Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree

For the first time in our nearly four years of marriage, Josh and I are celebrating with a Christmas tree of our very own! Over the past four years, December has been the time of change in our life, whether it was moving home from school or to another country we seem to have always managed to NOT be in our own place for the Christmas season. I, therefore, was very excited when we woke up on Saturday morning and set off on the grand adventure of finding the perfect tree to grace our apartment with. However, no one told us how inexperienced we would feel or how challenging it could be to find that elusive Christmas tree. We forgot the tarp to put on the top of the car (at least we remembered rope to the tie the tree down with), and then, when wandering through the seemingly endless rows of perfect trees we realized that eventually WE would have to make a decision. There were no parents to veto our choice of a tree nor to advise that this tree was to bushy or that tree would be too tall, and I must admit, we were both a bit worried that we'd end up with the "wrong" tree. Fortunately we did not, so after about an hour of wandering the lot with my brothers and good friends the Johnsons we committed to a tree, Josh put the saw to the stump, and at the cry of "Timber!" we had our very first Christmas tree.

The next round of inadequacy came for me when I stared at my naked tree all nicely propped up in its tree stand (after having been wrestled up three flights of stairs and squeezed through the doorway) and the three new boxes of Christmas lights lying on the floor beside it. I realized in that moment that my mother is the queen of lights and I had never bothered to take lessons on how one bestows those twinkling beauties on to the tree. Do you start at the top and go down? Or start at the bottom and go up? I went with the latter, 20 minutes later and utilization of my brothers hands, my Christmas tree was adorned with lights Mary Frances style. All that was left were the ornaments which, thanks to a long standing tradition between my brother Galen and I, I have quite the assortment of beautiful glistening globes. At last, we have our own tree, the beginnings of our own Christmas season, and our apartment will have that lovely Christmas-y glow for the next month. I love this time of year!

Take 2 - Levi James Stroh

For some reason the pictures failed on my last post, so here are a few shots of the tiny little man.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Levi James Stroh - November 16th

I witnessed a miracle on Monday when my newest nephew, Levi, joined us in the world. There really is no other word to describe him other than precious. Sure, that might be a cliche thing to say cause all babies are "precious."But take one look at his little round head, tiny cheeks, squinty dark eyes, buns like peaches, and fuzzy hair and you too won't be able to resist calling him...precious.

But more so than the miracle of life and the miracle that Casey achieved in pushing out that 9 lb baby drug free, was the distinct experience of seeing pain and joy mixed in such harmony. I personally did not experience the pain, perhaps those who were gripping Casey's hands as she pushed did, but it was written all over her face. I, on the other hand, got to experience the joy and pride part as I watched my sister do something incredibly brave, and as I saw Levi take his first breaths. But there was a moment, in the last seconds before Levi was fully out, that I saw it, that moment where the physical pain of having Levi almost there was intermixed with the extreme joy as Casey realized: He is here! It's an amazing and awe inspiring thing to witness as normally pain and joy don't often commune together so nicely. Made me stop and think, if only all things painful could be like that, hinging on the cusp of experiencing something joyful. Maybe they do we just don't always recognize it or have something so visible before us.

Anyway, it was an honor to be a part of Levi's beginning. I loved being able to capture those first sweet moments of his life on camera and hope they are a gift to the Stroh family for years to come. It felt a little surreal standing in that room thinking, the next time we are here, it will most likely be us. The next time we hold an hour old baby, it will probably be ours. The next time someone is being coached in breathing through contractions, it will likely be me. Now, watching Levi be born could have done one of two things to me: 1)make me want to run in terror or 2) inspire me to achieve the same feat. For me it was the latter, if anything I think it replaced the nerves with determination because I know, at the end of all that pain, there will be extreme joy....can't wait!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Through Smoke

I have a friend. A dear friend, who has experienced a deep and cutting loss in her life. She is a strong friend who is learning what it means to heal in the face of incredible loss. We recently had a conversation about the point of prayer. Why do we pray if, when we think we need it most, it appears to go unanswered? Why do some prayers have answers and others don't? If you believe God's will is Sovereign do our prayers even have any affect? These are the questions we wrestled with and to which neither of us had many answers.

Then I heard the song below....

Through Smoke - NeedtoBreath

Before the truth will come to fill our eyes
The wool comes down in the form of fire
And when the answers and the truth have cut their ties
Will you still find me
Will you still see me through smoke, through smoke

I was born in a house in a town just like your own
I was raised to believe in the power of the unknown
'Cause when the answers and the truth take different sides

Will you still find me
Will you still see me through smoke
Through smoke (x3)

When their whispers have painted pictures that
Make you doubt what you once believed in
Paper stories that hide the glory
To keep us searching
Through smoke

Who do you believe when you can't get through (through smoke)
When everything you know seems so untrue (through smoke)
When I'm lost in a place that I thought I knew (through smoke)
Give me some way that I might find you (through smoke)

Who do you believe (through smoke)
Everything you know
When I'm lost in a place (through smoke)
Give me some way

