Rest

Busy. This word is on my lips everyday lately. Between work commitments and personal commitments this time of year is busy. At work we’re finishing our seasonal busyness, setting annual goals, finishing projects, and doing all the things that go with the end of the year. At home we’re preparing the house for relatives, finishing house projects, parenting, and keeping up with mail, trash and diapers. Sometimes I go from 6am to 7pm, moving from one meeting to the next. Once I get home I fall asleep sitting next to Lisa on the couch at 8, finally falling in bed exhausted. And, all with the feeling of accomplishing little. Busy at work. Busy at home.

If we’re honest, many of us tie our sense of worth to the number of tasks crossed off our lists. It’s easy to judge ourselves and those around us by the number of hours we work and willingness to arrive early and stay late. I see how I sometimes view my work as relating to my worth as a person. I tend to fill my days with bigger projects and more tasks than a person can complete in any reasonable time frame. Meanwhile, I feel guilty about the overwhelming number of commitments I’ve made clawing at my subconscious. In a vicious cycle, I feel worthless for failing to complete the insurmountable tasks I’ve determined justify my existence.

I just finished reading the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang. The idea that less work might somehow produce better results intrigued me. Pang gathers together in one place the world’s leading research on the critical role of rest on creativity, productivity, and a fulfilling life. Much of what he has to say runs against the way most of us operate. He shows how the most productive, accomplished, world class achievers take mid-day naps, exercise every day, sleep more hours, spent approximately four hours per day on their life’s work for which they’re known and take their evenings, weekends and regular sabbaticals seriously. Pang argues work and rest are not opposed forces, but rather two sides of the accomplishment coin.The book is filled with famous examples of people who have taken a rhythm of rest seriously. Charles Darwin woke early, took a walk and ate breakfast, worked 90 minutes, took a break to read mail and write letters, then worked another 90 minutes until noon, at which point he declared, “I’ve done a good day’s work!” In the remaining day he ate two more times, took two more walks, napped, studied for 90 minutes and spent the evening with his family. With this daily routine Darwin went down in history as one of the most productive and famous scientists who ever lived. Winston Churchill and Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas McArthur all took long mid-day naps of 1-2 hours during the height of World War II. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien both rose early, took long walks and afternoon naps, writing early to produce their great literary works. He gives many examples of CEO’s in Silicon Valley, scientists around the world, and others alive today whose lives illustrate major accomplishment and lives filled with waking early, afternoon naps, long walks, intense exercise, intentional vacations and regular sabbaticals.

Research shows it’s the combination of periods of intense effort and concentration combined with long breaks that has produced the great literary masterpieces, Olympic gold medals, and scientific breakthroughs we all know. The best rest is active and includes a significant dose of strenuous exercise to keep the body and mind fit for work. Rest includes what Pang calls Deep Play—a sport, playing a musical instrument, mountain climbing, writing, art—anything different than your main work requiring effort and skill. And rest includes sleep—lots of it. Over the last few years, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s become common knowledge mastery comes after 10 years, or 10,000 hours of intentional practice. But, less known, the study producing the 10,000 hour insight also revealed mastery and world class success came after 12,500 hours of deliberate rest and 30,000 of sleep. That’s more than 8 hours a day for 10 years! Deliberate rest stimulate and sustains creativity and problem solving.

The research surrounding rest is so counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, I have been thinking for days now about the results of a longitudinal study performed by researcher Bernie Eiduson. Eiduson followed top scientists at the beginning of their careers at top universities and tracked the progression of their success over 10 years. Those who published the most and achieved the highest positions, awards, and success all embraced rest and recreation as deeply connected and unified with hard work. In contrast, “Rather than discover the benefits of deep play, the less accomplished members of Eiduson’s cohort assumed that they would do better work by doing more work—and their careers suffered for it.” (220)

I am challenged to rethink the pace and schedule of my life. Like many people, I feel a constant need to do and to accomplish. I’m prone to take up the honorable badge of busyness to convince myself and others how successfully my life is going. The research says I have it all wrong. It is those who know how to unplug, pursue hobbies, nap, exercise, enjoy relationships, who not only achieve the most, but experience the fullest lives.This time of year is a fantastic time to take a moment and reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go. It’s a time to think about the life you want to live. I am setting aside time in the next few days to set my goals and plan for next year. I want to rearrange my life to nap more, play my bass and guitar more, exercise, spend more intentional time with friends and family and sleep more. I invite you to join me in finding a fuller life through more rest. Succeeding at any goal requires grit and resiliency.  The more of us who exchange busy lives for lives filled with rest, the easier it will be. And, the more we can all live lives filled with the things that matter.

