Hitting the Curve



The ability to roll with the punches that life throws at you is an undervalued skill. When trying to undertake some venture there will ALWAYS be curveballs. I think of the movie ‘Major League’ and slugger Pedro Cerrano. He could crush the fastball, but whiffed at hitting the curveball.

For many of us we are able to hit the fastball well, the expected things that come up, the things we have planned for. What sets people apart is the ability to hit the curveball, to adapt and crush it even when the our perfect plans seem to fall apart.

I have experienced so many curveballs in my life, from the day to day to major life shifting ones. I don’t hit them all, but I have come up with a “go-to” strategy when something does come up.


   Breathing is a huge thing for me. It helps me to get rid of any extra emotions. Those pent up frustrations, worries or anxieties that can hit like a 250lb middle linebacker. Simply breathing helps me to refocus my energies into what I can control.

The Questions

   After I have refocused I go through a series of questions. These questions help me to bridge between my feelings and the next step. They are something like this:


What can I control?

Why does this change the plan?

Why am I______ (frustrated, anxious, disappointed, etc.)?

(Then, I take a moment to reflect on this quote from the wise man, Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan, ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”)

What is the biggest win I can still accomplish?

What do I need to do to accomplish it?


New Game Plan

    Then I begin to piece together the fragments of my former plan, assess what resources I still got and look for a new game plan that accomplishes the most possible outcome. I freak out sometimes, and I don’t always get it right. You won’t either. Learn from the past mistakes to help you plan for the future. Be flexible, learn to adapt on the fly and roll with the punches. Soon, you’ll hit the curveball.




Community is vital for our live to thrive. We need people to walk through life with, laugh with, cry with and challenge us to be the best version of ourselves. It can be messy and there can be tough conversations. Yet, through the highs and lows of community we can firmly say, “worth it.”

I get excited for opportunities to spend time with people who have similar life trajectories, values and passions. I also love spending time with those that vary from my own, but there is something wholly unique about dreaming and planning with people who are on the same page as you are. 

For me, community happens at the Orange Conference.  I get to spend time with people who make me laugh, grow and scheme about how to take over the world. Orange offers a place for people who value young people, parents, and entire communities to come together in community. 

Every year, I mark this conference as my go too event. I take off work, hustle rides, and do whatever it takes to get me a seat there. It is at Orange that I met a group of people who understand the value of relationships, who wanted to champion for the lives of young people and who strive to leave the neighborhoods they are a part of better for having been there. It is where I felt that I belonged and could add into the conversation that I have aligned my life around. 

There are plenty of opportunities to find community. There are meets up with Orange Leaders to help think through curriculum and strategy, games to play, amazing coffee to drink, and Chick-fil-a lines to wait through (seriously, all worth it). Follow people on social media and arrange a hang. I would love to hang out!

Come to Orange Conference this year, lets laugh and dream together. You were made for this, lets add your voice to community that is changing the world. 




I used to teach middle school. Really, the only reason I am still not a teacher is that whole teaching part, I simply loved spending time, talking and influencing the students. They would always come to me with problems they were facing. Even the petty relationship drama at middle school feels like mountains to kids. I loved laughing with them and giving them “Sullivan’s 3 rules to success” (there are only 2 for boys, but 3 for girls, but we’ll save that for later). The kids that would give the other teachers a hard time, or get kicked out, never were an issue for me. I honestly don’t have a particular reason why that is, but I would just try to have fun with the kids, laugh with them instead of yell and I loved them because they were worthy of it.

There was this one kid; he was constantly getting into trouble with this one particular teacher. It was always, and I do means always, related to girls. This shouldn’t be a shock to people, he was thirteen/fourteen at the time.  He would get in trouble for talking with them when he shouldn’t or have some sort of relationship drama. Nevertheless, he was in trouble.

He was on my football team which added this sense of responsibility for him. He also had this smile that lit up the room when he walked in and just made you want to laugh, probably why he was always in trouble with girls. He got in trouble this one day, and it seemed like it was the tenth time that week.  The teacher pulled me aside and said something that would forever change my life.

She pulls me aside and says, “when will you just give up on him?”

Let that sink in for a minute, “when will you just give up on him?”

In that moment, if I am honest, I looked at her with these crazy and dumbfounded eyes. That one question brought up so much emotion in me that I remembered I needed to breathe so that I could give an answer and not just murder her with my stare.


I looked her right in the eyes, and lowered my voice and said, “Never. I will never give up on him.”

And in that moment, something shifted inside of me.

I realized that not all people view youth the way I do. That I needed to be as persistent and stubborn in my belief in all youth and that this truth was worth living for:

That all youth are worthy of being loved, are capable of great things, and under no circumstance should I simply, give up on them.

I am grateful for that one teacher, and for that one student who simply couldn’t stop talking to girls. I am grateful because that experience helped to make me who I am today, to discover one of my core values and launch me into the world with a sense of purpose.

