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Several months ago my Smiling Son began to notice his penis would “stick up.” Usually this was in the middle of the night, or in the mornings, when he had to urinate. I was a bit freaked out by it, but not noticeably so. As you can imagine, I haven’t seen a lot of erect penises. The first time I had to redirect it so his pee would actually go in the toilet, I was actually a little weirded out. But I didn’t give it too much thought.

Last week, he began to ask me about it. He wondered why it dis this and what it meant? I didn’t have a good answer, but I knew the Internets did – so I got online to get some advice. My Wonderful Wife is doing a great job of teaching these things to our Darling Daughter. Now it’s my turn to step up and teach our son – without scarring him for life.

I can’t imagine how parents handled these issues before the Internet. Well, actually I can – because I was raised by parents who wouldn’t tough these subjects. My Dad didn’t have “the talk” with me until I was about 12 or 13. Which was too late, by the way. And anytime my body went through changes related to puberty, my parents got embarrassed and changed the subject. I don’t want to raise my kids that way.

We have always used correct verbiage when relating to body parts and functions. We are just matter of fact and we don’t avoid talking about these things. We don’t tease them, make fun, or refer to these things with sarcasm or put downs. So, after a brief search online, and reading some very good advice, this is how I talked to my son about his erections:

  • First, I told him that “this is normal.”
  • Second, “it happens to all men and boys,” I offered.
  • Third, I said “it usually happens when we have to urinate” – or at other times.
  • Fourth, I explained that “if we just go pee, or forget about it, it will go away.”

At this point, he was satisfied with my explanation and we moved on to other topics. As with many discussions about “sensitive” topics, the experts suggest you not share too much, or explain more than the kids are prepared to handle. So, I stopped  My five year-old doesn’t care about reproduction and all the details about what erections are for. But he will! Because of that, I’ll be ready for the next conversations.

Interestingly, after we had this little chat, and as I was saying goodnight to Smiling Son and Darling Daughter (who is now eight), my son mentioned that he had an erection – which caused my daughter to ask questions. I wasn’t quite ready for that conversation – but as we talked, I realized this was a good discussion for her too. And it didn’t really go much further than the earlier conversation with my son.

My daughter wrapped up the conversation telling me about watching a male horse pee. We had been at a branding earlier in the day, and I saw her watching this horse and how fascinated she was by the experience. Later my wife and I talked – our conclusion – there’s nothing like a life on the farm, or ranch, to educate your kids.

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Note: When I started this blog, I thought it would be a good place to process my learning curve as a parent. Somewhere along the way, it became a place to process my own passage into adulthood – inspired by my kids, my wife, my employment, and other aspects that come along. Since life is beginning to sort itself out, I want to return to my original paradigm and vision for this space.

Growing up in the city doesn’t afford many opportunities for quiet or solitude, but I would seek them out nonetheless. Some of my earliest memories involve me being alone, in relatively quiet places. Whether alone atop Mt. Tabor, or sitting on the roof of our garage – which was a favorite place. Sometimes I would find solitude in my bedroom, behind the couch, or even riding my bike. Later, in my teens, we always had a tree fort where I spent many afternoons seeking peace and quiet.Two Sans Umbrella

However, as a child of the city, what I thought was quiet was merely a lack of distraction. The ever-present background noise never stopped. Being a child of the 60s, my transistor radio and 45rpm records – later cassette tapes and a stereo – always played music. In the car, in my room, or as a young adult on my motorcycle, there was always music. And of course there were the sounds of traffic, people, and the accompanying commotion. Sirens, trucks, airplanes, and the whine of tires on the highway. It was, in the truest sense of the word, ubiquitous.

Even my early childhood exposures to the great outdoors were filled with noise. My family always camped in crowded state parks and my grandfather always trolled when we went fishing. Somehow, despite the drone of the trolling motor, or the business of the campground, I was still able to find solitude. When camping, I’d build a shelter on the beach and my dog and I would watch and listen to the surf. It was soothing, refreshing, and energizing. While fishing with my grandfather, I’d lie back and let the hum of the boat motor envelop me in a hypnotic trance of daydreams.

After a severe personal crisis in my early 20s, I began to seek a better way of living. I sought peace and serenity – which led me to spend time in the mountains of Western Oregon. The most significant of these experiences was a five-day journey near Lolo Pass, on the Pacific Crest Trail. Not only was I alone, but I purposefully didn’t tell anyone where I was. Though not safe, and I would never recommend this, there is something very freeing about making it difficult to be found – especially by those who would want to find me.

