Tribute to Blake A. Stromberg
Blake A. Stromberg
1969 — 2019
There’s this notion that the farther we move beyond something from our past, more perspective comes. Maybe what feels true is how patterns become more vivid.
It hasn’t been long since the tragic loss of Blake Stromberg. Looking back, we see pain, but we can also see God’s hand in his life. With reverence and respect, I believe there is light, even as we grieve this loss. I hold to vivid patterns of Blake’s love of being in and for the lives of others, his servant leadership and his immense love of nature and rest.
Although I first met and befriended Blake’s sister, Kim, and his wife, Becky (Larson) at North Park College, it wasn’t until several years later when I would know Blake and see his character. Blake and Becky, married and living in Lake Bluff, Illinois, were attending Libertyville Covenant Church, where my family had been for years. They put down roots into this tight-knit and growing community, frequenting gatherings and dinners, being part of each others lives. Blake loved cooking, entertaining, preparing meals. He had a knack for being in the middle of it all. He became a reliable, central part of family life in the church. Here, his kindness and generosity were in full measure for this community to see and experience. He brought more of this to his church family at First Covenant Church in Seattle, as well.
Blake would be hesitant to admit it, but he was also a servant leader by his actions. In Matthew 7:16, Jesus says, “You can tell what they are by what they do.” Blake was every bit a churchman in this regard. He served willingly at the Saturday homeless breakfast, on youth trips, tracking church finances, ushering, moving chairs around, on council leadership and search committees. At times, he spoke in hard truths when he thought something needed to be said, seeking better outcomes. He didn’t want the unspoken to be left on the table. Every person serving around him was aware when something needed to be done and was encouraged to step up to help.
Then there is Blake outside and in nature. Skiing, camping, hiking, bike-riding and kayaking were among his favorite activities. He’d go with Becky, church guys, brother-in-law George; his nephews were often with him. Some years he organized church-wide camping events.
His love for the outdoors blossomed when his family moved to sunny northern California from Minnesota. Parents Paul and Linda Stromberg, and sister, Kim, together would camp, go to beaches, spend family time outdoors. Blake loved working at camps, Mission Springs near Santa Cruz, California, and Pilgrim Pines in New Hampshire, where he met Becky. In these experiences, the outdoors permeated his very being.
It is in nature where I believe Blake experienced authentic rest. In rest we can embrace how large the universe is compared to our problems. When at rest, we sleep better and are less worried about things. It’s physiological. Living in rest while in nature can provide delivery from what’s going on around us. Jesus also rested in Mark 1, even on full days of ministry, going on a hike while everyone looked for him—he listened to God, rested and moved on.
Cascades Camp in Yelm, Washington, under the watchful backdrop of iconic Mount Rainier was one place where Blake and Becky would annually find rest to be in God’s presence. Ironically, others say they found restoration and community at Blake and Becky’s campsite. This included well-organized meals from a camping chef’s dream kitchen, craft projects, and good conversation under the glow of tent lights. Sometimes it was just quiet rest. It was part of a good day at camp to say you had stopped by to be with Blake and Becky.
Every church needs more Blakes in their midst, especially today in the greater church with more divisions and tribalism entering the fray. Being connected with one another, being in community, serving one another and healing in God’s creation gives us a way back to God’s intentions for us all.
Blake must have felt joy and God’s peace in nature and rest. He may have heard God saying, “Even when you’re not doing anything, I love you. My love for you is not about your capacity to work for me.” God is offering us this gift. Do we believe this too? Can we receive it?
We’re all equal at the foot of the cross. We’re broken while still being called, loved and used by our Creator. Blake was made in the image of God. He was anointed, even as a broken person. There is light in Blake’s life — light we can live out for God, light we can share with others.
Looking forward, how might we walk by the side of those who may be struggling inside?
Ask God to help you see those around you as He sees them. Tell them what you see. Honor them with a glimpse of their true worth by telling them, or thanking them for something, even seemingly small. Acknowledge them. They are in our midst — feeling anxiety, in need of a quick word of encouragement, someone who sees them, maybe even a phone call, and a word of healing to God’s creation.
In celebrating the life of our friend, Blake Stromberg, we also thought it important to note the nature of his passing by suicide. For so long, this has been a subject that has been all too difficult to address, perhaps especially difficult in communities of faith.
It is Becky’s wish — and our intent through these sincere, honest (at times, raw), heartfelt tributes — to both celebrate Blake’s life and provide hope and encouragement for others who are struggling, to reach out and talk to someone before it’s too late.
Among several organizations with resources and personnel to offer help to people in crisis, TWLOHA, “To Write Love On Her Arms,” and NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, also provide education and support for families and friends. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, everyday: by phone, 1-800-273-8255 and online through their website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.