“Simply to Thy Cross I Cling”

I will confess right off the bat that this month has been a season of clinging to Jesus for me.  I think I might be part ostrich, because my natural tendency is to just stick my head in the sand whenever life gets ‘too tough’.  But whether I’ve allowed myself a little time in that soft, cool sand or been out in the thick of it, I’ve been clinging.  And not gracefully clinging, either.  I’m talking the fingernails dug in and feet dangling kind of clinging.  There is a battle raging, I have no energy to fight – and so I cling.

If I were to write about our family experiences with daily devotions, you would hear about the time when Kaiser was going to draw something about the Sabbath healing at the Pool of Bethesda.  He diligently hovered over his notebook adding precision details before proudly showing us a drawing of himself playing badminton.  I know that I’ll come across that picture one day and faintly remember the despairing of my heart as I wondered if my son would -ever- experience God intimately.

When I ask my son the leading questions in our devotions, his most common response is, “Uh, Peace! Love! Courage!”  (See, Wendy, I wasn’t joking)

So I’ll leave those stories for another day when my heart isn’t despairing quite so much.  And I’ll just say that the reading of Scripture every morning and every evening has been a form of clinging for me.  I loved Lacy’s post about eating the Book.  Yes, I have it with honey for breakfast (Psalm 119:103).  We do like honey in this house.  To prove my point, I’ll share just one more kid story. Kaiser smelled honey when we were living in the story of the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10).  Turns out he had some honey toast along with him.  He even shared some of his honey toast with Jesus.  And when Jesus stood and gave thanks, I leaned over and whispered, asking Kaiser who Jesus was thanking.  Loudly, he says, “Me!”  4,000 heads turned our way……..  *sigh

Lord, thank you for Your Word.

Another form of clinging for me has been found in a gift from my sister-in-law.  A book called “Then Sings My Soul” by Robert J. Morgan.  In it are 150 Hymns with descriptive narratives alongside each one about the life of the author.  I have an hour at taekwondo class where I sit in a cold office and read.  Since this book arrived, I’ve been reading and singing, reading and singing.  And I’ve even begun to sing some of these to Kaiser to put him to sleep at night.  These words are medicine.  Listen.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee

Let the water and the blood / From Thy wounded side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure / Save from wrath and make me pure

Could my tears forever flow / Could my zeal no languor know

These for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone

In my hand no price I bring / Simply to thy cross I cling


While I draw this fleeting breath / When my eyes shall close in death

When I rise to worlds unknown / And behold Thee on Thy throne

Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee

“Just As I Am” was written by a woman wrought with physical disabilities and angry to the brim because of them.  When she faced her own epiphany that Jesus bids us come just as we are, she gave herself, full of anger and distrust, to Him – and He received her (John 6:37).  Her story brings healing.

Just As I Am

Just as I am without one plea / But that Thy blood was shed for me

And that Thou bidst me come to Thee / O Lamb of God I come / I come


Just as I am and waiting not / to rid my soul of one dark blot

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot / O Lamb of God I come / I come


Just as I am though tossed about / With many a conflict many a doubt

Fightings and fears within, without / O Lamb of God I come / I come


Just as I am poor, wretched, blind / Sight, riches, healing of the mind

Yea all I need in Thee to find / O Lamb of God I come / I come


Just as I am Thou wilt receive / Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve

Because Thy promise I believe / O Lamb of God I come / I come

Lord, we encounter you in all sorts of dusty regions.  We see you healing those who are sick and feeding those who are hungry.  We recognize your compassion.  As we cling to you, increase our faith.


-Tamara Liebenthal

The Long Devotion: Singing for my Supper

We have a great propensity for love, and sometimes for loving the right thing.

Kids need to see their parents struggle. Kids need to be involved in our struggles. Their observations and involvement will prepare them for a healthy, mature transition into adult life.

I made a deliberate decision that my son will not observe me playing X-box games. I determined this because of the current technology addiction people succumb to.

In Korea, I often see toddlers playing with their parent’s phone. When we go out with friends, they often entertain my son with their smart phone. Later in life these parents will complain about their child’s obsession with their phone. Solzhenitsyn was right to ask, “…and who is prepared to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

There is nothing wrong with kids being quiet, or bored while adults are talking and drinking coffee. When we go out with friends, we always bring coloring books and Hot Wheels and our son has never complained. We want him to be able to acknowledge and appreciate the world around him. When he is an adult, we want him to be the man who can sit and have a conversation with anyone; to be engaging.

