‘OF MESS AND MOXIE’ LOOKS AT PAR­ENT­ING AND FAITH

Jen Hat­maker talks par­ent­ing, faith in ‘Of Mess and Moxie.’

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ni­cole Vil­lal­pando nvil­lal­pando@states­man.com

Jen Hat maker is sit­ting in her of­fice in a lit­tle out­build­ing at the home her fam­ily re­mod­eled in Buda — the home that be­came famous when it and the fam­ily landed on the HGTV show “My Big Fam­ily Ren­o­va­tion.”

She’s hop­ing no one will in­ter­rupt her as she’s talk­ing about her new book, “Of Mess and Moxie: Wran­gling De­light Out of This Wild and Glo­ri­ous Life” ($22.99, Nel­son Books). It’s a cal­cu­lated risk, mind you, be­cause it’s sum­mer­time and her five kids, rang­ing from col­lege age to en­ter­ing mid­dle school, are loose.

“The in­mates are run­ning the asy­lum,” she jokes. “It’s a mir­a­cle; in the last 15 min­utes some­one hasn’t barged into the of­fice.”

The Austin au­thor ,blogge r and spir­i­tual leader launched “Of Mess and Moxie” this week with a Face­book Live post and a press tour of Los An­gele s and then New York. She’s hop­ing to come home to BookPeo­ple soon.

The book is all about telling her truth, some­thing she has never ex­actly shied away from, but now she’s learned to stop chasing per­fec­tion, and she hopes you will too.

“The thing about real life is that if you don’t know al­ready that life is messy and hard and full of fail­ure and loss and dis­ap­point­ment, then you need to live longer,” she says. “That’s just true.”

It’s a les­son she’s had to teach her­self. She says she never would have been­able to share so many of her short­com­ings in a book like this 10 years ago. She was chasing t hedreamofs ome sort of life per­fec­tion, she says.

“I’m not play­ing that game any­more,” Hat­maker says. “Nine times out of 10, telling the truth, whether an easy one to tell or a hard one to tell, draws peo­ple

in more than pushes them away. If it does push them away, they’re not go­ing to be the right per­son for you.”

Be­ing hon­est about fail­ures and im­per­fec­tions is hard, es­pe­cially if you grow up in a faith tra­di­tion that says, “‘If you fol­low this tem­plate, you can guar­an­tee a healthy and happy life. If you say the right words and check the right boxes and par­ent just like this and in­vest in your mar­riage, ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be fine.’ The truth is, that’s not real.”

She wants us to give our­selves a break and to re­mem­ber that “even the best of God’s faith had dark nights,” she says. “Life is hard, and it is for all of us. Faith does not in­oc­u­late us from pain, but it gives me the tools to en­dure, to stay coura­geous and hope­ful in the midst of sad­ness. … It gives me tools to re­bound and be bet­ter.”

The book comes as a re­flec­tion of what was hap­pen­ing in her life. “Our fam­ily two years ago crashed and burned on six dif­fer­ent si­mul­ta­ne­ous lev­els all within a hand­ful of months,” she says.

It felt like ev­ery­thing was go­ing wrong. Her chil­dren were strug­gling, her brother was fac­ing le­gal bat­tles, her mother had can­cer.

“Ev­ery­thing felt like it was im­plod­ing all at once. … We couldn’t catch our breath from one thing, then the next domino hit,” she says. “I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘We can’t re­cover from this. Even if we move on, we can’t undo what had hap­pened.’”

That’s the mess part of “Of Mess and Moxie.” The moxie part came when they did re­bound. “We reached to the only thing that ever worked: fam­ily, faith­ful­ness and prayer.”

They clung to fam­ily and con­nect­ed­ness. “I’m grate­ful to see how far we’ve come,” she says. “How many things felt left in the rub­ble have been re­built.”

“Even in the very worst things,” she says, “even then, the sun will rise again.”

