Author Archives: Stephen Leonard

Hitting Roadblocks

Churchill-painting-at-the-EaselEver find yourself trying to get momentum on a project only to be continually foiled by hitting roadblocks? I do. Lots of things can get in the way.

Fear

Procrastination

Laziness

Fear (of failure, of success, that there’s not enough money, that people will laugh)

Responsibilities

Distractions

Poor planning

Lack of skill

That voice that says you can’t do it

Did I mention fear yet?

I struggle with each of these demons. A recent issue for me is what I call bandwidth. I notice my ability to think shuts down long before my body does. When I was writing my dissertation it was difficult to do all the things I needed to do in the office. Right now, we’re in a busy season at the office. That makes it challenging to give myself to other parts of my life—family, my spiritual life, continued learning.

It’s a reminder to me of our limitations as human beings. I like having multiple irons in the fire and moving from one thing to another. I usually read multiple books simultaneously. I often have projects within my projects in each sphere of life I inhabit. The danger in all this is the potential failure to acknowledge the opportunity cost associated with taking on so much at one time. It’s obvious that time limits our ability to complete projects. We all know our skill, experience, education and talents affect what we can accomplish within a given time frame. What we often neglect to consider is the capacity of our bandwidth (you might call it your mental energy, ability to think, or other things) for a given type of task and overwhelm ourselves in one area. (I’ve heard that Winston Churchill liked to paint and do brickwork to relax and get a break from the meetings and reading and writing he did.)

I’m learning to re-prioritize my time such that I establish Sabbath time, priority time and response time each week. Honestly, this way of approaching my life is a new thing. But it’s revolutionary. I no longer feel guilty for taking the time I need to recharge and re-energize. I also don’t feel guilty for closing my door, turning off my email and working on the things that matter most—FIRST. Now, when I am in response-mode, I am free to give myself to others and their needs. This is new, but I’m excited and will keep you posted!

What do you do when you hit roadblocks?

 

 

CdLS

Changing Diapers Matters

CdLSI recently told Lisa, “Changing David’s diapers might be the most significant thing you do in a day.” Think about that for moment. A husband telling his wife that changing diapers might be the most significant thing she does with her time? It’s no wonder she recently helped me realize my burro-like personality! (read the story) To give this comment greater context, in case you don’t know about my wife Lisa Leonard, she is a well known and beloved blogger (my friends joke that I am “Mr. Lisa Leonard”), we run a company together—she does all the creative stuff that people actually like while I do the office stuff, she is a fantastic listener to whom people can pour out their hearts, she is a conference speaker, she’s been on TV and more. And I, the husband tell her the most significant thing she does is change diapers.

A little more context. David is ten. We’ve been changing his diapers for ten years. (When I say we, she does about 90% of it compared to my 10%.) I won’t compare how many diapers we’ve changed to others—everyone’s circumstances are different. Still, it’s about the most mundane, tiring thing we do in a week. If diaper days were over, we would throw a party. And I say to her, “Changing David’s diapers might be the most significant thing you do in a day.”

Here’s the thing. We look forward to the resurrection and the day when God will set the world to rights. I think on that day our son, free from Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, ten fingers and ten toes will look at his mom and say “Mom, thank you for taking care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself.” It is an act of sacrifice. It is an act that is for David. It is an act that dignifies his humanity. It is an act of love.  While there are so many people Lisa touches in a day through her blog and our business, as significant as those encounters are, there is a qualitative difference.

And, while this is true of a mom helping her son with specials needs, it actually illustrates a bigger point. In a society driven by a search for significance, often measured by how large our influence is, or how big an income we have, or how high we attain on the success ladder, perhaps we need to rethink how we measure significance. It may just be that the most routine, dirty, unenviable tasks you and I do in a day are the very things in which we are making the largest difference in the world. It’s not sexy, it’s not glamorous, but it may just be true.

Makes me think I need to change more diapers! What do you do that’s routine, or unenviable that might just be more significant than you think?

