Tuesday, December 31, 2013

top ten posts: welcoming Ethan

For post #9, I give you Ethan Henry Haller, born September 8 to my son Mark and his wife Jill. What an incredible week, for five days later we lost my dad.

Ethan Henry Haller
on his first day on earth

Dear Ethan,
We didn't know your name until your dad told us on the phone last night,
30 minutes after your birth. Ethan is a Hebrew name meaning
strong and sure. I am sure you shall be just that!
Your mama is a get-it-done gal and she didn't waste much time
having you. Start to finish at the hospital was 5 hours!
You were born at 10:46 p.m. on Sunday, September 8, 2013,
weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces and 21" long.
Since we're not there with you in person,
tonight we got to see you on our iPad as Daddy nestled
you in his arms. Daddy and Mommy looked a little tired
and you snoozed away, you beautiful boy!

Ethan, your birth brings a special sweetness for me.
Though you won't understand this for many years,
my dad is coming to the end of his time on earth.
Joe Lanier Matlock, your great-grandfather, is 88 and very sick.
It is very hard to lose someone you love, so your birth is making this time much easier to bear. Then again, this world is
only one part of life. When we leave it, God has prepared
a beautiful place called heaven for those who love Him.

Ethan, it is my greatest prayer that you not only love life,
but also love and serve God all your life so that
when your time on earth is done, you'll spend eternity with Him ...
the One who made you and brought you to us last night. Wow!

I know that would make your great-granddaddy very happy.
And me, too.
Welcome to this world, Ethan. I love you and can't wait
to be ...
your Baba

There is a time for everything ... a time to be born and a time to die.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2


Monday, December 30, 2013

top ten posts of 2013: three grandchildren come to town

Here's #8 in my top ten posts of 2013: the September weekend Dan and Jenny and their three little ones visited. I treasure these photos!

What a wonderful houseful over the weekend! Our son Dan and his family drove up from North Carolina to visit. Driving 450+ miles with three children ages 3 and under deserves an award, don't you think?! We visited the Columbus Zoo, Bill's 97-year-old mom "GG", Mingo Park here in town (big hit with the girls), Dairy Depot for ice cream, and Dan and Jenny went to the Ohio State vs Wisconsin game with friends on Saturday night!

Meeting Noah.

Little Ashlyn would have none of GG's lap.

There are things I forget about toddlers until I'm with them again,
and then I instantly remember and adjust my thinking accordingly.
A two or three-year-old has a hard time focusing on animals, even large ones,
that are in the distance ... and especially those that blend in
with their surroundings. So the gray rhinos way over there by the gray rocks
were lost on Ari and Ashlyn.
The aquarium was another story. The fish are up close, colorful,
and move constantly. The children were mesmerized, even 4-month-old Noah.
Oh, their precious faces!

It was the same with the penguins; Ari watched this
guy swim back and forth for some time.

On Saturday morning we played at Mingo Park here in town. Our boys (and girl) played baseball and soccer for years at Mingo. The playground is way better now!

Come on, could this be any cuter??

Sisters ready for take-off.

Popsy spotting Ari.

Studious Mr. Noah chillin' with Baba

I love that this slide, where my kids played, is still in use!

They didn't need to read the menu ... "I want an ice cream cone with sprinkles please!"

Dan and his girls.
Not many pics of Jenny ... sorry! It was a busy weekend and super fun.
Thanks, Dan and Jenny, for making the long trip!
And now for the finale ... a photo caught by Katie at the zoo ...
I'm certain this will become one of my treasured photos!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

top ten posts: visiting Lily, Mark & Jill

In late July/August we took our first big trip since Bill's surgery,
seeing all (almost) the kids and grandkids: quite a road trip.
I'm amazed how quickly Lily is growing!
We've been back more than a week from a road trip to see all the little ones. It was worth all 1400 miles and rest areas along the way. The McDonald's $1 summer iced coffee special was a plus!

It's funny when people say, "oh, you have great places to go and visit your kids and grandchildren!" What can I say? I'm a homebody. Didn't like rides in the car as a kid and still don't ... but I'll do it for these treasured babies. We don't do a whole lot of sightseeing when visiting because, well, do you remember having toddlers? They eat often. They nap. And they go to bed early. If you push them to do too much, they let you know loudly and clearly! So much of the visit is spent in and near the house. And frankly, they wear us out! Wonderfully worn out.

