Full Circle

We’ve come full circle with the Good Dirt devotionals. It was a little bit exciting to read that final entry of the year and look forward to waking up in the morning to our Advent Wreath and new book!

Thank you, Lacy & Ben for this year’s challenge to walk with you through the devotional readings with our family and for holding us to the enriching dialogue of walking the Kingdom Way.

Happy Waiting!

Tamara

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the Law of Kindness

I appreciate the vocabulary my son is gaining from our Good Dirt devotions. We’ve been in conversation a lot recently about living God’s Way and the idea of turning the other cheek causes eyes to open wider and wheels to turn in the brain. There are many times when such conversations end in ways I wish they didn’t – “No, mom, I don’t do that”. But I know that each and every conversation works in his heart and they’re all important.

Kingdom Living – Lord, teach me Your ways. I want to walk in Your Truth.

Our son’s favourite questions at the end of the day are the ones that ask “When did you feel joy or sorrow today?” For some reason, these speak his language and capture his attention. All the other questions are “hard questions”. One night after brushing his teeth he asked, “Ok, mom, is it time for when you have joy?” It took me a second to understand but the cool thing about that question is that the answer is always “yes, son”. Even in the midst of sorrow, there can be joy. The answer is always “yes”.

Kingdom Living – Lord, let Your joy remain in me so that my joy may be full.

Living life as an expat offers plenty of opportunity for us to show kindness when we don’t feel like it. Perhaps those opportunities abound regardless of circumstance or situation. But it feels amplified out here as a foreigner. I have more conversations with my son about showing kindness than any other thing. Multiple conversations – daily. His enemy: Grandmas (Halmoni). They travel in armies and they all want to touch his sweet face and ask him how old he is. Many of them don’t know kindness the way we would expect the elderly to know kindness and so I feel it is important to share what we have in our heart through our smiles and bows. Oh, but it’s hard when you really don’t want to!

Is kindness required of us whether we want to show it or not!?

This week, kindness was the main topic of conversation during devotions because we kept being asked what Jesus’ life was showing us about His Kingdom. Ah, Kindness. Finally, my son, still fighting the battle in his mind about when kindness is warranted, says “Kindness fills you right up and makes all the bad in you go away.” The selfishness. The need to be right. The need to ‘have enough’. Kindness causes us to share and to give of ourselves. Oh sweet boy, you’ve given me something to think about for a while. Thank you.

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Kindgom Living – Lord, let Your Kindness dwell in my heart so that I may have the Law of Kindness on my tongue

-tamara

Rotten Apples in this Basket

When we were waiting for our son to come along, my husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t immerse ourselves in all the parenting books that are available out there. We didn’t want the confusion that is inevitable with so much conflicting advice and felt that our time would be better spent elsewhere. Looking back, I’m really grateful for that intentional move because I’m quite heavily influenced by what I read. And recently our Good Dirt devotions have been cutting me to the quick.

 

You know how parents are told to make sure to shape their child’s attitude so that their behavior is just right so that their lives will turn out perfectly? (Even in Kingdom Living, we find ourselves losing track and aiming for ‘perfect’, so bear with me here) And you know how no matter what you say to your child, what you do is about the only thing they’ll actually pick up? Well, I’ve been doing my math lately and concluded that my poor son has little hope of ever being perfect. Not because of his attitude or behavior……but because of mine.

 

We came across some evening questions recently that went something like this: “How did you work with God today? What kind of good did you spread?” Good Dirt – Kingdomtide

 

I had allowed a dark cloud to remain over my head the whole day that affected every behavior and decision. So would you believe, I actually skipped over those questions and didn’t ask them? I didn’t ask them because I didn’t want to answer them. I didn’t want to consider them. The very thought of examining my own attitude and trying to answer how I (hadn’t) worked with God that day made me feel narcoleptic. Sleeping is an effective way of hiding. I really wanted to just sleep it off and wake up to a new day. In fact, I did. And of course I found that the new day required the same humility and repentance of me.

 

And then I saw this on the opposite page: “Tell about a time today when it was difficult to tell the truth.” (Stop it! Just stop!)

 

Isn’t it such a wonderful thing that bad attitudes and a refusal to work with God are redeemed at the cross?

“Lord, my heart turns toward you in repentance. Please transform my indignant attitude into a flexible one – one that works with You. Help my eyes to remain focused on You and not to look for an alternative goal. Thank you for drawing me to Yourself. I rejoice in You!”

