When people meet Lori Tebben Meulenberg ’85 at her job, they’re often afraid. It might be the worst day of their lives. As a magistrate judge for the state of Idaho in Bonner County, Meulenberg often encounters people who are in very difficult situations. 

“I am asked to solve problems and conflicts every day from birth to after death,” she said, when asked to describe her job in the simplest terms. 

Since 2013, she has been a general jurisdiction judge hearing a wide range of cases including child protection, divorce, probate, guardianship, and criminal cases. 

A Listening Ear

What they might not expect from the judge who hears their case is a listening ear. “One of the greatest privileges I have is to listen to people’s stories,” Meulenberg said from her chambers in Bonner County. “People might not always agree with my decisions, but I hope that people would say that I listen to them.” 

Once a woman came before her for sentencing in a criminal case, and Meulenberg could see from her file that she had lived in more than 40 foster homes. “I looked her right in the eyes and said, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you.’ The woman almost started crying. It was meaningful to her to have someone acknowledge what had happened to her,” Meulenberg said. 

Worldview From Calvin

Growing up on a farm in central Minnesota, Meulenberg learned how to work hard. “I really liked school, and I always knew I wanted to go to college,” she said. “But there were more people in my dorm at Calvin than there were people in my hometown. 

At the beginning, Calvin was lonely and overwhelming.” 

But Meulenberg found her way. She spent a semester in Spain her sophomore year. “Studying in Spain was a wonderful experience,” said Meulenberg, who loves to travel. Returning from Spain, she was a camp counselor at Camp Roger and met her husband, Dan Meulenberg ’85. She also served as a resident assistant her junior year, and all of those experiences opened her world and gave her confidence. 

“Calvin does an amazing job expanding a person’s view of the world and of people. Calvin isn’t afraid of looking at hard issues,” said Meulenberg. “That’s one of the things that we’ve taught our own children. Our daughters are extremely bright, and had we shut them down or given pat answers, I don’t think their faith would be as strong.” 

At Calvin, Meulenberg majored in sociology and criminal justice, and planned on going into social work. After working at a law firm in North Carolina while her husband went to medical school, she decided to go to law school. 

Seeking Wisdom

Meulenberg and her husband graduated from law school and medical school on the same day and headed to Idaho for Dan’s residency. They raised their two daughters while she worked as a prosecutor. “I think our daughters learned a lot from us,” she said. “They learned how to juggle stressful lives and still find time for family, friends, and recreation.” 

When the judge position opened up, Meulenberg didn’t want it. She knew she would have to make huge, life-altering choices with imperfect information. “It was one of the only times in my life where God was clearly telling me to do something. I either had to say yes, or stand before him in heaven one day and confess that I didn’t obey his call.” 

Today, she’s absolutely positive that she’s where she’s supposed to be. “I pray every day, sometimes right in the middle of a hearing, for God to give me wisdom,” she said.