Thursday, December 30, 2010

What will 2011 bring?

Tomorrow night we will ring in the New Year first with our children and then with friends at an UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATER PARTY. Yep, that's the theme and the gaudy sweaters are so hot this year that they are being sold for big bucks on Ebay. So do not deliver them to Goodwill just yet... You never know if you may need one for a party next year and heck why not go the Ebay route if it is truly a one of a kind crazy ugly sweater- just sayin'

Anyhow the new year comes in here at our house with lots of excitement and sweet little toasts our boys make about what they have enjoyed and what they hope happens this next year. Hayden already picked out his favorite sparkling white grape juice and I am thinking I will be on the hunt tomorrow for the basement box of noisemakers. It is a special celebration. Just the other day Bob and I were remarking that 2011 should look very calm and simple as we are not in the middle of both an adoption and an office overhaul both in one year. 2010 was a remarkable year of dedication and very hard work. It was a year in growing stronger in our faith and trusting God when we were on very unsteady and/or uncharted ground. It is a year I will never forget not because our daughter was born and came home to our family but because I personally was forced to surrender so much. Here is what I mean... I sort of stopped trying so hard and simply let be what was going to be. It was a cool transformation for me and still to this day it is a struggle not to drive the boat. You have heard me say that a million times but it is oh so true. I'm thinking there might just be a few of you out there who can totally relate. What cracks me up is that we are driven to step out, to form a new friendship, to grow a business, to join a new committee, to parent in a whole new way and it feels like we call all the shots. I mean don't we? In order to make things happen we must act! We must fill out the first set of adoption papers or make the first visit to the new church or team. So we act, sometimes with a calculated type A energy that makes people wonder what we are all about. I love that! I love the drive, the energy and the courage that takes. BUT HERE IS WHERE IT ALL LOOKS DIFFERENT FOR ME NOW... After I act, make my move, take that step...  I surrender. I ask God to make me a vessel and to use me. I ask God to send me, to work through me, to guide me. You see I have become a living testimony to the fact that nothing worth doing is worth doing without it being for God's greater glory!

So join me in welcoming in another year with a great big BANG! Some days I can hardly wait to see what is next as I know that my work has only begun. I want to live for others in need and be a beacon of light to my children, my family, my friends and to total strangers. I want to be a strong Mother who is here for my children in all ways needed. I want to open my children's eyes through dialogue and travel this year. I want to keep communicating with my husband so our hearts are united as we roll into a new year. What an honor that we have such full, rich and crazy loud and chaotic lives. SO full and SO much fun. Take a look below and what poor Ava had to endure as her wild and crazy brothers joined her on her first crackly sled ride. She barely moved a muscle with the exception of her eyes and never uttered so much as a peep as her brothers zipped and zoomed her all over the yard. Now we just need some more snow!!!!


Um yeah mom... I'll go sledding with you
but can you pull the sled?

Oh here we go with the Owen twirl...

Please note her same face.
I am telling you the child did not move a 

Those big eyes say it all...

My favorite shot!

Here's to a happy and healthy New Year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holy Night...

Born and lying in a manager wrapped in nothing more than rags...
HE came to live here on earth so that we might learn the deepest 
lessons of peace, grace, trust and love.

It was an honor to be the holy family in the pagent this year at our church and I cannot express just how special it was to see this dear baby, our new daughter, who at one time was cold and lonely and without a home, embraced and touched by all in her presence. It was a moving reinactment of the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and King.

 Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Merry Christmas Cheer...

We are a wild and crazy bunch around here and I am amazed at the end of each day what it takes to make it all happen as a family of six. Our boys are in 5th, 3rd and 1st grade and I can honestly say the break from the school routine has been so needed. I love letting the boys wake up on their own, play cards before breakfast, head out in their snow gear while still wearing PJs. It is great fun to have them home and they just love the hang time. Is it perfect- heavens no! They are so active, moving from thing to thing. They are constantly hungry and running to the pantry more times than me in a day :) They come in from outdoors and think they can throw all of their gear on the floor, knowing full well of course I will clean it up. They are mess makers and leave everything they have just started when a friend rings the doorbell. Our days are crazy. So this Christmas take three active boys home all day from school and add and 8 month old baby. Yes it is an interesting picture both good and bad :)

Ava is a trouper and continues to surprise me with her resilience and happy nature. She goes with the chaotic and often loud flow and unless she is hungry or tired she is generally very easy going. This morning we invaded Daddy's office and we were all quite the spectacle as we kept running into friends who had not seen the boys in years or met Ava yet. Ava just kept spitting up or puking as the boys say and  I felt a bit like I was herding cats as I was talking to old freinds and trying to keep the boys from sneaking to the back of the office to consume any and all treats they could get their hands on. So why not chow down on chocolate, sprinkles and candy canes right after having your teeth cleaned-  Afterall it is Christmas! We left the office and although I was feeling a bit fried,  I was so filled with joy for all the connections to family and friends Bob has. It seemed all who entered his office door were connected through our high school, neighborhood, the boy's school, staff family or church. I love love love our community and all that happens in the exchanges of love and support for one another.  We are so blessed!

