“Wha-cha-munna do?” From Lost (in Translation) to Found: Team Nilsen’s Year in Review

This month marks a major victory for our tribe of six. One year. One roof. One family.

Taken in Ethiopia after our Embassy appointment on December 1st, 2011

Taken in Ethiopia after our Embassy appointment on December 1st, 2011

How can twelve months seem at once an eternity and a flash in the pan?

As I reflect on those preliminary moments together I see trust, hanging precariously in the balance. Love a mere seed. Unity a dream.

Just over 365 days ago at the stroke of midnight, we boarded a plane en route (a seemingly eternal one at that!) from Ethiopia to “America.”

This all-purpose word “America,” thrown around like rice at a wedding, seemed to convey all our children knew of the life that awaited them. I desperately wanted to peek inside their young psyches to see what other references might be attached to this single word, but alas, the mystery remained.

These seven letters, strung together with an Ethiopian lilt of the tongue, also represented one of about half a dozen English words in our new children’s lexicon. For a while, our lines of communication consisted of “washy, washy” (shower), “toilet”, “softie” (toilet paper), “basket” (trash can), “em-bay” (no), and a myriad of variations on the Ethiopian shoulder shrug which I interpreted to mean, “I don’t really give a rip what you have to say.”  I believe that’s putting it mildly. 🙂

Massive sensory overload was in full swing from the moment we stepped foot on Western soil.  Imagine the “Twelve Days of Christmas” on crack.  Our first layover in the Frankfurt airport channeled “Buddy the Elf” in all his glory. Escalators presented serious threat to life and limb and I distinctly remember following a frenetic Kelel around the duty-free shop as he sprayed at least 25 different kinds of cologne on both himself and me .  The Old Spice man had nothing on us! Meanwhile, Senait sat speechless on the cold tile floor, stripping crayons of their paper coverings with her teeth like a hamster in a cage.

The pristine falling snow that greeted us as we drove into our driveway may just as well have been foreign bombs for all they knew. Hats, gloves and snow pants were the enemy. Battles were waged. Defeat seemed imminent.


First day in a hat and gloves :-)

First day in a hat and gloves 🙂

Although we didn’t feel or recognize it at the time, beauty was beginning to grow from the ashes.

Over the past twelve months seeds have sprouted. Flowers have bloomed. And the tapestry God is weaving together blesses me; mind, body and soul.

Who would’ve known, as we sifted through layers of grief, six individual stories lay dormant, ready to be unearthed, waiting to take root. Beginning to weave from single saplings into one family tree. Complete with love and laughter, torment and tears.

Our firstborn navigates his birth ordered role with deftness of heart. Standing twelve years strong. No longer a boy, but not yet a man. It’s been an amazing blessing to watch him lead with honesty (arguably too much at times!) and integrity. We have enjoyed processing the perplexity of life under the covers at night while at the same time chuckling over our favorite Kelel-isms such as, “Everybody makes a steak.” (a.k.a. Everybody makes mistakes!). True that, my man. Ain’t nobody perfect. I might add soccer stud, voracious reader, and “Halo” happy to his list of accomplishments. Here’s to you, strong, sensitive, sometimes too savvy for your own britches, Reese!


Brynn continues to grow in beauty and grace.  As if Jack threw his magic beans into the mix when we got home last year , she began confidently blossoming in the midst of and perhaps in spite of, the surrounding chaos.  Scott often refers to her as “the glue” that holds our family together. In seemingly effortless fashion she floats between grown-up conversation and innocent play.  Her daily count of compliments outnumbers the rest of ours combined. She lavishes hugs and kisses and invites us to do the same. She’s even convinced her older brother to relent to a hug, however hurried, every now and then. She also wins the award for the fullest after school calendar. While others of us relish a breath once in a while, she doesn’t seem to miss a beat.  Here’s to you tender, talented, tenacious Brynn!

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In a virtual metamorphosis, Kelel has transformed into a unique Ethiopian-American butterfly before our very eyes. His sophisticated soul suffered a severe sort of surgery and his Jesus-Shaped heart (https://teamnilsen.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/inside-a-jesus-shaped-heart/) has nestled its way right into ours. His energetic antics and darling dimples are fodder for many a school girl giggle. Even at 8 years of age his rapidly growing body (gaining 6″ and 18 lbs!) still loves to crawl its way onto our laps for pre-bed book and prayer time.  Oft heard phrases like “fall off down” or “zem-munna” (a.k.a. they’re gonna) keep us ever-light-hearted as we have created our own type of Team Nilsen tongue. He’s even discovered a new-found niche playing YMCA basketball. Granted, it doesn’t hurt to be a significant head taller than the rest of your first and second grade competitors.  But hey, we’ll take every advantage we can get.  🙂 Here’s to you, amiable, artistic, ever-animated Kelel!

We lovingly call this his "senior picture" - ha!

We lovingly call this his “senior picture” – ha!

Then there’s our caboose.  What can be said about our feisty fourth?!  She is truly in a league of her own on all accounts. Her smile lights up a room, in the same way she’s capable of potentially “lighting up” said room.  She is a wiggly and giggly package of snuggable, huggable fun! Don’t let her tiny frame fool you… How can such a precocious personality be packed into one petite package? It’s no wonder the laws of physics don’t apply to her. Her cheeky charm instantly endears her to anyone she meets. She can regularly be seen prancing like an Irish-dancing pixie around the house. And she has the distinct honor of  being the type of kid who can embody both teacher’s pet and teacher’s “pain in the heiny” all in one day. 🙂 The entire school knows her and loves to chant her name. Here’s to you, sweet, sassy, spirited Senait!


I recently listened to a sermon podcast and loved the phrase Kris Vallotten used regarding difficulties we might encounter as we follow the Lord’s call on our lives. He said, “If you encounter resistance there’s gold in them there hills!”

Friends, I believe we are discovering the gold.

Unearthing treasure takes time.  It takes risk.  It takes a leap of faith.

But it is worth it.

Mary was a gold miner.

In the midst of her everyday, work-a-day life she encountered her God.

The message was uncertainly clear. She would birth the Savior of the world and the government would be on his shoulders.

What could this possibly mean?

Time, risk and faith wrapped in one profound profession. Prophecy fulfilled. Through her.

As witnessing shepherds exuberantly testified of what they had seen “…Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

No doubt gold glimmers amidst the soil’s deep darkness.

We just can’t be afraid of getting our hands dirty to find it.

So, “what-cha-munna do?”

Here’s to mining for gold in 2013!

Much love and Merry Christmas,   Team Nilsen

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  1. katiebrase says:

    I love this. I want this in hard copy. I chuckle at the first descriptions of your travels. I know they weren’t funny at the time, but reading it how you wrote it sure makes me smile. Also loved reading the true descriptions of your four. Love them all!!!


  2. Oh, wow! Your crew sounds SO much like my crew! We also call our Chloe the glue that connects us so well. Thanks for the update. When we make it back to CO, we definetly need to get our families together. 🙂


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