The Willow & War Blog


I light a candle for the cake. My son turns one. A flame shapes the very face I kiss in the morning. The face I cradle in one hand. The one I wipe tears from.

I light a candle and wrap my fingers around the heat. To shield the wind. To keep it burning while we stand in the dark, praying the children would just come home, demanding recompense from the sky. Someone is yelling on the microphone. Someone is weeping.

I light a candle in the sanctuary. Silent night. Holy night. Eyes mirror and reflect and wander and search for something like hope. Flames flicker under threat of breathing. We breathe slowly. Silently.

I light a candle on a table. We hold hands. We break bread. We say thank you. Thank you for these hands to hold. Thank you we are here around a table. Thank you the flame is still burning. Thank you for the rivers of wax witnessing to the life in the fire.

I light a candle alone

and I am no longer alone.


You don't have to be happy.

Let's just get that off the table. There's enough pressure to deal with every day without feeling like you've failed as a human being by 7am because you didn't wake up toothing the sun with a fake smile.

Like it's something you just pick off a lower branch on your way to work. Coffee in one hand, an extra-large grin in the other, no room for cream.

Life's not like the toothpaste commercials. 

I've heard so many people say to 'just choose joy'. Be happy! But that doesn't work. You know it doesn't. You've probably tried it. 

Prescribing happiness is a favorite pastime of motivational speakers and stay-at-home Facebook gurus who wear cartoon pajamas to Costco. 

It's been held up as the pinnacle of having your shit together. It's the holy grail for good people. 

But spend your life looking for happiness and you'll always be disappointed. Because happiness is a reaction. A response. A huge super-soaker of joy that is fun as hell to use, but quickly runs out of water.

You don't have to be happy.



But it's worth trying to be content. 

Maybe you'll stumble your way over to happiness after that, but try to be happy before being content and you're only fooling yourself. 

Because content is where you can be imperfect. It's where being okay is good enough for this moment. 

It's where we can be a bit of a mess - and on our way to putting the pieces together before dawn - we can breathe. We can breathe because we're not trying so hard to be happy, we're not pretending, we're not forcing, we're just accepting. 

There will be happy days. Or you'll be subdued. Or pensive. Or creative. Or angry. But contentment will draw you back to some center and release you from needing to be someone you're not. 

It's ironic when people are sad they can't be happy. So don't be.

If you're going to be anything, be okay. 

Find some peace.

And move on from there.


You don't have to be tough.

Heavy chest, feels like 9am was a push. Cycle through the usual rotary of inspirational quotes or verses and come up empty.

Empty like the hands we're turning over. Palms facing sky, soft altars offering up one-word prayers.




And empty hands is a great way to begin. Because we can't be tough forever. We can't ride adrenaline and caffeine until we crash through our doors at 6pm.

You don't have to be tough. But if you want to be strong.

You need to let someone open those white knuckles, love, so you can receive.

Palms up.

Receive your name. It's been too long since you've just listened to it. You have worth.

Receive your hope. It's been too long since you've been built up. You have a name. You have worth. Your life has meaning.

Receive your identity. It's been too long since you've drawn your strength from anything other than effort. You have a name. You have worth. Your life has meaning.

And you're strong because of who you are, not what you do. Not what others see. But who you are.

Your identity is your strength. You don't have to put up the fists. You don't have to grind your teeth. You don't have to hold the heavy world.

You have to hear your name.

And be strong, again.



That's what we're promised. Like we have to be convinced of this fact.

But we return to our cages. We're familiar with the coolness of metal on the soft of our cheeks. As much as it keeps us in, it keeps the rest out. And that feels like safety.

We learn to live the cage. It is the eternal excuse for the well-intentioned. At least I tried. That's what we say. Is that my voice?

Because to be free means we have something to lose. And choice. And the dread that follows hope around like a shadow, even on dark days. There's risk here.

Freedom is not peace. Or joy. Freedom is owning yourself. Freedom is unmerited grace. It has substance. Weight. Worth.

You are free and you have worth.

And anything of worth, I suppose, can be lost.

Freedom can be terrifying when all we've seen is a sunrise through the grate. To run towards that light...maybe we never thought that could happen. Better to not dream. Better to stay here. Better to keep to our solitary shadowy kingdom than to have something and lose it.



Better to risk losing something of worth than to forfeit the inheritance; what could be. Better to run in open fields. Better to try. Better to fail and rise again.

To rise, the same way our freedom came to us.

To rise.

This is freedom.