Just Be Yourself


Well, we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out
And show ourselves when everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we’d love to try them on

                                  – Billy Joel, The Stranger

“Just be yourself.” Common advice offered for interviews, going on a date, and attending a function with new people. It sounds simple enough. After all, what’s more natural than being yourself? Who else would I be?

The animated film Rango explores how hard it can be to “just be yourself.” In the film Rango, a chameleon, accidentally ends up in the town of Dirt, a western outpost facing a water shortage. Rango begins as a household pet (and aspiring actor) accidentally lost to his owner while driving down the highway. Unsure of who he really is, he decides to turn away from conventional wisdom and becomes someone else. He is a chameleon after all. Rango changes his skin from suburbanite house pet to tough, brave, and ready to tumble drifter who defeated a gang of seven brothers with a single bullet. At least that’s the story he tells. Rango’s success in avoiding a shoot-out with Bad Bill and ridding Dirt of the terrifying Hawk by inadvertently pulling down a water tower on the Hawk’s head is part improvisational skill and part accident. But the incidents earn him recognition and he is named the town sheriff by the mayor Tortoise John. The town of Dirt needs a new sheriff–someone to protect the townspeople against thugs like the Gila monster Bad Bill, the town Hawk and Jake the Snake.  Rango takes up the role as the town’s tough sheriff and acts the part.

But Rango illustrates how hard it can be to “just be yourself.” Finding himself thrust into a new environment, he feels the pressure to fit in. He’s lost and does not have a good sense of who he really is. He has the chance to try on a role providing him a place in society, the admiration of people around him and a sense of identity for himself.

I relate to Rango. Many times I’ve found myself in situations where, like Rango, I felt like the outsider and wanted to fit in. I’ve spent a good portion of my life battling the advice to “just be yourself.” In many ways I haven’t known who myself is. In a desire for the approval of others, I often identify what others value and step into roles I think will allow me to fit in.

Stephen_David_Leonard_ Kindergarten_Just_Be_Yourself

As a kindergartner I remember being terrified of recess. The other kids played together, but I didn’t know how be a part of the games. I stood scared by the big tree in the center of the playground, when Jenny rode up on her metal tricycle, looked me in the eye and said, “Fill her up!” Like Tortoise John with Rango, she handed me a role, so I took out the invisible gas hose and started running the station. Before I knew it, every kid in the playground needed gas from my station. Suddenly I ran a gas station for kindergarteners’ tricycles! I had a role and I played it to the hilt.

Eager to show the depth of my faith after college I attended seminary and became a pastor for ten years. In the church world I was commended many times for my spirituality, Bible knowledge, and devotion to the Lord. I leaned into the role and again found my place on the playground—preaching sermons, counseling and providing organizational leadership.

Stephen_David_Leonard_CEO_Just_Be_YourselfA few years back, as Lisa’s business grew, I stepped into a new role. I became the CEO of a growing internet company. I discovered my abilities to create marketing campaigns, negotiate deals and lead a company to consistent growth over time.

In these roles and more I have enjoyed certain success. Like Rango, my success came in part from my knowledge and skills and in part by accident. Like Rango, I’ve spent a great deal of energy trying not to be found out, hoping no one would realize how hard I find it to be myself because I lost a clear sense of myself back on the playground in kindergarten.

Over the past couple years I’ve been getting acquainted with the real me again. I’ve worked hard to take off the role of the gas station owner with adoring tricycle riders gathered around. I work to lay aside my pastoral persona. I am learning being a CEO and entrepreneur does not define who I am.

Eventually Rango is found out. He is no sheriff. He hasn’t lived the stories he’s told. He isn’t brave. He’s a mere household pet, lost by his owner and unsure who he is.

While wandering around lost and confused, Rango meets the Man with No Name who tells him, “No man can walk out on his own story.” Rango then discovers Dirt’s mayor is the real villain, purposefully withholding water from the town. Knowing he has the truth about the water crisis, Rango returns to Dirt to confront Tortoise John and his henchman Jake the Snake to rescue the town. He arrives this time, not in the role of a brave sheriff, but as a scared chameleon in his own skin who has to be himself. In discovering himself, Rango finds real courage, genuine friendship and the life he’s always longed to have.

