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The 4th Runner…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Inspiration this week comes from 1John 4:12

“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each another, God lives in us and his love is brought to full expression in us.”


The morning of August 6th dawned early as the Haymaker Cross Country team gathered for our first conditioning practice. As the sleepy high school students wandered in, it was not hard to notice that the number of boys outnumbered the girls. In Nebraska (for all classes of schools other than A – the largest schools), varsity teams run 6 athletes and score 4 with the optional 5th runner serving as the tie-breaker runner and both the 5th and 6th runners able to out-place those from other teams in order to raise team scores. The goal – if you are running as a team – is to get the lowest score possible with your top 4 runners.

To the outsider, Cross Country is pretty much an individual sport. To the runner, it is very clearly a team sport. In addition to scoring as a team, there’s nothing more lonely than standing at the starting line without any teammates, and possibly nothing harder than motivating yourself to race through the discomfort of the 4th and 5th kilometer without the knowledge that your teammates are with you.

The individuals make up the team — but the team brings the individuals together to accomplish something greater than they can do alone.

In those early weeks of conditioning, I prayed each day for God to bring our three girls a fourth runner. By conventional standards, three runners did not give them a team. Our girls could compete as “individuals”, but could not compete as a team. I knew how important it was to them to go to state together. It is possible for individuals to qualify to run at state, but it is also highly improbable for one school to get three athletes qualified that way as only the top 15 runners in each district earn the right to compete at state.

The days went by and the same three girls showed up for practice each day.  As I watched them love each other – support each other – and work so very hard together, I had an epiphany. There may have only been three of them, but they were a team. They loved, they leaned, and they shared through each moment. They did all of the things that good teams do. Honestly, they weren’t just teammates – they were sisters of the heart. It was not only remarkable, but also beautiful.

At that point, I stopped praying for a fourth runner. Instead, I started thanking God for bringing the three of them together and asked for Jesus to bring them courage. I prayed for Him to fill a different gap – not a physical one, but an emotional one. They didn’t need a fourth runner, they needed to believe that they were a team so that Jesus could carry them.

Almost two month later, the three girls huddled up near the starting line at the District Championships – preparing for the defining race of their season. I reminded them that God brought them together as a team. That He loved them and that I did too. They just needed to pack their Holy Sass and GET IT DONE!

They finished 2nd, 12th and 15th. Karyn – my youngest – was our third runner racing right on the heals of her sister Megan. 100 yards before the finish line, Karyn tripped and fell. I don’t know how many people saw her fall, but I can tell you that those of us that did had a moment of panic. But, Jesus filled the gap. She came up racing and managed to claim the 15th spot despite the fall.


I’ve learned a lot of lessons this season. So did the girls. But, I think what struck me the most was how much God shown through them. 1John 4:12 reminds us that none of us have ever seen God, but when we love one another He is expressed through us.

We know Him when we love, and others also get to know Him as we love. 

Throughout the season, the girls often gathered in prayer and opened their hearts to abide in Jesus. You couldn’t ever see Him, but you could see Him in them. As they honored Him, He blessed them. As a coach – and a mom – I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful. I prayed for a 4th runner, and Jesus delivered.

Friday, the girls will compete together at the Nebraska Class C State Cross Country Championships. I don’t know exactly what the race will bring, but I do know that Jesus will once again be with them. As they hold His hand, He will hold their hearts. Together, they’ll run.

As they do, they create the light that illuminates God’s expression of love in their hearts.

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Shared Courage…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Inspiration this week comes from the Gospel of Matthew 18: 20

“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”


The 2019 swim team season kicked off last week. The first morning practice with the high school swimmers began with an air temperature of 38 degrees, and we were very glad for a heated pool! It was 55 degrees by the time the younger swimmers practiced in the middle of the day, but the air still carried a bit of a bite to it…The weather might not think it is summer, but we have more than 40 young athletes that are excited to be in the water!

This year’s theme for the season is courage. In particular our quote to live by is, “Courageous faith calls us to finish strong!”. We spent our weekly off-season winter practices talking about what it takes to be a good teammate. That provides a great lead-up to a summer of courageous fellowship 🙂

Just as being an athlete takes courage, so does life.

  • It takes courage to be grateful regardless of your circumstance.
  • It takes courage to persevere with steadfast grace.
  • It takes courage to continue to put in the work even when you can’t see a victorious outcome.
  • It takes courage to stand firm and cling to your faith.

