In Case You Didn’t Know

College freshman. Is my kid ready? Did I remember everything? Did they pack what I told them to?Will they wash their clothes? Will they wash their sheets? Did I get the right meal plan?Can they cook enough to sustain life? Do they have enough money for supplies? Will they go to bed at a reasonable hour? Will they get to class on time? Will their roommate want to grow drugs in the closet? Will they get something pierced?? Will they get a tattoo???

I am one year outside of all these questions, and a few more. Was I a wreck like many of you last year? Yep. Was I lost without my son for a bit getting used to his empty room? Yep. Did I miss the sound of his drums blasting throughout the house and shaking the windows? Yep. Was it the right thing to let him go and find the power to propel his own wings into flight? Yep.

To my mama and daddy friends as you tearfully, or maybe joyfully, pack up your kids, reluctantly releasing them into a new world, I want you to listen in to something very important. In case you didn’t know, YA DONE GOOD!

From the time kids enter our world we work tirelessly to make life the best it can be for them. We have dreams of all kinds for them. We get lost in the drama of each school year, worrying over signing reading logs, math excel, red cups during lunch, the premier of the recorder or wondering why no kid ever sees the bottom of their backpack. Then our top dog falls on the bottom of the pole again, trying to figure out combination locks, sharing a locker with someone who butterflies the lock, changing classes, elective courses, new classmates, selecting your own lunch and mom saying you can’t spend $10 on one meal. Blink three times and pat your head once. High school. Mom will be all over your case about grades and what one letter on a report card means. Blink once and touch your toes. Hold it there because they are about to start driving and we need extra blood in our brains to maintain calm. Blink two more times and pat your own back. Your child worked hard their senior year, on their senior projects, at their job, on college applications, suffered the agony of the SAT, the ACT and thrill or perhaps the agony of college acceptance or rejections. It is ok. All those little moments that seemed so bigly are now bits of a larger puzzle that is coming together beautifully.

In case you didn’t know, please remind yourself that you have taught your child well. Your child is ready because you lovingly and sacrificially placed each piece of their puzzle of life together to create a glorious tapestry. In case you didn’t know, your child appreciates all that you have done.

Now blink once and hold your breath for 10 seconds.

Did time stand still? Aw dang! We try so hard to make time stand still when our kids are young. In case you didn’t know, you gave them the courage to fly. Now, if no one is looking it’s okay to give yourself a giant hug, before you grab the kleenex and pack the car.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, August 2017

 

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Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day

I don’t know why her death remains so hard for me to digest. Was it her smile, her wicked sense of humor, her facial expressions that told an entire story in one second, her never-ending need for a bed made up perfectly, her special love language with Hunter, her stubborn ways, her secret stash, her days spent reading the newspaper cover to cover or perhaps her special friendship that we discovered? I imagine it is all of these things and so much more. I just miss her.

This week I had a dream and my grandmother, known to our family as Emmer, was still alive. She was walking, without the aid of a walker, she stood a bit straighter and her hair was a little bit darker. At first glance, I did not recognize her, then she called my name. That deep voice with a southern twist was unmistakable. “Gatewood?” I fixed my eyes on her. She nodded her head and assured me I wasn’t seeing a ghost. She had just been gone awhile to get better. She was holding a bouquet of flowers and held them out for me to take. She said “Happy Mother’s Day” and I stared at her with tear-filled eyes.

I started waking up and was in that in between stage when you realize you are dreaming and coming to, but you just don’t want to leave the dream. My brain was fighting with my heart. I kept telling myself that this was a dream. The happiness I felt at the mere thought she was alive was something I could not let go of. I wanted to get out of that in between phase and dive back beneath the surface, where I could see Emmer. I remembered she would be 101 years old now and there was no way this was real. In that moment, nothing could stop me from reaching her again. I wanted to feel her presence and soak it in. I must have channeled her stubborn ways, because once again I was with her. We were sitting and talking. It was as if I were floating over my own body and Emmer and I hovered watching a conversation filled with happy tears, sad tears and a lot of her story telling, and rather opinionated facial expressions. And then it was over.

My alarm woke me up. For a split second I felt a smile on my face because I knew Emmer was alive. Gloom smacked me out of it and I realized it was a dream. I felt her loss all over again and it was intense. I almost felt angry that my dream had been so real that it made me grieve her death again.

Later in the day, as my mind continued to recall the images of my dream, I found peace. My peace came from knowing, in my innermost core, that I could not have those vivid dreams had we not had a deeply honest and genuine relationship. Sure we were blood, but blood doesn’t always connect you. What I realized was that my connection to her is just as strong today as it was when she died four years ago. Somewhere, deep down, I guess I just needed to know that she is still here for me when I need her.

Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day Emmer. MUAH!

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, May 2017

 

Wounds

We all have wounds. Some are visible, while others run so long and so deep we think we have dealt with them. Then, the unexpected pops up and all the hurt runs hot and red all over again. In these moments I begin to understand wounds in a different way.

Coming off of Easter we remembered the brutal wounds and torture Jesus endured. As death was overcoming “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do'” (Luke 23:34). Jesus had wounds I can not fathom. He endured suffering that I can not imagine, no matter how many times I read about the crucifixion. I will not know the suffering Jesus took on as “He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit'” (Luke 24:46). Jesus took wounds and scars for me. This makes my head spin. More importantly, this was for all of us. There is so much to take away from the crucifixion.

If you don’t have some wounds, please call me, because I want to know your secret. I have yet to meet anyone without a deep wound, born by our own freewill, born by someone we trusted, born by someone we least expected, born by someone who didn’t intend hurt but scratched the scab we thought was heeled or someone who is still walking in sin. Truth is, each one of us has the potential to hurt others because we are human. We will fall back into sinful ways, no matter our faith, because we are human. If we are seeking Christ in our daily walk, then we may catch it through His guidance and walk back looking to Christ. Sometimes the hurt is unintentional. I believe that everyone walks around with a history of hurts. The change happens when we deal with those hurts. I am a work in progress. I remember the cross. Jesus forgave those who hurt Him. He wants me to forgive those who do not know (perhaps because they do not know they have scraped the scab).

I have wounds and try as I may, I am human. In my human sinful body, it is impossible to overcome my pains without asking Jesus every single day to help me. Like a strike of lightning, in a flash, things happen that take me back to my wounds. In that moment, I realize, though I may have mentally decided that book is closed, it is reopened and the emotions and hurt rise to my surface. I can sense moving to unhealthy thoughts and decisions. Warped as my brain is, these moments bring me back to the cross, learning daily how Jesus forgave, what we think as unforgivable and He loved.

I am no expert on walking with Christ. I am still a student. Sure, I worked with the local church for over a decade, but in many ways I was too secure. My security in Christ and my need for Him to be part of me each and every day was not tested as it is now as I adventure into the world. I need Him more each day and I must ask Him each day to forgive me of my sin of holding on to hurts.

I am a visual learner.  We have friends in our church who use sign language as they sing. When they sign “Jesus” they take their middle fingers to the palm of each hand. It strikes me every single time. Jesus Christ took wounds which run from the palm of His hands to his heart. He died on the cross without anger. He asked us to forgive.

I’m working on complete forgiveness, but I think it means that I make the scab visible so that I am reminded that I must actively forgive every single day. In that, I believe my wounds begin to heal. This is the hope to which I cling as I seek him. Every. Single. Day.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, April 2017

 

 

Where Did the Year Go?

Sitting here in my quiet house watching with my sweet yorkie by my side, watching my son’s new puppy chew on a bone and my mind wanders. For two years I was in this house alone, kids at school, somewhat limited by my inability to drive and a quiet house was common. This last year has been crazy busy. Now though, it is not so common to be in a quiet space and it feels uncomfortable. It is a change I didn’t anticipate.

Exactly one year ago, I was admitted to Duke Hospital in the seizure monitoring unit. My meds were stopped and I was hooked up to video EEG and a heart monitor. We were there to wait for a seizure. I can still smell the chemicals they used to glue the 30 some odd leads to my head. YUCK! I carried around a battery pack for the heart monitor and the leads from my head were gathered into a gauze wrapped ponytail permanently attached to an electrical panel in the wall. When I say permanent, I mean permanent. I could not leave the room for the entire stay. I could go to the bathroom in privacy but someone had to be with me at all times waiting for and documenting any seizure like activity. I played games with the video camera and moved around the room to see if it followed me. Usually it did. At night they were a little slower. I think they were napping. I was a pretty low key patient. The nurses only did vitals every four hours because we were just there to wait for a seizure. And wait we did. After nine days in the world’s smallest hospital room I learned some things. Generic ginger ale is pretty good if served over ice, hospital food needs lots of salt and pepper, always place your meal order early, hospital wifi is spotty, you can fry an iPad if you put it on a heart monitor battery pack, EEG readings are messed up if you hold a charging iPad or iPhone, Netflix is the bomb, Big Brother and Below Deck are fantastic time passers, showers are NOT overrated, glue in your hair is nasty, my marriage is solid because survived 9 days in one room, nurses are too loud at night and keep patients awake, I can actually stay awake for 24 straight hours and then only take a brief nap all in the name of bringing on a seizure, bed side manner is everything when it comes to loving a nurse, never ever pass up friends who offer to bring you food from the outside world and I don’t ever want to go through any of that again. I also have an amazing mother who came and lived with my sons while my husband stayed with me. Friends provided daily meals for two straight weeks while I was gone and after we came home. Though the tests were somewhat inconclusive, we learned what the right meds are and they have served me well for the last year.

