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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hello mcway falls, big sur

adventures, san luis obispo By April 4, 2016 4 Comments

We braved the windy roads to explore Big Sur. It’s about 2 hours north of us–and we’ve never ventured that far up
Highway 1. Wow! The views were gorgeous. We did a short hike to McWay Falls. The drive home was long and were tired and grumpy. But we did it!

It’s Monday–how about some hellos?mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-02Hello waterfall. This was the first time the boys had seen one in real life!
mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-01Hello boys. They love their dad!

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-03 Hello holding pinkies with Matthias. He’s such a tender heart. I love my stacking rings that keep him close even we’re not holding pinkies.

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-04Hello beautiful painting. Wait, that’s real life?! Impossible!

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-07 Hello unassuming, yellow flowers.

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-08 Hello sticker art. Creativity amidst the natural beauty?

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-09 Hello walking well. David’s foot is feeling much better–so thankful!

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-10 Hello eyes with yellow and green. Love his eyes.

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-11 Hello superheros on their way to make the world better. Or maybe heading to the restrooms near the ranger station.

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-12 Hello helpful sign that leads to somewhere breath-taking.

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-13 Hello sweetie in the backpack. He is seriously getting to big for the backpack. I don’t know how we’ll hike when he outgrows it!

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-14Hello sunshine on my face. I tried to soak up as much as I could and let it fill my soul.

mcway falls big sur lisa leonard-06Hello water so clear and green it’s unreal.

Hello backyard changes. We took down the boys’ play structure since they don’t use it anymore. Feels kind of sad to see it go but nice to have more space. The end of an era and the beginning of something new.

Hello pups who seem extra clingy/cuddly lately. I think it might be because the kitchen is torn apart while we get new countertops?

Hello Zootopia. We loved it! Absolutely adorable.

Hello back to our routine. It was so nice to have some downtime over spring break. But it’s back to school today!

Hello to you! It’s a brand new week. What are you saying hello to this week?

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looking for a wife

matthias By March 31, 2016 23 Comments

IMG_0921The other day Matthias said to me, Isn’t it crazy to think my wife is out there somewhere? I just haven’t met her yet. I wonder what she’s doing right now?”

At twelve years old, he regularly stops me in my tracks with this kind of insightful comment and perspective.

I asked him, “What are you looking for in a wife?”

He responded, “Well, first of all, I want her to love and respect David.”

Whoa.

There is a lot of heart and life experience and passion in that statement. Matthias has seen people open their arms to David and love him well. He’s also seen people awkwardly stare at David while they avoid eye contact.

Matthias unconditionally loves and accepts his brother–special needs and all. He wants to build a life with someone who has open heart and an open mind.

I believe Matthias is a better person because of his brother. I believe Matthias will make the world a better place because of his compassion and bravery. And I hope he finds an amazing wife who will be a trusted partner in this beautiful journey.

But it’s okay with me if we wait fifteen years or so to begin ring shopping.

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hello spring break

family, san luis obispo By March 28, 2016 3 Comments

We celebrated Easter yesterday–a beautiful mellow day celebrated with a church service, friends, delicious food and some down time. The boys are out of school this week and Auntie Ellen comes to town! Hooray for slow mornings and time for play.

It’s a brand new week, how about some hellos?
hello spring break-01

Hello sunshine. We have had glorious weather the last few days! It feels like summer.

hello spring break-02

Hello trying to figure out which setting on my camera is off. I had a lot of trouble getting the exposure right. Hmmm.

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Hello drawing. Matthias always brings his drawing supplies. He also really into the Percy Jackson series right now. I love seeing him draw and read.

hello spring break-04

Hello Louis and Beasley hanging out under the table while we eat lunch. Look at those sweet faces.

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Hello smiles at lunch. David has had a big appetite the last few days. Maybe a growth spurt is coming?

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Hello wishing I hadn’t worn a sweater to the beach–it was way warmer than I expected.

Hello family. These are my guys and I love them.

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Hello bum ankle. David is still having trouble with his left foot/ankle. He’ll walk some but not as much as normal. And his gate is all off.

hello spring break-07

Hello puppy love. Nothing better.

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Hello crashed out. David has been taking a few cat naps every day. Bigger appetite plus cat naps sounds like a growth spurt is coming!

Hello haircuts this week. Don’t you feel like keeping up with haircuts, dentist appointments, teacher conferences, etc is a full time job? It’s crazy!

Hello eating pizza and take out. We’ll have new countertops soon but until then the kitchen is out of commission.

Hello new designs to share with you tomorrow! I can’t wait to show you.

Hello Monday! It’s a brand new week with beauty to be found. What are you saying hello to this week?

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faith, hope and love.

the meaning behind By March 25, 2016 1 Comment

My heart has experienced things that are more powerful than anything my eyes could behold—and it’s changed me.

I’ve seen hopeless grief turn to unexpected joy.

I’ve experienced circumstances work together in a way that would have been impossible to plan.

I’ve felt hope beyond what my imagination could muster on its own.

I’ve been loved when I didn’t deserve it.

faith hope and love

This weekend we celebrate hope and renewal. The cross symbolizes the place where ugliness turns to beauty, suffering becomes joy and despair is transformed to hope.