Adults spend a lot of time in lines, at: airports, grocery stores, libraries, amusement parks. Reflecting on one’s own thoughts is a lost art, as is soul searching. Standing in line is a poor man’s sport, but it can be enriching—if we teach that. Also, we are preparing him for parenting by modeling a parenting style that will be natural for him. When he is standing in line with his kids, he will know what to do.

I teach the long devotion. I hope I am teaching how to be the man in line that people want to be next to.

When I stand in line with my son, I often hold him up so he can see what we are doing and explain everything. I let him know when it is a good time to play, or not. Most importantly, when we hear sirens, we stop to pray for the rescuers and the victims. Faith must be active at all times.

Back to gaming. I determined that it is better for a boy to watch his dad struggle at playing guitar, than to watch him enhance his on-line stats. Ironically, a few weeks after I purposed in my heart to lead acoustic devotions, I was given an X-box 360 and a stack of great games.

I don’t know anything about making music. I can play the radio and that’s it. Struggling to accomplish something beautiful is a life-long commitment to spiritual enrichment. Accepting the challenges and punishments for pursuing Beauty is mysticism, it is a practice that both destroys and renews the soul. Men need this. Men need to be crushed by absolutes, infinite truths and tenderness. Men who are destroyed by spiritual beauty, are humbled; vulnerable. They have feelings. Men like this count the days of their lives, making them meaningful. They have perspective. They die well.

I made this commitment and began the painful process of earning callouses on my fingertips. Guitar strings can’t hold themselves down, someone has to do it. I downloaded lyrics and chords for songs I thought would be enriching to my family and my son in particular. I started with “Christmas for Cowboys”, by John Denver. My commitment includes playing in church once a month. We will learn some songs together and play them Sunday mornings.

My wife and I often hear him singing the Cowboy song to himself. That makes us happy. I chose this song because of the line: All of the good gifts given today, ours is the sky and the wide open range.

No matter where he is, or the circumstances of his life, I want him, in his heart, to be standing under an endless sky with his arms outstretched. I want him to be grateful. I think a simple song can teach him that.

I have added some new songs to our acoustic devotions, songs that I believe will cultivate the good dirt of his soul: “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash, “Downtown” by Petula Clark, “Some Days Are Diamonds” by John Denver, and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, (just because).

A man can find and share solace when he plays guitar. I was reminded of this when my friend spoke of her father’s recent death. She showed a picture of him as a soldier in the Vietnam War. He was the guy in the platoon who played guitar and led the singing. That determined it for me. I want my son to be that man, the one who plays guitar and leads the singing, even during war (or financial ruin, divorce, loneliness, unemployment…).

There are existential truths in some songs that lift and educate Everyman. When a man knows his place in the universe he can be comfortable with his place with God.

I plan on including many Johnny Cash songs because of the street smarts he shares. When I am ready to play Man in Black for my son, I will also share a lesson about how a man needs to help others, to be associated with those in need. He is to carry a burden for those who cannot carry it for themselves.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

I didn’t have a dad and I’m not from a Christian home, so my devotions are going to be unconventional. But when you are teaching the long devotion, you need a song in your heart.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.


-Mark Liebenthal

How Do You Communicate?

Welcome to the year 2014!

First Snow 115

A new year either brings a wash of excitement and hope for what might be or an overwhelming list of what is yet unaccomplished.  I suppose it depends on which side of the bread you put the butter.  Apparently, I prefer my buttered bread scrambled, because this year has brought both to me and I’m still not sure which will take the upper hand.  I’m taking one day at a time.

With the 12th day of Christmas upon us, our celebratory routine will change.  School times change, focus changes, work schedules even change. The only thing that won’t change is our rhythm of devotion.  I have been ‘good’ at sticking to the rhythm we established, but I’ve swung back and forth between feeling at peace with these times together versus feeling like it’s all in vain.  It can be hard with an energetic 4 yr old.  I feel like I tell him to respect people -while they’re praying- more often than I tell him about the God -to Whom- we pray.  It bothers me.  I’m not a resolution kind of person – if I falter one little bit I give in completely, so I don’t set myself up anymore.  But I do have an ongoing hope that has hit the fire this winter.  I want to point my son to Jesus.  And if our conversations, prayers and readings will do that, I will carry on.  If they’re getting in the way, though, I need to change my method of communication.

