Friday, November 23, 2018

A Thanksgiving reflection

It’s quiet in my house this morning.
It has been our tradition to entertain a mixed crowd of family and friends on Thanksgiving. We would prepare for weeks to stage an outdoor meal marked by good food, robust conversation and a pile of dishes to wash.
Not this year.
Yesterday Bill and I celebrated 30 plus one as a married couple.
Our first Thanksgiving was spent flying home from our honeymoon as we set our wedding date for the only free weekend for UGA and Auburn football fans.
That put us in the airport on Thanksgiving Day. No crowds. Just a naive couple heading home to an empty apartment with the future in front of us.
That future we imagined is what we are living.
Moment to moment.
Day to day.
Month to month.
Year to year.
And now three decades later, I am grateful for the moments that defined our union.
Three babies. Of course.
The oldest son seeking his own future out west.
The middle son spending this week with his special gal.
And the baby girl taking a break at home in the final weeks of navigating her first semester as a college freshman.
As I reflect on our life together I recall so many moments.
The good years. The hard years.
The houses we occupied. That first apartment. The fixer-upper. The subdivision upgrade. The dream house. Then three rentals with a cozy cottage currently keeping our footprint small but efficient. All made homes not by the square footage and decor but by the memories invested therein.
Some of the people in our lives that loved us back then remain heart-stamped but not present. Those memories we cherish.
My mother. Bill’s mother. My godfather. So many others.
We also treasure those sweet friends who walk with us in this life.
And while it’s quiet in my house this morning, I say thanks.
I am grateful for my husband and his abiding commitment to our family.
I am grateful for this loving community and meaningful work.
I am grateful for our divided country and remain hopeful for what love can do to heal us. Today we will gather as a party of three with a condensed version of Bill’s family. Sick babies will reduce the headcount and the noise level but we will give thanks for them and for everyone present and passed.
And when this day is over and the remaining child returns to school, we will be as we started. The two of us. In a quiet house with less future ahead and the naivety battered, but with many precious moments left to celebrate.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A birth story

Girls rule. 
Or at least that’s the sentiment that erupted when the father of a baby girl revealed the gender of his newly-delivered No. 2 offspring. 
There’s nothing too unfair about this statement as the ratio of males to females in this particular family is a bit skewed to the masculine side. 
Caroline Marie Gresham arrived at 11:53 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, only the second representative of the female gender in more than 50 years. On the paternal side, she’s surrounded and protected by a cadre of males – one big brother, one uncle, two great-uncles and five male second cousins, she’s in the company of only one female second cousin – my own daughter. 
After the hospital check-in and natural intervention, an epidural was a welcome next step. You could see mama’s face soften as the pain dulled. Baby Caroline was ready and pushing hard against the barrier of a not-quite-ready cervix. 
Term plus three days. Everyone was waiting. 
She didn’t cause a lot of trouble, sliding into the hands of the midwife after two strong pushes just a few minutes before midnight. 
Her daddy, my nephew Jason, confirmed ‘she’ was indeed a ‘she.’ “Let’s see what we have…,” the midwife said. “IT’S A GIRL!” Jason said. 
It was the best sort of reward after not knowing for the term of the pregnancy. I
 was happy to say ‘yes’ to a fourth childbirth photo session and the first where I was related to the parents and a soon-to-be favorite great-niece. 
With an eye aimed at documenting the authentic experience and a heart floating somewhere between the desire to honor the wishes of the parents and my own excitement, I did my best capture the birth story. 
Caroline joins Elliot, Rhett and Walter in my childbirth portfolio. 
The privilege of presence is one that I feel deeply. There’s nothing like being a witness to the fresh hope that arrives along with a greatly-desired child. 
It’s one of those moments when time is suspended in the waiting and watching. The world shrinks down to the monitors and decisions made to ensure the best possible scenario for a safe birth – for mother and child. The sounds of the baby’s heartbeat, the mother’s breathing, the father’s soothing voice and the reassuring directions of the nurses and midwife gather momentum until it’s time to focus on the birth. 
On Caroline’s birth-day, I learned a lot about her parents. In the hours leading up to her arrival, they shared with me hopes and dreams for the future of their young family. Their partnership is strong and they both have family at the top of the priority list. 
I fell in love a little more with them and what they represent in our world. 
Two committed parents. 
Two strong work ethics. 
Two focused ambitions. 
Two hearts beating strong. 
Yes, a second child will require adjustments. Big brother at home will be the first to feel it. But his parent’s expanding hearts will keep him covered and comforted as he learns to make room for baby sister. 
As for the rest of the family, Caroline’s arrival confirms again that all of these Gresham men can indeed soften a bit when it comes to loving on another girl-child. 
Welcome to the world, baby girl. 

