I can’t be silent

thoughts By July 9, 2016 46 Comments

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A few years ago my family went to the Southern California mountains for a snow day. We planned a fun-filled day of skiing and tubing down snowy slopes. As we arrived we headed to the lodge for snacks and a potty break. I got the kids settled and headed to the bathroom. The door to the stall next to me closed and the screaming began. I heard a mother berating her daughter. Her cruel words echoed through the room. Then I heard the slaps and the little girl began crying. I stood frozen in fear.

“I don’t know the details.” I told myself. “It’s none of my business.” I tried to reason with my heart.

I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. They left the bathroom before me. I washed my hands as a few tears fell from my eyes. I went on with my day but I couldn’t shake the awful feeling inside me. I did nothing. It was horrible. It was wrong. And I stood there silent.

I promised myself next time I would do something.

A couple years later I was shopping at a department store. As I entered the dressing room with a couple pairs of jeans, an angry mom pushed past me. She dragged her child into one of the dressing rooms and began screaming. I heard slaps. I had been in almost the exact same situation a few years before. I felt the same feeling of fear and horror move through my body.

I looked at the dressing room attendant and said, “We have to do something.”

She looked at me with sympathy in her eyes and said, “As an employee, I’m not allowed to say anything. There’s nothing I can do.”

I took a deep breath and walked over to the dressing room. I knocked on the door and said with a timid voice, “Pardon me. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m uncomfortable with what I’m hearing.”

The mother responded, “It’s none of your business. We’re fine.”

“But I’m not fine.” I said. “I’m uncomfortable and I’ll wait out here until you come out.”

After a few moments they came out of the dressing room walked past me and left the store.
Did I do enough? Maybe not. But I did something. It was a start.
I showed up. I stood up and said, “I’m uncomfortable.”

My husband and I recently started watching a documentary that explores racism {among other things} in the US in recent history.
A couple days ago I read a news story about police violence against a black man.
And the next day, another very disturbing news story about police violence.
I’m uncomfortable.
We have a problem.

If we see injustice and do nothing we’re not only part of the problem, we are the problem.
We cannot look away.
We cannot sit silently by and do nothing.
We can fight for what is right.
We can say, “I’m uncomfortable.”
It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
One voice, even if it’s squeaky and small, can join with many others to become a roar.
A beautiful, power force for change.
Friends, we need change.

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wholeness is a contradiction

finding love, jewelry, the meaning behind By June 29, 2016 4 Comments

What is wholeness?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve spent time reading about it, journaling about it and praying about it.

I want to be whole–but often I feel so broken and inadequate. I’m imperfect, but also amazing. I’m strong and capable but also prone to discouragement when I’m worn out. Wholeness is a contradiction. The more I accept my inability to be whole, the more I find it.

To fully experience life I have to open myself to every part it—the beautiful parts and the ugly parts.

wholeness lisa leonard2-01

Wholeness isn’t perfection. I’ve made my to-do lists and faithfully checked off item after item. By the time I reach the end of the list I have to start over again. The list is never-ending, but my energy is limited. I’ve tried to be perfect and failed miserably time and time again.

Wholeness isn’t life without conflict. I’ve tried to control things in my environment, my home, my family to make us all ‘happy’. It’s impossible. Each of us with our own personalities and preferences can’t be simultaneously pleased and content each moment. Relationship requires give and take. It requires flexibility and freeing ourselves to feel what we feel.

wholeness lisa leonard-01

Wholeness is waking up on a Saturday morning to pancakes and syrupy fingers.

Wholeness is taking the dogs for a walk and letting the laundry wait.

Wholeness is clearing our calendar last minute to stay home and rest.

Wholeness is a date night that ends with a fight. But we climb into bed and drift off to sleep side by side anyway.

Sometimes wholeness is laughing and sometimes it’s crying.

Sometimes it’s singing together in the car.

Sometimes it’s raised voices and strong opinions.

Sometimes it’s kind words.