I’m an Artist

Matthias Drawing at a Pub in England

Matthias Drawing at a Pub in England

I am not an artist, our youngest son Matthias is. He will tell you readily. When a person meets him, it is the number one label he gives to himself. And who am I to argue? Wherever we go and whatever we’re doing, Matthias has a pad of paper and a pencil. He has spent hours drawing on tables at restaurants, in waiting rooms, in the UCLA cafeteria while we wait for his brother during doctor appointments, up in his bed at night, and just about anywhere else he can find to pull up and start drawing.

Matthias Drawing at Lunch

Matthias Drawing at Lunch

Last year for Mother’s Day, He decided to make a book for Lisa. Of course it would be a superhero book. (What else would mom want anyway?) To make it special he decided it would be a book of superheros with names beginning at A and going to Z. And, each chapter (yes, I said chapter) needed to have at least three superheros. In the end it was 52 solid pages of superhero awesomeness–not bad for an 8 year old kid! (I won’t mention how I thought it would be a good idea to bind it and make color copies for grandparents, aunts and uncles. I worked it out in my head and the cost seemed pretty reasonable. Until we picked it up. Let’s just say, it’s the most expensive Mother’s Day gift to date.) Of course, we were impressed that the first book out of the Leonard house came by the hand of our 8 year year old son.

Matthias Drawing at a Restaurant

Matthias Drawing at a Restaurant

Now, it goes without saying that I love this kid and am a proud dad. Am I bragging? A little bit. Do I want everyone to know what an awesome kid Matthias is? Yes. But that’s not why I share all this. I share it because Matthias is an artist and he pursues it with the abandon of a child. He’d love for everyone to love his art. But that’s not why he draws. He draws because he loves to draw. He loves to create. He doesn’t worry whether people will like his drawings. He doesn’t get hung up about what to draw. He just draws. It’s pure and it’s beautiful.

Matthias Drawing at Church

Matthias Drawing at Church

As I get ready to turn 40 this year, I find I have never been so willing to let expectations and perceptions shape my pursuits. But how much do I do these days because I love it? How often do I identify myself with the things I love to do? I’m a writer. I’m a speaker. I’m a preacher. I’m a singer. I’m a cyclist. Even worse, how often do I engage in these activities and find every square inch there is in which to fit these things into my life? Not enough. I’m on a journey to do just that. I want to be more like my son, who now 9, has multiple books and art projects in the works because it’s who he is. I want you to join me. What do you love that you put off for 100 excuses? Let’s share and encourage each other!

“That Sucks” Best. Words. Ever.

David at Birth 07/04/2002

David at Birth 07/04/2002

July 4th 2002 was one of the best and darkest days of my life. After months of eager anticipation, days of anxiety and hours of fear, Lisa and I welcomed our son David into the world.

Lisa went in for her 36 week pregnancy check up (I almost didn’t go as they had become so routine) and the doctor told us she was measuring small–for 31 weeks! Thus began the whirlwind.

Over the next couple days we sought answers, saw more doctors, were told his small size “could mean anything” by the ultrasound doc at the hospital. I asked what she meant. Her reply? “It could be nothing. He could have a genetic disorder. It could be fatal.” Confusion and panic set in as we checked Lisa into the hospital to induce labor and play the waiting game.

In these anxious hours dear friends began to encourage us that it would all be OK. People tried to cheer us up and take our minds off of things. “I have a feeling it’ll turn out alright.” “Don’t worry, we had a scare with our first pregnancy too.” “Doctors make a big deal out things. I’m sure it will be fine.” To this day I am thankful for those people who were in the thick of it with us. Some of their words gave us false hope and even hurt for a time afterward. But, Lisa and I felt loved by our church family and close friends. They sat with us on the phone and brought Lisa El Burrito Jr. in the hospital when she wasn’t supposed to get it.

I remember cheering Lisa on as she endured labor. Both of us afraid of what lay ahead.

“Push baby! We’re going to meet our son!” I called out to her while wondering inside if our baby would come out dead or alive.

I encouraged her, “You can do it Honey! Just a little more and we get to meet our beautiful son!” All the while thinking, You have to do this Lisa! Just a little more and we learn if our son is beautiful, dead or alive.

Finally, on the afternoon of that 4th of July (Lisa favorite holiday coincidentally), little David burst forth at a whopping 4lbs 2 oz., seven fingers, ten toes notably missing the crying sounds we had heard from down the hall every few hours as new lives emerged into the world.

