Life in the Awkward Middle

smoky mountain

I recently had a few friends get haircuts which were shorter than they’d intended.  About a year ago, I encountered the same issue myself so I know that it can take weeks to reinforce the damaged self-image that comes with a less-than-ideal haircut.  Just when you think you’re used to your new look, you glimpse yourself in a mirror and are shocked, once again, by your own reflection.  And, for some reason, it’s not enough to tell yourself that it will grow back.

But it’s not just dealing with the short cut until it grows back.  It’s also about the time in between the “too-short” and the “normal.”

The time I somewhat-unaffectionately call the awkward middle.

The awkward middle is a phase which occurs in the transition between short and long hair-styles.  Even if you like your short cut, you still have to progress through the awkward middle phase to return to anything long.

And there are points where you feel completely horrendous.

If you don’t know what I’m referencing, you’ve either never grown out short hair (or bangs – ugh!) or you were blessed with an iron self esteem, unbreakable by even the most unsightly blemish.  Or you’re a man.  If you fall into one or more of those categories, bear with me.  I promise there’s a point to all this.

While trying to encourage my friends that their new styles didn’t look nearly as bad as they thought, the topic of the awkward middle stage of re-growth came up.  And my response was far more poignant than I intended:

You just have to live through the awkward middle.

And suddenly, we were talking about much more than hair.  Suddenly, we were talking about life.

You see, the awkward middle is a perfect metaphor for transition periods in life.  Yes, they can be awkward.  Yes, they can be unsightly.  Yes they can be uncomfortable.  They can even be embarrassing.  But they’re necessary.

With the possible exception of hair extensions (but does that really count?), there is only one way to go from short hair to long hair: time.  And, similarly, it takes time to transition from one phase of life to another.  Even if phases seem to butt up against one another, there is still a period of transition internally as the mind shifts from one role to another.  And no matter how smooth the transition may be, from the inside, it will almost definitely be awkward.

And it can take a long time.  Or at least seem that way.

From the outside, working for two months, six months, a year, two years at a job you hate while waiting for a better one to come along may seem like a short transition period.  Once it’s over, it will probably feel short as well.  But while living it?  Ages will stretch on into ages as you wonder if this awkward middle stage will ever end!

But it will be worth it in the end.

Waiting to close the distance on a long-distance relationship can feel like an eternity.  A painful, awkward, eternity.  But it’s a time that must be navigated like any other transitional period.

And it will be worth it in the end.

Finishing those classes you hate to get the degree you must have for the job you know you’ll love.  Awkward.  Uncomfortable.  Necessary.

And it will all be worth it in the end.

Because the nature of a transition is change.  Every true transition is leading somewhere or becoming something – something new.

But life shouldn’t end during these awkward middle times.  You have to live through the awkward middle.  If you focus only on the time following your escape from the awkward middle phase, you’ll miss out on the life in between.  Life doesn’t end because you’re in a transition!  If you look only to the future, you’ll miss out on the life you can live in the middle phase – in those times between the glimpses into the mirror that remind you that your hair is not at its best.  While in the awkward middle stage: don’t forget to live!


Unexpectedly Perfect

Castle (Ireland)

This past summer has been a whirlwind – which is part of the reason that I haven’t written anything since it began… sorry about that!  But, dear readers, it has been one of the most incredible summers of my life.

Rescued from a long season of solo mentoring by a new co-mentor shortly before the summer began, I was cautiously optimistic about the coming weeks.  Then, when the first real week of summer brought the loss of two kids whom I’d come to love, my House Vacation 5emotions were in turmoil.  Now the house would only have two boys for a majority of the summer, the teenagers all of either working at camp (2) or visiting home for the whole season (1).  It was a drastic change from the weeks preceding and I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it all.  Suddenly, instead of juggling five kids on my own, at least when the house parents were off, there were as many as four adults caring for as few as two children!

But this meant that those two boys got exactly what they needed: tons of individual attention and loving discipline.  The absence of teenagers meant that we could spend ample time doing things that only younger kids like to do; things that teenagers would find silly or boring.  We could let the younger boys just be what they were: kids.

Hiking with the boys

And it was great.  It was excellent.  It was wonderful.


