Gratitude Day 198 – When Days are Hard

Sat., Jan. 19, 2019

Psalm 119:28 – My spirit sags because of grief. Now raise me up according to your promise!

1986 was a hard year for my parents, Dick and Ann Deaton. At the time, they had operated a small dairy farm in Wisconsin for over 25 years. High interest rates and a very challenging dairy industry landed my parents in an unfortunate financial situation. They literally did not know how they could ever dig themselves out of the financial hole they were in, let alone make even the smallest payment on every bill that came through the mailbox. My Dad was also having significant health issues and needed surgery ASAP.

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In early October 1986, my parents made the difficult decision to liquidate their farm assets. A farm auction was scheduled for mid-November. On an emotionally draining day, my family said good-bye to all of our cows, including our favorite ones. The machinery and equipment were sold. Even the farm truck was auctioned.

Just a few days after the sale, my Dad had shoulder surgery.

After the auction, much changed for my parents. Within a few weeks, my Dad began working off the farm. He went from milking cows and running a dairy to now calling on dairy producers and helping them produce high quality milk.

My parents rarely spoke of the emotions they felt at the time. My siblings and I were very aware of the strain these challenges put on my parent’s marriage. But as a 19-year-old, I didn’t have the maturity or presence of mind to ask my parents how they dealt with all the changes and grief involved in stopping farming. I know my Dad felt like a failure. I know he struggled to make sense of how he could have let this happen to him and his family.

Yet, my parents kept going. Eventually, they purchased a house and moved to town. Both my parents pursued new careers and were able to dig themselves out of their financial hole. But it was a while before I heard joy in their voices again and saw smiles on their faces that came naturally.

About six weeks after the auction, I was recognized as the Wisconsin Holstein Girl. This award is given to a person under 21 who has excelled in the Wisconsin dairy industry and is seen as having potential for impacting the dairy industry in the future. It was a complete surprise. I never imagined that I would be selected. My parents were present when the announcement was made. After the banquet, I handed Dad the plaque. I shared how I felt this honor was just as much his as it was mine. Had not my Dad and Mom made so many sacrifices for me and encouraged me to pursue things that I loved to do, I would not have received this honor.

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This was 32 years ago. A couple weeks ago, my nephew, Zach, was recognized as the 2019 Wisconsin Holstein Boy. I am a very proud aunt. It was surreal to see him receive this honor. At the banquet, I was taken back to the night 32 years earlier. Currently, the dairy industry is in an equally, if not an even more challenging time. In Wisconsin, about 600 dairy farms went out of business in 2018. This means about 600 farm families made the same difficult decision my parents did in 1986. I wonder how these folks are dealing with their decisions and changes. How are they coping with the loss of a career and the disappointment of having to leave a way of living that people find rewarding?

Grief is tricky. Grief can smother us and overwhelm us. There are many different stages of grief. We can feel that we’re dealing with our grief and disappointment well until something happens, and well, we aren’t. Sometimes, people feel like they get stuck in grief and don’t know how to get off the grief treadmill.

Sometimes, people want others to take on or absorb or feel their grief. But we can’t. Our grief cannot be someone else’s grief and vice versa. I can try to listen to your grief and be present with you. But I cannot remove or feel just like you do. Why? Your grief is your grief. My grief is my grief. The two are not the same.

What disappointment are you experiencing in your life right now? What is overwhelming you and making you question everything that you know and previously have believed? What disappointment would you like to eliminate from your life … and try as you might, it keeps showing back up like a bad cough?

Unfortunately, I can’t “fix” your grief. Nor can anyone else. If you are experiencing grief right now, I pray you have a friend where you can safely share your grief. I pray that you give yourself space to work through your pain and disappointment, rather than trying to mask or hide it. I pray you do not get frustrated when grief shows up again in your life, especially after you thought you had dealt with it.

What did I learn from my parents through this awful time in their lives? They dusted off their feet and kept going. They didn’t give up on their lives or marriage. They remain committed to contributing to their family and society. They didn’t let losing a farm define the rest of their lives. No, they chose to place their hope in something not of this world but in the promises of God.

When their spirits sagged because of their grief, they sought God’s promise of better days. This, I believe, is what helped them eventually cross over to a place where they could enjoy life again. In time, they found more good days than challenging days.

I do believe the experience going through those challenging days helped me. I watched my parents not give up on God or blame God or determine that faith was no longer important in their lives. Disappointment did change how they viewed faith and their relationship with God. But they decided that faith in God was important.

I pray your experience of pain and grief can help you mature in faith and help you see of God is always there as a safety net.

For lessons learned from disappointment and grief, I am grateful.

Almighty God – when bad things happen, we want quick answers from you. But seldom, do quick answers come. We question, “Why,” when maybe the more helpful question is, “Who?” Who will journey with us through these challenging days? Why, You will, Lord God. Thank you for this gift. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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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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