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creating a bold new heritage

by Shawni

Sometimes I feel a little guilty after writing about our family time at Bear Lake (the last two posts). I feel guilty because each year when I write I get some comments and also emails filled with awe about those relationships we are lucky enough to have. How did that happen? Did the stars simply align in the right way? Are there fights? Does everyone really get along?

The answer is yes, there are fights, and no, not everyone always gets along, but YES, the stars somehow did align the right way because no matter whether there are disagreements or misunderstandings, Dave’s family and mine are filled with people who strive to love unconditionally. Every single one of them.

I do not pretend to know how we got so lucky, but I do know that those parents of ours fought to make that happen. Our parents came from families who struggled. Dave’s grandpa was an alcoholic. Two of our parents were raised by single mothers. There is dysfunction on both sides. But somewhere someone made a choice to start anew. They decided they had the power to create their own legacy and they got to work.

This, of course, didn’t mean things would all work out hunky dory. That’s where the “stars aligning” business comes in. Because it is true that no matter how hard you work and love and forgive, and love some more, everyone has agency to chose, and sometimes people just don’t have the capacity to fight to make things different.

But I love the thought that Dave’s Dad shared in his BYU devotional a couple years ago and think of it often:

In his devotional he told stories of his heritage and how tough decisions and hard work changed the whole trajectory of his family (you can find the whole devotional HERE).

How grateful I am that it did!

Whether we are born into functional families or not, WE can decide “where our devotion will lie and to whom to look for guidance.” Yes, some have to work so much harder than others, but change can be made. And the beautiful thing is that that that change ripples to affect generations of families.

I’m so grateful our parents fought for that. And that because they did, they gave Dave and I an incredible gift as we work to create our own family. Do we come up against dead ends and all kinds of issues? Sure we do. But because our parents forged ahead, they have cut out many of the weeds and briars in our path. How I hope we can do that even more for our own kids. Oh gosh that is a continual struggle. Fights break out, huffiness ensues, everyone is, at one time or another, “the most annoyingest person in the world” (at least according to Lucy). And sometimes, in the dark times, it seems like for every step forward we take two back. But we are committed to keep working. And because we believe so whole-heartedly in a God who cares deeply about families, we are grateful beyond measure to feel His presence when we genuinely look for guidance and direction along this rocky path.

He is there. And it is only with Him that we can make it through.

I write about Bear Lake and our families because I am more grateful than I can ever express to be “enshrouded in a family.” And I hope that not only will my writing serve as a record for my own family, but that it can help keep hope alive that it is always a worthy cause to fight for strong families.

Even if we’re the first ones to forge the way. And even if it is against all odds, and we are barely hanging on by our fingernails.

So, if you are one of those who is fighting for family, fighting for relationships, fighting to forgive and to serve and to love as our parents did, and as so many in so many varying situations have written to me about over the years, may God bless you with patience and perseverance. Please know that even if you come up short again and again, you are fighting a noble battle. And in doing so, creating seeds of beauty for future generations. Just starting where you are.

Caitlin Connolly

The road may be ominous and rocky, but I believe our children and grandchildren and grandchildren after that will be forever blessed because of the blood and sweat and tears we put in the arena to fight to create a strong family.

xoxo

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23 comments

Paola Jellings October 14, 2019 - 3:53 am

So eloquently stated! As always! What a perfect easy to start my morning. Thank you for always being so willing to take the time to document tour thoughts. Your family is blessed for it I’m sure, but you have given me such a beautiful perspective on…life throughout the years. Thank you!

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Varun Sharma October 14, 2019 - 3:59 am

Thank you for the post.

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Brittany October 14, 2019 - 5:43 am

Thank you so much, Shawni! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I appreciate your example and encouragement!

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Caroline October 14, 2019 - 7:08 am

Your blog gives me hope to create something new in my own family that is different from what I grew up with. I think some of us know we want something different and better, but we aren’t sure what that might look like until we see examples of how family life can be. Thank you for your example!

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Lynette October 14, 2019 - 7:18 am

Thank you for sharing this! I especially appreciated reading your father-in-law’s talk. I loved how he unabashedly addressed the importance of being willing to have children. My husband and I started our family with barely a job and living in a tiny apartment and then a tiny rental home – with three children under the age of three. No one seemed that thrilled that we were having children at all at the time, but for us, the timing couldn’t have been better. We now have seven children and our lives have GREATLY improved over the course of our almost-17 years of marriage. There is never a perfect time to start a family and you can never be prepared enough to be a mother. 🙂

I also appreciate so much your commentary on the ripple effect when one person in a family changes the trajectory of an entire generation by making one good choice. Absolutely true!

