The Nation’s Capital

On the road again to our last destination: northern Virginia and Washington DC. I have a cousin* in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC that I hadn’t seen for years, so it was time for a visit. We arrived at their house on a Friday evening and spent the evening catching up. We met her husband for the first time, and helped him explore his Swedish heritage. He learned to say “Ge hit en öl till annars bränner jag ner er by,” which means “Give me another beer or I’ll burn down your village.” Like a viking, I suppose. He tried calling a bar in Stockholm so he could say that and see what they’d say, but international calling was disabled on his phone. Probably for the best. His pronunciation was pretty good though.

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With my cousin Carolyn outside her lovely home in Virginia

Saturday we explored our nation’s capital. We walked up to Capitol Hill and around the Washington Monument before deciding to skip the attractions that we adults had already seen before and the kids were too young to understand or appreciate. We set our sights on the Smithsonian museums – they’re free, they’re fun and they’re educational. It was a good choice. We had a great day at the Museum of Natural History.

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Peter and the Capitol Building

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Getting directions to a visitor’s center so we could stamp the
National Park passports one last time

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Pappa’s shoulders are much warmer to sit on than that stone!

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The Smithsonian Museums are truly a national treasure!

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So curious, and so much to learn!

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The dinosaur exhibit showed differences between dinosaur feet and human feet, particularly number of toes. Emelie wasn’t satisfied to count the toes in the picture, or even on Pappa’s already bare feet (flip flops as usual!). She sat right down and insisted on removing her shoes and socks to count HER toes. Ok, 10. They were right.

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The last exhibit we had time for that day involved petting and holding exotic insects.       My girl is fascinated and unafraid. 

Sunday we went to church with my cousin before packing up our things, hooking up the trailer and hitting the road one last time. After 91 days covering over 12,000 miles of road, it was time to head back to Pennsylvania.

*Other side of the family this time… so cousin actually means cousin. As in, the daughter of my father’s brother.

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Lower-Slower Delaware

Continuing north, we left the I95 corridor and headed for the Del-Mar-Va Peninsula via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. It was the closest and fastest route, and I remember crossing it as a kid and thinking it was really fun. Though the tolls were a bit steep with the trailer, it was a welcome break from miles of endless interstate. Both bridges and tunnels are exciting for kids in the car, and the CBBT offers about 20 miles of both. (More information: http://www.cbbt.com/)

It was extremely windy and cold when we reached the restaurant and gift shop area so we chose to take our picnic lunch inside. We sat by the window and watched the Chesapeake birds as we ate. Emelie and Pappa braved the fishing pier for a closer look, while Mamma and Peter enjoyed the shelter of the gift shop.

IMG_3100Sometimes I worry that they’ll start to expect fantastic views every time they eat!

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Yes, he’s barefoot. Again.

After crossing the Chesapeake, we continued north into southern Delaware, which we affectionately refer to as “Lower-Slower” Delaware. We have cousins* who live on a beautiful rural plot of land bordering a state park there. They have turkeys and guinea hens, and in November, big piles of leaves to jump in. We enjoyed visiting with relatives and the kids had a blast exploring their yard.

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“Napping” in the hammock with a leaf pillow and a leaf blanket

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Our plan had been to set up the camper in their yard and continue sleeping outside, but the weather turned so much colder that the space heater just couldn’t keep up with the uninsulated tent walls of the pop-up. We reluctantly admitted that it was time to move inside and gratefully accepted the guest room.

*Not my first cousins, but my mom’s. We have great relationships with extended family on that side of the family and see them regularly. It’s not always easy, though, to figure out exactly how everyone’s related, so we decided years ago that we’re all just cousins. It’s easier that way!

Daytona Beach

Jess and I met in college. We had the same major, the same minor, shared faith and a lot of common interests. We were fast friends. After graduation, she headed off to teach as a missionary in Ecuador, and except for an occasional email, we lost touch for a while. A few years later, she was married to an Ecuadorian man and we reconnected over the headaches involved with sponsoring our foreign husbands through the American immigration system. One more thing we had in common. Oceans and time zones have made it difficult to stay in touch regularly but we have always been able to pick up where we left off whenever we do reconnect.

