And Then We All Went Home

This is a wonderfully transparent story of the beautifully complicated tapestry of adoption. The verse she references at the end became my banner verse as well and I am happy to say, I have have seen the beauty of the Lord in it all!

Not Consumed

Today I am going to let you in on a little secret that new adoptive parents find it difficult, and frankly, sometimes even scary to talk about. Nope – this isn’t your pretty package with a bow on top adoption topic. It’s one of the hard and uncomfortable and true realities of adoption. Ready?

Coming home is hard.

I know, I know.  The paperwork is done, the judge said yes, the documents have been signed, the travel is over, the social worker has left and FINALLY, the little (or big) one(s) for whom your friends fought SO LONG are home in  their arms. What do you mean hard? Coming home is BEAUTIFUL!  I mean you were at the airport (or  at least saw the Facebook photos of the kids coming out of customs). There was a crowd of cheering people waiting. It was EXCITING! The children were smiling and everyone…

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Loving February

Love the ministry my friend, Lindsey is bringing forth! God’s Kingdom WILL break through. Read about the passion and vision for setting girls who have been trafficked free from the chains that bind…

Soul Shine

Hello Sweet Soul! It’s been awhile. So good to be back! I’m such a newbie to blogging that I kinda forgot I had one…a blog. Kidding.

I’ve recently made a vision a reality since we last chatted. That was about four weeks ago. Holy cow what a difference a month can make! This vision came to me last summer and remained super foggy and gray. It kept morphing just as the falling leaves and changing seasons. The seeds were planted back in the heat of August and well, things are just starting to shoot through the cold, frozen ground of February! And when I say shoot, I mean shoot! This ain’t no “poking” around business.

Girlfriends, I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself. While bracing for the extremely hard work that is ahead, there is a deep, deep joy in my soul. Bravely Made will be a faith-based non profit…

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Santa: Will the Truth Really Set You Free?

I’m posting over at Writing In Pencil today! (Navigating the age old dilemma about Santa.  To tell or not to tell?…)



The tears were different this time. Silent. Each one rolled down Kelel’s cheek like something deep inside broke again for the first time.

It all started innocent enough. We sat around the dinner table eating God knows what. 4 kids giggled and squirmed. I reminded each and every one that yes, you do need to eat it all if you want dessert. No, PB&J was not an option. Dad was traveling for work. I’m fairly certain I let out an audible sigh after each redirect.

And then the little one said, “Hey guys, I lost a tooth today!”

“Wow, that’s the second one this week!” I mused. “I know what you’re going to want for Christmas. Looks like Santa and the tooth fairy will be quite busy.”

She smiled a wide toothy grin as she explored each new vacancy in her mouth with the tip of her finger. Her eyes widened. She stared at me for a second and decided the question worth asking…

“Come on, Mom. We all know you and Dad are the tooth fairy. Right?”

I smiled and shrugged.

“Humph. Well, I know you’re the tooth fairy. And I also know that reindeer can’t fly.” Pause. “Is Santa real?”

All eyes were firmly on me.

Again, I shrugged and playfully raised my eyebrows. “Honey, what makes you say that?” I turned the proof of evidence back on her.

Apparently that was the cue for the other three to burst onto the scene.

“Senait! What are you saying?? Of course Santa is real!!” they protested.

I hadn’t noticed Kelel up until that point. I was just trying to stay one step ahead of the Santa Inquisition. I wasn’t sure where this whole dialogue was headed, but I wished my trusty partner had been seated in his chair next to me. I don’t love navigating these tenuous conversations alone. Should I keep up the charade? Should I relent and just “tell the truth?” My mind raced on the inside while my eyes attempted to remain playful and calm on the outside.

Why did my heart beat like we were talking about the birds and the bees? I mean, this was only about the possible existence of Santa.  Or was it?

Read More Here…

Same Vision/Different Address: What “Writing in Pencil” is All About

So, I started this “Team Nilsen” blog nearly four years ago.  January 12, 2011 – to be exact.  My first post boasted a solid 161 words.  I titled it “The First Amendment Says I Can” and it went something like this:

“It’s official…. We are adopting and I am blogging. I’m pretty sure being a blogger is a pre-req for becoming an adoptive Mom. Blog addresses are now by-lines. I never knew there was a whole world of people, regular ordinary people dying to get their thoughts out in cyber-space. I suppose it’s cheap therapy. I can only hope the crime rate is falling because instead of manifesting private, sordid thoughts into road rage, people are actually laying them out for the whole world — or really no one at all — to see.”

