Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Change a Life, Give a Turkey

Jumping up and down, my brother Jack and I could hardly believe our luck! Our close family friend, Penny, hopped out of her car with the eagerly awaited cardboard box. Jack and I rushed up the driveway and pried open the flaps on the box. I peered inside and saw the ten cheeping turkey poults that were now mine to raise. My parents had hesitantly agreed to raise the birds for the summer, and a few google searches later we felt prepared to take on the new challenge. The turkeys were promptly named after thanksgiving foods (including Cranberry, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, and Gravy) and lived in the dog kennel on the side of our house. I didn't know it then, but that day in July would change a lot in my life. The cheeping cardboard box that held those turkeys also held a future for me I never could have imagined.

After that summer of raising turkeys (and a phenomenal Thanksgiving dinner), I was ecstatic for the next spring to come in the hopes of having more birds. My parents supported my interest in birds and brought home a brooder full of chicks from a local auction one night. I was beyond thrilled. In third grade, Penny had helped me pick out my own birds from the local hatchery and with her support I showed them at the county fair. Because of this, I became involved with tons of 4-H poultry activities and events, which my 4-H program coordinator and poultry project leaders mentored and encouraged me through. Because of my experiences in 4-H, I was elated to join the FFA poultry evaluation team where my advisor pushed me to study hard and lead our team. Being a part of FFA broadened my interest in agriculture as a whole and connected me with people from across the nation. Because of the network of people that I met in the agricultural industry through FFA, I have found my place in agriculture, and I am choosing to study agricultural education at the University of Minnesota. Because of Penny and those that supported me along the way, I am where I am now.

The past years have been filled with many people and experiences that have shaped my life, but I know the day I got those turkeys opened a new door. Without any connection to agriculture in my family, it’s unlikely I would be where I am now if I had never received those ten birds. One action started a chain reaction of support and encouragement from the people in my life and gave me opportunities beyond measure. Something so very simple changed the course of my life. I doubt that Penny realized how important her decision to give me turkeys would be. Small things have a lot of power in our lives, and we often don’t realize the magnitude of our actions in the lives of others.

People are powerful. We have influence beyond comprehension. Often people talk about the grand notion of changing someone’s life as if it has to be a monumental gesture. However, sometimes all it takes is going out of your way to help someone out or to encourage them. What if you brought someone to your next FFA meeting and helped them find their career? What if the younger student you tutor looks back and remembers all you did to help them as they graduate from college? What if you knew the smile you gave someone in the hallway was the reason they could get through their day or week? Every action you take matters and influences those around you. You, yes you there reading this blog, YOU have the power to change someone’s life today and every day. Live each moment with purpose and set out to make a difference in the small things you do. You never know when you’ll end up changing someone’s life. What will you do today to make a difference in someone’s life?

Stationed beneath the rising sun,

Katie Benson

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hamburgers: love 'em or hate 'em?

Image result for hamburgerI used to hate hamburgers. Absolutely hate them. But, when I got older, every time they were put in front of me, I had to eat them. Why? Because of the pure fact that I wish I liked them. I believed if I ate enough burgers, eventually I would acquire a love for the food and desire to eat it, maybe even crave it. And now, I do. Hamburgers are one of my absolute favorite foods!
You may think I am completely crazy, but studies have proven “we don't just eat foods because we like them, we like them because we eat them.” The more we eat foods, the more accustomed to them we become, and we even begin to like them as we grow up and continue to make it a habit to eat them. As a kid, I was a very picky eater; at one time my sister even told me I couldn’t be a part of the family because I didn’t like hamburgers and my family ate them so often. (I can laugh about it now!) However, after eating hamburgers for so long, I gained a long tolerance for them, then a liking, which turned into a desire.
Image result for gallup clifton strengthsI don’t know if all this food talk is getting you hungry or just curious about why I am talking about eating food. However, this same concept can be compared to our strengths. The past few years I have been exposed to the Gallup CliftonStrengths Test, and ever since then, I love seeing strengths in those around me. This has led me to realize the talents I have,  the choice I can make to develop them further into strengths, and helped me realize why my talents have been developed into my top five strengths.
I love the analogy I have heard about the 34 talents being compared to a person working at  a desk. On the top of the desk are our top 10 talents, readily available and easy to grab at, with the top 5 being directly in front as we have developed them into our strengths. The next 10-12 are in the side drawers, so it takes a little bit of time to get to them but they are still available with little work. While the last 10-12 are in the recycling bin, so you have to get up from the desk, and shuffle through the bin to find them. However, we can strengthen our talents and move them from one part of the desk to another through our usage of them, just like we can eat certain foods to make ourselves like them.  The creators of the StrengthsFinder assessment help me understand this by sharing: “Talents, knowledge, and skills -- along with the time spent (i.e., investment) practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base -- combine to create your strengths.” (Learn more at: http://strengths.gallup.com/help/general/125543/difference-talent-strength.aspx)
Image result for gallup clifton strengths achieverI have taken this strengths assessment three different times, and every single time “Achiever” is in my top 5, but only recently rose to the top strength for me. This is because, as I have gotten older, my desire to succeed has also risen. Sure, when I was little I wanted to be good at school (I once cried because I got three wrong on a spelling test), but that desire to achieve was not present up until the last two years when I was filling out scholarship applications and competing in different events for FFA.
2016 Minnesota FFA 1st Place
Parliamentary Procedure team -- HLWW FFA 
I used my talent of achieving nearly every day of my senior year, and it became so evident that it floated to the top and truly became a strength -- “Achiever” is like hamburgers. I worked toward developing that talent into a strength, or eating that food on a regular basis. This is a strength I now KNOW I can rely on and love, it’s always there (just like the hamburgers). If I wouldn’t have even looked into the possibility of eating another hamburger, I definitely would not eat them today as frequently as I do. Similarly, that “Achiever” talent would not have became a strength and could not have gotten to where it is today without my work to develop it.  We all naturally have things that we are good at, but to truly excel we must practice, improve, and put in the time to develop the talent into a strength. In other words, you could say:
We don’t only practice strengths because we have them, we have strengths because we practice them.

