Monday, November 23, 2015

Dear Friends and Family...

If you've been following along on Facebook or Instagram, you know the countdown to departure is on and our minds may already be in China!  I wanted to take a few moments of your time and share a little about our trip, some of the things we are anticipating, and also our plan for arriving home.  It seems most appropriate, especially this Thanksgiving week, to say again how thankful we are for each of you who played a role in bringing Mila home.  There are so many of you who sacrificially gave, offered support and help, prayed for us, celebrated with us, followed along in your own ways.  You are all so precious to us and we wouldn't be here if not for the overwhelming support we received from 'our people.'  Thank you!  

We depart San Diego early Thanksgiving morning!  Austin is THRILLED to be missing Thanksgiving dinner (too many foods touching each other, savory foods that are sweet, sweet foods for dinner, etc, etc... weirdo.)  We hop up to LA- our favorite airport (not) for a couple hours before we head to... Tokyo!  We then fly from Tokyo to Hong Kong.  We will be staying in HK for two nights in an attempt to quickly reset our bodies to a new time zone and appear slightly less-zombie-esque when it comes time to meet Mila.  On Sunday, we will take a bullet train to Guangzhou, China (GZ).  Mila is from Guangdong Province so we will be in GZ our entire trip.  

Monday, November 30 in the afternoon will be when we finally meet our daughter.

All countries have different practices for international adoptions.  In China, it is an abrupt hand-off.  Mila will meet us at a civil affairs office, accompanied by orphanage personal.  We may have a few moments to speak with the orphanage staff and ask questions, but for the most part, they will bring her to us and leave.  And she will be under our custody.  We don't know how Mila will handle this- she may be terrified and fight us or she may completely shut down.  Or something completely different.  We have been praying for this moment for over a year and as far as we know, she has no idea we exist and are coming for her.  I have zero expectations for how she should or shouldn't act, just that she will undoubtedly be very confused and possibly very frightened.  And we will get through it.  So friends, please pray for Mila's heart on Monday afternoon (Sunday evening your time).  

The following day we return to the civil affairs office and officially make her a Nielsen!  The following days will hold various appointments, medical exams, etc to enable Mila to come to the US.  While these appointments are necessary, our main focus will be winning over our daughter's heart and building trust with her during this time.  We will do whatever needs to be done and take our cues from her.  This could possibly be the most boring trip across the world if we determine that Mila really just needs to stay in the hotel room and bond with us while we are in China.  And that's OK!  

Now is probably a good time to remind you of Mila's life up until now- really the life of any orphan living in an institution.  She has lived at the same orphanage her entire life.  Her entire world has been the same four walls and a small play yard inside the gates.  Each day she wakes at the same time as other children- the same children she has seen every single day- is met by one of several care givers, given simple, bland meals that just meet the nutritional requirements of growing children. She has been taught to potty on a schedule, nap on a schedule, play, and go to sleep each night, all on a schedule.  There is very little room for individuality in an orphanage setting.  Caring for many children at once requires time management and efficiency.  Not necessarily nurture.  I've written before about institutionalized children and the eerie silence that results from them not having their cries heard and their needs met.  As a defense mechanism, Mila will likely exhibit various behaviors that are not desirable or healthy in a family setting.  But more on that in a bit...

We will be in GZ for about two weeks.  Our final adoption related task is our consulate appointment where the final paperwork is submitted to receive Mila's visa to come to the US.  As soon as Mila touches US soil, she will become a US citizen.  After we receive Mila's visa, we will depart for Hong Kong and fly home on December 11, 2015.  

We are arriving in San Diego at 1:14 PM on December 11.  If you would like to catch a glimpse of the newest Nielsen, we would love to see you there!  