Top of Mt. Hood, OregonThose five days in the woods were filled with beauty, solitude, loneliness, freedom, release, and healing. The view of Mount Hood was stunning. The wind cascaded through the trees with a dichotomy of terror and gentleness. I feared bears and cougars, but never saw any. I feared being discovered, but never saw another soul. I reveled in the sunshine and enjoyed the rain. I felt wild and alive – and it was quiet.

Over the course of the next several years, there were a few times of quiet, but mostly life was just filled with stress, business, and noise. Visual noise, auditory noise, and the detritus of human interaction. I played the soundtrack louder in order to overpower the noise, but this, in retrospect, just created more noise.

I remember nights spent on Council Crest or Mount Tabor, soaking in the starlight and cityscape. There was solitude, but it was never quiet. Sometimes the wind blowing through the trees would drown out the cacophony of city life below, but often that city life was a comforting presence – reassuring me that I was not alone in my stress. More than once I approached one of these high places, doubting I could continue to trudge forward, but the bitter-cold winds blowing through the trees and the crystal, twinkling starlight hovering over the sparkling city, all cooperated to bring peace to my soul.Portland On Fire

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I will never forget the first time I experienced absolute quiet. It was also the first time I heard an orchestra in my ears. Like voices, but not. Like music, but not. Like the roar of a busy city, but not. Like putting your ear up to a seashell, but not. Honestly, I don’t know how to describe it. It was so strange, so unknown, and so seldom experienced – I have no way to explain it to someone who has never heard it. There are probably several people who have heard nothing – absolute silence – but I’ve never heard anyone try to describe it.

To be honest, I didn’t like it. I wanted to turn on a radio, shout into the sky, or make it go away. I forced myself to listen. I forced myself to stay with it. I almost thought I was coming unhinged. I closed my eyes and listened. It scared me – but I knew there was nothing to fear. Or was there?

Read this man’s experience with absolute silence.

“after a minute or two, I became aware of the sound of my breathing, so I held my breath. The dull thump of my heartbeat became apparent – nothing I could do about that. As the minutes ticked by, I started to hear the blood rushing in my veins. Your ears become more sensitive as a place gets quieter, and mine were going overtime. I frowned and heard my scalp moving over my skull, which was eerie, and a strange, metallic scraping noise I couldn’t explain. Was I hallucinating?” ~ George Michelson Foy

What if the repressed fears of my soul could be heard? What if I began to hear the screams of fear in my heart? What if there were memories, regrets, or desires that are hidden in my soul? What if I listened to all those private, inner voices? Would I go crazy? Could I handle those voices? I began to cry – not just soft, whimpering, but deep, heaving sobs. The silence was broken.

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In the early 1990s some friends and I went to Alaska on a sea kayaking adventure. We spent nearly three weeks away from our homes and jobs. It’s the first time I’ve taken vacation that long. The first week was spent traveling up the coast by ferry, from Bellingham, Washington to Juneau, Alaska. And after a night or two in Juneau we flew to Gustavus, at the opening to Glacier Bay Alaska, and spent another two days there before setting off on our great Alaskan vacation.

For the next two weeks, after being dropped off far up into the bay, we camped and paddled amongst the beauty of unadulterated wildness. It was an amazing opportunity to experience whales, bears, birds, and calving glaciers. The clarity of the night sky was beyond description – with an untold number of stars that are rarely seen by those in more civilized climes. There were no outside distractions, no electronics, and nothing to break the quiet.

But it was our last night when the whole experience exploded. It started with a pack of wolves visiting our camp and a full moon rising above a neighboring mountain horizon. With the arrival of the moon, the wolves began to howl. They were all around us and it was the most amazing symphony I’ve ever experienced. They howled from the forest, they howled from down the beach where we were camped, and they howled from the neighboring mountain. We were surrounded by wolves and they sang in perfect harmony.

Glacier Bay_TiltAnd yet, God wasn’t finished delighting us. With the accompaniment of the wolves, and the light of a beautiful, late Summer moon, we were treated with the most spectacular fireworks display powered by the aurora borealis. There were streaks of green, flashes of amber, and even some red highlights. The sky danced with light and color. (Later, a local forest ranger told us it was the most spectacular display of Northern Lights he’s ever seen.)