Hat­maker is the daugh­ter of a pas­tor, and her hus­band, Bran­don, is the pas­tor at Austin New Church, which meets at Bai­ley Mid­dle School. It’s one of the key an­chors of their lives, she says. What she loves about her “lit­tle weirdo gra­nola church” in South Austin is that it’s not fancy, but the peo­ple are real. “No one is ex­pect­ing any­one else to have it all to­gether or to be per­fect,” she says. “I need a faith com­mu­nity where the peo­ple in lead­er­ship are hum­ble and hon­est and in­clu­sive and kind.”

And that’s what she’s tried to be.

She’s sur­rounded by a greater com­mu­nity that has grown and cat­a­pulted women of Chris­tian faith to the na­tional level, in­clud­ing Jen­nie Allen, who cre­ated the IF:Gath­er­ing and move­ment, and Jes­sica Honeg­ger of the fair-trade fash­ion line NoonDay Col­lec­tion.

“Here out of this very kind of pro­gres­sive but truth­ful city, women are ris­ing up,” Hat­maker says. “I don’t know what it is about the soul of this city that is grow­ing these strong women.” It could be, Hat­maker sug­gests, that Austin doesn’t have a com­mu­nity tra­di­tion of large or­ga­nized re­li­gion cen­ters with set rules. “It’s wheels off in Austin,” Hat­maker says. “Why women are find­ing their voices here than in other places, I don’t know, but I’m hav­ing it.”

Hat­maker’s “Of Mess and Moxie” is raw and filled with the truths we might all think but don’t al­ways voice.

She also breaks up any chance of be­ing too heavy with gems of hu­mor. They come in the forms of how­tos that are also ex­plained with “pro­gram­ming notes.” A few fa­vorites: “How to Ruin Your Tod­dler’s Life

Pour him 1/8 of an inch less milk than his brother in a see-through cup.

Pro­gram­ming Note: If this doesn’t work, ac­ci­den­tally break his cookie in half as you lift it off the cookie sheet. Be­cause bro­ken cook­ies don’t taste the same! If these fail, give him the wrong kind of cheese or socks with weird seams. This should def­i­nitely de­stroy his hap­pi­ness.”

“How to Find a Miss­ing Child

1. Pre­pare to take a shower or go to the bath­room. 2. Shut door. Pro­gram­ming Note: The miss­ing child should barge in im­me­di­ately, but should this method fail, silently open a candy bar or start a very im­por­tant phone call. Look down: There is your kid.”

“How to Talk to Your Teenager

1. Slowly en­ter the beast’s cave, throw­ing dart­ing glances side to side as you scan the room for liv­ing or dead things. The smell sug­gests a corpse. You hope for just an old glass of milk. It’s hard to know.

2. As­sess teenager on bed or at com­puter. If thumbs and fin­gers are mov­ing, tex­ting or typ­ing is hap­pen­ing. Wait for the teenage in­vi­ta­tion: ‘What?!’ Ah, he sees you.

3. Ini­ti­ate con­ver­sa­tion, which is mostly just ask­ing ques­tions and de­ci­pher­ing which yes, no, I guess, and grunt go with each ques­tion. Good talk.

4. Ca­su­ally ask teenager if he knows what afore­men­tioned smell is and then re­treat slowly as he death­stares you out the door. The smell does not af­fect him. He co­hab­i­tates with the smell. He de­fends the smell. The smell is only your prob­lem.

5. Re­mind your­self he does love you and this is just a phase be­cause ev­ery­thing is weird in his head right now, and rest as­sured you have the pass­code to his phone (that you pay for) should you be­come con­cerned and need to read his texts later while eat­ing pop­corn.

6. Spray Fe­breze lib­er­ally on ev­ery­thing af­ter he goes to sleep, in­clud­ing his ac­tual body.”

The how-tos are rem­i­nis­cent of the thank-you notes of truth she wrote in her book “For the Love.” She wanted to do a hook like that again, and af­ter she wrote a howto about rais­ing a teenager, it got a lot of hits and com­ments. She knew she had found that hook.

