Friday, July 6, 2012

Lessons from "Elvira"

 There is a website out there dedicated to preserving misheard lyrics.  Its name ( comes from the most infamous misheard lyric of all-time.  “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” has unfortunately been translated by many as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”  I’m sorry, but that is not correct. 

One of these lyrics came up just the other day in school, while listening to “Elvira” (“oom-bop-a-mow-mow“) by the Oak Ridge Boys.   One boy heard “He’ll Fire Up,” and thought the Oak Ridge Boys were talking about the ignition of a truck.  Another thought they were saying “Hell Fire Up,” in reference to the devil turning up the thermostat…as if it weren’t already hot enough.

Both are common misinterpretations.  Both boys thought they were right.  But perception was not reality.  One goal of Whetstone Boys Ranch & Boarding School is to help our boys to see the difference between what they think is real (in regard to drugs, sex, guilt, pain, etc.) and what God has revealed to be true.
My dad is fond of saying, “Give directions so that you cannot be misunderstood.”  Too much unnecessary trouble in life is caused by people not understanding each other.  Fathers and sons, presidents and parliaments, customers and tech support.

Please pray that God will give us the wisdom and skill to communicate clearly, and that he will give our boys the humility to listen closely.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


We start each day at Whetstone Boys Ranch & Boarding School, by logging the number of hours we have spent working on three things:  health and fitness, agriculture and wood-working.   Because our program is residential, we can budget every hour to maximize academic learning and personal growth; keeping a log helps us to account and give credit for all the boys’ hard work.

One thing that we routinely log, in regard to agriculture, is time spent cultivating the ranch garden.  We are blessed at Whetstone to have a number of talented volunteers who mentor the boys on a weekly basis – in the kitchen, in the pasture and in the garden.  Dr. Coats is our garden guru, and he has spent huge chunks of time getting our garden in shape.  The boys often records bits of wisdom he shares about successful techniques, and one technique that can’t be ignored is cultivation.

Cultivating can be a frustrating process.  It doesn’t always seem totally necessary.  It’s easy to put off.  It’s hard, blistering, back-breaking work.  And you don’t see any immediate result from your labor.
You just have to trust that the time you invest in working the ground around your plants will yield fruit, or vegetables…or in our case, men.

We do a lot of things around here to cultivate the garden of the soul.  We feed the mind with lively discussion about God’s existence and the reliability of the Bible.  We assign books, require study, administer tests and evaluate progress.  We develop relationships through ping-pong marathons, family nights, thrift store adventures, swimming excursions and never-ending ranch work.

And always we pray, remembering that all of our hard work is just preparing the soil.  On our very best day, this is the very best we can do.  God’s love makes things grow.

(BTW:  Our garden looks great!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorial Day

I think it might be cool to post a bit of the boys’ writing at the ranch each week.  It will be encouraging for all involved.  A real win-win.

Many of you already know that I introduce music to the boys through my extensive and ever-expanding record (as in actual vinyl) collection.  Our therapeutic boarding school day includes a 15 minute lecture each day after lunch, during which the boys take notes in preparation for a weekly test over song titles, genres, societal influences and like.  Twice a week, I give them a topic that is loosely related to the artist of the day, and they write 100-150 words in response.   On Memorial Day, we listened to The Mamas and the Papas whose sunshine pop, combined with the holiday’s setting, made me think of “Gratitude” as a topic.

Here is a sample of what the boys produced in their journals, with their Pilot V-Ball Extra Fine pens which were donated by a former student.  (Thanks Matt!)

I am thankful I get to have a second chance to start over clean and fresh. Most people don’t get this chance.
I am thankful that I am surrounded with people that care about me and hope for the best for me and try to help me in all of my weak areas.
Seeing the woods, hearing, having all my joints, 45’s, my pilot v-ball extra fine, flute lessons with Mrs. Maxwell, sour patch kids, reading music, flower tea, water.
I am thankful for food, fishing, hunting, vehicles, clothes, people, kids, water, soft drinks, Colton’s, Chinese food, coffee, basketball, women, motorized toys, the ability to learn, nice weather, color, God, ping-pong, pool, movies, music, swimming, hiking, emotions, love, strength, laughter, showers, freedom, pens, pencils, those who fight for our country, boots, horses, jelly beans, English toffee. 

See.  Don’t you feel better already?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Be Specific

How many New Year’s resolutions have already gone up in smoke…or down in donut grease? 
I spoke of goal-setting last week, but we all know that the hard part is carrying through.   It’s not how you start the race, but how you finish that counts – a lesson we try to teach everyday at Whetstone Boys Ranch…with words if necessary. 

So let’s just say your goal is to be less rushed, to heal what John Ortberg calls, your “hurry-sickness.”   (Mind you, I’m just picking a random goal…not one that has been on my list of New Year’s resolutions since I was five.)  

Now, what are you going to do about it?  

For the last 15 years, I have had my students submit their goals for a class grade.  I find this to be a useful exercise for them, and an entertaining one for me.  

I’ve had some memorable ones over the years:

·         Become a benevolent dictator of a small island country
·         Live to cash my first Social Security Check
·         Become a master snow-boarder (in Lexington, KY!)
·         Successfully complete a New York Times Crossword on a Saturday
·         Overcome my fear of rolley-slidey things
·         Get into fewer stupid fights with my dear mother
·         Start collecting vinyl records
·         Don’t sweat the small stuff
·         Break my addiction to over-the-counter nasal decongestant
·         Visit every country in the world 

What I like about most of these goals is that they are unique and specific.  Most of them are measurable to some extent.  Instead of “travel more,” it’s visit every country in the world.  And while this may be impractical, expensive and extremely dangerous, you know if you have achieved it or not.  (Note:  A better goal might be “Visit a country on every continent by the time I am 40.”  Video games don’t count.)

