Saturday, November 27, 2010

A grateful heart...

This week was big! So many blessings to count and so many blessings I want to remember each day. Some days I wish I could take more photos or actually take better photos to document the many doings in our lives, the forward motion of our children or the tough days when we wish we could wake up and begin again.   We lead such full lives rich in opportunities and my heart is heavy with gratitude during this week of Thanksgiving. Such a day seems to mean more to me know more than ever!

I am grateful for the friendships my children have.
We took a group of friends rollerskating for Hayden's
10th birthday and had so much fun zooming around to the cheesy music.

My heart is grateful for Grandparents and the presence in the lives of our children!

I am thankful for the ever developing open mind and giving heart I see in my children.
For Hayden's party we asked that those attending consider bringing a gift of new or gently used shoes to share with the more than 300 million people (primarily children) who have no shoes around the world.
This child was totally excited about collecting shoes and forgoing gifts. I love his heart!

On Thanksgiving day Bob said our prayer before dinner and said this, "I am grateful for my three sons and how they have embraced and accepted Ava into our family so generously and graciously." Yes they have been so supportive of her and she has brought more joy than we could have know to our home.

I am thankful for Ethiopia and the many ways being there twice this year has changed my heart!

I am thankful for SPONSORSHIP! WE sponsor this wonderful 
child (who is almost grown up) from Korah and it is the most amazing feeling to know that 
we are giving so that he might have HOPE and feel our LOVE and learn about how GOD LOVES HIM! God is using us to change the life of this child right there in his own Ethiopia.
Change a life just one child at a time!

 I am grateful for a heart that is called to SERVE.
In the bustle of life we often forget that we need to be living to serve one another.
I want to BE THE CHANGE not just hope and pray for change.
Last weekend we were able to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in great need who live of the streets of our own community. Our children loved it and begged to do it again.
We learned that people are people and that although we all are dealt a different set of circumstances we all desire the same basic need for food, shelter, love, attention, a warm touch or a kind smile.

I am most grateful for FAMILY! 
We shared a simple Thanksgiving together with Bob's Mom and Uncle and my Dad and of course each other. It was a splendid and casual day of games, football, feasting and just being together.
I would be nothing without my family to share it with. 

The Christmas season is now upon us and I am grateful for the birth of a dear babe born in a manager who was sent to bring us grace, mercy, forgiveness and HOPE.
Peace and blessings to you and yours!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Steering the boat...

I will never forget walking off the plane and down the ramp to the many family and friends who were so eager to meet our daughter home from Ethiopia. My sister, Shannon, was by my side and Ava was tucked into the front carrier asleep and I was fighting to be able to walk I was so tired and so filled with raw emotion. I could not wait to bring this once orphaned child into the arms of her community, her home, her brothers and her Daddy. It was magical. It was a feeling that has changed me. I sit here today, 12 weeks after bringing our daughter home, and I am amazed by the love we have for our daughter and the many tangible ways God is using adoption and having been to Ethiopia twice to transform m life.

I feel compelled to tell you that five years ago I knew almost nothing of the plight of the orphan and very little about those living in poverty or being forced into modern day slavery. I was quite clueless even though we were caring and charitable people who always had the needs of others in our picture. I was raised as a Methodist and I was always taught right from wrong. I attended Young Life and although I was never comfortable being outward with my faith, I did believe in God. Growing up I can remember praying but like many people, I often only prayed when the going got tough which it often did. I cannot recall many times when I simply chose to dialogue with God and looking back I am quite certain that I was living as if I was in charge of me not as if God were in control of me. 

