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

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Three Little Words

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Not so. Yesterday a lady said three little words to me and I was floored. It wasn’t until the middle of the night that I realized why I was so overcome with emotion that three words had put me on a roller coaster that had no brakes.

After my diagnosis, once we realized what we were dealing with, brain injury, epilepsy etc, I started speech therapy with my AMAZING therapist Heather. I worked hard on vocalizing what I needed. Communication was hard so we did a lot of role playing and I practiced; 1. Understanding what I needed to be successful in daily life and 2. Vocalizing that to those around me. When I re-entered the real and working world after my diagnosis and therapy I felt stronger and I started using these strategies. For the most part I was successful. If people couldn’t understand me they worked with me to try and understand and were gracious about it. We managed to make things work and I was fairly comfortable with people knowing the status of my health, until I found out that epilepsy wasn’t so acceptable and it shut me down.

Yesterday, I needed something from someone and explained it was because I had epilepsy and she said “I don’t care.” Now there is a whole background to the story, and she has her reasoning, which is fine. (She is still wrong, but whatever, this is my blog, so my point of view). Here is my point. What those three words swelled up inside me was like a tornado of pain that I did not even know was inside me. You see, way back, when I was open and honest and told people what I needed, a couple people said those same exact three words to me. Somehow I internalized that epilepsy wasn’t ok with the rest of the world.

Those three words silenced me for years about my epilepsy. I held it a closely guarded secret, thinking people would think I was crazy or delusional. I bought into all the ridiculous stigmas that still exist today about epilepsy and I told no one about that “thing” as my grandmother called it. You see, in her generation people with epilepsy were put in institutions. It wasn’t until a friend encouraged me to start writing about it that people even close to me knew. The words of a few ill-informed people had completely rocked my identity. Yesterday when I heard “I don’t care” I was disgusted. In the middle of the night I realized it was because I felt like I was sent directly back to those moments when I expressed my needs and those people said the same words to me and I stared back in confusion. The pain, frustration, misunderstanding, helplessness, anger, sadness, loneliness, it all came flooding back in an overwhelming sea of horrible memories that took over me.

I don’t care what anyone else says, the needs of others DOES matter. PEOPLE MATTER. I am so so thankful that my village of support that is around me now knows the value of understanding, love and kindness. I am so thankful I don’t have to explain myself to those around me and that you love me for who I am, even when I am not sure who that is, or who that will be, depending on the next medicine change, Lord help us all.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, October 2014

We Are All in This Together

I have been overwhelmed by the love and support we have received since my seizure. I cannot begin to describe how my heart has swelled by your outpouring of words, deeds and more importantly honest love for our family. Thank you.

A little over eight years ago I had my first grand mal seizure. We were all surprised, desperate to learn, desperate to recover and convinced that we should keep my diagnosis to ourselves. That was wrong, but the reasons were all legitimate. People are afraid of epilepsy. Not too long ago people suffering from seizures were institutionalized, called unproductive citizens or presumed to be demon possessed. Can you imagine? I could be living and working alongside all of you and then after a seizure be forced to leave my family and spend the rest of my life over medicated and away from my family! Much like cancer, epilepsy does not discriminate. I could bore you with statistics proving the prevalence of epilepsy, but that is not my point.

I am almost embarrassed by your comments of support and love. I am not working to overcome anything more difficult than the things all of you overcome every single day. As a matter of fact, almost everyday I tell God I am thankful He gave me epilepsy and not some of the heart-wrenching difficulties that people I know face each day. YOU are overcomers! YOU are an inspiration! YOU are amazing! YOU teach me to see the sun through the shade. YOU teach me to persevere and get out of bed on days when I would rather pull up the covers until the kids get home. YOU teach me that it is right to be different, because we are all different. Life would be terribly boring if we were all the same. We must never be ashamed to be exactly the person God created. He formed us in His image. God is perfect. So, as far as I am concerned God created us all in the perfect image He desired.

Your love keeps me pressing on. Your love continues to restore my faith that humankind is good. Your love shows me we will get through the next 23 1/2 weeks and that we will be stronger. Your love proves that when we can’t walk, we are carried; by prayers, by actions and by unending support in ways we did not know we needed. Thank you for inspiring me by fighting your own battles. Thank you for teaching me that strength lies in being honest about who we are and by being unashamed of whatever “faults” we may think exist.

You are amazing, inspirational, determined and down right fantastic. Thank YOU for teaching me how to face fear and stomp on it with optimism. You are my heroes and I am eternally thankful for the stories you tell through the lives you live.

© Copyright Gatewood Campbell, December 2013

Thankful in all Circumstances

One thing I have learned is to expect the unexpected and just go with it. There is no point in wasting good energy on asking why. That question is not likely to be answered. My responsibility is to recognize the multitude of blessings we have and remain thankful, regardless of circumstances.

One week ago I was shopping in Midtown Charlotte. I had eaten a healthy lunch and wandered around the fun shops. Like all responsible citizens I used the pedestrian walkway to cross the street. I had safely crossed the right turn only lane and was waiting for the “walk” signal as I stood on the pedestrian median to cross four lanes of traffic. I don’t know if the “walk” light ever turned. I don’t know if I stepped into traffic. I DO know that God was with me.  I woke up some time later in the ER and I did NOT like having to wait on a gurney at the nurse’s station in the ER. Those that know me up close and personal might imagine that I had expressed my opinion. A busy nurse heard my plea to be moved and told me I had to stay there because I had a seizure and was being observed. My head throbbed, but something inside me giggled. Really, seriously? Right before Christmas? This is so inconvenient. I remember staring at the ceiling as if looking into God’s eyes and saying “Got it, slow down.”