In any case, making a goal that goes beyond the generic “get healthier” or “get richer” or “get smarter” is more likely to become a reality.

And to be specific, Whetstone is in the reality business.  

Thursday, January 5, 2012


We all need goals in life.  Physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social…pick a category.  Pick’em all.  There is no lack of areas where we can improve.  Our imperfection knows no bounds. 

At Whetstone, we have a white board to keep track of certain “Feats of Strength,” like maximum weight lifted, highest free throw percentage, fastest two-mile run.   This was my brother Irving’s idea.  He’s known about Whetstone’s sharpening concept from the time we were little, and my dad offered us 50 bucks in exchange for our New Year’s Resolutions.  He required 3 long term and 3 short term goals from each of his children, recorded neatly on a 3x5 card along with a few steps that would aid us in accomplishing them.  

My dad is a prolific goal-setter.  Before the crack of dawn each morning (“daylight in the swamps,” he calls it) he’s up making lists – long lists in his unique curly font, that detail his goals for the day, week, and often year.  I have fond memories of finding him at his desk in the morning, felt tip pen in one hand and coffee in the other, hovered over his yellow legal pad.  When I return home for holidays, I sometimes find these lists lying around the house: 

1.       Dawn Donuts
2.       Take truck to Dump
3.       Bible Study @ Franklin Road
4.       14 Mile and Telegraph
5.       Flea Market  @ Noon
6.       Call my daughter
7.       Empty Mom’s side the garage
8.        “Wet ducks never fly at night”
9.       Taxes
10.   Deposit checks 

I don’t always know what these things mean, but I know my dad well enough to know he has it all worked out in his head.  

When working with at-risk boys, it can be a real challenge to help them set meaningful goals that aren’t too high or too low, too short or too long.  We all need to be challenged without feeling defeated.   We all need stepping stones and stopping points.  We must aim for perfection, while being content with the fact that we’ll never reach it.  

But as someone once said:  “If you aim at nothing, you’ll most likely achieve it.”  

The record at Whetstone for a 2-mile run is 14:59.  It was set by a very ambitious young man, who has very high standards for himself.   Maybe too high.  Success in life is determined by our ability to know what we can and can’t do – and by remembering that only God working in us, makes anything possible.   For if he were to withdraw his breath, Job writes, we’d all perish. 

Please pray that Whetstone will have the wisdom to know if 14:59 is good enough. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


 There’s nothing quite like having the right tool for the job.  Hours, days and even weeks can be shaved off the estimated time of completion.  Headaches, injuries, and a thousand little frustrations can be eliminated by making a quick trip to the hardware store and investing a few bucks.

One such tool is pictured above.  This is what I call a fence tightener-thingy.  It has an official name, but it would hardly be more descriptive than mine.  To sum up, one begins by securing the loose end of the barbed wire to a stationary point, like a tree or a t-post driven into the ground. One then inserts a portion of the wire in the left grip and clamps down.  The same is done to a second portion, about 2 feet to the right.  Next, one ratchets the device inwards, pulling tight the entire wire to the left and right of tool, and creating slack in the middle.  Once the wire it tight, the desired end is nailed down, and the tool can then be safely removed.

Whetstone Boys Ranch hopes to show boys the importance of acquiring the right tool, and the importance of rightly using it.  And we’re not just talking about power tools.  We’re talking about anger management, and meditation, and Bible-study, and regular exercise and eating right, and getting a good night’s sleep.  Tools that help us to be better at being ourselves – the unique type of person God designed us to be.

Ephesians 4:11-13 says that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Whetstone Boys Ranch and Boarding School is in the equipping business.  We are in the business of assisting the transformation of boys from being tools of the sinful forces that seek to twist, misshape and destroy, to using tools for the betterment of their selves, their families and their future as God’s servants. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


 “Will” is an important word at Whetstone.  Brandon and Laura’s 2 year old son is named Will.  We have a beautiful chestnut brown horse named Will. (Interestingly, he was given that name years before he was generously donated to us.)  Will is a helping verb that aids in forming, among other things, the future perfect tense – a concept that we will be working hard to understand on Monday morning at Whetstone Academy.

More to my point, human will is central to any change that occurs on our ranch or in our boarding school.  We are not behaviorists.  We do not believe that our control of a boy’s environment makes him change.  We’re just not that smart.

But wait, I can hear you say, isn’t that the whole idea behind Whetstone Boys Ranch?  Create an atmosphere filled with unconditional love, positive role models, academic guidance, meaningful labor …and poof! a rebellious boy turns into a responsible man!

Not exactly.

Sure, we believe that environment matters.  We think horses and chickens and cows help boys learn gentleness and patience.  We think exposure to God’s word can encourage life change.  We are confident that our attention to detail on the outside can make difference on the inside.

But when push comes to shove, a boy’s will to change matters more.  And whatever you call us – boys ranch, boarding school, group home, residential treatment center – we will never be able to make any of our boys give their hearts to God.  Ours is a spiritual battle that must be fought with spiritual weapons.

And so this morning, when we received the fantastically generous donation of a round pen for training our horses – or I could say for training our Will – I was reminded of both the similarities and differences between training horses and training boys.

Both need limits.  Both need love.  But only one is capable of being forced into submission.

The other, in the future perfect tense, will have been transformed only when he accepts God’s grace, and understands that God’s limits to our behavior demonstrate his love.

Only then, will God’s will be our boys’ will too.