These pieces represent the gratefulness my heart can barely contain.

Happy Easter to you, dear friends.

With love, Lisa and the Leonard family

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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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hello coffee, hello spring

hello monday By March 21, 2016 3 Comments

Every morning as I open my eyes, I start to think about coffee. How much I love it, how comforting it is. It’s one of my favorite rituals. We’re getting new kitchen counters {hooray!} and our kitchen is ripped apart right now. Making coffee in the living room is slightly inconvenient but totally worth it!

It’s the very first Monday of Spring! How about some hellos?

hello coffee, hello spring-01

Hello favorite mug with heavy cream {no sugar} and freshly brewed coffee. A little taste of heaven!

Hello sunshiny week and grass that’s green from all the rain we’ve been getting. It feels like Spring.

Hello sore foot. David tripped over one of the dogs yesterday and he’s been limping. I think he twisted his ankle a bit. Poor guy! He’s still walking well–so I’m very thankful.

Hello reading this book and absolutely loving it. So inspiring!

Hello stealing a little time with my brother and sister in law while they pass through town. So good!

Hello ordering in or microwaving meals since our kitchen is unusable.

Hello dog hair everywhere. I vacuum and dust and clean the couches but it’s still there. It’s kind of driving me crazy and I’m trying to let it be.

Hello last day of a BIG sale in the shop! Take 25% off everything with code spring25. Click here to shop.

Hello to you! What are you saying hello to this week?

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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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hello greenhouse {achievement house}

hello monday, san luis obispo By March 14, 2016 4 Comments

One of my favorite thrift stores in town is Achievement House on Cuesta College campus. They also have an amazing greenhouse with rows and rows of succulents. The store and nursery are run by adults with disabilities. Awesome, right?

It’s Monday–the start of a brand new week. How about some hellos?

hello greenhouse acheivement house -01

Hello sunlight and rain. Everything is green and lush right now. And our lake is full after being empty for a year!

hello greenhouse acheivement house -02

Hello moving around furniture and clearing out the kitchen. We’re getting new countertops and I am so giddy I can hardly stand it! Goodbye tile, hello quartz!!

hello greenhouse acheivement house -03

Hello writing. I’ve been trying to spend some time every day writing. It’s good and scary and therapeutic. It’s stretching but I’m enjoying it.

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Hello Bourne Identity. Matthias and I are working our way through the series. So good!

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Hello clean clothes waiting to be put away. They’ve been sitting there for a week now. I don’t know why I have such a hard time with this chore!

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Hello heart a flutter. When I walked into the greenhouse {below} I had to catch my breath. So many beautiful succulents. How does one choose?

hello greenhouse acheivement house -07

Hello sleepless nights. David’s been having a hard time lately. He wakes up in the middle of the night and he’s energetic. Matthias has been moving into the spare room so he can sleep. I’m beginning to wonder if the boys will need their own rooms soon.

hello greenhouse acheivement house -08

Hello meetings this week. Lots of good planning and dreaming happening this week!

Hello making meals without a kitchen. Time to get creative!

Hello time change. I love the longer light in the evenings.

Hello brand new week with beauty to be found. What are you saying hello to this week?

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the beauty of emptiness

motherhood, the meaning behind the jewelry By March 10, 2016 14 Comments

One day last week, David’s tummy was hurting on and off for hours. GI pain is a common with his syndrome and he struggles with it daily. I worked through our list of remedies to soothe his pain and comfort his soul. I gave him Advil, held him, rubbed and patted his back and had him soak in a warm bath. Nothing worked, he continued to arch and scream. What began with confidence ended with discouragement. We reached the end of the list and the end of my energy, and I began to pray harder, “Lord help him, Lord help me.”  There seemed to be no answers, no solution and we were both exhausted. We laid down together and cried. Finally, he drifted off to sleep and I got up and made myself a cup of coffee. As a mother, I’d been there before—the excruciating place of feeling helpless. In that moment I couldn’t feel it, but as we walk this journey together, the outpouring of love, pain of emptiness and beauty of grace have come together to form a deep bond between us. Somehow, the struggle strengthens the bond. Our souls are connected.

the beauty of emptiness lisa leonard 12

I’ve experienced this with both of my boys. Each one has their own needs and their own way of communicating. Each one, in some inexplainable way, has my whole heart. When I became a mother, my heart opened itself in a new way. The depth of love I felt for this new, tiny person, entrusted to my care was overwhelming and amazing and terrifying. The caring, listening, nurturing, feeding, worrying, comforting and constant guesswork of loving my child was and continues to be the most humbling and important work I do. Where I’ve found myself empty, I’ve also experienced the miracle of being renewed and beginning again. To my relief, there are new mercies every morning.

the beauty of emptiness2

Motherhood has no clear boundaries or end, it flows into every part of my life. My heart is always with my children, even when we are physically apart. I can’t help it, I want to give them my time, compassion and love. A whole heart, devoted to another is a beautiful, imperfect thing. The sacred sacrifice of motherhood is a high and humble calling. Pouring myself out means sometimes I will be empty, but in that place deep bonds are formed. It’s much more difficult and much more beautiful than I expected. I am so much better for it.

Have you experienced the beauty of emptiness as a mother or caregiver?

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