Peter and Debbie Herbeck live in Ann Arbor and have four adult children and eight grandchildren. Peter is the vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries, the co-host for the weekly television show “The Choices we Face” and host of the radio show “Fire on the Earth.” Debbie is the founder and executive director of Pine Hills Girls’ Camp and the founder of the Be Love Revolution.
How do you navigate your role as grandparents as you watch your children begin to raise their own families?
We are extremely proud of all four of our children. Three of the four are married, and we have eight young grandchildren and another on the way. First of all, we try to be as engaged as possible in their lives. We do what many grandparents do to practically support our adult children in their role as parents. Although our schedules are still quite full, we make it a priority to spend weekly time with our young grandkids, to develop personal and individual relationships with each one of them.
It’s fun and beautiful to watch our own kids send their young children to us for answers to their budding theological questions like, “Grandpa, what happened to all those people who died before Jesus rose from the dead? Are they still dead?” or, “Grandma, is the devil real?”
What best practices do you take to maintain strong relationships with your adult children?
When we were raising our own children, we often had regular, daily conversations that centered on the person and reality of Jesus. It helped our kids understand that Jesus is real and that he wants to be in every part of our lives. Now as adults, those conversations still happen, and we are able to help them (and their spouses) navigate the challenges of the culture, the concerns in the church, prayer and growing in faith as adults.
It has been a special pleasure and delight to have our youngest daughter, Rachel, working in ministry with us, and this gives us many opportunities to engage in our evangelistic mission together and to have deeper discussions centered on faith.
Our home always had an open door, with guests coming from all over the world to share in our life. Although our children are grown up, they still bring friends over for dinner, conversation and prayer. We have seen the fruit of this hospitality as they now open their own homes to others.
Overall, the best practice we know is to just be present to them — in their joys and sorrows, to be available to help in practical ways and to ask the Holy Spirit how we can best love each one of them.
What has life been like having an empty nest?
It has been an adjustment to move from the constant activity and noise of a full house of young people to relative quiet. When our kids all moved out of the house, we thought life would slow down. Although the activities no longer centered on their sports, school and friendships, we had the freedom to respond to more ministry opportunities, to travel, speak and write.
Honestly, we are adjusting to this new phase of life, spending more time together and getting to know one another in new ways. Throughout our married life, Peter always had a home office, but often the demands of daily life with kids would keep us on separate “tracks” throughout the day or week. Now that it is mostly just us at home, we have to be intentional about making sure we have a shared life together and aren’t just doing our own thing.
Do you have a daily prayer routine?
One thing that might surprise people about us is that we don’t have a specific shared prayer time each day. We do have times that we regularly pray together — the rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet, intercessions, Friday morning Holy Hour and lots of lively discussions about Scripture and what the Lord is saying to us. When we were raising our kids, we took one morning a week to discuss our family life and pray for the needs of our family. But we have always taken individual, personal prayer time, and we have worked hard to support each other in making sure this happens for one another each day. The nature of our work in ministry has also provided many opportunities for times of worship, prayer ministry and Scripture study with friends, colleagues and young people. We are grateful for the ongoing expressions of authentic community life that center around prayer and seeking the Lord.
What have been the best habits you’ve incorporated into your marriage life to keep your marriage strong?
The best advice we ever received and we give often to engaged and young married couples is to put Jesus at the center of your individual and married life and to keep him there! It has helped us tremendously, even in the face of our weaknesses, failings, challenges and disappointments, to remind each other that Jesus is Lord — over our lives and our marriage. We consistently try to entrust everything to him — our finances, children, grandchildren, friendships and our future. In our almost 35 years of marriage, we have tried daily to live according to the wisdom of Scripture and the teaching of the church — to repent and forgive quickly and from the heart and to speak the truth in love. Spending more time together at home during the pandemic also revealed our brokenness, and like many others, we struggled with feelings of sadness, fear and loss of control. Although it has been difficult, our honest conversations as we walked through the empty streets of Ann Arbor, helped us to grow in vulnerability, love, patience and kindness.
Anything encouraging you can say to parents who are in the midst of the battle for faith and family?
Although our children are grown, we realize that our job isn’t quite finished. As parents, grandparents and mentors to young people, we see the importance of building a legacy of love and faith that is actively passed on to the next generation and beyond. We do this through intentional conversations and teaching, but we also realize that the witness to God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness is often “caught more than taught.” Throughout our married life, what we valued most was often communicated in simple ways — family meals together, daily prayer, faithful attendance at Mass, generosity and sacrifice. We didn’t often know how it impacted our kids, especially in their teen years. By God’s grace, our feeble, imperfect efforts mattered, and what we lacked as parents (which was a lot), he made up for with the help of friends, teachers, other families and faith-filled environments. A few years ago, our daughter-in-law texted to thank us for the gift of our son, and the joy and confidence it gave her as a wife and mother to see him rise early each morning to pray. Watching our adult children continue to grow in faith, wrestle with the unique challenges of the times, serve the Lord and proclaim the Gospel, choose wonderful spouses and raise their young families to know Christ has brought us great joy and a renewed commitment to help the next generation say, as we did, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”