beth woolsey

mess maker • magic finder • rule breaker • kindness monger

Small But Vital Lights (and Day 1 of 7 Giveaways)

The door keeps opening and closing and my fingers are cold. The icy kind kind of cold where they’re not fingers at all, but icicles pecking away at my keyboard. 


I’m sitting in a Starbucks by the Golden Gate bridge on a crystal clear, cold day in San Francisco while my next door neighbor, Monica, attends a physical therapy appointment for her partial knee replacement. I’m here for the week, caregiving before we head home to Oregon on Saturday to dive fully into the cleaning and cooking and crazy of Christmas.

The man sitting next to me is wrapped in all black. Black ski coat, zipped to the top. Black sweat pants with baggy knees. Black knit mittens, thin and inadequate. Black holes in all those things. He’s brought his weary walking cart with his black luggage and black sleeping bag and black tarp, neatly folded, and he keeps falling asleep, exhausted. Usually he mutters, but sometimes he laughs into his long silver and white beard, and it’s when he laughs that he wakes up, takes another sip of the coffee he’s nursing, writes long strings of numbers and symbols in strange, precise, savant style on bright white paper, and drifts back to sleep. When Monica sees the paper later, she says he’s writing in Alien Language. I think she must be right.

This week, the lost are close to my heart. The lost and alone. The frightened. The hurting. The sick. The drifting. The grieving. The ones who’ve been abandoned. The folks sitting in the dark, frozen. 

Elizabeth Durant calls this a slow burn of sadness. And yes. Yes, this, exactly. 

It’s been a week with a slow burn of sadness.

In the middle of a melancholy moment last night, overcome with my inability to heal the wounds of those around me, I received a Facebook message from my friend G, in response to a question I asked him last week about the darkness and Light’s triumph over it. And G, who plays the agnostic to my crazy Christian, wrote this: 

Though I used to think of my [life] journey as a struggle through the deep, dark, cold river after which I finally reached the safety of solid ground, it turns out what I stand on continues to shift. Maybe it’s just a sand bar. As an agnostic I have no belief that I have found, or ever will step into, ultimate Light. Rather, each day is a process of rekindling my hope from the small but vital light sources around me – my partner, my choir, family and friends, the beauty of nature and music and poetry, and more.

And although I continue to believe in the Light — relentlessly, it turns out, because I can’t seem to help myself — G’s words reminded me that light lives everywhere. I believe to the marrow of my bones that every last one of us is made in Love’s image. That Light infuses all of us. But I needed G to remind me that we have access to the rekindling of hope at every turn.

A man with a cane presses the automatic door opener, blasting the cafe with cold air. I shiver and huddle deeper into my coat and blow on my fingers and wish for the door to close faster, to conserve what meager warmth we have. But the man presses the button again because he sees what I don’t; a young mama with a stroller, struggling to maneuver her way inside.

And I remember, there are lots of small but vital lights in the darkness. Little kindnesses that kindle hope. And strangers who write in Alien Language who remind me that it’s when we laugh that we wake up.


Today is Day 1 of 7 Giveaways!

I invited the 5 Kids Blog advertisers (see the column to your right) to join me for giveaways beginning today and ending late next week. CHECK BACK FOR A NEW GIVEAWAY EVERY DAY.


Today, Lindley Pless of The Sentimentalist is giving away a Good Candle from Steven Alan. Good Candles are made from 100% American-grown soy wax that burns cleanly. 

  • 1 lb. hand-poured soy wax in a mason jar
  • burns 50 hours
  • made in Brooklyn, NY
  • $30 value


This giveaway is now closed.

Congratulations to Shauna, winner of the Good Candle! Shauna writes, “Ahhh…the light at the end of this tunnel of darkness is the precious, gorgeous face of my precious granddaughter.” 

TO ENTER: Leave a comment on this blog post by 11:59pm (Pacific Time) on Saturday, December 14th. One entry per person, please. Winners will be selected using a random number generator and posted on Sunday.

This giveaway is open to international participants. International shipping provided by me.


Note: The 5 Kids Blog advertisers provided no additional compensation for these giveaways. Lindley Pless is paying for the cost of the giveaway and U.S. shipping. She paid me for her ad only, and this just seemed like a fun way to work together for your benefit. OK? OK.


 What is one of your small but vital lights in the darkness?

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82 responses to “Small But Vital Lights (and Day 1 of 7 Giveaways)”

  1. Great reminder to look for the light. This darkest time of year is hard, so cold and so dark. I need that reminder every day!

  2. As Colorado has been hit with a severe cold snap and now another school shooting tragedy, my heart is firmly planted with the lost and the weary. Thanks for your post!

  3. After living overseas for the past year, little things are definitely more special and significant here at home again…hugging missed loved ones, home food, & watching my kids enjoy playing outside in the grass.

  4. my twin sister is my light. where she was for so many years, and where she has been for the last nine, is all the reminder I need – Light breaks darkness. Once crack addicted, now living and loving every moment of the messes of mommyhood and marriage. I love The One Who Breathes Light and Life.

  5. I’m so lucky in that I see the light all over the place and my heart aches for those that don’t. I thought your suggestion above about looking for three good things (or the three least crappy if that’s as “good” as one can find in that moment) is a wonderful one and one that can be great even for those of us lucky ones. Just taking the moment to stop and *be conscious* is a great reminder. And for us, we’re so blessed that the brightest light of all for us is our wonderful granddaughter. After living abroad for many years, we decided to move back to the states to be near her and every day we are thankful we did. Always enjoy your blog!

  6. Small things on the hard days – even though I have a long commute, it is a beautiful one. Some days I have to stop the car to take a picture of the breathtaking view.