No one can walk out on their own story. I have tried to shrink way from who I really am to be the person I think people want me to be. I have tried to act the part of others’ stories. But I am learning to show up, not in a role, not donning the mask of a persona, but as a scared chameleon in my own skin. My goal today is to do the hardest thing I can–just be myself.




Today I’m grateful for my wife Lisa and our marriage. I have not always been. I have always loved Lisa. We’ve talked many times about how we think we have a good marriage. Still, I am not generally a very grateful person. I take a lot for granted in my life. The closer and more dear something or someone is to me, the more I tend to assume them.

Many times I’ve met with coaches, advisors, friends to whom I complain about the lacks I feel in my life. I haven’t accomplished the professional position I hoped for. I am not on the career track I want. I haven’t attained to the financial status I desire. I haven’t made a big enough contribution to the world. And on my list goes. The reverberating theme: I haven’t done anything worthwhile with my life. My life doesn’t count for much. I don’t count for much. Many times my counselors have told me how I have much to be proud of and grateful for. A beautiful and amazing wife. I’m raising two incredible boys. I’ve grown our business. And more.

No matter how many times they tell me, I haven’t heard them. I discount every treasure, every accomplishment and every person I value.

This past year has been a year of intense lows and highs. Lisa and I struggled in our marriage as never before. We each struggled personally as never before. Our business went through intense challenges and challenging successes. Our boys hit junior high school and the early teen years (if you’ve experienced this unique stage of parenting, you know what I’m talking about!). 2016 was a hurricane.

As 2017 opens, I find myself at peace. Grateful. For the first time, I see the true treasures I have in Lisa and our boys, David and Matthias. The relationships I assume the most—those are, in fact, the most valuable.

I am thankful for Lisa and who she is. I see her more clearly than I ever have. She is thoughtful, caring, and works hard for our family and our company. She is a savvy, practical person in business and life. Her creativity inspires me and blesses many. She’s grounded. She loves me. I could have lost all of that. I am grateful for her. To have partner in business and life.

Lisa and I accomplished great things in 2016. We hit goals with the business about which we’ve dreamed for a long time. We finally got the kitchen remodeled after 6 years of talking about it. We went places and saw things we never dreamed of seeing. But for all that, our marriage is our number one accomplishment of the year. We helped each another gain ourselves. We gained a better family for David and Matthias. We gained one another.

Today, I am grateful.

Getting Done What Matters Most

stephen-leonard-david-holds-handI don’t want to miss out on the important stuff. Because life is busy, I set goals and review my priorities regularly.

I sat down the other day to review my goals for the year. I’ve been convicted recently that I need to grow in the ways I show love to the people in my life. I was thinking and praying and writing. Right at the moment I started getting into it, David walked up, reached out his right hand and rested it on my hand as he looked off into the distance. This is David’s way of asking to be picked up and held. I was busy, so I said hi to him, told him I couldn’t pick him up right now, removed his hand and continued working.

A couple of minutes went by. David came back and again placed his hand on mine—interrupting my writing this time. Again, I acknowledged him and sent him away.

A few minutes later the same thing happened again. David, standing in front of me. Hand on my hand, keeping me from writing down my thoughts and goals about living out a life that shows love better. I was annoyed.

That morning, I was focused on what I was doing. David was interrupting me. I was trying to get things done. I was working on something important. I didn’t have time to pick David up. I need time to focus so I could live the life God has called me to live.

Meanwhile, David kept coming back asking for attention. I told I love him. I told I saw him. But really I just wanted to get back to what I was working on and focus on my work again.

David persisted. And as I thought about my goals as a father, I thought about how one of my goals is for my children to know that I love them—that they are important to me. I want to spend time with them. And I began to think about the day I may not be able to hold him. I may not be able to hug him. So, I stopped. I stopped trying to figure out what my life is about and decided to live into the life I have. I stopped writing what I want to be and decided to be that person. At least in that one moment. I picked him up and held him. Nothing important got done. But we did the most important thing.

