On Being Gentle With Ourselves

My neighbor invited my family over for the Pringles Challenge the other night. Her husband was away, so it was Pringles and candy for dinner. Obviously. She bought 6 cans of Pringles, each a different flavor, and it was our job to taste and identify them while blindfolded.

In a surprise to no one, I won. I mean, I KILLED it. I tasted faster. I identified more precisely. I hesitated only once, which is, of course, unacceptable for a potato chip athlete of my stature and is a matter I plan to address with my coaches later. Nevertheless — and I don’t mean to brag here, but this needs to be said — I kicked those kids’ butts HARD, and I nailed every flavor. Every. Single. One. The next closest person came in at 67% correct. I have, in other words, found my calling, which, as I’ve long suspected, is to eat deep fried, salt-laced starch. My training for the 2020 summer Olympic Pringles-eating events commences immediately, and I pledge to bring home the gold.

Here’s a truth, though: I’ve been feeling small lately. Small and silly and sort of stupid, and also largely insufficient and wholly unsettled.

I know why, too.

There are Things going on in the world that trouble me, and there are Things going on in my home that trouble me, too. And in my heart. And in my mind. And in my children. And in my community.

Things, guys:

Like, we are facing a world refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. Sixty-five million refugees in 2015 fleeing violence on an enormous scale. And the U.S. took in 0.001% of those last year, which, when I consider the mamas just like me unable to feed and clothe and seek medical attention and safety for their babies, breaks my heart to pieces.

While this crisis is underway and expected to increase, we U.S. citizens have provided a public, political platform to a presidential candidate who is successfully using it to normalize and promote bigotry, racism, misogyny and xenophobia.

We are somehow splitting ourselves into more bizarre and polarized groups all the time, as though we can’t wholeheartedly support movements like Black Lives Matter, and challenge the systematic, insidious marginalization of entire people groups, and demand timely justice for those who are victimized, and love and support the thousands of good cops out there risking their lives because they so deeply care about creating better communities. #ThingsThatBaffleMe

I have a friend who lost her young son this summer and another friend who has to say good-bye to her marriage.

My kid is receiving incredibly expensive and unbelievably helpful psychiatric care which we, his parents, should have provided sooner. Like… WAYYYYY sooner, man.

There are kids in our communities who need the same care my kid is receiving but cannot get it because they don’t have two highly educated parents who speak English as their first language, have health insurance, and, as a result, are able to navigate an impossibly complicated system and pay for the help they know how to demand.

THINGS, friends.

All these Things and more are happening right now, and I am good at eating Pringles.

^^^THAT’S my area of expertise.^^^ Identifying Every Single Pringles Flavor.

Have I mentioned I’ve been feeling small lately? Small and silly and sort of stupid, and also largely insufficient and wholly unsettled?

I mean, some people promote amazing book lists that expand the mind and make us better humans, more capable of loving one another, and I’m all, “I CAN’T READ ONE MORE MEANINGFUL THING right now. My heart can’t take it. I can’t absorb anyone else’s drama, much less something triumphant about overcoming great oddsLet’s escape into a rad book about a genie, instead, friends! WHO’S WITH ME?” And, while I acknowledge this is truly who I am — absolutely what I’m capable of right now — it doesn’t stop me from wishing I was somehow… better.

I’ve been doing some serious soul-searching following my recent out-of-character behaviour (aka, cleaning house), and I’ve discovered I’m rather desperately trying to make order out of chaos.

I’m trying to control something. Anything, really.

I’m at odds and loose ends, wondering when things will settle in our world — large and small — and so I’m harnessing what I can.




All the Trains are off All the Rails, so I’m over here cleaning my kitchen and making a baking station like it’s the cure for cancer, and I’m beating myself up a little in the process.

Oh, I’m not doing a lot of self-flagellation. Just a little Wishing I Was Better and Bigger and Brighter …and that I had More Answers… and Real Solutions… and a Magic Wand to create More Equity and Less Suffering, you know? For all of us. Less Suffering all around! For you, and you, and you, and YOU. And me. And my kid.

The thing is, I suspect I’m not alone in this space of wishing. Or alone in believing I’m less than I am. This is, I’m starting to learn, simply part of the human condition.

And so I’m going to beckon us closer together as we wander and wonder and wish. And encourage us to be gentle with each other and ourselves in this season of uncertainty.

Let’s be gentle. Let’s be kind. Let’s allow ourselves the freedom to be who we are right now: wild and weird, messy and magical, human and divine and always, always worthy of great Love.

With love,





(Pringles Champion)


P.S. I’m not actually eating Pringles right now. This is because I ate Every Single French Fry this summer, and I gained 15 pounds. And, by 15, I mean 25, but 15 seemed like a more reasonable number to report for a 4-month weight-gain. It was SO FUN, but I’ve done the math, and the Eat Every Chip plan is sadly unsustainable. No one is more sad about this than me.