We hadn’t seen each other for 10 years, since we were wearing caps and gowns. I had never met her husband. We’d never seen each other’s children. The most exciting part about re-routing our trip through Florida was the chance to pass through Daytona Beach. We happily made plans to get together.

We made it to Daytona Beach on a Saturday afternoon, checked in to the Daytona Beach KOA, and set camp. Jess, David and little Matthias joined us soon and we headed out to get pizza and catch up. We could probably have sat at that table and talked until they closed, if not for the three very tired little people we had with us.

Sunday morning we went to church with them, grabbed a quick lunch and then headed to the beach. There was something satisfying about a dip in the Atlantic, making it official that we had literally been coast to coast on our trip. Perhaps even more satisfying was sitting on a sunny beach in November, well after the first snows had fallen at home in Sweden.

IMG_3185The kids preferred the sand, while watching Pappa run off into the surf.

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If you live this close to the beach, you have plenty of sand toys to share with friends

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We ended the day back at the KOA, cooking dinner and roasting marshmallows over a campfire. In other words, perfectly. The sun went down, the bugs came out, but still we sat “just a little longer.”

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Look! We’re riding a horse together!

IMG_3090This is all very exciting!

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Eventually, the needs of our little people forced us to reluctantly end the evening. It was more than sadness at saying goodbye to friends we rarely get to see. We both sensed a deeper loss, as though something was ending…

First Birthday on the Road!

Peter had his first birthday during our stay in Houston. Despite the amazing experiences we were having as a family, I’d be lying if I said my mom guilt didn’t kick in over not being able to give him a first birthday party surrounded by grandparents and other family. Mom guilt is a tricky, dangerous thing.

Our friends really stepped up and helped us make it a fun birthday. We had cupcakes and ice cream, and of course there were presents. He seemed to have a good time, though naturally he didn’t really understand what was going on. New toys, cake and ice cream, and a bit of extra attention… it’s a winning combination. He’ll never remember it, but someday he can look back at pictures and know he was loved and celebrated. And that’s what really matters.

Enjoy some pictures of the festivities!

Bday-Peter & Big Monkey

The guest of honor, not willing to be separated from Diana’s giant sock monkey

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Here come the cupcakes!

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Mesmerized by the flame, clearly with no idea why his food was on fire.

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Emelie got to blow out the rest of the candles.

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A careful little taste at first…

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Then a handful of icing…

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Not loving the feeling of icing between his fingers, he tried a hands-free approach…

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And seemed to decide that this was the best way to eat a cupcake.

Bday-Emelie Cupcake

Big sister likes cupcakes too!

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Time for presents!

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Yay! A ball!

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And a fire truck!

IMG_2979And our friends got him his own little sock monkey friend to take with him!

Thanks Diana, Micke, and Nancy for helping us give our little guy a special day! Once again you were a second family for us. Thanks for loving our kids so well!

Uh… Houston?

We have a problem. With the camper. But we already talked about that.

But really, does anyone ever talk about Houston without pretending to be on a NASA mission? I guess maybe if you live there. I’ll do my best to avoid any further astronaut references.

Houston was another non-negotiable stop on our route. Three good friends live there (2 of them married to each other) who used to live in Sweden. We all worked for Young Life together, and it’s the kind of work where your co-workers are the people you share life with. They become like family. These members of the family moved back to Texas a few years ago and we missed them. It was a joy to once again be invited into their homes and to pick up right where we left off.

This was another stop that was focused more on being with people than seeing a lot of sights. There were conversations late into the night, a trip to an amazing Tex-Mex restaurant, and silliness at Target. Wonderful days, but not too much to blog about.