    Even though I hate the cold, hearing my 3 year old say “I’m going to toast my butt” and standing in front of the fire with her.

    The barking dogs drive me crazy in our neighborhood but seeing the excitement in my 1 year old’s face when she recognizes the sound and tries to copy it.

    This blog helps me keep my sanity a lot. You speak to my heart and spread your light.

  7. This time of year, I think of and pray for the lost, alone, frightened, hurting, sick, drifting, grieving, abandoned and those sitting in the dark, frozen….just as you mentioned that you think of them. May they find the light and be led.

  8. I try to get outside to see and be in nature everyday. Walking the kids to school through the neighborhood park or hopping in the car for their afterschool activities and driving by the Bay. We live in Alameda (-just across the SF Bay from where your story takes place!) and if I can see the water everyday, I appreciate living here all the more. The fog, the tides, the sunset, the moon and stars at night…all of it reminds me there is something bigger out there. Something beautiful, I just need to pause and appreciate those moments.

  9. I think this is my favorite post EVER! (Except, maybe, the zoo one yesterday.) So glad to know that there’s a term for what I’ve been feeling, and I love that the Light spills forth from us; it can’t help it….

  10. I have a 12 day old newborn. So these days, I spend a lot of time in the living room surrounded by the dim light of our Christmas tree while feeding and caring for her 🙂

  11. My son, always my son.

    I heard this quote yesterday and loved it: “it’s when your heart is breaking that the light is able to shine through”

  12. My daughter is my light in the darkness and the joy she finds in “Christmas Lights” is illuminating for all of us.

  13. Waving in the dark at 3:30am. Love this post. Light can shine through all of us. What I love the most about this blog, Beth, is how you so beautifully put to words what I feel. And sometimes I don’t even know what I’m feeling until I read a post and want to shout AMEN! The Light shines through you too.

  14. My partner, cuddles with my cat, losing myself in a crafty project or finding a gorgeous piece of vintage clothing in an opp shop. 🙂

  15. Hmm. I don’t see much light through all the fog at the moment. Perhaps it’s being reminded that reason isn’t everything. That others have trodden this path before me and beside me, and they still see the Light. And also ritual is becoming increasingly important to this ex-hater-of-traditions!

  16. The fact that God has always been with me, even from my earliest days as a child, moves me and gives me hope and peace when I recognize them. My husband and my son bring light into my life, too. My students and the time we spend together brings light and purpose into my life. I’m thankful to God for all of these.

  17. The Light… This time of year it is so hard for me to find. Like your friend I find it in the things around me and not in faith. I lost my faith years ago (9 this Christmas Eve, to be precise). There is nothing like staring into the representational face of god and begging and feeling a door shut instead of open.
    How do you do it? How do you teach yourself to see the light when the world seems so dark? Are there trigger words? Is it some sort of club? Is it a mantra?
    Because I’ve lost even how to look. Today, I had some bright patches, moments that made my heart laugh. But as I lay here, trying to go to bed, my depression is wrapping around me. A fight with the spouse, the children heartbroken over a thoughtless event, a book about an overweight girl being given to my slightly overweight daughter at school, coming to the realization (again!) that I’m by myself in this take care of the kids/house thing. The medical appointments. The IEP meetings where I’m told I don’t know my son. The loss of my one night out a week due to an injury. Extended family stuff over the weekend. Putting up the Christmas Tree. That tree kills me every year. Christmas. It isn’t just crazy, it’s broken and sad and torture.
    Everything is just taking away my hope. My light is gone. That man who opened the door for the lady with the stroller? I would have seen that he was helping but still mentally cussed him out. The lady too. How do you force yourself to even start to look in the dark?

    • Jen, your heartfelt questioning and longing touches my heart. Please know that you are not alone. You’re not alone in these fears, not alone in those doubts, you are not alone. One answer I will offer you of how I start to find the light: I constantly stop and make myself think of three good things. Maybe it’s the best 3 things that happened today, before I go to bed. Maybe it’s my 3 favorite things about my son (especially when he’s driving me crazy!). If that’s too hard, then I change it up to “of all the crap that happened today, what three things were the LEAST crappy?’ I promise the bits of light are always there. I hope you find some light today!

    • Jen,

      I feel sad reading your post because I feel your hopeless feeling in it. I think depression itself makes us feel as if there is no light, as if God isn’t there, as if nobody loves us, and as if it’s all going in the wrong direction. Obviously I can’t change your mind about God and about whatever sad things are happening. However, I can tell you that I’ve been depressed, lost in it, desperately feeling alone. Eventually, I started realizing that the light is around, but I was refusing to see it. I trusted in my depression and my fear more than I trusted in God, or any kind of goodness. For me, it required many gut-wrenchingly difficult and conscious decisions to move toward hope and God, to let go of my fear, and to trust in God’s goodness. Personally, I know that I turned from God because God didn’t respond as I wanted. When I stopped trying to put God in a box and opened myself to the possibility that what I felt wasn’t all that was true, things slowly changed in my heart and mind. Feelings create feelings in myself and in others, positive or negative, but they don’t reflect all that’s real and true in the world since they’re so fickle and changing. That’s what I’ve experienced in my own life. For me, it required counseling with a great, empathetic counselor who also prayed with me and for me. I didn’t take medication, but I think it can often be helpful along with therapy if needed. That’s what I’ve learned. I don’t know if it helps at all, and I apologize if it is too much. I only mean to share in case there’s something that might help. Peace.

  18. Of course my children and husband, and oh my gosh the joy of my grandkids. But also the magic of a rose garden; just walking through the garden gate I feel my spirits soar.

  19. Some days I’m not really sure. My camera though, if I can find a chance to slip out and look at the world from a different angle, through a lens, if you will.

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