His first name is actually Jedidiah, but he goes by “Jed.” And, he’s married to Bethany who does not go by “Beth” or any other shortened version of her name. I’ve known them for the past couple of years and I’ve come to appreciate that they are two halves of a whole yet still somehow maintain an other-honoring independence.
Together, they are raising three rambunctious and creative boys on their 16-acre hobby farm right off Highway 52 just shy of Zumbrota, MN. You’ve probably passed it if you’ve driven from Rochester to the Twin Cities (or vise versa).
Their dream is to turn their acreage into a modern micro-farm & coffee brewery that employs people coming out of incarceration or other difficult circumstances in order to create a haven for people to gather and form community.
I could write a story on how they landed on this farm which they call “Land on 52 Farm” (and believe me, it’s a great story), but for now, we have the good fortune to hear from Jed.
He’s a stay-at-home dad, homeschooler, burgeoning coffee master and micro-farm practitioner. All this while Bethany works outside the home as a strengths consultant. Their lives are an upheaval of traditional gender roles (and to that I say “hooray!”) as their lives are built on a firm foundation of mutual respect, trust, and love.
If I were to pick one word (or two) to describe Jed it would be purposefully Bohemian.
Let’s Get Started, Shall We?
Raised in a Christian home with missional legacy in China, Jed is the son of a retired Hennepin County Judge (his mother) and his siblings include one full older sister, 3 older half-brothers from his dad’s first marriage, one younger brother adopted from Ecuador, and 3 older step-siblings from his mother’s second marriage.
Got all that?
I started our interview with a somewhat personal question.
“What comes to mind when I say the word prayer?” I asked.
“Yes. What’s the first thing that pops into your head?”
“Conversation,” Jed said. “I think prayer is a conversation. It's not a monologue. It's a dialogue. So in prayer there is a back-and-forth. There is a listening and speaking.”
We were just getting warmed up.
“Who is one person you consider family when, in fact, they aren't actually family?” I asked.
“Hmm…I call some of my guy friends from growing up ‘brother’ and I have some brothers from the family of God that I became very, very close with when we lived in Fresno. In fact, they were instrumental in my whole understanding of male relationships in that they can be like David and Jonathan. These brothers knew as much about me as my wife did. It required a ton of vulnerability to even go to those places, but it was really rewarding.”
In case the whole “David and Jonathan” reference escapes you - they are two Biblical characters who were really good friends. Closer than most modern day friendships.
Those Prodigal Years
“Okay. Think about your 19-year-old self - you’re not quite an adult not quite a kid - tell me about your life at that time.” I directed.
“Holy smokes,” Jed exhaled. “So, I was running. I was the prodigal son and had already taken the inheritance and had run off to do my own thing. I was partying. I was partying pretty hard.”
“Were you in college?” I asked.
“Yeah. At the University of Delaware. Fighting Blue Hens!” Jed exclaimed.
“Really? Oh, wow, what a sad mascot.” I said.
“It's actually a very historical mascot,” he rebutted. “The blue hens were adopted by some of the fiercest Revolutionary War groups fighting against the British. But yeah, it's a fairly weak mascot in today's culture. It was a party school; very frat and sorority oriented. Think Animal House meets Revenge of the Nerds.”
That’s a lot of partying.
Jed described his journey in college as consistently choosing the path of least resistance. Work was not a priority at the time and he convinced himself that nobody cared what degree you earned as long as you had one. What is his degree then, you ask? Well, that would be psychology.
Searching for Caesar
“Tell me about your favorite childhood pet or whatever pet that comes to mind.”
“Well, we had dogs growing up, but it wasn't until I went to college that I had a pet that really was my own. His name was Caesar and looking back I can see that he was a huge gift from God. He was from a backyard litter in North Carolina and my sister, who was going to school there, called me and said she would reserve me one. So, I drove to North Carolina from Delaware to pick him up and we instantly had a bond. I learned so much about unconditional love and loyalty and God's love for me from Caesar.”
“Tell me about that,” I asked. Seems like a tall order for a dog.