And talking about communication, here are some ways in which my son communicates:

1)  We’ve been talking about how Jesus takes care of us and looking for things throughout the day that can remind us of that.  I always ask Kaiser for his input, so I let him come up with a suggestion of what ‘thing’ or ‘action’ might trigger his memory.  He didn’t have to think long before he suggested burping.  Yes, burping.  And being a mother who doesn’t often have a better suggestion…… we went with it.  Interestingly enough, he and I burp enough throughout one day to be reminded of Jesus’ care -a lot-!  You know, it works.  And since God was the one Who came up with the idea of burping in the first place, I really can’t tell my son that it’s not polite.  It really helps to live in a country where you don’t have to say ‘excuse me’ after such action, too.  Instead, we say, “Thank you, Jesus, for taking care of me!”

2.) We ruminated on Psalm 23 recently and walked through the Psalm’s journey in our imagination.  In case anyone was wondering, Kaiser can use his imagination with his eyes open.  And, indeed, there was the Lord walking beside him through the valley of death.  After we’d gone through the Psalm’s journey a few times, I asked him what his favourite part was.

Any guesses?

It was His ‘bo’ staff.

Bo Staff<

It comforts me.

So with our imaginations in high gear, we press on seeking and searching…..looking for even a glimpse of Him.  We cherish hope and stand against fear – together.  My kind husband, curious son, and I.


cityscape: skyline of faith and nightmare

How do you navigate? Where do you find home? How do you choose your maps? I bought my maps from two old Greeks and a Russian dissident. I ask a lot of questions of Nobel laureates, mostly poets. I’ve had many maps over the years, but I’ve only kept a few.

At some point faith needs to leave home and go on its own adventure, facing danger on its own. Faith needs to learn how to build a fire, make a shelter and find clean water. Faith needs to learn how to make a family, build community, engage commerce and, most importantly, faith needs to learn to keep watch.


The faith that we want our children to have won’t really come from the devotions we’re struggling to maintain. The paper and the printed words aren’t what make faith great, or even viable. Faith comes with callouses, walking for miles, getting lost and finding one’s way home. Faith is found when we return home.

My wife and I have to raise a boy to be a man, and a better man than his father. My wife and I have different ways of doing the same thing. She is nurturing the deep, beautiful side of the spiritual life, while I take him down the alleys of the city. I take him to the Valley of the Shadow.

Quite often we walk together just to walk together. Sometimes I take him out early morning, sometimes late at night. I don’t like to have a reason for walking together, I like to discover the reason along the way. I want him to experience life unfolding; the city blossoming in the morning, or the city nocturnal, full of real shadows.

When we head out together, we always walk through the parking lot of a church building that has a large stained glass work of Jesus tending sheep. When we walk through here, we say together, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Having him say that on his own has been my only spiritual goal for him this year. Maybe next year we’ll add the part about not wanting. Maybe.

Many times we have walked among foreign gods, military machines, prostituted women, drunken men, and known criminals. We’ve been out in all kinds of weather and pushed the limits of wisdom, but always together. I led him. I held his hand. I carried him.


You can teach a kid anything during playtime. They are vulnerable to facts and wisdom. During our walks, I lecture with my hands, opening doors for others, paying for everything I take from a store, cleaning my messes. He just thinks we’re walking to the park, but I’m teaching him along the way. I want him to intuit his surroundings as a seasoned pathfinder; mindful of who he is wherever he is. I want him to navigate with his blood, making decisions with his core, not his skin.

Are these devotions? Maybe. Certainly disciplines.

Right now the needle of your success-o-meter might be bouncing around. That’s ok. Someday he’s going to face all of this on his own (as will your children). I don’t want him to merely be ready, I want him to lead.

When we come home with muddy boots, Momma smiles because she knows we were doing our devotions.


-Mark Liebenthal

Advent’s Gift of Anticipation

From Tamara:


This year’s tree.

