Author Archives: Stephen Leonard

About Stephen Leonard

Pastor, entrepreneur, and dad. Inspiring people to live the life they were created to live.

Christianity is Not About Morality

Christianity is not about morality. No caveats. No qualifications. No stipulations.

My friend, we’ll call him Tim, sat across from me at dinner explaining how hard his life has been trying to live up to expectations—from his parents, the church, even God.

“My dad (a para-church minister) gave me this framework that was terrible. He told me ‘There are no boundaries, you just have to reach toward the center.’ It was so grey, I didn’t know what to do with it. No matter how good I was, there was always a sense where I heard his voice, ‘You could have done more Tim. You could have done better Tim.’ I hated it—to the point I literally thought I was going to hell as a little kid because I saw a candy wrapper on the ground on my way home from school and didn’t pick it up and throw it away.”

Oh man, that’s terrible. That’s not the Gospel at all. I tried to encourage him.

“It was so helpful when Pastor Tom said ‘God gives us a double yellow line that creates a box. Inside the box, there’s total freedom.’ My problem is living inside that box. But at least I know the rules. I know what a moral, God-honoring life looks like. I struggle to live it out in my life and I still honestly feel a lot of guilt. I just need to try and avoid crossing the boundaries.”

But Tim, both of those paradigms are wrong. They’re not biblical. Christianity is not about morality at all…

He cut me off, anger in his eyes, “No, you can’t say that. God wants us to live…”

Tim, I interjected, seriously, you need to listen to me.

I love my conversations with Tim. We are both strong personalities and prepared to debate each other. Neither of us worries about hurting the others’ feelings and we tend to understand each other quickly. Best of all, Tim is one of those people who takes growth in his life and faith seriously. He is not content to remain stuck in the issues that hold him back professionally, personally, or spiritually.

Tim is real in his struggles. We have been there for each other at times when our lives were out of sync with who we want to be. I knew the conversation was turning real and I truly felt God’s Spirit at work between us.

Tim, the problem in the Bible is not a moral problem. If the problem was immorality in the Bible, then the solution would be about the need to be morally upright. But’s that’s not the language of the Bible at all.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve do not commit an immoral act. They didn’t listen to their Creator’s voice. They broke relationship. God told Adam and Eve where to find life—everywhere in the delightful, lush garden He had created for them! And where to find death—the fruit of one tree. Designed to be stewards of the King in His cosmic Temple, made to be co-creators in the good world God had created, humanity chose death and to disconnect from their Creator.

Check it out—have you ever noticed, God’s response to Adam and Eve? Without doubt, He clearly tells them the curses they have brought upon themselves—pain, difficulty, toil, and death. Exactly what he warned them about. But His own response is merciful, gracious, and loving—removing them from the eternal state of enmity with God by taking them out of the Garden of Eden. And providing clothes for them to cover their nakedness and shame.

For the rest of the biblical narrative, it’s never about morality. It’s always, about God pursuing His people. He is always trying to restore humanity to its original calling to rule and fill the earth as His agents.

As he says when he delivers the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you outfrom under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Ex. 6:7) The biblical story is about God restoring us to relationship with Him despite ourselves.

Tim looked at me. He didn’t say a word—that’s a big deal. I could see him taking in what I said.

“I’m going to have to take that in. I know the gospel is all about grace, but I’ve never really seen my life through that lens before.” He offered at last.

Do our lives take on an increasingly different look when we are in relationship with God? Yes, without a doubt. We see that truth in the world and the Bible clearly teaches it. But the Bible is not a Christian version of Aesop’s fables, with heroes to imitate, villains to illustrate the wrong path, and a life moral at the end.

The Bible is the story of the Creator’s unrelenting pursuit to bless and love His Creation through His people and ultimately His own Son. Live like God’s love for you is that high and deep and wide, and live in that freedom.

The Leonard Family is Moving!

Big News over here—we’re Moving!

