But we were already formed. Yeah. I mean, we made mistakes, but that’s.

Kate: But you got to make mistake, which is so wonderful.

Jenna: That’s the part of it, you know, And I think we made mistakes because we all including I think my parents thought we could be, you know, normal. Because we had sort of lived this normalcy. And we really probably couldn’t have. But thank God they allowed us that, because I do think like, when I think now about not just my kids, but society as a whole and all of these teenagers who are.

Kate: Not okay.

Jenna: Not. Yeah, well, many are experiencing I mean, the statistics on teenage girls and and depression rates, anxiety rates, are really scary to me. And obviously the pandemic has contributed. But and again, I’m not a scientist, I haven’t studied this. But what I am afraid of is that we have told our kids for now ten years, don’t post that you’ll ruin your life, Don’t do this, you’ll ruin your life. And I feel like putting that type of pressure on young people who need to make mistakes in order to become fully formed. And need to be able to fail. It’s like if you’re telling somebody you can’t fail, then how are they supposed to react to that? You know, I want to allow my kids the opportunity to make mistakes. And I’m worried that as a society we’re putting so much pressure on kids to be perfect when there is no such thing.

Kate: Yeah, I totally agree. That’s so stressful.

Jenna: Yeah.

Kate: I also really related to your description of your, it’s your dad’s mom, describing her very free opinions, firmly held. Yes. And yet intensly protection of you at the same time.

Jenna: Yeah.

Kate: Kind of mean, right? I have a grandma like that. And I would rather be corrected by somebody who really loves me, even though they are a little bit.

Jenna: Scare you. Yeah, totally.

Kate: Yeah. I just. I liked every story you told about the like fierceness of that love. Yeah. Because that in, like, in the social media world, I would want like, I don’t want the world correcting my kid. I want someone like that.

Jenna: Yeah. Yeah.

Kate: I want the, like the feeling that the people who really love you, even if you disagree with them, are going to be the ones that tell you, what’s what.

Jenna: I mean, the thing about her, too, is that she loved debate. She loved to debate. And I feel like like I worry a little bit about our society, that there’s like just a one tone debate now, that there’s not much listening going on. And she loved and debate with us, but with others. I mean, with other people from political different political parties from, you know, she loved a really interesting conversation. Um. Yeah. And it didn’t end with like door slamming and somebody getting up and leaving the table. So it’s like that. Yes. She was fiercely protective and she could say whatever she wanted about us. But if somebody else said something about any of her loved ones, yeah, she they would goodbye. She was, she was wildly opinionated and she wasn’t afraid to use her voice, which, frankly, you know, as a woman who was born in the early 1900s or 19, I would want to say like 1919. That’s really amazing. You know, she was and I think it’s so funny because I definitely think just by the way she looked and sort of how she dressed, people thought of is probably not as modern as she was, but she I mean, she disagreed with my grandfather about big political issues, which even now are very polarizing. I mean, she was pro-choice when her husband was the Republican president and was outwardly so. She. So, you know, I think it’s like the fact that she wasn’t scared to speak her opinion was something that I watched, and and and listen like I hope to be slightly gentler. But that’s to me, that’s also, you know, both of my grandmothers use their voices in very different ways. But I think it goes back to kind of what we were saying about living, about being in it, about sharing your opinions. But also listening, and growing, and evolving and not doing it in a way where it’s like, you’re wrong, I’m right. She was in a marriage where they could have two different opinions on something that’s very political and personal and and and they deeply loved and admired each other. Like, that’s okay.

Kate: I love that dinner table debate club feeling. I really do. Yeah. My, it is the cutest thing to me in the whole entire world that every night over Skype, my son sits down with his my dad who is also a historian. Yeah. And they either go through just weird random stories in history or I can hear their adorable little arguments. Yeah. And like, arguments done in love is a like, that’s a that’s a deep kind of comfort and we can find.

Jenna: Well, it definitely is. And I think it’s like it doesn’t even I feel like, the word argument is even like more intense than it has to be. It’s like I mean, debate is probably too.

Kate: Yeah.

Jenna: High school to high school debate club.

Kate: Yeah.Yeah.Yeah.

Jenna: But like, what is the word where like you said it exactly right. Like where it’s like grounded in love and empathy and openness and that’s to where it’s not just like, I mean, I feel like we have a hard time as a society right now having conversations that are difficult and listening. Yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of sort of closed off. I know you, so why would I even listen? I know what you believe. Where is your your heart isn’t even open enough to even listen to what the person’s having to say. Yeah, that worries me a little. Yeah.

Kate: You write really beautifully about faith as a source of encouragement and a sense of like, God, it sounds like deep peace when you write it. We’re like, There will be there will be troubles. And yet I know that I’m loved. I know that. But yeah, faith sounds like a language of real comfort.