 

If you need some time to reflect on the Grace and pursuing Love of God, take a long, quiet moment to read through Psalm 139. I’m writing that here so I can remember where to go when I need to turn my attitude around tomorrow. I’m glad I’m heavily influenced by what I read.

 

Tamara

listen to the trail: behold a sermonless sermon

A child is a walking appetite. They devour with their eyes, they take with their hands wherever their little feet rush to carry them. If it fits in their mouth (nose, or ears) it goes in.

The same is true of their hearts.

Devotions are to feed children with spiritual nutriment; to foster compassion, develop character and positive values. The Good Dirt devotional adds follow-up questions for children to ponder. The questions help children reflect upon themselves; upon their own emotional responses during the day. This helps my son. Picking out and naming the different colors of his emotional kaleidoscope is good for him.

In our family, devotions are a bedtime ritual. The nightly devotion involves dental hygiene, stories, cuddles, reflection and prayers. These nightly rituals are my wife’s creation. They are not my style. The practice of stopping the day to read scripture and pray feels unnatural to me.

As I am not from a Christian family, I do not have family traditions to incorporate into my son’s life. So I listened to my heart: when is the best time to commune with God? When is the best time to practice the devotional life with my son?

For me, the devotional life pulses in the solitude of a busy city crowd. The city bus, cafes and street benches foster the proper devotional space for me. Urbanscape, with its gray buildings and matching sky; where the city’s royalty parade past broken men sitting along metro stairs extending their hands—this is where faith, frustration and action take place. The devotional life needs daily life to make sense of its own faith-claims.

As a father, I have found the best place for shared devotions is outside, walking along a trail, at riverside, or near a pond. And there should be food, tuna sandwiches, apples and chips. We should carry tools too, pocket knives, compasses and flashlights. I carry one more item, a folded piece of paper with a psalm and a hymn.

Pic 1After catching tadpoles in the pond, my son and I sit together in the shade for lunch. I’ll pull out my creased piece of paper and read it to my boy while he brushes the mud off hands before he eats. We easily talk about Psalm 1 as there are many trees growing near the water. How exciting for a ring-neck pheasant to fly over while talking about the Creator, and to hear a cuckoo in the pines.

Along with a psalm, I carry a hymn. Hymns are the meat and gravy of faith’s music. Hymn writers give us simple labyrinths of the common and the glorious, to wander and meditate upon. My son needs to know these people and their stories. I want him to have so much respect for Fanny Crosby that he thinks she is the worship leader for G.I. Joe.

Pic 2

Remember son, when I can’t be with you, carry a song of courage in your heart.

-Mark Liebenthal “plantingpennies”

Routines of the Heart

Teeth are brushed, we’ve all gone potty and we’ve read through, “My Crayons Talk” and “Dr. Dog” twice already. As I lean back against the headboard of the bed, Kaiser turns to me expectantly and says, “I’m ready, Mom.” I ask what he’s ready for. “For telling you when I felt happy or sad today. Can you read it?” This is the first time he’s asked for our Good Dirt reading and I smile at the thought.

It’s wonderful when a good routine is embraced. Our culture talks a lot about breaking out of the routine, the mundane. But the Kingdom of God is furthered by the small things – often the things found in routine.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine expresses repentant responses.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine develops a rhythm of forgiveness.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine nurtures grateful hearts.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine challenges us to choose joy despite dire circumstances.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine demands that we remember.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine builds courage.

This routine isn’t the time of day we wash the dishes and clean the house or feed the chickens. It’s not the time we set aside for hobbies or visiting friends. It’s not the time we set on our alarm clock for waking up the next morning. And yet it’s in all those things. Kingdom routine is set in the heart and is the regularity of reaching for God. Looking toward Him. Longing for Him. Worshiping and glorifying Him. Crying out to Him and talking with Him.

Without this routine, we won’t develop any of the characteristics of those who walk the Kingdom Way. When we aren’t walking the Kingdom Way, this routine cannot be established and we will wallow in the shallowness of simply filling our time.

If this heart routine is fed and watered by sitting down at the end of the day with my son to read the Scriptures, quiet ourselves before God and let him tell me when he felt happy or sad today……well then, we have a good routine.

-Tamara

Forgive the Russians? But Dad!

We have a set bedtime ritual for our son: one more last wrestling match, teeth brushing, story time, devotions, prayer, lights-out; followed by an hour of chatting, cuddling and escape attempts.

We get a new stack of books each week, along with books I borrow from the school I teach at and the books we own. There is no shortage of printed words here. At bedtime, our son gets to pick two books for his story time. Last night he picked G.I. Joe comics.