So with just one day to go before we celebrate the birth of a KING I cannot seem to put our dear Ava down. I am so in love with her and the reminder she brings that God sent a baby- can you even imagine the wisemen bowing before a baby- a baby who would change the world and give his life to show us God's amazing grace? I stare at Ava Eleanor and I feel like a chosen Queen. I still cannot believe that adoption was placed on our hearts so long ago. That God chose me so that I might raise Miss Ava, teaching her to walk in the light with Jesus along side her.  Ava makes my heart sing yet I feel a deep ache for those children all around the world who are without those to love and support them. There are so many children who will not wake up to presents around the tree and stockings hung by the chimmney with care. I cannot save all children from being lost and alone but we will work hard to advocate for the orphan and support the agencies that strive to rescue children and bring them to the love of Jesus. There is much on my heart as we move into a new year. The orphan crisis continues to tug at my heart now that I have seen first hand the mercy and work that is needed. This year our merry Christmas cheer comes with eyes more open than before making our prayers deeper and our love deeper.

So we have spent the last few days delivering goodies to our neighbors and trying to find a few quiet moments to read a few books around the tree. The reality is that the subdued Christmas days where we all sit by the fire relaxing and enjoying an eggnog are not exactly how our famiy rolls but we are grateful for the cheer in the house, the excitement of the baby whose birth we will soon celebrate, the gorgeous Christmas cards that are still arriving in droves each day, the smells of chocolate and the red and green m&m cookies we are crave.  All three boys have been very emotional this year about buying each other gifts and while we should have thought of it a bit earlier, well we are trying to embrace their generous hearts. We also wonder if their ideas to buy for one another (all nerf I might add ) seem a bit like a conspirary threory as they all huddle in discussion but hey, isn't it all in the way you choose to see it?

Have a wonderful day tomorrow as we all prepare our heart and homes for the merriest of days... Below is a little eye candy of the daughter who brings our hearts so much fullness and joy this Christmas. She is our little ANGEL and we are grateful to celebrate our first Christmas as a "complete" family. Merry merry to you and yours!

One more thing... several fellow AGCI families who were scheduled to fly to Ethiopia tomorrow for thier return trip to bring their children home were notified today that the US Embassy is requiring more time to review paperwork. They will not have Embassy appointments this next week and they do not know when the appointments will be rescheduled. Things are up in the air and so are their lives right now... It is a very tough spot when your heart is ready to get on a plane and bring home the baby you bonded with just weeks ago. It is teven tougher to remember that God is in control and they there must be a reason why all of this is happening. I know they are hurting and feeling lost right now as we roll into Christmas day and their hearts ache to get their little one's home. We are praying for you and with you in this process. This adoption road is not always a straight path and we are asked to sit tight and breath deep many times throughout this winding journey. God is over the details and never forget that HE will hold you in the palm of HIS hand while you wait- even with questions and tears. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A gift that will SHINE!

What a week it has been and now we roll into an even bigger week of celebration and Christmas cheer. With only four days until Christmas I have to chuckle that my cards have been in transit for five days now. I hit the wrong shipping option and here I sit with envelopes all addressed and no cards yet. This year our priorities have changed a bit :) Last week was full of hoopla and excitement as school was winding down for the two week break, I had a birthday and Ava is now eight months old. There was much to celebrate.

Last week the most special gift was delivered my way. I can only share a few details but needless to say it made my birthday the very best ever!  Here is the story... 
I have a friend who has an amazing job and one of her tasks is to help her company determine where donations should be made and why. She was chosen to pay it forward and invest in something that gives back, makes a difference, changes a life. Such a cool concept and so much fun for me to hear her grapple with where the monies should go. This friend and her family have been right there alongside us in our journey to Ava and have been moved by the miracle in the plan God has shown through Ava. So in looking at where funds should be donated this year, my friend thought of our family and our passion for those left behind in Ethiopia, the struggle of those in orphanages who will have nobody to call their own this Christmas. She and I spent a great deal of time last week looking carefully at a few organizations that are doing what they can to bring light and hope to the least and the lost in Ethiopia. Here is the part you will love... After much consideration and prayer we decided the donation should go to our outstanding adoption agency, All God's Children International. AGCI has an excellent reputation as an adoption agency and has for many years. What many may not know is that AGCI is hoping to increase their impact in the world through their Embrace Missions work this year. Take a look:

The best part about the donation to AGCI is that the funds will be designated to go directly to the renovation of several Bethzatha Government Orphanage locations that AGCI partners with and where babies and children must be placed may be placed before being place at Hannah's Hope, a transitional home before adoption. Bethzatha locations are very well run but they are teaming with babies and the facilities need updating and repairs. These funds will be used this year by the AGCI mission's teams (yes, there are still opportunities to join them) to make the living conditions for orphans better.