When David turned 18 in 2020, we had to go through the process of getting a conservatorship for him. We thought it would just be formalizing the reality that we will keep doing what we’ve always done—acting on his behalf as his parents. But the process opened our eyes to the realities of caring for an adult with severe special needs. Where will he live? Who will care for him as we age? Will we put him in a home? It was  way more emotional than we thought it would be. The social worker was fantastic and presented us with a lot of information and food for thought.

We’ve never wanted to put David in an institutional home. It’s not wrong and I support anyone for whom that’s the best choice for their situation. But I know if we do that, we’ll see him a lot at first and less over time—that’s the way real life works. Based on our social workers suggestions, we began dreaming we might be able to find a house with a little property and a back house that can be David’s one day.

We’re blessed to have an amazing team of caregivers for David, who take him on his own adventures, help with his daily needs, and become part of the family over time. That combined with his own space on our property one day, seemed like the best of all worlds.

A few months ago a friend told us about a mutual friend selling their beloved family home and their desire to sell to someone they know. We know the family well from my days serving as a pastor—I prayed at their son’s wedding in the backyard, we’ve attended events there and have seen the ways this home has been a place of service and love embodying the Lord’s reconciling work in the world. We couldn’t believe it had exactly the features we were looking for! We all thought, crunched numbers and prayed.

The Lord opened one door after another and we just closed escrow. Now we’re preparing to move into our new place!

Lisa and I love collaborating to make a space ours, so we’re deep into our little reno project. We’re updating counters, doing a fresh coat of paint and a few other small changes. We pulled out a closet from the room that will be my office to study and work in—I’m stoked on the extra space and anxiously awaiting the bookshelves we ordered to unpack my library. (Putting my books into boxes is one of the emotionally hardest parts of moving for me!)

As we dream about this space we feel blessed to get in before Christmas so Matthias will have some Christmas and family memories in this house before heading off to college next year. We already have friends and family lined up to stay with us, help out, and celebrate Christmas together at our new place. This house has a history of hospitality and ministry we intend to build on going forward!

Look for more to come about our project here on the blog and in my social feed!

Whole World – Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Awareness

Eighteen and a half years ago Lisa and I felt the world crack under our feet when the doctor told us our precious son, whom we’d been eagerly awaiting to meet for the first time, showed signs of a having a genetic disorder.

“It could be anything from no issues to death, I just don’t know.” David wasn’t even born yet and already the life we envisioned as crumbling around us. 

The next days were anxiety filled as Lisa was induced and we prepared for our little guy’s birth come what may. 

On July 4, 2002 David arrived—quiet, a full head of hair looking like a rock star, small, only two fingers on his left hand. The doctors whisked him to a tiny exam table set up in the room, conferred and called me over, pointing out various atypical features from head to toe. They wrapped and handed him to me to take to Lisa, the awaiting, brand new momma. I wanted to fix him, to hide the obvious, to wake up and find I was holding our healthy baby in my arms. 

I gently handed David to Lisa immediately pointing out his little hand and a couple small features. My mom was a nurse, so I learned young to face hard things like this head on no matter how I felt. Lisa took David’s little hand in hers, stroking it gently, “Hi David, I’m your mom. I love you.” 

The next day a doctor came to us in the NICU and told us, “your son has a severe genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. He likely won’t walk or talk. I’m very sorry. I will bring you some information.” We didn’t see that doctor again.  

CdLS occurs in approximately 1 in 10,000 live births. CdLS is not a “one size fits all” condition. A person may have from a few to many traits of the syndrome including: Low birth weight, head and overall size;Developmental Delays; Gastrointestinal issues; Behavioral Issues; Particular Facial Features; Limb Differences; and more. 

As we celebrate Cornelia de Lange Awareness Day today, David has shown himself to be a fighter. For all the challenges and medical issues, he has faced over the tears, he faces it with courage and determination. David loves to laugh and loves music. He’s sensitive to others and seems to always know who needs a hug in the room. 

Our family’s life looks different than I imagined when Lisa and got married. But the last 18 years have been full of love, resilience, fun. We have learned a lot about ourselves, life and God. And the world feels more whole because David is in it.

