Thursday, December 26, 2019

Lollipop Moments

      The first sight I see each time I open my laptop is Gandhi's famous words: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." These have been the words I have always tried my best to live by.  These are words anyone can live by. Life is full of choices that allow everyone to change the world, for better or worse!

       While you may think changing the world requires a big gesture, something as small as a lollipop is enough to make the world a better place. Not so long ago, I heard a story (attached below) that explained it all so clearly. In this TedTalk, Drew Dudley explains how he met a freshman girl who was nervous for college to the point where she was ready to quit and go home. It wasn't until he handed her a lollipop that she decided she was already home. With the smallest act of kindness, Dudley completely changed the young lady's life--and he didn't even remember doing it!

      Not too long ago, I had my own lollipop story. During the Minnesota FFA State Convention my junior year, I was waiting in the hallway to compete in the Prepared Public Speaking LDE. It was towards the end of the convention, and I was already exhausted. The speech I had prepared was called "The Next Generation of Farming." It was a topic I was prepared for and passionate about--yet, between nervousness and exhaustion, I was ready to simply "go through the motions" in the event that day. 

      As I was standing in the hallway with a less-than-enthused look on my face, this man came up to me and asked me a question I will never forget: "Do you know what your biggest asset is?"
      First of all, I thought this guy was crazy! I had no idea who he was, and he certainly didn't know me, so what could this question mean?! Since I couldn't, he answered the question. He said it was my smile. Never had a stranger said anything to me so kind and sincere. For about ten minutes, we talked about smiling, joked about being a teacher "for the fame and the fortune," and discussed the importance of my speech. 

      I walked into the competition energized and ready to give it my all, thanks to this conversation. It went awful. Halfway through the speech, I forgot my next line. Although this was a speech I had rehearsed dozens of times, I stood there for a solid fifteen seconds, and all I could do was smile. After gathering my thoughts, I skipped about a third of my speech and finished up. After a mess up like that, I was sure I would be done with the preliminary round. I ended up advancing and finishing second in the state. 

      That conversation was more than a conversation; Drew Dudley's kind deed was more than a kind deed. Between this unknown man and Dudley, they created two experiences that easily could have been overlooked. But they weren't. And because they weren't, two young ladies had their lives changed. Had that man chosen to walk by me in that hallway, I would have given a poor speech, not have the courage to compete in another LDE, not have the skill or inspiration to pursue leadership roles, run for state office, become a teacher, etc. That small act changed my life and my world, and it didn't take a superhero to do it. You see, changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. 


      I had always wondered who the man in my story was. After Nic Potthoff, my teammate, and I shared the Lollipop Moments video during a workshop with Greenhand members in Region II, we met up with Nic's family. During dinner, I told my story. It was then that I found out that this man--Bob Roesler--is a close friend to the Potthoff family and Nic's mentor. Before we even left the dinner table, I messaged Bob and told him what he had done for me two years ago. A few weeks ago, we reconnected again, meeting for the first time since that convention. 

      I'm fortunate to be able to know who impacted me. Not reconnecting with Bob would have been such a missed opportunity! Think about how often you hear what impact your small actions have. The truth is, you probably don't hear about your impact enough. If I would have been Bob, of Drew Dudley, I would want to know those stories. Think about it. If you are going to be the change you wish to see in the world, shouldn't you show others how they are changing the world? 

      Here is my challenge for you. Reflect on your lollipop moments. Remember who was there for you in the most unexpected times and places. Send that person (or those people) a message saying, "You have changed my life for the better." After 24 hours, call them and explain to them why. Share your gratitude to those who have given you gratitude. 


      It doesn't take a superhero, a millionaire, or even an adult to change the world. Everyone has the power and influence to change the world, as we have the power to influence people. It can happen anywhere to anyone. Seek opportunities to make someone's day better, and share your gratitude to those who make your life better. That is how YOU can be the change you wish to see in the world. 

Stationed by the change,

Maddie Smith

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Focus on the Mountain in Front of YOU

Focus on the Mountain in Front of You
“Hi Savannah!” exclaimed my friend as she plopped down in the seat next to me in our Dairy Science class.  As she adjusted her backpack, her eyes narrowly focused on my face. She could tell that something was wrong. “How did you do on your quiz?” she asked. I averted my eyes, my lip twitched, in hopes to avoid her question and concern.  How could I say that I did poorly on my quiz after studying so hard.  To tell her my disappointing reality was not an option.  Instead, I allowed  my poor score on my quiz to negatively affect how the rest of this and the next class period went.  I refused to open up to anyone about how I was feeling.  After all, the harsh reality of being transparent with others, especially when it deeply affects my pride, is a mountain that I am still climbing.