This process has been a long journey, and though we will finally be home as a family of five, we recognize the season of adjustment that God has planned for our family.  Because we know your care for Mila and our family, we want to share some information that we hope will best equip everyone around her to assist in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation- emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
In many ways, Mila will be like the children who entered our family through birth; we will seek to bring all of them up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. But there will be a few, initial differences in the way we have parented in the past. 
We are confident of this: God’s design is PERFECT! His plan for parents and children is a beautiful and meaningful picture of His love for us. Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. The primary caretaker (usually mama) meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses & calms the baby – which teaches her that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.
Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother and father at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts. Mila has experienced the loss of familiar and comforting caretakers as well as the sights, smells, and language of her birth country. When Mila comes home, she will very likely be overwhelmed. Everything around her will be new and she will need to learn not just about her new environment, but also about love and family. She has not experienced God’s design for a family having lived in an orphanage setting. Her world is turned upside down. She may struggle with feeling safe and secure and she may lack the ability to trust that we will meet her needs. The good news is that we can now, as Mila’s parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help her heal from these emotional wounds.
The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed her. As this repeats between us, she will be able to learn that Mom and Dad are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Mila starts to establish this important bond, she will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships. Mila will have, what may seem like, a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to us. Although it may appear that we are spoiling her at times, we have been advised that it is best that we meet every need quickly and consistently. She may show her grief and confusion in many ways, and we are prepared to help her through it and prove that we are a forever family. You may also notice us tighten our circle a bit, stay close to home, and we may seem a little less available socially, for a while. Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on our personal research and instruction from trusted adoption educators and mentors. We will be doing what we believe is best to help her heal from those interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible. 
Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an awesome and vital role in helping Mila settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us: 
The first is to set physical boundaries. We cannot WAIT to see some of you at the airport when we arrive home!!! Keep in mind... It is imperative adults limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with Mila. This will (for a while) include things like holding, hugging and kissing. Children from orphanage and foster care settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone – which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and very welcomed! Mila should know that the people with whom she interacts are our trusted family and friends. She is going to love each and every one of you!
Another area is redirecting Mila’s desire to have her physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having Mom and Dad meet those needs. Orphans often have so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but this is actually something that isn’t good for the child. To share this is difficult for us because you have openly loved on our other children and we have loved on yours as well, and treasure that connection. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have Mila hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. But until she has a firm understanding of family and primary attachments, we would be so grateful if you direct her to us if you see that she is seeking out food, affection or comfort.
How does this look for Christmas and life with Corbin and Leo?  Honestly, we don't know yet.  It is our hope in writing this that you will extend us grace as we learn was Mila's needs are and seek to balance them with the needs of the other members of her family.  We know there will be some element of holiday craziness - actually, at our house, its all the time craziness, not just holiday!  We will be doing the best that we can to help our little girl settle into her family and will be praying like crazy that God's grace will cover over our mistakes!
Also, please feel free to ask us any questions at any time. We are learning too and are grateful that you are seeking with us to help Mila feel loved, safe, and secure. We are incredibly blessed to have so many loved ones around us. We couldn’t ask for a better extended family and circle of friends for our precious Mila Christine. Thank you so much for your love and support through this process so far. We are so truly blessed!

Austin and Anna

Friday, November 13, 2015


If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn't let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn't mine

Introducing Mila Christine Nielsen*

It is our deepest desire that our sweet daughter will come to know a hope that won't let go, a love that never gives up, and a life lived in Christ. The story of her coming to our family is one that has forever changed us, bringing us closer to the heart of God than we could have ever dreamed. Our love for her- despite the physical distance between us- serves of a reminder of our Heavenly Father's deep love for us.  Irregardless of what we do or don't do, what we can physically or mentally handle, we are loved because we are His. His mercy extends through the darkness of our lostness, and triumphs.  We will forever be grateful for the beautiful picture of God's great mercy to us that our daughter has illuminated in our journey to her. Mila means mercy in Romanian- a language that will always hold a special place in our hearts for the precious faces that led us to say yes to adoption.  As Mila grows, we will tell her this part of her story- of the countless children who impacted Austin and I, of the friends, family, and strangers who prayed for her safe homecoming, and most importantly of the triumphant mercy of God.

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

* Mila is pronounced "mee-lah." Christine is a name given to nearly all the women in my side of the family, after my great- grandmother.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Grateful Hearts...

Our travel approval has been issued- we are so close to booking airline tickets and traveling to bring our sweet girl home!  As I take a moment to reflect on this past year, there are certain words that have a special meaning to our family now.  Words like faith, trust, miracle, surrender, hope, peace- and one word that is so easy to overlook-gratitude.

This is the season of thanksgiving and I thought it appropriate to list some reasons for gratitude from our adoption journey.  I am filled with gratitude...

...for the immediate outpouring of support when we announced our plans to adopt.
...for the Foundation Sunday school class who rallied to pray and lift our family up throughout the various adoption milestones
...for family members far and wide who expressed their support and excitement for our growing family
...for new friends- online and in real life- who have walked the adoption journey before us and 'get it'
...for sweet friends who call to pray for us or plan a 'non traditional' baby shower to love on our family
...for two little boys who's hearts have grown for a sister they have not yet met
...for my crockpot! And the ability to save lots of money by meal planning and cooking at home
...for photography clients and necklace buyers who shop with a purpose and support meaningful things
...for an agency that has guided us through the various steps of this process
...for China and their willingness to allow children a second chance at family through adoption
...for random text messages, garage sale donations, gifted starbucks cards, and unexpected checks in the mail- all evidences of God's heart for the plight of the orphan and His work through His people
...and for the amazing ways God has been working in our family- there are so many lessons and testimonies that it deserves more than a mere mention in a list!