In one issue*, the Joes are tasked with recovering a spy plane that crashed in Afghanistan. While on their way, they are intercepted by Oktober Guard, the Russian special mission team. A battle ensues and the Joes win the day with cunning ingenuity.

During our devotions, we read Jesus’ words about forgiving our enemies. My son looked confused.

“Even the bad guys with red stars?”

“Jesus thinks so.”

“But they’re the bad guys!”

The interesting part is that we have never explained what forgiveness is, but he inherently knows that it entails being generous with our enemies; we have to give a part of ourselves to malefactors.

It is a mistake for me to ever think family devotions are for my family. Nightly devotions with my son are not for him, they are for me. I am the convict; the one who is convicted. I need to hear the words of Jesus again.

Repentance and devotions make the parent and child partners in their devotional life, daily renewing their bond. Repentance is a sign of new life. Repentance is the pulse of faith. Devotions coupled with repentance make theology vibrant, keeping it safe from academics and in the realm of daily experiments in grace, prayer and obedience.

We aspire to find peace with God in an active devotional life. But we are not always able to discern between peace and complacency, and healing and mending—this does not matter until young faith asks questions of our devotions.

If we do not find healing in God, no matter the price, our children might not. If we have allowed other elements to mend us, such the passing of time, sex, or booze, then we have been nurtured by vice. This is idolatry.

Devotions with children remind adults to refocus their lives and practice the basics. Devotions give us a second chance to do a few things better.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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By: Mark Liebenthal

*G.I. Joe A Great American Hero, Vol. 1 issue 6, “To Fail is to Conquer…To Succeed is to Die!”

Garden of Praise

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For Holy Week, we took Good Dirt up on their suggestion to create a Garden of Praise. We added flowers each day starting on Palm Sunday. When I added a new flower, I would ask my son why we praise God. His answer was different each time and all but two are his own. His answers cause me to praise God loudly.

[Garden of Praise – Gwangju, S.Korea]

We praise you, God our Healer

He heals

We praise you, God our Maker

You make all things well

We praise you, God our Redeemer

He died on the cross

We praise you, God the Artist

You make us beautiful

We praise you, God our Father

He loves us

We praise you, God our Provider

You give good things

We praise you, God to Whom we Belong

You give us family

We praise you, God Who Rejoices

Thank You for making life fun

We praise you, God our Shelter

You hide me well

We praise you, Risen Lord

He is Risen!

We praise you, God our Shepherd

You guide us well

We praise you, Omnipresent God

He is here

Matthew 21:16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?”

And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read,

‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have perfected praise’?”

Tamara {with Kaiser} 

Sync the Biz, Mark

Saints are the worst kind of Christian, with their stained glass skirts, pretentious beards and mute faces. Saints are glorified victims, not good role models.

Parent pointing up at stained glass martyrdom (saint in cauldron of hot oil). To child: here’s what you have to look forward to if you follow Jesus.  Child retreats.

Besides, saints are typically representative of European Christianity—or, failed enterprise. Does anyone know the patron saint of empty cathedrals? Hagiography makes for interesting comic books, but it doesn’t make men dutiful. The saints are dead.

Recently, I have been reading Confessions. I was hoping it would be more than holy brooding. Saint Augustine, whom I now call St. Angst, thought too much. He should have played more baseball—played baseball, not contemplated it. He needed to stomp on a colony of ants to relieve his existential stress. All of the brooding writers in the world, including Augustine, Solomon, a Kempis, Dickenson, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Marx, needed one thing: to have gone fishing with their dad.

As pater-americana, I must ask, what is the proper kind of hero for a boy? What the saints lack, Greek heroes abound in. What Greek heroes lack, the saints profess. I think I’ll just leave the icons on Mount Olympus and take my child by the hand. What has Athens and Jerusalem to do with Colorado?

I strongly dislike the illusion that paper communicates truth; that reading the right passages makes the right kind of man. It cannot. Good men are made by innumerable, mundane daily interactions, embedded in a commitment to deny one’s self, with a complete reliance on grace—in the face of a murderous world, twenty-four hours a day without reprieve.

A man must see his life as a unique duty to perform; as a job only he can do, and if he doesn’t, his family is lost. He must rise in the morning. He must pray. He must pack his burdens and carry them.

From my interest in military history, I wonder about the fathers and sons who built and served on two particular World War Two battleships, the Yamato and the Bismarck. The Japanese Yamato was the largest battleship ever built. Her contemporary, the German-built Bismarck, was just as fearsome in its profile and purpose.

