X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan)

(As seen on The Today Show, Good Housekeeping, HerViewFromHome, ScaryMommy, The Huffington Post, Mamamia, MomsEveryday, and numerous social and news media outlets. UPDATED – 3/3/2017)

Friends, as most of you know, I get to spend an hour each week with a group of young people going through addiction recovery.  Yes.  Young people.  I’m talking teenagers who are locked away for at least six months as they learn to overcome their addictions.  I’m always humbled and honored to get this time with these beautiful young souls that have been so incredibly assaulted by a world they have yet to understand.  This also comes with the bittersweet knowledge that these kids still have a fighting chance while several of my friends have already had to bury their own children.

Recently I asked these kids a simple question:  “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?”

They all raised their hands.

Every single one of them. Continue reading

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Why You (don’t) Suck

We know that art imitates life.  Life also imitates art.  And somewhere in between, we explore nature’s blueprint as we each try to figure out who—and what—we really are.

Sitting here in my writing sanctuary, I’ve become distracted by movement in the woods just beyond my window.  A woodpecker is making his way up a long, slender birch tree, stopping ever so often for some investigative pecks.  He visits our woods regularly.  I frequently hear his rhythmic knocking, and when I do, I always stop to look for the handsome fellow.  He’s a delight to behold.  Slender, coal-black body.  Fiery red head.  Power and grace that would shame most ballerinas.  I’m mesmerized by his existence.  And I wonder how a bird that can be so beautiful and naturally gifted at locating insects in a tree still can’t retrieve tennis balls like Cleveland and Bruce, our golden retrievers.

Our woodpecker is the worst retriever I’ve ever seen.  In fact (pardon the phrase, but there’s no better way to say it), he flat-out sucks. Continue reading

Make America Grateful Again

I want to share a painting that hangs on the wall where I do most of my work.  When I look up from my desk, this is what I see:

shipwreck

Study the picture for a few minutes.  (Okay, give it ten seconds.  I know—you’re busy.  We all are.)

Now tell me, what happened here?  What’s the story?

Whatever yarn you spin will reveal nothing about the painting, but it will suggest a lot about your life, your place in the world, and the impact you’ll have on others.

Friends, is yours a story of destruction and despair, or one of beauty and adventure?

More importantly, how thankful are you for the story you’re living? Continue reading

Protest Erupts in Huntington, WV (#loverioting)

(This piece was shared by CBS News, among other various news and social media outlets.)

Well, the post-election protests have finally made their way to my hometown of Huntington, WV.

We’re always behind the times, but what took so long?

For you out-of-towners, I know that you’ve heard of our little neck of the woods.  Just yesterday we observed the bitter anniversary of the Marshall University plane crash—everyone seems to know about that.  We recently made national headlines by having nearly thirty drug overdoses in a single four-hour period.  The whole Kim Davis / gay marriage saga played out about an hour from here (sorry, Kentucky, that’s your headline, but we’re close enough that we had to suffer through it).  It also became national news yesterday when two Clay, WV officials (also about an hour from here) were goofy enough to show themselves on social media, one calling our current First Lady an “Ape in heels” and the other applauding the sentiment.

To the outside world, I bet we don’t look like the mecca of hope.  In fact, we get so used to reading our own press that it’s sometimes hard for us to imagine that a ray of light could shine out of our backyard.

However, the first protest has begun. Continue reading

Election Hangover? Give Unto Caesar.

*Author’s note:  I almost didn’t post this today as I feared it might not be appropriate on Veterans’ Day.  However, after attending our town’s parade and ceremony this morning, hearing the bands play our patriotic songs, seeing representatives from every military branch, and paying our respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country with dignity and honor, I realized it was more than appropriate.  Thanks to the sacrifices of these men and women, we live in the greatest country in the world, where we continue to be free to disagree and wrestle our way through some hard discussions.

God Bless America!

parade

 


About a quarter-century ago, I was preparing my first student teaching lesson for a West Virginia history class.  I remember it well.