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Nancy and Diana with Peter outside the restaurant

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Micke ordered a truly terrifying drink… like a beer margarita? Only in Texas.

Peter & TheEnchiladas

This one’s called “Peter and the Enchiladas”. Photo credit: Micke Goteman

TexMex-Lindströms

And this one’s called “TexMex Lindstroms”. Also by Micke

The Target AvengersBeware the Target Avengers!

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I wish our stores at home had shopping carts like this!

SpiderWoman & Lizzard Dude

More fun in the toy aisle. Peter’s not quite sure what to make of these two. 

We also had the chance to go to church together at an outdoor church that focuses on outreach to the homeless community. The group worships together in a park, and afterward there are opportunities for those who need to to take clothes and other basic necessities that have been donated. They then share a meal together – not like a soup kitchen where the “haves” serve the “have nots” but rather sitting side by side and breaking bread together. It’s a beautiful ministry and it was a joy to join their community for a few hours.

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The congregation gathered, with bins of donated clothing & essentials on the side. 

EmelieFountain1Enjoying the fountain during worship. An added advantage to church in the park!

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Thank you to Micke for these beautiful pictures!

We slept inside a house for the first time since Orange County CA, and tried to make arrangements to get the camper fixed. After calling around to a few RV places, only one called us back. The estimated cost seemed unreasonable and the wait time would make it impossible to get back to Philadelphia by Thanksgiving. We decided that the 2×2 solution had worked well enough for a few nights. We would just finish the trip without repairing the camper. Nothing like a little added adventure!

Trick-or-Treat!

The first real American Halloween for our kids! It was such perfect timing that we were staying with our friends, so we were in a family-friendly neighborhood and had another family to go trick-or-treating with! What a fun night!

The hardest part for our little princess was deciding which princess costume to choose. No surprise, Cinderella won in the end. Since we correctly assumed that Peter would fall asleep after only a short time, he got to wear adorable pumpkin pajamas for his costume.

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So we gathered all 6 kids, took some pictures and then we were off.

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Our rookie trick-or-treaters got a few lessons and tips from the veterans and soon got the hang of ringing the doorbell, saying trick-or-treat, receiving their candy, and (usually) remembering to say thank you.

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A few houses were a little too well decorated, though, and when there were flashing lights, spooky sounds, or any kind of smoke machine, the candy just didn’t seem worth the risk. “It’s okay, mamma, I already have some candy in my bucket.” On those occasions, the pappas went along for a little extra security.

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Peter didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about and dozed peacefully in the stroller for much of the evening. When it started to get a little too late, and a little too dark, we went back to the house and helped hand out candy to the older kids who were still out and about. Eventually, Cinderella’s magical night had to end (though thankfully earlier than midnight) and it was off to bed imagining what costume she would choose next Halloween. Who knows when the opportunity to go trick-or-treating will come again, but when it does, she’ll be ready.

IMG_2925Sampling the fruits of her labors with a mouth about as blue as her dress

 

Old El Paso

Southbound again to another border town. El Paso is very rarely on recommended road trip lists and responses when we included it in our itinerary ranged from confusion to fear for our safety. No one shared tips for things to be sure to see, but we got a few suggestions of places to avoid. Admittedly, El Paso would probably never have made our list if not for a big claim on our hearts: friends. Good friends. The college-roommate-in-each-other’s-weddings-fly-to-Korea-to-visit kind of friends. Through an unfortunate combination of army stationings (probably not a real word) and international missions, we went from sharing a room to rarely living on the same continent for years and years. Our road trip route passing through El Paso was not optional.

That being said, I can’t think of a single “sight” we went “seeing” unless you count the fajita drive-thru place or looking out the bedroom window after dark at the lights from Juarez, Mexico. Our visit to El Paso was all about sharing everyday life with our friends for a few days and wishing we could do it more often.

I don’t know much about crime statistics or better or worse neighborhoods in El Paso. It was a bit spread out (as cities in Texas seem to be in my limited experience) and required lots of driving, but otherwise we had a very nice stay in El Paso and never felt unsafe in any way.

