JAN 31, 2018 Devotional: “Do Chickens Grieve?”

My life is an open book.  Many times, these weekly devotionals are a dialog of what’s happened to me that week or, maybe, that year….or even years ago, in some cases.  The good news is that I recognize God’s efforts in my life all around me….whether good things are happening or the not-so-good times.  I’m convinced that God has a master plan.  You’ve certainly heard me say that time and time again.

But, still, there are things that happen to me….and happen to you….that don’t make us smile.  Don’t warm our hearts.  And feel as far from “God-like” as the farthest constellations in the sky.  When bad things happen out of the blue, we’re left grief-stricken, puzzled, and many times, heart-broken.

Such was my Saturday, last weekend.

We had a typical, yet crazy weekend at home.  The boys were going to be on a ski trip from Friday to Saturday with the Boy Scouts.  And my daughter, Lauren, was going to spend Friday and Saturday night with us while she still is in recovery from her recent automobile crash injuries.  I had an planning conference at our church on Saturday until early afternoon, and then I planned to play 9 holes of golf with a few buddies.  Janelle, my wife, has been knee-deep with a couple residential real estate clients, and she was going to be busy part of Saturday as well.  And Lauren, while confined to a wheelchair, had a couple friends and her boyfriend due into Charlotte to visit with her over the weekend too!

So…suffice to say, there were plenty of opportunities for lots of moving pieces!

Let me quickly say that what happened late on Saturday was of no one’s fault in particular.  With all the comings and goings, the perfect storm of something happening bad was surely present.

Late on Saturday afternoon, the boys returned from skiing and at the same time, Lauren’s friends stopped by to visit.  And they had her beloved dog, Polly with her.

Our hens were in the backyard as they normally are on most days.  Someone accidentally left the back door open….and Polly ran out towards the backyard flock.  One of the hens, Harriett, got cornered by Polly beneath my in-laws’ deck.  And Polly did what dogs instinctively do.  She lunged at Harriett, grabbed her by the neck and the fragileness of the chicken’s bones were no match for the dog’s jaws.

And all that happened within seconds.

Chaos ensued.  And thankfully someone chased Polly back into the house with the rest of the flock scattered for protection.  “Things could have been a lot worse”, I reminded myself again and again.

I had just finished playing golf when the text message came in from Janelle, relaying the awful news.

And to think this had already been a taxing few weeks on my family.  As I gripped the steering wheel, I found myself looking to the heavens saying, “Really God….really??”.

Most backyard chicken owners will tell you that they brace themselves for inevitable events like what my family went through this weekend to occur.  I mean, there are SO many things that could cause harm to the hens in the backyard.  Lisa Steele, renowned chicken farmer and author of the book, “Fresh Eggs Daily”, writes on her blog:

“If you raise chickens long enough, you will end up losing one – and eventually all – to old age, if nothing else. But realistically, old age won’t be the cause of their demise. Shockingly, your loss will be quick, unexpected and heartbreaking.  As my grandmother who raised chickens nearly her whole life used to say “if they can get hung up on it, tangled in it, electrocuted by it, choke on it, drown in it, fall into it, fall off of it, or be eaten by it – they will.” And it’s the sad truth that the pitfalls and dangers that present themselves to backyard chickens are wide-ranging and often unpredictable.

Predators, other flock members, family dogs and overeager children all are potential chicken killers. As is egg binding, parasites, fumes from Teflon fry pans, self-cleaning ovens and shatter-proof light bulbs. Not to mention illness or disease.  So part of chicken keeping has to include learning how to deal with the death of these funny, fluffy, personable pets that lay the best eggs you will ever eat.”  Lisa Steele, from her blog Fresh Eggs Daily

So, I get it.  All true scenarios, some of which we’ve seen, including overeager children, low strafing hawk runs, and even an early morning fox in the back yard just to mention a few.

But we’ve been safe or lucky or a little of both.  I told Janelle that I felt bad because most of all, I think we are supposed to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.  And, yes, there is a Godly message in that conviction as well.  Recall the book of Genesis…..and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about…

On Sunday morning, I got up early, since I couldn’t sleep much.  Got the hens up as I do every morning, but this time paying close attention to Rosa, who was the other half of our dynamic duo of Barred Rock hens.  She was the “sister” of Harriett, arriving together to the Compound last April as one-day old baby chicks.  The human side of me was trying to figure out if she was lonely; was she wandering around looking for Harriett?  Did she see what happened and did she remember?  Was she remorseful?

Was she grieving….as she wandered around the backyard all by herself?

It was truly a sad sight…or at least I was convincing myself of that.