Yes, the boys still struggled with following the rules.  Yes, the boys often grew too comfortable and pushed boundaries – hard.  Yes, the boys fought constantly – just like brothers.

But it was great.

And then, suddenly, camp was over, the teenagers returned, and life shifted, once again, into a more chaotic direction.  A few days later we learned that a new boy would be arriving shortly, just two days before the house left for a week-long vacation in South Carolina.


House Vacation 2
A sort-of college visit at the Citadel

What had happened to out perfect summer?  So close to its close, our two boys had turned back into five and our well-planned vacation suddenly became much more complicated as we added a ninth member to each of our outings.

But it was still phenomenal.House Vacation 4

The new boy was a great addition to the house.  He fit in perfectly with the other boys and adjusted quickly to the group dynamic.  All of our vacation plans still worked out with the extra person.

House Vacation 1
On the streets of downtown Charleston

And so, though I suppose it wouldn’t ever be considered an ideal situation, commenced a fantastic house vacation complete with alligator sightings, boat rides, historical exploration, late night antics, geo-caching, games, and more than its fair share of laughter.  By the end of the week, we had almost forgotten that the new boy was new and hadn’t yet experienced a typical day at the Ranch itself.

House Vacation 3
Visiting the USS Yorktown

He had become so fully integrated into the home – so well accepted by the other boys – that it was as if he’d always been there.  It was an incredibly fast transition but it was necessary since summer was drawing to a close and the students’ two week break was rapidly approaching.


But none of this – none of this – was what I had expected at the beginning of the summer.

It was so much better.

It was as if God had taken my ideas and my plans and thrown them over a cliff, never to be seen again.  But he didn’t leave me empty-handed.  Instead, he gave me a new set of situations which made the ones I had just lost look like trash by comparison.  The entire summer was so much better than I had expected it to be because it looked nothing like how I had expected it to look.

Sometimes God has to take away the garbage we’re holding onto before he can give us the good gifts He has planned for us to use instead.

Now is a time of transition for me.  I’m officially starting in my new position as a teacher in the school here at the Ranch.  I don’t know what my official job title is yet but Brain Trainer and Fine Arts Director might be the most accurate description.  And I am so excited for this new season in my life!  God has brought me into a place where I can use almost all of my skill sets in various ways.  I’ll be doing what I love in a place that I love with kids that I love.  And while I’m a bit nervous to start out the school year, I can’t wait to start working with these kids in this capacity.  It’s going to be strange to no longer be a mentor; I won’t be working as much with some students but I will be spending more time with others.  It will certainly be different in a lot of ways, many of which still remain to be seen.

But I’m optimistic.

And, who knows, perhaps God will change things up and make it even better than I can imagine?

Grace and Peace,



The Great Storyteller


Have you ever noticed that there’s a pattern for the greatest and most popular stories – movies, books, television shows, games – of our time?  Everything starts off great in the exposition… and then something (possibly everything) falls apart.  Without that inciting incident, there would be no story.  But the next part of the tale is important too.  The part where characters make plans, go on adventures, or simply try to survive, all in an attempt to solve the problem which began in the opening section.  Ultimately, the protagonist makes a grand sacrifice – or even dies – to do whatever it takes to fix the world.

If this pattern is broken, like in a recent, popular movie franchise (spoiler averted), we struggle to find closure and to process the implications of what we have just witnessed.

I have always been fascinated by interconnected stories.  Some of my favorite books growing up were a set of three series that were woven together in such a way that it was like a puzzle to find all the points in which they met.  And I think the popularity enjoyed by the aforementioned movie franchise is proof that I’m not alone in enjoying this blending of stories.  We are mystified by the intricacies as characters that would not have otherwise interacted are pulled together by circumstances and plots, often as the world literally falls apart.

And maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for this fascination.

The more I study the Bible, particularly the Old Testament stories and prophecies, the more connections and parallels I can see which relate directly to the life of Christ.  If human storytellers can weave stories together with power and drama, God is the greatest storyteller – the Great Storyteller.

Everything is connected.  From the stories of creation and moment when everything falls apart in Genesis to the climax in the Gospels to the resolution in the final chapters of Revelation, the Bible is a story of epic proportions.  It follows the pattern of all the greatest stories of all time.  Actually, it may be more accurate to say that it is the pattern for all the greatest stories.