There are rules as to what I can do to help fund raise for AGCI so soon after completing our own adoption, but I will say this... I know many of you reading this are praising God this Christmas for the beautiful gift we have been given in our new child(ren) home from Ethiopia. They were so well loved with so much attention and nurturing, and for those yet to visit HH to meet your babies, there is nothing quite like the HH environment on the planet- let alone Ethiopia. So I ask you as one proud AGCI adoptive momma... How can we support all that AGCI hopes to do this year to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are orphaned and alone? Perhaps we could all give, adding to the funds given this week for the renovations at Bethzatha, or maybe you, like me, are being nudged in the direction of going back to Ethiopia to work and love on orphans. Maybe you could be the answer to even one orphan's prayer in 2011...

Donate to our Orphan Care Projects: Your financial support will provide clean water, essential medical care, and a safe place to sleep for children who dream of a place to call home.

Participate in an Embrace Missions Trip: There is no greater way to embrace the needs of a child than by extending your own hands. Join one of our Embrace Missions trips in 2011.

Become a Church Partner: Invite your congregation to put their faith into action by sponsoring our orphan care programs or by joining a mission trip.

Explore the links to each country to learn more about the Orphan Care 2011 projects. Find a ministry that touches your heart, then use the 'Donate Now' button to help fund the project. God uses your gifts to transform an orphan's helpless moments into miraculous moments of hope.

Please join our outreach efforts to make a difference in children's lives in 2011.
Our prayer is that you will be the answer to an orphan's prayer today. Visit to learn more.
Peace and may your light shine bright!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why not give shoes?

Ever since discovering last summer that our family would be a part of the first group with our agency to have to travel twice to Ethiopia,  first to meet our daughter and then again to bring her home, I just knew that there was a bigger plan in order. I took the news and the expense it would take to make two trips,  and made it my mission to get many needed supplies into Ethiopia. SHOES were the number one item that sprang to mind as we prepared for our journey. I would dream about seeing the eyes of a child wear his or her first pair of shoes. I dreamed of going through all the many choices of shoes we have here in our home and packing them up for those who have no choice but to wear nothing on their feet. My prayers were answered as so many supplies and many shoes poured in. Our son, Hayden, made a basic flyer, delivered it throughout a small section of our neighborhood and wah-lah SHOES!

Then within days of bringing Ava home we discovered that she was suffering from hookworn, a parasitic infection that is contracted through the soles of feet that touch the soil. Parasitic diseases plague over 1 billion people worldwide and can have devastating effects on children both mentally and physically while they are developing. Ava had very disturbing symptoms that caused her to cough constantly to the point of vomiting. The symptoms made her sound like a wheezing asthmatic baby since the parasite had gone untreated for the first four months of her life.

Next came an idea again inspired by my heartbreak for those who have no shoes... For my so's birthday we asked friends to consider bringing shoes instead of gifts. It was so much fun and we raised 24 pair of like new or new shoes to send to Soles for Souls since we love their vision and work all over the world!

Let me leave you with this... What a good idea huh- shoes for someone on your list&
while another pair is donated to a child on God's list.
One pair sold= One pair donated!

A must see...

International Adoption Crisis from Both Ends Burning on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

God's Plan...

Next week is my birthday and I feel a bit of hesitation now that I am in my forties as the day draws closer, yet I am can honestly say I am right where I feel I am supposed to be. That feeling doesn't come along every day so I am grateful for the days I feel headed in the right direction and living out the call that has been placed on my heart to serve. The calling is just there. It is even heavy at times as I feel a bit strange or perhaps selfish in that I feel the need to get back to Ethiopia to live out the calling I keep hearing in my head. It is an extraordinary life I lead and I am grateful every day for my faith, my team and my family. This mother of four definitely knows that I could not be doing all that I do in planning for the future without my village of support and the hand of God.

Tonight was so amusing as I had to punish one of my sons for his nasty talk toward his brother and he was yelling from the basement, " I mean the rules around here make me want to hitchhike to another house." Yep that is how it goes for a moody fifth grader when he does not like to be punished but while we were up here in the kitchen choking back laughter all I could think about was immersing him in a world where hitchhiking is not an option and where choices and opportunities do not abound. It is theme that keeps replaying in my head as I go through my days after visiting Ethiopia twice and wondering why we feel so compelled to have it all. Some days I want to give it all away so we can head back to Ethiopia with open arms in support of those children who have no one.

