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.
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.
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.
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