2000 years ago Jesus offered us the rest we need, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28) Today, scientific research validates ancient wisdom about the nature of being human. May we all find the rest we need and seek.

I would love to hear about you—what do you do to rest?

Leonard Craft Co

We have long dreamed of the opportunity craft our product in a sustainable way, creating jobs in the U.S. This year, with the support of you our loyal customers, we have been able to secure a facility and a team with decades of experience in handcrafting quality product and to create new manufacturing jobs to carry forward our vision of creating handmade, meaningful product to share a message of hope. We are humbled and thrilled to have this opportunity and we know we wouldn’t be in this position without you, our community.

Early in 2017 the opportunity arose for Lisa and me to purchase Bob Siemon Designs. Founded in 1970 out of the back of Bob’s van, Bob Siemon Designs is recognized as the Christian retail industry’s leading jewelry designer and manufacturer. Since the purchase, we founded Leonard Craft Co in the 5 acre, 80,000 square foot building in Santa Ana, California where we now design and handcraft product for Bob Siemon Designs, Stephen David Leonard and Lisa Leonard Designs for worldwide distribution. We are tremendously grateful to invest in American manufacturing in our home state of California. As I’ve written about before, I believe in business as a vehicle to add value to the world rather than taking it.

Lisa and I just returned home from a fantastic visit to Leonard Craft Co. We saw the infectious joy of our team as we are now in the throes of the Christmas Season. This time of year is busy for us as we handcraft each piece, fulfill orders and respond to customer needs. It’s our favorite time of year as we experience the buzz of excitement for the Christmas Season. I am always humbled we have the privilege to participate in people’s Christmas celebrations through the creation of meaningful and personal gifts people exchange this time of year.Over the years, leading Lisa Leonard Designs, and now Stephen David Leonard, I have heard stories of necklaces and rings and cuffs representing newborn babies, lost loved ones and newfound hope and inspiration. Not long ago I met a woman at a conference I was attending who happened to be wearing one of our Lisa Leonard Designs necklaces. She told me how this necklace was a precious reminder to her of her family. Her sister gave her the necklace, hand stamped with her family’s names—hers, her husband and their three children when she lost her third child. As she shared her journey, the woman gently and unknowingly touched the necklace almost as a physical connection to her children. I have heard these stories from our customer service representatives and handcrafters while they work diligently to get an order to a customer in time for Christmas, or a wedding, a funeral, or a celebration.2017 has been an exciting year for us. Thanks to the support of customers like you, we are building Lisa Leonard Designs, Stephen David Leonard, Bob Siemon Designs and Leonard Craft Co to sustain quality, handmade, American manufacturing. Lisa and I are committed to create product to inspire you in your journey—to live brave, risk and step into the life God created you to live.

Do you have a necklace or ring that inspired you? I’d love to hear!

Expectations

Expectations play a strong role in the way I experience life. I have a bad habit of placing high expectations on a family vacation or special event—even on mundane events like going out to lunch. A couple months back I took Lisa to Nashville for a special concert and get away to celebrate her birthday. In my mind, I built up an image of blissfully breezy autumn days. (In California where I live our seasons are summer and English summer, so autumn is something of a novelty.) We would walk and hold hands and laugh while we explored Nashville. I saw us discovering the unknown little restaurant next to the perfect boutique for Lisa to shop. I envisioned the concert as a star-studded bonanza of country artists playing their biggest hits. All the while I envisioned us gazing into in one another’s eyes like like we did when we started dating. I thought she would look at me with those eyes that said she couldn’t believe she was married to a guy who would do this for her.

I failed to consider getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the first flight of the day, the two flights from San Luis Obispo to Nashville and the pure exhaustion of travel. We walked out of the airport into 95 degree heat with 90% humidity (we Californians are not used to that weather!). Fatigue and heat are two surefire ways to put me out of sorts. Within minutes of arriving, I was grumpy with Lisa and we were looking at each other with less than swooning eyes. Instead of strolling around, we had to take Uber to avoid the heat get from place to place. With my body overheated like a radiator in an old car chugging up a mountain side, fatigue dragging my body toward the earth and my expectations shattered, it wasn’t long before we were bickering and not connecting. I wish I could say it happened once, but it happened a few times, one time erupting into a full-on argument. Not the dreamy, he’s my hero, birthday trip I had in mind.