IMG_2891Taking detailed notes and dressing extra girly at a Boy Scout ceremony

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Emelie and Aaron are about 4 months apart and became fast friends

IMG_31706 kids under 7 all looking at the camera? You’re witnessing a minor miracle friends!

Sight-Missing in Albuquerque

Because of our visit to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, we didn’t reach Albuquerque, New Mexico until late evening. We were well past our goal of being off the road every day by 4pm and even needed to pick up dinner along the road. Our kids are great in the car, but everyone has limits, and none of us are at our best when we’re tired and hungry.

So we may have been a bit ragged when we arrived at the home of our old friends who so kindly hosted us while we were in Albuquerque. By “old friends” I mean the kind of friends who we haven’t seen in at least 20 years (I was in middle school or perhaps even younger – none of us could remember exactly when it was) but who still opened their home to us when we were in the area. Bob was my dad’s best friend in high school and they went on to serve in the Air Force together. Though they kept in touch over the years, living on opposite sides of the country made it difficult for them and their families to get together very often. As it turned out, Bob was out of town the week that we came to town, but his wife El received us very graciously. We worked out all the details over Facebook with Bob’s oldest daughter Melinda. Once again, Facebook to the rescue!

We camped in their driveway, which was probably a little too steeply sloped for Home Sweet Pop-up, but with the help of all the extra boards we had with us, plus a few from their garage, it worked. Late October in Albuquerque was much colder than it had been in Arizona, and we considered moving inside since it was available. But the space heater kept it comfortable enough, and we decided it was better to avoid interrupting the kids’ sleep routines too much.

IMG_2822It doesn’t look too bad from a distance…

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But this set up made me a little nervous.

There are probably a lot of very interesting things to see and do in and around the Albuquerque area. We didn’t do any of them. After a couple of weeks of pretty intense sight-seeing, we found ourselves saturated. After browsing a number of sight-seeing options, we opted for a day of “sight-missing”. What we found was a Fall Festival for kids – with free entry no less! – and decided to go there first. It turned out to be so great that we stayed the whole day.

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This was perhaps the best thing ever. Like a cross between a ball pit and a sandbox, filled entirely with corn. I can’t even estimate how much corn was in there. It was huge. The kids loved it!

IMG_2770I’m still not sure how we ever got them out of there.  IMG_2768Who knew you could have so much fun with a muffin tin? Will have to remember this for the sandbox!

IMG_2791Then they had a hay bale maze…

IMG_2788And a giant tube slide…

IMG_2811And whatever these would be called…? They’re super fun anyway.

IMG_2816But quite a workout as it turns out. 

IMG_2813Poor Peter was too young for a lot of things, but he thought it was fun to watch his big sister

IMG_2818Bean bag toss is always good…

IMG_2820And a plastic bowling set. Nice follow through!

IMG_2795And these seem to be obligatory everywhere.
Emelie says, “Do I really look like a cow?” 

IMG_2796Finally something Peter can do too (with a little help)

On the way home, we stopped at one of those frozen yogurt bars that I’d been dying to try. We had the place to ourselves and the friendly older gentleman working there gave us great a yogurt bar tutorial. It’s my new favorite thing! I wish they had those in Sweden, but it’s probably better for our waistlines and bank accounts that they don’t.

So we opted to skip all the tourist sites of Albuquerque and enjoyed a fun, relaxed and free (except the yogurt) day playing in the sun together. It was refreshing, and it was absolutely the right decision. After an evening of visiting and a second night in our somewhat precariously balanced camper, we were on the road again and heading south.

IMG_3159Pajama party and hair brushing with El

IMG_3166“Hanging” with Melinda’s son

IMG_3160Just give me some blocks and I’m a happy boy!

But where are all the yellow stones?

Most mornings, when Emelie wakes up, she asks the same questions: Is it morning? Did the sun come up today? Where are we? Where are we going today?