Sometimes it’s forgiveness. Maybe all the time it’s forgiveness.

Wholeness is taking care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually, so I can love you better. And knowing you need to do the same.

Wholeness is believing you’re strong where I’m weak. And I’m strong where you’re weak.

Wholeness is you and me smoothing out each other’s rough edges.

wholeness necklace lisa leonard

Wholeness is a little necklace around my neck reminding me together we are better. Together we are stronger. Together we will walk this winding road hand in hand.

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these hands

finding love, jewelry By June 7, 2016 17 Comments

My hands are imperfect. Sometimes I’ve felt self-conscious of my hands. They have freckles from years of being outside. My nails are short and need new polish. My hands are nothing special, except my hands represent something very special.

These hands were made to hold you.

They wipe the tears.

And these are the hands folded in prayer next to yours, asking for safety and wisdom.

these hands always together ring lisa leonard2{customer photos above by Michelle Madigan Herman and Ashley Fink via Facebook}

They turn the pages of your favorite book.

And these are the hands that will turn the pages of that book as we read it over and over.

They tuck the blankets tight.

And these are the hands that softly rub your back night after night.

They pack your favorite lunches.

These are the hands that hold fast while we cross the street.

these hands always together ring lisa leonard3

They comb your hair.

These hands have folded your laundry and helped button your shirts.

They change countless diapers.

And when you have your own children, these hands will gladly change their diapers too.

these hands always together ring lisa leonard4{customer photo above by Chloe Vaquez-Wheeler via Facebook}

They clapped with joy when you took your first steps.

And these are the hands that will clap for joy with every accomplishment—no matter how big or small.

These hands are how I express my love for you.

These hands are an extension of my heart.

And this is the ring, that slips on the finger of my mama hand. This ring reminds me we are always together.

Together—whether physically or just in our hearts, is the best place to be.

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comparison vs. compassion

finding love By June 3, 2016 25 Comments

David received an award last night in front of his entire 8th grade class. While we waited in the audience for his name to be called, he wiggled and squirmed. He didn’t want to sit with me. Instead he kept trying to get up and walk away or drop to the ground. I could feel eyes on me but I tried to focus on David, his needs and helping him get ready for his moment.

To keep the ceremony from going long, the principal encouraged us to clap once, loudly and in unison, for each name called. So in recognition of each student the crowd gave a loud, singular CLAP that echoed through the auditorium. Then we listened as the student was praised for their achievement, citizenship or perfect attendance.

When David’s name was called we got up and walked toward the stage. The clapping didn’t stop at one clap, instead the applause kept going. My tiny David walked confidently on stage and stood next to his peers who were twice his size.

I could feel my heart beating in my chest.

Compared to his peers he is so small and has so many needs. He can’t speak with words. But, I reminded myself, David speaks volumes with his smile, his heart and his soul.

Compared to his peers he’s way behind. He’s still diapered and spoon fed. But every day David is learning new things things. He is growing and changing.

Compared to his peers he hasn’t accomplished much. But compared to what the doctors predicted at his birth he has moved mountains. He’s a miracle.

chloe and david{David and Chloe, his friend and 8th grade peer}

Comparison.
I do it all the time.
Am I thin enough?
Am I helping my boys reach their full potential?
Is my house clean enough?
Are the meals we eat healthy enough?
I am I generous enough?
Am I stylish enough?

I look around me and compare myself to other moms, other women, other families. I compare my kids to your kids. I compare my house to your house. I compare my good deeds to your good deeds. Sometimes comparison makes me feel good, sometimes it makes me feel like a failure. Comparison comes so naturally it feels like a second skin. But what’s underneath?

Underneath is the nagging question–do I belong?
Am I lovable?
Am I enough?
I feel less than so I try to find a way to prove that I’m enough.
The sad part is, it never works. I’ll never win by comparing myself to others.
If I’m better than you, you lose.
If you’re better than me, I lose.
And all I really want is to connect with you.
All I want is to belong.

All you want is to belong.