But the frustrations and arguments aren’t the whole story. My expectations were dashed, but we also discovered moments of connection and delight we could never plan. After our biggest argument, we decided to hit the restart button and ducked into a honkey tonk bar downtown to listen to a band. We discovered a mother-daughter act who couldn’t help but put a smile on your face. One morning we risked a breakfast place we’d never heard of called Mosko’s and ate mouth-watering breakfast tacos. Honestly, as I hear is supposed to happen in Nashville, every restaurant and every meal was delicious in some way. We visited music stores and I played vintage guitars I never imagined seeing in real life, let alone having the chance to play. After a couple misses, we discovered amazing boutiques for Lisa. She explored vintage shops and enjoyed taking it all in.

In the end, the concert was not what we expected either. The event took place in this old church in Nashville, the Ryman Theater, nicknamed the Mother Church of Country Music because of its historic role in hosting names like Minnie Pearl, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Earl Scruggs, who invented bluegrass on the Ryman stage. The concert celebrated 50 years of country song writers instead of the artists who sang the songs. The focus on the unseen heroes who write the songs everyone loves touched Lisa and I deeply. We felt like we got to be a part of a insider’s concert! Hearing Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus, Trisha Yearwood, Kris Kristofferson, Trace Atkins and Deana Carter celebrate those who wrote the songs for which they’re famous was beautiful.

As for Lisa and I, while we had our moments, we still managed to stroll hand in hand through little neighborhoods. We talked about real things and found ways to help us hear one another better. Each of us learned about ourselves and some of the issues of the issues and false stories driving our conflict. And, we had fun together.

So how was our trip? When I was younger I would have told you how awful it was. I would have focused on the all the negatives and failed expectations. Not so long ago, I would have glossed over the conflicts and frustrations and told you it was amazing. The lesson I’m learning today is to embrace the messy delight. It was leaning into each other after our conflicts that increased our understanding of each other and ourselves. Once we navigated the obstacles of our heat and fatigue, we discovered a rhythm to enjoy this new and delightful place. When we embraced reality, we found space to explore, experience and enjoy. It goes to show, expectations are powerful. When we can let them go and experience reality, there is joy to be found.

Where are you finding unexpected joy?

Giving Thanks

I have been learning more and more about gratitude. I am wired to see problems and think about how to fix them. It takes discipline for me to see what’s good and right. This time of year is a time to stop, look around and give thanks.

I’m thankful for the reception to the launch of the new Stephen David Leonard brand! Many of you have shared kind and encouraging words with me and having your support means a great deal to me. I’m thankful for the opportunity to bravely engage life together—taking the risks necessary to fatherhood, leadership, and relationships. I’m grateful to provide product to inspire you in your journey—to live brave, risk and step into the life God created you to live.

I’m thankful for the noon crew at Gymnazo who inspire me to show up, work hard and live healthy through their presence and their own dedication to their health. In 2013, I knew I had to make a change in my lifestyle to get up from my desk and move. I needed a habit change—ideally one with accountability. In November 2013, a friend told me to check out Gymnazo and am proud to say I have been working out there 3-5 times per week for four years now! I feel better in my 40’s than I felt in my 20’s. Most important, I’m available to Lisa, to David with his physical demands, and to Matthias as he enters his teen years. I’m thankful to the coaches who encourage, correct and instruct us day in and day out to enjoy the God given gift of movement to its full.

I’m thankful for the conflicts, challenges and obstacles I have faced this year. They continue to teach me about myself—my blind spots, where I need to grow, where I am willing to give up instead of press on. One of my favorite books is Mindset by Carol Deck. Mindset talks about the difference between a fixed mindset (seeing intelligence, personality, talents as fixed traits) and a growth mindset (believing our abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work). This book taught me brains and talent are the starting point. A growth mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. Conflicts, challenges and obstacles provide me the crucible to learn, work hard and increase my resiliency. I’m grateful for the (difficult) lessons I’ve learned this year.

