To Every Generation

A Letter to the Generations to Come:

By now you have likely made it through all the pieces of this collection. Some of you are alive in this moment as I type these words, too young and innocent yet to appreciate these works for yourself. Others have yet to be born and will come to find themselves in this story of this family after my time has come and gone. 

But the roots of your heritage are already firmly gripping the soil that will give way to your life. Isn’t it strange to think that long before you ever took a breath someone thought of who you might become? 

The prophecies in this book started as a way of blessing the people I love—the people you are yourself today, or the perhaps the person you descended from. And I am guessing that if you’ve made it this far, you also love someone explored in this series. They are the heartbeat of this story, the inspiration and the beginning.

But families can be tricky business. We belong together, yet so often we grow apart. We start out made of the same stuff, but end up a conglomeration of genes, traditions, attributes, and personalities, most of which we have no say in inheriting. Families love and disappoint each other on the grandest of scales. In our brokenness we fail those who need us most and harden our hearts when, in our mired attempts to fix things, the damage done to each other becomes irreparable. We are all a story of brokenness, and we are all a story of healing. Both themes run deep in the lines of these pieces, in the lines that mark my own face and will one day mark yours.

Little did any of us realize we’d find ourselves in the middle of this story. And that is where the treasure lies. Before you came about, the God of our fathers had a plan for them. And He has a plan for you.

The challenge for the generation to come is not how to live up to the footsteps that have walked before you, but how to keep your own heart tender toward those around you when the darkness of a love grown cold falls heavy on your soul. 

Once upon a time, the extraordinary people described in this collection found their own heartbeats in their Creator, and just like you, they too stood under the trees of decision, wrestling with the choice we all must make to trust and abide in the life and blessing that flows from the One who formed us, or to reject Him and define goodness on our own terms. Sometimes we choose well. Sometimes we don’t.

As you ponder these portraits from the past, I hope you will come to see these prophecies as the foundation for your own story. I wrote them for you. Hidden within their thought is a theology rich in the love, plan, and design of our Maker. He is the one who gave me the words, and He is the one who will make them sing inside each of you. May you believe in the rescue, redemption, and restoration of a family God pulled together from two wayward souls, and may you find your own renewal in the life of His son.

To my heavenly Father and Giver of my earthly family,

You have been a shelter, Lord, to every generation. To every generation.

A sanctuary from the storm, to every generation.

To every generation, Lord.

May Your favor never depart from this family, whom You set apart for Your glory. Fill them with Your Spirit, clothe them with Your wisdom. A thousand generations will sing of Your name, and Your face will shine on upon us all because of Your loyal love.

                        Shalom and maranatha. 

God Made My Mom

For Mom, Dec. 10, 2022

And on the 8th day, God looked down at his beautiful world and said “I need someone who can do hard things.”

So God made my Mom.

God said “I need someone who can haul her heart into everything and never look back. Someone who can paint a wall and stitch a curtain and make a home out of a cardboard box, then pack it all back into one and move it a year later. I need someone who can build a house, burn it down, and rebuild without missing a beat. I need someone who can grow food, then pick it, can it, store it, cook it, and deliver it to feed both body and soul. It’s got to be someone with colorful ideas and wild dreams, someone who welcomes the amazing.”

So God made my Mom.

He said “I need someone who will forge a new path when things break down. Someone who can laugh at the critics and naysayers, and is more afraid of not trying than failing. I need someone who will find a way to get going when the going is tough, and has enough starch in her spine to send ten men running. I need someone who can give from her storehouses and from her deficits, and who never forgets about the forgotten. I need someone who can secure a beachhead under enemy fire and take the arrows in her own back when the bombs are reigning down. Then get up, dust off, and do it all again the next day.”

So God made my Mom.

“I need someone who can comfort a sad child and listen to the stories of a scared, old woman and tell them both it will be ok, and then see to it that it is. Someone inspiring enough to champion the underdog, strong enough to stand up to inner city punks, and tender enough to hold the hand of a dying alcoholic as though he were king of the world. I need someone who’s shortcomings pale in comparison to how long and how well she can love. Someone who’s hands are always warm, who’s arms are always strong, and who’s eyes never grow dim. I’ll break the mold to make her because she’ll never fit into one.”

