creativity takes courage {a lot of it!}

adventures, finding beauty, the meaning behind By May 10, 2016 24 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 58 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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this little hand

david, finding love By February 23, 2016 22 Comments

This little hand was the first tangible sign that things were not as we expected.

This little hand, with only two little fingers, made my heart hurt and worry about the days ahead.

This little hand represented a syndrome and questions and the end of dreams I’d been dreaming for my tiny baby.

This little hand softly touches mine and reminds me true beauty comes from within.

This little hand is teaching me perfection isn’t the goal, love is the goal.

This little hand is connected to this little body. A body that runs and explores and cuddles close to mine.

This little body that has fought hard to overcome illness and disorder.

This little body holds the heart of my child. A heart that loves deeply. A heart that laughs with joy. A heart that doesn’t worry about tomorrow but finds beauty in this moment. A heart so big and powerful that it has helped heal my own. A heart that has taught me how to love better and more purely.

I wouldn’t change this little hand because it’s part of the story that has brought us to today.

And today holds amazing, wonderful things.

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what fills my heart?

finding beauty, thoughts By February 11, 2016 2 Comments

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“Actually, my heart is empty”, I thought. I slipped this cuff on my wrist last week and thought, “I shouldn’t wear this. I’m too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed.” I felt sad and blah. Some days are like that. Some weeks are like that. It’s real life–but it’s not the way I want to live my life.

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on what fills my heart.

Going for a walk and noticing the bright blue sky gives me perspective.

Cuddling on the couch with my boys nurtures my soul.

Holding hands as we walk down the street makes me smile.

Cleaning out closets and donating old clothes helps me breathe deeply.

A heartfelt chat with a dear friend brings clarity to my mind.

Praying with a humble heart quiets my fears.

Counting my blessings reminds me how truly grateful I am.

Instead of filling my days with things that drag me down, I want to focus on the most important things.

In a crazy contradiction, emptying my life of extra stuff fills me up.

Touch, time, kind words, rest, space to breathe & think, letting go–these are the things that fill my heart.

Looking at that list, it’s clear –I have everything I need for a full heart.

Today I’ll slip this cuff on as a reminder of what matters most.

What fills your heart?

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what is the meaning of LOVE and maybe it doesn’t last…

finding love By February 2, 2016 138 Comments

maybe love doesn't last-01

When Steve and I got married almost 17 years ago, I had love figured out. Or at least, I thought I did. We vowed to love each other ‘for better or for worse’. I had the ‘better’ part all planned out. We would work hard, save our money, buy a cute little house, have a couple kids and keep on loving each other and having fun—just like we did while we were dating and engaged. I was confident we could avoid the ‘worse’ part. I mean, nobody loved each other like we did! We were going to beat the odds. Sure, we’d have the occasional argument—but that’s normal. We knew how to communicate and listen to each other. We had found true love and we were going to make it last.

Then life, in all it’s crazy, imperfectness began to get real.  Sometimes it was big stuff—like having a baby with a disability or getting fired from a job. Sometimes it was just the normal, every day stuff—the stress of grocery shopping on a tight budget or car trouble. I began to have hours, days, sometimes weeks were I didn’t feel that love I felt when we got married. But then we would reconnect. The love was still there {what a relief!}. Although it looked different. It didn’t feel new and shiny. It felt normal and comfortable. Love grows, love changes, that’s what love does, I told myself.

Then ten years into our marriage we started to see marriages around us crumble.  Close friends separated. A couple that mentored us split up. Sometimes it was an affair, sometimes it was just unhappiness. We couldn’t believe it. These were the people who showed us what made love last–and their love wasn’t lasting. It was unsettling and scary. In my own heart, I began to feel discontent.  A scary little thought crept in—maybe love doesn’t last.

We have walked through our own hard times–fighting, feeling disconnected, not understanding each other. There have been times where the anger and hurt feels much stronger than the love. I’ve wondered if our love was ever true. Maybe we weren’t well matched. Maybe we made a mistake. I suspect every marriage goes through these dark times. I think it’s the rule, not the exception.

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It seems true love gives all it has, breaks down, then reconnects to heal. A new love begins where the old love left off. Perhaps love is a journey of holding on to each other, even when you want to let go? True love is more about forgiveness than feelings. It’s more about giving than getting. It finds it’s hope in humility. Love begins, it breaks down, it begins again. Where love began is not where it will end. We will be broken and changed and hopefully over the years, with a lot of grace, we will find ourselves in a marriage that has lasted, defined by a love that has been renewed again and again.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast.

It is not proud.

It does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered.

It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 


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what forty knows…

finding beauty, thoughts By January 27, 2016 18 Comments

IMG_2630
I’ve heard people say they feel more beautiful 40 years old than they did at 20 years old.
And I agree.
But I wonder why?
Objectively, I’m not more beautiful at 40 than I was at 20.
Maybe 40 is more willing to wear bright red lipstick and high heels without worrying what someone else thinks.
Maybe 40 has seen that physical beauty won’t bring the happiness she once thought it would.
Maybe 40 has a friend who’s not a traditional beauty, but whose captivating smile radiates warmth and kindness.
Maybe 40 knows that each of us wants to be loved as we are.
Maybe 40 has discovered a new kind of beauty.
Maybe 40 can sigh at the wrinkles but admit they reflect years of working toward wholeness.
Maybe 40 has seen the sunlight through the window as she sips a cup of coffee, or felt her child’s tiny hand in hers as they walk along–and she craves those things more than a flat tummy or long legs.
Maybe 40 is more able to look at outside herself and love others deeply.
Maybe 40 is beginning to understand life will bring unavoidable pain but also undeniable hope.
And with it hope brings the truest, deepest beauty to be found.
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