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Shawni October 21, 2019 - 11:51 am

Yes that ripple effect is real and it really does take one person to break out and make it happen. Not easy, but so much good can come of deciding to make that tweak or change that can ripple in so many directions!

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KittyLuvr October 14, 2019 - 9:42 am

Such wise words from your father….my extended family is very close and now numbering 22; we vacation together, spend holidays together despite living in 3 different states….and it’s by the grace of God that this happened. My father in law’s dad was also an alcoholic and his mom passed away when he was just 18 months old…he was raised by his aunt and her husband just as their own. Their strong faith was passed on to him..and he and my mother in law passed it on to their 3 sons…my parents divorced when I was 18 and I never saw my mother again….ever. Not when I got married, not when either of my daughters were born…it’s such a sad story and no one believes it when I tell them because it’s so different than what our family looks like now. Both my father in and I chose a different path than what we grew up with. That is an awesome testimony to your father’s point….my father in law and my mother in law coveted strong family ties and I did the same when I married into the family. We spent years coming together each summer on vacation, cheering our beloved football team each fall, and spending each Christmas together as well~hard when one of the sons is in the ministry~ but we committed to the time and travel together. This coming weekend the youngest generation (6 original cousins plus 4 spouses plus 4 little cousins under 5 are having their own “cousins weekend” at the lake to enjoy time together! Nothing makes me happier than seeing our family values continue in a new way. I enjoy reading about your family traditions and how your family is present for so many events in the lives of your children~that is an intentional act and means so very much to each person in your family. It’s also an unsaid expectation…so other commitments pale in comparison to family needs. Thanks for sharing and especially sharing your dad’s quote….that’s something that I am going to print. Please thank him for me in articulating those wise words.

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Shawni October 15, 2019 - 8:02 am

Love this, thank you for sharing! xoxo

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Melissa October 14, 2019 - 10:28 am

I”m sorry you feel guilty. To be honest, I read your extended family posts and my mind boggles – not just at the way everyone agrees to gather, but the financial ability to do so. My family reality could not be further from yours. You always express deep gratitude for your family and travels, so it seems like you realize how extraordinary your opportunities are. If I feel envious, I can stop reading. I know that it’s my problem and I know even if someone else has something I really wish I had, none of knows entirely what others struggle with and none of us wants to trade life challenges. I would, however, do just about anything for a family that is big, healthy, secure and loving. So, good for you – but really bad for some of us.

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amber October 15, 2019 - 6:06 am

I love everything about this family and the examples they are to so many. But like you said above…our family despite working two jobs and live comfortably, of the 5 siblings maybe 2 families can afford to do any travel. Even to see one another for holidays is a stretch. I often wonder how families and extended families can all do these things so reg? Does everyone make a lot of money? Do siblings help other siblings? Do the parents pay for travel for those that cant afford? I would love insights- truly and also ways and ideas when you are spread so far apart and money is a constraint how you would keep those ties so close if you arent able to be in person.

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Nat October 15, 2019 - 7:00 am

Interesting point Melissa. I think vacationing together is powerful, but that just is not in the cards for so many. With your extended family, start a group chat. Keep each other updated on what each child is doing. Like an 8 year old killing it at her dance performance. You can use apps like Marco Polo. My kids love video games (blech) but I’ve embraced it because they play with cousins thousands of miles away and are ACTUALLY building relationships.

I’ve seen families have their kids be old fashioned pen pals with a cousin in their age range and it’s been awesome.

Ultimately though, you gotta start with your own nuclear family. My parents were of very modest means but dreamed of Bear Lake style get togethers. As empty nesters, now they have a bit more and in lieu of Christmas presents or birthday presents they sponsor one family trip every few years. It has been an amazing memory builder. They pay for the place, and some activities, people share meal responsibilities, and have three years to save to pay for their own travel.
There is no one right way to family. Maybe an annual BBQ, or just being the home on the block with the fun vibe will be what your kids remember and cling to.

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Shawni October 15, 2019 - 8:18 am

Melissa, you’re right, I am deeply grateful and realize we do have a unique situation. I’m so grateful my parents and Dave’s too, fought with what little means they had to cultivate relationships that wanted to gather. The relationships are what it’s all about in my opinion. My parents planned and worked with goals and dreams for years and years to have Bear Lake as it is. Most of my siblings are able to save up to get to the lake I think, but I know my parents chip in when needed. Dave’s family doesn’t have a “Bear Lake hub,” but his siblings and parents over the years will throw out an idea for a gathering and people want to get together so much they will make all kinds of sacrifices to get there. We don’t gather as regularly as my family does (although we have a big reunion planned summer of 2020) but feel so connected through technology and many of us live near each other which is awesome. Amber, Nat is so right in saying that there are so many ways to stay connected in our day and age which is so awesome. I love the pen pal cousin idea! We love Marco Polo and GroupMe to stay in touch with family members far and wide. And I agree that it’s important to start with your own nuclear family. Start small and dream big and you can make things happen!
xoxo

