Young People in Recovery: A Messy Road to a Beautiful Life

by Scott Washburn

ScottWScott Washburn is the Assistant Director of the StepUP Program, a leading Collegiate Recovery program, at Augsburg College where he has worked since 2008. He is also a Psychology Instructor at Augsburg where he teaches courses on addiction and recovery related topics. In addition to being a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, he has a M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is an Ed.D. Candidate with specialty emphases in Educational Leadership and Critical Pedagogy. He has worked in the fields of mental health and chemical health counseling, prevention and treatment for over 25 years.

Beginning to Understand Addiction

Young people who have found their way out of addiction into a life of recovery are living examples of human transformation at its deepest and most profound levels. Many have gone through experiences that are disconcerting if not outright terrifying to themselves and their loved ones alike. They have transformed from being ill-functional, overly self-centered, impulse-driven and developmentally delayed young people to beautifully intelligent, caring, creative and consciously deep human beings in recovery beyond their chronological years. However, the pathway to becoming such is messy. In this article I will summarize some of the dynamics and key markers along this journey as well as what concerned others can do to help facilitate the process.

The Subtle Slide

No one plans to become addicted. But addiction can occur as the unintended consequence to a pathway of choices in combination with inherited vulnerabilities (genetics and family history) as well as environmental influences. Adolescence itself is a challenging time of development in our culture and research shows that the younger a person starts using alcohol/drugs, the more likely they are to develop a diagnosable problem. For example, a SAMHSA (2005) study found that only 2.5 % individuals who started drinking at age 21 or later developed an alcohol use disorder compared to 15 % of those who started between the ages of 12 to 14. In research circles we call that a “statistically significant difference.”

There are several developmental dynamics and challenges which adolescents must navigate that are also greatly impacted when the trajectory towards addiction occurs. In summary, they are as follows: (1) Identity – who am I? (2) Friends – where do I fit or belong? (3) Fun – how can I have fun? And, (4) Functioning – what can I become good at? If a young person begins to journey down the path of recreating with alcohol or drugs, they can set some dynamics in motion that can move quickly beyond their control. First, in terms of the fun factor, if they are using substances as a means of “intoxication” for fun, they can begin to slide towards a loss of other interests and the substances can become the central focus for most if not all of their activities. Furthermore, brain research has shown the adolescent brain to be undergoing significant neurological construction particularly in the areas responsible for controlling impulses and thinking through consequences. These are areas that can be negatively impacted by repeated alcohol or drug use at this stage of development. Second, in terms of friends, a young person heading down this path oftentimes go through significant social changes with distancing themselves from previous friends and associating mostly with newer friends who are also in a lifestyle of alcohol and drug use. Third, in terms of identity, these young people may subtly become more and more preoccupied with their drug use and form their identity around this lifestyle. Evidence can be frequent drawings of marijuana leaves or mushrooms on notebooks as well as clothing displaying these substances. Finally, functioning begins to deteriorate with frequent skipping from school, lower academic performance, loss of interest with previously enjoyed activities, and increased conflicts with parents.

The end result of this subtle slide for many young people is finding themselves in a destructive cycle of repeated alcohol and drug use despite negative and unwanted consequences. This occurs with a progressive deterioration of functioning together with increasing levels of drug use. Oftentimes the cycle can resemble the following graphic:

The “Wake Up” Call to Recovery

Usually some type of defining moment or crisis needs to occur for the young person to find a way to break out of this self-destructive cycle. Somebody or something needs to intervene. Friends, family, or concerned others (i.e. youth minister) need to have an honest and supportive conversation with the young person about their concerns and what they see with the disconcerting changes. This is when having the young person see a chemical health professional for an assessment can also be helpful. Or sometimes the “wake up” call arrives in the form of the police giving a citation for underage drinking or drug possession or the courts ordering them to STS or Probation for drug-related offenses. These are the “appointments with reality” desperately needed. There is nothing like the rush of reality in the form of real consequences to help break through the fog of denial. Then the individual can face their own “moment of truth” and make some decisions about changing their lives.

The Road to Recovery

If a young person takes advantage of the opportunity to enter recovery, quitting using is not much more than the on ramp to the freeway. They face significant but not insurmountable challenges. Recovery is a process of not only abstaining from alcohol and drug use but also improving one’s life, one’s relationships, and fulfilling one’s potentials. Those key developmental processes come into play here as well. First, friendships are huge! Not only do young people need to disengage from their drug-using friends, they need to engage with new friends who will be supportive of their new lifestyle. Most often peers who have also found a path to recovery are the most helpful because of the commonality of experiences. Young peoples’ Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are not hard to find here in the Twin Cities. Second, they need to find new ways to have fun and explore new interests. Third, they need to learn or relearn how to function in school, do homework, and reengage with their families rebuilding those relationships as well. Fourth, they also need to build a new sense of identity as a young person in recovery seeing themselves as so much more than and “addict” but as beautifully intelligent, creative, and caring human beings with incredible potential.