The night was far from over though. My six friends, not being night owls, had escaped to their sleeping bags, but I couldn’t even begin to think of sleep. The night was magical and I stood under the canopy of stars, listening to the wolves, watching the sky writing of the Northern Lights, and marveling at the rising full moon. I could only say “Wow. Wow….. Wow.” And then I heard movement in the water behind me.

At first I thought it was a whale, maybe sea lions – of which we’d seen many, but soon I heard the exhalation of many breathing holes. It was a pod of dolphins! Just when I thought the night couldn’t get anymore fantastic, a pod of dolphins shows up to patrol the small bay where we camped.

Though the show continued through the night, I finally resigned myself  to the inevitable and crawled into my sleeping bag. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of the happy, howling wolves.The Wolf......

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Arising to the sunrise, I was the first up. The sky was clear, the bay was still – very still, and there wasn’t a sound to be heard. I walked down to a nearby creek to bathe and start my day. The sun was already burning brightly on this warm August morning. A wolf sat about 50 yards away, watching me bathe in the creek. But it was the stillness of the morning that struck me.

I was still basking in the afterglow of last night. My heart rose in song and worship, while the wolf studied me curiously, his head cocked to one side. After I dressed and walked away from the creek, I sat on a rock and looked at the mountains across the bay. The stillness was deafening. The water was still and the mountains were perfectly reflected on the water. There wasn’t even a wisp of wind.

Once again, like it had years before, the quiet overwhelmed me. But this time I was better prepared for it. My heart was at peace because of the magical night of wolves and Northern Lights. As I sat in the sunlight, bathing in it’s warmth, I heard nothing. It is always disquieting. But too rare in all our lives. It saddens me to think that some have never heard absolute quiet.

Like before, the quiet remained indescribable. The sounds of my heartbeat and breathing were very pronounced. And like before, the voices of my soul were noticeable. But unlike before, I relaxed in the quiet. It didn’t unhinged me. I just reveled in the sound of nothing.

Too soon, the morning came to a close. My friends walked down the beach to find me – they were afraid I’d been eaten by a grizzly. We packed up our camp and within an hour the boat returned to take us home to civilization. Two days later I was home.

For the next two weeks, I slept in my sleeping bag and lived out of my pack. I hung the Glacier Bay map on my wall and lived on trail mix and dried fruits. To be honest, it was a bit depressing coming back to civilization – especially after the visions of grandeur I experienced in Alaska.

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Twice, since arriving in Valentine, I’ve experienced quiet like this – absolute, pure, unadulterated quiet. Accompanied by a canopy of a billion stars, I revel in this world created for us.

Have you ever experienced quiet like this? What was it like for you? Did it unhinge you? Were you moved? Where were you? Do you seek moments like this? How did it affect you? If you can’t find quiet like this, what do you do to replace the experience – in order to remain serene and healthy?

I am content with the sound of the ocean, the wind blowing through the trees, or the babble of fast moving stream. Even the sensory deprivation of a long hot shower will work. Each of these experiences reset my internal clock and give me the courage and peace to continue the battle. But nothing is like absolute, perfect, disquieting silence. I wonder if it’s possible to experience this, Zen-like, in the midst of a cacophony of noise and commotion.

I don’t know where my frugal nature comes from, and it certainly isn’t consistent. I can save, but I can also spend. I’ve been in debt, and I’ve been rolling in cash. The one common theme in all of this inconsistency is my ability to not waste things. I truly love the phrase, “waste not, want not.” I believe that if I can use the tools and resources at my disposal, I can use my money and time for more important things.Well advertised!

Notice the use of the word disposal above. That was on purpose.

In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a disposable society – and it’s killing me. Seriously, actually, hurting my soul. I can’t stand to throw something away if it still has value.

While something may have lost its usefulness, if it still has some value left in it, I can’t bring myself to toss it. Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not a hoarder. But I am a bit of a pack-rat. For instance, I have this coffee can in my tool room where I toss loose screws, mismatched nuts and bolts, and random pieces of metal and plasticdoo-dads. When I’m working on a project, trying to fix something – or invent some Mickey Mouse workaround, I know I can go to that can and find something to make my project work. Not only is it cheaper than a trip to the hardware store, it is definitely more time efficient (see my post on Energy Efficiency from a few days ago).

