The readings for the first Sunday of Lent focused on Jesus in the desert for 40 days. During this time, he removed himself from distractions so he could clear his head, find his center, take a deep breath and move forward in his mission. Between COVID-19 and not milking cows right now, we find ourselves in a desert of sorts. We are finding a sense of quiet with the removal of daily chores, distractions and clatter. We are clearing our heads and finding our center and our starting point for the next step.
    But taking that first step is so hard. We know all the ways we can fall, but we forget all the ways we can get back up. Imagine a baby’s first step. I witnessed our granddaughter Emma taking her first steps this past summer. She was just 10 months old but determined to catch up and keep up with her older brother. She didn’t know how this walking thing was going to work, but she was determined to move. Her first steps were not perfect. They were tenuous, cautious and hesitant. She stutter stepped. She stumbled and tumbled. Her first step into the unknown was the hardest step she took. But she took it. When she fell, she got back up. Watch out world, here she comes.
    It is too bad we are smarter than a baby. We recognize all the dangers and pitfalls. We consider all of the what ifs before we take our first step. A baby looks ahead to where they want to go. They have a finish line in sight and a target to reach. They don’t focus on all the other distractions. They get moving. We can sometimes get caught up in the what if game. It is a game we can never win. The Vikings have better odds of winning a Super Bowl than we have at winning this game. We can sometimes let this game stop us in our tracks.
    Fear of the unknown or fear of change is normal. We can’t let it paralyze us. Fr. Mike said, “All fear comes from our desire to be in control. … What if God were enough to take care of it?” Now this doesn’t mean we sit back and let him do all of the work. We have to keep working, keep moving, keep milking cows.
    Bear with me. As dairymen, we sometimes forget that cows don’t give milk. Think about that. Try to clear your mind from distractions and focus on the words. Cows don’t give milk.
    Here is the story behind that line. A peasant farmer used to say to his young children, “When you are 12, I will tell you the secret of life.” When his oldest turned 12, he anxiously asked his father what was the secret of life. The father said, “I will tell you, but you can’t tell your brothers and sisters. The secret of life is this: The cow does not give milk.” The boy looked confused and the father went on to explain.
    “The cow does not give milk, you have to milk it. You have to get up early every morning and fetch her from the field. You’ll have to cross swampy muck to bring her home. You’ll need to tie her up in the stall and pull up your stool. Once you have the bucket in place, you will have to do the work of filling up the bucket. That is the secret of life. The cow does not give milk. You milk her or you don’t get milk. There are some people who think the cow gives milk. That all things are just there and free. They think that if ‘I wish, I ask and I obtain.’ Some have become accustomed to getting whatever they want the easy way, but no. Life is not a matter of wishing, asking and obtaining. The things we receive are the efforts of what we do. Happiness is the result of effort. Remember, cows don’t give milk. You have to work for it.”
    What will our first step be? I don’t know. The calendar says we have three weeks before our oldest heifer is due to calve. Looking across the heifer lot, we just grin as we see potentially the next generation of excellent cows. It is exciting and terrifying at the same time. We know it will be hard work, but it is work we enjoy. We have many unanswered questions about our future, but these days spent in our desert away from daily distractions are helping us to find our starting point as we take the first steps in a new direction.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milked 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.