Pushing the Wrong Buttons

If what you believe in does not impact how you behave then what you believe in is not important.” – Shaykh Yassir Fazaga

My friend, Eric, told me that his 87-year-old mom has been leaving him really long voice mail messages. She records her message and then thinks she has hung up but the voice mail then records her going about her business.

So he was on the phone with her the other day and told her that she hasn’t been hanging up. “Well” she replied, “I hit the button.” After they finished talking, he stayed on the line and sure enough, heard her puttering around.

He got her attention by yelling her name into the phone and when she put it to her ear he asked, “WHAT button have you been pushing?” She replied something that made him realize she’d been pushing a volume button instead of the power button.

After we finished laughing about that, I mused about all the times I’ve pushed the wrong button. It reminded me of the old tech support joke when one tech asked another how he fixed the user’s problem, and the tech replied, “The On/Off selector was in the wrong position.”

I think of the time I was giving my friend, Jill, a compliment on her pants and said, “Those are so cute. My mom has a pair.” Turns out I offended her greatly because who wants to look like someone’s mom? Oops, wrong button.

But mostly it makes me think of all the times I’ve tried to do something without plugging into the Source and feeling the surge of power in my solar plexus. Like the tech joke, I have often tried things with the on/off selector in the wrong position, and without the power of belief, just relegated myself to futilely tapping at the keyboard with no results.

From rock climbs to bids for work in my professional field, there has been a huge difference between doing it with the power on or off, with my beliefs and values intact or lost somewhere in the dimness. Sometimes when I plug in to a Higher Power, I realize that I’m pursuing the wrong things but I find out the course correction is much easier with the power on.

Of course, like Eric’s mom, I continue to push the wrong buttons at times. Sooner or later, I find my way back to the small insistent God voice at my core asking, “WHAT button have you been pushing?”

(featured photo from Pexels)

Miracle or Coincidence?

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

When a friend turned 60 recently, I tried to think of 60 things I could give her that would be relevant, useful and fun. She really didn’t need anything so I created her a little tree with 60 of my favorite quotes.

During the unveiling, my friend and I were looking through the little quotes, taking them down, reading them and then reclipping them. We were rotating the tree so it wasn’t clear which ones we’d already tried and we kept on grabbing one quote, the quote for this post, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

And then just as I was writing a piece about the quote for the Pointless Overthinking blog, Eddie Two Hawks posted that exact quote yesterday.

Coincidence? Or a miracle? It feels as if we are collectively in need of a miracle. Whatever the shade of our belief in God, the Creator, the Universe, optimism, or goodness, we can do the work to develop eyes that see.

I’m better at spotting miracles in the small circumstances of my life but I believe they apply to the bigger view of our world as well. The key is practicing seeing the world that way. Here’s my post about Creating Eyes That See at Pointless Overthinking.

I Can

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” – Truman Capote

I was talking with my friend Scott the other day about confidence. How did he have the confidence to start his own business 25+ years ago? And does the person he’s picked to replace him have the confidence to run the business when he retires? In the course of the conversation, I told him a chain of events that sparked my interest about the subject of confidence.

About two years ago, in the spring of 2020, I had two things that I needed to replace. I’d torn the passenger side mirror of my car loose when I backed up too closely to the yard waste bin. And the torsion spring on my garage door had snapped, maybe after my 4-year-old hung from the door as it was going up. This was the very start of the pandemic so just calling someone to come fix the problems wasn’t a viable option and my inclination anyway is to at least triage things myself.

It took a little googling to figure out what I needed to do next to fix my problems but with help from the internet, I figured out what parts I needed and ordered them. Then I talked over the issues with my brother. He found YouTube videos for how to replace both things and said he’d help. But before he could come over, I did both on my own.

The way I saw it was that I could watch the videos and try. If I didn’t succeed, I could always ask for help but at least I’d learn something. And I did learn something – how to do both!

At this point in the story, Scott laughed at me because he thought I was leaving out the most obvious sign of confidence – that I’d had two kids as a single parent by choice. Right – there’s that. 😊

But what really got me thinking about this topic was that not long after I fixed my garage door and replaced my car mirror, my daughter who was then just 4 ½ years old had her pre-school graduation and the comments left for her from the other parents/teachers were things like:

I love your confidence and I appreciate how friendly you are to everyone!

I love your stories and your art and how confident you are sharing your ideas with the whole class.

I love how determined and confident you are. You are also so empathetic and such a kind and helpful friend to many.