God looked down at His beautiful world and knew our family would need someone who could vanquish our villains, bind up our broken spirits, forge into the frontier, and hem our hearts together. A stalwart, a lion, a matriarch, a Moses. The brilliant crowning jewel of this family.

So God made my Mom.

Day in the Life

5:30am: My typical day begins. Mike and I switch off going to our local cross fit-style gym, Armati Collective, in the mornings. We each go 3 days/week, so when it’s my turn, I get dressed and head out the door. Whoever is at home gets up with the little boys (who are early risers!) and starts breakfast.

7:45am: Everyone is home from the gym, showered, fed, dressed, and the kitchen is mostly clean. Mike heads down to the office around this time and the big kids get ready for school. When he’s home and not too busy, the older kids take turns joining him for a quick Bible study session before he starts work. It’s good bonding time with Dad.

8:00am: Time for school!

Asher (5) is in Kindergarten and is the most “hands on” for me. Our lessons are fun, play-based, and short! For Kindergarten, I have always aimed for 20 minutes each of math and reading, plus some handwriting practice each day. Everything else we do is a bonus—and we have lots of them! We move around a lot (sit, stand, jump) and we often play games or do learning activities that don’t require tons of sit-still concentration. The goal is to gradually increase concentration time, but I follow Asher’s lead. We quit before he gets too fatigued and can always pick up later after a short break. He spends a lot of time in play-based learning—the other day he built an elaborate parking garage structure for his Transformers!

Ayla (3rd grade, 8 years old) can do some of her work independently, so she stays busy with that while I work with Asher. I follow up with her when I’m done, and we go through rest of her things. I try to keep it fun and light, bringing lots of hands-on activities and art projects in when I can since she enjoys that. At 3rd grade, I am requiring a little more rigor and responsibility from her than I have in years past. So far, she is exceeding my expectations and rising to the independence I have expected of her.

Of course, I bring the kids together when I can, like for science, read-alouds, or other extension activities, but with four kids at differing levels, attention spans, and interests, it’s not always synchronized.

Crew (11) is in 6th grade and largely independent. Yay!! My goal for all the kids is to build life-long, self-motivated learners who can teach themselves anything they desire to learn. It took many years of teaching him how to take ownership of his learning to get to this point, and we still have areas to improve on. Crew is naturally organized and loves scheduling his time, so he’s very good at managing his workload, which I intentionally increase with all the kids each year. I check in with him throughout the day, overseeing and guiding as needed, but he’s at the point where I only spend a few hours of dedicated “teaching time” each week. The rest he works on independently and through his online classes. I function more as a coach and less as a teacher for him this year.

My wild card in all of it is Huck (3 years old). Some days he’s good about joining us or keeping himself busy. Other days he’s into everything, annoying everyone, and generally terrorizing our learning environment or putting his own life in peril! He spends one morning a week with Grandpa, and another morning he and Asher spend a little time with both grandparents before heading off to their gym class so I can plow ahead with the big kids undisturbed. Those days are a lifesaver for me, and I don’t know that I would be able to homeschool without that support.

11 am: The youngest three have finished most of their work for the day. They are free to play, read, do projects, legos, puzzles, go outside, and the like while I make lunch and attend to any chores: swapping laundry, dishes, meal prep, wiping down a bathroom, etc. The kids are good about helping around the house so it’s usually not a total disaster, but 5 minutes here or there goes a long way to keeping things in shape all week. We eat around 11:30, and everyone helps clean up by noon.

12pm: It’s quiet time—the best part of the day. I started this with Crew when he gave up naps at age 2, and we haven’t really missed a day since! We have two rules: everyone must be QUIET and everyone must be ALONE. As a homeschool family, we spend a lot of time together. Quarters get close, especially during the long Wisconsin winters. Quiet time is meant to be an entirely independent time. The youngest 3 go to their own space and are free to play on a tablet, read, listen to a story, watch a movie, do puzzles, art, or other quiet activities. 

Crew had joined in on this up until last year. However, now that he’s older, I’ve scheduled online classes during this time of day. This way it’s quiet for him to focus and gives him that extra time he needs in the day to complete his work. Win-win!