30 Day Living Inspired Email Journal

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These have been a crazy couple weeks and there’s no obvious end in sight. Our family has been in the throws of our son David’s scoliosis surgery complete with lung infection and an 11 day hospital stay. His surgery happened to coincide with the largest global pandemic in history. Timing is everything! Even as we face our own personal crisis, everyone has been facing increasing challenges over the past couple weeks. From suddenly becoming a nation of home-schoolers, to job insecurities, to compulsive handwashing and more, each day seems to bring its own unique obstacles none of us has faced before.

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30 Day Living Inspired Email Journal

With so much bad news out there, increasing isolation from each other and more time on our hands, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to help right now. I have created my 30 Day Living Inspired Email Journal to help us use this time positively and to build our resiliency for when we come out the other side. Beginning April 1 (no April Fool’s joke!), each day I will deliver a short inspirational thought with a journal prompt each day for the next month. My goal is for this to be a 5 minute exercise to start or end your day well while we’re hunkered down. Of course, you can take longer if you want! So grab you favorite journal, or pick up a Discover Leather Journal from my shop and join us!

It’s a great resource for moms managing their families at home right now (let’s be honest, in most homes moms shoulder the brunt of these times—many of them while balancing their careers!), or for guys working from home who want a tool to get in the right headspace each day, it’s great for work teams to use together to maintain a sense of team spirit while physically separated, and more.

Let’s Connect on Facebook!

Because community is so important, I’ve created a private Living Inspired with Stephen David Leonard Facebook Group where we can gather together to share our insights, ask questions, encourage each other and help each other through this crazy time. I’ll post additional thoughts and videos there and engage each day so we can be connected (I’m an extrovert, so I’m looking for any way I can to connect with others!). We already have a fast-growing community there and would love for you join in!

From raising a son with a severe genetic disorder, to a decade of pastoral experience, to owning my own business, I have experienced challenges, crisis, and I’m working to overcoming the rollercoaster of uncertainty. The 30 Day Living Inspired Email Journal and Living Inspired with Stephen David Leonard Facebook Group are both free resources to inspire us during these difficult days. I want to share my experience with you and give you a tool that can help you right now. We’re all in this together and by banding together we can thrive.

How do I join?

Simply sign up for my regular emails and you will receive each daily email plus get insider info on any special deals or news from stephedavidleonard.com! It all starts April 1!

Want community? Join my Living Inspired Facebook Group!

Thank You!

I’m thankful for the way you have followed our family’s journey with David these past few weeks. Now I want to give back to you. Please join me, I look forward to seeing you there!

Hospital Land

While we’ve been in hospital-land the whole world has changed! We are so appreciative for everyone taking precautions, practicing social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings for the Coronavirus while we’re living in our little hospital bubble. Our days are spent going back and forth from the hospital to the hotel to grabbing a bite to eat and back. Because those who can are avoiding going out, it allows people like us to be able to more safely be in the very empty hotel and restaurants. We had our concerns, but never imagined being in the PICU with David during the biggest health epidemic of our lives. So thank you to everyone taking the precautions seriously for those at greater risk like our sweet guy. 

Last night David got his first full night of sleep post surgery. He started with PT to get him sitting up and standing. We’re watching his pain and doing our best to keep him as comfortable as possible. Once again he’s showing us how brave and resilient he is. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as you face your own daily challenges in this crazy time. 

Stephen David Leonard Two Year Anniversary

Celebrating Two Years!

If not for you, I wouldn’t be able to write this post today! Because you engage, read, and support my online shop, Stephen David Leonard continues to grow and reach tens of thousands of people and more all the time.

The past two years, watching stephendavidleonard.com come to life and grow so fast has been an amazing experience. I can’t believe it’s already been two years this month I launched Stephen David Leonard into the world!

Following Your Dream

Have you ever had vision, or a dream or a passion you felt terrified to try, but knew you had to do it anyway? Maybe you shared your dream with a few close friends and family only to be discouraged away from it?

