How To Be A Light In The World This Holiday Season

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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Union Street San Francisco holiday festivities

It always amazes me how the Christmas decorations start going up the day after Thanksgiving.

I am simply not that organized or ambitious when it comes to holiday décor. Yet I enjoy the spectacle of lights on trees, porches, door frames, and the candles in every window at some traditionally decorated houses. They remind me to dream.

My neighbors on either side of my house have already hung their holiday lights — miniature snowmen glowing along the porch rails on one side, and tulip bushes wrapped with white lights on the other side. I love it when everything is illuminated.

Metaphorically it’s a nice image too. Although I am not stringing up my own lights yet, the world is lit for me. I think of all the times in my life when my own “light” or spark went out and someone else lit it for me. Some days in my life have been dark. When I felt as though my life was ending years ago, in a suicidal depression after enduring horrific trauma in my early 20s, my family was there to make sure I stayed alive. When I have doubted my career choices or my ability to make my dreams happen, I’ve had friends who lifted me up and supported me with encouraging words.

My family, my best friend, my daily accountability partner who is in touch every day as we keep each other on track toward achieving our goals, my former life coach — and so many more people — have somehow found the right words to say when I just couldn’t find the faith in myself or my future. Now I am fortunate enough to be part of the 8womendream team as well that is here to cheer me on as I live my dreams out loud.

I have also found myself filled again with inspiration by reading great authors, spiritual teachers, philosophers. I think it is part of why I have always wanted to write books — because books have been steady and true companions and friends for me over the years. I have always found it comforting and inspiring to read true stories of others who have struggled or lost their way and still gone on to create magical lives for themselves. Since I have known despair and heartache in my own past, it helped me learn from the experiences of others, and to know there was hope for me too. That is part of the reason I decided to write my book, and to share some painful stories from my past. I hope to help others find inspiration in the dark times in their lives.

Buddha said to his followers on his deathbed, “Be the lamp unto yourself.” I would add to this, light the way for others. And be grateful for those who light the way for you. Scientists often say we are made of stardust. I believe we are meant to be lights in the world. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer said it beautifully, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Here on a few thoughts on how to “be a light” this holiday season:

  • Be kind. You never know what someone else is going through and just a gentle word and smile can sometimes make a big difference.
  • Find your joy and share it. When we do what makes us happy, we have more to give to others.
  • Give to yourself. Don’t forget to take time for yourself and your health during the busy holiday season. It can be a stressful time of year, so take time to replenish.
  • Bask in the light of others. If you are not feeling like you can “be the light” right now, maybe it’s your time to just be inspired by others. Surround yourself with people who light you up.
  • Write down the one dream you’d like to go after next year. Tie this to your Christmas tree, or hang it with a bow on your fireplace, or place it in a jewelry box.  Encourage all your friends to do the same.  Offer to meet up in July and check in on each other’s progress.
  • Volunteer. Get your friends together and contact a local nursing home to arrange a day to spend an evening with the residents. Bring books, magazines, decks of cards, and board games or ask what the residents might need.  Play Santas.

Who has lit the way for you and your dreams? Can you thank them today?


Lisa is a freelance writer and consultant who has published articles, essays and poems in journals and newspapers across the United States. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University, and earned her MPA at Harvard in 2005. Lisa launched her dream to write her first book by signing up for Ellen Sussman’s “Memoir-in-a-Year” class, speaking her story out loud at a Take Back the Night rally. She recently achieved another milestone — 250 pages written in her manuscript! Lisa is bi-coastal with her home in Troy, New York and her heart in San Francisco. Lisa is also a lindy hopper, blues dancer and belly dancer. She has traveled extensively on four continents. Lisa’s post day is Tuesday.

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  • KA

    Thanks for posting this cookie recipe. I’ve been experimenting with this cookie recipeEaster resurrection cookies. Have you ever tried Easter resurrection cookies? Or has your mother ever made them? Have a great Christmas – KA

  • Wow, how “Murphy’s Law” is that!!! Well just think now he has TWO pairs of boots for the season so if one gets cold and wet, he can easily switch into the other… Warmer feet, happier boy! ;) Now you are EXTRA-well-prepared for any cold weather emergencies. ;)

  • Rachel

    Ha, the stupid thing is, it turns out he did have boots that fit. After all that driving around in a pretty bad snow storm, rushing to get those stupid boots between picking him up from school, and getting my daughters, we found his boots later on that evening. Just another day in paradise :)

  • Awww sweetie we’re all human and you can still celebrate the good stuff you got done… Now at least there is less to do, with all the rest of the “life-stuff” you have to deal with! I don’t know ANYONE who has every detail of her life in “perfect” shape – and if I did I’m not sure I’d like her. ;) (sorry if you are out there, Perfect Woman!).

