20 September 2017

Interview with Catherine Campbell

raQ1: Catherine, you have been a been a contributor to “Rejoice Always” for some time now and yet many of our readers may never have met you or know very much about you so, tell us a little about your background?

I am one of those very fortunate people born into a close and loving family. We moved from the Shankill Road to the great metropolis of Rathcoole when I was around seven years old. Mum and Dad worked extremely hard, mostly in the shipyard and various factories, in order to give my brother, my sister and myself the best possible chances in life. They continue to be a wonderful example to us of what it means to be faithful in marriage; to live within your means; and to love your children with sacrificial devotion… in spite of living without the extra blessing of much money. Pleasure for them was seeing us succeed and live our dreams. I remember well the day Mum left me to the bus stop to catch the bus to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where I was to start my nurse training. She looked so proud, waving until the bus was out of sight. I was only seventeen and setting out on the most exciting three years of my life. It was the mid-seventies, when ‘the troubles’ were still in full swing in N. Ireland, sending critically injured people to the very place where I was training to be a nurse. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this career which would prepare me for more than I ever imagined in the years to come, and would last in one form or another for thirty years.

While I headed to the Falls Road, my boyfriend was heading across the Irish Sea to commence three years of Bible College training on Merseyside. Eventually, our desire was to serve the Lord overseas… a dream we were destined not to see fulfilled.

Q2: If nursing was your career, how did you end up writing?

Believe it or not, my first piece of writing to receive acclaim was when I was ten years old. Our primary six class was entered into a national story-writing competition, and I managed to be placed in the top three entries in the UK. The title of my only award winning story to date was, The Cocoa Bean! Apart from winning what seemed like a huge box of Cadbury’s chocolate, writing was never something I had thought of doing, apart from what was required for examinations.

However, my first piece of writing as an adult was a professional article, written after the death of our first child. Soon after that followed articles in Christian magazines such as Christian Family, Just Between Us and Woman Alive. There was all that God was doing in my own life, combined with the number of hurting people that I was meeting on a regular basis. I discovered that writing could touch the hearts of people who would never hear me speak, so I started to open my life for others to look in. That has not always been easy, especially as what I write is often not pretty, but I believe honesty is vital in order that others can see what God can do with sad, broken and even angry hearts.

It had never been my intention to move from writing magazine articles to books. I was already too busy. The transition in my thinking came when I was asked, for the third time, to allow my story to be written as a chapter in someone else’s book. The answer was a resounding NO! There was simply too much to say to squeeze into yet another chapter. That decision resulted in my first book, Under the Rainbow, and the writing bug had well and truly bitten!

Q3: Your latest book ‘Broken Works Best’ was released last month. What inspired this interesting title?

When it comes to books, the title is vitally important, especially for authors like me who don’t own the name ‘Lucado’ or ‘Rivers’. If the author’s name doesn’t grab your attention, then the title needs to.

The title Broken Works Best travelled back with me from a refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border, as is explained in the prologue of the book. The short version is that of discovering tens of thousands of broken people imprisoned in a squalid refugee camp. As we travelled through the camp it was obvious that we, who appeared to have it altogether, could do little to help these devastated lives. Only those who had been similarly broken, such as the 91 Christian orphans in the camp, could reach into the hearts of the destitute and touch them for God. In a place where everything and everyone is broken, it is easy to see that in God’s big plan Broken Works Best.

While titles can be obscure, subtitles should not. The subtitle gives a big clue as to what the reader should expect from the book. In the case of Broken Works Best the subtitle is …When God turns Your Pain into Gain. Hopefully that’s pretty self-explanatory! At the times when our dreams come to nothing and our lives are impacted by pain, God can begin the work of doing something positive and, even wonderful, in our lives. This biblical and inspirational look at the issue of suffering in our lives is illustrated not only by the personal lessons I have learnt, but  by the amazing life-stories of others. It’s a book where theology puts its work clothes on and meets life in the raw.

Q4: Family life has brought times of extreme difficulty for you. Can you tell us some of the traumas and joys you have had to face as a mother?

I remember the first baby I delivered as a student midwife. I was both terrified and ecstatic. To help bring a new life into the world is an enormous privilege, and to be part of what is usually the most important day in a couple’s relationship is simply delightful.

