Dear Children

7 Feb

Dear Children,

You burn in my heart. Oh my goodness, how you burn.

“You weren’t even with them that long,” I reason, thinking it might somehow cool the burning (it never does). “Three months is a blink of an eye compared to a lifetime,” I add to help myself see things more logically (I never do). The simple truth is it’s three months more than enough to ingrain the weight of your souls into my heart. I discovered treasure in you and my heart followed. Reminders of that treasure are what God uses to make sure the impact of His calling isn’t confined to a time period. So Claudia and I printed pictures and found hammers and pounded nails and hung those three 8×10 canvases at eye level on the hallway wall. “So we don’t forget to pray.” Now your faces are the first thing we see when we step out of our bedroom doors in the mornings but, even if they weren’t there, how in the world could we forget? It’s easy to remember how it felt to love you until we thought we would burst, even on long days that took every last ounce of energy. It’s easy to remember how the language barrier often kept us from speaking directly to you so instead we would whisper prayers for you in a language we did know. It’s easy to remember what God taught us during that precious time: as much as we adore your little faces and crave your take-my-breath-away-hugs, the thing we care about more than anything is if you know Jesus.

I keep telling Him I want to come back and live with you. Sometimes I miss you so much it physically hurts. But He tells me He doesn’t need me there right now. Then I ask if He’ll ever take away this burning. But He tells me He gives it because what He wants is for me to pray as passionately from here as if I were loving you in person there. I’m not responsible for saving your souls – He is. But that doesn’t mean I have no responsibility. In the end, it doesn’t matter if I picked you up and played with you and loved on you a thousand times if I don’t match that number with the amount of times I’m on my face asking God to rescue my children. He’s a big God, you know. And He’s really, really good at rescuing.

I love you, my Cambo kiddos.
I’m glad for the burning.
I won’t stop praying.
And I’ll keep trusting you to Jesus.

Both Sides of the Ocean

9 Dec

How it ended up in my bag, three months later, I have no idea, but the instant coffee packet I emptied into a mug this morning was Cambodia condensed into a bitter roast scent. It smelled of sun beating down and street garbage and motobikes and bananas ripening in the sun and bakeries passed on the way to the slum. It reminded me of every morning after I’d had my hour on the balcony and Claude had hers in our room, and she would disappear downstairs into the kitchen and come up again, balancing white mugs on top of a plate full of freshly cut pineapple. “We’re missing more coffee this morning,” she’d say and we’d roll our eyes and laugh. One bag of fifty coffee packets should have lasted us more than two weeks. It would seem we were supplying the entire base with their morning caffeine.

It’s been three months now, how long we’ve been home. The same amount of time we spent in Cambodia. Sometimes I wake in the morning after a dream of my little girls speaking English and my heart will ache for the rest of the day. Sometimes I catch myself staring extra-long at her 4×6 face between my Bible pages. Sometimes I pray for them out loud while candles burn long in the darkness of my room. Sometimes I want nothing more than to go back. Today. Forever. I look longingly out the windows of my Lancaster home and see greener grass. I tell God I want that aliveness back, that joy, that full-blown purpose in every single moment. And that’s when He asks if I think my purpose has changed. “Of course it’s changed, God. A lot has changed. I’m in Lancaster now, not Phnom Penh. Those are pretty opposite places. Instead of kids whose language I don’t understand, I work with kids who speak English, and it’s not always pretty English. I don’t have to watch how much I eat anymore, because my mom’s pantry is fully stocked. I drive five minutes to the Post Office instead of walking forty. I get fifty percent less sleep a night here than I did there. I’m planning a wedding, not my next overseas trip. I no longer have every evening open to spend on a fifth story balcony with my Bible, not to mention every Friday off for spiritual refreshment. That’s pretty different.”

Then He takes me to Matthew 13. The story Jesus told about the sower throwing his seeds all over the stones and thorns and rich soil. In five verses, there’s my answer: just because the ground is different doesn’t mean the purpose changes. Cambodians may be easier to love sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I pour out one drop less to the people God surrounds me with right here. Sleep may be four hours a night instead of eight, but that doesn’t give me an excuse to invest less energy and joy into every day. Quiet time may be threatened by a crazy schedule, but that doesn’t mean I don’t set aside a daily time with the Lord and protect it fiercely.

Yes, I’ll still have my moments of intensely missing my brown-skinned kids. Yes, I still dream of going back. But instead of wish I was there, I need to remember why I am here. If God gets just as much glory out of me being here, I should have just as much joy. What was my purpose in Cambodia? To love Jesus and love people. What is my purpose in Lancaster? To love Jesus and love people.

The view from the window is still there. I can choose to stand at it on tiptoe and look out at brighter shades of green. Or I can choose to focus on this side and see colors bursting with new opportunities and a glorious purpose all its own.

Lord, show me which beginning of watches You are calling me to right in my hometown.

Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace. If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is.
[ Amy Carmichael ]

Who Will Love Them?

31 Oct

We spoke on Sunday.
Showed this to our friends.
Stirred our hearts anew.
God keep us soft.





Muffler Burns and Servant Leadership

22 Oct

Usually people are rewarded for their good deeds. It’s why they do them every once in awhile. It’s that extra pat on the back and the satisfied feeling of being noticed. Only she didn’t get a pat on the back. More like a burn on the leg, judging by the golfball-sized patch of raw just above her ankle. And that golfball might as well have had my name written across it since it was my endless cough that prompted her secret little goodwill mission to the pharmacy on the other side of the city, one of the few she knew of that actually sold cough drops. The mission required a moto, which requires extra caution on the part of a woman when riding in a skirt, which caused her to choose haste over safety upon disembarking, which brought her right leg into contact with a hot muffler. Hence the golfball. Hence my autograph on her Cambodian souvenir. She didn’t tell me the story until a day later and even then I had to drag it out of her.

Why she does these things, I don’t know, thinking of everyone else before herself and serving her heart out. Actually, let me rephrase that. I know why. I’m just not always sure how. Once upon a time, during the course of our Cambodian summer, I entered some kind of secret competition. My acts of service against hers. For awhile I was even going for the one-step-ahead thing, but that didn’t last very long. Besides, I don’t think she ever keeps track. That’s one of the reasons I love her so much.

There’s this Jesus principle I see in little sister. It’s in Matthew 23 and might as well have her name in the margin next to the red lettered verse. This principle comes alive in her every day life, whether it’s in a slum in Southeast Asia or a trailer park in Honey Brook or our home in Bird in Hand, and it’s the balance of the servant-leader: one who becomes great in the Kingdom because they’ve learned to be a servant in this one. She leads strongly because she serves well and she stoops low to push others higher and she smiles wide in the invisible work. It’s a principle I want learned deep and stretched full in my own life and I’m grateful for a younger sister who lets me follow her as she follows Christ.

My hearts in the slums today.

27 Sep

Yesterday Afternoon:

I was in the kitchen yesterday. Finishing up a meal I was preparing for some dear friends from church. I open the fridge door. Thoughts pounding through head. I’ve had Cambo on my mind. I’ve had the Youth Center on my mind…I’ve had Holiness on my mind…I’ve been trying to shove it down. Perhaps just…you know…simplify my mind.
My hand robotically reaches for the butter. Top shelf of the fridge door. Mom had been trying to decide earlier if she should switch the shelves around…”Maybe the milk jugs could go somewhere else for a change…” We looked at each other and laughed. No. The milk and butter would stay exactly where they always have. Some things never change in the Barkman home.  But suddenly. Garlic.
My hand stops mid-air.
Garlic. 79 cent label plastered across it.
And Suddenly. Suddenly. Suddenly. Before I can do anything to stop anything, I’m taken back to the Phnom Penh street Market.
Sweaty bandana. Khmer Riel tightly wadded in my right hand. I’m the only foreigner in the entire place. I like it that way. I talk Khmer, smile real big. Life is so good! I am so Happy! We just got back from the slums, where we washed lice-ridden heads of at least a hundred children…myself included.
I’m running late. So I quickly buy my 5 cent garlic for our rooftop supper with Anun and Srey Leak.
I talk just enough Khmer so that dear lady selling garlic and potatoes thinks I’m fluent. I bid her farewell before she can figure out I only know enough to live on bread and water…and potatoes and garlic.
I walk the 15 minutes back home. Meet up with Erv. She’s not so fond of the market…Oh Erv. Too dirty I guess.
I love it. I want to live there.

—But Suddenly—I’m back.
Hand still outstretched. Big kitchen with custom cabinets– not ant cupboards. Garlic that’s American– not Cambodian. Life that is busy– not slow. Future that is Lancaster– Not slums…

“You’re home Claudia. Your’e home now. You’re home. You’re home. Get over it.”
I yank out the butter. Slam the fridge door shut a little too hard. I end up burning the butter in the pan. 

My mind is in Cambo today. My prayers are in Cambo today.

