Category Archives: Inspiration

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!

Celebrating David’s Birthday

19 years ago—seriously, 19 years ago! We welcomed our amazing David into the world. The 4th of July 2002 brought pain and joy I had never felt before.

At Lisa’s 38 week check-up we learned our precious baby was measuring only 32 weeks. The news set in motion the most anxiety ridden 48 hours of our lives. A high-tech ultrasound revealed nothing.

Eager for information I asked the doctor, “what does his size mean?” She looked at me blankly, “What do you mean? It could mean anything. He may be undernourished, he may just be small, he may have a genetic syndrome.” Confused I pressed for more, “What kind of genetic syndrome? What issues would he have?” She coldly replied, “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 was crumbling around us. Anxiously coaching Lisa as she was induced so could meet our son, I feared the unknown. I had to be brave for my wife and for my son.

David at Birth 07/04/2002

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. That July 4 my heart was broken. My heart was full. I was gutted and I was happy and proud. David’s sweet little face revealed he had no idea what everyone was so worried about. He was content and happy. Our precious son was born. I became a dad.

Through David, the Lord showed me our value is inherent—unconnected to what we do. Every one of us is made in God’s image—precious, valuable, and loved. I see it so clearly in David, no matter how hard I find it to believe about myself. David lives life in the present. Sad when he’s sad. Happy and giddy when he’s happy. He’s an adventurer, a musician, a jokester, and a lover of people. I’m thankful for my amazing son and the last 19 years as his dad.

Practice Won’t Be Perfect

“Only perfect practice makes perfect.” But if only perfect practice makes perfect, only the perfect could ever practice and no one could ever learn anything new.

The truth is we all start bad at anything worth doing. Learning guitar has taught me it takes time to teach my fingers and my brain to form the correct chords with the correct strumming to play a song. Learning is hard and rewarding.

I created and wear the Valor Ring because it takes determination and valor to take the initial step and sign up for the journey. Whether you’re learning to play guitar, taking on a home project, prepping for a promotion at work, taking steps to improve your relationships or more, perfection is usually the enemy of progress. But we can all practice, even if imperfectly.

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.

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.

We Are Enough

Every night for years I’ve prayed my sons will know they are made in God’s image—precious and worthy and loved. I want them to know they never need to prove they are smart enough, educated enough, athletic enough, have enough money, are skinny enough, fit enough, good looking enough, get enough approval, successful enough, on and on and on.

I hear so many Christians these days ranting about how we need to know we are NOT enough. We’re sinful and bad, they say. Our very identity is as sinful people deserving God’s wrath. Meanwhile, our young people are riddled with anxiety and depression (and most adults too—we just think we hide it better). We want to blame the media, the culture, others—them. But significant research shows we parents are the biggest influence on our kids.

Friends, we are made in God’s image. Are we willing to say His craftsmanship is lacking? In Genesis it says he looked at humanity and called us “very good.” We look at our own babies and know they are precious and lovable. So are you and I.

Yes, we cracked God’s very good creation when we rejected Him in the Garden. Yes God sent His Son for us—because He so loves us! Yes, our creation is not the end of the story. But the biblical narrative is about God pursuing His creation, His people, because He loves us.

That means my boys, me and you have nothing to prove. God’s designed us precious, with dignity befitting His own image, lovable and loved. And that’s enough.

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.

Discover_Leather_Journal

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!