If you really know me, you know that I love the cold.

I love the exhilarating feeling of the cold and breathing in the fresh crisp air. One of my favorite sweatshirts says “Life is better in the mountains”  Just ask my family and best friends; when times get rough and when my hope dwindles, I resort to dreaming about the mountains.

When I received that low score on my quiz I mentally “checked out” and went to the gym to workout. My workout consisted of flipping tires and pushing myself to do pull-ups for the first 20 minutes. I was mad at myself and my seeming inability to score well on the quiz. The only thing that made me happy was to take my frustrations out at the gym and to think about packing up and escaping to the mountains. After all, the mountains signify a place away from reality, where I can not be hurt, there is no judgement, and I can enjoy the breathtaking and tranquil views.

On December 2nd, 2019, I learned that one of my most cherished mentors passed away. I did not know how to handle this, but I knew that I had two choices. I could either stuff my feelings and avoid this reality, or open up and share my pain with others and deal with my present situation. I wanted to pack up and climb a push this harsh reality aside and not believe that my friend and mentor had just died. I felt numb. Like someone had punched me in the stomach when I was not looking.  In an effort to comfort me, one of my teammates sent me this quote, “You have been assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.” Life does not always look pretty. Hardships and challenges ARE real, and guess what? It is okay to not be okay.  Without realizing it, I already had a strong support system through my family, friends, teachers, and mentors. I had never reached out and asked them for help in this way before. All I needed to do was open up, be transparent, share my feelings, ask for prayer, and start climbing the figurative mountain that was right in front of me.  They overwhelmingly supported me and answered my call for help.  Why is it so hard to ask for help?  

Today, I had to face my fears and take another dairy science test. I studied extremely hard the days leading up to the quiz by giving myself lectures in a classroom, communicating with classmates about questions I had, and visiting my professor during his office hours to help get ready. This time I was prepared. At 11 AM, I  walked out of that class period extremely happy and proud. I have never felt so good about taking a quiz. Regardless of the grade (because my identity is not based on my grade), I know I will be happy because I corrected the mistakes in my studying habits from the times before. I climbed that mountain. Now, I need to prepare myself for the other mountains (exams) that are coming up.

Instead of imagining a mystical, beautiful, breathtaking mountain to climb, I am beginning to focus on climbing the (figurative) mountain(s) in front of me. I am trying to stop avoiding conversations that need to be had, homework that is due tomorrow, conflict that needs to be resolved, friendships that need to be strengthened, my room that needs to be cleaned, horse stalls that need to be mucked out, and instead re-centering my faith as the main focal point of my life.  Fear is not my true North, my faith is. Now that I clearly know which direction I’m going and have a support system I know will climb along with me, I know I can climb any mountain placed before me.

“Tell the Story of the Mountain YOU Climbed…”

Embrace your mountain. We all have them. Realize that this mountain is helping you become the best version that you can be! “Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words can become a page in someone else's survival guide.” This life is meant to be an exciting adventure.  What is holding you back from living up to your fullest potential? There will be hills and valleys in our life, but keep on making sure that your compass is pointing due north and persevere amidst the pain, fear, hurt, pressure, joys, happiness, and love that you feel. I challenge you to put on your hiking shoes. I challenge you to swing your backpack onto your shoulders. I challenge you to pull your hair back, fill your water bottle, refocus your mind, and set your sights upward to climb that mountain.

 “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth and the mountains.”

Stationed by the Door,
Savannah Aanerud

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Art of Chaos

The Art of Chaos

Last month seemed to be one where everyone and everything was falling apart. Schedules were everywhere, people were panicking about deadlines, life seemed to be perfectly falling apart into an ugly mess. In other words, October was chaos.

For me personally, I was trying to balance school, mid-terms, work, friendships, quality time with family, travel, and I could go on.  I mean, I accidentally shipped my suitcase to South Dakota which resulted in me only having one pair of jeans for a week and a few other various items. It seemed as if I was stuck in the gray area where nothing much was making sense. I was just going through the days and not getting things out of them. There was constantly something on the to-do list, and it seemed I could never check anything off. In other words, October was chaos.

The weather has now skipped from a nice fall to a full born Minnesota winter just without the part that makes winter pretty...snow. October just brought freezing cold wind and some icy roads. I ended up hitting a patch of ice and going into the ditch. Cars are having trouble starting, and the walks to class are brutal.