24 hours later we learned David’s diagnosis. Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. We had shuffled quickly back to Lisa’s room leaving our son in the N.I.C.U. while we poured out our hearts in grief, when a knock came on the door. For some unknown reason I opened the door to find Rick, one of our church elders, standing there. I didn’t know what to say, but he quickly realized he happened upon us at a bad moment and excused himself.

As I began to shut the door I realized I needed to share our awful news with someone and chased after him down the hospital hallway. “Hey Rick. They just told us a couple minutes ago that David has a genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.” And the next moment is burned into my memory. Rick’s face dropped. He staggered backward until his body found the wall behind him. He looked me in the eyes, compassion on his face and said “That sucks. Steve I’m so sorry.”

Now, I know you’re not supposed to say “sucks.” I know stories like this are supposed to have some moment of profound wisdom and a turning point where everything turns out alright in the end. But this is real life. Those words have been a balm to my soul from that day until this one. Rick’s words gave me freedom to see that Cornelia de Lange Syndrome ought not to be in the world. It’s a sign that something is gravely and pervasively wrong in the world. Rick gave me freedom to hurt and weep and and question God and eventually to pick up the pieces again and move forward.

I’ve walked through many hard moments with a great number of people since those days. I’ve sat at bedsides of dying and dead loved ones as a pastor. I’ve cried with friends enduring divorce. I’ve been in the hospital with people in crisis and more. I can’t remember all my words today. I know my own temptation toward platitudes. I know my instinct to try and make it OK. Still, the best words anyone has ever said to me came at the darkest moment. “That sucks.” Best. Words. Ever.

What words has someone shared with you that spoke to your heart in a time of hurt or crisis?

I Apologize

Actually, I apologize a lot. Chances are, if you’ve an email from me it began with something like, “I apologize it’s taken me so long to get back to you…” That’s because I’m a horrible friend and am terrible at getting back to people. (Maybe now is a good time to apologize to you if you are waiting to hear back from me as I write this.) To make matters worse, my wife Lisa told me recently that I’m not the nice guy I walk around thinking I am. Nope. I’m an expletive that rhymes with “gas bowl” and looks like the tail end of a burro. Don’t get the wrong idea–I asked for it. We were driving on a road trip (I don’t know about you, but our best conversations happen when we sit in the car next to each other for hours on end) and I was asking my dear wife for feedback about myself. Somewhere along the line I helpfully offered what a nice guy I am and how I let myself get pushed around. Her response? “I don’t know that I’d say you’re a ‘nice guy.’ You can be nice. You’re a good dad and I love you, but you’re kind of an…” well, you get the idea.

My self-absorbed burro like personality means I have plenty of opportunity to practice apologizing to people for a variety of reasons. It also means I listen to the apologies of others. I’m a bit of an apology connoisseur as it were. Here’s what I’ve noticed. When I say “I’m sorry” for something I’ve done, I almost never am. In fact, in our house “I’m sorry” almost means, “I’m sorry you brought up my ‘supposed offense’ now leave me alone!” (I actually did this to Lisa the other day when she called me on the carpet for a rude comment) And, I don’t think we’re the only ones who “apologize” in this way. I’ve heard it in the so-called apologies of friends, acquaintances and strangers. I’ve heard it among family members and co-workers. “I’m sorry” are two words we use as a society to quickly get people off our backs and to avoid the pain of responsibility and reconciliation.

What to do? I have found a profound difference between saying “I’m sorry” and speaking the words “I apologize.” (PLEASE tell me you never utter phrases like “I’m sorry you feel that way.” worst. apology. EVER.) Uttering the five-syllable, two-word phrase “I apologize” cuts through any attempt save face and helps us admit we are just plain wrong. For advanced users, I recommend adding what you apologize for–and be specific. It’s surprising how simple and difficult the switch can be in real life. It’s also surprising what a difference it makes to our relationships. Take it from one who has had plenty of opportunity to practice, next time conflict arises, see what happens by simply saying, “I apologize.”

How did it go last time you had to say “I apologize”?