When have you almost missed the most important thing?

Wiping Tears Away

David_On_StairsOver Christmas David sprained his foot. He was crying and it took us a few minutes to figure oru the real problem. Just that night he had been climbing the stairs at his grandparent’s house during a family gathering. When your child has special needs (David has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome), you notice when they suddenly ascend the stairs. On their own. Five times.

We celebrated of course. Then, one barely noticeable slip on the last step, while holding his auntie’s hand and he was in tears.

We know David’s cry for pain pretty well. One of my nightly dad-rituals is to put the boys to bed. I enjoy spending the last few minutes of the day with the kids—reading, talking with Matthias about life, a moment to tell them I love them and am proud of them (something I think dads should tell their kids regularly and often). After I put the boys to bed, I often sit with David, patting his tummy when he has major reflux and gas pain. He has a distinct “My tummy hurts and I don’t know what to do” cry. I know his cry that comes from pain.


David in the ER

Once we saw swelling on his foot, we took him to the ER just to be on the safe side. David can’t talk, so knowing what he’s feeling can be a challenge at times. We weren’t sure whether it was a sprain or a break, so off we went, middle of the night, for X-rays.


David’s Foot X-Ray


That was the night I learned about the FLACC Pain Scale.  Here’s the official explanation:

The Face, Legs, Activity, Cry, Consolability scale or FLACC scale is a measurement used to assess pain for children between the ages of 2 months and 7 years or individuals that are unable to communicate their pain. The scale is scored in a range of 0–10 with 0 representing no pain. The scale has five criteria, which are each assigned a score of 0, 1 or 2.

I don’t know why we hadn’t heard of this in 11 years of caring for David, but there is was on the wall of David’s room in the ER. Being bored, I read. I took in what it said.

“Lisa, check this out. I just read this pain scale for kids who can’t talk. Listen to this and see if it

sounds like David when his tummy hurts sometimes,” I said. “‘Face, Frequent to constant quivering chin, clenched jaw.’”

“Yea, David clenches up his face like that a lot.” Lisa said.

“‘Legs—Kicking,’” or listen to this, “‘legs drawn up.’ Doesn’t that sound like David?” I asked.

“It does.” Lisa answered.

“OK, check this out, ‘Activity—Arched, rigid or jerking.” I read.

“Whoa. They have arching on there?” Lisa said.

“I know. And listen to this. Cry, Crying steadily, screams or sobs.’ And ‘Consolability—Difficult to console or comfort.’ That’s totally David.” I said.

“That’s totally David,” Lisa agreed.

“That’s ten out of ten on this scale.” I told her.

It’s one thing to experience your child’s pain. It’s another to read an objective scale that uses the same words you’ve used a thousand times to describe your child’s pain. Drawing up his legs, arched and rigid, screaming and sobbing. These are our words, spoken inside our home. There they were on the chart.

But you also have to understand. This is just the way it is for us. We don’t think about it. Honestly there’s times we feel annoyed instead of compassionate. I’m not trying to sound like a monster, I just want to be clear that we’re not saints either. It’s real life.


What I do think about when David is sobbing in my arms during our post-put-the-kids-in-bed ritual is our relationship as father and son. I hold him tight (he’s STRONG for being so little!) to help him regain control of himself and I pat his tummy. Sometimes, he’ll grab my hand and motion for me to do it. After medication, time, and pats, he calms down again.

The last thing I do is wipe the tears from his eyes.

One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible points the kind of Father God is. Becoming a dad and understanding David’s pain has put the verse into living color for me. The Bible says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

This is the world we live in. Today there is pain. Not just for David, but for me and for you, those we love, and those we don’t even know. I don’t always understand the pain. Sometimes it seems like God doesn’t notice and isn’t doing anything about it. Then we read that God’s story—and thus the story of the world—will include a day where there’s no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And God wipes the tears from our eyes.  That’s what God is doing. That’s the true story of the world. That’s who God is.

The last thing He will do is wipe the tears from our eyes.






How to Communicate So You’re Heard

What_They_HearCommunication is what the other person hears.

