Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Influence: A Light to Others

I absolutely love Christmas. Like many other people, it’s one of my favorite times of the year, and honestly, what’s not to love? Stores are filled with sparkling displays of shining toys and mannequins, streets are lined with glowing lanterns twisted in greenery and red ribbon, and Christmas music whispers softly through the speakers in the local grocery store. Besides the evident Christmas cheer around my hometown, there are so many traditions to look forward to. For me, my favorite family tradition is the time spent decorating the tree.
Ever since I was little, I have always remembered the time spent decorating the tree. Christmas music echos in the background while my mom unpacks old cookie tins full of colorful glass and old crafted ornaments. The coffee table is opened up to hold the weight of various foods including ham and cheese roll ups, chips and salsa, sugar cookies, and my personal favorite, peanut butter M&M’s. The next hour is filled with happy smiles, full-bellied laughs, snack munching, and of course, the hanging of ornaments. Though all of this is fun, I always get assigned the hard part - the checking and untangling of yards of Christmas lights.
Every time I am assigned this dreadful task, I have to remember the golden rule my dad taught me many years ago.

“One burnt out light leads right to another. Fix one, you fix them all.”

Weirdly enough, I never thought this golden rule could ever be used anywhere else until a college friend of mine explained circuits and how it really can say alot about a leader’s influence.

As leaders, we always hear how our influence impacts those around us. Our influence is actually pretty similar to my dad’s golden rule. Christmas lights all run on one circuit, so when one goes out, all the bulbs after also go out. However, if the one light is fixed, all the others can become lit after it. When we influence others, we can help others be an influence as well. We can see our influence in others through their excitement, happiness, perseverance, and even their own actions.

This last week I had the incredible opportunity to finish up my chapter visits with some amazing members. When I was with the Aitkin FFA chapter, I saw what a positive influence can look like first hand. Walking into the classroom I was already nervous, but I was instantly greeted with the bright faces of Breena and Maggie, two chapter officers. I instantly felt their influence as their positive energy got me excited for my visit. Throughout the next few hours, I had the pleasure of seeing their positive influence in the classroom shown by their creativity, boundless energy, and willingness to help others around them. At the end of my visit while sitting with other members drinking hot chocolate and eating brownies, I noticed the atmosphere of the classroom and the attitudes of the members. Breena and Maggie were off giggling with others about some viral video, and you could see the influence they created around them. Simply, it was hard not to smile around either one of them. They didn’t only light up themselves by their influence, but they lit up others around them as well.

Our influence has the power to change the light of those around us. It may start out as a soft glow, but later turn into an intense beam, able to be seen from anywhere. As FFA members, it’s our job to light others up around us. We can encourage others, helping them by building up their own confidence. We can show our appreciation, because truly a little kindness goes a long ways. We can even simply be ourselves, which shows others we can be unapologetically authentic and true to ourselves. All of this encapsulates our influence. When we use our influence as a light, others light up around us, and our influence becomes bigger and bigger.

How can you influence others in your chapter?
What type of light can your influence have?
Even if you feel burnt out, how can you light those around you?

Stationed by the flag,

Eleora DeMuth

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wingmen Never Wing It

The movement of fighter jets flashed across the screen, voices hushed, and we watched in suspense.  Waldo  Waldman, dressed in the suit of a pilot, explained how he led this formation of aircraft on a military mission.  He told the story of the hours dedicated to preparing for each of his 65 ventures, the intense training he went through, and most importantly, the multitude of people who worked hard to make each mission a success.  From the young man who filled his plane with gas to the pilot who flew directly alongside him, each individual had a key role which impacted Waldman’s experiences.  Even the smallest of their actions mattered, and because of these people, these wingmen, Waldman returned safely each time he took flight.

I had the chance to hear Waldman speak at the Agriculture Future of America conference this fall in Kansas City, Missouri, and through all his presentation’s intensity, one phrase about the people who invested in him stuck with me.