7 hours later:

It’s nearing eleven. My mind can’t seem to get a grip and fall asleep…
10:48 P.M. I get a text from Big Sister.
I wish we wouldn’t have to text each other. We lived every second of the summer side by side. But now we text each other to stay sane and hash our lives at every possible spare moment of time.
I’m sitting in Honey Brook. And she’s sitting in Bird-in-Hand. I flip open my good ol’ hand-me-down Samsung.

One of our kids drowned today.
I think it’s Bonya from a few houses down from the center.
Oh Honey!!”


No. No. No. No.

Seconds. My journal and Bible are out of my bag and the tiredness evades me and I flip on a light and I run to the door and undo the deadbolt I walk out where I can see the lights of the Shell across the street and I cry tears of anger and I pretend like nothing will ever change and I refuse to believe that precious Bonya with one droopy eye and puffed out stomach and daily hand on my arm and smile just for me…is gone. But…I loved him!!
I don’t reply to Ervina. Not ever. I just sit on the porch. I just rock on the chair. I just let the tears cry. I just realize.
I thought Cambo froze. I thought it all just stopped when I left. Ervina and I talked last week. Said we would return. All our kids would run down the streets again and we would hug them again and hold them again and they would teach us what Love is again…and now…can we go back if a face is missing?
No! No! Nothing was supposed to change. I thought. When I go back. Srey Bin will still be 6 years old. Sum Lawn will still have that innocent smile and carry around Mowgli on her back. The neighbors will still be in their same houses, the rice fields will still be green and knee deep in mud, the posters Erv’s hand made for the ministry building will still say “DO JUSTICE” and “LOVE MERCY” and…best of all…no one will have aged a day and no one will have forgotten us.
I’m still rocking on the chair. Fists for hands. Nothing was supposed to change!!...No one was supposed to die!!
But I’m here in America. It’s where God wants me. But I feel so helpless. My three-month children! Oh my children! How is it possible to love so deeply in so short of a time?…
I drove home from Honey Brook this morning. One of my contacts came out last night. So I drove Route 10 to 340 with one eye closed and blow my horn passing Smuckers Energy (Just because I can) and try not to let Cambo thoughts cloud my one sided vision…and I ask Him…
What must I do Lord? How can I serve Cambo from so far away? How can I pray? How can I fight?
Did I live with intention every day of Cambodia? Do I live with intention every day of Lancaster County?
Four weeks ago today I left Phnom Penh.
Yesterday I was jolted back.
I would have given Bonya a tighter hug…deeper love…If someone would have just told me… in a month he would be gone…
But Dear Lord. I must give people tighter hugs NOW. Deeper love NOW. 

God help me live with intention.

Death is at my doorstep. And I can’t do anything about it. But live in Complete Faithfulness to the Lord…

So Help Me God. 

Amy Says It Better

21 Sep

The tom-toms thumped straight on through the night, and the darkness shuddered round me like a living, feeling thing. I could not go to sleep, so I lay awake and looked and I saw as it seemed, this:

That I stood on a grassy sword and at my feet a precipice broke sheer down into infinite space. I looked but saw no bottom–only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled; and great shadowed, shrouded hollows and unfathomable depths. Back I drew, dizzy at the depth.

Then I saw forms of people moving single file along the grass. They were making for the edge. There was woman with a baby in her arms and another little child holding onto her dress; she was on the very verge. Then I saw that she was blind. She lifted her foot for the next step; it trod air. She was over and the children over with her. Oh, the cry as they went over.

Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters–all were blind, stone blind. All made straight for the precipice edge. There were shrieks, as they suddenly knew themselves falling and a tossing up of helpless arms catching, clutching at empty air. But some went over quietly and fell without a sound.

Then I wondered, with a wonder that was simply agony, why no one stopped them at the edge. I could not. I was glued to the ground. And I could not call; though I strained and tried only a whisper would come. Then I saw that along the edge there were sentries set at intervals, but the intervals were far too great. There were great wide unguarded gaps between and over these gaps the people fell in their blindness quite unwarned. And the green grass seemed blood red to me and the gulf yawned like the mouth of hell.

Then I saw, like a little picture of peace, a group of people under some trees with their backs turned towards the gulf. They were making daisy chains. Sometimes when a piercing shriek cut the quiet air and reached them, it disturbed them and they thought it a rather vulgar noise. And if one of their numbers started up and wanted to go do something to help, then all the others would pull that one down. “Why should you get so excited about it? You must wait for a definite call to go. You haven’t finished your daisy chains yet. It would be really selfish,” they said, “to leave us to finish the work alone.”

