Category Archives: An Open Letter

To Jordan and Ashley


I am shouting because I want you to hear me all the way from Thailand. Turns out, this is the closest thing I have to a picture with both of you and Jordan is not even looking at the camera.

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But that happens to be the day you two met (in person) so I consider it a particularly worthy photo. 

Ashley, I am grateful for our many high school adventures, from slaying Calormen in Narnia to adventures at Old World Wisconsin. I even found a picture of the first time we met! (Such babies.) 

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Also, while looking for photos of us, I found one of the time we stalked that couple’s wedding at Old World Wisconsin.  Good times. 

I hope you have a lovely wedding day without high school girls stalking you from above!

Jordan, no visit to Iowa feels complete without visiting you! From Thanksgivings to iGovern East to adventures with other Gen Jers, I cannot imagine the past decade without your friendship. You’ll always be one of the family–I hope you and Ashley will come visit often!

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Congratulations and Happy Wedding Day…TheRealist and Coolweather!

Your friend, Bucky Bookworm


To Tori

Dear Tori,

Tomorrow you get married! If I have one regret about coming to Thailand, it is that I am missing such a wonderful day. But today is not a day for regret but for excitement! You are marrying your best friend! I am so happy for you. 

You have been my friend and partner in crime for so many years that I have probably forgotten more than half our adventures already! I am so grateful for every one of them. From an international, online girls’ bible study to a writing forum for our friends to the best New Years Eve party ever, you have turned my crazy ideas into reality for at least a decade now. 

Remember the first time we met in real life? We were so excited to meet we scared your parents by enthusiastically running and shouting and hugging! We rocked the Intelligence Committee and put on that ridiculous skit that only made sense to people on the Gen J forums and toured that incredible castle in Colorado. 

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And then we met up again in Texas! Who would guess as we sat hiding by that glass elevator discussing future dreams and plans that your future would lead you back to Texas?! And then we snuck out to meet Dan and Jennifer and in the end probably spent more time with that super-chatty Uber driver. 

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And then we both worked for AFP and could swap war stories! 

And then you came and visited me and we drove to Minnesota to hang out with our friends! And you came to my shared graduation party. (Were they separate trips? I cannot remember now!)

And then, most epic of all, that time you flew out with barely any warning and we accidentally crashed Sarah’s wedding? I will never forget driving across Wisconsin in the middle of summer without working air conditioning and then quick changing near a corn field so we didn’t look quite so sweaty and disreputable when we arrived. And then we got to polka!

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Then I flew out and visited you after a crazy election season and we had many adventures in Montana! We ate ethnic food and smelled tea that might have been the remains of King Tut and did an escape room. It remains one of the most relaxing and fun vacations I have ever taken. 

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And we plotted and we schemed and managed to pull together a New Years Party within a month! So many amazing friends in one place. Remember how excited we were about the murder mystery and how unexpectedly sketch it ended up being? And of course, Jordan and Ashley met…but that is a post for next weekend. 

Then I spent a summer at camp but we still managed to see each other for a quick visit and eat Korean!

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So many memories and so may pixelated photos! And yet even these correspond to only a fraction of our interactions. If I could, I would post a picture of hand-written letters that stretch a dozen pages, of forum posts and Facebook messages, of book club chats and bookish gossip, of Hamilton songs, of laughter and tears. 

You are an incredible, beautiful, amazing woman and I am so grateful to know you. Though our friendship will always look a little different going forward once you get married, I think of it as an advantage. Whatever our next scheme ends up being, we will now have three heads plotting instead of two! (Or, four or five or six or seven or eight depending how many Gen Jers we drag in with us!)

Congratulations on your wedding, my friend. May it be the happiest of days! 


Heist Society by Ally Carter

I did not actually read this book recently but I stumbled upon my review of it from 2011 and chuckled so hard I knew I needed to share. Don’t ask me what I meant as serious and what I meant in jest! 