However it is nothing compared with giving birth to your own child. And I was no different from any other mother. When our first daughter was put into my arms she blew me away… instantly wrapping her little life around my heart, and that of her doting daddy. The first few months passed in a whirl of delight, only to be dashed to the ground when a paediatrician declared that our seven-month-old, blue-eyed blonde “would never be normal”! Cheryl was diagnosed with microcephaly – small brain – a condition that was to eventually render her profoundly disabled, totally unable to do anything for herself. Our lives were turned upside down with sweeping words that took only a few seconds to say. Although Cheryl was a charming child, joy was hard to come by in those early days following her diagnosis. But she was our little girl in spite of the label that was now attached to her life, and the difficulties that accompanied that particular label.

When Cheryl was two years old our son was born and laughter followed him wherever he went. Through Paul we were able to enjoy all the delights of normal child development. Many of the things other parents took for granted, we soaked up like a sponge. The reaching for a toy… or rolling over – all by himself… or the first  word… or the chubby little hand blowing a kiss in your direction. Then there was the day he visited his new little sister when he was almost four… and threw a little pink gift bag into her cot declaring: “This is for you Sister! I picked it for you!”

Joy,  he name we gave this new love of Paul’s life, was so named because the obstetrician had declared before her birth that she “was perfect! Nothing wrong with this baby!” What else could we call her! Six weeks later the word “perfect” wasn’t mentioned. This time it was “I’m sorry but… she has the same condition as her sister.”

Cheryl lived for ten short years. A quiet gentle child, she was very unlike her little sister Joy, who was full of personality. Wriggly, giggly Joy, as we called her, lived until she was thirteen… probably the smallest teenager ever! For a period lasting almost twenty years I had the inestimable privilege of being the mother of these two brave children, along with their patient, kind and wonderful brother. Sorrow and joy are often close neighbours in life. We cried often but also laughed much.

Q5: What effect has the difficulties you have faced had on your relationship with God?

Mmm… the answer to that question has required all of three books, and part of a fourth!

I guess the simplest way I could answer is that it has taken me to places with God that I never dreamed possible. It sounds a bit clichéd and probably overused on my part, but I can’t get away from the fact that my spiritual journey has been transformed by my life with all three of my children.

From the time I trusted the Lord as a fourteen year old, my deepest desire has always been to get to know Him better with every breath I take. I personally cannot understand Christians who are satisfied with just enough of God to get by. I could not, and still cannot, get enough of what God has to give me. However to say that I was shocked, disappointed and, dare I say it, even angry at times with the means God was using to draw me into that closer relationship with Himself, is probably one of the biggest understatements of my life. Devastation was too often visited. Conversely I have heard God speak into my life in amazing ways, and have come to discover as the Apostle Paul says: “that the things that have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)

Q6: What would you say to parents who might be facing a future with a child with some life threatening disability or illness?

Remember… “for this we have Jesus.” And if you don’t know Him, then trust Him as your Saviour, because His promises are enabling and strength giving. Like the one in Isaiah 43:2 “When you walk through the waters (whether they are of difficulty or disappointment) I will be with you.” (Italics mine)

Remember… it’s okay to cry. Remember… to live in today – it’s all we are promised. Remember… to accept help. It’s God’s practical gift for your pain. Remember… “if only” is the devil’s torment of the soul. Refuse to listen to him. Remember… you are loved… “with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) Remember… your child is no mistake, but part of the precious plan of God. (Psalm 139:13-17)

Q7: What about those struggling with the intense grief of having lost a precious child?

Six words continue to impact my life more than any others with regard to the loss of our precious girls. Now is not all there is! When your heart is breaking – now is not all there is!

When your arms are empty – now is not all there is!

When you long to see them – now is not all there is!

When God asks you to walk back into life again – you can do it because – now is not all there is!

In His merciful understanding of His frail creation, “God has put eternity in our hearts”… and He will make “everything beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Hang on to Heaven!

Q8: What else do you do when you are not writing books?

I’d love writing books to be my main occupation but it’s not! I’m at that stage of my life where I am increasingly busy with family, while still involved pastorally with my husband in Coleraine Congregational Church, where he is the minister.

I also travel the countryside, and beyond, speaking at ladies’ events and meetings. Often it’s on the subject of suffering, but I love it when I’m given the opportunity to speak on other subjects! (My diary dates, as well as information on my other books, are available on my website: www.catherine-campbell.com

And then of course there’s writing for Rejoice Always!!

My favourite day of the week is Thursday, or as I have renamed it – Bethanyday, when I get to look after our wonderful little granddaughter Bethany Joy! God in His mercy is giving us another season to enjoy family, and as my husband would say: “If I’d known having grandchildren was such fun I’d have had them first!”