Anyway, you know I go nowhere without my camera and I love to catch the children just being themselves. Forget trying to tell a two-year-old to "smile for the camera." So here's what I caught ...

I took Lily to a little playground near their townhouse. She loves to slide!


We went to Great Falls National Park, very cool ... Lily playing with Popsy


I love to see them learn ... great comprehension before all the words come!
Jill is already making learning fun.

A bit shy, but impish and sweet and coming into her own.

Playing doctor with Baba

Lily will become a big sister in a few short weeks! So I'm excited to go back.
Next post: the three Musketeers!

Friday, December 27, 2013

top ten posts: dads matter

Reader interest in this post surprised me. Maybe it's an idea that needs revival: the importance of fathers.
From the moment a man first holds his newborn,
a dad is born, too.
And he matters.

my son Mark
As his strong arms swing a toddler over his head,
a dad matters.
When he pulls a laugh from his wife at the end of a trying day with those toddlers,
a dad matters.
When he cares for his children (it's not called babysitting) on a Saturday morning,
feeding them food their mother wouldn't,
a dad matters.
When he lets his children push the limits of safety and common sense,
fostering in them a sense of adventure,
a dad matters.
As he learns to braid hair and change diapers,
trim tiny fingernails, and fill sippy cups,
a dad matters.

When he heads to countless little league games after long days at work,
a dad matters.
When a man comforts the broken heart of his young daughter
and wipes her tears away,
he means the world to her.
When a man listens to the stories of his children's day at bedtime,
they come to rely on him, and he matters.

And when he prays with them,
he matters as they learn to turn to God for their strength.

my son Dan

When a father teaches lawn-mowing, throwing, catching, batting,
and rides for 50 hours with his student-driver son,
that dad matters.

When a man takes the old family dog to be put down,
and doesn't hide his tears from his children,
he matters.

my husband Bill

When a father is flexible and
wisely changes his fathering as his children mature,
he matters.
More than he knows.

When a man nears the end of his days
and reflects on his time of fathering,
he will find peace if had the wisdom, love and foresight ...
to matter.

my dad

Dads matter, perhaps more than anything.
They are God's representative on earth,
and today I honor the dads in my life:
my own dad, my husband, two of my sons, and my brothers.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

top ten posts: little girl gardening

Come on, being Baba to five little ones is incredible! I love to photograph and write about them. This post back in June right after Noah's birth was popular:

I'm in Charlotte, getting to know Noah
and lending a hand.
The newborn days ... how quickly I forget
a mother's extreme fatigue and adjustments,
a father being spread so thin,
the babe's constant needs to eat and sleep,
plus two toddlers in the mix.
When I arrived yesterday, three-year-old Ari
was proud and pleased to show me their garden.
I rather like these photos of her ...  

Plenty of pea-harvesting.
I love how she is already adept at this!

Yes, she was in her swimsuit.
A three-year-old is much too busy to
change clothes as she goes to a new activity.

I suppose most grandmothers take photographs of
their grandchildren's faces.
But I have a thing for the tops of their heads.
So soft and sweet and irresistible.

Ashlyn, nearly two.

And the newest head of all,
Noah Daniel, 5 days old.
Oh my goodness look at that hair.
I'm in love.

My dad, who lives in Nashville,
is declining bit by bit. I'm trying to focus completely
on my grandchildren, but a portion of my heart is with my dad.
It is very hard to feel pulled, physically and emotionally,
in several directions.
Today, Lord. Give me strength only for today. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends!
We are with family this week and I promise photos next week.
May the hope, promise and peace of Christ
surround you.
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

top ten posts: balancing acts

One of the biggest events of the year was Bill's spinal surgery in April. He's doing great now and has a positive attitude, although he isn't fully recovered.
It was a scary time but also one of seeing the world of medicine and rehabilitation: very inspiring and humbling for us both.
This post picks up during his 2-week rehab stay.

Practicing balance with Katie, PT.

Bill is working very hard this week on the rehab unit at Riverside.
I didn't doubt that he would, but it's hard to watch him
push through the pain and muscle weakness.
I know he's frustrated that he has such a long road.
Upper arms that worked before are significantly weakened from the surgery.
Balance needs work.
And his gait, the signal that first alerted us to his problem,
must be retrained.

Bill's making steady progress,
albeit not as rapid as he'd like.
He's doing a lot more self-care,
but isn't allowed to walk anywhere alone.
In his down time, if not napping,
Bill makes a phone call or two, can text,
reads the paper and watches TV.
He's made a couple of buddies on the unit,
some of whom have challenges greater than Bill's.

