Category Archives: Adolescence

Chalking it up for Worship

A few weeks before school was out, we had our annual outdoor chapel. We added chalkart as a worship activity and our school sidewalks were completely transformed with scriptures, drawings and words of hope. I was so moved by the outpouring of our students’ hearts, I continue to go back and reflect on their artistry. Here’s a short slide show with a sampling of our first ChalkART experience with a little Big Blue Sky by Bebo Norman in the background.

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Book Review: The Orphaned Generation

I recently had the opportunity to review a new book.  I highly recommend it for parents, youthworkers, church leaders—just about anyone who has or will have an adolescent in their lives.  A simple, but powerful read.  – The Orphaned Generation

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Back from a long journey away

A few weeks ago, I stepped back onto a familiar road.  I parked my car on a  Thursday morning and walked across a parking lot, up a walkway and through the doors of Metro Christian Academy in Tulsa, OK.  For the next five hours, I met faculty and staff, started setting up my office and enjoyed watching students pass in the hallway each time the bell rang.  Working in a school might be a very new geographical location  for me to be in ministry to kids, but still the world of students has remained sweetly familiar terrain.

With twenty-some days down now as Metro’s Spiritual Life Director, I’m already realizing notable changes that have occurred in my own life  in the four years I’ve been away from daily vocational ministry:

  • family picI’m a little older.   No news there!  The last time I was up in front of  students and families every week, I had a kindergartner and was 7 months pregnant.  Now that I’m knocking on the door of age 40, I have a 5th grader and a preschooler.   These few years have given me greater appreciation for the daily joys and struggles of parenting.
  • I understand myself a little more.  It sounds a bit funny, but I really do think God used the last few years to help me grow up a little more in my identity.  There were so many things I did not recognize about myself until I stepped back from ministry for a while—1) I have some strong ADD traits that truly shape how I function in life and relationships, 2) I have a natural passion to help people lead well and 3) I find tremendous clarity and soul-centering in putting my words to paper.
  • I’m a little healthier.  Two years ago I got a reality check of arm pains during my runs, pretty high blood pressure and cholesterol levels that quickly reminded me to take better care of myself and not take my health for granted.
  • I’ve climbed two not so little mountains.  At a point in my life standing at the keyhole of long's peakwhen I had plenty of fears about life changes and future possibilities, Gary and I started hiking on our vacations.  The feeling of standing at the keyhole of Long’s Peak in Colorado surrounded by the tips of the Rockies was the triumph I needed to tackle some emotional mountains that threatened my hope and confidence.  Last year, we drove out into literally the middle of nowhere in Wyoming with literally no one around for what seemed 50 miles and hiked Laramie Peak just before my 20 year high school reunion.  That climb was memorable because it took me to the top of the world that I called home for most of my childhood.

I’ve also reflected on joys that have not only remained constant, but have dug deeper roots into my soul:

  • I still love spending my days with youth.   denise with her girls It doesn’t matter where I am or how much time has passed since I officially worked with students—their stories, their struggles and their spiritual growth is where I’m drawn.  If they are aloof,  I’m patient.  If they don’t trust adults, I work to earn that trust.  If they are exploring their abilities, I want to give them a place to practice and shine.  If they have questions, I want to be a safe person to come and ask.  If they don’t know how much God loves them, I want to make sure they know. 
  • More than ever, I want to live in the legacy that’s been given to me.  So much of my story is rooted in the lives of people like my parents who opened their home for 20 years to foster children with no where to go.  And, it’s rooted in the ministry of people like my youth pastor, Jeff Mugford, who modeled what it looks like to follow Christ in the real world.  I want to continue to be faithful to the good work God began in my life through them and I want to be faithful to how God is urging me to live out that legacy today and tomorrow.
  • I love words spoken, written and sung.  From my son’s well timed one-liners, to my daughter’s wonderful prose, to my own addiction to my Ipod Scrabble game, I cannot get away from the joy of communicating with just the right word.  I want every article I write, every song I sing, and each prayer I lead to guide people to a fresh, new place in their thinking.    As this desire grows stronger, I strive to minimize the moments where I waste my words on futile endeavors like complaining, gossiping or boasting.  Oh, that I could conquer that struggle for good!