“So, we got in a car wreck. The car flipped over and people were very badly hurt except for Caesar and I. It happened in the middle of the night and we were in the middle of nowhere. After the crash, Caesar ran away.”
Jed refused medical treatment in order to search for Caesar. He walked down a road looking for him and after what seemed like forever he went back to the crash site to find everything had been cleaned up and everyone was gone. Nobody was there. No responders. Nothing.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said.
He looked around and found a payphone at an old gas station. Somehow he remembered his calling card number (remember those?) and called his roommate. Since it was in the wee hour of the morning his roommate thought it was a prank, so it took a few tries before Jed convinced him to drive out into the middle of nowhere to pick him up and help search for Caesar.
“We drove around for a couple hours looking, but couldn’t find him. I eventually gave up and was like ‘God I can't do this. I can't do this. I give up. I give him up to you.’”
This after Jed, the prodigal son, begged God to bring his dog back.
“As soon as I said those words, Caesar popped out of the woods a hundred yards ahead of us and ran towards the truck. That was a profound moment for me.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of this story. Was it coincidence that Caesar came back when he did or was Providence at play? Can prayer - desperate prayer - at the end of a person’s rope, sway the actions of God in finding a lost dog?
Arriving in Poland
“How'd you end up in Poland?” It was a loaded question since I knew Jed & Bethany spent a month in Poland this past summer and the country (and its people) have played a large part in their lives.
“Oddly enough they fly daily there and so I got on a plane,” Jed replied.
“Oh, who flies daily?”
“The airlines.” He laughed.
I totally missed his joke, by the way.
Jed continued. “The first time I went was right after college when I was living with a friend in Europe who was studying neuroscience. Backpacking, staying in a hostel some of the time and then with my friend the rest of the time. I slept on his floor. Yeah. It was very Spartan: a bare cement floor with a cushion maybe an extra sheet or something.
“My friend and I did the whole late 90s/early 2000s EuroRail pass and went all over Europe and had fun for almost a month and then came back and since he was there for school he had to study, so I wandered around Munich on my own.” That led Jed to a six-month journey traveling Europe on tourists visas. He landed in Berlin for a while where he met someone going on vacation to Poland and Jed went along. On the train they met a Polish woman who spoke fluent English and German and she showed them around Krakow.
Poland would eventually become a major part of Jed’s life. A few years later he would return to Poland as a missionary and during the training for that mission he met Bethany who was preparing to go as well.
“What did you do when you came back to the U.S.?”
“I started adult-ing or, at least, putting pieces together of what I thought adult life should be. I got a job and lived in my sister's basement.”
During this time Jed pursued reflections of relationships rather than anything of real substance.
“At that point I felt fairly homeless,” Jed continued, “I wanted to go home, but wasn’t sure where that was. I leaned heavily on the whole Tolkien ‘not all who wander are lost’ thing. That was a great justification for me, but I was pretty lost.”
Jed had been running for a long time and the question of who he was or who he wanted to be was catching up to him.
“I mean I was 14 years old when I mentally left home. By the time I was 16 I was hooked on just getting out there and breaking away from what I believed was simply religious structure. I didn't have a real relationship with Jesus. I knew about God and had even said ‘yes’ to him. I’d even had experiences with God as a young kid; some intense ones where I prayed and stuff happened but still decided to choose something else.
“I wasn't deciding whether or not God existed. I was just deciding whether or not I wanted to follow him. And, at that point, I was definitely not following him.
“I kept getting more and more lonely - I was profoundly sad and lonely. I cried out to God and there in my sister’s basement I was in the presence of God - the manifest presence of God was in the room. It floored me. I was..I was face down. Weeping. I'd become hardened and was on that floor sorry and relieved and forgiven. I was heading back home to the Father. with an apology prepared, but before I could say it the father wrapped his arms around me, kissing me, putting a ring on my finger and a robe and sandals on me. I was undone by that. His kindness and his mercy led me to true repentance.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of this story. Was it coincidence that God showed up when he did or was something else at play? Can prayer - desperate prayer - at the end of a person’s rope, sway the actions of God in finding a lost son?