The PTs and OTs continue to amaze me.
They show compassion and humor,
but with an iron-will determinedness to help Bill
become independent again and come home.

Your messages, cards, calls and meals mean so much.
Every card is on display in his room,
and I read him the texts and e-mails.
I know you are a great encouragement.
Thank you, thank you!

Please pray for a increased stamina ... and a target release date!

Monday, December 23, 2013

top ten posts: the long goodbye

This post drew perhaps more readers than any other, ever: 286. And since today my dad would have turned 89, I am sharing this post, published on February 26. His four-year journey with dementia seemed long at times,
but now it seems we had him for a short time.


My sister and I spent the weekend with our dad in Nashville.
He lives at Richland Place, with excellent caregivers.
Since we all live out of state, my three siblings and I take turns visiting Dad
so that he sees one of us regularly.

Dad is strengthened by the genes of longevity.
His father lived into his 80's, and his mother died at 91.
Though he is physically frail, Dad's main challenge is dementia.
In over three years of visits, I have seen his mental acuity slowly ebb away.

While he recognizes us and his caregivers,
he is conversing less and less.
He doesn't ask about my children or my life.
His dementia is like a strengthening monster that consumes
Dad's ability to engage with reality.
A conversation will suddenly turn to
comments about "snakes in this area" or a blank stare when I ask a simple question. By 3:30 each afternoon, Dad asked about breakfast.
"Let's go get some breakfast," he said. 

Dad's life was characterized by a sharp and witty mind.
He was a planner, a worker, methodical and creative.
He was an artist, a woodworker, a businessman and provider.
But these days, Dad sits. He watches a little TV, sleeps a lot
and must rely on others for his most basic needs.

At the beginning of this journey, we had many conversations.
I learned about Dad's childhood in rural Arkansas,
where his house had no plumbing and mail was delivered on horseback.

But Dad's world is shrinking.
An "outing" this weekend was pushing him outside and
up and down the halls
of Richland Place.

Visits with Dad are deeply emotional for me, and sadly sweet. 
I know the promise of heaven awaits
for those who know God, and he does.
So why is this so hard?

I remember August mornings on the coast of Maine.
A heavy fog rolls in. There is no escaping it.
That's how it is with Dad.
I think of questions; things to say to pull him back.
But it's futile.
 It seems I am trying to outrun an enveloping mental fog that
 obscures his ability to comprehend.

It's a long good-bye, really.
A very long good-bye.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

top ten posts: Bonhoeffer on loss

It was a year of many highs and lows in our family. This post, on the anniversary of my mother's death, had many readers. We will all lose someone close to us at some point. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote eloquently on loss.

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us,
and one should not even attempt to do so.
One must simply hold out and endure it.
At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort.
For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person through it.
It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness.
God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve - even in pain - the authentic relationship.
Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances,
the more difficult the separation.
But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy.
One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ten days ago, a young husband in our church lost his vibrant wife Kala. Her unexpected death left three young girls without their mother.

As I sat through Kala's service on Saturday, I was inspired by her deep and abiding faith in God. Kala was, in the words of one close friend, "mildly inappropriate" in her zeal for living and loving, for her family, and for pointing others to God.  

Yesterday I came across this Bonhoeffer quote on another blog. It struck me as deeply profound  in light of Kala's recent death, and in the death of my own mother, who slipped away 34 years ago today.  

I think Bonhoeffer is saying we should not struggle and shake our fist at God at the loss of someone we love. God certainly comforts. But to ask God to fill our empty longing is to diminish the beauty and authenticity of our relationship. God leaves us intentionally and "precisely unfilled" to preserve the memories, love, and joy. In time, this emptiness becomes a deep, unshakable and precious gift.

God is, after all, a god of relationships. It's what He wants most of all with us. And so God redeems and transforms the pain of loss into a gift. The gift of a hidden, preserved relationship.

Make no mistake: losing my mother was devastating. The pain of it reared its ugly head as I brought my babies home from the hospital, rocked them, and raised them with only stories of their grandmother. For years I couldn't stand to pass the Mother's Day cards at the store in early May.

Like everyone, I wouldn't be the person I am without my mother's influence. But I'm also a different person by having lost her so young. I am stronger in spirit, with a more compassionate heart, at least I like to think so. And best of all, I've learned to rely on God, not my mother, not anyone really. Her spirit, her kindness, her crazy ways live on because God allowed me to be "precisely unfilled" for a very long time.