I do believe some of those feelings were true.  There is a natural order of things within a backyard flock.  It’s called the “pecking order” and we’ve all heard of it before.  It’s a real thing, oddly enough.  And when there’s a lose of life within the pecking order, a sorta awkwardness can ensure for a few days, while a new pecking order may need to be established.

Now whether or not Rosa was grieving the loss of her flock-mate, I believe there’s a reminder to us that God knows our grieving.  The basis for Christianity is our belief that God is always with us.  And in that regard, God has stared grief and loss dead in the eyes as well.  Jesus experiences the death of his close friend, Lazarus, and weeps.  And even on the cross, Jesus cries out “Why” because he has endured grief and loss of unbearable measures.

God is with us in our grief, whether it’s in the loss of a family member, close friend….or a backyard “pet”.  God doesn’t always tell us why we’re suffering but he does give us the prayer:  “The Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles.”  2 COR 1: 3-4

As we go along our days ahead, my prayer is that we are reminded of God’s gentle hand on our shoulders for comfort, for support, for praise and for encouragement.  God walks along with us all our days.  We are never alone.

Amen!

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JAN 31, 2018 WAWA: “Three Stories High”

We’re back on the road again with our focus this week on Hill Repeats.  I’ve selected a new hill repeats location that we’ve actually seen before along our “Duke Mansion” route….but never repeatedly!  Our route will take us 3/4 of a mile from the Cornwell Center to the intersection of Queens Road and Granville Road.  From there, we’ll collect our group for the start of the hill repeats portion of the workout.  The plan is to do six repeats along the quarter-mile distance between up Granville Road between Queens and Hermitage Roads.  Sprints up to Hermitage, then easy job back down to Queens.

Rinse and repeat….

Six times total…..

The elevation increase along each of those repeats is about 30 feet….or in simpler terms, three stories in a building!

You and view the route at this LINK..

After the sixth repeat, we’ll collect up again and run as a group back to the Cornwell Center.  The return route will take us all the way down Granville to Queens Road West.  Up Queens Road West to Wellesley Avenue, then crossing the road back to the Cornwell Center.

Total planned running distance is a little over 4 miles.

Chilly temps on the docket for the morning.  Upper twenties so dress accordingly!  Very dry as well!

See you in the morning at the Cornwell Center at 5:45 am ready to go!

WORKOUT Leader:  Mike Lenhart

DEVOTIONAL Leader:  Mike Lenhart

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JAN 24, 2018 Devotional: “Finding My Family of Faith”

Last week, I cancelled our weekly workout.  Yes, it was snowy and cold and grey and gloomy in Charlotte.  And frankly, running in those conditions was not only dangerous, but not what anyone wanted to do … sadly … including me.  But most of you who are closer to me know that there was another reason why I cancelled our Wednesday gathering.

I had just finished teaching a spin class on the Saturday prior.  Got home, changed out of a sweaty tee-shirt, and sat down to catch up on some emails at our home computer.  Then my cell phone rang….and the name that appeared on the face of phone was my daughter, Lauren.  “That’s a surprise,” I remember thinking.  But as I accepted the call and said “hello”, just as quickly the phone fell silent.

“That’s odd,” I thought to myself.

Then….the phone immediately rang again, only this time it was via Facetime, the video conferencing feature on Apple’s iPhones.

The voice and face on the other end…..were not of my daughter.  Instead, it was an older woman named Debra, who I had never met before.

“Mike”, the voice said.  “Your daughter’s been in an accident.  We’re getting her to the hospital now.”

And just as quickly as the call came in, the voice and image went silent again.  But not before I was able to see Lauren in the background on Facetime.  No blood and gore, thankfully, but I will never forget the look of fear and shock on Lauren’s face.

I raced to my truck, not taking any time to change clothes from the spin class, and headed for the interstate, racing towards the accident scene and hospital in South Carolina.  All the while, wondering what I’d find when I got there.

Many of you are parents, and perhaps you can imagine what I was going through.  Maybe some of you have even been in that situation before.  My family and friends might tell you that I handle pressure situations very calmly.  More than likely, this attitude of calmness coupled with a sense of “let’s get done what needs to get done”, comes from my military background.  I can channel my emotions into smaller compartments and for me, that’s just the way I handle stress and pressure.

But, all the same, this was different.

The GPS told me I had 83 miles ahead.  And somewhere around halfway, I remember breaking “stride”, so to speak.  Cried.  Shook it off and then prayed to God that everything would be okay.  And that He’d give me the strength to make the right decisions as well as be a calming figure for Lauren, even if I was churning my stomach inside with anxiety.