I paused before moving on.
Then there was that time in California
“How did you guys end up in California?” I asked referencing his earlier comment about living in Fresno.
“Long story short I met Bethany in Minnesota when we were getting ready to go to Poland and after that trip, we started developing a friendship. I was going back and forth between Seattle and Minnesota.”
I should add that right before Jed went to Poland he had been living near Lake Tahoe in California. Oh, and he was homeless; living in his truck for much of the time. He’d gone there to work as a ski instructor though he’d never been one before. That first winter was as cold as a Minnesota winter, so he slept in his ski gear and would wake up to run the engine and warm up.
Jeb continued, “So I went to Seattle and Bethany went to Southern California and was looking around at grad schools, but ended up finding one in Seattle”
At some point during this time, the two were married. Those details would have been good to record here, but I didn’t even think to ask about their wedding. What sort of writer am I, anyway? But I digress.
“During that time Bethany developed close relationships with her master’s cohort and one of those people was a pastor of a large church in Olympia, WA. Towards the end of their program, he took a new job down in Fresno. A year later he invited us both to come on staff. So, we moved to Fresno.”
“Why do you home school your children?” Having had a hybrid between home & private schooling myself I was genuinely curious.
“In the face of all of this unschooling madness?” Jed asked with a smile. “I'm trying to focus in on what's right for us and I'm trying to actually educate my kids. Yeah, rather than allowing life situations to just educate them,” He surmised before explaining further.
“As to why we’re homeschooling: When we were coming out of a painful experience in Fresno, those brothers of mine I mentioned earlier asked a ton of great question and they asked if money and time were not a problem, what's the one thing I would want to do. It’s a really basic question but when asked in the right relationship in the right space at the right time, it's life-changing. What came out of me before I could grab it back was ‘I want to raise my boys’. That was the number one thing that I wanted to do with my life at that point.”
As a couple, they were able to make that a reality.
“We love it; however, we're open for our life to change and go in another direction, if needed,” he said.
Busting Out Of Those Pesky Gender Roles
“Describe the most surprising response you've received when you've told someone you are a stay-at-home dad?”
“When our oldest was about six-months-old, Bethany and I were standing in the foyer of a very large influential church in Falls Church, Virginia in metro D.C. It’s a socially and politically high level community and we were at the biggest and most influential Church in that in that town. Casual conversation always involved asking a person what they did because in that environment you are defined by what you do. What's your influence? What's your job all of those things?
“So, this couple is talking to us. Actually the guy was talking and so he says ‘Oh, what do you guys do?’ Bethany responded by saying we were stay-at-home parents. And, that’s what we were at the time. We were stay-at-home parents to our son and nanny to my cousin's son.
“So, confidently we say this and this guy turns to me and he says ‘Oh and what do you do?” As if to say ‘Okay, that's all fine and good. That's what your wife does, but let's get down to what do you do.’ It’s as if he couldn’t believe that I walked into that church with my chin held high when all I was was a stay-at-home parent.
“Having a really strong wife and a really strong mom, older sister and Grandma provided me with so much positive female influence that I was able learn what it meant to be a man breaking down bogus social norms in order to be who I really am.”
Who I Am
I asked Jed to describe to me who he really is.
I assumed his answer would revolve around character traits, or goals, or dreams, or further insights into his life as a dad and husband. But, it shouldn’t have surprised me that his thoughts on identity went back to faith. Back to what he has found at the end of his searching.
“I'm a new creation of God filled with the Holy Spirit. The Living God habitats in me and he's never going to leave me. He's never going to turn his back on me and because of that I am I'm a born again follower of Jesus. He loves me like crazy and I'm doing my best to live into that.”
I’m excited to see how “Land on 52 Farm” develops over the coming years. Their energy and enthusiasm in making a positive impact in people’s lives in contagious. Can you feel it? I hope so because that’s the sort of thing we need to encourage each of us to know our worth and live like we believe it.