Support along this path is key. Family, friends, and concerned others can all play significant roles in helping young people navigate this new pathway to recovery and discover their gifts, talents, and abilities. Young people in recovery become some of the most striking and fully conscious young people because of their experiences. They have ventured into deep levels of darkness but found their way back through the love, tough love, and the support of others. This is why the stories they have to tell of their recovery are so powerful.

To learn more about Augsburg College’s StepUp Program for students in recovery, visit

Ministry & Mental Health

by Fabien Dubbe


Fabien was adopted from Montego Bay, Jamaica and grew up in New Prague,  Minnesota. He graduated from Augsburg College in May 2015 with a Psychology major and a Youth and Family Ministry minor. He is not working as a Mental Health Practitioner and is a member of Hosanna! Church in Lakeville, MN. In his free time he loves drawing and riding his motorcycle.

Christians often believe they have to do something inside the church in order for it to be ministry. This is not true. There are many forms of ministry beyond the church. For example, I am a Mental Health Practitioner and I can see God working through me in the lives of the boys I work with on a daily basis.

A Mental Health Practitioner is someone who collaborates with and works under a Mental Health Professional (therapist). I incorporate the behavior program the therapist has put in place in order for the child to better handle obstacles in his day to day life such as past trauma, present instability in their homes, or even something as simple as not getting along with siblings. I provide in-home and community based services to individuals. This means driving to the clients home, school, to therapy, or other places in the community. I work with kids who can be taxing, but also very rewarding. I choose to see the glass half full and recognize the potential each and every one of the kids I work with can achieve.

I believe my work as a Mental Health Practitioner is ministry. God empowers me to empower the boys I work with by teaching them tangible tools and strategies they can use in time of need. God helps me do this work through prayer. So many times I have come to a standstill where I have tried everything in the book to calm a kiddo down after being triggered by something and nothing works. The only thing I can do (and truthfully the first thing I should have done) is pray for my client. Prayer is a powerful tool. I have seen prayer help children self-regulate themselves and express in words how they are feeling.

I often find myself leaning on what I learned in both my psychology classes and my youth and family ministry classes when trying to understand what these kids are experiencing. They can be so confused about their faith and the various messages they hear at home, in the community, and through multimedia. This is certainly true for kids with a mental illness. Here is an analogy of their reality, or when their “lid” gets “flipped”. Picture yourself making a fist with your thumb in the middle. Now put your four fingers up straight and you can see your thumb is still in the middle. This is a picture of one’s brain when they no longer can “calm down” or make good decisions because their “lid” or prefrontal cortex (command center a.k.a. making decisions) is no longer intact. This is what is going on when kids are yelling, screaming, biting, throwing things. They are acting on their impulses which is still working (their thumb a.k.a limbic system). Having this knowledge increases my level of compassion for these kids in the same way prayer increases my compassion for them.

I have found the most proficient way to help them settle down and access their prefrontal cortex again is to pray for them and to name how they are feeling with what they are doing. I tell them we have to “name it to tame it”. I have found prayer to be something that helps me “name it”.

Picture a kid screaming “I hate my brother so much!” as he throws a couch cushion across the room. I would do a small prayer in my head for peace and understanding and then say, “Wow! You’re so mad you’re going to throw that cushion across the room!” Praying for him first helps me calm down and invites God into the situation. In turn, naming “Wow! You’re so mad…” shows him I understand what he is feeling. By continuing to name how he is feeling and praying for him I can visibly see him coming back and calming down. Soon instead of “Wow! You’re so mad.” I’m saying, “You’re so agitated you need to get outside and get some fresh air.” Soon he is running to the garage to grab his bike and peddle off and I’m just trying to catch up! In the end I’m saying, “You’re so calm you are peddling nice and slow” as he sits down on his seat and takes a few deep breaths of fresh air while peddling.

One may reach this point without praying but something happens when I incorporate God into my work. He Shows Up! I find myself calming down and able to focus on the child instead of freaking out that he is making the house a mess, taking off outside and disappearing. God opens my eyes and I can visibly see the child calming down, stopping at stop signs, looking both ways, and soon the chaos is no more and I am enjoying a bike ride and praising the child for how good he is at riding his bike.