“Why can’t you be content with what you have?” some ask. “Hmm, do you think you have what it takes?” others question. “Do you really have something unique to put out there?” others challenge.

I’ve had a few different seasons in my life. Professional student (actually, I was an amateur—I never got paid!), Pastor, small business leader, entrepreneur, CEO. After working hard behind the scenes for so long it was terrifying to launch a project in my own name and to step out of the shadows into the forefront.

It feels easier to champion someone else than to put your own creativity, your own thoughts and passions into the world. I have many days I question why I ever launched stephendavidleonard.com at all.

Inspiring to Live the Life You Were Created to Live

Why is it so important to put the Stephen David Leonard brand into the world?

I started Stephen David Leonard back in 2017 because my mission is to inspire people like you to live the life they are created to live. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be who I thought people wanted me to be. I’ve worn various masks over the years trying to fit in and be accepted.

Fearing I would be rejected for who I really am, I gave my energy to being who I thought people wanted me to be. In doing so, I ignored myself and the way I am put together.

Made In God’s Image

A few years ago, through reading the Bible, therapy, and the help of mentors, I saw some words at the beginning of the Bible through a new lens. In the book of Genesis it says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

I’ve read those words many times—even preached sermons on them when I was a pastor. But I missed how important those words are for us.

We are made as images of God—reflections of God in the world. We are his creations, with inherent dignity, embodying different parts of God’s character and nature to one another.

Designs Reflect the Designer

As a designer and entrepreneur, I am amazed at the way the things we create reflect us. Whether it’s a piece of jewelry, a song, a story, or even a business our creations reveal something about who we are.

 How you ever notice how you can hear a song you’ve never heard by your favorite band and immediately recognize it’s them? It’s the same with God, when he creates, his creations reflect him.

But when he made humans, he purposefully made us to be embodied images of him in the world. Have you ever been to a museum, or read in a history book and seen the little statues of gods in temples in the ancient world?

Those statues are representations of the gods they signify. They physically embody characteristics of the god. The statue might be a bull to represent strength. The statue might look like a crocodile to reflect the god’s power.

The images of the gods and goddesses helped the people worshipping the god understand who the god is. In the same way, God made us to be living, breathing representations of himself so we understand who he is.

Designed with Purpose

This means we are designed with purpose! Each of our personalities, talents, and interests reflect different parts of God! Understanding God has designed each of us intentionally and with a purpose has changed my life.

I know I am made with inherent dignity as an image bearer. I know I am loved. I know I have been given my own talents and strengths. And I know the same is true for you. You are created with dignity, you are loved and you have been given your own talents and strengths.

Many people struggle against a sense of lack of purpose, career misfit, even disconnection from their true selves. But when we know God has designed each of us, we can see his design in our lives and find new purpose. It may mean a new career, a new way of relating to people, a new way to volunteer, a new hobby, or even a renewed way of living.

Sharing My Journey

The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians he was, “ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Through Stephen David Leonard my goal is to share not only my insights as a veteran pastor, parent, husband, and entrepreneur, but also my own self as someone who has learned helpful insights along my journey.

Marriage

I have experienced a marriage crisis leading to healing and greater intimacy. Marriage is a crucible where we come face to face with the hardest truths about ourselves. It’s also a place where we can truly know and be known by another.

Children

I am privileged to be raising two amazing boys. I walk in the pain and joy of raising a son with a severe disability and another son who has an insightful mind and artistic soul. I have experienced the suffering and pain of parenthood in the midst of the happiness of watching my boys thrive.

Depression

I have battled depression on and off most of my life. Feelings of unworthiness, rejection, and self-doubt. Understanding I am created in God’s image is one of the single most grounding truths giving me something to hang on to in dark moments.

Spiritual Life

I live out of a deep faith in Jesus and have devoted years to studying and teaching the Bible in school and on my own. I do not expect everyone to see everything the way I do. I do believe I have something to offer whether you come from the same spiritual starting place or not as humans are spiritual beings.