“Wingmen never wing it.”

First of all, who are these wingmen for us?
Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not have airmen flying beside me 30,000 feet above ground.   Nevertheless, I have people who walk right alongside me throughout life who I can count on just as much.  At the University of Minnesota, two of these wingmen are my closest friends.  Grace and Laura never fail to refuel me with encouragement (and ice cream), remind me when to get back on task, and fill my days with joy and dances to Christmas music.  I know I can always count on them because they make a choice to support me each and every day, whether we see each other or not, and I do the same for them.  These relationships push me to become better and are ones I can always fall back on.  Our wingmen are the people who love and support us unconditionally.  
Two FFA members I’ve met who are amazing wingmen for each other are Trinity and Tyffanie from the Winona FFA Chapter.  These girls support each other through everything.  They cheer each other on while competing in Prepared Public or extemporaneous speaking, worked up the courage to run for region office together, and yell in support during dodgeball at FFA lock ins.  These two can always be counted on to be there for each other in support for any situation. They even hyped each other up enough to perform a song from the musical “Hamilton” at a regional talent show with two other chapter members! Their continual support allows each other to flourish and find success.  Wingmen invest in relationships just like this one, and their commitment to building each other up lifts each of us to new heights.  Who are your wingmen? These could be a friend, a teacher or advisor, a family member, or a community person who always encourages and lifts you up.
Now that we know who our wingmen are, why don’t they wing it?
Just like the way Waldman’s aircrew and pilots in his fleet needed to be prepared and in the right mindset so they can count on one another, we need to be intentional to support people in our relationships.  To be a good wingman, each of us need to make the choice to fully invest in the people around us and use our time to develop relationships.  In supportive friendships like these, it doesn’t work to fly by the seat of our pants.  Being a good wingman requires commitment. This may look like the mutual commitment like Trinity and Tyffanie have where they can count on one another.
I know my wingmen are always there, whether I complete a flight mission successfully or crash and burn.  
So, how can we be good wingmen for the people around us?
To keep from “winging it,” let’s plan to support the people we love.  This can look like scheduling time to call a friend we haven’t talked to in awhile, writing a note recognizing the amazing qualities we see in the people around us, or posting a picture with a kind caption on our social media.  Maybe we can plan to carve out time to offer our agriculture teachers help organizing books or cleaning the shop.  We could even start a tradition, like one of my dear friends, of texting a verse or quote every morning to our friends to consistently show love.  We can start with one planned action and build on it.  When we do this, and add a second and third action, we build up trust and faith that we will continuously be there for the people around us.  
What will your planned act of support be?
As you head out into the world today, be the best wingman you can be, and remember:
Wingmen Never Wing It.

Stationed by the plow,

Emily Pliscott

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Gift of Being Present

Oh no…. Jack had really outdone himself this time. After only a few test flights of my cousin’s brand new remote controlled drone, my brother had managed to get it stuck at the very top of the pine tree in the yard. After a few good laughs about this mishap, my brother, dad, uncle, and 4th grade cousin Carter had constructed a strategy to get the drone down from its perch. This strategy mostly involved Jack climbing up the tree and shaking it with all of his might. The rest of our laughing family watched from the base of the tree or from inside the house until the drone was released from the highest branches. This is just one of the many highlights from my family’s drive-through Christmas this year.

Drive-through Christmas is one of my favorite events in the holiday season. Since I was born, this family gathering has taken place at my uncle’s house in southern Minnesota. When my brother and I were little, the endearing “drive-through” aspect of the holiday was created because our family would drive three hours to the celebration, stay for lunch and a few gifts, and then return back home before nightfall. Our time together as a family is very short, and often we only get to see my grandparents and my cousins a few times a year. However, I think that’s what makes this family Christmas so great. Since we only have a few hours to see each other, we make the most of every minute and do our best to catch up with each other and show support in the limited timeframe.