E. Lane Gresham August 27, 2017 

Photos shared with permission. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Of stars, stripes and substance

It hangs slack in the corner of the historic theater.
My senses absorb the scene as homemade music erupts from the stage.
I notice the American flag. A symbol of unity. And sacrifice.
It’s there where we gather.
It’s there where we worship.
It’s there where we learn.
It’s there where we celebrate.
It’s there where we govern.
It’s there where we play.
Everywhere we see the tricolored pennant.
On a Saturday in Clarkesville, in the morning it waves over a farmer’s market. A rally against hate trades spaces with the farmers later in the day. The freedom to peaceably assemble plays out in living color.
Still the billowing banner ripples, a solemn sentinel over the chiseled names of those who sacrificed all.
And in the afternoon, live music filters through the tree canopy. Another gathering in the park brings firefighters together.
The flag. Again, it flies for freedom.
On a short trip to the post office, I spy other iterations on the square, at a bank or three, at city hall and at the post office. Soaring high against a hot blue sky.
In the late afternoon, a telephone call to my husband interrupts a nap. A deceased veteran's church cemetery plot needs marking.
Would he help?
Of course.
The flag affixed to the corner of the carport waves him off on his errand. A small one will mark the newsprint in the upcoming obituary.
On the stage last night, a friend acknowledges the discord in our country. She reminds us of what we must pledge to each other – unity –  to live in community.
In this place and across this land, we must face each other with civility and love.
To cease the chaos that divides.
To remember we are of one red blood.
And that we are called to that higher purpose.
To love your neighbor as yourself.
In these times of troubled discourse, that is often hard work.
But last night, reflected onto the faces of those gathered to savor the messages woven into the lyrics of the songs, a bit of a glow emanates from that corner, despite fabric that appears worn and weary.
Its past littered with chapters good and bad, it has flown over the entirety of this country’s chronicle.
A symbol, yes. But one that can inspire substantive and meaningful action. So that this generation’s flag rises above the pain of the past and sails over a healing nation.
E. Lane Gresham
August 20, 2017