Often theatrical, I was rehearsing quotes from John Brown, the crazy-eyed, self-proclaimed instrument-of-God abolitionist whose band of ruffians stormed the armory at Harpers Ferry.  Though really not that big of a deal in and of itself, the raid was a spark that helped ignite the powder keg of division that became the American Civil War.

“I am now quite certain,” I quoted Brown in my best gruff, indignant, mountain man voice, “that the crimes of this evil land will never be purged away … [lengthy pause for dramatic effect] … but … with … BLOOOOOOD!”  I poured that final word all over the students who were half-amused, half-terrified. Continue reading

Do You See What I See? Episode 4: Proximity

I’ve lived most of my life with a longing gaze toward a distant horizon, believing in a mystical something-better out there.

joey-cliffThe constant challenge for most folks who grow up around here has always been geography.  In West Virginia, the same hills that protect you from the outside world also tend to cripple your chances of seeing beyond the ridge in front of you.  Most West Virginians remain semi-affectionately imprisoned in their own little hollers from cradle to grave (save the occasional big trip to Myrtle Beach, laughingly referred to as the Redneck Riviera).  A few—our best and brightest—get out as soon as they can, and why wouldn’t they?  If your ticket out of West Virginia gets punched, why would you spend one more second in a state that is ranked among the poorest, most depressed, least educated, most drug-addicted, least healthy, and most miserable places in the entire nation? Continue reading

Do You See What I See? Episode 3: A Hawk’s Perspective

(***Disclaimer:  This is a previously unpublished journal entry that I’ve tweaked after a recent discussion with a friend.  I told her I’d throw it out there.)

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’ve been struggling.  Emotionally.  Psychologically.  Spiritually.  I know it’s not true, but—wow!—I feel alone in this place.  Regrettably, not enough of us are willing to drop our fig leaves and confess that we’re human, that we hurt, and that things are often far from ‘fine’.

I’ve been praying, but right now that’s like stumbling through a mist-shrouded forest.  Within the complex mess of salvaged parts in my soul, I’ve found myself at once yearning for two opposites:  the longing to escape for a while and set out alone, and a desperate aching for human connection, compassion, and soul-support.  Unfortunately, obligations and busyness have kept me from the former; and the latter?  To whom shall I turn?  Everyone I know is either mired in their own battles right now or conspicuously MIA. Continue reading

Slow. No Wake.

slow-no-wake

Feeling worn out and frustrated from daily struggles, I recently hauled my kayak to the lake for some fishing. Fishermen know, the exhilaration of a bass on the end of your line is life-giving in more ways than one. However, on this day it was not to be.

After several hours of paddling and nothing to show for it, I found myself complaining. “Really, God? Not even one fish? How is this good for my heart? This just feels like the rest of my life–lonely, pointless striving and empty frustration!”

With His impeccable timing and oft-misunderstood sense of humor, the reply came in the form of a buoy.

SLOW – NO WAKE

“I didn’t bring you here to fish,” He was saying. “I brought you here to slow down and spend some time with me.”

I’m so thankful I didn’t catch anything that morning. God knew what I needed, and it wasn’t one more thing to handle (even a fish).

Friends, look for the buoys: SLOW – NO WAKE. They are gifts to be treasured.

Do You See What I See? Episode 2: The Pretender

I want you to do something that will feel silly:  Get in front of a mirror, your phone, tablet—whatever—and look at yourself for thirty seconds.  Try it.  Stare into your own face and start counting.

One.  Two.  Three …

It’s harder than it should be, isn’t it?

If you even made it to ten, I now have a question for you:  What did you see?

ll1

Continue reading

Do You See What I See? Episode 1

Said the night wind to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?  Way up in the sky, little lamb, do you see what I see?  A star …”

If you know the song, are you like me, left wondering if the little lamb actually does see the star?  I’m thinking he doesn’t, because he goes on to ask the shepherd boy about what he hears rather than what he sees.Laura NR47

On a recent hike along a ridge, I tried to point out something across the ravine to Laura (my near-sighted wife).  I stood behind her, positioned her head, and pointed my finger to give her a sight-line that Helen Keller could follow.  She still couldn’t see what I wanted to share with her.

How can she NOT see that?!
Continue reading