At the beginning of February, I got my wheels back! After two years off the road, I jumped back in with both feet. My father in law had undergone surgery for a total knee replacement in early January. Unfortunately the surgery had to be stopped because his heart stopped. Doctors worked quickly and God jump started his heart but it began a long journey with new and unexpected trials. He was away from home, in and out of hospitals and rehab centers for 2 months after having to undergo a second surgery to finish the knee replacement. That man is a fighter and his wife is the toughest gal on the block. His healing continues each day and we have all been adapting to a new normal. He has mostly good days now. Never take good health for granted. We never know what may be next. And I would add, I can be a serious force to be reckoned with when it comes to healthcare for my father in law.

Life changes so quickly and it can happen in so many ways. This spring my mom decided it was time to complete her retirement plan and move to the mountains permanently. This meant selling her home. It wasn’t just her home though, it was the home her parents built  in 1957. It was the family home. Sorting, trashing, keeping, selling, packing, hauling, shipping…yep we did it all. Some days I was on task and some days I tearfully sorted and tried to fight off my tendency to hold onto things for sentimental reasons. I reminded myself that my treasure box of memories is in my head and that never leaves me. We had a yard sale and I laughed each time someone picked something up and my mom told them the story behind it. Mom traveled all over the world for about 25 years. She has millions of things from her trips, not really but sometimes it felt like it. When she tried explaining the Spirit House that she bought and carried all over Taipei, or the walking  stick handle she got in Afghanistan, people looked at her like she had just jumped off the moon. I don’t think one person believed any of the crazy origins she spilled. The funniest part is that everything was true. When Johnny and I loaded the last box to take to donate he spotted something and asked if I was sure I wanted to let it go. I said “I have touched every single one of these things at least five times so if it got here I’m not changing my mind.” I guess that is how moves should go. My mind needed to come to the realization that it was time to let go of a structure and the things that were in it. Those walls surrounded love and now it will be the foundation for a new family to build memories and perhaps hang some artifacts from their own travels. Let’s be honest, at the end of the day, the thing we will all miss the most is the prime parking spot!

College. Say it ain’t so! The time came much faster than I ever knew it could. My son packed up totes, snacks, mattress egg crate and off he went. Boys are so easy! It only took us two loads and he was in his 10’x15′ corner room. I think I over prepared because I didn’t cry until about a week after he left, and that was one ugly cry. Maybe I was in shock. It is SO quiet in the afternoons at home because there is no drumming! The laundry loads are much smaller and I have not quite figured out how much food to make when I am not feeding an 18 year old man. It took me about a week of glancing into his room to not feel overwhelmed with his absence. Partially because I can text him anytime I want, but maybe because much like letting go of my mom’s house, his walls surrounded love and talent that can be passed on. Watching him venture off to a new place with new experiences is like sharing a house with another family and letting them have the gift of a solid foundation. We hope Justin has the foundation to successfully bloom into whatever he is passionate about. He was home this weekend and we were walking through a store and I spotted a toy he had when he was little. He immediately remembered it and continued talking about all the different things he made with it. My heart was so full because I felt final peace that we are all right where we are supposed to be. He holds the same memories and they bring him joy. He is living out each moment, as we all are, to the best that we know, by faith, trusting that the decisions we make are guided by what God knows will be best for us.

As I think back on this past year it makes sense that it went by so quickly. We were going through a lot of motions and a lot of emotions. I have been relearning how to be active and mobile again. I giggle when I read my blog title “Embracing Change” because it seems like I’m always being forced to do that. Truly, I’m so fortunate, so very very fortunate.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, September 2016

Ready, Not Ready

Like millions of mothers and fathers all over the world, I find myself totally elated and completely overwhelmed by a swollen heart and tear-filled eyes as I think about my son, a college freshman, getting ready to leave home. I am so ready and so not ready for this.