Several years ago I endured a very painful situation when my stepmom basically abandoned myself and my sisters after living in my family home for nearly eight months in order to be healed after a severe accident. Upon her wishes we were all working to help her exit a very troubled 18 year marriage and doing all that was needed to transport her to numerous appointments to better her health both mental and physical. 
I can remember so vividly stepping up to help her and being in control of making all that she needed to heal happen. It was tough stuff but I we would overcome it and see her through it. If we planned enough or if I controlled enough she would get well and she would exit her awful marriage and come back to her daughters and her grandchildren. That is truly what I can recall thinking and those who know me know that I love to be in control. I am a planner and I like to orchestrate what will happen next. Makes me chuckle just typing that... 
Then the bottom fell out of the boat. The bottom fell out of the boat I was so carefully and properly steering while hoping above hopes that she would remain on board with me until the bitter end so that I could have my Mom back. 

I was preparing dinner and after returning from what I thought was he weekly therapy session she simply announced the she would be leaving and that her husband (almost ex-husband) would be picking her up within a few minutes. I lost my mind and felt in that instant that I had lost everything. 
You see when we took her in we placed all of our adoption dreams on hold. We actually thought the dream was over and that we were meant to help her instead.

OK so get to the point- perhaps that is what you are thinking... I had to tell you all of that in order to tell you this...
I can remember feeling so lost and so broken by what she was doing not only me but my immediate family and my extended family and I can recall thinking that the only thing I could think to do was to beg God to take control of the situation. allowing me to find peace and comfort and quiet from the pain and the hurt and the rage that was swallowing me whole. Sometimes I wish it had not been such pain to lead me to my epiphany but God does have HIS ways :) I sit nearly three years later and I feel like my faith has flourished beyond anything I could have written or dreamed. After choosing to see HIM in a way I had never chosen before and I chose to ask GOD to be in the driver's seat of my life. Remember I like to be in the driver's seat so this was a iant leap for me. charge. I've always thought that being in control was something I do best.
How could I have known that God does a better job of running my life than I do? I sure wish someone's magic words or a lightening bolt to my head could of convinced me. In many ways it matters not how or why I was granted the grace of the epiphany I had after my Mom left me with very harsh words and now gratitude for all my family had endured for her. What matters is that God intervened and God stepped in when I needed Him most. HE showed up as some like to say, and I am now a testament to God's sweet grace.
This precious baby below is the most wonderful testament to God's grace.
God spared her, rescued her, preserved her and shared her with our family.
God rescued and restored me and God can intervene and drive the boat of your life too.

I feel so filled with praise and love for the miracles that have occurred since saying an even bigger yes than I ever had before to allowing God to work in my life. Today I rocked a baby who we have adopted into our home and quickly into our hearts just as God will adopt us if we let him.
Ava turned seven months yesterday on her sweet Aunt Shanny's birthday. Ava is everything we could have hoped for and certainly more of a blessing than I ever imagined receiving in following God's words to care for the widow and look after the orphaned or those facing such injustice. 
God is not through with me yet and in fact so much is just beginning. I have been given the opportunity to return to Ethiopia very soon and I am listening very carefully for God's whispers in what I am meant to do next. First I was changed by relinquishing my need to be in control and then my heart was broken for the least of these in Ethiopia.

I thank God every day for creating in me a passion that will allow me to become more like his son, Jesus I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need it most.  The more I learn the more I realize that as Christ followers we are asked as ordinary people to live out the very meaning of the good news. I am being asked each day what I will do with all that I have now seen and all that I now know. How will the next chapter of my life unfold? Will I be willing to live beyond myself and my comfort zone? 
Now more than ever I want to see the world through God's eyes. This may sound funny or far out or foolish to some but I am listening with a very ope heart and ears as to where God wants to use me and I am hearing him say, "Keep your eyes on me but in the meantime change a life, reach out to those left behind, feel the pain of the abandoned, help to set the lonely in families, learn more about those facing severe injustice."
This is all to be continued friends but I leave you with this thought...
What might, just might happen in your life if you chose to let God steer your boat?
Where would you go and who might you meet along the way? 
I just love the idea of getting on board and giving up what we think is best and letting God dictate the plan. It is far from easy but please consider joining me on the journey of a lifetime.
Send me a message and let me know where God is working in your life!