It made me think...sometimes those hard and devastating situations are the smoke and what God asks of us is that we still search for Him...even if we have no answers. Prayer is often the medium for those times in which we search blindly, feeling with hands outstretched before us as our eyes are choked by tears from the stinging smoke. And once we find Him behind the smoke, we will have the hope and endurance needed when the skies get hazy, the air gets heavy, and we can't see yet again.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nicaragua and the Baby Bump

Last night, amidst the freezing cold and blustering rain, we celebrated Nicaragua with over 100 people. Over five years ago, Northshore Baptist embarked on a partnership with Los Cedros, Nicaragua that would change the hearts of many people, both here in the US and there in Nicaragua. Last night was a celebration of that adventure, reflection on the amazing things God has done, and an opportunity to look forward to what is to come. Besides providing an opportunity for people to learn more about what is going on in Los Cedros, Nicaragua it was also a benefit dinner as we (the Unidos board) are trying to raise the last $10,000 needed to complete a computer lab at the school Josh and I worked at last year. Right now there are five barely functioning computers the kids are trying to learn basic computer skills on. I say barely functioning because you can imagine what wind, dust, humidity and dirty little hands will do to 10 year old computers. The dream, a sealed building with AC and 24 brand spanking new computers. One of the awesome opportunities that the school has once this computer lab opens, besides training the students and teachers, is a partnership with INATEC (a Nicaraguan adult skills training organization). INATEC is hoping to lease this lab back from the school in order to provide the adults in the community computer classes. But beyond the fundraising side of the night, we also got to see the website Josh has helped design for the overall Nicaragua project (hence the picture above). I am slightly biased, but I think he and the other guy working on it did a pretty sweet job...go check it out at

Yesterday also marked the debut of the baby bump! I am one day away from officially being in my second trimester. For those of you who don't know baby lingo, that's 14 weeks or three months and one week which also means the baby is now about the size of a lemon. I think I've finally passed the "Are you pregnant or just fat?" stage, praise the Lord! Although, since there is a possibility that I will be heading off on a short trip to Nicaragua to help with a project at the school for the Sponsor-A-Student program. If that happens, I am fully prepared for the "Profesora, you look fat!" comments I will most undoubtedly receive....aah cultural differences you make me laugh.

Well that's it for now!

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Last year we spent Halloween in Nicaragua, with a bunch of new found friends, and very little resources for costumes. We went as tourists, which felt at times not far from the truth. This year, we went as nerds and probably some of the ugliest nerds you'll ever see.

Just gets better once I put my teeth in:

I have never received so many interesting responses to my looks before. There was one man, whom we did not know, who followed us around for about five minutes at Northshore's Harvest Carnival. He took pictures and continually expressed how next year he and his wife would do something like this.."I could totally do this" he kept saying. Then there was Brendan, my husbands best friend and one of my favorite people. When he first saw me he gave me a hug, till I backed up and he viewed the full grandeur of my costume. He quickly started backing away from me saying..."Woah, woah, Mary look...REALLY ugly!" I don't think he quite knew what to do with me, eventually he came around. Then there were two more random guys who responded in a similar way. One said "Wow! I need a picture of that!" I don't think I have ever had my picture taken by so many people I don't know before.

But besides the horrifying experience of seeing me, there were the sweet costumes of some of my favorite little people....

Natalie the duck, complete with a cute little waddle that made her padded butt go back and forth.

Droopy cheeks Jackson, who must have just been boiling in his little puppy costume...
and studly Jude, all decked out in his Seahawks costume complete with some shoulder pads.

Jude had a blast at the Harvest Carnival...he got to do all his favorite things, play with kids, with balls, with more balls, with trucks and cars, plus there was even a piece of candy for that carb loving tooth of his! The only part we're not so sure he liked is when Micah took him down the giant inflatable slide. He was very intrigued by it initially, till Micah got him to the top and he realized he had to go down the slippery yellow precipe....belly down seemed to do the trick!

After a great evening with the fam, we moved on to Brendan's Halloween Party. Steven Pyke had my favorite costume of the night...He was the shower from the Karate Kid. The only thing we all decided that would have made it better would have been if he'd had a bathrobe on instead of being fully dressed.

The Three Stooges (Josh, Steven and Brendan)

I think one of the funniest moments of the night was when the award for best costume was being handed out (which by the way we were in the top four). In the final rounds, the winner was being determined by clapping and cheering till it got to the final two: Barbie vs The Shower. I yelled out "Dance off, Dance off" till people joined in....I knew my team (aka Steven Pyke) would have the upper hand since I happen to know he has some pretty sweet dance moves for a red headed white boy. The crowd caught on, and soon the music was bumping and Steven was dancing circles around Barbie. Once she saw his moves, she gave, lets be honest, there really is nothing funnier than seeing a shower bobbing around the middle of the dance floor.

Sometimes I wish we could dress up more often...people just seem to be a bit more light hearted when pretending to be something they are not.

Barbie...the competition and Steven working his dancing magic.

Steven with his trophy...Brendan braving my glasses!

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