The next few days were a series of ups and downs.  Currently, Lauren is doing well albeit under doctors’ orders not to put any weight on her feet or legs while the fracture to her sacrum heals.  As a result, she’s primarily confined to a wheelchair.  But things are steadily improving and we expect her to have a full recovery.

My message this week is about the “how” when it comes to dealing with events like this.  Our youth pastor at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, Patty Arcia, often talks about this concept of a “faith family”.  By loose definition, a faith family is that group of individuals who you can lean on for support, for comfort, for advice and for healing.  More than just the concept of “it takes a village”….a faith family guides us along a spiritual path, reminding us that God has a plan, trust in Him, and trust in prayer.

For me, I witnessed several forms of faith families over the past couple of weeks since the accident.  First, my immediate family became that faith family that I leaned upon.  My wife, my parents, siblings, wife’s family, etc.  They all immediately rallied around Lauren and me as we braced for several of the early “unknowns”.

Next, my fitness family at the Cornwell Center became another layer of my faith family.  Whether I’m teaching the group or participating in classes, there’s a core group of “friends” who I see on a very regular basis.  And that group, I know, was praying very hard for my daughter, my family and for me.  I am grateful.

Next, in a larger sense, my Charlotte family has a group of friends in and around the neighborhoods who knew about the accident and reached out to us with phone calls, text messages, and emails.  I read every one.  And although I have not had the chance to respond back to each one individually, their connections and care served as an immense source of comfort; a virtual hug when I needed it most.  A sense of “I’ve got your back….let me know how I can help.”

Lastly, my church family, including clergy on staff, reached out to me, provided spiritual guidance, and told me, “We’re praying for your daughter.”  An easy expectation that clergy would do that….but the messages from Pastors Joe, Michelle, Deborah, and Derek, reinforced that “God has a plan….”.

I am certain that I am leaving out other forms of my faith family, but hopefully, you’ll understand the importance.

So what does this mean in the form of this week’s devotional?  In times of crisis, my prayer for us is that we have families of faith that we can call upon, directly or indirectly, to help navigate any crisis.  Many times, especially early on when doctors were still trying to diagnosis Lauren’s pain, I could feel the power of prayers that I knew were being voiced from miles away.  My prayer is that we lean on those faith families in our lives not just in times of crisis, but on a daily basis.  And secondly, my prayer is that we can be a source of strength for those in our lives, neighborhoods, families and work, who need to lean on us for that level of support as well.

Life is very often a two-way street, with people coming and going all around us.  But we’re all in this together and all trying to get to the same destination.  Better to go about it …. together.

Thank you for your prayers, faith families near and far.

Peace!

 

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JAN 24, 2018 WAWA: “Return to Lyndhurst”

Bringing back one of my favorite routes that will take us down East Blvd, and then cut through the Dilworth neighborhood, focusing on the mysterious street named “Lyndhurst”!

Here we go….this week’s planned route is at this LINK.  Our route is approximately 5.5 miles!  Easy pace.  Run ability groups, if necessary.

Generally speaking, we’re going to wind our way down Queens Road West to East Blvd.  Then we’ll run about a mile and a third into the Dilworth neighborhood, turning left onto LYNDHURST AVE.  From there, we’ll wind through Dilworth (west) along Lyndhurst, left onto McDonald, right on Park, left onto Princeton….and finally turn back towards the Cornwell Center.

Tomorrow morning will be a little chilly.  Temps in the upper 30’s (nearly 40 degrees actually) so dress warm, keeping in mind that we’ll be feeling fairly “warm” about a mile into our route.

Meet outside the Cornwell Center at 5:45 am ready to go!

WORKOUT LEADER:  Mike Lenhart

DEVOTIONAL LEADER:  Mike Lenhart

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JAN 10, 2018 Devotional: “Taking a Drunk Girl Home”

Last night, my wife asked me what the topic of today’s devotional was going to be.  I said, “I’m writing about taking a drunk girl home…..”.

“You’re doing what,” she said?

“Trust me on this one….”, I replied.

Here goes…..

There’s a song out currently by an artist named Chris Janson.  The song is called “Drunk Girl“.  If you close your eyes, you might think you’re listening to Merle Haggard.  The twangy tones that Janson sings add even more to the lyrics of the song.

I love it and had to write about it today.

Here’s the story within the song.  Guy notices a girl very drunk in a bar.  She’s either part of a bachelorette party or coming off a break up.  Either way, she’s blitzed to put it lightly.

The song could have taken an evil turn at this point.  But it didn’t.

The message is about the guy who takes the girl to her home.  Drops her off.  Makes sure she’s safe.  Leaves his number by her keys on the kitchen counter.