The night is then topped off with whipping cream and a beautiful red cherry when my third grade son says. "Mom I know you are going to be on a call tonight to learn more about going back to Ethiopia but when you and I take our trip this summer, a special thing I plan to do with each of my children after third grade, can we go somewhere that is not like Ethiopia. Somewhere that is a little less poor where we can do things and stay in a hotel? I mean no offense to those who need help in Ethiopia."  I fought back my chuckle and my tears as I looked into his eight year old eyes and said, "Yes Carter we can go somewhere where there will be things for us to do and a hotel." This for me was an Ah-ha moment in that all the dialoguing we have been doing for some time as a family is starting to sink in. Carter is beginning to see and feel what I see and feel. That is my prayer. Stretch me, Oh Lord, so that I may stretch and encourage others.  Help my children hear my hope of giving to those in need and serving those who need it most, the orphans of the world, who are left with nothing. Help me to have my kids see me living out the change that God has so generously placed on my heart.  Help my children to see that my life is now your life in being the hands and feet of service to others.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I have an idea...

Keep in mind it is just an idea, but I keep asking myself what if, so I had to share with all of you.
Over the past few years in addition to being home with kids, I have been using my time to research and connect with various charitable organizations both locally, nationally and internationally. Stepping out into the adoption arena helped us to see things we never imagined we would see in terms need and the chilling circumstances that many children face daily throughout the world. My first hand account of poverty at it's best has propelled me even further into research and tangible ways to give back and help others.

 Today is December 5th and we here in the United States are in full Christmas buying mode. The Christmas bling (as I like to call it) is everywhere and we cannot turn a corner or even enter a grocery store without thinking of all the stuff we might need to make our holidays just a wee bit brighter for ourselves and certainly for our children who all have the Christmas "wants." We scramble to take care of so many on our list who have helped us throughout the year, the favorite bus driver, the school secretary, the teachers, the neighbors, the business clients. I do the same people so I am totally in the know here. :) Most of us have good intentions and generous hearts filled with the Christmas spirit.

Enter my idea... What if the gifts we gave mattered more? What could be accomplished if we took our lists and matched each name with a gift from an organization that is doing more and giving more in the world.

Perhaps your children would love to sponsor a child for a year or more. What an awesome gift and through several organizations it is easy to communicate with your sponsored child and see exactly what you are doing to change their lives through education and nourishment:

Compassion International

Wiphan Care 

Children's Hopechest

Here is a list of organizations I love for tangible gift giving. You can change lives through the purchase of an animal or soccer balls for a village. Think what the purchase of bibles might do to change a life...
Purchase your gift in the name of someone you love or wish to thank this year.

World Vision

Samaritians Purse  This organization is a Strobel favorite. For years we have packed up shoeboxes as a family in hopes that a child somewhere in the world would receive something special and the knowledge that Christ knows he or she by name. You can purchase mosquito nets for remote areas where people die from malaria. Such a lifesaving gift will have true meaning this Christmas.

Heifer International  Why not give a gift that could benefit a family or perhaps an entire community!

Soles for Souls  See what a big time corporate executive turned philanthropist is doing with shoes. He is helping to save lives one pair at a time and recycling shoes to be donated all around the world and across the US. What if we donated new or gently used shoes in someone's name. Now that is a very unique and heartfelt gift!

FashionABLE Scarves These scarves help to provide and sustain business opportunities to women in Ethiopia. The scarves are absolutely gorgeous and a great price point!

Lifesong This organization has a rockin gift catalogue. You can purchase a brick in the name of someone to help build a classroom in Zambia. Your donation might help a child from the Ukraine
attend a bible camp. Think about how one gift might change a life!

Women at Risk If you live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area there is a place you have to consider visiting for gifts. I am talking stunning gifts with amazing purpose!  The woman who started the organization is the most spirited soul. She has dedicated her life to this cause after growing up in Bangladesh and witnessing first hand what happens to young girls and women all around the world and right here in our own city. Please visit the website or the store if you are here in GR.  Even if you are not compelled to purchase a gift you will learn so much. 

I am excited to purchase my gifts a bit more carefully this year after seeing firsthand the poverty that still haunts me. We all love to give and to receive and with all the many gifts we purchase to celebrate the most memorable day of the year, I have had it on my heart to encourage us all to be a bit smarter in the gifting we do! We can all make a difference in raising up a woman living in poverty or providing shoes to a village child or sending love and monthly prayers to an orphan with nobody to wake up to and call his or her own on the blessed day of Christmas.

Peace and Love to you and yours.

Into Our Arms Forever!

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welcome home ava! from melanie Strobel on Vimeo.

Meeting Ava during our first trip to Ethiopia

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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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Hannah's Hope Orphanage- Ethiopia

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