Designs to Inspire

In addition to sharing my story and learnings, I create designs to inspire and help you as you find and live your own purpose. Whether it’s a keychain you carry in your pocket, a bracelet you see on your wrist, or a bag over your shoulder (and more!), each SDL design is a reminder of your own unique design and the life you are made to live.

Thank You

I started Stephen David Leonard to share what I have learned and to help you in your journey to discover God’s design for your life. From the content I share, to the ways I open up my life to the product on my site, everything here is about inspiring you to live the life you are created to live!

Thank you for letting me join you on your journey!

On Turning 46

Today I officially leave my early 40s behind as I turn 46. In my 46 years I’ve experienced joy (like marrying my best friend @lisaleonard, the birth of my sons), I have known sorrow (being bullied as a kid, David’s arrival with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, a marriage crisis), I’ve studied to attain degrees to the doctoral level, I’ve battled life-long,—sometimes dark—depression and more. With all that I can say truly I am more content and happy than I have ever been. It’s come like all things worth having, through intentional hard work with help from people along the way. So, as I celebrate my birthday, here’s a few learnings of my 46 years.

1. We are made in God’s image—reflections of His design, each of us possessing inherent dignity and worth.

2. We live in a world ruptured and twisted by greed, selfishness, comparison, isolation, and belief that enough is never enough.

3. Intimate relationships require investment of time, energy and resources. Without vulnerability we don’t experience intimacy.

4. Most of what we fear is the stories in our heads rather than external reality.

5. God gives each of a life to design—he gives us skills, heritage, experiences, passions, opportunities and freedom to experiment and try things without fear of missing “God’s will.”

6. People are more important than money, titles, or success.

7. A listening and empathetic ear is a rare salve healing many wounds.

8. Integrity is often undervalued, but we’re always grateful to those we encounter who possess it.

9. We’re drawn to that which is real and authentic.

10. Everyone fights the tape loops that say I’m not good enough, So and so has more…than me, if only I had…then I would have…, and feel some need to prove worth. (See Number 1 above)

11. True life is only found in knowing you are unconditionally loved, and the freedom it provides for you to who were designed to be.

I would love to see you in Ecuador!

A couple of years ago Lisa and I got to travel to the Dominican Republic and see firsthand how child sponsorship provides education, medical aid, food and actually raises children and their families out of systemic poverty. I didn’t totally get until I saw, but now I know the life-changing, family-changing and society-changing impact of a few dollars a month.

For decades children have gotten involved with agencies fighting poverty and injustice in developing countries, had their photos taken and waited and hoped they would be chosen by a sponsor somewhere far away. Tomorrow morning I head to Ecuador with World Vision to help promote their brand NEW approach to child sponsorship.

For the first time, World Vision is flipping this approach on its head and putting the power to choose a sponsor in the child’s hands. Poverty steals choices from kids. It’s time to give those choices back. I invite you to join me and empower a child to take hold of their future—starting with the chance to choose you as their sponsor. Being chosen is a sacred and sweet reminder of God’s love. I love how this approach shows we are made in God’s image with inherent dignity in such a practical way!

Monday, September 30 (only 1 week from now!) I will be attending a Choosing Party where children in Ecuador will get to choose their sponsor from among those who sign up with me and my trip companions. I would love it if your photo (or your family’s!), is hanging on the wall and I get to see you chosen by a child to be their sponsor!

To join me in this event, sign up as a sponsor to be #chosen by a child here: https://wv.link/StephenChosen.

I would love to see you in Ecuador!

Grounded

Recently the World Health Organization declared Burnout a medical diagnosis. Burnout is a word we hear pretty regularly. We know people who are discouraged with work and going through the motions. We may even feel it ourselves–but most of us would never want to admit it. Burnout at work and depression are close cousins. For many years as a pastor and over the past fews years running our business, I have struggled with depression and even burnout here and there. A few years ago, my struggles brought me to a crisis point. For all appearance to the contrary, insecurities, depression, and belief that I was unlovable all resulted in a period where I was characterized by irritability, anger and sadness. In the midst of leading a rapidly growing business, raising our young family, and serving at my church, things finally came to a head: Lisa told me things had to change. She couldn’t go on the way things were going. I knew she was telling the truth. So I sought help.

