"Throughout scriptures, a Palm branch has symbolized prosperity, victory, success and joy. Seems like all the right things to have with you when you are going in to praise the Lord, right? But then there is the Willow. If you have ever seen a Willow tree, it truly looks as if it is crying. Long, draping, tear-like branches represent distress, sadness, trials and adversity. What an interesting thing to carry with you to meet with the Lord. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful the Lord calls us into His presence in both seasons of life. You see, we are promised a day where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more hurt. What a glorious hope we have found in Jesus! Whether you have Palms, or Willows surrounding you, may you hold fast to the promises of hope found within His word today. I have never seen the righteous forsaken!" - Jentezen Franklin
The Heart of Willows & Palms
Thanks for stopping by! I have been wanting to share this story with you all for quite some time, but it’s taken a lot of courage for me to put my heart out here, so here we go. This is going to be pretty raw and real, so hang with me here. If you’re not interested in a long, extremely detailed read…. You can stop here. I won’t hate you, I promise. But if you’re ready to learn a WHOLE lot about Willows & Palms and what it means to me, prepare yourself.
Just a little back story on me:
I’ve been creative I swear since the day I was born. I think my mother could attest to that. I have 4 sisters, no brothers, and yes… my father is insane. But through his insanity, I can proudly say that we’ve always lived in a creative household. One of my older sisters, Kaity, is an artist, a wedding videographer, a graphic designer, you name it. My other older sister, Kelly, is basically a travel blogger and insanely into simplistic fashion, and even though she only wears black (not lying)… she’s never EVER lacking style. My little sister, Shelby, has an unreal knack for typography and knick-knacks on Pinterest and basically just the internet in general. My fourth sister, Lindy, has creativity that comes out in how insanely well she loves others and can decorate a house. Nonetheless, we were always taught that creativity is a must. My dad was always sharing new creative ideas with my sisters and I of businesses he dreamed of starting and incredible ideas he had. This man, I’m telling you, could fix pretty much anything broken he touched. Anything that is, except for a 22 year old girl’s broken heart. Which leads me to the story of Willows & Palms.
Here’s where it gets good.
I’ve never been content with myself. Not just my physical appearance, but my mind, my horrible memory, my quirks, you name it… I’ve never really appreciated it. Much less liked it about myself. Ever since I could remember, I was compared to my older sisters, and then soon after to my younger sister. Nothing seemed to fall into place and I don’t think I truly understood who I was for a very long time. I don’t think I truly understand now…but I think I’m getting a tighter grip on the realities that I know to be true, and the lies I know to be false. Which I think is all anyone ever strives for without knowing that’s the verbiage of it. Let’s backtrack. Throughout high school, I tried and tried to be just Maddie. Not my sisters. Maddie. And sometimes I thought I had it, but I don’t think I ever quite did. I wore strange things, I did weird things with my hair, I wore oriental printed Converse (which if you know me, you knew those were my absolute favorite pair of shoes). As I got older and kind of started to understand how harsh the world is and how defeating your mind can be, I started looking to people around me to make me feel whole. I started putting all of my worth into everything I could except for the one thing that truly mattered, and if I didn’t get the recognition I expected I was devastated. I’ve always been pretty bad with expectations. They kick me in the rear end. Anyways, I started putting my worth into silly college boys and relationships and stupid decisions. None of these things made me feel quite like I did on the special day I met Jesus, and my life was forever changed. It was 3 years ago. I’m not going to dig super deep into it, but it involved three of my favorite things: Erica Cepero, rain, and mother-nature. That’s all you need to know. Soon after, I made a LOT more terrible decisions. Shocker. Ask any of my college friends. They’ll tell you plenty of stories that would mortify my parents. But I had this reason to be better that I had never had before. I didn’t just want to be better, I needed to.
Flash forward a couple of years, and people started realizing that I was like kind of halfway decent at art. Like, a lot of people. I felt like I was running a drug ring selling commissioned pieces. It was awesome. And more and more people kept coming to me and I thought to myself, “Okay this is insane maybe I can make a business and start selling things.” I’ve never been one who dreamed of an office job lacking in creativity and I always wanted something so much more from this world than a job that made me miserable. So low and behold, I made an Instagram. Classic millennial entrepreneur. I didn’t have the intention of selling tee shirts at first, all I wanted to do was sell my art. And I was pretty successful.