My hope is that our team will build meaningful habits to help us be courageous while simultaneously building fitness and strength in the water. I opened up the first practice asking the swimmers what it means to have courage. A ten year old boy on the team immediately responded, “courage is keeping going and working hard even when you are scared.” A second swimmer followed that statement with, “when we have courage we don’t settle even when it gets hard.” By the end of the week, we all decided that it was easier to be courageous and to make courageous choices when we came together to support each other as a team.


I believe that God calls us to be all in – To live with heartfelt passion in order to share his love with others. The athletic team is an awesome place to learn this. It provides a fun and engaging way to introduce many of the challenges that we experience throughout life. When done correctly, athletics teach the value of hard work and unselfish fellowship. At the Cozad Swim Team, we start each practice with a character lesson, a bible verse, and a daily devotional. I do this because I believe that the first thing that my swimmers need to learn is that God is always with them. He is the ultimate source of courage and he uses each one of us to help build a fellowship of strength. That is the purpose of TEAM.

For where two or three gather, God is among them.

I think that all of my swimmers know how important my faith is to me. I hope that it provides a light to them as they travel the journey of building a meaningful relationship with our Lord. What they might not know is that sharing faith with them brings me courage. My swimmers inspire me to live with grace – to be brave – to have a grateful attitude – and to work with purpose each and every day.

2019 has been a year of challenge for me. During the various times of trial, I have thought of my athletes and how I would counsel them. This keeps me centered on my faith and reminds me of the importance of practicing what I preach. In about a month, I will undergo a third surgery on my leg. As I fight the fear of another invasive procedure, the reality that today I am unable to walk without pain, and the knowledge that the future is unknown, I draw on the shared courage that we build together in fellowship on the pool deck.

I pray that I will walk this path with grace so that my swimmers can see Jesus carry me with the courageous faith that I need to finish strong 🙂

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AOTA…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Inspiration this week comes from Hebrews 12: 11

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.”


Our family entered the world of Haymaker Wrestling this year. About a month after Joseph came to live with us, he decided that he wanted to learn to wrestle. Two of the Haymaker Wrestling coaches have kids that swim for me, and my favorite farmer was a wrestler in high school so it seemed a good fit.

As a swimmer and a runner (with a brother who played baseball), I was a newbie to the sport of wrestling. The discipline and fitness intrigued me, while the culture of the sport just plain pulled at my heart. Over the course of the season, I watched a small group of young men band together to create a brotherhood. A brotherhood that inspired loyalty and leadership.

Photo Credit: Brian Bazata

The mantra of the Haymaker Wrestling team is AOTA. A-always, O-on, T-the, A-ttack. I questioned it a bit going into the season, but it didn’t take long for me to understand the meaning and the purpose. In a wrestling match, you are either in control of the match and earning points or you are getting beat by an opponent who is. Leadership on the mat requires a high level of engagement and a willingness to take chances in the moment in order to claim victory at the end.

There is no room for laziness.

Rather, the wrestling culture inspires enthusiastic and proactive “headmanship”. Our Youth Ministry Pastor defines “headmanship” as the leadership that men demonstrate as they intentionally work to serve and protect. It comes from active and selfless engagement as mental and physical strength merge to create honor.


There’s a lot of spirituality that happens on the wrestling mat. I don’t know if the Haymaker wrestlers would intentionally call it that, but I clearly saw it as I watched them come together as a team this season. Paul reminds us in Hebrews 12:11 that God calls us to never be lazy – rather – we are called to work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

It takes an intentional individual choice to create a victorious community.

Joseph began his wrestling career as a senior with no prior experience. He faced the challenge of spending the season wrestling some of the Midwest’s finest who had more than 10 years of experience. I never worried that he would fail. I knew that God would carry him. What he lacked in learned skill, his teammates and coaches helped him to fill in with discipline, leadership, and love.

I cried when he won his first match. My heart swelled when he got his first victory by pin. I watched him lose more times than he won, but each match brought a sense of purpose, identity and worth to the young man that God had brought to me as a son. Joseph discovered the beauty of “team” as well as the pride found in working hard to honor the mission.

He learned that being on the attack can be something incredibly righteous.

Isn’t this what Jesus calls us to do?

The New Testament is full of passages where Jesus implores us to actively and passionately love community more than self. And, to keep giving even when it hurts because the mission holds unfathomable value. My heart filled with hope as the season went on and I realized that wrestling provided a tremendous battlefield to teach our young men to fight with righteousness.

When the battle is honorable, being on the attack is a good thing.

We are not called to be passive. We are called to fight with our whole hearts as we engage in Jesus’ mission.

To the 2019 Haymaker Wrestling Team, thank you for fighting the good fight. I pray that you will take these “life lessons” and apply them to the calls that God has for you during your life journey. You all earned many medals this season, but the greatest is the one that you carry in your heart as you honor your God and your team. Thank you for your efforts.