What if instead of comparing I focused on compassion?
Compassion for myself. I’m doing the best I can. I am simply me, nothing more, nothing less. It’s enough–in fact, it’s beautiful.

Compassion for you. You are an amazing, unique person. You’re doing the best you can with yourself, your kids, your job. And you know what? You’re doing it wonderfully.

Each of us is remarkable and imperfect.
We are so different in our passions and style we can’t be compared.
We are so similar in our heart of hearts no comparison is necessary.
Comparison is the wall that separates us.

Compassion is the bond that brings us together.

Today when I catch myself comparing, I’ll replace those thoughts with compassion. I am enough and you are enough. Together we are stronger, we shine brighter and we love better.

comparison vs. compassion

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creativity takes courage {a lot of it!}

adventures, finding beauty, the meaning behind By May 10, 2016 35 Comments

Do you know that feeling—when you can feel the shame creeping up your neck and into your cheeks? When you wish the ground would swallow you up? I know that feeling well.

Years ago, when I was beginning to make jewelry, I sent a couple samples to one of my favorite local boutiques. The shop was located near the beach and carried high end clothing, vintage décor and handmade jewelry. I followed up with a phone call and we scheduled a time to meet. The thought of having my handmade creations in her store was exhilarating. It was exciting and humbling. It was also terrifying.

I carefully chose some of my favorite creations–lots of necklaces and a few earrings. Each was piece was placed in an individual box and all of the boxes were gathered into a structured bag. On the day of our meeting, I loaded up my creations, found a parking space near the boutique and walked with trembling steps through the boutique door.

early designs lisa leonard

{early designs from 2008/2009}

Deep breath.

The owner smiled and welcomed me to her shop. We chatted about the beautiful weather outside and a new label she was carrying in her store. As we talked, I began to lay out each necklace side by side. As I laid out the handmade pieces, I felt like I was laying out my soul, baring some of my most vulnerable hopes and dreams.

She turned her attention from the conversation to the handmade jewelry in front of her. With the precision of a surgeon and the strong opinions of an experienced buyer, she began to separate the necklaces into two categories. She went through each piece and decided whether or not it suited her taste. I could feel her words cut through me.

Yes.
No.
No
Yes.
No.
Yes.

With each ‘no’ my heart sunk a little lower and I wished the ground would swallow me up. With each ‘yes’ my hopes boosted slightly. I felt like a ping pong ball–she liked it, she hated it, she liked it, she hated it.

After a few very short minutes that felt like an eternity she counted the ‘yes’ necklaces, pulled out her checkbook and paid me for the pieces. I thanked her, packed up the reject necklaces, walked outside and got in my car. I drove down the street and pulled into a quiet parking spot. Then, like every strong and capable entrepreneur, I burst into tears. I felt humiliated. I felt rejected. I felt stupid. Who did I think I was making handmade jewelry? I was a failure.

But I could hear a little voice reminding me that this shop, a shop I loved, was carrying some of my handmade designs. Sure, she didn’t like every piece, but she liked some of them. She was carrying my designs. It was a success, not a failure. And even if she hadn’t bought one single necklace, that didn’t mean I was a failure either. It only meant the jewelry wasn’t her taste.

I was beginning to understand creativity requires courage. Sharing my creations with the world was a way of baring my soul. The jewelry was part of me. In a very real way, it was an expression of my heart.

Creativity is like hopping across a rocky stream, jumping from one stone to the next. Watching someone else do it is easy.  But as I took my first leap, my foot landed on a slightly unstable stone. Should I jump to the next stone or turn back? I could see the next stone, so I jumped. In order to get across the stream, I had to jump one stone at a time—sometimes changing course. I had to be brave.

Each step takes me further on my journey. Each step provides new opportunities, new insights, and new challenges. With each leap I am learning new ways of thinking that had never crossed my mind before. With each leap I am getting braver.

But how how do we find courage to leave the shore? How do we find the bravery to jump from one stone to the next?  I’ve found a few simple but profound strategies that work for me.