Without incorporating God into your daily life at work and outside of work things can be chaotic, but with him anything is possible. Soon you are able to see the child through God’s eyes and love him for how wonderfully and beautifully made in God’s image he is. This view of the child works wonders in my field.

On Being a Great Youth Minister

by Kate Verlautz



Kate graduated from Augsburg College’s Youth and Family Ministry program in 2012. She has been serving as the Senior High Youth Director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, MN since January of 2012.



When I first began my youth & family ministry career in 2012, I was determined to be overzealous, people pleasing, early and over prepared for everything I did. While these are mostly admirable qualities for a youth director; I quickly realized are not my true qualities.

I came home from work, drained, exhausted, and barely recognizable because I was trying to be a “Great Youth Director.” Everything I was doing, who I was presenting myself as at work; a well put together young woman, who was confident and knew her role in the church, as someone who could be a positive influence on the lives of youth in her new congregation…it wasn’t an authentic me. Now, there is nothing wrong with those ideals. But they are not even close to who I am at my core, who I am as a real follower of Christ or I’ve actually been called to be to the youth in my community. I acted contrary to who I was when I was with my students. Praise Jesus they saw through my act and were able to accept me even though I wasn’t who they needed. To be blunt, I am not overzealous. I am generally making people more uncomfortable (in a good way) rather than pleasing them, and I am lazy.

Is that crazy?

No. My students want to see my flaws. They want to pray with me. They want me to be real with them, give them my honest opinion and be authentic to who I am as a person. They need “Who I am as a child of God” and who I am as a “youth ministry professional” to be one in the same. It took me until last January to realize what my students really needed was a youth director who was authentic and real. In ministry, like life, the imperfect areas easily consume us. But we find God’s love for us through Christ has proved we are all equal in God’s sight. I think it is safe to assume that Christ is at work in both the outstanding qualities of my ministry as well as in my borderline laziness and preference towards procrastination.

It is impossible to talk about the love and acceptance of Christ if we are unable to accept that being in youth ministry is messy. Pretending to be a strong, confident youth director is not what we have been called to d0. We have been called to be real and authentic. Trusting in Jesus’ unwavering love.

If you want to be a “great youth minister”, then be real. Be authentic.

Faith On This Side of the Grave

by J.D. Mechelke


JD Mechelke is currently pursuing a B.A. in Youth and Family Ministry at Augsburg College (ELCA) in Minneapolis, MN. JD grew up in Stillwater, MN and is currently living in Minneapolis. He is passionate about racial equity and LGBT reconciliation in the Church. Traveling and camping is what he looks forward to most, but also enjoys the early mornings and late nights when he gets to read a favorite poet or novelist. JD is a drifter and a screw up who forgets that God’s grace is sufficient. Thankfully grace isn’t dependent on memory.


The plateau came into view. And the dirt road we were walking on faded into tall grass. A white overcast sky covered the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that morning. We had made it to the top of the hill.

It was easy to find Red Cloud’s grave. Huge, taller than me (but that doesn’t take much). An old white fence surrounded his tombstone. On the base, large capital letters spelt his name. Then above was a wide section that held a sculpted image of his face. Overshadowing was a large stone cross. You could tell it was visited often. Mementos and objects of gratitude were laid all around the grave. When I was walking around nearby I nearly tripped over a wooden cross. Overgrown grass had hidden it.

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I remember standing there, comparing the grave of Red Cloud and the grave of the unmarked, overgrown cross. It was hard not to be moved by the reminder this scene gave to my own mortality. For most of us, there will be nothing the world can remember us by but an unmarked, overgrown cross.

When trying to deal with these questions of mortality and even vocation, I began leaning on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. On July 21, 1944, Dietrich writes to his best friend, Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer tells his friend how he’s realized that the Christian life is less about living for the future and the world beyond graves, and more about living profoundly in the present.

“By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking eriously not our own suffering, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane.”

This suffering “of God in the world,” is the suffering of our neighbors.

Vocation is a daily struggle that youth ministers are called to walk with young people. And for some, mortality becomes a struggle too when death enters life’s experiences. Bonhoeffer’s idea of “this-worldliness” is a useful tool that can be used when walking forward in these struggles with youth. Vocation is integral to this concept:

“One must abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman, a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.”

Part of living a “this-worldly” life is about a vocation not focused on oneself, but on God’s suffering in the world – our neighbors suffering.

God is calling us to live unreservedly in the present, not being anxious about what we will make of ourselves. Bonhoeffer calls this faith. Living a life of “thisworldliness” will probably still lead to an unmarked, overgrown cross. But we were able to take on the suffering of our neighbors, leaving the questions to God.