 In other words, October was chaos.

But chaos always has some underlying beauty that comes with it, something I was recently taught in art class. Mr. Stegman, my art instructor, started talking about graphic organizations in art. There was mimesis, which means  to copy exactly as you see it. There was asymmetrical, which was to promote inequality. There was the rule of thirds, which a lot of photographers use, center of interest, symmetry, golden mean, but then there was the last one which caught my attention.  

Chaos. No design.

How is this even possible? No design in art? The idea of the chaos organization in art is that you tell the story of the chaos in your mind. You don’t create a structure or outline to paint or create, you just do it. You aren't careful to use the other organizations, because yours is chaos. It depicts this story of chaos. 

Most of us have seen the painting “Starry Night” by the famous Vincent Van Gogh. What if I told you that when Van Gogh painted that, it was his view from an insane asylum he was in. Would you believe me? Most people would say no, because he had no reason to be in an asylum, and that he was a well known and rich artist. However, he was not famous at the time, and he was in an asylum. When he painted the “Starry Night,” he explained that the stars vibrated and twinkled but remained motionless in space, and the planets disappeared. People thought he was crazy back then. They saw no art in his paintings as they were not academic. They were chaos, just like the life he lived. 

Now the “Starry Night” is the most famous painting in the world and if for sale, would sell for a significant amount. People see beauty in his chaos. The way he took the stars and painted them and the way he uses chroma and color in his painting. That was his chaos.

In October, if I were to paint my chaos, it would have been a canvas full of dark colors. Reds, tons of black, grey, brown, maybe some green. It would have been ugly and busy. As November starts and I take a look back in October, I would paint a canvas full of white and yellow, purple and orange, to show that there was beauty in my chaos of a month. I learned lessons that were needed to be taught. I went in the ditch that was flat with no cars coming, and overall my luggage was in South Dakota with another  officer who just so happened to be coming up the next weekend. 

October may have been chaos; however, there were some beautiful things that happened that I just did not notice with the mess of it all. 

As we move into the chaos of finals, holidays, and more snow, let’s remember  there is beauty in chaos. Try and find it.

Stationed by the Flag,
Britton Fuglseth

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Broken to the Core

            FFA, what a year it has been already! At this moment, it has been two weeks since the National FFA Convention & Expo with only 158 days until the Minnesota FFA State Convention. Since the 90th Minnesota FFA State Convention, I have facilitated three state conferences, attended three national trainings, worked with numerous supporters and sponsors, and started my freshman year of college. On the outside, this is all that I have been dealing with, but that’s simply the tip of the iceberg. I officially joined the FFA in seventh grade, but I was truly involved in FFA before I could even walk. It has always been something I love to do, but as a state officer, I am involved in an entirely new level of commitment. Every week we were busy with something, always focusing on how to improve ourselves for the better experience of our members. I knew I was growing, but it was a constant fight to avoid burning out.  
      During the National FFA Summit training in Washington D.C., I got a text from my little sister, a text a sophomore in high school should never have to send. She let me know that a member of my home FFA chapter, a young man I worked with in football, wrestling, student council, and one of the members of our General Livestock team that I coached, had passed away due to a heart attack. With no prior conditions, I was in disbelief and went into the staircase of the hotel we were staying in and just cried. I pushed through the week, but it was difficult being away from my community in such a time of grief. I had an alumni event following Summit, but I emailed the coordinator and let her know I needed to be with my community and grieve with my family and friends.
            After the wake, life got busy again with FFA. We kept having events, traveling, and making memories. Finally, college started! I moved into the University of Minnesota in late August, and it wasn’t long before I realized that is where I belonged. I became close to one of my friends from high school, I was going on adventures every day, loving my new schedule. But life constantly throws new trials and challenges. I have mostly been struggling with balancing all the things life has been throwing at me. I haven’t been going to church as much as I should, I don’t eat healthily, I sleep very little, and working out is a rare activity for me.
            This isn’t a call for pity, I write these things because I think a lot of you reading this have a story that is similar or can relate to mine. Although it does feel as though I have been crushed down, chewed up, and spit out; although it is a tough state to be in; one where it feels like we are just waiting, not knowing what to do to change the tides, it is something that everyone experiences at some point.
            When we feel broken, we tend to think that life is just spitting on us for no reason. However, what we often miss and can’t see is that we are being broken with purpose. Those falls and punches we experience in life exist to refine us. The best diamonds start as ugly masses, and it’s not till they have been broken to their core we start to see their beauty. Once those diamonds have been through the difficulties of the refining process, they are then built up, polished, and become worth much more than their original state.
            In moments where we feel at our lowest, we need to focus on what matters. As Bob Goff said, we need to take an evaluation of what is important to us, hold it in our right hand, and let go of everything else that doesn’t. For me, that is my faith, my family, and those who have helped me through all these challenging times. Maybe for you, those things are the same, or perhaps they're athletics, drama, academics, or your animals. Knowing what is important to us allows us to get rid of what doesn’t. Deleting a social media platform or spending less time on Netflix and more with friends is a great way to focus on what matters. Instead of spending time laying in bed, go for a walk of reflection. Over time our focus can change from the tough times and instead focus on the moments we can treasure. I haven’t mastered this by any means, but seeing my family, spending time with my friends, and taking time to read a devotional are the moments of my day I see that hope and brightness again. I remember what truly matters and I can let go of what doesn’t. Life is going to be hard, but if we surround ourselves with what matters, we will truly be living the dream.

