On Travel, Tears and Gratitude

With our Minnesota 4-H Colleagues

You have probably noticed that my blog posts have been pretty infrequent since the first of the year – but don’t worry, I have LOADS of material to blog about, so stay tuned. The biggest reason for my lack of posting is due to so much momentum that is moving the 4-H Thriving Model forward. The stars have aligned and the work has been constant and at times intense, but always, always, always, the most rewarding work I have ever done.

I journeyed to Minnesota last Sunday to give a keynote address at the Minnesota 4-H “Youth and U” Conference on Monday. Many of you know that Minnesota 4-H has been a leader in many ways, but in two key areas in particular: The work they have accomplished on engaging “first generation” 4-H members, particularly from under served enclaves, and their focus on assessing and improving 4-H program quality. We all have a lot to learn from this great work! But on Monday all of Minnesota 4-H focused on the 4-H Thriving model, and I was delighted to give both the keynote address and a follow-up workshop. In the workshop I tried out a new method for teaching the youth thriving indicators, and I’ll be sharing this method in a practitioner tip next Tuesday.

Something caught me off guard in Minnesota, however, something I was not prepared for, and that set me back momentarily before my address. Dr. Jennifer Skuza, who is the associate dean for Minnesota 4-H introduced the keynote by showing the TEDx Talk on youth sparks by the late Dr. Peter Benson of Search Institute. I have watched this video countless times, and each time I do I glean even more nuggets of wisdom. (If you haven’t watched it yet, I hope you will- just clink on the hyperlink above).

As I sat there listening to, it hit me: I am in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities, where Search Institute is located, and I am talking about youth sparks and thriving.

So much of the 4-H Thriving Model is based on the research that Search has conducted over the years. And there I was getting ready to talk about the connection of this work with 4-H youth development, in the midst of a momentum related to the 4-H Thriving Model that I never predicted. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a lump of gratitude in my throat. The gratitude is for all the developmental scientists who have laid the path to this point for us, and for all the others who will soon be joining in helping move the 4-H Thriving Model forward (more on that soon! I promise!)

As I moved from my seat to the stage I shook my head and took a deep breathe. And I was reminded of one of my favorite bits of wisdom found in a poem by Frederick Buechner entitled Tears ;


You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.

When I started working on the 4-H Thriving Model eight years ago, I was compelled by something deep inside me, something that was hard to identify, but I felt its power nonetheless. At times in this process I have only known that I had take the next step, and trust that the step after would be revealed to me. And so it has been. Along the way I have been honored to have this work championed by so many people, at all levels of the 4-H organization. As a scholar and youth development specialist I have been driven by a desire to give back to this organization that has meant so much to me since I first joined 4-H when I was 10 years old with my pony Stormy. In so many ways, the development of this model is my own act of gratitude for the 4-H Youth Development program and all the professionals and volunteers who are dedicated to helping youth thrive. People like YOU.

So, paying attention to the tears on we go!

Thriving On,



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