And then he slips away.  Leaves her place.

End of story?

Not quite.

Later, perhaps the next day, when the girl wakes up with most certainly the “hangover of all hangovers”, she calls the guy, leaves a message…..and says “thank you for picking up the life she threw on the floor”.

Is there a Biblical message here?

Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.

I think there’s two sides to the story in this song.

First, there’s the guy.  He could have done a lot of things.  Recall when I said things could have taken an “evil turn”.  But he did the right thing.  He took the girl out of a bad situation and gave he safety.

Golden rule, maybe?

How about this.  We just finished the Advent season and remember that guy named “Joseph”?  Mary came to him and said, “Hey, Joseph….I’m pregnant and by the way, you’re not the daddy.”

Joseph could have done the Olympic backstroke and gotten way out of the picture.  He stuck his neck out, however, even risking the potential public harassment and stoning to Mary.  He did consider divorcing her quietly.

“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;  and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  MATTHEW 1:18-19

An angel appeared to Joseph and convinced him otherwise.

Wonder if the guy in the bar saw an angel too?  Ponder that one.

And then there’s the other side of the song’s story.  That from the point of view of the girl.

What was she thinking?  Have you seen the news lately?  Lots of bad things going on to some famous people.  And that’s only the ones we’re hearing about.

Recall the story about the Samaritan woman at the well.  She’s got a lot going on….and Jesus knows all the details.

She’s holding her prized possession, the clay jar, to draw water.  Jesus calls her out, tells her he knows all about her shortcomings, but offers her “living water” as forgiveness.

He gave her a second chance, much like the guy in our song.

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  JOHN 4:13-14

No one is perfect.  Not the lady in the bar, nor the lady at the well.  And watch me as I drop the stones in my hands right now.

My prayer this week is that my two sons will make the right decisions later on in life, perhaps also “taking a drunk girl home”.  And my second prayer is that my daughter will always know the salvation of “living water” that comes through forgiveness.

And for all of us, my prayers are that we can pick up the lives of those around us, who may have likewise put them on the floor.

Golden rule….yes, indeed!

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JAN 10, 2018 WAWA: “On the Roads Again….finally!”

Well, after nearly a month of not running outside due to the holiday “break” followed by below freezing temps, we’re heading back outside this week!

I’ve got a new route of just over 4 miles tee-ed up!  We’ll get to experience the “lower” half of Sherwood Avenue AND the “upper” half, across Queens Avenue.

Gather in the lobby of the Cornwell Center ready to go by 5:45 am.  Temps will be around 40 degrees, so dress appropriately.  Still dark that time of the morning, so don’t forget your reflective gear.

Click here for tomorrow’s run route.

See you in the morning!

WORKOUT LEADER:  Mike Lenhart

DEVOTION LEADER:  Mike Lenhart

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JAN 3, 2018 Devotional: “Seeing God at the Corner Gas Station”

Cold run to kick off our first WAWA of the year….so I purposely  planned an indoor track run to keep everyone (including me) happy!  Afterwards, I asked the group to finish the following passage from scripture:

“Blessed are the poor…..”

Admittedly, I looked up the passage ahead of time so I knew the answer.  From the gospel of Matthew, we recall:

Bless are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

Do you ever feel like your life is playing out like a Hollywood script?  I do.

Last Saturday morning was another chilly one here in Charlotte, with temps well below 20 degrees.  I was up early and drove just up the street to the Starbuck’s over on East Boulevard.  I got my normal weekend order for my wife and me….two grande blondes, one with two packets of Spenda (for me) and another with one packet of raw sugar for Janelle.  Then, after going back outside in the bitter cold, I jumped into my truck and noticed the gas tank was nearly on empty.

I drove around the corner from the Starbuck’s to the Shell station.  No one appeared around the filling pumps; just me and the cold, brisk air.  My eyes wandered around as I was pumping the gas to the side of the convenience store.  There, a haggard looking, younger man was standing on the side of the building.  His dreadlocks added to the stereotypes I immediately placed in my mind.  He appeared to be dancing, of sorts, but was really just shifting his weight between both feet, moving his body to stay warm.  He had what looked like a fairly warm coat, but it was unzipped.  Perhaps the jacket was broken, I wondered.  But what really caught my eye was what he had on his feet….shower flip-flops!

Now, like some of you, I tried not to make eye contact for fear of “what I would have to do next”.  I simply finished filling my truck with gas, completed the transaction at the pump, and drove off.

But my mind would not leave the image of the freezing, homeless man.