    So you realized some things needed to be done, and you’ll do them now, and continue with the holiday spirit… I’m still proud of you for getting it off to such a great start – and when other things are a priority (your son’s needs!) focusing on that. You’re a great Mom.

  • Rachel

    Well, I am completely over my smugness about the holiday stuff that was done.

    Yesterday my husband had to leave work early because my son developed hives in school. We’d sent him to bed early the night before & forgot his Zyrtec. Then in Spanish-at-lunch, they fed him some Spanish bread with oranges in it (weird — who else do you know who’s allergic to oranges, for Pete’s sake?) He knows his allergies, but doesn’t know citron is orange. AND… to top things off, we didn’t have his allergy paperwork up to date at school.

    So today I stayed home to take kiddo to the doctor, get all his school paperwork up to date & new epi-pen at school (he won’t need it, but just in case.) The weather is way sloppy today, and guess what? Kiddo doesn’t have winter boots that fit (another errand for home day.)

    So I had the tree & outside lights up, over half of Christmas shopping done, over half of Christmas cards ready to mail (it’s been at least 5 years since we managed Christmas cards), and important things like winter boots and allergy papers NOT done.

  • Rachel, you go girl!!! I do have *one* string of XMas lights up in my house… sad to say, they are leftover decorations from my Halloween party! ;) So you are way ahead of me…

    Glad it was such a beautiful, fun and productive weekend!

  • Rachel

    I had to check in on this post when I saw the picture again. It reminded me of my busy but great weekend. With help from my kids, we actually got the tree done (they did it [almost] all!) and outside lights up the very first weekend of December. AND we did a decent job celebrating my husband’s birthday, and got a good start on Christmas shopping. Never in my life have I got so much holiday “stuff” accomplished so early. (I’m usually that person scrambling to get the majority of my Christmas shopping done a few days before Christmas.)

    And, just to make things really wonderful, the very night I hung the outside lights (& I almost put some of it off, since it was getting dark by the time I got to it) it snowed! The new lights are so gorgeous agains the snow :)

  • Mom love you! and you are always an inspiration to me…

    Kim I adored your daughter too!!! Give her hugs for me! What a fun party… Hope to get to see you and the whole fam again soon.

  • Kim, the traveler

    You were a light at our party. My daughter LOVED you. I think you’re who she wants to be when she grows up;)

  • JP


    There have been many days in my life when you have been the one who lit up my life. Your smile often lights up the room for all of us.


  • p.s. to Remy – Jak was my former life coach ;) so he’s cool with being coached for sure (has had, and does have, coaches of his own…). He must just not like the “life coach” title right now, not sure why! Let him speak for himself if he likes! :-) Love ya Jak!

  • Noel, my pleasure, and I’m so glad you reached out to Daniel ~ It makes me feel great that my post helped inspire you to do that! :-) I feel blessed in my life to know so many amazing people who are “sources of light,” sometimes strangers, sometimes family, sometimes friends, and hope that I can be that for others sometimes as well…

    Rachel, glad to hear that you have found something that works for you – and your husband and daughter! – to help deal with this dark time of year. And that the dancing is such a joy in your life, even though you sometimes feel the pressure of wanting to be more advanced than you are… I totally understand that, went through that for years, and now finally am at a place where I generally just turn to dancing for the joy.

    I agree that finding a hobby that we love can add so much to our lives… Dancing has brought me joy, taught me so much, and also brought incredible people into my life (including the wonderful man I am dating!). So, I’m very grateful for that.


  • Rachel

    Julita said, “Today, my 10 year old told me on the way to school that it’s December already and that I am an ‘awesome’ mom, something I would never hear from my 13 year old.”

    At 10, she’s old enough to have a worthwhile opinion on that, too.