My Dear Sister Anna,
I begin…with a protest. I may have spent the last year at school but I happen to go to one of the most conservative colleges in the country. To say that I might find the awkwardness in this book “not that bad” is nonsense! Of course I recognized it. Did I find it dreadfully awful? Maybe not. But please don’t consider me utterly lost because I find guys (shall I whisper this?) discussing a girl’s bra size less than utterly deplorable. 
I understand you didn’t necessarily appreciate this one. I found it amusing. Consider, though, I count The Italian Job and Man on a Ledge as two of my favorite movies. I love books involving young people coming together, art, and thievery. In books, anyway. This combines all three…and that is just the beginning! 
The characters aren’t particularly dimensional. Kat may be fun to read about, but who buys she’s only sixteen? Or fifteen? Or however old she is supposed to be? But let’s ignore that fact. She does have some good emotional beat but its really rather lost. I like her by the end and that’s what is really important.
Hale, did you find him adorable? I found him adorable. Gosh, he has potential. Pity he is about as dimensional as a piece of computer paper. I love his butler and that he’s a billionaire and the hint of parents-not-home. Oh yeah. He’s Artemis Fowl without the genius. Batman without the vendetta. 
What this book desperately needed was some flash backs. Something besides a half-formed memory of hot chocolate and red doors. Something solid. Like, Kat’s Mom’s death. Or how Hale and Kat met. Or….or something. Even a better description of a heist previously preformed. 
Overall, it was an adorable plot with lots of fun lines and characters. Not precisely to my taste, but clean enough that I might pick up the sequel. Maybe. Light, fluffy, action packed and creative, I enjoyed it. It is, after all, in the line of all my favorite stories. 
I’m sure you will have much to say to me when you return home. Hopefully it won’t all be about my deplorable taste in novels. 

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

(This is an older review but the most articulate thing I’ve got tonight.)


3/5 stars

dismay : noun /dɪsˈmeɪ/
(a) a feeling of shock or unhappiness
(b) my feeling after waking up this morning and realizing I like this book no better in the morning than I did late last night

Dear Kris,
You’re right. This book should have been up my alley. It is old-fashion and sweet – two of my favorite adjectives for a book. There are some lovely descriptive passages. It even flutters about with themes and…and other English major things that I appreciate.
But I didn’t really appreciate it.
Perhaps my angst tolerance is just worn out after completing Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Perhaps I had such high expectations for this book it could never meet them. Perhaps my need for a happily-ever-after overcomes my appreciation for Great Literature..
Though honesty, I feel like the ending salvaged the plot somewhat for me. At least it didn’t go and commit that fatal sin. No, my objections started much earlier.

Some spoilers to follow

I don’t think I particularly liked the characters. I found the menfolk rather dull. Cassandra’s Father is a selfish old coot and all the psycho-analysis in the world can’t change his neglectful behavior. I liked Charlie, but he doesn’t really take a strong role till the near end. And even then, he isn’t an important character in Cassandra’s mind. He’s just a brother. I’d like the story told from his perspective.
Stephen remains a sketch of what ought to have been a very interesting secondary love interest. I know many other reviewers loved him and I certainly agree he held potential as a future mate. But I also felt that Cassandra’s affections were never particularly at risk. Of course, near the end we get maybe a glimpse that she will be back in his orbit, but I think he’d be even more of a sap if he remained in love with her. She was his first love. To keep clinging to her would be exhausting. I wouldn’t wish that on him. The time it would take for Cassandra to overcome her own first love and learn to love him would be too long and agonizing.
And Lord knows we’ve had enough agonizing in this book.
I kept getting Simon and Neil mixed up initially. Primarily because it is so obvious that Neil&Rose/Simon&Cassandra are the compatible couples. When Simon goes and falls for Rose, I felt almost personally offended. And then he went and proposed.
The wrongness of it permeates the whole story and I suppose ought to be considered part of the book’s charm. I didn’t much care for it. Though it would have evoked much less depth of feeling, I prefer the alternate reality where Simon initially falls for Rose and then turns his affections to Cassandra. But from the start that really couldn’t happen because Cassandra – for all her protests to the contrary – is still a schoolroom miss in the midst of her first love. It is what gives this book its “feel” and also where it loses me.
This is not a romance. This is a coming of age story. Accordingly, it emphasizes the heart pangs of adolescence and the selfishness of youth. It is well done and yet…I came for a romance and I find myself dismayed.
The womenfolk in this novel were better than the men, perhaps simply because there is less turbulence there. Rose is grasping and trapped. Topaz is lonely but sacrificial (and not in a healthy way.) Mrs. Cotton is determined. Leda Fox-Cotton is…underdeveloped. I liked all of them. I liked their plots and conniving. They were much more interesting than the men. Again, though, probably because Cassandra feels no heart pain when she thinks of them. (Except perhaps Mrs. Fox-Cotton, but that goes back to the men.)
When I think about personal enjoyment, I’d probably give this 2 stars. I wanted the sweet, untangled version. But I’m adding a star because I realize that when I start looking at this as an angsty coming of age story, it is quite good.
But also good in the way Wuthering Heights is good, and I don’t care for that book at all.

Identifying Gen Jer

10 years ago today, some long forgotten office minion processed my paperwork and I officially joined Generation Joshua. Little did they know! Actually, little did I know. It is impossible to imagine the past ten years without Generation Joshua. I can’t even imagine the past year without it, and I have been “graduated” for quite some time. Gen J influenced every part of my life. It provided friends, mentors, and answers during the tumultuous years of teenhood, and the early chaos of college. Even now, as I begin my career, I find I owe an unpayable debt to the organization that provided me with vision and experience before I realized I would need either.