And it is filled with connections.  Even the sections which are not prophetic in nature point to Christ. As Joseph is thrown into a pit, betrayed by his own brothers, we can see Jesus, betrayed by his own and laid in a tomb.  As Abraham is asked to sacrifice his own son only to have God provide a ram to serve in his place, we can see Jesus, serving as the ultimate sacrifice to stand in place of all of us.  As Jonah sits within a fish for three days, we can see Jesus, dead in a tomb for three days.  Jesus himself cites this as a sign, telling the Pharisees that they will be given the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 12:39).

Even outside of the Bible, Jewish traditions point to the coming of Christ.  Passover is probably the most obvious, as the blood of a lamb is used to protect the people from death.  Even Hanukkah features the menorah, the central candle of which (called the Shamash, the servant candle) symbolizes the light of an undying flame which lights all others.  Jesus – the light of the world – sound familiar?

And this is only the beginning.  The connections are endless – I couldn’t begin to describe them all – and it’s even more fascinating because, unlike the stories that we create, these stories are real.

And God orchestrated it all.

And the best part is that the story isn’t over yet.  Sure, we can read the end of the story in Revelation but the small details which are parts of our own lives are also part of the greater story.

And I can’t wait to see how everything connects.

Some Updates!

I’ve been offered a longer term position at the Ranch!  Starting in the fall, I’ll be teaching Learning RX, starting a fine arts program (Using my degree!!!!), and filling in for some other administrative-type things.  I still don’t know a lot of details about how this is going to work out but I’ll be moving permanently (for the time being) to Tennessee to keep working with the kids here.  I’m excited to see what the future holds here!

Grace and Peace,


Through the Eyes of a Child

crocusesFor the past few weeks I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia aloud to the nine-year-old boy I mentor.  It’s been bedtime stories and English class combined and it has filled my evenings with joy to bring these classic stories to life for a child in much the same way that my parents did for me what seems like a lifetime ago.  I’ve long acknowledged that the series helped to shape my worldview and theology when I was younger by showing me an image of God which was somehow tangible but mysterious; fierce but gentle; good but wild.

And, as I field endless questions, I know that this precious child is processing at a level which is unique to learning through story.

“Is this about God?” he asked, toward the end of The Magician’s Nephew.

“Oh!  It’s just like Jesus!” he exclaimed as we read of Aslan’s sacrifice and death.  A smile spread across his face as he guessed what would happen next – this was shortly after Easter, after all.

And all the while, he is developing a new understanding of the Gospel as he listens to it unfold with now-familiar characters in a wholly unfamiliar way; shaking the dust off the greatest story ever… the one that we often take for granted.

Stories are powerful tools.  Dangerous tools, sometimes, when in the wrong hands.  The stories we hear define how we think and what we remember.  The stories we hear about our world control what we believe is happening and what we think needs to be done.  Stories can control our emotions and our actions, for good or ill.  Our own stories define us and what we know of other’s stories defines how we interact with them; how we view them.

It’s not only through the eyes of a child that a story can shape a mind – our minds are being shaped by the stories we hear each day, altering – just a little – the way we view the world around us.

That’s why stories are such an important teaching tool.  Whether it’s reading for a literature class, teaching history by telling the stories of what happened (by far the best way, I think, to actually remember historical details), or making up a fun story to help a child understand why and how borrowing works in subtraction, stories make the information make more sense – it’s how our brains work.  Within the context of a story, things just seem to make sense on a deeper level.

But, the things is, you have to want to understand on a deeper level – because stories can also mask the truth if you’re not listening carefully enough. It’s not enough to listen to a news story and let it tell you what you think about the world – you have to examine in more closely to understand the motives and the meanings and (sometimes) find the truth amid the lies.  It’s not enough to read a story or watch a movie and enjoy the plot or like the characters.  You can read the greatest, deepest novel of all time and get nothing out of it beyond a plot summary if you try hard enough.  Or you can read a children’s book (like Narnia or a multitude of others) and learn profound lessons, even as an adult.

