Category Archives: Courage

Valor

I love looking down and seeing my Valor Wide Ring while I practice my guitar. I wanted to design a ring with some heft to its appearance without straight lines. It’s a simple ring but the longer I wear it the more it takes on the marks of my daily life—from motorcycle riding to working out to handling my music gear.

I made it as a reminder that the mountains we climb in our lives—facing fears, taking risks, or engaging in personal growth—take determination and valor just to take the first step of the journey, let alone to press on once we’ve begun.

The best part about jewelry is that it takes the journey with us. Through obstacles and successes, our designs take on the memories. My Valor Wide Ring reminds me of all the times I took the first step towards something new and the courage it took to put myself out there. I need the reminder every time I begin to doubt myself.

When I started practicing guitar, I felt like I was beginning a long journey up a mountain. But with each practice session, I found the trail to the peak became less steep and more enjoyable. Now when I play, I feel like I’m on top of the mountain.

But I didn’t stop at this one peak, I kept trying to hit new heights. I put myself out there even more by performing in front of family and friends, and sometimes even strangers. I found that, while it requires me to be brave each time, performing music in front of others helps me grow.

That’s the true purpose of my ring. The first step of the journey takes determination and valor, and once we’ve finally climbed the mountain, we realize we haven’t reached the end, but have begun a journey that will carry on through our lives.

David’s Journey

Last Friday was the one year anniversary of David’s spinal fusion and the day the world shut down. It’s hard to put into words what we experienced during the night when he coded and we almost lost him. As fate would have it, he was scheduled for a minor procedure down Santa’s Barbara on Friday. Once the procedure was over, he had bronchial spasms post-Covid mixed with the anesthesia causing his oxygen levels to drop. It was another stressful day with Lisa on lock in at the hospitals and me at home meeting with Matthias’s teachers and getting him back and forth from school, while feeling helpless with David.

These episodes are more common in our lives than they should be. Honestly it’s more stressful and scary than I probably let on. I do so much to be strong for my son and my family, but in these moments I feel so helpless against these forces.

Recognizing the hard realities of David’s genetic syndrome (Cornelia de Lange) and how close we’ve come to losing him, I try to be present with him whenever I can and to be grateful for every day I get with him.

David and Lisa came home from the hospital on Saturday while I was out with a friend. After a strange turn of events lead to his 24 hour stay in the hospital, I was eager to get home to see them and be re-united.

Unfortunately, as I was driving home I saw a couple texts messages coming through and missed a call from Lisa. David’s breathing had turned rapid again and she felt they needed to return to the hospital in Santa Barbara. So, even though they had been home for a respite of a couple hours, they trekked off again before I had a chance to see them.

We FaceTimed—David in his Posey Bed (a gift to parents and kids alike in hospitals!) while I got to talk with him. He was looking at me and really connecting with me over the call. I was happy to see him smiling and happy this morning. It does my heart good.

As a dad, I always want to protect and mentor my kids. It’s important to me to be there and be strong for my boys. With Covid rules around the hospital right now, only one person is allowed in the room, so there’s no way for me to be with David. I feel cut off from him and Lisa and so helpless to do anything for them.

Meanwhile in our divide and conquer strategy, I was there with Matthias—talking with teachers, driving him to school and back and generally trying to hold down the fort of our home and businesses.

5 days later, David and Lisa came home! It had been a long few days of tests, breathing treatments, antibiotics, FaceTime with doctors and worry.

A strange phenomenon happens in hospitals after a couple of days. Somehow the reason you’re there gets lost and a new diagnosis for a new problem emerges. In this case we went from a minor oral procedure to recommending a G-tube in the time David was hospitalized. Knowing eating is one of David’s biggest joys and he has not even one time got pneumonia from aspirating in his food, we chose to skip the G-tube in favor of more information. We’ll check in with his regular doctors when there’s no emergency.

When you have a child with special needs, no one knows your child better than you. Just because someone went to medical school doesn’t mean you have to do what they say—especially in the moment. You can always take a beat, go home and get a second opinion. And, you have to balance preserving life at all costs with living real and full life.

We’re thankful once again for those of you following our family’s journey and for praying for us and for David. Most of all, I’m thankful to God for bringing my son home again and for being together as a family.

Freedom in Finding my Voice

I’ve loved music all my life. From my sister telling me how to sound like the Carpenters as a kid (I like rainy days, but Mondays still get me down!) to singing in the church choir to discovering the Beatles as a teenager, music has been a big part of my life.

Despite having musical parents and family on both sides, it’s always been an area of my life that’s hard to embrace. As a kid I was told many times, “Don’t quit your day job,” when I sang. People literally told me to shut up. (Who talks like that to children?) I dreamed for a while of being a rock star (seriously, who hasn’t? It really is one of the coolest jobs). I was shot down as too much of a dreamer.

