“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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Thank you for letting me join you on your journey!