Stationed by the Rising Sun,
Lafe Aarsvold

Friday, November 8, 2019

A Catalyst for Change

      The other day, per the Elaine norm, I was procrastinating by surfing through Pinterest, reading inspirational quotes about faith and leadership. Personally, quote surfing is a favorite pastime of mine and one I am constantly impressed by in its ability to change my perspective with one or two simple, yet profound sentences. In this instance of Elaine’s productive procrastination, the phrase, “You’re the one who runs in my direction when the whole world walks away.” caught my eye. This lyric, written by Matthew West in reference to God, struck me as so profound.  What a crazy concept. To run, as fast as you possibly can towards someone, when the rest of the world chooses to run away from them. To choose to love someone unconditionally when the rest of the world chooses to turn aside.
     Last summer, I had the opportunity to partner with Convoy of Hope-Europe, along with some other members of my church and travel on a service trip to four different countries. Convoy of Hope is an incredible, first-responder organization similar to the Red Cross (check out their website, it’s worth it) that also works to build up struggling communities and people groups across the world. We spent the majority of our time working with the Roma Gypsy people in the mountains of Slovakia near the Ukraine border. This incredible people group is treated similar to African-Americans during the 1950s and 1960s in American history and are often discriminated against and rejected from their towns and communities. Throughout the course of the trip, I was constantly struck with awe and appreciation at how the leaders we worked with simply, unashamedly just loved on these people. It didn’t matter if they had a home, money, had showered or eaten in the past week, or if the rest of the community said to ignore them. These leaders chose to run as fast as they possibly could toward the Roma Gypsy people despite the fact the rest of the world had turned a cold shoulder. Simple kindness is truly a catalyst for change. It is the spark that allows renewed hope to flame. During the course of the trip, it was absolutely incredible to watch how the intentional, kind, and loving actions of the leaders we worked alongside had changed the community from one of despair to one of life, energy, and hope for the future. The same individuals who had once been hopeless were now leaders themselves, working to serve others the way they had been served.

      What if we did the same? What if we became a catalyst for change, just as these incredible leaders were throughout the Roma Gypsy communities in Slovakia? What if we chose to run towards people, whole-heartedly and unashamedly, even when the world runs away? Maybe it looks like choosing to help that classmate who struggles in a school subject that you rock. Maybe it looks like volunteering your time at a food shelf, nursing home, or hospital over the course of the holiday season. Perhaps it looks like simply choosing to smile and compliment someone who looks like they’re having a rough day. Whatever it is, today, choose kindness and choose to run towards people.

Stationed by the Ear of Corn,
Elaine Dorn

Thursday, October 17, 2019

I Can't Help Loving Myself

Love yourself. It's a simple message that lots of people give you. Even though we hear it, do we actually do it? A recent online poll of 2,345 U.S. adults, conducted last month, used a series of questions to determine Americans' levels of contentment and life satisfaction. Overall, just 33 percent of Americans said that they were very happy, remaining consistent with happiness levels in 2011 but dropping from the 35 percent who reported being very happy in 2008 and 2009. Why aren't we happy? I think it's because we don't love ourselves like we should.
How often do you look in the mirror, and think, "Gosh, I wish I had this, more this, less of this, looked more like her, had his clothes, etc.?" I know I used to do that. I'm sure we've all had a moment, a day, or a year where things just weren't sitting right. If you haven't, you know someone who has. I've compiled a list of 5 things that helped me be more satisfied with myself, and could help you too.