            I went away to a week-long therapy retreat near Nashville I had read about in one of Donald Miller’s books. As a pastor I was skeptical about therapists, but I figured Donald Miller is a pretty smart guy and they seemed to help him; maybe they could help me. Truthfully, I didn’t really know who “Me” was. Early on, my therapist Angela told me to draw a picture of what I wanted. Are you kidding me lady?

            “I’m going to get something from my office while you draw. I’ll be back in a few minutes to see your picture.” She told me.

            This is stupid—I hate exercises like this. I’m not a five-year-old. I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper.

            “Oh no you don’t!” She called back to me. “No monochrome. You’re a colorful person. You have to use at least five colors in your picture.”

            “Are you serious?” I challenged.

            “Oh, I’m serious. I’ll be back in about ten minutes. I can’t wait to see what you draw.” And she walked out the door.

            I could not have been at more of a loss as to what to draw. Draw a picture of what I want? That’s why I flew all the way out here—to figure that out! Ugh this is painful!

            I knew she was coming back and I better have something to show. So I started to draw.

            “Ok, let’s see what you drew!” Angela said walking through the door. “Wow. Good job. That’s interesting. Do you see what you drew?”

            “Yeah I drew a picture of my family.”

            “Yes you did. You came here with big questions about who you are and about your purpose. You told me the first day you feared floating off into space like Sandra Bullock’s character in the movie Gravity. Remember? Do you see where did you drew yourself in this picture?”

            “Standing on the ground” I answered, seeing that part of my own drawing for the first time.

            “Yep, you’re standing on green grass. And see those smiles on all your faces? You even drew all of you holding hands! And under the warm sun!”

            “I don’t get it, what are you saying?” I asked, confused.

            “Stephen, what you want is to be grounded and connected with your family. You’re looking to give yourself permission to be you. It’s as profound and simple as that.”

Angela acted as a significant guide in the early stages, helping me begin to rediscover my own identity. My week away launched me on a journey of meeting with a regular therapist, reading the Bible, talking to spiritual mentors, and drawing on the tools I learned in my seminary and doctoral programs.  

I have been working hard to see and work through issues and false beliefs holding me back and causing my depression for a while now. Lisa and I have been in counseling for our marriage to rediscover ourselves and one another again. And, we are learning to play again as a family! We take adventures together, eat pancakes most mornings, and I picked up the guitar again to add music to our home. I love to look down and see my Collide with the Sky Ring, reminding me to to rise to the challenge as I pursue the life I was created to live. As a dad, I owe it to my family to look hard and long at those beliefs in my life that hold me back and create rifts in my relationships.

Collide with the Sky RIng

I share these things because I know many people struggle with burnout, depression, addiction and more. I am not fixed now, but I continue to grow in my ability to face my demons, not let them control me and most importantly to enter more fully into relationships. I paid attention to what I was feeling and others were telling me. I got help–I shared my struggles with some close friends and found a therapist. I followed through in the process no matter how silly or painful if felt along the way. If you’re feeling depleted, irritable, negativity and cynicism–if loved ones are concerned about you–I encourage you to take similar steps. They’re scary but worth it.

When I met Angela in Nashville, I thought I wanted to know which way I needed to go vocationally. Should I return to being a pastor? Should I keep going in business? Should do something else? I was surprised to find what I want is to be grounded, connected to my family, enjoying each other. Last summer our family was playing together in England and decided to take the photo at the top of this post–it just came together this way. It’s exactly the picture I drew years ago! What’s your picture?

