Big and Crazy is Better Than Small and Estranged

July 7, 2012 | My Jottings

That’s my motto for the month, and it applies to families.

A big and crazy family who loves each other even though they’re sometimes a little nuts, is so much better than a small family who seems to be more outwardly composed (and perhaps “normal”) but hasn’t spoken to each other in years.

Profound, isn’t it?

My husband has a large extended family. His mother Bernadine (Bernie) was the oldest of seven children, and each of those seven had their own children. And now all those children have had their own little ones, so there are probably close to a hundred just on this one side of Michael’s family.

Bernie’s parents (Michael’s maternal grandparents) owned a small cabin on a lovely, tranquil lake, and that cabin became a family gathering place over the next several decades, especially on the 4th of July. Now out of the seven children, only three remain: Rosemary, Donna and Yvonne, who are in their sixties and seventies. Bernadine, Bertine “Dude,” Dick and Keith have all gone home to be with the Lord.

After Bernie’s parents died, Rosemary’s family bought the cabin, and the family get-together on July 4th continued. We drove out to the cabin this year and did what the family always does: sat and chatted, hugged, laughed, ate good food, rejoiced in the beauty and privilege of such a gorgeous setting, and marveled at how quickly the years pass.

Pictured from left, Michael’s sister Pat, his Uncle Frank, his Aunt Yvonne, our Foster Betsy, and Michael:

The day was a little cooler than the 90-degree weather we’ve been having, and a little overcast. Sara took a long swim in the lake, and if Michael’s family had all been blind, I would have joined her.


Michael’s only sibling Pat, on the left. She and her husband Joe just sold their house in the Twin Cities area, moved back north, and are building their retirement home on some beautiful land in Knife River, MN.

We have a cabin culture in Minnesota. In other parts of the country, when people gain some financial margin and can afford to purchase something extra, some buy fancy cars and others begin to travel extensively. I remember my last trip to Southern California, where I grew up. I had never seen so many BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, Porsches and Corvettes on the roads in my life. It was like the whole culture had changed to an expensive car culture. You won’t see that in northern Minnesota, even if people do have money. Here, if people have extra, they buy a cabin on a lake.

I wish I had taken more pictures of Michael’s big and wacky family. I say wacky because they laugh and joke and boss each other around good-naturedly. Like any family, they have disagreements and frustrations between members. But they never let it sever their relationships. They keep on loving, keep on getting together, keep on hugging and praying for each other. If there are hurt feelings, they forgive and get over it. The family bond of love is never cut.

Below, Pat, Michael, and Sara.

I, on the other hand, come from a composed, accomplished and highly regarded family. (Ha.) If any craziness surfaced in us, the unspoken rule of steel was that it was to be squashed, because we didn’t want people to know we had problems.

When I was fourteen years old, that composure cracked and our family of five blew apart. Then the anger and pride and bitterness that had been undealt with all those years, took root and has had its pervasive, decaying way for the last forty years.

There have been no 4th of July family gatherings on my side of the family. No disagreements that end in hugs and stronger bonds. No goofy laughter and compassionate conversations. No humility. When I think of going to a family gathering at a cabin for my side of the family, I can’t figure out whether to laugh hysterically at the idea, or to flee. It would be tense, surfacey, “religious” and sad. It might even end with anger and accusations and more bitterness than before.

I don’t know how my extended family’s situation will ever change, except that the God we all believe in is a resurrecting God. He knows how to bring life where there has been death. And He’s been known to shine brilliant light where there has been suffocating darkness. I don’t know what to do except to ask Him again to have His way with our small, needy and estranged family.

And to please make us more like Michael’s big and crazy family.

I would not be a blessed member of Michael’s big and crazy family if not for this beautiful woman:

Her name is Yvonne, and she’s Michael’s youngest aunt. Do you see how loving, accepting and nurturing she looks? She’s all those things, and more.

In 1976 I was married to my first husband and living on Beale AFB in Northern California. I met Yvonne there when I was 19 and she was 32, because her sweet daughters Celeste and Kathleen (then 9 and 7) came to my back door and we got to know each other. Yvonne took me under her wing and became a patient friend and example to me. It was at this time and because of Yvonne that I first heard about and desired the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

As military families do, we each eventually moved on. My husband, little daughter and I moved to Germany, and I believe Yvonne’s husband Frank got orders to North Dakota. But we continued to exchange letters and call once in a while. Little did I know in 1976 that in a few short years my marriage would suddenly end, and that Yvonne was one of the friends I would turn to for prayer.