Earlier this week I was on the receiving end of a customer service transaction that reminded me of one of my big lessons from 2013. Simply put, communication is what the other person hears. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that what I was trying to communicate was NOT what was being heard. The moment she heard what would make the transaction easier for her as the employee, she stopped communicating what would be easier for me as the customer.

A musician friend taught me the concept of musical dynamics this past summer (note: I am not a musician and so will surely get this at least partly wrong). Musical dynamics are the way a listener hears music. It’s why when you hear that high school band play they sound like a wall of muddy notes slipping down past your ears. Each band member plays his instrument like they’re the star of the show. The drummer plays louder and harder. The guitarist cranks her amp to be heard over the drums. The singer yells over the guitar and drums.

When a Beatles song comes on every person in the room wants to move to the beat. It’s crisp. Each person plays his role in the band—hitting each note, beat, and harmony with perfection. That’s musical dynamics. It can be fun for musicians to play for themselves like the high school band. But when musicians have great dynamics, it’s nearly magical for the listener.

Communication is what the other person hears. A band communicates through music. A preacher communicates through words and illustrations. Retailers communicate through marketing. People communicate by our words and behaviors.

To communicate well, we have to be other-focused. We have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes to hear what they hear, see what they see, and experience what they experience. It changes the dynamics of every interaction.

In your interactions this week, listen to yourself through the other person’s ears. Watch your face and your body language through the other person’s eyes.  Then ask, “Am I communicating to get my message out, or to have it received?”

I’d love to know—what have you found that helps you communicate well?

What Do You Do With Strange Bible Stories?

Bible_Reading“What do you do with some of the strange things the Bible says?” Greg asked.

A bunch of us guys were together for guys night. We had just finished giving the waitress our order.

“Do you always start conversations like this?” I asked. “Like, are you serious, or are you joking?”

“I’m serious. I have a lot of friends who object to Christianity because some parts talk about loving people and then there’s a bunch of parts—especially in the Old Testament—where the Israelites kill a bunch of people, or there’s the guy who sacrifices his daughter, and weird things like that. It seems like there’s a lot of contradictions in the Bible. Bible heroes do really bad things sometimes and it’s right there in the Bible, you know? What do we do with that?” Greg answered.

Just today I was reading in Genesis 34 where Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by a Canaanite named Shechem. (Seriously, that’s his name.) Naturally, Shechem does this horrible deed because “his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” (Genesis 34:3) Since he loved her so much, after raping her, he asked his dad Hamor to get Jacob to agree for them to be married.

So far, so bad. Still, Jacob’s sons hear about and are furious that their sister was humiliated and treated like this. It’s wrong. They want justice for their sister “because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.” (Genesis 34:7)

Apparently it was done in Canaan because the next thing you know, Hamor asks Jacob and his sons for Dinah’s hand in marriage to Shechem. Dinah’s brothers agree—with one tiny little caveat—every male among Hamor’s people must be circumcised. (No irony here of course.) I don’t know what you would do in Shechem’s shoes, but he “did not delay to do the thing” because, well, he was in love! (Genesis 34:19)

It doesn’t end there. “On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers” broke into the city and killed every male, plundered the city, their flocks and “All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” (Genesis 34:30)

Simeon and Levi stand up for their sister. But, did they act any better than Shechem? Jacob tells them off them for what they did, but only because he’s afraid of Hamor’s allies. He sounds like he planned to go ahead with the marriage. Is this how Bible heroes act?

What about God—what does he do about this mess? In the next chapter God tells Jacob to leave that place and He protects Jacob as they travel. It’s easy to feel this is less than we want from God in this situation. So why is all this in the Bible? It doesn’t sound very…biblical.

This is one of those passages that’s starts with a mess and deteriorates from there.

Where’s the godly hero who we should emulate? Is the moral that we should take matters into our hands when wronged? Are we supposed to execute vigilante justice and God will look the other way? Maybe there are some lessons about dating and why courtship is the biblical way to prepare for marriage? (Obviously Shechem took Dinah on an unsupervised date and, well, you know the rest.) Maybe it’s a moral about what not to do? Don’t take your beautiful daughter and angry sons anywhere, and don’t introduce them to anyone, otherwise bad things might happen.