  1. I believe I am worthy and loved no matter what. My value isn’t determined by a successful jewelry business. I am enough. If I fail, I will still be loved. I will still be precious. I am surrounded by family and friends who treasure me just because I am ME. Even when I land on a shaky stone, I have a solid foundation. This gives me courage—so much courage!
  2. I separate my art from my soul–at least a bit. The work of my hands is a reflection of me, but it’s not ME. When someone doesn’t like my jewelry, that doesn’t mean they are rejecting me. It simply means they don’t like my jewelry. And that’s okay. But in the rare circumstance where they are rejecting me? Well, I go back to number one—I am worthy and loved no matter what.
  3. Failure is one of the best ways to learn. It’s impossible to succeed all of the time. If I’m able to look at a failure head on, knowing it doesn’t define me, I can learn from it, change a few things and forge ahead. Failure can be my friend.

Looking back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I never expected my little hobby jewelry business to blossom into something bigger. I never expected to have a team of talented, brilliant people work alongside me to make it flourish. I never expected to connect with women like you–amazing women who have a beautiful heart and a deep love for others. I can look back with gratitude and look forward with hope. Where will the next stone take me?

current designs lisa leonard

{some of my best sellers from the shop}

Have you jumped from the shore onto a stone? How how you found the courage to share your creativity with the world? I would love to hear your story!

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Autism Awareness {so much to celebrate!}

finding love By April 5, 2016 15 Comments

today is a good day lisa leonard-01

Before I had kids, before my first baby was born with a disability, I taught 3rd-5th graders with disabilities. Maybe I should back up even more. In college, while working on my degree in Psychology, I did an internship with kids who had Autism. The internship was through UCLA and we used Applied Behavior Analysis {ABA} to teach new skills. It was awesome and I loved it. Of course, the internship paid almost nothing–but it sparked something inside me.

After college I worked as a wedding coordinator for a couple years, then at a group home and eventually worked my way back to special education in the public school system. For two years, I had my own classroom, teaching 3rd-5th graders with special needs. Then I became an advocate for kids who were fully included in typical classrooms. My job title was ‘Full Inclusion Specialist’. I had found my niche, I loved my job and I loved my kiddos. They changed me. At the time I had no idea that in a few years I would have my own baby with special needs.

Although a diverse group of students, most of my kiddos were diagnosed with Autism. Some were non-verbal, some were very high functioning, each in his own way, gave me a glimpse of their soul. I connected and bonded with each student. My husband, Steve and I, would have long talks about what it meant to be a soul stuck inside a body that wouldn’t cooperate. We talked about the value of each person–regardless of what he or she ‘contributes’ to society. We talked about knowing another person, even if she can’t talk or share their heart with words.

In the days following David’s birth, after we were told he had Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, I remember thinking, “Each of my student’s parents went through a similar experience. Each of them had a ‘diagnosis day’. Each of them has experienced heartbreak and fallen in love with their child in a new way. I wished I could go back and hug each of them. I wished I could ask them to share their story with me. What was it like when you heard the word ‘Autism’ for the first time? How did you move forward? How did you find hope?

Last week we celebrated Autism Awareness Day with a fundraiser in the shop. And friends we raised over $5500!!

My kids with Autism prepared me to be a better mother when my first baby was born with his own disability. My kids with Autism showed me their souls and gave me hope that I would need to lean on heavily once David became part of our family. My kids with Autism were {and still are} amazing, brave human beings who make the world a much better place.

Thank you for helping us raise over $5500 for Autism Speaks. I am so grateful for this community and the way we care about each other.

Do you love someone with Autism or have Autism yourself? I’d love to hear about your journey!

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love makes us whole

finding love, the meaning behind the jewelry By March 22, 2016 8 Comments

When I was in second grade I wrote a story about a little girl who was happy all day long.  The sun was shining, the flowers were blooming and she was smiling. The End.

My seven year old self wished for that storyline. To be honest, my present day self sometimes wishes for that storyline.