Respect is earned — you all have mine.

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Wearing the jersey…

Many of you probably noticed that Wednesday came and left with no Feed Yard Foodie post — one of the things that I am learning is to give myself the gift of patience. This week I needed time to process and reflect before I wrote. So, below you will find a Wednesday Wisdom on this Sunny Saturday 🙂

I would like to dedicate this post to two people who continue to help and inspire me on this journey.

  1. To Pastor John Shields for bringing me back to the bible and helping me to realize that living as a Christian is about what is in your heart, not about what religion you call yourself.
  2. To Bev Smith for the steadfast prayerful and emotional support that leaves me humbled and inspires my heart to always love.

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂

Inspiration this week comes from Galatians 5: 22

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


On April 19th, 2018 Team Burkholder got a new member. God brought us a son – a brother – a teammate. We packed our faith to live with grace during a time of uncertainty. I do not think that any of the six of us knew for sure what the play book looked like, but we all agreed to wear the jersey. 

It’s hard for a seventeen year old to join a team unlike anything that he has ever known.

  • To accept the jersey that is given without any strings.
  • To understand that while the jersey is free, putting it on necessitates always working unselfishly toward the good of the team.

It’s hard for the established team to build a new playbook — one that includes the new teammate and works to increase the strength of the new group.

  • To love without reservation.
  • To act with the grace of the Holy Spirit to share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Four months later, we’re figuring it out — Appreciating the grace that brought us together and embracing the support that comes from faith. I can honestly say that we’ve all grown – together – as we work to play on the new team that God called us to create. My children are my greatest blessings and my heart fills with gratitude as three has now become four. My favorite farmer is enjoying some additional comraderie as he is no longer the only boy on the team!


I’ve been a coach long enough that I tend to think of things in terms of athletics. This past week, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it takes to create a successful faith-based team. I keep coming back to the phrase wear the jersey. The words popped into my head while running one morning, and then went on to dominate my thoughts for the remainder of the week.

Allow me to clarify 🙂

God’s love is a gift — it is the athletic jersey that everyone is offered when they are asked to join the team

There are a range of things that we can do with this gift:

  1. We can leave it ignored and hanging in the closet
  2. We can tentatively reach for it and consider how to best put it on
  3. We can dedicatedly wear it — with a mixture humility and pride — as we allow the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts and provide the playbook as we embrace the team mission

Sometimes, as we first learn to be a part of the team, we reach out unconfidently to take hold of the jersey.  We find that some days it is easy to wear and others it is not. Its presence never waivers but our dedication to it does. It is only when we make a confident commitment to the team that we find what the Holy Spirit promises: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If there is one thing that I have learned over the past four months, it is how to wear the jersey — With my whole heart, always and forever. 

 

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Cycles of giving…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Today’s quote can be found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6:38

“Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount that you give will determine the amount you get back.”


Life on a farm intrinsically teaches a lesson in the cycle of giving. As Howard Buffet notes in his book, Forty Chances, a farmer has approximately 40 chances (growing cycles) over his lifetime to use his efforts to bring meaning to the world. Whether its tilling the soil or caring for a calf, as adult farmers, we each have around 40 years of contribution.

Matt and I are firmly in the middle of our forty year tenure — far enough through the process to understand fully what it means, but with enough chances left that we are inspired to constantly strive to do it better. It takes a lot of faith to farm. Diligent care for the land and our animals provides the structure to our days, but uncontrollable forces like Mother Nature can undermine our success as caretakers. The process has taught me to tenaciously give, stubbornly packing my belief that God will never let the cup run empty.

Matt giving a young Megan a lesson in water quality

We honor our resources on the farm by always getting smarter about how to use them. We work, we mature in our knowledge, and we are renewed by our dedication to the goal. A tangible example of this is the move to shift from gravity pipe irrigation to pivot technology combined with soil moisture sensors which allows us to conserve water while optimizing crop yields.


As I travel into my third decade of chances, I find myself digging deeper to better understand what it really means to give. Jesus’s instruction, “Give and you will receive”, is a very basic one. However, it also holds complexity and depth. In order to fully give, you must

  • gather as a team
  • connect as a unified group
  • contribute unselfishly

I feel as though my life has been a series of experiences where God tenaciously tries to teach me the value of giving as a team. Jesus’s words, “pressed down, shaken together to make room for more” denotes the importance of we. Giving is not a singular act. It takes both a donor and a receiver. We bring honor to the act when we work together — creating a continuous cycle rather than one independent input. The cycle perpetuates as givers become receivers and receivers become givers — when the team comes together to fill the cup.