There was another group. It was made up of people whose great desire was to get more sentries out. But they found that very few wanted to go, and sometimes there were no sentries set for miles and miles of the edge. Once a girl stood alone in her place waving the people back; but her mother and other relations called, reminded her that her furlough was due. She must not break the rules. And being tired and needing a change, she had to go and rest for a while. But no one was sent to guard her gap, and over and over the people fell like a waterfall of souls.

Once a child caught at a tuft of grass that grew at the very brink of the gulf. It clung convulsively and it called, but nobody seemed to hear. Then the roots of the grass gave way and with a cry the child went over, its two little hands still holding tight to the torn-off bunch of grass. And the girl who longed to be back at her gap thought she heard the little one cry. She sprang up and wanted to go, at which they reproved her reminding her that no one is necessary anywhere. The gap would be well taken care of they knew, and then they sang a hymn.

Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts rung out in one full drop, one sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me for I knew what it was–the cry of the blood. Then thundered a voice, the voice of the Lord, and He said, “What has thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.”

The tom-toms still beat heavily. The darkness still shuddered and shivered about me. I heard the yells of the devil dancers and the weird, wild shriek of the devil-possessed just outside the gate. What does it matter after all? It has gone on for years. It will go on for years. I make such a fuss about it. God forgive us. God arouse us. Shame us out of our callousness, shame out of our sin.

The Cry of the Blood
(excerpt from Things As They Are by Amy Carmichael that never ceases to convict)

How Long?

29 Aug

I can see the storm descending on the hill tonight
Tall trees are bending to Your will tonight
Oh, let the mighty bow down
At the thundering sound of Your voice

Just yesterday it seems I was walking those streets for the first time, everything shockingly foreign. Today I walked them for the last time, everything heart wrenchingly familiar. Each hand holding a little tighter, each hug lasting a little longer, each face memorized a little clearer. Oh these souls.

I can hear the howling wind and feel the rain tonight
Every drop a prophet in Your name tonight
Oh, and the song that they sing
It is washing me clean but
How long?
How long?
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

It’s been a summer of feeling the darkness even in broad daylight, of need stretching out pleading hands into my face, of burdens settling heavy, of children precious in His sight becoming precious in ours. We who have Bread had the privilege of being among a people who hunger for it. And even through the communication barrier, this Jesus-food, it’s a universal language.

And I know You hear the cries of every soul tonight
You see the teardrops as they roll tonight
Down the faces of the saints
Who grow weary and faint in Your fields

I don’t know how to leave it behind, all that I’ve seen. I don’t think it can be left behind. I think I’ll carry with me forever the deep seated lessons and soul strengthening experiences and heart imprints of a Cambodian expansion of the heart of God. And the joy that comes out of that expansion? Ridiculous. He’s met me and humbled me and stretched me and brought me to new places of prayer and love and intercession.

And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight
But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight
Oh, I believe You will come
Your justice be done, but how long?

The enemy isn’t quick to raise white flags over his territory. The war of the unseen doesn’t escape the atmosphere of the visible. I weep with the evil that preys on innocence and the lives who think hope is someone else’s future, not their own. But I also weep with the beauty that is redemption and the God Who gives it.

And I am standing in the stillness of the reckoning
The storm is past and rest is beckoning
Mighty God, how I fear You
And I long to be near You, O Lord

I know His redemption is for them. I believe His heart is for their salvation. I know hope can be gloriously worn in even the poorest of this growing up generation. I can’t make it happen and as much as I want it for them, I can’t force the change. But if I leave anything behind in Cambodia, I want to leave behind a ground that’s been trampled down by wrestling prayer and take with me a pair of calloused knees. I ache to see God be made huge in this community, with or without me. I ache to see it be done soon. Not because these people deserve a better life, but because He deserves greater glory.

How long?
How long?
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

(“The Reckoning” by Andrew Peterson)

Letter to Mowgli

23 Aug

Oh precious girl, do you know you’ve got me wrapped around your little brown finger? It’s true. You used to be so serious and quiet, and my heart ached to know your sadness. But now you talk and laugh and light up in smiles, and my heart loves it. I’ve run my fingers through your straight black bangs as you leaned against my chest. I’ve held your small hands in my white ones and smiled at you until the twinkles came out in your eyes and you twisted your head in a shy grin. Sometimes my skirt is damp when you leave, but I don’t mind. Sometimes I’m not sure if you’ve had a bath in the past week, but that’s ok. Sometimes I wish so badly I could take you home with me and make you clean and yummy smelling on the outside, and pure and Jesus loving on the inside.