I’m thankful for my advisors, coaches, therapist, pastor, friends and mentors who have pointed me forward when I have felt lost and down this year. You have been willing to critique, challenge, and correct me when I need it. I have consumed gallons of coffee, made my ear shine bright red from hours on the phone and learned every frustrating feature of video conferencing as you have spent countless hours engaged in my life.

I am thankful for my boys, David and Matthias. Ever since he was in the NICU after his birth, I have delighted in seeing David’s eyes lock onto mine. I am thankful for his spark evident in his eyes and his smile. I’m grateful for his love of music we share—and when we rock out together! I am thankful for Matthias and his creativity and his willingness to work hard to grow and learn. He has had to find a new gear in school this year and I have watched him embrace a growth mindset, engage, and experience the joy of his labors. I’m grateful we not only share our love for Star Wars, superhero movies, Planet of the Apes and the ancient world, but he also loves to discuss and debate their deeper meanings now!

I am thankful for Lisa. The last couple of years have been the hardest and best of our relationship. Raising children—one with special needs, running a business together, marriage, all take their toll. Add to that the perfect intersection of our “stuff” as we approach two decades of marriage and you have a recipe for disaster. I am grateful we have separately and together chosen to do the hard work we need to do as individuals to become whole and healthy. (One day I will write about why “working on the marriage” is far from enough!) I am grateful we have sought help together for our marriage. Lisa is my business partner, my parenting partner, my confidant, my wife and my best friend. It could have gone otherwise. For her I am grateful.

I am grateful to the Lord for His grace, strength and power that sustains me. My faithfulness to Him lacks, but His faithfulness to me is everlasting. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:20)

What are you thankful for right now?

Crucial Conversations

Talking. It’s so simple but so hard. I love people and I love sitting down for a great conversation over a cup of coffee. Sharing a meal with friends is one of my favorite things to do. I relish opportunities to get unstructured conversations with the members of our team. At 13 Matthias has become an incredible conversation partner (who am I kidding—he’s talked like a 30 year old since he was 7!). There is no one I love talking with more than Lisa.

But, misunderstanding, differing goals, eroded trust can turn a conversation—even a relationship—on its head in the span of a sentence. If we’re honest, all of us have been on the giving and receiving end of a conversation-turned-argument from time to time.  Relating well to one another is a fundamental joy and an all too regular source of frustration to the human experience. Like you, I am probably misunderstood and misunderstand at some point every day.

With stakes this high, as a leader, friend, father and husband, I need to continually grow in my ability to express my heart and my thoughts to the people in my life. I need all the help I can get. Maybe you can relate. Recently I’ve been reading Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, to help me communicate better. It’s already helping me slow down, listen, and get on the same page to help me open up conversations—especially when things get tense or confused.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow in having real, open, and relationship building conversations at home, at work, with your kids—wherever! The book is written by a group of top notch researchers who interviewed hundreds of people—searching for the best communicators in the world to learn what makes people great at sharing their thoughts when there’s high stakes, varied opinions and strong emotions in play. Many of us believe candor will harm our relationships, but, “As it turns out, you don’t have to choose between being honest and being effective. You don’t have to choose between candor and your career. People who regularly hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard. Their bosses, peers, and direct reports listen without becoming defensive or angry.” (10).

I was helped learning the common responses to conflict are silence (say nothing, leave, comply) or violence (try to win an argument, subtly manipulate, verbal attacks) instead of creating safety. I’ve used them all under stress and they’re all bad. Crucial Conversations provides tools for stepping out of destructive patterns and building mutual respect and purpose. I found the sections on the way the state of our heart (in a business book!) and internal stories affect us especially helpful. It’s crazy how often and how deeply we are affected by issues that are literally in our head rather than happening in the real world around us. If you want to understand what I’m talking about, check out chapter 6, Master My Stories!

This book was so helpful for me, I bought a copy for our team members at Leonard Group [Lisa Leonard Designs, StephenDavidLeonard.com, Leonard Craft Co, Bob Siemon Designs] to read through together. I’m looking forward to how our team will grow in our ability to have real and open dialogue about the issues we face on a daily basis. Hopefully it will spill over into the way we relate with our loved ones outside the office too!

How about you? How would having real and open conversations help you in your world?

