Gratitude Day 21 – Being God’s Hands and Feet

Sun., Apr. 22, 2018

1 Corinthians 12:21 – That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet.

When God’s hands touch our hands, our hands continue the work of God’s kingdom. Our work for God’s kingdom comes in many different forms. Often outside the traditional box.

I have been blessed to serve God’s kingdom in various ways. Shortly after hubby Rick and I were married, we moved into a house provided by a church I was serving. The house was in the country and our closest neighbors were dairy farmers. We became fast friends with Mel & Doris Lohr and son Greg, who farms with them. Having grown up on a dairy farm, I dusted off my cow milking skills and put them to work a few times when we lived by the Lohr’s.

The Lohr’s have contemplated a different arrangement for their dairy operation for years. Their operation has labor intensive. Finding and keeping employees has been an issue. The buildings were worn out. It was time for Mel and Doris to allow Greg more ownership.

20180421_120641This week, the Lohr’s initiated their decision. They moved their cows into a new home. Rather than being milked the traditional way, they installed four robotic milkers. Instead of people going to the cows to milk them, the cows go to a specific place were robots handling cow-milking duties.

20180421_144322There are about 1.3 million cows in Wisconsin, where I live. In Wisconsin, dairy farms contribute about $43.4 billion to the state’s economy. Of the 9,520 Wisconsin farms, 96% are family owned. These owner-operators work tirelessly to produce a very healthy high-quality product. They take extreme pride in caring for their animals. All the dairy producers I know go out of their way to ensure the animals are well cared for, feed and healthy.

For the Lohr’s, switching barns and milking methodology cows was a huge undertaking. The cow’s office was moved. They have a new lunch room, the bathroom is in a different location, their beds have changed and their water coolers look completely different. The way they earn their keep (provide milk) has been turned upside down. The cows have more choice about when the eat, sleep and be milked.

Because everything is so different and new, early on, the cows need a little encouragement. The extended Lohr family has stepped it up this week as well as their employees. Since Tuesday, lots and lots of volunteers have become hands and feet to help the cows adjust. People have been in the new barn round-the-clock.

Saturday, Rick and I took an afternoon shift. After our arrival, we were given a 10-minute course of what to do and look for. Then, we were turned loose to find which cows were overdue to be milked.

20180421_120404The whole system is highly technical. The automation is becoming more fine-tuned each day. Saturday was day 5 since the cows were moved. Both Rick and I are amazed how quickly the cows have adapted. They are divided into four groups, based on age and milking stage. By the end of our shift, the youngest cows basically have the system figured out. Some older cows just need a little more coaxing.

20180421_120027In their brand-new hotel, the cows are so comfortable and content. In the hours we helped, we only heard one cow “moo.”

As nifty as this whole new operation is, the overarching cloud is the difficult dairy economy right now. The price dairy producers are paid for the milk they produce are at record lows. In the 1980’s, the dairy economy went through several challenging years. Many good dairy operations were ultimately forced to stop, my family included. The Lohr’s have staked their entire financial future on this new set-up. The low income only adds another layer of stress. It’s difficult for most of us to understand the significance and challenge of this. Believe me – it’s there.

When Doris called and asked if Rick and I could take a shift, there was no hesitation. Yes, we wanted to help our friends. Yes, we were curious to see their new operation. Yes, we would do this because this is how we put into action God’s call to extend God’s hands into the world. We were grateful Doris asked us.

Most people cannot be hands and feet directly for the Lohr’s. But you can help. Help them and all dairy producers by buying an extra gallon or two of milk a week. Or cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or ice cream. If your family cannot consume them, donate them to your local food pantry. Do this again next week. “Fixing” this dairy economic situation is tricky. Each of us can increase consumption and help family operations like the Lohr’s.

One of my seminary professors said that going over 30 miles to help someone is missionary work. Rick and I were more than pleased to be make the Lohr’s our little mission trip and be God’s hands and feet today.

For this, I am grateful.

Almighty God – the opportunities to be your hands and feet in your kingdom are endless. Unfortunately, we aren’t always very comfortable for asking assistance. I pray we can become see that when your hand touches ours, the opportunities for us to serve your kingdom are just beginning. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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If We All Donated 5 Dairy Products …

sliced cheeseTues., Apr. 25, 2017

2 Chronicles 15:4 – But when they were in trouble, they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel. They looked for him and found him.