So, I feel as if I have just returned from a long journey away—one that I needed to take in order to be ready to travel this road with students and families once again.  I am so grateful for this beautiful wilderness that lies just behind me.  It was not easy, but it was worth it.


Filed under Adolescence, Following Jesus, Leadership, Youth Ministry

They don’t have to be without a home

homeless I read the article below this morning and had a brainstorm:  What if a group of people/churches in Tulsa who really love teens and young adults could come together to provide long term training, mentoring and shelter to homeless youth in Tulsa?  I know there are some great organizations involved already, so this group would be a partner to places like Youth Services of Tulsa and kids aging out of the DHS Foster Care program.  Hmmm, it’s certainly got me thinking!  Check out the article and stats below and let me know if you’ve got some great idea, info or passion you’d like to offer to the brainstorm!

Tulsa drop-in center helps homeless youth get back on feet    story by Mike Averill of Tulsa World

Amber Dueberry was a student at Tulsa Community College and living with her mother until about three months ago.

She and her mom don’t see eye to eye, so she decided to move out, she said. The problem was that she really didn’t have anywhere else to go.

She stayed with friends and couch-surfed for a while. Then, about a month ago, her circle of couches diminished until finally she was homeless, living in a shelter …

Read more from this Tulsa World article at


Teenage homelessness

  • According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, researchers estimate that 5 to 7.7% of youth experience at least one episode of homelessness each year. Applying those percentages to the number of teenagers in Tulsa County
  • Based on national research, 2,837- 4,369 teenagers in Tulsa County experience homelessness each year
  • The Tulsa Police Department received 1,022 reports of runaway youth during 2009
  • Tulsa Public Schools reports 2,632 homeless youth are attending the district’s schools
  • 150-200 youth age out of foster care in Tulsa County each year, according to the local Child Welfare unit.
  • Only 30% of youth exiting foster care in Oklahoma have a high school diploma or GED.

Read more  stats from this Tulsa World article at

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Links to think about…


Next week I’ll be in one of my favorite environments once again—surrounded by students from middle school and high school.  As I return to the field work of youth ministry, I keep stumbling across articles that remind me there are kids in places where adults are not going to help them.

All adolescents need many caring adults to step on the road of maturity with them to offer guidance, help and encouragement.  But, sadly, there are kids who never benefit from even one adult mentor or guide all through adolescence.  I want to make room in my life to help an adolescent who has no one.

As you read any or all of these links, maybe you’ll be asking yourself the same question I’m asking myself:  “God, where are the kids that need me to go to them?”

Foster Kids Gain From Mentoring, Relationship Skills – Business Week

Emergency Department Visits for Drug Related Suicide Attempts by Adolescents – The DAWN Report

Groups Promote Juvenile Justice –

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Lil G Teaches Me

Last week, my family headed to New Life Ranch for a 3 day family camp.  NLR has a terrific high ropes section built on a small island surrounded by a creek.  My son Garrison is not quite four and he was as ready as any of us for a high ropes adventure on the The Screamer!  Here’s the video footage:

Now I wasn’t looking for an illustration on life and faith on this particular day, but I could not ignore the beauty of the moment.  It’s what I love about children and adolescents–they consistently remind us to get off the bench of life and take a chance.  Last week, Garrison reminded me that by entering the unknown, I can:

Experience a new perspective.  Garrison seems fine that he is looking down on us from about 3 stories  high!  He’s relaxed as he takes in the view near the top of the screamer pole.  Maybe a preschooler doesn’t quite understand all that’s at risk for him on a ropes element like the screamer, but sometimes I wish I could look through the lens of courage and not find it clouded by worry or prejudice or my fear of the unknown.

Let go of fears holding me back.  Only a second or two after my husband tells Garrison to let go, he lets go!  I’ve seen older kids and adults hesitate to let go because they know once they do, there’s no turning back.  That’s one of the hardest things for me to do–let go of something that makes me feel safe in order to experience something that makes me vulnerable.  I can think of several times in my life when I did not let go, and by being unwilling to let go and take a chance, I missed out on something incredible.