But real life doesn’t work this way. Pain and joy are inseparable parts of the journey. Until I allow myself to feel the discomfort of pain, I can’t experience rich joy and deep love.

I used to think I was in control and I could keep pain away.  In the days following David’s birth, I was devastated. We didn’t expect to have a child with a severe disability–but even if we’d known, how can one prepare for this kind of pain?  I remember in those early days after David’s birth, I cried tears that seemed to come from the depths of my soul. I remember feeling physical pain in my chest as I wept. There was no escaping grief. It surrounded us and filled the room. Pain was in the air we were breathing. But slowly, over weeks and months, it began to dissipate. It’s not gone completely, but it’s not overwhelming.

These days, if I’m open to letting the dark sadness and anger creep in, I find it’s doesn’t make itself too comfortable. It moves through me and and then moves on. Sometimes it stays longer than I would like, but it doesn’t take up residence in my heart. And once it leaves I’m surprised to find genuine joy. Somehow, there is more room in my heart for gratefulness.

love makes us whole

While none of us would wish for pain

Pain makes us tender

Tenderness nurtures compassion

Compassion helps us forgive

Forgiveness teaches grace

Grace gives us hope

Hope makes us brave

Bravery enables us to love

Love makes us whole

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unique, amazing and loved.

finding beauty By March 16, 2016 23 Comments

Growing up I had a large gap between my front teeth. I tried not to smile big. I hated that space and was extremely self-conscious about it. I hated my pale, skinny legs and my frizzy hair. I remember walking down the hall of my Junior High School and I was sure the cool kids were laughing at me. I thought if I could just have my teeth fixed, I would be happy. If I could get a little tan, I would be beautiful. If I could be a little more attractive I would be acceptable. If I looked better, I would be more lovable, more valuable. Those same insecurities stayed with me as I grew into adulthood. They became slightly more sophisticated, but the fear was the same. Am I loved?

I remember when David was placed in my arms for the first time. He had a lot of physical quirks—but his left hand, with only two fingers was the most noticeable. His small hand was a concrete physical representation of the syndrome that affects every cell in his body—from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. David is different. David is David. When the nurse placed him in my arms when he was minutes old, I had no doubt this baby was absolutely precious. Of course, we were grieving. There were many unknowns. But there was one thing I never questioned. I knew David was valuable. I knew he deserved love and every good thing.

Our family and friends gathered around us to support us and love David. We decided early on, we wouldn’t hide David’s small hand. We showed each visitor that tiny, sweet hand with only two fingers. I remember softly touching those little fingers as I cuddled our newborn on my chest.  I grieved that little hand and I wished David didn’t have to walk the hard road in front of him. I cried and wished he had five fingers on his left hand. But I loved David. And after time, I learned to love that little hand, too.

Those same early days after David’s birth, I would look at myself in the mirror with disdain. I could make a list of my imperfections—those extra pounds, the curly hair that wouldn’t cooperate, my fair skin that wouldn’t tan no matter what. I’d just had a baby—I was sleep deprived and grieving. But truthfully, I hadn’t accepted myself long before David was born.

As I held this tiny baby in my arms, it became clear to me in a clear, tangible way, that love and value doesn’t come from physical beauty. He wasn’t the adorable newborn I had imagined with bright eyes, chubby legs and a perfectly shaped head. Instead he was a tiny infant with a full head of wavy hair, a button nose and a lot of physical issues. And he was precious. He was loved.

I believed David was valuable but I didn’t believe in my own value. It made no sense. I began to realize I couldn’t teach David to love himself, if I didn’t love myself.

I needed to accept myself. I needed to accept the truth that I was lovable.

David is David. He is the only David in the whole world. He is uniquely himself and truly amazing.

And I am me. I am the only me in the whole world. I am uniquely myself and truly amazing.

And you are you. You are the only you in the whole world. You are uniquely you and truly amazing.

It’s hard to absorb those words, but it’s true. Anything else is a lie.