Thank you God for the gift of an open mind and a faithful heart. Thank you more and more each day for bringing your Ava into our lives. She is the such a great gift and although we know she is ultimately yours, we are so grateful to raise her and love her in our wild and crazy Strobel clan. Below is Ava gazing into the eyes of her brother, Carter, who insisted on a few shots with his sister. "Mom I think she thinks I am her favorite brother, Carter informed me while loving on his baby sister.  

These photos are pure eye candy to a Mom who never knew I could love and trust so deeply. I am so blessed and so filled with love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

This baby and all her funny faces...

This week Ava is SOOOOOO BIG! Here is what she looks like when she makes her wild face and raises her arms above her head.
The crazy face below had her brothers absolutely roaring with laughter last night at the dinner table. Ave girl you are the sweetest thing and during this season of gratitde I am so thankful for 

Look at her look up at her big brother Carter. There is so much love between 
them. You are so dear Carter with your baby sister.

A Must See Video to Share...

One of the greatest gifts in working through our wonderful adoption agency,All God's Children International, has been meeting families who are truly the salt of the earth. Most of the families who have gone before us in adoption or who are waiting to know who is intended for their families,  have been so instrumental in helping us grow in our faith journey. We had the delight of traveling twice to Ethiopia with the same families, first to meet our little ones and then three weeks later to bring our children home.  One family we traveled with was the Burleigh family and we absolutely love the story of how God called them to bring home a son. With three little girls waiting for a brother, you will see that little Markos is the perfect fit and rounds out their home.

The Burleighs stepped out in faith and just yesterday stepped out again to share their story with others at their church. Watch their Gotcha Video and be ready to weep when you see their darling son. We look so forward to planning a time when all our families can reunite. Watching the children who have come home from Hannah's Hope Ethiopia grow up will be great fun over the years. As a family we strive to share the story of Ethiopia, a country we fell in love with and a country where so many more children wait to find their forever families and their forever homes.

So many sweet faces below... Thank you Burleighs for sharing your touching story. Hug that dear boy of yours and all your smiling girls too.

Markos Gotcha Video from Kristin on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A few firsts

A new baby in the house is such fun. Owen is only six and yet I feel that I have fogotten much of the exhiliration of the many first. This past weekend in West Michigan we had our first snowfall. The big wet white falkes even stuck around for a few hours, causing all the kids to run around dreaming of sledding and snoball fights. Ava was out with Daddy on a walk when the snow began to fall and she was just a starring with her big dreamy eyes. A few flakes even landed on her mile long lashes but I was not quite quick enought to capture it. Here are a few pictures to remember Ava's first snow...

Today Ava sat in the tub without her tub seat and just sat so well. She had one tumble over but she was loving being a bit more free in the tub. She is a splashing machine and you forget how one little person can make such a wild mess. She just propels herself around via her legs a kickin and her little arms a moving.

ONE more big ONE. This week our eldest son, age 10 lost a tooth and today I was wiping away yet another pile of drool and finally realized that one little tooth had made its way through Ava's gums. Yippeeeee! Can't wait until the drooly moments are gone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Orphan Crisis...

I have found myself consumed last week with the crisis that is happening all around us. That crisis is the 143 million orphans in the world today. Let me repeat 143 million. My husband and I have seen first hand what that looks and feels like on the streets of Ethiopia and we are very aware of the thousands of children right here in the US who live in the foster care system. The orphan crisis knows few boundaries and spans the globe. Today is Orphan Sunday and many churches and organizations are focusing on educating about the statistics and the solution. You see WE can be the solution and the hope for the orphan. Take a look at the video below to learn more. Remember to head to the bottom of my blog to pause the music first.

Creation Groans from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

This week marks ten weeks home with our precious Ava and loving her and caring for her each day makes us even more convicted about the plight of the millions of orphans who are still waiting. It's Orphan Sunday and yes the thought of her being alone, cold and hungry takes my breath away so I am choosing this important day to share some of the details of our journey to the daughter of our hearts. I hope you will read with eyes wide open all the while listening carefully to your heart. Perhaps God is calling you to the very same path of caring for the orphan in his or her distress.