Enjoy an unbelievable ride.  If you can’t tell by the video, Garrison was having a blast!  His smile was as wide as the sky and he layed back in his harness and let the wind blow in his face while the screamer swang from side to side. He could have been panicking and screaming to get down the entire time, but he chose to love this new exhilaration!   Sometimes we can be so consumed with how something is different from what we know, or not what we expected, that we forget to relax, take it all in and enjoy the ride.

Thanks Lil G for teaching me!

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More Research about Extended Adolescence

This is the kind of stuff we talk about in Mile Marker discussions.  For parents, it’s so helpful to see how vastly different the adolescent experience is for their kids in duration and experience.  For youth workers, it helps us understand that ministry to adolescents may not be “over” when they graduate high school—or even when they graduate from college.  They may not need us to plan outlandish, crazy games, or take them to summer camp.  But, they do need adults who are a season or two ahead of them in their lives to look to for guidance, encouragement, mentoring and practical resources (like teaching money management).

Long Road to Adulthood is Growing Even Longer

Baby boomers have long been considered the generation that did not want to grow up, perpetual adolescents even as they become eligible for Social Security. Now, a growing body of research shows that the real Peter Pans are not the boomers, but the generations that have followed. For many, by choice or circumstance, independence no longer begins at 21…read more

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Review of Mile Markers: A Path for Nurturing Adolescent Faith |


Duffy Robbins suggests that incarnational leadership requires us to be more signpost than salesperson, someone walking alongside adolescents helping them find the way rather than feeling the need to “make the sale” by securing another conversion. Denise McKinney provides parents and youth workers with some insight and practical ideas that will help make that purpose a reality…read more

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Sneak Peek @ Real Life Field Guide

  Real Life Field Guide Cover

This is a sneak peek at a FREE mentoring journal for young adults that I helped write and put together.  It is a scriptural and conversational journey through the book of John.  It will be available for download through in June and comes with a Leader Manual to set up a mentoring program for a group of young adults.

One journal entry is below.  Big thanks to Austin Tolin ( for the cover photo and  Gilbert Acevedo III ( for the cover design and layout!

Field Encounter #4


Scripture Guide

John 3:1-9

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

  “How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

John 8:32

“…Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

Everyone has questions, from spiritual giants, to people who have rarely thought about spiritual things. And you’ve probably already noticed that God does not automatically give us an answer to every challenge, confusion or question. But just as Nicodemus found Jesus willing to entertain his questions late into the night, Jesus is willing and able to meet us in our seasons of questioning.

Conversation Guide

· Why do you think Nicodemus sought Jesus out in the middle of the night?

· What does his willingness to become the student instead of the teacher tell us about him?

· What are some of your unanswered questions?

· What are the questions about life that come up often?

· What are the questions about God that you wrestle with?

· How do you respond when you encounter a big life question that does not have an easy answer?

· What circumstances or learning environments in your life complicate your questions even more?

· Where do you think the balance between knowledge and faith is for you?

· How does John 8:32 on the previous page speak to your search for answers?

 Life Guide

Invite some friends to go see or rent a movie that delves into big life and faith questions. Then, go have coffee or ice cream and dialogue about it. Be sure to note how different people approach tough questions and how their responses vary from yours.

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Take Mile Markers for a Spin!

Mile Markers:  A Path for Nurturing Adolescent Faith is the heart and soul of my youth ministry practices and personal ministry lessons from thirteen years of leading the student ministry at Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa, OK.
It’s based on a scriptural roadmap for walking alongside our spiritual and biological children as they travel the long, winding road of adolescence.
If you are a youth worker who wants a more organic approach to leading adolescents on their spiritual journey, this book can help you envision and practice that kind of ministry.
If you are a parent who wants to be more intentional about leading your kids spiritually, this book has helps, reminders and ideas to guide you.
If you know a friend for whom this would be a good read, you can spread the word!
So, I invite you to take a spin with this sample chapter of Mile Markers!  My hope is that you’ll be energized and eager to learn more!

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