It’s a long story, and if you’re interested you can read the poem I wrote about it by clicking here.

Now Yvonne and I are in the same family. Three days ago on July 4th, I looked into her lovely eyes and it hit me afresh. I am married to her nephew and have been for 31 years. I live in Minnesota because of her.

I have experienced life with a small, composed and ultimately estranged family, and life with a big, crazy and loving family. I love them both so much.

But only one has made me feel like I can breathe, be myself, and experience unconditional acceptance and love. God surely knew that I would need a place to heal and grow, and I thank Him for planting me here. When I reach the end of my earthly life, if I could be half as kind and loving as so many in Michael’s extended family are, I would die a happy woman. I’m not there yet, but spending time with folks like these keeps me moving in the right direction.


  1. Su Lee says:

    I was so touched by your blog today and i agree wholeheartedly. Big and crazy beats small and estranged hands down. Going through a similar family situation right now I am remembering all the crazy family picnics with my moms family in Pennsylvania. Living in So Cal my parents and I would travel by train every other summer to visit our own version of “wacky”. It was a ball and I remember it as if it were only yesterday instead of 45 years ago. Unlike you and your lovely daughter, the 4th of July has always been my favorite holiday and I love celebrating it even though with our current situation our shindig looks slightly different. Still God continues to give me hope that someday I might be rolling out my red white and blue bunting again. I send kisses to Michael’s aunt Yvonne – I live here in beautiful Minnesota because she prayed for you all those years ago! Love to you Julie- Su

  2. Just Julie says:

    Oh my goodness! Thank you for commenting Su! I am so blessed. And I know you understand what I’ve written, as you expressed so well about your own experiences. I hope Yvonne reads this and gets your kisses, dear Su….

  3. Julie says:

    I wonder if the key is big? My Dad hailed from a family of 10! His parents weren’t healthy and the kids, from a very early age, turned over their paychecks to help support the family. That side of my family is still close. It is wonderful to get together with them.

    I am praying for crazy but still close — right now, I don’t know that we will make it.

  4. Just Julie says:

    I wonder also if big families just learn how to get alone and make way for one another better than small families, Julie. I pray this minute for you and your family….blessings on you….

  5. Ganeida says:

    I have a big, goofy, outrageous, loving madhouse of a family. They’re the best! 😀

  6. Just Julie says:

    You are blessed, Ganeida… xxoo

  7. Kay in UK says:

    Growing up, my mum didn’t encourage family or friends to visit. The only person I can remember visiting on a weekly basis was my mum’s mum, my grandmother. Grannie Beattie was very warm and loving and I enjoyed her visits. But apart from that, we didn’t really see anyone else. I was never allowed to have schoolfriends home for tea and the only time I had a birthday party was when I was seven and mum was in hospital. My two grandmothers arranged it for me and I was delighted – I felt like a princess. My mother still doesn’t like to mix and rarely will she leave her home.
    I suppose I’m recounting all this because I believe it’s why I have problems assimilating into extended family gatherings now that I’m married to Alan (who is one of five). I hate feeling so uncomfortable because Alan enjoys big gatherings with his family and I just know that I’m missing out.
    Are most of Michael’s family Christians? If so, I suppose it must help a lot. On both sides of our joint families, there are only four Christians – Alan & I and our daughter & son-in-law.
    Btw, Yvonne looks far, far too young to be Michael’s aunt!

  8. Just Julie says:

    Yes, Michael’s family are strong believers, Kay. Of course that would make a difference in their love and bonds. But then again, my family are all believers too. Oh dear….such a complicated mess. I know He knows how to fix messes, though. God bless you and Alan…

  9. Helen in Switzerland says:

    Aaaaaahhhh what a lovely post – and how lucky you and Michael are to have all those lovely relatives!

  10. Just Julie says:

    Thank you so much dear Helen… xxoo

  11. Patty says:

    I have to say that for someone who is not fond of the 4th of July, it appears that you had an amazing day!

    Hoping on this Monday morning that there is a Shamrock to make your day ‘soonish’. (Yarnisa speak)

  12. Just Julie says:

    We are hoping for a Shamrock showing soonish too Patty! xxoo

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