Remembering what We’ve Forgotten: On Death, Resurrection, Friendship and the Bearded Baby Jesus

by Jeanette Clark

1557514_10201986427483797_4268978526030678362_nJeanette Clark graduated Augsburg College in 2007 with majors in Youth and Family Ministry and Urban Studies and a Spanish minor.  After college, she participated in the Lutheran Volunteer Corp, working for La Conexion, a resource centers for Latinos, in Minneapolis.  She graduated from Lutheran Seminary in 2011, completing her internship in Chelan, Washington.  Currently, and works as a Mission Developer in the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA with Pueblo de Dios (which primarily serves Spanish speaking individuals and their second generation youth).

“Jesus is dead?” It was Palm Sunday when Jordy, a first grader, yelled this at me. As per Lutheran Church tradition, I was telling the Passion Narrative. My congregation, Pueblo de Dios, is a mission development in Sioux Falls, SD. We primarily minister with Spanish-speaking immigrants and their second-generation youth.

I quickly learned most of our youth had never heard about Jesus. Our first Christmas play, we literally taught the story while acting it out. Soon, the children learned baby Jesus is born on Christmas and we love baby Jesus. After Christmas, the children were confused how Jesus seemingly grows from a baby to being a thirty-year-old man in a couple of weeks. In Jordy’s words, “Pastora, why does the baby Jesus now have a beard?” Never before had the time between Christmas and Lent seemed so short. Soon, we were trying to explain Holy Week to a group of kids who had just learned to love baby Jesus.

Therefore, the chaos of Palm Sunday should not have surprised me. I used Resurrection Eggs and a children’s Bible to tell the story. As I began to explain Good Friday, a girl seemed about to cry. Jordy began yelling, “Jesus is dead?” It wasn’t what most people experience on Palm Sunday. I was so flustered I decided to skip ahead and finish the story. We celebrated Easter and the Resurrection a week early that year. Jordy looked relieved.

Daily at Pueblo de Dios, I use my Youth and Family Ministry major. Over the past three years, our youth program grew tremendously from around ten youth involved in our Wednesday night program, LOGOS, to an anticipated fifty youth this fall. As you probably realize, this ministry is chaotic and difficult. Many of our families struggle with language barriers and poverty; this deeply shapes our ministry.

One thing I most powerfully learned the last few years is the importance of partner congregations. We are blessed by individuals from partner congregations who come to serve us, serve with us and be served by us. Without them, our work would be impossible. Active participation from partner congregations allows me to dive boldly into this ministry’s holy chaos. I pray all those entering ministry will have their hearts and minds opened to the needs of people that our ELCA congregations normally leave out.

The three-year-old daughter of the pastor of our host congregation, Augustana Lutheran, looked at all these Latino kids who were coming to her church for the first time and said to her mom, “Wow! More friends!” Recently, Jordy looked at a Last Supper picture and said, “Is that a picture of Jesus and his family eating?” I said, “Well, it’s a picture of Jesus and his friends eating.” “Wow,” he said, “Jesus sure has a lot of friends.” Sometimes our youth know what we have forgotten.

Lord, open our hearts to the friends you have waiting all around us.

The Myth of Independence & the Grace of Dependence

 by Amber Kalina



Amber Kalina is a senior Youth and Family Ministry major and Sociology minor from Perham, MN. She keeps busy by working as a student leader in the Campus Ministry Student Organization and as a student worker in both the Religion and Music departments. She hopes to eventually attend seminary or divinity school to be ordained as a chaplain.


Deep within each human being, there exists a desire to feel a sense of belonging. We want to find people who understand us or share common goals and interests. This desire leads us to join various groups throughout our lifetimes: sports teams, cohorts, churches, clubs, and organizations. Youth & family ministry leaders often try to create welcoming spaces where people feel they can be united with peers who are also journeying through faith. As our needs or passions change, we move on to different groups—all the while still seeking that sense of belonging.

Although it is natural to crave solidarity with others, not many people will go so far as to say they want to belong so badly they depend on others to fulfill that need. In our individualistic society, people often look down on dependence as if it is only allowed for children, persons with certain disabilities, and drug addicts. We prefer to believe that people should be independent, relying on their own abilities to get things done or solve their problems. You can hear this when some moan about the ‘lazy’ receivers of welfare, in the stigma attached to those who attend counseling, and in the discomfort some adult children feel when having to take care of their aging parents. This message gets passed to our young people, who believe they have to be good at everything – on their own –  to be successful. We want to belong, but we also do not want to have to rely on others.