Seriously, can you ever actually be ready to loosen your grip on your child and let them start the next chapter? I’m feeling like it may only be possible to be ready after you have already let go. I think it should not come naturally. All his days, weeks and years are the foundation for the next step. We can’t be beside him this time. Instead we are behind him, hopeful, prayerful and mindful that he is smart and we trust him to be wise. Oh, the places you will go. OH, THE PLACES YOU WILL GO! Yes, he is a high school graduate, he can vote and he can be drafted but he will always be my son. No, he is not a baby and certainly does not want nor need to be spoon fed anything, but when my mind wanders to what our home will be like in a month…sigh. When our youngest was a baby and started walking we used to knock him down. True story. Oh yes, we were excited parents and we were proud, but we knew once they start walking they keep going and growing up so fast! Just like so many other areas of life, we work hard to get to a certain point and when we are on the verge of that cliff the last step can be the toughest.

He is ready and I know that. This is his time and I am the same excited and proud parent ready to see what his future holds. But golly I’m not ready for his empty room, his silent drums nor his brother missing the wrestling matches, front yard baseball games and pick up basketball.

I think ready, not ready is right where I should be. We do all that we can to prepare them for this time, but there are certainly no how to books for watching them go. As I remind him frequently, no matter how old he is, he will always be my son. Ready or not, I can hang on to that grip forever. So I guess it is time to say “Ready, Set, Go!” and then I can hide my eyes and dry my tears once more.

Copyright Gatewood Campbell, July 2016

Changing Clothes

Yep, it is that time of the year! Graduation! My son said recently he thought the year would go by very slowly and he could not believe how fast it went! I have held my emotions in check pretty well, remaining so thankful to have the opportunity to celebrate this occasion. I have been overwhelmed with gratitude that Justin has the chance to get a first class education, close to home and complete high school. We are thrilled that he will start college this fall. We are incredibly fortunate to have a son who has worked hard to get to this point.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove past the high school and many kids had dismissed after exams. Hundreds of kids flooded the sidewalks. As I looked at them chatting, texting, checking their phones for goodness knows what… the floodgates opened. I realized my son would not be on the sidewalk next year because the time has come for him to move on. Holy moly! Where have I been the last 13 years? I thought back to his “Star Student” day in Kindergarten when he wrote a book about himself and I got to come share class time with him. I remembered his beloved first grade teacher, Ms. Loeffler, and going to read a book he had chosen for his class. It was a Tuesday morning. That afternoon I fell in Target. After that our family reevaluated what was important in life and soon after I became a stay at home mom. I will never forget the complete joy Justin had the first day he got off the bus at home and not at after school care. This, yes this, these times helped to mold and shape him into the young man he is today.

I remember so well finding out I was pregnant with Justin. Like all new parents, we set up the nursery with carefully chosen furniture, colors and bedding. We had waited so so long for this beautiful child. I lost a baby before Justin and we prayed for a very long time that God would give us another. We did not find out whether I was having a boy or girl and we kept our name selections a secret too. I will never regret the joy my husband experienced surprising everyone in the waiting room after 11pm with news that our boy had been born. We passed him off to my grandmother as the first to hold him. She deserved it having blown off a bridge game to be at the hospital when her first great grandchild arrived. We announced his name, Justin, because we liked it and middle name Willis after his paternal great grandfather. I could not wait to put this precious soul into his carefully selected going home outfit, with cap and socks of course. Someone probably should have told me a mid July baby won’t have issues retaining body temp, but the outfit had to be complete, right? You must have a cap and socks to match! The clothes mattered so much!

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I don’t want to belabor the point that this chapter has come to a close. I want to celebrate this victory and the next chapter that he begins. Like so many of you, we are remembering with joyful tears the years that have passed and are ready (not ready) to move on to the next chapter. I am in my living room now listening to my son drum. In a few months his room  will not be so loud and we will miss that. We are also incredibly thankful that a plan is unfolding for his next steps. In the meantime, his drums, oh how his drums beginning in the 6th grade emerged as his passion. Blame it on me I reckon. I insisted he take band to learn to read music. Now he is writing music and playing in two bands and touring to different venues in NC to play. He was the baby for which we prayed, the child for which we prayed and now the young man for which we prayed. Last fall he sweated bullets as he diligently worked on college applications. Apply early folks! It will save you so much agony during Christmas and keep you out of the general application pool! We anxiously awaited letters in February. Mom brag moment…he was 3 for 3 on college apps! He was thrilled to accept the invite from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte as his first choice. Dorm life awaits, and mom made scrambled eggs and coffee for breakfast do not. (Giggle giggle)

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We traded in the carefully chosen baby clothes for an equally prayed over and carefully selected cap and gown (not really… Herff Jones still owns the rights to all graduation gear. That is the only thing the same since I graduated back in the ice age.) My tears flow because I am thankful that my son is experiencing this precious step in his life. I am proud of him. I am proud that he loves his brother unconditionally and his mom and dad unconditionally. I am proud that he took care of me so many times when I could not. I am proud that he took care of his brother when I could not. I am proud that he has successfully held down a job to pay for his own expenses from the time he could drive. I am proud he has kept school as a priority and maintained good grades. I am proud because he just knows what he needs to do and will step in and do it. As life took detours, I am proud that he used his life experiences and dedicated his senior exit project to the need for more epilepsy awareness and government funding. I am proud that he has discovered his passion through music and has found a way to share himself with the world! Above all else, I am proud that he has Jesus front and center in his life and is not ashamed to share his faith in Jesus Christ.

We will miss him next year in ways I can not begin to fathom. Support meetings may be necessary. I am as proud as the day he was born. God gave us this child and this child has given us so much more than we ever could have imagined.

To my son…You were so little when you were born and your sweet yellow outfit was way too big for you. Your clothes have changed since the day you were born and we are just as thankful today to see you in your cap and gown that you earned. Yes, the cap does indeed matter, even if in the heat of mid June, you need the cap! Your cap and very long gown await your 6’3″ body. My heart is so full because I am so excited for the world to get to meet the person we know as our son. The time has come to open the doors to your world and share you. This isn’t closing a chapter. It is just the beginning and I am honored that you call me Mom…

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, June 2016

Free to be Me?

True confessions now. I struggle with identity issues.

When I first married 20 years ago I told my husband I wanted to do something that mattered. He giggled and pointed out that everyone wants that. But I had a deep sense that I needed to do something that would personally touch people right where they needed it. I worked in non profit for 12 years and found great pleasure in my daytime routine. While working we had two children. I took, and still do, immense pleasure in being a wife and a mom to my family.

And then…well you know the rest of the story. I worked through several stints of rehab to regain the mental capacities that I once had. Much of my brain and personality remained intact, for better or for worse. But there were marked deficiencies, which over time became more prevalent. I am still one smart cookie, and am pretty sharp, but not as sharp as a tack. I find myself getting on a roll with a task or thought and then my brain screams “WHOA! STOP” and I’m back to square one. I could no longer work effectively and I focused my time on my family. Wife and mom first. I had a new identity and with a preschooler and an elementary aged child, they absolutely needed me.

As the children got older and were both in school, it was clear that my grandmother needed me. For eight years I cared for anything and everything that made her quality of life the best we could given that her quantity was just about forever (as she would say). I hardly had the time to adjust to life without her when my seizures showed their ugly side. I found myself the epileptic, at home. I struggled with how to effectively be a mom and a wife when I was house bound.

While at home I struggled enough with my own health, keeping up with the children’s schedules, arranging rides and transportation for all of us. I never stopped to realize that my role was shifting. I think my desire to work in non profit lingered but those doors were closed. I still yearned to make a difference outside my own walls but I was hindered by my health and by the personality changes that occurred from my brain injury.

When I started driving a few months ago, I hit the ground running. My husband warned me to slow down, but I’m very stubborn. I tried to tackle 2 years of errands and activities into two weeks. Bad plan. The proverbial wall? Yes, I met it head on. Yes, he was right, it was time to slow down and pace myself.

After all these years I am just beginning to come to terms with who I have become and who I will continue to grow into. I have mourned the loss of who I once was and worked to try to be that person again. I have felt broken. But that is not to be. That is not what God intended. There are certain situations in which I will never, ever be comfortable. I force myself to stretch because I believe I should not give up, but I am learning that I should not pretend.

This afternoon I was listening to the radio and the words “I want you as you are, not as you ought to be. Won’t you lay down your guard and come to me? … It breaks my heart to see you suffering… I am for you, I’m not against you… Don’t think you need to settle for a substitute when I’m the only love that changes you… Open your heart, It’s time that we start again.” BAM! I saw myself in those lyrics. I have worked so hard to be something I am not, and to figure out what my place is. I have never really fit any mold (shocker), yet I tried to make myself fit. God’s love is large enough to love me where I am and just as I am. He has never asked me to be something I can not be. His plan for my life is His, and He will give me the abilities that I need to accomplish what He desires. It probably should not have taken me nearly 11 years to learn this, and maybe I knew it deep down but it finally surfaced.

I don’t know where you may be. I don’t know the struggles and immense heartache you have faced. But this I know, God’s hand has never stopped being on my life. Often it takes me years to understand, and some things I may never fully understand. God will protect me as long as I keep focusing on Him and trusting Him. God is for me. He is not against me. My identity is in Christ. He wants me to be me, whether I am comfortable with that each day, He is. At the end of the day, if I can stand tall and be confident as the person God created, a label of identity is simply not important. God has already given me His stamp of approval allowing me the freedom to be me.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, April 2016