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My children are not my own

“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”
― Khalil Gibran

Joseph, Jackson, Perry
December 2016
My heartbeat quickens. I bend over the edge of the hospital bed. Swollen belly. Indignant kidneys. Breathless from lungs pinched by the weight of the son to be.
The needle pricks. The medicine flows and my back braces for the event.
Motherhood arrives in tandem with the soul of my first born.
1994. That’s a long time to remain wholly committed to an individual or three.
Thoughts on mothering – and whether or not I’m getting it right – are always tangled up in my mind. But in my heart the drumbeat of love is steady and strong.
My people.
My children.
My legacy.
Their father. A fully-invested partner and provider. A deeply-loving champion for all of us.
We are a family. These four plus me.
I want so much for the babies, now mostly grown, to be happy.
And successful.
And faithful.
And service-minded.
But it’s not for me to dictate the end result.
And so I pray.
And wish.
And hold my breath a bit, remembering the 30 months my body sheltered all three tucked underneath my heart.
It’s time for the youngest of the trio of offspring to make her way into her final year of high school. She’ll be 18 in a few months. My physical and mental commitment to her upbringing and that of her older brothers is waning. That’s a lot to consider having been immersed in everyday details and oversight for 23 years.
The love never ends but the responsibility ebbs.
They can accept their own destiny or be hobbled by my overprotective tendencies. So I'm grateful when they bristle at my nagging guidance and admonitions.
They’ll find their way.
What’s next for the mother in me perched on the edge of no longer needed?
A reconnection to my husband of almost 30 years.
A longing for authentic time with friends.
And space for me.
My mothering cloak, figuratively donned in that operating room in 1994, is tattered, dirty and much too small for my menopause-insulted body.
Tiny handprints mark its hem. There's a hole at the waist from the memory of three hip-riding passengers. And tear stains darken the fabric from all the hurts I’ve comforted.
But I still cherish its significance.
The mother-to-child relationship never ends. But it evolves and changes and that is healthy.
So as I contemplate the emotions of that final first day of school, my spirit is grateful. The next chapter will unfold as it will. The past is complete and the future holds endless potential for my daughter and her brothers.
They will bring to pass their own bounty.
And I will love them through it all.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Heart-to-hand minister

Dozens of telephone calls. Texts. Emails.
Two categories. Giver. Receiver.
One man stands in the gap making the connections.
Bill Black, director of Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries is one of the first to arrive at a temporary shelter in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Nov. 28, 2016, the day after wildfires spread from a Chimney Tops fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Gatlinburg and Sevier County. He served there 30 hours non-stop until agencies could arrive and take over.
Lives lost. Homes and businesses destroyed. No one who lives or works in the region is immune to the devastation.
Black’s ministry encompasses hundreds of area residents. Many of his flock are the hourly employees in the tourism industry that fuels the local economy.
Within the first 10 seconds of my meeting with Black, he points to the distant mountain slope overlooking Gatlinburg.
“You see that white cloud up there?” he asks, with joy. “They are making snow at Ober Gatlinburg – those are my people.”
It is Dec. 9, the first day businesses are open to the public after wildfires. Ober Gatlinburg and the other businesses that could open, did open. They needed the revenue  – and to showcase the resiliency of this community.
Throughout the day, Black distributes gift cards and hugs to those he encounters.
A direct gaze from his tired blue eyes arrives with a question:
“Are you okay?” he asks. “Did you lose?” The second query could mean life or property.
With 14 deaths and 2,460 structures destroyed, it could have been much worse if the fires had started earlier in the Thanksgiving week. As flames spread on a windy Monday night, thankfully many of the rental properties were empty. But everyone has an escape story to share.
For Black, 12 days later, it is about continuing to give one-on-one. SMRM is providing gift cards, clothing and connections.
Hugs. Kind words. A listening ear.
Black’s outreach ministry is happening in real time thanks to the generosity of SMRM donors and board leadership. He doesn’t feel compelled to attend the meetings held for resource agencies.
“I don’t do tables,” he said, referring to the tangible symbols associated with the larger agencies and nonprofits that responded after the fires.
He just keeps moving. With the support of his board, other volunteers and a temperamental cell phone, he stays in touch with community leaders and those in need.
Someone has a car to donate.
Black makes the connection.
Someone wants to distribute a trailer-load of new clothing.
Black makes that connection.
A specific Knoxville charity wants to give $300 each to 20 families and simply needs a list of names.
Black makes that connection, too.
Even in impromptu conversations in the bank line, he scribbles his telephone number on a scrap of paper.
“Tell them to call me,” he tells the woman sharing the story of four co-workers who lost their homes.
The most vulnerable among the Gatlinburg community, according to Black, are the undocumented workers. An enclave of Honduran families lived in a pocket of now blackened rubble in downtown. Black’s voice catches and deep tears erupt as he drives through the deserted streets.
He has been on the telephone with one resident who is afraid as their burned out cars are being removed.
Resources, such as the $1,000/month for each affected family promised by Dolly Parton, make members of this community wary. They are a vital part of the economy but don’t know who to trust, Black says.
At the end of the day, Black and Ben Tarver with First Baptist Church of Thomson, Ga. deliver gift cards, new clothing and cleaning supplies to a representative of the Honduran community.
Black speaks and signs his passionate pledge to help. Disbelief plays out on the face of the Honduran gentleman but Black is insistent that he will follow through on the promise of Christmas gifts for the children, clothing and household items. He even has a van to donate.
The Honduran gentleman’s face softens and he smiles as he makes his own promise to stay in touch with Black.
Black takes off his cap to pray. “My prayer is this [fire] will bring us all together,” he says.
Another connection. Another set of lives improved by the intentional ministry of SMRM through Bill Black.
Two days later, that community is deeply connected to resources and involved with helping each other. Their community leaders are connected and their people are serving as well. That gentleman is now a SMRM volunteer leading and serving others.
Pastor Eric Spivey of First Baptist Church of Cornelia, a SMRM board member, describes Black’s outreach as “nimble.”
Black is indeed nimble and moves confidently forward, even with the weariness of the unprecedented event heavy on his heart.
It is love of his fellow man that propels him. I witnessed him verbally and physically express this love to everyone he encountered throughout the day.
Even the high-ranking local government official isn’t immune to the spirit that is Bill Black. After a complicated conversation about relief efforts, he says: “ you,” before pushing the “end” button on that worn-out cell phone.
For those who want to help by sending a donation, be assured in knowing lives are being impacted immediately. Your generosity is expanding on the nudges from God through Black’s deep connection to this community.
For more information about the good work of SMRM, visit Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries or simply send a check made payable to SMRM, P.O. Box 114, Gatlinburg, TN . 37738.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Godfather offered a love we couldn’t refuse