And me? I get to enjoy a well deserved cup of tea while catching up on computer work, Bible study, phone calls/emails, read, or if I’m super lucky, catch a quick nap. With a 3 and 5 year old, there are interruptions, but everyone knows the drill and looks forward to this time of day.

1:30pm: Free play! Quiet time is done and the “formal school” is mostly out of the way. To preserve our mental health, I’m big on getting the kids outdoors. We head outside year round when the weather is decent, usually to take a walk, romp around the yard, ride bikes, build snow forts, or head to the park. When it’s crummy or super cold, we play inside.

3:00pm: I don’t know about other families, but since my kids have been babies, 3pm marks the witching hour. A switch flips and they go from happy, studious little beings to wild, annoying, hard to entertain hellions. To combat this, I try to change the scenery with after-school activities like swim team, art class, horse lessons, time with friends, library trips, random errands—anything that gets us out and about. 

But some days we don’t have anything going on, we just have extended free time that requires me to get a little more creative. The kids especially love when I do “3 o’clock Quiz Time”, where I choose random questions from our learning that day and quiz them to see what they remember. Another alternative is to put everyone to work and do a “Zone Clean.” Each kid gets a zone they are responsible for tidying up—if everyone cooperates, it actually does make the house look and feel a lot better. Hacks like this help keep the afternoon crazies to a minimum. On afternoons when we are home I typically cave by 4pm and let them watch TV so I can get dinner started in relative peace.

5:15pm (ish): Dinner! Most nights we eat around this time. Mike is done with work, and we have some family time.

6:30pm: For the little boys, it’s showers, books, and bedtime. Their light is out by 7.

The big kids get to stay up a little later, and often watch Jeopardy or play games with me until 7:15. They can read in bed until 8pm, but usually their lights are out sooner, even for the middle schooler. We start our days early, go hard all day, and I am a firm believer in plenty of sleep. No shame!!

Mike and I get to spend the rest of the evening relaxing and reconnecting before heading to bed ourselves. We read, watch TV, or spend time catching up with each other. Our light is almost always out by 9:30.

Of course there are days we deviate from this. The kids have a gym class on Friday mornings, which is also my day to grocery shop and do major household chores, so everyone is mostly independent for school that day. I also try to sneak away for a Bible study on Wednesday mornings. We start a little early to get things started before I leave, and they finish up on their own. My Dad also oversees social studies for Ayla, so she works on that with him most weeks as well. And then there is the random errand or appointment we sometimes have to work in. When Mike travels, the whole routine gets adjusted to flex with the challenges of solo-parenting. 

I’m grateful that homeschooling allows us flexibility to ebb and flow with life and learning seasons. However, I also think rigor and routine are largely undervalued by homeschoolers in general, and I find them essential to keeping things on track and our goals within reach.

Thoughts on Schools, Jobs, and the Upcoming Generation

A few days back, I had the opportunity to take my kids to a Step Afrika performance at the UW-Green Bay campus. What a vibrant display of culture, physical fitness, and dynamite excitement! The performance was exclusively for students, and the venue seated homeschoolers together in one section. Across the aisle were public school kids and teachers. Both groups were polite audiences, and it was clear everyone had a great time.

As a bystander, it was also a fascinating social experiment. The experience offered an organic, side-by-side comparison of two large groups of students from differing educational models. Predictably, the adult to student ratio was higher among the homeschoolers. The age range of students was also greater and in general, it was a chattier crowd. The public school kids were also talkative, but less so, many of them preferring to interact with their phones until the performance commenced. At one point during the show, the leader asked the audience for a show of hands: “How many of you want to go to college?” he asked. In the public school section almost all of the hands went up. On the homeschool side, it was around a a third of the audience.

Observing the outworking of differing ideologies in the two groups sparked some thoughts about many of the interrelated issues facing our schools, business owners, and national leaders in the days ahead.

Lately, a week does not go by where I do not chat with public school parents who express a growing concern over their kids and how hard life in public school has become. The parents aren’t happy with what’s being taught, their kids are facing crushing social pressures, and on top of that, academic proficiency is low. Most of these conversations are with friends here in Wisconsin, but similar complaints are resounding across the country.