 

 

 

Lion Heart

“Integrity—Choosing courage over comfort. Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.”         – Brene Brown

Sitting in a high rise in New York, a high-level executive looked at me across the table. With  Manhattan sprawling out behind him through the window he asked,

“So, what’s your vision for your business?”

My mind raced. “What am I even doing here?” I thought. “How did we wind up sitting across the table from this man who lives in a world very different from mine?” Fear. Pressure. The desire to perform and look good rose in my chest. Then I remembered, “You know, he’s another guy like you. He chose to meet with you. And besides, let him evaluate you for who you really are, not who you think he wants you to be.”

Summoning my courage, I answered, “Ok, I’ll tell you my real vision. I think our brand can be as big as any out there. People connect with the story and love the product. Our biggest obstacle is how many people we reach. Lisa and I want to put a positive message into the world. We want to share a vision of hope with a broken world.”

His eyebrows raised slightly. Did he like what I said? Did he think I was naïve?

I pressed on, “I approach business idealistically. I believe in integrity in business. I actually believe commerce can be a force for good in the world. I experience how business relationships build friendships across ideological lines, religious convictions, cultural values and even national borders. I think business is an excellent arena to build character, practice free-flowing communication, and learn how to get along with others. Business is a fantastic context to live a life of integrity, adding value to the world rather than taking it. When I make mistakes, and make plenty, I do my best to own them. Our vision is to grow our brand as much as possible to share this message of hope and live an experiment of building a company around these ideals. People have rolled their eyes at me when I share this vision, but there it is.”

He listened with the expressionless face of a person who has sat through countless negotiations. His posture straight, hands folded on the table. When I stopped, he paused, took a breath, and then smiled,

“My father-in-law founded our company on these principles. He has been a person of character his whole career. He is a man—a businessman—of integrity. He’s the type of man who makes a handshake deal and honors it in the face of an immediate offer for twice as much with contract and payment in hand. He started with nothing and through this approach he built what you see around you.” I was shocked to hear this validation of my idealistic approach to life and business.

I’ve had plenty of people roll their eyes at me when I share my view about the positive role business can play in the world. Some have called me naïve, some have implied it. And, to be fair, we have been robbed, taken advantage of, lied to and cheated in business. I live in the real world. Living by ethical and moral values will cost you from time to time. Anyone who tells you different is lying.

He went on, “Make no mistake, my father-in-law has the heart of a lion. He knows he is responsible for those under his care. He is a man of integrity and strength who looks out for his pride—his family, his employees and his businesses. He has high integrity, high values and does business in a fair and mutually beneficial manner. He insists on the same from his employees, his vendors, and business partners. He is savvy. He knows his world and understands the world is full of hyenas and vultures looking to prey on his mistakes. But he is a brave lion. He takes calculated risks. He protects his own. And he does all he can through his business and life to make the world a better place.”

This story has stuck with me and become a model for me in business and life. Because my last name is Leonard, I have identified with the image of the lion for years (for the geeks like me out there, leon is Greek for lion). In preparation for the launch of the Stephen David Leonard site, one of my staff had an Identity Cuff made for me that reads “Lion Heart.” I’ve been wearing it for a while now as a reminder to face the things I fear. It reminds me to be true to myself no matter what I’m facing. It reminds me who I am—a man who is responsible for my family, my employees, my community. I strive to be a man of integrity in all I do. It spurs me on to have difficult conversations, to hold to my values, and to live as the me I’m created to be, rather than the me I think others want me to be.

The Bravest Person You Can Be is You

Looking over my life, I see how often, my biggest obstacle is me. I grew up as the child of an alcoholic with the family dysfunction and codependency that accompanies alcoholism. I was an unpopular kid at school—teased daily and a social outsider. All through school I never felt I belonged. By the beginning of high school I became a master at fitting in. Sociological researcher Brene Brown calls ‘belonging’ being accepted for who you are. ‘Fitting in’ is being accepted for who others want you to be. In my journey I mastered fitting in rather than belonging. My wife Lisa and I have faced the challenges of having two sons—our oldest has a severe genetic disorder (Cornelia de Lange Syndrome) and our younger son is a creative with a world-building imagination like J.R.R. Tolkien. I have been fired from jobs, robbed by people I trusted, and experienced the stresses of business success and failure over the past decade. But for all those obstacles, the one that holds me back the most is me.

