Category Archives: Growth

Whatever the Future Holds

“Did you ever think you’d be carrying your 18 year old on your back?” Lisa asked me this weekend. I didn’t. With David 18 going on 19 this summer we have been facing many experiences and questions I never really considered. We filed a conservatorship for David this year empowering us to make legal decisions on his behalf. In the process we were asked our transition plan for his future care.

Now that Matthias is finishing his junior year of high school, it brings to life how our little boys are no longer little. In Matthias’s case it’s more obvious, with driving lessons and discussions about college. With David, still physically little, still requiring so much care, still facing severe medical risks from time to time, it’s easy to think of him as our little boy. He still likes cuddles and silly childlike play. But the truth is, the day is coming when we will have to rethink his adult care.

Our approach to raising David has always been to help him realize his potential, to let him show us who he is and what he can do, and to do our best not to limit him. We have traveled the world with him, hiked with him, gone on adventures big and small. We encourage his love for music he shares with me. We encourage his love of exploration and getting out. We laugh with him and his amazing sense of humor.

To be honest, I don’t know what the future holds. I’m still a dad trying to grasp the questions rather than having all the answers. In the meantime, no I never thought I’d be hiking with my 18 year old on my back, but whatever the future holds I want my son to have the richest fullest life he can have. Whatever I can do to that end, I will.

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.

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!

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.

Father’s Day Musings

Father’s Day is almost here. Our lives have been so crazy lately with David’s surgery and Matthias graduating Middle School, it’s easy to miss everything happening around us–especially a day like Father’s Day. But this time of year reminds me how grateful I am to be a dad and how grateful I am for my sons.

A few weeks back Matthias and I went on his school camping trip. I love getting out into nature with him and seeing him hang out with his friends. He seems to be growing and changing before my eyes lately. Honestly, sometimes I find myself freaking out that he only has four more years until he graduates. I think of the things I haven’t taught him yet, the things I neglected when he was younger, the things out ahead of him and feel like I could be such a better dad to him. Then I remember growing and learning is a life-long journey.

David has had a few bad colds and a hard time breathing this year, to the point I have worried about him many nights as I put him in his bed. Finding out he had a polyp in his nose the size of my index finger has explained so much. All these things remind me how inadequate I really am to keep my boys and my family from harm. No matter what steps I take to protect them, so much is out of my control. I have to admit the idea I can keep them healthy and safe is an illusion. And yet, I am grateful for those who surrounded our family and helped us help David get the surgery he needed.

People don’t really talk about this, but being a dad is vulnerable. Dads want to be strong for our kids and families. Dads work hard to provide for our families. Dads want to be role models and to teach our kids. We may not wear our hearts on our sleeves, but our love runs deep. Every dad, whether he drives a truck, works in an office, or stays home with the kids wants the best for his kids. And yet we all wonder if we’re up to the task. We worry the day will come when we can’t provide, can’t protect, can’t be there.

We want to be the super hero who can fly in and defeat our foes with lightning speed and the strength of steel. But we know we are flesh and blood. Our foes don’t use magic, or diabolical riddles, or elaborate scientific contraptions. Instead we fight to pay mortgages, pay for college and provide the best life we can for our families. Dads want the best for our kids.

In today’s world, being a dad takes courage. We have to withstand the pressures and fears we face. This Father’s Day honor and celebrate the dads you know who have shown their faithful love. Remember the dads who mentor and teach you. Let them know the difference they make.

 

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?

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?

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?