A little R&R




I just got back from vacation in Mexico the other day and it was awesome.

Of course, things didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped, but we traded up our snowy, frigid, weather for sunshine and beaches.

The rest was great. I had just finished up an intense season of life, finishing graduate school, moving, some job changes and Mexico was at the finish line.

Rest is vital for working with youth. There is emotional burn out, frustrations with youth, families, systems and one can get tired very quickly.

For this vacation, my goal was a simple one, chill out. I crushed it. I read some great books, got refreshed,  grew closer to my wife and had some adventures.

Heading to Mexico may be a stretch for you right now, but finding rest isn’t. You might just have to fight for it.

Talking with my friend yesterday, we started mentioning these benchmark tasks we do to stay refreshed.  The benchmark tasks are something you do to fill up your bucket, find rest, get refreshed and find some energy to keep moving forward. The timeline for these tasks can vary, but we like to have them be daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly.

What is something you need to do everyday that will allow you to be happier, do more meaningful work and find your passion?

In the next three months, what is something you can do just for yourself?

How do you get refreshed? What some things you have learned about yourself that allow you to get re-energized to jump back into the lives of youth better? What fills your bucket to be able to help others fill their own?

Maybe, for the first time in a long while, you can take a moment, a make a list of things to do today and this week to fill your own bucket back up and find some R&R.

More Than Just a Hangout




Meeting up with a youth for the first time can be somewhat intimidating. You want them to be part of your group,  hope they like you and you’re trying to make a great impression.  Seriously, sometime I feel more pressure than I did when I first met my wife. Maybe you are meeting with them because their parents wanted you to meet them first, or they have been around group but haven’t really connected with anyone and you want to help. Whatever the reason, knowing what to say and what to do in those conversations can make a lasting impression.

Make a Connection

     By making a connection to the life of a youth you show that you are interested in them and care. This may take asking questions about what they like to do, favorite activity, future goals. Start sharing some of yours too; it is not an interview, but a conversation together. Remember to have fun and laugh. Some of the first questions that I ask may seem silly but they help to ease tension and break the ice. Ask them about school, who there best friend is (sometimes it is easier to talk about other people than it is to talk about ourselves), what is there favorite type of movie, or what they are currently binge watching on Netflix.

Do Something Together

    Don’t just have this conversation sitting at the kitchen table or in your office. Go out and do something together. Go hiking, out to lunch, grab a coffee, or even play catch with a football. We can create barriers when we sit across from someone, barriers of authority and division. Yet, when we do something alongside one another, barriers begin to fall and genuine relationships begin to form.

Invite Them to What is Next

    After you meet with the youth, exchange numbers with them and invite them to the next event. Attend the event with them, have them sit with you and show some excitement that they are there. After the first meet up, text in a few days and just see how they are doing. Follow up with any questions they asked or any part of the conversation that was left opened. You are trying to build a relationship that will allow you to help them grow in faith and in life. Don’t just hang out with them once and bail, but be consistent with your time and presence in their lives.





As we wrap up the basic youth needs, look for ways that they are all connected. The last three of the basic youth needs are products of the first five. They may be able to stand alone, but when they are in context of other basic youth needs they can flourish. Here are the last three:

  • Discuss conflicting values and discover their own values
  • Feel pride of competence and mastery
  • Expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible

If youth feel a sense of safety and belonging in a group…

…then, they are able to discuss conflicting values and discover their own.

If youth are able to contribute meaningfully to the world around them…

  …then, they can feel pride of competence and mastery.

If youth are able to develop significant relationships, gain control of their lives, feel safety and security and be part of a group…

…then, they can expand their capacity to enjoy life and find success.

These basic youth needs are not a tiered to-do list. They are connected and feed off of one another. Look for the connections and patterns between them all and you find that when you can group a few of them together you will have most influence in the life of a youth. How can you create safe spaces among groups for youth to discuss personal values? What type of activities can you set up for youth to give back to the community and contribute meaningfully? How can you walk with youth in such a way that they are able to find success and joy in life? As a caring adult how can you call out the essence of youth that you work with all the time and be a champion for theme?

Think about the events and moments that you have seen great connections between youth and the adults who work with them. I am sure they met many of the basic needs of youth, most likely not on purpose.

Some of these are no brainers for people who work with youth. Yet, when we can create strategies to foster the development of these basic needs we can create better programs, include more youth, influence more families, develop deeper relationships and love people better.

Just One.



It only takes one caring adult to change everything.

One caring adult can impact a youth in such a positive way that it changes the trajectory of their lives.

In social work circles there is a common test to understand the impact of trauma on a young person’s life. It is called ACEs, adverse childhood experiences. They say two is a lot. I have 10, but the story doesn’t end here.

There is also a measure of the resiliency that a youth has. If the youth has a higher resiliency score they lessen the negative impacts that trauma causes on youth.  I have all of the resiliency measures. See, resiliency beats trauma every time.

