The annual state convention of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation is usually held around the first week of December every year. As president and board member of my county Farm Bureau, it behooves me to attend the two-and-a-half-day event where state policy is cussed, discussed, developed and argued over. Even though it’s usually at an inconvenient time for me, as I’m trying to ship fat cattle or coach a basketball game at some far-flung rural Idaho outpost, I always make a valiant effort to attend at least the parts of the event where my presence can be most useful.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on X (@pm...

Besides the policy-making and the obvious advantages gained from simple networking among my passionate agriculturist counterparts from across the state and beyond, it’s always good to meet and catch up with old friends and hear their tales of woe and joy from the intervening time between the last meeting and the current one. From horse wrecks in Weiser and sugarbeets in Parma to spring floods in hayfields on the Snake River Plain, there’s always a plethora of interesting tales, both mild and wild.

In the hotel lobby at the most recent convention, I struck up a conversation with a lady who wasn’t even a part of the Farm Bureau family but had a story or two to tell, nonetheless. She told me of an experience she’d had at a Boise Walmart just the day before. It seems as she was strolling down the aisle, she was randomly approached by a young man in his 20s. She had no prior connection to him, but he asked her if she would like him to pray for her – right then and there. Although she felt more than a bit awkward taking part in something that seemed to be a bit of a spectacle right there in the middle of a very busy place of commerce, and doubting his sincerity, she rather somewhat reluctantly agreed, sharing with the young man that she’d recently been going through some struggles with her health.

He placed his hand on her shoulder and sincerely poured out his soul and pleaded with the Almighty to bless and comfort this heretofore stranger in her time of need. A few people stopped their shopping and gave respect, even reverence to the peculiar event. The woman was moved by the young gentleman’s sincere compassion and admitted to shedding a grateful tear as he closed his prayer. Before she could even offer what she felt was an appropriate and deserved word of thanks, he turned and disappeared into the crowd. Before she left the store, she tried, in vain, to find the kind young man, but he was nowhere to be found.

As we stood there in the hotel lobby, it felt less like a chance meeting of two strangers and more like the rekindling of a dear lost, but not forgotten, old friendship. There was no agenda behind her relaying of the story, other than she felt that by retelling the story, she hoped that she was in some small way “paying it forward” in the best way she could.


For some reason, the experience took me back to a scene behind the chutes at a rodeo on a late summer night, several years prior. As I was making my way between the rows of horse trailers and campers at the edge of the fairgrounds, I walked past a group of seven or eight 20-somethings who were merrily, but not really in an obnoxious manner, supporting the local barley growers as they enjoyed a 12-pack of whatever the cheapest beer was at the grocery store down the street.

As I walked by, more trying to avoid than engage with them, one of the girls hollered out my name. With language that was a touch on the coarse and colorful side and the gait of one who was approaching the other side of slightly inebriated, she trotted up to me and wrapped me in a friendly embrace.

“It’s me, Sally! I haven’t seen you since I ran for queen here a few years back."

It was then that I recognized her as the happy, shy girl from years earlier who stepped out of her comfort zone to vie for a rodeo queen title that she probably realized was quite a ways out of her reach. Still, as far as I could remember, she did the best she could. I had, at the time, spoken with her and offered her encouragement during fair week, but didn’t recall that I’d interacted with her all that much.

“You helped change my life,” she boisterously exclaimed to all within earshot. “I never would have made it through that time I ran for queen if you hadn’t helped me during the week.”

I’m sure that in her mind and in her state, the level of my support to her was grossly exaggerated. I honestly did little more than give her a friendly greeting and tell her a joke or two throughout the week when I’d see her and her fellow queen contestants. Though my deeds were small, they were still real, and they obviously had an impact far greater than I had realized or intended. Thank goodness they were acts that grew and branched the right way.

Then, and again in the hotel lobby as I spoke with the unwitting recipient of a good-hearted young street preacher’s prayer, I realized that what we do and say can and does – for better or worse – ripple way beyond what we may ever realize. As we break out and venture into a new year, let that be the lead thought in our every act and utterance.