I think that’s partially what Jesus meant when he explained why he taught in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not understand” (Matt. 13:13b).  Any story can be a powerful tool – but the listener has to choose to receive it; to seek the meaning within it.  Stories do not explain themselves.  Yet it is the process of delving deeper into the story that reveals mysteries not so easily lost as time moves forward.

And as I watch this precious boy choose to receive so many truths through these stories I rejoice to see his understanding of God growing each night.

And this is only the beginning of his story.

Grace and Peace,


A Pig Problem

October Snow

“I think people try to make it too complicated.  You know?  Like Jesus meets us where we are, right?  So I can go to church and all and still do what I do – still just be me.”


These words were paraphrased from a real conversation I had with a coworker a few years ago.  She attended a mega-church some of the time.  She drank somewhat regularly despite the fact that she was only 19 years old.  She had recently moved in with her boyfriend.  She believed that she was a Christian.

I know I’m treading dangerous ground right now, especially with the ideas of tolerance that permeate society today.  But something needs to be said.

Yes, Jesus meets us where we are.  Absolutely.  And it’s a good thing too.  If He didn’t meet us where we were then there would be no way for us to meet Him at all.  We would be hopeless; doomed to sit on our own islands and watch His glory from a distance for all of our lives.

Jesus meets us where we are.  But He doesn’t leave us there.  And if we’re still the person that we were before we met Him then did we really encounter Him at all?  Shouldn’t an encounter with the Living God leave some sort of mark?

Shouldn’t we be changed?

The fact of the matter is that, on our own, each and every one of us is filthy in comparison with God.  Maybe not in comparison with certain other people (and that’s what makes us feel better about ourselves, isn’t it?) but in comparison with God?  With the Almighty, Perfect Creator of All?  Even the best of us is a pig, wallowing in a septic tank.

And we’ve been sold the idea that we don’t have to change our ways to find salvation with God.  And perhaps that is partially true – a pig, stuck in a septic tank, cannot escape its prison unless someone on the outside steps in and rescues it.  But the analogy doesn’t end here.  What happens to the pig when it is found?  Does the one who discovers the pig stand near the edge of the tank and tell the pig that it is safe?  “I’ve got you now,” the pig’s savior hollers down, “just hang out down there and trust that you’re safe with me.”

Of course not.  That would be ridiculous.

The pig’s savior pulls the pig out of the septic tank, hoses it off, and closes the tank so the pig can’t fall in again.

The pig, however, being a pig, had been enjoying the septic tank and so the savior of the pig changes the pig into a new creature – a clean creature (a sheep might be a fitting choice) which will not crave the mud and muck any longer.

So many people in this world today – in this nation in particular – believe that they can say a prayer and check off a box – and that they never need to concern themselves with anything beyond that moment.  “…I can go to church and all and still do what I do – still just be me.”

Are we making it too easy?  Are we making the Christian walk seem like a moment that doesn’t need to affect the rest of our lives?

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25, ESV

That doesn’t sound easy to me.  So why are we trying to make it easy when Jesus made it clear that it is a hard and dangerous road?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” 1 Cor. 5:17, CSB

Did you catch that?  A new creation.  As in: not a pig-wallowing-in-the-mud anymore.  Or, at least, you shouldn’t be, not if you’re in Christ.

That means that if Christ has rescued you – if you claim to be saved by Him – there should be some difference between who you were before and who you are now.

Because He doesn’t leave pigs in septic tanks.  Not if they’ll let Him rescue them.  Not if they’ll let Him make them a new creation.

And they’ll leave their mud-wallowing days behind them.  Not because of their own will-power.  But because the sheep will follow the Shepherd.  The sheep will love the Shepherd.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  – The Shepherd, John 14:15, ESV

Some updates!

There have been a lot of great things happening at the Ranch in the past few weeks.  Working without a co-mentor is exhausting!  There’s so much to get done and it never seems like there are enough hours in the day to do it all.  But somehow, by the grace of God, I’m managing.  He has been incredibly faithful.  My first two days running the house by myself were unseasonably warm – a great blessing from God – He knows just how to encourage me!  The following week we had a run-in with the stomach bug in the house which was going to cause some serious logistical issues during my solo days – and, once again, God provided a way.  Both days – which would have required the help of several other staff members to fill in for things I couldn’t do because I had a quarantined teenager in the house – ended up as snow days!  And though those snow days were challenging in their own right (and exciting as well!), I know that they were far less complicated and stressful than they would have been otherwise – yet another “little” miracle from the Lord.