A lot has changed since that day.  I am indeed an adoptive Mom.  I might even consider myself a blogger.  Not a very scheduled, disciplined one, but a pseudo-blogger nevertheless.  Writing turned out to be VERY cheap therapy.  Although I did invest in the expensive kind as well and both have reaped many benefits.  I’m not entirely sure about the crime rate, but I am an optimist so – there’s that.  “Team Nilsen” has taken on a voice of its own. And much to my amazement, a few people even read these thoughts.  All in all — good stuff.

So, if this blog is FINALLY gaining momentum –  why start another one?

I’ll give you two reasons:  Holly & Christina.

The 3 Muskateers

The 3 musketeers

I met both of these beloved friends when I moved to Colorado Springs and joined the local MOPS (Mothers of PreSchoolers) group at First Presbyterian Church.  Though I loved my little cherubs who were 5 & 3 at the time, the mind-numbing, isolating days at home alone – just the three of us – threatened to do me in.  Enter MOPS. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about hanging out with a bunch of over-tired, stressed out mothers-of-littles, but I figured it was worth a shot.

I honestly don’t think it’s a gross over-statement to say the decision I made to enter that church, at that time, with those moms changed my life.  So many of the women in that MOPS group continue to be among my dearest friends, even today.

Then, when Holly, Christina & I were tasked with planning program for a church women’s retreat, our fraternal love blossomed exponentially.  The night we drove through snow and sleet donning pink spandex and other uber-classy ’80s athletic gear in the name of all things humiliating and funny, I knew we had stumbled upon something special.  (Side note:  Turns out filming a “mockumentary” in the locker room at 24-Hour-Fitness is frowned upon. Who knew?) The gut busting laughter I experience with these two is unprecedented.

Since those relatively care-free days tooling around town filming ridiculous program footage, we have lived a lot of real life (and death) together.  We have added some members to our families and, tragically, lost loved ones as well.  Perhaps this collective weathering is precisely what makes our friendship that much more special.

Our kids are outgrowing their clothes faster than we think necessary, and through it all, our love for each other and for writing continues to grow.  Each of these lovely ladies pens a personal blog of her own.  They are deep, funny, prolific writers and you would be blessed to follow along.  However, even though we’re all “queens” of our own cyber-addresses we couldn’t shake the feeling that it could be OH. SO. FUN. to try our hand at something together!

I mean, we’ve enjoyed working together in the past.  We respect each other immensely and feed off each other’s creativity.  What would it be like to try to create a collective voice?  To craft a space where three women wonder and write about life and faith and all their beautiful idiosyncrasies?  Is it possible to concoct a sort of online conversation where we can agree and disagree and agree to disagree?  Who knows?!  But we thought we’d give it a try…

Enter:  Writing in Pencil

This title was actually the name of Holly’s amazing blog (which is still alive and well), but she was kind enough to share the concept with us.  We love the phrase because it seems to capture exactly what we’ve learned about life.  On our homepage you will find the following explanation:

“We are a band of sisters who ‘write in pencil’ because we believe that in the midst of all things – joy, difficulty and even tragedy – the story of life encountering faith is one worth telling. We are typical girls with atypical stats. For starters, our families are made up of 3 moms, 2 dads, 9 kids and 6 baby daddies! We’re not going to lie, we love Jesus and we even love His church. We dedicate this little plot of land to telling the story God’s put on our hearts. Come what may, we write, erase, rewrite and repeat because “in his heart a man plans his steps, but the Lord determines his course.” (Proverbs 6:19)”

Not to mention, we are related (by blood or by love) to some awesome folks!  Christina’s husband, Marvin, free-handed a super cool “Writing in Pencil” banner.  We bribed my sister, Katie (of Katie Brase Photography) with – well, not much – but she snapped some sweet photos out of the goodness of her heart.  And Holly’s beau, Tony, is our IT guy extraordinaire.

This website is still VERY much a work in progress.  Aren’t we all?  But we are enjoying the process and the journey.  So, if you have a minute or three — why don’t you pop over and join our little tribe?!  We would be honored to hear from you.  We invite you to engage with us.

Perhaps, together, we could weave a beautiful tapestry as we write in pencil and string along some words of love.

Join the conversation!

Follow us on Twitter: @wip3blog
Like us on Facebook: Writing in Pencil
Subscribe to the blog…

Whatever. Just keep writing, just keep writing… (#DoryIsMyHero)

Celebrating Beautiful: The Beauty of Diversity

Major thanks to Courtney Westlake for offering up some real estate on her blog for a guest post today!