    I can’t imagine there are many 13 year olds who would say that to their mothers. I often feel like my teenagers are comparing me to their friends’ mothers, and I’m coming up short. That’s hard sometimes, but I try not to feel bad about it for more than a moment. Most of their friends do seem to have great parents — I like all of them I’ve met (and the great kids are the proof.) They are the only kids in their group with divorced parents, and most of their friends have stay-at-home moms. When I think about that, I feel pretty good that I’ve managed to raise kids who fit in with the well-parented gang. I like to hope it means I did something right :)

    Anyway, I know how you feel about hitting that point in your life where you feel you could have done things differently, and be in a more fun place. I was there, where I didn’t laugh and hardly smiled for I don’t even know how long, until I took up swing dance. Even now, I feel it when I’m unhappy where I’m at with my dancing. With 3 kids, a husband, and a full time job to care for, I don’t have time to practice the way I’d like, and with the arthritis in my knees getting worse, I know my time for improvement is limited. (Even if I had more time to practice, I don’t know if the knees could take it, honestly.)

    But I’ve come to realize now that this feeling had less to do with my circumstances, and more to do with my body chemistry. I’ve recognized for years that there’s a certain time of year I become low energy and have trouble coping. I read up on it, and have been doing light therapy on my own, and it helped, but wasn’t really cutting it. Finally, after years of dealing on my own as best I could, I talked to my doctor about it. I’ve been taking a low dose of sertraline for about a month now, and I feel, in terms of mood and energy level, the way I normally do in May (or whatever part of May I don’t have PMS, which I also didn’t suffer from this month.)

    And that means that I can again see that I don’t have to be a dance expert to enjoy it. (Good thing, because at the rate I’m going, it will take me, literally, until I’m 75 to get the 10,000 hours of practice they say it takes to become expert at a skill.) The fact that I got out there and took up the dancing has been such a great thing in my life. And with your kids old enough to handle much of their own care, you should have time to take up a hobby of some sort. My husband does photography and draws, and that helps him, just as the dancing helps me. Some people knit. I have a friend who organized a neighborhood bunko night, and made new friends that way. There’s a lot you can do to enrich your own life. You just need to come up with the energy to do it, and there is help available for that.

    (BTW, my husband went through a milder version of the same this fall, and he’s finding that ginseng is a big help. My one daughter, who tends to be very resistent to simple requests for help around the house, and looks terribly unhappy about them, has started taking ginseng, and it seems to be helping her, too.)

  • Noel

    Lisa – thank you for reminding me to call and appreciate my youngest brother, Daniel, who often inspires me with his compassion. Also, thank you for generally reminding me that there are good people in this world, and in my life, even though I am currently spending a lot of time dealing with people whose actions are less than ideal (long story).

  • Ah well I can call you anything you like, great Sorcerer Jak! ;) Interesting for sure that that bothers you with all the different kinds of greatness that you pass on in the world. YOU are a giant shining light. :)

  • Remy G

    Jak – is it because at some level, the thought of needing someone to coach you about your own life feels weird??
    I’m a coach of many things, business, sports, life…I have a similar approach to all – and I promise it wont create the tweaky feeling! lemme know if I can help you! Remy

  • Jak

    Thanks for passing the light onward… now help me figure out why I’m so tweaked by the term “life coach” and that will help me get somewhere :P

  • Veronica, it’s so true, we are all one and all need each other to light the way sometimes. Your Thanksgiving sounds wonderful!

    Thanks Cath :-) and would love to hear more ideas… Owe you and email about a few things, too! And can’t wait to see you…

    Julita that is so sweet – I bet you are a super-awesome Mom and am so glad your little girl is one of the lights of your life! You are both lucky to have each other. You are in my thoughts during the holiday and always, sweetheart… I hope life just keeps getting better for you. :-)

    Damon, my pleasure, thanks for reading and for always being here for me – I am lucky to have you in my life. :-)

    Remy, you are lucky to have a friend like Steve… and to be “the least embarrassing mom”! (Which in teenage-speak must translate to great mom!). So glad my post inspired you to thank Steve as well – I think it’s so important to tell those who are there for us what they mean to us.

    And Rachel… Wow, what a beautiful story. It gave me chills. I always look forward to reading your comments here and this really knocked me out. What a blessing to have Professor Larson in your life, and of course your wonderful husband now (as someone still looking to create a life together with a life partner of my own, this gives me a lot of hope!!).

    Here’s to the lights in our lives that will carry us all through the dark winter season together… Grateful for all of you!


  • Rachel

    Lisa, your writing is amazing. You have managed to unite, in my mind and heart, memories which are favorites for different reasons.