For a long time now, I have believed I was made share a message with the world. This sense led me into the pastorate for ten years. The internal yearning led me to step into the role of leading our fledgling business almost a decade ago. I’ve had a few fits and starts, but eventually I find my self fighting against an internal struggle more powerful than any external obstacle I have faced. Fear. Insecurity. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. The result? More often than not, I stop. I keep my real self safe and hidden away. While I held a semi-public job as a pastor and have been the business face of our company for a long time, I can see looking back how I have always carefully avoided stepping out in my own name. I fear criticism. I fear rejection. I’m scared I might fail. But inside I long for more. In my heart I have a story to share.

As I share my story with other men I hear the same tension. I think of the teacher who loves his students and family. He earns a living to provide for his family and is present for his wife and kids. He spends himself earnestly for his high school students to help them see a vision for their future and to strive for it. But he also longs to step out and start a brewery and restaurant to create a great product and community building space so friends and family can gather and share life.

I think of the executive who has reached professional heights most of us only dream of reaching. He is responsible for hundreds of employees, large budgets, and a division of his company. He works hard, mentors his team in work and life, and exhibits a life of values-based professionalism. While living up to the high demands and travel schedule of his job, he does all he can to be present for his wife, his kids and takes his wife out date nights and little getaways. Still, he feels pulled between his career that provides for his family and his longing to be more present with his family and to give himself to his dream of launching his own ministry to reach people with his faith.

And there are many more stories of life in tension I could share. I am sure you have your own. You may want to launch a business, write a book, change careers, ask for a raise, find your purpose or simply spend more time with your family. The list is not complete. Many feel the tension of living our lives, dutifully showing up, but longing for more.

This tension has lead me to launch Stephen David Leonard. I believe the bravest person you can be is you. Not the version of you others want you to be, but the version of you God created you to be. My biggest obstacle is me. I get in my way when I give in to fear. Launching the Stephen David Leonard site is an experiment in facing the things that scare me most and taking the risk. The product on the site are reminders of living the life we are intended to live. They are meant to encourage and spur us on in our journey.  I invite you to join me. Join me as I share my story. Join me in taking your own brave step—large or small—to be who you are created to be.

I love the Theodore Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena. It reminds me when I shrink back I run the risk of become one of those “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Instead, I choose to step into the arena and top spend my life in the worthy cause of spurring one another on in the full life each of us is meant to live.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”  Theodore Roosevelt

Strong and Brave

We spent anxious hours awaiting your arrival. When you arrived, we rejoiced and cried. The doctors showed me your little hand. Your mom took you in her arms, “Hello David, I’m so happy to meet you,” as she smiled at you. You squeaked out your nearly imperceptible cry. Our hearts hurt. We were so happy to be a family of three with you in our lives.

When you came home, I held you and crept into your room to check on you often. Each time I entered your room, I prepared myself to find you were no longer with us. I prepared myself to be strong and brave for your mom. Each time I found you to be the strong and brave one. Lying in your crib peacefully sleeping, crying for food, or ready for snuggles. Four pounds, two ounces, you had no idea how you demonstrated the strength and resilience of a Navy Seal, surviving and thriving every day.

You didn’t walk until you were five. Then one day at church, you got up and quickly crossed from one side of the gym to the other. We could hardly keep track of you! You have never uttered a word, but you have learned to tell us what you need. You find those who are hurting in a crowd and show them comfort and love. You have looked in my eyes and asked why. You have told me you love me. You have penetrated my soul.

You had six surgeries by the time you were six years old. You have spent hours in waiting rooms, doctor offices, and hospitals. Each time, I swallow my fear to be brave for you, your mom, your brother. Each time, I fear losing you. Each time, you again prove you are the resilient one. You are a fighter, a survivor, someone who thrives.

We nearly lost you between Christmas and New Years of 2015. Suddenly hit with pneumonia, O2 levels well below critical. Your mom’s instincts saved your life. 24 hours after arriving at the ER in Cambridge, you were up, feisty and ready to get moving again. Not until then could we allow ourselves to grasp how close we came to losing you that night. Your mom and I wept out of joy and unreleased fear. We welcomed 2016 with greater joy in the mundane reality the four of us would board the plane together back to the U.S..