For that I am grateful and now experience a silent joy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

top ten posts of 2013

In the midst of wildly preparing for Christmas: shopping, wrapping, food-planning etc, I had an idea today to end the year with ten top blog posts of the year. Why do big ideas explode in the middle of chaos?!

Anyway, I'm looking back over the year and choosing the top ten based on completely subjective criteria. Some posts had lots of readers, others had a number of comments, and some were my personal favorites.

In no particular order, here goes. Today's is May 31, the day my first grandson was born, entitled "Welcome, Noah Daniel!"

Dear Noah,

A first-time hello and welcome to the world from your Baba! Happy birth-day!

Though my cell phone was right beside me last night, it was on 'vibrate' so we missed the messages that your mama's water had broken and daddy was whisking her off to the birthing center.

Good we still have a house phone; your daddy got through just after 1:00 a.m. "On our way!" He sounded excited but also totally calm. After all, it was his third time around: he's a pro!

And then at 3:01 a.m. the message came that you'd arrived at 2:31 a.m! That is to say, for being a few days overdue, you were good and ready to join your family. You weighed a healthy 8 pounds 11 ounces and are 21.5" long. Yay for mom!

All that's behind us now. You came home in a few hours and spent most of the day, as best we can tell, sleeping. Late this morning, we got to see you with Mommy, Daddy, Ari and Ashlyn via Skype. We're so thankful for this amazing technology which is the next best thing to being there with you. Not the same as a snuggle, but better than when your dad was born!

I think your name is amazing. Noah of the Bible listened to and obeyed God, (though people thought he was crazy building that big boat), and was rewarded. I pray you, too, will be a Noah of obedience to your heavenly father. 

I can't wait to visit you, Noah, as soon as I can. Until then, I know you're in good and loving hands. I pray and trust you have a wondrous life ahead of you!

Much, much love, my dear grandson,
your Baba

Noah with his big sisters, Ari and Ash


Sunday, December 15, 2013

a twinkling

The light displays on homes shout
Inflated snowmen, reindeer and igloos try their best to scream Christmas.
This year especially,
I want only unassuming Christmas d├ęcor.
After an emotional year of my husband's serious surgery,
losing my dad,
and the decline of Bill's mom,
I feel fragile in a way, 
as if tossed by life's storms.
Somehow I am most attracted to the simplest of light displays.
I wonder about the hearts inside those houses.
Have they, too, struggled this year?
Suffered a loss?
Was a strand or two of lights all they could manage?
Are they plain tired of the frantic pace of life?
I prefer a single, white candle burning in each window,
our tradition for 35 years.
A simple string of white lights around a door.
Across the street our neighbors hang two wreaths on either side of the garage door,
tiny white lights encircling each.
After the Exlines have gone to bed, the wreaths twinkle through the cold night,
the gentlest of reminders:
Christ is coming.
My heart needs little in the way of a clanging celebration this Christmas .
Instead, it will rest in the simplest reminders
that Christ came gently,
not as an eight-foot snowman
but as a baby.
In our year of baby boys,
we rejoice in the hope born in new life.
Christmas isn't defined by miles of lights.
But rather a candle's flicker, a tiny twinkling,
reminds me of the Christ child
sent by God
to deliver
his quiet
and unrelenting love.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


With each passing year I am losing the enthusiasm to decorate for Christmas.
One commenter said on Donna Boucher's recent post
"it must have to do with being in our 50's."
I am a bit tired ....
of hauling the bins from the crawl space,
of picking through the knick-knacks and garlands and light strands and coffee mugs
to decide what gets used and what stays in the bins.
And for what?
Yes, to serve as a reminder of the coming and the hope of Christ,
though I can do that in my words and thoughts and actions and prayers and worship.
But then who am I to forego my mother's electric candles in the windows,
a simple tree adorned with lights and 35 years of ornaments?
Would I regret it come December 24?
So two days ago, Katie and I hauled out the bins
and in a less-than-reverent voice I announced,
"one hour! I'm only doing this for one hour!"
And that's what we did.
That evening Bill said,
"the house looks nice. Thank you."
More on this topic later!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

thankful for Thanksgiving at home

We've been home for TWO months now, with no trips! While we miss all our far-away family and particularly the fast-growing grandchildren, it's nice to be home after a flurry of trips in late summer and early fall.