{Celebrating Beautiful} The Beauty of Diversity: a guest post by Megan Nilsen

In blogging for the last 2.5 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I’ve decided to start a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: motherhood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.

I met Megan through our mutual friend Courtney at the She Speaks conference, and since Courtney was one of the conference presenters and tied up with other things, Megan and I decided to grab dinner on the night we arrived in North Carolina within 15 minutes of meeting. Over Mexican, we dove deep into each other’s lives and completely connected, and were practically inseparable the rest of the conference 🙂 She has an amazing story to share, and I’m so glad to know her.
Here is Megan Nilsen on Celebrating Beautiful…

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I may be just the teensiest bit biased, but I believe Ethiopian people are some of the most physically beautiful people on the entire planet.

Wouldn’t you know, two of those people just happen to be living under my roof?!

Our two youngest kids are Ethiopian-born cuties who boast silky chocolate-brown skin, liquid-black eyes and 1000-watt smiles that melt even the most stoic of hearts.

And yet, they don’t necessarily think of themselves as “beautiful.” Ugh.

Mostly because (oh how this breaks my heart to say it!) we live in a predominantly white community and my kids feel different. And somehow, the unwritten code woven into the fabric of human society for centuries is that “different” is not always “desirable.”

That somehow different does not mean beautiful.

This counterfeit notion is never more present than in the strict, socially-ordered confines of adolescence. Somewhere after the age of five and before the age of, say… thirty-five, many of us fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. We want to walk like they walk, talk like they talk, dress like they dress. Because, if “everyone is doing it” then it must be right.

The key is to blend in – not to stand out. Same is good. Different is weird – intriguing, but much too risky.

Granted, there are some kids who unapologetically march to the beat of their own drum straight out of the womb. But for most of us (me being one) this is not the case.

Read the rest here…

Nerves, Tears and Beach Balls, Oh My!: Encountering God at #SheSpeaks14

I love that Courtney DeFeo is hosting a blog link-up* on her site today!  (*That means any bloggy people can “link up” together on her site and exchange ideas/conversations about a certain topic.)

Major thanks to @LilLightOMine for constantly championing us to engage in deep thought, rich community and selfless service all for the glory of God.  She is just plain awesome!

Today, Miss DeFeo is asking those of us who attended Proverbs 31 ministry’s annual writing and speaking conference (She Speaks) to reflect a little on what we learned – so here goes!


1.  I still get nervous when I walk into a situation where I don’t know anyone.  Honestly!  You’d think a 4o-year-old (I was 40 back in July) mother of 4 would just be happy to be by herself on a plane, in a taxi and in a hotel room (and believe me, I WAS)!  But goodness gracious, I texted Courtney within 10 seconds of checking into my room to see if she knew anyone that needed a buddy for dinner. (I knew Courtney had a dinner reservation with the conference presenters. woot! woot!)  Turns out she knew someone.  Which leads me to point #2…

2.  God is in the business of divine appointments.  As it happened, Courtney’s roommate (the other Courtney whom she had literally just met in person thanks to their online friendship in world-wide-blogosphere) was free and, lo and behold, she didn’t know a soul either!  So we shook hands, grabbed a shuttle to the nearest non-Applebee’s restaurant and shared our stories with each other over chips and salsa and just maybe, a peach margarita.  I wanted to know what it was like to be Blessed by Brenna and boy did her words touch my heart.  I love the friendship God sparked that night.  (Courtney Westlake is an inspiration and I am excited to cheer her on as she dives into the publishing world in her own right.  Her book will be amazing!)  I always want to anticipate God’s presence and keep my mind open to the idea of divine appointments in the midst of everyday life.

(PS – Courtney DF was also a divine appointment two years ago when I plopped myself in the chair next to her at She Speaks 2012 when, once again, I knew no one.)  God is a serious event coordinator.  He thinks of everything!

3.  Apparently, I also still care what other people think of me.  As an aspiring writer (I’m guessing this might plague artists of any genre), it’s hard to separate my art (especially if it just so happens to be a story largely ABOUT our journey as a family) from who I am as a person.  You can read more about this little journey in some of my recent posts.  I know a lot of it’s “just business” and “not personal.”  But such rejection, however logical it may be, still stings the flesh every now and again.

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  — Ernest Hemingway.  ‘Nuff said.

