The night before we left Madison, Niki remembered some Foursquare pastors had been profiled on a DVD as operating a coffee shop in the Madison area as a form of outreach to the community. So we reached out to them totally last minute, and we were able to meet up with them for breakfast before we left.

Steve and Kim Cecil planted in the Madison area about 6 years ago. Their heart for and philosophy of ministry is similar to ours – community development, leadership and discipleship focus, and missions to orphans (their church has been involved with a Haiti orphanage for years and have taken 4 trips this year alone!) Turns out we also met at convention in early June, but we weren’t able to connect there like we were over breakfast. We are friends with a lot of the same people – like Pastor Russ Schlecht and Pastor George Cooper. And they know Pastor Tammy and Gary and Pastor Daniel well, too. So funny – what a small world. Meeting up with them was the highlight of the day!

We then headed out on a tiny “highway” to Minnesota. Two things to remember from that: 1) We crossed over the Mississippi river, which was SO COOL. It wasn’t that big where we crossed, but I couldn’t help but look down the river and think of Huck Finn and all the states in the U.S. through which this river winds. So much history and American life. I would love to do a vacation boat ride down the Mississippi sometime. 2) We play a game in our family called Flags and Crosses. Whoever sees an American flag first gets 1 point, and whoever sees a cross first gets 10 points! (This instills values on patriotism and faith, and reinforces that our faith is SO MUCH more important than our patriotism, and that Christianity and patriotism are not the same thing). So this particular game was a riot because Niki really got into it and blew us all away. Most of the places we saw were farm country, but we went through this quaint town in Wisconsin that had streets lined with flags, and he was calling them out like rapid fire! I was laughing so hard!!!

The next day we met up with our dear friends Sarah and Anthony Bushnell and their family at the Mall of America. It is such an impressive place – with a full amusement park right in the center of the mall. The kids went on several rides and then we all went to the underwater aquarium in the mall where we saw sharks, sting rays, jelly fish, and sea horses, and got to play with starfish, clams, and other shell fish. The kids also got shark tooth necklace kits, so we’ll do those as an art and craft sometime this trip. The mall also had a mascot, Sharkey, who kept walking around to see the kids. Siah was most excited about him. That was his favorite part.

After the mall we went back to Sarah and Anthony’s house. We were all so exhausted. Something about the Mall is just so sensory overwhelming. Even though we didn’t do that much, we were spent. So we had some fun just relaxing, playing with toys, playing some video games and talking with them at their place. That was awesome! We have been friends with them for 11 years. And it’s just so awesome to think of all of life that we’ve shared together. To think back before we had our troupes of kids and we would do late night drives to get ice cream together. So while nothing spectacularly memorable happened, I realized that just spending time together is spectacularly memorable because it continues to build our friendship up. And friendships are immensely valuable (sacred, really, when you think of them in terms of the Gospel Story).

Oh, and Siah incurred no further traumatic injuries today. Success!