Love Is Brave

“I don’t think I love you. I made a mistake. We shouldn’t have gotten married!” These were Lisa’s words to me, not after a big fight, or during the break down in our marriage a few years ago, but the morning of our first full day in Hawaii on our honeymoon. We were off to a strong start! For some reason, I wasn’t threatened or scared. I knew people freak out after getting married. My response? “Don’t worry Babe, everything will be fine. Let’s get breakfast and go snorkeling.” People don’t talk about their marriages much, but these are the real moments that happen between two people as they bring their lives together.

This summer Lisa and I will celebrate our 20-year wedding anniversary. When we got married twenty years ago, we were in love and couldn’t wait to start our lives together. We knew no one in the history of the world had ever been in love like us. We had intense feelings, deep faith in Jesus, and the community of the Church all in our favor. Our relationship would stand as an example of love and commitment to all around us.

Three years ago, all those hopes and dreams seemed to shatter when we sat in a therapists office and Lisa, struggling to even look at me, said four painful words, “I want to separate.” It was an intense time and my world was crumbling around me. I had no words of reassurance or confidence things would work out. I was scared.

This came in the midst of a long struggle with depression, an internal sense that nothing I do is good enough, and an all or nothing approach to many areas of my life driven by perfectionism. Lisa had told me a year earlier if something didn’t change, she didn’t know what would happen. In response I went on a week-long intensive therapy retreat in Nashville followed by a year of therapy—including a few months of couples counseling. Between therapy, my depression, and an intense period as CEO of our business Lisa Leonard Designs, I was in a dark place during these days. Even though we had had many hard conversations during this time, I was shocked and caught off guard by what Lisa was telling me.

 We decided together Lisa would get away to spend time with her sisters and get some time alone. She walked, I worked out at the gym. We both journaled about what we wanted. We were both scared and uncertain of where our relationship was headed. After those ten days, we spent a couple days together, even attended a Paul McCartney concert—nothing better than being on a date having Sir Paul serenade you with his silly love songs! Then we each went away to a week-long intensive therapy retreat. I went for my second experience, then Lisa went when I returned.

At this point I’ll reveal to you that I’m a sappy and sentimental person. I tend to keep little mementoes of special occasions—the wristband I wore for entry to a concert, a torn dollar bill signifying a close friendship, a sticky note where Lisa professed her love. I think Paul McCartney is my favorite Beatle because his love songs hold nothing back. I’m a romantic who loves the idea of love. As a pastor I loved standing with a couple performing their wedding, getting to see every tear, every longing look, every unspoken inside joke between the couple.

When I asked Lisa to marry me I bought new pants for the occasion (a tip off to her when I showed up at the door!) and drove 45 minutes to pick her up for the dinner that was close to my house. I told her it was a symbol that I would got any distance for her.

And, 20 years into marriage, I have come face to face with the reality that real love between two people is not a love song. Two people with hurts and insecurities come together seeking to give and receive love. Often, even unknowingly, we look to one another to heal our hurts and patch our broken parts. Romantic love is a beautiful thing, but no matter how much we may wish it would, it can’t save us.

I have discovered, through the breakdown of our marriage, each of us has to take responsibility for our own healing and wholeness. Most problems in our marriages are not with our partner, but with us (yes, there are exceptions). As a Christian, I believe Jesus healing work in the world is the healing of our hurts and carried shame. The good news talked in the Bible is about restoring ruptured relationships—with God, others and ourselves. We are made in God’s image and through healing, we learn to see that image in ourselves and others. This healing requires faith, hard work, and a deep desire to grow and change.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I celebrate the love Lisa and I have together. It is a love that has endured having a child with special needs, the pressures of pastoral ministry, running a business together, long-term depression and a break down. It is a love characterized by friendship and trust. A love where we tell each other the hard things and we prop each other when we’re down. It is a love forged, like fine metal, through the crucible of trials difficult times.

One way Lisa and I work on our relationship is to ask how we can be a better partner. We share and listen—even when it’s hard. As you celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, think about how you can be a better partner. Ask your partner to share with you a growth area. Share something vulnerable. Love requires sacrifice, courage, strength and willingness to change. May you and your beloved grow closer this year!