Category Archives: Inspiration

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: http://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!

Give: Love

Thanksgiving and Christmas kind of run together for me. I know this is controversial to some, but the two holidays sort of bracket my favorite time of year (Followed by the most depressing holiday of the year—New Year’s Day. Why is a day with the word ‘new’ in its title such a downer? I’ll leave that for another time!) Many people see the Christmas Season as a time of consumerism, selfishness, and greed. But for me it’s the opposite.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to refocus on living with gratitude. We’ve been talking in our offices recently about the reality we all want to be seen and recognized for who we really are. Both men and women give of themselves day in and day out—feeding the kids, changing diapers, driving kids around, working, paying bills, etc.—doing the mundane things of life we are required to do maintain and grow our families physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The truth is, few of us are very good at seeing one another and truly offering appreciation and gratitude for the many things, small and big, we do for one another every day.

I tend to see and comment on the one missing link in an email rather than the amazing photos and graphics our team churns out day after day. I’m prone to question Lisa why we ran out of paper towels instead of appreciating and thanking her for the healthy and delicious dinners she prepares our family night after night.

One busy day of family activity doesn’t make up for an overall lack of gratitude. But, it’s a chance for a reset if we’re willing. It’s a reminder, built right into the annual calendar, to live with gratitude in our hearts toward one another and to God for the love, support and life we receive each day.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with Christmas parties at our kids’ schools, work, and church. It’s a time to celebrate. My only issue is how we neglect the importance of celebration other times of year. I’ve seen over the years how Christmas parties in the Christian community often solicits cynical remarks about materialism or unproductive busyness. Other times the word ‘celebration’ gets baptized and becomes synonymous with another church event on the calendar—usually an event with Christian music, red and green sweaters and mood lighting in the church sanctuary.

But we are designed to celebrate and enjoy life, one another, and all God provides. We seem to miss the numerous holidays in the Hebrew Scriptures (I can tell you my friends in Israel still celebrate these holidays today and there are a lot of them!) where God’s people are instructed to stop their work, feast, remember, and have fun. Why would we ever want to work toward less of this in our lives? This time of year is full of moments where we gather with people we know well. These events are often a chance to make new friends. We eat, laugh and share stories with those we love. Life is hard. I spend so much time and energy fretting over bills, budgets, David’s health, Matthias’ progress, what people think of me, how good I am at my job, whether I do anything that matters, and many other things. But during these week of December, I have moments where I let that all go and enjoy being present and having fun with important people in my life. I remember I have so much to celebrate—most of all the relationships with amazing people I am often too busy to truly enjoy.

Christmas comes around and it can be dominated by materialism and consumerism. On the one hand, some spend past their means and try to fill voids with things for themselves, their kids, or others with a display of money. On the other hand, some are dominated by materialism by withholding and refusing to give or receive gifts—usually to be more ‘spiritual.’ Like Oogway said in Kung Fu Panda, “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” Christmas can be an excuse for indulging dark aspects of our society and human life.

But the truth is Christmas is a time when God was over-abundantly generous toward humanity giving us the gift of His Son. The Creator gave His best, sending His own Son into the world, to walk in the dirt with us as a tangible, human, material expression of His fatherly love for the world. I could cite many other biblical examples of God’s generosity toward humanity (the beauty of the creation made for our delight and sustenance, social systems which enable us to dwell together in society, music which quickens the heart and stimulates the mind, relationships within which we give and receive love—just to name a few), but this one seems fitting for this time of year. If God is willing to give His best out of His resources to those He loves, it is fitting we give our best out of our resources to those we love. And it should not be lost on us, God gave to those who love Him, but also to those who don’t. And He did it without expectation. God’s generosity knows no bounds. Once again, we are challenged to generosity to those who love us and to those who don’t.

Friends, it’s time we seek a new agenda for our lives. This year—the past couple of months—have been characterized by more deadly shootings, devastating fires, and deepening polarization at the polls. We can dig in and pull deeper into our tribes, pointing fingers at those of other tribes. We can heat up the rhetoric and oppose one another’s ideologies more fiercely. Or we can take a different path. We can look to God’s example, and gently enter one another’s worlds. We can give what is dear to build bridges. As we enter this Christmas Season, my goal is to Give Love. To show gratitude. To Celebrate. And to expand my generosity. Our world needs these gifts we each hold in our hands. Will you join me?

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Superheroes A-Z

“I think, think, think; draw, draw, draw; write, write, write. I am an artist and an author,” Matthias said when he came home one day at the end of his first week in kindergarten. He had drawn pictures since he was three years old. But, from this moment forward, Matthias has claimed his creative space as an artist and an author.

A couple years later, I was putting him to bed one night in late March. I noticed he had paper and drawing supplies in bed with him.

“What’s that?” I asked.“It’s drawing stuff. I’m making a book for mom for Mother’s Day.”

“Really? Wow, that’s still a few weeks away, I’m impressed you’re already working on it.”

“You guys are working on Mother’s Day at the office, so I thought I would work on it too so I’ll have enough time to make the book.”