Flash forward again to me and Erica sitting in my college apartment. We were playing with this idea of starting a small business, and I stumbled across some words on Pinterest that said “Self-Love Club” and it totally struck a chord with me. I later found out that these words belonged to this insanely talented artist based out of Australia who had her artwork ALL over the internet, but nonetheless, I think my heart kind of did a little jig on the inside of my chest in that moment. I felt this calling to create some kind of brand with a meaning behind it. And not just that, I felt this urge, this need, this insanely intense desire to create a safe space for people to be just real. So I said what the heck I’ll design some tee shirts and see if people will buy them. Totally being bold and having no clue and no research done as to whether people will buy them or not, I dove in head first.
Success was slow. I would sell some every now and then through social media and whatnot, but my brand didn’t become what it was overnight. And it definitely didn’t become my definition of successful until I had my spirit broken. To be completely honest and vulnerable, my heart got crushed. That’s how Willows & Palms became what it is. I lost sight of me and let the people around me define me. And that was the recipe to my demise. I was finishing up college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I put all my eggs in one basket, and poof. The basket fell and all the eggs cracked.
To lay it out plain and simple, my sister almost died in a car wreck, everything in my life was flipped upside down, and I didn’t know which way was up and which way was down. I felt left behind. I didn’t know my career path. I struggled with my worth, constantly. I struggled with my family. You name it.
I had experienced heartbreak before, and that sweet boy taught me a lot about who I was. In his defense, he didn’t really know who he was either so it was a growing up experience for the both of us. I thought my next heartbreak couldn’t be any harder than my high school heartbreak, but come on girls. Let’s all laugh at that one. We’ve all thought that before, and is it ever true? Your first heartbreak hurts like hell, but let’s be honest: the second one is almost unbearable. Or at least it was for me. This period of time didn’t just hurt from that though, it was almost as if the weight of the world was crushing me from all angles. All I felt was falling. Constantly. I would wake up in the morning, and my heart would hurt. I’d have to remind myself to breathe. I’d go to sleep, and my heart hurt. I didn’t quite know how to fix it or where to go. I was staying at the hospital in the ICU and I absolutely think that was rock bottom for me. But from all that I’ve learned: there’s always a light. You learn something so important about yourself and everything that you are when you get tested like that. I didn’t understand what looking for the light at the end of the tunnel meant until my world kind of crashed in around me. I wish someone would have really helped me understand that that pain can’t last forever. There’s always a light. It’s not just a saying. It always ends. And you don’t always realize it’s ending when it does, I don’t think. It’s not like you just wake up one day and you’re like, oh my goodness. My heart doesn’t hurt. The pain is gone. It’s slow and steady and it takes time. Coffee alone in your apartment starts becoming more comforting than it is lonely. Your nightly routine of dragging your sofa onto your back porch, blaring music, and painting becomes less of a distraction and more of a release of anxiety. You just heal. You move on and heal. So anyways I put my passion into my pain, or my pain into my passion, however you want to look at it. I spent a lot of time alone. I spent a lot of time running. A lot of time reading. A lot of time driving. A lot of time crying. A lot of time in the hospital with my family. A lot of time at home with my big sister who couldn’t walk. And something just happened. If you would have told me I was changing and getting stronger and more “Maddie” I like to call it, I would have laughed in your face. Most days were painful. Most days I felt betrayed by people I thought I loved. But there were most certainly moments of clarity where I actually felt at home. Maybe because of the people around me, or maybe because my heart would stop hurting for a second, but also maybe because I finally had experienced real, lonely pain and had no other option but to actually start enjoying my own company and admiring this home that I live in. It’s like I’ve always lived in skin 3 times the size of what belonged in it, and I was slowly but surely starting to fill the skin out through my experiences. I realized that summer how important community is. How important my sisters are to me. How important loyal friends are. But most importantly, how STRONG our bodies are. How strong our minds are. My body. My mind. This was when Willows & Palms became a passion that I was determined to make successful. I fell in love with the people involved with Willows & Palms, and I fell in love with everything we stand for and the community we’re forming.
So all in all, if you don’t want to read the meat of this story and get bored easily or whatever it may be, please please please just read this.
We started from heartbreak. We started from hitting rock bottom. We started because I didn’t have anything else. Because I met Jesus. Because I needed a group of people to bring me out of my sadness. People who wanted to talk about the real things. The hard things. Because I wanted to show people that we’re all here, and we’re all struggling with the same things. And it’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to encourage each other and be exposed. For all you know, you could be someone’s saving grace without even knowing it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, you know? To have people love more on the people around them. That’s our base. Our core. So thank you. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for supporting us. I really really hope you stay around for a long time. If you’re struggling, or if your heart hurts, or if it honestly just feels tough to breathe when you wake up in the morning, know this. I’m in your corner. I’m rooting for you. I’m praying for you. I’m here for you. Find that light at the end of the tunnel, I promise it’s there.