Snow day 2018
One of my boys – he made a baby snowman because… why not?

We have welcomed a new boy into the house and, though he is sometimes a joy to work with, he is struggling to adjust to some aspects of Ranch life, particularly in regard to submitting to authority.  Prayers for his adjustment would be greatly appreciated as well as prayers for the house staff to have adequate patience to keep working with him, extending grace, and showing love each day.

And pray for more mentors to apply!  We could use several new mentors right now as each of the houses would benefit from an additional mentor.  And here’s my shameless plug: if you or someone you know is a twenty-something person who loves God and loves kids and/or teenagers and is looking for a job – look into the mentor position here at Wears Valley Ranch.  It’s not an easy job but it is rewarding in its own right.  I have learned so much in the five months I’ve been here and I know I will continue to learn and grow in the months to come.  And I’ve fallen in love with so many of the kids – even the annoying ones!  Okay, shameless plug over.

Grace and Peace,


Purpose in the Process

Snowy Road.jpgJust over a year ago I was directing a short Christmas Play with my students on the T’O Reservation.   It was a cute little skit about finding the true meaning of Christmas which was, of course, inexplicably missing.  While rehearsing, one of my young actors continually made the same mistake with her lines: she replaced the word “process” with “progress,” a mistake I soon discovered was a losing battle to correct.

It was only recently that I realized that her substitution was actually profound.

Think about it: what is really the difference between “process” and “progress”?  Is one more important?  The two are most definitely related in some cause/effect way.  But does one matter more than the other?

Should one matter more?

I’ve had several opportunities recently to consider the implications of this relationship.  During school hours, my students almost always desire progress (though on some days, I must admit, even that desire is lacking) but dread the process necessary to achieve it.  And, I suppose, it is a normal attitude to have – we all work better with clearly defined, achievable goals.

But the whole institution of schooling – of learning – is about so much more than results.

It’s about the process.

So much of what children learn growing up is based on experience and practice, not facts and data.  Math skills – practice.  Writing skills – practice.  Communication skills – experience and observation. Critical thinking – practice. Work ethic – practice.

And the most important thing for a child to learn: How to LEARNpractice.

And practice, as any musician can tell you, is more about the process than about the progress.  It’s about disciplining yourself; developing the muscle memory and skill necessary to perform whatever task it is you are practicing for consistently and with excellence.  And that leads to results – to progress.  But it would be a mistake to assume that the practice – the process – is merely a means to an end.

One of the main tenants at the Ranch is that children are always learning, often more outside of school hours than in.  The process of life has just as much to do with a child’s development as the progress found in formal class time.

And it’s a beautiful thing to be involved in both.

So, which is more important? Process or progress?

I suppose, the answer is yes.  Both are equally important in the long run.  Though, in many ways, I would say that process is primary for, without the process, there is no progress.

And, sometimes, even with the process, there is little progress, at least for a time.  And it is in these moments that we must find joy and purpose in the process alone, without any need for the progress to validate us.  If we focus solely on progress, our work will seem futile at times.  Discouraged and disillusioned, we may give up before we should.  If, however, we allow the process to have its own purpose then we will always have a reason to keep moving.  I see this as the difference between students who love school and those who hate school.  Those who look only for progress are easily discouraged when they fail to make any for a time.  Those who find joy in the process of learning itself are rarely discouraged, relishing each opportunity to sharpen their skills.

And this isn’t just about school.  If we can find a joy and a purpose in the process of everything we do (like those New Year’s Resolutions, maybe?) we might just find that life is a much more exciting thing to do.  After all, isn’t life a process?

A few updates!

The new year is opening with quite a few changes.  For the last two months I’ve been teaching three students math and English – three students, with three different learning styles, at three different grade levels, with three different curricula.  And that, in itself, has been quite the process!