 Five or so years ago we were your everyday basic family of five. We were a working Dad and a stay at home Mom raising three young boys and like most of you, sometimes tearing our hair out and wishing we could "google" parenting 101 to find out all the many things we did not do well. We worked hard and played hard, creating new family traditions and exposing our children to all the many wonders of the beautiful world.  Many days we were on the go and wondering where our next bit of patience would come from or how we would make it through the next fit our youngest would send our way. We were the average American family who enjoyed our days working, attending church, raising our children to understand right from wrong.  We were happy and healthy, connected to friends and family and cherishing every moment we could spend together as an immediate family. Bob was finding peace in his profession and although his days required hard work,  the rewards were great. We were back in our home town and finally building a house we had waited so long for. We were blessed and in so many ways truly in love with our family and our lives.

But deep down something was a brewin'. Things were going well yet I can very clearly recall the questions I began asking of God. "So is this it? We seem to have it all, are we supposed to feel like we just continue to climb the ladder of more stuff and bigger things? Are we giving enough of what we have been blessed with away?" There were questions and it did seem that something big was missing from our lives.  With three boys I was aware of my growing desire to raise a daughter and my dear   eldest son, who knew that I wanted a little girl in our world, began to send me these little messages that he said were coming from God about adopting a little girl. "Adoption" became a word we threw around and a word we were very comfortable with after numerous health concerns that made us question our ability to conceive back in the late 1990's. Adoption became a word we all used when people would comment or ask about our brood of boys. I kid you not when I say people would often stare when I was out and about with our first two and a big round belly pregnant with our third. I had three boys in four years and we did look like crazy people even on our good days. LOL! So people would ask, "So are you thinking of going for the girl?' To which I would so casually reply, "Yeah sure but she is not going Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would become such a passion and a calling.

Then one day God flipped a switch. I wish I had the clarity to remember exactly when it happened, but I do know that we went through several months where all we talked about where the many children of the world who needed so much. We began to discuss as a family the children who were in need of clean water, a safe place to live, food and of course parents. We began to talk to our three young boys more strongly about how we give more to the needy children of the world. We participated in packing shoe boxes through Operation Christmas Child. I began to read about the child soldiers of Uganda in this child's true story.We began looking at the various adoption agencies and researching those that served children both domestically and internationally. Way back when we even attended a meeting through the local Adoption Associates Agency and the Director of the China Program came in to the meeting to discuss a new program opening in Ethiopia. I'm telling you even way back then, four or more years ago, God was trying to open our hearts to Ethiopia.

What came next was the reading of a book by Patricia McCormick called Sold

Then came a weekend that changed my heart deeply. The Watoto Choir came to our church for a performance that was eye opening beyond measure. The children are all Ugandan and most are orphaned due to the ravages of a 20 year war. We signed on to house choir members and I will never forget the connections I felt immediately to these three precious young girls.

Each has a unique story as to how she was brought to the Watoto compound. The oldest girl was actually brought to Watoto by her older brother who was caring for several family members after parents were killed and could no longer care for her. Their stories were harrowing and although the structure of the choir and the discipline that it took to travel the world with over 100 children for 16 months left us with a few questions, we have carefully watched what the Watoto organization is doing and it seems they are changing lives for the best. The idea behind the choirs is to give each of the Ugandan children a skill and to bathe them in the love of Christ to help heal their hurts and hopefully raise them up to become leaders in their own country. Watoto children are adopted by Watoto and each is raised in a family setting with Special Mothers as the heads of the households. Check out their website. It's worth it. The three girls who spent the night in our house changed me and made me realize that there was so much more our family could give.

