Do you want your family to grow closer as they grow up and go through life? Of course that's something we all want! It takes a lot of love, grace, time, thought, and work, but it is soooo worth it, as I know the Bailey family will tell you...
First a little background history... Way back in the mid-1970's, I was out doing errands with my friend Barb Paxton Whitaker, and she needed to stop by the home of her older sister, Connie. It was just a quick stop, but it left a lasting impression!
I still remember Connie's four little girls ~ Barb's nieces ~ busy playing, how darling they were, and how sweetly they played with each other!
And I loved their "Sh" names! Shannel, Shelby, Sheila, and Shannon!
The four girls were very close in age. Between the first and the last girl, there are 3 years and 11 months!!! So Connie was one busy mama! Here are the four girls a few years older than when I first met them, with their Daddy, Ty:
And here are the same four beauties with their Daddy a few decades later:
Fast forward three decades, pausing in 2003, and we're at the first hip-hop dance class I took from my daughter, Sharnessa. (She and her hubby, Sam, started Fresh Attitude Dance Studio in 2002.)
Much to my delight, one of those all-grown-up-now little girls, Shannon, was in our class, along with her 11-year-old daughter Audrey, as they wanted to do a fun mother-daughter activity together!
And a fun year it was, all the way through the recital! But it was many more years before our paths crossed again. And in the meantime, Audrey grew up, and this happened... Here are Shannon and Audrey at Audrey's wedding in 2015:
I wasn't connected with the family at this point, other than Connie (the mom of the four girls) and I running into each other here-n-there over the years. Like at a funeral... a store... and at dance recitals, since some of her granddaughters took dance at Sharnessa's dance studio.
And we always had a sweet connection whenever we saw each other. But I still hadn't met most of the rest of the family at this point.
Fast-forward again, this time to August 2015, and my dear friend Berdie tells me her daughter Abby has fallen in love with this wonderful young man, Andrew. Guess whose son he just happens to be! Shannon's! (pictured with Andrew's sister above) I knew right then that Abby was getting into a good family!
I was asked to be the wedding service coordinator (I coordinated only the actual service), and that's when I met the rest of this now-huge and amazing family! It was a delight to interact with them!!!
The connection between all of them was amaaaazing! There was no bickering, no disrespect, no sarcasm, and no "attitudes." Just a harmonious family enjoying the wedding of their cousin, brother, son, and grandson.
Here's their whooooole beautiful family at the wedding:
And here are those original four little girls, with their mom, Connie ~ all five of whom you'll be hearing from in just a moment!
Sheila ~ the dark-haired one above ~ and I got reacquainted through all this. We attended a shower together, and, as a co-hostess, there ended up not being a seat for me, other than behind the gift table.
Sheila noticed this and made me come over and sit by her. You can't sit by Sheila and not talk, (animatedly and sweetly!), so we chatted the rest of the way through the shower!
She told me about a Citizen's Police Academy she had attended the previous year, and that she wanted to go again, but wanted to go with someone this time. I really didn't know her that well, to commit to going to a several-week course with her, but I just SO loved and enjoyed her, I thought this would be a good way to spend more time with her.
And so WE DID IT!!! And had a BLAST!!! Here we are with our Certificates of Completion and the nice travel mugs we all got:
And THAT brings me to what this post is actually about!!! Thought you'd enjoy a little history first!
NOW, finally ~
the point of
When Sheila and I were talking on the phone one day, she mentioned that she was going to a "State of the Family Union" meeting that evening. I was VERY intrigued, and wanted to know more!
They have these meetings a few times a year, in conjunction with Christmas, Thanksgiving, a family vacation, and graduation time, at which they celebrate whichever grads they have that year. (More on that coming up!) The four sisters and Mom/Connie were gracious to answer all my questions...
Q: What kinds of
things do you discuss
at your meetings?
[Shelby:] One topic will be whatever my Dad feels the Lord has put on his heart for our families. This is just cool knowing that he is seeking the Lord and hearing from Him.
Another topic is "Reflection on the previous year." I remember the year Mike got into his really bad car accident, and us all saying how thankful we were that he was still here with us.
[Sheila:] In our full gathering /circle times, we often talk about being thankful for everything we have as a family. And Dad often encourages us to stay strong in our spiritual walk as times continue to be more tough.
Q: Do you have
an "order of
[Sheila:] Not a specific order, but at some point there is prayer. And, we always know people that have prayer needs. Sometimes there are big needs in our own families that we pray for. Other times, it's for close friends or other people for healing.
[Shelby:] My Dad normally opens it up. We really see him as the Patriarch. He opens in prayer, gives all the individuals a chance to speak, then closes in prayer.
Q: Do you have
[Shelby:] Totally! When I come back to Washington to visit, I always gain at least 5-8 pounds! Seriously, I do! We usually potluck, assigning dishes so that we don't all bring desserts (which would be fine by me). And, there are some favorite dishes that we are each known to make and so we will request those.