P.P.S. Betty is in the house! She’s not hooked up yet, but SHE’S HERE.


P.P.P.S. I have three retreats coming up in the next several months — two Magic in the Mess writing retreats (January and May 2017) and one spiritual formation Grace and Grime retreat (November! TWO Months away). I would love (LOVE) to hang out with you in person one of my favorite spots on earth, so do check them out if you’d like to come, and email me if you have any questions. Click here for the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat 101, here for the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat 202, and here for the Grace and the Grime Spiritual Formation Retreat. These are my favorite! And you can read on those pages what previous participants have to say.

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16 responses to “On Being Gentle With Ourselves”

  1. I’m so with you on the “wish I’d gotten help for my kid sooner” front. We aren’t dealing with the same things as you are, but dang, it still doesn’t feel good to look back and go “gee, why didn’t I listen to my inner voice sooner that said he needed more help than we can give”. And then to realize that self-flagellating doesn’t help, so you stop, and you forgive yourself, and you stand forgiven, but even though you’ve forgiven yourself – you still do wish he’d had help sooner, and it still is so SO hard to watch your kiddos suffer. Sigh. Solidarity, Beth.

  2. You have a gift for so often writing what I need to hear. This post helped me recognize some of the issues I face–and to know I’m not alone. I am teaching a class that is wrecking me, because it’s reminding me of all the injustices in the world and all the way I am failing to do anything about any of it. I’ve been feeling rather insignificant and self-centered. I’m good at hugging my children, staying up late (maybe that’s my superpower), and label-reading for ‘safe’ food for my food-allergic child. I’m not good at many big, important things. I don’t have any solutions, other than starting to see my need to pray for some discernment about where I can use the gifts I have and the relatively little time I have free to seek justice for the marginalized. In the meantime, I’m trying to control what I can (though my kids are intent on showing me that I will never control the clutter in this house).

  3. I just want you to know, Beth, that while you feel insignificant and small, you have been instrumental in changing my life for the better, and you don’t even know me. 1) I wait with anticipation for your next post, 2) I relate to you on so many levels even though I am much older, 3)one of my goals in life is to meet you someday (hopefully at a writing retreat), 4) you make me feel like I am worthy and lovable, and 5) I love you and your wacky world all the way from KC, because you love Jesus and Quakers and aren’t stuffy and you make me laugh from the inside out. So feel insignificant and small if you must for a few minutes, but know that you are changing hearts and lives because you are so transparent and honest and your heart is as big as Dallas, or KC, or Portland or all three. :o)

  4. I ate my way 15 pounds through a horrid church situation over the span of about 9 months, so I should probably avoid any Pringles challenges as well…but I could never be a champion at that anyway. And right now my heart is just completely heavy, and I want to just get off of Facebook for two months except then I say to myself “Yes, but what if Beth Woolsey posts something hilarious and I MISS it???” So I am torn. And my 11 year old is hurting and I can’t fix him, and I miss the friends I no longer get to see because of the above horrid church situation (although I will get to see them later this week).

    I am not sure I have a superpower. Maybe it is just the superpower of surviving right now. Well…I also have the superpower of cooking some really delicious vegetarian meals which no one in my family but me will eat.

  5. Oh, Beth, You speak for so many of us in so many ways.

    Last spring our local library ran a contest where they’d shred pages from a young adult book and put them in a glass jar, and the challenge was to figure out from the words you could glimpse what the book was. Every time my husband took the kids to the library, he’d call me and read me what he could see, and I’d know the book. We couldn’t enter, being every so slightly beyond the 11-18 year old age group, but I’d have the satisfaction of nailing it–long distance!

    I wish we could find the just-right help for our kid. And it kills me how hard it is to navigate every health care system. When my dad was elderly, my sisters and I kept wondering how people did it who did NOT have four college educated, English speaking, loving kids to help arrange care.

    As for looking further afield–argh. Sometimes I fall back on the privilege I have of not facing the horrors that don’t affect me directly. That is something I feel small about, and then try to be gentle with myself about.

    Oh, and anyone who’s considering either one of the retreats–DO IT!

  6. Oh Beth, Beth, Beth. It is BECAUSE you feel this way, BECAUSE you feel these things, that you are more “huge” and significant than you could possibly imagine!❤️ Maybe it’s because I have walked – slogged, crawled, clawed, dragged, face-planted smack in the middle of – the path you are on now, that I can assure you that, in the midst of your “smallness” you are making a difference. About 7 years ago my gift-from-God, most awesome niece died at the tender age of 19. For the past 10 years I’ve walked in the shadowed valley of parental self-doubt and helplessness as one of my children fought her demons. There are so many things that do not get even a parenthetical mention in the footnotes of the Book of Life – so we muddle through. And in that muddling we get lost, reduced, feel incapable, incompetent, impotent…. When we are so totally invested in our lives it is easy to lose sight of our actual footprint in this world and in the lives of those around us. Yes, in the vastness of this world we are but a Horton Hears a Who sized dust speck. When I start to feel this way I remind myself that, although I may be but a pebble, I am capable of making many ripples. I plunk my small self down in the midst of my little corner of the world and know that the ripples of my choices, my efforts, my gestures, my smile or pat on the back or kind word, my love matter to someone – and that these ripples are ever expanding, in ways I will never fully grasp. I know you know this, but I will tell you what I tell myself and my kids: it’s ok to feel what you are feeling, just don’t unpack your bag and live there! Hang tough and know that all things wise and wonderful are made of that one microscopic atom that is the bringer of all life.

  7. This was so beautifully written. I totally understand feeling small. Know you are touching lives through your writing.

    Thank you.

  8. Don’t be an asshole.
    That’s my religious creed. I can’t control ANY of the stuff going on in the world. It does not matter who you (generic you) vote for. The candidate who will ‘win’ has already been chosen, all that remains is to adjust the narrative and make it happen. All the lies and the cheating… all the craziness and yelling… none of it matters. We have no choice, although we’re supposed to think we do. That’s part of it.

    None of it is within our control. Not the elections, not the refugee crisis, not the unjustified killings of people whose only crime is not being the right color.

    The ONLY thing we can control is how we treat those we come in contact with. That’s it.

    So I choose to be publicly decent as much as I can. To take an opportunity to build someone up when I can or shut the hell up if I can’t.

    I still reserve the right to vent on my blog… gotta have somewhere to yell.
    But I choose to try to help people one at a time, to love those I can, to appreciate the things that make a person good.

    That other stuff… the stuff I can’t fix?

    If everyone chose not to be an asshole, at least most of the time? That stuff would start to BE fixed.

  9. Superpowers abound on this site! I’ll think about mine and come back later. Maybe.
    It might actually be procrastinating, but then I never got invited by TEDtalks to talk about it, so I’m far from being a champion in that field either. Sigh.
    I am good at making some people smile for a second. It’s a start, but I don’t write one of the nicest blogs I know, one that I know will always make me smile (even when it makes me cry at the same time, because life! the world! aching children!).
    Thank you Beth. For everything you do, winning Pringles Challenges included.
    Hug and wave from far far away, though not too deep in the water at the moment (we have sunshine – it always helps)

  10. I am crying here because I know what you mean. My heart is breaking over so many things: my marriage, my anxious child, my birth family, the wider world (which seems headed straight for Hell in a handcart). And still I quilt (imperfectly) and clean bathrooms and wash dishes and move laundry through the house and pretend I will ever get my attic clear. All the time wondering if there’s any point to any of it. I guess we just have to think of it as creating a safe haven for ourselves and your family. If we have a calm space, perhaps our thoughts will get clearer and we will be able to see the way forward. Thank you, as always, for sharing what is in your heart. Makes me feel less weird.
    My super power is probably laundry 🙂

  11. I’m pretty sure this is why I only read fluff for fiction. I read everything in sight (like news and the internet) so I know all the struggles that are going on in the world and I just can’t in my down time too. I tried reading Half the Sky. I got about halfway through and was done. I just can’t read stuff like that in more than Atlantic article lengths. (I really love their stuff though, it’s so thoughtful).

    You’re providing hope to the ones that live in your house though, and sometimes, us mamas, that’s where we have to start when we can’t do anymore.
    Although, sometimes when I feel like I should give more, but I just don’t know where to start and I want to put my head in the sand like an ostrich? I run across things like this today, and it’s really rocking my boat. It’s something I can do! Pretend like I have just one more kid and spread my love in equal parts to one more. We can provide hope, just one person at a time. 🙂


    PS. I’m on the weight gain plan too, 15 pounds this year and 10 last year. Life is stressful man, and there’s ice cream…

  12. Emily- looking good in hats is pretty darn cool! I do not have that super power. Sadness.
    Escaping into a book about a genie was a good idea! Glad I joined in!
    My heart hurts so much for the mamas who want to, but can’t take care of their babies, whatever the reason may be. My heart hurts for the babies who don’t even have a mama to care for them. My heart hurts for so, so many people and things. I know exactly what you mean when you say you are feeling small and silly and such. I want to do more, but can’t. Just saying “I will pray” seems like a cop-out, cliche. Even though I know it isn’t.
    I suppose one of my super powers would be being able to wash dishes really fast. My husband is always in awe.

  13. I know there is much seriousness in this post too, but may I congratulate you in finding your superpower? Superpowers are not to be overlooked! My brother’s superpower is returning major appliances 3 years after buying (and using) them for full refund and replacement. My superpower is hats. I look good in all hats. Sure, it would be better for the world if I were a top negotiator or some inventive biochemist, but hey… Hats! Not bad!

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