We want to be independent achievers in our world. However, the notion of independence is actually a myth. We depend so much on what other people do on a daily basis. Most of us do not grow our own food; we rely on farmers to produce enough to feed us as well as themselves. We would not have the technologies we have today without the brilliant contributions of inventors. I would not be at Augsburg right now if generous donors did not contribute scholarships to help students pay for school. Also, if we look at our own abilities, we find that we have limited personal strengths; we are great at only a select few things but mediocre (at best) in most things. Therefore, we necessitate others to fill in our gaps, to contribute where we fall short.

Lutherans are particularly aware of the dependence we have on the works others do on our behalf. We recognize that our deliverance from sin came from the acts of one particular human: Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Martin Luther emphasizes over and over again in his essay The Freedom of a Christian that we cannot by our own power or works achieve salvation. Rather, God steps forward and gives us righteousness in place of sin. The reality of faith itself demonstrates God’s work in our lives as God pulls us toward Godself. May we come to understand that dependence is not negative, but necessary. In our longing to belong, may we realize that we do not belong in communities but to them—to groups of people who need our strengths as much as we need theirs.

Ministry Transitions

by Justin Daleiden (’11)



Justin Daleiden graduated from Augsburg College’s Youth and Family Ministry Program in 2011. He is from Eden Prairie, MN where he served at Prairie Lutheran Church for five years. He is currently working with Young Adults in Global Mission in Edinburgh, Scotland.



Many of us know the fragility of working in ministry. The brittleness of working with teenagers, parents, and the staff that surrounds us in the midst of our call. Over the course of the past 5 years, I have been a part of youth ministry in a congregation that consistently went through staff transition. Coworkers came and went for a range of reasons including marriage, kids, seminary internship years, and even the ear piercing “it wasn’t a good fit”.

Transition sucks. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it’s unwarranted, but sometimes it is done extremely well. Yet even in the midst of the best transitions there were people who still felt abandoned and alienated. For me, this is one of the toughest parts of transition. No matter the reason for moving on, we are leaving people who we have grown to love and care for, and there are people who have grown to love and care for us. I guess this is one of the hard-hitting effects of relational ministry done well. It is hard to leave.

With all of this in mind, there are two key things I have learned about making transitions as smooth as possible. First of all, no matter my context, I can start prepping for my best transition right now. The best transitions I’ve seen happened after we took the time to make sure there were adult leaders equipped to support different areas of ministry, parents who felt confident in being the primary minister in their household, and a congregation that has a willingness to lift up youth ministry as a whole. Empowering others for ministry now will insure a smoother transition later. This takes time, and is something that I know I can start working towards immediately.

My second takeaway has to do with the role of the leader. A teenager once told me he was struggling with faith because he saw his former youth leader as “godly” and now this leader was gone. Once his “godly” figure was gone, his faith was goe with it. I don’t think I need to remind any of us that we are not God, but we do need to remember that we should constantly be getting out of the way in order to allow the people we work with to encounter Christ. This ministry I participate in is not my own, but the work of God in this particular place. The more I practice this, the better prepared I (and the people around me) will be when the time of transition comes.

I pray that as you come across transitions, God’s presence might bless each of you and the people you are leaving. Transition is just flat out hard, and I pray that God might support each of you in the midst of one of the hard parts of our work.

Tindog Tacloban

by Jon Bates

Jon Bates

Jon Bates is a fourth year student in Augsburg College’s Youth and Family Ministry program who recently transferred from St. Cloud State. He is from Shoreview, MN and is currently serving as the Congregational Life intern at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. Jon spent the summer serving in the Philippines. This reflection is about his summer experience.


We see courage everywhere in our lives if we look hard enough. When people use their courage… well I think it’s really cool. Whether it’s the courage someone needs to get out of bed, the courage to finish their homework or college, or the courage needed to talk to someone about their own struggles. Continue reading

Believing What Youth Say

 by Ross Murray (’00, ’09)

Ross Murray


Ross Murray is the Director of News at GLAAD and Director of The Naming Project.,  a faith-based youth group serving youth of all sexual and gender identities. He graduated from Augsburg College’s Youth and Family Ministry program in 2000 and earned his MBA from Augsburg College in 2009.


In my time working at The Naming Project, I’ve developed a standard practice for myself and for the other counselors I work with:

Believe what the youth tell you about themselves.

It seems like a pretty simple rule, but in reality we don’t do it.

First, about The Naming Project, we are a Christian program for LGBTQ youth. Our main program is a summer camp, so we have an intensive week with youth who are working through their sexual orientation, gender identity, and faith all at the same time. It’s a time of exploration, and they are working through who they are and how they relate to God and the rest of the world. Continue reading