4.  Rejection (if embraced) can lead to revelation.  The keynote speaker the very night of the “tears” incident was none other than bring-it-home Pentecostal preacher, Christine Caine.  Let me tell you!  God packed a lot of passion and fire and “what-for” inside her little 5′ frame.  Ms. Caine brought the house down with her inspired teaching on the anointing of King David.  David waited TWENTY years between the moment he was anointed king of Israel and when he finally took the throne.  That’s a long time. But all the while, God was impressing HIS IMAGE onto David’s heart.  After years in “the darkroom,” soaking in the solution of God’s Spirit, the door opened and God announced that it was time.

 “If God has assigned you, He will find you.”

“Don’t short-circuit the process.  God uses the broken.  The level of anointing directly coincides to the level of brokenness… A testimony (by definition) must be tested!”

— Christine Caine

5.  God isn’t finished with me yet.  This journey is exactly that – a journey.  He’s not finished with me and He’s not finished with you.  (Can I get an amen?!)  What sad, entitled, boring people we would be if we “arrived” anywhere short of our God-ordained “arrival date.”  He is the author of our story – the perfecter of our faith.  New wine must be put into new wineskins.  (I love that Jesus continually used wine as a metaphor – that’s my kind of guy.)  I don’t ever want to revert to the old me.  I long to press on into WHATEVER God has for me on this crazy journey.

6.  God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force.  He invites.  He pursues and He woos.  And I for one, want to keep walking hand in hand with Him.  No matter how unsure I feel, no matter how often I forget what really matters, He will always keep putting His plan in front of me and that is for sure a #best yes!

7.  Moms are serious goofballs.  This year Proverbs 31 turned 22.  Is that as clear as mud?  Anyway!  One night, the banquet room was ablaze with flickering candles on each table and filled to the brim with about 800 women away from home.  Need I say more?  Strike up the band!  Those talented musicians belted out Taylor Swift’s song … you guessed it!  “22”  And all the moms of pre-teens and then some sang the lyrics with serious fervor.  And then, the beach balls came out! Yes, that’s right. Beach balls.  Those things started flying around the room and (bless our hearts) we tried to keep them afloat.  We tried to muster our inner teenager, but those balls landed every which way.  Glasses of water and sweet tea were spilling left and right.  I could NOT keep it together.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a while.  Phew.  Thank you, P31 ministry team, for that.  Good times.  And happy birthday!

8.  Last but not least — You’re never too old to pursue a dream.   I used to write – in high school.  And then, I grew up.  I forgot about this love of words that God wove in me all those years ago.  As the years passed, I pursued other good, noble, lovely things – but I forgot how much I loved to write.  I forgot how writing brought fresh salve to my soul.  I forgot how I loved to look at the world with a tilt in my head and an eyebrow raised and wonder just how to process what I saw and felt.  I never fancied myself an artist, but I suppose when you’re the daughter of one (i.e., the grand creator of the universe!) you can’t help but carry some of that DNA.

I learned that I am still learning and following God is worth it.

Might as well swing for the fences!


Shift Happens – And Then You Die (#Interrupted)

We all have one shot at this thing called life.  Last I checked, the mortality rate on planet earth was a booming 100%.  As Willow Creek pastor William Hybels puts it (I’m into formality), on our gravestones we will all have a birth date, a death date, and a dash in-between.

The question is, “What will you do with your “dash?”  

Enter Jen Hatmaker’s book, Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity.


There is a tension I feel as I ponder my God-given “dash.” It’s called comfort – or at least the counterfeit illusion of comfort.  The illusion that somehow I am in control of my life and all its supporting characters.

In this space between my 1973 hippie chick birthdate and an as yet unknown end-date, I often wonder what this “dash” is really all about.  The meaning of life and all that jazz.  I’m tempted (oh so very tempted!) to play it safe.  And in some respects I suppose I do.  Play it safe that is.

There is a part of my type-A, firstborn personality that feels super warm and cozy in a Jeremiah 29:11 kind of place.  I love to think God has a plan for my life – for good and not for harm, to give me a hope and a future.  And He does!  Please hear me, I believe He is THAT good and then some.  But I also believe God sent His one and only son to DIE for me and yes, for you!  SO THAT we can be in right relationship with Him.  SO THAT we might shine like stars in a lost and lonely world.  SO THAT we might bear His image in love.

What did Jesus do with his “dash?”  He served and He loved and He went to the cross.

I’ve been a Christian since I could reach the kitchen faucet on tip-toe.  For so many years in the course of my dash, I thought I knew what love was.  And I did, I suppose, in part.