On the day we were leaving Billings to drive to Yellowstone, she was very excited by the answer to that last question. “Yellowstone! Yay! That sounds very, very fun!” We thought it was because of her book about the national parks. She has often looked at the picture of Old Faithful at Yellowstone and been excited about going there.

But as we drove through Yellowstone National Park on our way to our campground, pointing out interesting things to see as we drove, she was disappointed. She did not see a single yellow stone, and she had been waiting all day to go to a park with yellow stones that she could climb on. Steaming hot springs were not impressing her. The buffalo that literally brushed up against her window as it walked down the middle of the road did, at least, make an impression though.

Objects beside mirror are exactly as close as they appear!

Honest. No zoom here.

But as we spent the whole next day exploring the park, Yellowstone seemed to grow on her as we drove from one amazing geological feature to another. Hot springs, prismatic pools, mud pots, and colorful bacteria mats all captured her imagination and left us all in awe of what an amazing and diverse creation we live in.


She likes laying down on the walkways. And tracing letters on signs.

She’s saying, “Look at all the hot water and steam!” 

Family photo thanks to the tripod

We decided to head to Old Faithful and have a picnic lunch beside it while we waited for it to do its geyser thing. It is fairly regular, but if you time it badly, you can end up waiting up to about 90 minutes to see it. Not bad for an adult, but a really long time with kids. So as we were in the parking lot packing our lunch, suddenly we see a geyser starting to erupt. Oh no! We’re missing it! We took off running and got as close as we could before quickly staging a picture (just me and the kids – no time for the tripod and a full family photo). We didn’t get it at its full height but it was enough to get the idea. No way were we going to wait around another 90 minutes to see it again.

So as the crowd cleared, we found a bench where we could sit down and eat our picnic. Then we happened to notice a sign: Beehive Geyser. This was not Old Faithful? So… where is Old Faithful? We finished eating and started walking a loop through the geyser area. There are many more active geysers than I was expecting. Suddenly, as we were walking, another geyser went off right in front of us. “Hey look, there’s another one,” we said, snapped a couple of pictures of it, and kept walking. When we got around to the other side of it, we realized that that one had been Old Faithful. So we have a whole lot of pictures of a geyser no one’s ever heard of, and just a couple of the famous one. They look about the same, though, and if I hadn’t told you, you probably wouldn’t have know the difference.

Ranger presentation at Old Faithful. Someone made herself comfortable!

But no matter how many beautiful and amazing things we’ve seen on this trip, some of our favorite memories will involve the people that we meet along the way. The new friends we met at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone that afternoon are a good example. We’d hiked a short trail down to the brink of the lower falls, and as we were taking pictures, a nice man offered to take a family photo for us. His wife was nearby and asked us the kids’ names so she could call them and get them to look at the camera. He took a really good picture for us!

For Emelie, though, anyone who calls her by name qualifies as her friend. So as we started walking up, she insisted on going to her “friend” and eventually walking with her and holding her hand. While our new friends patiently talked to and played with Emelie, we started talking with them and another couple that they were traveling with. They noticed that Staffan was wearing a Young Life shirt and asked if we are Christians. They are too, and that led to a much longer conversation about faith and church, Christianity in Sweden and Staffan’s call to ordained ministry. We hiked back to the parking lot with them and before we went our separate ways they asked if they could pray for us. They were such a blessing and an encouragement to us!

And to our new friends from Arkansas, if you happen to have found our blog from the address scribbled down on a scrap of paper we found in the car, thank you. We found the gift you left hidden in Emelie’s car seat. We still don’t know quite how you managed to hide it there without us seeing, but what a surprise we got later! Since we have no way to contact you directly, we will just publicly thank you here on the blog and hope that you have occasion to read it. Thank you.

Experiencing the Body of Christ

I think I can safely say, without exaggerating, that we have recently experienced one of the starkest contrasts between churches available in the U.S. today.

