Autism Awareness {so much to celebrate!}

finding love By April 5, 2016 14 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!

Share:

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

Share:

the most important thing

david, finding love, the meaning behind the jewelry By March 8, 2016 51 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.

Share:

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.

Share:

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

finding love By February 2, 2016 128 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.

96A55EDA-B063-450D-86F1-CE711FE9C597

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.

 


Share:

Risky, Messy Love

family, finding love, Louis and Beasley, matthias By January 19, 2016 10 Comments

louis and beasley lisa leonard-01
The other day, as I was driving the boys to school, Matthias told me he loves our new pugs so much it makes him sad.

I asked him what he meant, and he explained, “I feel so much love for them—but what if they get hurt or sick or worse, die? I would be so sad. Just the thought of it makes my heart heavy.”

I sighed and nodded. I knew exactly what he meant. I feel those same feelings and worry every day. Not just for our dogs {I mean, I love those doggies!} but even more so having children, committing to a husband, sharing life with sisters who are dear to my heart, it’s amazing and it’s terrifying.

louis and beasley lisa leonard2-01

Love is vulnerable.

Love is a risk.

Love is messy. Always.

Love isn’t safe.

If we love deeply and honestly, we’ll most likely get hurt.

But if we protect our hearts and keep them safe, we miss out on, well, the best of what life brings.

Because love is imperfect, we’re imperfect—flawed in all of our good intentions, living in bodies that will eventually fail us.

It’s heart-breaking.

But it’s also breath-taking.

walk in cambria3-02
Love makes the journey not only bearable, but beautiful.

Love may break our hearts but it also heals them.

Love eases our pain and comforts our souls in a way that’s impossible to understand.

To be loved is everything.

And so, these two sweet dogs have walked into our lives, made them sweeter and unexpectedly, they’re teaching us about love and life. And that is no small thing.

Share:

What it means to be a sponsor for a child {meeting Joely}

dominican republic, finding love By February 24, 2015 12 Comments

On Friday, last week, we met Joely, our sponsored daughter through Compassion. I was nervous to meet her–would she be shy? Would she like us? I guess I didn’t need to worry. You guys, she completely stole our hearts.

I say sponsored ‘daughter’ because seeing firsthand how families view sponsorship is amazing. The consider you family and are so grateful for the sponsor. If you have considered adoption, but aren’t able to take that leap, sponsorship is an amazing alternative.

Joely needs a couple surgeries–cleft palate repair and cornea replacement {for her left eye}. We will be talking with Compassion further to see how we can help with the surgeries. We chose Joely because children with special needs are so close to our hearts. You guys, she is FULL of spunk and personality. Getting to hold her, getting to play with her made my heart explode with gratefulness. Sponsoring a child through Compassion is life-changing for them. And for us, too.

We brought her a few small gifts–this stuffed fox she named Didi, stickers, paper and crayons. It really broke the ice to have a couple gifts and to have some activities to do together.

She was a little shy at first but warmed up quickly. And once she was warmed up, she was silly and bossy. She had us laughing so hard.

Didi got lots of stickers put all over her.

Joely lives with her mother, grandmother and grandfather. She really latched on to Steve and wanted lots of piggyback rides and cuddles.

We also brought Joely a necklace so she would remember the she is ‘so very loved’. Seeing that necklace around her neck was heart-melting. This is the same necklace that Compassion is sending as a gift to anyone who sponsors a child. Precious.

I love her. Can you tell?

Above, Steve and Joely give Didi, the stuffed fox, kisses.

Before our trip, I knew child sponsorship was important, but I had no idea how life-changing it is. A sponsored child will escape poverty. The will have amazing opportunities because someone is willing to spare a few dollars a month.

Steve and I are trying to figure out how many more kiddos we can sponsor. Each of these children is absolutely precious. When a child finds out she has been sponored, the family rejoices–it’s HUGE. It’s life-changing. And the letters sent from sponors are treasures. The kids read them over and over and cling to the words of someone miles away who loves them. It’s truly humbling how so little can do so much in someone’s life.

This week we are donating 10% of all sales to Compassion International’s unsponsored children’s fund. This fund helps care for kids who have been accepted into the program but are not yet sponsored by an individual. Click here to shop.

And will you please sponsor a child or two? It’s a beautiful thing.

Share:

investing in love

david, finding love By January 31, 2015 No Comments

The fall mornings are always chilly even though after a couple hours the sun comes out to warm everything. Before we leave the house, I pull a warm vest around David and strap him snuggly into his car seat. As we arrive at school, I slide open the van door, give him a kiss on the cheek and lift him from the car.

David has special needs. He was born with a rare genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange. Because of his syndrome, he doesn’t use words to communicate, he has only two fingers on his left hand and he depends on us to feed and diaper him. David is very relational and loves to cuddle and hug—but he is cautious with new people. At times he voids eye contact and prefers to play alone.

At the beginning of the school year, he took hesitant steps toward the classroom, pulling on my hand and trying to slow my pace. It was a new school with new faces to get to know. Every morning, his teacher would bend down and with a big smile on her face, and welcome David to school. For weeks it went like this, hesitant steps culminating in a warm welcome and a fairly disinterested David.