Ten-year-old Carter and my six-year-old cousin Morgan are always bursting with energy and excitement. Jack and I play game after game with them, and even though their enthusiasm can be a bit overwhelming at times, we always do our best to spend as much time with them as possible. In fact, everyone engages in conversations and takes advantage of the time we have with each other. My mother always reminds us of our limited time, and Jack and I are reminded before we arrive to make the most of each moment. So we put our phones down, forget about our other obligations for a while, and just enjoy the people in our lives.

I find that even though I hardly see my Dad’s side of the family throughout the year, I develop great memories from each drive-through Christmas. Despite the long car ride every year, Jack and I have always look forward to the family time we experience at this holiday. This happens because my family is intentional about using what we are given to make something better. I have found that drive-through Christmas has inspired me to give my best attention and presence to the people I am with throughout the entire holiday season.

As we continue through this holiday season, we have the opportunity to connect with our family members and close supporters. This is a great time to be fully present and be intentional about giving our time to others. All too often we take the people in our lives for granted, and we fail to maximize our time with them. And while not everyone will have a limited time with their family like I do, we can still make an effort to give the gift of our time and attention to those around us. We make the best memories when we are truly engaged with the people in our lives. So whether you want to bake some cookies, have a snowball fight, drink hot chocolate by the fireplace, have a good conversation, or fulfill another holiday tradition, I invite you to turn your time with others into a gift of its own. 

Stationed beneath the rising sun, 

Katie Benson

Monday, December 4, 2017

What is a Legacy?

My initial reaction was uncertainty. I didn’t know what to expect as I walked into Dingmann Funeral Care in Maple Lake, Minnesota at 3:00 pm on a chilly Saturday afternoon in mid-November. I saw family, friends, and flowers. … Flowers? Hundreds of beautifully vibrant flowers draped around the room from loved ones supporting the loss of Christopher Churchill, a beloved son, brother, friend, hunting buddy, carbles partner, and to me, a cousin. Although these flowers may not appear significant, they have impacted me greatly, just as Christopher has to many around him.

Every year, thousands of people spend money to go to arboretums, greenhouses, and gardens, and even go as far as planting flowers in their home soils as well. They walk and admire the immense beauty that nature brings to their lives. But, many flowers only stay around for a short amount of time (especially in Minnesota) and leave as the seasons change.
I remember when I was 15 years old, my dad bought me a lavender Lantana tree; I know, it was awesome. I took care of it every single day to see it grow higher and higher with the most gorgeous purple blooms you have ever seen. I marveled at the tremendous joy it brought to my life in just one summer! As fall came, my dad told me it was time to bring it into the greenhouse at school so it could survive the winter. However, I wanted to continue to look at the beautiful blooms of the plant and ended up never digging the Lantana out and putting it in the greenhouse. It soon froze and before I knew it, the plant was covered by snow in the yard and I was unable to save it in the greenhouse. I cried for hours about how if I had only taken the plant out, it would be just fine and still thriving.
Looking back on the experience, I discovered that the summer I had watching that Lantana tree grow may have been short, but the amount of knowledge I learned about cultivating plants was largely broadened due to its management. The Lantana tree’s beauty and joy touched my life in a way that nothing else could; it seemed like a connection that could not have carried over into the next season.
Image result for legacy what is a legacy its planting seeds in a gardenChristopher was able to similarly radiate his love for hunting, fishing, life, and those around him in the short 33 years of his life. Many of us have been touched by his kindness and willingness to get any job done for someone. Although we wish we could see him in the next season, his plan from God is different. Christopher’s smile was as large as a Peony bloom and his laugh rustled like the wind in the trees. He truly left a legacy of love and care for all of those around him by showing his true colors.

Alexander Hamilton (kind of) once said:
“Legacy… What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
With the short time you have here on Earth, how are you going to leave your legacy, like Christopher?
How will you make a difference to those around you?
What seeds will YOU plant?

Stationed by the Door,

Maddie Weninger