Equally hard to ignore are all “Help Wanted” ads and business owners lamenting the available workforce. Finding employees who show up and do their job is difficult; finding ones who actually show up on time and perform well borders on the miraculous.

When my dishwasher broke down this summer, the repair man was booked out four weeks. Regardless of how many hours he and his father put into their appliance repair business, they cannot keep up with demand. They are drowning in work but have to turn business away due to staffing.

Everyone from the chiropractic office to the auto mechanic down the road to a manger at our local Target tells the same story. National grocery store chains have even run ad campaigns during NFL football games aimed at attracting workers–not customers–to their stores. Despite competitive pay, job security, opportunity for advancement, and great incentives, businesses cannot find or keep employees. Even the United States military struggles to attract new recruits. It seems the grandchildren of brave men and women who served their country in the ’60s and ’70s would rather sit at home playing Call of Duty than respond to the actual thing.

Meanwhile, the parents of today’s young adults offer yet another compelling perspective. Some complain that their adult children declined further education after high school and are thus stuck in low-paying jobs, unable to afford much of anything, depressed over what their futures hold. But the more common and surprising narrative among parents of young adults is that a growing number of their college graduates are no better off! After school, these new grads find themselves living back at home, often working jobs outside of their fields, shackled by debt, bemoaning their meager salaries, long hours, and cost of living. These parents are quick to believe that their children are “worth more” than their non-college educated counterparts, but in truth, most of these kids simply hold an extremely costly piece of paper, often without any real-life experience that make them attractive to prospective employers.

Take, for example, this statistic: in 1979 the percentage of high school students that had a job at some point during the year was nearly 60%, and in 2000, 51%. Today that number is around 30%. Allegedly, high school has become more intense since then, with more expectations that take up the time in a day.

But the supposed increased rigor isn’t producing better students. Test scores nationwide are falling, with roughly 1/3rd of 4th and 8th grade students performing at or above grade level in math and reading. That means nearly two out of three students are below grade level. The real shocker is that compared to scores from 30 years ago, there has been an increase–not decrease–in these deficiencies. Over 1/3rd of high school students have failing grades in the U.S. and 4/10 have at least one D or F on their report cards. Yet the graduation rate in the U.S. is at an all-time high of over 85%.

The academic tailspin of Covid shed a stark light on the fact that teachers and school administrators are passing failing students and have been doing so habitually for years. Any number of factors are to blame, ranging from overwhelmed classrooms and inadequate resources to crumbling home lives and negative socio-economic outcomes. For one reason or another, holding kids back until they achieve proficiency has become an antiquated practice across the board in U.S. schools. More often than not, we pass students regardless of their performance.

Parents are not doing much to help matters. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center the percentage of parents who said they read to their school-aged child every day was 31%. Thanks to declining parental oversight, kids are getting less sleep and have poor diets. Parents who grew up doing regular household chores themselves are far less likely to enforce them on their own children. Instead it would seem these kids are either parked in front of a screen (average screen time for kids is between 5-7 hours per day) or commuting between school, activities, or care providers. When they are home, kids and teens have seemingly limitless boundaries, demanding leniency from mom and dad, often facing only empty threats or arbitrary consequences for poor behavior. (A simple trip to your local park will be demonstration enough.)

While it’s true that kids have always pushed boundaries, fewer moms and dads are actually parenting and cultivating stable family environments that promote healthy levels of work, play, and rest. Is it any wonder that by their high school years these kids are academically behind, detached from their families, and indifferent about both?

It’s not hard to put the two pictures side by side and see the relationship. In school, kids can either do or not do the work. They generally matriculate through the system all the same. Armed with smartphones their defunct parents pay for, these kids are shuffled through the mill of their various activities, their real-world merit or academic practicality notwithstanding. These kids grow up, obtain higher education or don’t, and then apply the same ethic they’ve been conditioned to their whole life: work hard or don’t; it doesn’t matter either way. Employers begrudgingly keep them on because it’s not worth the effort or cost to replace them.

As a both a former high school educator and now a seasoned homeschool parent, I have never put much stock in judging potential or mastery based on test scores or grade levels alone. Rather, I look holistically at the evidence, and sadly in this case, it’s clear. Our decrepit educational system coupled with parents who are asleep at the wheel has created the most apathetic, depressed, socially-confused, ill prepared, and under-literate generation our nation has ever seen.