Punching Fear in the Face

51SmKf8ZbuLAs many of you know, I’ve been seeking direction for the next phase of life for a while now. Today, I decided to punch fear in the face and do something. Let me explain. Lisa recently brought home a pre-release version of  Jon Acuff’s new book Start and in many ways the cover irked me so much (I mean check out the phrases “Punch Fear in the Face,” “Escape Average,” “Do Work that Matters” who IS this guy??) that I picked up the book and read it. The book is a reminder that the path to success has changed. Age doesn’t matter the way it did in the past. We all still pass through the phases of Learning, Editing, Mastering, Harvesting and Guiding and we might find ourselves learning at 60 or 40 or 30. His challenge is to “discover your awesome” whatever it is, whether it connects with a title or not, and START pursuing it.

This brings me to this post. Acuff challenges us to list our fears out–journal them so you can see them. Then to systematically write down what’s bogus about each and every one. I just filled three pages of my journal with fears that hold me back. Fears that prevent me from writing blog posts. Fears that keep me complaining about my life rather than pursuing my life. By the time my hand was too tired to keep writing, I was inspired to dust off this blog site and share. If you relate, read this book. If you don’t…well, I don’t totally believe you. If you relate but have already started and keep punching fear in the face in your own way–I’d love to hear your story! Maybe we can journey together and cheer each other on in doing work that matters. Either way, I’m starting.

Give, Don’t Spend–Really?

Busines as MissionAs a pastor I have often spoken out against the ways we Christians use our money to purchase things we want from $4 coffee at Starbucks to the kind of cars we drive to the houses we live in. Since entering the business world and watching the economy suffer around the world, I’ve been forced to ask some questions. After all, if no one purchased our product, a group of people would be unable to pay rent, buy groceries, have medical insurance, or even give to Christian ministries.

As a pastor I have condemned spending money on our houses, while praying for out of work contractors and carpenters. I have applauded Christian missions efforts in India, Thailand and Kazahkstan that employ local people for their good and in the name of Christ, while judging myself and those around me about our materialism.

As a business owner, I constantly watch the bottom line to measure what we can do financially for our employees. Our company takes seriously our role in mentoring our employees beyond their contribution to our production. We are pursuing every opportunity to leverage resources for the Kingdom. All made possible one purchase at a time by our loyal customers in our community.

As a pastor and business leader, my question is, if people don’t spend, where does the money come from to give?

Check out this article called “Fight the Starbucks Coffee Purchase Guilt” that asks the questions better than I can. I commend it to you for your thoughts!

 

just steve

For years now my name has been “Pastor Steve” (P. Steve to many!) reflecting my identity as a pastor to those who know me in that role. It’s funny, my long term friends and family, knowing me in very different contexts, have had a number of other names for me–most repeatable, a couple not!

At the beginning of June I transitioned out of my pastoral role at church, changing from “Pastor Steve” to just Steve. This has been a big reminder for me how much us guys understand ourselves in light of our title or role at work. I hear my 6 year old son identify people in this way. He was blown away when he discovered our friend Scott is “The Dentist.” Law officers have no names, they are simply “Policemen.” A buddy who took us up in his plane is a “Pilot.”

As one who easily gets caught up in titles, roles and the like, laying down my titled identity is proving a good thing for me. I don’t know where it all goes from here, but this is an adventure like none I’ve embarked on before. So, these days I’m working in our family business and finding contentment in learning to be just Steve.

sharing

sign_sharetheroad

As a cyclist, a motorist, and one whose thoughts drift to question just about everything, I began thinking about this sign the other day.  I see them all over the Central Coast, usually when riding my bike.  “Share the Road”  What does that mean?  Is it speaking to the cars, the bikes or both? (I bet the one usually assumes the other!)  Ever notice they’re on roads without bike lanes?  And what if someone decides NOT to share the road? Is there a “sharing” violation in the legal code? “Mr. Smith, do you know why I pulled you over?”  No officer.  “I’m citing you for a violation of Section 2C.51–unwillingness to share.” I know we’re all taught to share in kindergarten, but no one ever told me that sharing is demanded by the law. Whether or not it’s a citable offense, it’s a good idea, whether on four wheels or two–after all, if we can share the road, who knows what else we might be able to share?