Jenna: Yeah. You know, I mean, I was raised in a house where both of my parents had strong faiths, but. And my dad’s definitely was. He spoke about it more, but both of them didn’t push us. They sort of wanted us. And by the way, in all veins, not only in faith, but politically, too, or sort of, you know, we were allowed to question things. And I that’s that I think surprises people, too, because I think they think like, oh, well, if your dad’s a doctor, then you know, you’re going to be a doctor or whatever, you know, whatever. I mean, it’s like they allowed us to like, I mean, this is the braver way and sort of the more of a pain to parent. Because like, we would like be in eighth grade and talk about the death penalty and be like, totally go in on my dad who was, you know, like making real decisions. And we were just like middle school students. But he would allow it and not only allow it, he would sort of encourage it. I mean, I think he wanted and I want this to I mean, as a as a mom, but I was a teacher. I want my kids to be curious and independent. Like I don’t need them to think the exact same way I think because, you know, for my ego. Like that they can have their own feelings. And I think my parents, I mean, we definitely were the type of house that went to church every Sunday and faith was a really important part of my dad’s life. He’s still very disciplined and reads the Bible every single day. And is, but and enjoys discussing it, you know, just enjoys reading different books. We all read a different devotional every single year and some little scriptures every morning. That’s how I wake up every day. But there was not it was not a judgmental house. There was not judgment put upon us. Like if we didn’t want to go to church, there was no forcing it. My mom, I remember, would always just say, “Just have faith in something.” Yeah. Which is like the simplest yet sort of all encompassing freedom to learn for yourself and.

Kate: That is a braver way, isn’t it.

Jenna: I kind of feel like my friends that have complicated relationships with their faith are the ones that were either are complicated relationships with anything. Yeah. Are the ones that were pushed really hard.

Kate: Yeah.

Jenna: Like them friends that have complicated relationships with food were meant to eat every bit off their plate. Or watched a mom who drinks slim fast. You know what I mean? It’s like. Yeah, I found at least in my life, I don’t know any different that allowing sort of.

Kate: Yeah. Freedom.

Jenna: Yeah. The freedom. But also to to model what love looks like as opposed to, you know, we all know the people that sort of read the Bible verse, but then in their day to day in life, don’t show love to those that need it, you know?

Kate: Yes. Jenna, your love and compassion and the way that you like are so present in other people’s lives is such a gift. And I’ve had the best time.

Jenna: Oh, me too. Thank you for this was like a wonderful therapy session. I appreciate it.

Kate: Yeah.

Jenna: Thank you for having me.

Kate: There’s something about love that makes us brave, isn’t there? I used to have this friend who did unbelievably dumb, dumb, brave things. Like just dumb. Brave things. And when she did, for some reason, we got into. The habit of me yelling, “I will be a witness to your life.” I will be a witness to your life is I thought the funniest thing to say, as you see someone like leaping off a dumpster into what they hope will be like a soft pile of garbage. And it makes me laugh every single time I think about it. Like, because the truth is, when someone says, “I will be a witness to your life.” We get that surge. That feeling like if you see me, man, what couldn’t I do. Jenna speaks about it so beautifully when she describes the way her sister and her have championed one another. How her parents loved her enough to let her make her own mistakes, and how her grandmother loved her enough to always let her know when she was completely wrong. It’s that sticky feeling of love or the kind when someone looks at you and says, I will let you jump off that dumpster. So look, love, this is the kind of feeling, this surge, and I wish it for you. So let’s bless it, shall we? Blessed are we, when love makes us brave, be it our friends or teachers, our mentors, our partners, siblings, parents or grandparents. From the littles who remind us to get in the game, even if they’re really actually is something more pressing to do in that moment. To the parents who remind us how quickly it all goes. Whose wild, ungrounded belief in us gives us courage to try something new, to make a big leap, to take a chance on love, to risk, to fail, and to try, try, try again. This is the kind of love that sticks. So bless all of us in our great big web of love.

Kate: This is the part of the episode where I get to thank everyone who makes this work possible, like our generous partners. This whole thing started because amazing people at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment wanted to support storytelling about faith and life. And I love, love, love them for it. Thank you also to my academic home, Duke Divinity School, and our new podcast network, Lemonada, where their slogan is “When Life Gives You Lemons. Listen to Lemonada.” So yeah, our kind of people and of course, a huge shout out to my incredible team who makes all the behind the scenes work happen. Jessica Richie, Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Gwen Heginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Hope Anderson, Kristen Balzer, Jeb Burt and Katherine Smith. We also just have really fun things coming this fall, and I don’t want you to miss a thing. So if you go over to, you can sign up for my free weekly email and it’s full of all kind of insider information, video clips from the episodes, discussion questions, must read books, free printables, all kinds of things. And hey lovely, would you do the most helpful thing in the whole world for me? Could you leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify? It only takes a few minutes, but it makes a huge difference to our podcast. And while you’re there, be sure you’re subscribed to our feed so you don’t miss any new episodes that will air every Tuesday. We love hearing your voice. So if you want, just leave us a voicemail. We might even use it on the show. Call us at 919-322-8731. Okay lovelies, I will talk to you next week where I’m going to be talking to you. If you can even believe it, Rob Delaney. You’re not going to want to miss this one. But in the meantime, come find me online at Kate C Bowler. This is, Everything Happens with me Kate Bowler.

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