I wore my hair long when I was in middle school. Many teachers and others thought I was a druggie. I looked like one with my uniform of long hair, wire frame glasses, hiking boots, 501 jeans and psychedelic shirts! Little did they know that the time they thought I was spending "wasted away" was actually spent helping others. I remember when this article came out in the newspaper the counselor calling me to her office and with amazement showed me the article, as if we must be talking about a different Justin Matott here.

Lately I have had the good fortune of spending a lot of time in middle school. Some people think people in sixth, seventh & eighth grade are tough to deal with. I don't! I really like them and understand them. I understand the struggles, because I have been there. My middle school years like many were a difficult time for all of the typical reasons, PUBERTY, a new awareness of the opposite sex (and the further awareness that the ones I was interested in, didn't return the favor), acne, growth spurts and erratic moods and the list went on and on. The biggest thing I was going through wasn't evident to the eye. My mom was VERY ill. A brain tumor was changing all of our lives and soon she would be diagnosed, but there were a few years when her behavior was literally the behavior of someone who is insane. This is a HUGE burden for a boy of twelve, thirteen AND fourteen to go through. It is tough for someone of any age.

When my world was turning upside down and the craziness was too much for me to bear, I walked across the fields from my house and found refuge with "the house of grandmas and grandpas". I volunteered any way I could to help bring some sunshine into their lives just by the very fact that I was young, funny and fun loving. Those hours spent at the retirement home brought me sanity in the midst of a world turning upside down. I am currently writing about that time in an effort to help adolescents to understand that they are not alone.

BUT, one thing I find that remains the same in our day and age is that middle school age kids are VERY self focused, as I was. I am encouraging them to get outside of themselves. GO help someone in need. GO read to the lonely grandmas and grandpas at a retirement center near you. GO pet the animals in a shelter and let them know there are kind humans out there. GO volunteer! GET AWAY FROM THE 'ME MACHINE' and your life, your mind, your turmoil will begin to lessen as you give to someone else.

The funny thing is that I am taking my own advice. Both of my sons are involved in some awesome missionary work and they have inspired me to get to it! It's time for me to go read my own books to the grandmas and grandpas (many of whom have returned to their childhoods in many ways) and see the wonder of a simple picture book reflecting through bifocals.