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85 Years of Excellence

I just returned home from our 85th Georgia State FFA Convention. It was my first convention in 5 years and it was soooo good to be back. As I sat at breakfast yesterday morning with my agriculture teachers and father, rolling my eyes, laughing, and sucking my teeth at all the ridiculousness that comes out of their mouth, I counted myself as oh so blessed. I not only had a good father growing up, but an amazing set of agriculture teachers, old and new, who poured into me and literally helped raise me. And those were just the ones in my hometown. It doesn’t include the countless others across the state who I am so blessed to call friends, advisors, and mentors. I arrived in Georgia a little bit hug-deficient, but I most definitely made up for any hugs that I have missed out on the past few months within these last 3 days.

Not only was it amazing to get to see all of these ag teachers, it was also such a joy to get to witness the leadership skills and excellence found in the Georgia FFA and its members. I must admit, I was a little taken aback on the first night as I first heard students and officers speaking onstage. More than one of them spoke with a southern drawl thicker than molasses in wintertime. People just think I talk southern. You ain’t heard nothing yet. But as my ears adjusted, I relished the sound of these students, many of whom had left their hometowns for the first time to travel to the State FFA Convention. And as I listened, I cherished the fact that they most likely left that convention changed for the better, with eyes opened to a whole new world made available to them through the FFA.

As I chat, chat, chatted it up with every person I saw at convention, I reveled in the opportunity to meet all the new faces, and catch up with so many of the old ones. What a blessing to be surrounded by a group of teachers who live to better their students. To be surrounded by so many teachers, who are living out their calling from God as they serve on their own mission field – a public school full of students who long to loved, valued, and taught. As much as I felt “called” to spend the past two years in Africa, so many of my friends feel that very same “call” to their career. It encouraged and challenged my heart to once again see the body of Christ being lived out in so many different ways.

It has been 10 years since I served on a State Officer team for the Georgia FFA. That doesn’t seem possible. In my head, I have not aged a day over 22, so that really makes it seem impossible. The 10 year team usually returns to convention and the president delivers remarks to the students. Our president is currently serving overseas with the Marine Corps, so the task fell to me. What an honor to be able to speak on behalf of our team and get to re-introduce them to the 5,000 students, teachers, and parents attending this year’s convention. Since this year was the 85th Convention, they also had an 85 year reunion for all past state officers and brought everyone who was able to be present out onto the stage. Because I am a complete FFA nerd, I sat and watched the session online while I waited in the airport to go back to Raleigh. As I sat in the airport waiting area, I had to literally restrain myself to keep from clapping as I watched and tried to comprehend the legacy left behind by those 85 years worth of past state officers. I wasn’t as successful, however, at restraining the tears that flowed freely down my cheeks while I watched.

Our team 10 years ago.

Our team 10 years ago.

And 10 years later.

And 10 years later. Obviously, not all were able to make it back. 

This 10 year mark served as a point in my life where I feel like God has brought me full circle. So much has happened in these past 10 years. Most of it in my heart, very little of it on paper or for the world to see. 10 years ago began an inner heart struggle that ended up with me walking away from all I’d ever claimed to believe. 5 years into that, the Lord graciously restored me to him. Over the past 5 years, I feel like he has been reshaping and remolding my beliefs about him, myself, and this life. When I was asked to give remarks at the convention, I took a little more liberty than I was perhaps given and went ahead and shared a brief testimony. To stand onstage and talk about what the FFA has means was such a huge honor, but there was no possible way to leave it at just that. And I couldn’t.  So grateful for his faithfulness.

If you are a former FFA member, or have had any involvement with Georgia Agricultural Education over the years, you may also enjoy watching this session (or any of them) at Session 4, starting at 1:17. Be sure to watch to the point where they bring all the past state officers from the last 85 years out on the stage.

Below is a portion of what I shared about where God has brought me since the days in FFA, yet how he still uses what he taught me during those years:

“As I returned home this week in preparation for the convention and pulled out that old FFA jacket I hung in the closet at my parent’s house 10 years ago, the memories came flooding back. The 12 years of showing livestock, the 8 state FFA conventions, the 5 summers at FFA camp, and the 3 trips to National FFA convention…that blue corduroy jacket still holds each memory. I’m sure that each of you can relate, even now, to what that jacket means to an FFA member.

As wonderful as this FFA jacket is and as wonderful this organization is, neither the FFA, nor your accomplishments in this great organization, will ever satisfy you. And can I tell you something? They were never meant to. I will never forget the day that I won State Prepared Public speaking after 4 years of striving towards that goal, and I literally walked off the stage, plaque in hand, and thought to myself, “Is this it?” You see, during my FFA years, my identity was built on the awards, honor, and recognition received while wearing blue corduroy. And it left me wanting. Not because of anything lacking in the FFA or in that blue jacket, but because neither thing was ever designed to be our identity. They were never meant to be our purpose in life, or to determine our value.

At 23 years old, my heart found what that something more is…it is a heart overwhelmed by the grace of Jesus Christ because of the death he died on my behalf. It is a life released from the pursuit of achievement and success and freed to follow Christ – to live for the glory of His name, not my own. As the age old hymn says, “I once was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see.” Being a follower of Christ has taken me down roads far less prestigious than the ones I experienced in the FFA… some hard roads, some dark roads, some roads that led me far far from home, but through them all he has continued to teach me what it means to follow him and the joy that comes from a life spent pursuing him and not my own ambitions.

Looking back now, it is clear how God has taken the skills, disciplines, knowledge, and character that were gained through the FFA and used them in ways I never thought possible. 10 years ago I delivered a retiring address at the 75th Convention in front of 2,000 people. 10 months ago I was living in the Horn of Africa, “delivering” Bible stories and livestock management skills to a group of 20 impoverished, countryside women. I had big plans for how I was going to use my agricultural skills and knowledge here in America. God had quite different plans for me in Africa, using many of those same skills and knowledge, to share Christ with people who had never heard the name of Jesus mentioned in their own language. Believe me when I say that the skills and traits you learn in the FFA will be beneficial regardless of what path in life you take.”

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