“That’s awesome. What’s the book?”

“I’m drawing super heroes. Three for every letter of the alphabet.”

“Like, super heroes we already know, or ones you’re making up?”

“I’m making up my own superheroes. It’s a surprise, don’t tell mom.” he answered.

For the next few weeks, everywhere he went he had his superhero book project with him. As Mother’s Day neared he began taking his drawing supplies to bed with him more often.“I have to keep working so I can have it ready,” he told me, sounding like a college student working on a term paper.

“Ok, you’ve been working hard. You can stay up a little late, but only one picture then you need to go to sleep,” I told him. Putting him to bed I was both worried he wasn’t getting enough sleep and proud of his dedication to the project.

As he neared completion, I came up with a what I thought a great idea, “Matthias, what if we take your drawings and get them bound and put a cover on it, so you have a real book to give Mom?”

“Yeah, Mom would like that,” he answered.

“Maybe even we could make a few copies so you have one and we can give a couple to the family? You’ve worked so hard on it, it would be cool to share it. I think they would enjoy it,” I suggested.

A couple days after Mother’s Day (like many first time authors, he missed his deadline by a few days, but it was his first effort and he was only a kid!), we headed over to Staples together to make full color copies and get a cover for his book.

“To do full color copies is ten cents per page plus ten dollars for a cover,” the Staples employee told me.

I thought about the cost, and did some quick math in my head, but decided Matthias’ work and Mother’s Day for Lisa was worth the fifty bucks. “Perfect, when will it be ready?”

“Give us 45 minutes to an hour and we’ll have them for you,” she told me.

Matthias and I decided to run over to the grocery store and get Lisa some flowers to go with her awesome Mother’s Day gift. I was feeling happy with myself. Matthias had put weeks of effort into this project. Lisa was going to love it. We would have copies for the family. This was a win for the Leonard boys.

We went back to pick it up. “Color prints, plus covers for twenty-five copies,” the employee started punching numbers into the cash register. “Eighty pages times twenty-five plus covers…”

I began reworking my mental math, “Wait, how many??” I thought to myself. “That’s not a little under fifty bucks…”

“With tax that comes to $485.32,” she said, interrupting my thoughts.

My stomach sank. In my quick head math earlier, I somehow thought the total would be around $50. I missed something. I tried to look like that was the number I expected and pulled out my debit card to pay. “Oh man, Lisa is going to kill me,” I thought now. How quickly it turns from win to loss! Hopefully she would understand since it was Matthias’s work and we were helping him become the first published author in our family—all to celebrate Lisa.  I paid and we went home. Matthias was beaming.

“Are you happy with how it turned out kiddo?”

“Yeah. Mom’s really going to like this. It looks so good.”

Super Heroes from A to Z, a compendium of seventy-eight original super heroes! The book contained not only pictures and descriptions, but he knew the back story to every character, with detail far surpassing what he put down in the book.

Iguona Guy—”Skills of ignuona. Reptile strong. Chest plate of armer.”

Nine Man—”He has 9 times the strike. Nine punches and your out. His strength comes in numbers.”

Paraliser—“If you look into his eyes you’re out. He controls day and night.”

And our family favorite. Edward, “Edward has no powers and is poor. He has no relationship with his parents.” Explains so much, doesn’t it?

We arrived home and presented the book to Lisa along with the flowers.

“Wow Matthias! I love it. You worked hard on this didn’t you? This is so amazing—I can’t believe you came up with three superheroes for every letter of the alphabet! I love it and I love you.”

“Thanks Mom. I’m happy you like it. We made extra copies so we can give it to the family too.” Lisa hugged and kissed Matthias and he ran off to the other room.

“It was a little more expensive than I thought it would be,” I said tentatively. “Somehow I miscalculated how much all the copies would be together.”

“How much was it? How much were you off?” Lisa asked, her face with a look of surprise.

“Well, I was off by a zero.”

“A zero? What do you mean?”

“I thought it was going to be around fifty bucks—kind of a splurge, but you know, it’s Matthias’ book for you. But it was…”

“It was five hundred!” Lisa interjected, her eyes wide. At the very moment I felt my stomach tense up, she laughed. “Well, the good news is, the family will love it and will be happy to get copies.”

“It’s your most expensive Mother’s Day gift ever—but at least it’s for Matthias’ work.” I suggested. “You’re worth it Baby. So is he.”

“Totally,” she said. I gave her a hug and a kiss, relieved she was happy with her gift and not upset about the money.

To this day Matthias draws and writes and creates worlds and characters who inspire and capture a sense of wonder in the world. Everywhere he goes he carries his drawing materials with him in case we have ten minutes of down time. He still creates heroes and heroines, bad guys, villains and now he’s a teenager, creepy creatures too! He has begun writing down his characters’ back stories, creating worlds and telling stories of outer space, Arthurian legends, teenage boys and more.

Every April I pull out Super Heroes from A to Z to remember those precious days, to reflect on how far he has come as an artist and a person and to see Matthias’s labor of love to celebrate his mom.