I believe that I am precious and valuable.

And it’s not because I had my teeth fixed.

It’s not because I found a product to tame my curls.

It’s not because I lost a few pounds.

unique amazing loved lisa leonard

Physical beauty does not equal happiness. Beauty doesn’t make someone more valuable or more worthy.

It’s David’s soul that shines through that makes him precious.

It’s my soul that’s unlike anyone’s else, that makes me ME.

It’s your soul, your spark that makes you rare and precious.

David is unique, amazing and loved, just as he is. So am I. And so are you.

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the most important thing

david, finding love, the meaning behind the jewelry By March 8, 2016 63 Comments

the most important thing lisa leonard-01

We were nervous, but felt mostly ready to have our first baby. Toward the end of my pregnancy, we had tiny clothes, washed, folded and tucked into drawers. We had a crib with cozy, blue plaid bedding. We had a stroller and carseat ready to go. At my 38 week prenatal appointment, everything in our world was about to be turned upside down. We were most definitely not ready for what was about to happen.

Our routine visit began with an ultrasound. I could see the puzzled look on our doctor’s face. There were long pauses, note taking, comparing notes, checking and double checking, and then the question, “Are you sure we have the due date right? The baby’s measuring small. “

I was absolutely certain we had the due date correct. His words rung in my ears. I’d been careful to plan out the details as we prepared for our baby’s birth, but somehow I hadn’t worried about the right thing. Not that worrying would have changed one single thing. Something was wrong with our baby.

The next days were filled with a visit to the specialist, being admitted to the hospital, tears, worry and waiting. On July 4, 2002 our David was born. He was 4lbs, 2oz, had a full head of hair, a button nose, only two fingers on his left hand and a massive heart defect.

All of a sudden we had a lot of questions.

Will David survive?

Did I do something that caused this syndrome?

Will our friends and family accept our new baby?

Will we ever experience joy again?

We felt out of control. We were out of control.

On July 11, when David was seven days old, we sat down with a geneticist to discuss his diagnosis. We were new parents with broken hearts. We were at the beginning of one of the hardest parts of our journey. The geneticist could have shared meaningful statistics or current research to answer our questions. Instead he gave us deep wisdom into how to parent our new baby.

What did we do wrong?

What will David’s life look like?

How severely is our son affected by this syndrome?

Will David be okay? Are we going to be okay? What do we do next?

He calmly met our eyes. He spoke tender words with profound truth. “You’ll just have to get to know David to find out who he is.” He told us it was impossible to say how David’s life look. If we had a typical child, he couldn’t tell us how intelligent, creative, determined or successful he would be. His advice was to love our son, just the way he was, right at that moment.

Of all the questions, it really came down to one, foundational question.

“Will you love him as he is?”

We weren’t in control of the events leading up to David’s birth. We had no idea what the future held. But we were given the best, most important advice any parent can receive.

The most important advice any person can receive.

Love.

Love him just the way he is.

the most important thing3 lisa leonard

In the midst of all the questions and worry, we had the one thing we needed most. Love. And amazingly, this tiny baby was about to teach us how to love more deeply and more purely than we ever imagined.

Sitting in a hospital waiting room, talking to a geneticist, we learned one of life’s most important lessons. And although we’ve grown a lot, it’s a lesson we’re still learning.

The most important thing is love.

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you are enough

finding beauty, the meaning behind the jewelry By February 25, 2016 15 Comments
you are enough-01
Guilt says do more, be more

Grace says be still and rest

Guilt condemns

Grace forgives

Guilt screams and yells

Grace whispers kind words

Guilt gives up

Grace moves forward

Guilt scratches and claws

Grace soothes and comforts

Guilt piles on

Grace lightens the load

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Guilt brings despair
Grace is a ray hope

Guilt points the finger

Grace is a hand to hold

Guilt rolls it’s eyes

Grace smiles with warmth

Guilt is a liar

Grace is a truth teller

Guilt says you’ll never be enough
Grace says you are enough, just as you are
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