So back to our story... From 2004 on God was really pushing me to become more curious about the children of the world.  HE was opening me up to all sorts of Global crisis situations through books, films, reading, blogs, other families, etc. I can confidently say now that what seemed coincidental was no accident to God. HE was in the details and leading me all the way all the while begging me to TRUST Him. Yeah not my strongest skill- that lovely TRUST thing. So the story continues with us knowing that All God's Children International was the adoption agency we were most interested in. We had read the story of how the family run agency was founded, and we loved the faith and love they were pouring into the orphans of the world. But again I need to pinch myself in remembering that choosing a Christian agency was not my top priority. Yes another thing God knew about what we needed! AGCI means the world to us now and we are so in awe of the amazing families we have met and the exceptional work that AGCI strives to do in the world. AGCI brought us hope when it felt like there was none after having signed on with the Nepal adoption program  that quickly began to dissolve. The ultimate gift  AGCI provided was the comfort as they cared for our precious Ava for the first three months of her new life. The entire team on the ground in Ethiopia from the drivers, to the cleaning staff to the Special Mothers and of course the agency Director are the most caring and loving souls we could have hoped for in the first few months of our daughter's life. Now we cannot even fathom being on such a life changing journey without our AGCI family.

So I share a portion of our story on this Orphan Sunday with the hope of encouraging you in a couple of ways. What speaks to you in terms of reaching outside of your comfort zone and changing the world? What themes seem to continue to pop up in your life? Have you asked yourself if these conversations, words, things perhaps you have read or people who have come in contact with are mere coincidence or could they be very specific, God ordained signs that YOU were meant to do more. you. This week I would encourage you and I will do the same... to pray for the vulnerable children of the world. The statistics make me want to run and hide but then I am brought back to the realization that it God can do great things, beyond our wildest imagination. HE can use you and I one at a time to change the world one orphan at a time.  Perhaps we cannot all adopt, but we all have the ability to research the issue and learn more. We can all pray. Many of us can sponsor children and many of us have the passion and the church platform to spread the message of the poor, the helpless, the enslaved and the orphaned. Maybe you are being called to visit the hurting children of the world. Even if you are afraid or wonder how you could possibly do such a thing with such busy days or your role as parents- DO IT ANYWAY!
Change can happen, one child at a time.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Into Our Arms Forever!

Remember to scroll down to mute the music.

welcome home ava! from melanie Strobel on Vimeo.

Meeting Ava during our first trip to Ethiopia

Don't foget to turn off the music below before watching video.

Meeting Ava Ethiopia Trip July 2010 from melanie Strobel on Vimeo.

Korah- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

During our recent visit to Ethiopia I felt very called to the village of Korah in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. There have been numerous rumblings lately about the tremendous need to help the children of Korah who are growing up in and around the local trash dump. The village was established 75 years ago as a place to send people with leprosy who were said to be cursed. Now there is a 3rd generation of people living in Korah with nearly 100,000 suffering from such things as leprosy, HIV, misc disease and of course malnutrition. There are many children of Korah who have been forced to live and work at the trash dump in hopes of finding food and possible items to sell in Korah's center of town. With the start of the Great Hope Church in Korah and the building of a shelter, along with the ministry of local Sammy Liben and Sumer Yates, there is now a feeding program and a sponsorship program in place to rescue the forgotten children of Korah and send them to boarding school where they can escape the horror of the conditions of living and working in a large trash dump. For more information please visit: or where you can learn more about how you or your organization can help the people and the children of Korah. Please send me a message or email Erin Allen at to request sponsorship information. I will soon be posting the photos of my day recently spent in Korah. I must tell you it was life changing and beyond anything I have ever done to stretch, change and rearrange myself. God helped me to help the people who I met. Much of what I could offer was nothing more than the snap of my camera or a warm touch or an inviting smile. The needs in Korah are beyond our wildest imagination yet God is over Korah and there is already amazing work being done. I invite you to view the following videos to learn more about the beauty and the needs of Korah's people.


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Love this...

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Hannah's Hope Orphanage- Ethiopia

Remember to turn off music below before watching.