If we only have a finite number of chances, then it behooves us to make the most of each and every one. I may have learned that lesson on the farm, but it carries over to every aspect of my life. The Holy Spirit reminds me daily that #TogetherWeAreStronger.

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Good Idea! Poor Execution…

My favorite farmer and I played racquetball on Saturday morning. Temperatures were hovering around zero outside, so we headed for the indoor court after I got farm chores finished.  We both enjoy athletics as well as doing things together, so it’s a good fit on a cold day.

I’ve loved Matt since I was eighteen and we’ve been married more than half of my life. One of our strengths as a couple is our dedication to the concept of team. We both place a priority on the realization that together we are stronger, just as we also acknowledge that the key to this is using our blend of strengths and weaknesses to continuously work to make the team better.

Matt is, hands down, a better racquetball player than I am. He’s bigger – He’s stronger –He’s faster. In fact, he’s also ambidextrous so he doesn’t have a “weak side”. Playing the game could be frustrating for me with him acing the serve and never giving me the ability to participate; but that isn’t the case because of our unwritten rule of always working to build the team.

As we play racquetball, I have lots of good ideas with poor execution. I’d never played the sport before I met Matt, and our games are pretty infrequent with the responsibilities of family and farm chores. I know enough that I can envision what I need to do, but my body doesn’t always move with the precision needed to make the play. However, each time that we play, I get better. This happens for two reasons:

  1. I bring a positive and passionate attitude to the games.
  2. Matt holds strong to the goal of helping the team to get stronger.

There is a reason that there is no “I” in TEAM. The lack of “I” keeps the team going with universal hope for the future.

Life is full of times when we work to build different skills. It is also full of moments when a fresh set of eyes allows for the development of good ideas. I believe that the secret to success is in the team mentality.  It creates a culture which nurtures the teammates. New ideas are created and embraced, and a level of support exists to inspire the work needed to improve execution.

  • It takes good ideas to inspire continuous improvement.
  • It takes practice to develop good execution.

Common acceptance of the goal, good communication, an underlying level of respect, and a dedication to finding group success makes each individual teammate stronger just as it builds the team. The score board said that I lost all three racquetball games, but I had moments of success and lots of improvement over the two hour period. Matt broke a sweat and I only lost the last game by two points. We finished with smiles on our faces – looking forward to the next time.

Sometimes, that’s the biggest victory of all 🙂

How do you build the concept of “team” in your life?

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The Team

My daughter came home one night last summer and announced that she did not want to be the student manager and practice with the Cross Country team as a 6thgrader when school started in the fall.  I then asked her if she was planning to play club volleyball instead.  When she responded with a resounding, “NO”, I looked at her and said:  “Sweetheart, your last name is Burkholder.  Burkholders are involved and we participate.  You can make the decision as to which sport you would like to do, but you are going to contribute to one of the teams.”

Learning personal determination as well as being a team contributor...

My daughter not only had a fabulous time participating in Cross Country this fall, but she also proved to be a tremendous runner finishing a middle school 1 mile race in 6 minutes flat and taking second place.  It was truly a joy for me to watch her confidence build as she became a member of the team.

As a cattle farmer, I spend most of my time working independently with my animals or with one of my feed yard crew members.  This is the work that I love, and it is my primary focus.  That being said, I am also a member of the team of cattlemen across Nebraska and nationally that works to improve animal care, beef safety, and other issues pertaining to raising cattle.  In support of the team, I give my time and my talents.  In return, I also receive the latest scientific and regulatory updates that affect my cattle farm.

I spent time last week at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Annual Convention.  As a team, we discussed issues such as cattle health, environmental regulations, taxes, brand inspection laws, and educational issues relative to the University of Nebraska and its animal science outreach extension programs.  We also received an update on national issues from Colin Woodall who leads the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s office in Washington DC.

Members of the team learning and participating...

It is always a sacrifice for me to leave my farm and attend meetings, but I am always so glad that I did because it is such an important part of my own personal continuing education.  I learn both how to improve my farm and also to be in compliance with state and federal regulations.  Being a part of the team has allowed me to meet some of the best beef farmers and scientists in the country.  In addition, I find that my “beef industry” work and involvement continually challenges me to strive for excellence in the everyday operations of my farm.

Perhaps most importantly, I find that the team camaraderie provides support for me, and allows for the growth of both personal knowledge and confidence.  I am very thankful that I am a participator (just like my daughter), and hope that my work for the beef team helps to continually improve the industry that I love so much.

What Team are you a part of?

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