Her read­ers helped her make these how-tos even more ab­surd. “The so­cial me­dia tribe al­ways shows up and comes through ev­ery time,” she says.

What makes the how-tos funny, she says, is they are real.

“I just want women to love it,” she says of the book. “What I’m hope­ful for is that ‘Moxie’ is go­ing to hit a lot of notes for a lot of women in or out of faith, in or out of mar­riage, in or out of par­ent­ing.”

Even though she writes from a Chris­tian per­spec­tive, she says she wants to pull more seats up to the con­ver­sa­tion ta­ble.

“You can walk away from ‘Moxie’ en­cour­aged and un­der­stood and in­cluded and en­ter­tained,” she says.

She wants you to know she’s a real per­son. Yes, when she sees you rolling slowly by her house and star­ing or when you stop to take a picture, she can see you. And while other HGTV peo­ple like Clint Harp have moved their fam­ily out of the house fea­tured on their show, she won’t do it. They put too much work into re­mod­el­ing that house, and it’s been the site of so many happy times, she says. “We love this house.”

Her per­son­al­ity isn’t just for the HGTV show or the books or the speak­ing en­gage­ments. She will wear the same yoga pants for six days in a row, at which point Bran­don will tell her, “To­day has to be the day you change out of those.”

And when she gets asked, “How do you bal­ance it all?” “I want to throw my head back and laugh. I don’t,” she says. “Who told you I was bal­anc­ing it all?”

The truth is that there are a lot of dif­fer­ent slices in the pie that is her life, and those slices are never di­vided equally. If the fam­ily por­tion of the pie feels ex­tra-large, she says, that means she’s prob­a­bly not able to do as much work. When the work por­tion is larger, that means she’s not giv­ing her fam­ily as much at­ten­tion.

Work­ing moms, though, fig­ure it out. She’s in the H-E-B park­ing lot tak­ing an im­por­tant phone call be­cause that’s how she can sched­ule it in. When school is in ses­sion, she’s not chap­er­on­ing the field trip (there’s a hi­lar­i­ous story about why in the book) or eat­ing lunch with her kids. She’s cram­ming work in. That might also mean that it gets done when the kids are asleep.

And no, she doesn’t al­ways like her chil­dren, and they’re not per­fect, ei­ther.

“The worst years to be a liv­ing human be­ing is fifth, sixth and sev­enth grade,” she says. “It’s a night­mare.” Now that her youngest is go­ing into sixth grade, she is re­minded of why she hates this age. “They are a mess, their friends are a mess, their brains are a mess; it’s just the worst.”

She tells moms ev­ery­where, “Here’s what we’re go­ing to do: We’re go­ing put our heads down and get through it.”

All that mess will give them and you the moxie to move for­ward. She’s sure of it.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY AMY MELSA PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Austin’s Jen Hat­maker no longer looks for per­fec­tion in her life. That’s what “Of Mess and Moxie” is about.

“Of Mess and Moxie: Wran­gling De­light Outof This Wild and Glo­ri­ous Life” came out on Tues­day.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY AMY MELSA PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Austin’s Jen Hat­maker found grace in em­brac­ing the im­per­fec­tions that we all have.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY HGTV

Jen Hat­maker and her fam­ily starred in “My Big Fam­ily Ren­o­va­tion.”

CON­TRIB­UTED BY HGTV

Jen and Bran­don Hat­maker fin­ish paint­ing the cab­i­nets for their new kitchen, as seen on HGTV’s “My Big Fam­ily Ren­o­va­tion.”

CON­TRIB­UTED BY AMY MELSA PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Austin’s Jen Hat­maker re­turns with “Of Mess and Moxie: Wran­gling De­light Out of This Wild and Glo­ri­ous Life.”

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