Eventually I gave up on my musical dreams. I went to college and then seminary and became a pastor. Ironically, as a young youth pastor I was often called upon to use my limited guitar skills and voice to lead youth group worship. I would feel the pang of my love for my music calling, but knowing I wasn’t good enough, I put the guitar away again for years.

I’ve been on a long journey to re-discover who I am. As a part of my process a few years back I started taking guitar lessons. I knew it was time to embrace my musical soul. I’ve grown a lot in my skills and have spent hours and hours playing every week.

Last year I got the chance to play some gigs locally with a friend who believes in me and is helping me learn how to play gigs. I love playing for people even more than I thought I would, if that’s even possible.

This year my word, my focus, is ‘freedom.’ I’m trying things I’ve always been afraid to try. I’m stepping into areas where only the real me can show up. For me, I can’t sing without putting myself out there. So, taking one of the scariest steps I’ve ever taken, I started singing lessons in January.

Singing lessons are a way for me to take a risk to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Learning is a tricky thing. You can improve and find and reach your potential. But only if you allow others to tell you what you think you already know. Only if you humble yourself to listen to correction. Only if you work hard to practice and grow.

2021 for me is about finding freedom. Freedom to be who I really am. I am taking off masks. I am learning to step out from behind others. Freedom to find my voice in a very literal sense. Maybe one day I’ll sing a song about 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!

Risk

Does the word risk hold a positive or negative meaning for you?

I think there’s a tiny percent of the population who live risky in the negative sense—bungee jumping without the bungee cord, sky diving without a parachute, or heading to work without drinking a cup of coffee. For the rest of us, I think fear—of failure, of looking bad, of being rejected—prevents us from taking smart risks.

In her latest book on leadership, sociologist Brene Brown notes, “Not enough people are taking smart risks or creating and sharing bold ideas to meet the changing demands and the insatiable need for innovation,” is a core issue identified by corporate leaders as what is getting in the way of organizations around the world.

You may or may not be a corporate leader, but the need today for smart risks and bold ideas is massive. In a world of rapid change, polarization, impulsive leaders and threats the world has never known before, the idea that we can ‘play it safe’ is an illusion.

Fear is one of the leading threats of our time and one of the most destructive forces in history. A year ago I launched the Stephen David Leonard brand, representing for me a risk to show up give voice to another approach to life. Whatever success I have experienced in the past, I have succeeded by carefully hiding my true self—I failed to truly show up and be who I am designed to be. I know I’m not alone. Many people, many men, fear to risk showing their true selves.

The Stephen David Leonard product, brand, my family and my life are reflections of a larger hope. Each of us is designed to experience life to its intended fullness in a ruptured world as agents of a better one.

I pray as I take the risk to show up in my life, you may be inspired to take the risk to show up in yours. Lisa and I have created product for a decade that are tangible reminders of hope for women. I have seen the ways women are inspired to take risks. But women aren’t the only ones who need to be inspired.

As a father, husband and man living today, I see how we live in a world characterized by ruptured relationship. Most responses today are born out of fear. Instead, I call us men to risk being the people we are designed to be. Rather than agents of fear, retaliation, power, and selfishness, risk being ambassadors of love, justice, mercy and faithfulness out of a hope this is not the way it’s meant to be.

The SDL products are tangible reminders of that hope and the strength of character it takes to risk showing up. I designed the product to reflect you—the people you love, the character to which you aspire, the authentic life for which you were designed. This coming year, I am committed to risk showing up more. I invite you to join me.

Thank you to all of you who have support the Stephen David Leonard brand this year. The brand exists for you. You are the ones bringing a scary dream into reality.

Climbing Mountains

Since November of last year I have been training and preparing to engage a life-long goal of riding my bike on the famous climbs used in the Tour de France. Wearing glasses since I was five, hand-eye coordination sports never came easy to me. In elementary school I was a small kid who got teased a lot. In 6th grade I visited my grandparents in England, where their next door neighbor, David, introduced me to cycling.

I was enthralled watching Greg LeMond, the only American, fight it out in the Tour de France with Bernard Hinault. The next year he won the first of his three victories, becoming the only American to ever win the Tour de France. He was my hero. I convinced my mom to take me to the bike shop where I got my first ten speed ever—A Univega, complete with handlebar shifters, extra brakes levers and 40 pounds of mean cycling machine.

I rode all over Fresno. I had a new found freedom and loved turning the toe-clipped pedals. I was so skinny my mom had to take in my cycling shorts. We found the smallest ones around, but even taken in, they hung a little loose on me. Riding around Woodward Park, I imagined myself as Greg LeMond, climbing the Col de Tourmalet and Alpe d’Huez. It was the perfect sport for me heading into Junior High. Having spent so many young years feeling rejected by other kids, feeling shame about who I was, on the bike I found a place I could be me.

