“Dearest Dear Abbey”
It’s astounding when I think about a certain fact of my life. Let me pose as a question.
Where have I laid my head more than any other place that I (or my parents) have called home? (The answer may surprise you.)
The address is 3642 Monks Road, Trappist, KY. The home of The Abbey of Gethsemani.
I love the Abbey. Hear me loud and clear! I LOVE THE ABBEY!! (Find out much more here: www.monks.org. It would take many blog posts to explain the why, what, how of the monastery. You really can’t say enough about it, it must be lived at … and out.)
There are many reasons why, let me give you six reasons.
1. It’s my one true place of earthly rest. No matter what my frame of mind traveling these 3.5 hours, I’m always refreshed after a weekend or week of Kentucky quiet. It may be more vs. less at times, but this place rejuvenates me like no other place I’ve experienced. I love my home, but four kids and rest don’t typically go hand-in-hand. It’s me and God at the Abbey.
2. Amazingly, this place of solitude has provided some of my greatest relational moments and equity. There is the drive there and back, full of reflective dialogue and laughs. We typically share lunch and dinner together. Because of the unique nature of this trip, there is something special that words can’t express about sharing this time with one another. There are WOW moments & a layer of depth that only retreats can give, but this goes even deeper. There’s a unique closeness I have with the Scott Griffiths, Chuck Hulls, and Drew Flamms from multiple times here. (I’ve taken in this time with over 60 men.)
3. There are special treasures here that are unlike anything else in my life.
- Hollywood actor Ethan Hawke was a retreatant on the same week I was. (How have I not told you about that?)
• The cheese the monks used (key word: USED) to make is otherworldly. (They must have all been from Wisconsin.)
• There’s the infamous Chuck Hull holy water story.
• Steve Stuckey and I were treated to a Babette’s Feast of sorts with some international friends on one trip.
• There was the time a handful of us (maybe our most athletic grouping of guys) were going to challenge the monasteries to a game of football.
• We typically have a time of sharing and reflecting that breathes incredible life into each man.
• I could go on and on.
4. It’s creating space for God to show up and move and do His work.
Some things in life need extra time and expanse. An hour in a book, coffee with a friend, etc. is good, but so often we need much more.
I have often said a week camping, retreating is worth a year of regular life together back home. A weekend at the Abbey has to be worth several months of relationship.
My friend, Mark Martin, came to Maiden Lane Church of God, that had a long history with The Living Christmas Tree.
When the decision came down to no longer hold the annual December event, he made two key statements. “I didn’t come to pastor this church, because of this (tradition).
He encouraged his people that some things run their course and you have to create space for God to create something new. This is exactly the opportunity at the monastery.
5. The people I most love and cherish are better off because of my regular monastery trips. On one hand, it’s time away from Kara, the kids and opportunities for a game, party, show, etc., but the perspective I get while away and my tank being filled make it very much a huge gain.
I usually send 10-15 post cards from the Abbey to family and friends, and those pack a punch. People are blessed to get regular mail.
I fall more in love with Christ when away like this and with those closest to me.
I love what I do in engaging men to be more fully alive as well.
- The Abbey is the gift that keeps on giving. To me. To the others that join me in this journey, and to those in my life and theirs.
There is no end to what can happen.
New dreams take hold. New visions for personal life, growth, family and ministry are captured. New ideas for business or growth come to a launching point.
One of my favorite things to present to people are books that have impacted me that might speak life or challenge to them.
If books are a good 100-level entry point, then the monastery retreats are 400-level.
They may not be for everyone but if you are open and willing, God will show up and bless, and you’ll be as satisfied as a church mouse eating monastery cheese.
The 6 Wins for Readers
I’m amazed at 47 years of age, I’m known to some of my friends & acquaintances, as an avid reader.
- Middle school Jeff would have never believed that could be a possibility.
- High school Jeff … Ditto.
- College Jeff … No chance (Although I was a master of Cliff Notes. May need to google.)
- Late 20s/early 30s Jeff … Nada.
Then something changed.
I began praying that God would give me a desire or love of reading. I prayed as earnestly for this as anything in my life.
Two facts have floored me over the years.
- 1 in 3 college graduates will ever pick up a book and finish it, post-graduation.
- Read 5 books on a subject and you will be in the 5% most knowledgeable (an expert if you will) on said topic.
We have all heard the expression “Leaders are readers.”
I find that to be a very true statement.
We strongly emphasize reading in the Gathering. Four things we do regularly support this statement.