This first Sunday of Advent, we set out our nativity pieces around the house and put the green paper up on the wall to fill in as our Christmas tree this year.  Small living spaces require alternative solutions for holding to tradition.  The ‘tree’ went up on Saturday actually, but the lights were too heavy on the paper and it began to fall down right about bedtime.  Seeing as our son sleeps at the foot of that particular wall, I couldn’t risk the rest of it peeling off on top of him during the night – so down it came for the night.  After the tree was up properly the next day and lights were twinkling, we let Kaiser open his first gift of the season – a LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar.  And, yes, we saved for three weeks to get that thing.  The first window held lego pieces that made a little R2D2.  How cute.  How cool.  How crazy.  How luxurious.  I swing back and forth between embarrassment of its opulence and sheer excitement of watching Kaiser open the next window.  We showed it off to Grandma and Papa and Auntie Em on Skype this morning – it’s that exciting.

When I watch my son’s face light up with the excitement of anticipation rewarded each morning, I recognize the powerful pull from my own experiences.  Waking up the morning that we’re going up the hill to get our Christmas Tree with Dad and the brothers.  Waking up the morning we’re heading up to Cooper Lake for huckleberries and perfect fishing.  Waking up the morning we’re heading down to Colorado for the summer.  Waking up the first day of school (yes, weird children can look normal on the outside).  Just writing about these memories makes my heart skip a beat remembering the flood of anticipation.  I know that for my 4 yr old, the time that passes between opening each window in his advent calendar is about the same as the passing of a year for me.  Anticipation builds.  Consumes.  Causes some strange comments throughout the day…..attempts at masking hope, I presume.  But hope cannot be masked on a 4 yr old.  It shines brighter than the lights on the Christmas tree.  Hope that Mom will declare today the 5th, 6th and 7th of December – and it’ll be the 8th of December by dinnertime!!  Wouldn’t that be fantastic!?

I really do love how anticipation grows and consumes every thought.  It really was meant to do just that.  My difficulty is in managing where my anticipation lands.  It’s easy to set my heart on things that are pretty and fun and, I’ll be honest, tasty.  But most things that fit into those categories are either quick to disappoint or quick to satisfy with disappointment growing on your hips.  When I see my son’s anticipation and recognize its pull, my heart cries out to the Lord that He would hold our hearts fast.  I want to long for Him.  I don’t always long for Him.  But I want to.  One of the most precious aspects of Advent for me is how it gently holds my face, like a Mother with two hands under a child’s chin.  Its time and focus demand that my attention remain on Christ and Christ alone.

Introducing Advent Traditions to our International Church

Introducing Advent Traditions to our International Church

Each morning now, we pull out our Good Dirt Devotional and Bible, sit together on our bed and set the pace for opening our hearts to the Lord.  I’ve found some of the questions difficult to navigate with my wee boy.  “What is one way you can welcome Jesus into your day today?”  We settled on thinking about Jesus being with us during Taekwondo class.  At the end of the day we reflected, “Were you able to welcome Jesus today like you planned?”  Um…..  “Was it easy or hard?”  Yeah, it was hard.  Did we forget?  Yes.  Not only that, it was difficult to imagine how Jesus could be there with us when he wasn’t running the drills and practicing His 품새, too.  Is Jesus a purple belt like me, too, Mom?  But the biggest blessing we’ve received so far is the daily consideration of His Word.  We read the suggested readings twice each day and it soaks in deep.  I pray that as we listen to the way Jesus calls us to follow Him – what He requires of His disciples – our anticipation will become steadfastly set on doing just that.  Following Him.

And we’ll see what He says about R2D2 coming along, too.

Thank You for the Fallow Land

Fisher Peak - Cranbrook, BC. Photo © Charis @ www.charispsallo.wordpress.com, used by permission.

Fisher Peak – Cranbrook, BC. Photo © Charis @ http://www.charispsallo.wordpress.com, used by permission.