I got back home in relatively short order.  Everyone in the house was still asleep so I quietly walked back to the bedroom to take Janelle her coffee.  She wrestled somewhat as I placed the hot coffee on her nightstand.  And in that groggy, half-awake voice said, “Thank you….that’s so sweet of you.”  (Same thing she says every time I bring coffee…)

“I’m going to head back out for a few minutes”, I replied.  “I saw this homeless guy by the gas station and I want to take him some warm socks.”

And with that, I reached into my sock drawer in the darkness, found the thick wool socks and headed back out the door.

On the way, I was thinking the man might need a hot meal, so I made plans to hit the ATM first before returning to the gas station.  Driving past the station, however, I noticed the man was not outside anymore.

“Where could he be….”, I wondered.

I grabbed twenty dollars from the ATM, and then circled back to the gas station.  Then, as if on queue, the man exited the convenience store, clutching a hot cup off coffee that the manager had obviously given him.

I parked my truck directly in front of the store, grabbed the socks and the twenty dollar bill.  The man was still having a conversation with himself.  So, for the second time that morning, I was having several stereotypes enter my mind.

“Is he crazy?”

“Will he hurt me?”

“Will he steal my truck?”

I approached the man and simply said….

“Good morning.  I noticed you as I was pumping gas a few minutes ago.  Can I give you these warm socks”?

Then, the man spoke…..with perfect, pleasant grammar, and a smile on his face.  His voice was a clear as if I were talking to one of my closest friends.

“Thanks.  That’s very kind of you but my feet are really okay.  I know it looks bad, but really, I’m okay.”

“Are you sure”, I asked.  “It’s very cold out today and will still be cold for the next several days.”

“No.  I’m fine, really”, he said.

And all of a sudden, his sidewalk dancing and talking to himself had stopped.

“How about some money?  Can I give you something to buy a hot meal”, I asked.

“Yes, that would be great”, he responded.

And with that, I handed him the crisp, ATM twenty-dollar bill.

There was a brief awkwardness as I stood on the sidewalk, looking at this man and wondering “okay…what next”.

“I’m very grateful, my friend” he said to break the silence.  And with that, he stuck out his hand for a gentle “fist pump”.

For that brief second, two humans were equal.  Two people sharing a fist pump as if to confirm, “I’m okay….and you’re okay too.”

And then I drove off.

The next morning, Sunday morning, I again headed to the Starbuck’s; again in the early morning; again in the freezing cold.  Part of me wanted to drive by the gas station again.  But another side of me, sadly, wondered what I would do if I saw the man again.

So, sadly, I over-ruled my urges and went the opposite way, avoiding the gas station.  Instead, I drove to the Dunkin Doughnuts store, convincing myself that I’d pick up some munchkins for my sons back at the house still sleeping.

Enter God to the story.

I drove around the store to the drive-thru line, but as I did so, I glanced to see one person sitting inside at one of the tables.  It was him.  I could tell, mostly, because the clothes from the previous day were still on him.  Hair was still in dreads, still haggard looking.

I asked the drive-thru attendant, “Is the guest inside your store okay?”

“Oh, yes.  We’ve given him some hot food and coffee.  He can sit here as long as he wants.”

And, so, I drove off again.

That man’s face has been on my mind for the past several days.  Do you know how Hollywood portrays Jesus?  Pastor Derek used to refer to Hollywood’s portrayal of a “hot Jesus” many times; the one who’s very clean cut, long but combed hair, perfectly trimmed beard.

But we’ve also seen portrayals of the haggard Jesus, and to me that’s more realistic.  It’s more probable that the “real” Jesus from two thousand years ago looked more like the homeless man I witnessed than the Hollywood “hot” one.

God is around us.  And sometimes, like in my case, we will get direct reminders of His presence in our lives.

I appreciate, always, that there are no coincidences in life.

I have two prayers this week.  First, in the broader sense, my prayer is that we look for those moments when we are called to action; and that we are brave enough to do the right thing.  Sadly, I’m not sure I did all that I could for that man.

Secondly, there are those all around us, whether it’s in my hometown of Charlotte, or around the world, who need help.  My next prayer is that each of us finds a way to help.  In these colder months, it can be life or death to those living on the streets.  Find assistance for them; buy them a bus ticket to a shelter, or, if safety is obvious, drive the person to a shelter to stay warm, get a hot meal, etc.

Click here for a link to shelters around Charlotte, NC.

Many churches, locally, also provide temporary lodging and meals through “Room In The Inn” programs.  Check your church’s outreach ministry to see where you can volunteer to help out!

And, without sounding too “preachy”, God expects us to do this.

We’re all in this world together.

“…..for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….”

Amen.

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