But she persisted. She showed love and kindness to David. She invested in him…

I’m sharing at {in}courage today. Hop over to read the rest of the post. 

Share:

I married my best friend -a story of Loving Each Other in the Mundane

finding love By January 22, 2015 64 Comments

Married life is so different than I thought it would be.  When we were young and in love, I was sure we would be the couple that would beat the odds—and you know what, in some ways, we have. But it’s nothing like I expected. I thought true love was fluttery feelings and never disagreeing.

“Okay,” I used to think, “we can have the occasional disagreement, as long as we communicate well, listen to each other and resolvd things in a calm, healthy manner.”. But marriage isn’t usually so neat and tidy.

Now I think true love is something altogether different. It’s actually deeper and more profound than I used to think.

Steve and I are well matched. During pre-marital counseling, our pastor had us take an assessment to help us identify ‘red flag’ areas where conflict would likely arise. When the results of the assessment came back, there were no red flag areas. Sure we had different backgrounds and slightly different perspectives on some things, but overall we approached life with similar beliefs. We exhaled a huge sigh of relief. We were going to be okay.

We got married, decorated our apartment, and stepped into life thinking we had it figured out. We had a solid friendship and we truly enjoyed being together—but we didn’t have a clue about what life was about to throw our way. We started off optimistic and in love, then real life happened all around us. We’ve been through some crazy, hard stuff—depression, getting fired from a job, friends divorcing and having a baby with a severe disability. We’ve held each other and cried with grief in moments so dark we could hardly see a way forward. Through those rough waters I have been so glad to have him by my side

We’ve also had some amazing experiences together—walking the red carpet with Gerard Butler at a movie premier in Los Angeles, attending a ball in Ginezno, Poland, sipping tea in an old estate home in England, oh, and building a thriving business together. We’ve done things I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to experience. I remember moments, staring into each other’s eyes, and not being able to hold all the joy inside. And through those fairytale moments, I have been so glad to have him by my side. His smile, his friendship, his sense of humor makes the exceptional even better.

But after 15 years of marriage, I no longer believe it’s the highs and lows that make or break a marriage. The lowest lows and the highest highs are the exception to the rule. And while they may be extremely difficult or hugely exciting, they don’t define a marriage. It’s day to day life that makes or breaks a marriage. The drain of the mundane can be exhausting. We work together, raise our boys together and live life together. It’s busy and stressful. Sometimes, after the boys are in bed, and we are both sitting on the couch catching up on our favorite BBC show, I wonder why it feels like there is a wall between us.  Those bricks pile up one at a time—a small comment that hurts or being too tired to share details from the day. Each one doesn’t seem like a big deal, but over days and weeks they pile up to create a wall. Sure, these bricks can be torn down, but it takes vulnerability. Someone has to reach out to the other person with a hug, kiss, or a kind word. The same fatigue from the every day stress of life, the stress which allowed the wall to go up, makes it hard to tear it down.

I used to think highs and lows put strain on a marriage—but now I see it’s more than that. The every day stress of life is what makes marriage so challenging {and so beautiful}. Every day we have to fight the distance that wants to creep in and build a wall between us. I wake up in the morning to Steve making breakfast for our family and give him a little kiss. And bricks come down. Sometimes I slip a little note into his bag that says, “You are brave.” And bricks come down. Every day we have to hold each other, listen to each other, and share our hearts with each other. It isn’t fancy, but it matters. It isn’t complicated but it’s not simple either. Marriages are built in the little, everyday moments of life. Marriages are broken through the everyday strain of life and the drain of the mundane.

As I sit here reflecting on how different married life is from what I expected, I feel grateful that I married my best friend. I am grateful that he and I are committed to breaking down walls and fighting the distance. Together we are learning to be more vulnerable and to love each other better in the midst of the mundane.

Share:

Christmas keepsake treasure set by Lisa Leonard

finding love, inspiration By October 14, 2014 12 Comments

OH MY GOSH!

Friends, I have been working on this project for a year! It’s been such a labor of love. I started it as a gift for my nieces and nephews. I wanted them to have a keepsake to treasure year after year that reflects the true heart of Christmas.

As it started coming together, I knew I had to share it with YOU as well!

Our brand new nativity includes 15 hand-molded pieces and a stable made from California Oak wine barrels and a story book with the Christmas story.

Molding baby Jesus was a truly humbling thing. How can one capture something so meaningful, life changing, world changing and hope-filled?

There are three wisemen, a shepherd and six hand-crafted animals. The pieces range from 1/2″-2″ each. Precious.

Each nativity includes a story book that tells the Christmas story and has questions to help kids {and adults} understand the meaning of the nativity.

Joy has come to the world!

Today we are offering a very limited edition nativity with a few very special features.

*Baby Jesus is finished in gold
*Marking from California Oak wine barrel are visible
*Bottom of stable is signed and numbered by me

Growing up, the nativity was part of our Christmas celebration every year. After we went to sleep on Christmas eve, my parents would place Baby Jesus in the manger and we would wake up to find him there. We read Luke 2 together and talked about the gift that Jesus gave us on Christmas.

Do you have a nativity tradition to share?

Click here to see the new nativity set! {There are only 100 limited edition sets, so don’t wait!}

Share: