By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Barclay Simmons first noticed Shawn Campbell and her five children at Valleydale Church in 2006. A single parent with two kids, he noted that she was both attractive and had no wedding ring on her finger. Barclay began to look for her every Sunday and hope for an opportunity to talk to her. He wrote his phone number on a business card and carried it in his Bible for months, just in case they were to meet.
Little did Barclay know that Shawn lived a few streets over from him in Brook Highland or that her husband had left her the same month in 2004 that his wife had passed away. Little did he know that he would marry her five years later.
Shawn was not interested in dating and was determined to tell Barclay no when he finally found a mutual acquaintance to introduce them. Little did she know that he was the man in her neighborhood she had been praying for after she heard his wife had passed away, or that he was the answer to her children’s nightly prayer for a new dad for themselves and husband for their mom.
“They knew better than I did,” Shawn said. “Their prayers really changed my heart. God was planning this all along. We just had to wait on his timing.”
Finally, Shawn’s oldest daughter, Kayla, convinced her to go to lunch with Barclay. Kayla even picked out her outfit and coached her in what to say.
On their first lunch date at Prairie Fire Grille, both Shawn and Barclay say they were shy. Neither had been on a date in years. Still, conversation flowed smoothly.
So struck was Barclay by Shawn’s engaging and compelling personality that he sent her a thank you note for lunch in the mail.
“I was really impressed by that,” Shawn said.
Still, they had their differences.
He is an engineer. She was a teacher. He had no pets. She had two dogs, two cats and two rabbits. He had always encouraged his children to read and appreciate art and culture. Her kids were always outside hanging in the trees.
“He colors inside the lines,” Shawn said. “My kids and I have always colored outside the lines. It’s a funny mixture, but we bring out a different side of each other. We combined two worlds, but the neat thing is it works.”
Barclay and Shawn dated on and off for several years. Each time they took a break, the kids would prod their respective parent to see the other again.
At last, the two married this Christmas Eve. The ceremony was simple with their kids standing around them after Valleydale’s candlelight service. Then all nine of them returned home together to eat a meal as a new family.
“Our story is a great testimony that God can take two broken hearts and mend them,” Shawn said.
On any given day, there are 10-12 kids at the Simmons house jumping on the trampoline or riding bikes.
Some nights Barclay and the kids have spontaneous hip hop parties in the kitchen while Shawn cooks dinner. They all eat dinner together most nights. Shawn doubles her recipes, wowing Barclay with her Gouda Cheese Grits and her Chicken and Rice, but there are never any leftovers.
The couple added onto Barclay’s house before Shawn and her kids moved in. Still, most of the time they all end up in the same room.
It’s the home Shawn has always dreamed of, a house full of love and laughter. And it’s certainly never boring.
“Even the small things, like getting ice cream with everyone, are exciting,” Shawn said. “It’s like an instant party.”
Barclay’s kids, Katherine (16) and Jack (12), consider Shawn their mom, and Shawn’s kids, Kayla (21), Sarah Wesleigh (17), Grace (14), Hallie (10) and Collin (9), consider Barclay their dad. All the kids argue like brothers and sisters and defend one another like brothers and sisters.
“It’s been much easier (combining our families) than you would think,” Shawn said. “A huge part of us has always been with the kids. If it wasn’t going to work for them, it wasn’t going to work for us.”
Shawn said it’s a blessing for her kids to see a man be so kind-hearted, and Barclay said it’s a blessing for his son and daughter to have such a stylish yet grounded woman as an example.
Seven years ago when Shawn turned 40, she made a list of all the things she wanted to do in life before she died. She wanted to love and be loved, to laugh more, to go on picnics and to go camping more. When she found this list years later, she realized she had already done all of these things with Barclay.
“Now we have to start a new list,” she said.
First on the list, before the home on the water and the trip to Napa Valley, is a spring honeymoon and decorating the den they built to spend together, without kids.
“We’ll see how long that lasts,” they said with a laugh.