Both vessels carried the hopes and ambitions of its people. Both vessels proved to be irrelevant in battle. The Yamato was sunk before she could rule the seas, and the Bismarck was scuttled, also without fulfilling its purpose.

It is given for one man to build a battleship, and for one man to sink it. What kind of devotional life best prepares a boy’s soul for a godly life while serving ones’ country? What kind of devotional life makes a man to shine while serving such futility?

The answer must be found somewhere in his father’s faithful hand; in the seeds of his words. If his father walks the long walk and prays the long prayer, then a boy’s devotional book is in his father’s boot prints. He reads it while following his father through the market, along the river and returning home.

The saints are dead; battleships are dead. I want one thing from the devotional life: for my son to love God despite his father’s desire for him to love God. Let it be in my hands as an apple, shared by God and the boy he loaned to me.

Mark Liebenthal

plantingpennies.wordpress.com

Never Give Up!

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When I was talking with Kaiser about what he might consider giving up for Lent (knowing he had no comprehension of a 40 day fast no matter how I worded it), he responded oh so quickly and with such certainty, “Mom, I don’t give up!” And he’s held his ground on that throughout. I have really been enjoying reading the Scriptures with my son each day. This month we stopped our morning reading unintentionally and I really miss it. We are getting back into the swing of good mornings again as spring blooms around us and our health is restored.

Our evenings continue to be full of good conversations, though. I really appreciated Lacy’s “The Opportunity of Night” post – it’s the perfect time for heartfelt talk. It’s so good. Of course, with Kaiser “heartfelt” includes discussions on aliens and poopy diapers. And there are many, many nights where I’m too tired to answer his questions with any semblance of reality (usually because I’ve answered 3,568 similar questions throughout the day). But I know these times are precious and I know God’s Living Word is moving and working in the heart of my little boy.

When we entered the season of Lent, I decided to forego facebook and coffee – two precious things to me – with the intent of looking to God more often and with more longing. I couldn’t have anticipated how deeply this last minute decision would impact me. This is my first time giving anything up for Lent (that I can remember – I think I’ll give up remembering things for Lent next year). And I’ve found that I miss coffee far more than I miss facebook. Missing coffee has turned the very center of my being into an ocean of longing – which I direct to Christ, allowing that longing to reach for Him instead of for coffee. It’s surprisingly physical, this longing. I feel it. Everyday. I smell coffee and I reach for Christ. I like it that Kaiser sees me giving up coffee. He knows that I really like it, so doors have opened up for talking about how this makes me feel. And I like having conversations with him about when we don’t give up – and when we do.

Facebook has had a very different impact on this season of my life. Although it has been inconvenient at times (when I need to get directions to folks who are coming to my house for dinner and email or phone numbers haven’t been exchanged), it has been incomprehensibly freeing. My time isn’t bound by “catching up”. And my emotions aren’t on the roller coaster of cheering with friends who bought a new house one second and weeping with friends who lost a house the next. In all honesty, I feel anger and frustration more than any other emotion when I’m on facebook. I didn’t know that about myself until now. I like this freedom. It will certainly change the way I use facebook in the future.

Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week & Eastertide (Week 4, Thursday Prayer)

“Jesus, help us to live in the truth so we can be free from the tangles we get caught in. Lies trap and tangle us, but your truth sets us free!”

John 8:21-32

 

-Tamara

Peace on Earth

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

I have this song echoing in my head. I thought it a little strange that Christmas was hollering for attention just as Lent was opening his wide, grey doors.  “Hush, now! I’m trying to concentrate on concentrating. I’m trying to be Lenten intentional here.”

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Our home has not been very peaceable this month with the stresses of illness and an unexpected hospital stay.  Yet our hearts have known peace.  Peace came with every prayer you uttered on our behalf.  Thank you.  Oh, thank you for those gifts.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The world around us isn’t very peaceable. My heart groans more than it articulates words in prayer for the countries that are hurting so desperately right now. It’s difficult to talk with a 4yr old about these things. All he hears right now is……”Oh Lord, bring Your peace to Venezuela. Let your peace be known in the Ukraine. In Russia. In the Koreas. In Sudan. And South Sudan. In China. In Egypt…….”

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

I long to be an instrument of God’s peace. But I’m not always ready. I want this season of Lent to be a season of being ready.  May the Lord cut through my fundamental understanding of what peace looks like and how it needs to be brought to the hearts of those around me. May my son recognize the effects of God’s peace and become a herald of it.

“How can you prepare your heart today for Jesus tomorrow?”

-Good Dirt (Epiphany)

Tamara