I have created these 'Grateful Hearts' necklaces and bracelets as a final adoption fundraiser.  They are limited quantity and the funds will go towards our in country expenses.  They are available for ANY donation (please add $5 for shipping) and are available on a first come basis.  I hope they will serve as a reminder for all the things we have to be thankful for and also as a little thank you from our family.  If you would like to order, please message or contact me.  We will accept payment via paypal ( and I will ship as quickly as possible- guaranteed shipping before we leave for China and plenty of time before Thanksgiving!

With hearts overflowing with gratitude,

The Nielsen Family

Friday, November 6, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Do you know that Building 429 song- "We won't be shaken" ? I used to think it was kind of a shallow song- until we said 'yes' to something really crazy and completely beyond ourselves. And with that 'yes' came lots of 'what ifs' and 'I couldn't possiblys' and let's just say there was a lot of opportunities to be shaken. But here's the thing- I was not. Shaken. Not once. Our one, wimpy- human-powered 'yes' unleashed a whole lot of mighty and amazing God acts that have left us unshakable. Even now as I count down the hours of the days that we wait for another yes- a 'yes you can come get her'- I am not moved or swayed in our decision. How could I be? We have see God answer prayers, provide funding, open doors, change hearts, start new projects, shift perspectives... I want nothing more than to jump on a plane and bust her out of the orphanage once and for all. Each passing second is a second she is without a family and there is TONS of room for anxiety and just general... Shakiness. But instead I will wait quietly before God, my rock and my salvation- my unshakable fortress.

Monday, October 26, 2015

October Updates

The waiting continues... but with a few more milestones checked off our list.  Our paperwork 'challenges' were resolved by our agency (aided by the prayers of many, many faithful friends) and our Article 5 packet was dropped off at the consulate.  Agency reps picked it up Tuesday, October 22 and delivered it to the Chinese bureaucracy in charge of adoptions.  So now we wait for China to issue our approval to travel!  Someone in the adoption world created this flow chart to help friends and family understand the various steps in the process.  Its not perfect, and honestly it kind of makes my head hurt (since my brain apparently does not understand flow charts), but many have found it helpful. We are waiting on step 15! (oh and the mom looks too together to be accurate- her hair should be messed up or something...)

Some other fun news- my friends threw an amazing adoption shower to celebrate our little girl!  It was a very sweet evening of fun craft projects and a time of prayer for every aspect of our adoption.  I was so touched by the support shown to our family- really, throughout the whole process- but that night it was a tangible thing and it was wonderful to say thank you face to face to so many.  I now have a dedicated bin of hair bows in my house.  And the boys have stayed far away from it so far!  

(only picture of the night... we failed...)

With our travel approval looming, the sense of urgency to get ready has amped up.  We've made two recent trips to IKEA to resolve storage issues in our house (bunk bed! closet space!) and buy additional bedding.  Austin has been child proofing the kitchen (something we didn't do with the boys but THREE kids I think warrants some extra precautions).  

I also took a ridiculously long list to Walmart and basically bought an entire pharmacy's worth of OTC meds to take with us.  And I kind of feel like I'm rolling the dice a bit and not getting another ridiculously long list of prescription meds filled by our doctor...  

So nesting we will be!  The other major thing I'm doing- something I swore would NEVER happen in my life- Christmas shopping in October!  (my mother in law and Aunt GiGi are probably rolling their eyes about now)  Yes its true- I have a good chunk of Christmas shopping done and stashed away (hoping I remember where when it comes time to wrap everything...) in anticipation of being a little overwhelmed come November and December.  Hopefully not, but just in case.  

Our Chinese Visa arrived- so once we get travel approval, we are ready to go! (and check out the beginning of my to-do list)

So still, much to do.  Namely, a name.  We are still trying to find the perfect name for our loved little one.  Pray for that- ok?  