Your recent pneumonia again had us worried. For a week I entered your room multiple times a night, reliving those early and anxious days when you came home from the hospital. I don’t know how many times in 15 years I have entered your room, my heart beating fast, braced to find you gone—ready to be brave for your mom and brother. I’m the dad, it’s my job to be strong for our family. Again and again, you show you are the brave and strong one. You refuse to give in. You have too much love and joy to offer the world. You are made in the image of God and you reflect Him to the world everyday as you create music with your keyboard and as you relate to others with your hugs and smile and laugh.

We have celebrated every milestone of your life. Every birthday we take note. Every school transition marking another achievement in your small and remarkable life. I couldn’t imagine this day when you were born. Today you turn 15. David, you are one of my heroes. You show the strength of a grown man. You show the courage of a warrior. You are strong and brave. Today I celebrate you my dear son.

Who is strong and brave in your life?

Trouble

I have a friend whose grandfather served in WWII. He’s an amazing guy. My friend stayed with my cousins in England during a semester abroad and learned the Air Force base where he was stationed was only a few miles up to road. They took her there and showed her around. During one of their visits to America, I got to have dinner with Grandpa. Listening to him tell his stories I was blown away by this Guy. He was a B-17 pilot shot down on his 24th mission (you might recall the Memphis Belle is famous for being the first to complete 25 missions), when he told his crew to abandon over occupied France.

Me and My Cousin Lee on Boxing Day

I asked him how he was able to make the decision to bail out of a plane with three of four engines working. He was a 22 year old guy at the time charged with the lives of 14 men. “There was no decision to make. I saw other planes go up in flames with less damage than ours. I saw were in trouble and did what we had to do.” As a 22 year old at the time myself, I was astounded.

After he jumped, he landed in occupied France and was picked up by the French resistance. Eventually he was captured by the Germans as POW and placed in Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland) of The Great Escape fame. While he was not a part of the Great Escape, he was there with the guys when it happened. To top it off, when the war ended American tanks rolled into Stalag Luft III to liberate the POWs and who popped out of the top of the tank but General Patton! By the time Grandpa turned 25, he had endured life and death decisions, imprisonment, and the help of some of the most famous people in the War.

I read Psalm 46 this morning where the psalmist declares his gratitude for God’s presence in the midst of trouble, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Ps 46:1-3) For the psalmist, as for Grandpa, the difficulties of life are from outside threats. Drought induced famine threatening his ability to eat. Enemies who want to take over his city and kill him.

B-17 Bomber World War II

I’m tempted when I hear stories like Grandpa’s or read texts like Psalm 46 to think how easy my life is in comparison. In real ways this is true. I am not a soldier in war. My problems with food result from its abundance not its scarcity. No enemy force is plotting how to conquer San Luis Obispo, CA.

Still, I find courage in my life from hearing about Grandpa’s service in the War. I am heartened by knowing God is ever present in times of crisis. External trouble is easy to see. Internal conflict is just as real. I have fought battles and wars against depression and doubt about my worthiness. I have been imprisoned by false stories of shame, inadequacy and rejection. I have endured times in my marriage when Lisa and I both wonder if we can keep going anymore. I have questioned my calling and career path often. I have felt alone.

But I know I am not alone. I know men and women struggle with these same internal struggles everyday. Men, anxious about if they are strong enough, brave enough, successful enough enough to be loved and respected. Women, feeling guilt about whether they are pretty enough, love their kids enough, do enough for those around them. People who feel alone, secretly believing no one feels fear, hurt, and anxiety like they do. Women sometimes share their struggles. Men often believe we have to keep our hurts, fears and anxieties secret for fear we will appear weak.

We live in a world where being human everyday is hard. Many of our lives our are like 22 year old Grandpa–flying in the plane of our lives, one engines out and in trouble. The only option is to see it and take action. The great lie is we are left to face these difficulties alone. We think if anyone knew the truth, we would be attacked, ostracized or ditched.

But we are not alone. We have each other. Shame researcher Brené Brown, in interviewing hundreds of people, has found the most courageous thing we can do is find someone we can trust and be vulnerable with them. Whoever you think has it all together has as much going on in their life as you do in yours. No one needs to share everything with everyone, but we all need a couple confidants with whom we can be terrifyingly honest.

We are not alone. God is present. The psalmist calls him his “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In The Lord of the Rings, the Elf Queen Galadriel gives the little hobbit Frodo a gift in his quest that is too large for him. “And for you, Frodo Baggins, I give you the light of Earendil our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” The light of Earendil is imaginary in a story. I have found time and again God’s presence to be a true light when all others go out.