I used to tell people, in a rush of words so fast most listeners gave up trying to understand, “Generation Joshua is an organization that gets young people, ages 11 to 19, involved in civics and government. It is awesome. But, you know, it does so much more.”  

Generation Joshua taught me a lot of things. I did everything offered: camps, clubs, conferences, the chat room, book clubs, the Benjamin Rush Awards, Student Action Teams, and later the Leadership Corps. Above all, though, I spent my teen years on the Generation Joshua forums. All those things, but especially the forums, taught me some important truths about life.

I learned…my teen years were a blessing.

Even before my teenage years began I wanted them to be over. I carried a vague notion that all teenagers had boyfriends, wore skimpy clothes, and did drugs. No matter how desperately my Mom pointed out perfectly ordinary and well behaved teenagers, I refused to believe it. I knew what was up. Nothing good came of turning 13! The teenagers on the Generation Joshua forums quickly disabused me of that notion. These students were intelligent, funny, and friendly. They discussed everything from relationships to current events to coffee! Sometimes they goofed off; sometimes they were serious. For me, it was all amazing. I learned the teenage years did not automatically mean delinquency and rebellion. It could be a wonderful time for growth and friendship.

I learned…online friendships last.

Because so many of my friendships began online, they continue to thrive online today. The neat thing about being an adult is that nowadays I get to travel and visit people in person. However, for many years I could have passed my closest friends on the street and not of known them. It made for the most awkward conversations! “My friend Dr. Black, well, I’ve never met him, but anyway he said…” or “Coolweather and I were e-mailing and we think…” Gen Jers learned to be very creative. My friends Tori (CatCrazy), Lydia (LidBiz) and I started an online girls’ bible study using a chat room and blog. It was a wonderful experience, spread across many time zones. Tori lived in Montana and Lydia in Senegal, Africa. We were joined by girls in California, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. Today, I still consider both girls dear friends. Whether through the forums, Facebook, or even “real life”, my friendship with Gen Jers last a great deal in part because we first learned to be friends far away.

I learned…my voice mattered.

Once upon a time I caught sight of the first post I ever wrote, and it made me want to cry. The spelling, the grammar, the content! I flinch to think of it. But you know what I remember even more clearly than the post? I remember TexasCowboy and Pippin welcoming me to the forums and engaging with what I had to say. That meant a lot to me. I also learned that I could put action behind my words via the Student Action Teams and iGovern Camps. Not everyone finds spending a week of grassroots campaigning fun, however it was the highlight of my year. I couldn’t vote, but I could act. I learned I could make a difference, even at age 14.

I learned…disagreement is okay.

God bless all the moderators who kept an eye on us on the forums! They eventually shut down the Civil War thread because it got so heated. Place two opinionated teenagers together and you are bound to have some conflict, add a whole bunch of them to an online forum and you’re begging for it. Heated discussion is not always a bad thing, though. It sharpens arguments and provides a broader point of view. I learned a lot by simply reading the back and forth of others. I saw that you could be friends with people you disagreed with.

I learned…God answers prayer.

The statement almost sounds trite, but it meant a great deal to me in high school. Before I ever heard of Generation Joshua, I begged God for friends like me. I didn’t want a robot…but someone who shared my interests. And God provided. A few years later, I prayed again, this time for closer friends. Not long after, I got to travel to Generation Joshua camp with Danielle (jcfreak) and Sara (Lightning). It was wonderful to have the friends in person and online! Being a part of Generation Joshua grew me spiritually. I saw God’s hand at work in so many ways. I saw faith in the students around me, in the counselors and leaders at camp, in the discussion on the forums. I saw pain and hurt and brokenness. And I learned that God worked in it all, that He was not an afterthought but the very foundation.

Most of all I learned…I was not alone.

There were teenagers like me. People who loved learning. People who paid attention to politics. People who read like crazy. C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, “Friendship…is born at the moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one…’” Indeed, I thought I was the only one. And then one momentous day, on January 6th, I joined something greater, where I learned I was not alone. Generation Joshua was so much more.

This is a thank you. I have written many before, but I can only repeat my words again. Thank you to those Gen Jers who were older than me, who mentored and offered me friendship when I first joined. Thank you to my peers, the Gen Jers my age who remain some of my closest friends. Thank you to all the kids who have come after me, it is a delight watching you discover the same thing I did. That you are not alone.