From Tamara:

I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of BC, which means that I grew up celebrating Thanksgiving the second Monday in October. Since my birthday is on the 6th of the same month, we were often combining events. That really wasn’t such a bad deal—I mean, who doesn’t want loads of food and friends at their party—except that this weekend was also just the right time for harvesting the garden. It was pretty much guaranteed that I would spend my birthday Saturday out in our 4 acre potato field bagging potatoes. I want to say that I don’t remember grumbling and complaining about all the hard work. I want to say that this was all part and parcel of growing up in the country and I knew I was blessed beyond words to have the work, food, good seasons and money from selling all those potatoes. But I don’t think I was as sweet as I want to remember. To this day, I wake up on my birthday and feel a sort of dread about the garden needing to be dug up. To. this. day.

Several years of digging up potatos, though, means it’s time for fallow. The waiting. The building up nutrients and restoring. As far as digging up the garden on my birthday weekend is concerned, I’ve been fallowed for a long, long time. That garden land belongs to someone else now. But I’ve gained something great in all these years of fallow—a deep-rooted gratefulness. I’m grateful for the hard work my parents made me participate in. And I’m grateful for the waiting they sowed into my heart. I remember working with my dad through evenings that never seemed to end. Would we ever make it in for dinner? “I’m going back from another load”, he’d say. The stillness of the country night would surround me as I waited.

There’s something about waiting that resonates with me. I’d say that waiting was taught to me. Waiting was part of life’s early lessons. My dad taught me the most about this. Waiting can offer the time you need to come up with some great, imaginative stories. Waiting can be quiet. Waiting can be slow. Waiting can be cold. Waiting can be lonely. Waiting can be full of discovery. Waiting can be peaceful. Waiting can wake up your senses—or put them to sleep. What treasures I’ve found in waiting! I’m grateful for the lessons and the time I was given to appreciate the gift.

Because we celebrated Thanksgiving so early in the fall, I never used to relate Thanksgiving with Advent. But I have always related waiting with Advent—and I’m thankful for both.

Meet the Liebenthals

Liebe Family Shot 10-2013

We are the Liebenthals.  We currently live in Gwangju, South Korea, but we have known many homes.  If there is one thing we’re consistent in, it’s exploring.  We love to explore.  We also love cheese and chocolate milk, Hot Wheels and legos, robots and dinosaurs.  But those are shifting loves – they change with the seasons.  You know how it goes.  But to explore is to enjoy life.  Oh, the anticipation of what’s around the next bend!

As the mother of this home, I must confess that part of the joy in exploring for me is the way it leads you off the beaten path.  Away from the crowds and the hustle and bustle of city life.  Away from the visual and adible noises and into the quiet.  Sometimes it’s difficult to locate the direction of ‘quiet’ here.  But God knows my inner compass and he placed us on the very edge of our great city.  Right up against a hill with trails and rice paddies and cuckoo birds and deer.  My heart is full of thanks for this divine gift.  The gift of quiet and the gift of paths that wait to be explored.

My husband’s joy in exploration includes teaching our son how to respect and respond to the surprises that await them.  From catching fish they’ve never seen before (not even in books!) to saving worms stuck on the pavement.  From saying a kind “hello” to the Grandfather who affectionately touches our son’s face to moving away from the boy who likes to push.  From how to set up camp for the night cooking your food over a fire to how he can choose a good coffee shop.  But I think one of my husband’s favourite parts of exploring is the path that leads back home.  There’s nothing quite like returning to a safe, quiet, comfortable place.  Ours happens to be 250 sq. ft. – I think diplomatic real estate agents call it a “cozy” home.

Our son enjoys his Taekwondo classes and his homeschool Sonlight classes.  He loves meeting up with friends to play at their house or ours – or better yet at the park.  And, although he’s recently been asking for a car, he’s usually a real trooper when it comes to hiking down to the bus stop to get into town.  He’s a good walker and he loves to talk while he walks.  He’s very connected to family and often talks about those he loves.  I’ve been thrilled to find his father’s humour bubbling out every once in a while, too.  He’s every inch his father’s boy having only inherited my brown eyes and inability to wake up quickly.

We are excitedly awaiting Advent and looking forward to our hearts’ exploration through the Church Seasons with Good Dirt.  As we take steps around our neighbourhood and into the forest, we are always looking for God.  As we visit with friends, we look for Him there, too.  My heart’s prayer has been that this special time of navigating our way through the Church Seasons will grow a more tenacious longing to see God.  It will be fascinating to see that path light up as we share our findings on this blog along the way.  Happy Trails!