Grandpa survived his plane getting shot down, capture and imprisonment during WWII. At every step he was not alone. He had his crew, a French stranger to guide him, fellow POWs and his God. We are not alone. We have our confidants, temporary guides like coaches and therapists, our fellow travelers in life suffering alongside us and our God.

What challenges are you facing?

Brothers

The other night at dinner, Matthias stared down at this food, his eyes going back forth thoughtfully. He looked up, eyes full and moist,

“I want to talk about having David as my brother. (I love you David and this isn’t about you and I don’t mean to be rude.) I’ve experienced a lot of loss. I don’t have a sibling rivalry. I can’t hang out with David like a typical brother.”

Lisa and I exchanged looks. Matthias has spent countless hours in doctor offices. He’s endured the frustration of a brother who knocks over his toys and gets in his space without being able to retaliate. He’s spent hours alone in the same room as his brother, when other brothers would be paying catch or wrestling.

“I’ve learned a lot from David and am probably more sensitive to other people as a result. I’m thankful for that. But it feels really unfair. It’s hitting me that I’m probably never to going to meet David’s wife. I’m not going to meet his kids. (No offense David.) He’s probably not ever going to get married or have kids.”

As he says these words it takes me back to Torrance Memorial Hospital where the boys were born. I can see David, his seven fingers, his little body. I hear his faint newborn cry. I see the doctor in front of Lisa and I:

“We have run tests and reviewed your son’s condition. We believe he has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. With this syndrome he will never walk, talk, have children or lead a normal life. I am very sorry.”

Today Matthias is receiving the same news. He’s always known, but never truly understood until now.

He turns to me, “We’re never going to be able to go out and grab a beer together.”

He looks at Lisa, “Mom, you get together with your sisters for your birthday. You guys get to go to Santa Barbara or San Francisco for the weekend. I’ll never have that with David.”

The moisture in his eyes and the early teenage angst in his face intensify. He looks between us, his parents. I want to explain. I want to tell him it’s OK. My heart beats and aches in my chest. I hate hearing the mature pain in my young son’s soul. I hate the painful tension in his eyes.

We say nothing. We wait.

“I feel really sad about that. It’s hitting me lately. I’m angry at God that He didn’t change this for David. He just let it happen.”

I know the feelings Matthias is sharing. I felt them when David was born. I feel them when David gets sick. When David races into the room where I’m playing my guitar and begins to bang out a couple notes on his keyboard. I know he want to play Beatles songs with me. I feel loss and anger he cannot pursue his innate love of music with me. It’s dishonest for me to say I don’t relate in my heart.

“I feel sad too Son. I feel angry at God at times too,” I admit. “I can relate to your sense of loss. I want to meet David’s wife and kids too. I see how you have a brother, but don’t experience all the brother things—wrestling, looking out for each other, playing games together. I feel privileged you are sharing your thoughts and feelings with us.”

But this is not the full story.

“I think God feels sad and angry about Cornelia de Lange Syndrome too. We live in a broken world. God did not want the world to be like this. And you’re right, He has allowed it to be this way. But that’s not the full story. He’s also pursuing His creation to redeem and restore it to the way it’s supposed to be. I’ll be honest with you Son, I don’t understand it all either. I feel the tension—if He’s going to fix the world, why does He allow the world to be like this. I could give you a lot of impressive theological answers, but the truth is, I don’t know. I just take comfort knowing this is not the world God wants and one day it will be different. One day David won’t have Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. We will be free of the pain of loss. Until then, we live in the tension.” Sometimes an unbearable tension.

We all live in this tension. You may care for an aging parent. You may be fighting a life-threatening disease like cancer yourself. You may have lost a loved one. A hard marriage, an unfulfilling job, financial trouble. We all know the pain and loss of a broken world. We live everyday with joy and pain side by side. We all know this is not the way it’s supposed to be. I take comfort though it breaks our hearts today, one day it will be different. And sometimes, like Matthias, we just need to tell someone who will listen. We need to be able to share our fear, our sadness, our anger knowing it’s doesn’t make us less, but makes us human. Knowing God stands with us in the tension. Knowing God understands the pain.

Are you living with a sometimes unbearable tension?