We have committed to attend church on Sundays during our time on the road. This is important to us for many reasons, but we also feel it will add to our overall experience to meet and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ across regions, backgrounds, and denominations. This has already proven to be true!

Last Sunday, during Labor Day weekend, we were in the Chicago area and took the opportunity to visit Willow Creek, one of the largest “mega-churches” in the country. We’ve known of Willow Creek for years, read books written by their pastors, attended their Global Leadership Summit in Stockholm, and were generally pretty excited to visit there. It was on a scale that is hard to understand and appreciate in just one visit. We registered our kids for their children’s ministry, and took Emelie to the age 3 room – a large room where all the 3-year-olds gather in a large group led by the (full-time) Age 3 Pastor and the (full-time) Age 3 Teacher. (These were, by the way, not the same people as the Age 2 pastor and teacher, or the Age 4-5 pastor and teacher, and so on.) Then they broke up into smaller groups (of 3 year olds!) after the main lesson. Peter was well taken care of in the crawler room (divided from the infant room and the toddler room of course), where they even took them for a walk in double strollers. All of this to say, it was big. But amazingly well organized, thought through, completely age appropriate in every respect and we were very impressed.

We went chose to attend the service in the main auditorium (from among an overwhelming list of options they gave us at the guest services area) and were disappointed – though not surprised – to learn that the usual teaching pastors and worship leaders were given the weekend off for Labor Day. Pulpit supply. But we would’ve run into that almost anywhere – it was Labor Day weekend after all. Imagine our surprise when “pulpit supply” turned out to be Steven Curtis Chapman (a well-known and award winning Christian musician, for those who don’t know). He led music and spoke and did both very well. After picking up the kids and having lunch in the food court, we headed on our way. (Yes, the church has a food court. This is not the same place as the cafe.)

We were impressed by the ways they made an effort to make “big church small” on all levels, and by the ways we were met, received, welcomed and helped at every turn, from the parking lot coordinators (helpful when we pulled in towing a trailer) to the guest services to the children’s ministry staff.

Today, we are in the Badlands town of Interior, population 67. We decided to attend the Community Church (one of three churches in town). It was an equally wonderful experience in a completely different way. The four of us brought the total attendance up to about 20. They have neither pastor nor musician, except this week when Staffan volunteered to hop in on the piano. They also had their own version of “pulpit supply” in the form of a DVD teaching. Emelie was one of 5 kids in their Sunday School. Willow Creek it was not.

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating how small it is…

The Interior Community Church

Going over songs with Charlie about 5 minutes before the service started. 

But we were so warmly welcomed, and the worship wasn’t any less genuine for being led by a cowboy and a walk-in Swede than it was when led by a world renown recording artist for a crowd of thousands. After church we were invited by Charlie and Beth back to their ranch for lunch, and we enjoyed grilled hamburgers made from black angus beef they’d raised themselves. Served with vegetables and cantaloupe that were also fresh from their garden. Amazing. Great food and fellowship with new friends. We are so excited to have met “real people” on a genuine South Dakota cattle ranch in the Badlands.

Sign at the road for Charlie and Beth’s ranch

Ok, I burst out laughing as we drove in toward their house and just have to share this. There is literally a fork in the road.

Their lovely home, on over 2,000 acres with amazing views of the Badlands. Charlie built this house himself together with his family.

I know that people reading this are probably from a variety of beliefs and backgrounds, and in general I don’t plan to be “preachy” with this blog, but the only way to share these experiences is to reflect on how amazing God is to be simultaneously at work in Chicago in a mega-church of thousands and in the tiny town of Interior SD in a Community Church of a couple dozen. We have a deepening understanding of the body of Christ being alive and active everywhere, and we’re so blessed to have the opportunity to experience its diversity.

Thanks again, Charlie and Beth – if you decided to check out our blog – for your hospitality and fellowship, and for giving us an unexpectedly wonderful afternoon.