But, as so often happens, just when I get comfortable with something, everything changes again!   Hailey, my co-mentor, has left the Ranch to go back to college and I am left, for the time being, without a partner to work with.  This means that, among other things, we’ve had to shift around some of the teaching assignments, leaving me with the majority responsibility (not just math and English) of two different students, one of which is completely new to the Ranch.  This is certainly going to be a time of adjusting for all involved!  As January opens, I pray that I will continue to be flexible, finding joy and purpose in the process and not only search for the results which may seem nonexistent for awhile.  I will miss teaching the students I am passing on to others but my hope is that I will be able to connect well with these new students without too much of a struggle.  I also pray that a new co-mentor will answer the call and join me here soon!  I covet your prayers as I, once again, enter a time of transition.


Grace and Peace,



Little Miracles


So I’ll admit it: I was reluctant to come here.  There are hints about this in my last few posts – how I tried to find a job in Phoenix because I wanted to keep working with the kids I’d just started getting to know.  How I wanted a “real” job instead.  But my reluctance was stronger than I led you, reader, to believe and I feel the need to apologize for misleading you.  I wasn’t just nervous out of fear or a desire for comfort (though that was definitely a big part of it).  I was actively praying for God to close the door so that I wouldn’t have to walk through it.

And, I suppose, in a way He did close the door.  He closed every door I tried to pry open; reinforced every lock I tried to pick.  He answered my prayers by closing every door except the one I wanted Him to close.  So, finally, and with GREAT reluctance, I stepped over the threshold.

And I have discovered a greater expanse of opportunity than I could have ever imagined.

It’s only been a month (it baffles me to think that it has been that long!) and while I have, at times, found myself missing those in the desert, already I am seeing God at work across the Ranch.  Just this last week two students (that I know of) professed a newfound faith in Christ and four others were baptized.  I have seen character growth in kids who have been here for years as well as in those whose tenure is shorter than my own.  Getting to know and spending time with the boys in the house has been a joy and I’m looking forward to many more months to grow together with them, the house parents, and my co-mentor.

But that’s just work.  It’s miraculous.  It’s amazing.  But it’s only a part of this story.

One of my biggest concerns in coming to the Ranch was that I wouldn’t have any time to have a life outside of work.  I think God laughed at me when I pulled out that excuse.  And then He provided me with an opportunity which could have only come directly from Him.

A few weeks ago I was searching the internet for community choirs to join (because, as any musician can tell you, going any length of time – two full years in my case – without performing with an ensemble will give you withdrawals) without much success.  Most rehearsed on weekday evenings when I was unavailable while others had recently held auditions for this year’s concert season.  Then I came across one which rehearsed on Sunday afternoons in Knoxville for six weeks at a time, twice a year.  They were about to begin rehearsals for their November concert.  The only problem was I could find nothing about their audition procedures.  There was no “contact us” button; no e-mail address to write to; only a newsletter request form and a “response form.”

I had no idea what this “response form” was for but it had a comments section so I decided to submit the form with my question about auditions, regardless of the actual purpose of the form (an atypical behavior for a reserved, detail-oriented person).

The director called me the next day wondering how I found the response form.

(Read that again if you can’t see God’s hand in this)

Apparently the response form is sent only to people who had been invited to join the group.  The group which is invitation only, not auditioned as I had assumed.

I talked with the director for a few minutes.  He asked me about my background in music.  We discussed Asbury and my degree which – for the first time ever – served a purpose.  He invited me to join the choir and I accepted on the spot.

I hung up the phone in shock.  I had joined an invitation only choir – by asking­ ­– with a form I wasn’t supposed to be able to find.

You can call it a coincidence if you want.  I’ll call it what it is: a miracle.  It may seem small but I’ve been praying for exactly this kind of opportunity for two years now and I can’t just ignore God’s handiwork in this.

People pray for God’s help all the time.  Then, more often than not, when He comes through they claim coincidence, tell God, “Never mind, I guess it all worked out on its own,” and move forward without giving God His due praise.  This opportunity could expand and lead to more opportunities, spiraling upward into an amazing tale of God’s glory and sovereignty.  But, more likely, it is an instance of God providing for His people by answering their petitions; providing me with the opportunity to lift my voice with more than 70 other people in praise to Him, just as He knows I love to do more than anything.

And I will praise Him for the little miracles (though, are they really ever little?) as I depend on His provision daily.

Grace and Peace