As time went on I moved up bikes, first to a low end Bianchi (my first real racing bike!) and after saving up a lot of money from my paper route, I bought a Battaglin frame (the same as used by Stephen Roche to win the 1987 Tour de France!) complete with Campagnolo parts. This was a top end bike I rode and raced with pride. Cycling gave me a way to find myself, to grow up and become independent. I made a whole new circle of friends, who didn’t know me from elementary school. They only knew me as one of them.

All the while I dreamed of riding the Tour de France one day. Every mountain I climbed, every hill I went up, became those giants in the Pyrenees and the Alps. I pictured myself there, riding these giants and living the dream.

Now I have teenage boys and it’s been a long time since I was one myself. My boys are the ages I was when I fell in love with cycling and finding myself. I see them on their journeys to become the men God made them to be. I think often how some of my life long passions started when I was their age.

In October I joined some friends and signed up to travel to France and ride these mountains I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid. We began preparing in November, riding week in, week out. Every Saturday spending hours on the bike to be ready for days of 5,000-15,000 feet of climbing in France. At this stage of life, I have to navigate work and family time. Each workout had to count over the past months, whether on or off the bike. We aren’t in the Tour de France (other than in our minds!), but we are on an adventure that will finally take us to meet and ride these celebrity mountains.

Each of us has mountains to climb in our lives. Sometimes they are goals we hope to achieve. Sometimes they are obstacles we have to overcome. Sometimes it’s facing fears, taking risks, or engaging in personal growth. And sometimes they are literal mountains, just to see if you can do it. Each takes courage to take the initial step and sign up for the journey. In each case, it takes resiliency to show up week after week—especially when you don’t want to or when commitments make it difficult. And, once we’ve finally climbed the mountain, we realize we haven’t reached the end, but have begun a journey that will carry on through our lives.

Forging A Path

Matthias has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He prefers to be who he is and like what he likes rather than worrying much about what others think. I remember one Saturday in summer when he was seven and we went out to lunch as a family. As we were heading out the door Matthias appeared from around the corner.

“I’m ready!” he said

I took in the scene in front of me. Plaid shorts, coordinated T-shirt (the work of Lisa no doubt), green froggy galoshes, yellow rain coat, and a super-hero cape.

“Is that what you want to wear to lunch?” I asked.

“Yep. I look awesome.”

I couldn’t agree more. He managed to take it up a notch later that summer when he added upside down cycling gloves and a chef’s hat while we were on family vacation. As time has gone on, Matthias always finds his own unique sense of style. His clothing is a reflection of who he is—a person who sees the world through his own unique lens, comfortable in his own skin.

He went through a phase of lining up his toys in his room and around the house. I remember coming upstairs one afternoon and found all his stuffed animals in a big line in the loft. It looked like the crop circles in fields around the world.

“Did you do that?” I asked him.

“Yep!”

“Why did you line them up? What are the stuffed animals up to?”

“They just wanted to be like this.”

Absolutely. Why wouldn’t they? Matthias’ creative take on the world often peered through his unconventional ways to play with his toys.

From the time he was little, Matthias has researched everything his interests with books, the internet, TV shows and movies—any way he could get more information. Whether it was Ben 10 as a little boy, or Pokemon, or Star Wars, to Greek and Roman myths, he gives his all to understand these things. In the past few months, he’s been researching the Arthurian legends. One Saturday afternoon I noticed he had been on the couch on his computer for a couple hours. During the week, he does this sometimes for his school work. Being the weekend I got curious with a little dash of parent concern. We have limits and rules around screen time in our house and I figured it was time to enforce the rules.

“What are you up to kiddo? Seems like you’ve been on your computer a while today.”

“What? Oh, I’m writing.”

“Writing? Like for school? Do you have homework you have to do this weekend?”

“No. I’m working on my book based on the Arthurian legends in the modern world.”

“Really? How much have you written?” At this point, it dawned on me I had seen him typing away more than usual the last couple of days.

“I’m on page 45 right now. I have some ideas and I really want to get them down while they’re fresh.” He answered, only slowing his typing slightly to engage me.

Matthias is a kid, an emerging young man, who forges his own path one step at a time.

So much of Matthias’ narrative gets bound up with his brother with special needs. At times expected to have it together because his mom and I have our hands full with David. At times dragged along as we face a medical crisis with his brother. Sometimes bearing the burden of being the perfect child, healing our wounds. Sometimes overlooked as the typical brother of a special child with special needs. At times overprotected by parents who want to keep him from harm, rather than freeing him—empowering him—to experience a free and risky life.

This month Matthias turns 14. With high school on the horizon and his boyhood behind him, I see my son bravely risking to be the person God made him to be. As I see him finding his own voice, figuring out who he is, rather than who others want him to be in the trying years of middle school, he inspires me to use my voice as an adult. I am proud as a dad and inspired to forge my own path.

Who inspires you to forge your path?

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?

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