And finally, I haven't been stressed about money AT ALL during this adoption.  We were totally overwhelmed with the costs of adoption at the very beginning, but we decided its worth it- and a thousand times over, she is worth it- and we haven't missed a payment or had to delay a single step of the process for financial reasons.  There have been some challenges and lots of crock pot meals and slightly out of style outfits for the boys and me (Austin claims his style is timeless) but again, WORTH IT!  And a big part of that has been your support, your prayers, and your donations to our family.  We do still have some expenses coming up- mainly travel related things and final adoption proceedings that we need to pay for in China.  If you'd like to contribute to that, check out our youcaring page below (and please feel free to share our page and our story with your friends!).  

Another way you can help is by donating items for us to bring to our daughter's orphanage.  I have a list of needed items that we would like to carry over.  I know from experience how tight money can be in a state-operated orphanage.  These are simple, mainly inexpensive items that would go a long way in helping the Ayis (nannies) provide care for the babies and children.  If you'd like to purchase any of these items, please contact me and I'll arrange picking them up.  Thank you!

diaper rash cream
antibiotic cream

Thanks again- next update will be all about travel!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How we wait

Adoption and waiting. They go together. We wait at different times of our lives- we wait for college acceptance letters, for a marriage proposal, for the birth of a baby, for a job offer. I've gone through different seasons of waiting in my life but none of those other times have included this deep, heart ache that is tied to the wait. It's is so profound that I have a physical reaction if I allow myself to go there. As a person specialized in compartmentalizing my emotions for the sake of rational problem solving, this physical reaction has snuck up on me a couple times.

Yesterday was a day of highs so high and lows so low it's a wonder I was able to sleep at all last night.  Or perhaps not- the exhaustion of it all could have been a factor too. In a process of ever- complicated steps, we are coming to the end of this adoption.  I can't hardly believe it. Yesterday, the last day of September, I awoke to an email containing two vital pieces of information needed to complete one of these complicated steps. As China is approaching a week of holidays, I had expected to see no progress until after everyone returned to work.  As I took a quick shower, attempting to ready myself for the day before the boys completely destroyed the house, I calculated the timing of the next steps for our adoption and realized that with this new email, there was a slim chance of moving forward before the Chinese holiday. Grabbing a towel and shooing boys away, I sent a quick message to confirm this realization. An almost instant response- "send everything right away." I threw on clothes, turned on a cartoon, tossed bowls of Cheerios and cups of milk on the table, and delved into a world of visa applications and questions of national security ("have you even knowingly or unknowingly aided the communist party?" And " are you knowingly entering the United States to commit acts of treason?"). Visa application completed, various immigration approvals collected, and one email with a bunch of very important attachments written and flying through cyberspace to very important people on the other side of the world who have the power to move our first date with our daughter closer on the calendar.  It was a rush- that slim glimmer of hope, the act of 'doing something' and making something happen, the feeling of accomplishment that I had done everything in my power... And then the other shoe dropped.

I received a message that there was an issue with our daughter's file. Discrepancies in wording and translation hurdles.  And nothing could be done until these discrepancies were resolved. I exchanged text messages, Facebook messages, and one depressing phone call that basically confirmed that everything had come to a screeching halt. We would have to wait for the Chinese holiday to pass, but even after everyone had returned to work, the timeline was still unknown.  They had a plan but could not predict it's likelihood at success.

And so we wait. With aching heart, I wait. And I know my pain is only a fraction of the pain my little one experiences each day that passes without belonging and knowing love. Austin is steadfast in his wait- "it'll take as long as it takes." Today is October 1st- a day I was looking forward to telling the boys, "next month we finally meet your sister." But I can't. That realization finally manifested itself in that physical reaction I was talking about- as various people reached out to me yesterday I heard my voice shake and watched my hands tremble. I hung up the phone and grabbed a blanket to fight off the intense shivering. It was 90 degrees. I do not wait well.

But maybe I am learning something in this wait. In the past, my response would be one of anger. Anger at the situation, at people who should have caught this 'discrepancy' earlier, at a country that throws away children, and at a system that makes them wait.  And at myself for not doing enough and being enough.  I am not angry today. Aching, disappointed, sad... But not angry. I immediately felt the urgency to pray- and to ask others to do so.  A quick Facebook post rallied our troops.  Corbin and Leo prayed for their baby sister to come home soon (and for mom to bring them yummy Chinese treats) right in the car.  And dear friends who have walked this path before us, gave me perspective- "we are excited to see how God will work."  I wasn't excited  initially but that truth has sunk in overnight. This is a mighty obstacle, requiring painful waiting, but we have a mightier God who delights in showing up and showing off His heart for the lost.

I can't promise that I will always have the happy excitement when we are faced with the hard. But I will learn to wait- with my heart ache- for the One who will wipe away every tear to act. And I will look forward in eager anticipation of His mighty work.