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Melissa October 15, 2019 - 9:58 am

All your ideas are great, and I promise, I’m willing to try any of them – but people in my family are not able. Whether they are are estranged, dead, too ill, too financially challenged, or just not interested, there is no extended family to work with. It’s just me, my two daughters and my husband – no cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. We are close to each other, create traditions and love each other, but it can be lonely. We have friends and a community – but you know how it is – there is nothing like family. I’m sure it’s hard to imagine not having an extended family, but not everybody does. I’m glad for you – and you shouldn’t feel guilty for what you have. And I have to make the most of what I have.

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Nat October 15, 2019 - 1:53 pm

Melissa. I gotta say I can relate! One whole side of my family are complete disasters. I don’t think we really even like getting together. In spite of us loving each individually so very much, we don’t gather. We tried once and it was hilariously bad. Like herding ferral cats. I think you are more normal than you think. I only have two kids, and we won’t ever have big family gatherings, but you better believe we will be tight! Better future vacations to be had with my (unintentionally) small family. Maybe I’ll only have a couple grand kids. But meh, I will be an epically fun and close grandma. My family is my palette.

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Shawni October 21, 2019 - 11:55 am

Nat is right, you are more normal than you think. I think there are so many families out there who struggle in many ways. But I love the thought that Nat shared about how her family is her palette. We may not be able to change or “fix” what is, but we do have the power to change future generations. I know that’s easier said than done, especially from my vantage point where my parents and Dave’s parents have done so much of the groundwork for us. But if you look forward and work to “create” something different from what you are coming from, you can plant the seeds to create that “bold new heritage” that will make such a difference for future generations! And I wish you all the luck and blessings as you go about doing just that. Sending lots of love your way!
Love, Shawni
xoxo

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Barb October 14, 2019 - 10:39 am

This was a beautiful post, thanks for sharing.

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Jane October 14, 2019 - 2:04 pm

Beautifully articulated concepts and inspiring on so many levels. Thank you for sharing this timeless wisdom with us.
. I have been curious, having read your blog for many years, about personality types in such a large family – is everyone in your family an extrovert? I’ve always wondered if there are any introverts among you: common personality traits include:
Being drained by social interactions and a need to escape to recharge and reset…
Needing time alone and solitude – crucial to an introverts health and happiness…
Work best when they work alone – group projects can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable…
Prefer writing over talking – small talk and chit chat are anathema- communication style is focused and best enjoyed one-on-one…
Small circle of close friends – high quality relationships are a key to happiness for introverts…
Thrive on self reflection, research and reading…
Most people are not purely introverted or purely extroverted; but fall somewhere in the middle with characteristics of both – with some characteristics being stronger.
If anyone in your extended family indentifies with this personality type, how does he or she handle these large family gatherings?
I hope you can find time to answer as I believe your insight on this subject would be of help to many.
Thank you again…

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Julie Tann October 14, 2019 - 11:27 pm

Hi Jane,
I’ve often wondered all these too.

For me, the thought of going on holiday with loads of other relatives, or another family, would really scare me. That’s something we never do in our family.

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Shawni October 15, 2019 - 8:58 am

I do have a brother (Josh) who is much more introverted. He introduced us to that whole concept years ago and has helped us understand it so much better, which I’m so grateful for because the majority of us are much more extroverted. He is still involved with everything at Bear Lake but is grateful to have his own “space” when he needs it.

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anp October 14, 2019 - 6:40 pm

This post and your father in law’s devotional were answers to prayer. Thank you so much for your inspired words and sharing this. I had tears streaming down my face as I read and listened to the devotional. I love your blog!

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Shawni October 15, 2019 - 8:58 am

Oh I’m so glad! Sending love!
xoxo

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Diane October 15, 2019 - 7:23 am

I absolutely needed to hear this today. THANK YOU. I see what my mom tried so hard to do but it feel apart, unfortunately. I look at other members of my family and see what she did not want to happen. It’s tiring try to change the pattern in my own family but I have to keep on trying. Thank you for sharing the love, light and joy we all need.

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Shawni October 15, 2019 - 9:01 am

I’m so glad you are determined to keep trying. Future generations will benefit so much from your efforts, don’t ever forget that! Even if you think what your mom tried so hard to do fell apart, I bet there are seeds she planted that will make a difference some day!

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