1. Get rid of negative influences in your life. It could be that the source of negativity isn't you. You are the average of the 5 closest people to you. Some of these may not be controllable, it could be your parents, your teachers, grandparents, or a pastor. However, some can be controlled. Your friends play a big role that you may not even realize. If you surround yourself with people you want to be with, you can become more of yourself.

2. Do what you want to do. Have you ever gone out with your friends and tried to decide where to eat? You say McDonalds, but your friends say B-Dubs, Perkins, Taco John's, and Culvers. You try your best to advocate for McDonald's, but the group decides on Taco John's (as they should.) Maybe you decide Taco John's isn't for today and you go to McDonald's because that's what you want to do. 

3. Do something out of your comfort zone. During the summer, Lafe and Maddie went out of their comfort zone and tried skydiving. Neither of them had done it before but they both enjoyed it. Maybe jumping out of a plane isn't your thing; you could try something less risky: Ice-skating, playing a new sport, listen to a new genre of music, play an instrument, start a journal, cook a new dish, or plan a trip out of your town. Maybe you won't like this new change, which is okay, it can just solidify that you like where you're at now. Or, you could have found a new hobby.

4. Compliment yourself. We mentioned the mirror example earlier, instead of saying negative things say positive things! Of course, it's not easy at first to make that quick of a change. Something I tried was writing post-it notes when I was in a good mood, and leave them on my mirror for when I'm in a bad mood.

5. Have a purpose. You may not know it yet, but everyone has a purpose in life. Some want to be a millionaire, some want to have 20 kids, and some want to be a world leader. Don't be afraid if you haven't found your purpose, I haven't quite found it either. Once you've found it, make sure that everything you do follows your purpose, and you will be much more satisfied with yourself.

"I love me, Gonna love myself, no, I don't need anybody else" - Love Myself Hailee Steinfeld

Stationed by the plow
Nic Potthoff

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Road Race in Progress

Road Race in Progress

“Are you going to let a piece of plastic on your wrist determine your self-value?” questioned my track and cross-country coach. He was referring to my watch. Throughout my junior and senior year, I based my identity in my running sports by the time on my watch. It took until this summer for me to truly understand how wrong I was, and that the time on a watch does not define one as a runner.

“The only person you should compare yourself to is the person that you were yesterday.” -Amy Morin

I have not seriously trained for a race or ran over five miles in about three years…so when my brother told me that he and I were going to train for a half marathon this fall, my mouth dropped open. “You want me to train with you?” I asked. “Of course, we will do it together!” he exclaimed. A million negative thoughts flooded into my mind. “The last time I even thought about running that much was in high school. The last time I was in running shape was in high school. The last time I believed in my running capabilities was in high school”….and so on. It was then that I had a decision to make. I could either continue to compare myself to my high school self or embrace who I am today and how far I can still grow in the future.

It was this summer I learned that a runner’s identity should not be determined by time but by the determination to persevere on mile 9 out of 10, by the ambition and drive to live a healthy lifestyle, by the character developed to get back up when feeling discouraged and so on. I admit I have not been able to train how I originally planned. I have had to start over in increasing my miles. I have had several “slow” days. However, I have never loved running as much as I do now. I run not because I have to but because I want to…and that is where growth begins. I am beginning to stop comparing myself to who I used to be, because I know I have grown and have become a better version of myself since then.

Friends and family have been a supportive foundation of unyielding strength along my life’s journey. My younger brother is a significant role model in my life, and he encourages me to accept challenges and persevere. He shows me through his actions by extending kindness and wisdom to younger less experienced “runners.”  In the same way we need to extend our hand to those that are around us, to reach our hand behind us and pull someone up who is struggling in their “race,” while also extending our hand forward to reach for mentors who have the desire to invest in us and better our lives. Life is hard; we are not meant to do it alone.

Last Saturday I ran a competitive 5K for the first time in over a year. One of the directional signs said: “Road race in progress.” Our “Road race” is in progress. As long as we do not stop, we are growing. If we only have time to run one mile, complete one task, organize one drawer, then at least we are one mile, one task, and one drawer closer to our goals. In the same way, life is not meant to be a timed race. It is not about how fast you get there but the lessons learned along the way. In a little over a week, I will be running a half marathon. Instead of comparing myself to the “old” me and judging myself based off of a piece of plastic on my wrist, I will be running for the “new” me. So if you are ready, tie your shoes, grab a friend, and let’s GROW.
Stationed by the door,
Savannah Aanerud