We have history. Edmund C. Kyser and me. Our relationship started with the basics. He was my mother’s younger brother. With the twins who arrived a little later, the four youngest Kyser siblings brought joy – and a certain chaos – into my grandparent’s marriage but those are stories for another teller.

Uncie, me, Diane
Four and a half months after my birth on September 30, 1964, my parents appointed him to be my godfather. In the Catholic tradition, he would have made a profession of faith on my behalf. The sacramental promises he made that day might not have worked out the way my parents intended but the heart promises held fast.

In 1965, he taught me to walk in the knotty-pine paneled den at the house in Montevallo. My mother was living with her parents while my father was in Wisconsin for corporate training.

“Uncle Butchie” and later, simply “Uncie,” appeared in my first memories. His stunning smile. His boisterous, teasing sense of humor. His capacity for love.

I was the indulged one among my mother’s three younger siblings. When I was little, the trio was still based at home, coming and going from college and to and from early married life.

The Kyser Family 1967-?
There are several moments crystallized in my mind that bind me to Uncie’s life force.

When my mother, just 26, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he was there. Along with everyone who loved her best, he helped to navigate the best course of action for his sister and a stunned young husband and two tiny girls. While grieving for the active life my mother was losing, it must have been hard for him to focus. But focus he did.

I was 5 years old. He pulled me onto the balcony of the Travel Lodge in downtown Atlanta. He perched me on his knee as cars on I-85 whizzed by and the stinging odor of exhaust wafted upward. He said I had to be strong. He urged me to be brave. To set a good example for my little sister, just 2.
Uncie and Bill

I think that was the same trip he tucked under his coat a tiny baby girl with jet-black hair. Up the elevator we went and into a blinding white room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Witnessed by walls covered in get well cards, my weakened mother met my newborn cousin, Christina Jane Kyser.

Uncie was like that; he made sure important moments were covered. So we had something we could reach for on darker days.

The day before my November 21, 1987 marriage to Bill, Uncie found me alone recording wedding gifts. His advice on my upcoming union was simple: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Like how a spouse might eat potato chips or an apple. I don’t recall all that he said, but I do remember how much I felt his love for me and his hopes for my future. He came to Atlanta as my mother's escort for the wedding. If I recall, he missed his own daughter’s pageant competition to make sure my mother could share in that milestone.