But the Bible is an epic story, not a series of moral tales. It’s Lord of the Rings, not Aesop’s Fables. Trying to make sense of this passage on it’s own is like asking why Frodo doesn’t just melt down the ring at the beginning of the third movie. Every scene has to be read in light of the greater story. Genesis 34 is a moment when everything the hero is attempting is put in jeopardy. And the hero of the Bible is not Jacob, or Simeon, or Levi, or Dinah.

The hero of the bible is God.

The story so far is that God created an amazing world. Humans loved the world he made, but weren’t so keen on God. Since taking matter into their own hands, lots of people have killed each other and the world has become a hostile place. But God promised to fix the world we broke and to save us from ourselves. And He promised to do it through Eve’s son. By Jacob’s time we’re many generations removed from that promise. If you were reading a novel instead of the Bible, you’d be thinking, “This family line stinks. Where’s the son that’s going to defeat the bad guy?”

It’s not until further on in Genesis 35 that we get a sense of what God is doing. After protecting Jacob by moving him out of harm’s way, God reminds Jacob of his promises,  “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. ” (Genesis 35:11) God gives a hint of what’s ahead. This is a reminder. God is still in charge. He hasn’t forgotten his promises. One day he will put a king on the throne. When the story unfolds, we learn that king is Jesus. Jesus’ kingly act is to die for our sins the way Hamor and Shechem died for theirs.

Genesis 34 is a dark chapter in the story. But it’s a true story. True because this is the kind of world we live in. It’s a world where rape, murder, genocide, theft and the worst of humanity can thrive at times. It’s a world that needs a hero. This promise of a king is a reminder that God is that hero. And he’s on an epic quest to redeem his world from sin and to restore us to the life he always intended.

How do you deal with the hard stuff of the bible?

You Are Not Alone

You_Are_Not_AloneTalking with people recently I’ve heard a theme. It keeps popping up. I heard it in the call with my friend about his marriage. I’ve seen it on Facebook. It came out in a friend’s email about making scarey changes in her life this year. We’re all struggling. We’re tempted to feel alone.

I feel it at times. Making resolutions, pursuing dreams, investing in others–these things are risky and vulnerable. It’s easy to think people won’t understand. It’s tempting to dismiss our loved ones by putting words in their mouths without ever talking. It’s simpler to keep to myself than to let you in.

I have voices that tell me I can’t do it. I have voices that tease me. I have voices that tell me no one cares. I bet you do too. It’s opposition. It’s fear. It’s sin and the devil. It’s resistance. It’s a pack of lies. The lies may be your own that you tell yourself so you can avoid success. The lies might be from someone else to “protect you from failure.” But they’re lies.

Whether you are struggling in your career, in your marriage, with your finances, your health, your relationships, or any other area, you are not alone. Others share your struggle and others will root for you. Let them. And lean into the struggle.


Matthias_10YearsWhat do you do when you have to wait? Our son Matthias has grown up waiting. When your brother has special needs, it’s part of the package.
Matthias has grown up in a story that is inextricably linked to his brother. He has spend too many hours in doctor’s offices waiting for David’s appointments. Waiting with us for results. Waiting to proceed to the next waiting room. He’s listened patiently to the story of David’s birth and the way that has shaped Lisa and I over and over again.
In spite of the waiting—maybe because of it—Matthias lives a life that redeems time.
He is an artist. He’s drawn for as long as I can remember. He spends so many of the hours waiting coming up with ideas and drawing. He’s the first in our family to publish a book. OK, it was self-published, but still!

A couple years ago he decided to make a book for Lisa for Mother’s Day. He created a Superhero A-Z book. For each letter of the alphabet, there are three superheroes. Drawn. Colored. Named. Original superheroes. Each has their own backstory. I remember him working on it in waiting rooms and hospital cafeterias. He had nights sitting awake in bed working to meet his deadline.
“Dad, I’m really worried that I won’t finish in time. I have so much work to do to finish for mom.” He told me night after night as I put him to bed.