Sometimes I’ll look at a piece of metal, a s crap of plastic, or a butter tub and wonder what I could use this for. No, I didn’t grow up in the depression, but I’m only two generations removed from that. My Dad grew up very poor, and though we lived comfortably, we didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. I’ve just learned not to waste things – one never knows what use they might find for some doohickey, or widget.

‎”We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”  ~C. S. Lewis

That’s what makes this transition in our lives so hard. We are liquidating everything – except bare essentials (eg; clothes, toiletries, and other stuff) and memorabilia. What doesn’t sell will be donated to charity or tossed into the dumpster. I don’t mind liquidating – and I have little fear for the future. I know my needs will be provided for (see Matthew 6). I just hate wasting things.

Already we sold much in last Friday’s moving sale, and I expect to sell much more tomorrow. Though it’s hard selling $200 chairs for $40, I feel better when the people really want them. It was much harder selling my Canon AE-1 and a bunch of lenses and accessories for $40 – when I originally spent close to $2000 on all that gear. Not to mention 35 years of memories. But again, much better than tossing them into the wind at the Goodwill or in the trash.

What is hard for me is seeing stuff that still has value, but will have to be thrown away. My bucket of nuts and bolts for example. It’s not worth anything, but it is. In fact, I can live without this stuff. Seriously, I’m not afraid of being without a random nut, or bolt, but I just have trouble tossing them.

Yesterday, I threw away one nail, two screws, some sheet rock anchors, and a rubber band when I cleaned my desk. They hadn’t quite made it to the coffee can yet – but I just threw them away. In the trash. wasted. Almost 9 cents of usable product – and I just tossed them!

Loving Gifts…

Then there is our bedroom furniture. Solid oak – I mean solid. Well built, quality furniture. The two dressers are heavy – and did I mention solid? The two dressers, two nightstands, mirror, and headboard were given to us out of love by some dear friends. I planned to keep them the rest of my life. Though they scream disco, water-bed, 70s – they are quality furniture. Our friends probably paid well over $2000 for the set 35+ years ago. I’m asking only $200 for the set – and no one has shown any interest.

And why should they? They aren’t stylish – and they aren’t cool. Anyone could go to Ikea and get cool, stylish furniture for just a few hundred more – and if they put it on their credit card, it will only cost about $5 bucks a month. Besides, who has an extra $200 cash lying around?

This seems to be the case for a lot of our stuff. Why would anyone pay a dollar for our very fine, working toaster, when they can buy a new one, in the box, at Wal-Mart for $6.00? I have tire chains, coil springs, ladders, couches, chairs, and a bunch of stuff. I’d like to sell it, but not because I need the money – although money is good and we don’t have a lot of it right now. I want to see it because I can’t stand to see it wasted.

We gave away our piano – another loving gift from some dear people. I was happy to give it away to a good family who will use it and treasure it. We have actually given away a lot of stuff to friends and family – and that feels really good. I’d give away more if I thought people would take it and appreciate it. Our king-size mattress is only a year old, and I’d love to get some of our $1000 back out of it, but more importantly, I just don’t want to see it tossed.

Small stuff, big stuff, junk, or crap – I just hate to see things wasted. I don’t know why – it just is.

Circumstances…

A couple of months ago I binged watching a show on Hulu. It was about the US Marshall Service Witness Protection Program. The thing that struck me was how people would have to leave everything, including photographs, in a matter of hours, and relocate in another life and location. In one episode, the whole family looked at a door with the kids heights marked on it. A lot of families have a wall, door, or door post marked like this. With great regret, they had to leave the door. Stuff like this is hard.

I can’t even imagine walking away from all my stuff; but in a sense, this is what I feel we are being asked to do – with caveats and some flexibility. So, I think, what if this area was being swept by a wildfire, like the recent one in Colorado Springs, and we had 45 minutes to evacuate. Obviously, we would lose everything that wouldn’t fit in our car – and maybe more. Including the board that measures the kids heights through the years. We, like many, would have no choice but to walk away – or run, as the case may be.

Then I think of time, circumstances, and opportunities. Millions of people lost everything during various wars. I think of all the houses bombed, burned, and looted. The lives lost – the opportunities missed. It simply happens.

The other day a man died alone in his home. His body wasn’t discovered for a month. He had no family so Realtors, neighbors, and city officials were cleaning out the house. They discovered $7 million in gold coins. What a waste!