When I don’t see you for a day or two, I walk to your house to find out where you’ve been. My favorite is when you see me coming and run down the street to meet me. “I missed you!” I say as I grab you up in my arms and swing you around in a circle. “I’ve missed you, sweetheart,” I say again as you bury your head in my shoulder. You don’t understand my words, but I think you know what I mean. And you don’t understand when I whisper prayers over you, but Mowgli-girl, God knows. When I think of how I’m going to say goodbye to you in a week, my throat closes up and my eyes get shiny-wet. How do I leave you behind? How do I go back to my big house and leave you in your slum one? How do I trust that Jesus will take much better care of you than I ever could? Who will watch you grow up and teach you how to make good choices? Who will I hug tight when your face comes to mind and you’re oceans away? Mowgli-girl, you belong to Jesus. I want you to know your heart is safe with Him even when your world is dangerous. I want you to know your block house isn’t your real home and your trash-littered life isn’t your only destiny. I want you to know what it means to love Jesus.

A few months ago I didn’t know you. I didn’t know you would be the face of my Cambodian summer. I didn’t know there was a hole in my heart the shape of a pigtailed three year old. I didn’t know I’d pray for your little life. I didn’t know how much I’d love you. In less than a week, I’m going to walk down your street one last time and hold you tight one last time and wait for that precious grin one last time. And then I’ll leave. But when I walk away, precious girl, Jesus won’t be leaving with me. He’ll be staying with you.

Life in Cambo…

20 Aug

Our time is drawing to a close. We can only step back and thank the Good Lord for allowing us the immense privilege of journeying into His Heart as we treasure these Precious Cambo people.
Yes. Life looks different now.
A simple sentence from a tuk-tuk driver of, “Ohh, Your Khmi eess vereyyyy clear-uh,” makes our day.
The screaming of our names down trash ridden streets, mornings of solitude and prayer, evenings on the river front discussing the challenges and beauty of life with Srey Leik and Anun, the excitement of Kenny and James arriving in four days, the Glory of God revealed.
Ah Yes. How Life has been made so much fuller for God bringing us here.

And. Just because. An awesome and highly embarrassing snapshot of last weeks Super Hero Camp. 90 kids in one small building = CRAZY AWESOME ENERGY. I’m used to A nice semi-controlled week of Honey Brook Day Camps where 50 kids max run off their Red-bull energy on acres of land .But this is way cool too. I’ve come to See that Different is good for me. Real Good.


18 Aug

At the beginning of the summer, meeting all these new kids in this new place made my head hurt. I was just trying to remember new names and identify new faces. It was hard.

Sometimes meeting all these new people in all these new places makes my heart hurt. I’m just trying to live the way Jesus told me to and love in a likewise manner, and so I connect. And then I have to leave. And a very large piece of my heart stays with them. I don’t want to think about having two weeks left to figure out how to say goodbye to that part of my heart. And so I live today.

Today I had dirty fingers laced through mine as I walked down trash-strewn streets and a little one cried because I didn’t have an extra hand to hold.

Today I was invited in out of the scorching sun and sat on a falling apart chair as I swung the baby in the hammock and the grandmother jabbered in a language I didn’t understand and the little girl curled up on my lap.

Today I shared smiles with beautiful faces.

Today I brushed back sweaty bangs and tight-hugged tiny shoulders.

Today I played peekaboo and gave piggy back rides and communicated through laughter and the few Khmer words I’ve learned.

Today I loved them so much it hurt and wondered if they could feel it.

Today I wondered if it hurt them more for me to come and love and leave than it would if I hadn’t come at all.

Today I looked into big brown eyes and knew the answer.

This summer is such a gift. Over and over I stop in the middle of joy-burst moments and whisper thank you. It’s hard for me to get into circumstances like these and connect myself — really connect myself and then leave. It’s hard for me to become vulnerable all over again and again and again. I don’t like it. Really, I don’t. But today, playing with the kids, just laughing, and watching and holding them, it struck me. It’s always better — always — to love. To connect. It hurts to connect and then leave. But it hurts me more not to. Do I have what it takes to love them? No. I can try and I can think I do, but the reality is that in me dwells no good thing. Except for Jesus. So each day I ask for Him to be what comes out of Ervina.

Those kids might forget about me in a few weeks. But that’s ok.

All I want is for them to remember what it feels like to be loved by Jesus.