“It’s OK kiddo. just keep working on it a little at a time. I think mom will understand if you don’t quite make it.” I said. (His first big project and I was already teaching him to blow off deadlines! What a terrible father!)
Matthias turns 10 today. He is creative. He is imaginative.  He is dedicated to his art. He thinks, he draws, he writes. Every day. Everywhere we go, he’s got his bag with paper, pencils and pens at the ready just in case he has to wait—he’s ready. He is  loving. His book for Lisa was a work of love. He loves his brother—even looking for him at school (they inhabit afferent parts of campus), and being protective of him with other kids. He is sensitive. He cares about the people in his life. He is kind and respectful and knows how to talk with adults.
I am proud that Matthias is my son. I celebrate his step into double digits toward the pre-teen years even as I grieve the loss of our little boy. I can’t wait to see the man he will become. Happy birthday Matthias.

How to Face Adversity and Find Joy (Sort of)

Stephen and Lisa Leonard“How do you do it all? I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a child with special needs.” People say things like this to Lisa and I a lot. Having a child with special needs—our son David has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome—has taught me a lot about myself and the world. The truth is, I “do it” through a fair amount of complaining. I’m a complainer.

I used to think that when Lisa tells me not to complain, she’s just being Pollyanna about the world. I grew up with a British mom, around British adopted family, and have always loved spending time with my British relatives. One of our favorite pastimes is what my cousin calls “moaning.” Actually, he says it’s the British pastime—like baseball in the U.S. This is one reason I feel like I’m with my people when I visit England.

Most of my friends (when I say ‘most’ you should read ‘all,’ I just say ‘most’ because that sounds more credible—you’re not supposed to use allness statements) have confronted me about my complaining. I remember as a freshman at Biola University going across the street to play Frisbee golf. I was hot, stressed out and annoyed. I guess I didn’t keep it to myself because my buddies taunted me singing “I have joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” It did not make me feel joy.

There was also the youth leader when I was in high school. It was day 4 of my first Mexico mission trip. He was always upbeat and encouraging—I liked that about him. One day I was going on about how tired I was and I didn’t think it was fair that another team got showers and we didn’t. He just looked at me and said, “Steve, can you just STOP complaining for five minutes!?” (I think that was the first time someone called me out for complaining.)

Then there was my college girlfriend I wanted to marry. She broke up with me because I complain too much. She spent one miserable Fourth of July with me and my family and that was it. “Those fireworks were awful.” “Those people don’t know what they’re doing.” “And there were so many people.” It was bad enough to hear me do it, but hearing that I’m from a family of complainers made her see the problem was systemic. That was that.

None of that was enough for me though. All that happened years before the Sting concert I attended with my wife Lisa, her sister and my brother-in-law. From my perspective we were too far back from the stage (I’ve “seen” Sting in concert, but he was the size of an ant. They realistically could have put any guy on the stage and just played his CD’s.), the seating was uncomfortable, the food was no good, and I got to such a bad place I couldn’t pull myself out of it.

“Why can’t you just make the best of it and have fun?” Lisa asked.

“That’s totally bogus! You know it sucks. Why can’t you just say so?” I replied.

“Why do you have to be so miserable and ruin it for everyone else?” She asked again.

“What do you want me to do? LIE?! When something sucks, you say it. That’s part of it.” I said.

It’s fair to say I didn’t make myself popular as a brother-in-law that night. Or as a husband. No one was very happy with me and I just went away smugly justified that I was the only one who could see we got ripped off. I still didn’t get it.

Here’s the thing. No one likes a complainer. Not even the complainer himself. As I think about the years Lisa has put up with me and my complaining, I can’t believe she’s still married to me.

It’s funny, but this is one area of my life the Lord has confronted over the years through having a child with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. David has CdLS. It’s not going away. It sucks. There are times, days even, when I feel ripped off. When I feel he’s been ripped off. When I feel Matthias has been ripped off. When I feel like Lisa has been robbed. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to lose it if I hear David scream any longer with GI issues. But CdLS isn’t going away. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s the way it is. The only thing we can do in the midst of it is do our best to dignify and love David. We have to soak up his precious smile, his rolling belly laugh when he gets silly. We have to celebrate seeing him intentionally dribble a soccer ball while holding my hand. We rejoice at things like bowel movements because it means everything’s working and he’ll have a better day.