I'm a self-avowed homebody; while I like visiting and seeing new places, I'm most comfortable at home with my own bed, desk, bathroom and coffee mug. Maybe most everyone is like that?

Lily and Jill work on sweet potatoes!
Bill, Katie and I welcomed Mark, Jill, Lily and Ethan for Thanksgiving. It was fun and low-key. When your company includes small children and babies, you're tied to the house for feedings, naps and regularly timed meals. So we didn't go out to a movie or the zoo (it was frigid outside; too cold for babies) or much of anything away from the house. But it was nice to hold Ethan (though at almost 3 months he mostly prefers mama), play with Lily and play games with the adults.
Father and son: isn't Ethan a doll??
Lily teaching Popsy the iPad
Fresh air!

Best and cutest clean-up team
Tiny table-setter
 Thanks for making the trip, Mark and Jill! Christmas will be quite another story ...

Friday, November 22, 2013

fifty years ago

Bill stood waiting about a mile away when this photo was taken.

Fifty years ago today, my husband Bill and I were just 200 miles apart when news broke of President Kennedy's assassination. Bill was a freshman at Hiram College in Ohio and I was .... a third grader in Detroit! (Our kids get a laugh out of that.)

November 22, 1963 was also a Friday, and class was suddenly interrupted. An early dismissal was announced; I don't remember if we were told of the President's death, or just sent home to find out. I had just returned to school because I walked home for lunch each day. My younger brother remembers coming home to find mom ironing, with tears in her eyes. Bill's experience is much grander.

He seems to remember being in his dorm that Friday afternoon. As funeral plans became public, Bill and a college buddy, Charlie, decided to be a part of history. The next day they got a ride to the Ohio turnpike and patched together a series of rides to Washington, D.C. Bill, Charlie and their driver rode through the night as Kennedy's body lay in repose at the White House. By daybreak, the trio pulled into Gettysburg, the battlefield awash in the dawn of November 24. Then it was on to D.C. where the wide-eyed young men were given a tour by their chauffeur: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, White House and appropriately, Arlington National Cemetery. "Absolutely amazing," remembers Bill, seeing Washington for the first time as it prepared to bury the nation's Commander-in-Chief.

By mid-morning, the procession with a horse-drawn caisson carrying Kennedy's body left the White House en route to the Capitol where the President  would lie in state for 24 hours. Bill and his companions found a spot on a curb to witness history. "I will never forget the somber, rhythmic echo of the horses' hooves down Pennsylvania Avenue, seeing the flag-draped coffin and riderless horse," Bill says.

Afterward, Bill and Charlie's driver said, "I'm headed west, you guys want a ride?" Knowing they had classes the next day, they accepted and rode back to Ohio that afternoon.

Bill doesn't have an impetuous bone in his body, so I find it amazing  he gave no second thought to a 24-hour adventure. At the invincible age of 18, he probably didn't realize the magnitude of tasting and witnessing such an historic day.

I imagine the kind driver saw the bigger picture and the sacred role he played in walking a couple of Ohio boys through 24 hours of history.

Monday, November 18, 2013

crossing paths

Dad, September 2011

My dad was the person who knew me longest in life, nearly 59 years: more than twice as long as my mother. While I'm not sure he knew me the best of anyone, it's possible he did, more than I realize. Even when years and distance separate you from your child, don't you know him well? I know what will make my children laugh, what touches them, what they like to do, and how they might answer a question.

But as dementia claimed Dad's mind like an enveloping fog, I was incredibly saddened that he became more and more distant. Dementia is cruelly possessive, it claims a victim as its own. In the last year of his life Dad didn't ask about my family; not my husband, children or grandchildren. He slipped from us bit by bit. The many photos we sent filled his bulletin board and on occasion would catch his attention. But in the last month he asked Lisa, his attendant, to take them down. "I'm going to Memphis," he told her. Memphis is where he was buried.

Ethan Henry, 2 months old
I believe God's declaration, you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb (Psalm 139:13) and I wonder if and how the souls of babies awaiting birth are hanging around heaven. When I first met my grandson Ethan, it fascinated me that he loved to put his head way back and stare straight up. Jill and I took the children on a short walk and Ethan gazed up at the sky the whole time, as if looking for something. It made me wonder. Although Ethan was born five days before Dad's death, did they somehow meet? Whose paths cross in heaven, and when?

I do wonder, but God reminds me in the Bible that He has things well in hand. And thankfully, this world isn't all there is.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18