As I was mulling over how confidence seemed to have been passed to my daughter, I heard an adult joke sarcastically about my daughter when she said she could do something, “Girl, you really need to work on your confidence.”

At that point, I knew I needed to understand confidence and if/how it’s passed from one generation to the next (because I’d say my parents were very confident people and my instinct is that I got the courage to try from my dad). More than anything what I really want to know is how to foster confidence in a child in a way that healthy, realistic and humble.

Writing for Psychology Today in an article called The Secret of Self-Esteem author and psychiatrist Neel Burton defines as being confident as to trust and have faith in the world. Merriam-Webster adds one more flavor to this with a kids definition of confident as having or showing sureness or optimism. Dr. Burton distinguishes confidence from similar concepts by explaining confidence is feeling “I can,” self-esteem is feeling “I am” and pride is the feeling of “I did.”

That resonates with me because what I often think is that I can try something and even without an expectation of victory, I have the belief it will get me to the next clue in the puzzle. I can try has a very different flavor than I will succeed.

It also matches what I learned from my dad. He taught me many of my house project skills and though we had to blunder and troubleshoot our ways through some projects there was no question that we would eventually get it done. Like the time we unknowingly bought bathroom drywall instead of regular drywall and then wondered why it was so heavy and had to figure out how to marry it with what was there. His attitude was always one of “we can.” Probably most influentially, he never told me that there was something that I couldn’t do.

When I was talking with Scott about confidence, I asked him where he thought he got his. He didn’t hesitate a moment before saying that it was from his dad. But I’ve heard other answers too – teachers, coaches, librarians – anyone influential that told us by word or by action, “You can!”

 I’m still working out many of my questions about confidence as I read through a pile of well-researched and thought out materials so I have many posts on this subject to come: what happens to confidence as we age, how to help a child build healthy confidence and what role does faith play in confidence?

Tell me how you think of confidence. Does “I can” resonate with you? Was there someone in your life that gave you confidence?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Magic Within

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B. Yeats

Yesterday I picked up a board book that I used to read my daughter in her youngest years and read it to my toddler. I hadn’t read it in years since my 6-year-old daughter has moved on to more complex plot lines. As I read the beautifully illustrated pages, I was inspired by the words that seem to me to be part poetry and part prayer for the sacred inner child. They brought back that feeling of infinite possibility and boundless love that came with each of my kids as they were handed to me in the hospital. Here is part of The Crown On Your Head:

With your crown made of glittering, high-flying things,
you’ve got wind in your pocket, your wishes have wings.

You can run like you mean it…so, let the wind blow…
There’s just no telling how high you can go!

Whatever it is you choose to do, no one can do it exactly like you.
Ride on the big slide! And if you fall down, remember your glorious, marvelous crown.

It won’t flicker or fade. It won’t dim. It won’t leave.

Do you, my child? I hope that you do.
The world is a wonderland waiting for you.

And you get to share it with all your friends, too!
They each have a crown that is faithful and true.

No one’s is brighter, no one’s is duller.
It’s only a crown of a different color.

So sometimes, just every now and then, whisper “I believe” again.

Your crown is your best friend forever, by far.
It tells the true story of just who you are.

That’s why every night, when I put you to bed,
I’m careful to kiss the crown on your head.

The Crown on Your Head by Nancy Tillman

And I wondered, when did I stop believing in this about me? I don’t mean that in a self-pitying way but in a way that has forgotten that there is a sacred inner child within me.

It strikes me that somewhere in the transition between my parents wishes for the beautiful life I would have and coming to care for myself, I have mastered the practicalities but forgotten the magic. And while I am more or less fine with that because I get along well enough, I wouldn’t wish that same pragmaticism-only for my kids.

And beyond my kids, is it possible for me to recognize the magic in you if I don’t recognize the magic in me? There has to be a maxim here that if I’m moved enough when I read it to my kids because I have witnessed their magic then I must believe it just a little bit – otherwise why read it at all?

There must be a way that doesn’t leave them narcissistic, spoiled or entitled to remind my kids of the magic inside them. Believing in our inner magic doesn’t mean we won’t do our chores and go to work, but possibly we’ll whistle more and find deeper joy when we do. Or hopefully we’ll listen to our own inspiration more if we do.

I’m considering reading this board book to them at tough moments all the way until they are 52 years old and beyond if I happen to be on the planet. If it reminds me of the flame of possibility that burns within me for as long as I live and love, all the better.