These moments point to the brokenness of the world. There’s a lot to complain about. God made the world one way, but we’ve made it another. (I always puzzle at people puzzling at “How could a loving God let bad things happen?” As if God screws up the world instead of us!) But God is redeeming and restoring the world through his son. One day, we’ll be able to listen to concerts close to the performer. The food will be great. One day the fireworks will be fantastic and we’ll have great seats for that too. One day David won’t have CdLS and his tummy won’t hurt anymore. We’ll talk with our son in a way we can’t now.

If that’s the story we live in, why not make the best of it now?

Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

George-Washington-Great-ManDo you seek out examples for your life? 2013 renewed my desire to read biographies and find worthy examples from whom to learn. It’s easy to see great men and women and to think, “I could never do something like that. I don’t have the…education, money, intelligence, connections, skills…that they have.” One of my great take-a-ways from the book Mindset this year (see my post here) is that we have a choice when we see examples of success—we can feel threatened by them, or we can find lessons and inspiration from them.

I’ve read biographies for many years to learn from great people of the past and present. This year, I began to engage with them afresh to learn from people who made a significant difference in the world—especially because of and for the sake of the gospel.

I closed out the year reading the excellent Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I read Metaxas’s biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 2012 and loved it. When I saw this quick character study on these seven men, I knew it would be a great read and that Metaxas would handle these men in a way that showed what made them great—including their humanity and flaws. I was not disappointed. I commend the book especially for men and dads of boys looking for worthy models for themselves and their sons to follow. These seven men were great in the history of the world and were driven by their understanding of God’s grace in their lives. Consider these brief highlights:

George Washington—An ambitious, even arrogant young man who sought the highest possible leadership roles. But, the only man in history to lay aside his power after conquering the superpower of his day.

William Wilberforce—A self-centered, self-aggrandizing politician who schmoozed his way into high position in the British Parliament.  After coming to faith, he campaigned for decades for the abolition of the slave trade in England, France, Spain and the Americas, the abolition of slavery in Engalnd, the fair treatment of animals (in the 1700’s people!), the dignity of  workers and more.

Eric Liddell—Famous for his refusal to run the Olympics on the Sabbath because of his faith, Liddell showed his faith more profoundly by looking after the children in a concentration camp while a missionary in China. He died in their service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer—The genius German theologian who saw the German’s treatment of the Jews in WWII through the lens of the racial segregation in America. Pastor Bonhoeffer was executed for his role in the Valkerie plot to kill Hitler.

Jackie Robinson—The talented athlete whose record of standing up to racial injustice  and stats won him a place on Branch Ricky’s Brooklyn Dodgers to break the color barrier in baseball. Robinson and Ricky took Jesus at his word, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

Pope John Paul II—A poor Polish kid, Karol Wojtyla,  who grew up in the shadow of Hitler’s Germany and quietly rose in the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church by resisting communism’s , investing in teenagers, writing theological treatises on sex, and human dignity. Wojtyla, unexpectedly elected Pope, became one of the 20th century’s most well-known advocates for the oppressed, reconciliation between religious groups, and personal devotion to the Lord.

Charles W. Colson—The power-hungry and ruthless special counsel to President Nixon who was arrested and imprisoned for his significant role in the Watergate scandal that took down the President of the United States. On meeting Jesus (just prior to his imprisonment), Colson realized that his life was to be given in the service of his fellow inmates—proclaiming to the gospel and equipping them to live it out behind bars. Even developing robust worldview resources to reach people before they had committed their crimes.

I am thankful for Metaxas’s work in bringing these heroes to life. In our day, we need realistic portraits of heroes for ourselves and for our children. I plan to share these stories with David and Matthias in the days ahead that they might have real life examples of those who lived out a deep understanding of God’s grace and his redemption of His world.

Question: What have you read in the past year that inspired you?