In fairness, I believe there are excellent public school teachers, schools, and parents out there. I know many and earnestly respect them for their efforts. But the reason a recent photo of the coal miner father at a basketball game with his young son went viral is because it depicted a rarity: a father who works hard to make ends meet and still shows up for his boy at the end of the day. Unfortunately, these scenarios are becoming the exception to the rule.

It’s time Americans realize that the plummeting academic performance, the workforce crisis, and arguably the worst mental health among young adults we’ve ever seen are interrelated issues unlikely to turn around anytime soon. No amount of funding, school referendums, minimum wage increases, or waived student loans will fix the problem. In a social climate where ideas like tolerance, equity, diversity, and inclusion are plastered on the walls of our schools and employee handbooks, we need adults who will teach kids discipline, commitment, loyalty, and old-fashioned hard work, and then expect it from them.

Our kids deserve better. Our businesses need better. Our future as a leading nation hinges on whether we can innovate our broken systems and employ the now unfashionable values that served us well for generations.

The post-pandemic world we are waking up to is changing. It’s going to take sharper minds and stronger spirits to weather the global storms that lie ahead. Let’s get the next generation ready for it.

The One We Lost

I don’t say much about the one we lost. I was so young, and it happened so fast. Feeling the excitement and exhaustion of early pregnancy in one moment, then trying to comprehend loss the next. I knew only long enough to fall in love with that baby, and then in a flash, it was over. Cramping, bleeding, muscling my way through a workshop I had to teach that week. I remember waking up each morning in pain, slapping a smile on my face, and pretending my way through grief, only to collapse in a heap of hormones and tears at the end of the day as my body cleared away the life I had been so happy to cradle.

My sweet husband, older and wiser than me, held my hand, rubbed my back, told me it would be ok. He picked me up and carried me to bed when I was too ashamed and sad to get there myself. He tucked me in and sat there with me, knowing that only time would mend my heart, and time would go faster if I slept.

When the whole ordeal was finally over it was my birthday. 23 on the 23rd. I spent it laying on the sofa, sobbing at the loss of someone I never even met, wondering if I was doomed to repeat the horrible experience again. Because no little girl grows up playing with her dolls thinking her first pregnancy will end in miscarriage. There is something so sinister when a womb becomes a tomb.

After the miscarriage, we ended up back at the midwife’s clinic, where she reassured us that while sad, this was common, that it was not my fault, and predicted that we would be back in her office very soon, this time with a healthy baby. At first I doubted her. But she was old, many years into her career, and her instincts were sound. Not eight weeks later we sat looking at a tiny peanut of a baby, with a bright heartbeat of 155 bpm. It was my first, foggy glimpse of Crew.

Losing our first baby was the first time my heart broke. It shattered in a million pieces and at the time, I didn’t know that it would ever fully heal. But like our midwife, I am older now too, many years into my own career as a mother. I’ve since carried four healthy babies to term, paced my way through the unmedicated pangs of labor, and each time held that sweet reward at the end. And although my loss was real and part of me still feels that soft spot where the emotional scars have laid to rest the pain, it is only now, years later that I see that the gift of life was never mine to have. Only to borrow. Only to steward, to raise and nurture until the time the Creator asked for that life back. It’s His breath that fills our lungs. It’s His spirit that hems our flesh together.

Today the tiny one we lost rests in paradise, ahead of us in many respects. And I know that little one is eagerly awaiting the resurrection of their perfected body to come alive again on a renewed earth. What a beautiful moment it will be when I behold the face of the child I never met. When I see what has become of the one who has never known a life apart from eternal love. Isn’t that the best gift a mother could bestow on her baby? Isn’t that what we all want? To live fully and abundantly loved?

As I stay busy raising these beautiful blessings God has so bravely commissioned into my care, I still dream of the day I meet you, sweet baby. The day when I see your face, and hear your voice, and learn what became of the one we lost. Until then, may you shabbat in the everlasting shalom of the ultimate Midwife, the One who delivered you into a love more rich and deep than I ever could have given you myself.