What are you naturally good at? Have YOU ever noticed that the more you do something the better you become at it? What are your hamburgers?  As we begin another school year, we have the chance to make the choice to take our talents to the next level - to make them a strength. How can FFA help you continue to strengthen your talents? How are you going to ensure that you work toward developing those possibilities and talents into strengths?  
Stationed by the door,

Maddie Weninger

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

When Life Gives You Lemons...

After 3 days in a hospital bed, this girl needed to see
blue skies again, so Mama found a wheelchair and
we went for a stroll. 
This summer did not go according to my plan. During the crazy month of June, I started to get sick. And not just your common head cold. Nope. I was down and out for the count. Turns out, I had Mononucleosis (more commonly known as Mono). After eight long weeks of still not feeling much better, countless blood tests, no answers as to what was really going on with me, passing out while showing sheep at the county fair, a four day stay at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, more tests, a whole lot of rest, amazing doctors and even better family and friends, an Epstein Barr Virus diagnosis, and Lyme’s disease treatment, I am on the mend.

When I first got sick, I was really upset. Upset at myself for getting sick. Upset with God for making me sick during the most important year of my life so far. Upset with life going on around me while I sat at home and watched. Upset because I was not going to be able to show cattle this summer because I did not have enough energy to walk out to the barn and spend hours doing what I love to do most. The absolute most difficult moments though, were when I witnessed the rest of my state officer team going and doing events -- without me.

My perspective began to turn around with the help of a few key people in my life. First of all, I am pretty sure my mom is Wonder Woman. Honestly. Throughout July and August, Mama Teresa was there for me for whatever I needed; whether it was a glass of water, forcing me to eat something, grabbing me an extra blanket from across the room because I was too weak to get it myself, or just a conversation to keep my mind busy, Mama was there. I am so blessed to have her. Throughout the summer, she constantly reminded me, “You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.” She never gave up on me. So I never gave up on me.

After one terribly long day full of no results and the waiting ensuing once again, I got a phone call from a familiar voice I had not heard in awhile. I was taking the evening to read my Bible but I was only getting more and more frustrated with my situation. My phone rang, I saw her name and caring face pop up on my screen, wiped my tears, and answered the call. “Hey Kylee!” Emily’s chipper voice came through the phone. Through a blubbering mess, I updated her as to the new tests I had done that week and what results we were still waiting for. I expressed my anger with my situation and Emily’s positivity began to rub off on me. When we hung up the phone almost three hours later, both of us felt so much better. The phone call that started with sullen tears, ended in tears of laughter. I am extremely grateful for friends like Emily.

Now, there is a famous saying that goes like this: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Taking those tart little citrus’ and turning them into a delectable, sweet refreshment of summertime is an art.

It was during conversations with Mama, Emily, and a few other individuals close to me, I realized something. This life is full of lemons. Some are sweeter than others, but we all have this cute, yellow citrus in our lives. Whether those lemons be challenges, bumps in the road or major hurdles. But what if we didn’t have to make lemonade? What if we made something else?

I like to look at that famous saying a little differently these days: “When life gives you lemons, make apple juice... and leave life wondering how you did it.” Who needs more lemonade? We have the opportunity to overcome the “sour” lemons in our life and look at it all from a new perspective. Maybe from an apple’s perspective instead…

During challenges in life, we have two options: 1) give up, OR 2) make apple juice… and leave life wondering how we did it.

I won’t deny it; there was a point this summer where I just wanted to give up. But then I would realize how much worse it could be and decided to make apple juice out of my lemons. I took the opportunity I had at home to spend time with my family before I left for college. I prepared myself for the upcoming months as much as possible. I called friends I hadn’t talked to all summer and caught up. I watched a couple of my brother’s baseball games I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend. Going out to the barn to help my brother work on lambs became a normal occurrence. I supported my team from the sidelines as best I could. But most importantly, I took care of myself. I made apple juice out of my situation because I did not want to sit and bathe in any more lemonade.

You do not have to be extremely sick in order to make apple juice; every day new lemons are thrown our direction and we can either make lemonade or apple juice. 

Which will you choose to make?

Stationed by the ear of corn,