On Conquering Roller Coasters (And Then Not)

Doing something once doesn’t make it a habit. This is something parenting teaches you over and over again. Just because she ate her vegetables for the first time doesn’t mean that she’s now a vegetable eater any more than you going for that first jog makes you a runner.

I took Daughter and her pal to the amusement park yesterday because Daughter had been asking to go all summer. It was a surprising request, given that she has never shown the slightest bit of nerve for thrill rides; we used to live a 45 minute drive from Disneyland, and in all of her trips there up to age 8, she wouldn’t go near anything more daring than Dumbo.

But she professed a new resolve–a new desire, even–and so we went. She started with the small one, which is still a roller coaster, so . . . win. From there we went directly to Superman Ultimate Flight, which is as coaster as coaster gets, and then to the newest one with the longest line, a 25 second pin-your-ears-back dare to the universe called Max Force. Done.

After lunch we conquered the old wooden classic, American Eagle. Okay, so now Daughter rides roller coasters. It’s a thing she does.


Because just a few hours later she fell apart at the front of the line for a roller coaster far less challenging than the three she’d already completed. I had to step out of line with her and wait for her friend to ride alone.

After that she would only entertain rides she’d already conquered.

But conquer them she did.



Walking to the train early on Sunday morning I’m filled with dread about the work I’m supposed to do to lead worship. I don’t feel prepared, mentally or spiritually. Sunday morning breaks after a Saturday filled with family commitments that offered no time for quiet contemplation of my Lord’s Day responsibilities. They are prepared, waiting for me in my office. But my head’s not there, and the train is arriving.

I don’t start to feel prepared until the first words of the Call to Worship are out of my mouth. Then the occasion takes over and a force more reliable than my diligence moves through the space. I remember again, once the rhythm of worship is moving, how little of what happens here depends upon the leaders’ mental or emotional state.



Today is the deadline for the largest assignment yet in my Doctor of Ministry program, a 20 page paper. I haven’t turned in something like this in 15 years. I’m remembering now what student life taught me so well: done is better than perfect.


Parenting Strategy

Two parenting strategies:

  1. Live your life
  2. Live your kid’s life

Live your life. Do your work, pursue your interests, hang out with your friends. This models adulthood for your kid and teaches them that they’re not the center of your life.

Live your kid’s life. Commit yourself to her schoolwork and activities, her friends, her general health and well-being. This lavishes her with love and attention and helps her grow in the confidence that she is worth it.

They’re both irresponsible on their own though. One leads to neglect and the other to co-dependence.

It feels like most of the work of parenting is discerning when to focus on the first and when the second. Then, having chosen, learning to do each well.


Church Teens Shouldn’t Use Weed

Marijuana usage among youth group students is a thing and has been for a long time, yet in my 11 years of full-time youth ministry I have addressed it directly with youth exactly one time. Cultural attitudes and laws are changing though, and the need for tools to address the subject at church feels urgent (I first wrote about this five years ago).

The pot talk I’m forming in my head has four foci: health, the law, social justice, and discipleship (and, yes, the first three all bear on the fourth).

Marijuana is not good for teenagers. Full stop. The CDC says so unambiguously. The cognitive and social risks are high, even when the quality of the product can be trusted (which it often can’t).

Though many states have legalized marijuana (including the one I live in), it is still illegal for minors.

And yet the legal consequences for teens breaking marijuana law can most certainly be assumed to be applied unequally. To put it bluntly: white teens are at less risk of serious criminal consequences. The Colorado Department of Public Safety said as much in 2016. Enforcement is unjust.

Finally, recreational use of substances that harm teen’s health, violate the law, and perpetuate injustice shouldn’t be winked at in youth ministry. Marijuana does not aid discipleship and faith formation in teenagers.

If you have tools for addressing this subject in a church context, please share them.



Why should the first week of youth group feel more important than any other? We know how this works by now: several more students than last year’s average will be in attendance because we’ve made a “kickoff” out of it, but by October the attendance will resemble the norm we have grown accustomed to.

This. Is. Fine.

Healthy ministry is not served by special events that inflate participation. So can these circled calendar dates amplify time instead of attendance? Can Kickoff Sunday be a focused moment for leaders and students to celebrate God’s guidance of our community, past, present, and future? Can it be an occasion to pray for strength, wisdom, and growth in the coming months? And can this all be for any student who is there, both those we know them well and expect to see regularly this year and those we know not at all and likely may never see again?

Bring on the Kickoff.



I’m going to start building an evaluation into every youth group outline:

What helped you?

What could have been more helpful?

I’ve done this at the end of retreats for awhile now, but it seems valuable to make it part of the week-to-week communities of students we work with too. How else do we level up the work we’re doing with these particular students at this singular time?

Don’t wait for a complaint. Invite it. Evaluate.


Monitoring Google Activity

I monitor Daughter’s Google activity. She’s 11, and it’s not hard to do. She has been told. It’s not creepy.

It’s mostly YouTube searches and views, but those provide a valuable insider view into the things she’s curious about. Sure, there’s plenty of pre-teen stuff like clips from “Dance Moms” and purely practical searches for “how to take better iPhone photos” and “how to cook spinach” (!).

But there is also the odd search for “How to make friends,” “How to win an argument with your mom,” and “How to make your bff jealous.”

Google knows that this 11 year-old is curious about these things, and that’s all the reason you need to monitor and regulate kids’ use of technology platforms. They’re going to be fed content and advertising to exploit that curiosity, and they won’t even be aware of it.

I know about this curiosity now too, though, but I most certainly wouldn’t know about it if Google didn’t keep this record and allow users to review it. And what do I do with it? I ponder it. I add it to my very thin collection of things I know my kid is thinking about. I allow it to inform my sense of the person she is becoming.



Gossip fouls the water supply. The guileless complaint I register to a neighbor or coworker about another neighbor or coworker alters the water we’re all drinking from, even if nobody else ever hears it. My damaged ego or ill will is a toxin, and, as with all toxins, it needs a safe disposal mechanism: a journal, a confidant completely outside the community, a therapist (here it’s worth warning against allowing yourself to be someone else’s gossip disposal mechanism; if you have any stake in the person they’re muttering against, best to shut it down).

Reconciliation starts with prevention.


Left Out

The groups of people that made you feel left out when you were young don’t have the power to do that to you as an adult. Adulthood means taking responsibility for your own experience and choosing the terms of your participation in causes and groups. When you get that “left out” feeling, it’s worth asking if its genesis is truly external–a group of people and their behavior toward you–or if it isn’t internal, a holdover from adolescence that you’ve outgrown.

Maturity means enlisting people in our causes and our communities more and seeking to be accepted into others’ less.