As I lay there, watching people far sicker than me, be wheeled up and down the hallway for various tests while their family members sobbed, I knew I was blessed. I knew the ramifications of the seizure would be 6 months without being able to drive a car (and apparently tractors according to my doctor). I also knew that I was alive. No driving for 6 months was a very small price to pay and I felt blessed that I would walk out of the ER on my own two legs. Hours before, I was at the intersection of 5 roads, I was alone, I had blacked out during a grand mal seizure and I was still alive. Tell me God doesn’t perform miracles and I will show you an example that proves He does. Johnny arrived quickly and in the calm way he has come to deal with difficult news about his wife, he assured me I would be fine. I wanted him to call my best friend. He did and she came right away. I wanted to talk to my brother but Johnny insisted I wait to call him. Another thing I have learned is that if family is long distance you call after the storm has passed, not in the midst of the storm. I remember being overwhelmed with how fortunate I was among so much sorrow.  I also remember telling Johnny not to touch anything or we would end up catching the flu. Delirium is a funny thing. As I slowly recall different things about that day I laugh, I cry and I thank God that He was with me.

The lingering soreness of a seizure of that magnitude is pretty much gone now. I would love for someone to explain how I stretched my shoes though! No worries, someone will take me to the store to get inserts to fix that. I have 2 staples in my head to patch up some of the cuts on my head. Guess what? I am thankful for that. Recently I spent some time at the cancer center where people much younger than me, covered their hairless heads in scarves. I walked away with a new perspective in its’ rawest form. I am thankful my hair covers the scars. Thankful in all circumstances; that is indeed where I am.

I am alive. I am thankful for breath. I am thankful for no broken bones. I am not asking why. I am accepting God put me here. In a strangely awkward way I am thankful my Grandmother did not have to live through this.  It would just be so hard for her.  I am left with the life lessons she gave me. She prepared me for times such as these. She taught me to accept whatever comes my way and find a way to make the best of it. I’m a marathoner and I don’t think it is just a coincidence that 6 months is also 26 weeks and a marathon is 26 miles.  I am thankful for the opportunity to face 26 weeks and see how God shows Himself as the mighty conqueror over the next 26 weeks. I am prepared to bust through “the wall” with a force of family and friends that will break down all barriers.

I am blessed in ways I can not explain. I am thankful in ways I can not begin to explain. I am not asking God “why now” or “why me”? Instead I just want God to show me how to use this time to point others to Him. My cup overflows with thanks, in all circumstances.

© Copyright Gatewood Campbell, December 2013

Cruising Through Challenges

For the last nine years the endless blacktop has been both my friend and my enemy.

The road has welcomed me on good days and accepted me on bad days. It has challenged me to conquer distance, hills and speed. It has challenged me to channel my energies, both good and bad, into one funnel of focus. The road pushed against me when I needed it to and accepted my pounding when I needed it to. I have celebrated personal victories that I never dreamed I could achieve (or for that matter would ever dream I would want to achieve) and it never fails to summon me back. The road has wiped tears that needed to fall from the depths of my soul. The road has never judged me; there is no right or wrong as long as I offer myself. It accepts heartache and happiness. For heartache, it heals and for happiness, it celebrates. It has always returned far more than I could offer. Today was my longest run since the Philadelphia Half Marathon last November. This year there have been times I wasn’t sure I wanted the road nor was I sure the road wanted me. I wondered if it would call me back, to both love on me and to challenge me. Like all genuine friends, it was there waiting for me when I was ready.

Today I felt like I was on cruise control. Not every run feels that way, but WOW, when you are in the midst of your element and recognize it…it leaves you speechless. The weather was a runner’s dream. Apparently taco salad is pretty good fuel and the blacktop was my friend today. It was a solo run but with about ten other runners on the same course I crossed paths with friends along the way. My goal was 10 miles, but somewhere along the way I felt like Forrest Gump and I just wanted to run and run. When I got back to my car I had run 11.5 miles and I felt freedom I hadn’t felt in months. The distance and the hills are always enemies. When we conquer them, it’s okay to look back and smile at your enemy that became your friend and challenged you to do more than you thought you could. We are all objects in fast motion. Too often we are forced to focus on the busy motions of daily life that sometimes blind us to our success.

Today I am so thankful for my dear friend Sharon, who asked me nine years ago to run a half marathon. She believed in me when I thought the challenge was too big. She introduced me to a world I did not know existed and did not know I would need. For friends who push us to conquer more, for roads that call us to conquer more and for life’s tests that challenge us to trust more, I’m thankful.

There are no regrets in trying, whatever the challenge. There is always victory in trying, no matter the challenge. The challenge will never define us; how we choose to tackle the challenge is what molds and shapes us into the person God wants us to be. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we stood up and faced the challenge. That, my friends, is when the enemy becomes our friend and the victory is ours to claim.

© Gatewood Campbell, September 2013