[Sheila:] Whenever our families get together, there is food! We've had dessert bars, potato bars, nacho bars, etc. But we always have something. Ice cream and cookies is a common thing.
Q: Can you share
(even in a "small" way)
that's happened at
[Shelby:] I know that I love to hear my parents reflect on stories about us girls when we were growing up, or hear everyone reflect on stories about our own kids, the memories there. Even though we have heard them numerous times, we still are fully engaged and laughing as if it was the first time listening to them.
[Sheila:] The youngest grandchild, Connor, has always had a way of adding something cute or humorous. You never know what he's going to say, but it's always just at the right time.
Shelby:] One year when our entire family was vacationing at Sunriver, all the boy cousins led the Sunday morning church service, including worship, the offering, and the Word. The next time we all went there for vacation, the girl cousins led.
Jess, our youngest took this opportunity very seriously. She saved up her money and bought communion cups and crackers at the Christian book store along with a pin that read "pastor." She helped lead part of the service. Just makes me smile.
[Shannon:] After a cousin graduates, we always set aside a night on the graduation weekend with all of the family to reflect on that cousin's life. We sit around a bonfire, weather permitting, and go around the circle and everyone talks about a memory and how that cousin has influenced them.
There is a lot of edification and talk about future plans as well. The night is guaranteed to have lots of tears and laughter. This is something us adults look forward to. The cousins can be hesitant only because some of them don't like to cry. (And they always do!)
Shannel's husband, Daren, started a new thing at her birthday this year. We went around and each person said just one word that best described Shannel. The kids loved that, because saying one word didn't make them cry. 😀 So that is what we started for all birthday parties, now. It's touching to hear ~ even in just one word ~ the depth of what that person means to us. However, we have told the kids that this won't apply to the graduation bonfires! 😃
Q: What do you
[Sheila:] I really appreciate the fact that our children respect their "Papa" and "Gram" as they're sharing. In the Bible it talks about God's blessings from generation to generation. It's neat to see these promises being fulfilled.
[Shelby:] They are a safe place to be transparent. This has ebbed and flowed over the years, depending on what we were all facing and how vulnerable and exposed we (or I) wanted to be. I feel like over the years, we have, as a large family, become a lot more real. Maybe raising kids into adulthood will do that. I also appreciate the grace that has been there. Especially with what my hubby and I went through over the last couple of years. Mike experienced the depth of grace and forgiveness. Outside of the Lord and His healthy church, most won't have the opportunity to experience that.
[Sheila:] Each year after the kids get back from summer youth church camp, we do the bonfire thing also, to hear about what God spoke to them while they were there. We've had some amazing testimonies! And, some of the grandchildren have even used their gifts of edification, prayer, etc. at those family bonfires. Amazing! So blessed!
[Connie / "Mom" / "the Matriarch"] Our family has always felt it was important to stay on top of things!! That's what an "imperfect" family should do in our ups and downs, like so many. The goal, as always, is to love, express tears, joy, and forgiveness, no matter what, and top it off with thankfulness to the Lord! And to always remember none of us "has arrived" till we see the face of Jesus!! ❤️
[Shannon:] I love the openness and vulnerability our family is able to have together. It is a rare thing. Personally I don't know of a safer place that I can be this vulnerable.
[Shannel:] I wanted to give my perspective about our new one-word birthday "gift." During my family birthday party this year, my husband, Daren, spontaneously prompted the family to come up with one word they would use to describe me. This came as a surprise to me and blessed my heart in such a special way as, one by one, the words were expressed around our family circle. He also added each member's word for me to my notes app on my phone. Talk about a treasure! That night, we inducted this new idea into our collection of family traditions.
Something I wanted to add to the grad bonfire time is how special it is for the current grad. Our daughter, Emily, graduated this last year and just days before graduation, as she and I were visiting, she mentioned "My turn is almost here!" What a sweet confirmation of how the cousins value this family connection! I feel that these intentional connection moments with each other will continue to knit our family bond, tightening the weave.
When you have a large family, the gatherings can get a little crazy... the kids hanging here and there, the adults rotating around, all taking part in varying conversation circles, hosting to-dos, etc. These moments cause us to pause and come to a unified focus, and our circle, though large, feels intimate, cozy, and connected.
Here's the whole family at a "State of the Family Union" meeting they had at (obviously) Christmas time:
I'm so grateful to you "Bailey girls," for sharing your thoughts and memories with not just me, but with others who I know will be able to glean from all this and add some fun and special new memories to their own family times.
I will close with Sheila's response after reading the above article:
What an honor to have you do this article. I hope that others are truly blessed by this. Our family is humbled by the grace of God that has preserved us and given us the strength to stay on the straight and narrow. His promises are true for those that live for Him!! And His mercies are carried from one generation to the next. One more thought: The family that prays together, stays together!!