Posted by: Ed Deiss | March 14, 2016

It’s OK to not be OK, A Letter to Cameron Gallagher…

cameron in RVADear Cameron,

I know we have never met, yet what never ceases to amaze me in life is how lives can cross paths along the miles we travel.  Some time has passed now since you and your best friend, Abby Donelson, ran your last miles together at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia on March 16th, 2014.

Unknowingly your words to her as you closed in on the finish line became The Mission at Mile 12.

Before I ran with your family and friends last year as part of the SpeakUp team, there was a strength I felt from the purpose of our run, with an exhale when I crossed the finish line. I started running just over two years ago, and I’ve learned that it involves vulnerability. Before saying goodbye to your Dad after our run,  I remember saying to him wish I had met you.  He graciously said “You do know her, Ed.”  So I am writing this letter with that in mind.  My name is Ed Deiss, and wanted to let you know Cameron that lives are being impacted because you lived.  Mine included.

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” – Criss Jami

Like running, strength is gained in life by making yourself vulnerable; I know many stories I have shared about mine right here have forced me to do so. Namely be vulnerable and share my pain, struggles, and weaknesses to encourage others, even if it is just one person.  Strength through weakness does not make sense, yet I have learned that struggle, not success, builds strength and the pain involved should not be masked.

How did we cross paths?  It is called Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp for kids who have lost a parent or sibling, I’m sure you heard Abby talk about with you on how it saved her after she lost her Dad when she was eight.  I’m proud to serve with Abby and her brother, EJ, as fellow volunteers.  I’m a big buddy and was getting to know my little buddy the first night of a weekend camp in the summer of 2014.  As we got together with our small group (called healing circles) for the first time, we went around introducing ourselves and one of the little buddies in our group said ‘I’m Reilly Gallagher.’  Your little sister who quickly became a little buddy buddy with all of us.  It was a memorable weekend to share with, and be there for, one another as big and little buddies do in their groups.

It was there that I learned about SpeakUp and your mission to encourage other teens that it is OK to Speak Up about their personal battles, and for there to be a purpose driven organization that is a positive force that works to cultivate awareness and understanding of teenage depression and anxiety. I soon thereafter signed up for the first SpeakUp 5K.  Knowing that running was a positive influence that helped you fight your battle with depression, three thousand five hundred (3,500) people came to run and be a part of it Cameron! Reilly by the way, did great interviews that day by just using a stick as a microphone…I think next time we should at least put a pine cone on it so it picks up sound better.

Reilly and EJ, an interview at SpeakUp 5K.

Reilly and EJ, an interview at SpeakUp 5K

After my first half marathon in Richmond, Virginia in November 2014 I thought about what run should I do next? I soon learned that SpeakUp was organizing a team to go back to Shamrock in Virginia Beach to run where you finished your last race.  I soon met both your parents at our first team meeting, and finished the race.

You know what I did at that run though?  As I ran down the boardwalk towards the finish line of that half marathon (my 2nd ever) looking at the sunrise over the Atlantic, I thought…why not fight, faith, and finish a full marathon?  Never was going to know if I didn’t try.  Many purpose driven miles fueled the training and that run, I took a chance, and followed my heart…had your name on my wrist and Mile 12 was for you, you probably knew that!  What will always be memorable was having Abby finish that run with me, to #runasone for you, SpeakUp, and for our Comfort Zone Camp family.  As we met up at Mile 25 she came over and said “Let’s Finish This”, we sure did.

The Mission at Mile 12 finishes the race for 26.2. We #runasone

“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Cameron, I want to express that the strength you showed in confronting your pain of depression reminded me that there is a human habit, myself included, to quickly write off our pain. Or just not accept it, choosing to bury our feelings, fake a smile (amazing what that can hide), and put on a mask; an ‘I’m fine’ masquerade. It seems people believe that strength and faith say we won’t or should not let our pain get to us. We can deal with it and get over it quickly, and may be tempted to compare our pain to others and discount it.  We rationalize that there is much worse elsewhere for much more valid reasons.

By speaking up, what you have done and how you lived is showing teenagers and adults that it’s OK, more than OK, to not be OK.  As a parent myself, I know I have to be teachable as well, and kids have a way of teaching adults what is to be valued.

“We do not exist for ourselves. We come to breathe in grace and exhale it out to others. Whatever job you go to, God wants us. If you aren’t in a right relationship with Him, we miss out, not God. If you’ve made mistakes, God can use that. His mercies are new every morning. He forgives you, brushes you off, and you can start over. When I breathe in that type of grace, I’m so grateful, humbled and loyal to that, I want to talk about it…” – Pete Wilson, Pastor of Crosspoint Church

As someone that was on a single parent journey for seven years, who was raised by one apart from my mom and brother in a country a world away (that became home and a place for scars to heal), I have breathed in a lot of grace.  There has been pain, and painful lessons, yet I am reminded that we exist to love and to serve out of the outflow of the grace we’ve been given; to exhale and breathe out what we are breathing in. It has been my experience that often more strength is needed to let go than to hold on.

What your Mom and Dad are doing is amazing. Knowing that it took weeks and herculean strength for them to go into your room after they let you go and found your vision and plan to SpeakUp, you should be proud of them.  And your siblings.  Your Dad and Abby recently ran a marathon together to honor you; your Dad and your best friend, running as one.

As we run, we breathe.  After we cross the finish, there is an exhale of all that you breathed in to get you there.  It’s time to finish the race to honor you, to run to SpeakUp at Shamrock in Virginia Beach where you finished your race, stepped out in faith, and fought the good fight. You ran to who you are, rather than from it, a valuable lesson for all of us.

As I thought about what to put together to speak to all of us about finishing our races, the pastor quoted above, Pete Wilson inspired this by singer Tiffany Lee.  I hope it captures this letter well, running as one with you and to SpeakUp, and focuses our minds on breathing out what we breathe in each and every day.

God Bless you Cameron, and look forward to meeting you when I have finished my race.  Until then, I need to keep fighting the good fight and keeping the faith.  And Exhale.

With Sincere Gratitude,

Ed Deiss





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