    I have always found the short days of winter difficult. When I lived in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the days shortened faster, and became shorter, than what I’d been used to in Chicago. There, hardly anyone put lights out right after Thanksgiving — it seemed they were all on something closer to my schedule — but by the third week of November, nearly every house had some sort of Christmas lights up (even ours.) I’m convinced the only exceptions were people who had religious reasons for not using them. (I had a friend who would not put them up herself for religious reasons, but truly enjoyed everyone else’s.) No one took them down until well into January. Many of us waited until spring, and continued to light them into February. I loved the way those holiday lights lit up the darkness of those long Wisconsin winter nights, and lifted our spirits.

    During the time I went to college between my marriages, I had a boyfriend who was, shall we say, less than ideal. Part of the reason I accepted that at the time was because I felt my option were very limited. I had 2 children, so I would need someone who liked children enough to be willing to parent mine. I couldn’t have any more children, and I couldn’t, at the time, imagine that anyone who was interested enough in children to accept mine, would be okay with not having children of his own.

    Meanwhile, in my very first programming class, the professor told us the best way to communicate with him was through email. So I set up an account, using his instructions, and he was the very first person I ever sent email to. As we corresponded about the class, this professor allowed a good bit of his personality and experience to come across in his communication, and I suppose I must have done some of that, too. Over time, he came to offer guidance in more than just academics. The most inspiring thing I learned about him was that he married a woman with children, and they never had any together, and was happy with the ready-made family. He talked about her like she was the most wonderful person who ever walked the earth (and I understand she was something special.) Getting to know someone who had done that really gave me hope.

    Soon after I graduated, I wrote to him how I had nearly everything I’d ever dreamed of. I joked that all I needed to make my life ideal, was a rich husband. He wrote back a more serious answer about what I really needed in a husband, and I responded with a list of all that I really wanted in a man. Little did I know that I’d already met someone who had all the qualities I’d listed (including a willingness to take me to the opera.) I started dating my current husband just a couple weeks after that.

    Soon after we were married, I brought to work a pencil drawing of a candel that my husband did for me. I loved that picture, because it showed the candle lighting up the darkness, just as my husband did, and continues to do, for me.

    Thanks to you Lisa, whenever I see those holiday lights, which carry us through the winter darkness until the longer days of spring begin, I believe I will think of Professor Larson, and how his inspiration helped carry me through the time until I met my husband.

  • Rachel

    Ha, Remy, what a great compliment!

  • Remy G

    I have a great friend, Steve, who always seems to know the right questions to ask me, in order to light up a path to take. I value him tremendously and just sent him a note to tell him so. My son also had a nice comment to me last night, when we were comparing his friend’s parents on their level of ‘coolness’. He said “Mom, you are totally the least embarrassing out of all of my friend’s moms.” Based on where I’ve been lately in my heart and mind, I’ll take that compliment! lol Thank you Lisa for an inspiring post.
    See you Friday! Rem

  • dormouse

    Beautifully said. The imagery really resonates with me and my own personal philosophy. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  • Julita


    Today, my 10 year old told me on the way to school that it’s December already and that I am an ‘awesome’ mom, something I would never hear from my 13 year old.

    as you know, I am a bit depressed lately (realizing my life is half over) and there are days when I regret that I had given up my career for 10 long years to stay home to be with my girls. being middle aged I feel like I have missed out on life and that there is not much to look forward to. I see my life as boring and hopeless at times.

    so to answer your question: ‘Who has lit the way for you?’ I would say my little girl who is so sweet, so smart, so loving and who thinks I am an ‘awesome mom’. she is the one who puts a smile on my face, :)

    I can’t wait for spring, when I will have more energy!

    best wishes to you for the holiday season<3

  • Catherine

    You write so well and I have some ideas for ya if I ever get around to my email this week.

    I can’t wait to see you again this Friday.


  • Veronica

    On the eve of Thanksgiving the apple cider was on the stove, the girls were in the front yard putting up the lights and hanging the large tree decorations. Two other women were decorating the tree, a couple others were preparing food the the next day, it was wonderful.
    We were all in the mood for the holidays, a great way to set off the season as a group AND to be done with the decorating.
    Each year I feel differently about the holidays. That’s just ok, however I feel is how we approach these days.

    Your post was inspiring. We are all one.

    I so look forward to meeting you. Smile and enjoy.


  • Hi all,

    This is also a reflection of my life philosophy – that it’s best to teach by example; that while we cannot change others we can inspire others to find their own greatness; and that it is always important to be kind.

    Love to know the guiding principles in your life – and to hear stories of those who have lit the way for you!

    Hope everyone’s T-Day was great!