The risk of being me

finding love, marriage, the meaning behind By September 6, 2016 24 Comments

I was unhappy. Steve was unhappy. I began to feel afraid. We were unhappy so I must be doing something wrong. I was certain I could do better and try harder. I’m a pleaser. I want to make others happy—sometimes to a fault. I want to make my husband happy, my kids happy, my friends happy, heck I even want to make the cashier at the grocery store happy. I’ve long believed if I could make others happy, they would love me.

Steve and I fell in love. Initially we were just friends, hanging out in groups with other friends.  But as we spent time together I saw his integrity, insight and compassion. Once I saw his heart, I fell hard. I knew he was a good man. We dated for a few months, had a short engagement and said our marriage vows with confidence. I was determined to be the best wife I could be. I believed with all my heart, I would make him happy and he would love me.

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We’ve walked through some of the most difficult things two people can face; losing a job, depression and having a child with a severe disability. Through these storms our friendship has been a strong foundation. Inevitably though, when two flawed people spend an extended amount of time together, conflict happens. Things get rocky. And for us, things began to get very rocky.

We weren’t connecting. I was unhappy. He was unhappy. My fear was paralyzing me. I believed if Steve was unhappy he would stop loving me. I believed if Steve was unhappy it was my fault. I believed I could control his moods and emotions. I was certain I could do better and try harder. I kept a mental list of the ways I could please him. I put his needs before mine and tried to think of my own needs less. I tried to control our marriage, avoiding conflict at any cost. The more I tried to please him, the more I lost myself. Steve didn’t want a wife who lived to please him, he wanted the strong, confident woman he married. My fear of losing his love was putting walls between us. The harder I tried to make him happy the more frustrated and discouraged I became. I falsely believed if I focused more on him and less on myself I could heal our marriage.

I went from unhappiness to exhaustion and desperate sadness. No matter how hard I tried, nothing changed. I was reaching a breaking point, so I decided to risk it all and tell Steve how desperate I felt. He had no idea I was so deeply unhappy.  I’d been trying to save our marriage on my own—and I was losing myself in the process. We met with a therapist and both shared honestly and openly. She helped {and continues to help} us work through our blind spots. We began listening to each other more. I began to say what I wanted instead of trying to please him all the time. I started taking better care of myself and cutting things out of my schedule. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and began to focus on being me—even if it meant rejection. I needed to be me, not knowing if Steve would love that person.

And something miraculous happened. It wasn’t easy or magical but it was truly amazing. Together, with tears and humility we began breaking down walls. Together we grew closer. Together we shared more, we listened more. Together we stopped casting judgement and being defensive. We set aside our fear of losing each other and began choosing to stay together.

I believe there are cycles within a marriage; we give all we have but love still breaks down. In the breakdown both partners have a choice: go through the pain and fear of reconnecting or continue to pull away. If in our brokenness we can be humble and honest, a new love begins where the old love left off. Love is risky. Showing up is risky. But a healthy marriage consists of two people, each showing up and being their truest self. Two people who adore each other despite their flaws and imperfections.

the risk of being me lisa leonard aodred ring

Slowly but surely I’m learning I can’t make someone else happy. I’m working daily to overcome false beliefs that I can control another person’s moods and feelings. I can only control my own emotions and my own actions. Caring for my own heart enables me to love better.  An ignored heart loves incompletely, a nurtured heart loves deeply. I want to be in a marriage where instead of avoiding conflict, we engage honestly, work hard, daily choosing to be together. When love breaks down, we begin again. I’m still a recovering people pleaser but I’m growing. I’m learning to feel my feelings and stop managing other people’s feelings. I’m beginning to understand love isn’t based on emotions or changing circumstances. Love isn’t one sided. Love thrives when two people choose kindness, patience and forgiveness.

Being me is risky, but losing myself is even riskier. Brave love is risky and beautiful.

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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.

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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.

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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 18 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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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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the most important thing

david, finding love, the meaning behind the jewelry By March 8, 2016 65 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.

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

finding love By February 2, 2016 164 Comments

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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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Risky, Messy Love

family, finding love, Louis and Beasley, matthias By January 19, 2016 11 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.

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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.

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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.

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