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

 

A Messy World

I am a self-confessed news junkie. I read the news multiple times during the day. I can not explain the obsession, especially these days when almost everything we read is negative. Our community, our country and our world have become angry and messy. How did we get here?

My mother was recently traveling internationally and just missed the attack in Brussels. When she had made this trip previously, she made connections in Brussels. By the grace of God, that was not the case this time. When I read the news that morning I did not know where she was on her route and messages started pouring in from her friends asking where she was. Why is it that attacks or bombings are nearly expected now? How did we get here? Where do we turn?

Yesterday, tragedy struck my hometown. A pedestrian was crossing the street and was fatally wounded by a truck. Guess how I found out? People were complaining on social media that traffic was at a stand still. Really? Really?? I am so stinking sorry your day was slowed. This victim’s family is also at a complete stand still and I would assume the same for the driver. I will not cast judgment on how the accident occurred nor where the blame may rest. What I saw were a lot of people commenting about how their day was interrupted when a horrific tragedy occurred. How did we get here? Where do we turn?

Many of my readers are aware that my father in law had a major health set back 3 months ago. He went in for routine elective knee replacement surgery (I will never use the word routine and surgery in the same sentence again, alas this is what the doctors called it). Minutes into the surgery his heart stopped. This was anything but routine and you bet your bottom dollar we would not have elected this! God showed His grace and we have our father in law with us today. It took weeks of rehabilitation and a second surgery weeks later to complete the knee replacement. This never should have happened, but it did. How did we get here? Where do we turn?

A month ago, my Uncle suffered a paralyzing stroke. He lives in Germany so communication can be difficult given the time differences and language barriers with doctors. Thanks to FaceTime and texting we have been able to keep up with his progress through his children. He is weak, but more determined than ever to get well. He is even walking with some assistance and a crutch for balance. How did we get here? Where do we turn?

When confronted with difficulty, confusion, tragedy and just plain messiness what are we to do? How can we find the sense to move forward, inhale another breath, or choose to find something to focus on that makes this world better for someone else? I could not have faced my own life’s tests without a loving God who begs me to focus on him. How did we get here? Well, sometimes it is free will. Sometimes it is dumb luck. Sometimes it is completely by accident and sometimes it is just the perfect storm. Regardless, we can not control the situations that come our way. We can control how we respond. I believe we must turn our focus on Christ. No, He will not offer answers to every situation. He will not tell us why tragedy strikes and why accidents happen, but He will love us through it when we ask Him to. Over the years I have become a worrier and a fearful person. I know fear is not from God and I have to ask each day that He give me courage. When nothing in this world makes sense and we begin to walk in the “world of me” our eyes are blinded and we have lost our focus on the One that matters. When I keep my eyes on the One,  I don’t need to worry about me, my husband, my children, my family or my friends. When I remain resolved to give it all to God then He knows my heart.

I can not fix the tragedies that keep happening in this messy world. I also can not keep up with the bad news, regardless of how many times a day I open the news apps. I do know that last week we celebrated Easter, and that is where I turn, and that is where I will keep turning. Jesus rose and left an empty tomb so that we might have hope. Was I there? Nope. Did I see the empty tomb? Nope. Have I seen His miracles in situations and people I know because they trust in Jesus? Oh you better believe it! I have no bone in my body that wants to see any more of this messy world. I wish our world was not where it seems to be these days. I do, however,  know to Whom I turn and His love will cover me, guide me and protect me.

© Copyright Gatewood Campbell, April 2016

A Minute Equals a Lifetime

It has been more than a quick minute since I sat down to this blank screen to share. Over the last couple of months I have pondered the meaning and usefulness of this blog. If it serves nothing more than an avenue for me to throw caution to the wind and speak…as if I don’t do that on a daily basis…it is worthwhile.

Six and a half weeks ago I regained my driving privileges. Twenty two months ago I lost that. Do you know the county in which I live? New roads! New highways! Closed roads! New roundabouts! Can I tell you that the gas pumps are far more complicated now than they were 2 years ago? I wish all of you could have seen me pumping gas for the first time! It was comical in ways I can not describe! This week I refilled my tank without any issues and I was so excited I wanted to dance a jig at the gas tank. I wanted to shout to everyone that I figured it out. Alas, I realized people may think I was crazier than I really am, so I celebrated quietly…but I celebrated!

A month ago I realized my life changing accident had been more than 10 years ago. I look at my 12 year old, almost tall enough to look me eye to eye, and I recall looking at him just 16 months old and wondering how to move on. My oldest, now 17, was only 7, and in the first grade. We wrestled with how he might adjust to our changes. The morning of my accident I went and read a book to his classroom. It is engrained in my memory. I can recall all those innocent eyes looking into mine and waiting for each word. For the record, that teacher was the most incredible teacher my oldest ever had. Another sign that God’s hand was on our family. To this day when I see her, she calls my oldest by name and asks how he is doing. God’s plans, not ours.

Today I am registering that young man for housing at the college of his choice. Life has moved forward regardless of the obstacles that showed up. My son is writing his senior exit project about epilepsy, the treatment, the stigma and how life goes on. We have all grown in ways I can not describe because of this illness. I continue to see how my own health has opened the eyes of my children in ways I could not have taught them. They have learned by experience to show love, compassion and acceptance. These are traits I am glad my children exhibit.

Life goes on. In wealth, in health, in sickness and in death. Life goes on. What matters is that our foundation is firm. My foundation is in Jesus Christ. He is the creator and author of my life. Each day I must wake up and submit to His will for me. I must make the choice to trust in Him and only Him. He knows that I have a long list of reasons why I can not trust doctors! So I have to trust Him. Many days I awake forgetting to rest in Him. Those days spin right, left, up and down. I am reminded…in whom do I trust?

After nearly two years of seclusion I was not really ready to be thrust back into the world. I have had a bit of a culture shock. Over the weeks I have realized this, and begun to take things as they come, and as stupid as they come. I am not offended by those that beep their horn at me or give me the finger. “Move along” is what I say.

Before I was back on the road we had some rather large bumps that our family continues to work through each day. It serves as a blessed reminder to me to slow down and enjoy the road that I am allowed to travel. Today as I read my devotional, the first words said “Trust Me one day at a time…..Exert your will to trust Me in all circumstances. Don’t let your need to understand distract you from My presence.” I felt like a kid in the Presbyterian church and felt the need to close my book and bow my head repeating “this is the word of our Lord. Amen.” The devotion continued and reminded us that God equips us for each day, one day at a time and we will live in victory. “Trust Me one day at a time.”

This I must remind myself daily…trust in MY Lord one day at a time. I need not worry  about tomorrow because it will worry for itself. I must tell myself every day to lean on Him, share my worries with Him and He will carry me to the next day.

Thank you to those of you following my blog, praying for my family and praying for all good things to come to us. I am thankful for each of you as you are my adopted family willing to listen to my heart’s cry.

Copyright © March, 2016 Gatewood Campbell