Most of all, thank you to the leaders of Generation Joshua. When I first joined, that meant Ned Ryun. Then Douglas Price. Then Will Estrada. Now, Joel Grewe. Thank you to all the leaders like Jeremiah Lorrig, Lucas Mason, and Michael Zeller. Thank you to my SAT leaders, Noah Oberlander and James Flath. Thank you to the parents who helped get the club going in Wisconsin, people like Mrs. Aguilar, Pastor Andy, and my Dad. I would never have discovered Generation Joshua without The First Generation Joshua Club of Wisconsin. Thank you for all the people who have engaged and mentored and spoke into the lives of the Gen J community. There are countless names I could mention. I have only named a few of the ones most involved while I was a teenager. What you all do cannot be quantified in words. I am ever grateful for the role you all have played in my life.

I hope every teenager has the opportunity to find a place where they discover they are not alone. Generation Joshua was that for me. Thank you, Gen J, for helping shape me into the woman I am today.  

To the Church Hopping College Student

Get over yourself.

It’s true this congregation is small and elderly. That doesn’t mean they are blind. We see your expressions of disgust. Your body language radiates contempt. You shuffle in late and rush out immediately afterwards. You roll your eyes at the liturgy. Smirk at the greeter.

I would say maybe you are uncomfortable, but the truth is you are downright rude. Don’t you think we have ears? We hear your nails clack against the screen as you text during service. Your whispered mockery carries to the pews around you. Yes, we stand and sit and stand again. Yes, we have an altar and stain glass windows. Yes, there is actual wine used in communion. What did you expect visiting a traditional Lutheran church?

Perhaps you are visiting for a class.  If that is the case, all the more shame on you. How can you take other denominations seriously if you do nothing but look for differences? You alienate your own family and in doing so cause more pain to this sweet, loving congregation than you know.

Do you feel more comfortable, surrounding yourself with your friends and barely speaking to anyone else? You come in packs. I understand it might feel awkward showing up alone. There is security in likeminded friends but also complacency. You circle in on yourselves like a wagon train afraid of attack. These older Christians may wear hearing aids and take a few minutes to stand up, but the truth is they have more wisdom and life experience to offer than a whole room full of college students.

We heard you grumbling about filling out the Guest Card. Something about spam in your inbox and receiving enough e-mails already. The truth is the older gentleman who asked you to do that will take those cards and pray over them all week. By Wednesday you will get a card in the mail, not an impersonal thanks, but a hand-written note of gratitude that you came. The lady sitting behind you will text you on Friday and ask how your week went. The pastor’s wife will make sure you know when the next fellowship meal is, and she’ll probably send you home with food. The whole congregation will remember your name and greet you with joy the next time you come.

If you come back.

Few do, much to their loss.

I know it is hard to be a college student away from home and without a church. Congregations rarely treat you like an actual member. They expect you to move on and you either get ignored or become a short term project. So you seek a new church, one “meeting your needs.” And when that one fails to do it, yet another. Especially here in the South, you have limitless choices. That cycle leads to burnout. By your senior year, I guarantee you will think the church is overrated. Out of touch. Unconnected with your faith.

I’m not saying my church is the answer to your problems. All I know is that it was the answer to mine. You barge in, full of arrogance and self-supposed superiority, and you miss the earnest sweetness of this Body. You miss the power of gathering together and repeating the Confession and Absolution, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed. You miss the beauty of these old hymns. You miss the wisdom of the sermon. Today the pastor preached on believing the fullness of God’s promises. It spoke to me, but did you even hear it? We all heard your phone. Could you hear our love?

Because this congregation does love you. It is not just because you are young.  It is not because you are a new face. They love you because you stepped through those doors. It is something I still cannot fully grasp. It refreshes my soul every time I come Sunday morning. I wish you could experience it.

But you rushed, you eye-rolled, and finally you rejected. What you didn’t see was the wistful glances sent your way as you hurried to your car. You missed the questions directed at Rina and me, the only two college students who remained. “Do you know them? Couldn’t they stay for lunch? Will they be back?”

I don’t know if my words will reach you. I pray they do. I hope you will enter that next congregation more respectfully, that you will listen and befriend those around you. I pray God will lead you to a place you will grow. If you go to church for warm fuzzies and an emotional high, your faith will falter. I know because mine did. A good church body keeps you grounded. Fellowship, communal reading of God’s word, prayer with other believers, and submission to one another develop a stronger Christian walk. In our individualistic culture, I challenge you to recognize that the church was not designed for your personal pleasure or pure edification. It is give and take. It’s a family and in some ways all the clichés about family apply. Family can be embarrassing, confusing, and painful. Yet in the end, no one is more committed to you. We need fellow believers in all our messiness and pain because together we grow. Together we encourage, admonish, strengthen, and testify to God’s faithfulness in our lives every single day. Faith doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

Find a church and instead of thinking about what you can get, find ways you can give. It starts, though, with grace and understanding. I do encourage you to get over yourself. Set aside your pride. Turn off your phone. Listen, really listen, to those around you. I hope you can hear the love they are trying to send your way. This family wants to embrace you. Please, let them bless you.