- Our 20+ Locker Room (small) groups typically read a book (Life With A Capital L, Kingdom Man, Lead … For God’s Sake) that is relevant to the daily life of a man or book of the Bible.
- 2 annual monastery weekend retreats (www.monks.org)
- 3-4 retreats (1/2 day) since 2015, typically at Country Club of the North
- Young Guns read 8-10 books during a 10-month cycle of doing life together.
One of our board members has told me a couple times how he hated to read prior to Gathering involvement and now he enjoys it.
Others have said they wouldn’t read at all, if not for the Gathering.
Let’s look at six wins I’ve personally experienced and seen in others as they grow in intentionality and desire to read.
- A reader is more valuable to others. Whether it’s through richer dialogue, stretching your mind, thoughts or building relational equity, others are better for your time in a book.
- A reader grows in humility inevitably. You acknowledge you need to learn or grow in an area when you read about it. We often choose topics that are areas of struggle. We are open to meeting a weakness head-on.
- Readers are constantly learning. When people don’t read after college, it speaks to the thought of learning being a season of our life, not for our whole life. Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden has two great quotes here. “If I am through learning, I am through,” and adds “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
- Readers have a much easier time acquiring new interests, likes, tastes, hobbies. How many times have a tried a restaurant or food because I read about it in a blog, article, Facebook post. I serve a God who is never finished with us and gives new dreams, desires all the time. Reading is a way to put me in the flow of the good He wants to offer me.
- Readers naturally become more self-aware. The older I get and am around many sharp leaders, I find the cream of the crop understand who they are. Good and bad. Strong and weak. Dots are connected, plans come together oftentimes, and significant decisions are made because they are well-read. God regularly speaks through His word and the words of others. I see myself often through the mirrored lens of a book.
- Readers are great models. They model much of what’s listed above. When I see someone reading in public, I think of that person prioritizing growth, knowledge, rest, peace, etc. Stop and think of the initial thoughts of crossing paths with someone reading at a restaurant on their lunch break or with early morning coffee. Guarantee it’s a positive thought.
Now, let’s go grab a book!
Everybody loves summer! It is an exciting time of the year when people emerge from their homes, kids are playing everywhere, picnics, vacations, and all the other fun things we dream of are happening. For us who live in the Midwest, we often imagine summer being 12 months long!
Have a Blast
Summer’s a time to unwind, have fun, and do the things you’ve dreamed of doing in warm weather. Fun in the sun is a great relaxer, stress reducer, and absolutely vital to our well-being. Make the most of your summer.
Have a Plan
Summer goes by in a flash. Plan for things you would like to do with your own family and for God’s family! For example, we always try to spend specific time with as many people as possible over the Summer. You could try to simply invite two or three neighbors over and get acquainted better. Go to a park together, walk together several times a week, start a Bible study, etc. My favorite Summer activity is grilling out. Why? Obviously the answer is meat.
Three Important Words
When building relationships, the three following words will make a big difference towards establishing a vibrant relationship:
• Include—When you’re having a picnic, going to the park, doing things in the backyard, or playing with kids, include others in your neighborhood or social circle. You will be amazed at how easy it is to bring them into what you’re doing. People who are included quickly become good friends.
• Invest—Amy and I have been asking neighbors to church events and to small groups for years. We find the ones who generally accept our invitations are the ones in whom we have invested. Investing means we serve them when we get an opportunity, invite them over, talk to them when we see them outside their homes, and in general try to be good friends/neighbors.
• Invite—Don’t be hesitant to invite friends to your home, your locker room, or even to church. Our society has grown very shy about inviting others to do anything. Yet surveys continually show that people would respond positively if invited to almost any event. What an opportunity to share the joy in your heart by inviting them.
Share the Joy
Being in the family of God, we experience wonderful community with one another. We have been given an unspeakable joy that is bubbling out of us at all times. In living this out, the world will see this reflection of God through us. A good way to let people see it is to include, invest, and invite them. We believe that when people get to know us and the great God within us, they will desire the same.
Have a Great Summer
Make this a summer that goes beyond all others. Do special things with your family and friends. Make it a summer to bring the message of Jesus Christ to all your friends, neighbors and relatives who don’t yet know Him. These activities will bring lasting rewards that will put a big smile on your face and a joy in your heart.
We have good news to share. Take the time to get to know those around you this summer. You will be blessed, the Kingdom will be blessed, and the people in your circle of influence will be blessed.
It’s exciting to be part of a church that is continually gathering in people to advance the Kingdom. May God bless you this summer.