Sometimes it’s all abouttime goes

If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, would I be concerned about wasting my stuff? Of course not! If I knew I was going to be offered a wonderful job on another continent, I’d gladly part with it all. If I knew I was going to live here for another year, I’d certainly not part with it. If I knew I were going to spend eternity in Heaven, and on the New Earth, with no needs ever – I’d gladly part with it.

So really,time, again, is the crucible of character (see this recent post). If I knew I had a lot of time to part with the stuff, I could find the right buyer, or right recipient and I would feel good about passing on my stuff. If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I’d walk away from it all and spend the day with my family at the beach. If I knew I had 45 minutes to evacuate my house before a raging wildfire swept through, I’d grab my computer, kids, and other valuables and flee (not necessarily in that order mind you). If I knew Jesus would be arriving tomorrow, again, nothing here has any value.

It’s the unknown timeline that throws me. Like running a race without knowing how far it is, or where the finish line is located – I don’t know what I’ll need, or what I won’t.

Lessons from Michael Weston…

Another favorite show on Hulu is Burn Notice. Michael Weston is a burned spy trying to restore his career, reputation, and life’s calling. As you can imagine, I really relate to this show. In the process of restoring his life, Weston becomes a freelance spy, or fixer of sorts. He helps people, asking nothing in return – just because he is a good guy.

The lesson I learned from this show was particularly poignant for me. Weston and his team use resources to fit the need, regardless of the value or scarcity of the resource used. If they have to blow up his prized, vintage Dodge Challenger, they blow it up. If they have to use up the last of their bullets, they use them. They hold nothing back and they approach everything with a total disregard for saving something for later.

This is exactly my problem. Sometimes I look at my resources and wonder if I should use them now, or save them for later. (Remember the whole energy conservation post?)

I once went backpacking in Arizona with friends. It was a beautiful trip. We hiked in a narrow creek bed, cut through the desert, which put us in the shade, in the water, and out of the heat. Parts of this slot canyon were so narrow we had to float our packs on inner tubes and swim in the icy cold water. Most of it though, we were able to hike. We wore sandals so we could easily walk on the rocks or through the creek

Unfortunately this hike took two days longer than expected. The guidebook told us it would take two days. We planned on three, but it actually took four and a half days. By the end of day three, we were out of food. I don’t do well without food – especially when carrying an 80 pound pack. The challenge was, do we eat all our food and reduce our pack weight, or do we ration our food and make it last for the next couple of days? We chose to ration it – but truth be told, I had some power bars stashed in my survival kit. When we got out of the canyon, we went out for pizza and ordered five large pizzas – one for each of us.

This is my tendency. I evaluate my resources (ie; emotional, financial, social, or physical) and estimate the costs and benefits. Then I ration those resources to get maximum benefit and ROI (return on investment). But when the destination is fuzzy, the finish line is unclear, and the results are unknown, it is really difficult to know how to use one’s resources. Being the good Boy Scout I am, I tend to take a conservative approach and save my resources so I can “be prepared” for what may lie ahead.

Sometimes one has to go full speed ahead and ignore those damn torpedoes.

We don’t know what lies ahead; we have no resources to speak of; and we are being asked to liquidate it all. My hesitation to do this is purely my issue. Waste, or not, it has to go – but man this is hard!

When I replaced my aging Gore-tex parka several years ago, I discovered a tool that helps. I looked at the old parka, which cost $300, and divided that price by the 15 years use I’d gotten out of it. I realized I’d received plenty of value for $20 a year. It didn’t seem like such a waste to toss it aside when I looked at it as rent. For $20 a year, that was money well spent. On the other hand, it was still costing me $300 to replace and it still had a lot of life left in it.

When I was in seminary I read an article about Lot and his family leaving Sodom. It’s said the angels actually had to grab them by the hand and drag them out of the city. On their departure, if you recall, Lot’s wife turned to look back at her old home and she was turned into a pillar of salt. This author said the reason she hesitated was because of Lot’s failure to lead – and his hesitation when they were first told to leave. This story has haunted me since.

I do not want to be the cause of hesitation in my family. When God gives direction, I want to boldly proceed.

Though I hate to waste resources, in the end, it’s all going to burn anyway. And what good would $7 million in gold do me at my death?

Really, in the end, it isn’t the one with the most toys that wins. The one who wins is the one who found peace, serenity, and value in their family.

“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” ~ Solomon

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