And on July 27, 1994, on the night before I was to report to Northside Hospital to deliver our first-born, he called me. After seven years of infertility, everyone was cheering for us, but Uncie told me I wasn’t ready. That nothing could prepare a parent for how a heart could expand to love a child. His voice wavered as he talked about Jeff and Christy and his dreams and love for them.
Throughout my early marriage and beyond, he was a champion for me and for my family. He became a good friend to Bill. My children loved him, too. He showed up. For as long as he could, he made sure we all remained connected over July 4th lake time and barbecue, Georgia versus Auburn weekends, river floats and Facebook messages. I have missed our connection these last few years.

But I visualize him now. With his beloved sister and so many others who have crossed over to that place my mother described for us in September 2001.

The light. That brilliant, eternal light. It’s where he met her and his Lord on November 26.

Edmund C. Kyser, I remember you. 

Uncie and Perry. He and my mother had the same eyes.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Old school ways resonate

No computer. No television. No nonsense.
Philip Hoke Gresham. My father-in-law turned 85 on August 20. He's a solid citizen of these United States.  The son of a Winder sharecropper. A U.S. Navy veteran. The first in his family to go to college. Thanks to the the G.I. bill in the late 50s, he mastered good grades while earning an engineering degree from Georgia Tech. While in college, this bright young veteran from the rural south married a lovely Atlanta lady and fathered the first of three sons.
Jackson, Philip
A career in the defense industry and transfers to Texas, contract work in California and the birth of sons No. 2 and No. 3 marked the dawn of the 60s. A troubled marriage split the family of five but the couple later reconciled to raise a trio of Gresham men.
Philip values education and intellectual stimulation.
All three sons graduated from the University of Georgia. Go figure. To Philip, it didn't matter where they went. As long as they continued their education.
There was a family business for a time. Philip founded a surveying and engineering company that in 1989 became my husband's company.
An entrepreneurial spirit spark passed from father to son along with a dogged persistence to see a task to its successful completion.
A dedication to the fundamental values of his country and its constitution prompted Philip to run for political office in the 70s. He never won but was active in his party. So much so that his sons recall trips to county and state conventions and their father unafraid to speak up firmly for his conservative beliefs.
Discussions with Philip were always lively, often heated and sometimes erupted in sharp words. But his intellect and bedrock opinions remained steadfast. In the 36 years I've known this brilliant man, my respect has grown exponentially. His work ethic and commitment to his family is worthy of that respect. He is a loyal friend and a dedicated father and grandfather.
He loves his grandsons – there are six of them. And his lone granddaughter can make him grin like no one else can. And now there are two great-grandchildren – boys of course. The continuation of the Gresham name is assured through this good man's legacy.

A stroke in 1995 slowed him down. But just a bit. His thought processes remain sharp although his speech is a bit more measured. Another medical issue came up in subsequent years but it just toughened him up.
Until a few years ago, he gardened. It was a way to cultivate food and pay tribute to his past. His sons share this love of the earth and the youngest has each year expanded his own plot.
When Philip visits, he has a certain routine. During growing season, he makes sure to survey the miracle of God's handiwork. He doesn't attend church but I believe he finds grace and peace in the soil and its bounty.
At 85, you would think he would be long retired. Nope. He still works half-days as an engineer. Maybe that's why he's still so sharp and strong. Or maybe it's his aversion to technology. He doesn't have a television. Or a computer. He reads several books weekly, reads the newspaper daily and listens to the Atlanta Braves on the radio. He did agree to start carrying a cell phone – a flip phone model.
I see this man's best qualities in my husband and in my children. The intellect certainly. Curiosity about life. A traditional work ethic. Dedication to family. And there's perseverance and tenacity present, too.
So as he embarks on his 86th turn around the sun, I celebrate this man's full life.