Then the Lord, in His gracious and merciful wisdom decided to take our family on a journey.  One He had been preparing us for in the early years of our faith.  A journey of adoption.  The minute little Ethiopian fingers slipped into mine, my previously held paradigm of all things related to life and love shattered into a million little pieces.

My personal paradigm shifted in an instant and I am not the same.  Thank the Lord, I am not the same!

This radical paradigm shift is exactly what Hatmaker addresses in the newly revised and expanded edition of her book.  Jen espouses herself as a “recovering legalist” and walks us through her family’s personal journey that began with “one dangerous prayer:  ‘Raise up in me a holy passion,’ and concluded with a life of service to the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken.”


This is a right dangerous prayer, people.

And yet, the exhilaration housed within hints at something bigger than you or I could ever muster up on our own.  In my own little world, I am queen of the castle and master of none.  But in His world the possibilities are endless!  To this point I have but sniffed at the full, abundant life Jesus came to give.  But the smell is rich and I know without a shadow of a doubt that I want to experience more.

Hatmaker’s book is yet another invitation God has sent my way as He continually beckons me into His bigger story.  It is a quick read, but it is not an easy one.  Well, unless you consider statements like, “This is my high calling: to live on mission as an adopted daughter of Jesus.  If people around me aren’t moved by my Christ or my church, then I must be doing a miserable job of representing them both” (pg. 95) – easy.

No.  It is not easy.  But it is good.  Because Hatmaker reminds us to take a good hard look at our inside before we foolishly step outside.  She writes, “If we’ve learned anything from the rebellious nation of Israel, the Pharisees and Saducees, and the meager offerings of the poor in Scripture, it is this:  God is supremely concerned with our motives, and our works count only when they match our intentions.” (pg. 108)

Christ Himself is the epitome of love.  And His sacrificial, unconditional, not-in-it-for-me-and-my-reputation kind of love must be the backbone of all we do.  It is precisely this image that must be seared on our hearts and branded on our hands lest we fall prey to reversing the Kingdom perspective of servant leadership – emphasis on the “serve.”

Again, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I will die.  And so will you.

I don’t know how God is calling you to live out your dash, but I do know He is calling.  It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of HOW.  His invitation might be a giant roar or it may be a gentle whisper.  But rest assured, He is calling.

I pray for grace in the moment to answer with a “yes” and “amen.”

Honestly, I know what it looks like to pray such a dangerous prayer – to be “all in” for the sake of the gospel.  And because of that, I tremble a bit as I open my hands once again.  I don’t know all the details or exactly which direction the Spirit is blowing, but I pray for a holy passion.  I know how easy it seems to live on one side of this prayer; in the cozy, the comfortable, the known.  But I also know what it looks like when God rushes in with an unexpected hand-crafted invitation to experience His Kingdom here on earth in new and profound ways and I don’t ever want to miss out on that again!

I once heard Bill Hybels say, “The church is the hope of the world.”  And I believe this to be true. With my whole heart I believe it – but I also know we’ve got some work to do to make this a living, breathing reality.  And for darn sure I know this work needs to start in me.  I am slow, but I pray I am making imperfect progress.

Hatmaker’s dreams for this kind of hope-of-the-world, Christ-centered church mimic mine (she just has a much more eloquent way of saying it!):

“I dream of a church that is once again called great, even by our skeptics, because our works of mercy cannot be denied.  I want no part in a movement that is deemed great because we’ve adopted some exceptional qualities admired by the top.

I don’t want to be known for a great band.

I don’t want to be admired for a great campus.

I don’t want to be recognized for a great marketing campaign.

I don’t want to be praised for great programming.

I don’t want to be applauded for great theology and scholarship.

I want the church to be great because we fed hungry mommas and their babies.  I’d like to be great because we battled poverty with not just our money but our hands and hearts.  I desire the greatness that comes from seeking not only mercy but justice for those caught in a system with trapdoors.  I hope to be part of a great movement of the Holy Spirit, who injects supernatural wind and fire into His mission.  My vision of great will come when others are scratching their heads and saying, ‘Wow, you live a really different life.'” (pp. 82-83)

May the shift happen.  May we be different.  May we live our God-given dash.  For the hope of the world…

PS – “Sometimes following God is the worst.  I can say with some confidence:  if you go wherever God says and when, expect to be misunderstood.  And go anyway.”  – Jen Hatmaker

Let’s go!

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Shakirah A. Hill

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