Early in April, about 75 Wisconsin dairy farms received a letter from their milk processor. As of May 1, the milk processor will no longer purchase milk from their dairy operation. They have to find another place to sell their milk within 30 days.

Let me help us understanding the challenge these dairy producers face. Most dairy operations have milk picked-up from their farm and delivered to the milk processor every day. On-farm storage is extremely limited. Milk must be moved within 24- or 48-hours. Because milk is perishable, milk not processed within a few days cannot be marketed. Most Wisconsin dairy processors are currently running at or over 100% capacity. There is no demand for additional milk in Wisconsin and neighboring states right now. Finding another processor for the milk is literally more daunting than trying to find a needle in a haystack.

The cows, well, they can’t just go on “vacation.” They aren’t a factory that can be stopped and started at will. For most dairy operations, the majority of a farm’s income is derived from the sale of milk. Over the past year, the farm gate milk price paid has been low. Missing even one milk check is devastating. Do you see the very difficult pickle these dairy operations are in, with very limited options and alternatives?

The ag media has reported that about half of the dairy farms who received the letter have found another processor. This is good news! But what about the other folks who do not know where their milk will go next Monday, other than down the drain?

I grew-up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and was very actively involved in the day-to-day operation. I have spent more time professionally and personally involved in the dairy industry than I have as a pastor. I’ve milked cows more times than I’ve given sermons. My husband says, given the choice, I would be milking a herd of dairy cows today rather than trying to shepherd a flock of sometimes unwieldy sheep. I continue to have a part-time job in the dairy industry and spend at least one day a week helping dairy operations around the world.

This situation is very close to my heart. I know the difficulty of saying “good-bye” to a herd of cows you’ve grown to love, respect and treat like family. I’ve experienced the daily anxiety of trying to keep a dairy operation going while caring for a family. I’ve fielded phone calls and spoken with dairy producers who could not afford Christmas presents for their children and did not know where to turn for help.

The series of events that led up to this predicament are long and varied. The problem didn’t happen overnight. Long-term solutions are even more daunting. Industry folks have worked tirelessly the last few weeks exploring possible short-term and long-term remedies.

Yet, I keep wondering what I can do. I don’t own a dairy processing facility. If I can’t affect the processing end of the equation, what can I do to help increase dairy product consumption?

Recently, a suggestion surfaced of one way we can help. We can find ways to increase consumer dairy product consumption by 5 dairy products. Drink 5 gallons of milk. Eat 5 gallons of ice cream. Incorporate 5 lbs. of cheese into cooking. Use 5 lbs. of butter for baking.

This, I can do. It’s not realistic for Rick and I to consumer 5 more lbs. or gallons of dairy products in the next week. We’re just two people. But I can encourage others. So, I went to the grocery store and purchased more than 10 lbs. of sliced cheese and donated it to the local food pantry. During food distribution on Tues. and Thurs. this week, I’m optimistic 10+ families will choose sliced cheese for sandwiches or to make grilled cheeses for supper. Maybe this cheese will allow kids to have cheese and crackers as an after-school snack. Or a quick snack for on-the-go families. I pray some families will think the unusual availability of cheese is something that will benefit their families.

Wisconsin is not the only state dealing with this dilemma. Increasing consumption of dairy products and alleviating some of the current surplus of U.S. dairy products WILL help the entire American dairy industry.

Why am I encouraging us to increase dairy product consumption this week? Because it’s a way to assist families whose livelihood is being challenged. Think of this as another way of serving our neighbor in need. This neighbor just needs a place to market their milk.

For the dairy families currently affected and those who may in the near future face the challenge of no market for their milk: I pray you can turn to the Lord and find the Lord. Unfortunately, the Lord does not remove all the challenges in our lives. What the Lord does is journey with us as we navigate life’s pot holes and road blocks. The Lord wants to take this journey with you. For this, I thank the Lord. Please invite the Lord to join you in your journey.

Lord God – today, we lift up those operations and families who are dedicated to helping feed the people of this country and those around the world. As we struggle with a food distribution challenge, be with those who are deeply affected with the current situation. Bring forth wisdom with ideas and options. In these days of trouble, hold those affected in the cup of your hand and bring them your comfort and peace. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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