If my mom – Sara Byrne Campbell – was alive today, it would be her 100th birthday. I believe she may have regretted having her birthday the day before Halloween, especially after having 11 children. We required an excessive amount of time, energy, and effort for “wardrobe and makeup.” I don’t recall celebrating her birthday at all.
!HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!
I do have many fond memories of my mother, a typical Catholic mom of her day – that is: she smoked, drank, and cussed moderately, was always pregnant, and never failed to go to church on Sunday. There were many times I can remember her getting up in the middle of the week to go to 6:30 Mass. Coming home afterward, she made pancakes for us while preparing lunches for everybody to take to school or work. She worked very hard managing our household by overseeing the many responsibilities required of a “large” family. She also started her own successful real estate business which, coupled with all else, probably qualified her as a “Proverbs 31” woman.
Most of what I learned about religion growing up, I learned from my mom. I am very grateful for my “Catholic” education. I remember my catechism, and I learned to speak proper English. I can also add, subtract, multiply, and divide both decimals and fractions. Catholic doctrines about heaven and hell; venial sins and mortal sins, Catholic schools and Public schools; baptisms, etc., perplexed me. My confusion was on full display at one point; misunderstanding the difference between Catholic and Public schools. My limited powers of deduction lead me to conclude that Catholics went to Catholic school and Publics went to Public school. Now they always taught us you had to be a Catholic to go to heaven, so one time at the dinner table I asked my mom why “Publics” couldn’t go to heaven. That was a great opportunity for all of my siblings to heap on the abuse and let me know how stupid I was; but it was okay because I always knew that my mother still loved me.
By the time I was a Junior in High school, my rebellion was peaking and I got kicked out of my Catholic school for poor grades, long hair, multiple dress code violations, and disrespect. I know how disturbing it must have been for mom whose dreams of a happy Catholic family were being destroyed by the sinful inclinations of her children. Whether it was the unwanted pregnancy of one of my older sisters, or the partying, drinking, and drug abuse of my brothers and I, all these things drove her to despair.
We also lived in a time when there was much fear about the Vietnam war, overpopulation, and even the existence of God. One cover of “Time” magazine read: “Is God Dead”. This really disturbed my mother, yet God used all these circumstances to draw her to himself and eventually led her to meet some believers who shared the gospel with her. Her life completely changed after that, and so did the lives of everyone in our family.
The thing I remember most about her – the thing that had and continues to have the most impact on me – is the way she prayed. I think all mothers must be the best prayers on the planet. I will never forget regularly coming home from a party – drunk, on drugs, or both, and waking up in the middle of the night to find my mother kneeling at my bedside praying for me. I would lay silently, pretending to sleep, but all the while God was softening my heart and, thank God, my conscience worked me over.
My mom persistently shared the gospel with me and had her friends share the gospel with me. She arranged for me to give rides to her friends who would share the gospel with me. Sadly, because I continued to rebel against my parent’s authority, my mom told me I needed to move out. So I moved across the street to live in a house with my brothers and about five or six other guys and their girlfriends. We were having a lot of keg parties and doing a lot of drugs. One thing on the upside, that’s where I met my future wife when she was just 14 years old.
Drugs and music were my life while I lived there. I can remember tripping on LSD in my room and just sitting there listening to music for hours, spaced out and wondering about life. One time I was so drugged up I thought I was dead. These, and similar circumstances lead me to continue to question God’s existence and whether I needed to change my lifestyle. Was my mother wrong about Jesus and the rest of the world right, or was she right and the rest of the world was all messed up? Eventually, one night, God graciously brought me to the conclusion that she was right and ultimately Jesus was alive. He loved me; he came to earth, died for my sins, and he wanted me to repent and believe. That night, my father’s birthday, January 2, 1971, I walked down to the corner of Tanager and Spring Rd. at about 1:00 am and there I surrendered my life to Jesus.
I can remember to this day gazing up into the wintry sky at a circular opening in the clouds, lifting my hands, and just saying the name of Jesus. I felt his love and compassion wash over me more greatly than I had ever felt anything else in all my life. His great love completely overshadowed all my previous pleasures and joys. He filled me with his joy and it ruined me for any other purpose or desire this world offered. Since my mom lived right across the street, I went to tell her the news; she knew God had answered her prayers.
Nostalgia Alert! Thank God one of my father’s hobbies was photography and filming home movies. Enjoy these clips from the past, accompanied by a little wistful music – Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. The promise of the gospel is that the rescued ones will join the Savior in his eternal home, which makes this one verse very pertinent:
Some day when we meet up yonder
We’ll stroll hand in hand again
In a land that knows no partin’
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain