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Farm Pond in NebraskaWhile casually chatting with some new friends, one looks up and glances toward the lake where our kids are exploring. He asks about a noise he heard. The other Dad listens. “That’s not a good yell!” He says – and takes off running.

I didn’t hear the commotion, but knowing my kids are about 600 yards away by the farm pond, I too took off running.

Since lunch wouldn’t be ready right away, the kids decided to go explore the farm. I didn’t think too much of it, but later when I heard they were out by the lake, a small voice urged me to go check on them. And yet, I ignored it.

Well, I didn’t actually ignore it, but I did argue with that little voice. As an older father with a long history in EMS, I tend to be a bit cautious. I want my kids to inherit my adventuresome spirit, but I’d like them to survive.

I never feared death until my kids were born. Now, I feel vulnerable to death. It would kill me to lose them, and I’d hate to abandon them through my own death. For someone who embraces adventure and dangerous activities, it’s a weird place to be.

So here I am, running through waist deep grass and weeds about 30 feet behind my friend. We still don’t know what’s going on, but we can hear panicked screams of terror from at least one child. But we can’t see them. I’m praying the whole way and preplanning resuscitation scenarios in my head. I’m also steeling myself, emotionally, to do CPR on one of my kids.

Suddenly the weeds get thick and we can’t run. The vines are wrapping around our ankles and the nettles are stinging our legs. The urgency is still there, but I feel like a turtle running through peanut butter. We’re really in deep weeds now.

I catch a sight of my Smiling Son’s white cowboy hat, and I can see he’s walking around – but he’s near the lake. I call our my Darling Daughter’s name – once, twice, and she finally answers. The screaming calms and the kids appear out of the deep weeds. Just then, I get dive bombed by bees.

As I continue to struggle through the vines and grass, I’m waving my arms trying to fend off the bees. The kids tell us that they were attacked by bees. Ah, now they tell me! ūüėČ

I get through the weeds and away from the offended nest. I have a million grass seeds in my socks and shoes, and few stings from the nettles, but I escaped the angry bees. The kids are fine, except for a few stings, but they are all scared and relieved to see us. I, on the other hand am out of breath and filled with the adrenaline rush of fear, panic, and genuine parental concern.

I take turns holding my kids and soothing their fear.

That’s one of the hard things about being a parent. It doesn’t matter what emotions are in your own heart, your kids’ needs come first. They feared bees, I feared something more tragic and scary. They feared the physical pain of stingers, I feared losing one or both of them. Clearly, my fears trump theirs – but that is irrelevant. I held them. Their fears are real, and deep, and tragic.

At their ages, they could never understand the depth of my love for them. My Smiling Son and I have a little bedtime ritual. He tries to one-up me on how much he loves me more than I love him. I love his confidence and enthusiasm as he tries to show me how much he loves me. It’s a form of worship really. But, without crushing his spirit, I can never let him win this game.

First, he doesn’t understand, really, the depth of love we are really talking about. Second, he can never love me more. And finally, the stakes are high – our kids have to know the depth of our love for them. They have to know that our love is a nearly bottomless pit.

As we walked back to the farm-house, the kids shared their stories of the “hundreds and millions of bees” that attacked them. We two Dads, just held them, listened, and thanked God for the opportunity to still hold our kids.

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 ‚Äď 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.

Yesterday I tackled a task I’ve been putting off for years, decades even. And because I had a large pile of yard debris to burn, I decided to take on two tasks¬†simultaneously. I’ve been hauling around financial records for years. Old check stubs, payroll reports, bank statements, and canceled checks. In addition, there were files regarding the buy and sale of houses and all sorts of other important papers. I’ve known I needed to destroy these docs for a long time, but the idea of standing over a shredder for a couple of days really didn’t sound appealing. I think you can understand why I’ve been procrastinating.

It turned out to be a great day”

I know this is really know excuse for dragging this stuff all over the country – five states – but I have excuses for that too. It just seems that moving never comes at a time when one can take on extra tasks. Sometimes, when it’s time to move, we just have to throw things in the truck and head out. I hate moving.

In addition to all these financial records, I’ve saved letters, cards, and correspondence for years. Some of these were old love letters, photos, and mementos. I’ve wanted to get rid of these for years. I am married to the love of my life, my soul mate, the woman of my dreams – I have no need, or desire, to reminisce about the past. But again, it is about disposing of things appropriately.

“I wish my Dad would listen to me.”

So, yesterday, burning permit in hand, I told my Smiling Son we were going to light the pile. In addition, I suggested to my Darling Daughter and Wonderful Wife that we should roast some potatoes and corn in the fire. My son was ready to go!

Not only does he love to be with me, help me, and discover new things – he recently discovered that fire is cool. I underestimated this level of excitement in him. I also seriously underestimated my level of introspection over this process. These two energies do not merge well.

“I see a lot of Dads shutting their kids down…”

As I’m going through boxes with 40 years of history, my¬†Smiling Son is chatting non-stop. He is giving me a running narrative of everything – every bug, every paper, every stick, and every flame. He is constant and he is jazzed. Unfortunately, as I look at bank statements from my first savings account, letters from significant memories, and files detailing my first house – my mind is reeling with thoughts and images.

It turned out to be a great day. The yard debris burned, the papers burned, the potatoes were awesome, the corn was ok, and we all ended up having some great outdoor time. The kids took baths, I finished up with the burn pile, and then I sat in the dark, by the fire, by myself. It was good to have some time to chill. And that’s when it hit me – it was a good day.

I also realized something about my son’s constant chatter. It is a form of worship. It’s well known that a kid’s real hero is his father – that’s me. Anytime he can do something with me, he is in Heaven. Anytime he can help, well, that’s just better. And fire – fire is cool.

I wish I could chatter to my father like that. Better, I wish he would listen.

I see a lot of Dads shutting their kids down. The holler, snap, or criticize their kids’ constant banter. To be fair, it can be annoying – but that isn’t the point. The kids need our affirmation, support, tolerance, and understanding. If you shut that kid down, they will forever be scarred.

I’m not talking about an occasional scolding, or a request to be quiet – it’s ok for kids to quieted now and then. But if you are always telling your kids to be quiet, or yelling at them for interrupting you, some real damage can be done. Some people tease their kids and ridicule them for doing what kids do best – ask questions and chatter. But it isn’t always the silencing that is damaging, sometimes it can be the manner in which you do this. Your tone, your attitude, and your manner can often be the most damaging.

Yesterday, I didn’t give my son 100% of my attention. There were even times I told him I didn’t have time/energy to listen or look at everything he was trying to tell or show me. But amazingly, I was calm and patient. I hope I can always be that way.

Like I said, I wish my earthly father would listen and hear me. More importantly, I bet my Heavenly Father loves it when I chatter like my son does – and I’m pretty sure He never gets tired of it either.

Did your father listen to you? Does he listen now? Do you listen to your kids? What stands in the way?

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