Let the Magic Begin

She quietly expected great things to happen to her, and no doubt that’s one of the reasons why they did.” – Zelda Fitzgerald

My 5-year-old lost her second tooth last night. I had no idea of the celebrity of the tooth fairy until this one came out. Because of course the first one is going to be a big deal but the second one? Every bit as big of a deal.

She sat down right away to write the tooth fairy a note, front pictured above. Here’s the translation:

To the Tooth Fairy: How do you make sure that kids brush their teeth? How many dollars are you going to give me? You are the best!  Can you give me 2 toys and money too? 20 dollars please. One toy is for my brother.

I found myself trying to talk her down from the expectations of the note. Our neighbor got $20 for a tooth, I assume because she didn’t lose her first one until she was 7 ½ years-old or at least that’s the explanation I give to that extraordinary sum. The Delta Dental website says the average for our area is $5.46 which I still think is high. And the toys – my daughter heard a rumor from another kid that some kid somewhere asked for toys from the tooth fairy…and got them!

In the midst of trying to talk her into realistic expectations, I decided to stop. Who says we are supposed to be realistic? And while her asking for gifts from the tooth fairy kinda put me off, I think it’s a little bit of a bias in me that girls aren’t supposed to ask for what they want.

For me this speaks to the heart of magic, praying and belief. Is it supposed to be limited by what we think is achievable? Or do we go all out and all in and ask away like Agnes Sanford said in the post I wrote about writing that has inspired me? Is there a heart of a 5-year-old in me that believes, really believes that magic can happen if I completely commit to setting my dreams BIG?

Yes, there is. So the Tooth Fairy is keeping that note. And decided to give $5 for the tooth and $5 so she can buy a toy for her brother. Let the magic begin….

The Practice

One filled with joy preaches without preaching.” – Mother Teresa

My mom’s church has been doing these Wednesday night park programs for kids. It’s a little like Sunday School where there’s singing, a short message, some games and then Otter Pops at the end. You come with your family and can picnic there and then all participate in this hour of fun. It’s been lovely and my kids have loved it – it’s a fun way to return to being together. One of the songs we’ve been singing has gotten stuck in my head:

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time
I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time
Since Jesus Christ came in, and saved my soul from sin
I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time

So as it’s been running that circular loop, I’ve realized that as a Presbyterian minister’s kid, this was exactly the messaging I grew up with. Jesus Christ = happy. And there’s a lot more of those kid songs with a similar message (like When You’re Happy and You Know It). I’m a pretty naturally happy person so there was no inherent conflict there as I grew up. But now, as I’ve pondered why I can’t just be a traditional church-going person, I wonder if I just outgrew that message as life got more complex and had to find my own practice. For me that has become listening to the quiet within every day on a meditation cushion. I also love a great sermon in church or fun in the park finding community but it’s the personal practice I always come back to.

It reminds me of the dance of falling in love. We lead with the message that we think is going to make us most attractive – that we are happy, successful, strong or sexy. But any relationship that goes the distance exposes all the facets of who we are. In that same way, religion (in my experience) uses happy, fun songs to get kids to listen and then for it to take root, they need to incorporate the message into the depth of what they believe. In this way both love and faith are a practice, not just a belief.

This ear worm of a song is leading me to realize that I want to support my kids in the incorporation of what we believe. To practice seeing that in the beautiful mystery of life and time as humans, we get to celebrate being here every day. And that God, in whatever way we conceive of him, is in each part of this experience whether we label it as happy or not.

Five Pieces of Writing that Inspired Me: #3 Prayer

Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” – Jesus

Prayer is so personal that I got to the middle of my life either reciting a memorized prayer or confusing it with the jumble of thoughts, aches and needs in my head. But when I read this description from Frederick Buechner about a conference he once went to led by a faith healer, I all at once saw the possibility of miracle and longing in prayer.

I saw Agnes Sandford first in the dingy front hall of the building where the talks were to take place, and after no more than a few minutes’ conversation with her, I felt as sure as you can ever be in such matters that if there was such a thing as the Real Article in her line of work [faith healing], then that was what she was. She was rather short and on the plump side with a breezy matter-of-factness about her which was the last thing I would have expected. She had far more the air of a college dean or a successful businesswoman than of a Mary Baker Eddy or Madame Blavatsky. She seemed completely without pretensions, yet just as completely confident that she knew what she was talking about. She had an earthy sense of humor.

The most vivid image she presented was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back and unable to do any mighty works there because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them for fear that he wouldn’t or couldn’t and that their own faith or the faith of their congregations would be threatened as the result. I recognized immediately my kinship with those ministers. A great deal of public prayer seemed to me a matter of giving God something that he neither needed nor, as far as I could imagine, much wanted. In private I prayed a good deal but for the most part it was a very blurred, haphazard kind of business – much of it blubbering, as Dr. Muilenburg had said his was, but never expecting much back by way of an answer, never believing very strongly that anyone was listening to me or even, at time, that there was anyone to listen at all.

That was the whole point, Agnes Sanford said. You had to expect. You had to believe. As in Jesus’ parables of the Importunate Friend and the Unjust Judge, you had to keep at it. It took work. It took practice, was in that sense not unlike the Buddhist Eightfold Path. More than anything else, it took faith. It was faith that unbound the hands of Jesus so that through your prayers his power could flow and miracles could happen, healing could happen, because where faith was, healing was too, she said, and there was no power on earth that could prevent it. Inside us all, she said, there was a voice of doubt and disbelief which sought to drown out our prayers even as we were praying them, but we were to pray down that voice for all we were worth because it was simply the product in us of old hurts, griefs, failures, of all that the world had done to try to destroy our faith. More even than our bodies, she said, it was these hurtful memories that needed healing. For God, all time is one, and we were to invite Jesus into our past as into a house that has been locked up for years – to open windows and doors for us so that light and life could enter as last, to sweep out the debris of decades and drive back the shadows. The healing of memories was like the forgiveness of sins, she said. Prayer was like a game, a little ridiculous the way she described it, but we were to play it anyway – praying for the healing both of ourselves and others – because Jesus told us to and because most of the other games we played were more ridiculous still and not half so useful.

We were to believe in spite of not believing. That was what faith was all about, she told us. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” said the father of the sick son (Mark 9:24), and though it wasn’t much, Jesus considered it enough. The boy was healed. Fairy-tale prayers, she called them. Why not? Jesus prayers. The language of the prayer didn’t matter, and her own language couldn’t have been plainer or her prayers more unliterary and down-to-earth. Only the faith mattered. All of this she spoke with nothing wild-eyed or dramatic about her, but clearly, wittily, less like a mystic than like the president of a rather impressive club. And you could also get too much praying, too much religion, she said and when that happened, the thing to do was just to put it aside for a while as she did and do something else. She herself read murder mysteries, she said. Or just collapsed.

Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner


“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Back when I was engaged to the man who is now my ex-husband, there was one memorable hike that we went on with my parents and we discussed miracles. This conversation happened almost twenty years ago but to the best of my recollection, my soon-to-be husband wanted my dad’s professional opinion as a Presbyterian pastor on why God didn’t do miracles any more. He was sure he’d believe in God if He did some grand gesture. And from what I remember, my dad mostly asked questions like what country would this miracle appear in? And would it have to be certified as a miracle by a recognized authority like the Pope? And what was a gesture that was big enough?

There are so many conversations that I wish I could have with my dad in the six years since he died but recently I’ve been thinking about that one. Because two things have happened recently that I think of as miracles. First is that my refrigerator was leaking water about every 4 days. I looked it up on the internet and came to the conclusion that my defrost evaporation tray was overflowing. The how-to article suggested that I might make sure that the default vent wasn’t covered. I moved some things around, never quite identified where that vent was and it still was leaking. And then it stopped. Miracle, right?

And then my car was leaking oil. It’s 14 -years-old but relatively low mileage. I’ve kept up the maintenance pretty well so I’ve had very few problems with it. But recently a ball rolled under the car and when I fished it out, it had oil on it. So I took the car to the shop where I’d last had the oil changed and they said it was just leftover from the last oil change because someone didn’t wipe it down – until I told them my last oil change was 9 months ago. Then they were confounded. I was never quite convinced that the friendly guy helping me knew how to solve it but he changed out my oil filter for free(!) and not very confidently said that would fix it. It leaked for about a week more. Then it stopped. Miracle, right?

I can suggest more miracles. The birth of my two children. The fact that a COVID vaccination was developed in less than a year. That my clients sometimes pay early just when I need them too. And just overall that as I look back on my life, I’m certain that I get exactly what I need (not what I want which is whole other thing) but just what I need. And of course, even that I can reach out to you, dear reader, over space and time, and talk heart to heart.

I have a guess what my dad would say. That belief doesn’t require proof. He’d acknowledge, as do I, that all of those things have plausible explanations but that miracles are a matter of one’s heart not one’s head. He probably said some version of that almost twenty years ago and I didn’t quite understand it. But I do now and that is a miracle!