What is awesome is most of the measures of resiliency are something one caring adult can give to a youth, or help them to access. They are things like showing value in school, having someone to talk about how you feel, having someone know what makes you happy or sad, telling them what they are good at and someone for youth to inspire to be like. You can do all of that for a youth.

Think back, who was that one adult for you? Was it a coach or a teacher? Or was it the parents of one of your best friends? Maybe it changed over the years. You can give back to youth right now in the same way.

It is one of the basic youth needs, to simply have a significant quality relationship with just one adult. Josh Shipp, and our friends at Orange, get this. Leverage everything you have as an adult to impact the life of just one young person. There is power in it.

It can change everything.

You can change everything.

Brains behind the Fun

#misfits, adolescent, students, Uncategorized



Orange Conference is coming!

Seriously, I look forward to this all year.  Orange definitely knows how to throw a party. There is great music, lots of fun, and ton of wisdom thrown at you.

That’s what I love about Orange. They’re smart and know what they’re talking about.

As someone who has been to countless training’s by leading experts in fields of youth and child development, education, psychology and sociology, Orange blows me away with their information. The “It’s Just a Phase” materials are an awesome resource that blends so many areas of knowledge into one place. I often find myself in a training at some other conference and I can say “I know that already.” The reason I can is because Orange has been looking at best practices and how to integrate those into their resources for years.

They are great people that want to partner with you to see kids come to know Jesus and to see your ministry flourish.  Orange is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be the church to our neighbors and to one another. The best speakers assemble at Orange conference to inspire and inform us all in the best way to walk through life with our youth. They want to see us be in the fight with them.

And it’s not too late. If you’ve never been to Orange Conference make it a priority for 2018. If you have, who can you bring with you to share the experience with? Here’s a secret you can save $70 on the conference if you sign up by December 14th.

What are you waiting for? Go! You’ll be able to take your ministry to the next level with the wisdom that gets shared at Orange Conference.


#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, purpose, students, Uncategorized


Sometimes youth simply need space to figure things out on their own. Come on, this one shouldn’t be a surprise to you. Think back to when you were a teenager. No matter how many times someone told you not to do something or warned you about the “severe consequences” of this or that, chances are you still did it.

One of the basic needs for youth is to “experiment to discover self, gain independence and to gain control over one’s life.” In other words, youth need space to try to figure out who they are.

This can be very difficult for some people, especially parents. Hopefully, a trust has been formed through giving youth the other basic needs that you can put some slack out on the reigns.  Think about it for a moment, you’ve helped give you safety and structure, given them a place to belong and helped them develop self-worth; they should be getting a great glimpse of their identity.

Youth will try to test that out. This is the experiment phase as adults we dread for our young people. They can engage in risk-taking behavior, question their faith, question authority and in their journey of self-discovery have the potential to miss the mark completely.

It takes caring adults to walk with youth in these moments. Adults who will act as waypoints when youth lose their way; to be a lighthouse calling the ships back from sea.

I love the stories I’ve heard recently about parents creating codes with their kids so the kids can have a way out of a tough situation. The teen will text their parents, older siblings, or even you, the code word and in response they would call the teen saying that they are coming to get them it is an emergency, or some other excuse. See, youth often know that they may not want to be in a situation, they need that independence to make that choice themselves, and sometimes they just need an escape plan. This plan works great because the teen has an escape but feels safe because the parents establish trust enough not to ask the teen questions and punish them. What steps can you take to help the youth around you get a sense of independence?

Hang tough as the youth who you work with are on this journey of self-discovery. Call out the greatness you see in them. Walk with them in the messes they make and help them figure out how to clean it up best. This is how teens learn to handle all the stress, poor decisions and chaos that life can throw at them. It is scary, but love them and pray like crazy.

Do Something

#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, Student Ministry, students, Uncategorized



When I talk with youth workers about how to engage youth I talk about the BIG 3. These are three questions that youth wrestle with:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where do I belong?
  3. What am I to do?

The first question deals with identity; the second, community and the third question deals with purpose.

A basic youth need is to develop self-worth through meaningful contribution.

For youth workers that means to help youth find their voice, find their passion and get involved. Youth should find their purpose and figure out how to use that purpose in a way that is bigger than themselves.

This contribution often looks different for each youth. It is unique because of who the youth is and where they feel they want to get involved. Maybe it is a local youth council, volunteering at church or at a community center,  or being part of school activities.

Youth simply need to know that they can contribute something to the world. That who they are, and the things they can do, matters to the world around them.

Not sure how to get the ball rolling in helping youth get plugged in somewhere? Ask them some good questions, what they like to do, what are some of their talents and passions? For instance, if a young man loves basketball try to see if he could volunteer to coach young kids.

You are a great resource for youth because you are able to see some of these connections better than them and have your own social network to tap into to get them involved. As you walk with youth help them to leave a mark on the community they are a part of.